the end of things

1. Whether we like it or not, all things must eventually come to an end.  We’ve all had that experience where we’re reading a book that we love so much that we never want to put it down, or a song that we can’t stop listening to… but eventually we do, and we have to, because we don’t want to ruin the thing that we love by wearing it out.

This is why it’s sometimes hard for me to stay engaged with a game once it’s outstayed its welcome, and especially when the game in question doesn’t actually have an official finish line.  I’ve put in probably close to 30 hours in The Division by this point; I’m level 23, I’ve only got a few more main missions to go before my Penn Station base is completely finished, but I’m starting to grow weary of the game’s repetitiveness.  The side missions and encounters and diversions are all identical except that tougher enemies take more bullets.  I’m no longer wandering the streets looking for collectibles, since I know that once I finish all the side missions they’ll automatically pop up on my map anyway.  I was hoping I’d stay engaged long enough to hit level 30 and do a little cursory exploration of the Dark Zone, even though I don’t care about PvP; now my goal is simply to make it to 41st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, to see if my day job’s location is accurately portrayed.  (Spoiler alert – it most likely isn’t; with a few exceptions here and there, the NYC that’s portrayed in this game bears little resemblance to the actual NYC.  I’ve already glanced at the map and immediately noticed that there’s no exit/side-street for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which bisects 4-5 blocks between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; then again, the game also features a 2nd Avenue subway, so perhaps this near-future Manhattan has done away with the tunnel altogether.)

This is not to say that I think The Division is a bad game; frankly, compared to Ubisoft’s other recent offerings, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable to play, and in many ways it reminds me of what Watch Dogs could’ve been.  But I find myself turning my brain off the longer I go; I ignore cutscenes and narrative beats because they’re meaningless at this point.  I finish a mission and they show me recovered video of atrocities committed by the game’s “enemies”, but I find it hard to care considering that I just killed hundreds of people single-handedly.  All I’m doing is moving from waypoint to waypoint, mowing people down, hoping they drop something useful.  This was fun for the first dozen hours, but it’s growing monotonous; there’s no depth.  I continue to hide behind cover and pop off shots here and there, the same way I did 30 hours ago, but now I have a portable turret.  I spend too much time agonizing over the relative merits and statistical improvements of different kneepads.  Do I sell?  Do I deconstruct?  Is there any point in engaging with the Advanced Weapons Dealer in the Ops Base before hitting level 30?

I need more co-op time, I guess.  That made the game a lot more fun to play, because suddenly I could think tactically instead of simply rushing from cover to cover; my friend and I could consider locational positioning, and work on flanking and suppressing.  Granted, this too eventually gets repetitive, but at least we can still talk to each other instead of simply listening to the horrible, horrible stereotypical New Yorker voice acting of each safe house’s side-mission giver.

Then again, I’m not necessarily in any rush to get it out of my house; if my rental Q is to be believed, I still have more than a week before Quantum Break and DiRT Rally show up.  But I do need to put it away, soon, because otherwise I’ll just feel like I’m wasting time.

2.  Oculus Rift reviews are dropping all over the place, and they all seem to be saying the same thing:  “a key to a new era of entertainment“, “like nothing you’ve ever experienced before“, “It [has] changed how we think of games.”  I guess this is good?  That hopefully this isn’t a fad?  I have no stake in this tech one way or the other; I think I’ve said this already, but in case I haven’t, right now the only VR set that I’ve got any eyes on is the PSVR, because my gaming PC is more or less busted and I can’t afford a new one right now, much less a new one AND a Rift.  I’m curious, I suppose, but until I actually experience it I will remain skeptical.  (I also wear glasses, and I suspect that wearing glasses underneath a VR headset is problematic.)

I’m also a little skeptical of Sony’s ability to make their VR unit compelling for more than, say, the initial launch quarter.  Considering the horrendous support that the PSP and the Vita have gotten, it’s hard to have faith that PSVR will be worth the investment – especially since it sounds like any PS4 owner would have to upgrade to the PS4.5 in order to get the most out of the VR setup.  As someone who’s owned multiple iterations of iPhones, of course I’m going to upgrade to a more powerful PS4, irrespective of my decision to jump on the VR bandwagon, but not everyone can make the same jump, and the more I think about it, the more of a mess it becomes.

