on managing expectations

In last week’s entry, I sounded pessimistic about the Fall 2015 videogame release schedule.  Not much has changed since then; unfortunately.  We had company on Saturday and I was laid up with a nasty head cold on Sunday, and so I only had a few hours of game time, and yet I was still kinda non-plussed at the end of it.  I played an hour or so of the remastered Dishonored; it looked fine – about on par with my PC – but I’d already played those first few missions a lot, and I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to play them once more, Achievements notwithstanding.  I also played an hour or so of the remastered Gears of War, and it looks very much like how I remember it looking, which is probably the best you can hope for in a remastered port; it’s just that, as with Dishonored, I’m not really sure I feel like playing through the rest of it.  Calvino Noir has gotten fair-to-middling reviews in the few outlets that have bothered to write anything about it, which is a bit disappointing, and Madden 16 simply isn’t my cup of tea.  So there’s that.

This week is Metal Gear Solid V and Mad Max.  I’m going to take a wild guess and presume that the release date review embargo for Mad Max probably means that it’s not going to score all that well, and also that launching it on the same day as MGSV probably means that its publisher isn’t expecting that much of a return.

Review scores are not necessarily the be-all end-all for me, of course; I have been mystified by the Metal Gear franchise at every turn and even though this latest installment has gotten impossibly high scores from nearly every outfit that’s looked at it, I can’t help but feel incredibly skeptical about it.  I didn’t particularly care for Ground Zeroes, and if this is simply a much larger version of that, with a plot even more ludicrous and ridiculous, well… let’s just say I’m glad I’m not buying it.

Here’s the thing, though, and it’s maybe a point that I should probably have emphasized a lot more during this last year or so of general gaming apathy; I’d love to be proven wrong.  I’d love to sit down with either one of these games and get sucked in and have a good time.  That’s why I still write here, that’s why this blog exists.  I have precious little time for gaming these days, and so I’d like the time I do get to play to be well spent.  I genuinely hope that I can sit down later this week and rip open my rental copy of MGSV and get sucked in – if not to the impossibly ridiculous story, then at least into the moment-to-moment experience of exploring the environment.


Not all is doom and gloom as far as games are concerned, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love towards some iPhone games that have been kicking serious ass of late.  To wit:

  • Lara Croft GO, which is a strategy-action-board-game hybrid that feels far more accessible and interesting than Hitman GO, the game that preceded it; I was able to finish the entire thing without needing any help, which was very rewarding.  I’d recommend playing it on an iPad as opposed to an iPhone (if only because the larger screen makes it considerably easier to find the hidden collectibles), though my iPad 3 did not run it particularly well.
  • PAC-MAN 256, which is a novel combination of both Pac-Man and Crossy Road, and which works far better than you might expect; and
  • Sage Solitaire, which is a poker-ish solitaire game built by the guy who made the excellent SpellTower, and which is fiendishly addictive and maddeningly frustrating.

While we’re on the topic of enjoying the moment-to-moment experience of a carefully crafted world, I want to pour one out for the dearly departed Hannibal, one of my all-time favorite television shows and which featured as thorough of a mic drop in its finale as one could’ve hoped for.  Nobody else watched this show, which is why it only lasted three seasons, but they were three of the most gorgeously photographed and exquisitely acted and straight-up BOLD seasons of network television I’ve ever seen in my life.  Not since Twin Peaks have I been so genuinely unnerved by something on a major network; there are images from nearly every episode of this show that I will never be able to get out of my head (the totem pole, the angel wings, the mushroom garden, the increasingly horrible fate of poor Dr. Chilton, etc.).  It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope they can secure financing for a filmed version of the 4th season’s arc.  If Wet Hot American Summer can come back as a serialized Netflix show, then anything’s possible.


