Right. Hello. It’s been a long time, how have you been?
Alright. Let’s get the personal stuff out of the way first, shall we. 2012 was originally my Year of the Year All Years but 2013 blew it out of the water. I’ve grown as a writer, as a student and, more importantly, I can concretely chart my evolution as a human being. That does sound impossible but, as a writer, there’s a personal record of my thoughts and feelings scattered across the internet. It’s relatively easy to find a piece of myself in anything I’ve written.
As a writer I’ve done some incredibly insane things. I joined a film journalist website and did a column thing, I finished the Up, Down, Left, Right book series, I wrote a book about American Psycho, I made a lot of plans, I publicly released my first novel and, on top of all of this, managed to do some other things. I’m currently tidying up some edits on my first play whilst starting a graphic novel script.
As a student, I achieved the grades I wanted. I’m currently attending the university I wanted. I have opportunities and things and all of this amazing nonsense. I am within the beating heart of the study of history and I love it.
And, on a more personal level, I feel more fully formed. I’m no longer bittersweet and vaguely solipsistic, I have ambition. I wake up with plans. I like to talk to people now and, compared to a few years ago, that’s a big step for me. I’ve established the tiniest little corner of an online presence and all of the things I want to do all stem from this newfound ambition. There’s other parts of me I’ve got to work on, my dress sense and my incredibly wobbly humour for example, but that will all come in time.
This year was mental but, to be completely honest, it felt like the first chapter of a new novel. As if everything before it was the first part of a different book. I’m about to turn 20 next year and it all feels so oddly fitting. I’m about to embark on adulthood and 2014 is going to be the start of that. For the first time in my life I cannot wait to see what this next year brings me.
Now on to the silly end of year nonsense.
I unfortunately didn’t have the time this year to play everything I wanted. My gaming time ended around mid-September and so I had to skip Arkham Origins, Assassin’s Creed IV, Call of Duty Whatever It Is This Year, The Walking Dead Season Two and a host of other things. I have no comment on the next-generation of systems other than the fact I won’t ever be investing in an Xbox product ever again. Just a matter of personal consumer philosophy.
Of the video-games I did play this year: here is an obligatory ‘best games’ list. You know it is kinda weird how we end up canonizing things with this stuff. It’s relatively easy to do something like this. As an ex-games journalist I can tell you that I think I just tended to copy-paste my comments on the same games and just re-word them ever so slightly in the end of year things. Easy money. Except, well, I’ve not earned a single cent from any of this five and a half year nonsense.
Kind of unhealthy that as an industry we’ve become okay with saying ‘these games mattered, ignore all else’. But, well, these were some of the things that I enjoyed this year, in no real order:
Papers, Please – Basically a love letter. Lucas Pope most surely does want a slice of my chocolate starfish, or whatever colorful comment I can make. A bureaucracy thriller in which you play an immigration officer who holds in his hands the weight of thousands of migrants and his own invisible family. I really liked how the family weren’t ‘characters’, you weren’t asked to care about pre-determined, attached relationships that you had to assume. You could just project your own insecurities and social circumstances on to them. I liked how the narrative was threaded completely with the mechanics and I loved the crushing, morbid atmosphere that was never ‘fun’ but completely engrossing. It’s arguably the greatest political commentary besides Spec Ops The Line that video-games have had to offer; using Cold War eastern-european oppressive systems to show parallels to modern-day paranoia. Just a breathtaking, scary horrorshow of humanity.
The Last of Us -I get people’s qualms with this thing. You end up coming across chest-high walls and for the 8000th time you just go ‘oh i’m shooting people in the face again greaaat‘ but then something clicks. About halfway through the game when you’re trapped in a broom closet, throwing down a smoke bomb and scurrying around the room trying to cobble together a med pack. Literally scavenging time before the loud men come with their shotguns and knives to finally put you down. The Last of Us is about edges; the edge of morality, the edge of humanity and the edge of your seat. In so many games I’m used to just shooting someone and then going ‘oh I did the thing’ but with The Last of Us it feels brutal, it feels up-close and it feels just as engrossing as hours of stamping passports in Papers, Please. It also helps that it has one of the finest scripts in recent memory that plays with zombie-horror tropes and manages to inject some well-needed refinement. Naughty Dog keep making these stupidly brilliant, self-aware and completely surreal steps into exploring interactive storytelling and The Last of Us and its final notes completely confirm that they have an artistic vision that no other triple-A studio have.
