Madrid Football TournamentContinuing on from the first half our 2012 wrap-up, we head back to the Continent. Having never been to Spain before this year, September marked my second trip, this time to Madrid for the firm’s inter-office football tournament. Naturally I attended in my role as photographer rather than player, though I discovered that football was considerably tougher to shoot than languid afternoons of softball in Regent’s Park. People seemed pleased with the results, nevertheless.

I finally joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, whose private bar in London is located a short walk from my office. A relaxed, unstuffy location with highly knowledgeable bar staff, it is located just above the Bleeding Heart which provides some great food too. The Society bottles all the whisky itself, in identical bottles that conspicuously lack a distillery logo. Sure, lists can be found to reverse-engineer the numbering system, but the underlying idea is that it ought to be all about the taste.

The end of the year always brings the big gaming releases from the Eurogamer Expo onwards. Dishonored felt like a game from an alternate universe in which the first person games evolved from Thief and Deus Ex rather than Unreal and Quake. Hitman: Absolution was a great new instalment to the franchise when it provided the open playgrounds for which the series is known, but struggled in its new brand of tense escape sequences which frustratingly introduced forced errors into a game that values silent perfection above all else. Halo 4 proved 343 Studios were more than capable of taking on Bungie’s mantle, crafting something not only worthy of the Halo name, but arguably superior. Only Assassin’s Creed III proved slightly disappointing. A sprawling and stunningly ambitious game, without doubt, but one that is unlikely to maintain interest throughout.

JourneyThis year more than any other, however, several of the standout games were those with vastly smaller budgets. Telltale, having proved their adeptness with episodic storytelling, finally graduated successfully from comedy to riveting drama with the gut-and-heart-wrenching The Walking Dead. FTL: Faster Than Light was a sci-fi roguelike that I have “lost” more often than I have played most games. And finally, PS3-exclusive Journey proved hugely divisive when it came to “Game of the Year” lists as people argued whether the 2-3 hour experience deserved such accolades. The truth is that whilst it may have swallowed up far less of my time than any other game in contention, its lasting impact upon me is almost unparalleled. It goes beyond sheer beauty to the subtlety of its intentionally limited social interaction with the real players you meet along the way, destined to remain forever strangers.

SkyfallThe back end of the film calendar was marked by Skyfall and the first instalment of the The Hobbit. A Bond film from Mendes proved perfect for film fans, if a little jarring for lovers of the old-school gadgets and excess. I was surprised to see the franchise trusted to an auteur director, but I hope its success (surpassing $1 billion worldwide) means more experimentation and strong directors. The Hobbit, meanwhile, was a good movie but with horrific pacing problems. I have no problem with slow films where the material warrants it, but here it is clearly the result of poor editing and the inexplicable decision to stretch a very short novel out to three films. Surprisingly for a film that lags, it is all early on and the latter half of the film is a fun ride. The greatly anticipated “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum is stunningly captured and almost warrants the price of admission alone. The 3D is decent yet unnecessary, but it is the high frame rate that has proved more controversial. It is, in essence, higher fidelity and I suspect it is largely preconceptions that cause people to dislike it. I admit I actually appreciated the greater ease with which I could follow fast action sequences, which may be its strength.

December brought Christmas with the family and… Miranda’s leaving drinks. If you think that sounds strangely like the start of the year, you would be entirely correct. With her antipodean plans falling through, she instead decided to spend this year in New York, so we once again gathered to see her off. Suffice to say the invitation had to include a picture of her plane ticket to prove that this time she was really leaving. In truth, I’ll be rather disappointed if we don’t have a similar event in another year as they have been rather fun reunions so far.

Unfortunately the year ended on a much sadder note, with the sudden passing of my Uncle Rajan just a few days after we all saw him at Christmas. The unexpected shock brought the family together again on New Year’s Day, which he had invited us all to spend with him just days before his death. His funeral last weekend drew a huge crowd from around the world, an impressive testament to his efforts to maintain these wide-ranging friendships over the years.