free association

Sometimes I write here for you, whomever you might be.  I want to relate my experience playing a game or listening to music or reading a book, and maybe you’re experienced those things too, and so we can compare and contrast our separate experiences and sort of virtually pretend we did them together.

Sometimes I write here because I’m bored and have nothing else to do and so typing away at my desk makes me look busy.  This happens more often than not.

And sometimes – like now – I write here for me.  I have too many thoughts in my head and I need to get them out, and this is one of the only places I have, and whether or not you read this is immaterial.  Which is not to say that you reading this is irrelevant – I’m correcting typos and trying to make sure this is readable – but, well, look.  I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta figure out.


I’m stressed, man.  Depressed.  Mood swings all over the goddamned place.  My mom is back in the hospital less than 24 hours after getting released from the hospital, where she’d been for 3 weeks recovering from a broken pelvis – this would also be her 4th hospital stay this year, after a broken femur and a frightening bout of sepsis.  My dad and his family are in a somewhat hurricane-proof area of Jacksonville, Florida, preparing to receive whatever Irma has to dish out by the time it gets there.  I appear to have developed plantar fasciitis, which is a delightful perk of getting older and which makes walking around rather painful.  I’m stressed about money, which is a whole other thing that I’m not gonna get into right now.

Basically, what’s happening to the US right now – 2 major hurricanes, the west coast being on fire, and a steaming gold-plated turd in the White House hell-bent on making the worst possible decisions for no other reason than hating Obama – is a rather good approximation of what’s happening in my brain.


There’s some really good music out, at least.  Today sees the release of The National’s long-awaited new album, and Deerhoof have also released yet another brilliant collection.  The new LCD Soundsystem is hit-or-miss for me but it does contain the best lyrical couplet of the year (“You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete / and you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat”).  I haven’t even had time to process the new Iron & Wine or King Gizzard or The War on Drugs or Grizzly Bear or Everything Everything or Rainer Maria, because I’ve been too busy listening to my Discovery playlist.


I’m not sure if I’m going to see the new It movie.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Tim Curry TV series, as well.  Here’s the deal – It is, for me, the definitive Stephen King novel.  It’s the book I’ve probably read and re-read the most.  Other people prefer The Stand, or The Dark Tower, or whatever; It has always been the book for me.  It’s the reason why I’m attracted to big books.  One of the reasons why the book is so successful in instilling dread is specifically because of its heft; it literally weighs you down as you read it.  (Well, maybe not the Kindle version, but you get my meaning.)

I don’t need a movie version.  I don’t want a movie version.  The scene between Henry Bowers (the bully) and Patrick Hockstetter (the psychopath and arguably the single most creepy character in SK’s entire output) will always be more horrifying in my mind than it would be on screen – and considering what happens in that scene, I can’t possibly imagine it ever being filmed.

I suppose I’m glad to hear that the new movie is getting good reviews, but that doesn’t necessarily make me want to see it.  I’d rather just re-read it again.


Speaking of books, it’s been a while since I ran down what I’ve read.  I read Leigh Bardugo’s two Six of Crows books, which were great fun; I just finished the final installment in N.J. Jemisin’s Stone Sky series, which was astonishing.  I’ve started reading Bryant & May and the Burning Man, and I’m enjoying it even if I’m not 100% sure where it’s going.

I did complete my (admittedly low) Goodreads reading challenge, so I’m feeling a bit more relaxed in terms of what to take on next.  I think I need a break from trilogies and such; I could use just a one-off every now and then.


I wasn’t going to play Destiny 2, and yet, well, I bought it.  Of course I did.  I’m barely into it – indeed, I got stuck in a too-hard section and gave up last night – but it’s Destiny, all right.  Still arguably the best-feeling shooter I’ve played in a while, though I’m not necessarily the best authority on that front.

Do you ever have games stuck in the back of your mind?  I do.  For the longest time I had Max Payne 3 lodged in there, for reasons I can’t possibly begin to fathom; right now it’s a cross between Bioshock Infinite and 2016’s DOOM.  I don’t know what makes me think of them; they’re just there, like bits of a song that get looped in my brain.


OK, that’s enough yakkin’.  I gotta close up shop.  Have a good weekend.  Thanks for reading.  I think I feel better?  I think I feel better.

