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Favorite Media of 2019

This marks my tenth year doing this annual reflection on my favorite media of the year, which means you can also easily see what my favorite media through the decade was (see 2010201120122013201420152016, 2017, and 2018). As always, this is a look at the media released in 2019 that I was able to consume this year that I enjoyed the most — it’s not a “best” list, and of course it doesn’t include all of the things that were released this year that I haven’t yet had a chance to check out, and that might have made the list if I did. Instead, take it as a big ol’ recommendation list of stuff that came out this past year that I liked, and so you might like it too. Each category kicks off with an alphabetical top 5, and then I include a few honorable mentions if there are other things I would like to highlight.

Favorite Games
I feel like I don’t have as many games in this category as in past years, but I think this is also a reflection of me spending more time playing fewer games. That’s especially the case with Destiny 2 — I could have listed the Shadowkeep expansion to indicate a 2019 release, but instead, I’ve decided to include a “live” game for the first time in my year-end list, since that’s how I’m consuming it (playing through the seasons, etc.) Sayonara Wild Hearts is included here and not in mobile because the best experience of this game for me was through Apple TV with a controller. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for me was such a revelation because it was the first time I played a Mario game completely in co-op (with two colleagues at work), and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a Mario game.

  • Destiny 2 (Stadia)
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts (Apple TV)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Honorable Mentions: Death Stranding (PS4), Far Cry New Dawn (PS4), Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch), Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch), Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4)

Favorite Mobile Games
This is a category that comes and goes, as some years I see myself barely playing anything on mobile (and the stuff that I do play is usually on iPad, although my new iPhone XR has me enjoying playing games on a phone again). This year of course marked the introduction of Apple Arcade, and that got me back into playing mobile games in a big way. Below are my favorites so far, but there are still loads of games I haven’t had a chance to properly play yet.

  • Assemble with Care
  • Grindstone
  • LEGO Builder’s Journey
  • Pilgrims
  • What the Golf?

Honorable Mentions: Card of Darkness, Guildlings, Rayman Mini, Sky: Children of the Light, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, Tangle Tower, Yaga the Roleplaying Folktale

Favorite Board Games
I introduced this category last year — following my re-entry into having a board game collection (after the purge I did when I left Japan) — and again, I include games from 2018 (that I didn’t include last year) and 2019, since I feel like board game releases are a bit of a slower thing, especially with the way Kickstarter is used.

  • Architects of the West Kingdom
  • Detective: LA Crimes
  • Gorus Maximus
  • Magic: The Gathering
  • Root

Honorable Mentions: Hokkaido, Raids, Tower of Madness

Favorite Movies
Since I spend so much time watching older movies, I do tend to have more trouble coming up with movies that are new releases — and even for this list, six of the titles included I ended up watching over the past week, as I tried to play catch up with 2019 releases. As a bonus, I include my top 5 of movies released in 1989.

  • Booksmart
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • The Art of Self-Defence
  • The Irishman

Honorable Mentions: Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers: Endgame, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Joker, Klaus, Midsommar, Missing Link, Ready or Not, Us

Favorite Movies of 1989

  • Dead Poets Society
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Mystery Train
  • Patlabor: The Movie

Favorite TV
No big surprise, but this year was again a fantastic one for TV. And yes, for the time I’m including a wrestling show — this year marked my return to wrestling fandom in a big way, thanks to the new AEW league, which is absolutely my favorite thing to watch on a weekly basis (and the only one of these shows I watch live).

