Well, surprising no one I present my Game of the Year: The Walking Dead!
This is one of those rare occurrence where an adaptation/addition to a franchise has surpassed the source material. I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead comic books but this game has completely taken me by surprise and made me cry, made me laugh, got me thinking and put the Adventure genre back into the mainstream.
The Walking Dead is made by Telltale Games, a company known previously for their contributions to the Sam & Max and Monkey Island franchises. They make adventure games, focusing on narrative and puzzles rather than gameplay. This year they make an excellent addition to the genre with this game.
The series itself should be well known, the source is the series by Robert Kirkman which focuses on a group of survivors during a Zombie Outbreak, taking place in and around the state of Georgia. The game fits into this space, focusing instead on a different group but also taking place in the same general geography. The game’s protagonist is Lee Everett, a professor who has been arrested for the murder of the man cheating with his wife. The first episode opens with you in the back of the police car, and from there things spiral out of control.
The other main character (but not player controlled) is the best child I have ever seen in a video game, Clementine. A girl you stumble upon in the first episode who’s parents are missing and after a connection, you take it upon yourself to protect her. From there various characters come and go over the next five episodes.
The game pulls no punches with emotion, many characters die and thanks to fantastic writing, characterization and voice acting it is an actual loss. Not just another casualty in a game but someone that you (Lee) knew. The best character however is Clementine and the relationship you form with her is unlike one I have ever seen. I found myself acting differently knowing she was watching, I found myself rushing to save her when she was in danger. She acts as a moral compass for Lee and the player themselves.
Staying true to the source, the game is dark thematically. Trying to not spoil to much, but zombies aren’t the only big danger here. The game, like the comic, like to focus on the human relationships and interactions, showing how twisted man can become when the dead rise. Angry words are frequently exchanged with bullets a close second. The game also shows the opposite of this too, with the best of people showing in the darkest of times as well.
Graphically the game mirrors the style found in the comic book and gameplay wise, it is a standard adventure game affair. The best part of the game is found in it’s story and dialogue, the latter providing timed dialogue options similar to those found in Alpha Protocol or Mass Effect. Unlike those two examples however, the choices don’t fall into a Paragon or Renegade options. They, like most of the game, are shades of grey. Where being the good guy can still lead to angry (or dead) people.
The game is available on the Xbox 360, PS3, PC/Mac (via Steam, Origin and Telltale’s website) and iOS. It is widely available and I really encourage you to play it. Not only is it a great zombie story but it is a high point for video game narrative. I don’t want to spoil too much but the game is a roller coaster of emotions, with highs and very low lows. It’s not a terribly long game (15 hours for all 5 episodes) and it isn’t super difficult so I really do encourage all those with even a slight interest to dive in.
The game represents a trio of games for me that changed video game narrative dramatically this year; Spec Ops the Line, To The Moon and The Walking Dead. I hope this trend continues and tropes are challenged. I look forward to Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider for this reason.
My runners up are: Mass Effect 3, Sleeping Dogs, Dishonored, Borderlands 2, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Hotline Miami, Mark of the Ninja and Penny Arcade’s On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
I could go on and on about my love for Hey Ocean!’s “Is”. The album took me by surprise and has dominated my heart, my mind and my iTunes since the first listen.
Hey Ocean!, a small Canadian indie pop band that I didn’t really know of until this year, has beaten out the likes of Mumford & Sons and Metric for this choice.
They bring energy, enthusiasm and a unique style of music like no other. From their pop-y “Big Blue Wave” to the down to earth “Islands” they have created an album with a variety of emotions and genres blended in with this overarching theme of new love and the excitement and problems that brings.
It didn’t hurt that their live show was one of the best I’d seen this year. They rocked the Brass Taps at U of Guelph with passion. It was a genuinely fun.
This is a band that loves what they do, bring back some of the forgotten sounds of the Canadian Indie genre and are just really rad in general.
There were runner-ups this year, as evidenced by my last.fm chart for these past 12 months:
Said the Whale’s “Little Mountain”, Metric’s “Synthetica” and Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” take the runner up spots this year, with Dan Mangan’s “Nice, Nice Very Nice” getting an honorable mention for best-album-I-discovered-this-year-but-it-didn’t-actually-come-out-this-year!
