Why We’re Recording a “Game of the Year” Podcast

I sit down to write this listening to the soundtrack of my podcast’s past Game of the Year, Fez. Disasterpeace’s work on the game is as stunning as I remember; melodies are accented and transition in register and dynamic range with expertise. Fez was a game primarily about learning, but also about nature, science fiction, the life cycle, space, God, loneliness, community, the Internet, childhood, accidents, and its designer, Phil Fish.

I regret how little time we spent discussing Fez on last year’s Game of the Year podcast. Most of the panel had spent less time with it than myself and were complacent to crown it, preferring to debate the runner-up spot between Mass Effect 3 and Journey. An hour of impassioned anecdotes, defenses, analyses, and even attacks defined Journey’s #2 placement. The same was true of 2011’s Game of the Year Deliberations, consisting of a battle between The Witcher 2 and Bastion before crowning Saints Row: The Third.

It’s not that I dispute these choices; Saints and Fez were “my” games. But the process of discussing Game of the Year is focused upon relating to people’s experiences. That’s why we put out a podcast rather than writing a lengthy feature; essays about these games can be written outside of this context, but assessing individual experiences and relating to each other as a collaborative group can only be accomplished through conversation. We failed to engage upon our most beloved titles, and I resolve to correct that issue this year.

What we’ve come up with is a verifiable fleet of lovable games to represent the best of 2013. They represent a diverse spread of experiences possible with the medium; from minimal, humanist storytelling, to innovation in both storytelling and gameplay, to pure excellence in a known format, the games selected struck out to our panel as especially vibrant and viable. With the possible exception of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to the incredible Wings of Liberty, each could stand as an effective introduction to games.

Perhaps most meaningfully, I look at this list and have no idea which title will stand apart as our Game of the Year, inspiring me to believe we’ll have some amazing conversation.

And there’s still so many great games we’re not talking about, simply because they didn’t jump out at us quite as much as these 25 (not that there was a hard limit.) We’re not talking about Gunpoint, despite the fact that it reevaluates stealth design and excels in creating combat mechanics with personal weight that reflect their main character. We’re not talking about Guacamelee, even though it’s a very well-designed game that reflects gamer culture the way Borderlands 2 strove to achieve. We’re not talking about Studio Ghibli’s entry point into video games, Ni No Kuni, just because none of us had time to play it this year.

So, when our Game of the Year Deliberations come out, and we’ve reached our final top ten list, take it all with a grain of salt. The ultimate list part of this process is relatively arbitrary; it’s really about engaging with why we’ve chosen these games.


Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Animal Crossing: New Leaf


Bioshock Infinite

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Depression Quest


DmC: Devil may Cry

Dota 2

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Gone Home

Grand Theft Auto V

Metro: Last Light


Papers, Please

Pikmin 3

Pokémon X/Y

Rogue Legacy

Saints Row IV

StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm

Super House of Dead Ninjas

Super Mario 3D World

The Last of Us

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Stanley Parable

Tomb Raider

Hey Everybody, It’s Tuesday

…And a lot of us wish we were hearing that voice on the Giant Bombcast. That voice belongs to Ryan Davis, our host. I never met Ryan, but the realization came yesterday that, between all the Quick Looks, Bombcasts, and livestreams I’ve watched, I’ve probably spent more time with Ryan than most of my closest friends. I decided it’d be worth my time to scrawl some of my thoughts below.


I only know Ryan through his media, his Twitter, and his still-wonderful Spotify summerjams playlist. But if I learned anything in my efforts to host a podcast as well as Ryan, it’s that the best way to create natural chemistry on the show is to just be your damn self. Ryan didn’t shy away from sharing weird personal stories and feelings with the Giant Bomb community. I’ll never, ever forget the N.A.R.C. story; the cake-sitting story; the stories about Anna not being allowed to play his Ms. Pac-Man machine too often because she’d get excruciatingly mad; the extended Disneyland drinking story. I laughed endlessly at all of these, and I realize now how intimately he shared himself with his community.


A lot of people have described feelings that share a lot of what I feel towards Ryan Davis. The words aren’t enough; grief is like that. But I wanted to express one facet of Ryan’s brilliance that I haven’t seen noted.


Ryan had a deep love for video games; it’s why he was, in equal measure, so excited for Saints Row The Third and so downtrodden about Epic Mickey. But what’s fallen through the wayside is how much love he had for the people who made games. Most people consider game development from a superstar angle; the desire is to get the Peter Molyneuxs, Ken Levines, and Ed Boons of game development. And Ryan certainly celebrated the lead creative forces in the industry; one listen through of the brilliant conversation he led between Jon Blow and Cliff Bleszinski a couple weeks ago will show that.


But Ryan had so much love and respect for people at all levels of game development. If John Drake of Harmonix PR is a superstar, it’s because Ryan, as a good friend, has elevated him to that status. The story of game developers like Brad Muir, Dave Lang, Max Temkin, and so many more take an important step through their friendships with Ryan. Some of it comes along with fierce loyalty to friends; certainly, Ryan’s love for Rich Gallup, Greg Kasavin, and other longstanding friends survived for years. But rewatch Building the Bastion; even if Greg leads the demos, Ryan constantly asks questions of the other devs on the couch with total and complete excitement and attention. Ryan so enjoyed telling the unsung stories of game development, and those close relationships with the friends of Giant Bomb helped make brilliant collaborations like the Giant Bomb Interview Dumptruck and Polygon’s Human Angle possible. And, of course, every time a studio had layoffs, and the conversation circled around “what this means for games in development,” it would end with Ryan: “Irregardless, a lot of people lost their jobs today, and we hope they find new work soon.”


