Books of 2015

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I enjoyed doing a post about all of the games I played last year, so I thought one on the books I’ve read would be equally fun. Here goes!

Best New Comic Series: Ms. Marvel

I don’t normally read long standing Marvel series (I’m much more of a self-contained 10 book series kind of person), but something about this comic called to me. Ms. Marvel is about a Muslim girl growing up and realizing that she has super powers. She fights the assortment of bad guys you’d expect, but it’s all new because of the different perspective it has. It’s definitely on the lighter side of comic books, so pick it up if you want typical super hero fare with a slightly different perspective.

Book that I enjoyed even though it made me feel dumb: A Brief History of Time

I’ve taken a number of physics classes over the year, but nothing in those classes prepared me for this deep dive of physics knowledge. It was a bit hard to follow when he was talking about quarks and their weird electrical charge and spin, but it still gave me a good basis for better understanding the theory of relativity and other physics peculiarities. It was also fascinating to see the history of physics research and how wrong (and right!) people were in the past.

Most enjoyable science book: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

This book is a series of silly questions like “How many AK-47s would it take to lift a person off the ground with the recoil caused by firing” and equally silly, but true answers. Both Ashley and I tore through this book because it was thoroughly entertaining and insightful. I can’t wait to pick up Munroe’s next book because this was one of my favorites this year. Highly recommended.

Most overrated book: The Road

Everyone I’ve talked to about this book has told me how much it would wreck me and make me sad. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve played so many survival horror games or watched a bunch of sad movies, but it didn’t do that to me. Sure, there was some sad stuff that happened in The Road, but it wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before. Maybe it’s one of those things similar to Citizen Kane where it was original and groundbreaking in its time, but if you experience it now, it doesn’t feel as impressive. Good book, but didn’t live up to the hype.

Most important book I read: Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

Becoming Nicole is a great book to read to start to understand the struggle for transgender rights. Nicole and Jonas are identical twins, but Nicole is transgender while Jonas is not. This book is the story of their family, their community, and how learn what being transgender is all about. It’s also a study in how people tend to be scared of things they don’t understand. Becoming Nicole is an easy, if frustrating read and I suggest everyone read it as soon as possible.

Favorite book of the last ten years: The Martian

If you haven’t read this book, click this link and buy this fucking book, NOW. The Martian is easily my favorite book that I’ve read in the past ten years and it’s not hard to understand why. Science. Explosions. MacGyvering things. Science. Space. Exploration. Did I mention Science? XKCD explains it perfectly in this comic. It’s a book about overcoming an environment that wants to kill you while being scientifically accurate and funnier than I ever expected. So fucking good.

Here’s all the books I read this year:

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold and David Roberts
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family – Amy Ellis Nutt
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference – Cordelia Fine
East of West, Volume 1: The Promise – Jonathan Kichman and Nick Dragotta
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt – Michael Lewis
Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: In the Cockpit on a Secret Operational Mission – Richard H. Graham
Footnotes in Gaza – Joe Sacco
iZombie: Dead to the World – Chris Roberson
Lumberjanes Vol. 1 – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, Shannon Watters
Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed – G. Willow Wilson
My Beloved World – Sonia Sotomayor
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo – Anjan Sundaram
The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
The Martian – Andy Weir
The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Top 10 – Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

Games of 2015

For whatever reason, I didn’t beat, or even play, that many games this year. While I didn’t play any AAA games, it sounds like there were some great ones (Witcher 3, Mario Maker, etc). I was busy buying a house, transitioning into a new role at work, and dealing with some health issues. 2016 hopefully won’t have any of that, so I should be able to play more games! Unfortunately, none of the games I played stood out as games that I’ll remember in 10 years. Regardless, here’s the list!

Most gorgeous game I played: Ori and the Blind Forest

Not only was this game the prettiest I played this year, it’s one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played. I was surprised when I heard they used Unity to make it as I didn’t think Unity was capable of driving a game like this. As for the gameplay, I love me a Metroidvania game, and this is no exception to the rule. The gameplay itself isn’t that inspiring, but it’s worth dealing with to appreciate the stunning visuals that this game constantly throws at you.

