The Pre-Thanksgiving Reckoning

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, which means that I need to start thinking about organizing my year-end lists.

I’m gonna be honest with you; right now everything’s a bit of a mess.

My games list is basically trash; I bought a lot of games but barely finished any of them, and there were long stretches this year when I was utterly disinterested in anything I was playing.  I’m kinda-sorta back in the swing of things now, but it’s doubtful that I’ll finish – or even get close to finishing – the stuff that will appear on everyone else’s lists.

Music-wise, well… I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but as I have no short-term memory and since this is my own personal blog and I can talk about whatever I want, please indulge me if I’m repeating myself:  I simply don’t listen to music the way I used to.  My commutes are too short to properly digest albums, and now that my day job has turned off access to Spotify, I don’t really get to listen to music during my down time.  Most of what I’ve listened to this year is my Discovery playlist, which continues to have a very high batting average; my Favorites From the Discovery playlist is currently 120+ songs deep, and that’s pretty much all I listen to.  Some of my favorite artists released very good albums this year, but I couldn’t tell you what they were.  (Indeed, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released four (4) albums already this year, and they’ve promised a 5th before year’s end; I feel tremendous shame that I still haven’t finished my album, which is almost 3 years old at this point.)

As for books – I can probably do a pretty good Books list this year.  I have found that the most effective and most enjoyable form of escaping the news is to get lost in really good books, and as such I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read this year, and I’ve managed to read quite a lot – far more than I expected to, at any rate.  I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do the Goodreads challenge next year, although I should note that setting the bar artificially low removes a great deal of self-imposed pressure.


On that note, I just want to give a brief shout-out to John Hodgman’s “Vacationland”, which I devoured yesterday and which I can confidently say is one of the best books I’ve read all year.  Rather than the very funny fake-trivia books that he’s famous for, these are memoir-ish essays about middle age and parenthood and home ownership and nostalgia and they are all very funny and they ring very true.  Hodgman is not just a funny writer – he’s a very good writer, which makes his comedy that much more effective; he crafts his prose with pitch-perfect pacing.

In other book news, I finally finished Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White”, which was absolutely brilliant except for the ending.  Not that the ending is bad, from a narrative standpoint – it’s ambiguous and unresolved, and that’s OK – but rather it’s very sudden, as if Faber simply ran out of gas and decided he couldn’t write another word.

had intended to start the new Brandon Sanderson, but instead I read this LA times review/overview of John Crowley and decided I needed to read everything he’d written.  I’ve been missing David Mitchell’s fiction something fierce, and it sounds like this might be a suitable stop-gap.  So I’m at the beginning of Little, Big, and we’ll take it from there.


My son and I beat Super Mario Odyssey last night.  Which is to say – we defeated Bowser, skipped past the credits, and now we are back in the Mushroom Kingdom, ready to do whatever happens next.  I’m not sure who was more excited.  Every time we found a moon, he’d jump up and give me a high five.  We evolved our play sessions over time; at first he’d control Mario and I’d be the hat, and eventually we decided that every time we landed in a new area, he’d get the controller and run around and see what there was to see, and when it was time to actually do stuff he’d give me the controller, and then when a moon showed up he’d grab the controller back and collect it, and then we’d high five.

Lots of high fives in our basement over the last week or so.  It made me very, very happy to be able to share that experience with him.  I know I’ve said it a zillion times here, that I inadvertently skipped over the classic Nintendo era in my childhood, and so I’m glad that Henry gets to make up for it, and that I get to participate.  Indeed, he wants me to participate.  For the last week, you can tell that he starts getting excited as he gets closer and closer to finishing his dinner, because he knows that as soon as he brings his empty dish to the sink we get to go downstairs and play.

I never had that.  I didn’t expect it, of course – video games were a new thing when I was a little kid, and I never expected my parents to be engaged with it.  (Nor did I particularly want them to, for that matter.)  But I’ve loved gaming since I was 5 years old, and now that I’ve gotten Henry interested, it’s something we’re going to be able to share together – just the two of us, a father/son thing – for a long time to come.


At some point I’m going to write my thing about idle clickers.  Because I have a thing for idle clickers, and I appreciate that it’s somewhat ridiculous to have a thing for idle clickers.  In any event, I just wanted to link to this thing about the upcoming Clicker Heroes 2, and how the developers decided to do away with the free-to-pay / pay-to-win thing specifically because it bothered them, ethically and morally, and I think that’s pretty amazing:

Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as “Whales”. Great. If you’re rich, please be my guest. But we don’t want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It’s not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.

We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.

I am one of those “whales”, and I’ve had to reckon with that quite a lot over the years, going back at least to the halcyon days of Farmville.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I’ve forced myself to delete a ton of apps off of my phone in order to resist the temptation to buy boosters.  (Needless to say, I didn’t even bother taking Battlefront 2 out of the rental envelope, loot boxes or no.)   So I’m grateful that a game developer is, at the very least, cognizant of this phenomenon, and that they’re directly changing their development philosophy because of it.  I should also mention that I still have Clicker Heroes running in another tab at this very moment, because – as noted above – I am insane.


Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everybody; eat, drink, be merry, sleep late, and don’t discuss politics.

 

Weekend Recap: Dismantling the Patriarchy and Playing With Expensive Toys

Well, it took a little while, but I’ve finally caught the cold that’s been running around my house for the last week, and I’m very fortunate that I’m out of sick time and vacation time at my day job and also that my day job is now suddenly extremely busy with very time-sensitive stuff and the acceptable margin for error is even more nil than usual.  The timing couldn’t be better.


So I’ve been reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which is an absolutely gorgeously-written book about some rather unfortunate subject matter, given the recent news developments about how all men are trash.  I don’t mean to be flippant about that, by the way – men are fucking trash, and if there’s one good thing about the disastrous Trump presidency it’s that the patriarchy might finally come crumbling down, and good fucking riddance to it.

I don’t think my own actions have been as horrific as, say, Louis C.K., but that doesn’t necessarily get me off the hook; I was a shithead in my 20s, and I didn’t know that I was a shithead at the time, and it sucks.  Facebook has that little “memories” thing and it was almost exactly 3 years ago today that I went back and re-read my college diary and was simply aghast at how shitty a person I was, and the whole thing still makes me nauseous.  All I can do, now, is raise my son to be a better man than I used to be.  I’d like to think that I’m at least a halfway decent man now, and that’s really only because of a concerted and conscious effort and my eternally patient wife straight-up telling me when I’m unconsciously mansplaining or being a jerk.


As noted above, I’ve been kept away from writing here for a while.  I’ve been wanting to pop in here and write about, oh, I don’t know, my new Xbox One X and how my son and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together, which is really all I’ve ever wanted to do with him.  Let’s start with that, then, because it’s wonderful.

Henry loves Super Mario Odyssey.  We’ve been playing it in 2-player mode, where he’s Mario and I’m the hat, although he’ll hand me his controller when he needs help getting to a tricky place or when there’s a boss fight.  And more often than not he’s just happy to watch and show me where to go, and when we collect a moon he goes “YES!” and gives me a high-five, and it’s like, man, this is the best.  I’ve said it here a million times – I never had a Nintendo system in my house; I had an Atari 2600 when I was a little kid, and then my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, and so I’ve never had the Nintendo nostalgia that everyone else in the world has.  But seeing my kid go nuts over Mario is awesome.  I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with him.   (In fact, when I was getting him dressed this morning, he told me he had Mario dreams, and he couldn’t wait to play some more with me tonight.  Plans = made.)

As for the Xbox One X:  well, look.

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I don’t (yet) have a 4K TV, but I can tell you that the difference between the OG XB1 and this new XOX is night and day.  It’s much quieter, everything loads much faster (even the stuff that hasn’t received “enhanced patches” perform better – The Witcher 3 loads at least a full minute quicker than before, and it seems to perform much smoother too), and the stuff that has received updates is even more pronounced.  Wolfenstein 2 on XOX, in particular, makes the OG XB1 look last-gen.

I’ve been spending the most time with Assassin’s Creed Origins (heretofore AssOrgy), and yeah, that game looks really nice.  I’m still in the early going – I’m only level 15 or so, and I’ve just gotten to the Hippodrome – but it has a wonderful sense of pace to it.  Feels a lot like Witcher 3, actually, in all the right ways, and this game’s open-world structure seems to suit the nomadic player character quite well, in that it makes sense for him to be wandering around and picking up missions here and there, helping out where he can.  I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter that while people like AssOrgy, it’s not necessarily a great Assassin’s Creed game; I suppose that’s a fair assessment, given that the “assassination missions” feel a lot less scripted than they used to, but overall I really like the direction this game is moving in.  In fact, the only bits that I’m finding myself missing are the environmental puzzles, though supposedly that element starts to show up a bit later, once you reach Giza and the Pyramids.

I understand that there’s a fair bit of confusion as to who the Xbox One X is actually for.  I can tell you this:  it’s for me, the Xbox fanboy who has been disappointed by the performance of the Xbox One and wants a comparable experience to the PS4.  And who also has a little bit of extra cash (or doesn’t care about excess credit card debt).  Is it necessary?  No, probably not, but I don’t regret my purchase in the slightest.  It makes my existing library look and perform drastically better than it did, and so I’m all for it.  If you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade, I would highly recommend buying an external hard drive and backing up your current Xbox One and moving all your games over to it first, as it makes setting up the X1X a twenty-minute breeze.  (For whatever it’s worth, this is the one I have, and I bought it because Major Nelson uses it too, and it was on sale at the time.)

the necessity of distraction

You ever take an allergy pill and then drink too much caffeine?  It’s all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack but you’re also very zoned out and breathing very deeply.

Hi, welcome to my Wednesday afternoon.  My job is slow at the moment, and I have all this nervous energy that I need to expel.  So I’m gonna talk about all the crap I’ve bought of late that I haven’t had the time or inclination to enjoy.


Before I get started with some aimless rambling and babbling, I just want to thank everyone for their support this past week.  We did end up putting Lily to sleep on Saturday, and it was awful and gut-wrenching and sad, but hearing from everyone really did make a difference.  I am in the midst of another one of my love-hate spats with the internet and social media, but in this particular instance it was really nice to feel like all our friends around the world were giving us a much-needed hug.

