The First 33 Hours: MGS V

One of the reasons why it’s been so quiet around here lately is that I’ve been working on a gigantic freelance thing about Metal Gear Solid V.  I handed in my draft last night; it clocks in at a little over 3800 words, which makes it somewhat long-winded, but also appropriate given the subject matter.  The article is ostensibly about my long, sordid history of active loathing and befuddlement of the Metal Gear franchise, trying to figure out just what it is about these games that gets under my skin the way no other game seems to do.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been playing the shit out of MGS V, and I have lots of comments about it that weren’t particularly appropriate for the article I was writing.

Current status:

  • 33 hours
  • 23% overall completion
  • 31% mission completion (16 missions completed)
  • 19% Side Ops completion

One of the reasons why I was able to finish my draft yesterday is because I’ve hit a bit of a wall in the most recent story mission, one where I have to extract a moving vehicle out of a convoy of tanks.  The game’s checkpoint system kinda sucks, which is why I’m a bit frustrated at the moment.  The mission starts by putting you a short distance from a guard post; you take over the post and discover the convoy’s route.  At that point you can do whatever you want, and after some trial and error I decided to take a shortcut and head to a camp towards the end of the route, which would give me plenty of time to clear out the camp and prepare to lay siege to the convoy.  The problem is, I’m able to clear out the camp with no problem, but the convoy destroys me, and when I restart at the last checkpoint, it puts me all the way back at the beginning of that second camp’s stakeout – which means I’ve lost at least 30 minutes of progress, and which also means that I’ll be a bit more aggressive the second time around because I’ve lost patience.

As far as stealth games go, MGS V is remarkably free of the usual trial-and-error routine – except in situations like this one, where I’ve yet to figure out how to solve the convoy issue, and where I’ll continue to butt my head against the puzzle until I eventually figure it out.  It just becomes less fun the 5th or 6th time around, especially since the game doesn’t let you keep all the collectible stuff you’ve found if you restart.

Beyond that particular bit of frustration, I have to admit – I’m having a really good time with it.  I mean, 33 hours is nothing to sneeze at, and now that I’m done with the article I might actually be able to relax a bit more and stop hyper-analyzing every single pixel.  I’m grateful that the game makes the exposition stuff optional and relatively unobtrusive, especially since the few cassette tapes that I’ve bothered to listen to are dull and awful and absurd in all the usual Kojima-esque ways that normally drive me insane.

I suppose I should start mixing up the times of day a bit more; I usually do my sneaking around at night (because if the game’s going to give me that option, why the hell not), and so there’s only one dark gray color scheme that I get to see.  I’m sure the deserts of Afghanistan and the savanna plains of Africa would be a bit more vibrant in the day.

In any event – yes, I’m enjoying it.  Normally I get a little annoyed if the game isn’t clear about why I have to get from Point A to Point B, but in this case the instant objective is simple enough to understand, and since I don’t give a shit about the larger soap opera, I can stay focused on the task at hand.  And even though the general infiltration techniques that I use remain largely the same from mission to mission, the game still manages to feel quite fresh; each situation is just different enough that it keeps me on my toes.  In the early going I felt that the “open world” was a bit misleading, because while there is a gigantic open world, there’s almost nothing to actually do in between each mission area.  There’s a lot of running around over empty space, in other words, which can get tedious (until I remember that I can call for a vehicle via supply-drop).

I will never get over the stupid dialogue and the endless, meaningless acronyms; there’s no way around it for me.  I get that the melodrama is part of the attraction to fans of the game, and that this franchise wouldn’t be what it is if people didn’t find this sort of absurdity enormously entertaining.  It’s not my cup of tea, and it never will be; I’ve accepted that, and I’ve decided to move on.  (That’s the ultimate thesis of the other article – spoiler alert!)

In other news, I’m kinda heartbroken about how terrible the new Tony Hawk game appears to be.  I had little faith that it would be as good as the original games, but I really hoped that this new one wouldn’t be a giant piece of shit.  Alas, it’s a giant piece of shit, and I’m sending back my rental copy as soon as it arrives in the mail.

What else, what else… I finished Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, and promptly started Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman.  The Tremblay is… good, not great; everything happens so quickly that it’s hard to get absorbed in anything, but it is awfully creepy, and the ending is somewhat horrifying.  I’m still too early in Tigerman to give it any sort of impression, other than to say it seems a bit more serious and a lot less whimsical than his other two novels.  That said, once I finish it, I’ll have met my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books in one year, which is awesome.

And speaking of which:  this past weekend the family and I headed into Maplewood Village for an “Art Walk”, and we walked into the local bookstore, and before I could even blink, my 2.5 year old son found a Thomas the Train book, and so of course I had to buy it for him, and also a Team Umizoomi activity book, and then I found a bunch of books that I’d actually had my eye on, and suddenly I walked out of the store with a whole bunch o’ stuff under my arm.