I’m currently reading Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which I’m enjoying, though not nearly as much as I enjoyed his debut novel, The Gone-Away World, which is one of the most fun books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time.  I loved that book so much that I ended up buying the rest of his published output, and I suppose I should’ve expected a bit of a letdown after Gone-Away World’s brilliance; I’m not done yet, of course, and there’s still plenty of book left for me to get knocked out by – he has a remarkable way with words, of course, and even if the plot isn’t quite as riveting, his prose is still genuinely fun to absorb.


The (Obligatory) 2015 Fall Release Calendar Review

Today is Madden Day, which also generally marks my obligatory annual looking-over of the fall release schedule.  I’m not feeling as gung-ho about it as I usually am, however, and I suppose there are several reasons why.

1. I’m looking over the upcoming releases and there’s not a whole hell of a lot that I’m terribly excited about.  We’ll get to that in a bit, of course, when I run over the list in detail, but here’s the larger point:  of the 14 games that are in my upcoming rental queue, 3 of them are remasters of last-gen games, and 9 of them are sequels.  One of the remaining two is a movie spin-off, and the other is a port of a PC RPG (which I also apparently already own on PC, though I don’t remember buying it – my PC appears to be dying, however, and so if I’m ever going to play it, the console seems like the only place to do it).  There are surely some indie/downloadable games that I’m forgetting about – No Man’s Sky comes to mind, though I can’t recall off the top of my head if that was ever guaranteed a 2015 release date – but that’s neither here nor there.

2. Being a homeowner means paying a mortgage, and even though the house is wonderful and the new town is lovely and we’re all very happy, I’m now – more than ever – very aware of my financial flexibility (or lack thereof), and so when I look at this list, there’s not really all that much that I feel that I can commit to, financially.  (Nor am I certain that I will have 400 spare hours to play Fallout 4 – I would like to spend some time with my wife and child, after all, and I also need to get back to work on the album.)

3. None of these upcoming games are doing anything to cure my general malaise towards gaming in general.  Even my current NG+ playthrough of Witcher 3 is being done in a very half-hearted manner; that game is still my current pick for Game of the Year, but I’m not sure I have the energy to do everything again for another 80 hours, especially since it’s hard for me to make different choices.  There are certain large-scale events that I know I’m going to handle differently, but the smaller conversational stuff… I always feel like I need to answer truthfully, especially when the writing is so good, and so I find myself saying the same things a second time.

It’s strange; I’ve got my gaming situation all hooked up, with a new TV and a new entertainment center and a couch and a table and I’m free to play whatever I want without worrying about making too much noise, and this is a welcome return to all that I’ve ever wanted since I was playing my Atari 2600 (and my brother’s Genesis) in my mom’s basement as a kid, and yet… I kinda don’t really give a shit anymore.  I’d like to think that some of these games are going to be fun to play, but I’m not really feeling pulled towards any one of them in particular, and that’s an awfully strange feeling to have after all this time.

Before I get into this thing, here’s a general question – should I even bother holding on to my 3DS anymore?  I recently plugged it in for the first time in maybe a year, and I was unable to get it to properly update on my home wi-fi (which doesn’t make any sense, but then again, I’ve never had much luck getting a reliable internet connection on that thing ever since I bought it).  In any event, the only thing that interests me on the 3DS’s horizon is Picross 3D 2, but according to this article there’s no North American release date scheduled, and I’ve been so out of the loop as far as Nintendo is concerned that anything involving Amiibos makes me nervous; I don’t know what they are, but neither do I want my 2.5 year old kid to suddenly want them, because I literally can’t afford to get sucked into a toy ecosystem vortex right now.

Anyway, here we go – all titles and release dates via Game Informer.

