Month: July 2017

Anhedonia

I’ve been looking over the last few posts I’ve put up here, and they all seem to be saying the same thing.  (Indeed, in my last post I straight up said “I feel like I’m repeating myself.”)  To wit:  I’m in a bit of a rough place, emotionally.  I’m not necessarily worried about this – I don’t want anyone reading this to get the wrong idea and think that I’m in danger or anything – but it is exhausting to be stressed out and depressed by things that are beyond my control.

So what I’m gonna do is, I think I’m gonna cocoon for a little bit, and not worry about posting here so much (when I clearly don’t have very much new to say), and try to focus on the good things – my family, my friends (near and far), my dogs.

I’ll be back when I’m ready.  Thanks for your patience.

The Sense of an Ending

Still going through some weird emotional ups and downs.  These things happen; sometimes it’s a chemical thing and sometimes it’s politics and sometimes it’s a bunch of bad personal/family/friend news and sometimes it’s just out of the blue.  At this specific moment, it would appear to be a bit of everything.  So I cope as best I can; I play with my son, I turn off social media (for little bits here and there), I engage in retail therapy and accumulate credit card debt.  I feel like I’m repeating myself.  My wife is out of town tonight and I’m throwing the world’s smallest pity party.


I have to assume, in this day and age, that game developers can keep track of how people are playing their games, even if it’s just from looking at Achievement/Trophy unlocks.  It would follow that devs have a relatively good sense of how many people actually finish a story-driven game.  As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, games are a unique medium in that, unlike books or albums or films, it is common practice to spend 10-20 hours with a game and never get anywhere close to the “end”.

I bring this up because last night I finally finished the Watch Dogs 2 campaign, and the ending was possibly the most half-assed, anti-climactic snore-fest I’ve ever seen.  Indeed, the only reason why I know it was the final mission is because the credits rolled afterwards, and I got an Achievement.  Otherwise, I’m honestly not sure I would’ve known the game was over.  And it’s entirely possible that the devs didn’t think anyone would get that far, considering how dumb that ending is.

I maintain that WD2 is, on the whole, a rather enjoyable collection of compelling gameplay ideas trapped in some sort of focus-tested narrative hellscape.  Unlike the thoroughly unlikable anti-hero of the first game (not that you’d ever have guessed that the devs intended him to be unlikable), WD2 has a diverse group of “good guys” that are still unbearably stereotypical and dumb and desperately “cool”, and as part of the hacker collective they have a Robin Hood-esque ethos – screwing over the rich and powerful to better show the unknowing masses how little control over their own lives they have – but the game also gives no shits about you killing dozens and dozens of people.  You can’t have a game about morality and ethics while also being totally unethical and immoral – it defeats the whole point.  Why would the unwashed public care about a bunch of hacktivists who not only steal private data but are also domestic terrorists, inasmuch as the murdering of “bad guys” actually means anything?  Say what you will about Wikileaks and Anonymous, but I’m pretty sure those guys haven’t murdered hundreds of heavily armed security officers as they infiltrate a private HQ – or murdered police, on the way out of the building.  Anyway, the bad guy gets arrested at the end, but who even gives a shit?


I don’t know what else is on my gaming plate, beyond the usual combo of backlog/replays/cheap-as-hell indie titles picked up during summer sales.  People seem to be enjoying the Destiny 2 beta; I’m staying out of it for the moment.  To be honest, I’m not sure what system I’d play it on, or if I’d play it at all – I liked the original game well enough but preferred the solo experience, such as it was.  I’m not necessarily feeling the same itch this time around.

 

a sort-of cure for the hopelessness blues

I have been feeling somewhat weird lately, for lack of a better word.  (As I look at the titles of my most recent blog posts, I realize that they’re all a bit down-trodden, to say the least.)

I continue to be politically despondent, and I don’t know how to combat that.  As I’ve noted before, my day job has turned off a great deal of internet access but I still have Twitter and the news, and the TV in the kitchenette is turned to CNN, and every time I look up something horrifying is happening and, just as horrifying, nothing is being done about it.

So I turn to – what else – retail therapy.  I went a wee bit bananas during the Amazon Sale.  I now own a Bluetooth record player, some very nice Bluetooth headphones, and a Kindle Fire (for some reason).

It’s funny – when I’d heard that the iPhone 7 was doing away with the headphone jack, I, like most people I knew, was pissed off.  And now that I actually own an iPhone 7+, I was confronted with the realization that using wired headphones was a pain in the ass.   So now I am free from the tyranny of small wires and dongles.  I got these bad boys and they are delightful.

