2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


 

Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015

THE MUST-HAVES

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below

THE RENTALS, AT THE VERY LEAST

  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)

THE CURIOSITIES

  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.

 

The Last Weekend Recap of 2014

2015 will be upon us in just a few days.  This would be an opportune time to whip up a “Top 10 Games I’m Looking Forward To” post, or even a “New Year’s Resolution” post, and perhaps I’ll get one of those going before long.  I do have material for both of those posts, because I am nothing if not over-prepared.

But I’m finding it hard to be upbeat about gaming right now, and it’s hard to look forward when the present is still dragging me down.  We’re still in 2014, after all, only a few days removed from the PSN/XBL hack that ruined everyone’s Christmas break.

So as far as a weekend recap is concerned, well:  what could any of us do?  As it was, pretty much every game I have stored on my PS4 and XB1 was impossible to play, given that everything needed an internet connection, even the single-player stuff.  Thank God I’d already finished my Dragon Age campaign, or else I would’ve lost my friggin’ mind.    (Speaking of which, for a few days there I thought my Vita was broken, too – although now that the networks are back up, it appears all is well.)

In any event, because Xbox Live came back faster than PSN – and it’s more than a little distressing at how Sony still doesn’t have their online shit together – I did end up getting back into Forza Horizon 2; I’m now only 2 championships away from the Finale.  Goddamn, I love that game.  I can’t tell if the computer AI is too easy, or if I’m really good at it, or what – I win nearly every race, but they’re always close, and they’re almost always really entertaining.

I only found out that PSN was starting to come back online because I’ve been waking up at 3am every night for the last 2 weeks, and so during Saturday’s insomnia I decided to check my iPhone and see if I could log into the PSN app, and – lo and behold – I could.  So I downloaded Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (which was part of the PSN Holiday Sale), and… it’s good?  I liked the first one a lot, and this one seems like more of that same thing, but it seems like it’d be much better with friends, so I think I’ll save that for online buddies.

And speaking of sales, I succumbed to my better judgment and picked up a few things in the Steam Holiday Sale:

  • Divinity: Original Sin
  • Secrets of Raetikon
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Super Time Force Ultra

Of those four, Divinity is the biggest pickup on my list, though after Dragon Age I can’t help but wonder if I’m epic-RPG’d out.


What else… oh yeah, I’m nearly finished with Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things“, which is absolutely heartbreaking and devastating and maybe not the best thing to read at 3 in the morning during a seasonal depression.  But it’s also really good, and I’m looking forward to diving into his back catalog.

Speaking of which, I already have a sizable book backlog to get to, though I also can’t help but notice that the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by Javier Marías is finally available on Kindle, and so I’m kinda itching to get started on that, given that I’ve been wanting to read it for several years now.  I’m really trying to not buy anything new until I finish everything old (and this goes for games, too) but this is a special case, and I’ve got some Amazon credit burning a hole in my wishlist.

Also also:  the wife and I watched Don Hertzfeldt’s “It’s Such A Beautiful Day“, which is available on Netflix streaming.  I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and I’ve been eyeing his progress on this film for quite a long time, and then to suddenly find out it was on Netflix was a very happy accidental Christmas present.  The film itself?  Not necessarily what you’d call “happy.”  But it’s utterly brilliant and dark and amazing and considering it was basically one dude working in isolation for 10 years doing these incredible in-camera hand-drawn animations, it makes me feel like I’ve been wasting my creative life.

So look forward to my new album, which I am determined to start and finish next year.

“You are a boat”: Favorite Sentences of 2014

Say what you will about e-books versus the real thing; I acquired a Kindle out of necessity because my wife and I simply ran out of apartment space.  Much as the iPod replaced my CD collection, the Kindle replaced my hardcover collection; I still read/listen as much as I ever did, and my apartment is a lot less claustrophobic as a result.

It took me a long time to allow myself to mark up the pages of a book, to underline, to highlight.  Dog-earing a page was as rough as I’d allow myself to be; I’d always prefer to leave scraps of napkins as placeholders.  And this sort of thing, even though it’s one of my favorite things on the internet, would be absolute blasphemy.

Anyway:  I don’t know to what extent other e-readers do this, but Kindle’s highlighting feature is awesome, and I use it all the time, and even though it doesn’t do a terrific job of syncing highlights across my various Kindle-enabled devices*, it does collect everything online, and so I figured this would be as good a reason as any to share my favorite sentences from what I read this year.

In no particular order (although this is roughly in the order in which I read them):

from Lexicon, by Max Barry:

He’d basically fallen in love with her on the spot. Well, no, that wasn’t accurate; that implied a binary state, a shifting from not-love to love, remaining static thereafter, and what he’d done with Brontë was fall and fall, increasingly faster the closer they drew, like planets drawn to each other’s gravitational force. Doomed, he guessed, the same way.

from The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch:

“I know that the only woman with the key to that peculiar heart of yours is a thousand miles away. And I know you’d rather be miserable over her than happy with anyone else.”

– – –

“…the more we do this, the more I learn about what I think Chains was really training us for. And this is it. He wasn’t training us for a calm and orderly world where we could pick and choose when we needed to be clever. He was training us for a situation that was fucked up on all sides. Well, we’re in it, and I say we’re equal to it. I don’t need to be reminded that we’re up to our heads in dark water. I just want you boys to remember that we’re the gods-damned sharks.”

from The Secret Place, by Tana French:

“…People are complicated. When you’re a little kid, you don’t realize, you think people are just one thing; but then you get older, and you realize it’s not that simple. Chris wasn’t that simple. He was cruel and he was kind. And he didn’t like realizing that. It bothered him, that he wasn’t just one thing. I think it made him feel . . .” She drifted for long enough that I wondered if she’d left the sentence behind, but Conway kept waiting. In the end, Selena said, “It made him feel fragile. Like he could break into pieces any time, because he didn’t know how to hold himself together. That was why he did that with those other girls, went with them and kept it secret: so he could try out being different things and see how it felt, and he’d be safe. He could be as lovely as he wanted or as horrible as he wanted, and it wouldn’t count, because no one else would ever know. I thought, at first, maybe I could show him how to hold the different bits together; how he could be OK. But it didn’t work out that way.”

from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer:

There is a club for these people, the people who have waited outside the burning houses knowing that they will not go back in and knowing that the not-going-back-in will ruin them.

