The Stevies for 2013

Yes, it’s that time again, where I fight the holiday blues by viewing the year through a lens of terrifying meritocracy to sift out the very best things it had to offer. And as always, the rules are simple: it’s all about me. It doesn’t matter what year it was made or released, it matters when I encountered it. These are the best things Steve found this year.

Best Science

This goes to isolating the Higgs Boson. Finding the electron made the modern age possible. This sucker could give us a future we literally cannot imagine. Honorary mention to the fusion drive engineer and the people working on warp speed, just because of the enormous “fuck you” to people who said they were impossible.

Best Politics

Malala Yousafi, Edward Snowden, Wendy Davis, it was a hell of a year for politics. But behind it all was grass roots stuff and the power of Twitter and social media. Thanks to those, millions of people around the world witnessed someone change the official time record to try and shaft Wendy Davis. And it was the engine behind taking Indi away from Sophie Mirabella and into the hands of Cathy McGowan. It’s not the only solution and the big players will try to turn it against us but it’s changed the landscape. Some more examples of grass roots power from the excellent twitter-warrior Van Badham are here.

Best Movie

A great year for SF, and a special note must go to Elysium for generating more irony in audience reactions than a gigantic furnace of pure irony-burning-coal, but this goes to Gravity. Simple, perfect, wonderful. Powerhouse performances for a gorgeous story in a genre oft-forgotten but one of my favourites (man vs nature). Nothing more to say.

Best Comic

A great year was some truly amazing stuff landing on my bedside table. Special props to Saucer Country and Letter 44, for both being about aliens and American politics in two completely unique and compelling ways and blowing my mind both times and demanding I read the rest. And yet, pipped at the post this goes to CHEW by John Layman and Rob Guillory. Chew is hard to explain. It’s basically a dark police procedural set against a conspiracy landscape in a world where chicken is outlawed and food is a metaphor for everything, but it’s also a silly story about a psychic who can tell you everything about whatever he eats. It combines two of my favourite genres: the ridiculously silly and gritty police procedural in a way that diminishes neither, and that’s why I love it. It bestrides both genres like a colossus in a way few dare, fearing that the comedy may undercut the drama, but it doesn’t. Also, it has a building conspiracy arc, perfect pacing and reads like the best TV series ever made. If Bryan Fuller wasn’t already making Hannibal, I would have picked him to make Chew…

Best Table Top Game

For birthday and Christmas I got pretty much every game I was interested in at this end of the year, and there are some super contenders in there, and some I haven’t played yet (like Legends of Andor). I adore how easy it is to get a game of Love Letter and of Hanabi – games I can carry everywhere and sell to anyone. I loved how Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign (on the table and on the pad) reengaged me with the wonder of Arkham Horror, which is still marvelous and almost won just for inspiring those two. Heck, Elder Sign itself justified the purchase of my android device on its own. But I’m giving this to Pandemic. Picked up the new edition and two supplements spending $150 on a game I already owned because I felt it deserved it. Arkham Horror gets more iterations of play, but Pandemic has more pure elegance to it, and taps that modern setting thrill like nothing else. Saving the world feels better when it’s more cogent to our reality, and nothing does it like Pandemic.

Best RPG

I’ve given up reading and playing RPGs but not writing them because I a) still enjoy that and b) get paid to do it, so really the Stevie is going to go to the thing I got paid the most to write and had the most fun doing. I’m very proud to have won two Ennies for my work on Dr Who last year, and to be part of the incredible list of celebrities who worked on Hillfolk but mostly I’m proud of the setting I worked up for Action Cortex in The Hacker’s Guide. I have many more details about that setting in my head, but I got it down nice an succinctly and I love it and I got paid for it.

Best TV Show

The Wire. It’s not television, it’s poetry.

Best Computer Game

For the first time in years this is hotly contested and it’s because of one reason: multiplayer ascendant. I used to hate shooters, but thanks to the elegant design of Team Fortress 2 and the ability to play it with my friends and ONLY my friends I’ve learnt to love the better examples of the genre. And it didn’t cost me a cent. The same multiplayer power has also led to enjoying a platformer, in the excellent Trine 2, something I never believed would ever happen in this universe. But the virtue of multiplayer combined with just wonderful solo play in the clear winner this year: Civilization V. Two excellent expansions have led to game play evolving and staying interesting and it’s a computer game that even without friends, has held my interest long enough to not just keep away the demons but forget they exist. It has nursed me through terrible insomnia. It has fought down the depression. It has carried me through the long dark tea time of the soul and the mind-shattering emptiness of the holidays. And it costs less than the therapy. Hold me closer, Civ 5, for the darkness rises. And if anyone wants to join me for multiplayer, you know how to find me.

Steve out.

