So...apparently this has been sitting in the drafts of this blog since January. Err.....well, might as well click publish now and get it out there. (That kind of year so far...)
Let me get on thing out of the way before I start: there are few people whom are likely glad to to see an end 2011 than myself. I shall not look back fondly on the past year for many a personal reason Which is all the more reason why for the purposes of ths reflection I wanted to try and take the most positive approach I could in writing it. Hence, the "My Favorite Things" theme for this year.
2011 did leave give us a load of great games, me personally some memorable moments with people in the industry, and many good moments in sports and other areas I'm shifting some focus to. It has been fun actually not spending a night out at some random New Year's Eve party but doing something a little more meaningful for me personally. With that, I'll get right into the list.
My Favorite Album: LASERS by Lupe Fiasco.
Lupe is in many ways the rapper I've felt most able to relate to next to Andre 3000 of Outkast. Now, I don't necessarily believe Lupe's in Andre's class nor do I even consider LASERS the best album on the year. But I find him and the album far more grounded, human and relatable than most of anything else I've heard this year. And I'll freely admit, I've reached a point most of my time listening to something on my computer or MP3 player isn't music anymore and what I do less current than it's ever been.
But for as enjoyable I find the musicanship in some other artists, or even some of the creativity and wordplay in other rappers, I'm really never going to relate to Drake's laments of being trying find someone sifting through women throwing themselves at him. I've little in common with Kanye West or Jay-Z balling so hard throwing money around Paris, or for that matter much of what I've listened from many of my favorite artists this year.
LASERS, on the other hand, in many ways felt as much as it could be as representative of where I was a person as being Lupe's own personal thoughts. Which in many ways seem to be the aim of the album in Lupe's "We are LASERS, Not Losers" movement and message. Facing the reality of letting people go, the somewhat personal shame of of the things I've not said for whatever reasons, having to remember where I've come from in the face of letting the world frustrate me to the point of bitterness, wanting not to care if not in some cases just mentally and emotionally checking out, and fighting to keep my voice and indentity in the face of others that want to mold it to their ideals and desires has not just been a lot more relatable than most of what I listen to, it may very well be a perfect summary of 2011 as a year for me period.
My Favoite Song: "Eyez Closed" by Snoop Dogg, Kanye West and John Legend
I can't point to a load of Snoop's music in the past half decade I find to be particularly memorable. But there's something to his introspection about the industry, his place in it and history in the first verse leading to stereotypical hip-hop bravado and competitiveness that runs into the sobering reality of morality of life and success and advises "if you taste success, pray it's from a tall glass." Kanye closing verse (which also serves as the opening verse of a solo release of the song) echos of that bravado meeting the some of joylessness of the aspects of the industry as well as the seemingly stubbornness of his chosen distance from his father despite the wishes of his late-mother. Again, a case in many of cases of relatibility of song as opposed to feeling it the best of the year.
My Favorite Non-2011 Songs of 2011: "Black Republican" by Nas & Jay-Z
Included as part of A Thousand Grams's For The People Jay-Z compilation, much of my affection of the song comes from the "Marcia Religiosa" sample which makes the songs itself feel epic and such a big deal. In a symbolic sense, the Hip Hop Is Dead track was considering the previously longstanding rivalry and animosity between Nas and Jay-Z which make it something of a shock when it was announced Nas would be releasing what became the album on a Def Jam label at the time headed by Jay-Z. I'm also just particularly fond of Jay-Z storytelling in the song as he chronicles the breakdown of a close childhood friendship over the pursuit of success.
My Favorite Moment: Dallas Mavericks Winning the NBA Finals.
This is a complete homer pick for me. Dallas had been long-suffering for decent Mavericks team before Mark Cuban showed up and the fortunes of the franchise changed. However, it had taken quite a bit of time before even his incarnation of the team would be able to break it's image of being a soft team more interested in than stopping anyone would break through, and did they ever. Sweeping the Lakers, fending off the next great NBA star Kevin Durant and his Thunder and finally in poetic fashion taking down the team and humiliated the franchise just five years earlier in the Finals in the Miami Heat. Granted this was a far differenct Heat team, but very formidable in it's headline talent.
