Best of 2018 playlist

2018 was not a banner year for me. But musically it had everything: bangers, sadbangers, and the return of Craig David.

Read the rest...

January 28th, 2019
Blog Entry

Snowman Quest – pre-post-mortem

Over the past few years, I’ve often thought, “I enjoy video games so much – I should make my own!”, in a way that never occurs to me for films or TV shows. A few years ago, I started writing a text adventure called Super Shoplifter, where you had to steal things for some reason, but it got bogged down in the design phase and never made it to anything playable.

This past weekend, I “finished” my first game: Snowman Quest. I started it in January and challenged myself to complete it within a month. It’s a text adventure, made with the Quest text adventure creator, and although there’s still some polish left to add, I learned a lot from the road here.

Putting the fun in last

A huge part of the fun of text adventures lies in the descriptions of the world, and your interactions with the items and characters inside it.

For Snowman Quest, I focused on the game mechanics first: how to push objects to different rooms, how to open, close, turn on, and make other objects require other objects to function. It sounds simple, especially for a text adventure, but just getting the game up and running and “completable” was my most important task.

The core of the game – dressing a snowman – didn’t change much throughout development, but it wasn’t until the mechanics were done that I settled on the main character and overall mood of the game. I think having something playable was a big motivator for me, as well as helping me to avoid getting bogged down in the “nice to have” elements that are so fun to add.

Ideas come thick and fast

I never really understood the term “feature creep” until my ideas list started including things like “take your wellies off or Dad tells you off for walking mud inside the house”. The game takes place in a garden and house, and at points I also considered introducing travel to other areas: ride your bike to the shops, or go to a friend’s house. I realised that each time I added a room or idea, it had to enhance – not simply expand – the player’s experience.

It was very tempting to keep adding and adding these little touches, and my polish list still has quite a few things, but I’ll stick to things that fit within the existing game world.

Anticipation is everything

When you’re playing a great game, there’s often two kinds of actions: what the developer wants you to do, and what the developer expects you to try and has prepared something fun for. It’s the second kind that proved the most fun, especially as realistically I only expected two players, both people I know very well but with totally different experience levels with text adventures.

Knowing how my players’ minds work was my greatest ally when adding extra touches. That might mean nobody else outside my family would try or ever see these things – and in fact, looking back on my notes on the first playthrough, most of the extra actions were never used – but putting them in was a lot of fun on its own.

Some details matter

I spent a lot of time adding in scenery and background detail, to avoid the fun-killing “I can’t see that” or “I don’t know what you mean” responses.

In the first playthrough, I estimate only about 15% of those details were spotted, and those were in the first few minutes. Once my “subject” started amassing items and exploring more rooms, the details seemingly became less important, as there were clear actions to take. So knowing here to put the emphasis on detail was interesting.

Where challenge comes from

The biggest enemy of a text adventure is guessing the right text string to pull off the action that you know is required.

In my game, two items need to be joined together to create a new one. I added a command for “combine x with y” which also included the synonyms “connect x to y” and “add x to y”. But my player kept using “attach”, which wasn’t in my dictionary, so kept getting an error. That led to a lot of avoidable frustration. Next time, I’ll use a thesaurus to add verbs.

The road ahead

There are still things I want to add to Snowman Quest, and improvements based on the above, but I don’t know if I’ll create another text adventure in the foreseeable future. It was a lot of fun, especially the writing aspect, but partway through the project I discovered Pico-8, a so-called “fantasy console” that has sparked my interest. I’ve never done any coding before – Quest uses dropdowns, and although you can code it yourself, for me that resulted in many frequent errors even getting the basic “msg” command to work – but the idea of creating everything myself is very appealing. I’ve contributed music to others’ projects before, and it’s been a long time since I drew a sprite, but I think it’s a good place to start. So watch this space!


January 8th, 2019
Blog Entry

Best of 2018 playlist

2018 was not a banner year for me. But musically it had everything: bangers, sadbangers, and the return of Craig David.

