My Favorite Things in 2018

I’ve been meaning to write more about things I’ve really enjoyed this year, but I haven’t done a… great job of that! Of course, with the end of the year approaching, people and media outlets alike have been sharing lists of their favorite games, movies, and music from 2018, and I finally decided to get my act together and write a little bit about a bunch of stuff I really liked this year. Will I publish this as is or will I get around to splitting each of these into their own blog posts like they probably could be? By the time you’ve read this, you’ll know!

Scales & Scoundrels

This graphic novel started in 2017, but the first two collected volumes came out as trade paperbacks in 2018, and wow I love it so much. The beautiful art, funny moments, and high-adventure story are the exact kind of thing that draws me to works of medieval fantasy in the first place, but over the course of the second volume I couldn’t help but be drawn into the deeper, more serious plot that reaches back to thousands of years of history. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Jeff Smith’s Bone, and I would hope that just by saying that I’ve got at least a couple people running to their comic book shop to pick this up.

This Sounds Serious

I’m not really a fan of the true crime genre, especially in the podcast medium in particular. I have a lot of complicated feelings about how the material is handled and I think it’s a tough topic to think about. Luckily, This Sounds Serious is a scripted comedy series that pokes fun at true crime tropes while also creating a bizarre universe of minor celebrities, religious cults, and pop culture memorabilia. The podcast is a production of a team of Canadian comedians who have been working in the world of comedy radio and podcasting for years; two of them were the creators of the popular show This is That. Season 2 is coming next year, so check it out now and get ready for things to get even weirder in 2019.

Celeste

I came into Celeste knowing that it was a game by the creator of Towerfall, a game I really enjoyed but never had a local multiplayer crew to play regularly, and that it was based on a PICO-8 demo that I had played a little bit of when it first came out. I knew it would be a punishing 2D platformer, and that was all I needed to know to be excited about it. The game turned out to MASSIVELY exceed my expectations—the plot was far more engaging than I thought it would be, and the soundtrack is absolutely incredible. Celeste almost immediately became one of my favorite video games of all time; I love how challenging it is but how it manages to invite you to keep trying, keep going,  to get just a little bit further or find one more secret (and it’s kind of amazing how well that mechanical feeling ties into the storyline, as well). The multiple layers of hidden content are really awesome and I’ve been trying to avoid fully spoiling myself on what more there is in the game. At this point I’ve gotten every strawberry and completed some of the B-Sides, but still have more to go—and there are at least two more layers of challenge that I know of but haven’t even attempted to surmount yet.

Heroes Global Championship 2018

This is a sad one. For the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been getting more and more into the game Heroes of the Storm, a League of Legends-like MOBA made by Blizzard featuring all of the characters from their popular franchises like WarcraftStarcraftDiablo, and Overwatch. Playing the game itself is fun enough if you can get a few friends together on voice chat to play with you, but playing the game was in all honesty just a way to learn enough about the game to be able to watch pros play it in the company-run esports league called HGC.

HGC had great people doing commentary, exciting tournaments, surprising upsets, and even hype around the traditional off-season roster swaps that you hear sports fans freaking out about. I have a close-knit group of friends with whom I’d catch up on the week’s events and pass around clips, commentary, theories, and so forth. It was really fun to be involved in this as the game changed and grew.

It was announced this week that HGC would not return in 2019. It’s assumed by the player base that professional Heroes of the Storm is done forever; while it’s possible that Blizzard could bring it back or a third party could run an association for it, it seems unlikely given how unceremoniously Blizzard dumped the game into maintenance mode with very little notice.

I’m not really sure what esports I’ll be watching in 2019, but I’m pretty sad that it’s unlikely to be Heroes of the Storm!

The Coding Train

I was vaguely aware of The Coding Train under its previous name Coding Rainbow (presumably changed for legal reasons), but I had never really gotten into it. At some point this summer I just watched an episode on a whim and found the host’s enthusiasm infectious. I also found, as a person who programs for a day job and who has at times enjoyed writing software in their free time, that watching the edited version of the original streams was oddly relaxing in a Bob Ross sort of way. I knew that I could watch roughly 30 minutes of YouTube and at the end of it there would be a functioning piece of code. Anyone who’s spent their time writing software of any complexity, or spent much time around people who do, knows that the work rarely ties up with a bow so nicely, so it’s nice to escape into this world where every problem is nicely contained.

Slay the Spire

I tried avoiding this game all year. I knew I was going to get hooked, but I also was desperately hoping there’d be an iPad version announced, because it sounds so perfect for that platform that I just wanted to wait and start from there.

I lasted until sometime around late October, and I don’t even remember what it was that finally got me to crack and buy the game, but I did and I immediately fell down a rabbit hole. Now I’m staying up late playing the game, I’m watching YouTube videos and Twitch streams, and I’m pondering starting Twitch streams back up in 2019 because of it.