  • AEW Dynamite
  • Formula 1: Drive to Survive
  • Primal
  • The Mandalorian
  • What We Do in the Shadows

Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, GameCenter-CX, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Jack Ryan, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, Killing Eve, Love Death + Robots, Patriot Act, Russian Doll, Saturday Night Live, Shameless, Star Trek Discovery, Stranger Things 3, The Boys, The Twilight Zone, The Umbrella Academy, The Witcher, Watchmen

Favorite Web Series
This is another category I introduced in recent years, and this year I feel like my consumption of web shows/content really did explode. And yes, wrestling content takes up a lot of space, with both the AEW and NWA weekly web shows in my top 5, as well as the Being the Elite series, that I binged to completion this year as I played catch up, and then a couple of more channels I follow regularly included in the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions: Abby Dearest, Archipel (channel), Chris Van Vliet (channel), Formula 1 (channel), Hundred Rabbits, Noclip, The Inside Line, WhatCulture Wrestling (channel), Yoiko no Maru Maru de Maru Maru Seikatsu

Favorite Music
This is a really weird year in music for me. I did listen to a lot of new stuff, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time with most of those records, and so didn’t develop a lot of “loves.” I think it’s telling that according to Apple Music, my top 20 of most played tracks was entirely composed of hard bop — it’s definitely what I listened to the most this past year, and I continue to do so. And in the lead-up to my trip to Japan in November, I spent a month or two pretty much listening exclusively to my old Shibuya-kei favorites (Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, etc.) One of my new year resolutions is definitely to spend more time taking in new music.

  • Flamagra (Flying Lotus)
  • Hyperspace (Beck)
  • I Know You Like It (Shinichiro Yokota)
  • Reward (Cate Le Bon)
  • When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Billie Eilish)

Honorable Mentions: Beat Tape 09 (Eevee), Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police (Juliana Hatfield), Ladytron (Ladytron), Outer Peace (Toro y Moi)

Favorite Comics
For the first time, I don’t include any honorable mentions in my comics list, and that’s telling. My interest in BDs (bandes-dessinées, or French comics) continues to eclipse my interest in comics, and I’ve seen my weekly reading list go down and down throughout the year. The absolute highpoint is Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X series, my favorite comics in years (at least since Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and Avengers). Dawn of X refers to all of the separate Hickman-curated titles that have launched in its wake (X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, Fallen Angels, Marauders), which I’m not as enthusiastic about, but still find them to be quite enjoyable (most of them).

  • Dawn of X
  • House of X/Powers of X
  • Peter Cannon Thunderbolt
  • Silver Surfer: Black
  • Superman/Action Comics

Favorite BDs
My rekindled love of BDs (as of last year, when I started going to my local library) continues, and has grown, with this year being easier to include a lot of 2019 releases — although there are still some late-year releases that I’m sure would be included here (like the new Thorgal and XIII) but that I haven’t read yet. I do spend more time reading older releases (reading through a series) than new ones though.

  • Amazonie – Épisode 4
  • La Jeunesse de ThorgalLa dent bleue (7)
  • RenaissanceInterzone (2)
  • Retour sur Aldébaran – Épisode 2
  • SternL’Ouest, le vrai (3)

Honorable Mentions: Alix SenatorLes Spectres de Rome (9), CarthagoLe Pacte du centenaire (9), KatangaDispersion (3), LefrancLune Rouge (30), Soleil FroidL’armée verte (3)

Favorite Podcasts
My rekindled love of wrestling is also evident here (what can I say, I’m hooked), as is my rekindled interest (since the Ayrton Senna era in the 80s) for Formula 1 — ignited by the excellent Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive (which got me excited about watching races again).

  • 8-4 Play
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Shift+F1
  • The Chris Van Vliet Show
  • WhatCulture Wrestling

Honorable Mentions: All Songs Considered, Monocle 24: The Stack, On Margins

Categories
Film

Like it’s 1989

It took a while to complete it — and I blame Star Trek V for that — but I’m now done with my latest year-based movie marathon (following 1967196819771978198519861987, and 1988) with the below list of 21 movies released in 1989. Why 21? I do usually like to keep it to a round number (10 or 20), and had planned to stop at 20, but then the day I was going to write this post I read a feature in Empire magazine about the madness that was the making of Tango and Cash, and felt like I needed to watch it — it’s also fitting that it came out at the tail end of 1989 (end of December), and so is considered to be the last 80s blockbuster. Below is the full list of the movies I watched, with links to each mini-review I wrote — you can also find them all through the “1989” category. What’s next? Next year I will be hitting 1990, but before that I plan on revisiting 1980 — this whole movie marathon endeavor started with 1985, so I still have the first half of the 80s to revisit.

