Stuffed and Bloated

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

 

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: Dismantling the Patriarchy and Playing With Expensive Toys

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


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

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


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

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

As for the Xbox One X:  well, look.

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

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

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

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