Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta impressions

(I would’ve written about this earlier, except I was under the impression that there was an NDA for closed-beta members.  However, Kotaku just opened up a thread about the beta, and someone there told me that there was no NDA and that EA was actively promoting player streams on Twitter, so: my mistake!)

Unlike other betas in which it’s obvious that the developers are stress-testing their multiplayer servers and getting a feel for how players are reacting to weapons and such, I’m not sure what the purpose of the Mirror’s Edge beta was for, beyond giving franchise fans a sneak peak of this long-awaited sequel.  To be fair, I only had the chance to play it for an hour or so and so I didn’t run across (sorry) any multiplayer options; I suspect there would be some sort of leaderboard for time trials, but that isn’t necessarily something that needs stress-testing.

As someone who admired the first game for its relative strengths but didn’t finish it because the combat was overwhelmingly stupid and awful, I can’t necessarily articulate what it is that I’d want from a sequel – beyond getting rid of the gunplay.  I don’t remember much of the larger narrative from the first game; all I do remember, frankly, is the incredible visual style and the often-exhilarating parkour.

To that end, I’m not sure that Catalyst delivers.  The graphics are not as pristine as I’d expect them to be – but then, this is a beta, and I’m sure there’s quite a bit more spit and polish left before the game goes gold.  The free-running feels essentially the same, even if the control scheme isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d like (lots of L1 and L2 on the PS4 controller, with the face buttons used for hand-to-hand combat).

My biggest issue with the game, though, is that it feels very much like it’s trying to be an Assassin’s Creed clone, and not a particularly interesting one at that.  It has that same quasi-open-world feel and the same skill-tree system of upgrades, but it feels clumsy in my hands.  More to the point, the writing is awful.  Everybody is annoying, uninteresting, speaking the same cliched game-dialogue we’ve all heard for years.  The first person Faith meets when she gets out of [prison?] is the same annoying-new-guy stock character we’ve seen a million times.  I have no idea why I’m doing anything, nor do I know why I have to do it so quickly.  The mission designs, at least the few that I played through, are all standard cookie-cutter missions – collect a bunch of things, deliver them to point A, evade your pursuers.  The time trial stuff is fun in principle, though it’s silly from a narrative point – I understand the need to tutorialize for the new player, but if Faith is this legendary free-runner, why does she need to prove herself to anybody – even if she was in prison?

I’d like to say I’m still cautiously optimistic, but I’m not sure that the problems I’m seeing here are the sorts of things that can be fixed by June.

On The Ethics of Game Criticism

[This is an IM conversation between me and my buddy Greg, regarding Arthur Gies’ non-review of Star Fox Zero over at Polygon.]

G:  in other news, arthur gies continues to be
a bit of a pretentious tool (by refusing to review star fox

J:is that good/bad, re star fox?
from everything else i’ve read, it’s a bit of a shitshow

G:  it’s essentially a bad review that has no score
and claims not to be a review.
i.e. it’s such a mess i can’t even be bothered to
finish it to review it (even though that’s
my job and the game is maybe 5 hours long)

“It is, to be blunt, a miserable experience, and
the idea of playing more fills me with the kind of
deep, existential dread I can’t really justify.”
i mean, jesus howard christ, that is quite a thing
to write about playing a janky video game
to complete a work assignment.
J:  at least he’s not mincing words

we’ve all played games that shitty
G: sure
J: for it to be a big-name exclusive for an ailing system,
and for it to be a terrible game – well, one can make
the argument that keeping the piece as is
is a good way to get page views and get nerds all angry

G: but i think he needs to suck up
his existential dread, push through the
last two hours of the game and put a number on it.
J: what difference would that make, though?
G: i see it as more of a way to feed gies’s ego.