3.  Regarding the aforementioned “all things must end”: I’m currently reading Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” and it is slow-going; it’s beautifully written but there’s tragedy on every page, and it’s the sort of thing where I have trouble sticking with it, if only because there’s only so much Chechen atrocity I can handle in one sitting.  (There is a section describing the plight of teenaged refugees being kidnapped and executed, and the remaining family members asking for portraits of their missing loved ones; and while it is poetic and beautiful to read, it’s also gut-wrenchingly devastating; I was reading this on the evening commute, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting out in sobs.)

4.  I finally got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” over the weekend.  I’m… I’m not sure how I feel about it.  It’s impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so I might make a separate post about it.  I’m glad I saw it, and I’m sure it would make one hell of a play, but I’m also wondering if I’m starting to get a bit weary of QT’s tics and mannerisms.  (It also didn’t help that the film’s opening credits introduce the film as “The Eighth Film from Quentin Tarantino”.)

5.  I was going to wrap this post up by talking a bit about Corey Feldman’s IndieGoGo campaign, but I don’t feel like mocking him.  I mean, if you click on that link, most of the mocking is already done for you; you will cringe and recoil in horror involuntarily, whether or not I prepare you for what you see.  Frankly, I have no business making fun of him; I have an album of my own that I’m trying to finish, and while I’d love to raise some funds to be able to hire my friends to play on it and have it recorded and mixed by a guy who actually knows what he’s doing instead of me simply dicking around on my Macbook, I’d be lucky to get even half of the pitiful amount he’s raised.  If you’re making art, and you’re sincere in your desire to make something that you believe is important and beautiful, I don’t want to make fun of you.  I’d rather be angry at myself for not working as hard as I should, because I at least have some measure of control over it.

So instead, let me leave you with maybe the best remembrance (of many) of the late, great Garry Shandling.

“Make the spiritual search more important than the problem,” he told me once. Better than anyone I know, he understood that the search was the destination, that messiness was better than tidiness, that the complexity that makes us suffer also is the source of all beauty.

Weekend Recap: Dividing Together

1. I believe I’ve said this already about a million times, but on the off-chance that this is your first visit to this site (welcome!) it bears repeating if only so that this post makes sense:  I have been making an effort to not buy so many full-price games this year.  Barring some surprise announcements at E3, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that I feel compelled to own, and certainly nothing that I need to pre-order.

That being said, I did kinda sorta end up buying Hitman over the weekend, and I’m still not sure why.  I have never been very good at Hitman games; while I can certainly appreciate how free-form they are and how they encourage creativity and improvisation – there’s any number of ways you can take out your target and all that ultimately matters is that you escape – I always feel like I’m missing a crucial piece of the game’s vocabulary when I sit down and play.  I came to the series late, I guess, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t occur to me to try all sorts of things; I tend to be very basic, which means my schemes are generally somewhat rudimentary, and so when I pull off a hit successfully I don’t feel any particular satisfaction.  But then I’ll hear or read about or watch some spectacular methods of assassination, and I’ll once again realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I did enjoy Hitman Sniper on iOS, though, which is maybe why I’m predisposed to giving this new Hitman a shot.  Specifically, the iPhone Sniper game (which is itself an iteration of Hitman Sniper Challenge on PC, which was a sort-of demo that came with Absolution) was simply one level, which you played a zillion times, but each time you had different targets and challenges; with each successive playthrough, you’d begin to recognize guard patterns, and with each new challenge you’d learn certain tricks you could perform – as an example, you could lure a cluster of targets near a furnace, which you could then explode with a well-aimed shot; you could wait for a few minutes for a target to lean against a glass railing, which you could then shoot out and have the body fall off the cliffside below – and so even though the game fundamentally remained one of endless repetition, you’d begin to dive deep and develop a microscopic understanding of the level’s design.

So the idea that the new Hitman game would be episodic, and that each level would have these similar abstractions that you could explore, so that you’d never be replaying the same level the same way – well, I understand the appeal of that in a way that I definitely would not have, had I not spent a significant amount of time with those sniper challenges.

I finished the first tutorial level, but only once, and I didn’t do such a great job of it, and I’m anxious to give it several more tries before moving on to the next level; while the game has gotten somewhat mixed reviews, the people who like it really like it and even if I’m coming at the game from a completely different perspective, I think I can understand the appeal of this game and, specifically, the way it’s being delivered.

