Recent Things Wot I Like

I remain confused as to what I’m gonna be doing with this blog.  Indeed, I remain confused about what I’m doing on the internet, as a general rule.  I turn 43 at the end of this week and I am feeling old and uncool and yet I’m also feeling that I don’t have to care anymore about trying to appear cool, because it literally doesn’t matter.  This is not the place you go when you want to know if something’s cool.  This is the place you go when you’re curious as to what’s going on in my brain.

So maybe, now that Tumblr is gonna die a very quick death in a few weeks, and Twitter is, well, Twitter, and Facebook is rapidly becoming a place for kid photos and Twitter screenshots, maybe this here site will become what I originally always meant for it to be:  a blog.  Blogs aren’t cool.  But I’m gonna be 43 and I’m not cool, either.  My hair is grey and I’m overweight and as an adult and a parent I am far more involved in the state of the world than I ever thought I’d be, and because the world is fucking insane* I overindulge in various media and medications, both recreational and non-, because otherwise I’d be in a padded room muttering about emoluments.

So let’s get cracking, then.  

I have finished Red Dead Redemption 2 and I don’t know how to talk about it.  It’s gonna get its own post, for sure.  But the short version is akin to something I said on Twitter the other day, that it feels less like a game that I played and more like a show that I binge-watched obsessively for 2-3 weeks – not all of it was fun, but it was engrossing as all hell, and the feeling of the world is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced from a game.  For those of you that are my parents (i.e., you don’t watch TV), it’s also sorta like being wrapped up inside a huge novel and then emerging afterwards and not knowing what day it is.  

Here are other things I am in the middle of enjoying, because I feel obligated to spread positivity:

I was gonna start working on my Books of 2018 post, and then I started reading this book, and HOLY SHIT everything changed.  If nothing else, I urge everybody who is reading this post to go to their local bookstore, find a copy of this book and read the preface.  I dare you to not buy the book immediately afterwards.  Tommy Orange is a major talent with an incredible voice, speaking in a language that none of us know as well as we should.  

https://www.stereogum.com/2023673/the-1975-a-brief-inquiry-into-online-relationships-review/franchises/premature-evaluation/

I don’t know if I’m gonna do a Music of 2018 post, if only because my music listening habits have become far more idiosyncratic than I can manage and I have no idea how to take stock of everything I listen to anymore.  Hell, I haven’t even written about my headphones, which are without question the best headphones I’ve ever used in my entire life.  And, again, I’m old and the music that’s popular these days makes me feel even older.  Anyway.  The 1975 are a band that I probably shouldn’t like, but I’ll be goddamned if this song isn’t kicking my ass all the way around the block.  For a bunch of 20-something British blokes, they’ve got some serious balls making an album this strange – while also including absolutely gut-wrenching anthemic singles like the above.  

*this is maybe the most appropriate metaphor for what it feels like to be alive right now*

i should be telling you this in person

I had something of an epiphany this weekend, and I’m still trying to figure out how to process it.  Let me back up a second and explain.

So on Friday night, the wife and I actually left the kid with his grandparents and stayed out and about in Manhattan after work; one of my oldest and bestest friends was part of a gallery opening, and so we went over to check it out.  And a whole bunch of other people showed up, and then we went out for drinks afterwards, and I realized that it was the first time I’d seen some of these people – some of my best and closest friends – in years.

I’m an introverted person by nature, and my move to the suburbs has only made it easier to be a hermit.  But the truth is that I’d also been crippled by some serious anxiety issues for a number of years, which often times made it impossible for me to leave my apartment.

And yet, even though I’m an introvert, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m shy.  I’ve been oversharing on the internet since my first LiveJournal blog back in 2000-2001.  The internet has made it far easier for me to compensate for my introversion and my social anxiety.   After all, there’s no real need for you to call me and see how I’m doing if I’m already telling you.

So my epiphany this weekend was about realizing just how much I tend to overshare, especially on places like Facebook, and how perhaps Facebook isn’t the best place for that kind of stuff.   There is no adequate substitute for a quality in-person conversation with a good friend.

And so maybe it’s time for me to get off my couch a little more.

overabundance

I’ve had to take a break from the news.  Let me rephrase that:  I’ve had to take a break from getting emotionally invested in the news.  This is not to say that I’m fine with what’s happening.  I’m still reading Twitter and my RSS newsfeeds 24/7.  It’s just that somewhere within the last few weeks – between the revelation that we’ve been keeping babies in cages and the fact that the President of the United States of America committed treason in front of the entire world on live television while standing next to Vladimir Putin and nothing has been done about it – I’ve reached maximum outrage.  I can’t get any more angry and upset or else I will literally explode.  So I will basically be maintaining this slow boil of maximum outrage until something actually happens.

I’ve also found that being in this perpetual state of treading water means that I can’t concentrate on anything else.  I know I haven’t written much here lately, and a few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d kinda hit a dark place.  I think what happened is that my brain needed to shut down, and I decided to let it.  If I can’t enjoy books or games, then OK; let me take a break from that stuff, too, because feeling obliged to indulge in hobbies that aren’t giving you any pleasure because you don’t know what else to do you with yourself creates a whole new level of meta-depression and I’m not sure that any of my current prescriptions can handle that.

Anyway, I had a really nice weekend.  Did some chores, ran some errands, had a quality day with the boy up at my mom’s pool yesterday, giving my wife a much-needed chance to decompress, and it was nice to know that I was still capable of enjoying myself.

And so I got in early to the office this morning, saw that there wasn’t all that much to catch up on, work-wise, and decided to see if I had anything to write here today.  On days like today, sometimes the best way for me to shake some ideas loose is to just write down some bullet points and kinda-sorta free-associate from there.  And as it turns out, there’s quite a bunch of stuff that has been percolating.  So here you go.