– – –

How long do you think a weak-minded addict will stay on the shelf? Because that day you walked in? That day I saw you? I swear, my heart slowed and my breath came easier. All that rabbiting I do—it just stopped. Not stopped by like magic, but stopped with reason. You are as strange and amazing as anything my stupid little brain has ever come up with, and you are from outside of it. You have no idea what great news that is. And I’m going to lift some copy here, but there is a time for everything, that day and night here you were the still point of the turning world, and I knew for sure that I had a place in it. That place is next to you.

I really am quite sure that there is something we’re supposed to do together, that there is more that is supposed to go on between us. Aren’t you? Isn’t there a held breath in your life right now? I’ve missed a few boats already, and I really don’t want to miss this one too. I realize that in that metaphor or analogy or whatever, you are a boat. That doesn’t really quite get what I mean, because I am also a boat. We are both boats and we are both passengers. We should not miss each other.

from Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle:

Grandma stayed on alone in the giant house where my dad and his brothers had grown up. When, eventually, the climb up the stairs got to be too much, she moved downstairs, and the second floor became an accidental museum commemorating the last day anybody’d lived there.

from The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (almost too many to count, really):

I consider how you don’t get to choose whom you’re attracted to, you only get to wonder about it, retrospectively.

– – –

She walks as if distrustful of floors, and sits down as if she’s had some bad experiences with chairs, too.

from Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer:

He wasn’t sure he knew the difference anymore between what he was meant to find and what he’d dug up on his own.

from Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer:

But, in truth, standing there with Lowry, looking out across his domain through a long plate of tinted glass, you feel more as if you’re staring at a movie set: a collection of objects that without the animation of Lowry’s paranoia and fear, his projection of a story upon them, are inert and pathetic. No, not even a movie set, you realize. More like a seaside carnival in the winter, in the off-season, when even the beach is a poem about loneliness.

– – –

Over time your memory of your mother faded, in the way of not knowing if an image or moment was something you’d experienced or seen going through the photographs your dad kept in a shoe box in the closet.

– – –

Writing, for me, is like trying to restart an engine that has rested for years, silent and rusting, in an empty lot—choked with water and dirt, infiltrated by ants and spiders and cockroaches. Vines and weeds shoved into it and sprouting out of it. A kind of coughing splutter, an eruption of leaves and dust, a voice that sounds a little like mine but is not the same as it was before; I use my actual voice rarely enough.

from The Confabulist, by Steven Galloway:

It’s inexplicable what causes a person to love someone. It is a feeling so irrational that it allows you to believe that the person you love has qualities they don’t actually possess. And when someone loves you back, it’s nearly impossible not to feel you must never let them see what you are really like, because you know deep inside that you are not worthy of their love.

– – –

We talked in a roundabout way about nothing in particular: school, people we knew, things we liked and didn’t like. It was the sort of conversation people who haven’t known each other long but understand they will have many more conversations have, uncomplicated and almost lazy but also anticipatory.

– – –

Being a parent is a monumental thing. You shape reality for another person. You cannot be an illusion. You cannot be paralyzed by the fear that you are an illusion. If you have done a bad job, or no job at all, what remains of you is proof that the world is an unfeeling place. If you have done a good job, what remains is the part of you that was magical.

from Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel:

No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.

– – –

He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light.

from The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber:

There was a red button on the wall labeled EMERGENCY, but no button labeled BEWILDERMENT.

– – –

He walked with increasing pace, turned corners with increasing resolution, and was met each time with the same rectangular passageways and rows of identical doors. In a place like this, you couldn’t even be sure if you were lost.


* I hate to sound like an Amazon infomercial, but: I just picked up the new Kindle Voyage, and it’s pretty fabulous.  But it didn’t save the highlights I’d saved on my Paperwhite, and the Paperwhite didn’t save anything that I’d featured on my 2nd-gen Kindle, and none of them save anything I might’ve noted on my iPhone or iPad.

DAI: It’s all over

DAI_fade

It’s all over.  At just over 50 hours, and with still tons more side-stuff to do, I have finished the Dragon Age Inquisition campaign.

If you want the short version:  it’s very good.   It’s the best BioWare console experience I’ve had since Mass Effect 2, that’s for sure.  Is it my Game of the Year?  That’s a tougher question.  I stand by its inclusion in my top 5, but I don’t know that it was the “best thing I played all year.”

For one thing, even though it ran pretty smoothly for me, there were a handful of times when the game locked up and crashed on me – including the literal moment before the final battle started, which meant I had to re-load the game and go through the opening cutscenes again, wondering if I’d lost any progress (since I hadn’t done a hard save before I started the mission).

And honestly?  I’m kinda glad it’s over, because holy shit it’s been a while since I sunk that much time into a game; even if, at the same time, it’s been a long time since I played a game that I enjoyed for that long without getting bored.  Sure, some things are tedious; I read the subtitles quicker than the voice actors say their lines; towards the end I opted to fast-travel instead of walk, because I don’t particularly care to inspect every single goddamned inch and harvest every single goddamned herb and mineral; but what would an RPG be if not slightly tedious at times?  The overall experience was far more enjoyable than any moment-to-moment tedium.


What to do now?  There’s something freeing about finishing a massive game like DAI; it’s like finally finishing a huge book, where you’re kinda sad to see it go, but also glad that you can move on to something new – or just take a little break altogether, now that you’re not shackled to anything in particular.

I may go back and finish some of DAI’s side-stuff – there are still a large number of small quests I never finished, and plenty of places I never fully explored, and that stuff can be dealt with in short bursts.

I may go back to Forza Horizon 2 (henceforth, “Forizon 2”) and might even get that new DLC island.

I may dip my toes back into Far Cry 4, or also Shadow of Mordor, and if Sony puts Alien Isolation on sale, I might buy it and try to finish it.

One thing I’m not going to do, though, is finish Assassin’s Creed Unity.  I gave it a quick go yesterday afternoon, once the latest patch was installed, and the simple fact that it took me almost 3 minutes of staring at the map to figure out where the hell the next story mission was located was all I needed to say, “I don’t have time for this shit.”

Speaking of which, one of the categories in my GOTY post that I didn’t get to this year was “A Once-Favorite Franchise That I’m More Or Less Ready To Give Up On”, and it should go without saying that the winner of that particular category would be Assassin’s Creed.  I’m done.  I don’t care about next year’s installment; I don’t believe it will fix the things that need fixing, nor do I have faith that it will be shipped in a working state.  And considering the current state of Ubisoft game design, why should I bother playing an Assassins Creed game when I could play Far Cry 5, or Watch Dogs 2, or whatever else they decide to rush out the door?


