weekend recap: too much is too much

current status: that thing where i buy too much stuff all at the same time and thus can’t concentrate on any of them because i’m trying to give them all an equal opportunity and i end up going to bed early because i’m mentally exhausted and also feeling guilty for spending money that i don’t have

Look: the release of the Mueller report is depressing and disheartening and the Barr summary is absurd, and it’s hard to maintain optimism when the President of the United States is gloating like a schoolyard bully who won a punching contest with a 1st grader. In these troubled times, I end up doing what I usually do; I spend way too much money on stupid shit. And so I bought a bunch of games this weekend, and barely had time to play any of them.

I died 4-5 times in the tutorial section of Sekiro. I am intrigued and I want to continue, but I will need patience (which is in short supply) and a long stretch of uninterrupted time (which almost never happens).

I made it to the first real checkpoint in One Piece. I don’t know why I bought this game; I’m not an anime fan, and I’d never even heard of this franchise before a week or two ago. But I saw some rather intriguing preview footage, and lord knows I could use some colorful nonsense these days.

I’m up to chapter 5 in Devil May Cry 5. I’m not that much of a DMC fan; the only game I’ve played and actually liked is Ninja Theory’s DmC from a few years ago, and that was mostly because it was visually stunning. (The setpiece where you jump inside the graphics of Fox News is still one of my favorite things ever.) DmC5 is thoroughly ridiculous, and to that end I suppose it’s entertaining enough because it refuses to allow you to take it seriously. But I’m not particularly good at it, either, and my “style points” aren’t anything to brag about, which kinda defeats the purpose of the game.

I’m level 14 in Division 2. So much more to go, so much more left to do, and yet I appreciate that I can jump in and mess around for an hour and then jump out and feel like I accomplished something. Still trying to figure out a good weapon loadout; assault rifles don’t do enough damage, but rifles fire too slowly and have small ammo capacity. Weapon mods can only mitigate these issues so much. At least I’ve settled on the drone and the hive as my skills; the hive is very necessary for saving armor kits while being engaged in drawn-out firefights, and the drone is far more versatile than the turret in terms of keeping enemies occupied.

Quality Brain Food

If this blog is to ultimately serve as a diary of my media consumption, well, that makes it a bit easier to figure out what to write. Especially on days like today, when I’m feasting on the good stuff.

SO:

Last summer I wrote a thing about falling in love with a song, and it appears to have happened again. In this case, it’s “Plimsoll Punks” by Alvvays, and while I don’t necessarily need to do a moment-by-moment breakdown of it, I would like to point out a few highlights.

#1: That opening is straight out of The Smiths, and I adore it.
#2: The “You’re getting me down, getting me down, getting me down” hook is killer.
#3: Again – the guitar work all over the place is straight out of Johnny Marr’s playbook, and I have no complaints about that.
#4: Listen to the bassline at 1:53 or so, the way it hits the third instead of the root. UGH. That shit melts my brain.
#5: The singer’s voice in the third verse is so gorgeous.

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[I was going to write a much longer First Few Hours-style post about The Division 2, but I don’t have the mental bandwidth today. (I feel like I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in about 3 months.) And in any event, while I have put in a solid dozen or so hours into it already and just dinged level 12 last night, there’s still so much more to do. In any event, what follows is what was in my drafts folder from the other day:]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – I’m generally not into online games. I am a curmudgeon and a hermit and have no need to trade insults with young, racist whippersnappers. I like the single-player experience because it’s like playing a book. It’s made for me. I get to experience it on my own terms. And I also need to pee a lot, so I need a game that won’t punish me if I need to pause it.

When I have dabbled in online games, it’s generally for a co-op, PvE experience. The two notable exceptions to this were a several month-long phase when I had a somewhat unhealthy addiction/obsession with World of Warcraft, which needs its own post at some point, and when my Gamespot forum buddies and I would play Burnout 3 every night.

But I digress. I’m not good enough to play competitively, which is why I tend to shy away from both traditional deathmatch stuff and also the newer battle royale genre. Never cared for it, and that’s fine.

