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Dec 28 / Great Apes

Games of 2020

This felt like a slow year for video games. I think the pandemic had less to do with that than the release of the new Xbox and Playstation did. Development resources have substantially shifted to the new consoles, but very few of the games in development for them have been released (and at any rate, I don’t have either of the new consoles). Unsurprisingly, when I put together my list of all the games I played this year, it leaned quite heavily towards smaller independent games, especially games developed for PC. The upshot of all this is that I had a lot more time open in my schedule, and I took advantage of that to replay a bunch of older RPGs like The Banner Saga, Ni No Kuni, and Kingdom Hearts III (and I’m currently about half-way through Final Fantasy IX, a game I haven’t played in a good 10 or more years). Here, then, are the 10 games I had the best time with in 2020.

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Dec 23 / Great Apes

Music of 2019

I think this was maybe not the best year for music in recent memory. I certainly didn’t hear as many great albums as I did last year. Nevertheless, there are always lots of good albums – more than I could possibly listen to, so here are the 15 I enjoyed the most. As is often the case, the list leans heavily towards post-rock and metal, but there’s a decent mix of other stuff, I think. Half of these albums are instrumental, with another few having only intermittent vocals.

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Dec 16 / Great Apes

Games of 2019

In putting together this list I learned that I played 27 games that were released in 2019. Almost all of them were good, too. There were only a couple that I bailed on without putting in a decent amount of time. So it’s easy for me to say that this was a pretty strong year for gaming. The fact that I felt compelled to make a list of my top 15 games, rather than the 10 I normally aim for, helps illustrate how deep the pool of games was this year. That said, I don’t think there were any big stand-out titles this year. In other recent years I’ve had games like Monster Hunter World and Breath of the Wild as my favourite of the year, and there was nothing quite that good this year.

I usually do multi-paragraph write-ups of all the games on my list, but I suspect that no one actually reads those, so I’m going to do briefer write-ups this year. I’d consider the top three games on this list roughly interchangeable, with everything else a step or two back of those games.

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Dec 9 / Great Apes

Albums of the 2010s

Putting together this list reminded me of how much great music has been released in the last decade. I have a tendency, like most people over 30, to have nostalgia towards the music of my high school and college years that can cause me to under-rate how good the current music scene is. Putting together the initial shortlist that I pulled these 25 albums from got me a list of nearly 100 great albums from the 2010s, and I could probably name 100 more good ones after that. These final 25 comprise a list of outstanding records, and there was so much good stuff I wanted to include but didn’t have room for. Enjoy.

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Dec 22 / Great Apes

Games of 2018

I don’t think 2018 was quite as good a year for games as last year was (there was nothing that blew me away the way Breath of the Wild did), but there were still quite a few good games.  I played close to 30 games that came out this year, and narrowing this list down took a bit of work.  I’m definitely leaving some good games out of here.  I know most of these kinds of lists go in multiples of 5 or 10, but there were 11 games that I wanted to talk about, so that’s how long this list is.

We’ve hit a point where there are far more good games released each year than anyone could reasonably be expected to play.  I still haven’t had time to dive into Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest game from Lucas Pope, who previously made one of my favourite games of the past decade – Papers, Please.  I recently started Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but I haven’t played enough to form many opinions.  I bought God of War during a recent Playstation Network holiday sale, and everyone says it’s great, but I haven’t had time for that yet either.  The Red Strings Club sounds like it could be really interesting.  I’ve heard lots of good things about Star Traders: Frontiers.  I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard of Vampyr.  There just isn’t enough time.  So I make no claim to this being any definitive kind of list.  It’s just a bunch of games I enjoyed playing, and maybe you’ll like them too.

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Dec 15 / Great Apes

Music of 2018

2018 was a really great year for music.  I had a hard time sorting out the order for a lot of these, but mostly I suspect people read these kinds of lists just to see how many albums they know show up, so maybe the order doesn’t actually matter.  Like most years I’m going to list my favourite 15 albums from the past year in ascending order.  I’ll include a link to one song I think you should check out if you’re not familiar with the band.  There’s a lot less metal this year than in most other recent years.  I don’t know if that’s because I missed out on a bunch of great metal albums or if there just wasn’t as much good heavy music this year, but whatever the reason this list tends more towards the indie rock end of my tastes.  But all the albums here are really good, or I wouldn’t suggest they’re worth your time.