1.  Ready Player One.

I read the book when it first came out, and I remember only two things about that experience:  (1) it was kinda dumb, and (2) while there’s a lot of fun ’80s trivia, none of it is terribly obscure.  I thought about that for a while, too, because I couldn’t decide if that was a deliberate choice by the author to make the reader feel smart, or if that truly was the depth of the author’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture.  Other, smarter people than me came forward in the run-up to the movie’s release to offer more thoroughly detailed receipts of why that book is a piece of shit (this one in particular is noteworthy); their arguments make sense to me, and I only wish I’d noticed them back when I first read the book, because I certainly wasn’t going to read it twice.  I am the target demographic for that book, after all – a white American middle-class male who grew up in the 1980s – and if it felt paper-thin on first read, it wasn’t gonna get any deeper on a second run.

Having Steven Spielberg direct the film version is a pretty obvious choice – indeed, he was Ernest Cline’s first choice – though I’m surprised Spielberg actually decided to do it, especially since so much of the book relies on heavy Spielberg knowledge, and the film sorta goes out of its way to avoid it.  Maybe he didn’t want to appear self-indulgent?  In any event, it’s just straight-up bizarre to make a film out of a book that so heavily fetishizes the 1980s that very pointedly ignores the single largest influencer of 1980s pop culture, while also being directed by that very same dude.

This is a minor quibble, of course.  The film does the best it can do with the source material, but that doesn’t make it good.  And a lot of that comes from the character of the revered Mr. Halliday, the minor deity who starts this whole easter egg hunt in the first place.  For one thing, the very fine actor playing him is sorta going full Tropic Thunder a bit, which is upsetting.  For another, look – the world surrounding Ready Player One is clearly a dystopian nightmare.  Any self-identified trillionaire (who also apparently doesn’t care about money) could do a hell of a lot to heal the world with that money, instead of making the world even more obsessed with a fictional creation that basically rewards nerds that have a hyper-specific interest in someone else’s hobbies.

I could go on, but I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it, and the more I think about it the more annoyed I get.

2.  Replaying No Man’s Sky.

Yes, I’d already spent somewhere between 50-100 hours playing it the first time on PS4, and I ran out of steam shortly after realizing that I’d fucked up the Atlas Point story progression, meaning I’d never get the “true” “ending” unless I wiped out my save and started from scratch.  The game was a bit of a grind but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant; I think I just realized that the game wasn’t going to surprise me anymore.

So fast forward two years to this brand-new NEXT update, which I also decided to buy for the X, figuring that if I was going to restart from scratch, I might as well get some Achievements for it, and also play it with better technical performance.

Is it worth it?  That is a tough question to answer.  I’d make the argument that while this new update is probably a better introduction for brand-new players than the original game was, its most receptive audience is probably lapsed players like me, people who will remember the basic rhythms and can better appreciate the new changes.  Because the game is not intuitive, and even though there’s a better tutorial now, there are also a bunch of new systems to learn, and the whole experience is far more complicated than it used to be.

NMS is less of a space exploration game and more of a survival game without zombies.  You are constantly scrounging for materials, dealing with hazardous climates, and juggling inventory space (which there is never enough of) in order to make sure that, at the very least, your ship has enough fuel to launch to a new spot.  I don’t yet know if the overall narrative has changed all that much; I’ve only played for an hour or so, and I’ve already restarted once because the first planet I landed on was severely toxic and made everything way more urgent than I was ready for.

One thing that the game is good at, however, is showing just how goddamned immense the universe is, and the graphical upgrades are very, very pretty.  (Twitter’s been showing off a lot of amazing screenshots lately.)

I’m gonna stick with it for a bit; there’s not that much else that’s occupying my time, and being able to stick Spotify in the background makes it very easy to space out to, pun sorta intended.

3.  Clicker Heroes 2.

Hoo-boy.  I’m not ready to talk about my helpless addiction to idle clickers just yet.  (As I write this very post, I have a separate tab with Clicker Heroes 1 running in the background.)

The big difference in this one, as opposed to every other idle clicker game on the planet, is that you only pay once.  Idle clicker games are tailor-made for micro-transactions, and I’m guilty of being a whale for several of them.  So being able to not have to worry about falling into that pit with CH2 is a huge relief.

Is it good, though?  Man, I don’t know.  I don’t know how to explain my thing about idle clickers.  Indeed, I’ve thought about pitching several different publications about my infatuation with the genre, if only so that I could figure it out for myself, but I’ve never gone beyond the initial brainstorm because I think there’s also a fair amount of weird self-imposed shame that goes along with it.  Idle clicker games scratch a very hyper-specific itch that is, for me, impossible to explain.  Nor can I explain why some of them “click” for me, while some of them very definitely do not.  I suppose the appeal in CH2 (as in CH1) is learning how to best maximize efficiency, which is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in, but here we are.  There are also presumably tons of online discussions and forum threads about strategies and such but I’ve never read them; I think I’d get too depressed if I suddenly found out that there’s a far more efficient way to build your character and that I’d wasted a few years of my life for nothing.

4.  Books.

So I think I mentioned that I finished my Goodreads challenge, which isn’t even all that impressive since I deliberately set the bar low so as to not make it a source of anxiety.  Now I’m kinda flipping back and forth between 5 or 6 books at a time, because I’m having trouble getting sucked into anything.  What I really need right now is a new David Mitchell novel, and while I think he’s working on at least two of them at the moment, none of them are in my possession.  So I’m kinda just going back and forth between a bunch of recent purchases and the enormity of my backlog.  Speaking of which…

5.  Backlog.

Polygon is about to start “backlog week“; I could probably knock out 20,000 words every day if I participated.  I have a backlog in almost every creative medium I can think of, and it’s overwhelming.  My Kindle has 131 books on it right now, all unread.  I’ve maxed out my Spotify library (twice!) with albums I’ve been meaning to check out and never get around to.  My videogame backlog is too insane to bother cataloging.  I am a digital hoarder and I think I have a problem.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Nintendo Switch!  Jesus.  I have way too many games for that thing and I’ve spent proper quality time with maybe 3 of them.

