A Year in Review 2019

A Year Of Change

In 2018 I set out to revive this project, an ambition to work as a collaboration between friends in bringing our vision of the gaming industry to life across a variety of platforms and media. My element, the written content came to fruition last summer as I begun in earnest to craft content and material based on my attempt at objective reviews of existing purchased media in addition to more subjective opinion based articles on the industry as a whole. At the start of this year I had no clear direction to pursue so opted to use a framing dynamic of completing a game a month from my personal backlog of titles. Whilst I enjoy aspects of the industry and fandom, actually sitting down and playing the games themselves was always a challenge based in part on the time and effort to invest in this hobby. Having a motivation, to craft articles based on these games certainly helped make this a sustainable mechanic to shape my content around. Therein lay my first change, in actually being proactive and consistent in completing games on a regular, monthly basis to actually help shape and give context to the work and articles I created.

The next change came through an ambition to expand my collaborative efforts and actually engage to a greater degree with the writing community, and indeed general wider gaming community beyond my own social circles. With no grand ambitions to expand this endeavour beyond a personal sense of pride in producing and creating content to the best of my ability, there was perhaps a temptation to write and stay within the confines of my own opinions and tribe. To expand myself as a person and writer, I do honestly believe the best content is shaped based on a diverse range of opinions and information, which is to say, staying in the echo chamber of your thoughts is a dangerous and unfulfilling concept I wanted to break away from. As such, I engaged, I worked with others, commenting and having my own work critiqued and judged. Its daunting, when you take your first tentative step in sharing this platform and creating content with others. But I feel, and I hope it’s made my writing more balanced and considerate of all opinions and factors. If you stick rigidly to your opinions and never open up to the possibility of change and growth, I feel the end result is just stale mediocrity.

My last, and biggest change this year came through embracing and attending the convention scene, an aspect of this community I had largely shunned almost entirely based on nothing more than a slight unease to the super dedication of fans and the passion towards their chosen genre. But, I was determined to change that mentality and embrace an aspect of my personality I had somewhat, constrained for a number of years. I had the good fortune and opportunity to attend three conventions over the course of the year as well as a number of exhibitions and shows in the UK ostensibly around digital and gaming culture. It was illuminating and certainly, whilst some what expected both in those attending and the nature of the events, an occasion I will look to follow up on next year when these shows return in 2020. It also gave opportunity to meet a few of my childhood heroes including the legendary William Shatner in July at the London Film and Comic Con. I’d always hoped I would play it cool and suave should I ever meet my celebrity heroes, I’ll readily admit, I was a bit of an awestruck geek on the day. But goes to show, when you step outside your comfort zone, the results can be amazing and life changing.

The Games I Played

Video games, the raison d’etre behind this sites purpose and being, as such the one area I have focused almost entirely upon this year in its various forms and guises. I’ve been fortunate to be able to play and complete a variety of games across an assortment of genres and styles these last twelve months. I set myself a challenge to complete a number of games in my backlog during this year long quest, for the most part a positive experience with highlights including Firewatch, Old Man’s Journey and Detroit Become Human but beyond that enjoying some of the highlights of 2019 such as The Outer Worlds. It’s clarified my position on gaming in general to an extent, enjoying an assortment of open world games in conjunction with short form impact games as an experience. I mentioned this previously, by pursuing and committing to creating these forms of articles it has changed the optic for me to some degree with my enjoyment skewed towards creating content over the actual fun of the games themselves.

Without question, my personal enjoyment has derived from these short form titles, especially the games from Quantic Dream which, despite the more limited nature of the actual gaming mechanics involved were moving in their narrative and structure. I really enjoyed the personal narrative of Beyond Two Souls, Detroit elevated the formula to the next level, two great examples to use when discussing the subject matter to those on the outside. That said, the prevalence on this generation of consoles has been the refinement and continuation of the open world genre of games and certainly I have enjoyed a number of them this year, going back to some such as LA Noire and Sleeping Dogs which were enjoyable in their depiction of their locations and historical periods but equally feeling somewhat despondent at others, Mafia 3 felt like wasted potential and BreakPoint, not so much an evolution of its predecessor but sadly featuring many of the same issues and bugs that were so commonplace in Wildlands. There’s something disappointing in how uniform these distinctive worlds are when experienced so close together.

