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overabundance

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

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

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

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


1.  Ready Player One.

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

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

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

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

2.  Replaying No Man’s Sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Clicker Heroes 2.

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

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

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

4.  Books.

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

5.  Backlog.

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

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

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

How To Fall In Love With A Song

Hey everybody.  I’m back at work for the first time in a week and I need a break from thinking about our treasonous president, so come with me as I recap some non-political stuff.


I just returned from my first trip to the West Cost; 3-4 days near Seattle, with some near and dear ex-Brooklyn friends.  Sincerest apologies for not telling everyone else that I know in the Seattle area that I was in town – this was a very quick visit (and also a birthday gift for my wife) and we just didn’t have the time to schedule anything beyond what we’d planned.  (And judging from Facebook, I apparently know a lot more people out there than I thought!)  All that being said, I adored Seattle, and I want to go there again.  As soon as my body adjusts to the time change, that is.


I want to start a new mini-feature here.  I’ve gone on and on before about how Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist sometimes knows me a little bit too well, and so I’ve decided to catalog those specific songs that I immediately fall in love with and listen to a thousand times in a row.  (I’ve also started compiling a separate playlist with those sorts of songs, but one thing at a time.)  In this instance, the song in question is “Happy Unhappy” by The Beths.  I am obsessed with this song and I need to break down why.

I’m not particularly fond of this lyric video, so I’d rather just have you close your eyes and put on some very good headphones and crank that shit up and then steer you to the following perfect moments:

1st:  the guitar production is pristine.  Also, the guitar arrangements are glorious.

2nd: in the chorus, the way the bass hangs on the 1 instead of the 4 at approximately 0:53 – it adds a wonderful propulsion and tension.

3rd: they’re from New Zealand, and so any word with a long “o” has a particularly wonderful shape to it – “own”, “stone”, “tone”, etc.

4th:  I’m not necessarily one for lyrics, but I love these lyrics.  Especially the ambiguity of the line “so I could forget you / like I really want to”.  Her delivery of the entire song is excellent.

5th:  Listen to the harmonies and the interlocking guitar lines after the solo (at approx 2:31).  I LOVE THAT KIND OF SHIT.

Finally:  There’s this little weird snare hit right at the end (2:58) – most likely a happy accident that they decided to keep – and I adore it.


I don’t know if I’m doing to do a Top 10 Games list this year, but if I were, I’d like to note that The Crew 2 is my current front-runner for 2018’s Most Pleasant Surprise; it’s essentially Forza Horizon with a lot of quintessential Ubisoft touches, but if you turn off the insipid dialogue and put on your own tunes, and just select events from the menu rather than driving over mostly barren landscape, it’s very nice.  I’m playing it on the X, and two things are also immediately apparent:  (1) this game is gorgeous, and (2) it has some of the most remarkably fast loading times I’ve ever seen, especially in an open-world game.


By the way, the addition of Groups on the X is WONDERFUL.  It’s basically the same thing as the Folders option on the PS4, albeit slightly less elegant, but it makes sorting out my backlog a hell of a lot easier.  (I should add that I have an 8TB external hard drive on my X, which is why being able to sort out 200+ games into custom groups is very, very necessary.)


Oh, and before I left for Seattle I started getting back into Ni No Kuni 2 on the PS4; I’m finally at the point where I’ve started doing some of the city-building stuff, and it’s quite pleasant.  I think Henry is a little too young for it, but it’s also pretty accessible; I might try to get him involved as I continue along.


Also: I’ve been playing the shit out of Switch lately.  Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is super-fun, and that one has gotten Henry’s attention, especially as the controls are pretty simple.  This actually is much better experienced in hand-held mode, as opposed to docked; some of the puzzles require touching objects, and using your finger is far more intuitive than the weird motion-control reticule thing on a TV.


And finally, I apparently beat my 2018 Goodreads challenge a short while ago.  I did kinda purposefully set the number low (to keep myself from feeling unnecessary pressure), and the current number includes books that I haven’t yet finished.  So I haven’t officially crossed the 35-book threshold, though I should be there shortly.

OK, that’s the news.  Good morning!  Good afternoon!  Good night!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

[END TANGENT]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky Validation: Disc Theory and the Akashic Records

(deep breath)

OK.  I’m going to re-write a thing I’ve talked about in various other, older blogs, about one of the most pivotal events of my life.  It is a weird thing, and if you were to read this and say “I think you’ve smoked too much pot”, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.  But it’s still true.

