Blimey, another year’s nearly gone

As ever, magazines are doing their review of the year thing and I feel inspired to follow suit. Rather than a “what a year that was, eh?” thing, though, here’s a quick list of things I’ve really liked or been let down by this year.

Books: Mr Biffo, David Quantick and Charlie Brooker made me laugh so hard I probably damaged internal organs, and judging by the way Mrs Bigmouth has been laughing like a drain “Mommies Who Drink” is a hoot too. As always I read about 200,000 crime novels, of which the latest Ian Rankin was the most reliably entertaining, and I loved Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace. Although by “loved” I really mean “was utterly freaked out by”. Which also applies to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Music: Obligatory Radiohead joy aside (Reckoner is jaw-dropping), the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration was wonderful despite my hatred of Robert Plant’s voice and my loathing of music that sounds vaguely country. I bought all the Talk Talk records I’d already bought several times already, rediscovered the joys of The Big Dish, was let down by a rather anodyne Sugababes album (what a great first single, though!), discovered Regina Spector about a decade after everybody else and danced very badly to pretty much everything Timbaland has had a hand in this year.

Springsteen’s Magic was an unexpected old-school delight, Mark Ronson’s version of Valerie is one of the most joyous things I’ve heard for ages, Girls Aloud’s Tangled Up was worth buying for Call The Shots alone, and the reissued Joshua Tree reminded me why I used to really love U2.

Tech: Both Vista and Leopard fell into the “glad I have ’em, could live without ’em” category, DRM didn’t quite die – although the signs are encouraging – and I had to eat my words about the iPhone, which I thought would be a pile of crap but which I – rather shame-facedly – love dearly despite the lack of 3G. I was also wrong about the Apple TV, which I was very excited about pre-release: it seems as if Apple lost interest in it by the time it actually came out, and it’s become a technological footnote rather than anything more exciting.

FARK, Flickr and PopJustice remained brilliant, Facebook walks the line between fun and being really, really annoying, Newsgator/NetNewsWire/iPhone Integration is better than sliced bread and Logic Pro is God’s own music software. Of the big stuff, the scariest stuff happened (and will continue to happen) in the world of privacy.

Games: Halo 3, too short. Timeshift, predictable but fun enough. Bioshock, flawed but great. Still sod-all decent stuff for the Wii. Orange Box is great value for money, but Half-Life 2 Episode 2 frequently feels like Space Invaders (the antlions in the tunnels, the striders attacking). And not in a good way. Crackdown was a hoot and is well worth tracking down second-hand on eBay. On the PC I loved the Minerva mods for Half-Life 2, but the much-hyped STALKER bored me to tears when it wasn’t crashing.

A major annoyance for me was the increasing focus on online gaming, which means the single player bit of any console game can be completed in about six hours by an inept gamer like me. That probably translates as three seconds for anybody that’s any good. At 40-odd-quid per game, that’s hardly value for money.

The interesting/depressing thing about gaming this year was its increasing resemblance to the film industry: blockbuster-driven with months and months of hype and overly excited previews, with reviewers being outflanked so their words don’t appear in print or online until a terrible game’s hit the top of the charts. Never mind the quality, just look at the first-week sales. A lot of very bad games made a great deal of money this year.

Also depressing was the repeat of last year’s Wii bundle bastardy, where retailers took advantage of Nintendo’s inability to make enough consoles by forcing desperate punters to buy big bundles of crap. They’re doing it again this year.

On a happier note, Eurogamer’s featuring some excellent games writing and the new Rock, Paper, Shotgun blog has quickly become a favourite bookmark.

Magazines that I don’t write for: EDGE and The Word were ace as ever, although the latter is teetering on the very edge of the abyss where Uncut and Mojo live. Empire seems to have found its mojo again, Q’s better than before – less list-y, with proper writing again – although I’m now old enough not to care about 99% of the music it covers, and Car magazine remains a work of art with superb writing to boot.

What about you, ladies and gentlemen?

30 thoughts on “Blimey, another year’s nearly gone

  1. Squander Two says:

    > Books: Mr Biffo, David Quantick and Charlie Brooker made me laugh so hard I probably damaged internal organs

    You forgot Hurricane Punch! Or maybe you didn’t like it so much. I thought it was Dorsey on top form.

    Currently reading The Book of Dave by Will Self, but I’m going to stop, because it’s second-rate.