  1. Back to the Future Part II
  2. Batman
  3. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  4. Black Rain
  5. Christmas Vacation
  6. Dead Poets Society
  7. Do the Right Thing
  8. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  11. Lethal Weapon 2
  12. License to Kill
  13. Major League
  14. Mystery Train
  15. Patlabor: The Movie
  16. Police Academy 6: City Under Siege
  17. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
  18. Tango and Cash
  19. The Abyss
  20. The Killer
  21. The Wizard
Categories
Film TV

Thrillin’ and Chillin’ in October 2019

As I did last year, I decided to do another horror marathon during the month of October, to put me in a proper Halloween mood. This year’s list of what I watched (see below) is a bit shorter than last year (20 vs. 27), but I think this year I ended up watching more TV series, which took up more time — and I ended up watching the second half (all made up of movies) during the final week of October. (I’m also watching more pro wrestling these days, so I imagine that affected things too.) So here then is the list of TV shows and movies I watched for this year’s marathon, and I can’t wait to do the next one — you’ll also find all my write-ups under the “October 2019” category.

  1. American Horror Story: 1984
  2. Annabelle
  3. Annabelle Comes Home
  4. Annabelle: Creation
  5. Ash vs Evil Dead (Season 3)
  6. Assassination Nation
  7. Costume Quest
  8. Creepshow (2019)
  9. In the Tall Grass
  10. Les affamés (Ravenous)
  11. Marianne
  12. Midsommar
  13. One Cut of the Dead
  14. Overlord
  15. Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead 2
  16. The Conjuring
  17. The Conjuring 2
  18. The Dead Zone
  19. The Purge (Season 2)
  20. Twilight Zone (2019)
Categories
Games Personal

Senior Manager, Esports

Back in May I was very happy to note that it had been four years since I started working in the games industry, and that month also marked the start of a process that has led to today, which is my first day in a brand new role: Senior Manager, Esports.

Yes, I’m still at Ubisoft, and still based in Montreal, but after about three and a half years with the company (going from Production Coordinator to Project Manager to this) and close to three years on the same team, this marks a big turning point for me, and it’s a role I’m incredibly excited to take on.

Another big change is that although I’ll continue to be based in Montreal, I’ll now be reporting directly to our NCSA (a designation that refers to the Americas) Director of Esports in San Francisco. I’m also excited that the person in question is Che Chou, who joined us in January, after years at Blizzard, 343 Industries, and Microsoft (here’s an interview he did with Polygon back in May). Also important for me is that I initially know him from his years in games media, and especially The 1UP Show, a web series about games I used to watch avidly and admiringly.

(Also, this is now the third 1UP Show alum I’ll have worked with, following Mark Macdonald and James Mielke.)

What does the role entail? I won’t be organizing or running events — we already have amazing people doing that — but instead will be working with Che on growing our esports activities at Ubisoft, and working with productions on making that happen. It may sound like it’s a big change from what I’ve been doing so far, but it actually builds nicely on the various roles I’ve had so far within Ubi, and my interactions with all of our teams. It also means I’ll get to travel a bit more, which I’m excited about.

So yeah, electronic sports, here we go!

Categories
Web

Formula 1

There was a point in my life where I enthusiastically followed Formula 1, and it’s easy to remember when: Ayrton Senna. My interested in F1 started and ended with him, and I’ve never bothered to pay attention since. As much as I love to play racing games — it’s one of my favorite video game genres — I don’t find it particularly interesting to see cars race on TV. If I was a fan during the Senna era, it was because of the stories that developed during his run, and the drama that followed from race-to-race (the action, the rivalries, the controversies, etc.)

