I’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place, 2013

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Sup. And yes, it’s been a while, I know.

But before getting into all that, here I am just the other night, in the middle of Washington Square Park, during NYC’s first snowfall of 2014…

So what’s the deal? Long story short, last summer I encountered some funkiness related to this site’s backend. And instead of asking my go to guy for help, since he was super busy, I decided to tackle it myself. Cuz WordPress is supposed to be easy to use, right? Yeah, well, not for me.

Something ended up breaking, but at least I was able to put things back the way they were, which was right in the middle of my New York Asian Film Festival 2013 rundown. Then guess what? I too became super busy myself and never got around to getting this place back in order.

But now everything’s working the way it’s supposed to, and I hope to have (semi) regular updates once again. Especially since I finally have some down time! At least for the time being… So on that note, it’s that time again, to rundown the year that just was. And holy sh*t was 2013 for the record books:

- Kicking things off proper was my very first visit to Las Vegas and the Consumer Electronic Show. Actually, this year’s CES is happening right now and I’m not covering it; my best guess is that being approached by a lady of the night during my last night was a test, one that I failed (as detailed here). To be honest, Vega is not my kind of town, but I was hoping for a return trip, if only for… something that will be revealed in an upcoming piece for Kotaku, provided I file it in time.

- Became the official east coast editor for Siliconera, and that was pretty rad. Been a fan of a site for years, and to find out that the EIC has dug mine for just as long… enough to enlist my services… is definitely a highlight, not just for 2013 but my writing career as a whole.

- Back to the subject of traveling, finally made it out to Los Angeles and the Electronic Entertainment Expo as well. Been in LA once before, but that was in 2002 and just for Universal Studios, as the last leg of my trip to Cali with Dave and John, mostly for Comic Con and Disneyland (the later was the primary impetus; Dave planned the whole thing, due to the how I had never been to “The Happiest Place on Earth”, and he’s such a diehard fan… my brush with death a few months prior, from e. coli poisoning, was also a factor I believe).

Yet it was my very first time to E3, believe it or not. Yeah, kinda odd, given how involved I’ve been with video games for the past 10+ years. I’ll detail my entire trip in a future post, but I’ll say this: I totally get LA and understand why so many friends have made the move. My God the weather. Plus I’m sure those Cartoon Network checks everyone is also getting are also nice.

- 2013 was the year in which I also finally got coffee. As in I began drinking it seriously, for the first time. I’ve had maybe half a dozen cups over the years, but they were filled to the brim with milk and sugar, and therefore they hardly count.

Again, I totally understand the appeal; it gives you energy (I avoid soda, so I’m mostly been caffeine free, which is admittedly insane for someone calling himself a writer), is an appetite suppressant (when you work from home, it’s hard not to snack all the time), and flushes out your system (sorry for TMI). And cuz it’s a brand new world, everything tastes great at the moment! Even Starbucks (true, I did grow up near Seattle).

- Back to moving to LA, that almost happened to me as well. For a game producer gig, of all things. I’ll spare the details, other than it would have been a great chance to work with some awesome folk, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Though after being a resident of the Big Apple for close to 20 years, it was the first real opportunity to move onto greener pastures to come my way, one I was eager to take. And it wouldn’t be the only one.

- On a related note, after a many year hiatus, I finally returned to the wonderful world of game development around these parts. Was the lead designer for an iOS game for Joe and June’s outfit, Wax Eye. Which immediately opened the door to a possible collaboration with another party, for a game idea that I’ve had for ages. Fingers crossed that it becomes a reality.

- The year before saw me returning to video game art show curation, and 2013 built upon the momentum I had gained in 2012. Was involved in three different exhibitions: the first was part of a newfound partnership with NYU, the second was the follow-up to the previous year’s highly successful showing in Toronto, and the third was yet another follow-up to the previous year’s barnburner in Seattle.

- Speaking of, because it took place at Fangamer X Attract Mode, the aforementioned Seattle show: got to not only meet Kenji Inafune, but also exchange business cards with him. That’s another one off the bucket list.

- As for the FG, my run with the Fangamer Podcast came to a close in 2013, plus the podcast itself is either on ice or also dead. Was fun while it lasted. Though I did end up making apperances on Jerzy’s Saturday Supercast, lending my two cents on various discussions of cartoons from the 80s. Be sure the check out the last episode I was in, which is all about Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue.