well for one thing, it would pull down
the metacritic average of a game that advertises on their site.
like, ok, his piece is essentially a scathing review.
but then why go through this whole charade about
refusing to review it on some kind of purportedly
principled basis of how it is offensive to his immortal soul
that nintendo might have expected him to finish the game?
the game has a 71 on metacritic. gies could have
sucked it up instead of making an arbitrary stand here.
i should mention that i have often liked gies’s writing
and podcast musings in the past, but he occasionally
lets his brash egotism show too much, and i think
this may be the flagship instance of that.
J: i don’t know, though. for one thing, fuck metacritic.
for another, if a flagship title is going to suck that badly,
why not stick to your guns? there is nothing that will be gained
by his finishing a piece of shit. the idea that
his opinion can only be “complete”
once he puts a number next to it bothers me.
G: i hear you, but i also think polygon has put in place
certain standards and procedures – including putting
numbers on games which, while admittedly sometimes
arbitrary and always reductive – as part of
the core content they provide to their readers.
J: i agree that not finishing a thing for an assignment is dicey.
you don’t often hear movie reviewers walk out of a film,
a food critic walk out of a meal,
a music critic walk out of a concert / turn off an album.
G: while i think he should have finished the game
and written a review, i’d also have preferred if he
put a number on it without having finished it,
which i think in instances like this is totally fair.
the score would reflect that the game is so bad that
the first couple of hours extinguish any desire to
finish the rest, i.e. even if the last two hours
was ingenious the game would be a 2.
I don’t think reviews have to have numbers, but
where you’re the reviews editor at a site that does it,
then it seems very prima donna to be all
“ugh, finishing this 4 hour game that
has an invincibility mode is beneath me”
J: that being said, there is no other popular medium
i can think of where *not* finishing a thing is par for the course.
G: well, this is also one of the only mediums where
most of the actual consumers also don’t finish.
J: right, exactly.
i guess i’m less inclined to be bent out of shape over it
because i simply don’t give a shit about Nintendo right now.
i can’t even update my 3DS system software, which is
the only Nintendo product I still own –
i’d been thinking about getting Bravely Second,
but I’m not sure I can even buy it if I can’t update the firmware.
G: right, i don’t care about nintendo or star fox,
so am not really bent out of shape about it…
but the story has pushed me over into
the “arthur gies is a douchebag” camp.
was it FF12 or 13 that had like 15 hours of
corridor battles and then opened up?
games like that illustrate the insufficiency of a single number score.
see also gies’s review of bayonetta 2 which dinged it
for its over sexualized character design.
in those cases i don’t really care what the number score is
as long as the objections to the game are spelled out in the text.
J: I think FF13 is the one that you’re thinking of.
but of course, FF13 also had a part 2 and a part 3 as separate releases

so if Gies’ objections to Starfox are spelled out
in his non-review, why are you giving him
a hard time this time? because he didn’t finish it?
(i’ve not yet read his piece.)
G:  because i think it was very ego-driven.
poor me, i’m not going to follow our site’s standard policy
because i have existential dread about… playing this video game.

it’s obviously a very small deal in the scheme of things…
but polygon is a video game website, at which
he is the reviews editor. their readers have
certain reasonable expectations, and i see
very little reason other than self-indulgence
that he needed to write it up this way.
J:  if he forbids anyone else on staff to play it to completion,
that’s one thing. if he (and the rest of the staff) feels
that his statement speaks well enough to not
need a rebuttal, that’s another thing.

i used to get bent out of shape at Pitchfork all the time;
their numbers were so completely arbitrary, and
reviewers would purposefully be hyperbolic
if only because that’s what the readers expected.
they ruined more than a few careers with some “0.0” scores, frankly.
and lots of really positive-sounding reviews only got stuck in the upper 6s, low 7s
and in the early days, their writing was far more
obtuse and pretentious – reviews written as one-act plays,
dialogues between people, etc.
i can’t necessarily get bent out of shape at Gies
for taking a stand here. maybe he has a
particular fondness for Star Fox from his childhood
and this game was making him so miserable
and unhappy that he decided it wasn’t worth it to continue.
i guarantee that in a month, nobody will even remember this happened.
G: sure, this will come and go quickly and again is not at all a big deal.
but i’m not so forgiving of gies refusing to do his job.
or, doing his job (posting what is basically a negative review)
under the guise of some grand offense to his integrity
as a gamer having been committed by this game.
[At this point, I finally read the piece in question, and skimmed through the comments, and saw that this same exact conversation was more or less taking place over there already.  Also I had some day-job work to attend to, and at this point I decided I wanted to post this conversation here.]
J:  Ultimately, yes, in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal.
but i guess I’m finding myself surprisingly OK with him
leaving it as-is. I have little-to-no time these days,
and if I’m playing a game that sucks, I feel little-to-no
obligation to finish it. Granted, if I write about it,
I’m writing for an audience of maybe 20 people
and I’m not getting paid, nor are my opinions affecting
people’s salaries and bonuses because I affected a Metacritic average.
but as it is, i barely have time to finish the games that i actually DO enjoy, too.
G:  but i think the fact that you are not
a professional game reviewer – much less the head
game reviewer at a leading gaming site –
makes that much, much more excusable.