I suppose I should also say that I’m fine, as far as the horrific event that took place in lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon.  Indeed, my office is so close to it that I could see the men in white hazmat suits milling around as I ran a quick errand this morning.  I was never in any danger (though I had been walking right there only a few hours prior), and I never had a chance to get anxious because by the time that the actual, real news was starting to come in, it was already over.  I suppose it might seem weird that I’m not really all that messed up about it, but, I mean, what am I gonna do?  I’m already a nervous wreck about the world in general.  I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.


I’ve been in a non-stop escapist fiction mood of late, reading lots of horror and thriller and mystery stuff, and I needed to switch things up just a bit.  So I’m now three chapters into The Crimson Petal and the White, and it is gorgeous in ways I haven’t yet even begun to parse.  I enjoyed Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, and everyone on Goodreads who saw that I’d enjoyed it told me to immediately drop everything I was doing and start reading Crimson Petal; it’s been a few years, but here I am.


I am desperate to talk about Stranger Things 2, except that I haven’t finished it yet.  Assuming that the wife is amenable, we will watch the final 2 episodes tonight.  Yes, I am aware that a lot of people have very intense problems with Episode 7; I also just read a thing that the Duffer Brothers are aware of this but felt it necessary to fully tell the story they wanted to tell.  Given that I am fully on board with this season – even more than the first one, and I adored the first one – I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say this, in the meantime – one of the things that I love about ST is how people actually cooperate with each other and believe each other and don’t act stupid for the purpose of plot contrivance.  It worked remarkably well in the first season and it’s working even better here.  Also – genius casting of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.  (I noted on Twitter the other day that people who recognize Sean Astin from LotR and not The Goonies make me feel incredibly old, and then a friend reminded me that 16 years passed between the Goonies and LotR 1, and that 16 years have also passed since LotR1 and ST2, and holy shit I am old.)


In my dog-related grief, I accidentally did a thing and bought a Nintendo Switch, plus Zelda and Mario (and then Golf Story and also Stardew Valley).  So that’s happening.  I’ve been able to play maybe 15 minutes of Zelda, Mario and Golf, and they are all things I want to continue playing, so that’s nice.

I also have Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II burning a hole on my Xbox One’s external hard drive, and I’ve played just enough of both of them to know that I’d rather play them on my Xbox One X, which is supposedly arriving next week although I haven’t yet received any shipping information, which is unnerving.


 

A Light In the Darkness

Happy Eclipse Day, everyone.  Just remember, this afternoon’s darkness is only temporary; the political and social climate of the country will remain darkened for (at least) the remainder of 45’s term.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I occasionally have trouble getting motivated to continue writing here.  Sometimes it’s just because I don’t have time; sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have anything important to say; most of the time it’s because I’m well aware that there are far more important things to be paying attention to than whatever I might write, especially since what I write here is about rather trivial stuff.  That being said, sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on the trivial stuff, if only because it’s a necessary reprieve from the crushing Sisyphean despair that comes from constantly refreshing Twitter to see if the world is still falling apart.  And, also, my mom is back in the hospital for the third time this year and while she’s in much better spirits this time around, it’s still emotionally draining and stressful to be worried about her, especially since there’s not much I can do beyond visiting.

So, then, allow me to indulge in some nonsense.

1. My glasses finally arrived!  A week and a half after they were supposed to arrive, but still!  New specs!  That’s the old look on the left, and the new look on the right.  (Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt.)  Similar-ish style, to be sure, but the new prescription is finally up-to-date and features lenses that are both progressive and transition[al].  I’m still getting used to them, but they’re already making a big difference.

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2.  Yes, I pre-ordered the super-special Project Scorpio edition of Xbox One X.  Don’t judge me.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me just in case I haven’t – ever since I went on my quest to break the 100K Achievement barrier late last year, I’ve more or less made the Xbox One my main console of choice, despite knowing that the PS4 is more powerful.  Yes, I’ve played the same games on both consoles; yes, I can see the difference.  Nevertheless, I like the Xbox One’s UI a lot more, and the Elite Controller is by far the best controller I’ve ever used, and since I knew I’d be getting this new Xbox anyway, I figured I’d be able to put up with some performance issues since they’d get patched down the road.  And I have, for the most part.  I don’t have a 4K TV, nor do I feel like I need one, but at least now I’ll be able to justify getting one in a year or two.

3.  I’ve rented and have played a few hours of Agents of Mayhem, the new Saints Row-adjacent 3rd person shooter from Volition, and I think I love the hell out of it?  It’s this weird hybrid that lies somewhere between a single-player Overwatch (in its multiple hero system), Crackdown (in its visual style, as well as its super-powerful characters who defy the laws of physics), and Saints Row (obviously).  But there’s also something…. I can’t find the right word for it, but I want to say that it feels sincere.  That’s a weird thing to feel for an over-the-top open world game where everything blows up all the time, but it’s also true – I get the sense from playing it that the developers were really excited to work on something new, even if Saints Row’s DNA is heavily embedded in it; instead of having to try and out-do the off-the-wall insanity of Saints Row 3 and 4, they just went in a completely different direction.  I don’t know if I’m going to finish it – my backlog is INSANE at the moment and there’s some new stuff arriving shortly that I’m eager to try out, but for the time being it’s a very pleasant diversion.

