Come one, come all. I am the one they call “Evan,” and my word is immutable.
Evan’s Top Five Other Stuff of 2013
I don’t fancy myself a musician, since I can’t really sing and I don’t actually listen to much music. But learning how to play both the guitar and the ukelele pretty well over the course of 2013 has been a fun experience, and a nice mood-settler. I can play a C#m. Can you? (I’m not that special.)
4. Surprisingly Great Late December Movies
2013 was the year I stopped really going to see movies in theaters. As I’ve become older and pickier, and movies have become bigger and longer, I frequently had to make touch calls. Do I want to sit at home or take a gamble on two hours and thirty minutes of something I’ll probably hate? I usually chose the former.
So color me delighted when my two favorite films of the year came out within weeks of each other: the Coen brothers’ expert Inside Llewyn Davis, and Spike Jonze’s heart-breaking/funny/inspiring Her. They’re tonal opposites, as Llewyn navigates the 60s folk scene with cold distance, and Her boldly imagines a future where technology has made us closer rather than farther apart. The only way to ties this all up is to say, plainly, that both films are unique in sidestepping cheap manipulation, while still remarkable in their ability to feel, and make the audience feel too, They’ll make you feel very different things, for sure, but that’s beside the point.
This couldn’t not be on my list, because I spend an unhealthy amount of time writing scripts and thinking up ideas for other scripts. 2013 was by far my most productive writing year. I finished my feature-length Persona movie, wrote a sci-fi pilot named Space Cowboy, and started countless other projects that I hope to wrap up soon. It’s been fun and stuff.
2. RPG Maker
No project has quite fascinated me as much as the visual novel/RPG hybrid I’m working on with the admittedly simple tools afforded by RPG Maker VX Ace. For someone as game design inept as myself, the level of involvement is just so, and I feel like I can really hone in on the stuff I do well with — the writing and the character work. I’ve programmed about twenty minutes of a 3-4 hour experience, and I can’t wait to share a finished product.
1. Adventure Time
Simply put, no piece of media (across all media) has brought me as much concentrated joy this year as Adventure Time. It’s a show made for me; one that’s funny, disarmingly sad, littered with likable characters who are slowly deepened, set in a rich world with an established sense of place, and all in all just delightful. I wish I could help make a show as good as Adventure Time one day, and thinking back over the time I’ve spent watching it, I’m hard pressed to think of a show I like better, or one that I think so unconditionally succeeds at what it tries to do. Bravo, Finn and Jake.
Evan’s Top Ten Games of 2013
10. Remember Me
Okay, look. Remember Me probably isn’t the tenth best game of the year. No one’s played it, though, and a lot of people dismissed it when it actually did a lot of really interesting things. It built a compelling world, spun an efficient yarn that only stumbles a couple times, and builds on its mechanics pretty well throughout its length. More than anything, it’s weird. And weird, big-budget, publisher-backed character action games should get more attention. So I’m going all in on Remember Me.
9. NBA 2K14
I don’t really care about sports, so color me surprised when I found myself staring down the fifteen hours I’d spent grooming my created basketballman, Boomer Hendrix. I always judge these games by how convincingly they let me create freakish players who should be allowed near a court, and 2K14 makes some promising strides in giving me exactly what I want. The new and improved MyCareer mode features some awesomely dumb (and pretty evidently tongue-in-cheek) cutscenes, with a compelling cast of characters. Your player. His agent, and childhood friend. The GM of the team you signed with. The players on that team, who might try to haze you in your rookie year by asking you to wear a red clown nose at press conferences. The sleazy guy who invites you to the back of a limo to ask you to be the sponsor for “Mega De-Fib,” an energy drink that may or may not actually exist. The skeevy rival agent who promises you big bucks, but holy shit how could you leave your agent after all he’s done for you?! And then there’s Jackson Ellis, your skilled equal and infuriating rival. Never has a basketball simulation felt so much like a soap opera, and that’s glorious.
Also the basketball is pretty fun. And it looks amazing.
8. Grand Theft Auto V
I like Grand Theft Auto V a lot. Grand Theft Auto V also has a lot of problems. Its female characters, while not quite the dimwits people have made them out to be, are simply too few in number. Its satire only grows more repulsive the more I think about it, and the broader strokes of its story leave a little to be desired.
Grand Theft Auto V is also an absolutely monumental achievement in open-world game design, from the world-building to the mechanics to the mission design. It’s a real delight to play, and it’s finally found a suitably abrasive, introspective protagonist in the psychopathic form of Trevor Phillips. Rockstar still has room to grow as a developer, but this is the first GTA that feels almost about the cult of GTA, instead of just pandering to its chaos-obsessed fan base.
So sue me. I like Grand Theft Auto V a lot.
