7 idle thoughts

I took some melatonin last night to help me sleep, and it worked – I did sleep – but I’m having a gawdawful time waking up, the sort of awful zombie nightmare hangover that no amount of coffee can rescue me from.  Which is not to say I won’t continue drinking obscene amounts of coffee; I’m just acknowledging how futile everything feels right now.

What follows are some random thoughts – because that’s all I’ve got right now – that are either too long for Twitter, or are adapted from IM conversations I’ve been having with my buddy (and long-ago SFTC contributor) Greg.

1.  King games – Candy Crush, Farm Heroes, Pet Rescue, and my current nemesis, Bubble Witch 2 – are fucking bullshit, and I hate them, and I hate that I’m still suckered into playing them when they’re objectively and obviously horrible.  The games ultimately feel like carnival contests, rigged against you from the moment you get started unless you pay for power-ups.  Skill is helpful but ultimately useless; I fail most levels not because I’ve messed up, but because the algorithm that governs the randomness of the tools at my disposal makes sure that I can’t win – unless I decide to purchase special powerups (at obscene prices).  I refuse to spend money, though, and so I’m stuck banging my head against the wall.  Ironically, the 30-minute wait to refill one (1) life is actually a godsend, because it means that when I run out of lives I don’t have to reload the page for another 2.5 hours, and I can do something meaningful with my life.

2.  I cannot explain why I’m willing to wait for a game like Divinity: Original Sin to appear in a Steam Sale, and yet I’m actually contemplating buying the PS4 version of Diablo III at full price – a game that I’ve already sunk 100+ hours into on PC, and where I can’t transfer those PC characters to my console.  The aforementioned Greg is playing it for the first time, and he appears to be enjoying himself, and I’d love to play co-op with him, and all the big sites seem to indicate that this PS4 edition is the perfect place to play D3, and that it’s worth coming back to.  I did not want to hear this news.

3.  What the hell ever happened to the Steam Box?  I keep hemming and hawing over the Xbox One but if they announced a Steam Box with decent specs (i.e., better than my 4-year-old PC) at a decent price (up to $700), I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

4.  It’s a goddamned shame that the Burnout franchise appears to be dead.  It’s even more of shame that it had to die so that Need For Speed could live.  I suppose I’m bummed that I’ll miss out on Forza Horizon 2; I can only hope that DriveClub and/or The Crew manages to capably scratch my arcade racing itch.

5.  Likewise, I’m ready for a new PS4 DiRT game.  And if Microsoft wants to woo me back, they could certainly find a way to revive the Project Gotham franchise.

6.  Speaking of arcade racers:  as long as they’re making HD remasters of last-gen games, my buddy Greg and I feel very strongly that Split/Second should get a remastered treatment.  That was a criminally underrated (and undersold) game with a ridiculously fun multiplayer side.

7.  I am not necessarily as down on CounterSpy as my friend Carolyn is, but I see her points.  Truth is, the game was never really described all that well; it’s marketed as a stealth game, and it looks like a Metroidvania game, but neither of those impressions are actually true.  For one, stealth is damned-near impossible – you have to kill everyone you see if you hope to find anything of value before exiting the level.  For another, each level is short and procedurally generated, which ostensibly means that no two levels are alike (even though you’ll start to recognize how the different parts repeat and align).  I also wish it performed better on the Vita than it does, because it’s a perfect mobile title – each level takes around 20 minutes to finish, which is a perfect time for a commute – but the load times are horrendous, and the performance is spotty at best.  It plays much smoother on the PS4, but that’s not where I’d prefer to play it – if I do indeed continue to play it at all.


What’s Next: Budgeting For the End of 2014

For the second night in a row I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to pee and then been unable to fall back asleep.  And so I’ll find myself looking at Twitter, and looking at Twitter in the twilight hours over the last 2 nights has been, shall we say, deeply unsettling – between the horrifying insanity of Ferguson at night and the horrifying hostility against women in the video games community at all hours of the day, I’m amazed I can sleep at all.

So, then, I’m finding myself compelled to prepare for the inevitable retail therapy that I’m going to indulge in.

And as it happens, I have just been made aware (via Kotaku) of the Always Up-To-Date Calendar of Upcoming Video Game Releases, which is a good thing to be aware of.   And now I’m trying to figure out how the rest of the year is going to shake out.