    Music: Snow Patrol playing Bangor. I know you hate them, but I don’t, and besides, a big stadium-type gig in Bangor was totally unexpected and weird and excellent.

    Tech: Got me new Macbook. Lovely. And the Nokia E90. Astounding.

    > Nintendo’s inability to make enough consoles

    I don’t get this. They’re advertising heavily on TV, which ain’t cheap. But they’re advertising a product that is not available for sale. Isn’t that a bit of a waste of money? Why not channel that same money into upping production?

  2. McGazz says:

    All the music I enjoyed this year seems to have come out in 2006. Which obviously means I’m a bit slow on the uptake these days. Ask me this time next year ;-)

  3. mupwangle says:

    Books: Surprisingly few. I usually read a lot but I’ve been going to bed early instead of reading a scary amount this year.

    Music: There’s been quite a lot of singles that I’ve liked and very few albums. Mainly pop. Favourites – Call the Shots-Girls Aloud; We Are The Pipettes (Album) – The Pipettes; Tired Eyes – Scars On 45; All I Need – Radiohead

    >>Timbaland

    Why does everything he does have to have someone shouting “Yeah!” from a bucket at the bottom of a well?

    Tech: I hate Vista less than I thought I would. Bit of necessary evil from a work POV. Leopard is a bit meh, especially as I can’t get stuff like parallels to work any more. I felt the same about the iphone until I used one and now it is my favourite thing, like, ever. Shame that jailbreaking it makes it so unstable as additional apps make it as funtional as a WM device. Having iTunes on a phone is dangerous though. Down on LCD TVs since my 18 month LG has failed. Will now only buy a TV from John Lewis as they give free 5 year guarantees. Still loving Nikon but need to stop wanting more kit. (Anyone wishing to give me a free D300 is welcome, however)

    Can’t get into social networking sites at all. Maybe I’m just anti-social. Logic is really clever software but I really suck at it. And also since Leopard I haven’t been able to get it to work again.

    Games: Halo 3, too short and a bit boring. Bioshock, good, pretty but pointless once you realise that dying doesn’t hurt. It’s a bit like playing in God mode. PGR4 – better than the demo but the motorbikes suck. Crackdown – great fun. Mass Effect – Very big, a bit repetitive. Very like KOTOR. Resident Wiivil – Couldn’t get into it. Nowt else came out on the wii.

    I couldn’t be arsed with the online thing this year either.

    >>> Nintendo’s inability to make enough consoles

    >>I don’t get this. They’re advertising heavily on TV, which ain’t cheap. But they’re advertising a product that is not available for sale. Isn’t that a bit of a waste of money? Why not channel that same money into upping production?

    Did nintendo not just announce that this had occurred to them too? Dropping wii adverts for DS adverts.

  4. Squander Two says:

    This year, I discovered the joy of organising a children’s birthday party. Lots of work, great fun, completely knackering. It lasts an entire day, then they leave and you look at the clock and realise that it actually only lasted an hour and a half. Blimey.

    TV: In The Night Garden is one of the greatest TV programs ever made, for children or adults. Completely bonkers. My favourite is Macca Pacca. For those of you who’ve not seen it, it’s aimed at babies and toddlers and is made by the same people as Teletubbies, who have clearly got tired of doing staid old boring monochrome conservative things and decided to make something weird. It also has excellent music.

  5. Gary says:

    Why does everything he does have to have someone shouting “Yeah!” from a bucket at the bottom of a well?

    It’s Justin Timberlake, begging to be released from the dungeon Timbaland keeps him in.

    You forgot Hurricane Punch!

    You’re right, I did. Oops.

    All the music I enjoyed this year seems to have come out in 2006.

    I got the point of No Music Day for the first time this year: there’s too much stuff, so let’s have a break from it. My “stuff to listen to” playlist is about a year long already, and that’s just the stuff I really want to listen to.

    I hate Vista less than I thought I would. Bit of necessary evil from a work POV. Leopard is a bit meh,

    I like them both, but I don’t feel that my life would be in any way different if I didn’t have them.

    [Logic] And also since Leopard I haven’t been able to get it to work again.

    Might be worth a reinstall. It’s been happy enough on my machine – even the ageing Powerbook.

    Can’t get into social networking sites at all.