4.  Regarding that backlog – yeah, it’s rough.  To wit:

  • Sonic Mania (looks and feels so much like the original Genesis games that it’s almost scary)
  • Tacoma (I’ve only played the first 30 minutes, but I’m always down for a Gone Home-in-space thing)
  • Observer (bought this because of some very intriguing word-of-mouth recommendations; I’ve only played the first 30 minutes or so but I’m still very much intrigued)
  • Undertale (Vita)
  • Hellblade
  • Pyre
  • Superhot VR (need to get back to this now that there’s been a few patches; when I first tried it my hands were glitching out all over the place and the game was near-unplayable)
  • a replay of the new and improved No Man’s Sky (I don’t know how much time I’m going to sink into this but I’ve already visited a few planets in a brand-new playthrough and it might as well be a completely new game – if you bought this and gave up on it when it first came out, I’d suggest giving it a look now)
  • Vostok Inc. (I am, as noted, a weird sucker for idle clickers – this is an idle clicker hidden within a twin-stick shooter, which is a pretty interesting hybrid)
  • a replay of Headlander (strictly for Xbox ‘cheevos)
  • Halo Wars 2 (why did I even bother getting this in the first place, I’m allergic to RTS games)
  • FF15 and FF12 

Plus:  this week sees the release of the Uncharted thing, and then there’s also the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC shortly thereafter.

5.  At some point I’m going to write a thing about my fascination with / addiction to the idle clicker genre.  But I did want to at least mention that I have “finished” Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, in that I’ve gotten every driver up to their maximum level and now there’s nothing else left to do.

 

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.

 

the Friday brain-purge

It’s been a weird month.  That week-long cold knocked my entire family on its ass, and even now I’m still finding it difficult to get back into my usual rhythms.  The day job has been busier, and my continuing lack of easy access to personal email and social media means I’m feeling a bit more isolated than usual.  (It doesn’t help matters that my iPhone 6 is starting to crap out; I’m tempted to upgrade to the 7, but I also know that the 8 is coming later this year, and – wait, who am I kidding?  I’m broke as hell.)

Oh, and that shitbag is still President.

Oh, and even though February is RPM month, I haven’t done a single bit of music work.

I had a bit of an eye-opening epiphany earlier this week.  We met with our tax accountant dude yesterday, and in preparation for our meeting I tallied up all of my video game purchases, as well as my Kindle purchases – as I did make a tiny amount of money from writing, and I could deduct all that stuff as “research materials.”  Point being, I spent a FUCKLOAD of money on games and books last year, and while I sort-of intuitively knew that at the time, it wasn’t until I saw the actual dollar amount that the realization fully hit home.

This out-of-control spending is not sustainable, is what I’m trying to say.  Even with a rental account, I can’t be spending nearly $2000 on games this year.  Considering that it’s only mid-February and I’ve already dropped $600 on PSVR stuff alone, and that I’ve got my eye on Microsoft’s forthcoming Project Scorpio, I’m already in trouble.  For whatever it’s worth, there’s only two new games that I can think of off the top of my head that I’m considering must-owns – Red Dead 2 and the new Mass Effect – and so everything else can, for all intents and purposes, wait.

Before you ask: no, I’m not planning on getting a Nintendo Switch.

I did just read an excellent book – Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, and I immediately purchased his Last Policeman trilogy upon finishing it.  And I’m currently reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which is… I don’t know even know where to begin describing it, except to say that if this is what he can do in novel form, then I’ll read literally anything he writes from here on out.

Game-wise, I’ve been kinda slack lately.  I’m kinda dicking around in Yakuza 0, which is (fortunately) built to be dicked around with; the thing is, I’m really quite impressed with it.  The cut-scene writing is far better than I expected it to be, and the in-between silliness kinda works, in its own strange way.  And beating the shit out of random gangs on the street is weirdly fulfilling and satisfying.  It’s a very odd game, and yet it’s compelling.  I don’t know if I’ll have the patience or the time to finish it, but I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it so far.

I also rented Resident Evil 7, and while I’ve only played the first hour or so, I can already tell that (a) it’s very scary and (b) I probably won’t finish it.  I may give it one last look this weekend before sending it back.

Hopefully it won’t be two weeks until my next post.  But who knows.  I’m kinda operating under the assumption that as long as 45 is in charge, we could all die at any moment, and so I’m just going to enjoy myself while I can.

 

gluttony

1. Good news:  I may have figured out how to finish my album!  Let me rephrase that:  I may have figured out how to get myself properly motivated and energized so that I can finish this album.  Until I actually do get re-started, though, there’s nothing really here to discuss, and I get that.  But it’s gonna happen.  I’ve signed up for the RPM Challenge, again, but this time I actually have: (a) a plan, (b) some actual material to work with, and (c) 10 cover songs to work on in case something goes wrong.  Considering that the last RPM Challenge I signed up for is the one that started this album in the first place, there’s a pleasing symmetry in the idea that I could finish this where it all began.