- On the sports entertainment front, highlights include the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame. Both seeing and listening to Mic Foley and Bruno Sammartino, in the flesh, were well worth the steep price of admission (plus being spotted on live television, alongside Steve and Steve, was a nice little bonus).

And on the total opposite end of the spectrum was an indie wrestling show in Rahway NJ. Highlights include an Ultimate Warrior doppelganger, Jake “The Snake” Roberts looking like hell (yet everyone said, ”He looks a THOUSAND times better these days”), a battle royale that included Little Mac and King Hippo, plus some dude dressed as Starman (from Pro Wrestling on the NES) suffering a brutal concussion.

- Attended a Star Trek themed memorial service. The Starfleet cupcakes were quite stirring, and delicious.

- Became pals with the brains behind one of New York City cable access’s crown jewel.

- Got to finally meet the Baron Ambrosia, and I am one step closer to finally seeing Canzo Empyrean. I think?

- Got punched in the back at Toy Fair, all because I took a picture of a Sonic the Hedgehog doll that I wasn’t supposed to. And yes, it’s as hilarious as it sounds.

- Was able to share the many splendors of The Shimmy Slide with numerous friends and colleagues. I swear, John de Hart is to Joseph Swan, as Tommy Wiseau is to Thomas Edison; GETEVEN is pound for pound just as sh*tty as The Room, it’s just that Wiseau did a far better job of passing the word around.

- Went on a crazy number of OkCupid and HowAboutWe dates, and pretty much every single one of them was a total disaster. By far the most memorable moment went as follows: was sitting at a bar with “Linda” and a basketball game appeared on the establishment’s large screen TV. So she goes…

Linda: “Do you like basketball?”

me: “Nope, I don’t really follow most sports.”

Linda “Well, I’m a big fan…”

me: “That’s totally cool! I don’t dislike basketball, it’s just not for me.:

Linda: “Do you know LeBron James? What do you think of him?”

me: “Well, I don’t really know him, other than the fact that he’s a professional basketball player. I hear his name a lot, so I must assume that he’s either really good or very controversial. Probably both.”

Linda: “I find him sort of attractive…”

me: “Hey, that’s cool. I have my celeb crushes as well…”

Linda: “… even though he’s a n*gger.”

… Yup, she totally threw down the N word in the middle of the date. And I have plenty of other reasons why 2013 became the year in which I officially gave up on dating in NYC.

- In addition to the Siliconera gig, I also got a new full-time position, at MTV Multiplayer. My role as new lead reporter was exactly what I had been looking for, plus it came at the right time too; leading up, I was ready to give game journalism up, and for real this time. Another major plus was how so many fine folks in the biz was able to make it big there (including Totilo, most notably, though there have been numerous others). I’d be lying if I didn’t have similar aspirations.

And despite the full blessing of my EIC, who was more than happy to see me take the reigns of Multiplayer (again, as others before me did), plus all the positive feedback I received along the way, it was all over less than three months later. The entire blog was mothballed. Why? From what I heard on the streets, Viacom’s fiscal year was not that pretty so they had to get rid of some “fat”. So for the umpteenth time, I was back to square one and scrambling for something new.

Or maybe not.

- The untimely end of MTV was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back; I guess you could say I’m officially retired from game journalism, at least on a full-time basis. Though I’m still doing something for Kotaku, am also still Siliconera’s east coast guy, and have at least one final Gameranx piece in the pipeline. So I’ll be around to a certain extent, and am willing to entertain other opportunities as well, provided they make sense.

But the past few years have left me incredibly burnt out, to the point that my own personal writing has greatly suffered as a direct result. The fact that my own home base hasn’t been touched in months until now is proof positive. Plus it’s the primary reason why FORT90ZINE4ANSWER has yet to be published (though issues with OS X 10.9 Mavericks has been the latest logistical nightmare).

- Yet as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. I’ll save the details for when the time is right, but basically, I am indeed moving onto bigger and better things. One that combines my talents as both game creator and art curator, and which will also get my ass out of NYC once and for all.

Planned on making the big announcement today, it being the 18th anniversary of the day I first set foot onto New York soil. But there’s some final details yet to be ironed, though it’s looking like I’ll be out of here before I hit the 20 year mark (as hoped) after all. Again, 2013 was kinda crazy!

