the inevitable Rockstar wishlist

In this interview with Take Two Interactive’s Strauss Zelnick, it is tantalizingly revealed that something is happening at this year’s E3:

With a number of new games, plus its eSports plans, 2016 is shaping up to be a far busier year for the teams at Take-Two. But could there be more? What about Red Dead Redemption 2? Or Ken Levine’s new project? Zelnick is tight lipped, but points towards E3 as an event to look forward to.

“We will be there in a big way,” he concludes.

This can only mean one thing, and that is:  Table Tennis VR.

Well, but also, surely this means we’re going to hear something definitive about Red Dead Redemption 2.  Right?  There is no other existing Take Two-published property that is in greater demand.  A remastered Bioshock Trilogy for current-gen consoles is inevitable.  A new Borderlands is probable.  And yeah, I’m sure we’ll hear something about Ken Levine’s new thing, though if it’s a small indie game made by a small team, I can’t imagine it’ll dominate their news cycle.  XCOM 2 for PS4/XB1 makes sense.  Civ Rev 2 for Vita is a thing that is supposedly still happening.

Listen, people:  I want my Red Dead 2, and I want it now.  Please and thank you.


Very pleased to see that Superhot is getting terrific reviews.  Assuming the boy goes to bed at his usual time (and nothing is certain on that front anymore), I will be checking it out this very evening (presumably while my rental copy of Far Cry Primal installs on my PS4).

disconnection

I’m feeling a little disconnected lately, which might explain why I’ve been quiet here.

The biggest problem I mentioned in my last post – that of my almost-3-year-old son refusing to go to bed – is starting to wind down, so that’s something positive, at least.  Of course, my wife is sick, and the kid has a bit of a cough as well, and I’m very much feeling on the verge of catching something, too.  We’re all falling apart, is what I’m saying.

That said, I’m feeling guilty about whining.

I’m trying to tone down the amount of whining I do on social media, which is actually a bit easier than I expected, given that almost all forms of social media are driving me crazy right now and make me far less inclined to post than I normally would be.  Facebook keeps hiding posts from friends; Twitter is a garbage fire; Tumblr is filled with ads and every once in a while a random naked person will show up, unannounced and uncalled for, and so that’s off-limits.

I’m also starting to reach critical mass in terms of the upcoming election.  I’m disgusted and anxious and not at all prepared to move to Canada.


 

And, of course, I’m disconnected from the things I normally talk about here.

Book-wise, I’m re-reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which I’d been thinking about recently (especially after reading Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master), and which I felt obligated to pick up in light of Eco’s passing.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and yet I’m having trouble fully engaging with it this time around for some reason.

Music-wise, I’m still struggling with writing lyrics, and in the meantime I’m not listening to anything particularly inspiring.  On a related note, I have to say that my weekly Spotify Discovery playlists have been awfully lackluster this year; the ratio of hit/miss is way, way off, especially as compared to last year.

Games-wise… I’m a big pile of “meh”.  I’m very much intrigued by The Division, and I’m looking forward to playing it in co-op, but I’m also wary of it; the beta showed off a lot of high points as well as a lot of lows – the writing in particular is just awful, and a lot of the mission designs felt very familiar (i.e., the final encounter in the Subway Morgue is a very typical “hold your ground for an arbitrary length of time”, and I was tired of that kind of mission in Destiny).  I tried playing a little bit of Fallout 4 last night, given that it’s been patched up quite a bit of late, and… yeah, I still don’t give a shit about that game.  I’m inching along in my NG+ of Witcher 3, but the Hearts of Stone expansion is for level 61+, and I’m still only at 43 or so; that’s an awful lot of ground to make up, and as much as I love that game I’m not sure I have it in me to repeat it.  Later this week my rental copy of Far Cry Primal will arrive, and as I’ve been lukewarm on that franchise for the last few iterations, I’m not sure that I’ll be fully engaged with it – even if the Stone Age setting is novel.