Rest in peace, Ryan. I love you for everything you’ve given me. Thank you.

Thoughts On “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and Character Humanization

When I saw Into Darkness about a month ago, I expected I’d enjoy something else less by this point in the summer. But, due to my failure to see some of the summer’s larger “disappointments” (again, I haven’t seen them,) Into Darkness remains my summer bummer.


To be blunt, large parts of the movie are still pretty cool. Aside from the moments where Dan Mindel properly conveys thematic statements through cinematography, it’s the parts where characters just talk to each other. Whether comedic or dramatic, it’s usually very, very engaging. The characters that receive focused are well executed and generally well acted. They’re snippy, funny, and have fantastic chemistry, and they’re occasionally capable of engendering some real pathos.


Shining amongst the examples is an early scene where Kirk winds up in a long elevator ride with Uhura. They’re about to set off on their primary mission for the film; Uhura, off-handedly, asks the captain if everything’s all right; everyone else thinks he looks kind of exhausted. Even before the tragic events that lead to the mission they’re embarking upon, Kirk was drinking himself into a stupor; Kirk has since been “put upon,” to underemphasize things. He says he’s fine.


Then, he doubles back to say “no, I’m not okay.” He explains that one of his beloved crew has quit and that he’s full of self-doubt and grief and has no idea what he’s doing; we’re witnessing the makings of an anxiety attack or depressive breakdown. It’s a fascinating moment in a film thus far bereft of these deeply emotional scenes. To top it all off, Kirk is arguing with Spock, who Uhura is dating at the time. She vaguely implies that she and Spock aren’t exactly sailing smoothly either. Kirk takes this as a moment for his own bravado, joking about the idea of having a lovers’ spat with Spock.


This is the last we will see of Kirk’s self-esteem issues, grieving, or anxiety. In fact, apart from a follow-up conversation in regards to Spock’s fight with Uhura, this is the last deep angst we’ll see out of any of our characters that doesn’t come in the form of a right hook.  Somewhere, a writer had a pathological arc for Kirk to become the bold captain we know him to be, but all traces of it but this one scene are struck from the script.


On the one hand, I want to congratulate them for even including a hint of that level of complexity; on the other, I chastise them for not making the more interesting film. What’s even left to beg for? Apparently, Iron Man 3 offers multiple nervous breakdowns that don’t facilitate the plot, and The Dark Knight Rises gave Christian Bale more screentime with a broken back than he got wearing a cowl. Prometheus, a film filled with ambition, made its budget back more than threefold. An ambitious, cerebral, empathetic megahit is entirely possible.


It’s not like J.J. Abrams is incapable of making something with heart; Super 8 is a perfect example of his repartee on full steam, without a massive budget to bog him down. And when Into Darkness abandons its more seriously interesting character arcs, it becomes a lot harder to forgive the empty plot, ridiculous fanservice, marginalization of all non Kirk/Spock/Cumberbatch characters, boring action, and truly awful ending. Delving into that stuff would require seeing the movie, and, unfortunately, I don’t plan to make that happen any time soon.

I’ll leave on a hopeful note, though. A similar note of humanity come in an early scene in which Spock accepts his oncoming (and subverted) demise. The score and cinematography aspire to the same heights Prometheus achieved last year. These short bursts of pure empathetic filmmaking reminded me of what the Star Trek film series can be; hopefully, with the somewhat unremarkable performance of Into Darkness domestically, a scaled back budget will force the Abrams understudy who takes over to really study what truly works about these first two films.

The New Site

Hey, guys. This one’s a bit business-y, but I’m planning on writing something more interesting tonight.

I decided I wanted to consolidate all of my writing to one website; one that would be easier to find, more suited to my cross-media and personal editorials. I don’t plan on bringing over all of my old writing from Giant Bomb, Screened, or my Blogger profile, though I might bring over some of the ones that occur to me as still-relevant.

When I decided I wanted to start a more general blog site, I was between two choices; Tumblr and WordPress. After doing a little research, I decided to go with WordPress for a few reasons:

1) Tumblr seems less suited to long-form blogging. While I’ve certainly seen some four-paragraph posts hit high traffic on Tumblr (with lots of sharing,) some of what I write will probably be a lot longer than that.

2) For the most part, I plan to post text and maybe some video. Both of those things seem pretty feasible here on WordPress; if I was focusing on images, Tumblr would be more appropriate.

3) I’m able to buy my own domain here on WordPress rather than just existing as a submdomain. For the less tech-savvy out there, that means I can own “alexlovendahl.com” rather than posting to “alexlovendahl.tumblr.com.”

There are some downsides; Tumblr obviously has higher traffic than WordPress, and some people who might support me on Tumblr won’t see my blog here on WordPress. But I have my Twitter, and I’ll be making a Tumblr for sharing as well.

Anyways, I hope you like the new site. I’m hoping paying for a domain will motivate me to write more. Here’s to the future.