August 25

  • Calvino Noir (PS4) – I’ll need to read some reviews before I download this one, but it definitely seems up my alley.
  • Dishonored: Definitive Edition – I’ve rented this for the Xbox One, mostly because I guess I’m more of an Achievement Whore than I care to admit.  I’ve already played it on PC, but I never did finish the DLC.  This is more of a curiosity about the graphical upgrade than a sincere attempt at a playthrough, even if I like the game a lot.
  • Gears of War Ultimate Edition – I did pre-order this, for some reason, and it’s sitting on my XB1’s hard drive right now.  I don’t know that I need to play this, but – again – I’m curious to see the graphical upgrades.  And I wouldn’t mind having access to the backwards compatible Gears 2 and 3, either, especially as I’m not sure I still have those 360 discs anymore.
  • Madden NFL 16 – the reviews seem pretty positive for this one, surprisingly enough.  I haven’t really cared about Madden since my brother and I played together – and even then, our sports games of choice were NHL and/or NBA Jam.  [This might be as good a time as any to admit that I joined EA Access on the XB1 a few weeks ago, if only to have a free copy of Dragon Age Inquisition to play (and get Achievements for).  I’ve played maybe the first hour or so, and while it’s still a good game, it made me want to play Witcher 3 again instead.]  Anyway, so – as an EA Access member I was able to download a trial version of Madden, and… I still kinda don’t give a shit.  It’s not bad, per se, but rather – I don’t know enough about how football is played to be able to learn how to play Madden well anymore, and I’m never going to start caring enough to bother to try.

September

  • Mad Max – I’d like this game to be good.  I loved the movie, and the little I’ve seen of this one makes me think that there’s some genuine ambition behind it – that it’s not just a simple, easy cash-in.  But I’m certainly not pre-ordering this one – or anything, actually – and I’m not necessarily keeping my fingers crossed.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – There is no other game on this year’s calendar that’s causing me so much agita.  On the one hand, I think the Metal Gear franchise is the most comically overrated franchise in all of videogames; I think Kojima is the sort of dude who thinks there’s something profound about the smell of his own farts; and for every genuinely thrilling moment I had with MGS4, there was at least an hour’s worth of the most gawdawful cutscenes that would follow.  I also played Ground Zeroes once or twice and found it technologically impressive but also impenetrably dense and ridiculous and not necessarily all that much fun.  On the other hand, it’s being called a genuine masterpiece, far and away the best game in the series, and would appear to be the consensus frontrunner for Game of the Year by everybody who’s played it, even more so than the aforementioned Witcher 3.  With hyperbole like that surrounding this game, it’s going to be impossible for me to not play it.  I will do my best to keep an open mind.  But I’m very skeptical.
  • Tearaway Unfolded – I played about the first third/half on Vita and found it rather delightful, but after putting it down for a while I think I ended up deleting it in order to make room for other stuff.  I wouldn’t mind seeing if it translates to a big TV, but I’m not sure it’ll work in the same way – that game was very specifically designed to show off what the Vita could do, and the PS4 is a completely different animal altogether.
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime – I’m curious about this if only because I love that title.  I don’t know anything about it.  (quickly finds a YouTube trailer) Well, it certainly looks charming, but it also looks like it needs a good couch co-op partner, and I don’t think my wife’s gonna care about it.
  • Destiny: The Taken King – I deleted Destiny off my PS4’s hard drive at least 6 months ago; I’m so far behind in terms of levelling that I can’t possibly see myself going back.
  • Forza Motorsport 6 – I think I prefer the Horizon side of the Forza franchise, but I’ve always enjoyed the Forza games in general (even though I skipped F5).  I can see myself playing this for a few days, but I’m not sure it’s going to capture my heart enough to warrant a purchase.
  • Lego Dimensions – Ordinarily this is a no-brainer- I like the Lego games a lot, and I’m sure my kid would love this, and the mish-mash of licenses is super-appealing.  But if I’m not mistaken, isn’t this game going to be coming with physical toys and such?  I’m looking at GI’s “4 Reasons to Get Excited” and they have this pricing breakdown that makes my stomach hurt just from looking at it:
  • Starter Packs: $99.99, contains Batman, Wyldstyle, Gandalf, Batmobile, and Lego Gateway
  • Level Packs: $29.99, contains an additional new mission-based game level along with a minifigure, a vehicle, and a weapon.
  • Team Packs: $24.99, provide two minifigures and two vehicles or weapons, all with their own unique abilities.
  • Fun Packs: $14.99, provide a new minifigure and a vehicle or weapon.
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 – obviously I’d be lying if I said I felt confident that this wasn’t going to be a huge steaming piece of shit.  But a boy can dream.