So, yeah.  I’m scared of American politics, I’m culturally out of sorts, and I’m physically falling apart.  I hit the trifecta.

sleepless in suburbia

Before I begin, a word of warning:  I am tired.  This is a different tired from the usual exhaustion of a busy week at work and parental duties.  This is the tired that comes from our almost-3-year-old son, who now refuses to go to bed.  Since the day we brought him home from the hospital he’d always been a terrific sleeper, but for the last two nights he’s completely changed his ways.  We get him into his jimmy-jams, we brush his teeth, we read three books, we tuck him into bed, we turn on his night lights and his little sound machine, we turn off the light, we close the door… and then, 5 seconds later, he tear-asses out of bed, opens the door, and looks at us, giggling.  We lead him back to bed, tuck him in wordlessly, close the door.  He gets up.  Last night this went from 8:00 until around 9:30.  In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t terrible; we’ve had friends whose children refused to sleep, and to his credit our son does eventually conk out.  But it is exhausting, especially since my wife and I are both a little under the weather, and we both have stuff to do after he goes to sleep.

So, yeah; between Henry’s late night antics and the barrage of work-related stuff, there’s been (a) little opportunity to write, and (b) not much of an opportunity to gather topics to write about.  But I’m gonna do my best here.

1.  I started and finished Firewatch last weekend.  I’ve read a number of illuminating and insightful pieces about it (Brendan Keogh, Emily Short, Ed Smith, among others), which have helped me piece together my own opinion about it, though I’m still not 100% sure I know what I want to say about it.  It feels less like a “walking simulator” and rather very much like an interactive short story, with wonderful dialogue and terrific voice casting.  And of course, given that the player character’s name is Henry (as is my son’s), I felt even more connected to him than I otherwise would have.

All this being said, there’s a part of me that feels somewhat disconnected from it; that all the decision-making I did in the conversation trees didn’t necessarily matter.  While Henry and Delilah have their own crosses to bear and work through, the larger story of Firewatch is about something else, and so at the end of the game I felt a little hollow.  (Maybe now I understand why everybody was so up in arms about the original ending to Mass Effect 3; you can feel a bit like the rug got pulled out from under you when 180+ hours worth of choice-making feels like it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much.)

The ending – such as it is – is bittersweet, and I suppose it’s the right way to end this sort of story.  But it also makes it somewhat difficult to return to, I think.

2.  I played about an hour’s worth of The Division beta on Xbox One last night, and I’m hoping to play it again on the PS4 tonight (just to compare/contrast, in terms of graphics).  My original impression of The Division upon its E3 reveal was that (a) I’m growing tired of this type of apocalyptic scenario, (b) it was very pretty and there’s simply no way it’s going to end up looking like that at retail, and (c) I don’t know if I need to play this.  But then, just a few weeks ago, it was revealed to be an RPG, and now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, it’s now become something I’m very, very interested in.

Making a Tom Clancys’ game an RPG is a very interesting decision, as far as these things go.  While all the Clancys’ games have had some very “game-y” aspects to them, there’s an additional level of abstraction that happens when you’re playing an RPG; leveling up, adding perks, comparing weapon pickups, etc.  You don’t necessarily notice this in the moment-to-moment gunplay (which, actually, reminded me a great deal of Mass Effect, come to think of it), but you can’t help but confront it after each battle when you’re running around looting corpses and lockboxes.  Any attempt at gritty realism and immersion kinda sails out the window when bright green columns of loot start glowing on the ground.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you; if anything, I’m all for it.

The problem, though, is that the writing – at least in the beta’s abbreviated levels – is kinda terrible.  I don’t know if it’s Destiny-level terrible, but it’s certainly not Bioware, or even Bethesda.  Maybe terrible is too strong a word; basically, I didn’t really care why I was doing what I was doing, and I was content to simply follow the arrow to my destination.  The game also, sadly, features the classic Ubisoft trademark of having over-complicated controls; after an hour, I still couldn’t reliably get my grenades equipped and ready.  This is a third-person cover-based shooter, Ubisoft; most of us know how these games are supposed to feel in our hands, and it’s simply bizarre that Ubi feels compelled to arbitrarily change the formula to make it twice as complicated as it needs to be.

Still, I’m intrigued, if only because I’ve got nothing else on my gaming plate at the moment.  Tonight I test the PS4 version, and then I’ll run some sort of poll to figure out which of my gaming friends are picking it up, and on which system.  That said, I played what I played solo, and it wasn’t necessarily that lonely an experience; I think it’ll be more fun in co-op, obviously, but what isn’t?