2. I don’t necessarily like to spend my time shitting on things I don’t like – at least, not as much as I used to – but I do feel obligated to mention that I just finished reading one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few Dan Brown books.  I bring up Dan Brown because the book in question, Kubrick’s Game, is basically a Dan Brown book, but for Stanley Kubrick film nerds.  I am a Kubrick nerd, and I’m also a sucker for secret society nonsense.  In any event, I read this i09 review, saw that it was available for $1.99, and downloaded it immediately.  And I feel compelled to warn you, now, to save your money and avoid this piece of shit at all costs.  What a colossally stupid waste of time.   Everything about it is dumb and contrived and poorly written and just… ugh, I don’t want to talk about it any more.  Avoid it.

3. Speaking of bummers, I just want to point out that in this 2nd week of 2017 – in these fragile days before possible nuclear apocalypse because someone said a mean thing about Donald Trump – I am now 0-for-2 in terms of finding keepers from Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist.  Considering that last year’s Discovery playlists caused me to fall madly in love with 140 songs from bands that I’d never even heard of before, this does not bode well.

4.  Can we talk about this new season of Sherlock?  And how, while it’s still problematic in certain ways, it’s far more watchable than anything that happened in Season 3?  And that last night’s episode was, for lack of a better word, fucking insane, with an epilogue that legitimately caught me completely off guard?

5.  As mentioned previously, I went on a bit of a gaming-purchase bender in mid-December.  I bought a whole bunch of new stuff, I bought even more stuff that I’ve already played (and beaten) on other consoles, and then I somehow managed to score a PSVR unit and then felt obligated to buy a whole bunch of shit for that.  This is all to say that I now have a bit of a backlog – which is fine, considering that there only probably only 2 games that I can think of off the top of my head that are definitely coming out in 2017 that I legitimately give a shit about (e.g.Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2).

I bring this up because I spent last week replaying Diablo 3 for a 3rd time.  I played as a female Monk, for the third time.  And I had a fucking blast with it, and I find it maybe a little odd that I found it as enjoyable as I did.  I don’t know what the current critical consensus is w/r/t Diablo 3 – I know that for me, when I first played it on PC, it took a loooooong time before it started to click with me, whereas I clicked with the PS4 version nearly immediately.  I will admit that I bought it for the Xbox One purely because it was on sale and because of the ‘cheevos, but I also found myself drawn to it far more than a bunch of new games that I’ve not yet finished (i.e., Watch Dogs 2Dishonored 2Final Fantasy XV).

This could be because I’m pretty goddamned great as a Monk in Diablo 3.  It’s interesting (to me, at any rate); normally whenever I play a game – regardless of genre – if I walk into a room full of baddies, I tend to pause and consider what to do.  Not so in D3 – if I’m wandering around and see dozens of bad guys in the corner, I will buff my shit up and saunter over there and just straight-up wreck shit quickly, and it’s incredibly satisfying and it doesn’t even matter if anything good drops.  There is something so very pleasing about landing a gigantic kill combo that just won’t stop because my monk is quick enough to draw other mobs towards me before the combo meter collapses.  I have a strategy, and that strategy works, and even after a 3rd playthrough it’s still fun as hell.

Not all games work this way, as it happens.  I also bought some other older games that were on sale that I thought I might replay and get some ‘cheevos out of, and some of those games are much more difficult to re-enjoy.  Case in point:  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which I very much enjoyed on PS4.  Coming back to it now on Xbox One, it feels… antiquated?  And it’s not even really that old, honestly.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve switched between ACS and Watch Dogs 2 of late, and they both have just enough shared DNA that make it a bit more difficult to jump back and forth.  It’s not as easy for me to go back and revisit as Diablo 3, I guess.

I’m not ashamed of this, by the way; I have bought movies in multiple formats, and I’ve re-bought books in Kindle form when I already own the physical copy and I’m just too lazy to haul it around with me everywhere I go.  (Believe me, Infinite Jest is much more manageable on a Kindle.)  I’ve bought plenty of games on multiple consoles (I think I own Portal 2 for literally everything it ever appeared on), and it’s fun to experience things in slightly different contexts (or, at the very least, with more comfortable controllers).  It might not be the most cost-efficient way of doing things, but I’ve never claimed to be smart when it comes to money.

Anyway: I’m presenting my December backlog, because it’s insane, and because if I ever complain about not having anything to play I’m hoping that one of you will bookmark this blogpost and shove it in my face.

