Tuesday
    Dec282010

    Top 10 for 2010 - Video Games

    My week of top 10 lists continues today with video games.  One caveat, of course, is that I didn't play everything that was released this year.  In fact, some very notable games never crossed my controller, including Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Medal of Honor, and Gran Turismo 5.  But here are my favorite 10 of what I played in 2010.

    Oh, and one other thing.  I didn't consider Cataclysm as a viable candidate for this list.  As an expansion that requires multiple other purchases to work, I didn't think it qualified - plus, it exists in some nebulous other realm - a lifestyle rather than a game.  It is a different beast entirely and unfair to compare it to everything else.  So it has a giant asterisk and hovers above the entire list, looking down on it with disdain.

    1. Civilization V

    If I were only allowed one game to play for the entirety of 2011, I would not hesitate to choose Civ 5.  It provides the deepest, most engrossing experience of any game this year, and I find myself dreaming about finding opportunities to play "just one more turn."  The refinements made to the series, including a gorgeous graphics engine, new one-unit-per-tile military strategies, a slick, easy to understand UI, and a host of other new features make even previous Civ games obsolete.  It is on my short list for favorite game ever.

    2. Red Dead Redemption

    Yep, it is as good as everyone says.  One of the most beautiful, believable game worlds every created, an ambitious, well-written story, and so many different kinds of things to do make it a triumph of the open-world genre.  Add one of the best all-time video game endings, and RDR goes down as one of the most memorable video game experiences I've ever had.  I just wish Rockstar could fix some of the annoying, persistent control issues in their games.  Still, minor gripe for a game this good.

    3. Starcraft 2

    This game oozes quality on every level.  Of course the multiplayer is top-notch.  But I was struck by how ambitious Blizzard was in pushing forward the single-player aspects of the game.  Missions are far more interesting and varied than they ever were in Starcraft or Brood War, and the Terran-only storyline turned out to be absolutely meaty enough to sustain its own release.  Great looking, sublime to play, it manages to outshine its predecessor - a game I've always considered the closest thing to a perfectly designed video game.

    4. Limbo

    Some might object to a short, downloadable game ranking this high on my list, but I felt a grander sense of wonder and discovery in Limbo than I did in many larger, more expensive games this year.  Simple, intuitive, with an elegantly communicated story, I believe it is a must-play game.  And talk about fantastic endings!  It was certainly one of the most rewarding game experiences of the year.

    5. Heavy Rain

    Heavy Rain is a game I find myself constantly referencing.  It is the type of bold, innovative interactive experience that I wish more game designers were attempting.  I loved the clever ways the different movements of the controller conveyed feelings analogous to what the onscreen characters were experiencing, and the automatic save system connected me to my story - the story I was crafting - in a profound way.  I think Heavy Rain did more for video gaming as a medium than anything else released this year.

    6. Alan Wake

    I was sad not to be able to fit this game into my top 5 and sadder still that it did not sell better.  Alan Wake was an awesome experience that deserved more attention.  Fun, visceral combat, an engaging storyline, memorable characters, and a marvelously realized game world - plus, the kind of tight, effective controls I wish Rockstar could master.  If you have not played Alan Wake, you missed one of the best games of this or any year.

    7. Mass Effect 2

    Bioware managed to fix nearly every problem of the first game in the series, but created a few more.  Still, Mass Effect 2 is crackling good fun.  What a difference great combat makes!  The gorgeous graphics and excellent dialog system are still intact, and the story is still good pulp sci-fi.  Hours and hours of great interactive entertainment.

    8. Halo Reach

    We get to number 8 before any FPS titles make the list, but exciting, unpredictable firefights, great level design, and the best storytelling of any Halo title to date, makes Halo Reach an undeniable winner.  Add in multiplayer for any kind of gamer, from co-op to competitive matchmaking and team play, Halo Reach is a phenomenal package - and another game with a great, memorable ending. 

    9. Darksiders

    Darksiders is my dark horse for 2010, my favorite underappreciated game of the year.  Is it derivative of Zelda?  Sure... but what a wonderful game to be derivative of!  Spot-on, tried-and-true gameplay, that awesome feeling of being over-powered with each new power-up, great controls, and all in beautiful HD!  If Nintendo refuses to give me my HD Zelda, I am happy to enjoy this darker, equally thrilling cousin.  Bring on the sequel!

    10. Kirby's Epic Yarn

    Perhaps Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the more robust, inventive platformer, more deserving of a spot on the top 10, but I just can't deny the joy, wonder, and unabashed whimsy on display in Kirby's Epic Yarn.  It is a visual work of art, and the game's mechanics are solid, and never fail to surprise and entertain with each new challenge.  I adored my experience playing it and am so glad it exists.

     

    There you have it, my favorites of the year.  A great year for video games, no doubt, but 2011 looks like it could be even stronger.  Let me know what you thought of the list and don't forget to check out our official Totally Rad Show game of the year episode, too.

    Tomorrow, we take a look at TV.

