2021: End of the year review

2021: End of the year review

A few of my highlights from the past year, and looking forward at my hopes, dreams and aspirations for 2022.

Published by Bryan McDowall on .

Goodbye 2021 👋

And good riddance.

Another year in the shadow of the pandemic has been, understandably, uneventful. With many restrictions still in place, and the threat of illness looming, every visit to the supermarket becomes a weighted decision. Every social engagement a balance of anxiety versus the desire to interact with other humans, beyond a screen.

Naturally then, this year has yielded little in the way of international travelling for me - I'm just not comfortable enough yet. Pandemic aside, new regulations mean that without a burning desperation to actually travel somewhere, it's likely to be an unnecessarily stressful process. And for what it's worth, I'm double-jabbed, with a booster date in my calendar.

Japan too has been closed off to tourists since March last year1, and this situation shows no signs of changing any time soon, with an increase in cases causing concern for the reopening process2. It's a measured response, but I'm hoping I can return soon. When it's safe to.

It wasn't all bad

On the plus side, I was encouraged to look closer to home to sate my wanderlust, and when a friend proposed walking 154 kilometres on the West Highland Way, I excitedly agreed!

"A man looking over Rannoch Moor from the top of Stob Dearg, Buachaille Etive Mòr"
Looking over Rannoch Moor atop Stob Dearg, Buachaille Etive Mòr

This incredible journey in my own back-yard has shown me in so much detail, many places which I've only ever passed by car. It even lead to further adventures, as we returned later in the year to Glencoe to climb The Buachaille (Buachaille Etive Mòr).

I made a short video featuring some aerial views of this stunning mountain.

On the subject of challenges, later in the year I pursued an opportunity that lead to promotion! I took on a new role at a new company, and I am now a Senior Product Designer specialising in Design Systems! It's a big step for me, and I'm excited to focus on this next step in my career with Trustpilot.

Things I enjoyed

Wonder Egg Priority

"Screen from Wonder Egg Priority. Two young girls, Ai and Neiru look forward."
Neiru struggles to make friends, but Ai is persistent.
A gorgeous series from CoverWorks, that on a surface level looks like a moe-blob shojo anime, but it features a considerably darker story, with some well paced action scenes.

One of its core themes is the subject of suicide from the perspective of high school girls, and how the pressures they face in everyday life can manifest as literal monsters in their subconscious.

This was a bold, experimental series that I had hoped to see more of. Regrettably the show had a somewhat out of place final episode, which felt inconsistent and hurried. Despite this, it remains one of the more interesting modern anime series I've watched in a while.

James Bond: No Time To Die

"Screen from James Bond: No Time To Die, featuring Bond (Daniel Craig) in a Tuxedo and Paloma (Ana de Armas) in a cocktail dress."
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas reunite on screen in No Time To Die.

I had been looking forward to Bond's latest outing on screen for some time, following a delayed release.

I typically enjoy James Bond films as over-the-top action flicks, featuring exotic scenery and outlandish technology. I feel the Daniel Craig arc specifically brought a more thuggish Bond to the screen. Every bit as well-spoken and wisecracking as we've grown to expect, but adding a (dare I say it) gritty realism to the titular character.

This final film in Daniel Craig's run, brought the arc to a fairly satisfying conclusion in my opinion. As with Skyfall and Spectre, Bond faced a more personal threat whilst (also) saving the world.

Perhaps it was just me, but I found there were more than a few shared themes with the Metal Gear franchise also? FOXDIE. Shadow Moses. The ladder. All these things might mean something to those familiar with both series. I know that any Metal Gear live action film will have a tough act to follow.

I get that the Bond films are divisive, and fully appreciate and enjoy the discourse surrounding questions like, "Who is James Bond" and "Who can/should fill this role?" (spoiler: Anyone. I don't give a shit.), but at the same time, I'll continue to enjoy the nostalgic feeling I get from these high-budget male power fantasies.

Arcane

"Screen from Arcane. A young blue haired girl (Jinx) points two fingers towards the camera in a shooting gesture."
Get Jinxed!

My experience with League extends to having played it once or twice, and not especially enjoying myself. Likely diving head-first without understanding the rules contributed to this, but also having such a rich lore developed and supported for many years made it somewhat inaccessible.