  • Xbox One sale (to play)
    • Dishonored 2
    • Watch Dogs 2
    • Gears of War 4
    • FFXV
    • ReCore
    • Sky Force Reloaded
    • Westerado
    • Stardew Valley
    • Oxenfree
    • Mafia 3
    • Battlefield 1
    • Steep
  • Xbox One sale (to replay for ‘cheevos)
    • Diablo 3  
    • Doom
    • Batman: Arkham Revisited
    • Saints Row 4 / Gat out of Hell
    • Metro Doublepack
    • Rayman Legends
    • Darksiders 2 HD
    • GTA V
    • Deus Ex MD
    • Far Cry 4
    • AC: Syndicate
    • Witcher 3
    • Skyrim HD (why????  why did I do this?)
  • PSVR and PS4 stuff:
    • Thumper
    • Rez Infinite
    • Batman VR
    • Rise of the Tomb Raider
    • The Last Guardian  (I am kinda-sorta waiting for a patch for this one before I get back to it; I am fascinated by it but the controls and camera are distressingly and distractingly bad, and I’d prefer to play it if they actually make it more playable)

comfort food

Some random observations on a super-chilly Monday morning:

1. So yeah, I’m not gonna be finishing my 2016 Year In Review post any time soon.  There’s too much going on, there’s too little time in which to do it, and then there’s stuff like, well, how in the world am I going to have played enough of The Last GuardianFinal Fantasy XVDishonored 2 and the rest of it in order to know how I feel about them?

2. To that last point, let me talk about The Last Guardian for a second.  This is, for me, an exceedingly difficult game to discuss.  On the one hand, it’s totally up my alley; exploration and puzzle solving and a non-combative focus are exactly the sorts of things I like spending time with.  On the other hand, the controls are mind-bogglingly frustrating, the camera is among the worst I’ve experienced in years, and while I’m not necessarily one to complain about frame rate dips all that much, it’s so distracting in TLG that it completely takes me out of the experience.

And yet there was a moment last night that totally blew me away.  I’m still very early in the game, and I’d learned that my giant dog/cat/beast/friend likes eating these glowing blue barrels.  I’d found one tucked away in a corner, and I brought it over to the beast.  And then I watched the beast examine it, sniff it, approach the barrel with its paw, accidentally hit the barrel and then, very convincingly, react to the barrel’s movements (based on the ground’s physics – this was a completely unscripted moment).  It was breathtaking.  I’ve never seen something like that before, and due to the nature of how the moment played out, I may not see it again in this game.  Indeed, had I been looking the other way, I’d have missed it completely; there was no reason for me to look at what happened other than simple curiosity.

And then, shortly after that, I died about a dozen times trying to jump from a ledge to another ledge.  For a game to have been this long in development… I mean, to create the moment that happened in the previous paragraph, I get it – that’s the sort of programming work that would absolutely take years, especially if you want the player to believe it.  But the camera and the controls are so unbelievably and frustratingly broken… it defies belief.  I’m tempted to walk away from it until it gets patched, frankly, because I very much want to continue playing it without all this janky bullshit that’s getting in the way.

On the flip side, I don’t know if FFXV is something I can allow myself to care about.  I finished the very first mission series – I’d made it to the garage, I killed some bug things, I returned, I got my car back, I drove to the next place to return something; it’s all a bit… silly?  Its narrative tone is literally all over the place and I have no idea if I’m supposed to take it seriously or just enjoy the campiness (such as it is) or what.  I’m not a huge Final Fantasy fan, for that matter, so in this specific case I don’t necessarily feel like I’d be missing out if I skipped it.  And yet there’s something about it that’s compelling enough for me to hold on to it a little big longer.  It might be silly, but it’s 100% committed to whatever it is that it’s trying to do, and I kinda find that admirable.

3. To elaborate on my last post – I have finally crossed the 100K Achievement barrier.  The game in question that finally got me there was, of all things, the Sleeping Dogs remaster (which was a free download, and which I’ve already played on 360, PC, and a tiny bit on PS4).

4. As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve got a ton of games on my to-play list; I also went on a bit of a retail therapy binge on Black Friday/Cyber Monday and bought even more stuff, some of which I’ve already played on other systems; I also went and upgraded my hard drive capacity on both of my consoles.  What this essentially means, now, is that when I head down into the basement for gaming purposes, I am able to feed my wandering attention span at a moment’s notice without having to move.  And sometimes, this means I get to scratch some older itches.  So it’s true that I purposefully picked the Sleeping Dogs remaster in order to crash the 100K gate, because I knew there were ‘cheevos in the early going of that game; but it’s also true that I kinda like that game a lot, and I was in the mood to play it.  Similarly, even though I’ve got that aforementioned ton of new stuff to play, I’ve had a rather strange urge to play through Far Cry 4 again, and who am I to say no, when it’s sitting right there on my hard drive?

5. I truly can’t believe that it’s the week before Christmas.  This is good and bad; on the one hand, time is flying wildly out of control and it’s scary as hell; on the other, well, 2016 was a shitty year and good riddance to it.  But more to the point, I’m basically shit out of luck on scoring a PSVR any time before the end of the year, and that’s totally my fault for not staying on top of it when I had the chance.  (In fairness to myself, I didn’t actually get to try it out until last week, long after it had disappeared off of every shelf; that said, it’s still annoying to want something and not be able to have it.)

 

the fall release calendar

1. I keep waffling on how personal I can allow myself to get on this blog.  But since other social media avenues are closed to me at the present moment, and since it’s been at least a week since I last posted, I might as well explain – I’m on some new head meds, and even though it’s only been a week, I seem to be doing rather well.  So that’s good!  It’s not necessarily an easy thing to admit, but I don’t want to create the impression that I am somehow ashamed of taking prescription medication for depression or anxiety; the quality of my life was not good, for a long time, and it seems to be getting better, and that’s the most important thing.