3. I’ve finished a few books since my last post.

  • The Lost Time Accidents” – I loved this book, even if some of the more scientific stuff flew over my head.  Marvelously written, fantastically drawn characters, a pure pleasure to read from cover to cover.
  • Childhood’s End” – Apparently they’re making a TV show out of this?  Interesting, though I’ve got no desire to watch it.  I’ve actually read very little Arthur C. Clarke – until this one, I think I’d only read “Rendezvous With Rama“, and even though I’ve watched “2001” a bazillion times it’s not quite the same thing.  In any event – I can certainly understand why this is considered an all-time classic sci-fi book, and it’s remarkable to see how close Clarke was to imagining current technology from the 1950s.
  • Sudden Death” – OK, I haven’t technically finished this one, but it’s very short, and I’ll probably finish it by Monday.  I don’t have any idea how to describe this one, but it’s certainly very readable.

Hey, I managed to poop out 1000+ words!  Even if none of them have any thought behind them.  Have a wonderful weekend, everybody, and may you all get some sleep.

 

Good books! Good games! Good times!

1. I’m only about a third of the way into John Wray’s “The Lost Time Accidents“, but let me say this: if the rest of the book is just half as brilliant as what I’ve already been through, it’ll still be one of the best books I’ll have read in 2016.  I’m reluctant to discuss anything so far, if only because I clearly have so much more to get through, but MAN – this is a great, great book.  What a great feeling it is to be incredibly excited for something and then have it be just as good, if not better, than one had hoped.

2.  I played through the first day of Firewatch last night.  It’s quite something, I’ll say that; the prologue, a text-driven series of events that sets up your character’s motivation for taking the park ranger job, is far more emotionally heavy than I was prepared for.  I’m thinking I might wait for the much-needed frame-rate patch to land before I continue.  The frame-rate hitching isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but given that the game is so beautiful and the atmosphere is so intoxicating, I’d rather experience it without being unnecessarily distracted.

3.  Also played through a little bit of Klaus, a very stylish 2D platformer that uses the PS4’s touch screen to great effect.  I can see that this one is going to break my brain in short order.

4.  Also, for some reason, I’ve been playing through the Batman: Arkham Knight Season of Infamy DLC, which is far better than any of the side-story stuff that had previously been released.  It’s short, but it’s well-written and visually striking, and there’s some pretty heavy-duty stuff that happens along the way.

I thought I’d had enough for a #5; I guess I didn’t.

Superhot impressions

I received a spur-of-the-moment invite to check out a near-final version of SUPERHOT last night, and you’d better goddamned believe I went to check it out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably just come right out and tell you that I am very, very biased in favor of this game.  I was following the game even before the Kickstarter; I am a Kickstarter backer; and, completely unbeknownst to me beforehand, one of my friends was hired to punch up the story.  (You wouldn’t know it by looking at it – I certainly didn’t – but there is a narrative justification for all this madness.  I was shown just the faintest edges of this, but it’s there, and what I’ve seen looks very, very interesting indeed.)

I knew a bit about the game before last night’s demo, even if I’ve been trying to avoid learning too much.  (I’m one of those weirdos who’ll back a Kickstarter and then deliberately ignore the updates because I don’t want anything spoiled.)   I knew the game’s hook – where time only moves when you move – and I knew the super-minimalist art style (which is unmistakably distinctive).  Here is what I did not know until last night:

  • You can shoot bullets out of the air.
  • You can throw your empty gun at an enemy, stun them, grab their gun out of midair and then shoot them.  This is incredibly awesome and empowering to pull off.  Until you realize that enemies can also pick up the dropped weapons of their comrades out of thin air as well.
  • You won’t just be using guns, or your fists.  Any black object can be used to throw and stun your enemies, including bats, hammers, bottles, briefcases, billiard balls…
  • There’s also a bunch of hidden stuff in each level.  In order to find this stuff, you have to keep one enemy alive; each level ends as soon as the last enemy is killed.  Obviously, this makes searching for things a bit trickier.
  • Each level is very short and feels more like a puzzle than a firefight.  There will, however, be an endless mode (similar to Horde mode); I’m not sure if it will be unlocked from the beginning or not.
  • There are some very interesting gameplay differences between controller and mouse/keyboard inputs that can’t be ignored.  On the one hand, the mouse is far more precise than a controller in terms of aiming – and there won’t be any auto-assist aiming on the Xbox One version.  (Oh, yeah, there’s an Xbox One version coming soon-ish; no date was given, but it’s apparently undergoing certification as I write these words.)  The disadvantage of the keyboard, however, is that using WASD means you can’t adjust your movement speed.  Whereas with a controller, you have infinitely better control over your movement; you could conceivably finish an entire level in slow motion, which you simply can’t do using a keyboard.  It will be very, very interesting to see what people gravitate towards.
  • We’ll be able to see these things for ourselves as there will be some sort of Superhot “Killstagram” service, where people can upload their various moments of awesome.
  • Speed runners will get through the game in an hour, tops; people looking to find hidden stuff (of which there are bunches) will take 3-4.
  • I did see one mechanic that I am not allowed to reveal, but HOLY SHIT.