 

And speaking of the GOTY post, three other notable omissions:

1.  In the “Did Not Get To” pile, the biggest name on that list is Kentucky Route Zero.  I’ve been meaning to sit down and give KRZ a serious go for basically the whole year, and for whatever reason I never found myself in the right frame of mind and with enough time to give each episode a proper go.  (“Right frame of mind” doesn’t necessarily imply a state of sobriety, mind you; it simply means being open and un-distracted for a different sort of pace.)  I’ve heard nothing about raves about both Episode 3 and a Side Story thing, and I need to get on this soon.

2.  Also in the “Did Not Get To” pile, but with the caveat that I simply hadn’t bought it yet, is Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.  I was a big fan of the first game, and this appears to be more of the same; I just haven’t gotten around to pulling the trigger yet.

3.  I did end up playing the first 10 minutes of Danganronpa over the weekend, which is (obviously) not nearly enough time to figure out just what the hell is going on.  I would like to give it at least an hour or so to figure it out, and then decide whether I should push on with it or send it back.  I don’t necessarily regret buying the Vita, but I never have a proper opportunity to play it, and, so, there it is.

 

The Year In Games – 2014

For the first time in a long time, I find myself unable to fill out a top 10 list.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t 10 games worthy of consideration – we’ll get to what I didn’t play in a bit – but it means that, of the approximately 60 games I did play this year, I only really genuinely liked a small handful, and it feels weird to round out a list with stuff I didn’t care for.

And even if I still felt compelled to get to the magic number 10, then I’d have to get over my weird feelings about including games that I already played last year, but with more pixels per inch or whatever.  For example:  I think the PS4 versions of both The Last of Us and Diablo 3 are the definitive editions of both games, and my experience with both of them radically changed the way I’d previously viewed them, but… I’ve always tried to keep these posts focused on new games, and I can’t rightly call either of those two games “new”.

And this isn’t even taking into account stuff like P.T., which I don’t even know how to classify.  It’s a teaser for a new Silent Hill game, but it’s also an unsettling and thoroughly creepy experience in its own right, but as a game in and of itself, it’s awfully clumsy… I didn’t play anything like it all year, but does it belong in a Top 10 list?

All this navel-gazing is a bit meaningless, though.  Because when I look back on 2014 in a few years, I’m not going to remember any of this stuff.  I’m going to look at this year and think of two things:  (1) overhyped, broken blockbusters, and (2) Gamergate.

Regarding (1):  I’m not a developer, but I get it.  I get that 2014 was a transitional year in terms of new hardware and developers were trying to develop for two different console generations, which means four different systems (five if you count the Wii U, and most developers didn’t), and getting shit to work is tough.  But I am a consumer, and I spent a lot of money on games (and game systems) this year, and most of what I played required rather sizable day one patches before I could start playing, and even then some of the games still didn’t work.  As of 12/18, Assassin’s Creed Unity’s fourth significant patch has been released, weighing in at 6.7GB – although due to an error, the Xbox One version makes you re-download the entire 40+GB game; the multiplayer component of Halo Master Chief Collection, arguably the primary reason for this thing to exist in the first place is apparently still broken; and the PS+ edition of Driveclub may not ever come out.

Regarding (2):  I can’t even.  Nor will I pretend to be a good enough writer to articulate just how thoroughly disgusted and embarrassed I am to be a member of a community that allows this sort of thing to happen.  I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t do more to stop it.  I attempt to justify my inaction by saying that I’m not a good enough writer, that I have a very small audience at my blog, and less than 200 followers on Twitter:  I scream into a gaping void.  These “shouts from the couch” are just a miniscule part of the collective, deafening noise.  But that’s no excuse.  In this era of hashtag activism, I need to do more than simply RT someone else’s hard work.  I’m putting it upon myself to be more aware of these issues, to be more proactive in speaking out against it, and to be more supportive of the people whose lives are being turned upside down because of it.


Let me switch gears here for a moment, because this is all going to fall apart pretty quickly if I don’t.  Despite all the ugliness above, 2014 was a significantly positive year for me as a writer.  I got a piece featured in Unwinnable, which totally made my day; I put in some time at Gamemoir and hit the biggest traffic numbers I’ve ever gotten in my life; and I got a piece in Videodame, which subsequently got featured on Critical Distance – not a Blogs of the Round Table, but an actual honest-to-goodness weekly roundup.

I may still be a long ways off from being as good of a writer as I want to be, and considering the current state of the game journo industry it is probably very unlikely that I will ever be able to do it full-time, but I’m still here, and I’m trying to get better, and considering how many times over the last 2-3 years that I’ve considered folding up shop and walking away from the scene entirely, I guess that’s a good thing.

As far as actual gaming is concerned:

Last year I was something of a PC hermit, but this year I officially joined the new console generation.  I filled up my PS4’s hard drive; I bought a PS Vita during a moment of weakness and ended up loving the hell out of it (even if I don’t play it as much as I’d like); I went from being an Xbox One skeptic to a rather happy Xbox One owner.

My PS3 is currently in my bedroom where it ostensibly functions as a blu-ray player and a backup in case that TV’s Roku stops working, and my 360 is, sadly, no longer with us.

Regarding Nintendo: my 3DS has been collecting dust all year, and I still have no desire to get a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 notwithstanding.


THE RAW DATA:

My spreadsheet is a bit of a mess compared to past years, but it looks like I played 62 games between console, PC and handheld (Vita/3DS), and I finished 15 of them.  (I should’ve kept better track of what I played on my iPhone, but, alas, I didn’t.)

“Finishing” is, as always, a nebulous term; the only game I can claim to have finished to 100% completion is Infamous Second Son, and even then I didn’t play the DLC.  So let’s say I saw the credits roll 15 times.  I’ve put 40+ hours into Dragon Age Inquisition but haven’t yet finished it (as of 12/18), and I’d sunk 10-20 hours into Forza Horizon 2 before I got sucked into DAI.  That’s a significant amount of time to develop opinions on games I haven’t finished, all things considered.

I’ve often thought that games are weird, in that I can have these sorts of statistics to throw around.  When it comes to books, I finish at least 90% of what I start, and the remaining 10% is usually put down at the very beginning – I know pretty much right away if I’m going to remain engaged with something.   But with games?  I put a solid 10-12 hours into Alien Isolation before sending it back; I loved a lot about that game, but it would appear that I hit my final rage-quit moment at about the halfway point, which means there’s still at least 10 more hours to go.

