Every December, I put together a quick list of things that meant a lot to me in the previous year. Some selections are recommendations—like TV shows or games I think you should check out—and some are more cathartic, meant to help me remember all of the wonderful things I got to be a part of this year. I continue to be impossibly fortunate in my life.
I hope you enjoy this list, and please do share some of your own favorites in the comments so I can check those out too!
My Favorite New Game – Darkest Dungeon
I’ve already written at length about Red Hook Studios’ brilliant dungeon crawler, so I’ll keep this brief. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it plays at any pace you want—something I really valued this year with a lot of work and a suddenly-walking child in my home. I’ve already put in 43 hours and plan to put in many more, thanks in part to the awesome updates the dev team has regularly been putting out.
My Favorite Story — The Banner Saga
Well, the good news it that I’ve apparently accomplished my goal of trying to write about games I love more frequently, since I already have a blog post up about this game too! Stoic Studio crafted the best story in games since Mass Effect blew my geek-brains out. It’s moving, it’s thought-provoking, and it brings you in as a decision-maker who’s choices really matter. It’s the golden standard for interactive storytelling in my books. And it’s on tablets too!
My Favorite Dev Project — Race and Deity Lore
I’m unfortunately still not able to talk about a lot of my work at Daybreak Games. But one thing I did that was public was when I and few other devs spent a lot of time digging into the different racial and deity lore for EverQuest Next about a year ago. We produced a couple official blogs on the topic, but most of the work was for internal documents. It was a really fun challenge to collect all of the lore written over the years for EQN and all the other EverQuest games on certain people, groups, and beliefs and find the core of their identity in the details. We worked to determine what parts were essential and find ways to adapt or integrate new aspects that’d improve the dynamics. I learned a lot while working with very talented designers like Steve Danuser, Paul Molina, and Ryan Shannon on that.
My Favorite Dev Lesson — Playtesting is King
I jumped between working on three different games at Daybreak this year—EverQuest, Landmark, and EverQuest Next. On top of that, I worked on some personal projects on the side. Through all of it, I was constantly reminded how important it is to play the game you’re working on. You can’t make the best choices for the design of a game that you’re unfamiliar with. So when I was jumping back and forth between games, I had to frequently change my gaming habits to make sure my knowledge of each game, genere, and its community was up-to-date. It was tough to keep up at times, and I definitely missed some steps along the way, but I’m confident that I’m getting better every day.
Of course, you can’t just rely on your own playtests. Getting others into your content/game and watching what they do and talking with them about what they like and hate is equally important. Angry players aren’t always right in the solutions they demand, but they’re always right in explaining how they feel—and a good designer can use that information to find the best solutions for them. I made effort this year to make sure I got better at that skill.
My Favorite Album — Blue Rose Code’s The Ballads of Peckham Rye
I got a record player this year and immediately snatched up some of my modern favorites like Weezer’s Pinkerton, Amy Winehouse’s Frank, The Little One’s Morning Song, and Jack’s Mannequinn’s Everything in Transit. I’m hoping I can grab the older classics at garage sales and thrift shops for cheaper than the ~$20 price tag on these. But my favorite pick-up by far was the delightfully peaceful and thoughtful album by Blue Rose Code, The Ballads of Peckham Rye. It’s by far the highest quality vinyl I bought, and the difference in sound quality is immediately noticeable. Ross Wilson is an optimistic dreamer who uses calm folk music to soothe souls, and I’ll cherish this signed album for years to come.
My Favorite Podcasts – History!
History was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I love to learn about the past, the people, and the choices we’ve made as a species over thousands of years. In general, modern people like me have so many misconceptions and assumptions about historical civilizations and events. There’s nothing I appreciate more than an expert who’ll blow my mind by explaining how things really were, and why we often believe something different.
So I got absolutely hooked on 3 incredible history podcasts this year. Everything else on my feed feels like a hurdle to overcome just to get to these guys each week:
- Revolutions: Walks you through every revolution in world history, starting with the first English Civil War. Mike is one of the best podcast hosts I’ve heard—witty, well-spoken, and approachable. His information is well-researched and very thorough. I’ve learned so much from him already!
- In Our Time: This show is so dry that I almost dropped it after the first episode, but I gave it another chance and the incredible depth of knowledge and wide-ranging topics hooked me pretty quick. They bring on a panel of 3 experts every episode who specialize in that episode’s exact topic, and I really appreciate the diversity of opinions and frequent source-referencing they provide. The episodes on The Ming Voyages and Hammurabi’s Code were standouts for me.
