My Exclusive Quarantine Xmas Party

You don't need me to tell you how 2020 turned out. I'm a tad concerned about what still could happen in these last two weeks. Regardless, I'm feeling optimistic and want to put all my negative feelings aside over the holiday season. Sadly all my usual plans have been canceled. Of course I want to see friends and family. It would be selfish and downright stupid now. I'm not going to waste 9 months of following the rules by slipping up now when we are so close to this being over. Compared to the sacrifices all our grandparents made this is nothing. Missing one year of revelry is a very small request.

Instead I will be holding a very exclusive quarantine holiday celebration. The good news is you are invited even if it's just virtually. Go ahead and pour a drink, you're not driving anywhere. There's a good chance I'm enjoying a holiday ale right now as you read this.

I'm not religious but I enjoy holiday decorations, perhaps a bit too much. Decorating evergreens and giving gifts this time of year aren't of Christian origin anyway. These customs are free for all to enjoy. I'm fortunate to be married to someone who enjoys this season just as much. This time of year our home looks like something out of a direct-to-TV movie starring a child actor from an early 1990s sitcom. Over the decades together we've accumulated quite a hoard of xmas ornaments. As of this year we have a main family tree and 4 smaller theme trees.

The largest of these is my wife's Star Wars tree. She chronicles it each year on her Instagram page. I can't see anything there because I don't have an account (I can see her & the tree in person obviously) but I understand there are indeed photos of it there. The next largest is my tree of general nerdiness. It started off quite small due to lack of ornaments. In recent years some companies discovered they can make money selling nerdy ornaments and my tree has grown to a full 6ft.

My nerd tree is mostly video game themed but other eclectic things can be found on it. Let's begin our celebration with an old-fashioned tree viewing.


Pac Man ornament

This was the start of the tree, although I didn't know it at the time. This was released all the way back in 2008 with Galaga following in 2009. Then it was 10 years before the series restarted. In that timespan this was on the main family tree. Now it's something of the founding ornament for this theme tree.

Mario and friends

Hallmark, never one to miss cashing out, have been cranking out Nintendo ornaments recently. Mario and his friends have been very well represented the past 2-3 years. If Star Wars is the template then we could have 20 years of Nintendo ornaments from them.

Mario Kart ornament

This Mario Kart one came out last year. It looks nice but definitely wouldn't survive a crash.


Bowser ornament

This is another 2019 ornament and weighs roughly the same as real-life Bowser. For the price Hallmark asks for these ornaments I expect them to be indestructible.

Wind Waker Link ornament

Here's a nice combination. The Wind Waker Link was sold at GameStop a couple years ago. I didn't know they were selling ornaments at the time and kind of found it by accident. The Duff ornament is from a Universal Studios trip. I had another trip planned for early spring 2020 too but it was not meant to be.

Legend of Zelda ornament

This is last year's Zelda ornament from Hallmark. They definitely went after people of a certain age with this pre-SNES rendition of Link.


Defender and Zelda ornaments

The Zelda gold cartridge is from this year. I'd like to feature it more prominently on the tree but it's easily the heaviest ornament I own. Either I need a tree with stronger branches or it has to be buried a little. The Defender ornament is part of the arcade cabinet reboot series.

Donkey Kong ornaments

Here's Donkey Kong hanging out next to the game that introduced him. Hmm, I suppose this is technically Donkey Kong Junior or is Donkey Kong Junior Junior? The Donkey Kong canon is a tad confusing. Also confusing is the existence of a Donkey Kong canon at all.

Galaga and Mario ornaments

Apologies for the lack of focus on this one. It's another Mario ornament and the 2010 Galaga cabinet. Dragon's Lair is my dream arcade ornament. OK, it's actually Discs of Tron but that seems too obscure. Mortal Kombat would be a welcome ornament but it seems too edgy for Hallmark.


Joust ornament

I didn't think Joust was popular enough for an ornament so maybe there's hope for others. Maybe Robotron is the next logical entry in this series then?

Ocarina of Time ornament

This is another GameStop ornament. It's one of my favorites because it has a classic ornament look about it. It could easily be hidden on a regular tree without anyone noticing the Zelda theme.

Yoshi ornament

This Yoshi ornament is another recent addition.


Mario ornament

This is another older one and I don't recall where I got it. The copyright on the back says 1998 which is before when my wife and I were even living together. That's my way of saying I didn't even own a Christmas tree when I bought it. This is Mario escaping a microwave. It's probably supposed to be a TV, it looks so much more like a microwave. Also Mario escaping certain radioactive death makes for a better story. The alternative is a Ring-type nightmare scenario. Like if you start the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros 2 you have 7 days to win it or Mario crawls out of the TV to murder you with a candy cane.