So we arrive at the defining moment of this year for me in gaming, the pinnacle, the creme de la creme of digital media and a small independent title from Campa Santo studios called Firewatch. Whilst not a title released during the last twelve months it was a game I enjoyed and completed in this time and as such, my personal ‘Game of the Year’. It’s neither the longest or most technical of games to play, the ethos of ‘get good’ that has permeated gaming culture in recent years is a sentiment lost on those who enjoy the idyllic charms and serenity of this title. It neither challenges or stretches your technical prowess and can be completed in short order, so why did it have such a profound impact on me as a gamer? Quite simply it was a mixture of a stunning visual aesthetic and a memorable soundtrack that combined together to create this memorable open world environment so different to any I had experienced up until that point. As a student of art, the pastel tones of the backgrounds were riveting to see when you found yourself transfixed staring at the skyline. It’s a beautiful game, and one I would implore and champion anyone to experience if they haven’t already.

The Films I Watched

Whether it was a lack of engaging films or narratives that didn’t suit or appeal to my personal sensibilities, whilst there were some memorable films released on both the silver and smaller screens this year, certainly few that have moved me to invest myself in them. The unexpected highlight for me in the Marvel franchise was the release of Far From Home, a sort of, end coda to the Avengers saga that had concluded with End Game. Tonally, whilst I enjoyed the finale of that chapter of Earths mightiest heroes, it was a long and disjointed experience in terms of length and pacing, even tonally it jumped between comedy and tragedy in to short a window to make any of the emotional moments feels truly deserving at times. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed to conclude that particular chapter however Far From Home answered that question I didn’t know I had with a mixture of humour and pathos as the events of End Game continued to reverberate through the MCU with the finales impact being felt in the life of Peter Parker. Though it succumbed to the usual tropes present throughout the entirety of the franchise at times, I did appreciate the forlorn nature of the movie, Peter struggling to live with the expectations of his new role following the events of End Game and trying to live up to the responsibilities trusted on him by Tony.

If you enjoy your franchise films, certainly you were spoiled for choice this year with multiple chapters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe released in the first few months, the continuation of the Jumanji and Men in Black series seeing new light. The final chapters in the Star Wars and X-Men series drawing to a close to varying degrees of success and acclaim. If you enjoyed these films, I hope you found some worth, for me, I enjoyed a couple of smaller pictures, Ford vs Ferrari was an interesting take on the biopic genre of films with two good performances from Damon and Bale, being a fan of sci-fi I also enjoyed Ad Astra. The only film I didn’t get around to seeing was the last Rambo movie which certainly looked consistent with the last soft reboot of the series in Rambo but time and opportunity were not afforded to me to see this installment of the Stallone franchise. The streaming services continued to come into their own with the movies being released, first The Irishman is on my to watch list but for me personally, the highlight of the year was the semi-biopic on Netflix of the life of Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite is my name.

I don’t believe it’s that contentious a statement to say I enjoyed a lot of his earlier work, Coming to America is one of my favourite all time comedy films, but in recent years, not so much. It’s a cliched sentiment to use but this does feel like a return to those films of old, there is a very bittersweet earnest portrayal of this real life character who swept through America during that period of time. Fundamentally, it’s a mentality that exists and resonates still with a great deal of society, especially in the age of self publication and publicity, this drive to let the world know we exist. Whether it requires the same level of dedication or drive who can say, but where we all want to be recognised for our creative endeavours, the theme of this movie is as pertinent now as the period it was set in. The film is peppered with these moments of reflection and honesty, the script whilst bring to life the world of Moore is as much an Eddie Murphy vehicle with a level of bitterness and energy beneath the surface shouting to let the world know this great actor can still deliver roles of this quality. It’s a Netflix exclusive, so does require a subscription but if you find yourself able, I do recommend this film to everyone, my personal favourite movie of the year.

