2012 turned out to be an amazing year for me. In February, I released my first commercial game, after a few years of learning to code. In April, I finally lived a dream and took a trip to Europe for the first time. The middle of the year was full of travel for both work and play: San Francisco, New York, Denver, Seattle, and Florida. In October, I released a second iOS app, and I’m working on getting a third up and running. In November, I ran my very first half marathon, a feat that seemed impossible to me. So in all kinds of ways, 2012 was quite a year. I can’t say it always felt like that while I was going through it, but looking back, I had a great time this past year.

Every year I make a list of my favorite music, movies, and games here on the blog, and so here’s this year’s list. As usual, these are far from definitive (except for the games list, which I originally put together for our best of the year over on Joystiq). It’s just a list of the best stuff I heard, watched, and played in the past 365 days.

Best music (that I heard) of 2012

These picks are probably a little embarrassing — I just looked through a few major top 50 albums of the year lists, and man, I haven’t heard any of that stuff. Honestly, I didn’t keep up with music very well this year — I mostly just listened to bad pop music. But at least here’s some of it that I can recommend.

“Babel” – Mumford & Sons
Case in point: I think most serious critics would say Mumford has moved a little close to cliche at this point, given that the second album sounds almost exactly like the first. But I don’t really care — I love that this guy and his band have gotten so popular with so many audiences not because of special production tricks or big hype, but just because they play good, solid, traditional folk music.

“Theatre is Evil” – Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
Amanda Palmer weirds me out a little bit, but I think that’s mostly the point. She does make some great music, though.

“Some Nights” – Fun.
Just good times.

“The Heist” – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
I came late to this party — no less than three people told me how great a song “Thrift Shop” was before I finally sat down and listened to it. But once I did, I couldn’t stop listening, and the whole album is terrific. “Same Love” is such an amazing song, and this album is probably my favorite of the year.

Best movies (that I saw) of 2012

Django Unchained
People say it’s long, but I didn’t care at all. I remember reading interviews years ago where Tarantino would talk about how no one was approaching the issue of racism in films the way he wanted to, and at the time I sort of shrugged it off as creative bravado. But watching this, it’s clear what he meant. Even Roots seems sanitized after the portrayal of slavery in Django Unchained. The belief that you can own people is a terrible, shocking, stupid concept, and not only does Tarantino show just how deeply ingrained it was in the American South, but he wraps that in a genre flick that’s hilarious and awesome as well.

I have some issues with this movie — mostly that none of the characters are really all that likable, and they tend towards the whiny at points. But nevertheless, I really enjoyed this one, because even though the superhero-style festivities eventually go to some crazy heights, the movie never once gives up on its “found footage” premise. Most films like that (hi, Cloverfield) need to compromise at some point, either by making someone carry the camera or cheapening the action we get to see. But Chronicle delivered well on both throughout.

Moonrise Kingdom
You know how sometimes, you’re on a road trip, and you stop at some country gas station with a restaurant next to it, and you go inside, and there’s a gigantic train set, complete with little people in little houses and a working miniature water tower and a little fire station with a red engine and a little dalmatian barking at the train as it goes by? That’s this movie. I watched this film and it made me want to be young and fall in love, which is probably something we all want all the time anyway. But still.

The Cabin in the Woods
I guess this officially came out in 2011, but I watched it this year, and what a crazy movie. I have my problems with the beginning of it, but as you probably know by now (you’ve seen it, right?), it eventually dives into one of the smartest, most original ideas the horror genre has seen in years.

Wreck-it Ralph
I think this is a landmark film, for this reason: Most movies that involve video games in some way tend to either explain to the audience what’s going on (“it’s a game — you play as this guy”), or they just plain get it wrong. But Wreck-It Ralph never bothers with that. It just assumes going in that you know what video games are and how they work, and plays all of its fun Disney magic off of that. I also loved the characters, obviously. Jane Lynch’s character’s backstory was a brilliant little piece of girl power — I wish there was a Halo-like shooter with a female hero like that.

Best games (that I played) of 2012

All right. I actually had to put this together, in order, for Joystiq, so here’s my full top 10. This is as definitive as it gets for me — there are a few games I didn’t get to play yet (most notably Dishonored, probably, though I played it for about an hour at E3, and wasn’t really blown away), but even considering those, these are my picks in order of preference.