Fast forward to earlier this year, just ahead of the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season. I’m sick in bed, binging madly to keep my mind off my incessant coughing, and I decide to check out a new documentary series on Netflix called Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I was hooked, and binged all 10 episodes in one go. It covers the 2018 season, but by examining certain drivers and teams, which means the focus is not on the winners of the races, but on the drama that takes place on and off the track, and that’s what got me.

What’s happened since? I immediately wanted to know how the upcoming season 2019 was looking like, and so started looking up news and reports, and I’m now at a point where I listen to a weekly podcast called Shift-F1 (funnily enough, it’s hosted by three guys from the gaming press, including Noclip‘s Danny O’Dwyer), I watch all of the practice, qualifying, and racing highlights on YouTube (the official Formula 1 channel is really great for this), and on a daily basis I’m watching lots of videos on YouTube that are F1-related, examining how things are going, analysis of the cars, drivers, tracks, etc.

I’m also really bummed by how Ricciardo is doing with Renault this year.

My sudden surge in interest in Formula 1 has even spilled over to Formula E, the electric car racing series, and I’m following it in a similar way — and I’m quite excited for the upcoming documentary, And We Go Green (produced by Leonardo Dicaprio). Formula E is also quite interesting in that it adopts in real life a lot of “mechanics” that we’re used to seeing in video game racing — there are actual boost pads on the track.

So all this to say that these days I’m having a lot of fun following the world of these speedy cars, and that’s without any interest in watching actual races live.

Categories
Events Games Personal

Friday Fluke

Pretty much ever since I’ve worked at Ubisoft Montréal, I’ve sent out an email at 16:oo on Fridays to invite everyone on the team to take it easy as we head into the weekend. It started out as a pretty typical “beer mail” — as Production Coordinator on For Honor, one of the things I did was order and stock up the beer fridge (along with soft drinks) — and over time I started having a bit of fun with the email. When I changed teams (the Game Operations Online team), I kept doing it, even though it wasn’t really a habit the team had — I remember the first one I sent, grabbing a beer and then standing alone, with no one else drinking. Eventually they caught on, and on top of sharing a drink and chatting, it turned into playing games and the like.

Last year I decided I didn’t want to call it the “beer time” anymore — because of the alcohol connotation that could make non-beer drinkers feel uninvited (even if we stock up on other things, like sodas, juices, kombuchas, etc.) — and decided to brand it as the “Friday Fluke.” I’m part of a team called Harbour (offering online solutions for all of Ubisoft), and the “fluke” is a part of an anchor, and so I saw this as an “anchor” for the week — and I also liked the other connotation that the word has (an unexpected piece of good luck).

With that change, I’ve been turning that end-of-week time into more of an event, and the latest thing I’ve introduced (as of a few weeks ago) is that we kick it off with someone doing a presentation about something personal using the PechaKucha format (20 images/slides x 20 seconds), in order to get to know each other a bit better. It’s been great so far, with everyone doing a fantastic job with what they shared, even if they were a bit nervous about trying out the format. I myself did a couple (to get people used to it), first a rundown of my 10 favorite anime series, and then for the second one I broke the format a bit, giving my 20-second thoughts on all 25 James Bond movies (I included Bond 25).

After that we usually end up playing games in a large group, usually of the social deduction variety, things like Werewolf, Secret Hitler, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, The Resistance, Coup, etc. For Werewolf, after playing through two copies of Werewolf Legacy, I’ve now started creating my own scenarios, but that’s for another post.

I’m sharing this just to put it out there that the end-of-week “beer time” that is not uncommon in game studios (we used to do it during my time at Eidos Montréal, in the Square Enix Montréal studio, as well) doesn’t have to be just that, and can be turned into more of a social event, in which everyone can feel like they can be part of it, and contribute.

Categories
Personal

Four Years a Game Dev

It was four years ago on this day (Monday, May 11, 2015) that I started my first day as a game developer. After leaving our life in Tokyo at the end of March (on the 31st) and spending a month in my hometown while I continued to look for work, we moved to Montreal during the first week of May so I could start the following week at Eidos Montréal.