2.  I also finally got to do some online co-op in The Division, and that is definitely how this game should be played.  I continue to enjoy the single-player experience (if only because I’m content to play it mindlessly, instead of actually paying attention to how seriously fucked up it is), but playing with a friend is infinitely more fun and engaging.  My character is around 10 levels higher than my buddy’s, so we were able to pretty much wreck havoc and managed to unlock all three wings of his Ops Base relatively quickly, and so even though I’d already played these missions before, and even though none of the gear that dropped for me was useful, it was still fun to strategize and call out enemy locations while also experimenting with new abilities and talents (since only one of us needed to use Pulse, I started playing around with the medic abilities, which ended up coming in handy, actually).

Side note: I’ve been debating whether or not to buy my rental copy of The Division.  On the one hand, it’s only $45 to keep my copy; on the other hand, there’s the lazy-ass part of me that’s gotten used to the idea of not having discs, even though my PS4’s hard drive was filled up many months ago.  Speaking of which, my co-op buddy recently upgraded his PS4’s hard drive to 2TB, which I was also tempted to do… and then, literally the next day, Kotaku reported that there might be a PS4.5.  I’m already trying to figure out if I’m going to get the PSVR bundle… if there’s a VR bundle that comes out alongside the PS4.5?  Can I trade my PS4 in towards the new one?  Do I even need a 4K TV?

3.  I’d whined a little while ago that Spotify’s weekly discovery playlists felt a bit lackluster this year, at least compared to last year; this week’s playlist, though, is among the best I’ve ever received.  I keep a separate playlist of my faves from each week; usually I’ll keep one or two, but I think kept, like, 8 or 9 from this week’s list.  (Should you be interested, my 2016 list is here, and also should be in the sidebar to the right.)

I was hoping to write a bit more here – about some of the new Irish whiskey I bought over the weekend, and a little about books and such – but it’s suddenly gotten a little bananas over here at work, so I’m gonna put this up while I still have a second.

The Division: HOT TAKES

On the one hand, Gareth Martin for KillScreen has a rather remarkable and thought-provoking analysis of The Division, taking it to task specifically for its “perverse and and misanthropic politics”:

It’s always been a quirk of videogames that they succeed in depicting believable environments over believable people. The Division feels like the ultimate realization of this trait. The section of Manhattan island that the game takes as a setting is an artful work of digital craft. It takes a detailed one-to-one replica of the existing city as its starting point and covers it with layer after layer of enviromental detail. Every surface is creased, worn, scratched and marked, then plastered with trash, water, notes, graffiti, and greasy footprints. There is an obsession with garbage that tells the story of the breakdown of the systems of society so effectively. Bags of it lie in great drifts across roads, it fills stairways and alleys, piling up in cavernous sewers. It is an image that speaks so strongly to the supposed knife-edge the game wishes to depict society as resting on. It defines a society of endless consumption brought to its knees. When combined with the Christmas imagery that comes with the games’ “Black Friday” timescale—wrapped trees lined up on the streets, fairy lights twinkling above burnt out cars—it starts to feel like a visual interrogation of late Capitalism. And when the precisely simulated snow drifts in, and you are stalking down an empty city street surrounded by refuse, The Division seems to make sense, it seems to say something. But before long, out of the swirling flakes will come a jerky citizen, who will congratulate you for your efforts, and then ask you for a soda. And all at once, that something is lost.

The Division has a serious representation problem. Despite the complexity of its world, and its bleak sophistication, it fails miserably to represent the culture within it. Its crude depiction of a society divided entirely into “us and them” feels like the ugliest of conceits. “Citizens” are classified as those friendly-looking, passive idiots that wander up and down streets looking for a hand-out. “Enemies” include anyone who might take their own survival into their own hands. Within the first five minutes of the game you’ll gun down some guys rooting around in the bins, presumably for “looting” or carrying a firearm. Later you’ll kill some more who are occupying an electronics store and then proceed to loot the place yourself, an act made legal by the badge on your shoulder. Even the game’s “echoes,” 3D visualizations of previous events, seem designed to criminalize the populace, usually annotating them with their name and the crimes they have committed. This totalitarian atmosphere pervades everything—even down to a mission where you harvest a refugee camp for samples of virus variation, treating victims like petri dishes. Developer Ubisoft Massive runs merrily through any complexity and shades of grey in these acts, in what seems like a vain attempt to mask the fact that you are shooting citizens because they are “looters,” constantly prioritizing property and assets over human life.

