Category: weekend recap

Weekend Recap: Staking My Claim

I feel like too much of my idle time is spent being annoyed with social media.  It’s impossible to quit, even if the recent Facebook privacy bullshit makes my blood boil.  And I’m getting bored of myself telling everyone I’m taking a break.   There’s nothing more annoying than logging into Facebook with the sole express purpose of telling everyone that I’m taking a Facebook break, especially since my “breaks” tend to last about 45 minutes.

So, then, I think I’ve finally started to get a handle on how I want to deal with social media.  Which is to say:  I’m gonna start posting here more often (or, at least, as often as I can), and probably only here; this blog gets pushed to my FB and Twitter and Tumblr (which I think I still have?), and so I won’t necessarily vanish, but that’s gonna be about it.

So it’s gonna get a bit more LiveJournal-y around here, is what I’m trying to say.  Be warned.


So the boy turned 5 on March 31st, and then he promptly had the flu for the next 5 days, and so last week kinda just fell apart.  Both my wife and I had been teetering on the edge of coming down with it, too, though I think it’s over now.  His fifth trip around the Sun can only get better from here, right?  Let’s hope.


Now that the basement is back – and better than ever – I’ve been rearranging my music area.  The big news is that I’m getting a brand-new iMac delivered next week, while I’m home on a mini-staycation.  This means that, at long last, I can finally start getting back to work in earnest.

I’ve been re-listening to the stuff I recorded back in 2015, when this album was really getting started (gasp – has it really been three years already?), and while some of it has gone a bit stale, I’m still really happy with quite a lot of it.  And so to be able to return to it with working equipment and a fresh attitude in a really pleasant environment is basically a dream come true.  This is all I’ve wanted since we moved out to the ‘burbs in the first place.  Believe me, I will be Instagramming the shit out of my work space once the computer is set up and ready to go.

I can’t begin to tell you guys how often I’ve considered giving up and just throwing the demos up on Soundcloud or whatever.  I’m really happy with this stuff but I’ve been so frustrated in my inability to finish it, whether it’s making the formal transition from demo to actual recording, in a real studio with real musicians and a real engineer, or even just finishing one (1) goddamned set of lyrics that don’t make me gag.  I don’t think I can afford to bring a full band into the picture, but ideally I’d like to send my finished tracks to a producer I know for a proper mix – I may have to raise some funds for that, but we’ll get there when we get there.  The point is – it’s been three years since I started this thing, and I still like it.  So I’m gonna get it out there.


In the course of getting my workspace set up, I stumbled across some hilarious photos/headshots that must’ve been taken in the late 90s, and MAN.  I have some thoughts.

So there’s a couple things to point out here.

  1. As I’ve probably mentioned here, this album that I’m working on is inspired by a somewhat traumatic re-read of my college and post-college diaries.  And those photos that you see here are, in fact, from that very same time period.  All the neurotic insanity that I was scribbling down on a super-shitty word processor was coming out of the dude in the photos above.  This is hilarious.
  2. I keep joking that it’s only taken me 42 years to finally figure out my look, but it’s absolutely goddamned true.  The doofus in the pictures above had absolutely no idea how to look good.  I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and clothes and outward presentation until very, very recently, and it’s weird to see these photos and barely recognize myself in them.
  3. I’ve spent most of my last few years of therapy sessions talking about this period of my life (1993-1999), because it’s where, for lack of a better term, the most stuff happened to me.  The best stuff, the worst stuff, the most inane stuff, the weirdest stuff, the scariest stuff, the most heartbreaking stuff.   (My life before college was tumultuous, as is everyone’s, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy, and it’s been relatively drama-free since 2000, when I met the woman who would become my wife.)  And it just kills me to think that during this era, I looked like that.

*sigh*


Not much to report on the book front.  I’ve been re-reading the first two books of Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series because I haven’t yet read the third, and even though I like them they get a bit long.  You’d think that I’d be able to re-read these books a bit faster, since I’ve already read them, but instead I’m kinda just putting it off altogether.  It is what it is.


Finally, a few words about Far Cry 5.