it’s a little silly to speak of the “rights” of polygon readers
to a full, scored review, but NO one could suggest any of
your readers has a right to expect certain specific content from you.
it just seems to me that instead of doing what
polygon does, gies decided, OKAY, I’M GOING TO MAKE A “STATEMENT”!
J: yeah, but i think that’s his right as a critic to say “fuck this.”
G: i wish he had either (a) just shut up, or
(b) recognized that his non-review was as much
a review as any numbered piece on their site.
instead, i saw this as him preening.
J: i remember flipping through (I think) an issue of Rolling Stone
back in high school, and they were reviewing
Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All”, and the entirety of
the one-star review was “Some don’t give a shit.”

this sounds more like you v. Gies.
if it was anybody else, do you think you’d be this aggravated?
or, rather, what if this was Gerstmann?
[Editor’s Note:  Greg does not care for Jeff Gerstmann.]
G:  i would generally agree that it’s his right
as a critic to say “fuck this”… if he weren’t
the reviews editor at a major site that has
certain requirements about reviews.
what do you think gies would have said to
a freelancer who came back to him and said
“sorry dude, i can’t finish this cuz existential dread.”

see, that’s the thing. giant bomb is irreverent
and that’s part of their schtick.
polygon tends to take itself more seriously,
which is fine and even generally laudable.
i just don’t see how this was necessary or fits into their content model.
i’m not reflexively anti-gies. i often find him
interesting and, e.g., appreciated the issues he raised
about the design of the bayonetta character in his B2 review.
but if you’re going to have standards,
however arbitrary they may be, then be
consistent enough to stick with them.
it just doesn’t add up for me.
he says their general review policy is that
a reviewer must have finished a game or
made a good faith effort to do so in order to review it.
it’s one thing if the game was so awful or had
such impenetrable difficulty spikes that this
represented a real “good faith effort” to finish it.
but in that case, they should have published his piece as a “review”.
otherwise it’s just him excepting himself
from the standards he helped create and oversees.
i’m coming off as caring about this much more than i actually do.
J:  yeah, but it makes for an interesting perspective.
i.e., what is it that we, as gamers and readers
of critical opinions, expect out of the reviews we read?
most reviewers i’ve talked to HATE the fact that
they have to put a number next to what they write at all.
G:  it seems to me the options available to him
based on polygon’s policies were (a) acknowledge
that you made a good faith effort but found the game
so offensive that you couldn’t finish it, and
review it on that basis, (b) push through the
additional TWO HOURS and then review it,
(c) if there was some personal issue that made you
decide you couldn’t finish/review the game,
assign it to someone else, or
(d) shut up about journalistic standards in general.

i agree [about putting numbers next to a review],
it’s not about whether numbered reviews are a good thing.
i expect different things from different outlets.
from SFTC, i expect to get whatever it is you feel
compelled to write, in whatever form, on whatever topic, etc.
for polygon, a site that links to its ethics policy
on every review and has a fair amount to say
on the topic of gaming journalism as a profession,
i expect them not to toss their policies and standards
over their shoulders to indulge their reviews editor’s
egotistical need to whine about the existential dread
a short, bad game caused him to feel.
J: I agree with you in principle, and yet I still feel
like it’s OK for him to have abandoned those principles
in this specific case. I might be chalking that up to
my own feelings about Nintendo, of course;
if he wrote this about something that I
actually cared about, I might feel differently.