That hasn’t stopped me from playing stuff like Destiny or Anthem, or, also, the topic of today’s post – The Division 2. While they’re obviously meant to be played with groups, you can solo these games without getting unduly punished, and you can also join in with strangers rather seamlessly to take down the game’s enemies. Sure, the endgame probably won’t be as interesting if you remain a solo player, but to be honest I generally never get that far. I’ve beaten the vanilla campaigns of both Destiny 1 and 2 and The Division 1, and I got my money’s worth.

[That’s as far as I’d gotten.]

So the point that I was eventually going to get to is that The Division 2 is really and quite unexpectedly terrific. I can’t seem to get enough of it. AND THAT’S WEIRD, because, as noted above, I normally don’t get this attached to this particular genre. Playing solo is fine, though a bit more challenging than I’m happy with – but that usually just means that I need to tweak my loadout and realize that I’ve been using a wildly under-powered weapon, or that I should probably use a drone in a particular fight instead of a turret. Playing in a group with random people is, to my great surprise, A LOT MORE FUN. We’re all using different perks and playstyles and we end up complementing each other. I tend to hang back and snipe and heal, and my run-and-gun comrades end up needing my services, and I actually feel useful for a goddamned change.

Now, is the story good? OH, MERCY, no it is not. But narrative is totally unnecessary for this experience. I open the map and see that I have a mission, and in that mission I will acquire loot, and that is my primary motivation. And that’s enough. The more missions I complete, the more I can improve the quality of my safehouses, and then I can acquire better gear there, too.

And DC – as Manhattan was in the first game – is a wonder to explore. So many nooks and crannies! So many hidden caches and crates to discover! If I don’t feel like engaging with the many feral gangs roaming the streets, that’s totally OK. I mean, I’ll have to deal with them eventually, but in the meantime there’s this whole entire building that I can sneak into and pilfer to my heart’s content. It is glorious.

The whole package seems genuinely well-thought-out and put together, in all the ways that Division 1 wasn’t, at least at launch. I’m gonna be playing this for a long while.

If you want to hook up, I’m generally on during weeknights after 8pm on Xbox; my gamertag is JervoNYC. As noted above, I believe I’m at around level 12 or so. I’m always happy to tag along with fellow Agents; shit, I might even be persuaded to put on my headset.

the ides

Forgive me, readers, for I have lapsed. It’s been almost a full month since my last blog post. I have no idea why I’ve been away for so long, other than the usual self-consciousness about contributing to the noise of the internet by putting my thoughts out in public. Which, again, is weird, considering that I’ve generally had no problem doing that very thing since 2001. But here we are.

I’ve been feeling… well… weird. The usual stuff:

  • the news;
  • the weather;
  • NJ Transit;
  • the specific, nostalgic melancholy of social media and its accompanying feelings of loneliness;
  • managing the wildly unpredictable emotions of an almost-six-year-old boy;
  • fretting about the health of family and friends;
  • daylight savings time;
  • the constant need to be distracted while also being unable to concentrate on the thing I’m trying to distract myself with.

I’ve been zooming through books without really taking them in – most of the books I’m reading, while enjoyable, are more like candy than a satisfying meal. I’m playing a whole bunch of Xbox games but I’m also looking at my phone. I’m listening to tons and tons of music – old, new, heavy, poppy, acoustic singer-songwriter, 90’s east-coast hip hop. I feel like I’m in 20 different places at once, which also means that I feel like I’m nowhere at all.

In other words, this is life in 2019. But at least I’m getting better at identifying what the specific things are, so there’s that.

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Books: Since my last post I’ve added eight (8) more books to the “finished” pile, which now puts my Goodreads Challenge at 27 out of 40. As noted above, almost everything I’ve been reading this year has been fun, but also more or less disposable; there’s not that much that I’ve been able to retain and really feel like I’ve lived with except for The Overstory, which was way back in January, which feels like 20 years ago. Anyway, the list:

  • The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt. Not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie. It’s an impressively written book, to be sure, but the final third of it kinda fell apart on me.
  • Liminal States, Zach Parsons. 1/3 western, 1/3 pulp noir, 1/3 cosmic sci-fi horror. Fun, also completely bananas.
  • The Plotters, Un-Su Kim. A paranoid haze about Korean assassins and the agents who hire them.
  • Come Closer, Sara Gran. I’m still on my Sara Gran kick from earlier this year (her Claire DeWitt trilogy is among the best things I’ve read in a while), and this is a short but very effective little nightmare.
  • Case Histories (Jackson Brodie #1), Kate Atkinson. I have, like, 7 or 8 Kate Atkinson books in my Kindle library, and for whatever reason this is the one I went to first. It’s pleasantly enjoyable, which is a very weird thing to say about some rather graphic and disturbing murdering. And I can’t necessarily say that the detective in this book actually did any detecting. And it’s also weird that there’s a genuinely happy ending just a few pages after the genuinely surprising and disturbing final reveal. I got a chapter or two into book 2 but decided to put it off for now.
  • The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker. An intriguing premise, beautifully written, but I’m not quite sure what the book’s intentions were.
  • Invasive, Chuck Wendig.
  • Zeroes, Chuck Wendig. I read these out of order – not that it matters, necessarily, though Zeroes is better than Invasive. I follow Wendig on Twitter but these are the first books of his that I’ve read; he’s like a more down-to-earth Neal Stephenson.

I did end up giving up on Black Leopard, Red Wolf for the time being; I will get back to it. I also picked up and attempted to start at least 10 other books in between a lot of the above, and decided to put them down when I couldn’t find my way into them. I suspect that when I finally hit the 40 mark and can put the Challenge to rest, I’ll be able to enjoy what I’m reading at a more leisurely pace.

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Music: As noted in my last entry, I’m still trying to get rolling on finishing this album. I’m not necessarily that much further along than I was a month ago – inertia is a bitch – but I haven’t given up, either. It’s taken me a little while to remember how all my software works, and it’s also difficult to carve out free time where I can work without interruption and without being completely exhausted and/or mentally drained. And, of course, there’s this – the music that I’ve already got is over 3 years old at this point, and I’m not sure if I want to keep all or any of it. (Well, there’s at least one or two that I definitely want to keep, though I should probably just re-record them from scratch at this point.)

And don’t get me started on lyric writing, because I don’t even know how to begin cracking that particular egg without giving myself a nervous breakdown. It’s fair to say that I’m not in the same emotional place that I was back in late 2014-early 2015, when the concept for this thing was taking shape, and I’m not really sure I want to keep walking that specific road anyway. I’d reached out to a few folks for brainstorming purposes; some never wrote back, and that kinda made me a little gunshy about reaching out again.

In any event, as I mentioned above I’ve been listening to tons of stuff that’s all over the map. My son is obsessed with the Spiderman – Into the Spiderverse movie, which means we’re all obsessed with it – and hey, I’ll take it any day of the week over The Polar Express. But while he loves the newer songs, I love the 90s hip-hop that appears in the first Uncle Aaron / graffiti sequence. Which led me down this road:

And as for everything else that I’ve been listening to, there’s this:

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Games: If you’d told me that I’d find myself juggling between two different online shooters at the same time, I’d tell you that you were insane. But here we are. I am juggling between Anthem, which is enjoyable despite some serious flaws, and The Division 2, which is enjoyable despite me being kinda terrible at it. At some point I’ll have to pick one and ride it out for as much as I can, and I can already tell that it’ll probably end up being The Division, because even though I’m terrible at it I understand what it’s doing and the exploration part of it is quite pleasant and diverting.

(You’ll notice that Apex Legends is not mentioned in that paragraph; well, I like my online shooters when they’re cooperative, not competitive. I have downloaded it, but I haven’t started it, and at this point I’m so far behind the curve that I might as well delete it.)

I’d meant to sing the praises of Ape Out a few weeks back, when I’d first started playing it and it was blowing my goddamned mind. Alas, time continues its relentless march and I forgot most of what I’d wanted to write. What I can say is that you should get it and play it immediately, and make sure you’re using good headphones or otherwise have access to a good sound system, because the way the game uses music is mind-blowing. It’s a very simple premise but it’s executed with an astonishing sense of style and flair, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I got right up to the end of Far Cry New Dawn, but the last boss fight is a bunch of bullshit and I turned it off. I tried to get into the new Metro game but the writing is janky and the atmosphere is stressful, which is something I’m actively trying to avoid. My son and I have been sorta playing Toe Jam and Earl, which is silly and goofy; we’ve also been dabbling with Minecraft Story, which is as good an introduction to interactive storytelling as anything else that’s age-appropriate.

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I will endeavor to return here sooner, rather than later. In the meantime: be well, be safe, be good.