* * *

This is the paranoid fantasy of the right-wing brought into disturbing actualization by The Division. Look at the three gangs that form the main antagonists of the game: The “Rikers” are the prisoners of Rikers island prison that lies off the coast of The Bronx. They are the most obvious member of what The Division presents as societies’ dangerous underclass—known criminals. The “Cleaners” are former sanitation workers, who have decided that the solution to the virus is to burn it out of the city. A gang of blue-collar garbage men and janitors equipped with flamethrowers, they represent the lowest rung of the working class. The third gang are the “Rioters,” a majority black, generic street gang, decked in hoodies and caps that spend their time looting electronics stores and dead bodies. Perhaps the laziest and most repugnant of all the game’s representations, the Rioters might have been clipped from the one-sided and inaccuratemedia coverage of disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Their collective name even seeks to mark anybody who resists the dominant regime for execution. Together, these gangs present a trinity of soft political targets, those that can be killed with little social guilt or questioning. The Division mercilessly uses these skewed representations to justify its political violence.

It’s a perverse idea of society, one where the government and its agents are the only thing standing between the average man and a host of violent sociopaths that surround him; from the “hoods” hanging on his street corner to the janitor at his office. They want what he has, the man thinks, because it is what they lack. They want to take what he has earned—to destroy what he has built. It comes from a deep seated place of ignorance and selfishness, one that doesn’t seek to understand the world but to divide it up into property and power. This ideology is nothing short of poisonous and yet The Division uses it as the fuel for its world. It borrows, word-for-word, the rhetoric of the New Orleans police department command who after Hurricane Katrina gave the order to “take the city back” and “shoot looters.” It presents those disenfranchised by society as its greatest enemies. It follows neo-liberal dogma so blindly that in one bizarre mission it actually sends the player to turn the adverts of Times Square back on, as if those airbrushed faces and glimmering products were the true heart of New York City, shining down like angels on the bodies of the dead among the trash.

And on the other hand, I completely agree with these series of tweets from Josiah Renaudin:

Neither of these viewpoints are wrong.  I was taken aback by Gareth Martin’s political analysis if only because, like Josiah, I simply haven’t felt obligated to pay much attention to why I’m doing anything in The Division; I’ve been playing for over 12 hours now and I still don’t 100% know who I am, or why I’m here, or what I’m doing.  That hasn’t stopped me from enjoying myself, even if I do wish I felt a stronger connection to the game; it wouldn’t stop me from wanting to continue, but as it is I have absolutely zero emotional involvement with what it is I’m doing.  And that’s fine as far as my gaming habits are concerned, most of the time.

But yeah, after a dozen hours of this shooty shooty bang bang business, I do start to question the ethics of why my digital avatar is behaving in this way.  It makes no sense to be ordered (by the game’s enemy-location radar) to shoot looters dead in the street, and then walk up to them and literally loot their corpse – or, more often than not, to walk away disappointed that they didn’t drop anything good enough to pick up.  I especially don’t know why I’m shooting the guys with flamethrowers, who presumably are setting virus-ridden things on fire, and so aren’t necessarily the enemy, per se.

The premise of The Division – a deadly virus contaminates New York City and you, as a member of The Division, are tasked with restoring law and order to a lawless wasteland of a city – is certainly rich enough that it ought to be able to carry some narrative momentum in and of itself, but that’s not what the game is really about; your real impetus to carry forward (and a very strong impetus it is, believe me) is the loot chase.  Very few games manage to make the chase compelling enough without being overwhelming and/or annoying; one might even make the argument that a game like Borderlands goes too far on the loot side of things.  The Division’s loot chase is very finely balanced and well-tuned; I don’t often get what I need but when I do, I’m very, very happy.

But in the same way that eating potato chips out of the garbage in order to regain health felt a little weird in Bioshock, or that in order to catch a serial killer in Condemned you end up killing more people than the serial killer you’re chasing, and often in gruesome and horrifying ways, it’s starting to become weird that I, as a member of The Division, am advancing the cause of liberty and freedom by shooting stragglers to death, and mostly in the head in order to get an XP bonus.