More significantly, though, there are also 28 games that I’d consider “notable” that I did not play, at all; and I’d also say that of the 62 games I did play, there’s quite a few that I simply did not spend enough time with, either because I got distracted by something else, or because I bought a whole bunch of games during a Steam Sale without getting a chance to play any of them, or simply that the game in question just wasn’t clicking for me.  (Speaking of which – as I type these words, the latest holiday Steam Sale has gone live.  Goddammit.)

In the final analysis, I’m not sure I felt engaged with anything this year.  I got sucked into a fair share of games, and I was pleasantly surprised more than a few times, and I probably spent more money on games and hardware this year than in any other… but I can’t say I fell in love with anything.

I guess I should start this thing already.

The Year In Achievements: After obsessively tracking my Achievement progress for the last 6 years or so, I’ve decided to formally retire this category for several reasons.  Firstly, there was an 8-9 month gap between finishing South Park on the 360 and starting Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 on the XBO, so the number is pitifully small.  Secondly, spending 8-9 months with the PS4’s Trophy system pretty much rendered the entire purpose irrelevant; as much as I’ve enjoyed my PS4 experience, Trophies remain meaningless.  Finally, the PS4 is probably going to remain my primary console for the foreseeable future, so tracking my Achievement progress kinda feels like a waste of time.  All this being said, I have to admit that unlocking Achievements on the Xbox One is still a cool sensation, and the XBO’s Achievement tracking panel is really well done.  It’s not important enough any more for me to play multi-platform games on the XBO, but it’s still a pleasant feeling.

Kickstarters Funded:

  • Unwinnable Magazine
  • Treachery in Beatdown City
  • Superhot
  • Sunset
  • Epanalepsis
  • Elegy for a Dead World

Favorite Weekly Features:  In a year filled with mean-spirited misery at every turn, there were two always-reliable (and very different) features that put a smile on my face every time:

Best Mechanic / Favorite Moments:

  • Watch Dogs:  There’s a tremendous amount of stuff to dislike and/or actively hate in Watch Dogs, but using the phone hacking device to eliminate a gang hideout without ever firing a bullet is the best thing that game has going for it.
  • Desert Golfing: getting a hole-in-one after shanking a +20.
  • Alien Isolation: any time I can get from point A to point B without being killed by the Alien is a win for me, basically.  And yet maybe my favorite / most empowering moment came when I was backed into a corner, the Alien charging at me, and then I suddenly whipped out the flamethrower and startled it far enough away for me to successfully escape.

Games Where I Saw The Credits Roll:

  1. Broken Age Part 1
  2. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  3. Jazzpunk
  4. South Park: Stick of Truth
  5. MGS: Ground Zeroes
  6. Infamous Second Son
  7. Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2
  8. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
  9. Wolfenstein
  10. Watch Dogs
  11. Murdered: Soul Suspect
  12. The Lego Movie Videogame
  13. A Story About My Uncle
  14. The Last of Us Remastered
  15. Destiny (original campaign, up to level 20)

Did Not Finish, Would Like To Finish Someday:

  • Dragon Age Inquisition (because I’m still playing it)
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Elegy for a Dead World
  • Final Fantasy X (Vita)
  • Transistor
  • Valiant Hearts
  • Oddworld New & Tasty

Will Probably Never Finish But Would At Least Like To Give Another Go:

  • Olli Olli
  • Lufttrausers
  • Mind: Path to Thalamus
  • The Talos Principle

Did Not Finish, Still Unsure About:

  • Far Cry 4
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity (I’m so close to the end, might as well try, but ugh)
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Child of Light
  • Alien Isolation (debating whether to go back to it now that there’s a difficulty slider)

Did Not Finish, Will Never Finish:

  • Trials Fusion
  • Mario Golf: World Tour
  • Thief
  • Dark Souls II
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Vanishing of Ethan Carter (I was really looking forward to this one and finally bought it, and then found out that the main dev is a GamerGate supporter.  It shouldn’t matter – the game has nothing to do with it – and yet it makes my teeth itch.)

Not My Bag:

  • Hearthstone (never made it out of the tutorial, I don’t think.  CCGs just aren’t my thing.)

Games Played for 10 Minutes or Less:

  • Rune Factory 4 (3DS)
  • Sniper Elite III

Notable Games I Didn’t Play:  As noted above, this is a rather sizable list.  I’m only one man, a man with a day job and a small child to take care of.  These things happen; please don’t think less of me.

  • Nidhogg
  • Shovel Knight (I think I heard there’s a Vita version coming? That’ll get fixed right away, then.)
  • Octodad
  • FF14
  • Professor Layton and Azran Legacy (first Layton game I’ve missed.)
  • Titanfall (didn’t own an XB1 until way too late for me to be any good at this.)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (dare I admit I’m still kinda curious about the console version?)
  • MLB 14: the Show
  • Super Time Force
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Forza 5
  • Divinity: Original Sin (might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale.)
  • Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
  • Plants v Zombies Garden Warfare  (I did download the PS4 version for free a few weeks ago…)
  • Danganronpa (1, 2)  (D1 is in my Vita as I write this, where it’s been for the last 2 weeks, and I still haven’t turned it on)
  • Hatoful Boyfriend
  • Disney Infinity Marvel
  • 3DS Super Smash Bros.
  • Bayonetta 2
  • The Evil Within
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth (again, might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale)
  • Lords of the Fallen
  • D4
  • Assassin’s Creed Rogue
  • Little Big Planet 3
  • Captain Toad
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s
  • Never Alone  (Definitely on my to-get-to list at some point.)

Best HD Remake: a category that we’re going to be seeing a bit more of, at least for the next few years.  It’s not necesssarily the worst thing in the world; the developer gets to practice on the new console, and meanwhile the consumer gets to play a better version of something they might’ve missed the last time around.  To that end, I really enjoyed The Last of Us on PS4, far more than I did on the PS3.  The PS4 controller is such a better thing to hold in one’s hands, which made the gameplay far less frustrating to deal with; the photo mode was a ton of fun to play with; and the Left Behind DLC was absolutely gorgeous and beautiful and moving and important.  (Carolyn Petit wrote about it quite fantastically in her 2014 GOTY post.)