A quick peek through the mental fog

I’m in a bit of a blur, and not just because of the allergy medication I had to take a little while ago.  I’ve been so focused on writing this freelance piece – currently at a little over 5600 words, and a bit of a jumbled mess at that – that I’ve totally put all my other creative stuff on hold.  The album I was hoping to finish is still going to be finished at some point, but in the meantime I’m going to be turning some of it into a 5-song EP – and some of those songs still need some tweaking.  Which I need to find time for.  Which is time that I simply don’t have.

I think I’d mentioned that I’ve been able to carve out a bit more reading time of late, which has been nice; the morning/evening trains are very conducive to reading without interruption or distraction.  And so it is that I finally finished My Struggle, Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgard this morning.  It is not the brilliant, earth-shattering book I’d been expecting, and it does tend to meander and wander from time to time – he (or his translator) is very fond of long sentences separated by commas – but it is insightful at times, and certainly very poignant, and his descriptions of places and times is downright novelistic in its specificity and clarity.  I suspect I will get around to the other volumes at some point, but I think I need a palate cleanser, so now it’s A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.

I won’t talk about Metal Gear Solid V here – because that’s what the freelance piece is about – other than to say that I’m enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay far more than I thought I would.  The story is still garbage but I find that I don’t particularly care all that much; I’m not paying attention to it.  I don’t find myself needing any particular narrative motivation to get from point A to point B beyond trying to execute a mission as well as I can (though I don’t beat myself up if the stealth falls apart and I have to get physical; and I did resort to wearing the chicken hat just to get past a mission that I was too far into to bother restarting).  Is it the greatest stealth game of all time, as most of the internet seems to think?  I don’t know, and I’m certainly not far along enough to even begin to grasp what my eventual answer might be, but I’ll say this – I do aim to finish it, even if the freelance piece comes first.

I’m very much wanting to play SOMA, though I’m also a bit of a chicken shit and may end up waiting for some sort of PS+ promotion.

Beyond all that, life is good.  My allergies are a mess but everything else is good: the job is busy but not inducing panic; the house is always good to come home to; my son cracks me up every time I see him; my wife is the best.  I feel good.  That’s the important thing.

Weekend Recap: the lovely outdoors

With every passing day I become more and more happy that we made the move out of the city and into the ‘burbs.  I know our house isn’t in the most desirable part of town, and there’s a lack of kids Henry’s age that live near us… but it’s only a 3-minute drive to get to the nearest park, and any time we go to a playground we end up meeting parents with kids around his age, and in any case it’s just nice to be able to do things again.  Something in me has changed since we moved; I’m not paralyzed with the same sort of anxiety that made it so difficult to leave the house back when we lived in the city, and so we as a family can go out and do stuff that we couldn’t necessarily do as easily (or as willingly) before.

I don’t know if it’s my memory that’s shot, or if it’s simply that I keep thinking I’ve written something here but didn’t (you should know that even if I’m not posting here every day, I usually spend have a “new post” tab open for most of my available computer time, and more often than not I’ll trash whatever it is I’ve written) but in any event please forgive me if I’ve already said this:  Spofity’s personalized “Discover Weekly” playlist has turned me on to more good music since it started than I can possibly hope to count.

As a musician, I suppose I ought to be more conflicted about using Spotify as my primary music service.  I used to spend between $600-$1000 a year on new music; now I spend $120/year for my monthly subscription.  I know that the artists earn a tiny, tiny fraction on each stream instead of what they’d get in a straight-up album purchase, and that Spotify’s equity disbursements are not actually doled out the way they ought to be (i.e., you’d think that the artist you listen to gets paid based on what you stream, but instead “Spotify doesn’t pay on a “per song stream” model, exactly: the total royalty pie is split among all rights holders based on the percentage of total Spotify streams their songs garner“, and this royalty rate is not necessarily split equally between artists and the labels, and it’s certainly more favorable to big artists instead of indie bands), and if I wanted to make any money from my album, I’d rather people bought it outright than stream it.  Of course, at this point in my life – approaching 40, with a wife and a child and a mortgage and a day job I can’t realistically quit to go on tour, especially since I can’t pay a band and nobody wants to see a 40-year-old man with social anxiety on tour – I’d simply be happy if people listened to it, and I know that if I put “Untrue Songs” on Spotify, a great many more people would listen to it.  That album sold enough for me to recover my sunk costs and get a few cups of coffee afterwards, but I’m not sure anyone else bothered to track it down besides those initial sales.