    For getting stuff to groups of people they’re great, but the time-wasting side of it is overpowering sometimes. Particularly when you email someone and don’t get a reply, but do get a Friendship Beer via Facebook or a magic space bear or whatever. Spam’s becoming an issue too.

    Did nintendo not just announce that this had occurred to them too? Dropping wii adverts for DS adverts.

    Yep, shutting the stable door…

    TRUFACT: in an off-air bit of the Macaulay & Co thing on Monday, I suggested to Fred – who’s currently searching for a Wii – that I’d be willing to trade my Wii for a week’s night-time babysitting. He was seriously considering it.

    In The Night Garden is one of the greatest TV programs ever made

    I really need to start watching that. Does it calm angry babies?

    Will now only buy a TV from John Lewis

    Maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but I love john lewis. Apple kit for the same price as the Apple Store but double the warranty? Yes please.

  6. Squander Two says:

    > Does it calm angry babies?

    Famous for it. Not sure if Sophie’s old enough to notice TV yet, but might be worth a try. I think it’s on at 6:20 on CBeebies.

  7. Stephen says:

    I loved Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; I know it’s not that recent, but what can I say, I missed it first time around for some reason. Read everything that Terry Pratchett published this year. Got a 20″ iMac that I love, but still pre-Leopard. Got an iPod Nano from the 5th Avenue Apple Store in NYC, I really love it. I thought I would just take it jogging but I’ve been using it as my main iPod, it’s so cute, and I even loaded a DVD onto it and watched it on the train. Played with iPhone but yet to buy, probably because of my BlackBerry Pearl from work. (Strangely the opposite to you: I’ve been certain I would buy iPhone as soon as it became available from the moment it was announced.) Main TV has been Battlestar Galactica and CSI so no change there. Agree about Facebook.

  8. Mupwangle says:

    as it developed, battlestar galactica got worse. The action stuff was phenomenal but the politics bits sucked. As they list funding they concentrated on the cheaper one to film. (also why you see less cgi cylons) I really dont care anymore. heroes is better.

  9. Gary says:

    I started watching Galactica, but lost interest after a few episodes. Dunno about the TV version but on DVD, the beginnings had a very annoying habit of showing the key events of the episode you were about to watch.

  10. Squander Two says:

    > Dunno about the TV version but on DVD, the beginnings had a very annoying habit of showing the key events of the episode you were about to watch.

    Oh, I just shut my eyes during that bit. I’m completely hooked.

    > heroes is better.

    Heroes is so utterly dreadful it’s embarassing.

  11. Alex says:

    Battlestar Galactica has been amazing. Can’t wait for season 3, and ‘Razor’ should please anyone who wanted to see more space battles.

  12. Alex says:

    Oh, and Zelda is a tremendous game on the Wii, 50+ hours of play in and I’m only just reaching the end.

  13. Stephen says:

    Yeah, I couldn’t really get into Heroes. BG is pretty amazing. The political stuff is interesting, I was afraid it would degenerate into a one-sided diatribe, but it’s surprisingly subtle for the most part.

    Oh, and Seal’s new album System is pretty darn good.

  14. mupwangle says:

    >>TRUFACT: in an off-air bit of the Macaulay & Co thing on Monday, I suggested to Fred – who’s currently searching for a Wii …

    I don’t get the problem with getting hold of Wii’s. I bought one in launch week from a GAME store. I got you one from Amazon and just looking at Amazon now, I can get one for £215, including a current decent game (Super Paper Mario). Pretty much every time I look there is one for sale somewhere.

  15. mupwangle says:

    >>Also depressing was the repeat of last year’s Wii bundle bastardy,

    Bundling is mean. There are some bastards who are worse though. Simplygames.com are offering the Wii for £270 with precisely fuck-all extra. If this was martial law (not the TV program with the chubby karate guy) they’d be shot. (Possibly on the TV program too)

    Did I mention that my 360 is about to die? Serious DVD issues. 2nd one in 2 years. :-(

  16. Norman Lamont says:

    Hi Gary

    What’s the ‘abyss’ that Mojo and Uncut are in? I enjoy Word, but have felt that something’s gone off the boil in the last couple of issues, but can’t put my finger on it. What do you think?

  17. Gary says:

    I dunno, to me it’s as if they’ve basically decided to hermetically seal themselves off from the modern world. I know they haven’t – they do review things, after all – but feature-wise it’s all a bit dull, worthy and cosy. Syd Barrett, again. The Beatles, again. The Clash, again. The Word’s got a lot more personality, but it’s been wandering close to Uncut territory of late, I think.