For the record, I also considered:

  • Tomb Raider (worth it)
  • Diablo III (so much more enjoyable than on the PC, for some reason)
  • Final Fantasy X (only gave this a few hours)
  • Oddworld: New & Tasty (still need to finish this, but this is a pretty remarkable remake)
  • GTA V
  • Halo Anniversary

While we’re talking HD remakes…

A List of Possible HD Remasters I’d Be Interested In Checking Out, as long as this is a thing:

  • we already know about Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle
  • Borderlands?
  • DmC and Devil May Cry 4
  • maybe we find out about Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus HD?  has Oddworld released sales figures from New & Tasty, the results of which would determine such a thing?
  • I bet we see a Bioshock HD bundle as TakeTwo figures out what they want to do with the IP in the wake of Irrational’s closure
  • Mass Effect 1-3?
  • I still desperately want a Rockstar “Orange Box” with Red Dead, Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noire (and/or one of the Midnight Clubs)
  • now that Disney controls Lucasarts IP, might we see older, classic Star Wars games get HD’d, in the leadup to Episode 7?
  • God, how I’d love to get an HD Burnout Paradise

Most Notable Voice Performance:  I don’t know that I can pinpoint a truly great voice performance this year, but I’m sure we can all agree that Peter Dinklage’s dialed-in, dead-eyed monotone for Destiny is certainly the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons.  I still maintain, though, that it isn’t totally his fault.

Most Disappointing:  In a year filled with one disappointment after another, it’s hard to even pick just one.  I could probably round out a Top 10 of Biggest Disappointments far easier and quicker than I can my actual Top 10 Favorite Games of the Year.  I had high hopes for Trials Fusion, the HD sequel to one of my favorite Xbox Live games, but it never quite felt as right in my hands as I wanted it to.  I had especially high hopes for Mario Golf: World Tour, as I’m a huge fan of arcade golf games and would’ve loved any excuse to keep my 3DS with me at all times, but there was literally nothing to that game at all.  But in the end, I have to hand this award to Watch Dogs, a game that not only failed to live up to its own excessive hype machine, but which was also profoundly stupid, terribly written, featured dumb characters in a lifeless city, and focused on all the wrong things.  The phone hacking – while absurd – is the only thing that’s worth holding onto for the inevitable sequel, and even then I’m setting my expectations very, very low indeed.

Best Podcast:  Hard to choose between them, so let me cop out:

  • Scoops and the Wolf
  • Idle Thumbs
  • Quality Control

Favorite Articles:  I didn’t stay on top of this as much as I’d like, as especially towards the end of the year everything turned into responses to Gamergate and I couldn’t take it anymore.  That said, nearly everything in this GoogleDoc is worth checking out.  Some highlights would include:

Best iOS Games of the Year:

  • Threes
  • Monument Valley
  • Crossy Road
  • Trials Frontier
  • Hitman Go
  • Desert Golfing

I haven’t yet had a chance to play Simogo’s “Sailor’s Dream”.  That’s a notable omission on my part.  I kinda want to play it on iPad, but I hardly use my iPad these days.

Games Of The Year:  We’re already just about at the 3000 word mark and I’m just not feeling it.  This is sad.  It’s been a sad year.  I enjoyed these five games a lot, even if I haven’t yet finished 2 of them.  I don’t know that I can rank one over the other.

  • Wolfenstein:  Without question, the biggest and most welcome surprise of the year.  a big-budget game that wasn’t broken, didn’t have an obligatory multiplayer mode, had a well-written supporting case of characters, and remained faithful to the source material while also having you shoot up Nazis on the goddamned moon?  Yes, yes, and yes.  I had an absolute blast with this one.
  • South Park: Stick of Truth: What this game had to go through just to get released is a pretty remarkable achievement in and of itself; that it turned out to be a really, really funny South Park experience is even better.  The RPG side of it is serviceable, if tedious, but the game’s aware of that, too.  It also features the single best argument against the tired trope of voice recorders as exposition dumps of all time.
  • Dragon Age Inquisition: I’m still in the middle of this one – well, does 45 hours count as “the middle”?  It’s a remarkable return to form for BioWare considering their recent stumbles, and I’m very much looking forward to finish this one.
  • Forza Horizon 2: At some point earlier this year I might have called this my new favorite driving game of all time.  I’ll need to get back to this once I’m done with DAI, and I’ll probably want to give Burnout Paradise another go to make sure, but I could live with this being my favorite driving game of all time.  It’s what sold me on the Xbox One, even if I bought the Sunset Overdrive bundle.
  • Jazzpunk:  This is a wild, extremely surreal and very funny indie adventure game, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  Highly worth checking out.

Is that enough?  Can we go now?  Let’s go now.  Let’s hope that 2014’s miseries are quickly put to bed, and that 2015 comes in and obliterates any lingering memory of this god-forsaken year.  Cheers.

on GOTY paralysis, Hatred & Valve, and @Nero’s review of DAI

Look, I don’t really even know what to write about today.  I feel like I’ve gotta say something, if only to justify the expensive site redesign.

I’m still playing Dragon Age but I feel like I’ve run out of things to say about it, even if I’m 40-50 hours in and have no idea how much is left.  As far as proper story missions go, I finished “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” last night; but meanwhile “Here Lies the Abyss” is still open because I started it before I was properly leveled up.  According to IGN’s walkthrough*, I have 4 main storyline missions to complete, but I’m also doing pretty much every single sidequest I can find – all my companion quests, all the random environmental quests, and most of the fade rifts I come across (although I get bored of those and don’t find them especially compelling).

I intend to finish it – and, indeed, I want to finish it – but I also feel like I have to finish it because only then can I start moving on to the other stuff I’ve put aside.  I’m looking at my GOTY post-in-progress and there’s just so much I’ve yet to get to.  I know I said as much last week, but man.

Why this quest for completeness?  Why am I feeling pressure?  I’m not getting paid for this!  Nobody’s asking for it!  Someone once yelled at me for a post I wrote that I was just writing inflammatory shit “for the clicks” – but on a good day this site gets maybe 20 hits.  I get more views just from cross-posting at Kotaku’s TAY forum, which I’ve only done like 3 or 4 times.

*sigh*

In other words, I’m having trouble even finishing this post because I’m distracted by:

  1. Valve putting “Hatred” up on Greenlight, and then promptly removing it; and
  2. Milo “Nero” Yiannopoulos’ “review” of Dragon Age.

Regarding 1:  I never actually ended up posting my thoughts regarding Hatred when it was originally announced, though they more or less aligned with Polygon’s opinion article.  I just turned 39 and I’ve been playing games for most of my life, and so I’m sure the number of virtual people I’ve killed is in the 6-7 digit range by this point; but as I’ve grown older I’ve found it becoming less and less enjoyable**.  Even so, I continue to do it, if only because the context of these virtual killings is more or less understood to be “entertaining”, and not literal.  But I still have limits.  I tried playing Rockstar’s infamous Manhunt a million years ago and found myself nauseated by the snuff-film aesthetic; I tried playing Postal and just found it hideously stupid.