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I thought this would probably be my game of the year back when I first played it at E3, and it turns out I was right. Sid Meier famously said that games are “a series of interesting decisions,” and XCOM is exactly that. Right from the get-go, Firaxis offers you choice after choice after choice: Do you build armor for your soldiers, or infrastructure for your organization? Do you keep panic down in North America or Asia? Do you take some easy money, or recruit some more engineers? Do you dash on up to that next piece of cover, or hang back and sit on Overwatch? The game feels like it flies at jet fighter speed from one battle to the next, but in truth, all it does is wait for you to take your next turn, to make that next choice and then live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

2. Journey
There was no more beautiful experience in gaming this year, period. Flower is such a great and wonderful game in the way it wordlessly translates feelings through the controller, and Journey does the same and more. There’s a wonderful setting and world to explore for sure, and that soundtrack is worth all of the praise it gets. But Journey’s biggest triumph is in that anonymous other navigating the world with you. Flower did such a great job, through just sight and sound, of making you care about and connect with a petal. But Journey makes you do the same with another human being.

3. Diablo 3
Haters gonna hate, but I still love me some Diablo 3. This is the first game I ever gave a perfect review score, and I stand by that review, as I’ve said before. This is a terrific game that was worth all of the work Blizzard put into it, and it’s responsible for some of the most polished and fun gameplay I’ve had all year long.

4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
This one came out of nowhere for me at the end of the year. I remember hearing about it when it was first released, but I never went and downloaded it. After playing through Revengeance, though, I found myself craving another action game, and when this one went on sale, I decided to grab it. I’m so glad I did — it’s such a fantastic game, with great art, a really addictive RPG system, and some quality stories, too. The name is so bad, and the voicework and “furry” characters reek of bad anime, I know. But the game is so darn charming and fun despite all of that — don’t miss it.

5. Puzzle Craft
This game, you guys. This game. For most of the year, this was my game of the year, period. It must just be me, because I don’t know if anyone else is as enamored of this one as I am, but this combination of a colorful, grindy puzzle mechanic and a really powerful progression system just taps into something primal in me, something that loves leveling up and earning prizes and building towns and collecting gold. I love this game so, so much.

6. Torchlight 2
Great followup to a great action RPG. Torchlight 2 is on sale today, actually, and my guess is that it will be much more popular in 2013, as it gets discounted and ported around to various platforms. I don’t like it quite as much as Diablo 3, and the two games are indeed very similar. Where Diablo 3 innovates, Torchlight 2 just does the familiar better, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

7. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
If you take the whole 38 Studios saga away from this title, what you’re left with is just a really well-made RPG, paired up with some solid action gameplay. This game will always be remembered for the company that made it, and that’s kind of too bad, because it was a lot of fun to play through. In fact, maybe I’ll go back and play it again…

8. The Walking Dead
Clearly, I’m not as high on this game as a lot of other critics are — I have some fundamental issues with the “adventure puzzle” gameplay (collect objects, use those objects on other objects, rinse and repeat), and my playthrough was also plagued by a few bugs and other problems. But despite all of that, Telltale’s made a groundbreaking game here, one that combines storytelling and interactivity in a way that we haven’t seen before. Not only do I love this game’s little nuances (“Clementine appreciates your honesty”), but like XCOM, the game offers you decisions that must be made and then lived with, no matter what you choose. The game raises some fascinating questions about player agency as well — when you choose to save the life of one character or another, are you making that decision just as a player? Or as Lee? Or are you as a person making that choice as you would in real life?

9. Guild Wars 2
The best MMO since World of Warcraft, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

10. Spelunky
As I say in my Joystiq best of the rest post, Spleunky is the best “gamer’s game” I’ve played this year. All of these other games are obviously great, and they all ask and answer interesting questions about the form of gaming and how it all works. But Spleunky is just pure, solid gameplay: Here are your three hearts and a jump button, now go into that dungeon and get as much treasure as you can. Oh, and good luck. You’ll need it.

Posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 at 4:25 pm. Filed under general.
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