Best of 2018 playlist

Magic – Craig David, from the album The Time is Now
Love the slight chiptune groove to the intro, the chorus is catchy as anything, but it’s the bridge that elevates it into genius:

M for the way you make me feel
A ‘cos you always keep it real
G for the girl that got me good
I C the world the way I should

God bless him for sticking with it when he got stuck on “IC”.

Missing U – Robyn, from the album Honey
Oh Robyn, you magnificent articulate disco elk. Your absence hurt, but now you’re back and this is what we wanted. Production, performance, arrangement, all on point. And it’s fun! But sad. It’s possible to be both.

Atletico (The Only One) – Rae Morris, from the album Someone Out There
Sad songs about regretfully watching other people dance are my very specific niche (Dancing On My Own by Robyn is my most listened-to song ever, remember) and here’s another cracker. Rhythmically wavy, a biscuit tin full of mini-melodies, bittersweet; really good.

I Like That – Janelle Monáe, from the album Dirty Computer
Not the most common favourite from this superb album, but one of Monáe’s best vocals, and the most luscious “ooohs” of the year (previous winners include You Go Down Smooth by Lake Street Dive in 2014).

Remind Me – Emily King, from the album Scenery (out 1st February 2019)
I forgot to add this to the list last year, which is quite an oversight considering I really like Emily King. When the beat comes in around 3:23 it’s great. I’m really excited about her new album and wish I could go see her in concert, but Berlin is too far. Sorry, Emily!

Still Cold – Cleo Sol, from the EP Winter Songs
Here we move away from the up beats and towards the down beats. If this playlist was a year, we’d be in late May, early June now, so it’s hardly lyrically apt but it is a real beauty: delicately orchestrated, sensitively performed,

I Can Change – Lake Street Dive, from the album Free Yourself Up
Down down down, but light still falls down here. Lyrically malleable enough to apply to probably any hardship you’ve had (“Escaping an old battle that clings on like a vine to me, and whispers dirty lies in my ear”). Important to hear at the end – or beginning – of any year.

Rainbow – Kasey Musgraves, from the album Golden Hour
Here’s an album that did not deliver on the hype for me, but you know what? After listening to it a few more times, I started to see the appeal. Here’s another addition to my long-running mental catalogue of “girl with piano” tracks (joining Sara Bareilles, A Fine Frenzy, et al). Recommended way to listen: on a slow train on 2nd January, as the clouds part, feeling you’re leaving a city and a whole year behind.

Roll Back – George FitzGerald, from the album All That Must Be
Filler, this, but good filler. Forms a bit of a bridge to…

PS2 – Litany, from the 4 Track EP
Bit of an abrupt transition between George and Litany, because on the EP this has its own intro track with the artists saying nice things about each other (“I would have crumbled without her”), but we haven’t time for retaining integral emotional presentation here. A purposeful beat, simple evocative childhood memory (“Remember when we met after school, and all my friends were making fun of you?”) and, second-best of all, it’s named after a night spent playing on a PlayStation 2. (Best of all is that Litany are from Harrogate in Yorkshire).

Honey – Robyn, from the album Honey
High on pretty much everyone’s end of year list, I would hope, so should need no justification. All I’ll say is, like all the best songs, getting to know this song felt like falling in love.

Catch up on my past playlists of the year


December 24th, 2018
Blog Entry

Songs of the year

Every year I create a “Best of the year” playlist on Spotify, which usually starts on 30th December with me looking back at my Last.fm scrobbles and trying to remember what I liked in the year. This year I decided to get a bit nerdy with it.

I love a good spreadsheet, and a good statistic, despite the fact that numbers hate me (ask anyone at work: if ever I make a mistake, it always involves numbers!) So rather than just put together an emotive list of what I liked, I wanted to reduce a year of music into stats. For instance: My top 50 most listened-to songs in 2018 accounted for almost 30% of my total listening my scrobbles, but only 12% by duration (I surmise that I listened to the same songs a lot, but they’re not as long as some songs I listened to more rarely.)

All this data is pulled from Last.fm, which is linked to my Spotify account, which my wife and I share. But only a few of the tracks that made it into the top 100 are hers, not mine: this is because I listen to music a lot more.

