A quick summary of 2018
Another year down. It wasn't a bad year -- no notable successes, but no big failures.
Little happened between January and May. I went to work. I started using a trackball. I stood at my desk for 12 hours at a time playing Subnautica. I played Suikoden II with less fervor. I went to some hockey games. In March I went to a conference and presented a talk that was the product of much research; the audience was small. In April I started the first of three classes remaining in a professional development certificate I've been working on since 2016.
Summer meant lots of time off. I tried to stay busy. I walked a lot, though the window for that compressed on both ends by persistent snow early and hellish mosquito swarms later. Indoors, I worked on a few things: the second aforementioned professional development course; digitizing and proofreading some texts (and creating a script to help); finally switching from irssi to weechat; and getting into a recycling groove. I also hacked away at my games backlog, playing Ultimate General: Civil War, Firewatch, Dino Crisis, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Dino Crisis, Kathy Rain, and the Darkside Detective.
Fall came and back to work I went. Though I found some time for photography and exploring the outdoors, mostly I worked. As work robbed me of my own opportunity to do and create, but gave me money, I compensated by buying the products of other's labor. I became a consumer. I bought a fancy flashlight, an expensive tripod, and a heavy duty backpack (now backpacks are an interest). All things I could use, but I spent too much energy selecting them, and thought too wishfully about how they would change my life. With less consideration, but to good effect, I finally bought a cheap replacement for the ancient 2011-bought Atom D525 that was in my server. Ironically (given just-mentioned consumerism), my other big project of the fall was to start researching the tiny and obscure groups to the left of Cannon's "orthodox" Trotskyists in the 1930s. Hopefully I stick with this.
Resolutions for 2019
Career: Seriously start looking for a new job
Health: Exercise more and eat better (e.g., track my calories consistently)
Time: Be more mindful of how I spend my time
My favorite things I encountered this year
These are some games I enjoyed in 2018.
Banner Saga 1-3. I tried the first game back in late 2015. I liked it, but I could not play often enough to really keep track of the complex cast and plot. Eventually I stopped playing it. And that's a shame, because these three games are brilliant. Compelling story, memorable characters, sharp dialog, beautiful art, and enjoyable, thought-provoking gameplay (which is split between turn-based battles and interactive fiction).
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. One of the "Metroid-y" Castlevanias. It's great, but hardly ground-breaking. I'm including it just so I remember which ones I've played, as they're hard for me to differentiate.
Detention. An atmospheric adventure game set in 60s Taiwan. I guess it's "horror," but this time the fright draws on new sources: traditional Chinese folklore and real-world political repression authentic to the setting.
Dino Crisis. I bought this game on the day of its North American release. That was also the last time I played it. A tedious puzzle ruined the game for me. It didn't help that the preceding few hours had been so dull. I never picked it up again (and this probably saved it from taking Crash Bandicoot's place as the most disappointing PSX game of my life). Almost 20 years later, and having already replayed all the PSX Resident Evils, I gave Dino Crisis one last shot. And I'm glad I did. If you can forgive the barebones story, you'll find some of the best PSX graphics plus solid RE-style gameplay. The endgame is quite tedious, but that's practically a given considering its pedigree. So just do what I do at the end of most Resident Evil games: watch the last 20% of the game on a YouTube longplay.
Firewatch. Super rad. I'm glad I played Firewatch over the course of a few summer nights. This is like a summer vacation itself. My favorite "walking simulator" since Gone Home. Just brilliant.
Kathy Rain. This old-school point and click adventure has good characters, story, and dialog, plus reasonably coherent puzzles. It renewed my appreciation for even the most traditional adventure games. Kathy Rain was the second best point and click adventure I played in 2018.
Subnautica. See my Subnautica review. GOTY 2018, warts and all.
Suikoden II. A top-notch old school JRPG. Surprisingly, unlike most JRPGs (including its predecessor) Suikoden II has a story that you can -- and want -- to follow. Like the first game, there's a ton of semi-hidden content, so I heartily recommend keeping a guide or two at hand as you play. And do play it.
Tacoma. Like Gone Home, except in a space station, and with better gameplay. Maybe it doesn't have quite the same emotional impact (especially to me -- I played Gone Home on a rainy, melancholy night). But it's still a better game, I think.
Ultimate General: Civil War. "Double time, boys!" "Hold your ground!" "Open fire, goddamnit!" These are the kind of thing I shouted each night, all summer long, as I worked my way through the Union campaign. My favorite strategy game since 2011's Unity of Command.
Unavowed. It's like previous Wadjet Eye adventure games, except it has higher resolution pixel art (really impressive) and an RPG flair thanks to a character creation system and branching dialogs. My favorite point and click adventure of 2018.
Wipeout 3. The first Wipeout blew my mind when I played it on a demo disk at a PSX kiosk at Target in 1995. (But so did Battle Arena Toshinden and everything else on that disk.) Fifteen years later, I got Wipeout HD on the PS3, which was equally impressive and had fun network play to boot. Between these two was Wipeout 3, which I somehow missed until now. It is really compelling. The graphics are such that I strain to see what's going on, but I don't care. The gameplay is perfect and there's a ton of content. Wipeout 3 hooks me in a way never done by Wipeout XL (which I had previously emulated when I needed a fix of futuristic racing). Unless I find a free PS4 and buy the new Wipeout HD, this is probably the Wipeout game for the rest of my life.
While I didn't read as much as last year, there were some books I particularly enjoyed.
The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson. A young amnesiac pursues an unusual mystery aboard a generational ship. Original. A page-turner.