  18. Kyle MacRae says:

    So I’ve given the “wonderful” Plant/Krauss collab a second listen and it’s still not doing it for me. I share your distaste for Plant (always preferred Geddy Lee when it came to ultra-soprano rock posturing) but love Alison Krauss and indeed all things Bluegrass. it’s not country enough for me. But I just can’t and never will get over the way RP sings the worst rhyming couplet is the history of popular music:

    Now Im a happy feller
    Cos I’m married to the fortune teller

    Urgh. If I’d paid for this shit, I’d demand a refund.

    (Bought an N95, btw)

  19. mupwangle says:

    >>Bought an N95, btw

    Just had a conversation with a couple of folks who both had an N95 and reckoned that it is a great phone, except the battery doesn’t last long enough to use it. One had sent a fair number of texts and the other had barely used it since they charged it yesterday. Both didn’t believe me that I hadn’t charged my iphone since thursday (75% charge – several phone calls, multiple SMS and a fair bit of GPRS and Wi-fi web surfing)

    I love my iphone, but I am still recommending that people wait till the summer. A 3g iphone will be released, and the software will be 2.0 and there will be 3rd party stuff available. Someone at work reckoned that there was no real difference between the WM interface and the iphone. If that were true then I really wouldn’t have bought one.

  20. Squander Two says:

    3G does eat through batteries. My olf Nokia 9500 Communicator was only 2.5G, and the battery is incredible: even now, three years old, the thing lasts for days between charges, with plenty of calls and wi-fi use and with its great big screen. I seriously doubt that Nokia have decided to give their newer phones worse batteries, so I assume that the reaosn the E90 doesn’t come close to that is the 3G capabilities. In which case, Apple are going to have the same problem.

  21. mupwangle says:

    >>In which case, Apple are going to have the same problem.

    That’s what Jobs said when asked why it wasn’t 3g. He said they wouldn’t go 3g until either the batteries could cope with the drain or a lower powered chipset was made.

  22. Stephen says:

    Saw something on Daring Fireball which suggested EDGE is not much slower than 3G. When I was in the US my BlackBerry was on EDGE the whole time (it was a nervous wreck, ha ha!) and it certainly seemed very quick, web browsing was nothing like the slow painfulness here in the UK (where Vodafone have no EDGE to speak of) so I sort of agree.

    The main reason I was thinking of waiting for the summer was to get more memory, I just thought 8Gb wasn’t enough. But I’ve surprised myself with my 4Gb nano. I thought I would just use it for jogging, but after putting my favourite music onto it, and a movie (movies only take up about half a gig if you rip them at the resolution of the iPod screen), it’s not completely full, and I use it as my main iPod. So maybe 8Gb would be plenty…

  23. mupwangle says:

    >>Saw something on Daring Fireball which suggested EDGE is not much slower than 3G.

    Other than the latency issues with EDGE, it is pretty close to basic 3g. Somewhere around the 250kbps range, if I remember correctly. However, the new 3g handsets are capable of HSDPA and EVDO which have theoretical maximums in excess of 10Mbps. My iphone is as quick (if not quicker) than my old SE K800i, which was 3g, but it is much slower than the 3g N95 due to HSDPA.

    EDGE coverage is (oddly) very good where I live, but 3g access is much better generally. I’d still wait till next year, if I were you. You’d get 3g and probably 16Gb+ as well as a more mature OS.

  24. Gary says:

    The problem is that EDGE is largely imaginary. From here (a few miles north of Glasgow) to the Clyde Tunnel it’s non-existent; it’s very patchy in central Glasgow; and on a trip down south the other day there was patchy coverage in Bristol Airport, a wee bit in Bristol, and bugger-all in most of Bath. You might as well compare 3G with a magic horse.

  25. Stephen says:

    Yes, well, I imagine that those of you who insist on living in the sticks have to do without all sorts of modern conveniences that us Londoners take for granted… ;-)

  26. mupwangle says:

    >>without all sorts of modern conveniences that us Londoners take for granted…

    Such as breathable air and water in summer. ;-D

  27. Squander Two says:

    Funnily enough, I bumped into yet another ex-Londoner the other day. He was thrilled to be living in Norn Irn instead. Obviously. Funny how you never meet any who miss the bloody place.

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