The top 10

Only two artists made it into the top 10: Lake Street Dive, one of my discoveries of 2014, and this year’s biggest find for me, Rae Morris. Her album Someone Out There came out in February and stuck with me all year, racking up 341 scrobbles, a third more than Lake Street Dive’s latest Free Yourself Up, which launched in April.

The full top 100

Here’s the full table. I pulled data from Last.fm and Spotify, and added a few comments where things occurred to me.

It’s been an interesting year.

  Song nameArtistAlbumScrobblesNotes
1Wait for the RainRae MorrisSomeone Out There42When the drums kick in at 1:19; nice middle-eight ("I don't want no ice, I'm already cold enough now"; the synth outro - textbook pop, and very pleasing too.
2Push Me to My LimitRae MorrisSomeone Out There40First track on the album I started more than any other, in a year that certainly pushed me to my limits.
3Atletico (The Only One)Rae MorrisSomeone Out There36Like track one, this is total pop with more sad disco ("From the back of the room you were holding my glance, I was trying to be cool, but I can't really dance")
4Do ItRae MorrisSomeone Out There32Slightly above 10% drop-off rate from track three to four. The clever bit is punning "do it" with "duet".
5RebornRae MorrisSomeone Out There3220% drop-off from track 1 to two - obviously not my favourite.
6You Are FreeLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up32New challenger! Track 8 on this album. Glorious harmonies on the chorus and outro.
7I Can ChangeLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up30A song for tough times. Happy to say I've listened to it less in the last few weeks.
8Shame, Shame, ShameLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up30More great harmonies: "Change is coming, oh yeah"
9Lower the ToneRae MorrisSomeone Out There29And back to Rae. Extra points for "idly chit-chatting away" as a lyric.
10Physical FormRae MorrisSomeone Out There28By the way - and this is going a bit TOTP2 now - Someone Out There is her second album, after 2014's "Unguarded".
11Rose GardenRae MorrisSomeone Out There28That one didn't grab me though: none of its songs appear in the top 100.
12The Inconsistency PrincipleAbove & BeyondCommon Ground28Change of pace: Above & Beyond are a British trance act - not a genre I like, but ideal distraction music for working.
13Moving OnAnna of the NorthLovers27Starting to get more varied now, isn't it? Anna of the North was on The Guardian's playlist of overlooked artists from 2017. A pleasing find.
14My Own HymnAbove & BeyondCommon Ground27In 2016, Above & Beyond took 70% of my most listened-to songs of the year. Happy to see that's changed.
15Good KisserLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up26A chorus built to belt out. Video is a little disappointing.
16Northern SoulAbove & BeyondCommon Ground26Even though I've scrobbled them so often, I can't remember what any of these Above & Beyond songs sound like.
17Baby Don't Leave Me Alone With My ThoughtsLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up25Despite making up a good proportion of my top 100, the album was a little disappointing.
18Dancing with CharacterRae MorrisSomeone Out There25From an album opener to an album closer. Pretty song, good rhythm, and a video filmed at Blackpool Tower with the singer's nana. 10/10.
19Dip My ToeRae MorrisSomeone Out There25One of the three songs from this album I "Loved" on Last.fm.
20Drown the LoversR I T U A LNo Escape Out of Time25Wild card! Mellow and macabre: just what you need at this time of year.
21Musta Been SomethingLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up25"You said I didn't do anything wrong, but there must have been something I could have done better". I felt that this year.
22Someone Out ThereRae MorrisSomeone Out There25Not the best: bit of a maudlin by-the-numbers piano ballad (and that's from someone whose main genre over the past few years have been "woman with piano pop")
23Finders KeepersMabelIvy to Roses (Mixtape)24Where's Roses? Where is Roses in this top 100? This is good, but Roses is awesome. I'm disappointed.
24Hang OnLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up24I'm going to see Lake Street Dive in April. I saw them once before and they were good.
25HoneyRobynHoney24Robyn's back! This song is amazing. I'm going to see her live next year too.
26Lost ColonySaori KobayashiCrimson Dragon OST24I'm surprised I listened to this - a track from a game I haven't played - more than any other game music track.
27NakedAbove & BeyondCommon Ground24OK I won't make comments on all 100 songs, just the interesting ones.
28No LoveLyvesLike Water24I listened to a lot of Synkro a few years ago, and found Lyves via that route. Also good working music.
29Darkest HourLyvesLike Water23
30DudeLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up23
31Doesn't Even Matter NowLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up22
32SomeoneAnna of the NorthLovers22
33Bang BangJessie JBang Bang21It feels like I've heard this song every single day for this year: it's on a lot of playlists and Daily Mixes. New Year's Resolution: don't listen to it again.
34HistoryKina GrannisIn the Waiting21Kina! Hi Kina. This is a nice album of soothing songs with acoustic guitars, and takes me back to my A Fine Frenzy period.
35Love MyselfHailee SteinfeldLove Myself21Absolute banger, genuine contender for best pop song of the decade, guaranteed to get me dancing every time.