it is odd, in any event, to feel any particular way
at all when you see a specific name attached to an article.
i didn’t used to feel this way.
If this is the beginning of a larger trend of
“fuck it, i’m out” at Polygon, that might be something
to consider. but then i’d expect them to
address it a bit more formally.
G:  it’s not that i can’t imagine a circumstance
where he could have taken this approach.
it would have made far more sense for FF13,
e.g. but this is a 4-5 hour game with an invincibility mode.

i think it would be totally fair to write of FF13:
“however wonderful this game may get after 15 hours,
it is unreasonable to expect gamers to slog through
that much mediocre content to get to
the rewarding stuff. i gave up before i got there. 6/10”
J: yes, BUT: when you review games professionally,
you do it in a vacuum; you wouldn’t necessarily know
about the game opening up after 15 hours if you gave up at 14:59.
G: ok… but he gave up after a couple of hours.
if one of his employees had done that, i would expect him/her to be fired.
J: well, but we’ve all given up after a couple of hours.
i’ve given up after 5 minutes.
G: totally different context tho from a professional reviewer.
it’s not like this game has a 22 on metacritic.
however much the control scheme may have
been a failed experiment, it’s not “broken”.
I don’t see how a few hours in he gets to
throw his hands up on a game he’s been assigned
to review for work and instead write a piece about existential dread.
i get how work can fill one with dread and anxiety,
as i know you do. i don’t see how that comes from
a couple of hours of playing a bad game.
and if i went to my boss and said “i’m sorry,
i couldn’t draft this contract any more because
it was filling me with existential dread”, i would
expect either to be fired or sent on
short term disability leave on the spot.
J: I think it’s slightly different here, though.
because in the piece he is very specific about
what he hates, and what makes him miserable, and
why he refuses to finish it, and why his refusal
to finish it constitutes his personal opinion about it.
writing up a legal contract is not a matter of
expressing one’s personal opinion. the inability to
finish a shitty game because the game is so shitty…
that kinda speaks for itself.
G: but then why isn’t that a “good faith effort”
to finish the game and why isn’t the piece a review?
J: i agree with you in that it is not becoming of
a professional writer to give up on an assignment,
and then hand that assignment in anyway.
G: it’s weird that he let himself off the hook
for writing a review, then wrote a review anyway.
J: and i would agree that i’ve never really seen
this kind of thing from a major games site before.
even Alex Navarro’s infamous “Big Rigs” review – he did try.

[Gies] is careful to say that it’s a non-review.
he might’ve filed it in the “reviews” section for it
to be properly located, but he says it’s not a review,
and acknowledges that he can’t give it an actual score.
it’s more of an opinion piece than a review.
which i fully acknowledge is a sentence that doesn’t make any sense.
G:  exactly. especially because at polygon,
the review-writer does not choose the number score.

they write the text, then their review editor panel
agrees on a number.
and it would seem he’s written enough
for them to have done that in this case.
and it would seem he’s written enough for them
to have done that in this case.
(for context, i care not a whit about star fox games,
having no wii u and having never played a single
minute of any star fox game that preceded this one.)
J: i’m right with you on that last statement;
i’ve never played Star Fox, never owned a WiiU,
have no Nintendo feelings whatsoever.
G:  i have nintendo feelings, even if
they’re currently in hibernation.

i never played too much wii, but goddamn
if their mario games weren’t fucking stellar.
i am hoping the NX delivers because when
nintendo is on their game no one can touch them.
J:  it should also be noted that i’m not sure
anybody had any strong feelings about this
particular title leading up to its release.
i don’t recall reading any super-exciting preview coverage of it.
which is to say: he’s not shitting on Uncharted 4.
not saying that Uncharted 4 might not deserve it! who knows?
G: well, it’s a pretty venerable franchise.
i’m not sure how big its following is, but
i’d bet that there’s a very passionate core of star foxers.
J: but rather that this isn’t necessarily AS big
a deal as it might seem, even if he’s shitting
on a first-party Nintendo game.
G:  no i agree, it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all.

to me.
just made me roll my eyes pretty damn hard.

The First Few Hours: Ratchet and Clank (ps4)

[Note:  I will be on vacation next week, but unlike last week this is a for-real vacation, in a warm and sunny climate with beach access and a full Kindle and nothing on my to-do list.]