OK, maybe I should stop this post before I get too depressed.

a few words from the sad guy, plus some new (old) songs

So I’ve been kinda fucked up lately.  With the news.  Like, really kinda fucked up.  As in, I am really needing to go to therapy on Saturday.  I want to clarify:  I’m not in a dangerous place.  But over the last few weeks, with news shit really starting to get, like, absurd, I’ve been aware of my face having the sort of thousand-yard stare that can accompany the late stages of devastated, turn-out-the-lights-and-listen-to-Disintegration-over-headphones teenaged heartache.  There’s really no other word for it than sad.  But in a really deep, really fucked up, please get me offa this thing sort of way.

We all have different coping mechanisms.  I’ve been too frazzled to play video games lately, which is frustrating.  I’ve been reading very escapist fiction, but only a chapter or two at a time – and I’m also reading two collections of short stories, and alternating between all three or four at any given time.  I can’t focus, is what I’m saying.  I get home, I put Henry to bed, I kiss my wife, and then I get just sad and also perhaps a little or a lot very stoned in my basement while I listen to music or try to think about maybe one day writing lyrics to songs that I haven’t finished recording from three years ago.

SUDDEN TANGENT:  You know what, fuck it.  It’s killing me that I haven’t finished this album after all this time, and so I need to do something about it.  All these tracks have been slowly burning tiny holes in my iPhone since 2015.   So rather than release a B-side of a B-side, I’m gonna throw on one of the stuff that I actually really like and still intend to finish.

So this thing right here is a loop I recorded on a 4-track through my looping pedal in, like, 2001.

 

So that’s a thing I’ve always kinda liked.  I later reworked into a bridge section for a latter-day Good Evening song in 2006-7, and then I kinda just kept it in the back of my mind; when I signed up for the RPM challenge in 2015, and for lack of any better ideas, I decided to revisit it and see if I could fit it into something new.  I never did find a definitive beginning and/or end to it, but the section itself still sounds quite lovely to me:

 

And then this other thing, which is just a fun doodle of an idea that is perhaps too-obviously informed by The Forms, also happens to be the most recent substantial thing I’ve recorded here in Maplewood, (but again, that only means November 2015):

 

OK.  You are now the first people in the world (aside from 3-4 beta listeners from three years ago) to have heard that.  Thank you for indulging me.  I HAVE PLENTY MORE AND WILL PUT THEM UP, PERHAPS LATER IN THIS VERY POST THAT I AM PROCRASTINATING FROM FINISHING.

[END TANGENT]

So I’ve been sad, is the thing, and it’s frustrating as all hell, because it’s a sadness that exists beyond me; it’s not a sadness that I can control.  It is a sadness of the very reality that we are currently living in, more specifically the cruel feeling of hopelessness about it all, and that even with the amazing and surprising and good-heart-feeling election victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s immediately driven back by the 1-2 punch of the SCOTUS mess and the mass shooting at a Maryland newspaper (which, I want to make clear, I’m writing this at 9:23 while very stoned and don’t yet know if a motive has been uncovered – the more important issue is that, in the words of @igorvolsky, “any motive + easy access to firearms = death & horror.”

And so anyway, about half an hour ago or so I went upstairs to pee and get some ice cream because I’m sad and binge-eating and munched out and I was looking at Facebook and saw this video.

Now, look.  I think Donald Trump is, perhaps, the most dangerous man in American history.  He is vile and repellant and morally unfit and profoundly unethical and we all know it.  There isn’t a day that goes by lately where I don’t spend my day within a deep and disturbing dread that something truly awful is about to happen.

But the thing I find most loathsome about him – despite his endless blustering and bravado and chest-bumping – is that he’s a fucking coward.  This shooting in Maryland is tragic and horrible and he is so scared about having to deal with a real crisis that he just keeps on walking.  He’s the President of the United States, don’t tell me he didn’t yet know.   He absolutely knew.  And he was too scared to speak to the press to offer any words of condolences.  He has no empathy for other human beings in pain, and so there is nothing for him to gain out of offering solace to the grieving.  So he just walks away.

I was going to get into a whole big rant about it.  I was gonna just vent and spew and vomit all over the internet.  This is a very small and insignificant part of the internet, the whole of which you’d never call pristine, but whatever – now I’ve just covered my little tiny part of it in venom.

Then I decided to not do that.  Maybe I’d write about not writing.  Because even though I’m hurting, I don’t know that throwing my hurt onto you is the right thing.  I’m not saying I should be keeping this to myself – like I said above, I’m really looking forward to Saturday morning’s therapy session.  And so I worry about having my only contribution to this shrieking nightmare to simply be another lonely howl at the moon.

I think what I really needed to do is just tell you guys that I love you.  Times are fucking terrible right now, man, and it fucking sucks.  But you’re not alone.  I’m not alone.  We’re not alone.  I love you guys.  I need to remember to love you guys more.  I need to remember to keep love in my heart.

(And then, after some cleansing breaths, I say:  if they go low, continue to kick them in the face.)

How The Hell Is It June Already

There are any number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to get back here; none of them are terribly interesting.  Suffice it to day that sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day; and sometimes, when there are, those hours are best spent taking a nap.