36Red Light KissesLake Street DiveFree Yourself Up21
37The WeatherLyvesLike Water21
38Dancing on My OwnRobynBody Talk, pt 120Absolute banger, actual best pop song of the decade, guaranteed to get me dancing every time.
39LoversAnna of the NorthLovers20
40Come OverMabelIvy to Roses (Mixtape)19
41Is It Love? (1001)Above & BeyondCommon Ground19
42Jessie's GirlRick SpringfieldJessie's Girl19Hannah loves this song - it's on one of my cheesy pop party playlists. "I'm looking in the mirror all the time, wondering what she don't see in me". Poor Rick.
43Missing URobynHoney19Opening track to the album, and sounded exactly right for Robyn's return. But then the title track wins the crown for best song of the year (probably)
44Sahara LoveAbove & BeyondCommon Ground19
45When Will I LearnKina GrannisIn the Waiting19
46BurnsGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be18More good working music. "Roll Back" (further down) is much better; so is the track with Tracy Thorn.
47Ecce valde generous ale (Mark! The Precious Wings)Saori KobayashiResurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga18I was on a real Panzer Dragoon kick at the start of the year, even basically buying an Xbox One to play Panzer Dragoon Orta (which I played twice and haven't gone back to)
48FreeLyvesLike Water18
49FriedaGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be18Surprising that "Roll Back" didn't make it as it's the best song on the album (in at 53, just above track 1 from this album, weirdly)
50Happiness AmplifiedAbove & BeyondCommon Ground18
51In the WaitingKina GrannisIn the Waiting18
52PS2Litany4 Track EP18Litany were a great find this year, and this song mentions "we stayed up all night playing on the PS2", so is automatically better.
53Roll BackGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be18
54Two Moons UnderGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be18
55BedroomLitany4 Track EP17
56BrainBANKSGoddess17A throwback to 2016, when I remember listening to this a lot in San Francisco just before Christmas. Those were different times.
57DracoSaori KobayashiCrimson Dragon OST17
58Noble Rebel ArmySaori KobayashiResurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga17
59Off CenterEmily KingThe Switch17This song's been a constant in my life over the last few years. This year's focus was the intro: "Little flower of summer, once your seasons pass, do you ever wonder, why your petals fall so fast?"
60OutgrownGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be17
61Siren CallsGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be17
62SunriseSaori KobayashiCrimson Dragon OST17
63Tough LoveJessie WareTough Love17
64Why Don't YouCleo SolWinter Songs17EP dropped in 2018 but the song is 2017
65AlwaysAnna of the NorthLovers16
66Children's FestivalSaori KobayashiTerra Magica16
67Cold FeetAbove & BeyondCommon Ground16
68Ex-FactorLauryn HillThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill16One of the greatest songs ever. What a sound.
69LabasaChad ValleyEntirely New Blue16
70MoneyAnna of the NorthLovers16
71PostpartumTaylor McFerrinEarly Riser16I had this on one of my "best of the year" playlists that I go back to every now and again.
72Because It's in the MusicRobynHoney16
73Baby Forgive MeRobynHoney16
74Human BeingRobynHoney16
75A Premonition of BattleSaori KobayashiResurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga15
76Alright NowAbove & BeyondCommon Ground15
77Crazy, Classic, LifeJanelle MonáeDirty Computer15I'm really surprised Janelle Monáe isn't higher up - I felt like I was listening to this album all summer. And this isn't even my favourite song! What an injustice.
78Don't Kill My VibeSigridDon't Kill My Vibe - EP15
79FeelsAnna of the NorthLovers15
80Nobody But YouGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be15
81SkyborneSaori KobayashiCrimson Dragon OST15
82The LichfieldJeremy GarrenCrimson Dragon OST15
83TightropeAbove & BeyondCommon Ground15
84V. 3005Childish Gambinobecause the internet15From another playlist, but always a good one to listen to. I don't know the rest of the album at all.
85Send to Robyn ImmediatelyRobynHoney15
86BabyAnna of the NorthLovers14
87BirdsongKina GrannisIn the Waiting14
88CriminalMiguelWar & Leisure14I actually got into War & Leisure this year after telling myself it wasn't as good as Wildheart. It's not, but it is damn good.
89DawnSaori KobayashiTerra Magica14
90Godawful ThingsLake Street DiveSide Pony14The first track on Lake Street Dive's predecessor to Free Yourself Up. Probably snuck in as I was comparing the two albums.
91Green LightLordeMelodrama14
92Half-Light - Night VersionGeorge FitzgeraldAll That Must Be14
93ILitany4 Track EP14Opening track, mostly talking, not really a song.
94Let's Go CrazyPrincePurple Rain14One of the best songs of all time, opening one of the greatest albums, and a real pleasure. Would be higher if Last.fm could track how many times I listened to the record.
95Make Me Feel Janelle MonáeDirty Computer14Hannah's favourite song off the album, because it's so much like the guy above this.
96MotherSaori KobayashiTerra Magica14
97Mutant Species 1Saori KobayashiResurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga14
98Not That ManChad ValleyEntirely New Blue14
99Real FeelsR I T U A LNo Escape Out of Time14
100Rock BottomHailee SteinfeldHAIZ14How apt! A song called Rock Bottom at the bottom of my top 100! You couldn't make it up (and, for the record, I didn't)

