I have created a text file every year since 2010 that lists every game I played that year and the order in which I enjoyed them. Now that my blog is operational and I started the #GamesOfTheYear tag in 2017 I felt it was time to look back at those text files and record them here for posterity.
I am going to attempt to not write too much about each game because otherwise it will take me weeks if not months to transcribe all of these text files. My goal is to write a simple one or two line description of the game and what I think I felt about it back when it was first played.
1. Monday Night Combat
Monday Night Combat is a class based third-person shooter that has MOBA-like objectives. Teams are trying to destroy the other's "Moneyball" and there are waves of robots that push each base. You can destroy the robots for money and use it to improve your defense or purchase offensive capabilities.
Just look at these tweets to get an idea of how hyped I was for this game back in 2010.
2. Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain is a whodunit murder mystery where you control four vastly different characters who are somehow involved with the Origami Killer, a serial killer who uses extended periods of rainfall to drown his victims. It is a third-person adventure game that mostly relies on quick time events but the main selling point is that your decisions drastically affect the story and can even lead to the death of some characters.
I thought it was a masterfully crafted story that had me on the edge of my seat. I didn't see the big twist coming and couldn't predict who the killer was but at the same time I didn't feel the revelation came out of nowhere. The second it happened I started thinking about what I was doing the whole game and everything made sense. In my opinion that is the sign of a great story.
3. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is obviously the second installment in the Mass Effect franchise. You again assume the role of Commander Shepard, an elite human solider who is trying to rally allies to fight off the threat to the galaxy that you uncovered in the first game. Mass Effect 2 is much heavier on third-person combat than its predecessor. The RPG elements do help flesh out this combat but at its core it is very much a stop and pop cover based shooter first. The amazing storytelling from Mass Effect 1 does continue as well as the absolutely insane amount of dialogue choices that really give you the feeling that you are in control of where the story goes.
Mass Effect 2 is easily my favourite game in the entire franchise. The combat felt great, the story was engaging, I got super attached to all of the characters such that when they died I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. All these years later I only have fond memories of the game which is probably the best praise I can give it.
4. Halo: Reach
Halo: Reach is the sixth installment in the Halo series and Bungie's last game before they broke away from Microsoft and started work on Destiny. It takes place during the events of the Halo: The Fall of Reach novel (which is fantastic and should be read by any Halo fan) as you, the Spartan codenamed Noble Six, defend the planet Reach when it is attacked by the Covenant.
I don't really know what to write about Halo: Reach other than it is Bungie's vision of Halo almost perfected. Bungie still has the best gunplay of any first-person shooter. The story was actually very engaging and even touching at spots which is pretty amazing for a game where the main characters are literally hidden behind metric tons of armor. The visuals were mind blasting at the time and the scope of the levels were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I dare you to find a skybox that engrosses you in a world more than the ones Bungie makes. The level editor, "Forge", was much improved over what they released with Halo 3 and led to hours of entertainment.
Halo: Reach is easily one of the best shooters ever released on a console and is the second best game in the Halo series behind Halo 3 which I probably prefer more just because I got to play as Master Chief and finally finish the fight against the Covenant.
5. Alan Wake
Alan Wake is an action-adventure game from Remedy Entertainment that is part third-person shooter, part psychological TV thriller along the lines of Twin Peaks. You play as the titular Alan Wake as he visits the town of Bright Falls, Washington where he attempts to finish his novel all the while experiencing the events of said novel which he cannot remember writing.
Alan Wake is comprised of six episodes that are framed as if they are actual TV show episodes. You literally get "Last time on Alan Wake" title cards when you start an episode. Each episode is a healthy mix of storytelling, as you traverse the environment and interact with other characters, and action, where the "darkness" comes and you are attacked by murderous shadows. To combat the shadows you are required to weaken them with some light source before you can attack them with a range of weaponry.
Alan Wake has one of the best stories ever told in video games. Honestly it could have been a TV show or movie and would have been just as engaging. The reason it is probably not higher on my list is that the combat leaves much to be desired. On numerous occasions I became frustrated with the controls or the composition of enemies I was fighting and didn't want to play the game anymore. The promise of more of the amazing story was all that kept me going.
6. Dead Rising 2
Dead Rising 2 is a sandbox game where you murder zombies for three in-game days. At the end you either die because you didn't solve the mystery as to why the zombies exist or you did and you survive (yay!) but that is not the reason to play this game. The reason is that you can construct hundreds of makeshift weapons with random components you find lying around to make your zombie massacre easier and more fun. I could go into more detail but really that is all you need to know. If you like the idea of trying to find the funniest/coolest/most efficient way of murdering zombies then the Dead Rising games are for you.
The other absolutely fantastic part of this game is your level carries over between playthroughs as well as abilities and gear you unlock so I honestly just play until I die having all sorts of fun and then just start over again because I am now stronger.
I don't know what else I should write about Dead Rising 2 to convince you why I love it. If a zombie murder sandbox does not sound fun to you that is cool I understand. But for me, there was something about that reward loop of figuring out a new weapon and using it to murder zombies that just kept me playing this game for hours. For fucks sake you can attach chainsaws to a motorcycle and then drive it through a casino! In another playthrough I got a group of nerd survivors to follow me where I then equipped them all with broadswords and did my best Braveheart impersonation. What else do you want people?
7. Kirby's Epic Yarn
Kirby's Epic Yarn is a feel good platformer that will put a huge smile on your face from the second you pick it up until you put it down. Yes it is a touch on the easy side but it just oozes with so much personality. The creativity in every level and the whimsical visuals will fill your heart with glee. It also features a co-op mode so you can share your joy with a friend.
8. Plants vs. Zombies iPhone
Probably the most popular tower-defense game ever released, Plants vs. Zombies popularized the lane based approach where enemies walk straight down one of five lanes and your towers (in this case plants) literally get in their way. Unlike most tower defense games you generate the resources you need from towers you can plant which creates an interesting strategic balance between planting offensive towers to keep you safe while also planting towers to generate resources.
I put hundreds of hours into Plants vs. Zombies. It absolutely destroyed the battery of my iPhone 3G because of how much I played it. I would literally choose to curl up on the couch and play Plants vs. Zombies on my iPhone rather than turn on my PC or console. Plants vs. Zombies is a seminal video game and was part of the beginning of truly engaging video games on mobile devices.
9. Pokémon SoulSilver
What do you want me to say here? I am a Pokémon whore. I have bought basically every Pokémon game that has ever been made. Why the hell wouldn't I buy Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (a remake of the greatest Pokémon game of all time, Pokémon Gold and Silver) and why wouldn't I enjoy it?
I don't think I need to say anything other than if you enjoy Pokémon games you will enjoy these ones and if you're interested in Pokémon these are great games to play.
10. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is the third game in the Professor Layton series and continues the tradition of being an excellent puzzle game with an interesting story to boot. If you like brain teasers you should definitely give any of the games from the Professor Layton series a shot.
Limbo is Playdead's inaugural video game. It is a puzzle-platformer where you guide a young boy through a dangerous world in search of his sister. Presented entirely in black-and-white with absolutely no speaking roles, the game relies on the environment and its puzzles to tell the story. It uses the "learn through death" mechanic popularized by games such as Demon's Souls which is the main reason it is so far down on my list. I really did love the game but there were enough frustrating moments where I had to repeat a certain section one too many times that left a very sour taste in my mouth.
I would still recommend that everyone play Limbo because it really is a masterful piece of work but go in with the expectation that you will die a lot and there literally is nothing you can do to stop it. You will be killed to reveal the existence of a trap and there is no other way you could have learned about it.
12. NHL 11
I am Canadian. I like hockey. I like hockey games. Ergo I played NHL 11. This was the first iteration of the franchise that used the skill stick controls where the right analog stick was used to simulate the movement of a player's hockey stick. Through these new controls you had much finer grain control over how you deked as well as your shooting which allowed you to easily do things like fake a shot.
13. Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption is basically Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West. It won a ton of awards and has been universally acclaimed as one of the greatest games of all time and I have absolutely no idea why it is so low on my list. On the flip side I barely remember anything good about the game. It truly was just Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West. I don't remember that being a bad thing but maybe I just saw it as more of the same and wasn't really impressed with the gameplay or the story. I barely even tweeted about Red Dead Redemption. This game seems to have had no lasting impact on me.
Bayonetta is an action-adventure hack and slash game in the same vein as Devil May Cry and God of War. It was the third game released by PlatinumGames and Bayonetta is considered by many to be their breakout title. It established Platinum as an industry leader who merged fast-paced, genre-defining combat with stunning visuals and eclectic storytelling.
Thinking back I have so many good memories of Bayonetta. The combat was so frenetic and yet tight and crisp at the same time. The way Bayonetta would transition between her various attacks had a level of fluidity that is still not matched by most games today. The reason Bayonetta is so far down on this list is because of its absolutely horrible quick time events and final boss. I endured a garbage racing mini-game and then some seizure inducing arcade shooter mini-game only to fight a final boss that was multiple stages and if you died you went back the start. I can only assume that I was so livid after I finally managed to the game that I threw it far down this list as some form of catharsis.
15. Dragon Quest IX
I actually have no idea what Dragon Quest IX was about. I cannot remember playing a single moment of it. But apparently it wasn't the worst game I played in 2010 because we still got a couple more to get through.
16. Puzzle Quest 2
Puzzle Quest 2 is the sequel to Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords one of my favourite games of all time. It mixed puzzle and RPG elements in a way that had never been done before. If I am remembering correctly Puzzle Quest 2 was a little lighter on the RPG elements than its predecessor which is why it isn't higher up on my list.