Between Said the Whale and Hey Ocean! the genre of Canadian indie is alive and well, both these bands bring passion and energy to the music scene and both of their albums were truly fantastic.
I had some disappointments this year though, mainly in Stars’ “The North” and Mother Mother’s “The Sticks”. After Eureka I had high hopes for Mother Mother and their newest album just seems to fall short. Stars just seem to can’t recreate the magic they had with Set Yourself on Fire and In Our Bedroom After the War.
Back to Hey Ocean! though, go and buy “Is”. It’ll be one the best decisions you’ll have made all year.
Coming up soon: Game of the Year and TV Show of the Year.
Movie of the year is probably a tie between Moonrise Kingdom and ParaNorman. Go watch them. (I don’t want to make an actual post yet as I haven’t seen Skyfall, Wreck-it-Ralph, Django Unchained or The Hobbit yet but they would actually probably be my favorite, also TDKR and the Avengers were both great but you already knew that)
So I just played through this little game called “To The Moon”. You may have heard of it but even if so, go and buy and play this game. Even if you’re not a “gamer”. it’ll run on any PC just go and come back, it’s like 3 hours long.
Okay you back? Well just in case you’re still reading ahead I won’t post spoilers. The premise is this: There is an old man dying, his final wish is to “go to the moon”. Two scientists/specialists go into his memories and travel backwards through them with the goal of planting that ambition at childhood so his memories rewrite and he achieves his final goal.
It’s a 16-bit “game” with some gorgeous pixel art. I use the term game loosely as other than one little section and some minor puzzle mechanics it’s more of an interactive story. However, this story packs a punch. It has a phenomenal soundtrack (Main Theme) and fantastic writing with some funny moments (like a Doctor Who reference) but also many emotional moments.
Games don’t usually make me cry. In general I’m not a crier at all actually. However, this game had me weeping over my keyboard by the end of it.
The game is just so beautiful, and it really shows that video games are a great medium for storytelling, emotion and art. Go play it, you won’t regret it.
I haven’t done one of these in awhile… it’s one of “Things I Love” posts! This one finds itself dedicated to Hey Ocean!, a Canadian indie pop band who I’ve fallen in love with over the past couple of months.
Why you may ask? They are bloody brilliant that’s why. They really are a band like no other. They are unique, catchy, beach-y, lyrically beautiful, talented musicians and singers and really, there is just no one else like them.
The album “Is” is their crowning achievement, an album blending a variety of genres but sticking to a main theme of love and the ocean. These themes play out in the lighthearted Big Blue Wave and the folkier Islands. The album is fantastic from start to finish and I very rarely love every single song of an album.
I’ve found myself supporting them more than most bands, pledging $300 to their World Tour Kickstarter so I can have an acoustic concert with them before one of their actual concerts.
The fact of the matter is, I fell in love with this band overnight and every day since then I’ve fallen in love with them a little bit more.
The other reason I adorable this band to pieces is that they remind me so much of a certain girl who I’m quite fond of. Their music mirrors her quirkiness, her adventurous soul, how down to earth she is, but at the same time just a little bit silly and her ability to love and make me smile. When I hear their music I see her smile and hear her laugh.
A band like no other for a girl like no other.
I can’t wait to see them in a week in Guelph, but I really can’t wait for is to share that Kickstarter concert with the girl I love.
I urge you all to fall in love this band like I did, they are upbeat and just fantastic. I recommend Big Blue Wave, Islands, New Love, I am a Heart and their cover of Arcade Fire’s Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).
Another post of someone I love! This time it is Annika Norlin aka Hello Saferide! A Swedish folk/indie pop band that you probably have never heard of. Which is a shame as she is just fantastic.
As you may have noticed I’ve been posting her for the past couple of days as my “Song of the Day” to sort of hope people might listen to her music. Now I am here to beat it over your heads some more. Basically, I shall tell you why I love this band so much.
To start, her voice. She is pretty fantastic and sings in such a unique fashion. She writes all her songs herself and is quite talented.
What makes her unique though are her lyrics and the themes of her music.
She writes about stuff we can all relate to, and writes it in such a way that I’ve never really seen anyone else do. Some examples: wanting to be a lesbian because you love your best friend, the feeling of hopelessness when you are alone and just want to be with someone, hoping your love gets sick so you can take care of them, spending time with someone and wondering how you two can be so alike but not be in love, the feeling of stalking someone in high school and dying when they almost smile at you.