2.  I am nearly halfway through Nathan Hill’s “The Nix”, and it is amazing.  I’d read reviews that compared the author to both DFW, DeLillo and Pynchon, and so I bought the book almost immediately, like some sort of reflex had just been triggered.  I suppose I can see a bit of that comparison – there are occasional passages in which Hill articulates a particularly neurotic train of thought that covers every conceivable base, in much the same way that Wallace did in “Infinite Jest”, but beyond that the book is very much its own thing.  And while I’m only halfway through, it’s certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

3.  I found myself listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Up The Beach” not too long ago, and I decided to declare it the best opening song on an album post-1985.  (Why 1985?  I don’t know, but I knew that going back farther would make any discussion impossible to reconcile.)  I started a thread on Facebook about it, and got some other very worthwhile candidates, and so I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the suggestions that cropped up.  This is by no means definitive (nor is it sequenced in any particular order beyond where they appeared in the original discussion thread), and it is obviously a bit too white-guy heavy, and so if you’ve got further recommendations, by all means send ’em my way.

 

4. I’ve been trying to finish most of the games I play this year, but I decided to give up on finishing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.  This is mostly due to the fact that I was right near the end of the game and I was suddenly asked to make a choice, and I realized that not only did I not care about either of the options presented to me, but that I had literally no idea what the hell was going on.  I’d been content to find sneaky and non-lethal ways to infiltrate buildings and do whatever task needed to be done, and had stopped paying attention to the why at some arbitrary point that was, I realized, too far back to return from.  There are a lot of interesting critical analyses of why DE:MD’s story is fucked up and/or irresponsible and/or bad and/or misses an opportunity to take current political issues and do something interesting with them, but I never got anywhere close to seeing the game’s story in that sort of detail.  I instead found myself focused on the mechanics, because that was the thing that was enjoyable; the story was never particularly engaging, and then by the time I realized that the story mattered, it was too late.

5.  We are about to enter the fall release schedule, which means shit’s gonna start getting real.  I’d already bought the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3, which means I get to start playing it tomorrow.  (Possibly tonight at midnight?  If I’m awake?)  But I’m not sure there are any must-plays that are grabbing my attention more forcefully than others.  I mean, I’ve got a bunch of these upcoming games in my rental queue, and I did pre-order Gears 4, but I’m not quivering with anticipation.  Maybe it’s the meds?

I did stop myself from ordering the Bioshock remasters; I still might get them, but I’m waiting for a Digital Foundry verdict first.  I’m currently replaying Batman: Arkham Knight on Xbox One, because (a) cheevos and (b) procrastination.  That game still holds up, though I can say definitively that the PS4 version looks better.  If that matters.

Anyway, as far as the schedule is concerned, Kotaku posted a release calendar; my personal picks are in bold.

September 23

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided System Rift | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Story DLC

September 27

  • FIFA 17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • X-COM 2 | PS4, Xbox One | Strategy
  • Forza Horizon 3 | PC, Xbox One | Driving
  • Dead Rising 2 HD | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice | 3DS | Platformer
  • LEGO Dimensions Wave 6 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Darkest Dungeon | PS4, Vita | Dungeon Crawler

September 30

  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits | 3DS | RPG
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls | 3DS | RPG

October 4

  • Warhammer End Times: Vermintide | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

October 7

  • Paper Mario: Color Splash | Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Mafia III | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Five Nights At Freddy’s: Sister Location | PC | Horror

October 10

  • 100ft Robot Golf | PS4, PS4 VR | Robot Sports

October 11

  • Gears of War 4 | PC, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • Dragon Quest Builders | PS4 | Action RPG, Sandbox
  • WWE 2K17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider Blood Ties/Lara’s Nightmare | PC, Xbox One | DLC
  • Duke Nukem 3D 30th Anniversary World Tour | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Memories

October 13

  • PlayStation VR | PS4 | Hardware  [I will obviously need to read some reviews and/or determine if I need to upgrade my OG PS4 to the Slim or the Pro before plunking down any money on this.  People appear to be having cathartic, out-of-body experiences with Rez Infinite, though, and who am I to say no to something like that?]
  • Batman: Arkham VR | PS4 VR | Action Adventure
  • PlayStation VR Worlds | PS4 VR | Action
  • Battlezone | PS4 VR | Action
  • Harmonix Music VR | PS4 VR | Music
  • Hustle Kings | PS4 VR | Pool
  • Rez Infinite | PS4 VR | Music Action
  • Shadow Warrior 2 | PC | First-Person Shooter

October 16

  • Skylanders Imaginators | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

October 18

  • Batman: Return To Arkham | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Lego Harry Potter Collection | PS4 | Action Adventure

October 21

  • Battlefield 1 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Horse Simulator
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization VI | PC | Strategy