I’m around 22 hours into the campaign; I’ve beaten 1 of the 3 sub-bosses, but I’m mostly just screwing around with the world itself and doing everything I can to avoid actually dealing with the story.  This is one of the few times where I’m actually quite grateful that this open world is so stuffed with things to do, because it makes the avoidance of the narrative that much easier to handle.  So while I’m only a third of the way into the campaign, I’ve found dozens of underground bunkers and collectible items and weird side missions, and that shit is great!  So much fun.

But my god, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so compelled to keep playing a game that is so unrelenting in its narrative awfulness.  There’s so many other directions this game could have gone, and it annoys me to no end that they went in this particular direction instead.  To be fair, it definitely has that “over-the-top” Far Cry vibe, but it’s not rooted in anything that is relevant to this moment in time, which is frustrating if only because it has so many relevant things in it.   (There is a side mission that involves you recovering what could only be “the pee tape”, though why it’s in a cult outpost in rural Montana instead of a Russian hard drive in a well-protected safehouse is… well, who knows.)

Whatever; this is the game we’ve got.  Being angry at it because it’s not telling the story I’d like it to tell isn’t fair.  And yet to take it on its own terms is madness.  Nothing about the story makes any sense.  Nothing about this fictionalized Montana, where literally everyone who isn’t a cult member has a stash of heavy weaponry and an underground bunker and yet are wildly impotent in the face of danger, makes any sense.  Any activity that requires talking to a non-player character is frustrating and awful and ridiculous.

AND YET IT’S SO PRETTY AND THE NON-LINEAR STUFF IS SO GOOD.

There are two somewhat spoiler-heavy articles that I’ve read recently that articulate my problems with the game better than I ever could.  And honestly, now that I’ve had the ending spoiled for me, I feel a little better in how I approach the game in the first place.  Anyway, if you’d like to know what I’m dealing with, and you don’t mind INCREDIBLY MAJOR SPOILERS, I heartily encourage you to read the following:

Weekend Recap: Books, Debt, Pause

You ever have one of those weeks where you keep thinking that you have stuff to talk about, but then you start writing it down and none of it seems particularly interesting or important?  That’s where I was last week.  That’s sorta where I still am this week, but the day job is slow at the moment and I need to look busy.  So here we go.


I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to my almost-five-year-old (!) son last week.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and it’s one of the two books that I’d been looking forward to reading to him pretty much since he was born – every once in a while he’ll ask me to read “The Monster At The End Of This Book”, but Grover doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to me.  In any event, we made it through a chapter and a half before he started losing interest, and rather than force it on him, I figure it’s probably best if we put it to the side, and then he can get back to it when he’s ready.


Speaking of books, I’ve been on a tear of late.  The last book I’d mentioned in these pages was Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”.  Since then, I finally finished Zachary Mason’s “Void Star” (interesting premise, though the writing is almost too flowery and obtuse), Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” (which is as magnificent as everyone says, and which I vastly preferred over “The Goldfinch”), and now I’m catching up on some early George Saunders work – “In Persuasion Nation”, which is brilliant, and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”, which is equally brilliant.  I’d never particularly cared for short stories one way or the other – I generally always preferred getting sucked into a very very long novel rather than a short vignette – but what he does with the form is nothing short of revelatory.  And quite frankly, he’s a lot more sci-fi than most people tend to acknowledge – a lot of his stories read like Black Mirror episodes if they were allowed to be absurd, rather than just purely filled with technological dread.


I think I’d mentioned a few weeks back that the wife and I were determined to get back into our respective creative gears this year.  For me, this feels a bit more daunting than it should, because my laptop is running on fumes at this point and buying a new computer is just too goddamned much for me right now, what with credit card debt and the mortgage and car payments and day care and etc.  And yet, if I ever hope to make any money from making music, I need a new computer.  I did end up buying a new input box, but I’m so afraid of it not working that I haven’t yet attempted to hook it up.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.  Back in high school, I was writing music all day; I still have a notebook filled with at least 200+ songs with charts and lyrics and melodies and arrangements and such.  But I never recorded them, beyond sitting in front of a boombox and recording a sketch to show the band.  Eventually I bought a four-track, and that was also just used for sketches (and indeed I never had the proper means to mix them down, and so I ended up sending the mixes through my guitar amp and recording them with a hand-held dictaphone).  And so on and so forth.  The point being, I never needed to have professional equipment at home because there was always a band I could send this stuff to, and if we liked a song well enough to record it we’d just go into a studio and record it properly.  Now, of course, I don’t have a band, and I don’t have the money to pay for a studio (or to hire the musicians necessary to play this stuff), and so if I’m going to release this stuff I need to do it myself.  And so I need a new computer.  Anybody have a spare $2000 they’re not using so I can get an iMac?