NES and Luigi ornaments

The NES ornament is from Hallmark this year, Luigi is a couple years old.

Simpsons ornament

This one is also old enough that I don't remember where or when I got it. It's possible I bought it when The Simpsons were still watchable.


Ghostbusters ornament

This is from Hallmark, maybe 5-6 years ago. It plays the Ghostbusters theme song which is completely appropriate for xmas.

John Cena ornament

Yeah, I have some pro wrestling ornaments too. These would definitely not be allowed on the main family tree. John Cena here came from either a CVS or Walgreens. If you think you see a My Little Pony ornament in the background you would be correct. It belonged to one of my kids who is now embarrassed by it. I don't understand the fascination some dudes have with My Little Pony but I didn't want it to go homeless this year.

The Rock ornament

The Rock likely also came from one of those stores. The penguin is not officially a Linux penguin but let's go ahead and call him a Linux penguin anyway.


Hollywood Hogan ornament

Something like 10 years ago I scored a lot of WCW ornaments at this weird warehouse sale. I won't show them all this year in case I decide to repeat this party in the future. Here's Hollywood Hogan. I realize he's been canceled but... who cares, this is just an xmas tree. Also pictured is another Zelda ornament, it's part of a set. Any South Park ornaments in the background are from Five Below.

Goldberg ornament

I assure you the Goldberg ornament does have tights on.

Christmas Ale Ornament

This came free with a 6-pack of Great Lakes Christmas Ale - that's a great deal there. It is very classy looking for an beer-inspired ornament.


Now we come to the part of celebration where we talk about what we did in 2020. I don't want to talk about my day job, you don't want to hear about it, and I'm sure they aren't thrilled about employees sharing information online. In terms of personal projects, I planned to release another Sega Genesis demo then got incredibly unmotivated. I posted a lot of content on this site instead, possibly the most in any year but I don't keep track of stuff like that. In January I expect to get back into some kind of game programming project. I reserve the right to do something else entirely.

As for my personal life.. not much to report. I quit social media cold turkey a couple years ago. I am now one of those annoying blowhards who mentions quitting social media every chance they get. On the plus side it means I don't know which friends & family members believe unhinged conspiracy theories. I have a good idea who does though. On the negative side I don't have all these year-end recaps to share. The closest thing I have is my Spotify recap.

Hmm, I guess what I listened to this year might be an OK way to recap how the year went. Let's take a look...

Spotify - top artist

It's not surprising this was my top artist of 2020 since I usually have game soundtracks playing in the background while working. The "top 1%" makes me seem obsessed but really it's just having soundtracks streaming a couple hours a day. I own quite a few Falcom albums in mp3 form, legally too, but Spotify has everything they've released. This isn't a plug for Spotify (there are no ads or sponsored content on this site), it's more a plug for Falcom. There isn't another game company I'm aware of that released everything in their catalog to Spotify. Square-Enix released a lot but nowhere near everything. Nintendo released exactly nothing and shuts down anyone who posts their soundtracks. I wish Nintendo was more like Falcom here. We could all stream their music for free and they earn a nickel every time we do. Something like the Ocarina of Time soundtrack I imagine would get over a million streams a year.

Spotify - top artists

So yeah, all the Distant Worlds soundtracks are on Spotify too. The third entry is due to listening to PSP-era Falcom soundtracks more than any other this year. I think Falcom soundtracks (and stories) peaked around this time. The last two entries are perhaps the most predicable bands. If Family Feud had a question like "name a band male Caucasian Gen-xers listen to" these would definitely be in the top 5 spots.

Spotify - top podcasts

You may look at my podcast list and try to infer something about my views. There's a good chance you'll be wrong because I'm kind of all over the place. Numbers 1 and 5 on this list are shows I almost never skip. For the other 3, it depends on the topic or guest. There must be 20 shows I subscribe to with the same disclaimer. Of course this is missing any podcasts that aren't on Spotify like The Old School Wresting Podcast which would otherwise likely be in the top 5.


This recap more or less says I spent a lot of time in front of the computer. I don't listen to game soundtracks when I'm driving for example. That 40-60 minutes a day could easily have changed these results. That's how my year went. It went like yours probably did. So much time at home in front of a computer. It could have been a lot worse.

Of course I played a bunch of video games this year. Lack of travel and social activities resulted in huge amounts of free time at night. My wife was also working absurd hours to meet several book deadlines in 2020. One of those efforts broke into the bestsellers list which was exciting. It unfortunately meant many nights when she was working. Between all this I logged way too many video game hours.

In 2009 and 2019 I posted recaps of the entire decade in gaming. I am not doing that in 2029. I thought about it for a minute and... nope. Since I'm having this impromptu 2020 xmas party I'll just talk about what I played in the past year now instead.