Read more of my posts about music


January 14th, 2018
Blog Entry

Best of 2017 playlist

For the past three years, I’ve put together a short Spotify playlist of some of my favourite tracks of the year. Looking back on those playlists, they tell their own story.

Best of 2014

Kicking off with the most varied playlist, this has everything from soul to rap to big belting ballads. It also shows I made a lot of musical discoveries in 2014; probably the last year I did.

Best of 2015
I struggled a lot with this one, a meagre two tracks on the playlist. Maybe the move to a different job had impacted it, or maybe I was more concerned with making it personal finds and not ‘obvious’ ones.

Looking back at the official charts’ top songs of 2015, maybe it was just a tough year. Standouts on a revised playlist would be Uptown Funk and Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld (a favourite of mine in the years since).

Best of 2016
I made more of an effort this year, with 15 songs on the list, though admittedly I bent my own “must have been released this year” rule by allowing favourite tracks from previous years into the latter half of the playlist.

Best of 2017

Short (only 7 tracks) but managing to cram in everything from road trip pop to low-fi pop and even some R&B pop as well. Totally varied! And only two outdated songs, including 2015’s Off Center by Emily King, which had me falling in love again and again.


May 8th, 2017
Blog Entry

I’m not that creative – but that can change

Until recently I considered myself a creative person: writing, drawing, and making music were all things I was interested in doing. But then a few things happened to make me less sure.

Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I always thought of creativity as a recurring strong desire to express yourself in creative ways. I considered the things I do often – work, games, chores – as distractions preventing me from being creative, which I saw as one of my major identifiers. But take those distractions away and I’m not actually creating more.

