My Favorite Whatever of 2022

Let’s talk about stuff I liked in 2022. No, not the best of anything. Just stuff I liked. And not necessarily stuff that was released in 2022. Just stuff I found in 2022. OK? OK. Let’s go.


Marvel’s Midnight Suns: I know a lot of folks bounced off the story/dialogue/relationship stuff—and bounced hard. But a.) the core combat is so frickin’ magnificent that it’s really easy to forgive. The idea of tactical card combat with Marvel characters sounds ridiculous; it really shouldn’t work. But oh my, it really really does. And b.) I actually enjoyed the hell out of the story/dialogue/relationship stuff. The core conceit of “superheroes at home” is really compelling to me; I think any superhero fiction is at its best when it’s looking not just at the suits but the people in them. Yeah, it can get a little goofy at times, and the game is clunky in some other significant ways. But man, it just hooked me with both pincers.

Marvel Snap: I’m not sure if I dug Midnight Suns more because of Snap, or Snap more because of Midnight Suns, or neither? Or both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But this one really has its claws in me, too. The speed and simplicity are just perfect for quick little diversions, but there’s a real depth of strategy there once you get familiar with the game. This is probably unsurprising to fans of other CCGs; I never was one of those. But a single moment in Snap made me finally get the whole idea of deck synergy in a way that no previous game I’d tried was able to. (It was playing Odin after White Tiger at a location that had just morphed to Bar Sinister, if you’re curious. Just delightful.)

Vampire Survivors: I lived through the 16-bit era, so retro-styled games often make me roll my eyes so hard I can see myself think. But this one showed up one day on Game Pass so I decided to give it a try. And I was this close to quitting and deleting within the first five minutes. (“Where the hell is the attack button?!”) Many dozens of hours later I think it’s one of the most fiendishly addictive and subtly deep games I’ve ever played. Really cleverly done and oh no it’s on iOS now.

Into the Breach: I heard so much good stuff about this game that I bought it when it came out on Switch pretty much sight-unseen. And I…didn’t like it. It just did nothing for me. I bounced off. Fast forward to 2022 and Netflix’s push into games, which included an iPad version available free for subscribers, and I gave it another shot. And something about the touch interface made all the difference in the world. I lost track of how many times I beat it before eventually having to delete it for space reasons.

And of course I played Tunic and Elden Ring and Immortality and Atari 50 and they’re all great. Believe the hype. (And there are also a few notable games I haven’t played enough of yet to form an opinion, like A Plague Tale: Requiem and Pentiment.) But these four, man. These four got me.


Look, I do not watch a lot of TV. When I have downtime I tend to want to dive into a book instead of firing up even the most celebrated hot new series (a fact which will likely become very clear in the next section). But I did have some really great TV experiences last year. Like:

Midnight Mass: A dear friend of mine kept pushing me to watch this. He said he was convinced I’d love it, that it was practically made for me. I yeah-yeah-yeahed for months, because like I said, I just don’t really prioritize TV? And when some dumbshit website put a significant spoiler in a FRICKIN’ HEADLINE, I yeah-yeah-yeahed even harder. Then I ended up with a free weekend, when my wife and daughter were out of town, and decided to finally put it on and oh my sacred heart what an unbelievably great series. The writing, the performances, the cinematography—my god. Just unbelievable. I’d never seen any of Flanagan’s other stuff but now? I’ll watch anything the dude makes. I don’t think the show gave me nightmares per se but for weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing I’d think of was that scene. With Joe. You know the one. Oh, and the weekend that I ended up binging the whole series? It just occurred to me it was Easter weekend. I started the series on Good Friday. Might need to make it part of the yearly celebration now.

Continue reading “My Favorite Whatever of 2022”

The Good Old Days (of Games Media)

I just shared this on Reddit and thought it was worth reposting here since I often get asked about crazy stories from work. Every detail can be corroborated.

All right, buckle up because this is a long and strange story.

The year was 1999. I think. It might have been 2000. At the time I was writing for a video game magazine. This was in the heyday of the crazy video game press junkets; around this time I’d taken the Skip Barber Racing Course at Laguna Seca twice in a month. Colleagues had flown fighter jets and scuba dived in Hawaii.

Anyway, this wasn’t like that. This was an event for Konami’s Nightmare Creatures 2 (or was it Activision? It’s hazy). We were flown out to San Francisco and put up in a swank hotel. We had no idea what we were in for.

The night started with drinks at the Top of the Mark, a fancy-ass bar at the top of a tall hotel located on one of the hills of SF. I walk in and notice this little guy hanging out in a small group over by the window, admiring the view. It can’t be? It is. Gary fucking Coleman. At the time he was doing a column or something for UGO so he had a semi-legitimate reason for being there. Anyway.