I will say this, even if it sounds corny:  I am trying very hard to only put positive stuff out into the world.  And sometimes that means not saying anything at all.  I know I’d said not too long ago that this blog might turn into something a bit more LiveJournal-y, but to be honest I think I’d rather keep that stuff between me and my therapist.  I don’t want to use this space to whine or complain; it’s not fun to write, and I’m sure it’s not interesting to read.  So I’m gonna try to… um… not do that.

img_6480

It’s been almost a month since I’ve been here, so let’s dust off the cobwebs and get up to speed.

BOOKS:

In my last substantive entry I wrote that I was halfway through volume 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I’ll say this for it:  the series is great, but it’s also exhausting, and I’m probably not going to re-read anything before volume 4 comes out.

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

  • Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Black Helicopters, Caitlin Kiernan – I’d read Agents last year, and remembered loving it, and wanted more of it because it was so short.  Black Helicopters has nearly the same cover art, and so I thought it was a sequel; it’s not, and the two books are only very tenuously related.  You can read them in a few hours, for whatever it’s worth.
  • The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt – I thought this was going to be a collection of horror stories; it’s not.  But it’s still very good, and certainly there’s more than a few stories that got under my skin.
  • The Outsider, Stephen King – Tangentially related to his Bill Hodges trilogy, this is more of a supernatural mystery novel than anything else; it’s also much better than the Hodges books, and largely devoid of his usual tics and mannerisms.
  • Dead On Arrival, Matt Ritchel – Great premise, super-shitty writing.
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this, but I did, and it’s great.  It didn’t necessarily knock me over the way it has for friends of mine, but it’s still a marvel.
  • The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura – A very short philosophical meditation on pickpocketing, power, and fate.  Illuminating, though slight.
  • Clockwork Boys / The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher – I’m not sure what prompted me to pick these up; I’m not sure I’m going to finish them.  It’s almost as if the author conjured up an unlikely band of misfits based on standard fantasy tropes and then decided to write fan fiction about them.

MUSIC:

My last post made a loose promise that I’d start livestreaming from my basement the next time I started writing music.  Ha ha ha ha ha, no, that didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to until I re-learn how to use all my software.

I am listening a lot, though, which is usually a good sign that I’m going to start working again.  Spotify’s Neo-Psychedelic Rock playlist is really, really good.  The new Neko Case is also really good, as is Oneohtrix Point Never, Wooden Shjips, Ryley Walker, and Stephen Malkmus.  However, I’ve mostly been listening to Peter Gabriel, now that most of his catalog is back on Spotify.  I’ve been wanting to do a cover of “Digging in the Dirt” for 25 years, and I’m only now starting to get an idea of how to approach it.


GAMES:

I’m gonna be honest – I’m a mess right now, game-wise.  I have a backlog that is too intimidating for me to deal with, and an attention span that can only handle about 30-45 minutes at a time, and shooters are starting to feel distasteful again.  I picked up OnRush and Vampyr, and they’re both very conceptually interesting, though somewhat rough around the edges… and I’ve been dabbling in DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, and I’m not necessarily feeling those…

The one thing that I have been playing – and enjoying quite more than I ever expected to – is Yoku’s Island Express, which is a 2D platformer that uses pinball mechanics.  It is lovely and charming and gorgeous and totally the sort of whimsical escapist adventure that I need right now, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I liked it so much that I bought it for both my X and my Switch – it’s a perfect handheld game, and it’s also beautiful on a big TV.

I don’t have any E3 predictions to offer up, and there’s only a few things that I’d like to hear are coming:

  • release date for Psychonauts 2;
  • the existence of Portal 3;
  • any news whatsoever on whatever Rocksteady Studios is working on; rumors point to a Superman game, which, meh.  But I’m willing to check out anything they’re working on, if only because their Batman games are so phenomenally good;
  • and also Diablo 3 on Switch.

The First Many Hours: God of War

Current status:  Any and all synonyms for exhausted.  Mentally, physically.  Resources depleted.  Running purely on caffeine vapors and anxiety.  Trying to keep it together.  In desperate need of a mental health day, while knowing that such a day probably can’t happen until at least next week at the earliest.

Look: I’ve read and watched my fair share of dystopian fiction, and the thing that never gets mentioned in those works is the unceasing exhaustion and overwhelming despair that comes of perpetual outrage.  Or the near-constant stress-eating and resultant GI distress.

This latest fallout from the WHCD this past weekend is just the icing on the cake.  I cannot come up with a witty retort, so I’m gonna let Burneko handle it:

…As you’ve surely read by now, Wolf joked that [Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders’s makeup—her “perfect smoky eye”—is made of the ashes of the facts she burns.

That’s about as gentle a way as anyone could come up with to lampoon the single most relevant fact about Sanders and what brought her to a station in life that would make her a reasonable subject of lines in a White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue in the first place. A frank and honest description of who she is and what she does would be much more harsh: Every day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders plants herself, by choice, between the public and the facts of what’s being done at the very highest levels of American executive power, and does her damnedest to break and delegitimize the means by which the two are brought together. She is one of the most visible and powerful people in American civic life, and she uses her visibility and power—she chooses to use her visibility and power—to confuse the public and degrade its grasp on the truth, rather than to inform or empower or serve it. Her willingness to do this on behalf of Donald Trump, day after day, and the unmistakable teeth-gnashing relish with which she does it, are the substance of her power, and the reason why anybody knows who the fuck she is at all. What history will remember about Sanders is that she is the scum of the fucking earth, and not the jokey means by which one comedian pointed out this inarguable fact—and that’s only if the senile rageaholic pissbaby moron on whose behalf she shames herself on television every day doesn’t annihilate the human race, first.

I take solace where I can, folks, and right now it’s listening to good music, snuggling with my family*, and, after my family has gone to bed, obsessively playing God of War.

Speaking of which.  I’m at least 30 hours into it.  Currently doing a tricky side quest in Niflheim, newly unlocked.  Can’t stop thinking about it.