The record player… well, you knew that was coming.  We got it set up last night and christened it with two of my favorite albums – my mother-in-law’s original copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends”, followed by my sister-in-law’s copy of Yes’s “Fragile”.  [EDIT:  I have just been informed that it’s actually my wife’s copy.  Sorry, dear!]  And as my wife and I sat down on our couch and the music started playing, I realized that it was the first time we’d both sat down and listened to music in years.  And that’s kinda the awesome thing about actual, tangible records.  There’s a ritual to getting an album set up to play that simply isn’t there when you’re firing something up on Spotify.  You browse through your collection to find the album you’re looking for; you remove the disc from its sleeve; you carefully lay it on the platter; you press “Start”, and in this case the needle automatically finds its way onto the record.  You sit down, you get comfortable, you listen.  You also have to pay attention because you’ve gotta flip the record over, which is something I hadn’t had to pay conscious attention to since I switched from cassettes to CDs (say, 1992-93).  And then you consider the album as a whole, rather than as a collection of songs; you pay attention to sequencing, how the end of Side 1 and the beginning of Side 2 are their own definitive statements as well as the songs that bridge the album as a complete thing.  (Yes, I might’ve been a little stoned.)

Anyway, I bought the Sgt. Pepper and the OK Computer reissues today.


I have finished Part One of Five of the massive new Neal Stephenson novel “The Rise And Fall of D.O.D.O.“, and it is exactly what I wanted to read right now.  (Until David Mitchell gets around to releasing his new one, whenever that may be.)  I’m a little surprised that nobody’s talking about it; I did notice that it’s unusually pricey, even on the Kindle side of things, but I had Amazon credit and bit the bullet.  It’s easily one of the best things he’s done in years, and that very well may be because it’s co-written by Nicole Galland.  In any event, the sci-fi stuff is very cool, but the characters are also very cool, and as Part One came to a close I found myself very, very excited to know that I still have another 600 pages to go before I’m done.


Why did I buy a Kindle Fire, besides that it was on sale for like $50?  I don’t know.  I already have a Kindle Voyage, which is the best e-reader I’ll ever own.  I also own an old iPad 3, which I haven’t really been using but which at least has a ton of apps on it.  It was an impulse buy driven by anxiety, and so if nothing else I get to offer the first “Thanks, Trump” of what will probably be many.  I only hope that the world ends before my credit card debt is past due.

 

Anxious and Scatterbrained

I used to have 2 similar anxiety dreams.  In the first one, it’d be opening night for a play and not only did I not know my lines, but I’d never received a script in the first place; in the second one, I’d show up to a school with a completely foreign layout and I’d be taking a final exam for a class I’d never attended.

I had a new one this morning, and it was interesting to see how it took shape.  I was about to go on stage – but this time as a musician.  Half my equipment was missing, but that was OK; I didn’t know the songs we were about to play, but I wasn’t worried about that either – I figured I’d be able to fake my way through it.  No, the anxiety didn’t manifest itself until I turned my keyboard on and realized that all my preset sounds were gone, replaced by weird and dissonant blurps and bleeps – sounds that are useful in certain contexts, but not in the one I was about to play in.

It wasn’t a nightmare, to be sure; just a sudden sense of alarm, and then I tried to make adjustments on the fly.  (Of course, in the dream, the keyboard’s knobs and sliders weren’t in the right place and weren’t making the changes I wanted them to make, but at least I had some semblance of control over trying to fix them.)  This is, actually, a sort of progress for me.  Normally I’d just panic.  At least this time I did my best to work with what I had.

I’m not sure where the anxiety was coming from, though it is true that I had somewhat of a minor panic attack yesterday afternoon – and even then, rather than letting it devour me, I did what I had to do to manage it.  It’s not good to fight these things, so I left the town festival where we all were and took a 30-minute walk back home and let my brain free associate itself into something approaching stillness.  The weather was nice, and the walk was pleasantly exhausting.

Now, I know I’ve just described an anxiety dream and a panic attack, but I want to stress that I’m in a much better place now than I’ve ever been before in terms of dealing with these things.  I took whatever control I could to improve my situation, and I was never in the sort of skin-peeling discomfort I used to have when these sorts of episodes would crop up in the past.  Hell, in the past I would’ve never left the house in the first place.

These are tough times, you guys.  Do what you can to take care of yourself.


Here’s where I would say that playing games is a form of self-care, and then I’d tell you what I’ve been playing, and that would be the next part of this post.  But honestly, I’m sort playing half-a-dozen things at the moment and I’m not particularly invested in any of them anymore, and I find that as I’m distracted by politics and the health of my dogs and my kid’s domino obsession, I’m having trouble staying focused.

I have a weird little routine now.  First thing I do is check in on my Xbox save of Clicker Heroes, which… look, at some point I’ll write up a long thing about idle clickers and why I’m so addicted to them.  This is not that time.  The point here is simply that checking in on Clicker Heroes – doing a little maintenance here and there, making sure everything’s leveling up appropriately – this is a nice, easy way of centering my attention.  I can also continue to check Twitter and such while the numbers continue multiplying in the background, but in any event it’s an easy way of gradually shutting off the distracted parts of my brain.