Good Things

Instead of being all sad and mopey and navel-gazing – AND BELIEVE ME YOU DON’T WANT ME TO GET INTO ANY OF THAT RIGHT NOW – I want to shine a light on some good things I’ve recently come across.  Ironically, a lot of the good things I want to share are kinda sad.  But, be that as it may, here goes:

1.  If you haven’t already seen it, Patti Smith’s tribute to Sam Shepard in the New Yorker is one of the best things you’ll read all year.  I’m going to be honest here and admit that I don’t know Patti’s music as well as I feel like I should.  But between this essay and her humbling, heartfelt performance of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony last December, I am now compelled to start reading her memoir, M Train, post-haste.

2.  Speaking of books, I just finished reading Killers of the Flower Moon, and while I wasn’t necessarily bowled over by the somewhat dry quality of the prose, the story of the Osage Murders and how they directly formed the foundation of the FBI as we currently know it is staggering.  I can’t believe I never knew about this.  This is a necessary, heartbreaking story and it’s unfathomable that nobody knows about it.  Indeed, if karma is in fact a real thing, then it’s entirely possible that the Trump Presidency is our karmic retribution for our utter annihilation of the Native American way of life.

I…. I think I’m getting woke.

francine-pascals-had-elizabeth-been-privileged-the-wokening-paperback-paradise-17911572

 

3.  Today’s song of the day du jour is “itsallwaves” by Enemies.

 

And while I’m at it, here’s a little playlist of some songs that I’ve been enjoying of late – most of them are from Spotify’s Discovery playlists, and others just kinda showed up.  At some point I’m going to write a huge thing about Louis Cole, who’s been blowing my mind ever since “Bank Account” went somewhat viral earlier this year – I’ve been digging into his catalog and I’m continually amazed at how incredibly versatile and restlessly creative he is.  And yes, that is a Coldplay song in there; believe me, nobody is more surprised that I’m recommending a Coldplay song than me.

 

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.

 

Moody in Manhattan

Serious, heavy-duty case of the Mondays going on here.  I came this close to taking a mental health day, except my son was also having a serious heavy-duty case of the Mondays, and if I can’t set a good example for him, then what am I even doing being a parent?  So here I am, twitchy and over-caffeinated, just trying to make it through the day, one endless hour at a time.

I have a bunch of random, scattered thoughts littering my head this morning, so, look out:

1. I don’t know what else to say about 45 other than I’m exhausted and feeling like I’m approaching some sort of breaking point, where I’m going to have to forcibly remove myself from the news in order to maintain some sort of equilibrium.  This quote from Josh Marshall says it a bit better:

The terror attack in London is not Donald Trump’s fault of course. But his response to it is hard to fathom even for him… Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s hard to fathom. It’s not even surprising. We’ve known and seen this withering deficit of shame and grace before when he tweeted out “appreciate the congrats” in response to the Orlando club massacre last year. I’m not even sure what the word is or if there is one. But the one I am struggling to find is the experience of not being remotely surprised by the President’s action and yet marveling that the expected action – or transgression in this case – has managed to find a new depth of awfulness to penetrate and explore.

Emphasis added.  I spent most of my therapy session this weekend trying to get this stuff off my chest.  A lot of my anxiety issues in my 20s and 30s – back when I was actively avoiding therapy and medication – were because I felt out of control, or that things were happening to me that I was unable to control, or simply that if I couldn’t exert some form of control over what was happening to me, then I was doomed.  I’ve gotten a lot better in the last few years with this; if things are out of my control, then I am (for the most part) able to accept that, and I can instead try to step back and be objective about whatever it is that’s bothering me and take stock of what I can control, and then deal with the rest when it finally happens.  The thing with Trump, though, is that it would appear that nobody can control the nonsense that flies out of his mouth or fingers, and his insanity will have a very real and tangible effect on my life and of my child’s life.  Every day it gets worse and worse and it feels like the worst kind of nightmare.  I do try my best to keep it together, and if nothing else I indulge in every form of self-care I can think of.  But as I said above, it’s exhausting.  I don’t know how this circus can continue.

2. You know what’s good?  Music is good.  I haven’t written about music in a while.  I haven’t written any music in a while, either, but that’s a different story.

I’ve been listening to music a lot lately – or, rather, I’ve been listening to music with great intensity lately.  The new remix of Sgt. Pepper?  Holy shit, it’s incredible.  (And I say this mostly through listening via Spotify on my shitty work headphones.)  If it’s not too much to ask, I’d very much love it if all of the pre-Abbey Road albums could get the same sort of 3-dimensional stereo support that this Sgt. Pepper album got, because it’s amazing.

