Best of 2008 – Video Game

Finally, a category where I actually had trouble narrowing down a list of nominations to a reasonable size 🙂 Here they are:

  • Braid (Xbox 360)
  • Castle Crashers (Xbox 360)
  • Resistance 2 (PS3)
  • Little Big Planet (PS3)

Braid is a downloadable game for the Xbox 360, which on the surface appears to be merely a Mario side scrolling clone. You control the hero, Tim, who runs around levels jumping on enemies’ heads while pursuing a lost princess. A bit familiar, yes? But Tim also has access to a number of time-manipulation abilites which must be used to solve ingenious puzzles and eventually tie into the story’s themes quite nicely.

Castle Crashers is another downloadable Xbox 360 game. Made in the style of old-school brawlers like Golden Axe, CC features four player online co-op hack & slash play. There’s little subtlety in playing the game – button mashing succeeds more often than most carefully thought out strategies. But the game has a twisted sense of humor, and the hand-drawn animation is gorgeous to look at. Due to some unfortunate network glitches (which have supposedly been solved now, but it took months!) which rendered the game near-unplayable online, I can’t award it the trophy. But when it works, Castle Crashers is great old fashioned gaming group fun.

Resistance 2 is on the list solely for it’s co-operative online play. The main single player mode is capable, but didn’t blow me away. Co-op adds the dynamic of picking between three classes – medic, soldier, or special ops. Each has specific strengths and weaknesses, and without tight genuine co-operation and planning between all three you will fail horribly. Getting a decent squad together who understands this, who can communicate and function like a finely oiled machine, is a thing of beauty.

Little Big Planet makes the nominations for, again, it’s co-op play. Sensing a theme of what I like in gaming? 🙂 Like Braid, LBP owes significant dues to side scrollers of years gone by. What it adds to the mix is an incredibly cute design aesthetic, as well as full level creation abilities. And when I say full, I mean full. Using in-game physics, I’ve seen levels created to house amazingly bizarre contraptions – like a fully functioning mechanical calculator. Your ability to create in LBP is limited only by your imagination. I don’t have the creative skills to come up with much on my own, but have really enjoyed downloading and playing through levels designed by others.

Best Video Game of 2008: Braid


Braid’s time-manipulation mechanic is integrated remarkably well into a genuinely touching and thought-provoking story. The twists are huge, so I won’t spoil them here, but the final level’s events are mind-blowing and completely alter the player’s perspective on all previous events. Tim’s adventure of self-discovery and regret and melancholy is a nice departure from video games’ usual “I’m a guy with a gun and I blow stuff up” stories. The puzzles require genuine thought and creativity to solve, and almost never feel cheap. I got a huge sense of accomplishment after I solved the more difficult ones. And it’s a minor detail, but I fell in love with the game’s background art – it’s like walking through a Van Gogh painting. Add in a haunting and catchy soundtrack, and I’m sold. Gameplay takes about 6-8 hours to complete, or less if you’re really really good at puzzles 🙂 For now the game is available only as downloadable content on the Xbox 360 ($15), but a PC version is forthcoming in 2009.

Honorable Mentions:

Mirror’s Edge earns a nod despite the fact that I haven’t quite finished it yet. It does something radical: it puts a traditionally third person game (the platformer) into the first person. You see through the eyes of the protagonist, making insane Le Parkour-inspired jumps from rooftop to rooftop in an effort to deliver packages and evade the totalitarian Big Brother type government. The rush and sense of adrenaline from seeing the acrobatics from the eyes of the performer cannot be understated. But while a noble experiment in perspective, the game comes to a creaking halt whenever combat is involved. The controls for fighting are clunky and frustrating. If this element were removed, Mirror’s Edge would be a much stronger contender. Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360, I’m playing the PS3 version.

Left 4 Dead: Three words: Co-op Zombie Shooter. I have been waiting for this kind of game my whole life. Like Resistance 2, genuine co-operation is required among players to succeed. I haven’t had much time to play it yet, but from what I’ve seen I think I’ll really like the game.

Best of 2008 – Music

I discovered a lot of new music this year, but very little was from 2008. That said, here’s my favorites from this year:

  • Snow Patrol – A Hundred Million Suns
  • Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Flight
  • Flobots – Fight With Tools

I caught up on Snow Patrol this year, somehow missing out them previously. Each of their albums is completely listenable from start to finish, and A Hundred Million Suns is no exception. I rarely buy full albums anymore, but don’t feel like I’ve wasted a penny on any of their tracks. I’m most fascinated by The Lightning Strike, a 16 minute track that manages to stay fresh the entire way through.

Frightened Rabbit is another of the long list of bands I discovered while listening to WBER. Their lyrics are remarkably well crafted, with different tracks like Keep Yourself Warm and The Twist providing interesting counterpoints to each other’s message. Again, I enjoy the whole album as a package. And in this occasion, I think the listening experience is actually enhanced by experiencing the whole album from start to end. (As an addendum, Keep Yourself Warm was used particularly [if censored for lyrics] well in an episode of Chuck this season)

I do not usually like rap. I do not usually like politically charged music. So Flobots’ Fight With Tools album is a rare beast for me – politically charged rap songs that I love. Handlebars was their big hit with radio play, but each song is layered and rewards careful listening. I had a chance to see them live a few months ago, and the energy the Flobots carry on stage is somehow even higher than what’s contained on the album.

Best album of 2008: Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Flight
Frightened Rabbit

This was a near impossible decision to make, I love all three albums completely. So I wimped out and simply made the award based on which album had the highest total play count stored in iTunes 🙂

Best of 2008 – Movies

Looking back, I really didn’t see a huge amount of movies in the theater this year. So, almost by default, my nominations are three of the six I can recall:

  • Iron Man
  • Wall-E
  • The Dark Knight

Each of these movies is excellent in its own right. Iron Man perfects the idea of a pure fun superhero movie – a pure joy of a summer blockbuster. Dark Knight takes a more mature look at that genre, in the process providing the definitive take on the Batman/Joker matchup. And I’m just going to give Pixar a permanent slot on my movie nominations – they’ve yet to disappoint, and in fact I think Wall-E is their best effort yet. It’s lyrical, beautiful, thoughtful, and an artistic achievement. I own all three on Blu-ray, and each completely holds up to the theater experience upon home viewing.

Crowning one movie over the others is an extremely difficult decision. But ultimately, one film does edge out the others. In a way, more for the experience of the movie than just the hours spent in a darkened theater. I lived and breathed this movie up until release, completely immersed in the ARG created as a marketing campaign. All the minor plot points and major character development I picked up before I even set foot in the theater transformed what was already an amazing film into something above and beyond. My jaw was on the floor from beginning to end of Dark Knight, and I’ve discussed it with someone at least weekly ever since that first viewing. I couldn’t in good conscience give ‘best of the year’ to any other movie.

Best movie of 2008: The Dark Knight

Dark Knight

Dept. of Public Information

Walking out of work recently, I encountered this flyer on the library’s public bulletin board:

To find, please contact the UNC Department of Public Information and receive your

The pulltabs to take with you have this link:

The blog is an interesting collection of links and chronicle of events staged by this group around campus to promote knowledge of student rights on campus.

This is a great example of a semi-ARGish method being used to promote distribution of knowledge and education! One event even led people to relevant books on the library’s shelves.

It’s sort of odd to see the blog promoted now, when there hasn’t been an update for almost a month, but maybe something new will be happening soon. The flyer seems to be grabbing students’ interest – yesterday afternoon there were five pulltabs remaining, and as I write this there’s only one.