If you’re looking for a good time on your mobile phone, you could do a lot worse than The Room: Old Sins.  The story is as obtuse is ever, but that’s hardly the point; this is the best game in the entire series, bar none, and it’s a pleasure to play through from start to finish.


Lastly:  I started playing Monster Hunter World this weekend, like most of the gaming world.  It’s my first foray into the franchise, and my understanding is that it’s the most accessible.  I can’t speak to that; I’m just coming to it as a newbie and hoping it makes sense.  Actually, let me rephrase that – I’m coming to it pretending I’m Geralt from the Witcher franchise, to the point where that’s what my character looks like.  I need to get out of that habit, of course, because the combat in Monster Hunter bears little to no relation to The Witcher, and that’s why I feel like I’m almost about to die quite often.

In any event, I finished the first 3 missions and am now at the point where I can explore without a time limit or without any particular objectives, and I think this is where I can see the game becoming quite awesome.

That being said, the game makes some puzzling design choices; the one that drives me the most insane is that you can’t truly pause the game.  While it’s true that this doesn’t always matter – like when you’re in the starting hub, or if you simply decline to press “A” during a cutscene – it most certainly matters if you’re in the middle of a quest.  My game-playing time is in the evening, after my son goes to bed, and I’m in the basement, two floors below him; if he needs something and my wife isn’t available – or if my dog needs something – or if I need a bathroom break or a snack – I’ve gotta put the controller down and deal with it, and not being able to pause means that meta-Geralt is most likely going to die.  Not being able to pause is a source of needless anxiety and I don’t know how to get around it.  (This is also why I never stuck with the Destiny franchise.)

Fire and Fury, blah blah blah

I’m not so sure I’m gonna bother finishing “Fire and Fury”.  It’s not telling me anything that I didn’t already know; it’s just further confirming that the White House is stacked with dangerously incompetent fools, none of whom actually expected to be there in the first place.  It’s also a pretty trashy read, and Wolff’s writing is pretty terrible.  This is an actual sentence/paragraph from Chapter 5, entitled “Jarvanka”:

“On Friday, February 3, at breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, an epicenter of the swamp, Ivanka Trump, flustered, came down the stairs and entered the dining room, talking loudly on her cell phone…”

There has to be a less ridiculous way of writing that sentence, right?  And he does this ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED PLACE.  There are also a bunch of little typos and errors that may or may not be due to the conversion from page to e-book – who knows how these things work – and that may very well be because the publisher decided to rush this thing out the door.

In any event; it’s not breaking news that our President is a fucking lunatic.  It’s just disconcerting that we now have 400 pages full of receipts.  That being said, I’d like to think that this is what makes him finally collapse.  The Russia story is far more important, but among Trump supporters nobody cares, and until Mueller comes out with what he’s got, it’s all breathless speculation (regardless of how many hundred-threaded tweets Seth Abramson churns out).  On the other hand, Trump being a lying sack of shit who loathes everything about this job and who will backtrack on all of his promises to his supporters?  That might actually carry some weight.


My wife and I have made a concerted effort to be more creative this year; or, rather, to allow ourselves some creative time during the daylight hours on Sunday.  She works from 10-12 in her office; I work from 2-4 in the recording studio.  I took my opportunity to blow the dust off of my MacBook and make sure that my stuff still works… and, um, it doesn’t.  To be fair, my MacBook is nearly 8 years old at this point; it’s amazing the thing still turns on.  But it’s not recognizing my input device, which means I can’t use MIDI, which is a big deal.

Last night we had dinner with my old bass player and his family, and I told him about my issues, and he told me that my MBox 3 is probably no longer supported – which means I can get a new input device for less than $300 and maybe that’ll solve the problem.  But I’m sure that I’m gonna need to drop a couple thousand on a new computer sooner rather than later, which is disconcerting.  I have no problem spending money, as you know, even when I don’t have any money to spend, but… this is a big deal.