October

  • Rock Band 4 – I’m a little annoyed that the Xbox One version will cost a bit extra if I want to be able to use my Xbox 360 instruments (which I still have), but can you really put a price on family fun?  Especially if I can still have access to my gigantic 360 DLC library of songs?
  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – my PS3 is currently set up in the living room – not the man-cave – and I recently tossed in Uncharted 3 just to see if it still looked good, especially on my new TV.  And yeah, it still does!  It’s still also jam-packed with bullet-sponge enemies, and I still hate the PS3 controller with a fiery passion.  I was excited to see that Digital Foundry’s recent analysis seems to indicate that this collection is the real deal, though, and Uncharted is one of the few franchises that I’d gladly buy again on better hardware.  I thought The Last of Us was a vastly better experience on the PS4 if only because the PS4’s controller is so much better to use, and I’d like to think that the same will apply to making Uncharted’s endless combat sections much less annoying to deal with.
  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – As much as I enjoyed Black Flag, I actively loathed Unity, and I don’t know why I should keep any hopes up for this one.  This franchise, which I used to adore, positively exhausts me now.
  • Halo 5 – It’s on the list almost purely out of obligation; I own an Xbox One, I should play this.  I haven’t cared about Halo at all since maybe 2 or 3, and unless this wows me from the get-go (and most Halo games take a while to really get going), I can’t see myself finishing it.
  • Divinity Original Sin: Enhanced Edition – this is the aforementioned port of a PC game that I don’t remember buying.  I’ve heard too much good stuff about this to ignore a console version, even though I don’t know if it’ll translate all that well – but, again, my PC is dying and if I’m ever going to play it, this is the only real way I can do it.

November

  • Fallout 4 – I was going to violate my “no more pre-ordering” rule for this one, specifically for that Pip-Boy thing, but because Bethesda wasn’t entirely forthcoming about whether mod support was going to be available for both PS4 and XB1, I didn’t know which system to get it for – in my experience, most multi-platform games run a lot better on the PS4, but the XB1 having PC mod support felt like a strong reason to lean in that direction.  I’m still not sure where I’m going to play this; I will probably wait for Digital Foundry’s analysis.  I’m more concerned about how to play this while still having a job and a family.  I’m also concerned about whether or not I’m going to enjoy this game the way i did with Fallout 3 and Oblivion and Skyrim; Bethesda’s made some great open-world games, to be sure, but those games are hard for me to go back to after spending hundreds of hours with more recent games like Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption – which is to say, Bethesda games can get janky sometimes, and their specific jankiness has become somewhat irritating to me.  I’d love to be proven wrong on this one.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – honestly, this is the game I’m really looking forward to more than anything else this year.  I adored the last one, so much so that I ended up playing it on 360, PC, PS4 and XB1.  And I had a great time with it each and every time.  And while I was among the many super-pissed-off fans that reacted poorly when the game was announced as a timed Xbox One exclusive, I’ve come around to appreciate the idea that it’s almost certainly in the game’s best interest to have only one console system to design for.  I’m sure the PS4 port will be worth playing – and I suspect I’ll play it again there, too, because I am a whore – but in the meantime, this is how I plan on spending my November.
  • Star Wars Battlefront – Let’s hope this isn’t terrible!
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III – I’m including this only so that nobody thinks I forgot about it.  I don’t see myself playing it unless it reviews extraordinarily well, and even then, I’m not gonna do much of the multiplayer, which probably begs the question:  why even bother?

December

  • Just Cause 3 – Because why not.

Inertia

Newton’s work on gravity led to the discovery of the Lagrange point, a place where opposing forces cancel one another out, and a body may remain at relative rest. This is where I am right now; the forces in my life confound one another. Better, for the moment, to be here and now, without history or future. A man in need of breakfast.