Thinking back, it was a bit of a crazy idea to suddenly do a career change and make the decision to find work in the games industry. As I’ve written before, it wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I persevered, and I find myself still incredibly thankful to be working in this industry (now at Ubisoft Montréal, for just over 3 years).

Sure, I do miss my life in Tokyo, all of my friends there and all the amazing people I worked with, hung out with, and shared fun times with, but I have no regrets. Four years a game dev.

Categories
Games

Recent Gaming (May 2019)

The Picross-inspired Piczle Colors.

Following the post I put up recently about TV shows I’ve been watching on a weekly basis (which does not preclude continued binging, which I’m currently doing with the second season of Cobra Kai), here’s a survey of what I’ve been playing video games-wise in recent weeks.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’m at close to 60 hours on this, and still haven’t completed the main game. I’ve stopped playing it a few times since its release, in order to jump on other things I also wanted to play (Red Dead Redemption 2, The Division 2), but I came back to it this week and completed a few more missions. I still think this world is so incredibly gorgeous, and I love being in it.

Gems of War. It has an incredibly generic name, and it’s a free-to-play game (something I’m not a big fan of generally), but this game by the creators of the original Puzzle Quest got me hooked immediately. It’s basically exactly like Puzzle Quest with a few upgrades, and up until now, I haven’t felt like I needed to deal with F2P incentives, but I can see it coming down the line. After being incredibly addicted over the first few days I was playing it, I now haven’t touched it in weeks, and maybe that’s for the best.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. To my great surprise, I’ve discovered the joys of playing Super Mario games co-op. Before picking up this game I had never played co-op in any of the other Mario games that offered it — never felt the interest, looked too chaotic — but since I like to play games with colleagues at work, I figured I’d give it a try, and I ended up loving playing in co-op (usually 3 players) much more than in solo mode. I had an absolute blast playing through the campaign with two colleagues, and we’re currently backtracking and getting all 3 star coins in each level, in order to unlock all of the bonus levels — which is something I’ve never bothered doing in any Mario game. I’ve had so much fun playing this way that when we’re done unlocking everything, I’m planning on bringing my Wii U to work so we can play through Super Mario 3D World that way.

Picross S. Playing through Piczle Colors put me in a Picross playing mood, and the release of Picross S3 last week reminded me that I hadn’t played any of the Switch releases yet, so I picked up the first one and have been having a great time with it (I’m about 50-60 puzzles in).

Piczle Colors. I love Picross, and this Picross-inspired game by my friend James Kay’s Score Studios is just as fun. According to my Switch stats, it’s the game I’ve played the most on my Switch this year so far (after finishing it, my play count was at over 20 hours). If you love Picross, you really need to get this as well.

The Division 2. I was incredibly excited for the release of this — I quite enjoyed the first game — and it hasn’t disappointed. Although I’m sure you get more fun out of it if you play with others, I’ve pretty much soloed it exclusively so far (I used matchmaking for one mission I was having a hard time with), and it’s been fine that way. I’ve put in about 60 hours, and have completed the campaign (I did that at around the 50-55 hour point). I’ve dabbled a few hours in the endgame, and do like it — especially the new specializations that gives you a super weapon — but I’ve decided to put the game aside for a bit so I can play through some other things.

The Gardens Between. I picked this up a while back while it was on sale, and only just recently got around to playing it. I’m really enjoying it so far, in part because of the fantastic art direction, but also because of the innovate gameplay that revolves around forwarding and reversing time (a bit similar to some of the things we saw in Braid, but still with its own twists). Highly recommended.

TowerFall. I’ve loved TowerFall for a long time, previously playing it on PS4, and recently picked it up on Switch as well. The impetus was actually for a team activity we were doing at work (a silly tournament we organize for our interns), because I wanted the 6-player option that only the Switch version offers. This game is still so much fun.