EDIT, POSTSCRIPT:  As I was writing all this down, another insightful essay popped up by Robert Rath on ZAM.

Weekend Recap: Fare Thee Well

1. I am a few years late to finally seeing Inside Llewyn Davis, I know, but these things happen sometimes.  I’m a much bigger Coen Bros. fan than my wife, who is actually somewhat turned off by their films; we’ve discussed this at length and at the end of the day it simply is what it is.  As for the film itself, well, obviously the music is fantastic and the acting is wonderful and the cinematography is impeccable… but the movie also fell a little flat for me; I couldn’t figure out what the movie’s purpose seemed to be.  The AV Club used to have this feature called Justify Your Existence where they asked musicians to explain why anybody should listen to their record; I would ask the Coen Brothers the same question with regard to this one.  Did they want to make a road movie that doesn’t really go anywhere, and indeed ends up ending the same way it starts?  Unlike other films of theirs, I simply couldn’t figure out what it was I was supposed to feel, beyond that Oscar Isaac’s character does in fact deserve to get the shit kicked out of him at the beginning/end.  Of course, as with most Coen films, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since we watched it, and I’ve also been unable to get this song out of my head.  The way they sing the word “Fare” over that suspended chord in the chorus fucking kills me.

2.  This was a busy weekend, as it turned out; a good weekend – multiple trips to parks, a fun visit to the local zoo with some dear friends, and the knowledge that there would be no transit strike after all – tempered by our first homeowner’s nightmare, a small leak in the basement that necessitated a plumber’s visit.  This meant that I ended up staying home yesterday anyway, and so I was able to finally dive into The Division.

Actually, before I talk about that, I also just want to say that since I was home alone yesterday, I decided to bring my PS4 up from the basement and into the living room, where I could hook it up to our surround sound speakers.  And this should go without saying, but playing a game in surround sound is a completely different experience.  I can’t believe I’ve been so careless about my gaming audio after all these years.  I kinda want to play Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption again through those speakers, which already had some of the best sound design I can recall in recent years; I don’t necessarily need a 3DTV, but I do need surround sound and I need it right away.  (I’m honestly tempted to buy a second system for the basement, that’s how eye-opening it was.)

Anyway, so with regards to The Division:  I’m currently just over level 9, I think; I’ve unlocked all three wings of my main base of operations, and I’ve got some pretty good gear, and even playing solo I’ve been able to take down pretty much every mission I’ve come across without dying.

Every preview/review that’s come out so far has referred to The Division as Ubisoft’s answer to Bungie’s Destiny – an online-only, co-op friendly, shooter/RPG hybrid.  Which is absolutely fair, and I suppose this comparison will be mostly borne out in the level-cap endgame.  I don’t know that I’m going to stick around for that endgame, though, because I’m not terribly big on PvP (especially since The Division’s endgame is currently very much a work in progress).  I didn’t stick around for Destiny, either.

Comparisons to Destiny aside, I continue to feel that The Division reminds me more of Mass Effect, especially ME3.  The meat of the gameplay – the cover-based shooting – is actually quite solid and engaging, and even if the firefights still feel very same-y after a while, they’re also still satisfying (at least at this early stage).  I’m also far more inclined to simply wander around NYC, looking for hidden collectibles and materials and treasure chests and such; the city doesn’t necessarily feel like New York to me, but in and of itself it’s a very cool place to explore, and I’ve been content to simply turn my waypoints off and poke my way through alleys and open doors (which is where a lot of those collectibles end up being hidden).

I’m enjoying it, is what I’m trying to say, and I suspect I’ll enjoy it even more once I try it in co-op.  I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to grind out the endgame stuff, which is also why I haven’t bought my rental copy just yet, but for the time being I’m enjoying the game a lot more than I expected to.  The beta wasn’t a fluke.

3. To that last point – I’m not pre-ordering games this year.  I believe this was one of my new year’s resolutions, and here we are in March and I’ve actually stuck to it without realizing it.