17. Final Fantasy XIII
Ah the polarizing Final Fantasy XIII. While I do think it had a weaker than average story and very forgettable characters for a Final Fantasy game its fatal flaw was its combat. It took over 20 hours before its combat really clicked and came into its own and the "Paradigm Shift" system finally got to showcase itself. This extended tutorial was particularly brutal and while I may have enjoyed a lot of aspects of Final Fantasy XIII I cannot bring myself to put it higher on my list.
18. God of War III
God of War III is another action-adventure hack and slash from 2010 and as its name implies it is the sequel to God of War II, one of my favourite PlayStation 2 games of all-time. While God of War III is easily one of the most visually stunning games released in 2010 its combat is very much stuck in the world of its predecessor. After playing a game with such fluid combat as Bayonetta it felt like I was wading through molasses in God of War III. Combine this with a fairly mediocre story and you get a game that I was just not impressed with.
19. Infinity Blade
And so we come to Infinity Blade, the first iOS game to use the Unreal Engine. You play an unnamed knight attempting to fight his way to the top of a tower to defeat the immortal God King. In combat you swipe and tap the screen to attack, parry, dodge and block. Whether you win or lose, the game simply starts over from the beginning where your experience and equipment carry over to your descendent.
I played dozens of hours of Infinity Blade. It was one of the first truly impressive mobile games that I played. And then the microtransactions came. I almost forgot about why I hated this game so much but after a quick Google search all the pain came flooding back. I remember being so addicted and thinking "oh if I just buy this one item things will become so much easier" but it never would last. Infinity Blade was probably my first real introduction to microtransactions, a scourge upon video games that has only gotten worse over the years.
I wrote about how I became enthralled by sumo wrestling during our trip to Tokyo in 2017. We were able to watch the 2017 November Grand Sumo tournament (also known as the Kyūshū Basho) live but since the commentary was in Japanese I searched YouTube to see if there was any English coverage. This lead me to find Jason's outstanding All-Sumo channel. Not only did he have coverage of the best matches but he provided great commentary for a newcomer like myself. After the tournament ended he posted videos detailing noteworthy stories surrounding sumo wrestling which was again super useful for a newcomer.
There are six honbasho (Grand Sumo tournaments) a year, held every odd numbered month, and Jason has started his coverage of the January tournament (also known as the Hatsu Basho). Days 1 and 2 have already been completed with day 3 starting in several hours.
I highly recommend you subscribe to this playlist and follow along with the tournament every day. I promise you will not be disappointed. Once the tournament is over you can go back and watch some of Jason's other videos such as his coverage of the 2017 November Grand Sumo tournament or this amazing Hakuho v Harumafuji match from day 15 of the 2012 September Grand Sumo tournament.
This will be the second year that I have publicized my New Year's resolutions and hopefully they will be a lot more realistic than the somewhat idiotic ones I made for 2017. By looking back at how/why I failed in 2017, I came up with four rules that I used to judge my resolutions for 2018.
- The resolution cannot be failed. It should be valid all year and a constant source of motivation.
- Avoid using metrics. The resolution should be abstract such that there is always something to strive for.
- Be realistic. Is the resolution actually something that can be achieved in a single year?
- Be confident. Are you sure you will put the time and effort needed to see the resolution through?
The first two rules deal primarily with judging the success of a resolution. By which I mean you really shouldn't be able to judge if you are succeeding or failing. I found that whenever you start to feel one way or the other you either become complacent or depressed which makes it much easier to quit and stop working towards the resolution.
The last two rules deal with the types of resolutions being made. In 2017 I made numerous resolutions that were near impossible to complete or not truly interested in and simply made the resolutions because I thought they were the right thing to do. Well the road to hell is paved with good intentions and this year I am going to make sure I am always climbing skyward rather than digging myself a pit.
This year the goal is to create abstract resolutions that will be valid all year long regardless of the progress I am making on them. Also these resolutions will not be pie in the sky ones but instead things that I genuinely want to work towards and believe that I can succeed at.
With these four rules in place I sat down and brainstormed seven resolutions that fit the bill.
1. Improve posture and flexibility
I am getting older and when you combine that with sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day it is no surprise that my posture and flexibility are in the shitter. I'm even developing the climber's hunch after getting back into bouldering. If I don't take steps to protect myself now I am going to regret it in the future.
So improving my posture and flexibility is my first resolution for 2018.
The most obvious option is to enroll in some yoga classes as was recommended by my doctor (and was even something I wrote in my 2017 resolutions article). But daily stretching is probably something I should get to regardless. Right after I wake up and before I go to bed getting in some good stretches will undoubtably go a long way. Heck I even have a meditation room at work that would be perfect for when I need to take a break from a tough problem and do some stretching to distract myself.
There are lots of ways to see if I am making progress in this resolution: no more lower back pain, able to stand long periods of time before stuff starts hurting, stiffness in the neck is reduced. Heck if I can do the splits by the end of the year I will be over the moon.
2. Increase strength
Last year I had two resolutions that were health oriented. Exercise every day and reach reach 15% body fat. Those two resolutions broke every single one of the rules I set for this year so I took a step back and asked myself what was I really hoping would happen if I reached those goals? One of the answers I came up with was that I would have a lot more muscle mass.
I wrote this almost every month last year but I really do need to increase my strength. It has become painfully obvious that both my inability to lose weight and stagnating bouldering progression are tied to the fact that I am not gaining any muscle.
I tried to think of a resolution that would push me towards gaining muscle and while I could have made it "get better at rock climbing" I felt that was too open ended. An alternative was "reach V5 problems" but that was too specific and goes against my rule for metrics.
I decided upon "increase strength" which I know is really vague but I like it because I can use it to focus on something different every month if I want to. Maybe one month I'll use the fact that I can do harder bouldering problems as a gauge for my strength improving. Perhaps another month will be how many push-ups I can do or how many back extensions I can do. Hell it could be as simply as carrying parcels in from the mail room has gotten easier.
This resolution will easily push me every month and is something that I will be able to work on all year because there is no completing it.
Also another side effect of this resolution should be that it helps me meet a goal that I was constantly writing about during my monthly retrospectives which was to eat better/healthier. It will be essentially impossible for me to increase my strength if I am eating a lot of fatty and sugary foods. I am going to make a much more conscious effort to cook on my own and minimize the amount of unhealthy food that I buy from the grocery story or have delivered by Uber Eats.
3. Pursue programming as a hobby again
One of my resolutions for 2017 was to release an app and I literally did not do a single thing towards that resolution. Hell the most programming I did was this blog and maybe a couple of attempts to create some Xcode project templates.
For 2018 I am going to broaden that resolution to program for a hobby again. It doesn't matter what I program so long as I am doing it for myself and not for work. That could range from working on an iOS app to writing a blog post about mobile app foundations to working on random open source projects.
I used the excuse all last year that after a long, arduous day at work I was too fried to do any programming and I realize now what a stupid excuse that was. Programming for a hobby used to be a defining part of who I am and now I only do it for the money. What is even worse is that I do it for the money so that one day I may not have to program anymore. Ageism is a serious problem in the tech industry that I physically have difficulty imagining myself programming when I am 40 or 50. When I was just getting out of University I thought I would be doing this for the rest of my life and now I can barely see what I will be doing five years out.
Maybe I am wrong and I have outgrown this hobby and it really has just become a job and my primary source of income. But I am going to make sure I take one last serious crack at it in 2018. Try to reinvigorate myself and search for what made me love programming all those years ago. I am probably (hopefully?) not even halfway through my life so to let this current rut in my career poison myself for the future would be an absolutely moronic thing to do.
For every retrospective this year I should be able to talk about something I programmed for fun. There are no more excuses. In the eternal words of Shia LeBeouf it is time to "Just Do It!"
4. Plan out and track my days with Hobonichi Techo journal
Last year I resolved to not indulge in time killing activities which quickly morphed into an absolutely insane resolution where I didn't want to allot myself any leisure time. Every second had to be accounted for and had to be productive. Since I am not a machine this never actually happened and I constantly shamed myself for simply taking much needed breaks.
Like everything in life, moderation is key. Watching TV or reading comics or browsing the Internet should not be considered bad. If that is all I do for a month I should address it but when done in moderation these things are probably helping keep me sane.
My resolution for this year is to make judicious use of my Hobonichi Techo journal and attempt to plan out every day. Jot down a few tasks to complete that day which could include some things that are not "productive". Setting aside some time to play a video game, read a book or watch TV is fine as long as I am also making time to exercise, program, etc. If I do this, at the end of every month I can look back to see how often I met those daily goals as well as how often I got derailed and adjust accordingly. I am not suddenly going to become a master planner and make perfect use of my time. Change like this is going to come slowly through persistence and not from some sweeping declaration.
5. Engage with some aspect of gaming culture every month
I have been obsessed with video games ever since I found ParArena on my Dad's Macintosh SE. I probably played hundreds of different video games throughout my high school and university years and as I entered the working world I feared that I simply wouldn't be able to make time for my hobby anymore. For 2017 I made a resolution that every month I would play a newly released video game to ensure I was keeping up with the latest and greatest the industry had to offer. I quickly realized that this resolution routinely put me into a position where I played a game I didn't really want to and also prevented me from exploring other aspects of gaming culture like board games or pen-and-paper role-playing games.
For 2018 I plan to expand that resolution to include all aspects of "gamer" culture. I still want to force myself to do this every month (which does go against my rules) but this is something that I really to be sure I do with regularity. There were so many things I was interested in trying out last year but skipped on because I felt obligated to play a video game instead.
Some of the things I want to try in 2018 are:
- Play various board games. I already am in the midst of a Kingdom Death: Monster campaign but I would love to try out Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 or even get back into Zombicide with Jarques and Tina.
- Write an article about my favourite game franchise or the cardinal sins of game design.
- Actually read the dozen or so pen-and-paper role-playing books that I have bought. I have barely opened the Rifts or Trudvang Chronicles books that I purchased.