A few drinks in, the PR reps tell us it’s time to go. Go where? It’s a surprise. So we troop downstairs and they put us in limos, maybe four to a car and probably something like six cars. We slide into ours, and waiting for us is this very, very hot lady who identifies herself as, I shit you not, “Roxy.” She is apparently there for conversation? She seems very interested in everything we have to say.

The limos drive us around the city in a weirdly circuitous route, before we finally find ourselves deep in the woods of what I later assumed to be Golden Gate Park, or perhaps the Presidio. We exit the limos in a parking lot. They all drive away.

We’re standing there, looking at each other, wondering what the hell is happening, when suddenly headlights turn on in the woods. Out drives a school bus. Its windows are blacked out. The doors open, and five or six little people come out, dressed as executioners complete with hoods and axes. Without saying anything, they herd us onto the bus.

The bus starts up and drives us out of the woods, following another circuitous route through the city.

So let’s pause here for a second. Here I am, winding through the streets of San Francisco, in a school bus with blacked-out windows, with a small troupe of midgets and Gary Coleman. Everybody with me so far? Good. It gets weirder.

The bus finally stops at a nightclub. The little people escort us in and into the back. In the back is a smattering of TVs and systems running the game, a lavish buffet featuring, among other things, all the sushi you can eat, and four or five cages in which are dancing scantily clad women…with, for some reason, twigs arrayed around their heads like antlers and on the backs of their hands like claws.

It takes me a few moments before I recognize Roxy.

Seeing all this, my colleagues and I (and Gary Coleman) proceed to get very, very drunk. Because, really, what else are you going to do? In the course of this noble endeavor, it becomes clear that Gary Coleman is seriously into my friend Zoe. So much so that he gives her his number. Which she, in her drunken state, proceeds to write on the hand of everyone she knows.

I don’t remember much that happened for a few hours after that, but the night’s weirdness wasn’t over. A hardy group of us went to yet another club after this odd ordeal. After a few minutes there I looked up at the bar and saw a guy that looked eerily familiar. So I walked up to him.

“You know, you look an awful lot like Kirk Hammett from Metallica.”

He laughed. “My mom tells me that all the time.”

So I proceeded to shoot the shit with Kirk Hammett for the next hour or so, until my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my colleagues were all leaving.

Woke up the next morning wondering if any of it had actually happened. Then I looked at Gary Coleman’s phone number on my hand and realized I hadn’t dreamed it.

TL;DR: Strange shit happened when video game companies had more money than sense.

Stealing Music, Again

I’m pretty sure anyone who’s tangentially related to the music industry is contractually obligated to weigh in on the Great NPR Stealing Music Fiasco of Ought-Twelve

So here are my thoughts, in response to Jonathan Coulton’s very interesting ruminations. This was originally left as a comment on his post, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be buried, so…

Thought experiment for the Free-Culture and anti-copyright folks out here: Let’s say you make something. You distribute it digitally. And because you believe in Free Culture, you insist that it be distributed for free.

Then someone starts charging for it.

How does that make you feel? Do you feel that you, as the creator, have the right to determine how your creation is distributed?

I think even more than a practical issue — which, let me be clear, is certainly a big issue — this is an issue of principle. How would you feel if the foo was on the other shoot? Not great, I suspect.

But there’s also a practical element that doesn’t seem to be talked much about. There are a lot of Free-As-In-Beer flag-wavers outraged that the gub’mint might step in and knock out file-sharing centers. “What right,” they demand, “does the government have to determine how culture should be shared?”

But here’s what confuses me: What right do the flag-wavers have to determine how an artist’s work should be shared? Do you presume to know better than the creators of the works how their work benefits them, or benefits society?

We talk about “the music industry” as though it’s this faceless monolith. But the facts are (as usual) a lot messier. Yes, some artists can make a living on the road, and giving away their music (or allowing it to be given away) benefits them. But there are musicians for whom this is exactly reversed: Live performance earns nothing; music sales and licensing are everything. Most are probably in the middle. But are we going to insist that all musicians take it on the road, or give it up? Seems kind of counter-productive to the goal of diversifying art and encouraging experimentation. Do we really want a world where only the one percent (if you’ll pardon the allusion) of musicians can make a decent living?

People, think this through to its logical conclusion. We live in a world where money is necessary. The less money that can be made by making music, the fewer musicians we’ll have. Yes, there will be the super-successful, there will be the ones who do it for love alone, and there will be those — like our esteemed host — who find their own niche and make it work. But I don’t see how it can be denied that fewer rewards for making music will ultimately result in fewer musicians. Is that really what we want? Is that the price we’re willing to pay for “free” music?

Personally, I’d rather pay Mr. Coulton than get Rebecca Black for free.

Am I alone in thinking this way?

For more of my thoughts on the matter, you may be interested in this post from a few years back.