I have a Gamefly account and last year I barely used it; all the games I’d rented were games that I was only merely curious about, and nearly everything I rented I ended up sending back within a few days, if not the same day.  This year, though, I’m adamant about not ripping myself off; I have the rental account, now I’m going to use it.  As an example, I rented Far Cry Primal, and after around 12 hours I think I’m starting to get a bit fatigued with it.  (That being said, it bears mentioning once again that experiencing that game with surround sound is something I wish I’d tried earlier; the sound design is far better than I’d initially given it credit for, and the experience of stalking prey through the forest is completely different when you can hear the forest around you.)

When I look at this year’s slate of upcoming releases, I’m hardpressed to think of anything that I absolutely have to own, no questions asked.  In fact, there’s only two games that I can think of that I would immediately pre-order purely out of reflex, and neither of them officially exist (yet) – Portal 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2.  I don’t know if this is simply me being a more discerning consumer, or if I’m just not looking forward to 2016’s slate, or what, but it is what it is.

discouragement

[CAUTION:  PERSONAL STUFF.  I don’t keep a personal blog anymore; if I did, I’d write this stuff there, as opposed to here.  (I’ve also forgotten my Livejournal password.)  I am feeling inclined to write anyway, so, deal with it.]

I am unwell today.  I think I got gluten’d from my office cafeteria breakfast, and so the morning has been… unpleasant.

Sometimes I hear stories about people who take medication for depression or anxiety, and they start feeling better and decide to stop taking their meds because they think they don’t need them anymore, and then everything falls apart; I am not one of those people.  I’m on anxiety medication and it’s improved my quality of life a thousand times over and I do not plan to stop taking it unless there’s a really good reason not to.  Similarly, it’s days like today where I realize that no matter how much progress I’ve made in terms of my GI illnesses – and I’ve made a lot of progress – there is absolutely no wiggle room for mistakes; if I eat something I’m not supposed to, I pay for it.

(This is also a “fuck you” to people who go out of their way to make fun of people who are gluten-free.  Let me assure you, this is not a choice.)

I am also feeling a bit pessimistic about a timely resolution to the impending NJ Transit strike, despite one of the lead quotes from this article (which directly flies in the face of last night’s developments).  My office also won’t let me work from home, so I’ll be forced to take vacation time, even though my inability to get into work isn’t my fault.

My rental copy of The Division finally arrived yesterday, and so I’d been hoping to offer up some early impressions today; alas, the game required a 3GB patch and for whatever reason my PS4 was refusing to download it in a timely fashion.  That said, if the above-referenced transit strike ends up happening and I’m stuck at home, well… I’ll be able to do a much more thorough write-up, at the very least.

What else, what else, what else.  I don’t know.  I’m in a weird headspace today; feeling discouraged and pessimistic, in addition to everything else.  I wish I could go into greater detail here, but this isn’t the best place for it.

 

Greatness in all forms

1. I said this on Facebook late last night, and in the cold light of morning I think it still holds true:  the wife and I finished True Detective S1 last night and while I don’t watch nearly enough TV to consider myself any sort of critical authority, I’d have to put it among the very top of my Top 10 favorite TV seasons ever.  (I have no idea what that list looks like, by the way.)  Certainly I have a much more profound respect for Matthew McConaughey than I ever did before; his performance throughout the season is nothing short of extraordinary.  But also the writing, the cinematography, the sound design (sweet jesus, the sound design!), the rest of the cast… I’m not necessarily thrilled with the show’s gender politics (and I can now certainly understand why fans of the first season wanted to see two female detectives in Season 2), and maybe there’s a little too much gratuitous/unnecessary T&A (even if this is an HBO series, which apparently stands for Has Boobs, Obviously), but look:  for what is ostensibly a cop show, these eight episodes make for some of the most compelling and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had in quite some time.

2. I just finished Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer this morning, and am about to start Grimscribe, the second collection of stories in the omnibus edition.  Even if I don’t find Ligotti horrifying, I find his ability to conjure the feeling of uncanny, nameless dread nothing short of breathtaking.  I started reading Ligotti specifically because of his apparent influence over True Detective; now that I’ve finished Season 1, I suppose I see it a bit though not nearly as much as I expected to, if only because the Louisiana Bayou is the exact opposite of the sort of grey, misty, shapeless towns that Ligotti’s stories all seem to occupy.  But certainly some of Rust Cohle’s nihilism can be traced through to Ligotti, that’s for sure.  In any event, there’s one story in Songs that I simply adored (though that’s maybe not the right word for it) – seek out “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story”, which executes on its premise in such a fantastic way that I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

“He has failed to embody in words his semi-autobiographical sorrow, and all these games with protective names have only made it more painful. It hurts to hide his heart within pseudonyms of pseudonyms.”