As always, I’m still on the fence about the Xbox One.  I am tempted by the Sunset Overdrive/XBO bundle, and if I were to go through with that I’d certainly pick up a copy of Forza Horizon 2 as well, and thus it stands to reason that I’d eventually end up with the Halo box set.  But I’m not sure that’s enough, you know?  Forza looks amazing but I’m not sure how much mileage I’m going to get out of Sunset Overdrive, and I’ve already played Halo 1-4.  (Well, a couple hours of 4, at least.)

So, then:  I’m doing this mostly looking at PS4/Vita/PC titles.  What follows are my cherry-picked titles of interest.  Bold indicates a definite buy; italics indicates a curious rental.

August 26:

  • Metro Redux

August 28:

  • Infamous: First Light (I forget that Infamous came out this year.  Haven’t really thought about it at all since I finished it.  If this reviews well, I’d be happy to check it out, but it’s gonna have to review really, really well.)

September 2:

  • Danganronpa 2 (haven’t played the first one, but people rave about it.  If you’ve played it, I’d love to get your impressions.)

September 9:

  • Destiny (I think I pre-ordered the Digital Guardian edition.)

September 23:

  • FIFA 15 (if only because I still have some residual World Cup fever floating around; I don’t expect to hang on to this for very long, and I’d like to think I’d still be deep into Destiny)

September 30:

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (I’ve heard too many good things about this, and so now I’m irrationally excited)

October 7:

  • Alien: Isolation (god I hope this isn’t a piece of shit)

October 14:

  • Sleeping Dogs DE (really just want to see the first hour or so in HD.  no intention of playing the whole thing again)
  • The Evil Within (I’m not the biggest fan of horror games, but I’m curious.)

October 24:

  • Civilization: Beyond Earth

October 28:

  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
  • Freedom Wars (Vita)

November 11:

  • The Crew

November 18:

  • Dragon Age Inquisition
  • Far Cry 4
  • Little Big Planet 3

November 30:

  • Project CARS

December 9:

  • Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris


Weekend Recap: moaning and groaning

Truth be told, I don’t feel like writing about games right now.  I’m kinda sickened by what’s happening in Ferguson, and talking about video games seems awfully trite and silly in the wake of Mike Brown’s death.  But I’m going to write about games because if I don’t do something, I’m going to start going crazy.

Ironically, then, there was very little gaming done this weekend; my son was recovering from a bad bit of constipation (that required a visit to the ER on Thursday), and I had (and still have) a pretty bad cold, and we ended up having to cancel a bunch of plans, and when I wasn’t sleeping I was mostly trying to keep my son happy.  That’s a fun game, too, when it’s working.

I did finish The Last of Us Remastered on Friday night, though, and I must admit that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time.  I must also admit (though I’m not ashamed of it) that I played it on Easy, which made it a much less frustrating experience; I still died a few times, but I was able to enjoy and savor the world and the narrative and take many screenshots and still feel dread while not being unnecessarily frustrated.

And speaking of dread, I went ahead and played P.T., and even though I’d already watched a bunch of people’s Let’s Play videos and was somewhat prepared for that first jump scare, it still managed to creep me out.  In this current era of open betas and Early Access and the seeming absence of demos, it is sincerely refreshing to get something like P.T., which is technically a teaser for an upcoming Silent Hill game but which is also a wholly self-contained creep-fest.   As someone with no real hands-on experience with the Silent Hill franchise (beyond a few hours with both SH4 on the 360 and Shattered Memories on the Wii), I came into it not needing to look for hidden SH clues and callbacks, but simply to take in the experience.

And it does capture that feeling of dread pretty goddamned well.  Despite my massive Stephen King collection, I’m not really all that into horror films or games, so I can’t necessarily speak to how effectively creepy it is for other people (although there are lots of YouTube videos of people playing P.T. and freaking out, so I know I’m not alone).  But even just the basic concept of the endlessly looping hallway – my god, it took me right back to a horrific mushroom experience I had in college, where I had the sensation of being caught in a time loop and where the same 2 or 3 things kept happening over and over and over and over and over and over again, and I thought I was going mad.  I might also add that I played P.T. with my wife on Wednesday night, and that’s the night that my son started having stomach pains, and woke us up by crying at 4 in the morning.  So the “crying baby” trope hits pretty goddamned close to home.