2013 was also an amazing year for video games. I honestly thought it couldn’t get any better than 2012, but when all was said and done, I ended up playing even more A+ games the past twelve months (I was also able to play more period, which I supposed was one upside of being burnt out and not having the drive to write). The list of games that came out this year that I didn’t get to touch is also longer than years past. So the following is based upon what I was able to consume…

Quite Simply, The Top Five Games Of 2013:

5. Samurai Gunn (PC)
Long story short: Samurai Gunn is unquestionably the finest competitive multiplayer game ever crafted. Better than Street Fighter 4, better than Super Smash Bros. It’s also the first and only competitive multiplayer game I’m actually good at, which might explain why I love it so dearly. But that’s because Samurai Gunn presents a completely even playing field for once; no need to know arcade button combinations or arcane metagame strategies. You don’t have to be a fighting game person to enjoy yourself, plus winning isn’t some fluke but something actually attainable.

4. DEVICE 6 (iOS)
My iPhone used to be my go to solution for portable gaming, but the 3DS has been kicking it’s ass all last year. Not helping is how many iOS game makers have seemingly hit a wall. Hardly anything grabs me anymore, but DEVICE 6 is the lone exception. Granted, a few other decent iOS games have come down the pipeline (like everyone’s favorite, Ridiculous Fishing). But nothing else is as bold, inventive, confident, and unique. Unlike the majority of smartphone games produced, which attempt to present an arcade or console-like experience and fail miserably, DEVICE 6 (much like Sword & Sworcery before it) was clearly born and bred for the iPhone. Ultimately, thing itself doesn’t feel like much of a game machine, hence why software that doesn’t feel much like a game either is actually the perfect fit. Does that makes any sense?

3. Grand Theft Auto V (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)
GTA used to be the game I loved to hate. And while I still find much of it eye-rolling (along with those who believe the hype, i.e. are convinced that the storytelling is “sophisticated” and the characters “compelling”), I eventually learned to get over myself and just relax. When it comes to virtual playgrounds, nothing compares to part 5, period. Something that’s been detailed ad nausuem, so no need to repeat everyone else. Though I will say that GTA V managed to illicit a particularly strong emotional response; as over I am with New York City, I’m still legit jealous that Rockstar chose to create a fictional version of LA as opposed to doing a better job of NY. Then again, cruising down the streets of Los Santos did much to satiate my desire to move to Los Angeles last summer.

2. VideoHeroeS (Mac)
The crown jewel of the first LA Game Space Game Pack is still one of the best damn ideas ever for a video game: running a video store from the 90s, in which recommending cinematic gems like The Hoboken Chicken Emergency will shut a particularly needy customer up and not get you fired. And never before could I have ever imagined a game could ever champion the cause of VHS. Simply marvelous.

Two-Way Tie: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)
& Attack Of The Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale (Nintendo 3DS)

When I first heard that the latest Zelda was the best one ever, my first reaction was ”whatever”, cuz that’s what everyone says about each and every installment. Okay, not true; I was one of the few (and proud) that loved Skyward Sword. And while it’s not as groundbreaking, A Link Between World manages to live up to the insanely high standards that one would have for a direct sequel to A Link To The Past. On the audio/visual front, the graphics are superb, one of the few 3DS games in which the 3D effect is an actual additional, as opposed to being a gimmick (nor does it give me a headache, again like almost every other game for the platform), and the audio is even better, with a score that not only surpasses the source material but sound design that can only be described as genuinely brilliant.

But it’s the change to one of Zelda’s longest lasting gameplay staple that’s the star of the show; instead of exploring a dungeon to get whatever tool that will help one reach and beat the boss, plus explore the Overworld even further, you basically are given the chance to nab every item right from the get go. This changes the formula drastically, allowing for greater flexibility and creativity. Thankfully the dungeon puzzles are able to keep up and are some of the finest ever, right up there with Skyward Sword’s (which was the best part of that game). You honestly get the sense that the game’s makers realize that most players will be older, and would not only appreciate the shakedown, but the cutting to the chase. It’s a pro-actively modern take on the tried and tested, yet in the most sensible manner possible.

As for my other top pick, a question: are you a fan of Pacific Rim, Studio Ghibli’s early output, and Twin Peaks? Then you will unquestionably fall in love with Attack Of The Friday Monsters. It’ll make wish that you grew up in the Japanese countryside, one populated with kaiju fighting in the distance, while you and your pals play card games (and also occasionally pester the creepy old white guy in the ramen shop).