3.  I woke up to the news that George Martin had passed away.  It’s hard for me to put my thoughts in order about it.  Regardless of your thoughts on the Beatles themselves, there can be no question that Martin was the most influential producer in the history of modern music.  He pioneered so many recording techniques and oversaw some of the most mind-bending sounds that had ever been heard; even now, all these years later, songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I Am The Walrus” and the string arrangements of “Eleanor Rigby” are still mesmerizing and astonishing.  A true giant, a true legend.

4.  I am continuing to putter around in Far Cry Primal, though with my rental copy of The Division arriving either tonight or tomorrow, I expect FCP will be put away for a bit.  I am not nearly as down on it as I expected to be, even if I find it somewhat aimless and without any narrative urgency.  Indeed, FCP is one of the few instances where having so much shit on the map is actually a good thing rather than a bad thing, because I find the non-story stuff infinitely more compelling.  I do like me some crafting; and while I’m not crazy about hunting, at least it’s somewhat tastefully done here.  It is very easy to pick up and mess around and then put away, without feeling like I’ve lost anything.  I still have no idea why this game needs the “Far Cry” tag, beyond the obvious corporate need to get the attention of gamers who might not have internet connections.

5.  iOS gamers:  download Train Conductor World now.  Just do it.  It’s free.

 

friday lists: distraction edition

Games I Should Be Playing, Apparently, According to Twitter:

  1. Undertale, which is somehow already old news thanks to
  2. Stardew Valley.

To be fair to both of these games, it’s not their fault.  It’s mine.  I have a PC that’s barely holding itself together, and I’m also missing the part of my childhood that has any nostalgia for retro graphics and/or Harvest Moon.*   (This is also why I’m finding myself somewhat immune to the charms of the (currently free for PS+ members) Broforce.)

Games I’m Playing, Not Quite Begrudgingly, But Mostly Just Because They’re There:

  1. Far Cry Primal.  It’s not bad!  And while it’s more or less the same game as the last two, I find that I do prefer the emphasis on stealth.  And certainly ever since Elder Scrolls: Oblivion I’ve always found myself in open-world RPGs gathering plants obsessively, and it’s nice to finally have a real, legitimately important use of them.  Do I care about what I’m doing?  No, but that’s never really stopped me before, as far as Far Cry games go.  Will I finish the game?  Probably not, since The Division is coming next week.
  2. Train Conductor World, which just hit iOS this week and is the third (and best) iteration of the Train Conductor formula.  Also, I’ve been using it as a negotiating ploy with my son; if he stays in bed, he gets to play it on my iPad in the morning.  (He is obsessed with trains.)  (He is also getting somewhat better about staying in bed.)

Books I’m Currently Reading:

  1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra, which has been on my to-do list for a while.  The problem is, I’m not really in the mood for it right now; I do want to get to it, but I’m finding myself unwilling to stay with it.  So I’m putting it aside for the moment and instead I’m reading
  2. Songs of a Dead Dreamer / Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti, which is ABSOLUTELY my speed right now.  Why is my current speed that of super-creepy dread that gets under my skin and stays there all day?  I don’t know, but it’s what’s happening.  I’d previously read Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco, which was similarly creepy and dreadful; I’m still in the beginning of this collection but I’m ready to say that it’s far superior already, for whatever that’s worth.

Things I’m Currently In Denial About:

  1. that there’s $11 in my checking account
  2. the Republican party
  3. that I’ve had Cookie Clicker running in my browser for two weeks
  4. that I’m still no closer to getting my album done, even though I’m taking off a week from work in early April with the specific purpose of finally finishing this goddamned thing
  5. the impending NJ Transit strike

(Normally I’m very much pro-union, and I hate Chris Christie with the fire of a thousand suns, and if Christie is the sort of shitbag who’s willing to fuck up the George Washington Bridge just out of spite, I have little to no faith that he’s going to be a reasonable negotiator at these talks.  That being said, have you ridden NJ Transit lately?  It’s a fucking joke.  The morning train has been overcrowded and inexplicably late all week this week, and Penn Station during the evening rush is the living embodiment of a panic attack, and I only wish it were possible for me to work from home.  It is literally impossible for me to work from home.)