Her album Introducing… is a great place to start and her big following album More Modern Short Stories from Hello Saferide (which includes a song about losing your virginity and a song about an amazing potential daughter that will never exist) is a good place to continue.
She’s catchy, brilliant, talented and her songs move me to tears sometimes.(Loneliness Is Better When You’re Not Alone will make you cry)
She also has crazy awesome videos, such as this one for Anna:
In conclusion, go listen to her.
I filled a page with everything I love (stolen from lanii!). Apologies for my ugly boy writing.
It’s time for another things I love post, and this time it’s my two favorite animes, Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.
What sets them apart from the usual anime selection? A few things and few touches of polish that really make them outshine the others.
The first is the incredible soundtrack and sound work from each. Cowboy Bebop has a smooth jazz and bebop sound mixed with a variety of other genres as well from the Seatbelts that makes it like no other. Samurai Champloo does something similar as well, incorporating hip hop into Edo-period music and culture. Actually, Samurai Champloo is quite good at portraying the Edo period in Japan and as a person interested in history but didn’t know a lot about Japan’s, you can learn a few things.
They also have fantastic English dubs and voice actors, a standout being Steven Blum as both Mugen and Spike, a main character in each series. This attention to voice work and having solid voice actors, the script translate well and make sense makes them stand out.
Secondly, they both are fantastic visually and artistically. I had the pleasure of watching Samurai Champloo on Blu-ray and the visual fidelity was fantastic. The art styles, character designs, background art and the animations in things such as the fight scenes and facial animations really bring both shows to life. They are both great to look at with a lot of creativity, especially in the case of Cowboy Bebop and it’s various sci-fi locales.
And finally, their top notch presentation and writing makes them standout above the others. Both shows only had one 26 episode season (with Cowboy Bebop also squeezing in a movie) but both had great plot arcs, character development and twists, turns and resolutions than more shows that are in their 8th season. They are brief but entertaining, engaging and both end wonderfully and wrap things up nicely. All too often in TV shows, they go on too long and start to become stale, and some are cancelled before their time, but some of the best are the ones that set out to tell a certain story and stop there when it’s over. Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as these two shows do that very well. They have room for “filler” episodes which are entertaining on their own, but also serve to provide some insight on a character, or move the overall plot forward in some way.
Many people have bad opinions of anime, or think it’s a lot of effort to start watching one, but, if you’re interested in getting started or looking for standout ones, these two will fit the bill nicely.
No Cars Go (the EP version) by Arcade Fire was the very first song I heard by them. I still remember the first time I heard it actually.
I couldn’t tell you what led to it’s discovery or what the exact day it was, but I remember sitting at my computer with iTunes open and listening to it. It was summer-ish I remember, and I was sitting at my computer in the living room. (Grade 9 then probably) and I had just gotten the song off Limewire.
I remember that moment because from then and until now, No Cars Go has been my favorite song hands down. Other songs have come and gone and come back again but this one still stirs up those feelings I felt at the first listen, even now after so much has passed.
I guess I’m feeling a bit thoughtful at this moment in time.
This is me from around when I first heard that song:
This is me now:
In 5 years since I’ve heard that song I’ve gone through four jobs, 7-ish relationships, 3 and half years of high school, one and a half years of University and numerous friendships, hugs, tears, fights, naps, beers, nights alone, nights wanting to not be alone, kisses, laughs, jokes, mistakes, stories, places, books and still, this is my favorite song.
I happened to just be asking myself the same question. I love the actual music, the instruments and the vocals and everything that the song makes up.
I adore the lyrics, they tell of that wonderful place right between climbing into bed and dreaming. That place where I have made many life decisions, wondered what it meant to be on earth, wondered what someone thought of me if anyone thought of me at all. It is in this place I thought about taking my own life, wondered what it would be like to die, to love and to grow up.
I love this song because of what it represents to me. This song came around at the start of a new chapter in life and while I and the world around has changed dramatically since it’s introduction, a few fundamental things haven’t changed.
I still am a hopeless romantic, want to have kids some day, am horrible with money, want to see the world, adore my friends and family, love with all my heart and I still, between the click of the light and the start of the dream, wonder about so many things.
I adore this duo. From the very first time I saw them on Youtube I fell in love with Nataly Dawn’s amazing vocals and adorable facial expressions and Jack Conte’s hilarious mannerisms and his enthusiasm in playing every different instrument (of which there are many).