… But, there are PLENTY of other games worth talking about! Including…

Best Game That I Played All Year That Wasn’t Originally From 2013:

Suzuki Bakuhatsu (PSone)
Those who follow me on the Attract Mode blog might recall a game in which you play a Japanese woman who defuses bombs in whatever shape and form, with the whole thing looking like a Uniqlo ad. As with DEVICE 6 and Attack Of The Friday Monsters, I’m a total sucker for style, charm, and confidence. It also harkens back to a time in which Japanese games could be obscure yet totally comprehendible (whereas even the simplest of menus are total clusterf*cks these days).

Best Game That Pretty Much No Else Has Played:

Particle Mace (Mac)
Again, I wrote about this one over at Attract Mode a little while ago; if you reach out to Andy, maybe he’ll send you a copy!

Franchise That Finally Turned A Corner For Me:

Animal Crossing, thanks to Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo 3DS)
I’ve always enjoyed the concept of Animal Crossing but always found it a chore to actually play. But because New Leaf allows one to score a ton of skrilla in a relatively easy fashion (which I can’t believe some people have the gall to complain about, who claim that it breaks the game; like I don’t have better things to do than earning bells the old fashioned way, by just harvesting and selling perfect fruit, like a putz), I was able to build the arcade of my dreams in quick order! Along with an accompanying S&M dungeon. Oh, and being able to have friends come over, to enjoy said arcade/sexy basement is a huge bonus.

Game That I Liked A Lot, But Not Nearly As Much As Everyone Else:

Pokémon X & Y (Nintendo 3DS)
Was expecting to finally get into Pokémon at long last, via the 3DS installment, like I did with Animal Crossing (been perpetually waiting for that perfect iteration, and ”X” & ”Y” appeared to them at last). And while Nintendo’s kiddie-fied version of cock fighting has never looked better, everything else is too esoteric and just flat out annoying. I know this is an odd complaint to make in a video game, but every character tries way too hard to be endearing. Additionally, the narrative is totally limp, all the goofy little distractions set forth are complete snoozers, and what’s the hell with all the roller blading?

Game That I Liked A Lot, Despite Being Really Bad At It:

Hotline Miami (PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita)
I might seriously be the worst Hotline Miami player of all time. End of story.

Game That I Liked A Lot, And Not Just Because I Might Be Making An Appearance In The Sequel Or Update:

Divekick (PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita)
Never mind how Divekick is a close second to Samurai Gunn as best fighting game of 2013, simply because it’s an astute distillation of the genre; I might actually be in whatever follow up! I’ll share the entire tale when I finally get around to my PAX Prime 2013 wrap up, but until then, a tweet from the game’s creator himself…

Game That I Wish I Didn’t Like, Cuz I Don’t Want To Get The System It’s On:

Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo Wii U)
I honestly don’t want a Wii U, but holy sh*t is Super Mario 3D World the greatest thing since sliced bread (and Super Mario Galaxy 2). At least that means I can also pick up Wonderful 101 as well. And speaking of…

Game That I Figured Would Be Awesome, Despite Everyone Expecting The Worst, And Guess What? It Was:

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)
I still can’t believe people had an issue with a company like Platinum, whose acumen when it comes to action is without question (I realize no one played Vanquish, but I thought EVERYONE’s familiar with Bayonetta), doing a spin off based upon a character that most Metal Gear fanboys STILL passionately hate (over the switcheroo in MGS2, which was I thought was brilliant at the time, for the record) in the first place. Yet enough to not give it a shot, even AFTER it has proven itself? Gamers sure are stupid sometimes.

Game That I Could See A Mile Away Was Going To Be A Big Pile Of Sh*t:

BioShock Infinite (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)
The minute I saw the game’s dopy secondary character, primarily her sub DeviantArt-rated design, and imagined it coupled with the first BioShock’s socio-political bibble-babble, I knew it would be a winner (I’m still taken back by those who were so easily impressed by that one, though its biggest fans are those are embarrassed to like video games, so they have issues in general). And despite it being a critical darling, the people whose opinions I actually trust all confirmed that it’s indeed a steaming pile.

Game That I Hope To God Is Released Here:

Akiba’s Trip 2 (PlayStation Vita)
Surely I’m not the only person who wants to play a game in which you run around Akihabara with your otaku buddies, ripping off the clothes of maid cafe maids who are actually demons in disguise, to expose their skin to sunlight, in order to vanquish them. Right? Though on another related note…

Game That Made Me Realize That Maybe I’m Kinda Over Anime Babes:

Ketsui: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi (PlayStation 3)
Ketsui might still be the best shmup that Cave has ever produced. And as the final console port ever for the company as well, it also unintentionally sheds light as to why they’re no longer in the business of making shoot ‘em ups (they’re going the route of pachinko, from what I understand).