    Monday
    Dec272010

    Top 10 for 2010 - Movies

    It is the end of the year, so you know what that means... top ten lists!
    We covered our Top 5 favorite films of the year in this episode of the Totally Rad Show, but I thought I'd expand on that to discuss my top 10 of 2010.  So, without further ado...
    1. True Grit

    Another Coen Bros masterpiece of language and storytelling.  Fantastic performances anchor an unpredictable, riveting tale of revenge and coming of age.  In typical Coen Bros style even the smallest characters are interesting and memorable.  I didn't have a more enjoyable time at the movies all year, and it instantly made my all-time list of favorite Westerns.
    2. Social Network

    Forget the geek inside-baseball backlash about how little verisimilitude the film brings to Mark Zuckerberg's real life story (what biopic doesn't play fast and loose with the truth?).  In the hands of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, the Social Network is a snowball careening down a mountain, a torrent of god-I-wish-people-really-spoke-like-that dialog and impossible intelligence, that dives in and out of different times and events, building to what feels like a breakneck pace.  It makes legal depositions and computer programming feel like high drama, and is a relevant, fascinating film, regardless of how accurate it is to the real story.
    3. 127 Hours

    The most inspiring film of the year.  A tale of true heroism and a lesson in using willpower and determination to survive.  It is also an incredible piece of filmmaking.  That Danny Boyle is able to maintain tension and interest inside a crevasse when we know the outcome of the story is remarkable.  This film is far, far better than the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.  
    4. Inception

    An audacious, grand, hard science-fiction tale that also managed to be mass market entertainment.  I am still in awe of the imagination at work in Inception, and will be thinking about it for years to come.  No movie was talked about more, dissected, or provoked more thought.  
    5. The King's Speech

    Clearly, I am enamored with movies that value language, and The King's Speech absolutely revels in it.  Colin Firth's performance is spectacular, and only in part because of the remarkable affectation he adopts.  The nuance of bluster and insecurity, of familial power struggle and personal denial he conveys is even more impressive.  I was moved by the message of the film that even a small personal victory can be a monumental achievement. 
    6. Toy Story 3

    It is possible this movie deserves to be even higher on this list.  It is a wonderful, satisfying, finely-crafted piece of entertainment - the one film on this list that could literally be recommended to anyone, young or old, without hesitation.  How Pixar manages to create something so universally appealing without being trite or unintelligent is astonishing.  That it is also so beautifully eloquent on the subject of growing up makes it an instant classic.
    7. Catfish

    I debated whether or not I'd include this movie, because the experience of seeing it for me was probably very different from most others.  I knew nothing about the movie going in, and was able to see a private screening at the studio before any of the hype had started (I dare say I contributed to the hype).  But in that context, this was one of the most powerful movies I saw all year.  Since its release there has been all sorts of information that may or may not strip the experience of some of its impact, but forgetting all of that, I found the ideas expressed, the pure emotional drama and edge-of-my-seat excitement/fear/desire to know what was going to happen next to be amazing.  It felt like a true movie of our time, dealing with technology, morality, and interpersonal relationships in a way that was impossible only 5 or 10 years ago.
    8. How to Train Your Dragon

    Had there been no Toy Story 3 this year, I suspect many more people would have been singing this film's praises.  A wonderfully heartfelt wish-fulfillment story the touches on the feeling of everyone who has ever owned a pet, and anyone who has ever dreamed of flying.  Funny, touching, sweet, and exciting, it is a fantastic film. 
    9. Kickass

    My list, my rules.  Kickass felt like a reward for being a geek.  The pot of gold at the end of a comic-book reading, video game playing, socially awkward rainbow of childhood.  Exhilarating and fun, funny and poignant, it gave me goosebumps by how personal it felt for me.
    10. Scott Pilgrim vs the World

    Along with Kickass, I think SPvtW is way ahead of its time.  A kinetic mashup of pop and video game cultures into a visually thrilling riff on the geek mindset.  It felt like something truly new and will undoubtedly become a cult hit.  I had a blast watching it, and only wish it hit me on a more emotional level.  Still, one of the most memorable movies of the year.
    There you have it.  My top 10 for 2010 in movies.  Let me know what you think and then stop by tomorrow for my list of my favorite video games of the year.

     

    Monday
    Dec272010

    Tues, December 28th: Toronto Tweetup!

    I'm doing my first ever Tweetup this week!

    If you're in or near Toronto and would like to come out and say hi, I'd love to meet you.  I'll be at the Friar & Firkin pub for a few hours, starting at 4:30pm.  Hoping to get a couple of my Canadian gaming journo pals to show up as well.  It'll be very casual, just come out for a drink and maybe meet some folks with similar interests.

    Here are the details:

    Friar & Firkin

    160 John St
    TorontoON M5V 2E5
    Neighbourhood: Queen Street West

    Tuesday, December 28th

    Starting at 4:30pm

    I'll be the freshly bearded American geek in the back trying to stay warm and look Canadian ;)

    Hope to see you there!

    Monday
    Dec202010

    A Very Special Message for the Holiday Season...

    Here is Christmas comedy sketch I did a while back with my web comedy group, Very Angry Neighbors.

    If you've never seen it before, I hope you enjoy it!  If you have, I hope it gives you a laugh all over again.

    Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

     

    Monday
    Dec132010

    Achievement Unlocked

    Anyone who has ever worked on a play at any level knows Samuel French.  They publish plays in small, usable editions, which are nearly always the version of play you receive when hired to play a role on stage.  These tend to be the definitive working editions of shows and usually contain a bit of information on the first professional staging of the play, including original venue, cast, and crew.

    When you read enough of these editions, and you see names you recognize in roles you never knew they played, you begin to dream of seeing your own name listed for some future actor to see.

    When I originated the role of Adam Webster in The Psychic last year at The Falcon Theater in Burbank, I secretly hoped it might be published by Samuel French and my dream might come true.

    Then, yesterday this arrived, sent along by the play's fantastic writer, Sam Bobrick, and his lovely wife Julie:

     

     

    It is a beautiful, glossy edition of the play (much nicer than the usual plain blue Samuel French editions) and sure enough there I am listed in the preface.  Pretty darn cool.

     

    Another goal down... many more to go :)