All of these records are available on Bandcamp, both to purchase and to listen to in full even if you haven’t purchased them.  Bandcamp is much better for artists than other platforms (they only take a 10% cut of sales, whereas services like Spotify pay artists virtually nothing) and I think it’s better for listeners too, because you can usually listen to entire albums for free before deciding if you want to pay for them.  So I’m linking to Bandcamp for all of these albums, which means you can usually click through and listen to more music by that artists if your interest is piqued.

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Dec 27 / Great Apes

Music of 2017

When I sat down to put this list together I was impressed by just how much great music was released in 2017.  I’ve limited this list to 15 albums for the sake of brevity, but I easily could have listed more, and I’m sure there are even more good albums that I don’t know about yet.  I’m pretty bad at describing why I like this album or that album, so I’m just going to list them in order and embed a song from each record that I hope you’ll like.  Like most years this list does lean towards metal albums, especially near the top end, but I think there’s a pretty good variety of genres here, and a good mix of vocal and instrumental albums.  Enjoy!

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Dec 24 / Great Apes

Games of 2017

There were a lot of games released in 2017, so many that there are still probably 8-10 games that came out that I want to play that I haven’t gotten around to, and I probably never will get to some of them.  Thankfully, many of the games that I did play turned out to be quite good.

These days the toughest question I have to deal with when putting out this list is figuring out what exactly constitutes a game that was “released” in 2017.  On some level the days of going to a store and buying a disc or cartridge that contains the final version of a game is over.  This list includes one game that’s still in Early Access, another game that was in EA for a couple of years but finally saw its official “release” this summer, and a game that was released episodically throughout 2016 but wasn’t put together as a complete retail package until January.  Then there’s something like No Man’s Sky, which was so thoroughly changed through free DLC this year that it’s practically a new game.  I didn’t include it since it was already my #2 game last year, but it’s an interesting question.

One big difference between this year and most other years I’ve done this list is that this year there aren’t nearly as many indie games.  In previous years I’ve had games with small budgets but great ideas at or near the top of the list, with Game of the Year honours going to things like The Banner Saga or Papers, Please.  I couldn’t say why that is, but for whatever reason this year’s list is dominated by games from big publishers.

I make no claim to having an exhaustive list of the “best” games of 2017.  I counted about 25 games that I played enough of this year to form an opinion, but there are plenty more I haven’t played and would like to (I hear Yakuza 0 is a lot of fun), or games that I started and enjoyed but got distracted from before I could decide how much I liked them (like Thimbleweed Park).  So these are just the ten games I got the most enjoyment out of this year.

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Dec 18 / Great Apes

Screenshots of 2017

In recent years a growing number of games have included photo modes which let the player freeze the on-screen action and frame the perfect shot.  I’ve become quite enamoured of these photo modes, which is a bit strange given how little interest I have in real photography, but so it goes.  I can take dozens, sometimes even hundreds of photos in these games.  I figured it would be fun to share some of my favourites as the year draws down, so what follows is a few of the ones that I think are most interesting, taken from three games that released great photo modes this year – Assassin’s Creed: Origins, No Man’s Sky, and the game I took by far the most photos in, Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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Jan 2 / Great Apes

Books of 2016

I’ve already posted lists for my favourite games and albums released in 2016.  I don’t keep up with new book releases well enough to do a list of my favourite books released in the past year, but I do read about as many books as games I play or albums I listen to each year, so I like to do a year end round-up of what I’ve been reading around the same time I do my game and record lists.

For the previous couple of years I’ve done mini-reviews of every book I read, but it feels kind of tedious to write a few dozen reviews, and anyway I doubt more than a few people bother to read them all anyway.  So this year I’ve decided just to list the 10 most compelling things I read in 2016, with no distinction between fiction and non-fiction.  I hope you can find something you’ll enjoy.  (The list is arranged alphabetically.)

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