Let me back up a second.  I’ve recently been doing a thought experiment at work; I keep a Google Doc in a tab and any time a game pops into my head, for whatever reason, I’ll write it down.  I’ve been doing this for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it happens quite a lot, and I’m wondering what triggers it.  As a weird example:  for the longest time, any time I gave my son a bath, I’d start thinking about a certain sequence (the dockyard shootout)  in Max Payne 3.  (I have no idea why, and I don’t know if I want to know why.)   More to the point, I’ve been trying this out because sometimes I’ll be in my basement, utterly paralyzed by my backlog and not knowing what I’d want to play first; the log reminds me what I’ve been thinking about, and perhaps the paralysis can end.

I’m in no such paralysis at the moment, of course, because every free waking moment I have is spent being thoroughly absorbed by the aforementioned God of War, which is, thus far, probably one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life.  It’s probably fair to say that part of my above-mentioned exhaustion is that I spent the bulk of this weekend’s evenings playing far past my usual bedtime.  Like, 3-4 hours past my usual bedtime.

Because this is not a traditional review, I’m not particularly compelled to tell you about mechanics, though they are wonderful – like a lot of actual, professional critics, I found myself spending a lot of the early hours just throwing my axe into things and then summoning it back, and even 30 hours later it never gets old.  It is, indeed, one of the most satisfying weapons I’ve ever used in a game.

Nor am I technologically savvy enough to describe the graphics in any sort of meaningful way.  Let me simply say that, while I don’t know if it’s the best looking game I’ve ever seen, it’s certainly among the very top.  I can’t give it full marks if only because this is the first game I’ve really spent any time playing on my PS4 Pro / 4K HDR TV setup, and having seen what the X can do in that setup, I can see that the Pro isn’t quite as powerful.  (If I’m splitting hairs, I’d say that the X port of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is better-looking than the PS4’s version, and is also probably better-looking than God of War on a pixel-by-pixel basis, though it’s fair to acknowledge that each game is doing wildly different things.)

And I don’t want to discuss the story, because it should be experienced first-hand.  I accidentally spoiled myself on a mid-game plot point and almost immediately regretted it.  What I can say, though, is that the relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus, is far better written than I’d ever give this franchise credit for.  There’s a thoughtfulness behind every line of dialogue, and the voice acting is marvelous.

Here’s what I can say, and I know this is going to sound weird – this game feels like it was built for me, specifically; the 40-something tired father with not a lot of free time.   It is paced exactly the way I’d want it to be paced – much like Uncharted 4, the combat is exciting and dynamic but is also spaced out evenly, and there’s just as much emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving as there is on beating the hell out of demons.   The game is beautiful, and it knows it, and it knows you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny, and more often than not there’s a useful treasure hidden away in those places, and so you’re encouraged to go off the beaten paths.  Indeed, sometimes those paths go to rather unexpected places, and the rewards are generally always worth it.

More interestingly, I feel like the game understands how I’m interacting with it and responds accordingly.  The interstitial dialogue as you’re travelling from place to place does a wonderful, effortless job of world-building and character development, and it does it through subtlety (inasmuch as a character like Kratos can be subtle).  If I need a break from killing things, there are always tons of non-violent things to do.  Hell, even just pausing before a combat section so that I can re-outfit my weapons is satisfying; there’s a hint of puzzle-solving that goes along with each encounter, and you can see the results of your decision-making immediately.  It’s wonderful.

As much as I was enjoying Yakuza 6 and Ni No Kuni 2, and also kinda diddling around in Far Cry 5, this is the game that I’m gonna want to keep coming back to.  The new Tomb Raider and Red Dead Redemption games don’t come out until the fall; this will more than suffice in the meantime.


* I just wanted to mention that my current favorite thing is the way my son plays with the back of my hair when I’m carrying him downstairs in the morning.  He is half-awake, floppy-limbed, and can barely keep his eyes open; but when I pick him up, he puts his arms around me and runs his fingers gently through the very short hair on the back of my neck.  It is the sweetest thing – I have no idea if he even knows that he does it – and it makes my day.

self-care for the self-aware

 

In these troubled times, it’s important to take time out for self-care.  Self-care comes in many different forms.  For me, lately, one of those methods has been to do some serious heavy-duty organization of my digital media.

Last night, I spent almost two hours curating smaller playlists out of my gargantuan “Favorites from the Spotify Discovery” playlists.  While I appreciate that Spotify’s algorithm knows me so well, it’s made my “best-of” playlists untenable; until last night I’d simply been putting my favorite tracks into a mega-list for each year, and by year’s end I’d have 150+ songs, and so when I’d start a new list for a new year I’d stop listening to the previous year, and so there’s dozens of songs that I’ve kept that I haven’t had a chance to really absorb.  This is nonsensical, I know, but you have no idea how nice it is to know that all the weird space jazz that Spotify feeds me can live in one readily identifiable place.

There’s a lot that I don’t miss about my high school / college / post-college years, but one of the things that I do miss quite terribly is that back then, it was very easy for me to carve out a solid chunk of hours to obsessively listen to music.  I don’t have that luxury any more; my commute is too short, I can’t listen to music at work, and my evening hours are hit-or-miss.   There were a few moments last night while I was in the midst of this curation session when I’d say to myself, ooh, that’s an album I want to spend some time listening to, I’ll get to it later… and then I’d realize, wait, when exactly is “later”?

Anyway.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I sorta have to do this organizational stuff in order to streamline my creative process.  My new computer arrived last week, and it’s awesome, and everything works the way it’s supposed to, and now I have to accept the fact that I haven’t done anything creatively as far as music goes in far, far too long.  (Hell, I need to remember how some of my software actually works.)  And I know that the first few times I sit down to start composing, I’m gonna be rusty and turn out some stupid shit.  But rather than beat myself up about it, I need to make sure that I’m showing up to my sessions in a good mood, and that means I need to listen to inspiring stuff.  And so while it’s fair to say that this could be seen as a highly contrived excuse for procrastination, it’s also productive and useful.