Spelunky – Oh my fucking god. I played the PC classic game a billion years ago and never completed it, and that thing alone was genius. I played the Xbox 360 HD remake, to which the PC version is virtually identical, and about twelve hours in I realized I was playing one of my favourite games of all time. It’s Indiana Jones meets roguelikes meets mechanical depth like the motherfucking Mariana Trench. It’s endlessly punishing, endlessly refreshing and has this charm and just pristine design. It’s practically flawless.
Gunpoint – The only game I reviewed this year. It’s safe to say that I played Gunpoint back in its very first prototypes and to see it evolve from sprites and shallow level design into an absolute behemoth of emergent gameplay and general gamey game is one of the few experiences I’ll truly treasure for a long time. Tom Francis really knows how to write a game, and how to write about them too, but with Gunpoint it’s like he’s just showing off. Gunpoint manages to make you feel just as clever as the game is, given it allows you access to as much as the tools as you want. The possibilities for every level are hilariously endless. Want to kick a door into a man’s face? You got it. Want to get his buddy’s gun to somehow link up to a plug socket and electrocute his entire nervous system thus rendering him possibly unconscious or even with internal bleeding? Oh yes.
All those are in no order really. I also played BioShock Infinite this year and still really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have the same sense of freedom or real capturing atmosphere that Rapture did, nor does it have the same interplaying systems that made the original one of the most interesting of its kind. I still really adore its metanarrative and all of Ken Levine’s fingerprints glitter all over it. I also lost about a million hours to Civilization 5 Brave New World and a lot of brain cells to The Stanley Parable which, for all intents and purposes, completely broke a lot of my gaming philosophy.
I also played the apparent BEST GAME OF THE YEAR Grand Theft Auto V and found myself completely disenchanted by it. I’ll write in depth about it some day but I found the whole atmosphere completely repulsive. Violent men throwing insults at each other, evolving in absolutely no direction and a series of mechanics that allowed me to do the same things as San Andreas but a bit less. The whole ‘feel’ of the game is arguably superior and with all the fancy gizmos it’s definitely the most mechanically ‘sound’ of the series but it’s lost a lot of its heart. All of the ‘satire’ now just feels like bitter, cynical aimless jabs at left-wing and right-wing philosophies and yet a refusal to be placed in any box. It’s also just one of the most disgusting games in recent memory when it comes to representation of race, sexuality and gender. All black people are placed under the same umbrella, as are those not of a heterosexual lean. Most disturbingly is the inflated sexism. Apparently ‘SMELL LIKE A BITCH’ and gross feminist movements is all some kind of directed satire. Inflated sexism that’s ‘ironic’ just doesn’t work for me. Unlike in previous games there’s also zero likeable female characters. Heck there’s any likeable characters to begin with. Also if you’re wanting to “get yo politics out mah vidya games” or “stop it with the feminazi crap” then go take a hike and grow up. Even if video-games didn’t have some kind of new artistic responsibilities, which they do, this would still disgust me. Oh and it’s apparently the BEST VIDEO-GAME OF THE YEAR 2013 #DORITOS #MOUNTAINDEW
Oh, that reminds me. I guess I might as well do an obligatory ‘game of the year’ thing:
Oh wait. Apparently choosing this above Grand Theft Auto V completely invalidates my journalistic integrity. Because, as we all know, replay value and multiplayer is all that matters. Silly me, sorry, I’ll correct myself. Actually, no. When on Earth did we begin judging games on a dollar-per-hour basis? When did we begin hate hate HATING a social/political message? Was it at the same time we said they’re art or are we still leaning on the same insecurities. They’re not cars, it’s not how much practical mileage we can get out of it. Quite frankly the 80+ hours I’ve sank into Call of Duty multiplayer is nowhere near as memorable as my experience with Gone Home. If I want to spend $20/£14 enthralled in an environmental storytelling display in which I’m told a two-hour story, that seems somewhere between the novels of John Green and the film of Perks of Being a Wallflower, then I’ll happily wear my ‘hipster’ badge. Apparently, when compared to a wild misogynist simulator, another game where you shoot people and The Last of Us, Gone Home is completely worthless for being ‘short’.