Pomplamoose is a duo from Youtube who make their own songs, do covers and do solo stuff! (Nataly’s cover of Book of Love being a standout for me). They are entertaining, talented and oh so charming.
They manage to do a variety of styles of songs, though most can be described as Pomplamoose-y. Yes, they have their own genre. Somewhat folk-ish/indie-ish/pop-ish/jazz-ish with a dozen of different elements present. Their VideoSongs which showcase every instrument used and show that what you see is what you here provides a fantastic view into the song itself and how it was made, all the different layers and sounds present.
Go do yourself and watch the following video and then all the rest too.
The second of my promised posts detailing my favorite things from last year. This one is my album of the year, Adele’s 21. It was a close run between Mother Mother’s Eureka and this album but ultimately, Adele won with her amazing voice.
Adele came out of nowhere for me. When 19 came out, I didn’t hear of her and never listened to her. Even when 21 came out and got super popular and was played all the time, it was still off my radar. I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV very often, so I never really get a glimpse into what is being shown on mainstream media.
Then, I went home for the holidays and my parents had purchased her Live at Royal Albert Hall blu-ray and told me I had to sit down and watch it.
I was astounded, moved and almost brought to tears by her sincerity, beautiful voice and just the emotion and passion she puts into her performances. Suddenly she was on my radar and should have been there much earlier.
Say what you will about her, whether her lyrics aren’t original or creative (which she admits is one of her faults) or her voice gets annoying over time, I have to give her credit as I only listened to her album mid-December and instantly thought it was my favorite album that year.
She is ridiculously down to earth, and her emotion is so easy to relate to that her songs get in your head and you feel what she felt writing and singing them.
Set Fire to the Rain, Turning Tables, Rolling in the Deep, Rumour Has It, Someone Like You and Lovesong are the standouts from the album. Keep doing your thing Adele, it really is quite amazing.
The first of four posts stating my favorite game, book, movie and album from this past year. To start, we have Bastion, an action RPG from Supergiant Games as my Game of the Year for 2011.
Bastion did everything right. It came out (for me, on Steam) during the summer drought of games. I was bored and needed something to whisk me away into a new world. This not only succeeded but astounded on every level.
The gameplay itself is fun, a simple dual-weapon system with some light blocking and dodging abilities that proves itself to be quite deep with a variety of weapons and strategies, that really come into play when the difficulty of the game gets ramped up with optional shrines, extra options you can activate to increase enemy health or a number of other effects. Through the game you’ll encounter a variety of enemies and bosses all requiring a variety of tactics.
Where the game shone however was in it’s presentation. From it’s audio to it’s art direction the game created a new and magical world that drew you in. The amazing Narrator, an ever present voice over with smooth Morgan Freeman-esque tones narrating your actions and the storyline was something new and refreshing and helped make the game really feel like a story.
The soundtrack was the shining part of this game, with amazing instrumental tracks that fit the levels perfectly and help set the atmosphere and story. The two voiced tracks found on the soundtrack as well especially standout (I’ll make a separate audio post after this to highlight one of those tracks), with amazing vocals and lyrics that fit the characters singing them and even provide a glimpse into the back story that is only vaguely mentioned and explained in the game of the world and the characters.
The game took me by surprise and is my most memorable gaming experience of the past year. It’s available on Steam, XBLA and even the Google Chrome Marketplace (you can play it in your browser!). I highly recommend checking this one out, as it really is quite a unique experience.
As for the visuals and amazing art, I’ll let these screenshots speak for themselves:
I love this game. It was short and had various issues but I love it to death.
The game had great atmosphere and set up an amazing world. A clean almost utopian city that only appears to be crime free due to a totalitarian regime. The game was bright and colourful and put you in the first-person role as Faith, “a courier who carries physical communiqués around the city, her services retained by revolutionary groups who avoid communicating via highly-monitored telephone and e-mail channels.”
What the game did well was first-person platforming, free-running and create a fantastic stylized environment. When the police are chasing after you, bullets flying right by you and you’re sprinting across rooftops, your heart gets pumping.
The game also had a great soundtrack with the standout being "Still Alive" by Lisa Miskovsky.
As for the amazing visuals, I’ll let these screenshots speak for themselves: