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My favorite things from 2023

Sunday, March 10th, 2024
Posted in whatsgood

Each year I eagerly anticipate my friends’ “Best Of” lists, but I rarely contribute my own. Pitiful! So here I am, making amends just a little bit into the new year.

LIES! There’s “a little bit into the new year” and then there’s whatever this is

Fine, you win - this is quite late. Now let’s move on, please.

Scott is doubly bad at time – most of these weren’t released in 2023!

It’s true! I am terrible at keeping up with the zeitgeist so I mostly play catch-up. Instead, these are merely things that I encountered for the first time in 2023.

This format is shamelessly adapted from Noel Rappin. He’s a great writer - do me a favor and go read his blog, then buy his books so he won’t get upset about this flagrant style heist.


Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Summary: Two men struggle with the challenges of friendship in increasingly extreme ways.

I try to be friendly but I have few friends. Friendship is hard for me in many subtle, hard-to-articulate ways. It feels like an extraordinary commitment and significant cost, but also I just feel so bad at it. So I tend to cultivate acquaintances rather than friends.

I thought I was alone with these feelings but Banshees of Inisherin is a study of weirdos like me. It’s a wonderfully told story of two men who were friends and now aren’t. Maybe. Like friendship itself, it’s simple and yet complicated.

It’s directed by and stars the principal players of In Bruges, another of my favorite movies. Banshees of Inisherin holds up to that high standard.

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Summary: Two people learn how to be human. Oh, but one of them is a farting corpse.

Swiss Army Man is perhaps the hardest movie sales pitch ever. There is no way to make it sound appealing. I had it recommended to me at least five times before I finally gave it a shot, and even then it wasn’t totally voluntary.

Don’t be stupid like me. Don’t see “farting corpse” and write this movie off. It’s fun, sweet, and has two incredible performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. THEY EVEN SING ON THE SOUNDTRACK! And they don’t make a big deal about it!

It’s from the Daniels who you may know from Everything Everywhere All at Once, or perhaps from the delightful Turn Down for What video. This is just as good as either of those amazing films.

The Rover (2014)

Summary: Guy Pearce in a grim modern western set in a post-semiapocalyptic Australia.

The Rover is a western stripped bare. You learn little about the characters and less about the setting. What remains is a vivid performance from Guy Pearce, playing an unnamed character in the remote stretches of a desolate Australia. He seethes with quiet rage, a violent man in a violent world.

I especially loved the setting. It’s never made clear what happened to Australia and the movie trusts the audience to be okay with that.

Also, I think I’m the last person to figure this out, but Robert Pattinson is kind of amazing, right? He’s fantastic in this and did yeoman’s work in making Tenet watchable.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)

Summary: A comedic journey of two people wandering through an increasingly surreal night, seeing the many strange ways we’re interconnected.

Every other movie on this list is a short, focused tale that is almost too simple. Not this. I spent the first half-hour of this anime thinking it was a beautiful, well-intentioned mess. An amusement without direction or purpose. Later-era David Lynch if he was inclined to make anime instead of… whatever he’s been doing lately.

However, Night is Short, Walk on Girl then starts to come together by somehow getting stranger. Mysterious trains that run on phantom tracks, a whole segment of raunchy jokes, walking into a random stage performance - the movie gets more unhinged and yet comes together, bringing characters back to show that we’re all stumbling through life with each other’s help.

Okay, I take back what I said about Swiss Army Man - this might be the most difficult movie in this list to pitch.

Lone Star (1996)

Summary: Nominally a mystery, it’s really a tapestry of interconnected stories about life and race in a small Texas town.

Lone Star could easily have been a moralizing tale with one dimensional characters all imparting Very Important Messages. It could have been the 2005 movie Crash but in 1996. It’s too smart for that though, and besides, 1996 already had a different movie called Crash that was an extremely different thing. But I digress.

Chris Cooper delivers a fantastic performance as a small town sheriff investigating what might be a crime and which might be committed by his father when he was sheriff. He’s joined by great supporting performances as side characters repeatedly reveal unexpected depths. The joy is just seeing how deep that goes.

It also probably has the wildest ending of anything on this list.

Everything Else - Movies

(movies I enjoyed but can’t recommend quite as strongly)

  • C’mon C’mon - A sweet story and incredible performance by Joaquin Phoenix.
  • Athena - The first 40 minutes are a single-shot masterpiece of frantic action. Worth watching for that alone.
  • Three Thousand Years of Longing - Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are the romantic pairing I never knew I needed.
  • Let the Bullets Fly - I can’t say I understood every twist and joke in this frantic action comedy, but the direction and acting is good enough that I didn’t care.
  • Prospect - Incredible art direction creates a new scifi aesthetic I’ve never seen before. Have y’all heard about this Pedro Pascal guy? He’s good.
  • Crippled Avengers - A classic Shaw Brothers kung-fu movie. It has some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen.
  • Lars and the Real Girl - I’ve found Ryan Gosling perplexing in every other movie. Now I get it. Ryan, I’m sorry. You’re amazing; I was the problem.