A Chain of Causality

I should be working. I’m working on a review, on the Xbox 360 — a system made by Microsoft — a company that probably would not exist if it weren’t for Windows — an operating system that definitely would not exist if not for the Macintosh. Once I’m done playing the game, I’ll write the review (as I’m writing this) on the most reliable computer I’ve ever owned, a Mac Mini.

I very likely would not be doing this for a living if it weren’t for the desktop-publishing experience I had before graduating college. First was high school, where I designed flyers for my first band on an original Mac. (In Zapf Chancery. I know. Shut up.) Then came college, during which I taught myself rudiments of more complex graphical design by laying out my next band’s first CD on a Mac at a Kinko’s. Desktop publishing skills — especially those on a Mac — looked great on a resume in 1996, which probably helped me get my first job out of college, at P.S.X., which later became The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. And if they didn’t help me get the job, they certainly helped me succeed at it, and keep it for over 10 years. For that entire time, I worked daily on a Mac. It was my livelihood.

But before that, I learned rudiments of programming — something that’s served me well in critical thinking as well as in basic web design — on an Apple IIe in grade school. For my seventh-grade computer project, I hand-coded an interactive version of Steven King’s The Eyes of the Dragon. For my eighth-grade project, the assignment was to write a program that generated a color picture on the screen. I ended up crafting a pretty impressive (for the time, and the technology) image of Gene Simmons’ face, in full makeup — then went a step further than required by animating it: he appeared on the screen, then turned his head and breathed fire. I still have that 5 1/4″ floppy somewhere.

Last night, I was checking e-mail and reading my RSS feeds on my iPad in between texting my wife on my iPhone. I had music going in the background, streaming from iTunes to an AirPort attached to my stereo, controlled by the iOS Remote app. A notification window popped up on my iPad from the AP News app: Steve Jobs had died. Of course we all knew this was coming, and I certainly felt a sadness for all the ideas that might now be unrealized, a certain concern that Apple might lose some of that creative spark that had made it such an interesting company. But I also thought, “Oh geez, ridiculous hyperbole incoming!” I winced in anticipation of all the maudlin blog posts and frothing overstatement of Jobs’ influence on the world.

Then I thought about the work I needed to do today, and the 360, and Microsoft, and Windows. I thought about that Apple IIe and the string of Macs and sitting in Kinko’s at 11:30 at night aligning pictures. I thought about the music I was hearing, the music I’d sold online, the fact that I was sitting comfortably on the couch with an amazingly powerful and usable computer sitting in my lap like a hardcover book. I thought about the fact that I never again have to take a road trip without bringing my entire music collection with me. And I realized that much of what I’d be reading about Steve Jobs might not be hyperbole after all.

No, he didn’t feed the poor or cure a disease or land on the moon. He wasn’t even the person directly responsible for creating the Apple, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, or the iPad. But he drove those creations. As a result of that drive, my life is better: I can communicate with loved ones more easily, I can work more efficiently, I can enjoy more pleasurable road trips. He didn’t “change the world” in the sense that, say, the inventor of the printing press did. But what he was in charge of has inarguably changed my world for the better, in many different ways. And he’s done the same for millions of others. And that’s definitely something to be proud of. That’s more than the vast majority of us could ever dream to do.

So here’s to you, Steve Jobs. Thanks for taking the lead on so many projects that have improved my life. Here’s hoping Apple will honor your legacy by continuing your vision. But if not, that won’t diminish the impact you had.

How to Make a Playlist of Dead iTunes Tracks

After an epic virus infestation on my work PC, I’m in the process of moving all my work and work processes over to my Mac. Because, really, fuck that shit. But the transfer has not been without some hurdles: Tracking down equivalent software, moving my iTunes folder, so on and so forth. So I figured I’d share some of my experiences here in order to help anyone else making similar moves.

This one goes in the “so simple I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it” file. When I moved and consolidated my iTunes library, there were some tracks that iTunes just absolutely refused to locate on its own — even though it moved everything itself. Yeah, awesome, right? So I’d been manually scanning my library to see what tracks weren’t linking properly to the source files. But I had a couple hundred files that I just could not track down. I looked for scripts to do it (Doug’s AppleScripts was a great source), but the best I could find was one that made a text file of the missing tracks; helpful, but not as efficient as it could be for actually fixing the problem.

I finally stumbled on this post at iLounge which made the whole thing almost stupidly easy. Here’s the gist: You make a regular playlist and put all your music in it (you’ll want to right-click and select Add to Playlist rather than trying to drag or you’ll be there all day). If iTunes can’t find the source file, it won’t put the song in the playlist. So then you just make a smart playlist with the criteria Playlist > Is Not > [the playlist you just made]

Voila, all yer dead tracks in one place, ripe for the locatin’. Simple, eh?