  •  Nick Harkaway, “The Gone-Away World”

1. It’s been 3 weeks since the move, and this is the beginning of my 2nd week back at work.  Yesterday’s commute was my first of what will apparently be a long series of NJ Transit nightmares, and even then it wasn’t altogether unpleasant; I was sitting down, for one thing, and I had a window seat, and the hopelessness never became the all-consuming anxious mania that it used to be on an NYC subway – I knew there was nothing to be done, and in any event it ultimately taught me how to transfer at Hoboken to the Path, which is something I’m going to be needing to do next year when my office moves downtown.

I am happy.  I love our home.  Sure, it’s not in the super-nice part of town, but whatever – it’s a 5 minute drive to the super-nice part of town, and it’s a 5-minute drive to everywhere else we need to go, and given that we don’t really go out all that much anyway, it’s the inside part of the house that counts the most, and I’m really happy with that part.  There are no more boxes; there’s only the last of the artwork to hang up.

I’m not sleeping well, though, and that’s starting to become somewhat irritating.  Haven’t fully figured out why just yet.  Some nights it’s been a temperature thing; other nights it’s been an anxiety thing – for example, we had our driveway repaved last week, and as such I had to park the car on the street, and we are in the not-so-nice part of a very nice town, and I was worried about the car getting stolen; instead, I got my very first parking ticket for parking too close to a stop sign, which is a thing I didn’t even know existed.  (Indeed, our car – a very reliable sort – is suddenly starting to fall apart, and we need to get it serviced, and I’m sure that’s going to cost an arm and a leg, and I just hope that it can all be fixed in one day.  A thing about life in the suburbs that has become immediately apparent is that if you don’t have a car, you’re kinda fucked.)

2. Another, inevitable part of moving – at least in my recent experience – is that things sometimes stop working properly once they’ve been put into their new places.  My PC’s USB ports are starting to crap out, which means my wireless keyboard/mouse and wi-fi adapter are hit or miss.  The PC is almost entirely meant as a home for my Steam library, and given that it’s 5 years old and starting to die, there’s a part of me that’s inclined to maybe just wait until the Steam Boxes hit in the fall; now that I’ve got a proper entertainment center for the basement TV, it might not be the worst thing in the world to move my PC gaming rig to the TV, and thus give myself more deskspace for music stuff.

More troubling, however, is my PS4.  For one thing, I seem to have lost the little USB Bluetooth adapter that worked with my fancy headphones.  This is not necessarily the end of the world, given that I don’t really need to use headphones anymore unless I’m chatting with someone, but it does render those headphones completely useless.  What is possibly the end of the world, though, is that my controller is no longer reliably staying paired with my PS4.  Now, I’m not really playing much of anything with any urgency at the moment (though I’d very much like to check out Volume), but I expect I will be in the coming months, and I’d very much like to not have to worry about this sort of thing once the Big Games start arriving.

3. Now that the move is done, though, I’m going to have to start getting back into the swing of things.  I’ve found that I have a bit of a creative inertia problem.  This is good sometimes, in that when I’m feeling like I’m on a roll, I keep rolling, and I churn out lots of music and/or blog posts and/or various writings.  But it also means that when I stop, I stop, and the idea of getting moving again can feel overwhelming.  This is why I haven’t been writing much here lately; I’d put nearly everything on hold for the move, and if I’d happen to find an idle hour I would open up a Wordpress window and end up just kinda staring into nothingness, half-heartedly hoping that words would just show up, given that I couldn’t seem to summon anything.  This is why I’m writing this post right now, if only so that I can remind myself that there’s a part of my brain that needs to get active again.  I need to get back to the solo album; I need to get into this blog.  My feet are on terra firma now, finally, and it’s time for the rest of my body to catch up.