Sorry. I started ranting there. It’s really upset me though, the recent backlash against the game. There’s also the mention that the game is only popular because SPOILERS it happens to deal with different, non-heterosexual sexuality. /SPOILERS. Somehow the story it’s trying to tell is compromised by its…self? I don’t understand that criticism. Oh and, holy shit, we actually have a video-game where we’re told a story besides ‘dudebros saves the world/their stupid selfish selves’ and that makes it abhorrent. That makes it cliche? That makes it worthless, all because it’s short and apparently is non-interactive to begin with.
Gone Home is an archaeological dig site of a place frozen in time. Maybe that’s why it appeals to my gooey brain and its historic luvvie bent. There’s something about connecting with personal artifacts of someone’s live. Pooling over them, cataloging the dates and joining the dots between John F Kennedy’s assassination and the little knick-knacks thrown about the house. There’s something about pacing the house and seeing what objects say about their owners. It’s weird but it does make you look at your own room a bit differently, at least for a little while. Both Gone Home and The Last of Us deal with, in some form, anthropocentric worldviews. With Gone Home it’s less about a post-apocalyptic vision but more about a question of if you disappeared into dust, what would your objects say about yourself? Apparently all of this is ‘pretentious’ and ‘stupid’ and ‘not a game’. I don’t really care. I connected with Gone Home emotionally, not because the story itself was so familiar, some of it is, but because it went in this uncharted direction. I never thought that turning over a porcelain duck with my mouse could ever make me feel anything in a video-game but, well, it did. By the end of Gone Home I was more than satisfied. Environmental storytelling isn’t something explored well by video-games, and especially not in the territory of Gone Home. The most memorable interactive experience of the year and one that’ll inform a lot of my storytelling philosophy going forward. I guess that means it’s my game of the year or whatever?
Oh and this was the year I ‘got’ into television. I’ve watched most of The West Wing, and In The Thick of It, and, actually, too much to mention. This was the year that made me want to eventually work within this medium though. There were five shows of the year that made ‘do a think’ more than any other though:
Arrested Development – My favorite television comedy. I’m someone who binged on A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder, Monty Python, That Mitchell and Webb Look, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horse and so many British comedies. It’s part of my blood it seems. Arrested Development blows them all, laughing with tears, out of the water. It’s the greatest post-modernist, hilarious thing to ever grace the planet. ‘Running gags’ just doesn’t apply to this constant fourth-wall breaking mess. It’s like there is no fourth wall when it comes to Hurwitz’s funny funny show. The latest run wasn’t the finest by any stretch, though its latter half felt more classic. It’s still the funniest show still kicking.
House of Cards – Kevin Spacey is probably the greatest actor of our time. That’s putting it quite lightly. Nicolas Cage may by my favorite actor but, in truth, his talent pales in comparison to Spacey’s. House of Cards is a political thriller that lets Spacey stretch out his other Shakespearean muscles and it’s just a gorgeous show of the depths of human disparity and the clinch of power. Cannot wait for its second season.
Masters of Sex – The marketing of this show doesn’t do it justice. Right might be a low-cut, low-punch R-rated show that’s 90% sex scenes and 1% exposition, turns out to be a right social commentary kicker. It uses an emerging scientific study of sex, fronted by Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, and sets it within the environment of decaying moral America. One of the most surprisingly emotional shows of this year and probably my favorite surviving show going forward. Something of a real hidden gem.