I still don’t know whether I’m going to play the actual game.  Like I said – I’m not the biggest fan of horror games, and I’m certainly not a big fan of Hideo Kojima.  That being said, having Guillermo Del Toro on board certainly does a lot to offset Kojima, and if it ends up reviewing well, I will probably feel compelled to check it out.

I’m not sure what’s on tap for this week; I’m not playing the console release of Diablo 3, and in any event most of my recent free time has been taken up by Book 3 of the Locke Lamora series and a rekindled obsession with They Might Be Giants, of which a carefully curated Spotify playlist follows.

On Screenshots and Console Exclusivity

1.  There’s never going to be a SFTC YouTube channel, for whatever it’s worth; I simply can’t consume video the way the rest of the gaming community does, and so I’m incredibly ill-equipped to provide it.  For one thing, I just prefer reading as opposed to watching; for another, my day job is not conducive to watching videos (partly because it’s abundantly clear that I’m not working, partly because my office’s internet is kinda terrible), and when I’m home I’d rather be playing.  That being said, I can’t stop taking screenshots.  Yesterday I posted some shots I took from The Last of Us Remastered, and today I’m posting some shots from Mind: Path to Thalamus, a first-person exploration/puzzle game on the PC that is absolutely stunning to behold.  Everything I want to say about it was already said in this Rock Paper Shotgun review; the short version is that it’s staggeringly beautiful, and the puzzles seem to be smart and challenging without being unfair, but the narrative is, sadly, utterly dreadful and is not helped at all by possibly one of the worst voice-over performances I’ve ever heard in my life.  It’s absolutely worth playing, despite the VO, but just be aware that it’s dreadful and that everything else is terrific.  [EDIT:  I just re-read the RPS review and realized that their page features 2 nearly identical screenshots to ones I took and had originally included below.  I removed mine just so there’d be no confusion, but it was kinda neat to see that we were both taken aback by some of the exact same vistas.]

2.  I was away from the internet yesterday, and so I was only dimly aware of Gamescom.  When I started catching up, I found myself warming up to Microsoft’s news, getting excited about their upcoming indie releases, getting intrigued by the Sunset Overdrive bundle… and then the news about Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s exclusivity hit, and I found myself getting irrationally angry.

Look, I get it; I get that Microsoft is feeling desperate, and that it’s a bitter pill to swallow to find yourself in 2nd place after clearly dominating during the last console generation.  Indeed, Sony was in this exact same position with the PS3, as a matter of fact; they were flying high and mighty after the PS2 and totally misread the marketplace.  The difference, though, is that Sony owned up to their problems, displayed genuine humility, and their solution to win over the hearts and minds of the gaming community was to create spectacular first-party software that simply couldn’t be replicated on their competitor’s console.

So I’m sure Microsoft felt that they had to do something big, something that would make the Xbox One appealing to Sony fans and ex-360 fanboys who were reluctant to upgrade (like me), and so snagging exclusive rights to a highly-anticipated title like Tomb Raider was an absolutely necessary thing to get more people invested in the Xbox One.

But it’s clearly a move made of desperation, not out of humility and genuine concern for gamers.  (Not that I’ve ever thought that Microsoft and Sony’s #1 priority is to genuinely care about gamers, but Sony’s been doing a much better job over the last few years of selling that idea as believable.)  Microsoft isn’t investing in their own development studios and making their first-party portfolio more appealing; they’re simply buying exclusivity from a company that shouldn’t be making this deal in the first place.  Square’s already been on record as saying that the first TR didn’t meet their sales projections, and so putting the new TR on the 2nd place console literally makes no sense unless Microsoft made them an offer that they absolutely couldn’t refuse.

That Microsoft was once again unable to see how this decision would anger the gaming community is, sadly, par for the course.  And the fact that it took less than 24 hours for Phil Spencer to admit that the exclusivity period “has a duration” makes the whole thing just sad.  Microsoft wanted to win me back, but instead they’ve just pushed me farther away.

Hello Goodbye

1.  The short version is that I have decided to stop writing for Gamemoir, for the foreseeable future.  It’s not them, though; it’s me.

The tl;dr version is that I’ve been stressing out about each column for months, frantically trying to find time to concentrate and write something that isn’t terrible, all the while knowing that with one or two exceptions, most of my posts pretty much died on the vine.  I was home sick yesterday, and I hadn’t yet pitched a column for this coming Monday, and I couldn’t think of anything, and I realized that I was going to be super-busy this weekend, and so unless I was able to pull it together under less than ideal circumstances in the few free hours I had, I wasn’t going to get anything handed in.  And I ultimately came to the realization that while I do tend to like the pressure of deadlines, there’s only so much pressure I can take before I feel defeated by simply looking at an empty page.