To follow up on last week’s post, and as we are in the winter release lull, I’ve been going back through my Xbox One X library and replaying some older titles on my new fancy TV.  I am sad to say that not every title gets the “enhanced” goods, or even benefits from all the new horsepower.

Now, as noted in previous posts, I feel obligated to reiterate that there are a few of these “enhanced for Xbox One X” games that really do look astounding.  Wolfenstein 2Assassin’s Creed Origins and Rise of the Tomb Raider are among the best-looking games I’ve ever played on a Microsoft console, and given that I played them on both new and old hardware the differences are stark and profound.

But there’s other stuff in my library that I haven’t fully put through its paces.  I gave a quick look to both Titanfall 2 and Destiny 2 last night, and they both look quite good as well.  Perhaps not good enough that I’m going to play them again for any significant amount of time, but still.

I’ve also been running a race or two every night in Forza 7, and that game definitely looks great (though, curiously, not as good as Forza Horizon 3 did – the trees and foliage are quite obviously 2D sprites and it can be jarring if you look too closely at them).  That being said, I haven’t spent serious time with the mainline Forza games since maybe 3 or 4, so if nothing else it’s very interesting and revealing to revisit some of the tracks in 7 that I’d already run hundreds of times in those earlier games, but now in glorious 4K HDR; I get deja vu quite a lot.

But anyway, the point of this whole section here is that while some games do look quite stunning on the new hardware, not every game on the Xbox One X looks and performs better than it did on the vanilla X1.

Case in point:  my son has been really into Lego Batman 3 of late, and this in turn reminds me that I very much love the Arkham games.  So I’m sad to report that Batman Arkham Knight, otherwise known as the one with the endless Batmobile sections, looks like shit.  Now, to be fair, Arkham Knight is not an “enhanced for Xbox One X” title, but I was still hoping to see some sort of performance improvement.  Alas, it looks pretty goddamned terrible.  It’s got a stable frame rate, I suppose, but it’s jaggy as all hell – and maybe it’s my TV, but it arguably looks even worse than it did on the original Xbox One.

Another case in point: Recore, which actually is an “enhanced for Xbox One X” game.  I’d given it a cursory 10 minutes when I’d originally downloaded it last summer, and then promptly forgot about it.  I took it for a more sincere spin this weekend, and… well… it’s not necessarily a bad game, but it does feel very archaic in its design – it feels a lot like “Baby’s Very First Open-World Action RPG” in terms of, well, everything – and the graphical improvements aren’t all that noticeable.  I certainly wouldn’t point to it as a technological show-stopper.  But, of course, it’s not necessarily meant to be; it is what it is.  I could see myself spending some more time with it over the new few weeks; it’s pleasant and diverting enough, for the time being.

But also:  Resident Evil 7, another enhanced game, looks like absolute shit.  I’d rented it on PS4 last year and played the first few hours, and even on a vanilla PS4 on a regular TV it looked far better than this enhanced for Xbox One X version on a 4K HDR TV.

Basically:  if the patch to upgrade your “enhanced” game is under 1GB, it’s not gonna be all that noticeable.


I already have a gigantic book backlog, but given that it’s a new year, it’s time for The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2018, and GODDAMN there’s a lot of stuff there that I need to read, like, immediately.  Off the top of my head, I need:

  • “Lost Empress”, by Sergio de la Pava;
  • “Grist Mill Road”, by Christopher J. Yates;
  • “The Afterlives”, by Thomas Pierce;
  • “The Immortalists”, by Chloe Benjamin;
  • “The Infinite Future”, by Tim Wirkus; and
  • “The Sky is Yours”, by Chandler Klang Smith.

And I should also point out that Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” is coming out this week, I think, which is a book I pre-ordered as soon as it was announced.  So what I’m saying is:  I’ve got stuff to do.

The Lost Weekend in a Lost Year

My wife and son were out of town this weekend, and so my plans were very simple:

  • sleep in;
  • stay away from the news;
  • relax;
  • play some games; and
  • clean out my closet.