Sgt. Pepper isn’t my favorite Beatles record – that distinction gets tossed around between Abbey Road, Revolver and The White Album, and I must confess that Magical Mystery Tour is up there, too – but there’s also a mythic quality to Sgt. Pepper that those other albums simply don’t have.  When I think of my favorite Beatles songs, I tend to gloss over the Sgt. Pepper album just because they all feel connected in a way that the rest of their catalog doesn’t.  But goddamn, this remix makes it feel vital in a way that it simply never has before.  “Getting Better”, in particular, is staggering to behold – I don’t think I’d ever appreciated just how magnificent the arrangement of that song is.  One can start to see, now, how mind-blowing Sgt. Pepper must have sounded when it was first released.

Another album that is also blowing my mind, in a completely different way, is Elder’s “Reflections of a Floating World.”  I’d never heard of these guys before last week, and I acknowledge that they’re a bit more on the heavy stoner-metal side of things than what I normally listen to, but whatever – it’s awesome.  Listen to “The Falling Veil”, if nothing else.

3. E3 2017 is next week and I am surprisingly apathetic about it.  This may simply be because I expect that most of what will be announced will be stuff that isn’t coming out until 2018 at the earliest.  Indeed, a lot of the most exciting-sounding stuff from last year’s E3 was for games that still haven’t come out yet.  I may or may not live-tweet the press conferences; I’m not really sure I have the energy to sit through everything.  I don’t even really know what it is that I’d like to hear, beyond a reasonable price for Project Scorpio (and that Scorpio will improve performance to existing Xbox One games the way that the PS4 Pro does for PS4 games).  That’s really all I’m hoping for.  I’d like PSVR to get some new stuff, too, though I’m not necessarily holding my breath.

OK, it’s lunch time.

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)

The Year That Was: 2016

Ugh.

I just don’t have it in me, you guys.  It was all I could do to recover from George Michael, and then it was Carrie Fisher.  And these celebrity deaths, while temporarily distracting, still can’t thwart the nightmare that is the impending Trump presidency.

And yet:  all things considered, 2016 wasn’t that terrible for me, personally speaking.  Yes, I am a bit more in debt than I’d like to be, and I’ve put on a few pounds (the “Suburban 15”, as I’m calling them).  But life in the ‘burbs is quite nice, and my kid loves it there, and my wife and I are as happy together as we’ve ever been.  My office moved downtown which makes my commute a thousand times easier (even if it makes the rest of Manhattan a bit less accessible); and my day job itself is a thousand times less stressful (for a variety of reasons that I can’t get into in this space).  If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t finish my album.  At some point I will have to figure out how to get into a creative routine.  But that’s for another post (or blog, possibly).


As per usual, I can’t crown a Best Film, because I hardly saw anything beyond the big blockbusters that lingered in theaters long after their opening weekends.  I can say that Dr. Strange, while not my favorite Marvel movie, is certainly the most spectacular 3D experience I’ve ever had this side of Avatar, if only because 3D filmmakers have finally figured out that interior depth is more intriguing than random shit flying into your face.  Rogue One is terrific enough to seriously upend my wife’s desired viewing order for our son, when he’s old enough to start watching Star Wars.  Hell or High Water was great – and did quite a lot to show a side of America that us liberal elites in our cultural bubbles don’t often get to see.  I have not yet seen Arrival (though I did read the short story it’s based on); nor have I seen Moonlight or La La Land or any of the other likely Best Picture nominees.


I listened to a ton of terrific music this year, and for that I have Spotify’s Discovery Playlist to thank.  I have a lot of issues with internet-based algorithms, especially as the ones on social media tend to ignore the concept of linear time, but Spotify knows what I like and gives me a lot of it.  I don’t know if I could properly order a Top 10 list of albums, but I know they’d include A Tribe Called Quest‘s “We Got It From Here…”, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s “Nonagon Infinity”, Steve Gunn‘s “Eyes on the Lines”.  I have custom playlists for my Favorite Songs of 2016, my Favorite Songs from The Discovery Playlist, and I also have Spotify’s curated Top 100 Songs which is a pleasing mix of both of the above, plus a few songs we listened to in the car that my son likes.