It’s easier for me to post here, because I can just sit down and stay in my own voice and not be so preoccupied with traffic-grabbing headlines and topics and stuff.  And I think that I’ll probably be able to post a little bit more here, actually, since I won’t feel like I need to “save” anything.  (Indeed, this post ended up at almost 900 words and it only took about 45 minutes to write.)

It’s also a kick in the ass, though.  If I’m ever going to get regular freelance work – and I still feel like I’m a ways off in terms of having the sort of chops that can compete in an over-saturated freelance pool – I need to be able to concentrate, and be able to carve out writing time without losing too much family time (and/or getting in trouble at my day job), and so even just learning what I have to do just to get an 800-1000 word column up every week is an eye-opening experience, to say the very least.

I still plan on trying to pitch to other sites, but only when I feel that I have something good to pitch.

I’m eternally grateful for the patience, the support, and the invaluable experience that the Gamemoir crew gave me in my too-short stay there.

2.  Much to my surprise, I’ve been getting sucked back into The Last of Us Remastered, even though I felt pretty resolute in my decision to bail.  Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that I’m playing it on Easy, right from the get-go.  It’s still challenging, but it’s not nearly as frustrating as it is on Normal, and so I’m able to explore and move the story forward without getting bogged down in repetitive combat scenarios that lose their effectiveness with every restart.

I’m also surprised as to how much of the game I remember.  True, I’d just played it last year, but I was also playing it under newborn-baby sleep-deprived circumstances.

It’s hard for me to tell if there’s really that much of a graphical difference between the PS3 and PS4 versions.  With other 2014 HD remasters of 2013 games (Tomb Raider immediately comes to mind), the difference between last- and current-gen was actually quite pronounced.  That being said, the PS3 version of TLOU was the best-looking game on that system (and possibly of the entire console generation), and so the PS4 version basically feels slightly more rich, if that makes sense.  Beyond that, I think the only way I’d be able to tell the difference is that the PS4 controller makes the game a lot easier to deal with.

3.  I am really, really, really enjoying The Swapper on Vita.  I liked it on the PC but didn’t get all that far into it and eventually lost interest, but it feels absolutely perfect in my hands (even if I’m currently stuck on 2 different puzzle rooms). I’m especially loving the cross-save support, in that I was able to pick up some orbs on the PS4 (because I wanted to see what it looked like on my TV), and then move that save to the Vita so that I didn’t lose anything.  Cross-save support is the best.  As far as I’m concerned, Sony’s cross-save system might just be the biggest ace up its sleeve in the console war with the Xbox One; having indie games that I can play at home or on the go without losing progress is too good an offer to walk away from.

4.  Speaking of cross-save, I must admit to being a little bummed that I can’t get my PC save of Diablo III over to my PS4.  Blizzard’s doing a hell of a job letting you import console saves from different generations AND different manufacturers, and that’s certainly commendable, but I’m not about to lose over 100 hours of PC playtime just so that I can start over from scratch in my living room.

5.  I am an idiot.  I took a screenshot from The Last Of Us Remastered yesterday and a Twitter pal asked if it would make for a new SFTC mascot, and OF COURSE it would, and now I’m wondering why I haven’t been taking screenshots of couches in every game I’ve played for the last 4 years.

Cutting the Cord

A few months back, the wife and I decided to cut the cable cord.  Even after drastically cutting back on premium channels and removing our landline, our monthly cable bill was still over $200, and it was killing us.  So we killed our cable.

We kept our internet and bought a Roku3.  And last night we hooked up our over-the-air HD antenna, and now we sort-of have regular TV again – enough for us to watch football (and Hannibal when it returns in the winter).  I said this on both Twitter and FB last night, and I’ll say it here again, because it’s true:  it feels soooooooo good to not feel ripped off.  The Roku was $90; the antenna was $40; both of those expenses have already paid themselves back, as far as our needs are concerned.

Being cost-conscious is difficult but necessary for us these days.  We have a kid, after all, and we’re trying to eventually move out of the city and into the ‘burbs.  We’re not necessarily pinching every penny, but we are trying to pay attention to (and put and end to) unnecessary spending.  Between the Roku and the free over-the-air TV, our TV needs are pretty much completely sated.  Sure, we don’t have DVR anymore, but considering the amount of crap we were taping and didn’t have time to watch, I’d say it’s a justifiable loss.