Instead:

  • I had insomnia all weekend, and so while I slept in, it’s only because I only finally fell asleep at, like 7am;
  • Of course I had to look at Twitter, because of course our President* is a fucking idiot and there’s really nothing quite like watching him admit to obstructing justice in real time;
  • Neither of the above helped me relax;
  • I did clean out my closet, which was necessary; and
  • I played a ton of Assassin’s Creed Origins (henceforth AssOrgy) and realized I still have a ton more to go.

On that last point – I think I’ve started to reach the point where I simply can’t sink 100+ hours into a game anymore and still be a functioning adult / parent / husband / employee.  As much as I’m enjoying AssOrgy – and I’ll get to the specifics in a moment – it is so overwhelmingly huge and I just can’t deal.  I thought I was approaching the end – there was a point where I was told that by accepting the next mission there was no turning back – but instead now I see I have at least 12 more hours to go, especially if I want to be suitably leveled up.  There are still at least 5 or 6 huge areas of the map that are fogged over, and I’ve already sunk over 40 hours into this game, and the idea that there’s still so much left to do is sorta soul-crushing, a little bit.

That said, AO is rather incredible.  I certainly appreciate the amount of work that went into it; it is gigantic and yet rich with detail, and it’s the first open world that Ubisoft’s made where the world itself is interesting to explore on its own terms, rather than simply trying to cross off all the various Xs and Os on the map.  It’s hard to look at AO and not see the heavy influence of Red Dead Redemption and The Witcher 3, both similarly huge games that make great use of their environments in addition to the stories they’re telling.  Indeed, aside from Black Flag, this is the least Assassin’s Creed-ish AC game in the franchise, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the series desperately needed to evolve, and this one feels much stronger for it.  It feels like I’m playing an enormous novel, rather than a game, and I very much appreciate that kind of feeling.  It’s just that, well, I simply don’t have the kind of time anymore to allow myself to be immersed as thoroughly as I’d like.  I was alone in my house for almost 48 hours this weekend – that will probably never happen again, and I really need to stop taking mental health days with the sort of frequency that I’m used to.  (I ran out of sick/vacation time in early November.)

Meanwhile, I’ve got Wolfenstein 2 still on my to-do list; I keep ducking in here and there just to check it out, though ACO keeps pulling me back.  I’ve also got tons of stuff on the Switch I keep meaning to get to.  And I also re-rented Battlefront 2, if only to play a bit of the campaign and let my Xbox One X do its thing.  (It’s very pretty, even if the campaign is kinda weak.  And shooting rebel soldiers is always gonna feel weird.)


We started watching the new Netflix series Dark last night; I’d heard some really good things about it, in that it’s a Lost-esque quasi-supernatural mystery show.  It is that, but it’s also creepy as all hell, and it’s also gorgeously photographed.  Probably the best-looking show this side of Hannibal, I think.  We’re only 1 episode into the 10-episode season, so who knows if it falls off the rails.  If you decide to watch, I’d recommend keeping the original German audio and putting on English subtitles; the English overdub is distracting.


I’m moving very slowly through John Crowley’s Little, Big.  It’s the sort of book where you sorta have to read and re-read every sentence, because the way each sentence is constructed is somewhat deliberately ambiguous at times.  This can be frustrating, in the same way that playing a 60-hour game is frustrating – I’m very much taken in by the world and what’s happening, but I also don’t have that much time to read these days, and so it can be very hard to dip in and out of it on the train or during lunch.  It’s the sort of book that would appear to be best read in a week-long sitting, where you don’t get out of bed.  As much as I want to devour the rest of his catalog, I need to remember to bear this quirk in mind.


Am I gonna get around to my year-end lists?  I don’t know, you guys.  I consumed a lot of media this year, mostly in order to drown out the noise of the outside world, and while I enjoyed a great deal of it, it does feel a little silly to rank things in a year in which I’ve had a mild but unceasing anxiety attack since January.  I’m exhausted.  I kinda just want to enjoy things without feeling the need to give them ribbons.  If anything, I want to give myself a ribbon for making it through the year.