Regardless – that’s not even the point.  The point of this section is that Spotify’s algorithms are better at finding good music than I was prepared to give them credit for.  I now look forward to each Monday’s playlist refresh, and I’ve even started a separate playlist with my favorites because there’s at least 4-5 songs in each week’s list that are keepers.

I bring this up also because some of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been so fucking good that it’s causing me to rethink my own music-making approach.  Like I said a few weeks ago – I have a bit of a creative inertia problem; when I’m rolling, I can’t be stopped… but when I stop, I stop, and it takes me forever to get moving again.  Sure, I could blame some of that on the move, but we’re all moved in now, and all my stuff is set up, and yet I’m still not quite back in the swing of things.  That said, there’s three albums that I’ve discovered this week that are fucking my brain up – in a really good way – and I’m back to wishing I had more available hours in the day.

Maybe I need to find a collaborator.  When I can’t get my shit together on my own, it’s often useful to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and to feed on that collaborative energy to make something brand new.  There was a music festival in town last weekend, and it was some of the first live music I’ve seen in… years?… and the bands were quite good, and now I’ve got an itch to play with other people again.  This is usually a good sign that my creative gears are starting to turn again, so even if I don’t end up starting a new band, I’m hopeful that at the very least I’ll start writing new music again (or at least finishing the stuff I recorded earlier this year).

I’m already about 1000 words into this Metal Gear Solid V piece and I’ve only put, like, 6-7 hours into the game itself.  I can’t say much about the piece – or the game, for that matter – but I can say that I do not hate it, and indeed there are parts of it that I quite like – not the least of which is the ability to play one mission and then turn the game off without dealing with a 45-minute unskippable cutscene.

That said, I do find that I need to cleanse the palate every once in a while, and so I’m very glad to have Forza 6 in my life again.  I’d been a Forza loyalist through the first 4 installments, and then I fell madly in love with the Horizon offshoots, and didn’t really feel bad about skipping out on Forza 5 since I had other stuff on my plate at the time.

I’m not a car enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination; I own a car out of necessity and it’s a hand-me-down at that.  I like driving games for the same reason I like golf games – they’re usually very pretty, they require minimal focus, and the feeling of executing something well is just rewarding enough to keep on going.  This is a way of saying that I don’t come to Forza for the cars as much as I come for the tracks.  The first 3 or 4 Forza games reused a lot of the same tracks, so much so that I’d sometimes think I’d put the wrong disc in the tray.  Forza 6 feels a lot more fresh in this respect; the tracks aren’t the same old, same old.  Indeed, some of the tracks remind me of other games I haven’t thought about in a while – there’s a track in Prague that reminds me of Project Gotham Racing for some reason, and some of the new rain/fog effects make me think of DiRT.  (We need a new DiRT game, by the way.)

Checking in, again and again

1. I have many thoughts about Metal Gear Solid V, but they’re not going to be appearing here.  I will of course let you know when and where you may find them, but for now, just know that this is happening.

2.  I have few thoughts on Mad Max in videogame form; the game is very bad, and I do not like it.  I feel very strongly, at this point in time, that there’s no shame in having a conventional control scheme for your third-person action adventure / brawler, and so when I try to play your game and can’t fucking do the thing I’m trying to do because your control scheme is completely insane and backwards and non-intuitive and wrong, then that’s your problem, not mine.  I’m not particularly surprised that the game is not very good; I did admit to having high hopes for it, sure, but I didn’t actually expect anything worthwhile.  I at least expected a competent control scheme, though, and the simple fact that they couldn’t get that right tells me more or less everything I need to know.

3.  It’s been a little while since I did any sort of book round-up.  I did end up finishing Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, which was pretty good; and then Edie Investigates!, which is a side-story to Angelmaker that’s so short that I started and finished it in one 30-minute sitting; and then I just finished Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, which has a really interesting premise (a time-travelling serial killer and the victim who tracks him down) but which isn’t executed as well as it might’ve been.  Now I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle: Book 1, which I’m still in the early pages of but which I’m already very much enjoying; he has a remarkable descriptive ability, and it’s very easy to put yourself into his perspective.

On a related note, Goodreads tells me that I’ve read 27 of the 30 books I’d hoped to get through by year’s end, so that’s nice.  I must say that my new morning/evening commute makes for an excellent reading opportunity.  I might even hit 40 books by year’s end, and considering that I’m turning 40 in December, well, that’s a nice little synchronicity that I’m happy to have.

4.  I know I don’t really talk much about personal stuff here, and that’s mostly on purpose, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the move to the ‘burbs was one of the best choices my wife and I have ever made.  We’re very, very happy in our new home, and the kid loves it, and we’ve made some new friends already and are hoping to connect with some older friends soon enough, and it’s really a good thing all around.  Someday I’ll learn how to grill and then you’re all invited for a BBQ.

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