The Places I Visited

This year I was fortunate to visit two ‘filming’ locations during my adventures abroad and in the UK. My fondest memory comes from a holiday in Malta and, through a little planning ahead, managing to shape a day exploring the locations used to film some of the external shots of Game of Thrones in its first season. Whilst not an especially unique or distinctive area, without a doubt the highlight was the square where Sean Bean’s character Ned Stark confronted the Lannister forces and found himself stabbed through the leg outside Little Fingers brothel. In reality, a really quiet and recluse little square away from the Mdina gate in the walled city. In a short space of time, about three or four other Game of Thrones fans found the square after we arrived and took the obligatory shots underneath the window ledge and outside the front door of that house of ill repute. If you plan ahead you can usually visit about seven or eight of the filming locations for free in the space of a day or two, Malta and Gozo themselves aren’t large islands if you use public or private transport to get around and it is amazing to stand in the footprints of your heroes (or villains) for just a few moments at least.

Another firm favourite of mine is the movie Hot Fuzz, a loving pastiche of the Hollywood action movie genre from the creative team behind Shaun of the Dead. Filmed almost entirely in the historic market town of Wells in Somerset, a short distance from where my parents now live in Glastonbury, walking along the cobbled stones and old external walls feels very much as if you are in a living film set. So little was changed for the production of the movie you can’t help but feel a little in awe as you walk through the arched gateway on the approach to The Bishops Palace ruins and museum. This required some preparation to scout the various buildings and locations, thankfully a great many of the primary shots are within a very short walking distance of each other, you can be standing in the haunted ruins of the films gathering of the village society one moment and arrive in the main market square with little to no effort. If you get a chance to break away from the allure of Glastonbury for an afternoon then would highly recommend visiting Wells, its a beautiful historic market town in its own right but for fans of this movie, its virtually unchanged and a great way to see so many of the iconic locations of this action film.

Of course, no review of this year could be complete without touching on some of the amazing convention and exhibit experiences I attended in 2019. From my very first Comic Con at London’s Excel centre where I was lucky to meet gaming icon Nolan North, to the London Film and Comic Con and the legendary William Shatner. In September I attended my first gaming convention at EGX which was enjoyable in its own right and something I would like to visit in the future should I be fortunate. Beyond the convention scene, London was host to two remarkable science and comic based exhibitions, first the AI exhibit at the Barbican centre which was a fascinating exhibit around the use of AI in society, its earliest foundations and its current implementation. Secondly, the Manga exhibition was held at the British Museum and was an informative display of historic and contemporary comics and art work from this particular methodology. So many positive memories to look back on this year and shaping the year ahead into the new decade. Will anything top meeting the first captain of the Enterprise? looking forward to finding out.

The People I Worked With

I begun the year with the intention of collaborating and creating content with other writers on this and other platforms. It was the motivation behind starting this very project and something I enjoy doing affording an opportunity to craft and share a difference of opinions in a cordial and open environment. The first of these endeavours was through a series of ‘tagged’ articles, sharing opinions and answering a pre-set array of questions from the writer who had created the particular list. This took the form of the TV tag courtesy of Dee at Princess Deia which was an enjoyable task given my predication towards media on the small screen and secondly the Film Tag courtesy of Michelle at A Geek Girls Guide. If you have some time to spare and lost for inspiration these are two short but fun lists of questions to answer and consider which are enjoyable to contemplate.

Secondly, I took part in two separate projects with the Adventure Rules page, firstly its sick day saviour project, my first such competitive blog post tournament which was a fun open task to answer a set dilemma and how you might accurately reflect the strengths of your character in this circumstance. For me, the hero of Mass Effect and the original scenario of finding them with the prospect of losing the one they loved to a viral infection. The next collaboration was part of the ongoing open and honest challenge, each having the opportunity to pose a question to the other with the only preset being, the answer had to be open and honest in the spirit of the challenge. For each of us, a variation of the topic of preference towards depiction of contentious issues in gaming or wider media and tackling these directly or through metaphor.