After dozens and dozens of hours in The Division‘s freezing wasteland of post-apocalyptic NYC, and a few more hours in the sci-fi nonsense of Quantum Break, I can’t help but note how refreshing it is to be playing the new Ratchet and Clank, a game where there’s more color in one scene than there is in both of those other games combined.

I have a very soft spot for action platformers, is the thing.  Even in the absence of a Nintendo-filled childhood, I am an avid fan of the genre.  Give me your Crash Bandicoot, your Rayman (2), even your Voodoo Vince.  There is a lack of self-seriousness in these games that is so goddamned refreshing; yes, you might have to kill some monsters here and there, but it’s never upsetting in the way that shooting is.  In R&C, I can fire up a disco ball that gets all my enemies dancing, and then I can blast them with my Pixelator gun, turning them all into dozens of 8-bit sprites that brilliantly explode into hundreds of nuts and bolts upon a solid whack of Ratchet’s wrench.  It is endlessly satisfying.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played an R&C game before, to be honest.  I think there might’ve been a PS3 title that I rented for a few hours, but I might be confusing that with a Jak and Daxter game:  in any event, I am given to understand that this new R&C game is a complete re-building/re-booting of the original, much in the same way that Oddworld rebuilt Abe’s Oddysee into New & Tasty.  As such, I suppose I can see that there are certain elements of the game’s design that might feel a bit antiquated, but I can forgive those sorts of things very easily; beyond the game’s ridiculous good looks (I’ve heard R&C games feel like “playing a Pixar movie”, and even after only a few hours I totally get it), it’s just a joy to play.  And it does feel very much like “play”; it does not feel like “work”.  Even going back to earlier areas to find hidden stuff with newly-acquired gadgetry doesn’t feel like grinding; I’m just happy to be out and about.


On The Division, Quantum Break, and self-awareness

My original intent with this post was to simply recap my experiences upon finishing both The Division and Quantum Break.  But having played two third-person shooters back-to-back – games which couldn’t be more radically different from each other despite existing in the same genre and coming out within weeks of each other – I think there’s something to be said for exploring the two, specifically with regards to their respective levels of self-awareness.

Still, in the interest of clarity, let me get my QB thoughts out of the way, given that I’ve already spent several posts and several thousand words talking about The Division.

The first thing that is immediately apparent is that QB is perhaps the most impressive-looking game on the Xbox One.  Character models are remarkably accurate and I never once felt the effects of the uncanny valley; nearly every combat sequence is spectacular to look at, especially since, as the game progresses, every enemy you kill dies frozen within time and space, often hurtling backward as frozen arcs of blood spurt forth.  There are also a few platforming sequences amidst collapsing environments that recall some of the more surreal dreamscapes in DmC, too; it’s rather astonishing stuff.  If you own an Xbox One and want to show it off to a friend, this is without question the game you want them to see.

The second thing that is apparent, especially just after sinking 50 hours into The Division’s bullet sponges, is that QB’s gunplay is far more streamlined: most enemies go down with a few accurately placed shots, but by the time you’re halfway through the game the bullets are really just there to augment all the super-time-manipulative powers you gain access to.  It’s almost reminiscent of Bulletstorm, in that you’re encouraged to be creative with your methods of enemy disposal; you can freeze them in a time bubble and then pour hundreds of bullets into them, you can throw a time burst at them and they basically just explode, you can even sort-of teleport around the environment and circle enemies and pick them off before they even know you’ve moved.

But the most important thing – the story – is where the game pretty much falls apart.  Not because time machines are an overused trope, but rather because none of the characters are interesting.  The big-name movie stars certainly provide adequate performances, I guess, though I couldn’t ever get over the feeling that the bigger names received paychecks with enough zeroes on them that they simply couldn’t refuse.  I’m not accusing Lance Reddick, Aiden Gillen or Shawn Ashmore of phoning anything in, as I would of Peter Dinklage in Destiny – but their dialogue is nearly impossible for them to be emotionally invested in.  And the TV Show half of the game really just feels like a low-budget version of Fringe, mostly featuring ancillary characters to the game’s story that I simply never cared about and was anxious to fast-forward through.  And the option to make timeline-altering decisions never felt particularly empowering, since everything ultimately winds up in the same place, and I’m certainly not interested in “seeing what happens” to play it twice and make all the opposite choices.