Similarly, I spent a very satisfying hour last week sorting my PS4 Pro’s game library into folders – Sony Exclusives, PS VR, Indies, Multi-Platform.  I sincerely hope that Microsoft lets me create folders for the X, someday; they sorta do this already, in terms of how you can sort your library, but it’d be nice to be able to further customize those categories.

Look, I know this is a super-ridiculous thing but I love it and it makes me very happy.


So last week I took a much-needed (though not terribly satisfying) staycation, and I played a bunch of stuff.

1.  Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.  I’d gotten this on PS4 last year, got stuck, and then forgot about it; but I figured I’d give it another go on the X – I was, if nothing else, curious to see how the X shaped up to the PS4, and the developer happened to mention that if they sold a certain amount of units, they’d be donating a certain amount of their proceeds to certain mental health charities, and that felt like a worthwhile thing to contribute to.  So, yeah – this game is fucking amazing, and it looks extraordinary on the X, and I’m really glad I finally finished it.

2. Yakuza 6 / Ni No Kuni 2.  You couldn’t pick 2 more different games to start playing at the exact same time, but here we are.  Of course, these have been put to the side because of God of War, but I’ll get to that in a sec.  I really like both of what I’ve played of these two, so far, though, and I hope to get back to them in a bit.

3.  Far Cry 5.  So I’ve beaten 2 of the 3 sub-bosses, and I’ve done a fair amount of side stuff, and I’m honestly not sure I need to 100% this.  When I’m goofing off and exploring, it’s fine; when I’m paying attention to the story, everything sucks.

4.  God of War.  Well, look – this is gonna be the main thing I’m playing until I finish it, and even then I don’t know that I’ll want to put it down.  It’s an extraordinary experience on nearly every level.  This is the clear frontrunner for Game of the Year until Red Dead 2 comes out later this year, and the bar for RDR2 is very, very, very high.  I don’t really want to talk about it until I’m done with it; it needs its own post.  Just get it and play it and enjoy it and love it.  And also hug your children.

bloggin’

So this New Yorker article popped up in my Twitter feed and got me thinking about “the end of blogs”, although my perspective is much different than the essay’s author.  Her piece is about the failure of the blog (specifically The Hairpin and The Awl) to generate self-sustaining revenue, and as such, it is becoming more and more difficult for the most interesting writing on the internet to find a place to live.

Whereas I’ve never blogged for money, or exposure, or really for any other reason than I enjoyed keeping a diary, and was amused by the idea of making it public.  And LiveJournal was just getting underway right when I started feeling this way, and so since 2001 I’ve been blogging in one form or another.   I left LJ in 2009, moved to blogger for a little bit, and I’ve had 2 or 3 blogs here at WordPress, each with a different focus.  This one has become my default, though, and so it’s here where I’ve decided to post this.

I’ve never been under any illusions that my writing was worth anything.  I’ve said this before in other places but it bears repeating here:  I have something of a Salieri complex – I imagine myself a better writer than I know myself to be.  This used to bother me a great deal, but now I just accept it as fact, and in the meantime I try to get better when I can.  The beauty of blogging, though, was that it was never about how good you were as a writer; I was naturally drawn to good writers but I was more inclined to read about people with similar interests, similar senses of humor, similar points of reference, and who could write honestly about what they thought about.  I made friends through LJ, real friends, and it wasn’t bullshit; I still love those people, and even if our LJ community is gone, we’re still in each other’s social media bubbles, such as they are.

I guess the point is that the word “blog” means something much different to me than it does to other professional writers, and our purposes were never aligned, and yet the feel of a blog is still something necessary and vital.  For me, I find that the writing on the internet that I most enjoy has a personal feel to it, where it might be rough around the edges but it feels authentic because it’s not bullshit.  Its driving force is honesty, not cleverness.  I’ve always been envious of people who can be clever while also being honest, and lord knows I’ve tried to do that, too, though I’ve never been particularly successful at it.

In any event, this is going to be a more traditional blog entry for me, rather than what I usually post here.  Feel free to skip; or, alternately, feel free to keep reading.


I also felt compelled to write about blogging because the tweet directly following the New Yorker link was one of these personal list-type things – in fact, these were the sorts of things that I used to call “memes”, rather than whatever they are today.  I ‘m gonna do this one, here, because why not.  It’s been a while since I took any personal inventory out here in public, and the afternoon is a bit slow.

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1.  I have two Twitter handles, as it happens, but the primary one is @couchshouts, which I’d started in an attempt to boost this blog’s visibility (and also to keep my personal twitter feed and my videogame feed separate).  I’m sure the name explains itself.

2. Who inspires me?  Hmm.  This is a tricky one.  I guess the context matters; I have musical inspirations, writing inspirations, general “being a better person” inspirations.  I don’t honestly know if I can answer this one at this particular moment in time.  I could’ve answered it in college in about 10 seconds, but my life and my perspective have changed so radically since then that I can barely recognize my college-age self.  If I’m honest with myself, though, and ask myself who inspires me to be a better person?  Well, that’s my wife and my son.

3.  Do I care what others think about me?  Not nearly as much as I used to, because I’m not trying to impress anybody.

4.  What am I most looking forward to?  This one’s actually pretty easy – I can’t wait to see who my son turns into as he gets older.  He’s a super-sweet almost-5-year-old boy, but who he’s going to be at 8, 11, 14, 18… I can’t wait.  Even though I never want him to grow up.

5.  One life rule that I follow:  I alluded to this in the intro, and it’s something I’ve said a lot here and elsewhere, and it’s something that my high school English teacher said somewhat off-handedly, perhaps not realizing that he was about to drop a seismic charge on me:  it is better to be honest than clever.