Weekend Recap: Gloom and Doom

I had a great weekend, and that’s despite the fact that I was terribly sick for the majority of it.  Imagine how great a weekend has to be for that to be the case, that you can go to bed on Sunday night feeling at peace with the world even though you’ve been coughing your brains out and feeling like a huge lump of crap for 72 hours.

A lot of this has to do with my brother and his fiancee who stayed with us for the weekend.  They are lovely, lovely people, and my son adores them, and they even babysat for us while the wife and I took a desperately-needed nap on Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday evening, my wife and I asked our son what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He replied, without hesitation, “A cool person like Uncle Jono.”

 

I also learned that my almost-4-year-old son loves OK Go videos and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”, as featured in the animated movie “Sing”.  And for some reason this made me happy.  I don’t particularly care about Taylor Swift one way or the other but Henry was into that song, dancing uncontrollably all over the living room floor.  My wife and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

So, yeah:  good family visits, my son being adorable, and Trump’s healthcare debacle going up in flames were more than enough to make up for a super-shitty chest cold.  For a moment, all felt right with the world.

*   *   *

I am struggling with my feelings about Mass Effect Andromeda.  The one thing that makes it easier, I guess, is that I’m not alone in my disappointment.  I am a die-hard Mass Effect fan; this was one of my only must-have games coming out this year; I am very much wanting to give Bioware the benefit of the doubt.  If it was any other developer, I would’ve given up on this game a dozen hours ago; I keep hearing rumblings that it gets better the farther in you go, but I’m not quite sure what that actually means.  The gunplay is fine, for whatever that’s worth – for all intents and purposes it’s probably the best it’s ever been.  But I don’t play these games for the combat; I play them for the stories, the characters, the exploration.  And almost all of that stuff is either broken or badly written, and often it’s both.

I have no investment in my character; I don’t care about what I’m doing; I don’t like any of my crewmates – which feels odder than it should since Bioware seems to have gone out of their way to make sure you know that you can bang any or all of them eventually; most importantly, I have absolutely no idea how the upgrade and stat-leveling stuff works (I’m mostly content to simply auto-level for the time being until I get sufficiently powerful enough that I feel comfortable with a complete re-spec).  I do appreciate that my dialogue options are less obviously good/bad than they were in the earlier trilogy, which makes me feel more comfortable answering questions naturally, but I also find myself skipping through dialogue scenes because the voice acting is dull and lifeless and I read much faster than they speak.

Sometimes I feel like ME:A is what No Man’s Sky would’ve been like with a narrative.  Make of that what you will.  I’m not sure that patches are gonna fix what’s broken here.

*   *   *

I will say this – my ambivalence towards ME:A means that I’ll probably return to my backlog sooner rather than later, especially since as far as I can tell there’s nothing I absolutely HAVE to play until Red Dead 2, which is supposedly releasing in September.  I might actually get back to Final Fantasy XV; I’d like to finish Yakuza 0; I might even consider getting back into Gears of War 4, because why not.

*   *   *

Are you watching Legion?  You should be.  That show is fucking insane in all the best ways and I adore it.  I know it’s not for everybody – a lot of my Facebook feed is filled with people who are fed up with it – but it’s 100% meant for me, and I can’t get enough of it.  I may very well binge watch the whole season again once it’s over.

 

Weekend Recap: Forza Horizon 3

1. This was a lovely weekend.  Glorious, brisk autumnal weather; met up with friends every single day, both old and new; had one of the best bloody marys I’ve ever had in my life; really, the only way it could’ve been better is if all my sports teams hadn’t decided to collectively shit the bed at the same time.  I’ll credit my new head meds that I didn’t take that too much to heart.

2. I will not be watching the debate tonight.  I mean, look: my mind was made up a long time ago, and tonight’s shitshow is going to accomplish nothing beyond raising my blood pressure beyond acceptable limits.  If this infograph below doesn’t spell out how absurd tonight’s playing field is, I don’t know what else to tell you.  If “smile more” can seriously equal “stop lying” in terms of importance, then this nightmare will never end.