Hannibal – No, not the Carthaginian commander. Yeah that’s what I thought you meant. Hannibal was something of a surprise. A prequel television serial about a ‘sort of in the Hollywood mythology’ serial cannibal. It’s just real bloody good. Great performances and a really knife-edge, dingy atmosphere that seems to just hang like damp lead. Soooo coool.
Breaking Bad – Oh blimey blimey. BLIMEY. I’m writing a goddamn book on Breaking Bad (see below) but holy shrimp-pickles what a thing. What a beautiful, glorious thing. The finest drama since insert favorite Shakespeare here. Full of ability, dark charm, attention to detail and a constant rock-propelled grenade of consequences, themes, cerebral whips and little glances of fate that make it a swirling masterpiece of all human quality all on display at once. Envy, greed, kindness, sacrifice, death, birth. It’s just so good. The greatest storytelling marvel of the 21st Century.
Oh and I watched Doctor Who this year. Aside from its now staple sexist jokes, three-year long plot-threads that end with anti-climaxes and just a stodgy sense of ‘pace’, it actually had an alright 50th Anniversary Special.
Let’s do films, quick!
The World’s End – Did a review for Flixist which summarizes my thoughts. Basically, the ‘least’ of The Cornetto Trilogy. But still, blimey, one of the best comedies in recent memory. Brave enough to also end on a more climactic, dramatic note. Probably has the best script in recent memory and Simon Pegg really deserves a few award nods for his performance. Without it, quite honestly, this would be a much worse film.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Despite being 60% fan-fiction from Peter Jackson and some really misplaced romantic plot-threads, this was actually a really awesome film. It finally gets it legs together into a pace that just ‘works’, with action set-pieces cleverly choreographed without ever a sense of cheap. By the end of it I actually couldn’t wait for the next; it really has an Empire Strikes Back quality of a third act. Oh and Cumberbatch as Smaug. That’s all you need to know really.
Rush – My family is pretty big on motorsport, particularly F1, and I’ve only recently begun to ‘get’ it. I wrote about Senna, a pretty nice little documentary, and then Rush came out and holy what. One of my favorite films of the year is about a thing that, a few months ago, I could tell you nothing about. It manages to understand the human drama bottled up inside stories – about how sport is less about the sport itself and more about the sportsmen – and the Formula One stage, especially the story of Lauda and Hunt, is just a perfect place for Ron Howard to skip about. A true treat of a story. I also reviewed it for Flixist.
Django Unchained – One of Tarantino’s best. A real roller-coaster of Western fiction. Doesn’t have the same storytelling structural quirks but nonetheless really good. Filled with character-action and that Tarantino-dialogue that just makes your shins shiver with joy. Dicaprio also gave the best performance of anything in this too. A real treat.
Gravity – The best film I’ve seen since Children of Men (which also got its own three part analysis thing from me). Avatar didn’t even come on my radar for ‘best films’ yet Gravity uses the same technology to create a story that sits perfectly in the same territory of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the best film ever made). It has to be seen to really be believed. There’s quite too much to talk about from its themes to its story propellant to its constant exercise in simplicity. It’s a real love letter to modern cinema and will be a film I’ll be revisiting time and time again. Cuarón really knows what he’s doing.
This year I also saw Anchorman 2 and thought if as funny as the first, really enjoyed Iron Man 3 but loved Thor: The Dark World, thought Star Trek Into Darkness was one of the best Summer blockbusters ever and kinda forgot about the rest. Lincoln was alright but made the historian-me a bit too angry. The Great Gatsby was actually pretty good too, did its best at a very distinct interpretation.
Unfortunately given they’re not released yet OR I was busy; I haven’t seen Her, Walter Mitty, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llweyn Davies, Captain Philips, Don Jon or Pacific Rim.
Oh we’ve got to cut to the chase and books are boring! Even though I’ve read more than fifty… or seventy… or a lot this year! Look at me I’m such a literary elitist prick!