Game I thought I wanted but realized I didn’t: The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

I’ve loved everything Binding of Isaac related for several years now, so when I heard there was an expansion to Rebirth (which I played over 140 hours of), I was excited. When I finally got it and started playing, I realized that I had already played pretty much all of that game that I wanted to. It had a couple of new mechanics and game modes, but nothing really inspired me to play it the way that the previous two games did. It’s like getting an ice cream shake after you’ve already eaten an ice cream sundae. Sometimes, you just can’t eat anymore ice cream.

Game that moved me (emotionally and physically) in 5 minutes: Bounden

I only played this game for a total of about 5 minutes at GDC, but it was one of the most distinct experiences I’ve ever had with a multiplayer game. You and another person hold the same phone and contort your bodies in dance moves in order to beat levels. I played it with the guy who made it, and it was surprisingly emotional; after we finished, I felt like I had had a moment with my partner in a way that I’ve never felt after playing a video game. I danced with a stranger and felt a closeness with him that is very rare with someone I just met. Bounden is not a particularly good game, but I’ll remember that experience for a while.

Game that finally made me hate Free 2 Play mechanics: Trials Frontier

First off, this game has better controls and handling than any other mobile game I’ve ever played. I thought gamepad type controls on a mobile phone would always be a disaster, but I was completely wrong. I never felt like the game cheated me and I always felt in control. That is a HUGE accomplishment for Red Lynx. If I could have purchased this game for $40, I would have done that. Unfortunately, this game reveled in its F2P mechanics. It had timers, an energy mechanic, crafting, multiple currencies, daily challenges, a leveling system, and a multiplayer component that required constant monitoring. The game was structured so that you could do everything without paying money, but it would take you AGES to do it. Some upgrades took over 144 hours to complete. I found myself playing the game constantly so that I could collect parts to upgrade my bikes so I could compete online. Instead of advancement being based on skill, it was based on time and money spent. It felt cheap and I realized I wasn’t enjoying playing it, even though I played it more than any other game this year. Trials Frontier is a good game wrapped in shit no one wants to deal with.

Game that made my wife almost kill me: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

I’m always on the lookout for games my wife and I can play together, and I thought Lovers would fit that bill. It’s cute, it’s co-op (instead of being versus), and it has cats in it! Unfortunately, the way this game plays in co-op mode is similar to how it feels to drive in a country that doesn’t speak your language while completely lost with no GPS. The game is quite cute and the weapons are neat, but the gameplay is a bit lacking. Because of how the spaceships are set up, I always found myself piloting and having the AI fire for me. I wish that the ship was a bit more automatic in how it responded to threats instead of having to manually dictate what should happen. Overall the game is quite polished, but just not quite what I wanted out of it.

Favorite game of 2015: Snakebird

If there was any game that I played this year that could be said to be fully polished, it’d be Snakebird. This game has to be polished considering you’re going to be spending most of your time cursing while playing it. I have never played a puzzle game that makes me feel inept on the fourth level before. Snakebird is incredibly cute and easy to pick up, but oh so fucking hard to actually beat. After playing a single level for an hour to beat it, I would feel hugely accomplished. One of the things I disliked about the game was that I often knew how to beat a level, but it required very specific movements. I would get frustrated and look up the solution only to find out I had it correct, I just had to turn left once instead of right in ONE spot. I don’t think this game is for everyone (it’s one of the hardest games I’ve ever played), but I enjoyed the time I had with it.

For reference, here are the games I beat this year:

Android
     Botanicula
     Knights of Pen and Paper
     Lara Croft Go
     Sky Force
     Trials Frontier
     You Must Build A Boat

PC
     Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
     The Talos Principle

Xbox One
     Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
     Ori and the Blind Forest

Here are the games I played but didn’t beat (or couldn’t “beat”):

Andoid
     Alphabear
     Bounden
     Framed
     Leo’s Fortune
     PDTA
     The Firm

PC
     Action Henk
     Gunpoint
     Snakebird
     The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

Playstation 4
     Axiom Verge

XBox One
     Life is Strange