A Few of My Favorite Things: A Look Back At 2014

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Well, look at that. The year of 2014 has come to a close. Was it a good one for you? Looking back, some really cool stuff came out this year. Here are a few of my favorites.

Favorite Movie: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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This is, by far, one of the coolest movie experiences I’ve had in a while. The story of a washed-out actor struggling to find relevancy is intriguing enough, but every part of this movie helps to make this an extremely enjoyable couple of hours.

The visual style alone will leave you mesmerized. The whole movie is filmed to look like one continuous take and the camera is almost constantly kept at a close-up shot, providing a sense of profound confusion and delirium. Those visuals, combined with a soundtrack made up of the hypnotizing drums provided by jazz artist Antonio Sánchez, created an environment I never wanted to leave. Throw in stand-out performances from the entire ensemble (which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone,) and you’ve got one engaging ride.

Favorite Book: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley 

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The Scott Pilgrim series was a godsend for me back when I was in High School, and I found Lost at Sea to be a very enjoyable character study. So I didn’t need any convincing when Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, Seconds, was published last summer. The concept is a perfectly ordinary one: A young chef’s life starts to fall apart, so she uses magical mushrooms that she receives from a mystical spirit to rewrite history and fix her mistakes. Simple, right?

Well, get past the quirkiness of it all and you find a cast of charming and relatable characters, gorgeous art and a wonderful story. A story that manages to be funny, poignant and enlightening simultaneously. I loved my time reading this one and I recommend you give it a read.

Favorite Album: You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

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Man, am I glad to have listened to this one. You’re Dead! is the latest studio album from experimental producer Flying Lotus. An album that tackles dark themes such as insanity, addiction and, above all else, death itself.

It’s also one of those albums that you’d probably enjoy much better by not paying attention to the track list and listening to the whole thing in one go. Each track flows in and out of one another in such a way that it all becomes one mesmerizing ride, mixing in large amounts of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music to create FlyLo’s signature sound. For my own tastes, this album did a lot to push me outside of my love of electronic music and start taking a look at the jazz scene, so it’s certainly had an impact on me.

Favorite Indie Game: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Yeah, I had my problems with this one. I didn’t get to spend much time with the game, due to it’s short length, and I haven’t gotten to see the ending yet because I’m too much of a wimp to tackle the game’s only jump-scare section. But there’s still so much about this game that there is to love.

Ethan Carter is an atmospheric first-person exploration game where you play a supernatural detective, who can communicate with the dead in his search to find out what happened to a missing child. As you solve puzzles and murder mysteries, more and more of this wonderfully creepy story comes to light. All while exploring one of the most gorgeous game worlds I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if nothing else, pick this one up for it’s atmosphere. Throw on a good pair of headphones and turn out the lights. You’ll be in for a treat.

As we wrap up 2014 tonight, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have taken an interest in my ramblings. I certainly don’t have plans to stop yet. There’s more to discover out there, so I’d better get to it!

Spooky Things: “The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter”

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Let me get this out of the way before I talk about what game I recommend for this October; I do not do jump scares. At all. I don’t enjoy horror movies, I don’t play many horror games and you can forget about convincing me to go into a haunted house attraction. I can, however, enjoy dark, supernatural stories with creepy atmospheres. And that’s why, today, I’m talking about the recently released indie game, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Developed by the independent Polish studio, The AstronautsEthan Carter places you in the shoes of Paul Prospero, a detective with the ability to sense paranormal activity. Through his eyes, you investigate the town of Red Creek Valley to find the titular child, who requested your help before, well, vanishing. Along the way, you’ll solve puzzles, gather clues and communicate with the dead, as you come to find out more and more of a dark, ancient force corrupting the town.

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It’s telling that, upon starting a new game, the first things that show up on screen are the words, “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand”. True to it’s word, you start out wandering in the forest with very little instruction. It may take you half-an-hour or so to formulate a game plan, but once you start accomplishing something, it all clicks into place.

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The biggest selling point for this game is the atmosphere. Ethan Carter is one of the most aesthetically beautiful games I’ve ever played. Nearly every second of gameplay would be worth photographing. More impressive is that the entire world of the game can be traveled without a single loading screen ever popping up. The game doesn’t forget where the roots of it’s story are, though. This idealistic country-side town is made all the more eerie with the supernatural, occult-centered events.

So as much as I’ve been raving about the game up to this point, it may surprise you to know that I haven’t beaten it, yet. Why, you ask? Well, let’s go back to the start. I don’t handle jump scares very well, and, despite the lack of indication anywhere that there would be some, there are some.

The section of the game I’m talking about is a side maze in the mines. It looks like something you can skip, but you come to find out that you cannot complete the game without completing all of the side activities. So my game abruptly ends there. It would be nice if The Astronauts could patch in some kind of work-around option for the more squeamish, because I know I’m not the only one.

However, if that’s not an issue to you, than I highly recommend this game. It’s beautifully atmospheric, the puzzles are creative, the crime scenes are fun to solve and the story is intriguing right up to the end. It’s an enormously impressive debut effort from The Astronauts and I’m very interested in where this new studio goes from here.

You can check out The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on Steam by following this link.