Surprisingly, pandering to creepy otaku and moe-fying their flagship series, DoDonPachi, was perhaps not the best of ideas as it turns out. Though increasingly complex game systems, to quite honestly a stupid degree, certainly didn’t help either. Sorry shmups fans, but you’re as bad as fighting fans sometimes.

Game From Japan With The Worst Interface:

Dragon’s Crown (PlayStation 3)
Not to crap on Japanese Developers further, but for the past few years, there’s been an increasingly number of games from Japan in which the interface is pure crap; I simply don’t know what the hell is what and am unable to proceed further, all due to confusing front ends and in game menus.

Last year it was Dead or Alive 5 and this year it was Dragon’s Crown. I remember playing the game with Dave, and it’s one thing to want to throw your controller against the wall due to unfair tactics employed by an end level boss, it’s another thing when that same level of frustration is conjured up due to being unable to get a simple, local two player game going.

Game Company That Is Doing An Awesome Job Of Pimping Out Its Past:

Sega (for the second year in a row)
Once again, the house that Sonic built is completely and utterly incapable of producing a halfway decent new game (this is doubly true for anything starring the blue blur himself), but when it comes to reinventing the past, absolutely no one does it better. This year’s prime examplea are all their arcade re-releases for the 3DS.

As noted, I generally can’t stand the 3D 99% of the time (again, A Link Between Worlds is an exception). Games try to employ depth of field trickery, but when everything is popping out at you evenly, it just doesn’t work. But flat, easy to comprehend 2D sprites that are zooming towards you at lighting speeds is something my brain can process after all.

The biggest miracle is making myself (and others) give a rat’s ass about Galaxy Force 2, a title that even the most diehard of Sega-philes have never paid much attention to. Oh, and the console ports are decent as well. OutRunners and the iOS version of Sonic 2, which has the Hidden Palace sections restored (and which I’m unable to even reach cuz virtual buttons on the iPhone suck balls) next, please.

Game Or Piece Of Hardware That I Loved To Death, Yet Could Not Recommend To People In Good Conscious:

The PlayStation Vita (for the second year in a row)
Despite the many splendors of Persona 4: Golden being widely known at this point, and how Spelunky on the go is the only real way to play the game (can’t wait for the Samurai Gunn port), it’s still tough recommending Sony’s handheld, especially since the 3DS is currently on fire. Hopefully it’ll be a PS4 pack-in soon and be in enough hands to convince 3rd parties to finally create original content for the thing (not that I mind playing indie games originally from the PC in the meanwhile, cuz Windows blows).

Game That I Really, Really Wanted To Like, But Simply Couldn’t:

Ducktales Remastered (PlayStation Network/Xbox Live Arcade)
On the plus side, Jake Kaufmann managed to do the impossible by creating a suitable, next-gen reprise of the original, iconic NES soundtrack. And hearing Alan Young (plus June Foray) do the voices of Scrooge and Magika after all these years made me feel like I was 10 years old again. And the game is also hella pretty, but otherwise… just not all the fun to play, sorry.

Game That Proves Suda 51 Has Jumped The Shark:

Killer Is Dead (PlayStation 3)
Oh well, at least I’ll always have Flower, Sun, and Rain.

Favorite Video Game Headline Of The Past Year:

Sony’s Official How To Share PS4 Games Instructional Video
Now this is how you get everyone’s good side and win the console war, that’s for damn sure.

Game That I Was Finally Happy To Be Able To Play, For Christ’s Sake (Three-Way Tie):

Tokyo Crash Mobs (Nintendo 3DS)
Sweet Fuse (PlayStation Portable)
Hatoful Boyfriend (PC)

Game I’m Confident I Would Have Loved And Made The List, But Never Got The Chance To Play (Four-Way Tie):

The Last of Us (PlayStation 3)
Ni No Kuni (PlayStation 3)
Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
Kentucky Route Zero (PC)

Game I’m Looking Forward To The Most (Five-Way Tie):

Scale (PC)
Below (Xbox One)
N++ (PlayStation 4)
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (PlayStation 4)
The Last Guardian (PlayStation 5)

Hey, Did I Mention Room of 1000 Snakes Yet?

Nope, but let me fix that right now.

And Finally, The Absolute Best Game Related Video Of 2013:

There’s so many to choose from, but there can only be one, and it is…

… K, that’s it for now. Will be back soon, promise.

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