That said, in some respects this was also my least favorite moment as I didn't care for was the headlines of it all. The overtly childish morality play analysts and fans alike made Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh coming together and the delusional good vs evil battle people with no perspective or seletive amnesia of sports business nor NBA hisyory attempted to make of the series, the "superteam." I've said before, part of me would have been very content with Dallas losing that series if it back down to reality all of the people with this foolish mentality whom in many ways took joy out of the Dallas victory for all the wrong reasons. The story after the Finals should have been about a team that won. The story instead became about a team that lost (mind you for having no depth and having stars spending the entire year learning how to play together went on a remarkable run that's probably an indictment of an entire conference), and somehow tangentally about an irrelevant team that got more airtime for a player leaving them than anything it did on the court.
I find it just a bit insulting both as a fan and intellectually.
Favorite Play of the Year: Marshawn Lynch's Beast Mode Playoff Run
This play has two things I enjoy very much in football. One, it has a running back pull off a video game-like run of Tecmo Bo Jackson quality. Two, it has the New Orleans Saints looking embarrassing. Sure, the Seahawks with their losing record had no business whatsoever in a playoff game. But they beat the Saints and give us this so all is forgiven.
Favorite Remake/Re-Release: You Don't Know Jack (THQ/Jellyvision)
I have to admit, as excited as I was to learn that Jellyvision was bringing really the only trivia game I care about (board or video game) I was hoping for it to recapture what I also loved but absolutely expected a let down. Thankfully, the magic was still there. All of the things that made YDKJ stand out, Jellyvision hadn't forgetten. The behind the scenes, backstage vibe from the opening logo sequences and set up where there. The in many ways very clever (and occassionally confusing) mash-up for pop culture and academic questions, still there. Screwing your opponents, still fun and satisfying. It maintains it's completely irreverant to the subject matter and player comedy feel. The game was fairly well supports as consoles games go with DLC questions. It's just fun. It still remains more fun as with others in the room with you than over an onlines service like Steam, Xbox Live or PSN, but it's keeps that fun all the same.
My Favorite Game and Favorite Thing: Portal 2 (Valve)
There was a lot of great games that came out this year and but none I enjoyed more than my experience playing Portal 2. It did a great job of expanding upon the puzzle idea from the first game and was worth it just on evolving the puzzles in way the game did. But the puzzles in themselves weren't what made the orignal Portal, it was GLaDOS in humorous fashion becoming increasingly frustrating and derisive with every test chamber the player conquered and the emergent storytelling in the exploration of the Aperture Science labs that continues in bigger scale in the sequel.
Valve is spendidly gifted at creating characters. The original Portal was already critically lauded for how brilliantly main foil GLaDOS as nearly the sole voice in the game (disembodied most of that time) carried the game. In the sequal, there are plenty of other characters and vocal performances and most of them are fairly brilliant. GLaDos remains one of the best villians in of this generation of games. The defective turrets and personality cores voiced by Nolan North for what they actually are probably have no reason to be anything other than throwaway. Yet the cores have proven as memorable as any of the main characters and one of the defective turrret makes for one of the more genuinely touching moments in a game.
Then there's J.K. Simmon's performance as Cave Johnson, the dead founder of Aperture Science whom is solely experienced through a series of audio recordings that play through the of the facility housing the testing chambers from the early decades of the company. Cave's wreckless disregard for test subjects and employees in the name of science would be more chilling and disturbing if not for his over-the-top personality and the ridiculousness of some of the scenarios. Then there's his infamous Lemons speech which encapsulates his personality in one monolouge. It's equal parts his determination and will as it is is psychosis and meglomania.
Favorite Character: Wheatley, Portal 2 (Valve)
That said, it was the character arc and performance by Stephen Merchant of Wheatley that truly made this game for me. Wheatley, much like the previously mentioned cores and defective turret, could have very easily just been the baffoon comic relief sidekick with little meaninful agency within the story. Instead, Vavle does something few if any other developers (or storytellers in general) would have thought to do with him. The writers completely neuter the established villian and place the hopefully incompetent comic relief with absolute power to explore the somewhat cliche trope of the corruption that comes with power but also the experience of facing as a foe an all-powerful, homicidal idiot.
Favorite Song from a Video Game: "Cara Mia Addio" from Portal 2
The easy answer from Portal 2 would be "Want You Gone," and to be perfectly honest, I had a hard time choosing between the two for this. And this won't be the last time I gush about Portal 2 in this post. I give Valve all the credit in the world for their ability to give character to things one wouldn't execpt to have much. Aside from just being a rather nice rendition of the song, this rather unexpected turret opera becomes one of two very surprising ways Valve transforms a weapon players spend a sizable part of both Portal games trying avoid into endearing if not beloved characters in their universe.