- The Ancient World: Ancient history and mythologies are my weakness—I absolutely love to study and talk about them. And I could listen to Scott talk about them on this show forever. I started with his first episodes from 2012 and the audio quality is a bit rough. But he’s still going strong today so I’m hoping that it’ll improve over time.
I tried a few other history podcasts this year, but they were all a bit sloppy in fact-checking or misleading in how they present the information. That’s a pet-peeve of mine that caused me to dismiss the other shows pretty quickly—I’m listening to these to learn the truth and break my misconceptions about the past, not reinforce them.
My Favorite TV Show — Adam Ruins Everything
Speaking of breaking misconceptions, this new show on TruTV is a brilliant masterpiece in deconstructing the things we do and why we do them. Adam is funny, quirky, and just charming enough to make his abrasive fact-spewing funny to watch, and I’ve learned so much from watching the show. Everything from buying Tom’s Shoes to the American Electoral College to sex myths are broken down and analyzed, with sources constantly popping up in the corner of the screen, so you can do your own research if you don’t believe it or want to know more. It’s clever, witty, and very reminiscent of Drunk History (another amazing show).
My Favorite DC Comic — Catwoman
Writer Genevieve Valentine took Catwoman through a terrific story campaign this year, presenting her as a smart, beleaguered mob boss trying to help Gotham in her own way. There were a lot of powerful moments in the story fueled by the compelling characters all around her, with plenty of time for Selina to go into slinky prowler mode. Being placed deep into the tumultous politics of crime families in Gotham really brought out the best side of Selina, and made Catwoman compelling and inspiring without reducing her to a sex object. I’m sad to see this story arc wrap up at the end of the year. This was Catwoman’s best year yet! Kudos to the whole team involved.
My Favorite Non-DC Comic — Fables
It may have just been me, but redone fairy tales were all over my life this year (even if most of them were older things I just discovered this year!). No one did it better than Fables, Vertigo’s long-running series that inspired the Wolf Among Us game (which is what brought me to it in the first place). Most fairy tale adaptations into the modern world are filled with brain-dead translations and cliche twists, but Fables manages to transcend the traps at every single opportunity. The characters are familiar, but wholly new and unique. The story is an incredible epic worthy of Homer himself. This is one series I will force all of my family to read.
My Favorite Book — Leo Tolstoy’s A Confession
I don’t talk about religion or politics on this site (for good reason, I think!), so forgive this one intrusion. You were probably forced to read one of Tolstoy’s novels in school at some point, but my absolute favorite of his works is his Confession, which I rediscovered this year. Later in life, Tolstoy had a crisis of purpose and began to question everything. This book is a candid walk through his thought process that ultimately led him to a belief system best described as Christian anarchy and pacifism. Like all other religious/political writings, I don’t agree with everything in this book, but Tolstoy’s systematic explanations of where his beliefs came from are incredibly interesting to me. Bonus fact: Tolstoy’s powerful advocacy of nonviolent resistance (especially his The Kingdom of God is Within You) also inspired Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
My Favorite Card — Dragon Consort (Hearthstone)
I had so much fun with my Dragon Paladin Deck after the Blackrock Mountain adventure came out. Later sets pushed Dragon Priest to the forefront, but the Paladin variant is still my favorite. Lots of sweet removal, big bodies, and the cost reduction let you pull off some fun tricks.
My Favorite Team — Winterfox (NA LCS)
I think I cursed my favorite esports teams this year, causing them all to barely survive one season together before imploding! I fell in love with Winterfox as soon as I saw their adorable logo, and how much they interacted with fans on Twitter and social media. They also had a pair of brothers on the team alongside Pobelter, who’s one of my all-time favorites in NA. It was a really fun experience to cheer for the team and interact with them on Twitter. It’s one of the biggest reasons why every year I’m more interested in esports and less interested in traditional sports—the players are way more approachable and eager to interact with fans. I’m sad Winterfox doesn’t have a LoL team anymore, but I’m eager to find a new friendly underdog roster to root for (and I think it’ll be Immortals!).
My Favorite Board Game — Betrayal at House on the Hill
I have to admit I only played this once this year, but that match was so good that I immediately bought it and have been trying to convince family members to play it with me ever since. It’s like a Clue RPG with a healthy dose of magic, mythologies, and untimely BETRAYAL! *Cue evil laughter* The rules are a bit complicated, and one player has to read a full set of rules and understand them on their own mid-match, so it really needs to be played with people that like complicated games. But the premise makes the game extremely replayable (a different crisis happens each time and there are dozens of them) and the setting of the game is super fun. Someday I’ll finally get enough people on board to break it out at home!
My Favorite Novelty Twitter Account — Ministry of GIFs
It’s like having an IV of 100% pure internet!