Video Games

Cobalt Core

Summary: A cute, deep deckbuilding game with a clever one-dimensional combat system.

Cobalt Core joins the crowded space of the zillion games framed as “Slay the Spire, but…” Most of these games forget that the genius of Slay the Spire is clear, evocative effects and complexity through combining very simple mechanics. Instead, they just add complex base mechanics and quickly overwhelm me.

Not so with Cobalt Core. The game cleverly models dogfighting as a one-dimensional affair. You control only your ship’s left-to-right position relative to your foe. It’s simple and immediately clear but creates a very interesting mechanical space.

Also, it’s adorable! Each deck is a combination of three different pilots with their own charming animations, lines, and cards. It’s the first game since Slay the Spire that hooks me in similar –but novel– ways.


Summary: Minesweeper but awesome, a game of pure logic without guessing.

Polimines is a simple, inexpensive set of 30 logic puzzles based on Minesweeper. In each puzzle, you must determine which squares are empty and which are filled, based on clues that are increasingly open-ended as the game progresses.

Later puzzles introduce new types of clues, and the magic of the game is in deducing paradoxes and impossibilities from overlapping clues to determine what must be filled.

This is the first game since the masterpiece Hexcells that compares. It’s a great game and a bargain.

Circuit Superstars

Summary: A racing game with adorable graphics and approachable controls that reveals a great deal of depth.

I love racing games but I’m hard to please. I have no patience for simulations - ask me to select tires or think about my car’s aerial dynamics and I’m out. However, most arcade racers are so simple that they can’t maintain my interest.

Circuit Superstars seems made for me then. You can jump straight into the action but there’s still a rich depth to each race. I fell in love after my first endurance race that required me to carefully plan my pit stops and avoid being too rough on my car in-between.

Pit stops! Tire wear and grip issues! It’s easy to look at screenshots and be fooled into thinking this is some slight game. It rewards patience and a light touch though. And for a cheap price, it offers a wealth of cars and races. What a gem.

Shadows of Doubt

Summary: A procedurally-generated, film noir take on Deus Ex.

These lists aren’t ranked and I don’t pick “Best of the Year” in anything. But disregard that: Shadows of Doubt is my game of the year for 2023 and easily the best game I’ve played this decade.

Shadows of Doubt has you play as a private detective in a grimy, randomly generated urban painscape set in a 1980’s gone terribly wrong. You choose your own cases – maybe you specialize in tracking people, finding stolen items, or even “finding” “stolen” items. Perhaps you even get a little rough with people. Oh, and every so often you’ll need to solve a murder of course.

Shadows of Doubt gives you tools and toys but then lets you solve these cases as you see fit. You may start a case with a name; if so, lucky you. Other times you’ll work from as little as an age and handwriting sample. Murders are especially open-ended. I’ve cracked cases on call logs, eye-witness testimonies, and CCTV footage.

It’s an amazing experience but I must warn you it’s very much an Early Access game. I fell through the bottom of the world a few times. Janitors seem to get stuck opening and closing the same doors frequently. Once, I loaded a saved game to find myself in a totally unfamiliar location. The difficulty is wrong, with the game getting progressively easier after your first few hours.

Bad bugs are rare however, and if you’re not afraid of some rough edges then I heartily encourage you to check it out.

Everything Else - Games

(games I enjoyed but can’t recommend quite as strongly)

  • Synthetik - An action roguelike that comes closer than anything else to making me feel like John Wick.
  • Cryptark - Choose your own risks as you scavenge derelict ships. Would be higher in my esteem if only it weren’t so short.
  • Hero’s Hour - A charming take on the strategy classic Heroes of Might and Magic. It’s a bit obtuse which makes finding the right difficulty level a pain.
  • System Shock: Enhanced Edition - If you can come to grips with the funky control scheme, this classic still holds up today.
  • Golftopia - Comes closer than any other game to capturing the magic of SimGolf.
  • Bloody Rally Show - A violent arcade rally racer that’s a clear labor of love.


The History of the Seattle Mariners

Summary: A funny and moving documentary series on YouTube that answers the question “What if Ken Burns loved charts, had a sense of humor, and a budget of about 500 dollars?”

I don’t follow sports and have no particular interest in baseball or Seattle teams. However, I’m a sucker for great stories and moving heroics, especially those found beyond the headlines.

This Youtube series seamlessly alternates between hilarious, random asides told with droll narration and riveting sports stories I never knew of. All of this is done with a new, lo-fi form of documentary filmmaking unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

A still image of a player’s glove gave me goosebumps. How is that possible?!

I know a multi-hour, data-heavy docu-series is a hard sell so I’ll just leave you with this quote from the show’s first few moments:

“This story begins the only way it ever could have begun: with 140 acts of arson.”

Eat that, Ken Burns.

The Diplomat

Summary: West Wing meets Gilmore Girls meets 24, but somehow it comes together.

Any given episode of The Diplomat alternates between comedy, romantic drama, and fast-paced international affairs. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Strong writing and even better performances from Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell make that a very easy pill to swallow.

The Diplomat doesn’t moralize or engage in hero worship like some of its inspirations. While the show touches upon some international affairs with expertise, clean heroic victories are rare in this series.

But it could be half as smart and I still wouldn’t care because it’s such a joy to watch the entire cast bounce off each other. Keri Russell is particularly delightful and it’s great to see her finally get a meaty, worthy project after The Americans wrapped.


Summary: A dramedy about petty revenge escalates into… a thoughtful, introspective and surprisingly relatable show?

Beef’s framing device is a road rage incident that escalates to increasingly unhinged acts of petty revenge. The show is brilliant in many ways, but I particularly loved seeing the complicated, messy lives of these characters (portrayed brilliantly by Stephen Yeun and Ali Wong).

Ultimately Beef is about people who are trapped within their fixed worldviews, and how that influences everything from the role of church in their lives to how they choose a spouse. I felt these characters deeply despite how little their lives resemble my own life at first glance.

Everything Else - TV

(shows I enjoyed but can’t recommend quite as strongly)

  • Succession Season 4 - Does anyone really need my recommendation of the fourth season of this extremely popular show? If you do, here it is: it was very good. I don’t have anything to say about the fantastic writing or cast that hasn’t already been said by the entire rest of the internet.
  • Bachelor in Paradise Season 7 - Mainline Bachelor(ette) gets all the attention but I maintain that Paradise is the better show. S7, despite its wonky hosting situation, is the second-best season of the franchise. The jubilant shout of “BOYS, I GOT DUMPED!” will live on forever in my head.


Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Summary: A two-character, Rashomon-esque novella with fascinating takes on the quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

A road trip with your average scientist from any space opera and a heroine who could have been plucked from any fantasy novel. These two share a language but lack any shared culture, context, or mutual understanding. The adventure itself is fine (candidly, I’ve already forgotten most of it) but the real draw is seeing key events from each character’s wildly different perspective.

Great, fun concept that is perfect for the novella format - doesn’t overstay its welcome at all.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Summary: Simultaneously a thrilling adventure and a deep, thinky scifi tale spanning thousands of years (and light-years).

Let’s get this out of the way. “Sentient spiders.”

I rejected this book so many times because of those two words. It’s not the ick factor – working from my basement requires some level of spider tolerance. I just immediately fall into a unwakeable slumber when a scifi writer goes deep on some truly alien species with a different mode of cognition.

But I liked Elder Race by this same author, so I decided to get over myself and give this a shot.

Once again I was being dumb - this book series is great! It has big ideas about how we choose our tribes and how we have (and haven’t) overcome our evolutionary biases. But also, it’s a rollicking good time full of adventure and conflict and derring-do and wild AI personalities.

Most smart scifi books are boring. Many exciting scifi books are shallow. I really don’t know how Adrian Tchaikovsky managed to be both deep and thrilling with Children of Time.

The third and final book in the series, Children of Memory, was also quite good. It skews more towards “smart” than “exciting” but there’s a few passages that will stick with me forever.

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen

Summary: Did you know that Magellan didn’t actually circumnavigate the world? That’s only, like, the seventh-most interesting fact about his voyage.

I only stumbled into this because of a strangely named achievement in Civilization 6 that I found. Then I read the summary of this voyage and thought “no way, that’s crazy” and needed to learn more.


I loved this book. The author peppers the story with historical context and does a reasonable job of balancing the remarkable achievement of Magellan & his crew against their horrible actions. You can see why some celebrate his accomplishments and others celebrate his final end.

I enjoyed The Wager too but if you’re only going to read one book about naval disasters in the Age of Sail, pick this.

Everything Else - Books

(books I enjoyed but can’t recommend quite as strongly)

  • Mister Mammoth by Matt Kindt - a strange graphic novel about a great detective’s greatest case. Reading it feels like a half-remembered dream.
  • Chaos Terminal by Mur Lafferty - it’s the first scifi murder mystery I’ve read! By definition, that makes it the best even if it takes awhile to get going.
  • House of X / Powers of X by Jonathan Hickman - I don’t often go for comics, but these were terrifically fun time loop stories. You need to make peace with not understanding everything that happens though since this sprawls into approximately 1,400 other comics lines.
  • Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - a cozy little scifi story where nothing much happens. Sometimes that’s what you need.