It’s basically a single-player deckbuilding game, but it has (sorry) roguelike elements. Permadeath is a factor, but for me what seals the deal on scratching my Nethack itch is the sheer variety of things you can collect in a given run. Obviously there are cards to choose to add to your deck, and they come in a variety of strategies you can use to try to win, but there is also a large collection of items called relics that you can earn via a variety of methods that give you ongoing, or sometimes consumable, powers that warp how you value your cards and your choices. The depth is beautiful, the balance between strategies is stunning, and I’ve barely even dipped my toe into the community’s stats-collecting and content-modding. The core loop of the game involves winning it with each of three different character classes at 21 different difficulties; in the first ~45 days of playing the game I’ve managed to win at the first 3 difficulties with 2 of the 3 classes and only the first 2 levels with the third. I’ve got a long way to go, and I can’t wait to keep trying.

There’s still no iPad version announced, but there is a Switch version coming early next year, which I only count as a runner-up solution because of the Switch’s relatively short battery life, a problem I expect I’ll start running into a lot when I buy this game on a second platform.

blot.im

I was intrigued by the simplicity of this independently-owned blogging platform, which promises to let you publish an elegant website just by writing files to Dropbox. It feels very similar to blog engines that have been layered on top of static site generators like Jekyll or Middleman, but those have always felt so clunky to me, I decided I’d love to give something a try that promised to deliver a similar writing experience while streamlining the publishing portion for me. I set up https://etc.motd.co to use it as a sort of “linkblog”, and it’s been going okay? I don’t exactly use it every day, but I have found it to be fast, reliable, and it makes me think about how I’d like to write more.

GraphQL

We started using GraphQL at work last year and I spent July 2017-August 2018 working on a team at work building out a GraphQL infrastructure, porting our ecosystem of a half-dozen or so independent apps to all share a stitched-together GraphQL API that ended up powering our company hack week. It was fun to get involved with software that’s still so actively being developed; I had the chance to contribute a few patches to the open-source community in the course of my work and also write an internal Ruby gem that I’m still hoping will be open-sourced some time in 2019. I don’t think GraphQL is a silver bullet but there are some applications of it that feel extremely clean and tie nicely into some of my favorite parts of programming.

Mastodon

I admit I’ve mostly fallen off here, but after joining Mastodon in 2017 and not really sticking with it, there was a fairly large exodus at one point in 2018 where a significant number of my friends were all using Mastodon regularly and so I did too. It was fun to spend time on it making jokes and chatting and generally “being online” in community with other people. I also enjoyed the freedom to make small patches to my own private server that changed the way the interface worked for me across all platforms without interfering with my ability to talk to people on other servers. I kinda hope that I’ll come back to it again, but I have to shamefully admit that the network effect is too strong for me to leave Twitter entirely this year.

Spelling Bee – NYT puzzle

Have you played the Spelling Bee! It’s super fun! I was hooked on it for a few weeks after it came out and I’ve fallen off but I still log in and check it out from time to time. I love how well it works on both desktop and mobile web. Its design adapts naturally to each platform. It’s so clean and crisp and pure and dang, what a good puzzle.

Sorry to Bother You

I watched the trailer for this when it was first announced and thought it looked extremely stylish, strange, and interesting. I avoided reading anything else about it from that point on until I saw the movie and if you haven’t been spoiled on it at all yet, I recommend you do the same. I don’t want to say much more because this movie ended up being far more than I was expecting but it was hilarious and bizarre and cool. This might be one of my favorite movies of the decade.

Blindspotting

It won’t be a surprise when Lin-Manuel Miranda gets an Oscar and completes his EGOT, but Hamilton colleague Daveed Diggs might be right behind him, out to prove that he can act and write just as well as he performs on stage both on Broadway and as a rapper with his group clipping. He co-wrote the movie with his co-star Rafael Casal, the two of them having pitched the project years ago and finally getting to put it together in the wake of Diggs’ newfound stardom. It’s a moving, personal, funny, and extremely relevant story that you really should see.

Limetown Season 2

I wrote about Limetown’s first season just before the second one started and guess what: Season 2 also rules and continues to be an extremely compelling radio sci-fi drama that’s just a little bit creepy and overall really good. Both seasons are really short and very deserving of your time.

Killing Eve

I was feeling pretty blah about new TV shows after watching some let-downs this year (having three seasons of the extremely reliable British Bake-Off added to Netflix notwithstanding), but gave Killing Eve a shot after some friends were talking about it. (US readers, it’s currently on Hulu if you have a subscription to that.) It’s weird and self-aware and funny and just the right amount of pulpy (for now– I’m a little worried that Season 2 is going to feel like Alias if it goes in the direction I think it might). And just like Limetown, there are only 8 episodes! You can watch the whole story in a matter of days.

Favorite albums

  • BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence
  • Caroline Rose – Loner
  • The Go! Team – SEMICIRCLE
  • Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  • Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  • Jon Hopkins – Singularity
  • Justine Skye – ULTRAVIOLET
  • Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
  • Lena Raine – Celeste Original Soundtrack
  • Liza Anne – Fine But Dying
  • Metro Boomin – NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES
  • Nils Frahm – All Melody
  • Noname – Room 25
  • Ólafur Arnalds – re:member
  • Saba – CARE FOR ME
  • Sudan Archives – Sink (EP)