2016 was a year of remarkable changes, in every sense of the word. My wife and I started new jobs in completely different fields from our previous positions. We closed the books on several long-term creative endeavors, replacing them with new and exciting projects. We celebrated new lives born, long-time couples wed, and positive efforts coming to fruition. We lamented the loss of family, the distancing of companions, and chaotic developments in the world at large.
Through all of the tumult and clamor from my recollections of the last 365 days, I make a point to reflect on the amazing moments from 2016.
I began the year with a very musical journey to MAGFest, where I met some of my favorite composers and podcasters, while sampling all sorts of great new video game music.
Spring and summer were both highlighted by successful charity marathons with the U-Pick Crew. Between the World Water Day Game-A-Thon and UPickVG5, we raised over $14,000, which means over 460 people will now have clean water for life thanks to the renewable efforts of charity:water. Plus, we were featured on the Twitch front page, which is both exciting and embarrassing, thanks to my lack of skill at Banjo-Kazooie.
The transition from autumn into winter saw the release of the second issue of my gaming zine, Component. I am so happy to have worked with such talented creators to produce a collection of writing and artwork on the subject of role-playing games. Issue Two turned out better than I could have planned, and I hope you will check it out.
I would be remiss in overlooking the launch of Digital Draughts as a success of 2016. Starting as a minor column from my old blog, this fantastic project has spun off into a delightful celebration of craft beer and video games.
Between these two beloved hobbies, I have enjoyed my fair share of new titles and brews, with a final count of 43 novel games and 147 fresh beers sampled through 2016. Among this multitude of new experiences, I have highlighted a handful of beers and video games that I would consider exemplary.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
The announcement of a fourth game in the Uncharted series is what first set Laura and I down the path to invest in a PlayStation 4. Originally, we assumed Uncharted 4 would serve as yet another installment in the story of Nathan Drake; an adequate follow up to one of our most beloved video game series. We did not expect Uncharted 4 to defy the typical story tropes of triple-A gaming, becoming our favorite entry in the series.
As mentioned in my paring article for Uncharted 4, what starts as a narrative about a treasure hunter coming out of retirement transforms into a very heartfelt and engaging story about family; both biological and marital. Mechanically, the game is far from perfect, featuring obnoxious gated battles and vehicles that control like a drunk walrus. Despite these setbacks, Uncharted 4 tells an earnest story with fantastic action gameplay sequences.
On occasion, impulse purchases turn out to be wise investments. On the last week of 2016, I bought Unravel at 1/4 its original cost during a flash sale. I had been previously interested in the game, mainly due to its adorable protagonist bearing a striking resemblance to one of my favorite comedy bits from the year 2000. Thanks to a bittersweet narrative and excellent mechanics, Unravel turned out to be a late-game entry for Preferred Title of 2016™.
As I made my way through the GORGEOUS world of Unravel, the actions of my avatar felt so fluid, which coupled nicely with the environmental puzzles presented throughout. Topped off with an engaging tale on the memories of a life, Unravel proved to be exactly what I want from a smaller studio title: striking visuals, a story that encourages personal reflection, and a gameplay loop that does not hold the player’s hand.
During a recent gaming session, I accompanied my brother in starting a new character in Destiny. As he scoured the wastes of Old Russia for an interstellar ship, I used knowledge from my prior experiences in the game world to bestow a mighty rocket launcher ahead of schedule to my eldest sibling. In the missions that followed, he used this advancement to take out challenges well beyond his skill range, effectively cheating the system and enjoying the game even further.
Such is the delight found in traversing a video game with friends: discovering shortcuts that allow you to set off massive explosions in a beautiful virtual space.
Over the course of 2016, Destiny provided the greatest resource I could hope for in video games: the joy of a shared experience with friends. As each of my loved ones relocated to new territories in the real world, Destiny provided us the means to explore a fantastic universe as a unit. I spent so many hours of 2016 taking to orbit in increasingly ridiculous spaceships with my best friends, and I look forward to doing the same in 2017 (now that my brother has invested in our mutual obsession).
In my hierarchy of alcoholic beverages, the rankings typically read beer, then spirits, followed by wine. So when a beer leans into the sipping territory of a fine bourbon, I tend to take notice of such endeavors.
For Backwoods Bastard, Founders Brewing put their Scotch ale (Dirty Bastard) in bourbon barrels for over a year to produce a unique beer. This barrel-aged beauty showcases an amber color with a garnet-red tint and a fizzy brown head. The nose is intense, with odors of a fine scotch and mince pie (think cinnamon and figs). The taste leads with a syrupy smooth start of salted caramel, giving way to spicy notes of dried fruit, climaxing with a gingerbread finish.
Love of the Damned
Over the course of 2016, I only visited a single brewery: the Adroit Theory Brewing Company. At their heavy metal halls, I indulged in an American style Old Ale brewed with Port grape must. Honey colored with an amber hue. Strong nose of ripe figs and grape candy. A cooling ruby port start leads into a tart dried fruit and rich pound cake body with a toffee finish. It was delicious.
When I first indulged in alcoholic beverages, I only ingested the sweetest of spirits. Mudslides, mojitos, and daiquiris were my preferred concoctions. Nearly a decade ago, I didn’t even like drinking beer.
While this startling revelation may upset some readers, keep in mind that the craft beer revolution had yet to occur when I started drinking at the ripe old age of 22 (especially in the rural setting of my hometown). The only options during my wild college years were domestic beers of increasingly diminishing returns. So when a craft brewery releases a beer that honors homebrew tradition and presents a flavor reminiscent of decadent cocktails, I am all for it.
Xocoveza offers a dark and creamy pour, with a frothy head that calls to mind a caffè mocha. Even at pouring distance, a cinnamon aroma permeates the air. A closer smell only intensifies the cinnamon nose, along with a rich cocoa and vanilla odor. The first taste is very similar to Mexican hot chocolate; dark cocoa and cinnamon with a hint of pepper spiciness. As the smooth stout goes down, coffee and nutmeg take over, leading to a malty finish.
Stone Brewery continues to surprise me with delicious beers that do not lean towards the excessively hoppy nature of their brewing history. I can easily mark Xocoveza as my beer of 2016, and I look forward to enjoying this delicious brew for years to come.
Bloodborne is everything I wanted in a new Castlevania game without the beloved title (or music): rewarding challenge, intoxicating narrative, and spookiness galore.
Numero Uno should replace all domestic lagers as the go-to for sessionable and refreshing brews during warm weather.
Kirby: Planet Robobot proves that a time-tested Nintendo property can still bring innovation to the table without losing sight of what makes a game fun.
Mocha IPA redefines everything I want from a double IPA: a resinous hop start with a creamy milk coffee body, finishing with a citrus and chocolate combo that is out of this world.
Inside is an existential horror story ideally realized as a video game.
The startling and satisfying feeling of diving into a pool on a hot summer day is reflected in the taste of a SeaQuench Ale.
When struck with a craving to play the original Legend of Zelda, Fairune scratched that itch with a novel experience.
Death By Coconut is a Mounds bar in a glass: dark, sweet, and decadent.