Hatred, on the other hand, is different.  Hatred is specifically about going on a suicidal shooting spree, massacring as many innocent civilians and police officers as possible.  (Yes, you can do this in GTA if you feel like it; the key phrase in that sentence, though, is “if you feel like it”.)  To quote the developers themselves:

The answer is simple really. We wanted to create something contrary to prevailing standards of forcing games to be more polite or nice than they really are or even should be.

Yes, putting things simply, we are developing a game about killing people. But what’s more important is the fact that we are honest in our approach. Our game doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is and we don’t add to it any fake philosophy.

In fact, when you think deeper about it, there are many other games out there, where you can do exactly the same things that the antagonist will do in our project. The only difference is that in Hatred gameplay will focus on those things.

I personally find the game distasteful, disgusting, hideous, nightmarish.  I wouldn’t play it; I wouldn’t accept money to review it for a publication; I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.  Frankly, I find its mere existence to be nauseating, as is the community that’s rallied around to support it.  Even the name smacks of opportunism, a brazen attempt to be “un-PC” while being willfully ignorant that being “un-PC” is, in fact, a very clear political agenda.

Does that make Valve’s decision to pull it right?  Paul Tassi in Forbes makes some interesting observations (the whole article is worth a read):

Though you could also make the mass media argument that if something like Human Centipede (and its even-worse sequel) is available to stream freely on Netflix, that it’s not the most ludicrous thing in the world for Steam to consider allowing Hatred to exist there. Not that I’m encouraging that, but Hatred is hardly the first piece of media to glorify or stylize the murder of innocent people. I really don’t care to defend Hatred as the content is frankly nauseating, but it just seems weird where the line is drawn when we look at what other types of violent media are hugely popular and widely distributed.

Valve is a storefront, and I think they have the right to sell whatever they want; they’re not censoring it, they’re just refusing to sell it.  Valve’s near-ubiquity in the PC market might make some people wonder what the effective difference is, since if you’re not sold on Steam, where can you be?  It’s a tricky question, and I’d like to hear Valve offer some clearer guidelines as to what it chooses to sell, but by the same token I also agree with Tassi’s conclusion:

I think it has the right to exist, but if it doesn’t, I certainly don’t think the world has lost a valuable piece of media.

Regarding 2: I’ll have more to say about Milo in my 2014 GOTY post, but in the meantime, that “review” is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read.  It’s enraging, it’s ludicrous, it’s impossible to take seriously; it’s an expert bit of trolling by a guy who’s clearly pandering to an audience.  (The review apparently came out within 24 hours of his announcement of his forthcoming book about GamerGate, in a funny bit of irony.)   The Gamergate audience claims they want “unbiased objectivity” in their reviews, and yet this review is nothing but bias – sexist, transphobic bias – and it’s also full of straight-up lies and made-up bullshit.  The more you read it – if you can stomach it – the more you wonder if he actually played it.

I’ll let @untimelygamer take it from here:


* I know I say this every time I link to a walkthrough, but I’m saying it again for clarity – I’m not using a walkthrough, I’m just curious to see how much is left.

** Which is probably why I’ve been avoiding Far Cry 4, frankly.

Prelude to the 2014 GOTY Post

Ordinarily this is my favorite time of year, where I spend most of my free time preparing my Game of the Year post.  I compile thousands of words devoted to dozens of categories, in an attempt to single-handedly out-write all the GOTY posts from all the major sites, while also attempting to justify and rationalize the hundreds of dollars I spend on games (and the hundreds of hours I spend playing them).  SFTC is a one-man operation, after all, and since I’m operating in a vacuum, I try to be as comprehensive as I possibly can.  It’s a labor of love that I’ve always looked forward to.

Until this year.

This year sucked.

Between the increasingly toxic nature of the gaming community’s worst elements, and the fact that quite a lot of this year’s AAA blockbusters were either HD remasters of games I played last year or games that were straight-up broken, I’m looking at my Google spreadsheets and categories and I’m mostly just shaking my head.  I’m not even 100% sure that I can compile a rock-solid Top 10; I don’t know that there were 10 games that I enjoyed that much.  I have a pretty solid top 3, and after that it’s mostly just clutter.

So look forward to reading a few thousand words about sadness, coming maybe next week?


I’m 35 hours into Dragon Age Inquisition.  I’m around level 14 and kinda just biding my time, leveling up and grinding until I’m ready to take on the next main story mission.  I have successfully romanced Sera, so there’s that.

I still wish the game was clearer as to what the recommended level was for each area you enter; I’ve been spending the last few hours traipsing around the Emerald Graves, and for the most part I’ve been handling myself quite well although there are a few Fade Rifts that are straight up impossible, and I also stumbled across a gigantic dragon that happened to be looking the other way, and there were also some giants that were chasing me around for a bit.

You know what game it reminds me of, more than anything else?  I mean, besides other BioWare games?  Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the ill-fated action RPG from a few years back.  The writing in DAI is much better, of course, but the general vibe of the experience feels very much the same; the environments are similarly varied, the sidequests are stumbled upon in similar ways.  I liked KoA:R, too, even if it was beyond massive and I never came close to finishing it; indeed, I think I liked KoA’s combat system more than I do DAI.


Getting back to the GOTY post – I feel like I can’t start writing it in earnest until I finish a few more things, or at least spend some more time with them.  I’ve had Danganronpa in my Vita for a week and a half and I haven’t had a chance to even turn the thing on, let alone play it.  Meanwhile, now that there’s this new patch for Alien Isolation that tweaks the difficulty a bit, I’m wondering if I should go back to it and try to finish it.  I still want to give Shadow of Mordor the benefit of the doubt, though I suspect I’ve been away from it for too long; I also want to give Sunset Overdrive another go before I totally forget how to play it.  And I also want to go back and revisit some games from earlier this year, just to make sure I still feel as strongly about them now as I did then (i.e.Wolfenstein).  Will you notice the difference if I don’t?  Does anything matter?

To borrow from today’s AV Club article about Top 10 lists:

Sometimes, we get so focused on our lists and defining ourselves that we forget to take a moment and think about what all of these pieces of pop culture mean to us and to others. TV shows, films, video games, and books aren’t something to be categorized like manila envelopes at an insurance firm. They’re art; and art, at its best, is an experience, and it’s best shared with others.