I bring this up here because, well, games are expensive, too.  I’m trying to not buy anything I don’t absolutely have to have.  I’d love to play Divinity: Original Sin, but I’m sure that’s going to be in a Steam Sale at some point, and it’d be nice to actually take advantage of those sales next time around.  Similarly, being a Playstation Plus member very nearly pays for itself, in terms of free stuff for the Vita; of the 20 or so games on there, I’m not sure I’ve paid full price – or, indeed, anything at all – for 15 of them.

Speaking of the Vita:  man, I wish I had more time in my day for it.  As it is, I’ve spent the last few days trying to fit in time with both Rogue Legacy and The Swapper – both of which I’ve played before on PC, and which absolutely shine on Vita.  It still takes far too long to download stuff – see, for example, the 12 hours it took for me to download the ~600MB Metrico – but my goodness, it plays these sorts of games absolutely perfectly.  (I did say earlier this year that it was an ideal platform for today’s indie darlings, and I’m glad to have been correct.)

Also – I did end up finishing the TLOU DLC the other night.  I’m of two distinct minds on it – on the one hand, the story is beautiful and heartbreaking, and told exquisitely well.  On the other hand, the combat sections feel shoehorned in and obligatory, and are a drag, and make me feel even less likely to give the remastered original game a second look.  I’m still probably going to, being that the release schedule is still so gawdawfully dry, but I’m not going to like it, no matter how spiffy the new graphics are.

Tonight is the NYVCC’s 3rd Annual Summer Hoohah, being held at Barcade in Chelsea (148 West 24th Street).  If you’re in town, come on by!

Weekend Recap: Dreams Achieved, Dreams Dashed

1.  My essay for Videodame was featured in the most recent Critical Distance round-up, which has been a wish/dream/goal of mine for the last two years or so.  So that’s pretty great.

2.  What’s not great is that, well, it would seem that being a professional games journalist sucks.  Gamespot broke my heart for the second time last week by laying off a bunch of really talented writers, one of whom I consider a good friend.  My Twitter feed is full of immensely talented freelancers who are far more talented and experienced than me, and almost all of whom are broke.  There’s hardly any full-time openings, and the few available openings tend to go only to people who have extensive experience (and are young, white and male) (even though the job listings always make it sound like anybody has a realistic chance), and even if you do manage to land a full-time gig, there’s not much money and even less stability.

Even more terrifying is the apparent reality that video is replacing the written word as far as game journalism is concerned.  This makes literally no sense to me, because I primarily consume my game writing at work, and I can’t watch hours and hours of YouTube videos at work.  When given the choice, I’d choose the written version every single time, which is why when I see that video is the way of the future, I feel like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

It’s hard enough finding the time to write for this site, where I have a minuscule audience and which generates absolutely no revenue.  Making videos that I wouldn’t even be able to watch seems ridiculous.

This is a long way of saying that this article by Peter Skerritt is sobering, harrowing stuff.

3.  Speaking of harrowing and sobering experiences, I rented The Last of Us Remastered last week but didn’t get a chance to put it through its paces until last night.  I’d already beaten the original game, so I decided to jump right in to the Left Behind single-player DLC that had been written about so positively upon its release.

I’m maybe an hour or so into it.  (If you’ve already played it, I’m in a solo Ellie chapter, trying to get to a medical helicopter, right after the Ellie/Riley chapter where they turn the power on at the mall; Ellie, alone, has also just turned the power on and now she’s in her first real sneaking gauntlet.)

My opinions of the game haven’t changed.  It’s gorgeous, the writing is wonderful, and the atmosphere is relentlessly tense, and I’m not really all that sure that I’m having any fun.

Horror movies are fun, in their own way, and clearly there’s an audience and appeal in this sort of apocalyptic undead nightmare scenario, being that there are tons of games and movies and books in this particular vein.  I do not find these things enjoyable, and I acknowledge that it could just be me.  I acknowledge that “having fun” is maybe not the point of TLOU, or The Walking Dead, or etc.  So let me restate it:  as much as I appreciate the artistry on display, and as much as the PS4 version is clearly the way to experience this game for the first time, I can’t say that I’m looking forward to going back and finishing it.


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