- Building some sort of software or app around Monster Hunter. Elsie and I have been talking about making a Monster Hunter encyclopedia for years now and with the release of Monster Hunter: World just around the corner there really couldn't be a better time.
- Pick a multi-player video game and really practice at it. Dota 2 is probably my first pick for this but I haven't given it that much thought. I just miss the days where I played the same game religiously and got really good at it.
Basically my goal is to continue to keep my pulse on video game culture while also expanding my palette.
6. Read a wide assortment of books
I originally phrased this as "read a significant portion of a book every month" which immediately went against my rule of no metrics but I was having trouble thinking of a better way to phrase it. I tried writing something about "incorporate reading into your daily routine" but that sounded just as strange and was a resolution that would be easily failable.
The point I was trying to get across was that I just wanted to keep reading like I did last year without the explicit metric of finishing a novel every month. When Elsie proofread this article she asked why the resolution could not be "just keep reading" and I honestly couldn't think of a reason why not. I really enjoyed the time I took each month to read something and wanted to ensure that I continued to do it so "just keep reading" seems like it would check all those boxes.
As I chewed on her suggestion I realized that there was one thing I wanted to emphasize and that was about what I chose to read. I was trying to use the work "book" instead of "novel" because, in my mind, reading manga or pen-and-paper role playing books should be considered fair game. Hell there were even a number of technology oriented books that I have wanted to read last year. I bought the Game Engine Black Book: Wolfenstein 3D and never found the time to read it. In 2018 I wanted to make sure I would time and not feel bad about it.
So that lead me to change "just keep reading" to "read a wide assortment of books". Both of them highlight how simply picking up a book and reading it is a success and the later suggests that manga and other books are just as good as the novels I read in 2017.
7. Expand the topics that I write about
I published 71 articles in 2017 and the vast majority of them were either monthly retrospectives or about Japan. A couple of articles about WWDC, E3 and setting up an Ubuntu file server broke that mould but on the whole my writings were very one sided. I originally built this blog because I wanted to share my thoughts on app development and review video games but I haven't done either of those things yet.
In 2018 I want to expand what it is I write about. Not that I don't want to write about WWDC or E3 (I definitely plan to do those articles again this year) but I want to generate original content that comes from deeper reflection on what I have learned throughout my life and not simply reacting to events that are occurring. My thoughts on what make a good video game, mobile app foundations, storytelling tropes that I dislike, these are all topics that I would love to explore.
I also want to get into the habit of sharing things that I find. I added hot linking to my blog and so far the only thing I have linked to was the Ubershaders article by the Dolphin emulator developers. Articles that I've read, podcasts that I've listened to, YouTube videos that I've watched, these are things that I should not be afraid to link on my blog.
Bonus: Attempt to control your anger/frustration
This is a bonus resolution I wanted to throw in because I am not confident that I will be able to make myself aware of it on a daily basis. It is something that I do want to fix and, at the very least, want to ensure I reflect on when I am doing my 2018 retrospective.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am probably a bit too frank when I speak and I don't suffer fools. Putting these two things together mean I can end up rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. While I don't necessarily think that I am totally in the wrong (which in itself may be a problem) I could make a better attempt at getting my point across and collaborating with other people. I have gotten this feedback for most of my working career and want to make sure I call myself out and force myself to reflect on it in 2018.
2017 was the first year where I was able to post my New Year's resolutions to my blog. It seems only fitting that before I go and write my resolutions for 2018 I should do what I have been doing all year with my #MonthlyRetrospective articles and look backwards first.
So, how many of my resolutions did I manage to keep?
Launch my blog
I was super impressed with myself when I finally managed to launch my blog on January 16, 2017. I honestly thought I was going to get to the same point I did with all of my side projects. I could see the finish line but that last 10% required to ship the project was full of tedious problems to solve that were in no way interesting and killed all of my motivation to finish. But not this time!
Not only did I launch my blog but I made liberal use of it as well. I published 71 articles in 2017 ranging from my month retrospectives, trips to Japan, fixing a failed RAID and my favorite video games. I wrote much more than I ever thought I was going to and plan to continue writing like this in 2018. I truly do enjoy writing and hope that with more practice I will be able to not only expand the topics that I write about but do so in a cogent manner.
Exercise every day
I did not exercise every day. I did however exercise over 90% of the days of the year. Random roadblocks like sickness or excessive work got in my way sporadically and technically for every day I was on vacation I never "exercised". Sure I was out and about walking several kilometers but that is not what I intended when I wrote "exercise every day".
This resolution is a prime example of a resolution not to make because the odds of me keeping it were basically nil. However, it was still a great resolution in many ways. Even though I didn't exercise every day I still consider this resolution successful because it made me much more active than I had ever been in the previous four years. Even when my streak broke (whenever that was because I literally can't remember) it didn't matter because I just wanted to exercise every day if I was physically capable. The joy and pleasure I felt after completing a good workout was all the fuel I needed to push me to continue. This resolution got me off my ass for those first few weeks of 2017 and set me on a path that carried me through the entire year even though I technically failed.
One thing I have learned for my 2018 resolutions is that I should not create resolutions which you are able to straight-up fail. Those type of resolutions are ones you are almost but guaranteed to fail and with no way to recover they can be quite demoralizing. Resolutions should be things that motivate and push you all year long. They should not be something that can be "failed" in January and then used as an excuse to no longer try.
15% body fat
I do not think having a specific number for this resolution was a good idea. Or maybe it would have been better to phrase it as "reduce body fat" and then in the body of the resolution mention what I was aiming for. That was essentially how I handled this resolution all year anyway.
Regardless I would still say that I failed this resolution in the end. While my body fat did drop it was only by a single percentage point over the whole year and even at my lowest I only got to 18%.
For these reasons I do not think that this resolution would be a good one to revisit in 2018. I think that it is both too stringent and too vague to be of any real use. I undoubtably should strive to be healthy and lose body fat but that should be a side effect of any number of resolutions that focus on my health. I think there are many other resolutions that are less vague but at the same time less stringent in a way that will push me to be healthy and ensure that I lose body fat.
Become conversational in another language
I horribly failed at this resolution. The best I did was use the Kana flash cards that Elsie bought me for my birthday to learn all of hiragana and katakana before our trip to Tokyo in November. While it was extremely fun to attempt to convert the Japanese I saw into roman characters I was rarely able to translate those words into English.
I do not think this was a bad resolution per say but I simply did not prioritize it. This was something that I really wished would happen but never put the requisite time and effort into.
I do still love the idea of learning a second language but I am not going lie to myself and instead admit that the odds of finding the motivation inside me to do it are quite low. Thus, this will not be a resolution that I revisit in 2018.
Play a new video game every month
I didn't play a new video game every month but I did manage to play 13 games that were released in 2017. So while I technically did fail this resolution I still consider it I success because it fulfilled my goal of playing a lot of the games that were released in 2017. I also ended up playing a number of games that had been released previously so on the whole 2017 was a year where I played more video games than usual.
I do not think this is a resolution worth revisiting in 2018. There were a few instances where I felt pressured into playing a game I did not want to just so I would have something to write about in my monthly retrospectives. I think for 2018 this resolution could revolve around doing something with gaming in general (board games included) but it does not necessarily mean playing them. I have wanted to write a number of articles centered around gaming ranging from why I love a certain franchise to what aspects of game design actually make up a good game. Taking a break from playing games to put these sort of thoughts to paper is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.
Read at least one book every month
Another resolution where having an explicit number to hit screwed me yet again but I persevered and took the spirit of the resolution which was to constantly be reading.
This year I managed to read:
I also read the entire Death Note manga, the latest issues of the Attack on Titan manga and started reading the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga.
While I again technically failed a resolution I still hold my head high. I managed to read eight books which is nothing to scoff at and this resolution is definitely something that I want to continue into 2018.
Release an app
I don't want to spend a lot of time writing about this because I basically never thought about it throughout all of 2017. You can look back at all of my monthly retrospectives and see that for each one of them I wrote almost nothing about this resolution.
I think this falls into a similar vein as to why I failed the "become conversational in another language" resolution. I simply had no motivation towards it and never prioritized it. It was always easier to pick up a game or a book or watch TV then try to spend time practicing a language or programming an app.
However, looking back at 2017 I realize that this is probably the most important resolution I made with the possible exception of improving my health. I didn't write about this on my blog but I had a lot of trouble with work and and a lot of doubt about where my career was going. I think this was the primary reason why after a long day at the office I did not want to come home and program for fun. I am sure there are a number of people reading this yelling at their screens right that this is exactly why you should program for fun. If you don't then that feeling your have at work will eventually poison an activity that you once enjoyed.
This is why I think hobby programming is going to be one of my most important resolutions for next year. I need to take back control of not only where my career could go but a hobby that I once found extremely engaging to do in my spare time.
Do not indulge in time killing activities
Another horrible resolution I was absolutely doomed to fail. I probably failed this one in my first week. I think the main reason was because leisure time was not something I accounted for. In my mind every second of every day should relate to one of my resolutions in some manner. That is absolutely bonkers because I am not a machine. There are undoubtably going to be times where I just need to relax.
I think my December 2017 retrospective talked about this best. I finally realized at the end of the year that so many things I was counting as "time killing activities" just weren't that. Watching TV or reading manga should be totally fine. It was doing it in excess that was my problem. I mentioned in my 2017 resolutions I was going to get a Hobonichi Techo journal to help better plan out my days. Every morning I was to make a list of three to five things I wanted to complete by the end of the day so there was never a question about what I should spend my time with next. Perhaps unsurprisingly I stopped doing this near the end of the year and the amount of time I "wasted" just happened to go up. I don't think this is a coincidence.
Again I am not saying I need to be some sort of robot that never wastes time. It is going to happen no matter what, particularly when my mind is fried. I need to take precautions so I can try to minimize this amount of "wasted time". I hope that going back to writing daily goals in my Hobonichi Techo journal will help immensely if I ensure those goals are a balanced mix between work and play.