The game takes its story so incredibly seriously that its version of The Division’s collectibles – i.e., environmental doo-dads that you have to look for that provide varying levels of interesting backstory – are actually called “Narrative Objects”.  (And yet, despite the game’s self-seriousness, there is a bit of unintentional hilarity in that everyone – both good guys and bad – uses Microsoft phones and tablets; this is a very obvious bit of corporate synergy and it doesn’t break the fourth wall so much as it simply obliterates it.)

All this aside, it was really, really nice to have an excuse to use the XB1’s Elite Controller again; that thing is no joke.

So, back to the original premise of this post, which is about the relative levels of self-awareness in both The Division and Quantum Break.

To wit:  The Division is not at all self-aware, even when it’s being cheeky (like putting one of the safehouses in an abandoned Ubisoft office).  The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt at investment in a long-term product; having seen bits and pieces of the endgame, it is very clearly putting its own spin on Bungie’s Destiny.  (Ironically, though, my 50+ hours playing through the campaign reminded me much more of my experience soloing my way through the first 40 levels of Star Wars: The Old Republic; I did engage in a few PvP things here and there, and did some co-op raids and such, but mostly I kept to myself, and both games (to their immense credit) didn’t seem to mind all that much.)

That said, now that I’m a few days removed from it, I can’t honestly remember why I was doing what I was doing beyond certain mechanical rewards, like getting better gear and weapons and upgrading my base and the like.  The writing is incredibly blunt – which is odd, given that the narrative itself is rather thin.  (It doesn’t help that the voice actors who feed you context through your radio about each mission you undertake are the dumbest and most obvious NYC stereotypes you can think of – the nagging Jewish mother, the effeminate floofy dog owner, the reformed ex-mobster, the egomaniacal actor – and I stopped paying attention to their inane yammering as soon as I realized that nothing they were saying was particularly important.)  Nobody is spending hundreds of hours playing The Division for that game’s story, or even really exploring the abandoned city; after a while, the act of entering random apartment buildings and rummaging through apartments felt less of a violation and instead simply felt repetitive, especially as there’s only a few apartment models and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.    The hundreds of collectibles that justify their existence by containing backstory are poorly written and poorly voice acted and once I hit level 20 (or so) I saw no tangible value, not even in XP, in bothering to pick them up.  Combat is the main focus here, and most enemies are bullet sponges, so your battles are tactical and slow, almost never even approaching something you’d call “explosive”, even if there’s a lot of grenades.

Quantum Break, on the other hand, is VERY MUCH aware it’s a game.  More to the point, it’s self-aware that it is a much-publicized experiment in synthesizing videogames with a television show, and it’s even more self-aware that it’s a Remedy game, with more than a few references to Alan Wake and Max Payne and such.  (In a parallel irony with The Division above, QB also reminds me, more than anything else, of David Cage’s games – Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls especially – in their character-driven focus and narrative heavy-handedness.)

It also might be self-aware enough to know that Microsoft would really really really like it if it could also look spectacular and expensive and show gamers that the XB1 can be as graphically impressive as the PS4.  To me, though, QB’s stunt casting looks more and more like a large, easy paycheck if they can just get through a scene and exert a little energy.  (which could also explain while the filmed elements are almost entirely focused on this sub-plot and these characters that have almost nothing to do with the player character’s journey.)  As noted above, the collectibles in Quantum Break that justify their existence as containing backstory are referred to as “Narrative Objects”, which never stops sounding like a really weird thing to call something that is utterly disposable, even if some of them are actually and surprisingly interesting to read (even if doing so completely disrupts the game’s rhythm).  Combat is not the main reason you’re playing, but it is almost always the way you get from point A to point B.

It’s bewildering to spend so much time with two games that occupy the same genre – sci-fi third-person shooter – and have them turn out to be so radically different on every possible level.  This is neither a good nor bad thing; it’s simply an observation.  I don’t know that I’d call either of these games “successful”, but it’s interesting to see that there’s still a lot of room to maneuver within this specific space.