3. I tweeted last night:

I meant to follow this up with some further observations, but I couldn’t put my controller down long enough to type them out.  In any event, Forza Hoziron 3 is wonderful.  I think the thing I appreciate the most is that it’s genuinely and sincerely interested in me having fun on my own terms.  Indeed, the game’s earnestness and sincerity encompass almost every facet of the game’s design; even the cheesiness of the “narrative” seems well-intentioned.  Unlike other “car culture” games whose hyper-machismo bullshit gets incredibly irritating after just a few minutes, FH3 is inviting and welcoming and friendly.  I have no idea if car festivals like the one Horizon is attempting to recreate actually exist; I have literally no interest in car culture or anything beyond making sure my own car is gassed up and not falling apart.  I am very content to simply drive around and explore FH3’s vision of Australia, and the game actively encourages this sort of behavior.  In a way, I’m actually kind of glad that the Xbox One’s screenshot capabilities are so clumsy, because otherwise I’d be taking pictures nearly every other second.  At one point last night I was driving in the outback, and the in-game sun had begun to set, and suddenly the stars started to appear… and kept appearing… and suddenly there were, like, millions of them, and it was so breathtaking that I could barely keep my car on the road.

4. I may have hit the wall as far as Picross 3D: Round 2 is concerned.  I’ve seen the credits roll, I’ve unlocked all the stamps, and so all that’s left are some brutally difficult puzzles, and I’m the sort of perfectionist that needs as few errors as possible or else I automatically restart, and I find myself accidentally selecting the wrong color (which I still can’t believe I’m doing after all this time)… the short version is that I’m getting more frustrated than anything else.  So I think I’ll take a little break from that.  At least – I won’t bring it into work with me anymore.

5. The Nix continues to be amazing.  There’s a chapter right in the middle of the book that takes the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure, and it’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve read in ages.

I think that’s all I’ve got for the time being.  I’m hoping to get my hands on XCOM 2 for console later this week, as my PC did not meet minimum specs when it was released there earlier this year; I’d like to post some impressions of that, though it’ll be tough to get FH3 out of my mind.

weekend recap: Dangerous Golf, Overwatch, Blood & Wine

Today’s favorite album:  Steve Gunn, “Eyes on the Lines.”

This was a very busy weekend; lots of fun family activities, plus also a wee bit of a stomach bug last night.  You can’t win ’em all.

I’ve got three games I want to talk about, so let’s get to it.


First up: the eagerly anticipated Dangerous Golf, the first game from the ex-heads of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout driving games, also known as my personal favorite driving series of all time.  On paper, this sounds like a perfect little arcade diversion: take Burnout’s crash mode, but instead of a car smashing other cars in glorious slow-motion, it’s a golf ball destroying hundreds of fragile, breakable objects in an assortment of rooms.

In execution… well, it’s not quite there.  It’s so close to being great.  Sadly, it feels a little rushed and unpolished.  The impression one gets after an hour or so is that this is a snazzy proof-of-concept physics demo, rather than a well-thought-out game experience.  And it’s not just the strangely bare-boned career mode, or the inconsistent camera control, or the aggravating load times; there’s just a curious lack of attention to detail that make this feel a lot rougher than it ought to be.  Just as an example, there’s no interstitial music.  This is obviously not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does come off as an oversight that ends up becoming more and more distracting.  Ironically, the 5-second guitar flourishes at the conclusion of each round sound not unlike the sound cues you’d hear after putting a set list together in Rock Band, which is *also* just a bit weird.

There’s also little things like having the control scheme graphic feature a whole bunch of advanced features that don’t actually unlock right away, which can lead to some frustration.  Key example – there’s a thing called “Pistol Tee” and “Pistol Putt”, which happen by pushing RT when you tee or putt (obviously).  But you don’t unlock those two things until after your 2nd “tour” is complete, and even when you unlock them, they aren’t ever explained.  Indeed, the whole putting game is never explained – and you can’t move the camera after you shoot, so when the flag is in a different room you can’t see where your shot is going.

These are things that could arrive in a future patch, but I can’t imagine they would.  I know lots and lots of Burnout fans who have yet to play this game – either they don’t know about it, or they’re busy playing Overwatch, or they just don’t care.  It’s a shame, because with a little more elbow grease this could be a ton of fun.  As it is, it’s almost a ton of fun – and I’m giving it the extreme benefit of the doubt, given that (a) I love golf games, (b) I love the developers’ previous work, and (c) this combination is right in my wheelhouse,  but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to spend with it.