It is time to hold myself accountable
I wrote a retrospective every month and I think they served their purpose quite well. They allowed me to recognize what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong and adjust my goals accordingly. I very much enjoyed writing them and plan to continue on writing them in 2018.
How many of the nine resolutions I made did I end up keeping? If we are going by the letter of the law then only launching my blog and holding myself accountable were up-kept. However if we loosen the requirements and look at the spirit of the resolution then I would say I managed to keep five of the nine. I think 15% body fat, become conversational in another language, release an app and don't indulge in time killing activities were the four resolutions that I horribly failed at.
What have I learned from trying to keep my 2017 resolutions?
- Don't set resolutions that can be failed. Set resolutions that are able to be constantly strived for and even evolve over the course of the year. They are there to push you towards improvement. Not to be a noose around your neck.
- Try not to make specific metrics a part of the resolution. Maybe they can be subgoals or something but when they are the crux of a resolution it becomes a very easy failure point and can be demoralizing. The 15% body fat and read 12 books in a year are good examples of this. Ask what is the true goal you were trying to reach instead.
- Before making a resolution look deep within yourself and be confident that you will have the drive and motivation to see it through in the slightest. I don't want to see any more resolutions like release an app or become conversational in another language. I do not want to write such negative retrospectives next year.
- Be realistic. Even if I was driven I don't think becoming conversational in a language was reasonable if I was not immersing myself in it on a daily basis. This resolution could have been phrased better such that it would have still been pushing me towards being conversational but with a more realstic end goal for the end of the year.
- Don't be as prescriptive with timelines. "Do X every month" sometimes ended up with me rushing to do that thing in the last week of the month which was rarely productive. Typically these resolutions are suppose to be worked on constantly throughout the entire year. My monthly retrospectives should keep me in check if I am letting something slide. Missing reading a book that month or playing a game should not have been an issue.
So that is it. 2017 is over and 2018 feels like it is already well on its way. I hope to write my 2018 resolutions in the coming week and have them posted so my January 2018 retrospective can start setting goals that will push me towards them.
In 2017 I managed to play 13 games that were released. 5 of them were good, 4 of them were bad and the remaining 4 were somewhere in the middle. They did not manage to wow me but at the same time they did not have enough glaring defects for me to write them off as a game I would not recommend.
The following are those games of 2017 that I can really only give a 🤷🏻♂️ to. I'm sure some people love these games and others hate them. For me they fall right into that that neutral middle ground.
I put over a hundred hours into Destiny 1 but the end game left me wanting so I honestly didn't think I would play Destiny 2. However the release on the PC made me take a chance and I am glad that I did.
The feeling of shooting in a Bungie video game is still absolutely top notch. I wish I could vocalize what it is about it but the gunplay is just so fluid that every time the crisp controls let you pop off that perfect headshot you just keep wanting more.
The story is improved over Destiny 1 and is much more fleshed out through actual gameplay. It still isn't great and is a fairly tropey video game story but it is nothing that I can harp too much about. Don't go in expecting much and you will probably be pleasantly surprised.
Also, sweet Jeebus this game is a stunningly beautiful. You can tell that dropping support for the PS3 and Xbox 360 just let the artists and animators go absolutely bonkers in Destiny 2. It is without a doubt one of the prettiest games that was released in 2017.
So reading all of this you may be asking yourself why isn't this on my list of good games for 2017 and the only reason I can give is that I basically forgot about Destiny 2. I put in about 15 hours, beat the story, tried a couple strikes and PvP and then put the game down and never picked it up again. Even after the first expansion, Curse of Osiris, was released I couldn't be bothered. I actually played the Monster Hunter: World beta instead of Curse of Osiris so that should give you an idea of how interested I was.
Destiny 2 is not a bad game by any stretch and I can easily see how some people would get hundreds of hours of entertainment from it. I don't regret the 15 hours that I put into it but I do regret paying full price. Knowing what I know now I would have probably just picked it up on sale, enjoyed Bungie's amazingly gunplay for a dozen hours or so and then put the game down.
As early as 2011, Fortnite was billed as Minecraft meets tower defense and seeing as how I am a person who loves both of those things I had to give this game a shot.
I played the game solo for about an hour before the mind numbing grind became completely obvious and made me regret picking up the game. Then three of my friends joined in and, like most video games, playing with other people instantly made it 10X funner. But very similar to Destiny 2, after a couple dozen hours we just put the game down and stopped playing. It was very organic. It wasn't like one person said they didn't want to play anymore. We just all stopped asking almost at the same time and never booted the game back up ever again.
Again, like Destiny 2, I can see how some people could get hundreds of hours of entertainment of this. Grinding in video games is nothing new and some people like the progression they see from it. For myself the grind was just too obvious and the payoff too small that I didn't want to continue.
I should mention all of this happened before Epic Games released their Battle Royale mode for Fortnite which seems to have done much better than the original game. It is quite amazing to see a company release a game they have been working on for over half a decade and then in the span of a few months pivot to something entirely different. Honestly, I am not even mad. Props to Epic for creating a foundation that allow them to experiment with their game like this.
Another early access game like Fortnite, Dauntless was billed as Monster Hunter for the PC since, at the time, there was no indication that Capcom was ever going to bring Monster Hunter to the PC. Then at E3 2017 Capcom blew everyone's socks off by announcing that not only was Monster Hunter: World coming back to the home consoles but they were also going to release it for PC. At that point I had regretted buying early access to Dauntless but figured I should at least give it a go and get my moneys worth.
You can see the influence of Monster Hunter on this game but everything feels like a knockoff version. Not a cheap knockoff but you can see how an inexperienced company is trying to mimic the feel of Monster Hunter and everything is off just enough that it feels weird. The weapons, the combos, the locomotion, the dodging, the crafting. It is all there but isn't as engaging as it is with Monster Hunter. The best comparison would probably be the Souls series. Dark Souls is the the king of the castle for these types of games. But that hasn't stopped copycats like Lords of the Fallen, Nioh and Code Vein from trying to replicate the magic but just not quite getting there.
Also because it is in early access I experienced quite a number of bugs. The game would routinely crash and the servers were not very stable. The game launcher changed numerous times which made loading the game a chore. Also the UI was incredibly rough and difficult to navigate. Since it is early access I tried to let these things slide but again when you compare this to Monster Hunter it just makes you want to give up on Dauntless and go play Monster Hunter instead.
Since Phoenix Labs is a small independent game developer it would be ludicrous to expect them to match Capcom with respect to content but unfortunately it is a comparison that is going to happen. I played the Monster Hunter World beta and felt that it was more engaging than Dauntless because of its weapon options and monster variety.
The one thing Phoenix Labs had going with Dauntless was that they said they were going to go into open beta before the end of 2017 which is essentially the release of a free-to-play game nowadays. Releasing this early could maybe pull some of the gamers who couldn't wait for the release of Monster Hunter: World on January 26, 2018. But then they delayed the open beta to sometime in 2018 and essentially lost the war before a battle was even fought.
I really was pulling for Phoenix Labs. I would love to see some competition for Monster Hunter but it looks like I am going to have to search elsewhere.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 is the perennial example of 🤷🏻♂️. It is exactly like the original Mario Kart 8 on Wii U was. Still a lot of fun but since it was exactly the same as the original I got bored after a few hours since I had already put hundreds of hours into this game on the Wii U.
If you have never played Mario Kart 8 and own a Switch definitely by this. If you've played it before and aren't super stoked to unlock all of the carts again maybe wait for Mario Kart 9.
OK for the love of all that is holy please do not think that I am saying that the games on this list are utter shiet and no one should ever play them. If that was the case I probably would never have played them myself. I can count on one hand the number of games that have managed to dupe me and after I played them I thought they were complete rubbish and should be banished from existence.
This list is for the games that I played in 2017 that I was most disappointed by. The games that I thought were worth playing but for one reason or another rubbed me the wrong way to a point where I no longer felt that I could recommend them to someone else as a game worth playing without heavy caveats.
So without further ado, these are the four games in 2017 that had raised my hopes and then dashed them quite expertly.
1. Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Oh sweet Jesus this article is going to be so god damn negative. I already regret grouping all the "bad" games together. Whatever, let us soldier forward and talk quickly about why Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a horrible game that I still played for 30 hours.
- The story is absolute garbage. I swear they got some writer from a fan-fic website to do this. Why the fuck is Shelob suddenly a curvaceous women who has the ability to see the future and dominate someone wearing a ring of power?
- The intro/tutorial is absolute garbage. You spend the first few hours doing quests for stupid humans making dumb decisions. I don't want to talk to idiot humans, I want to dominate orcs and create an army to destroy Mordor.
- This game is absolutely beautiful in 4K HDR on the Xbox One X. I do not regret buying that console at all.
- Slaughtering and/or dominating orcs is still very addicting but becomes incredibly grindy way faster than I would have hoped.
- I did not feel that I was making a lot of progression. There are only like five or six abilities that really have any useful effect so you just unlock them and one of their modifiers and button mash your way through the game. Fighting orcs at hour 25 felt very similar to hour 5.
- The fortress assaults make no sense. In theory there are a dozen ways you could attack a fortress but there is a best way that you should do every time. There is nothing in the game that stops you from doing it so unless you want to button mash more you may as well conquer every fort the exact same way.
- Everything gets repetitive super quick. The dominating of orcs, their shit talking whenever you meet them, fortress assaults, fortress defenses, story quests that are all the exact same thing you just need to do for experience. The end game is literally defend fortresses 10 straight times. That is how you "beat" the game.
- Oh and don't even talk to me about the fighting pits. You literally pick one of your orcs to fight another and then watch it happen for two minutes. Yes watch. You literally put your controller down. I did this while doing chores around the house. Every two minutes I would queue up another fight and not even care about the outcome because it seemed so random. I just needed to level any random orc.