 

 

The Stevies for 2011

Yes, it’s time once again for the event that I write and nobody reads but at least it quiets the screaming in my brain and pushes us ever closer to the end of this, the worst time of the year. As always, it has nothing to do with when the product came out, just what I did this year. So here we go:

Best RPG: Nothing really grabbed me this year – I respected a lot but nothing made me want to play it. I liked the simplicity of FU, I liked the marketing genius of Fiasco, I was blown away with the angle on Happy Birthday Robot, rewriting rpgs as narration games for kids, it should have won the Diana Jones, not Fiasco – but none of them made me want to play. I think Ashen Stars contains – as always, from Laws, – some of the greatest setting design stuff and genre savvy ever, but I still hate Gumshoe and everything it stands for. I’d like to give this to James Wallis’ bad-tv-show game Cop Show but it’s not out yet, so this goes to James Wallis’ Here On Business, an RPG that doesn’t bore you shitless because it’s written on a business card.

Best Board Game: This goes to Telestrations, a lovely party parlour game that does exactly what it should: produce hilarity and get out of the way. Lovely pieces, lovely fun.

Best Computer Game: This ALMOST goes to Portal 2, but Limbo was simpler, neater, prettier, more different and more stylish. It has a perfect simplicity that is missing from so many games. I’m sure Skyrim is great and all, but complexity just exhausts me, and explanations bore me. Why are we in Limbo? Who cares. It sucks, we want to leave. The rest is boring. And yet, despite the one line intro, it is incredibly evocative, and the setting has visual and narrative depth rivaling the mountains of Skyrim.

Best Movie: I barely saw anything this year, mostly because there was nothing I wanted to see. Muppets isn’t out yet, Tintin only just opened and I missed The King’s Speech and Thor. Probably the best thing I saw this year was rewatching The Neverending Story on You Tube, a vastly underrated movie with an actual, resonating message and very well crafted by Wolfgang “Das Boot” Petersen. I was also blown away by Iron Man 2, a film which did the opposite of most sequels: it kept all the good stuff and cut out all the guff from the first one. The more I see if Favreau the more I’m impressed with him: he REALLY knows what he’s doing, and he is getting to do it.

Best TV Show: Again, a lot of almosts in this category. Community is knowing and wise, but it’s just too damn dark and hostile. I finally got into Chuck and it’s lovely but it quickly drowns in its own soap opera. I have yet to torrent Parks and Recreation. This one I’m giving to Modern Family. After a rocky start this show built up some strong characters that managed to ride the line between amusingly flawed and inspiringly capable, presenting families that were distorted and even deformed, but functional and strong despite it all. Somehow, it managed to hit home without being too schmaltzy – by being a little bit honest in a cynical world. Nice.

Honorable mention to the Octonauts, the best new kids show of the year, up against some incredibly strong competition. Gaspar and Lisa was also excellent, but the Octonauts managed to be cute yet awesome and live under the sea, which puts them one point ahead of those interminably popular ponies.

Best Comic: Seanbaby’s Man Comics and their affiliates. NONE OF YOU ARE SAFE.

Best Anything: This image. It’s hard to even put into words the way this image makes me feel. Sometimes you get to feel history as it happens, and know it is history. Not since I watched the towers fall have I seen it so strongly. It is a new world now, and it starts with that photo.

 

 

 

 

The Stevies, 2010

I’ll be travelling on New Years so it’s time once again for the Stevies, those annual awards for the things that impressed me the most in the last twelve months. As always the rules are it’s what I see or do each year,

Best Film goes to Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It really should be Adele Blanc Sec but the damn thing hasn’t been released outside France yet goddammit. But Pilgrim was joyous and perfect, like all Edgar Wright’s work, and a glorious adaption, keeping all the good things of the book and removing all the bad things. Runner up is Sky High which I finally saw and just blew me away, a really beautifully crafted film. Why can’t Sonnenfeld make every superhero film? The ones Bryan Singer doesn’t, that is.

Best TV show goes to Leverage for understanding style in such a glorious old-school way. Television hasn’t been that fun for nigh on twenty years.

Best computer game goes to City of Heroes. I recently discovered two things as I started exploring the world of other MMORPGs in comparison. Firstly, that CoH is so much better than every other one on the market and secondly, that it actually predates WoW, meaning it got everything right first cab off the ranks. And it’s just added a whole new basket of awesome content in Going Rogue, allowing even more flexibility with your character choices.  In a industry where I generally despise 99.999% of everything, something even vaguely fun is remarkable. Something this well designed and well executed, attuned so perfectly to what people want and actually DO is a true wonder of the age.

Best RPG – Smallville. It’s just so damn NEAT. So clever, so elegant, so zeitgeisty and its presented so damn well. I feel happy just examining the layout. And I’m hard to please when it comes to layout.

Best Board Game – in a year with a lot of exciting releases I was blown away with how great Death Angel turned out to be. It’s SO much fun and it’s half the price of most other games out there. Much like Scott Pilgrim, it takes all the awesome parts of Space Hulk and enhances them and removes all the bad parts. Also like Scott Pilgrim, it makes me glad to be alive.

Best science: first cure for HIV! Yes, you have to get leukemia first but it’s a START. Starts are important.

And that’s all I have!