Flicker by Theodore Roszak. A long haul, and not only because I quit for a month before giving it a second chance. It's just a long, slow book. Worse, it meanders its way to an unsatisfying end. But I stuck with it, and happily, because it was well written and full of interesting details about the history of film.
Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks. Another Culture novel that combines readability with strange, interesting ideas on every page. The best communist science fiction since mid-era Star Trek.
Socialism... Seriously by Danny Katch. A fun introduction to Trotskyism makes a poor introduction to socialism. Still, lots of interesting points, most made with biting wit. I may review this soon.
Movies and TV
Here are some movies and shows I liked in 2018.
Arthur. Yeah, the kids show. It's fun, nostalgic, and easy to watch. The TV equivalent of oatmeal.
Broadchurch. The first season is about the murder of a boy, the dissolution of multiple families, the tearing-apart of a small town, and the near self-destruction of two detectives tasked with solving the crime. With all that, it still manages a kind of "coziness" and optimism. I binged all three series in a few days.
Ethel and Ernest. Slow, serious, genuinely moving. Terms not often associated with animated movies.
Happy Valley. Similar to above, but more urban, working-class, and gritty.
Red Rock West. Nicolas Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle -- not who I expected to star in one of my favorite movies of the year. A suspenseful neo-noir set in the small-town American west.
Seinfeld. Umpteenth rewatch. A new gleaning is that the show did not go out on top. Like the Simpsons, it might as well have ended after season 7.
The Americans, season 6. I'm including this here not for the sixth season (which was fine), but because the show as a whole was my favorite of the decade.
The Beguiled (2017). A classic of suspense. A good deal better than the original.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Another classic of suspense, And, one which -- I just realized -- tells the same kind of story as the Beguiled.
You Bet Your Life. What's old is new again. Groucho's lecherous humor might've raised eyebrows in the 50s, but one suspects that it was fair play in later decades. Now it comes across as creepy, sexist, and -- because of that -- once again edgy. Maybe that's a fault, not a virtue, but there's still plenty to see here. Groucho's wit is fast and typically on-target. Also, as most of the contestants are just normal people, this is a nice slice of 1950s America. (It's more interesting than you might think.) Finally, you Bet Your Life is also interesting as an early TV show.
Some albums I really liked in 2018. I either got these in 2018, or first really listened to them a lot in 2018.
Barón Rojo - Larga vida al rock and roll. Great "NWOBHM" from Spain.
Barón Rojo - Volumen brutal. As above, but better. Maybe a top 10 metal record.
Dark Star - Dark Star. Meat-and-potatoes NWOBHM. Not a bad song here. Discovered thanks to the excellent "Lady of Mars" track on the equally excellent "Lightnin' to the Nations" compilation. While I finally heard them this year, the album's cover art has caught my eye -- who knows why -- for years.
Genesis - Foxtrot. I've had this for a few years, and liked a couple tracks, but now I think every second of it is 70s prog rock brilliance.
Genesis - Selling England by the Pound. Same as above, although I've known this album even longer.
Golden Void - Golden Void. Found this excellent album after their cover of "Paranoid" stood out on a stoner rock tribute to Black Sabbath.
Hyperion - Primal Storm. Technical, melodic power metal from Australia. For all their talent, this band remains obscure. I found them through the Metal Archives "Random Band" link; they justify the hours and hours I have spent clicking it.
Scorpions - In Trance. During my summer visit home my brother praised 70s Scorpions. I was not inclined to agree, since I long knew their earliest work and also their 80s garbage. But for my brother's sake I was willing to entertain the idea that there might be a few years where the Scorpions were good. Luckily, I somehow picked "Longing for Fire" to sample, which hooked me.
Soul Dissolution - Soul Dissolution. Crushing, melancholic, modern black metal.
Sanguine Relic - The Essence of Eternity's Despair. Raw black metal excellence.
The Gladiators - Trenchtown Mix Up. Just good reggae.
Uriah Heep - ... Very 'Eavy ... Very 'Umble. Awesome debut from one of the most underappreciated heavy bands of the 70s (first place in that list: Budgie). The second track, "Walking in your Shadow," is just crushingly heavy.
Uriah Heep - Look at Yourself. Consistently good -- it avoids the lows of the band's debut, but neither does it hit the highs. In adopting a more driving, progressive, blues-free style, they dropped some of their early heaviness. Compared to the debut, this is a lot closer to the sound of the classic Demons and Wizards album recorded a year later.
Spotify's "Your Top Songs of 2018"
Take Spotify's automatically generated playlist "Your top songs of 2018" with a grain of salt. I chiefly use Spotify for things that I don't like enough to buy or illegally download. Anyhow, here's the playlist (truncated after 25 songs):
- The Clovers - Love Potion No. 9
- Stevie Wonder - He's Misstra Know-It-All
- Yaz - Only You
- Barry Man - Who Put the Bomp
- Four Tops - Reach Out, I'll Be There
- The Chambers Brothers - Time Has Come Today
- Lian and Chirgilchin Ensemble - The Rule of the Lover
- Hermetica - Robo un Auto
- 97th Regimental String Band - Coming to Us Dead
- Mithras - The Statue on the Island
- Scorpions - Longing for Fire
- Fugazi - Waiting Room
- Smokey Robinson - The Tears of a Clown
- Tuva Ensemble - Ezir Kara
- Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls
- The Monotones - The Book of Love
- Go West - The King of Wishful Thinking
- Talk Talk - It's My Life
- The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman
- Värttinä - Päivän nousu nostajani
- Depeche Mode - Just Can't Get Enough
- Boston Camerata - The Savior's Cheering Promise
- Scorpions - Top of the Bill
- Stevie Wonder - Higher Ground
- Yaz - Goodbye Seventies