- The world is huge and absolutely boring to traverse. Every time I got to a new section I would unlock the fast travel points and then just jump between them. There was no interesting way to run across the land. It reminded me of Metal Gear Solid 5 where I didn't care about getting to the mission points. I just wanted to instantly start at them.
I legitimately have a hard time explaining why I played this game for as long as I did. There was something broken in the lizard part of my brain that made me both hate and love collecting all those orcs. I am not sure if I am wearing rose-colored glasses but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was my favorite game of 2014 and this game is probably my most hated of 2017. I can't remember if things were just as bad back in 2014 and gaming tastes have evolved or if Shadow of War just tried to add too much and ended up not really adding anything worthwhile.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is toping the majority of 2017 game of the year awards but it is easily my most disappointing game of 2017.
There are a lot of things about Breath of the Wild that I can nitpick and I'll do so in a minute but I want to make sure the main reason I am disappointed with it is crystal clear. I am apparently one of the few fans of the old school Zelda progression and story. I loved having to go through a linear story and progression where I had to traverse dungeons and find the item inside that let you beat the boss. I find it incredibly entertaining which is why I am so disappointed with Breath of the Wild because I think those types of Zelda games are gone forever.
In my opinion Nintendo is not good at making open world games and I feel that Breath of the Wild is being forgiven for a lot of missteps that would be crucified if it was any other game publisher. Imagine a Ubisoft game with weapon durability and limited item slots. Stamina meters that slow down the combat and movement needlessly. Poor frame rates and limited enemy variety. Imagine an Assassin's Creed game with a forgettable story and final boss. Oh wait you don't have to do that. It was the very first Assassin's Creed and it was harpooned for that over a decade ago. Think of all of the open world games that require you to grind for hours to get resources for upgrades and consumables that you need to be able to fight. Do you have unflinching universal acclaim for these games? Probably not. But if you slap the Legend of Zelda paint job on one suddenly it is the greatest game ever made and is shepherding in a new golden age of video games.
All of this maybe sounds like I think Breath of the Wild is a horrible game and should never be played by anyone. That is entirely not true. I played over 50 hours of Breath of the Wild. I completed over 100 shrines, got the Master Sword and defeated the Final Boss. It is a solid game in very much the way that Assassin's Creed or Far Cry or Skyrim is. There are very fun things about it and lots of stuff worth improving. You can love the game and it can be your favourite game of all time but the Zelda veneer should not give it a free pass on criticism that we would level at any other game.
3. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Announced around the same time as XCOM 2: War of the Chosen was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle which I can best describe as baby's first strategy game. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a very competent turned-based tactics game. The party composition, their abilities, the enemies, the environment obstacles and hazards all give a really good first impression. For the first world you are probably completely enamored and then near the second world I found myself getting a bit tired. The abilities weren't really changing or scaling that well. The new enemies were just the same versions as earlier ones but with a different appearance and more hit points. The game slowly became a real slog and every battle just felt like it was being dragged out for much longer than it needed to.
Another weird design choice was the resources you were granted and what you could spend them on. At the end of every battle you would be granted a set number of coins based on how you did. These coins were then used to upgrade the weapons of your party members. The thing was that you had to upgrade a specific members weaponry. If you spent all of your coins on Mario or Luigi then your other party members wouldn't be able to upgrade their weaponry. So you have your party of three and probably spread the coins out amongst them to ensure they are dealing more damage to deal with the increasingly bullet-spongy enemies. However this has one major side effect of never experimenting with new party members. If I spent some coins on a character whose abilities I didn't like then I would have no only wasted money on them but the character that I did like would be underpowered because their weapons wouldn't be able to do enough damage. This kills any sort of experimentation with your party composition and made me go through the entire game with the same three characters.
I think that the vast majority of gamers will buy this game and put it down by the end of the second world which is why I cannot recommend it to anyone. If you think you are interested in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle I would suggest waiting for it to go on sale for like $20 so that even if you put it down you can not feel as bad about wasting your money.
Oh, also fuck those stupid teleporting Peek-a-Boo enemies! Whoever thought it was a good idea to have an enemy that can teleport directly behind you and not trigger a reaction shot is a bad designer.
X-COM is one of my favorite game franchises of all time (probably second only to Monster Hunter) and XCOM 2 was my second favourite game of 2016. I was over the moon when XCOM 2: War of the Chosen was announced and could not wait to play it but unfortunately it was just not the expansion that I was looking for.
Before I shit all over it let me first mention what I liked about the expansion. The new Resistance classes were great and the addition of ability points and solider bonds really helped flush out the tactics layer. The new enemy and mission types also made the tactics layer feel fresh compared to the base game. The ability to take on "covert actions" for the different resistance factions and the bonuses that they could grant you also helped differentiate each campaign.
Unfortunately the extremes of most of those good things also made the game frustrating and tedious. The new Resistance classes were too powerful and became the lynch pin of many of my teams. Any time I did not go into a mission with them I felt I was at a real disadvantage when compared to the new enemies and mission types. It was never really clear how you gained ability points so some soldiers seemed to have too many and others not enough. Also the extra abilities that soldiers could spend these points on was randomized so you could end up with a super intelligent soldier with lots of points and nothing really to spend them on. The resistance bonuses were also randomized so sometimes you would get ones that were completely useless and they were of absolutely no use.
The common theme between most of the things that frustrated me seemed to come down to the random nature of them. Firaxis' design philosophy for this expansion seems to be that randomness means nothing is ever the same which means you can play the game forever. I think this is a very naive way to look at what randomness is used for in games. Having a bit of uncertainty that can color your experiences in subtle ways can be very engaging but when it is so heavy handed and occurs constantly it becomes a source of pain rather than enjoyment.
Firaxis also seemed to make a number of additions to the game where the sole purpose was to drag the game out longer at no real benefit to the player. In an uninspired move zombies were added in the expansion and their gimmick is that they die in a single hit and don't use up an action if you kill them. So in a single round you could kill dozens of zombies. However since the zombies give little experience killing them is just a chore. After the 10th mission of killing 10 Advent troops and 70 zombies you just get annoyed by their presence.
Some covert actions can be ambushed which result in the soldiers you sent on them being attack and requiring you to fight to an exfiltration point. These missions always have zombies in them so no only are you using a short stack of solders whose sole job is to escape but you have to mindlessly fight your way through zombies again and again. I found myself actively avoiding covert actions that could be ambushed because I did not want to risk wasting another 20-30 minutes of my time.
I haven't even written about the titular Chosen yet either. The centerpiece of this expansion is suppose to be three named Advent enemies that have very specific skillsets who are trying to hunt you down. At a high level it sounds cool until you realize how overpowered they are and how monotonous fighting them is. The second they show up on the battlefield you need to drop everything and focus on them. There are usually only a few specific tactics that will work because the Chosen are the "named enemies" and need to be impervious to lots of things as well as have all sorts of crazy abilities that can cheapshot you. Combine this with timed missions where you have to succeed in a certain amount of turns and you just get a situation that may feel interesting the first time but becomes tiring and frustrating subsequently.
The nail in the coffin for what made me hate the Chosen was that there was a "solution" to dealing with them that I only found out through utter failure after 20 or so hours of playtime. I couldn't learn through dying because the deaths were just so costly that I just had to throw away all the time I had spent and start from scratch again. Once I figured this out I followed a very explicit path to success that essentially made every game of XCOM 2 the same. The Chosen weren't some interesting foe that I had to react to. They were a mountain that I just had to slowly climb until I got to the peak, kill the Chosen using cheap, boring tactics and then snowball to the end of the regular game. When the randomness of your game makes it so that you can't try different strategies because you can't be certain you will get what you need that is the obvious sign that you are relying way too much on randomness for gameplay.
I was hoping to keep these game of the year articles relatively short but every time I start writing about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen painful memories just come flooding back. I really wanted to like this expansion. Hell I still put over 60 hours into it and beat it on Commander Ironman difficulty. I write these negative things because I still love X-COM and really want to see it evolve into a strategy game that I can hold up and say everyone should play it because it is just so perfect. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is far from that game.
I am not a "games journalist" so I have not had the time to play the vast majority of video games that were released in 2017. I know that I have missed out on numerous titles which many people consider to be one of the best games released this year. Nier: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Divinity: Original Sin II, What Remains of Edith Finch and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus are a short list of some of these games.
I don't want these games of the year articles to be fodder for the un-ending argument of what was "the best game of 2017" using a constantly warping set of criteria. This list is what are the best games that I, Reid Main, made the time to play in 2017.
1. Persona 5
Back in April I wrote that I did not think anything would supplant Persona 5 as my game of the year for 2017 and I turned out to be right. Nothing else even came remotely close.
Person 5 look me about 90 hours to beat and I loved almost every minute of it. The story was engaging, the characters were captivating, the UI was beautiful, the art style was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. There were dozens of quality of life improvements made from the previous Persona games like the streamlined combat controls to the overworld map that made it much easier to understand how to build your social links.
Compared to Person 4, I was amazed how much more natural the story in Persona 5 felt. It seemed to flow much better from one story-beat to the next. I remember in Persona 4 I felt that I had a lot of random downtime where the story just seemed to freeze until an arbitrary point was reached and it kicked back up again. In Persona 5 almost all of the side-stories seemed relevant to the main one. Whenever I was getting backstory for my party members it always had some sort of tie-in to the main story that really helped you understand why these people grouped up with you. That central theme of fighting back against those with power bled into everyone's lives and helped turn Persona 5 into a very organic world that I felt I was inhabiting compared to a stereotypical video game world where everyone's motivations were conspicuously perfectly aligned with yours under very flimsy pretenses.