And then, once I’m at a point where I can’t make any more adjustments, I’ll switch over to something else.  I’m still primarily playing Watch Dogs 2, though I must admit that I’m starting to lose interest.  I was sorta dipping my toes back into Shadow of Mordor, of all things, and I also started a new Necromancer in Diablo III.  Was also thinking about starting a New Game+ in Horizon Zero Dawn, though I’m not sure I’ll keep on with that.  And there’s all the other little indie stuff I picked up in the various Xbox and PSN summer sales – stuff like RoundaboutI Am BreadAdrift, and etc.  And then there’s all the other backlog and replay stuff I want to mess with – like replaying Assassin’s Creed Syndicate to prepare myself for Origins, and Wolfenstein: The New Order to prepare for the new sequel (and also to kill Nazis, which, of course, is our patriotic duty), and then sometimes I also have a weird impulse to fire up the newish Doom, and and and… well, you can see how it can be difficult to sit down and stay engaged in something for more than 15 minutes.

I didn’t even know that the Final Fantasy XII remake was coming out this week.  I’ve never played it; I’ve read nothing but glowing reviews of it, but I also know that I’ve barely touched FFXV, and I don’t know how I feel about starting another endless JRPG when I’m already so scatterbrained.  In any event, I presume my rental copy will arrive on Thursday, and we’ll see where we are at that point in the week.

Maybe I’ll take some time off from gaming completely and get back into writing music?  That’s a novel idea.  Who knows.

On Baby Driver and Crash Bandicoot

I’ve got nothing bad to say about 4-day weekends.  We had a wonderful time – plenty of quality poolside time, plenty of quality family time, and on Monday, with the kid at day care, the wife and I went to see Baby Driver in the theater.

I’d have to think about it for a little while to come up with a definitive list, but I think I can say that Baby Driver is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in the theater in many, many years.  Now, it’s true that since the kid was born we haven’t been able to go to the movies as much as we used to – especially when we were living in Astoria and could take a nice leisurely stroll to the local cineplex – but that being said, I’d still be hard-pressed to think of another film that was that much fun.

I admit that I’m biased; I’ve been a huge fan of Edgar Wright ever since Spaced and I’ll see anything and everything he’s involved with.  But even with these impossibly high expectations, I wasn’t prepared to lose myself so thoroughly inside it.  It’s the best movie he’s made, and I sincerely hope that it makes enough money to let him keep making the films he wants to make.

The plot of Baby Driver is paper-thin, and if you think about it for more than 30 seconds you’ll find a whole bunch of nonsense.  But that’s not the point.  The point of this movie isn’t its story, or even its characters – the point of this movie is the experience that the movie creates for you.  It is exciting and moving and spectacular and quiet and every single frame of film serves a purpose – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie with this much self-contained momentum before.  (Possibly Mad Max: Fury Road, though that’s a different sort of experience.)  This film exists to entertain all the corners of your mind.


Not all nostalgia is created equally.  This is especially true when it comes to old video games.  Very often the memories we have of something – a game, a book, a film, a friend – obscure the true nature of what those things actually were.

I’ve said here before that I went through two big video game phases in my life; the first was from age 5 to 17, when I was still living at home and had access to my Atari 2600 and my younger brother’s Sega Genesis, and the second was after I’d graduated college and was hanging out at my co-worker’s apartment almost every night after work, getting smashed and playing Oddworld and Crash Bandicoot on his PS1.

The Oddworld remake that came out last year is a wonderful thing.  It keeps what made the original game so entertaining – the puzzles, the sound design, the characters – and the graphical improvements simply make the game better.  The game still fundamentally works, though, is the key – for a 2.5D platformer/side scroller, it did what it did remarkably well and it still holds up because it’s still a unique experience.

The Crash Bandicoot games?  That’s a different story altogether.  I loved the experience of playing these games back in 1998-2000, but that could very well have been to the company, the music, and the relative levels of sobriety.  I am very grateful to have these remakes back in my life, and I can say that they are… hmm… faithful to the originals, and certainly the graphics are much improved, but… um… I’m not so sure these games are as great as I thought they were.  They’re certainly a lot harder than I remember them being; I can barely get through the very first level without wiping out a dozen times.  A number of people asked a variation of the same question on Twitter:  Were these games always this hard, or do we just suck at playing them now?  (As it turns out, it’s a little bit of both.)

Truth be told, the appeal of these games doesn’t really translate as well as I’d hoped.  My 4-year-old was excited to try these games out, and I gleefully handed him the controller and watched him die, and die, and die again, and as he got frustrated I’d take over for him and I’d die, and die, and die again, and we both got frustrated and decided to do something else.  It’s a bit of a bummer, I’m afraid.