As for books:  I did read quite a lot this year, though as said elsewhere in this blog I feel that the number of books doesn’t reflect their inherent quality; I read a lot of short genre fiction because I was feeling pressured to hit my Goodreads number, and so while I enjoyed a lot of what I read, I don’t know that I read good stuff.  I’m not going to be doing a Favorite Sentences of 2016 post, in other words, because page-turners don’t often include beautiful turns of phrase.  That said, I’m looking at my spreadsheet, and I gave high marks to a rather fair amount of stuff.  The best of the best would include:

  • John Wray, The Lost Time Accidents
  • Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Daniel O’Malley, Stilleto
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World And Me
  • Paul Tremblay, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
  • Ted ChiangStories of Your Life
  • Nathan Hill, The Nix
  • Tana French, The Trespasser
  • J.M.R. Higgs, K.L.F.: Chaos Magic Music Money
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate

Special credit to Drew Magary’s The Hike, which was an enjoyable enough read but whose last 2 pages provided one of the most stunning endings to a book I’ve ever read in my life.


And as for games:  boy oh boy, I have no idea how to write about this year.  I felt relatively unengaged with what I played throughout most of it – even as I finished a lot more games than usual – and then, probably brought on by a big of self-directed depression around my birthday in early December, I went on (and am still somewhat in the middle of) a gigantic spending spree primarily in an effort to boost my Xbox Achievement score past 100K.  The difference in my gaming attitude before this spree and after cannot be overstated.  I stopped keeping track of it in my spreadsheet, because it simply became too much to handle.

I don’t even know how to break this down, but here goes.  I’m going to separate the games I finished from those I did not, and I’ll leave some room at the end for all the shit I accumulated in December that I simply haven’t had time to finish/start/digest.

GAMES LEFT UNFINISHED, in roughly chronological order:

  • The Witness (ps4) – I’m just not smart enough to get very far into it.
  • Klaus (ps4) – I bought this because of a Kotaku recommendation, I think, and never got past the 2nd or 3rd level.
  • Broforce (ps4) – picked this up as a PS+ freebie and couldn’t make it past the first level.
  • Far Cry Primal (ps4/xb1) – I’d rented this earlier in the year and found it intriguing but also wishing it was freed from having to be a “Far Cry” game; then it was on sale for Xbox for a stupidly-low price and I decided to give it another shot.  It’s pretty good!  Still working my way through it.  I should also add that I also bought Far Cry 4 at the same time, also on Xbox, and I like that game a lot better the 2nd time around than I originally did.
  • Hitman (xb1) – I have played the first episode and liked what I played, but haven’t gone back to it at all since then.  I should also note that I finished the first episode with a walkthrough, because that is the only way I can play Hitman games.
  • Unravel (xb1) – a very charming but also fiendishly difficult platformer that became frustrating.  My kid loves watching it, though.
  • Ori Blind Forest DE (xb1) – I have every intention of finishing this at some point; I think I put it down right only because a bunch of stuff that will appear in the next category suddenly showed up.
  • Dirt Rally (ps4) – I love the Dirt games; it might very well be my 2nd favorite racing franchise behind Forza Horizon.  But this one did absolutely nothing for me, and I’m not even sure I finished the very first race.
  • Dangerous Golf (xb1) – possibly the most disappointing game I played this year, if only because it’s made by ex-Burnout people and there was a lot of fun potential.  The game simply feels like an unfinished and unpolished tech demo, with endless loading screens and finicky controls and cameras.
  • The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – possibly my greatest regret of the year, that I haven’t finished this.  I actually went out and bought the complete Witcher 3 on Xbox One (even though I already own it on PS4) just so that I could replay the entire game again and then approach this specific bit of DLC with a fully-levelled and customized Geralt.
  • Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst –  I rented this on PS4 and found it dull and inspired; I downloaded it for free on XB1 and am willing to give it a few minutes here and there.
  • The Magic Circle – I’d heard interesting things about this when it came out for PC; the xbox port is kinda shitty and I lost interest.
  • Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens – this might very well be the last Lego game I attempt to play, sadly, at least until my kid is old enough to play without assistance.  I’m getting very tired of how broken these games are, always in the same ways.
  • I am Sestuna (ps4) – I would’ve played this more, I bet, if there’d been a Vita port.
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – I made it almost to the end before realizing that I had to make a decision that I couldn’t have cared less about.  I think I want to give it another shot, though.
  • The Turing Test – I made it pretty far into this one before hitting the proverbial wall, sadly.  A pretty good puzzler, though, even if the narrative flails a bit.
  • Gears of War 4
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Mafia 3
  • Battlefield 1
  • XCOM 2
  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Dishonored 2
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Steep
  • The Last Guardian
  • Stardew Valley
  • Dead Rising 4

That last bunch is all stuff that seemed to piled up all at the same time, most of which I’m still poking around with.  (I did send Dead Rising 4 back, though, because I don’t give enough of a shit.)  I’m not far enough into any of them to feel comfortable giving them a review, though I have every intention of giving all of them a fair shot.