The only real negative I can say about Persona 5 is that it drags out a bit too long. The final two dungeons seemed almost unnecessary and/or pointlessly difficult. By the time I reached that stage of the game I really just wanted to see the end of the story but numerous difficult fights that I had to grind to beat started to wear me down. I did manage to beat the game but in those last five hours I was dangerously close to putting down my controller and just watching the ending on YouTube. It was a sour chaser to an otherwise amazing game.
If you are in the mood for an amazing JRPG with a super Japanese style story that is somehow still incredibly poignant to the political climate in the West, you must buy Persona 5.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
I was prepared to dislike Super Mario Odyssey. I am a super fan of Mario games and Super Mario 64 will undoubtedly go down as one of my favourite games of all time but I was not sold on the direction that Nintendo was taking with Odyssey. I did not think open world style levels would be as entertaining compared to the customized levels that every previous star in 3D Mario games had. While I maintain that I prefer the old school style Mario games, Super Mario Odyssey was incredibly entertaining nonetheless.
It took me a little over a dozen of hours to beat and I "ended" the game with 250 moons. I say ended because I still played for an hour after the final boss and collected a bunch more moons because the game is that much fun. The only times where I got annoyed, frustrated or bored was during the boss battles with maybe the exception of Bowser. They were quite uninspired and were a pointless speed-bump during an otherwise exceptional game. Seriously please Nintendo do not bring back the Broodals. Just let them die. They look idiotic and their boss fights were never fun.
There are two other gripes that I had with the controls of the game. The first was with the camera. I don't know if it has been so long that I forgot how the camera worked in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy but in Super Mario Odyssey it was garbage. I don't know how/if they changed it but I seemed to have to constantly micromanage the camera. It never was intelligent enough to move to where I needed it to or when it did move it almost always was not where I wanted it to be. Like I said maybe I have rose-colored glasses on but I swore that in Super Mario Galaxy I barely thought about the camera.
Second is the motion controls. They are absolute shit and serve no purpose. Full stop. They should never have made it into the game. There are literally enough fucking buttons on the Joy-Cons that every motion control could just be mapped to them. The stupidest thing is that Nintendo wants you to play with Motion Controls but if you leave your Joy-Cons connected to your Switch then you have to shake the entire console when you want to do something. If you thought that you could get around this by placing your Switch in the dock and using a Pro controller think again because the motion controls don't seem to be as responsive so you'll find yourself flailing around trying to execute the simplest command. It seems that Nintendo wanted you to play Super Mario Odyssey with the Switch out of the dock and the Joy-Cons disconnected which is a configuration that I think barely anyone plays in. If I have a TV available I'll dock my Switch and if I'm in handheld mode I'll connect the Joy-Cons and curl up on the couch.
Anyways these gripes don't take away from the fact that Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game that every Switch owner should play. I feared the open world design and while I am sad that Nintendo is abandoning their old ways and making everything open world, Super Mario Odyssey did a perfect job at ensuring that a power moon or something interesting was always in the corner of your eye and never more than 30 seconds away.
3. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
OK let's get the negative things out of the way. Yes PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is buggy as hell even after the v1.0 launch. Network lag is constant. Cheaters are everywhere. There are frame rate drops all over the place even with the beefiest hardware. You'll see players swimming in the sky and can easily get stuck in geometry. It is a very rough game for a company that has taken in over half a billion dollars in revenue. Even the Xbox version they released sometimes only does 10 frames a second. I don't know how anyone at Microsoft thought that was acceptable to release but this PUBG train seems like it cannot be stopped.
The gameplay itself can also be frustrating as all hell and make you want to rage quit and stop playing entirely. Loot being sparse a couple of games in a row is never a good feeling. Not being able to pick up a weapon and getting killed because of it would make anyone upset. Heck even when the game doesn't bug out and you spend 20 minutes gearing up, encountering no other players and then get sniped out of the blue from 200 meters you can want to put your fist through your monitor.
And here is the power of PUBG. Even though all of that has happened (and continues to happen to me) I still play this game. It's core gameplay is super interesting and addicting as all hell. It is so easy to die, get frustrated, curse out whatever god you believe in and then click that "PLAY" button and be right back into the action because you are just so engrossed in the tension and the feeling that any one of these games could be that one where you win.
PUBG is going to go down in history as one of the most influential games of all time but because of how slowly the developers are improving it I am very interested in seeing in what their competitors do in 2018. You would be naive to not think that every major player who has experience with a multiplayer game (and even some that don't) are not experimenting with or actively developing their own battle royale type of game. Fortnite's Battle Royale by Epic Games is the prime example of this and they are eating PUBGs lunch on console because not only is Fortnite free but it also runs amazingly well. I am waiting for the first PC game that runs solid and has its own unique little take on the battle royale genre that can make a crack in PUBGs armor. I don't think people are loyal to PUBG. I think they are just really interested in the battle royale genre and PUBG is simply the best option they have in a sea of mediocrity.
Irregardless, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is still a masterwork of game design and definitely goes down as one of my favourite games of the year.
4. Injustice 2
I actually can't remember what the last fighting game I played was but Injustice 2 was so newbie friendly that I felt right at home within a couple hours. The training modes were so entertaining that it made me want to practice with different characters. By the end of the each training session I felt I had a solid grasp as to what the strengths and weaknesses of a character were and I didn't have to keep pausing to look up their moves. The story was engaging as well and forced me to use a plethora of characters but never made me feel out of my element. I can barely remember being forced to play a character that I struggled with. Also the story actually makes sense which is more than I can say about the DC Extended Universe.
Maybe the greatest praise I can give Injustice 2 is that it actually made me consider getting an arcade stick. I didn't end up doing it in the end so maybe that honor will fall to Dragon Ball FighterZ next year.
5. Superhot VR
If you have the ability to do room-scale virtual reality you absolutely must buy Superhot VR. It is a mind bending game where time only progresses when you move. So if you stay perfectly still you can assess your situation and plan your attack. By using your environment, which contains everything from knives to guns to beer bottles, you must defeat your enemies and make it to the end. Probably the best way to describe this game is that it is a John Wick simulator. By the end of playing you will feel like an indestructible badass.
Alright this is not how I had hoped to end 2017. An illness combined with post-Japan fatigue combined with taxing times at work have given me a really poor excuse for why I barely did anything in December. I can take some solace in all the writing I managed to do this month but outside of that I definitely dropped the ball.
On the flip side, I finally managed to make it back home to Canada for Christmas and, I gotta admit, it made me forget about everything else that I did this month. Spending time back in the town I grew up in. Seeing my year old niece scoot around on the floor. Eating turkey with my extended family. These things really made me miss living in Canada. It brought back all the memories of getting together with friends and family and just enjoying their company. While I have made some friends here in San Francisco it really has been a docile existence when I compare it to my life in Canada.
In San Francisco the primary focus has always been money and career. How can I advance these as quickly as possible so that I can escape this environment I willingly entered myself into. I think back to my time working at theScore before I headed out west. I honestly saw myself working at that place for several years. I was happy with the money I was making and the direction my career was going. I made dozens of work friends, some of whom I stay in contact with to this day. Other than the bone chilling winters (of which I did experience during this Christmas) my life seemed nearly perfect in retrospect. Now I find it hard thinking about myself working somewhere for more than two years. I find myself constantly thinking about how I can trade up to get even more money. Money that I would use to essentially stop working because I no longer have any idea of where my career can or should go.
It has been a sobering experience being re-exposed to my previous life and seeing how far I have come in the last three years. Maybe this isn't the sort of thing that I should be rambling on about on this blog or maybe it is the only way I'll be able to truly figure out what I want to get out of life. Who knows.
Anyway, let's move on to how I horribly failed at fulfilling most of goals and resolutions this month.
After getting back from Tokyo and having my Apple Watch move streak broken (by the Activity app not being able to understand time zone changes) I found myself in a bit of a slump. I reduced my daily move goal by almost half and simply stopped exercising. A nasty cold also struck me for the first two weeks of the month and made it real easy to just hit that snooze button and stay in bed a little longer.
With respect to bouldering I only climbed three or four times before I went home for the holidays and I wasn't able to finish a single V4 problem at the gym. My climbing colleague also went home for the holidays which made it even easier to slack off but I am happy to report that as of today, December 31st, we both got back and the horse and hit the gym after nearly two weeks off. Hopefully we can continue this trend and get another good climbing streak going in 2018.
With respects to food I think I did decent again. No real gorging, no eating out. It was all fairly mundane. Even going home for the holidays I ate respectable portions including during Christmas turkey dinner, I barely had a second plate. We got another shipment of Soylent drink and have been using it to supplement our meals again. My weight went up a couple pounds but I am confident that with regular exercise I will quickly return to the weight that I have been stable at all year.
This brings me back around to what I have been talking about for months, I need to make some changes. My weight and body fat percentage are not moving and even though I did get better a bouldering over the course of 2017 that is no longer good enough. So for 2018 I have three major goals with respect to exercising:
- Push myself while bouldering. I need to get up to V5s to really showcase that I am trying to make progress. I cannot be happy with where I stand.
- To get to those V5s I will need to build more muscle. I must start weight lifting to improve my upper body.
- I have been noticing that my neck and shoulders are incredibly tight. I'm sure some of that has to do with sitting 10+ hours a day so I am going to focus on posture and stretching this year which I have always neglected. I am considering going to a yoga studio at least three hours a week.
I haven't yet decided what I am going to use as my metric for if I am healthy in 2018 but regardless of what I decide these three goals are definitely going to move me in the right direction.
Read a book
I read a lot more of Words of Radiance than I was expecting. Flights to and from the east coast as well as Christmas with the family gave me a lot more time to read and I easily eclipsed the 65% barrier. While I am happy that I made it over half-way I am upset with the circumstances that lead to it. I was really hoping to space out my reading throughout the entire month and not binge on it so we shall try to work on that in 2018.