Enter Fortiche Productions, offering a starting point for those unfamiliar with the franchise, and an otherwise a masterfully crafted world.

Arcane, or “How I learned to stop worrying and love League of Legends”.

Featuring some of the best animation, environment design and matte paintings I've ever enjoyed in an animated series, I really can't wait for season 2.

Final Fantasy XIV

"Screen capture from Final Fantasy XIV. Various characters looking towards a short, female, player character in a fantasy setting."
Just a completely average outfit for a battle-hardened adventurer.

This game has continued to be a real lifeline through lockdown. It's no exaggeration to say, this has been the only game I've invested any significant amount of time on this year.

I've used it to keep in touch with my friend Sean (@TakuKaze), and FFXIV has given us a platform to do so when we've perhaps been a little more anxious about travelling during the pandemic.

This game features such a wealth of storytelling. It's a genuine pleasure to play through, with so many interconnected side quests and pleasant distractions.

Aesthetic aside, there's a lot of variation in gameplay, which mean I can jump between single-player story focused role-playing, large-scale MMO style raids, crafting and building or more community focused online social events.

For the first time, I levelled a bunch of supporting jobs (gathering, crafting) and later gave tanking a whirl as Paladin class - after hitting the previous level cap as Dragoon - the class I've played since the very beginning.

Once Endwalker dropped in December, I started burning through the Shadowbringers story once more. Right now, I'm working through the patch content leading to the latest expansion.

Looking forward to 2022

I'm not in the habit of making resolutions or setting goals. But there are one or two things which are already in motion...

Walking

I've accepted I'm unlikely to travel abroad this year, and there's a good few months for comfortably hiking, climbing and camping in Scotland, so I'll try to take advantage of that.

It wasn't until last year that I took an interest in climbing mountains. This year, I'm hoping to bag a few more on my list. I'd also love to spend more time hiking trails on Skye and the Outer Hebrides, but I'll see what I can commit to.

Scotland is a small country, but its more remote areas are not especially well connected.

Rejoining PC gaming

With an increasing number of console titles coming to PC, and a back-catalogue of titles I can't play on my Mac, I figured it was about time I set up a rig exclusively for gaming.

If nothing else, this'll be a nice means of playing FFXIV without losing access to my Mac - being able to switch into Windows via Bootcamp is useful, but not ideal for multi-tasking between the environments.

Whilst I'll accept it is a little excessive, it's nice to indulge once in a while. I'm hoping that at some future point I can acquire my own VR hardware to enjoy Half Life: Alyx also. Until then, I've a bunch of titles from this year to catch up on.

Jujitsu

I've felt really sluggish towards the end of this year, much less active and low-energy, and as such decided not to go for my orange belt grading in December. At this point, I've come to expect this lethargy during the winter months.

As late as September I was attending mid-week classes and cycling to jujitsu on Sundays - with energy to cycle home afterwards! I fully expect to be back on form come Spring, and hoping to complement Jujitsu this year with Iaido.

This is all subject to covid restrictions. Presently, indoor contact sports are on hold until mid-January.

Finishing what I started

Ooft. Nothing like calling yourself out on the internet. But finishing what I started is a habit I'll continue to hold myself accountable for, and I'm going to try my best to tie-up any loose ends this year, so I have more freedom in 2023.

In the past, I've found it easy to get excited about new projects, or technology, or skills that I want to pursue, without considering the impact on any outstanding commitments. I'm hyper aware of it, and as a result, I'm increasingly picky about where I'll focus my efforts.

Presently, my main focus is completing the renovation on my house. It's slow - largely as a result of what trades are available, and what I can afford. But the end is in sight, and it's already starting to feel more like home.

We live in a world of distractions, and I'm trying my best to cut back on the noise.

Year of the Tiger

Listen, I'm not superstitious, but it's year of the tiger, which means it's my year. Year of the bry-ger… I don't expect anything to fall into my lap, but as always, I'm going to pursue opportunities, help others where I can, and try (as ever), to make cool things.

Wishing you all the very best in 2022. As always, be excellent to one another.

Bry x

Tags

  • personal
  • end of the year
  • review

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