The Thoughts I Had

Another aspect of this page I was eager to expand upon going into the year was a few opinion pieces, thoughts on the current state of gaming media and the industry from my own small perspective. Whilst there is a certain satisfaction derived from the more objective product reviews, equally I do feel able to offer somewhat of a concise stated opinion on the current state of the market and its general direction. These have, upon my best endeavours, attempted to steer a somewhat cenrist course through the contentious and challenging issues that are present in the games industry and society in general. I’m fully aware some who read my content may find me to conservative or equally, to liberal in my how I craft and shape my content, to them, and anyone who feels I should swear fealty to one persuasion, I say no. Discussion and discourse from my perspective is at its best when its balanced and fair, writing and communicating in a virtual or real echo chamber serves no purpose in that it reinforces your own viewpoints without the objective challenge of an alternate perspective. If your opinion cannot stand scrutiny or challenge, it’s probably not a very good opinion to have. For my first article of the year I attempted to look at the importance of writing from a middle ground perspective.

Certain issues have grown in prominence and importance over recent months, racial representation was one area I looked at having recently finished Mafia 3 and how it was lauded as a pioneering title in this area. Equally, another area I intend to explore in some more detail is the ‘cancel culture’ mentality, particularly but not confined to, the so called ‘left’ in both the UK and US media industry and the impact this has on freedom of speech on both sides of the Atlantic. A spoiler for the year ahead. My strength through academic study and profession is in finance and banking, it was enjoyable to dip my toe a little into wealth and financial representation in gaming earlier in the year and an area I may return to in due course. It’s a challenge to avoid arguing or opinionating from a position of moral authority, that I should have some divine right or dominance on a subject matter because of my particular circumstance. It lends credence to a particular narrative but certainly should never be used, or equally stated to reinforce your opinion. It is just that, an opinion and should be open to scrutiny and debate.

What The Future Holds…

That was 2019, a fairly substantive twelve months with some amazing firsts and experiences to look back and reflect on going into the new year. So as we enter 2020 and the third decade of this millenium, what does the future hold for Around The Bonfire? quite simply an ambitious series of projects and challenges to see through and build this platform on. First of all, bringing back one of my most successful and well received projects as I look to return to Paris for the first time in two or three years and Go on Tour with Assassin’s Creed Unity in the French capital. It still amazes me a series of articles I finished over a year ago continues to be my most searched for and viewed pieces of writing, especially for a game that was widely viewed as being somewhat of a death knell for the series until its relaunch with Origins. If you enjoyed the series on Syndicate, with good fortune and circumstance I should be on course to completing a similar endeavour with Unity. In a similar vein, with the launch of Watch Dogs Legion on the horizon and its near future London setting, this will be an ideal title at launch to break down its representation of the capital. So, two long form projects from Ubisoft to keep me entertained.

I have the beginnings of a kernel of a video project to bring to life, this will of course require a great deal of dedication and work to go from imagination to reality but the direction of this channel may soon include designed video content. Which is to say I have no intention of streaming but crafting something original is of interest to me. So stay tuned, more to be revealed in the new year. Speaking of recorded material, I had given musings to creating video and audio based product reviews and embedding these into the articles if possible through hosting on YouTube. I tested this concept a year or two ago with a minute long video on Dragon Age Inquisition which could work with narration. I have a great many art books still to review and games to finish, certainly the new year has a great deal of content planned for release. And of course, the prospect of attending conventions in 2020 with some of the original creators of this channel in London is an exciting prospect. More merchandise awaits.

Lastly, my intention is to push further into collaborative work, I do really enjoy this aspect of writing and working with others and do genuinely feel the success of this form of media comes through working and elevating each others work into the public domain as opposed to scrapping and climbing over each other to reach the pinnacle, whatever that may be. Whether I would continue to run this page as a solo project or work entirely with others is an open question to ponder. Either way, my greatest enjoyment this year has been the collaborative work and something I intend to focus on in the year ahead. I hope you have enjoyed the content from Around the Bonfire in 2019, it’s been a pleasure to work with each and every one of you this year. The comments and feedback, the interactions and collaborations are what make this community so fantastic to be a part of. Let’s move forward into the new decade.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog please ‘like’ the Around The Bonfire Facebook page and contribute your own stories and comments, and share my blog and Facebook posts (this is really important – it’s how we reach more readers!). Alternatively join us in the Twitter Universe  for a take on the latest gaming news or Instagram for a wealth of gaming pictures and stories.

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