As soon as I finish Words of Radiance I will undoubtably move onto the third book in the series, Oathbringer. Words of Radiance has been a much more consistent burn compared to the previous book, The Way of Kings, which took a really long time to get going. My main complaint with Words of Radiance would be that really bad things keep happening with no end in sight and that sometimes gets really tiring. You just feel the weight of the world is beating these characters into the ground and it sometimes makes it hard to continue.
But I shall persevere and if all goes well hopefully I will be deep into Oathbringer by the end of January.
Play a video game
Because I am a corporate shill who needs the latest and greatest technology I bought an Xbox One X. Ever since I bought my 4K TV I wanted to buy a 4K gaming console and this month I finally broke down and purchased an Xbox One X. I decided that Middle-earth: Shadow of War would be the game I would use to showcase that this console purchase was not in vain and boy did it deliver. The 4K resolution/textures and HDR lighting really did make the game look worlds better than anything I have played on a console. The only issue I had was that out of the box the Xbox One X did not work with my TV. It gave cryptic error messages saying my TV was able to do 4K gaming but not 4K HDR gaming. I turned to Google and found some random Reddit thread detailing which settings I needed to toggle on both my TV and the Xbox One X (god damn that is really getting annoying to type). I am really surprised that Microsoft shipped it like this because I can imagine it is not going to work out of the box for most gamers and Microsoft's troubleshooting was garbage.
But anyways what about the actual game. How was it? I was a huge fan of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (it was actually my 2014 Game of the Year) and this is more of the same but with a lot of new systems added on that seem to facilitate more grinding and frustration rather than enjoyable gameplay. The core gameplay of running around an open world slaughtering orcs, destroying encampments, dominating captains and war chiefs is all still there and can be quite fun especially in 4K HDR. One problem is that the story mode is absolute dog shit and not only is it the quickest way to level up your character but also you need to play it for about 5-6 hours before you can even start dominating orcs.
So the start of this game is a real slog that I could see turning off a lot of gamers because honestly it is not fun. To boot the story feels like it was something pulled off of fanfiction.net. Why the fuck is Shelob suddenly a sexy spider lady? How the fuck does she have the power to dominate someone with the One Ring? Why are all of the humans doing stupid shit and running headfirst into obvious danger? The only interesting writing in this game is the crazy shit the orcs say when you initiate combat with them and even that gets tedious after a while.
Another issue is the fortress assaults. The marketing touted them as being completely dynamic and so engaging that each one would never be the same. From my experience every one is exactly the same unless you go out of your way to make it hard for yourself. If you simply kill all of the war chiefs and then assault the fortress you'll quickly capture the points and move on to fighting the overlord. It becomes so rote even after the second fortress assault. I don't understand why they didn't try to make each fortress assault unique since there aren't many of them.
The final nail in the coffin is the grind that happens near the end of the game where you have to do the same damn thing 10 times in a row. The strange thing is that each time you do one of these things you get almost no experience but your enemies level up so you now need to grind for experience and level up all of your orcs. Or you can just pay real money and buy max level orcs with kickass abilities. The drive for microtransactions became so incredibly transparent that it completely turned me off of the game. I put down the controller and have absolutely no plans to go back to this game.
I would not recommend Shadow of War to anyone. It is a completely broken game that is full of repetitive gameplay designed to either waste your time or entice you into paying real money to skip it. I wish I could understand how/why I still played 30 hours of this game before putting it down for good. Something about it tickled the broken part of my lizard brain and kept pulling me through all of the frustrating gameplay as long as I got to slaughter/dominate orcs at a decent pace I guess.
In other gaming news I played the second year of my Kingdom Death: Monster campaign. I hunted a full White Lion this time and it was super fun. However, even after another play session and probably over five hours put into this game total the rules are still stupidly complex. I bet it will take me several more hours before I find myself not looking up a rule every minute or so. Also, I am still not sure if I am "winning" in the sense that am I making good decisions that aren't going to bite me in the ass two or three play sessions down the line. I am partially afraid that I am going to come up against something that I can't beat and the game will just be over because of that but who knows, maybe I am fretting over nothing.
As fun as Kingdom Death: Monster is solo I can definitely see how it would be more fun playing with other people. After going back home for the holidays and remembering how much fun it is to be in the same room chatting and laughing with other people I really want to find some way to make that happen in 2018. Life is too short to be as cooped up in my apartment as I am even if I am enjoying what I am doing.
Become conversational in another language
I did absolutely nothing for this. I said I was going to make my own flash cards and continue using the Kana ones but I did neither. I really do want to be able to understand another language and I do love the idea of living in Japan at some point in the future but I am having real trouble motivating myself.
Nothing. I didn't even open up Xcode a single time.
Do not indulge in time killing activities
Yeah I did the exact opposite of this and basically engaged constantly in time killing activities. I would sleep in, barely make it to work in time, head home, eat dinner and then just waste time because my brain was drained. It was just far too easy to open up Reddit that I actually paid for 1Blocker and wrote a custom rule to prevent me from getting to Reddit.
I also watched the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, read the Evangelion manga, read the new Attack on Titan and watched the first season of Designated Survivor. None of these should really count as a "time killing activity" but I count them this month because I did not plan to do any of them. I used them as an excuse to do work on any of my other goals.
My hope for 2018 is that I can truly not indulge in any time killing activities and instead plan for everything including leisure time. If I am feeling drained or not in the mood to be particularly productive I want to have activities that I feel are still beneficial in some way and believe it or not watching TV or film can fill that role.
So how did I do on my goals for December?
Publish articles for Tokyo 2017 daily summaries.
Nailed it and you can read all of the daily summaries at the #Tokyo2017 tag.
Finish Japan Travel Tips series.
Also killed this and they are all under the #JapanTravelTips tag.
Publish 2017 Game of the Year articles.
I have the drafts ready and plan to publish under the #GamesOfTheYear tag either today or tomorrow.
Complete eight different V4 problems.
I didn't solve a single one. I did eight different V3 problems does that count? 😬
Use UberEats or TryCaviar only once a week!
We managed to do this but the number of times that once a week limit was used to order McDonald's was still too damn high.
Read at least 50% of Words of Radiance.
I can't believe I got through over 65% of it.
Beat Shadow of War.
I am going to say I beat it because the grindfest that is act 4 is no longer a game and is instead a ploy to get you to give them more money. Read this article at AV Club by Matt Gerardi to get a better idea of how bad the end of that game is.
Get to year 3 in Kingdom Death: Monster campaign.
Unfortunately I only got to year 2. I takes a long time to set up and I was only able to play it one weekend.
Continue using the Kana flash cards and begin creating your own.
Build script for generating iOS framework projects.
Did you know they have the Internet on computers now?
Alright let's not pussyfoot around this conclusion. December was a bad month. Other than all the writing I did at the start of the month and the amazing Christmas vacation I got to have with my family there was a lot of room for improvement. Now that the holidays are over and I am completely healthy again lets focus on getting back into a good routine. Bouldering this morning was a good first step and getting my ass to the gym tomorrow morning will be hopefully be the momentum I need.
With respects to resolutions I did write an article for my 2017 resolutions and I plan to write a retrospective on that as well as my resolutions for 2018 in the coming week.
But with respects to January of 2018, here is what I hope to get done:
- Publish retrospective on my 2017 resolutions and an article detailing my 2018 resolutions.
- Publish Game of the Year articles dating back to 2010. I have the lists I just need to quickly convert them to markdown.
- Create at least one hotlink article. I added the ability back in September but haven't made any use of it since. I want to get into the habit this year of constantly sharing things I find interesting.
- Complete four different V4 problems. One new V4 problem every week should not be out of the cards.
- Exercise everyday. I was going to make this something specific about weight training or yoga but let's just get back in the saddle and exercise every day of the month.
- Use UberEats or TryCaviar only once a week. I have done a pretty good job at this for a few months so let's try for one more month and then look to improve upon it in February.
- Beat Horizon: Zero Dawn before Monster Hunter World is released.
- Finish Words of Radiance and start reading Oathbringer.
- Do something involving Kingdom Death: Monster. Either build some more miniatures or play some more of the campaign.
- Build script for generating iOS framework projects. I know one of my resolutions for 2018 is going to be around hobby programming so I need to have at least one concrete goal.
- Draw something using my iPad.
Creating a list of all the things that are entertaining or exciting or different about Japan would take years to write. Instead I decided to create this list of things that I would suggest every person who is visiting Japan attempt to experience to really get a sense of how Japan differs from the rest of the world.
I am going to try to keep this list very high level instead of calling out explicit places to visit. I will give those places as examples but please don't think you need to visit them to get the "true" experience. I myself have visited such a small portion of Japan that not even I fully understand what makes these things uniquely Japanese.
Probably isn't surprising that the first thing I would recommend is food related but wagyu (literally "Japanese cow") is the closest I have experienced to a Come-to-Jesus moment in my life. The instant you put that marbled meat into your mouth and just let it melt on your tongue you will be transported from your body to a place of pure bliss.
I have written about my experience with wagyu in Kobe as well as in Tokyo but I cannot understate how important it is to try wagyu in Japan.
A lot of people may think that sushi is that thing that you can only get the best of in Japan, and while they are probably right, you can still find world class sushi chefs who have left Japan for other parts of the world and brought their craft with them. In my opinion it is essentially impossible for that to happen with wagyu because true wagyu is only bred and raised inside Japan. Any wagyu you see outside of Japan is just not the same. I have had Alberta wagyu and wagyu that has been flown from Japan to San Francisco and it does not compare to eating in downtown Kobe.
Omakase is a Japanese phrase that essentially means "I'll leave it up to you". In American parlance it usually refers to a sushi restaurant where the chef chooses the entire contents of the meal. It is typically ten or so pieces served in a very specific order because the chef feels that when they are eaten this way it generates the greatest feeling of satisfaction or gratification. The pieces are also made moments before you eat them. The chef will literally pack the rice, cut and place the fish on it, brush it with soy sauce and then place it on your plate for you to immediately pick up and eat with your fingers. After wagyu this is the other type of meal that you absolutely must try if you are in Japan. Just watch this video by Mark Wiens and tell me you don't want to try that sushi.
The greatest omakase I ever experienced was at Sushi Dai which I wrote about here. One of the greatest things I found about omakase was that it made me try fish I never would have ordered on my own. Red snapper and cutlass fish are prime examples of that. Usually when I go to a sushi restaurant I stay with tuna and salmon (maybe some yellowtail) but when I did omakase I had no choice but to soldier on and in the end I really appreciated that I had to do that.
To find omakase restaurants I would recommend websites like Tablelog, Foursquare, OpenTable and TABLEALL.
Conveyor belt sushi also known as kaiten-zushi (literally "rotation sushi") is another type of sushi restaurant that I think everyone would enjoy going to. The sushi is served on small plates that are placed on a conveyor belt which moves them throughout the entire restaurant. If you see a plate you want you simply take it and then your final bill is based on the number of plates you took. The plates are usually color coded which represent the various prices that are possible. I've found that they typically range from from ¥50-500.
Some of you reading this may have already visited a kaiten sushi restaurant in the country you are from but I would still suggest you give it a try while you are in Japan. I've gone to kaiten sushi restaurants at 8pm and the fish has still tasted better and fresher than most places I have been to in Canada and the US.
The closest comparison for an izakaya bar would be an Irish pub, tapas bar or a North American tavern. It is a very casual after-working drinking establishment that usually has small plates of food that are eaten slowly over an extended period as you drink and be merry with friends and/or colleagues. Some izakaya bars also have specials for nomi-hōdai ("all you can drink") and tabe-hōdai ("all you can eat") so if you want things to get particularly messy you can keep your eyes peeled for that.
The reason I include izakaya bars on this list is because it is probably the most informal and casual you will see Japanese people. I've written previously how the Japanese can be very reserved in public but every izakaya bar I have been into has had such a boisterous and jolly atmosphere. Seeing hordes of Japanese salarymen with their jackets around their chairs, their ties undone and their sleeves rolled up while laughing over a pint truly is a uplifting sight.
If you are looking for a specific example then I would have to say Maguroya Nakatsu is the prime one for me. Mouth watering tuna in a lively atmosphere was absolutely outstanding. Just watch this Mark Wiens video and start planning your trip to Osaka. 😉
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You can think of them as very fancy bed and breakfasts. What makes ryokans so attractive from a tourism perspective is that everything is done in the traditional Japanese manner. The bedrooms are made using tatami mats and the doors usually slide. We had a tea ceremony performed for us when we arrived. The meals were traditional Japanese cuisine which contained dishes I had never heard of before. While you are having dinner the hosts will make up your room by laying down futons (Japanese bedding not shitty fold out sofas) so it is ready for sleeping. There will almost always be an onsen of some kind.
Essentially every aspect of the ryokan we visited was never experienced again for the rest of our trip. If you are looking for a completely unique Japanese experience you cannot do better than a ryokan.
I mentioned this with ryokans above but onsens are Japanese hot springs and the bathing facilities that are situated around them. Public bathing is incredibly common in Japan for reasons that aren't really well known but Japan is an island with thousands of hot springs so it was probably inevitable that someone would eventually hop in and bathe themselves. Bathing in a Japanese hot spring was incredibly relaxing and so it is something I would recommend to all visitors especially after a long day of sightseeing. There are private onsens as well if you are not comfortable bathing in public. If you'd like to know more check out this video by the Life Where I'm From YouTube channel to get a foreigner's perspective on the subject.
Watch Sumo Wrestling
I had never watched a sumo wrestling match until I visited Tokyo in 2017. We lucked out and were there during the November tournament known as the Kyūshū Basho. Even though the matches usually only lasted a few seconds they were completely enthralling and bore some of the greatest acts of athleticism I had ever witnessed. Tournaments last for 15 days and we actually found ourselves scheduling our days so that we could be back in Airbnb in the afternoon to watch the final matches of the day. Six professional tournaments are held every year and I am legitimately planning my next vacation to Japan so that I will be able to attend one of the tournaments in person.
Japanese arcades are absolutely amazing for one main reason: the Japanese still build games specifically for arcades. While arcades have up and died in basically all other parts of the world they are still thriving in Japan. Some of the most popular video games in the country are only playable in arcades. Take Chunithm, my absolute favorite arcade game. It is a rhythm game with a completely custom cabinet that contains a touch bar you tap and/or press to trigger notes as well as a sensor that detects how far your hands are from the touch bar because sometimes you need to hover you hands to play the correct notes. There is even a MOBA called Wonderland Wars exclusively for the arcades. I literally saw entire floors that were only this game.
There are dozens of games with ludicrously complex cabinets that would be nearly impossible to release for a modern home video game console. To boot almost every game is compatible with these RFID cards that you use to log in to the game so that all of your progress can be stored. Even if you don't have an active interest in video games I highly recommend you at least pop your heads into a arcade just to get an idea of how massive they still are in Japan. Coin-op arcades from the 80s got nothing on Japan.
I do not know what the Japanese's fascination with themed cafes are but if you are in the country you may as well experience some of them. Maid cafes are the most common where waitresses dress up in maid costumes and treat the customers as their masters. If this makes you uncomfortable, as it should, there are dozens of other cafes that specialize in cats, rabbits, dogs, birds, etc. We've visited both a hedgehog cafe and an owl cafe during our travels. We even found a cafe for that served food and drink inspired by our favourite game franchise, Monster Hunter.
My point here is that wherever you visit in Japan make sure to google for "theme cafes" and check one of them out because I guarantee you'll at the very least get a great story to tell.
Yodobashi Camera is a massive consumer electronics retailer in Japan. Actually massive may not be doing them enough justice. The size of their buildings is absolutely bonkers. Stack a GameStop on top of a Fry's Electronics on top of a B&H Photo Video on top of a Best Buy and you're still not close to Yodobashi because they sell appliances, workout equipment and bicycles! Just for kickers they usually have arcade machines and huge model train building supplies as well.
I have spent an unhealthy amount of time in Yodabashi Camera during my two trips to Japan and if you are looking to do any shopping at all while you are there you absolutely must check one of these crazy department stores out.
You know those small vending machines that pop out crappy toys at supermarkets? OK take the crappy toys and replace them with cool things you really want. Next, take the supermarkets and replace them with every possible place imaginable and you will maybe start to understand the gachapon craze in Japan. I honestly don't even know why I am writing this because it is physically impossible to go to Japan without being exposed to gachapon.
I was going to write here "I wish I understood this fascination with gachapon" but then I searched YouTube for "gachapon" and found this video and I now completely remember why it is a thing.
Kamakura is a small (relative to Tokyo anyway) city in the Kanagawa Prefecture with a population of approximately 170,000 people. It is a popular tourist destination because it is a coastal city with lots of shrines and temples as well as foliage and is home to a number of seasonal festivals.
We did a day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo because we wanted to get out of the densely populated city and do some hiking and sightseeing. Visiting Kamakura is something I would suggest to anyone visiting Tokyo because after a week inside that concrete jungle, being sandwiched between hundreds of skyscrapers, it felt really good to get back out into nature. The fresh air and scenery was amazing and the sightseeing was excellent to boot. It is only a one hour ride on the Yokosuka line from Tokyo Station so it is less taxing than other day trips that were suggested which would involve over two hours of bus travel to get to some remote city. I think Kamakura was the perfect compromise.
If you are visiting from Tokyo I suggest getting off at Kita-Kamakura Station. It is a few kilometers to the north of the more central Kamakura Station but that makes it the perfect launching spot for an excellent hike before you head down into central Kamakura which is much more densely populated.
If you look at the Kamakura's visitor's guide and select "Hiking Route" you will see that the Kita-Kamkura Station is right in-between the start of two hiking trails, the daibatsu hiking trail and the tenen hiking trail. You can read up more on that website (or in the rest of the article) to help decide what is the trail you want to take but the key point here is to start out in a more remote area of Kamakura before you make your way down to the more populated, touristy areas.
A brisk 10 minute walk from Kita-Kamakura Station is Jōchi-ji temple. It is small, yet beautiful, Japanese temple home to some nice stone bridgework, a graveyard, some bamboo groves and a statue of the god of happiness or good fortune.
Daibatsu Hiking Trail
The street that Jōchi-ji temple is on heads out towards a forest which is one of the entrances to the daibatsu hiking trail. It is a gentle 90-120 minute trail that is almost three kilometers in length. Upon entering this trail I immediately forgot I was in Japan. There was such thick foliage you could barely see the city around you. I was getting flashbacks to the Thanksgiving hikes I would go on with my family back in northern Ontario. The exit for this trail is onto a paved road that is a quick five minute walk to Kōtoku-in.
This hike was one of the hallmark moments of my trip to Tokyo and I highly recommend it for anyone who is in the area. You will not be disappointed.
Kōtoku-in is a Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple that basically only exists to showcase their Daibutsu ("Giant Buddha") to tourists and holy crap is it something worth beholding. I could give you the exact dimensions of the statue (44 feet tall, 30 feet wide, 121 tonnes) and you still won't be able to properly appreciate its massive size. Its head is so large that I could probably stand up inside it. It is also completely hollow and for ¥20 you are able to tour the inside.
Much, much more
We were only in Kamakura for about four hours and there was still much more we could have done. Visit the Hase-dera temple, Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine, Kenchō-ji temple, Hōkoku-ji, Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine or embark on the 2+ hour tenen hiking trail to take you back to Kita-Kamakura Station.
I will definitely return to Kamakura at some point in my life and if you are reading this should should consider doing the same.