However, to paraphrase the narrator of the Captain Underpants books:  before I tell you that thing, I have to tell you this thing.


I have always been fascinated by, for lack of a better term, “weird stuff”.  ESP, astral projection, UFOs, Freemasonry, the secret wisdom of the ancients.  This goes back to when I was a little kid, too – I remember having conversations with friends in my neighborhood about spooky psychic stuff and really, really believing it.  I was a devoted fan of In Search Of…, and when I was in junior high I begged my mom to get me the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown books (which she then got rid of when I was in college, and I’ll always be ever-so-slightly bitter about that).   You may remember those books from the ridiculous commercials:

This was more than just catnip for my easily-distracted pubescent brain; this was the good stuff.  I didn’t necessarily know what to do with it, but I absorbed it anyway.  As I got older I started reading more advanced versions of these things; in retrospect it’s easy to understand why I gravitated towards conspiracy-minded books like Foucault’s Pendulum and The Illuminatus! Trilogy, both of which are explicitly fictional – which is to say, the fictional characters in these books of fiction are creating these fictions within the books themselves – and yet resonate with the weight of ancient truths.

The irony in all this is that I have not a single psychic bone in my body.  In fact, I have, like, negative psychic ability. And not for lack of trying.  If I flip a coin, I will pick the wrong side nearly every time, even if I change my mind mid-flip.  I remember playing with Zener cards in my bedroom for hours and I always and consistently struck out every time.

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There is psychic ability around me, for sure.  My wife claims to have a bit of it, and she says it runs in her family.   My uncle, who is… um… troubled, used to tell me about his experiences in the astral plane.  I dated girls in college who read my tarot, and while they didn’t know each other at all, they were all fairly consistent in their readings; one girl in particular gave me one of the most detailed and accurate palm readings I’ll ever get in my life.

More recently, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, a few months ago our basement flooded, and on the day that we received the repair estimates (which were in the thousands of dollars), I went to get the mail and saw that I’d received a rather sizable check from my aunt, completely out of the blue.  And when I called her to thank her, she just said “Jeremy, I just had a flash and I knew you needed this, and I wanted you to have it.”  The thing is, the check was sent via regular mail, which means she sent it before the flood had even happened.

I am, by nature, a skeptical person.  I am agnostic, at best, in terms of religion; I do not have to believe in science, because science is not something you believe in.  But when it comes to this kind of stuff, well…

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I went to my one and only Grateful Dead show when I was in college; me and my bandmates went to MSG and ate a whole bunch of mushrooms and had a really good time for about an hour.  (I should also mention that this was my first time eating mushrooms.)  During the break between the first and second sets, though, I started feeling very weird.  The hallucinations were coming on pretty furiously, and for the most part I could handle them; but things started to go south when I realized that I’d been having the same conversation over and over in a loop for about 15 minutes.  Suddenly, time was not linear, and that freaked me the fuck out.  My friend saw I was having a bad time, and he walked me back to my dorm room – which was a good hour-long walk.  I felt like nothing was real; I had no way of discerning whether I was actually walking downtown or if I was a disembodied brain in a jar imagining that I was walking downtown.  With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but at the time it meant everything.  I felt like I was going insane.

This feeling of anxiety ebbed on and off for about 2-3 weeks.  And when I felt like I’d finally come through the other side, I realized that I would never be able to return to the mindset I had before that night.  I had been changed, utterly and profoundly, and it took quite a bit longer for me to accept that.

Around this time, I had a motley group of friends – filmmakers, actors, musicians, writers, directors – that would go to a diner near our dorm late at night, and order coffee and smoke cigarettes and write poetry and song lyrics and such in our journals, and we’d talk for hours about stuff.  We’d talk about theater, we’d talk about Capital-A Art, we’d talk about life.

One night my friend and I came up with something called Disc Theory.  Disc Theory was a way of reconciling Fate and Freewill.  The idea went something like this:

Imagine your life is a compact disc.  (The metaphor immediately breaks here, because (a) some of you grew up without CDs, and (b) if Blu-Rays existed at the time I might’ve used that instead.  But this was the mid-90s, and so you’re going to imagine your life is a CD.)  You are born:  the universe has pressed “play” on your CD in the cosmic jukebox.  You die:  the CD is finished.  Your life, as you experience it, is the music.  When you meet someone you’ve never met before and you immediately hit it off, it’s because your music is in harmony with each other; likewise, if you immediately get a bad vibe from a stranger and you can’t explain why, it’s because your music is dissonant.