My Year in Reading: 2014 (and 2013, too)

I was wondering why I didn’t write a year-end recap of the books I read last year, and then I remembered:  oh yeah, I had a baby, and you don’t read books when you have a brand-new baby.  How can you read when you don’t sleep, you barely eat, and any free time you do manage to carve out is usually at work?  And reading on the subway is super difficult for me, given that the subway engineer on my evening commute makes a habit of loudly narrating pretty much every single inch of track with inane Subway 101 tips and tricks, making it impossible to concentrate on anything else unless I have headphones on.

That being said, I still kept track of what I read last year in a GoogleDoc spreadsheet because this is what I do, and, well, yeah:  I only finished 6 books last year – 7 if you include my quasi-annual re-read of Infinite Jest (my 8th or 9th time through, but 1st time in e-book format, which is far preferable when you’re on the go).  It was an embarrassingly low number for me, even if I had a pretty good excuse.

Still, in the interest of maintaining the historical record, these are the books that I read in 2013, in rough chronological order:

The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive 1), Brandon Sanderson
I’m not a big fantasy reader, but this had been recommended by enough people over the years that I felt compelled to give it a shot, and what do you know – I was immediately taken with it.  Sanderson is absurdly prolific, as you’ll see below.

Tenth of December, George Saunders
I’m also not necessarily a reader of short stories; I generally prefer gigantic novels.  But, again, Saunders had been recommended and highly reviewed, and this New York Times profile was an incredible read in and of itself, and I picked this up and quickly devoured it…

Pastoralia, George Saunders
…and then devoured this as well.  I would’ve continued down the Saunders rabbit hole but I didn’t want to burn out on him, and so I stopped myself from buying his other books, but they’re most certainly on my to-do list.

The Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson
Like I said above, Sanderson is ridiculously prolific.  This is but one of many gigantic trilogies he’s written, and part of what’s so astounding about him is that while these books are literally humongous, he’s still quite marvelous at world building and character work and making sure you never feel lost.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill
I’d read a few of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts and decided I wanted to read him in a longer format, and this happened to come out right when this urge was reaching a fevered pitch.  I think the first 2 thirds of this book are quite stunning, and certainly reminiscent of his father’s work; unfortunately, it fell apart for me a little bit at the end.

Night Film, Marisha Pessl
I was a huge fan of her first book, Strange Topics in Calamity Physics, and had very high hopes for this one; perhaps my expectations were too high, though, because this one never came together for me, and I found the ending quite bland.

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon
Curiously, I didn’t give this a grade in my spreadsheet.  I’m not sure I enjoyed it very much, though I was certainly surprised at how super-aware and knowledgeable he is about popular culture.  In any event, books about 9/11 are still tough for me to read, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to change.


I picked up the slack big-time in 2014, I’m happy to say; I finished 22 books, and I feel certain that I’m going to finish my 23rd by the end of next week.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Normally I read rather quickly, but not so here; this took me forever to get through.  I started it in mid-December of ’13, and if Goodreads is to be believed, I didn’t finish it until March of ’14.  That’s absurd.  As for the book itself; there’s no denying that Tartt is astonishingly talented, and that her characters are memorable and real, but I found the pacing very slow and I feel a little bit like the main character got let off the hook at the end – even though I also felt that he’d suffered through some very bad luck.

Words of Radiance: Stormlight Archive 2, Brandon Sanderson
Another huge book, but I finished this in a matter of weeks, and I’m sure I’ll read the first two volumes again to get caught up for volume 3 (even though he does a terrific job of getting you up to speed).

Lexicon, Max Barry
I read this over the course of our first family vacation, and found it intoxicating.  A sci-fi concept where language can be used as weaponry, and “poets” are trained by a highly secretive organization.  Two converging narratives with an absolutely stunning and moving reveal.

Pioneer Detectives, Konstantin Kakaes
Spoiler alert: “one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time” is not, in fact, all that mysterious after all.  An entertaining read, to be sure, but also a bit of a let down.

Niceville
The Homecoming (Niceville 2), Carsten Stroud
I was in the mood for a pulpy supernatural thriller, and these two fit the bill quite well.  Part 3 is slated to come out next summer; I’m not sure it’ll be on my list, but these were interesting.

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
Boy oh boy, this was absolutely one of the creepiest ghost stories I’ve ever read.

Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards 1)
Red Seas under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards 2)
Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards 3), Scott Lynch
I wish I could remember who it was on Twitter that first brought these to my attention – whoever you are, you have my eternal thanks.  The easiest way to explain these books is as Ocean’s Eleven set in a vaguely steampunk world, except where everything turns to shit pretty much all the time, and where “success” doesn’t always mean “a big score”, but rather “not dying horribly.”

Declare, Tim Powers
I am and have always been fascinated with secret societies and hidden, occult-ish mysteries, and putting that sort of ethos inside of a Cold War spy novel is pretty much a win-win.

The Secret Place, Tana French
I’ve been a fan of the Dublin Murder Squad since the very first one, though each subsequent novel has been a little more disappointing than the previous one.  I’m happy to say, then, that this one was a lot more enjoyable than the last few, and I’m curious to know where she goes in further volumes now that she’s introduced a subtle element of the supernatural into the proceedings.  The earlier books never had it, and instead their hook was really just about how hard the ending could punch you in the stomach.  This was not a gut-puncher to that sort of degree, but it was still a good read.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer
Having just finished watching all six episodes of Black Mirror, I feel very much like this book could exist in that sort of universe, a universe where one private corporation is attempting to become the uber-Facebook with serious sinister implications and an underground resistance is attempting to hack their way into destroying it.

Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle
I’m not at all familiar with Darnielle’s band, Mountain Goats, but I’d certainly read a volume of his collected lyrics; the man clearly has a way with words.  This is a deeply beautiful meditation on loneliness, with an ending that left me speechless.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
This is my book of the year, without question.  I wrote up a thing about it here.  I want to read it again, but I also want to read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet first.

Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy 1)
Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy 2)
Acceptance (Southern Reach Trilogy 3), Jeff VanderMeer
The first book is a knockout; the second is somewhat of a letdown, though it expands on the first book’s backstory in rather significant ways; the third book is an attempt to reconcile the first two, answering certain questions while raising even more.  I’m not entirely sure that the trilogy is a successful one, but the first book is so incredibly good that you might as well give it a go.

Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
This is a small side-story to the larger Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, and it feels very much like an experiment in tone and structure and character development, but it’s also a rather beautiful read.  Rothfuss himself warns you that you might not like it in the preface, and I suppose that’s true if this is your first introduction to his work; but if you’ve read the first two proper books and are eager for anything more, this is more or less mandatory.