I should note here that I still do not own a Playstation VR, and I’ve been checking every major retailer’s site at least once every few hours.  I need it.

I should also note that I did rent but did not enjoy Overwatch, and I will also note that my lack of enjoyment is simply a matter of personal taste – I suck at team-based multiplayer shooters, and I have no desire to learn how to play them better, and it is what it is.  I gather that it’s at the top of the lists for most other critics, and that’s fine.

GAMES THAT I DID ACTUALLY FINISH, also in roughly chronological order, including my informal scores from the spreadsheet:

  • Lego Marvel Avengers: C+
  • Firewatch: B+, and it’s only grown on me since I finished it
  • Superhot: B, and I would LOVE to play this again in VR
  • The Division: B, and I liked it a lot better than I expected to.  Never got into the PvP stuff, but that’s par for the course around here.
  • Quantum Break: C, the perfect justification for having a Gamefly account.  Spectacular to look at, and some of the time manipulation stuff is actually quite fun, but the overall experience was dreadfully shallow, the TV show half of the thing was super-dumb, and the final boss battle is one of the most frustrating I’ve played in years.
  • Ratchet and Clank: C-
  • Uncharted 4: A.  I understand there’s something of a critical backlash about this game at the moment, but I think that’s kinda shitty; I had a blast with this game, and if this is indeed Naughty Dog’s last run with it, they left on a very high note.
  • Doom: A.  I’ll confess that I finished this on easy mode, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of it one bit; I want to go back and play it on every difficulty, all the time.  This one’s stuck with me much more than I expected it to.
  • Trials of the Blood Dragon: C+.  I like the Trials games quite a lot, but the on-foot stuff was super dumb and broken and the whole thing felt rather uninspired.
  • INSIDE: A-/B+.  I gave this high marks after I finished it, but as time goes on I find the ending more and more… dumb.  That said, it’s still an engrossing experience, and one of the more engaging games I played all year.
  • Headlander: B.  Loved this game, and I should get back to it and try to 100% it (I’m currently at 88%).
  • ABZU: ?  I don’t know how to grade this.  I was not as smitten with it as I’d thought I’d be, nor did I find it as gorgeous as other people did.
  • Valley: B-.  There was an onslaught of intriguing indie games this summer, as you can see, and this one had some positive word-of-mouth.  It was… OK.
  • Picross 3D Round 2: A+, and one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played.  Has to be in my top 3 for the year; I couldn’t put my 3DS down for the entire time I was playing it.
  • Virginia: ?  I suspect I’ll need to replay this again and see if anything changes.
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: B.  The grade is just for the campaign, of course, because that’s all I care about, and I’ll be goddamned if this isn’t one of the most fun Call of Duty games I’ve played since, well, Modern Warfare.  Had a blast with this, although it’s overshadowed by…
  • Titanfall 2: B+, and this would be the shooter of the year if not for Doom.  Hell, I might have to replay them both and see if this one gets the nod.

NOTABLE iOS GAMES:

  • Swapperoo
  • Train Conductor World
  • Solitarica
  • Reigns
  • Mini Metro
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Loop Mania
  • Sky Force Reloaded
  • Microsoft Solitaire (yes, really)

everyone has to start somewhere

As the oldest child and the son of two classical musicians, I didn’t get a lot of exposure to rock music.  My first exposure to Bob Dylan was, in all likelihood, Edie Brickell’s cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, from the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack – a movie I don’t think I’ve ever seen, actually.  (My second exposure to Dylan was most likely PJ Harvey’s overlooked cover of “Highway 61 Revisited“, and then there was whatever bullshit U2 did on Rattle and Hum, and then Hendrix, and then finally Dylan himself.)

I happened to hear Edie’s cover on the radio, back in those endless teen-aged days when I would carve out weekend afternoons specifically to tape songs onto my boombox, and it floored me.  That waltzing rhythm, that suspended chord with the bass staying on the root, the slow build in the devastating final verse; it all killed me.  Plus, I must admit that I had a bit of a crush on Edie back in the day, and this might’ve been the last “big” song she had before she and the Bohemians parted ways and she shacked up with Paul Simon.