Yakuza Kiwami 2. I played through and finished three Yakuza games last year (Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza 6), and so wanted to take a break before I get to Kiwami 2. I started playing it this morning, and it feels just as good as all the other games I’ve played. I love this series to bits — this is my spiritual successor to Shenmue — and I’m really looking forward to playing Judgment this summer (new game not in the series, but from the Yakuza studio).

Categories
TV

Recent TV (April 2019)

I’m not quite sure what my love of Killing Eve‘s Villanelle says about me.

In recent years, the majority of my TV watching has been of the streaming variety, mostly binged from Netflix. I did notice that I’m watching a few series on a weekly basis this month, and here they are.

Doom Patrol. I thought the Titans series was pretty good, and my favorite episode from its first season was the one that starred the Doom Patrol. Because of that, I was incredibly hyped for this series, and so it’s a bit unfortunate that it just didn’t land for me. I still have the last 2-3 episodes of the 10-episode season to watch, and I will watch them, but I don’t think I’m in for a second season if they do end up making one. I don’t like that they went less funny and more just plain weird with their stories, and I thought the addition of Cyborg was incredibly lame — or maybe it’s just that I really don’t like his portrayal in this series.

Game of Thrones. Certainly one of my favorite series of all time (like everyone else), and following this week’s episode (the battle of Winterfell), I’m now even more excited to see how things are going to fall out over the final three episodes. Let’s see who wins this goddamn game of thrones.

Killing Eve. I loved the first season to bits, and I’m enjoying the second season (so far) just as much. Never mind Eve though, for me it’s all about Villanelle, I just can’t get enough of her. I’m definitely happy that they’ve already announced that they’ll do a third season.

Twilight Zone. Before watching the first episode, I was a bit bummed by the headlines I’d seen that suggested this new take on the classic franchise was a bust (at least based on the first four episodes, that had been made available to reviewers). Maybe it’s because I went in with lowered expectations then (after my initial excitement at the thought of Jordan Peele taking on the series), but I’ve enjoyed all of the episodes so far (the first four). Sure, they’re not all amazing, and some could have been cut in half, but I’ve enjoyed them none the less, as well as the weird Twilight Zonian twists we get in all of them. It’s maybe not for everyone, but it’s working for me.

Warrior. Produced by Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shanon, this is based on an idea Lee had in the 70s for a series that he never got to make, but that later inspired David Carradine’s Kung Fu. I’ve only watched the first episode, but I dig the setting (late 19th century San Francisco, focusing on the Chinese communities), and the fights are fun. I’m in for at least a few more episodes.

What We Do in the Shadows. The movie this is based on is one of my all-time favorite comedies, and so I was incredibly excited at the thought of getting a series based on it, and from the same creators. Five episodes in, I’ll say that I like it, but I’m not overly in love with it. It has its moments — some brilliant — but for the most part it’s so-so, making me think that the insanely fun premise of the movie isn’t really enough to sustain a series. I’ll keep watching it though, for the amazing cast at least.

Categories
Film

Bond 25

I am indeed a huge Bond fan, have been one my whole life, so you can imagine my excitement this week when I learned that they were going to have a live stream to announce details about the upcoming Bond film, 25th in the series. It’s something they also did for the previous film, Spectre, and it was indeed exciting to not only find out that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was finally coming back to the films, but also that Monica Bellucci was going to make an appearance.

What did we did we find out Bond 25? Well, I was really hoping we were going to get the proper title, but alas, it seems like it hasn’t been finalized yet. The cast is looking quite good though, with pretty much all of the regulars returning (including the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, which I’m very happy about), and I think Rami Malek has the potential to be a deliciously cruel villain. Doing the stream at GoldenEye, Ian Fleming’s private estate in Jamaica and the place where he created James Bond, was a nice touch, as it is to hear that Jamaica will feature as a location in the upcoming film.

We’re still a ways off until the release (Spring of 2020), but I’m already pretty hyped for it.