7. The Last of Us
Well, this is a weird one. I started The Last of Us close to when it came out, and then dropped it entirely around two-thirds of the way through until just recently. My reasons were simple: I was depressed, stressed out in my own life while also utterly flattened by the untimely death of Giant Bomb founder Ryan Davis. So it sat on my shelf for six or seven months, and I started to lose interest.
After beating it, I figured I couldn’t put it on my list, because my opinion didn’t feel coherent enough. I let it stew for a while, and now I’m confident in saying that The Last of Us is an incredible risk that succeeds more than it fails. Yes, the combat has a couple rough edges. Yes, I would cut the “Winter” chapter right out of the game. And yeah, I sort of wish the world Naughty Dog so painstakingly devised was more original or engaging.
Despite all of this, The Last of Us, is at its core a wonderful game with a noble ambition. It’s gameplay melds smoothly with its tone and narrative in a way other games could only dream of, while the moment-to-moment writing, performance and character work is utterly top notch. It’s the anti-Uncharted in every way it should be.
6. Year Walk
Year Walk belongs to a special subset of games that exist on a certain platform for a great reason. Most of them could wind up anywhere. It doesn’t matter that God of War is on the PS3 and not the 360. Everything about Year Walk‘s unqualified success is tied directly to the experience of playing it on an iOS device, so much so that I’m bewildered and excited to see how they port it over to PC this year. In fact, the less said about the game, the better. Go play it. And grab that companion app while you’re at it. Trust me.
I can’t quite place what about Anodyne is so good, because it exists in some sort of aether between what it says on its own and how it uses nostalgia to burrow deep within the player’s psyche. Everything about actually playing Anodyne is merely adequate — a suitable way to get from one place to the next. But the story it tells, and how confidently that story is presented, make the whole experience incredibly dark and incredibly special. It’s another example of how interesting the Zelda formula could be if Nintendo just took a chance on meaningfully, thematically toying with it. An outstanding experience with one hell of an ending.
Antichamber is one of the funniest games of the year, which is impressive given that: 1) there are no characters, 2) no one ever speaks, and 3) it’s a sterile, abstract, non-Euclidian mindfuck. But funny it is, less in its droll fortune-cookie-like placards, and more in its puzzle design. More things happen where you aren’t looking in Antichamber than any game I can recall, as if the whole thing is one really convincing slight-of-hand trick. Which is fine, because it’s a incredible trick.
3. Bioshock Infinite
This is the Mass Effect 3 of 2013, because I think I’m supposed to feel bad for really liking it, or something. Whatever. I love Bioshock Infinite. I love its weirdly old-school arena styled combat. I love its far-reaching but still fundamentally pulpy sci-fi story. I love its world, which mirrors its gameplay in terms of dissonance and sudden spikes of chaos. I don’t know how a AAA first-person shooter could ever be my favorite game, but I’d sure sleep a lot better at night if they were all as tactile and fascinating as Bioshock Infinite.
2. Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the most mechanically complex, nuanced, and satisfying game I’ve played in 2013. That’s it.
It’s an utterly inelegant reason for it to be featured on my list, especially this highly, but it’s true. SMT IV is the culmination of decades of RPG systems, trials and errors, and missteps. It takes an admittedly simple demon collection mechanic and adds so many wrinkles to that system that you could lose hours tinkering with the most minute details. To the outside observer, it might seem petty. But you know exactly what needs to happen, and you know exactly why it needs to, and I swear this boss won’t eat shit unless all of my demons and my backups have Bufudyne.
Couple that with a solid localization, puzzlingly metatextual story, and deeply engrossing atmosphere, and you have something special. My second favorite game of 2013 special? Yes. Also it’s really, really long. And really, really hard. Good game!
1. Gone Home
I spend a lot of time driving around at night. That’s not because I have anywhere in particular to go, mind you. I like driving at night because it’s a nice way to get out of my head and cleanse the palette. It’s moody. It’s sad. It’s a little scary. It feels like something I shouldn’t be doing. Unless someone was watching me do it, in a movie or whatever. When it’s raining and it’s nighttime, and I’m maybe somewhere I’ve never really driven before — that’s the tops.
Gone Home is a game where you walk around in someone else’s house. You read their letters, and you looks at their messes. You know nothing about them. Except, of course, whatever you might gather from what’s been left behind. In the story, you’re a member of the family, back from college. That doesn’t really matter, because Gone Home knows it can’t fool you into being someone else.
Instead, you are yourself, writhing around in your own skin, exploring a house that feels nostalgic to someone, but not you. It’s the closest a video game has come to replicating the thrill I get from driving aimlessly at night. Trying to save the world has gotten boring. Trying to save Sam Greenbriar is joyous. Or even thinking she needs saving in the first place.