I am somewhat reluctant to compare this game to anything else, though any game with this sort of bullet-time mechanic will automatically trigger a Max Payne response, but it’s a completely different thing.  You could conceivably play through Max Payne without ever triggering bullet-time, whereas here in Superhot the game is bullet-time.   As noted above, each level feels like a puzzle rather than a prolonged firefight, and when you conquer each level through the acrobatic use of slow-motion agility and bad-assery, you feel like Neo at the end of the Matrix.  It’s positively euphoric.

Superhot will be released on PC on February 25th, and Xbox One soon thereafter.  (No official comment on a PS4 release.)

weekend recap: everywhere but here

In years past, the wife and I would go all-out for the Superbowl; we’d set up a big spread (even if nobody was coming over), we’d get drunk, we’d feel like crap and then Monday morning we’d be hungover and gross.  Not so, this year!  The secret to not feeling like shit on the Monday after the Superbowl is to (a) not give a shit about the Superbowl, and (b) go to bed mid-way through the 3rd quarter.  This gives you a much smaller window of opportunity to injure yourself with onion dip and/or scotch.

OK, let’s run this weekend down:

1. I am still itching to play XCOM 2, but I will have to wait until I either get a new PC, or a console version is released.  I know I said this last week, but even when I got home on Friday I was still curious, and so I ran some benchmarking tools and found that my PC simply can’t run it; it’s not even a question of running it slowly, but rather my graphics card can’t even meet the minimum requirements.  I’ve been debating whether or not to get a gaming PC for a long time now, or maybe just a Steam Machine.  I’m still not sure if XCOM2 is the game that makes me pull the trigger, especially since I already know that I’ll never be good enough at it to finish it.  But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it, anyway.

2. All things considered, I’ve barely touched anything gaming related over the last few days.  The weekend was busy; toddler birthday party at a bounce-house in Brooklyn on Saturday, and then a trip up to Grammo’s house for her birthday yesterday.  My son didn’t nap, even if he did a lot of running around.  This is why we went to bed early.  We did watch the first hour or so of Spectre, if only to experience the new surround sound system in its proper context – and, yeah, it sounds pretty great – but that was about it.  Tomorrow, of course, is the release day for both Unravel and Firewatch; the reviews for Unravel have been fairly positive, but since I already bought it I might as well play it.  (I showed it to my son yesterday for a few minutes; he loved making Yarny jump.)  I’m very curious about Firewatch; can’t wait to get my hands on that one.

3. I finished Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master on Saturday; the best way to describe it is “Umberto Eco-lite”.  It’s an entertaining yarn about a relic hunter in the mid 1500s, sent to steal Jesus’ burial shroud, and features a whole bunch of famous people from the period; it’s clearly very well researched in terms of getting period detail correct, and yet is also pleasingly modern in its dialogue; ultimately, though, the book is somewhat forgettable.  I am now in book purgatory until tomorrow.

Tomorrow night is the NY Game Awards, and it would figure that it’s going to be ridiculously amazing while I can’t be there.  Wyclef Jean is presenting; Joshua Cohen (who wrote “Book of Numbers“, among others) is presenting; a whole slew of other fun people are going to be presenting.  Ah well; ‘burb life strikes again.  I’ll be checking it out on Twitch.

Tonight, though, I’m meeting with my old buddy / label guy to talk about the album, next steps, release date, etc.  (I feel weird talking about this stuff here; but if not here, where?)  I am optimistic that I can get this thing out the door by Spring.

denial, unravel, xcom 2

I’m not going to talk about the album today.  I’m not going to talk about how out of shape my singing voice is, or how my lyrics suck, or how I can’t seem to get any new ideas on tape that don’t suck.  Not going to do it.  I’m gonna talk about games instead, because that’s easy.