October 25

  • Dark Souls III: Ashes Of Ariandel | PC, PS4, Xbox One | DLC

October 27

  • Just Dance 2017 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U | Dancing
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Fighting
  • World of Final Fantasy | PS4, Vita | RPG
  • Harvest Moon: Skytree Village | 3DS | Simulation

October 28

  • Titanfall 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition | PC, PS4, Xbox One | RPG

November 1

  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita | 2D Platformer

November 4

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare | PC, PS4, Xbox One | First-Person Shooter
  • Mario Party Star Rush | 3DS | Party

November 7

  • Lego Dimensions Wave 7 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

November 10

  • PlayStation 4 Pro | PS4 | Hardware

November 11

  • NES Mini | Nintendo | Retro Console
  • Dishonored 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 15

  • Watch Dogs 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Road Rage | PS4, Xbox One | Racing
  • Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 18

  • Pokémon Sun | 3DS | RPG
  • Pokémon Moon | 3DS | RPG
  • Killing Floor 2 | PC, PS4 | Survival Shooter

November 29

  • Final Fantasy XV | PS4, Xbox One | RPG
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | Oculus, Vive | Simulation

December 1

  • Syberia 3 | PC | Adventure

December 2

  • Gravity Rush 2 | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Steep | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Extreme Sports
  • Super Mario Maker 3DS | 3DS | Mario Maker

December 6

  • The Last Guardian | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | PS4 VR | Simulation
  • Dead Rising 4 | Xbox One | Action Adventure

Random Ramblings, Thursday edition

Today’s song of the day:

It’s been a while, so let’s get caught up.

1. The more I think about it, the more underwhelmed I am by Sony’s reveal of the PS4 Pro.  Let’s leave aside the total lack of anything regarding PSVR – nothing I saw yesterday compelled me to upgrade my current PS4; if anything, I’d rather spend that money on upgrading my PS4’s hard drive.  I mean, if I want to get the most out of the PS4 Pro, I’d need a 4K TV (which I don’t have), and I’d also need to make sure that it supports HDR (which, apparently, not all 4K TVs do).  Fundamentally, the content simply isn’t there yet to necessitate the upgrade, and while HDR is certainly intriguing I’m not sure it’s essential – and in any event, my OG PS4 is getting the HDR upgrade next week anyway.  If I have to shell out money for a console upgrade at this point – and I’m nto sure I do – I’m leaning heavily towards next year’s Microsoft Scorpio.

2. I’ve successfully completed my Goodreads challenge, and am now currently at 37 books finished for the year.  I don’t have a secondary number to hit; I’d rather just take my time and enjoy what I read from here on out.  I’m also probably not going to participate next year; it’s an extra layer of stress that I definitely don’t need, and as far as record-keeping is concerned I’m already tracking what I read in a GoogleDoc, because I’m ridiculous.

2a. My end-of-year “Favorite Sentences of 2016” post might end up being on the short side of things; while I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read, I haven’t found myself highlighting a lot of beautiful phrases.  To wit: I just finished reading Ted Chiangs’ “Stories Of Your Life and Others”, a rather remarkable collection of speculative science-fiction-ish stories (mostly because the title story is the source of the upcoming film “Arrival“, which I very much want to see); each story is incredibly fascinating and certainly very well written, but I never found myself lingering over a particularly affecting phrase.  This is not an indictment of the book at all, but rather just something I’ve noticed in terms of my own reading.  I think it’s fair to say that in order to meet my Goodreads Challenge number, I opted to read shorter books with heavy genre trappings, and while those kinds of books are highly enjoyable, they don’t necessarily feature poetic prose.

3. I’ve hit something of a wall with respect to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with it.  There’s a sudden difficulty spike at my current stage of the game – all of Prague is on lockdown, which makes getting around town incredibly difficult, at least in terms of my current character build – and I’m so far removed from the narrative’s motivations that I’m tempted to call it a day.  While I do enjoy some of the gameplay loops – i.e., enter an area, scout out hidden pathways, sneak around, hack stuff, get out without being seen – I’m struggling to stay invested in the story, which is just this side of Kojima-esque silliness.

4. On the flipside, I am thoroughly addicted to Picross 3D: Round 2, which is the first thing I’ve used my 3DS for in maybe 2 years.  It is a little strange that you’re not actually solving the puzzle on the 3D screen – that is, in fact, what I’d been hoping to do – but whatever; I love it anyway.  Solving a puzzle feels like sculpting a figure out of marble, in much the same way that playing Rock Band feels like playing music – it’s not 1:1, obviously, but it produces the same creative euphoria.  I worry that if I continue to bring my 3DS to work, I will get fired.

5. I’ve also been playing some indie games on XB1, as I continue in my quest to hit 100K.  I finished Valley, which I don’t really know how to talk about – there are parts of it that are wondrously exhilarating, and other parts that are a bit of a slog, and the ending – such as it is – felt a bit underwhelming.  I’m also about halfway through The Turing Test, a first-person puzzler not unlike Portal or The Talos Principle; the narrative is a bit clumsy in its execution but the puzzles themselves are satisfying to solve (at the moment, at least).


I’m continuing to feel somewhat withdrawn and hermit-like – this is something I’m working on, privately – so please bear with me if it gets even more quiet around here than usual.

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