And so anyway, when it emerged that Patti Smith sang the same song at Dylan’s Nobel ceremony, and fucking killed it – even in spite of a hiccup here or there, which, let’s be honest, would happen to anyone in that situation – it made my heart happy in a very specific and meaningful way.

I won’t pretend to know Dylan’s discography as well as I should – I have my favorite albums, and I have my favorite songs from those albums, as well as alternative versions not formally recorded, but there are large gaps that I suspect I’ll never get to – but in any event, this particular song has a special place in my heart if only because it was the first Dylan song that personally affected me, that made me say, holy shit, I get it, I should probably buy some of his albums.

And let me say, again, that Patti’s version is just straight-up astounding.  And the song is arguably even more resonant right now than ever before.

 

the dummy

So I am a dumb-dumb.

I’ve been complaining for months now that I haven’t been able to get to any of the Witcher 3 DLC, because I started a New Game + and need to be at least level 60 in order to start the last episode, Hearts of Stone.  And even though I’d downloaded the newest installment yesterday morning before leaving for work, it didn’t appear to be available when I started my NG+ save.

So I decided to back out, close out, and see about starting a New Game from scratch.  And lo and behold, there’s an option to play just the DLC (as well as any non-main-storyline quests) as a level 32 character, with properly leveled equipment.

I could’ve been playing the DLC this whole time, in other words, except I didn’t realize it was an option.  Or maybe I did, but ignored it (and then forgot about it), figuring I’d want to get there on my own via NG+ and such.

Unlike other RPGs where I’d find myself attached to my specific character build, Geralt is such a well-defined character in his own right that it seems completely unnecessary to bring my previous hundreds of hours along with him for a stand-alone adventure.  I’m certainly not attached to any of my weaponry or armor, and I have to figure that the DLC content would drop new stuff soon enough anyway.

So, as I said before, I’m a dumb-dumb.  I’ll be playing the Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine DLCs now, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.


I don’t write about music nearly enough on this blog, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my current front-runner for Album of the Year: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s ridiculously awesome “Nonagon Infinity”.  One of their songs had shown up in my Spotify Discovery playlist a few weeks back and I’d thought it pretty good, and for whatever reason I decided to give the rest of the album a listen, and NOW I CAN’T STOP.  Which is helpful, because the album is designed to be listened to on repeat – the last song leads directly into the opening seconds of the first song.  The whole thing kicks a tremendous amount of ass and now I’m finding myself falling down a garage-rock-psychedelic-prog rabbit hole; I’ll be listening to this and Thee Oh Sees for the next month, at least.



I’m about 2/3rds of the way through Justin Cronin’s “The City of Mirrors”, aka the final installment in the Passage trilogy, and it’s… hmm.  I’m enjoying it very much, though it’s paced a little too deliberately – there’s lots of short chapters with cliffhanger endings.  I appreciate that he’s trying to build momentum and tension, but it feels a little artificial to me.

On the other hand, it’s very interesting to see earlier events from the previous books told through different points of view – my favorite sequence in the entire trilogy, Amy’s visit to the zoo (from the first book), is now seen through Amy’s own POV, which adds an illuminating layer of intrigue to an already spectacular set-piece.  And there’s also a very long sequence detailing Subject Zero’s personal history, which contains some of the best pure writing in the whole series.

Obviously, if you’ve read the first two, you’re probably already reading this one.  I’ll be looking forward to talking it over with people once I finish.

Civil War! Radiohead!

Here’s hoping you all had as lovely a weekend as I did.

First thing’s first:  normally I’m very late to the party when it comes to seeing big blockbuster movies in a timely fashion.  I spent 20 years dealing with the insanity of seeing big movies on opening weekend in NYC, a process that, among other things, entailed getting to the theater at least 90 minutes before showtime to ensure getting even a halfway decent seat, and this eventually wore on my nerves.  So between that and our weird reluctance to hire a babysitter, my wife and I don’t often get to go to the movies together, and certainly not for big big movies like Captain America: Civil War.  (Or, for that matter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My wife and I both saw it separately, and it wasn’t until the movie had been out for several weeks that we were able to see it together.)

But somehow we were able to see it yesterday.

I don’t know how valuable my opinion is when it comes to evaluating Marvel movies.  I’m not a comic book guy, and so my primary exposure to anything involving superheroes is through film – and film will always be different than the source material.  My wife, on the other hand, is a Marvel girl through-and-through, and she devoured the Civil War run when it was in print – indeed, I think the primary reason she was excited about the idea of an Avengers movie in the first place is that it might eventually lead to a film of the Civil War.

