2008 has been a hell of mixed year - ups, downs, odd shimmying movements, it’s had it all. In the grand spirit of catharsis, I decided to pick out a few of the moments that stick in my memory about the year that zipped by when we weren’t looking.
Most Inspirational Moment : Obama winning the US Election
The moment I honestly didn’t think would actually happen for most of 2008. The idea that a young, smart, left-leaning man with a positive message could get the top job in a country that’s been dominated by a grizzled, fear-spreading, right-wing old guard for the best part of the last decade was almost too much to hope for. The fact that he’s also mixed-race, and has an unconventional, cosmopolitan background, brings with it a sense that some things that always should have been possible, but somehow never occurred, could happen after all. It brought a little ray of hope to cynics like me who nevertheless want to believe good things can happen sometimes. Of course, he now has one of the hardest jobs in the world and is not about to walk across water to fix everything, but despite that, I and many others take heart from that November night.
Worst Moment & Most Transformational Moment: Back Trouble
Unsurprisingly the low point of my year was being carted off in an ambulance, pumped full of morphine, due to acute back trouble. However, what it also did was serve as a wake-up call, that after years of simply ‘managing’ my occasional back problems, which amounted to doing the minimum required to keep doing the things I wanted to do (like coding), it was time I actually sat up and took it more seriously, and got my priorities straight. I still love programming, and tinkering on computers generally - I’ll never get that out of my system. But, I can no longer let it dominate my lifestyle to the extent I have in the past. It’s a hard thing to do, because like many people much of my ‘identity’ as I perceive it comes from my work & hobbies, which have always been strongly oriented around computers. I’m having to adjust and reform that identity to a degree, to one that is not so biased in one direction. As well as taking more exercise, I’ve added back previously marginalised hobbies like music and gaming in greater measure, and this blog has evolved along with that. It’s had to happen fast, and I’m still adjusting.
Most Hours Spent Pressing Plastic Buttons: Rock Band ½
This game could in fact have qualified under any number of categories, such as ‘Most Money Spent On A Single Game’, ‘Most DLC Purchased’, ‘Best Social Gaming Experience’, ‘Most Wrist / Hand Injuries’, ‘Most Likely To Inspire Delusions of Grandeur’, and many more. But most of all, we’ve sunk hours without measure into the Rock Band experience over the last 8 months, and have loved every minute of it.
One of the few games I have almost never played alone, and all the better for it. Also the game that’s encouraged me to buy more music I hadn’t heard of before, and to take up a real instrument again, almost 20 years after I gave up my fairly considerable extra-curricular music lessons in favour of, you guessed it, computer studies.
Most Effective Practical Lesson in Comradeship: Left 4 Dead
I love this game, no matter how much it frustrates at the higher difficulty levels when that total bastard of an AI Director decides to wear you down, before throwing a Tank and horde wave at you just as you’re mere feet from safety. Gaaah!! But, no other game apart from Rock Band has made co-op so satisfying, and it does it in a completely different way. The game design is quietly masterful, the way they engineer a situation where you play together not because it’s an option, or a neat little add-on, but because your only chance of survival is sticking together and helping one another. And yes, you will scream like a girl when a Hunter leaps on you from a rooftop and your companions are tentatively out of reach. You will want to hug them after they come back to help you before your face is ripped off. You will also genuinely mourn the loss of a player because you just know that you’re more vulnerable as a group with him/her gone. You won’t find any other game that remotely makes you appreciate your companions as much as L4D does.
Most Used Entertainment Device : Xbox 360
It may sound like a small industrial air conditioner. It may have an old-school disc tray. It may be saddled with a higher-than average chance of breakdown. But pound for pound, the 360 has given us the most gaming fun in 2008 by a considerable margin. I always said I would finally buy a ‘next-gen’ console for Rock Band first and foremost, and the unexpected timed exclusivity of the title on 360 in Europe meant that alone would have made it a lucky choice. However, the surprise came from games which I wasn’t necessarily clamouring to buy originally but which in the end proved to be really excellent, like Gears of War, Fable 2, Crackdown, Braid, N+, Skate. Those plus the games which I’d planned to buy (like Mass Effect, Geometry Wars ½, Pac Man CE, Rez HD, Halo 3, Rock Band) really made it a crowded year for my 360. I have several games that I’d like to go back to sometime if I get time, like Assassins Creed and Burnout Paradise. I’ve also been really impressed by the completeness of the online experience. A few friends & relatives who hadn’t bought into the current gen of gaming yet also bought one this xmas so I’m expecting more shared fun next year.
Most Enjoyable and Thought-provoking Book : Neverwhere
I’ve been reading a little more now that I’m not staying up to the early hours of the morning on the computer anymore, and this was one of the books I picked up (my wife’s, actually). I like Neil Gaiman, and I also read American Gods this year too, but I particularly liked Neverwhere, for multiple reasons. I really liked the through-the-looking-glass version of London and the dark humour, but I also really liked the message at the end, about normality and how we perceive it. A great book that manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking.
**Best Musical Come-back : Er…
I couldn’t decide on one favourite here, it seems to have been a year for come-backs. Supergrass’s Diamond Hoo Ha was a feisty, confident, more mature album from a band that got stereotyped too much in the 90’s. It still got largely ignored though, which was very much undeserved. Oasis’s new album Dig Out Your Soul has a number of tracks I like - a little heavier than their older albums, but once you get used to it it’s very good. The Verve of course famously got back together again for the album ‘Forth’. When I first heard it I was underwhelmed, but I’m starting to like it now, especially since the release of the second single (Rather Be), so I may well buy it. Finally, REM released their first really great album in far too many years, Accelerate, which seemed to throw off some of the cobwebs that had been accumulating on them recently and brought back some of the old spirit. All in all, it’s been a good year for some of my favourite older bands.
There were loads of other moments, such as releasing Ogre 1.6 and OgreSpeedTree, attending Siggraph, going to Sweden for the first time, and more. 2008 was certainly a busy one! I hope 2008 has been good for you, and best of luck for 2009. I think we’re all going to need it!