 


* I know I’ve said this before, but if you’re just joining us for the first time, I went from the Atari 2600 to my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and then only had cursory knowledge of the PS1, and my first console that I bought with my own money was the Dreamcast.  Actually, that’s not even true; the Dreamcast was a birthday gift from an ex-girlfriend.

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further adventures in sleeplessness

This post will be somewhat random.  I am tired.  The boy’s sleep habits are continuing to evolve and change; last night it took him about 45 minutes to stop getting out of bed, which is better than most nights, but then he climbed into our bed at around 2:00am, and he does not necessarily sleep lengthwise.  (Funnily enough, when our alarms went off at 6:00am and we turned our lights on, he very slowly climbed out of our bed and very sleepily walked back into his room and climbed back into his own bed.)

There is also a faint, weird smell in my office, hovering near my desk.  The engineers have been here all morning; nothing’s on fire, but it has that dusty heat smell, like a space heater kicking on after a long period of dormancy.  I am distracted.


 

I would love to offer up some insightful comments after playing bits of both Superhot and Far Cry Primal, but I can’t.  The above-mentioned issues with my kid’s bedtime are interfering with my evening free time, and by the time he does finally go to bed I’m usually too exhausted to do anything.  If I’m repeating myself, well, what can I say?  It is what it is.

Superhot is awesome, and I am also not very good at it.  I’ve tried playing it with the Steam controller (which is very, very bad), with mouse and keyboard (which is better), and with the good ol’ 360 gamepad (which is probably best), and I continue to get killed very quickly.  I am tempted to wait on it until the XB1 version comes out, which is supposedly coming in a few weeks; I’m wondering if perhaps my couch and big TV might at least make the experience more comfortable.

Far Cry Primal, on the other hand… well, it’s basically Far Cry 3 and 4, but in the Stone Age.  So it’s not exactly the same game – there are no guns, cars or gyrocopters, obviously, and you’re speaking in caveman gibberish – but in nearly every other respect it’s the same game I’ve played over the last 2-3 years.  I appreciate the novelty of the game’s setting, and the game looks fantastic… but I really don’t know if I care enough to keep pushing through.  It’s not like the game’s story is all that interesting, and in the meantime the game suffers from that ubiquitous Ubisoft-ness where the map is covered with so many different things to do that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s actually important.  Mostly I gather flowers and light bonfires.  I’m holding onto it for at least a few more weeks, because there’s nothing else on my radar until The Division, but I’m not feeling pulled toward it with any urgency.


 

I’m kinda racing through Foucault’s Pendulum, now, which I don’t like doing.  It’s a book that I still have very fond feelings for, but it’s also somewhat tedious in its digressions; I didn’t mind that so much in my previous readings, but for whatever reason I’m finding it tedious now.

I’m wondering if part of this feeling of urgency is tied to the Goodreads challenge.  I’m still 4 books ahead of schedule, but I don’t particularly like feeling rushed.  And I’m reluctant to read some of the longer books in my to-read list for that specific reason; I don’t want to get bogged down in something enormous if I start feeling like I’m falling behind.  I’m fully aware that this is a ridiculous, self-imposed neurosis; I don’t win a prize for beating the challenge.  That doesn’t stop me from succumbing to it.


Two good reads to recommend:

  1. Holly Green wrote an absolute stunner of a piece about Firewatch and unrequited love; I only wish I felt as strongly about the game itself as I do about this essay.
  2. John Biggs wrote a pretty great piece about writing 11,000 blog posts.  That essay is why I’m writing this particular post right now, even though I feel like I have very little to say.

I need to get back to the album.  I took a little break from thinking about it, and that break got extended thanks to the boy’s recent adventures in stretching out his bedtime boundaries, but honestly I could come up with a dozen more excuses (Trump!  Thinking about getting a new car!  My day job’s impending office move!) and none of them would change the simple and obvious fact that if I wanted to find time to write, I’d make the time to write.  Well, I need to make that time happen.  So I’m logging off now.