In case it wasn’t already apparent, I’m done with The Division.  Or, rather, I’ve done all I care to do.  I hit level 30, I fully upgraded my base, I visited every safe house, I visited where my day job should be, I finished all the side missions.  The Dark Zone is not my scene, and the rest of the single-player offers no loot worth grabbing.  Diablo 3 never needed PvP for me to stay engaged; there was always better loot just for doing what I was doing.  Not so in the Division; all the really good stuff is in the DZ, and I just don’t give a shit.  The few times I went in there I got ganked, either by real-life trolls or by elite AI squads.  You can’t go in there alone, it would seem, and I don’t have the patience to make the necessary friends.

Finally: dude, Rocket League?  Still awesome.  Hadn’t played it in months, but I gave it a go with my buddy earlier this week and it’s STILL SO GOOD.  I’ve gotten better at not totally sucking at it, which is always a plus.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping for a ball and completely missing it and then just floating there in space, far away from the action, knowing that your miss has directly led to the opposing team scoring a goal.  There is also nothing quite like the feeling of being perfectly placed and nailing a shot into an empty net (because almost nobody plays defense).  The best?  Scoring in sudden-death overtime.  THE BEST, I say.

tidying up before a brief intermission

Just a note that I’m going to be pretty quiet this week, if I post here at all; the wife is going to be out of town, and so I’m going to be at home, working on music and hanging out with my kid and, yeah, probably just finishing up the various odds and ends in The Division.  If I post at all, it’s going to be elsewhere.*

Regarding The Division:  last week I wrote that I was struggling to stay motivated, and also that I will eventually need this game to end.  I kept assigning various goalposts to reach, just to give myself something to look forward to, and I’ve pretty much ticked off all the items on the to-do list:  I’ve seen where my office is supposed to be (as I expected, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the real thing); I hit level 30; I’m almost done with all the main story missions (I wiped out on the final boss in the final mission a few too many times last night, and it got too frustrating and the hour grew late, and so I turned it off).  All I plan to do now is to get all the wings in my main base up to 100%, which most likely means I just have to finish all the side missions and encounters (since I finished all of the main missions, save that last one).  I might screw around in the Dark Zone, too, but I don’t particularly care for PvP, which is not news to anyone.

I’m about halfway through Matt Ruff’s “Lovecraft Country“.  It’s got an interesting structure; it’s less of a novel and more of a connected set of short stories that are arranged in chronological order and contain the same characters, though each story is from a different POV.  With a title like Lovecraft Country, you’d expect there to be a fair amount of dreadful, otherworldly weirdness – and there certainly is, though it pales in comparison to the real, true horror that is American Racism.  I get far more terrified by that stuff than I do the occult business, and I suppose that’s because (a) the racism stuff is true, and feels very real, and as such (b) it works much better than the Lovecraftian stuff that exists within it.  Again – I’m only halfway through, and so I’m still not quite sure where it’s going.  But I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Finally:  even though we bought the BluRay, we couldn’t help ourselves; and so, because our families were in town this weekend for our son’s 3rd birthday party, we watched the digital download version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and GODDAMN I will never get tired of that movie.  I don’t care that it’s basically A New Hope retold, because it’s done so goddamned well.  (And if you haven’t already seen this shot-for-shot comparison of Eps 4 and 7, well, you should fix that.)

EDIT:  I knew I was forgetting something:  I played that Final Fantasy XV demo this weekend, and… was it supposed to be totally underwhelming and janky and kinda shitty?  Because it was totally underwhelming and super-janky and definitely kinda shitty.

Also downloaded the Doom beta, and attempted to get into a match (which took about 10 minutes just to find a lobby), but then I remembered I don’t give a shit about multiplayer, and so I deleted it, and that’s that.


* I started a new, personal, private blog last week.  I’m not going out of my way to publicize it, though I suppose even mentioning it here is doing the exact opposite of not publicizing it, but, I mean, look: blogging is weird.  If you want to read it, contact me privately and I’ll email you an invitation; no hard feelings if you’re not interested, though.