Everything Else - Everything Else

Random things I enjoyed that don’t fit in anywhere else.

The Initiative (Board Game)

We love puzzles and escape rooms, so this riddle-focused legacy board game was a major hit with us. It’s wild that this simple, focused game is from the same designer as another of my favorites, the sprawling and unwieldy board game Star Wars: Rebellion.

Hey Randy! (Podcast)

This is perhaps my most pointless recommendation since it’s a podcast behind the paywall of a different podcast that it spun out of. There’s no sane person who would bite at that. But you’re missing out - each episode is a hilarious, free-wheeling conversation between improvisers playing unhinged characters and leaning hard into every mistake they make.

What's Good: February 11th, 2023

Saturday, February 11th, 2023
Posted in whatsgood

With no particular order or structure, these are random things I’ve been enjoying lately

Working at Deku Deals

sadly, it's not finders keepers

In case you missed the detail I buried at the tail end of my last update, I’ve been part of the team at Deku Deals for about two weeks now. It’s great! Working with Michael is a joy, and it’s a delight to work on a product I love and use every day. As I get more up to speed I’m sure I’ll have more to say about my experience there.

Escape Academy (Steam)

Couch co-op games used to be a regular feature in the Parker household but no more - too often they demand excessive time, focus, or ability. So Escape Academy is a delightful return to form for my wife and I to play together.

The idea is simple - you and a partner run through increasingly fantastical and expansive escape rooms. The “rooms” are clever without being obscure, the controls are incredibly approachable, and the art style is bright and colorful. It’s perfect for us - we’re obsessed. It’s ideal for sporadic 20-30 minute gaming sessions too.

“Slow Horses” by Mick Herron (the book)

I can be a pop book snob, turning up my nose when a book is extended into a long-running series or adapted into a television show. Slow Horses is both, so I had to hear about this book a stupid number of times to get over myself and read it.

I am obsessed, now anxious that there are only eight books in the series. I have to parcel these out carefully lest I spend too much of my lifetime without another Slough House book to read.

I don’t care about spies and I’ve never been able to finish a Le Carre book (a major character flaw, I know). However, Mick Herron made me forget I don’t like spy novels through his delight in language and his touch with characters. Each chapter revels in a different subset of oddball spies who despise each other and themselves in equal parts. Funny, exciting, and surprisingly relatable.

We cook asparagus all the time. I’ve tried a number of techniques but I always come back to roasting them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Everything else just gets in the way.

So I was recently surprised to love this dish so much. Lemon and shallot I understand, but does asparagus really need cheese? YES – and roasted red peppers and za’atar. Absolutely delicious and something I’d happily serve to company, the highest praise I can give a recipe.

Will it replace simply roasting them, one of the all-time great recipes? I have no idea but it will definitely be in our regular rotation.

“Over the Edge of the World” by Laurence Bergree

I only stumbled into this book about Magellan’s circumnavigation because of a strangely named achievement in Civilization 6 that I achieved by accident. Then I read a brief summary of his expedition and thought “no way, that’s crazy” and had to learn more.

THIS WAS WILD. Five boats set out on this journey; only one makes it, with only about 18 of the 270 original sailors surviving. None of the captains–including Magellan–survived the circumnavigation.

I loved this book. The author peppers the story with historical context and does a reasonable job of balancing the remarkable achievement of Magellan & his crew against their horrible actions. You can see why some celebrate his accomplishments and others celebrate his final end.

One of the better histories I’ve read in awhile.

Everything Else

a few things I’ve recently enjoyed, with caveats

The movie “C’mon C’mon” overstayed its welcome but what great performances from the two leads. I have been sleeping on Joaquin Phoenix – I need to go back and check out what else he’s been up to.

Like most Games Workshop properties, Mordheim: City of the Damned is both deeply interesting and deeply flawed. I love evolving my little haggard war band through the campaign. Tactical encounters have occasionally brilliant details like the risk of bringing your best equipment - enemies will routinely loot your KO’d squadmates if they fall in battle, so caution is warranted.

However, battles are often anticlimactic and poorly designed with an AI that doesn’t know how the game works. I doubt I’ll finish it but I suppose I got my $4 worth?

I finally watched “Top Gun: Maverick” and mostly didn’t get the hype, but it was still worth it for the scene with Val Kilmer. It was inherently dramatic considering the struggle it was for him to even act, but lifted by two fantastic performances. More differently abled folks in movies, please!

Also there was a Danger Zone and they definitely took a highway to it to do Danger Zone stuff, I guess.