6.  My dream job:  I would’ve loved to have been able to pay my bills through music.  And if I were me, now, but 25 years younger, I would’ve wanted to at least try to break into game journalism (especially since I could live on a shit salary back then).  I don’t have a dream job now; I just need something stable and secure and something I don’t need to take home with me when I leave.

7.  Which fictional character do I wish I could meet?  Hmm.  When I was younger I had developed a fierce crush on Becky Thatcher from the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer books, but it’s not like I would’ve known what to say or do with her.  Nowadays I suppose I’d be very interested in having an elegant luncheon with the titular character of “A Gentleman in Moscow.”

8. As a child, I wanted to be an actor.  I got lucky in that regard; I knew I wanted to act, and I was good enough at the time to get good enough parts to make me think that I could actually do it as a real job, and I got into college to study it, and then, of course, I gave up on it.

9.  If I were a cartoon character… I never watched enough cartoons to have a good answer.

10.  What skill would I like to master?  I wish I could draw.  Like, at all.  The best late-night stoned doodling I ever did was still just stick figures.

11.  In what situation would I feel most out of place?  Well, you’re talking to someone who still struggles mightily with social anxiety – who still takes half an Ativan just to leave the house in the morning – so you might say that I feel out of place every time I leave my house.

12.  An artist that I really like but rarely admit to liking?  Well, if you look at my answer to #3, I don’t really care what other people think.  My first answer would be Genesis, but I think I’ve talked about them a lot.  Can I say that there are a few songs on Pete Yorn’s first album that I still, to this day, adore tremendously?

13.  What gets me fired up?  There are several ways to interpret the context of this question.  Politically, my #1 hot-button issue is gun control.  But if I need to get super-excited about something in a hurry – like if I’m about to perform on stage – I’ll take a shot of ice-cold Jagermeister (don’t judge me).

14.  I am not a part of any fandoms that I’m aware of.  I am a 42 year old man.  I like what I like and I don’t need to commune with other people over that stuff the way that I used to.  If I really need to talk about something, chances are pretty good I’ll talk about it here.

15.  What do I do to get rid of stress?  Well… I play video games and listen to music and read books and also I smoke pot, often.

16.  The idea of this question is what caused me to have a very, very bad mushroom experience in college, and it’s why I have a hard time watching “Groundhog Day”.  But if I were to get stuck in a loop and relive one day over and over again, and I was able to not be freaked out, I’d pick a day early in my relationship with my wife, back when we were carefree and could sleep in and would spend whole days at a movie theater sneaking into other screenings and then having a lovely dinner.  Or, alternately, I’d pick a day from one of my childhood summers at a music camp in Maine, which were some of the best days I ever had.

17.  How quickly do I jump to conclusions about people?  Almost immediately.

18.  If I were a doll, what accessories would I be sold with?  A Kindle, a game controller, and a guitar.

19.  What have I done in my life that’s given me the most satisfaction?  The easy answer would be that I’ve married my best friend and we’ve had a wonderful kid together, but the more truthful answer is that I’ve done a ton of work to make myself a better person to better appreciate my relationships with my wife and kid, because for the longest time I was trapped by anxiety and bad stomachs and insecurity and everything else, and I’m not like that (that much) anymore.

20.  The worst thing to put in a pinata would have to be soiled diapers.

21.  The biggest waste of money I’ve ever seen is literally everything that Donald Trump has ever been a part of.

22.  A common misconception that I hate hearing repeated as fact is that Donald Trump cares about anything beyond himself.

23.  The best place to go to meet awesome people?  You’re asking the wrong person, dude.

24.  What food do I crave the most?  Well, let me tell you – I had to go on a gluten-free diet a few years ago and so even though the GF industry has taken great strides in recent years, I am sad that I will never get to experience a real NYC bagel ever again.

25.  I don’t care enough about TV to re-watch anything with any interest, although my wife and I do occasionally call up certain episodes of “Arrested Development” just because they’re so goddamned funny.

26.  Among my friends, what am I best known for?  I have literally no idea what my friends think of me, if they think of me at all.  I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way; I just mean that I have absolutely no idea what they think of me.

27.  Who of my friends is most like me?  Hmm.  Well, my wife is nothing like me but I’m positive that we can communicate telepathically; we finish each other’s sentences all the goddamned time – hell, we start each other’s sentences because we think the same way.

28.  The most traumatizing moment of my life?  Toss-up between my parents getting divorced, my aforementioned bad trip experience, and the breakup I had in early 2000 before I started dating my wife.

29.  The best lesson I’ve learned from a work of fiction?  Don’t eat mold.

30.  Something I’ll never do again?  Any drug harder than pot, that’s for sure.


I don’t watch Twitch streams and I don’t really listen to podcasts, but I had an idea for a Twitch stream wherein I’d play some sort of game that didn’t require sound, and then I’d put on my favorite songs from that week’s Spotify Discovery playlist and talk about why each song feels necessary.  But apparently this is an awful idea, already done to death by a billion obnoxious bros, and so I’m not gonna.


At some point I’ve gotta talk about the Aziz Ansari stuff, because of all the horror stories that have emerged since Harvey Weinstein, the Aziz story is the one that I recognize.  I don’t know that I was ever that forward with girls that I used to be with, but I know I was more forward than I should’ve been, most certainly ignoring signals that couldn’t have been more obvious, and I still feel disgusted with myself all these years later for not acknowledging them and backing off.  I owe a lot of people apologies for that.  (I have apologized to some of them over the years, and some of them have forgiven me, and some of them have used my apology as the basis for a stand-up routine literally a year after I originally emailed it, and it is what it is.)  My son and I will talk about this stuff as he gets older, and I will do my absolute best to make sure he doesn’t act the same way.  I’d like to think that he sees my relationship with his mom as a good place to start from; that’s all I can hope for, at any rate.