S. – J.J Abrams & Doug Dorst – I love metanarrative, post-modernist, Tom Stoppardian nonsense and S. takes so many storytelling liberties with a simple romantic story set within the confines of an actual paperback novel. Shows off Dorst’s writing acumen and Abrams’ storytelling ability.
Fatal Colours – George Goodwin – I’m a historian, actually doing the degree thing, and this book is about one of the bloodiest battles in history – Towton, 1461 – and this book goes into great depth not just about the battle itself but to exactly how Medieval warfare happened in the first place. Fantastic work.
Ascent – Jed Mercurio – A lot of this list is stuff not from the year. Ascent is one of the finest novels in recent memory and I don’t even want to give away the blurb.
HHhH – Laurent Binet – Historical fiction turned up to eleven. Probably the best effort I’ve read since King’s 22/11/1963.
Master of Go – Yasunari Kawabata – The tale of a board-game set against the backdrop of social and political upheaval. A really fucking good book.
JFK’s Last Hundred Days (Thurston Clarke) & Letters of John F Kennedy (Martin W. Sandler) – I must have a thing for the 60s Presidency. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. The big three. This triumvirate of 20th Century history is what constantly draws me, as a historian, and these two books chart a very intimate portrait of an American president completely immersed in myth and legend.
Bish bash bosh look at me being a hipster! Here’s my Spotify profile if you want a full snoop. Here’s the six albums I really REALLY loved this year:
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Me and Him – Volume Three
Kanye West – Yeezus
Hugh Laurie – Didn’t It Rain
Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Oh look at me showing off about how much stuff I consumed this year. Not that much of it was of any note! Here I go again! Anyways, 2014. Blimey. Let’s have a look atcha, but, before then; a note on my 2013 resolutions!
- Start writing about film on the site that’s invited me shush shush don’t spoil!
Yeah I did that.
- Write Killer Looks, finish Up, Down, Left, Right series, release Bad Poetry and finish Train and Trimalchio
- Get a driver’s license.
Failed my practical test within five minutes.
- Go off to university and be happy and stuff.
Yep. A good one too.
- Learn self-discipline and start learning Italian.
- Be happy.
Personal: Up until a few months ago I hadn’t been ‘happy’ since February 2012, you can guess why, but, right now, I’ve settled back into my lonely little life. I’m happy. I’ve got friends and fiction and history. I’ve got things and stuff!
Righto! 2014! New Years Resolutions! And a preview!
- Write ‘THE HEISENBERG LEGACY – VOLUME ONE’ (working title)
Uh. Yeah. I’m going to write a five-volume type-thing to do with Breaking Bad. Five Volumes. Five TV series. I look at the series episode by episode and then come at it with a sledgehammer of philosophy, ethics, literary analysis, psychology and all sorts of literary techniques. It’s the greatest storytelling feat of the 21st Century and I think it kinda deserves our attention. Volume One will deal with Season One and a topic of my choosing. Estimated for around December 2014.
- Write ‘Furnished Souls’
This is a novella idea that has been cooking since I’ve finished Trimalchio. It’s Gatsby-esque but a whole different degree. I’m releasing it, nine chapters in total, bi-weekly starting late Jan. Full release in April or so.
- Write a play. Or two. Or three.
Yeah. I do plays now.
- Maybe get into shape a bit
At the very least a bit of running? Don’t want to be dead aged 349.
- Do a secret thing!
Summer – November . No, it’s not a book.
- Write that other secret thing…
Maybe announcing August. This thing, on the other hand, is a book!
- And that other… OTHER… secret thing…
Oh I start writing that in a week.
- Get paid for writing something
Interesting thing to note: I haven’t earned a penny for my five and a half years writing. I know most of it’s terrible but I think it’s time to change all that.
- Keep on track with studies and social life
All going ruddy well, thanks for asking.
Tears In Rain 2
June 25th 2014
Happy holidays. See you soon.