Alive And Well And All Moved In (almost)

So I was hoping to write up a big thing here talking about the events of the last few weeks – specifically, the move – but today’s been so absurdly busy that there simply hasn’t been any time.  It’s 3:19 as I type these words and this is literally the first time all day I’ve had more than 10 consecutive non-interrupted seconds to write.

Given that I’m not 100% sure what’s in store for the rest of the afternoon, let me make this quick:

1.  The new house is awesome.  The move itself went very smoothly (aside from a guy crashing his car directly into the back of the moving truck without hitting his brakes, and it’s amazing nobody got hurt), and the kid was a champion (although the poor dogs were locked in bathroom doors so as to avoid antagonizing the movers / pee on everything), and we even got the bulk of the necessary repairs fixed while we were both off work last week, which is a huge weight off our shoulders.  Really, all that’s left at this point is a few miscellaneous boxes in the office and the hanging of pictures and artwork.

1a. Also the mancave needs a new thing for the TV, but that’s not something I need to get right away.

2. Also we bought new HDTVs.  Let me tell you – we bought two Vizio 48″ LED HDTVs and the mere fact that both of them, combined, cost less than $1000 is astounding, considering that I’d bought my old 40″ Samsung about 8 or 9 years ago for over $2000.  But the TVs themselves are pretty great, too.  There’s a part of me that’s curious about 4K, but the more realistic part of me knows that we don’t really have any 4K content right now, and it seems silly to shell out that much money when a 48″ TV for less than $500 is already getting the job done.

3. Given how busy the last two weeks have been, there’s not been that much opportunity for gaming/reading/watching things.  That said, of course we found time to watch Wet Hot American Summer – First Day of Camp, which we loved.  It’s true that the transformation of a 90 minute movie into 8 30-minute episodes means that it’s not as easily digestible as a whole, and it requires more work on our part to absorb it in the same way that we did the film, but it should also be said that it was also a really funny and silly way to spend a few evenings when we were exhausted from unpacking.  I don’t really understand why anybody would watch this that hasn’t seen the original film, especially since so much of the show is surreptitiously designed to show how the film’s events and characters got to where they are, and when I think about it now there’s a few not-quite plot holes that don’t necessarily add up (like how, given the events of the Netflix show, Gene would already know about the talking vegetable soup can, whereas in the film it comes totally out of left field – as it should, when you think about it), but whatever – it’s an inspired bit of silliness, and everybody gets more screen time, and at the end of the day I’m honestly just glad it actually exists.

4. The little gaming I’ve done has mostly been cleaning up various contracts and side quests in Witcher 3, if only to be as fully prepared for the New Game + mode, whenever that starts.  But I’ve also been kinda helplessly devoted to Rocket League on PS4, which is maybe the most fun I’ve had in multiplayer since Burnout 3 (no joke).  I don’t even care that I’m not particularly good at it, or that if I’m hanging back on defense and the ball comes my way I start feeling the same sort of anxiety I used to feel when I was 6 years old playing soccer, and I’ve started getting used to and accepting that certain feeling of inevitability that comes when I miss the open ball or accidentally re-direct it to the opposing team who immediately scores.  I can live with that; I can live with myself.  (I also play online without headphones, so I can’t hear if any of my teammates are calling me names, which is highly recommended.)

Beyond that – I gotta say, I like the train in the morning.  I’ve yet to take the train home, so who knows how that’s going to work, but this morning’s commute was downright pleasant.  I even got to sit down, which hasn’t happened in maybe 20 years.

I can’t yet speak to the suburban pace, given that I’ve only been there a week and that first week was largely spend indoors, dealing with cardboard boxes and tape.  I can say that our town has a ton of cute little parks, and our son is INFATUATED with playgrounds, and so it’s really nice to be only a 5-minute drive from any number of them, none of which are filled with hundreds of people.

In any event – you are all invited to our backyard, as soon as I learn how to grill.  Also I need to buy a grill first.

Tomorrow is the release of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which has been high on my to-play list all year, and so I’m hoping to play that and write something up later this week.