This has been a bit of a revelation to me, to be honest. A lot of my identity is tied up in that word “creative”, so if I’m not that, what else am I? It’s like when I told a friend that I like RPGs, then thought about it a bit longer and realised that the last proper RPG I played – with turns-based battles and all that – was probably The World Ends With You about 8 years ago. Before that it was Skies of Arcadia. Not such a big RPG fan after all.

But while I can admit I actually don’t like RPGs that much, it doesn’t mean I’m not playing as many games as I’d like – it just means I’m playing other kinds of games. But there isn’t that balance with creativity: I’m not avoiding writing because I’m producing so much music. I’m just not doing much of either.

That might be unfair, though: when I look at my output this year, I have written more music than I have for the last ten years, and it’s even music that I actually quite like as well. I’m on a decent blogging kick too, and there’s still the usual threat of wanting to write something fictional. Plus a big creative project keeps popping up and threatening to be accomplished.

Reading Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen, I realised that “I’m not creative” actually means “I’m not that productive”. I used to think the two were opposites – creativity is play, while productivity is work – but Belsky equates it differently:

Creativity x organisation = impact

My aim for the coming years is to work more on that middle part – the engine room of execution – to help bring my creative ideas to life. I’ll be documenting some of them here on this blog, and I hope you’ll stick around to read about them.


April 15th, 2017
Blog Entry

About promises

I think most people are smart enough to know that when we promise ourselves that a new product or activity will change our lives, we’re willingly misleading ourselves because we’re in love with the idea that we’re only one purchase away from who we believe we can be.

(More…)


March 19th, 2017
Blog Entry

Ten years of employment

On 30th October 2006, I worked my first day in my first job, a part-time sales assistant role at a games retailer in York. I’d finished my teaching degree earlier that year knowing I wanted to pursue my passions of writing and gaming. I basically took the summer of 2006 off, relaunching the site in WordPress in June 2006 and then publishing all sorts of odd bits and pieces: complaining about Vernon Kay, for instance. I won’t list the rest because it was weird and hardly seems relevant now.

(More…)


February 28th, 2017
Blog Entry

Forget about fresh starts

I’ve made about a dozen posts on this website in the past four and a half years or so. Generally when I do get the itch to write, I get a bit caught up and promise myself I’ll write more. Normally I come back to this site in January or February, romanced by the promise of the upcoming year, then forget about it a few weeks later when something else catches my attention.

The other day I posted about something about cycling home from work, which I’ve had on my mind for the last year or so. Four months before that, I wrote about B*Witched.

So, no more promises. I’ll write what I write, and forget about fresh starts and promises.


February 17th, 2017
Blog Entry

Cycling up that hill

I’ve cycled to work every day for about the last 18 months. It’s about 5km, and takes me around 20 minutes each way. My route takes me past a school, through a forest, and on a few quiet roads. It’s direct and I like it. In the morning it’s mostly downhill, and in winter, the rush of cold air is invigorating.

But every day when I come home, I come to the bottom of a long hill.

And every day a voice in my head says, “If you’re tired, or you can’t do this, it’s OK – you can get off and walk. It’s OK.”

And every day I keep cycling and make it up that hill.

Because my brain is quick to forget what I’ve already accomplished, but my legs remember. I tell the voice that I’ve climbed this hill hundreds of times. Every day it speaks up, and on my weaker days it’s tempting to say, “It’s OK to stop.”

But I keep going.


November 5th, 2016
Blog Entry

Opening Lines: C’est La Vie – B*Witched

Some people say I look like me Dad

As Elvis Costello said in that episode of 30 Rock about Alan Alda getting a kidney, “when someone starts talking in the middle song, you know it’s serious”, but even more serious talking comes at the start. Like this line from B*Witched’s 1998 masterpiece, “C’est La Vie”, such a gloriously bizarre way to start a pop career.

Apparently the band revealed a few years later that this song is actually all about sex, which makes that opening line even more enjoyable, because who doesn’t want to hear identical twins mention a resemblance to their dad?

More Opening Lines

I Run – Embrace
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
Do You… – Miguel


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