Turning Anxiety into Anger

1. What a difference a year makes, or, rather, the arbitrary decision that, beginning January 1, things will be different than they were on December 31.  In the grand scheme of things, the Earth still continues to revolve around the Sun, and the solar system continues to revolve around the Milky Way, and we are all just tiny creatures on a tiny ball hurtling through space.  BUT!  I find that I am no longer anxious about the world the way I was last year.  I am, instead, angry.  Pissed off.  Done.  No tolerance for bullshit anymore.  And it would appear that the rest of the country is with me.  I just watched Don Lemon (!) say the word “shithole” on CNN, and imply (without actually saying it) that Trump supporters and apologists should go fuck themselves.

I can’t remember if I offered up my final review of “Fire and Fury” – it wouldn’t differ that much with my earlier impression, that it’s a scathing and trashy read and while it may be impossible to prove that everything quoted in the book actually happened, nothing about it is surprising.  But I do agree with Drew Magary’s analysis:

I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House “concerned” about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.

Trump ascended into power in part because he relied on other people being too nice. It’s fun to rampage through the china shop when the china shop owner is standing over there being like, “SIR, that is not how we do things here!” If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring this asshole down – whether it’s Mueller, or whether it’s Trump himself just blurting out the “n-word” during a State of the Union address, or whatever – but I can feel that something is gonna happen, and soon.  This nonsense has gone on long enough.  I’m sick and tired of being anxious; nonstop anxiety attacks are exhausting and draining and I’m done with it.

2. Well, now that that’s out of the way:  is there a word for the feeling when one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book, and it’s even better than you’d hoped it would be?  All I’ll say is that I’m a little over halfway through Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” and it is kicking all sorts of ass.  It is scratching the same itch that David Mitchell novels do, especially as it has several layers of narratives all nestled within each other, creating a puzzle to be solved within a plot that is forever unfurling.

Hmm.  I thought I’d have more to say – and I probably do – but today’s actually kinda busy and I’ve lost my train of thought.  Happy weekend, everyone.

Stuffed and Bloated

My brain is full.  I don’t mean that in an “I’m so smart” sort of way, but rather that I feel unable to consume any more media.

As an example:  I finished reading Little, Big the other day, which I very much enjoyed even if it was somewhat exhausting – and which puts me at 46 books read in 2017 – and ever since I put it down, I’ve been unable to get into a new book for more than 15 minutes.  I started reading the first volume of Crowley’s Aegypt series, but couldn’t get into it.  I thought maybe I could start reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, except I realized I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first two books, and in the prologue he mentions a side-story that he published that takes place between volume 2 and 3, and I figured I might as well start over from the beginning.  One of my “to buy” books was suddenly on sale, but after only two chapters of The Essex Serpent my mind started to wander.   I figured why not go back to the classics and finally read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and while it’s fun to narrate that book in my head with a whiskeyed noir voice, I found myself getting confused by the plot almost immediately.  I think it’s my brain, not the book.  (I don’t necessarily need recommendations, either – I mean, my to-read list on my Kindle is almost 12 pages deep.)


I’m still undecided about doing my year-end recaps.  Several reasons for this:

  • I’m feeling very lazy;
  • I’m just busy enough at work to make the proper amount of concentration a bit dicey;
  • My music list, which should be the thing I pay the most attention to, is a complete mess;
  • All of my spreadsheets – with the exception of my books – are incomplete and I don’t know where to begin in terms of fixing them; and
  • Let’s be honest, the biggest reason why I’m avoiding this is because recapping 2017 just kinda sucks.  This year sucked.  My mom was in the hospital for at least half of it; the Trump administration gave me a low-to-mid-level anxiety attack pretty much every day of the year; and my general anxiety and depression levels have been starting to get a little out of whack, to the point where I’ve had to up my medication dosages.  I’ve basically taken a vacation from creativity; instead of making music and finishing this album, I’ve imbibed a little bit too much and eaten too much junk food.  I’ve spent way too much money, and I’m angry at myself for spending money, and I end up spending more money to make myself feel better.

So maybe I’ll just do quick Top 5 lists of the relevant stuff and then leave it at that.  That’s doable.


I finished Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and I enjoyed it very much – I’d put AC:O right up there alongside Brotherhood and Black Flag as a high point in the franchise – and now I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m sorta playing Wolfenstein 2, and I have to tell you – there’s a lot of discourse out there about whether it’s actually deserving of all the praise it initially received, and there’s some people who are skeptical about how the game was marketed – given that punching Nazis is cool again – but I haven’t really seen anybody talk about how batshit ridiculous the game can be.  I don’t know how far into the game I am yet but the stuff I’ve done – and the stuff that’s happened to me – and the places I’ve visited – are completely fucking insane, and keep in mind that in the first game you shot Nazis on the fucking Moon.  The stuff that’s happened to me already makes that sound tame by comparison.

My son and I finished Super Mario Odyssey, and we also finished Lego City Undercover, and that was maybe the most fun I’ve had playing games all year.  He loves it.  Every time we do something cool he gives me a big high-five and jumps up and down.  Now I just need to find something else for us to play; I have a few things lined up but to be honest he’s kinda content to keep going back into Lego City and mess around, which is fine with me.


My wife and I watched Dark on Netflix last week.  I’m the wrong guy to make a “Best TV of 2017” list, since I don’t watch all that much, but I loved it.  It’s gotten a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things, but I think that’s a bit off the mark – it’s more like a time-travelling art-house hybrid of LostTwin Peaks, and Hannibal.  If you decide to watch it – and I think you should – keep the audio in the original German and use English subtitles; the English overdubs are distracting.