 

I am, for some reason, a member of EA Early Access on the Xbox One.  I don’t know why I did this, but it paid off last night because, after an hour or two’s worth of songwriting frustration, I was able to play the first level of the forthcoming Unravel, which is charming as heck.

maxresdefault

 

It’s a puzzle-y platformer (not unlike Little Big Planet, at least in terms of feel) wherein you manipulate lil’ Yarny through obstacles, avoiding traps and swinging your yarn about – but there’s also a wistful nostalgic melancholia that permeates each level, and I suspect that Yarny will ultimately serve as some sort of metaphor made real, about the impermanence of memory.  Or something.  The opening cutscene is of a grandmotherly figure, looking at old pictures, and so one might infer that Yarny’s subsequent adventures will help her retrace her steps through the past.  It’s incredibly sweet and Yarny is cute as a button.

The platforming is also, perhaps surprisingly, a little tricky!  You can make jumping bridges with your yarn at various spots of interest; you can also lasso yourself to high, out-of-reach places, and then climb up.  The button presses that enable these sorts of movements are somewhat complicated, and even in the first tutorial-ish level I found myself on the very fine line between elegant dexterous control and straight-up button mashing.

As far as I know, I only have access to the first two levels until the game’s finally out – and EA Access only gives you 10 hours to play with, anyway.  I’m inclined to wait it out until the game is finally released.  But it’s certainly charming and evocative and delightful, and I’m anxious to get my hands on the final game.


Speaking of feeling anxious about new games, XCOM 2 is out today, and I’m torn as to whether or not I want to get it.  As much as I liked the idea of the first game, I wasn’t particularly good at it – even on the easiest setting – and so I’m not really all that sure that I’d want to spend $60 or whatever on more of the same.  Then there’s also the matter of my gaming PC, which is in sorry shape; the latest trouble I’m having is that the USB ports occasionally turn themselves off, which means that my mouse/keyboard will stop working.  So that’s a problem.  I also remain convinced that there will be a console version of XCOM 2 at some point – hell, I have the first game on PC, 360, PS3, and my goddamned iPhone – so it stands to reason that there’ll be a console version before too long.  So I think I’m gonna wait.

 

surrounded

1. Achievement Unlocked:  we have a surround-sound system in our living room.  We don’t have to worry about annoying our downstairs neighbors, because the downstairs is still our house.  I’ve been wanting some sort of surround-sound thing for maybe 20 years, and now I have one.  Have I actually watched anything with it turned on?  No, not yet – we just got everything hooked up yesterday.  But it does work with Bluetooth and so I’ve been able to listen to rough drafts of my album with it via my phone, and that’s awesome, so, there’s that.  (As for what we got, we got this, which was in an Amazon Gold Box deal a little while ago for around $180.)

2. Books: the best part about not posting frequently is that when I do, I can suddenly recap a whole bunch of stuff instead of just one thing at a time.  I have finished Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest”, which moved the trilogy along in some very interesting and intriguing ways, and this morning I finished Samantha Hunt’s “Mr. Splitfoot”, which is a rather eerie and unsettling ghost story (and whose biggest reveal sent literally chills all over my body, on the train, which would’ve been even more awkward had I not been bundled up).  I’m about to start Christopher Buckley’s “The Relic Master”, which I’d heard good things about; I’m really mostly just treading water until John Wray’s “The Lost Time Accidents” comes out next week.  I don’t know why I’m so excited for that one, but I’ve been looking forward to it for many months now.

3.  Games:  I think I’m done with the Lego games.  I may have already said this.  I had to take a sick day yesterday and I ended up finishing the campaign for the newest one, Lego Marvel Avengers, and I’m fully OD’d on both Lego and Marvel, which is not a great feeling at all.  This game feels particularly uninspired in nearly every respect; if you’d never seen the movies, you’d have no idea what’s going on – but if you’d never seen the movies, why would you even be playing this?  The voice acting is mostly taken from the movies, except each line reading feels strangely sleepy and deadened in its delivery; the action is relentlessly tedious, endless waves of enemies descending out of nowhere, for no particular reason except to pad everything out.  Plenty of bugs.  A whole bunch of puzzles that do not explain themselves at all, which is all the more frustrating because the game does go out of its way to explain the dumbest shit in agonizing unskippable camera swoops.  I know, I know – I’m 40 years old, I’m at least 25 years past the target demographic, etc.  This doesn’t stop a shitty game from being a shitty game.  Remind me that I said all of this when Lego: Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few months.

That’s it and that’s all.