My understanding is that the film’s Civil War and the comic book run couldn’t be more different, even if they had a number of common similarities.  Obviously, the comic wasn’t constrained by all the various legal issues that have split up the various Marvel franchises among rival film studios – my wife is an X-Men fan, and so their absence in this Captain America film is rather strongly felt.  The comic was also, if I understand it correctly, spread out over a long-ish period of time; the movie, on the other hand, appears to take place within a 72-hour period, and the one big superhero battle is rather self-contained, all things considered.  It’s more of a grudge match than a capital-W War, like when a fight breaks out between teammates on the bench during a baseball game.

But this is all besides the point; I didn’t read the comics, so it makes no sense for me to look at it from that perspective.  As far as the films themselves, I’ve enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part; some films work better than others, to be sure, but all the heroes are well cast and the films possess a buoyant energy – far more so than the DC films.*

Anyway:  of all the MCU films, this Civil War film is almost certainly the best one.  For an ensemble action movie – with an absolutely gigantic ensemble – it’s remarkable how well-paced it is, how every character gets enough space to have their requisite emotional beats, and especially how both Captain America and Iron Man have compelling and valid points of view.

And the action sequences are similarly remarkably well-framed.  Unlike other recent action movies I could name, you can always tell what’s going on, who’s punching who, and there’s none of the motion sickness that seems to be part and parcel with these sorts of set pieces.  There’s one chase sequence in particular involving Winter Soldier, Black Panther and Captain America that is absolutely fantastic, specifically because the stuntwork is excellent and is shot in such a way that you can actually see what the hell is going on.  (The shot of Winter Soldier grabbing the motorcycle is arguably the most exciting shot in the entirety of the MCU thus far.)

It’s been noted by better critics than me that if this movie has one downside, it’s that the villain isn’t particularly memorable, and also that the movie makes up for this by not really needing a villain in the first place.  The Cap’n and Iron Man have been getting under each other’s skin for several films by now, and this film’s conflict is less about current ideological differences and more about, as Tony Stark says, simply “wanting to punch you in your perfect teeth.”

I want to say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything; I just hope I get another chance to see it on the big screen before too long.

*  *  *

The other big cultural event of the weekend: the new Radiohead album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, was released on Sunday.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until late last night, and even then I was being an idiot and struggling with the admittedly ridiculous decision as to how I should get it – iTunes? Amazon mp3? or hope for it to appear on Spotify before too long?

I’ll need a few dozen more listens before I can write about it with any authority, of course.  But even just on first glance it’s clear that this is a gorgeous album, with haunting melodies and Jonny Greenwood’s otherworldly string arrangements doing freakish things to my brain.  The thing about Radiohead albums – for me, at any rate – is that the production is always interesting, even on their lesser tunes, and on this album there are some rather startling and intimate sounds; the ones that got me in particular are how you can hear the piano’s hammers strike each string, as if the microphone was placed an inch away from the piano’s heart.  (I’m reminded of a Flaming Lips lyric – each press of a piano key is like “the softest bullet ever shot”).

It’s perhaps not the grand return to form I might’ve hoped for after the rather limp King of Limbs – I can’t help but wish there were a few more uptempo songs, though I feel certain that “Ful Stop” will absolutely destroy in a live setting – but this is definitely an improvement.  It’s hard to know what I expect from a Radiohead album anymore; the 1-2 knockout punches of OK Computer and Kid A will probably cloud everyone’s judgement on that score, not just mine.  But in terms of pure sonic beauty, this one’s a keeper.

*  *  *

Nothing to report on the games front; my digital copy of Uncharted 4 is already pre-loaded and that’s pretty much where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.

As for books – I finished re-reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage and am about halfway through my re-read of The Twelve, all so that I can get caught up for The City of Mirrors, which comes out in 2 weeks.  Those books are still great!


* I still wish that Edgar Wright had been allowed to make the Ant-Man film that he wanted to make; I bet it would’ve been spectacular.  But I suspect that his directorial vision would’ve been too idiosyncratic with the rest of the MCU; the final film feels constrained and reigned in, and it’s not nearly as joyous and charming as it wants to be.