Trails of Cold Steel III

The first game I finished this year was Trails of Cold Steel III. This is making the list on a technicality since I played 99% of it pre-quarantine. It was something like January 10th when I finished it. The story gets bonkers toward the end which is to be expected in a JRPG. I am currently playing the sequel which might be my favorite game of the year. Pictured here is some of the exciting RPG action you'll find in Trails of Cold Steel III.

Persona 5 Royal

I pre-ordered Persona 5 Royal because I was under the impression it was similar to Trails of Cold Steel. It really wasn't. I enjoyed the story, characters, and soundtrack all the same. The combat system felt a bit outdated compared to other modern RPGs like the aforementioned Trails games or the soon to be mentioned Final Fantasy VII remake. Pictured here is some of the exciting RPG action you'll find in Persona 5 Royal.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

I also pre-ordered Final Fantasy VII Remake which is more like Final Fantasy VII Remake I. The game looked amazing and the updated soundtrack was excellent. I thought the dialog between Cloud and Aerith made their relationship 100x better than the original game. It was a little on the short side, less than half the length of the last two JRPGs I just mentioned. Maybe less than a third if I really thought about it. For the quality of the game I won't complain and I look forward to the next chapter. Pictured here is some of the exciting RPG action you'll find in Final Fantasy VII Remake.


South Park: The Fractured But Hole

I'd been meaning to play the South Park games for a while and decided to try the second one first because reasons. It was a nice little RPG with an interesting battle system. I spent a lot of time just walking around the town. If the entire game was only walking around town and doing random stuff that would be fine with me. Pictured here is.. OK, I've beat this joke to death already.

Trails in the Sky the 3rd

Somewhere along the way through 2020 I remembered that I still hadn't played Trails in the Sky the 3rd. The English version is only on Steam and running it on Linux is a little spotty. After hitting the configuration options with a wrench a few times I got it working. It's definitely a fan service game. Most of the story is a series of flashbacks that show the backstory of characters from the first two games.

Ys: Memories of Celeta

The Ys IV remake on Vita got a remake on PlayStation 4. After a couple years of waiting it came out in the states. Of course I pre-ordered it and powered through fairly quickly. It was a lot easier than I remembered. I will likely do a New Game+ run in 2021, 2022, and so on.


Uncharted

Being stuck indoors left me craving some exploration games. I had all four Uncharted games just sitting on the shelf for a while. I got the 1-3 collection for $10 forever ago and 4 was a pack-in with the PlayStation 4. I really got into this series. The games are short and I finished each in roughly a week. That's fine, they were all a great experience.

Uncharted 3

Of the original trilogy I'd say 2 was my favorite, then 1, then 3. The story of 3 really goes off the rails. They're all absurd stories and 2 literally goes off the rails. What I mean is 3 is completely over the top compared to the others. It's not bad, don't misinterpret any of this as a complaint.

Uncharted 4

Uncharted 4 is probably my overall favorite. I have to try and forget about the last chapter which is dull. I get they're trying to complete the story but a 5 minute cut-scene would work about as well. I have no idea if part 5 is planned, maybe the Last of Us series is the de facto replacement for Uncharted. I would definitely buy future games in this series if they ever exist.


Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler made me feel old... because I couldn't read any of the text even with my reading glasses. I think the testers were all 25 year-olds with >30" monitors that they were 6" from. I can't tell you at all what the story was about. The soundtrack was definitely the high point, it will be going into my work music rotation. I think I liked most of the characters but again it was hard to follow the story with eye strain.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens

I bought a Limited Run Games printing of Shantae and the Seven Sirens which was also fun. It seemed very Metroid II inspired compared to the previous games. It had a lot of humor (with a big enough font to read it). It was significantly easier than Pirate's Curse which I welcomed.

Dragon's Trap Remake

The Shantae games also had to be inspired by Dragon's Trap. Playing Seven Sirens thus inspired me to finally get the Dragon's Trap remake. This was a very well done remake. The difficulty still has that old 8/16-bit feeling and I'm not ashamed to admit dying a couple times.


So farewell to 2020. I know we're not in the clear just yet. There will be many months of hardships ahead. We're so close to the finish line on this brief era though. We just need to keep it together a little longer. Look, I miss seeing friends and dining out just as much as you do. Face coverings make a lot of sense during winter in Chicago but I don't like them any more than you do the rest of the year. It's not about what I like or don't like though. If we can just do the bare minimum a little longer we'll get through this.

I like to think that when December 2029 rolls around we'll look back on the decade and feel like 2020 was 100 years in the past rather than 10. At the risk of sounding cliché, that is my only wish this year. Let's all raise a toast to dreams of better days ahead.

Thanks for attending my party. See you in 2021.


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