The Fate and Freewill parts go something like this:  the music on the CD was already recorded (fate), but you’re hearing it for the first time, so you don’t know what to expect (freewill).  You are allowed to make choices in your life; even if the choice was already made, it doesn’t affect your ability to make the choice in the first place.  Even if you choose to not choose.

It’s clumsy, in retrospect, but at the time it made an astounding amount of sense.  And even if it’s silly, I do like the idea of the cosmic jukebox.

Which is why I feel like I just got punched in my third eye.

I am currently reading Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis, and holy shit is it messed up.  This book purports to be the true story behind the US Military’s dalliances with ESP, astral projection, remote viewing, etc., and even if only half of what’s in this book is true, it’s mindblowing.

Anyway, Chapter 19 in Phenomena mentions something called the Akashic Records – which is a way of viewing what one participant called The Matrix. (One presumes this name was devised well before the movie.)  What are the Akashic Records?  Well, according to this site:

The Akashic Records are the energetic records of all souls about their past lives, the present lives, and possible future lives. Each soul has its Akashic Records, like a series of books with each book representing one lifetime. The Hall (or Library) of the Akashic Records is where all souls’ Akashic Records are stored energetically. In other words, the information is stored in the Akashic field (also called zero point field). The Akashic Records, however, are not a dry compilation of events. They also contain our collective wisdom.

Holy shit, is what I’m saying.

How The Hell Is It June Already

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

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

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

BOOKS:

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

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

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

MUSIC:

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

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


GAMES:

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

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

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

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

a plan, of sorts

Lots of good new music out today.  Lots of good music from all over the place in my head.

I’ve been thinking that I need some sort of external motivation in order to finish this recording project.  When I’m left to my own devices, I tend to get sidetracked.  So I’m contemplating setting up some sort of livestream – probably on Facebook – and putting on a sort-of impromptu songwriting / jam session / performance / workshopping thing.  Even if nobody watches it, it’s something that could hold me accountable.  And if someone does watch it, then, hey, you get a world premiere of whatever it is I come up with.

This may happen as early as next week, so, look out.

Old and In The Way

1. I took my much-needed mental health day yesterday, although as it turns out I was also legitimately sick with bad allergies and a worse stomach, and so most of my day was spent sleeping.  This is not a bad way to spend one’s time, especially since I don’t get much of an opportunity to indulge in it.  But it wasn’t the ideal “batteries-recharged” sort of break I was hoping for.  Still, I take what I can get.  At the very least, it was a break from News.

2. I’m roughly halfway through “Oathbringer“, Brandon Sanderson’s massive 3rd volume in the Stormlight Archives.  I re-read the first two massive volumes (because it had been a while, and I’d forgotten quite a lot), and then I had to read the little novella that he specifically asks you to read before starting Oathbringer properly, and so here I am.  I think I’d be enjoying it more if I hadn’t read so much of it already, if that makes any sense.  Or, rather – I’m very much ready to read something else.

3. So:  I think I’m at a point in God of War where all the stuff that’s left requires me to be really good at the game (i.e., the volcano trials), or really patient and also really good (i.e., the endless farming grind for Mist Echoes), and I’m not sure I’m ever going to be that good.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – I definitely got my money’s worth, and for the most part that game is extraordinary – but I suppose there’s a part of me that’s sad that I’m not going to ever 100% it, especially since there’s not that much left to do.  This is less a criticism of the game and more just a reflection of the reality that I’m not as good at games as I thought I was.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, though I suppose it was inevitable; I’ve been gravitating towards playing things on lower difficulty levels for a while now because my time is limited and I like to see as much as I can, and anyone who goes out of their way to taunt a 42-year-old dad for playing single-player games on easy has too much spare time on their hands anyway.

4. On the flip side, this also means that I’m free to dip into my backlog again.  Ni No Kuni 2, I am all yours for the time being.  And also Yakuza 6, of course.  But I’m probably done with Far Cry 5, I think.  I’m at the point in that game where there’s not enough side stuff to do because I’ve done most of it already, which means I sorta have to engage with the narrative, and the narrative is soooooooo bad.  It’s rare that I come across a game where the story is just profoundly and offensively stupid, but here we are.  Oh well.

Anything exciting happening out there?  Tell me some stories.

The First Many Hours: God of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

self-care for the self-aware

 

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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