 

Weekend Recap: Fare Thee Well

1. I am a few years late to finally seeing Inside Llewyn Davis, I know, but these things happen sometimes.  I’m a much bigger Coen Bros. fan than my wife, who is actually somewhat turned off by their films; we’ve discussed this at length and at the end of the day it simply is what it is.  As for the film itself, well, obviously the music is fantastic and the acting is wonderful and the cinematography is impeccable… but the movie also fell a little flat for me; I couldn’t figure out what the movie’s purpose seemed to be.  The AV Club used to have this feature called Justify Your Existence where they asked musicians to explain why anybody should listen to their record; I would ask the Coen Brothers the same question with regard to this one.  Did they want to make a road movie that doesn’t really go anywhere, and indeed ends up ending the same way it starts?  Unlike other films of theirs, I simply couldn’t figure out what it was I was supposed to feel, beyond that Oscar Isaac’s character does in fact deserve to get the shit kicked out of him at the beginning/end.  Of course, as with most Coen films, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since we watched it, and I’ve also been unable to get this song out of my head.  The way they sing the word “Fare” over that suspended chord in the chorus fucking kills me.

2.  This was a busy weekend, as it turned out; a good weekend – multiple trips to parks, a fun visit to the local zoo with some dear friends, and the knowledge that there would be no transit strike after all – tempered by our first homeowner’s nightmare, a small leak in the basement that necessitated a plumber’s visit.  This meant that I ended up staying home yesterday anyway, and so I was able to finally dive into The Division.

Actually, before I talk about that, I also just want to say that since I was home alone yesterday, I decided to bring my PS4 up from the basement and into the living room, where I could hook it up to our surround sound speakers.  And this should go without saying, but playing a game in surround sound is a completely different experience.  I can’t believe I’ve been so careless about my gaming audio after all these years.  I kinda want to play Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption again through those speakers, which already had some of the best sound design I can recall in recent years; I don’t necessarily need a 3DTV, but I do need surround sound and I need it right away.  (I’m honestly tempted to buy a second system for the basement, that’s how eye-opening it was.)

Anyway, so with regards to The Division:  I’m currently just over level 9, I think; I’ve unlocked all three wings of my main base of operations, and I’ve got some pretty good gear, and even playing solo I’ve been able to take down pretty much every mission I’ve come across without dying.

Every preview/review that’s come out so far has referred to The Division as Ubisoft’s answer to Bungie’s Destiny – an online-only, co-op friendly, shooter/RPG hybrid.  Which is absolutely fair, and I suppose this comparison will be mostly borne out in the level-cap endgame.  I don’t know that I’m going to stick around for that endgame, though, because I’m not terribly big on PvP (especially since The Division’s endgame is currently very much a work in progress).  I didn’t stick around for Destiny, either.

Comparisons to Destiny aside, I continue to feel that The Division reminds me more of Mass Effect, especially ME3.  The meat of the gameplay – the cover-based shooting – is actually quite solid and engaging, and even if the firefights still feel very same-y after a while, they’re also still satisfying (at least at this early stage).  I’m also far more inclined to simply wander around NYC, looking for hidden collectibles and materials and treasure chests and such; the city doesn’t necessarily feel like New York to me, but in and of itself it’s a very cool place to explore, and I’ve been content to simply turn my waypoints off and poke my way through alleys and open doors (which is where a lot of those collectibles end up being hidden).

I’m enjoying it, is what I’m trying to say, and I suspect I’ll enjoy it even more once I try it in co-op.  I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to grind out the endgame stuff, which is also why I haven’t bought my rental copy just yet, but for the time being I’m enjoying the game a lot more than I expected to.  The beta wasn’t a fluke.

3. To that last point – I’m not pre-ordering games this year.  I believe this was one of my new year’s resolutions, and here we are in March and I’ve actually stuck to it without realizing it.

I have a Gamefly account and last year I barely used it; all the games I’d rented were games that I was only merely curious about, and nearly everything I rented I ended up sending back within a few days, if not the same day.  This year, though, I’m adamant about not ripping myself off; I have the rental account, now I’m going to use it.  As an example, I rented Far Cry Primal, and after around 12 hours I think I’m starting to get a bit fatigued with it.  (That being said, it bears mentioning once again that experiencing that game with surround sound is something I wish I’d tried earlier; the sound design is far better than I’d initially given it credit for, and the experience of stalking prey through the forest is completely different when you can hear the forest around you.)

When I look at this year’s slate of upcoming releases, I’m hardpressed to think of anything that I absolutely have to own, no questions asked.  In fact, there’s only two games that I can think of that I would immediately pre-order purely out of reflex, and neither of them officially exist (yet) – Portal 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2.  I don’t know if this is simply me being a more discerning consumer, or if I’m just not looking forward to 2016’s slate, or what, but it is what it is.

%d bloggers like this: