Thursday, December 30, 2004

Best of 2004

Note that I list CDs first because music is still my primary love. I would give up boardgames, videogames, and movies, before I would give up just music. Now, make me choose between music and cats... that would be tough. Of course, when I use "best" in this post, I mostly mean "my favorite".

  • Best New CD: I dip into way too many genres, and am still buying tons of old stuff, so I get exposed to very little music released in the 2000's. Most of the recent stuff I get is new releases from old dinosaurs (e.g., Fear Factory, Ministry), or bands that are heavily influenced by those that are already favorites of mine (e.g., Isis). The easy winner this year is Neurosis' The Eye of Every Storm. They've tempered and slowed their sound even more - there are even hints of Pink Floyd - and primarily use a single smoky voice instead of the three bellowing screamers from their earlier releases. This makes it their most accessible album by far, but they still rip it open with a wall of sound here and there, especially the apocalyptic meltdown at the end of "Left to Wander" that evokes the golden age of Godflesh.
  • Best Old CD: Earlier this year, I decided to pick up a bunch of classics from the shoegaze era (e.g., Ride, Slowdive, etc.). Lots of good stuff, but the one that stood out was Catherine Wheel's Ferment. The sound is perfect, and there isn't a single weak track on the album. Became an instant favorite of mine.
  • Best Rediscovered CD: Neurosis - Souls at Zero. With their new excellent release, I have been listening to all of Neurosis' stuff a lot this year. I never got into Souls at Zero much, which is one of their earlier releases, but I forced myself to listen to it carefully. One night when Melanie was out, I had some beer and sat through the first few tracks and was blown away. I've listened to it a bunch then. Really severe, eerie, dark stuff. The maniacal energy and harrowing screams of "To Crawl Under One's Skin" makes me shiver every time, and I think "Web" might just be my favorite Neurosis track of all time. (Note: if you are new to Neurosis and not much of a metal person, definitely start with their newest release and work backwards.)
  • Best Discovered Band: A couple of years ago, I got a recommendation for a metal album (Everyday Atrocity) that I bought and couldn't get into at all because of the lyrics. Earlier this year, I gave it a second chance, which turned into about 10 more chances. I then bought their two most recent CDs and one of them (Violence) now has a spot on my top 100. The band is Nothingface, but, unlike the other two artists mentioned in this post, I would not recommend this to anyone who doesn't like harsh, aggressive metal (even though there are many "progressive" elements to their songwriting).
  • Best New Boardgame: In my opinion, 2004 was the best year for boardgames in at least 5 years. While there weren't as many excellent releases as there were in 1996-2000, there was a high percentage of great releases. My favorites are: Sword of Rome, which suffers somewhat from play length; Struggle of Empires, another Martin Wallace masterpiece; Tongiaki, which is broken yet utterly fascinating; Hansa, with its satisfying short-term goals; and Einfach Genial, a highly accessible but surprisingly brilliant multi-player abstract. Hansa is my runner-up, and I almost wanted it to win so I could give the reward to Michael Schacht two years in a row - I've loathed his work in previous years - it is Einfach Genial which has really shown itself to be the most rewarding and fun. More about Einfach Genial is written in this post; note that Fantasy Flight Games will be publishing it in America this year under the title Ingenious.
  • Best New Video Game: If you don't know me by now, you will never, never, never, know me, ooh-oooooh-ooh.
  • Best New Movie: Last week, Melanie and I did something I never did before - saw two movies in a row (okay, with a lunch break in-between). It was the new releases of perhaps my two favorite directors - Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement and Yimou Zhang's House of Flying Daggers. Both were decent stories with sumptuous visuals, but departures from their old styles that made them my favorites. So, I'll go with a film written by one of my new favorite screenwriters: Charlie Kaufmann's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Very imaginative structure with interesting visuals. Overall, we saw very few movies in the theater this year - maybe no more than 5.
  • Best Old Movie: Given our enjoyment of Eternal Sunshine, we had to go back and check out Kaufmann's previous movies that we had missed, Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Both excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the aura of paranoia conveyed by the latter.

10 of 2004

Thought I'd take a minute to record 10 significant things that happened to me in 2004. Just to document how banal my life has become. They aren't ranked in any specific order.

  1. Quit playing Diablo 2. The latest patch just made it too hard to solo anything but the most uber of builds. I could back out the patch (since I stopped playing online long ago), but there were things in there I liked, so I just decided to take a break. Maybe I'll revisit if they come out with another patch later.
  2. Started playing City of Heroes. I think I spend even more time on CoH than I did with D2. It takes too long to level, but I'm spending at least 50% of my time with a single character so I can see all the sights before I quit. Right now, he's level 27 (out of 50). It's my first MMORPG, and I'm enjoying the online interactions a lot more than I did in D2.
  3. Removed myself from the Internet boardgame community. This was for many, many reasons, some of which have been bugging me for several years. I think the last straw was the participants' ongoing quest for new games - at this point, I'm happy with the collection that me and my friends have. I unsubscribed from the yahoogroups, and all but removed my BGG profile. I still lurk on a few forums, but all my energy is going into my local scene.
  4. Started playing A Game of Thrones CCG. I don't really like the books, and there's things about the game that really bug me. But I like the different flavors of the decks I build, I have a friend who is really into it, and there's still a minimal local scene so that I can participate in tournaments (something I haven't done since 7th Sea).
  5. Discovered The Bee Gees. My previous thoughts on these albums still hold, although I would move Cucumber Castle up a few notches.
  6. Did some game programming. Okay, my games are pretty lame, but it's fun making them when I'm in the mood. I did implementations of Tres Amigos (KC's prototype), Titan: the Arena, Honeybears, and got a decent start on Mystick (which proved to be too tedious, what with every card having its own special ability to program). Might pick up on this more next year if I drop City of Heroes.
  7. Got promoted. After almost 7 years here, I finally moved one step closer to the CEO. I've previously spent four months at this position (covering for two bosses' sabbaticals), so I know what to expect. I don't think I get as much personal satisfaction out of my managerial work as I did my previous technical work, but I really enjoy coaching my reports and contributing to their personal and professional growth.
  8. Wrapped up the adoption paperwork. Will probably get the call later in January, with an estimated travel date of March.
  9. Coped with illness in the family. My older sister has been dealing with some rare condition for some time now, and my younger sister had to go thru the cancer thing. Let's just say it was very scary in both cases. I'm not really involved with my family, but I do care about them, especially my sisters' families - both have toddlers they are trying to raise.
  10. Was put in charge of a hot project at work. Unfortunately, other hotter projects have emerged since then, so I constantly have to deal with resource issues. Still, the size and scope of the project prevents me with several new challenges - along with the regular challenge of having too many senior engineers on a project!