The Confabulist, Steven Galloway
A historical mystery novel that is somewhat reminiscent of Carter Beats the Devil, though not nearly as much fun as that book.  Still, it’s an intriguing premise – the memoirs of the man who killed Houdini (twice), and the ending is surprisingly affecting.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy this as much as everyone else seems to be; perhaps I’d just had my fill of post-apocalypse dystopia (especially since the final chapter of Bone Clocks is so shockingly devastating on that particular front).  It’s very well written, and the various threads in both present and past are woven quite delicately; I’m just not sure they worked for me.

Teatro Grottesco, Thomas Ligotti
I’m still in the middle of this one, and I’m enjoying it quite thoroughly.  Ligotti’s reputation is that of a modern-day Lovecraft or Poe; all of his stories take place in the fog in desolate towns, and which are shadowed by unsettling… things, and there’s a philosophical weariness and uneasiness in his narrators that creates a powerful and quite nerve-rattling sense of dread.  I’ll be looking forward to reading more of him, though I’ll definitely need a palate cleanser before I do.

Revisiting the Exclusivity Argument

It was revealed today that Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only coming to the Xbox One first, but is in fact being published by Microsoft outright, which more than likely precludes it from ever coming to the PS4 (though PC is not out of the question).

I went on a big rant about this earlier this year, long before I decided to buy an Xbox One – though if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that this forthcoming Tomb Raider game was definitely part of my decision to finally get one, even if it’s not coming out until next year.

Of course, Sony went ahead and made Street Fighter 5 a PS4 exclusive just this past weekend, thereby raising the ire of many Xbox One fans who were expecting to play it.

I’m not sure why this needs explaining, but I was misunderstood on Twitter, so I figure I might as well give it a shot:

Every console needs exclusives; otherwise there’s no point in having different machines.  I don’t own a Wii U, nor do I ever intend to (regardless of what others might say), but man – people keep talking about how amazing Bayonetta 2 is, and if I’m ever going to play it, that’s the only place to do it.

Still:  there’s a fundamental difference between first- and second-party exclusives, and third-party games which become exclusive.

Brianna Wu – who is much smarter than me – tweeted this:

The problem is that all the games she cited – GOW (whether you’re talking Gears of War or God of War), Titanfall, Forza or Halo – these are known quantities as console exclusives.  Uncharted has always been a Sony exclusive; Forza will always be a Microsoft exclusive.  I was pissed when Tomb Raider 2 was announced as an Xbox One timed exclusive because I didn’t own or plan on owning an Xbox One at the time, but more to the point – I was expecting it to appear on the PS4.  Tomb Raider HD came out on the PS4 earlier this year, and it was fantastic, and no less an authority than Digital Foundry proclaimed the PS4 version to be superior in terms of performance to the Xbox One version.

I don’t have a dog in the Street Fighter 5 fight; I’m not a big fighting game fan, and in any event I own both consoles now, so it doesn’t directly affect me.  But I can guarantee that if I were a big fighting game fan, and I only owned an Xbox One, I’d be just as pissed about this news as I was about Tomb Raider.

Imagine, if you will, that next year’s Batman Arkham Knight – possibly my most heavily anticipated game of 2015 – was suddenly announced as an Xbox One console exclusive.  Or if part of the delay in developing The Witcher 3 was because it was now coming out as a PS4 exclusive.

Your skin is crawling right now because if you only own one console, you were probably expecting to play at least one of those games next year.  And if it came out on the one you didn’t own, you’d feel cheated.

Third-party exclusives feel like a cheat because, well, they’re bought; they weren’t nurtured in-house, but rather procured to fill a competitive need.  Microsoft came out and said they went after Tomb Raider because they didn’t have a first-party response to Uncharted; so rather than taking the time to develop a response, they simply bought the only available competition.  I don’t see consumers winning in that equation.  If anything, consumers lose the possibility of brand-new IP.

All we can realistically hope for, then, is that by focusing Rise of the Tomb Raider’s development specifically for the Xbox One’s architecture – and by Microsoft giving the developers anything and everything they could possibly need – that the best version of that game gets made.  Swap out Street Fighter 5 and Sony in that sentence and the same sentiment is shared.  I’m not happy about this development, but it seems it’s going to become a bigger issue as the console war continues to heat up.

Failure, And Moving On

I turn 39 on Monday.  And as such, I’m feeling particularly reflective and ruminative today, with all the attendant melancholy that such navel-gazing generally brings.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that I failed this year’s NaNoWriMo, and it was a pretty spectacular failure – I think I topped out at just under 7,000 words.  What started as a memoir-ish chronicle of a person I used to know ended up with a deep dive into my college journal and an inadvertent re-opening of a lot of old wounds that I thought I’d closed, and so I’m in this weird paralytic state where I can’t finish the project because I desperately want to reach out to people that I’ve lost, all the while knowing that some of those people probably don’t want anything to do with me.

I was emailing with an old friend yesterday about this:

I get hung up on a lot of stuff in my past, which sucks, because aside from [one specific thing that I’m redacting for purposes of this public blog] I’m very much in love with my present.  But the thing is, I still recognize a lot of my darker moments in my journal, and that’s the part that’s disconcerting, because it would appear that I haven’t changed nearly as much as I think I have.

So anyway, there’s that.


On the gaming front, this weekend is primarily focused on progressing through Dragon Age Inquisition, and I suspect that’ll be the case until I’m done with it.  If I need a break, I’ll go back to Assassin’s Creed Unity, because (a) I hate myself and (b) I’m almost done with the campaign.


On the TV front – and yes, every once a while I watch TV – the wife and I watched the first two episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix last night, and holy shit that show is incredible.  The Brits know how to make really good TV, people, that’s the lesson to be learned here.


I finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven last night; I liked it, but it was the third post-apocalyptic novel I’d read in a row, and so as such I was probably a little burned out on the subject matter.  I’ve since started Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco, which is really creepy and unnerving and good.  I came across his name the other day in a piece about True Detective and plagiarism; I haven’t watched the show but I’d obviously heard a lot about it, and Ligotti’s work is cited quite often as a direct influence on the show.  So I figured, hey, why not.


I’m not necessarily done with this just yet, but I figure I might as well start putting it out – here’s my Favorite Songs of 2014 playlist.

[spotify https://play.spotify.com/user/jervonyc/playlist/1qUgxbGW7oZehDejNwFsUk]