* * *

And speaking of giving prominent game developers the benefit of the doubt – as well as mentioning Overwatch in passing – well, my rental copy of Overwatch finally showed up on Saturday.  I am probably not going to play very much of it.

But I want to stress that this isn’t the game’s fault.

I have nothing but respect for Blizzard’s past work, and Overwatch has received superlative writeups from all the critics I care about, and my friends all love it, and I’m all in favor of vibrant colors and a diverse cast of characters.

The problem, of course, is that I do not like competitive shoot-’em-ups, no matter how amazing they are.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing; maybe I’m never going to like competitive shooters.  It’s the part of every big game that I go out of my way to avoid:  Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Gears of War, Destiny, The Division – I just can’t do it, man.  It’s not even that I suck at them – I mean, I kinda suck at Rocket League but that game’s never coming off my PS4 hard drive*, because even being terrible at it is still super-fun.  There’s a certain mind-set that goes into enjoying competitive shooters, and I just don’t have it, and I don’t know that I ever will.  I’ll be very curious to see what game comes along to break that particular pattern, especially given that I’m always going to be older than the target demographic, and also given that I will eventually spend less time per night gaming than I used to.

Finally, I gotta talk about The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine DLC.


As I noted last week, I had no idea that I could’ve been playing the first DLC all along.  So I started a new character and began the first Hearts of Stone mission and very quickly  realized that it was all familiar, and very quickly remembered that I’d already played it  and simply forgotten that I’d done so.  So I then immediately started the new one, Blood & Wine.  Now we’re all caught up.

Here’s the thing about this particular bit of DLC – it’s a perfect bit for a player like me, someone who loved the original game but hadn’t played it seriously in a long time and had forgotten what the overall rhythms of the gameplay experience feel like.  Unlike other prominent RPG DLC missions, this is not merely a quest with some side objectives; this is an entirely new and rather large landmass, with at least a dozen heavy-duty side-quests that I’m compelled to tackle if only because I’m still underleveled for the main quest.

I haven’t even really begun to mess with the whole “I own a vineyard and a country villa” angle, if only because I’d already foolishly spent a lot of money improving a different DLC merchant before I realized what I needed it for.

The long and short of it is:  godDAMN I love this game.  I love how this game is built; each quest has its own pace and its own “hook”, and the characters you meet are almost always interesting.  It’s nearly impossible to predict how a given quest will flow; even the monster-hunting quests, which are the closest thing this game has to a “cookie-cutter” approach, are different in terms of your combat tactics.

Here’s another thing about Witcher 3 – it’s completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me. I was already having trouble enjoying Fallout 4, and now I know I’ll never be able to go back to it after this.  Same goes for Skyrim and Oblivion and the like; even if Bethesda remasters them for current-gen consoles, they’ll still feel clunky and archaic.  Playing Fallout 4 after playing Witcher 3 is similar to what it’s like to play GTA 3 after playing GTA 5; even though I adore GTA 3, it’s damn-near impossible to play given how shitty the controls are.  And Fallout 4’s cutscenes and writing just simply aren’t as sharp or as interesting as Witcher 3; and Geralt is infinitely more compelling than any blank cipher I come up with.

But whatever – I’m not here to be sad about Bethesda, I’m here to celebrate The Witcher 3 – one of the finest games of this generation, and one of my favorite games of all time.  I’m so glad to have a compelling reason to revisit it, and I’m even happier that this DLC is, so far, really, really good.


* This reminds me of a question that popped up on Twitter not too long ago – what games will you always keep on your hard drive?   My PC, when it was working, had a 1.5TB hard drive and so everything stayed on it.  My XB1 doesn’t really get used all that often, but I will always make sure that Pinball FX2 stays on, and I suppose I’ll always keep the latest Forza Horizon title on.  (I did recently delete and then re-install Sunset Overdrive, because I forgot how to play it and the only way to re-tutorialize is to completely wipe out any record of you playing it, both locally and in the cloud, and I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed yet.)  As for the PS4, my primary console of choice – well, I’ve had to do a fair amount of juggling in the last year or so, but I suppose I’ll always make sure I have room for Witcher 3 and Rocket League.