Tag: goodreads

Everything All At Once

I’ve got some nerdy stuff to talk about – that’s what this blog is for, after all – but I also just want to give a shout-out to my 5-year-old son, who has been racking up some significant cultural milestones this summer.  In the last 2 weeks alone, he’s watched E.T. and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure with us, and he’s now on his 2nd Choose Your Own Adventure book (from my own personal childhood stash, I might add).  He starts kindergarten right after Labor Day.  Everything is happening too quickly.


Music:  Lots of good music out lately, and there’s three albums in particular that have been kicking my ass all over the place – The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me” (turns out the whole album is great, not just “Happy Unhappy“); Louis Cole, “Time”; and Bad Bad Hats, “Lightning Round.”


Books:  I’ve been getting lots of reading done, too, and most of what I’ve read lately has been great.  I’d mentioned a few posts ago that I had been flipping around between 5 or 6 different books, unable to get stuck in any of them; well, I got out of that rut, somehow, and I’ve been on a roll.  Here are the highlights of what I’ve finished since June:

  • Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen.  This is a thoroughly researched and quite absorbing history of the US Military’s research into ESP and psychic abilities.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North.  Without question, one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and certainly one of the more unique takes on the time-travel genre.
  • The Book of M, Peng Shepherd.  One of the more fascinating apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a while, with a deeply affecting ending.
  • The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay.  Home invasion, doomsday cults, weird synchronicity.  Disturbing and tough.
  • 84K, Claire North.  After reading Fifteen Lives, I decided I’d read whatever she writes.  This is a bit more avant-garde in its prose than I was expecting, though that’s not a knock against it; it’s still very affecting and the weird prose rhythms actually do a remarkable job of conveying the speed of an inner monologue.
  • The Price You Pay, “Aidan Truhen.” Aidan Truhen is somebody’s pseudonym, and I’ve read more than one rumor that it’s actually Nick Harkaway, who is one of my favorite authors anyway.  Regardless, this is very much like a Jason Statham “Crank” movie, but in novel form, and it’s hilarious and completely insane.
  • Vicious, V.E. Schwab.  Kind of a Flatliners vibe to this one, though that’s only barely scratching the surface.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady Strugatsky   This has been on my to-read list for a while, and I think I ended up buying it because Amazon had it on sale.  In any event, this is a seminal work of Russian science fiction, and as such it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
  • The Third Hotel, Laura Van Den Berg.  I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t a fascinating read.
  • Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin.  I think I read this in about an hour, and the title is accurate.
  • Joe Hill, Strange Weather.  I think I prefer his shorter fiction to his novels.  All four of these are pretty terrific, though “Aloft” is almost certainly my favorite.
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter, Karen Dionne.  Just finished this yesterday.  It’s a much smaller story than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t diminish its power; it’s a ferocious and captivating story.

Games:  I had been playing around with No Man’s Sky NEXT, but I got stuck on a shitty planet with no resources and I probably have to start a new game, which I’m not looking forward to.  I also spent an hour or so last night playing God of War NG+, and it’s hard for me to accept that GoW only came out 4 months ago, because it legitimately feels like it’s been 10 years.  (That game is still really goddamned good, by the way, and NG+ is a perfect reason to revisit it.)

That said, there’s really only one game that’s been taking up space in my brain of late, and that would be Dead Cells.

The word “rogue-like” makes me itchy.  I’m not attracted to difficult games, especially games where death sets you back all the way to square zero.  I’m kinda over the retro art style that has pervaded the indie scene for the last 5 years or so.

And yet Dead Cells is one of my Game of the Year contenders without even a moment’s hesitation.  I loved it so much on Switch that I ended up buying it again on Xbox, if only because I had a feeling I’d be better at it with the X controller.  And I am!  (I’ve now managed to get past the Concierge on both systems, and if that’s as far as I end up getting, I suppose I can live with that.)

I don’t really know where to begin with this game.  I feel like I’m lacking the proper vocabulary.  The subtle gems of sublime game design that I’m picking up here – for all I know, they may be incredibly obvious to the veteran player.  But for me they are all new, and so they are blowing my mind.  I tried to imagine what this game would be doing to a much younger version of me, one still getting into gaming and who had better hand-eye coordination – would this game still be important?  Would I appreciate it?  Because right now I’m torn between stopping this post and pulling out my Switch and firing it up, or falling down another rabbit hole of Spelunky, or also further examining the other excellent 2D platform-vania games currently taking up space on my Switch memory stick – OwlBoy, Hollow Knight, Iconoclasts.

I don’t know enough about the genre to know if the things Dead Cells does are truly innovative, or if they’re simply iterative of what’s preceded it.  To my untrained eye, then, it feels positively revelatory; it’s a retro-feeling game that does a ton of smart, subtle things.  Yes, the levels are procedurally generated, which is smart because you’re necessarily going to have to run through them over and over and over again, but they’re also – somehow, magically – paced similarly, which is to say that even though the map is always random, you will eventually become familiar with each map’s style to anticipate what lies offscreen.

And because everything is randomized, including (eventually) your starting weapons, you end up giving yourself different goals.  And if I start the game with shitty drops, I know my time is better spent just farming cells and then hauling ass to the next checkpoint if I’m running low on health, rather than scouring every nook and cranny.

I know I’m not very good at the game yet, because I often need to replenish my health, and I’m sure that very skilled players will eventually beat the game without taking a single hit.  It’s fine, though.  I’m OK with not being good.  This is one of the few games I’ve played where I’ve been motivated to get better, instead of feeling endlessly frustrated and quitting outright.  (I’m never going to get into the Souls games.  It’s just not gonna happen.)  It’s a perfect game for the train, and it’s just as enjoyable on a big-screen TV.  If you haven’t picked it up yet, get it.

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!

free association

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Random Ramblings, Thursday edition

Today’s song of the day:

It’s been a while, so let’s get caught up.

1. The more I think about it, the more underwhelmed I am by Sony’s reveal of the PS4 Pro.  Let’s leave aside the total lack of anything regarding PSVR – nothing I saw yesterday compelled me to upgrade my current PS4; if anything, I’d rather spend that money on upgrading my PS4’s hard drive.  I mean, if I want to get the most out of the PS4 Pro, I’d need a 4K TV (which I don’t have), and I’d also need to make sure that it supports HDR (which, apparently, not all 4K TVs do).  Fundamentally, the content simply isn’t there yet to necessitate the upgrade, and while HDR is certainly intriguing I’m not sure it’s essential – and in any event, my OG PS4 is getting the HDR upgrade next week anyway.  If I have to shell out money for a console upgrade at this point – and I’m nto sure I do – I’m leaning heavily towards next year’s Microsoft Scorpio.

2. I’ve successfully completed my Goodreads challenge, and am now currently at 37 books finished for the year.  I don’t have a secondary number to hit; I’d rather just take my time and enjoy what I read from here on out.  I’m also probably not going to participate next year; it’s an extra layer of stress that I definitely don’t need, and as far as record-keeping is concerned I’m already tracking what I read in a GoogleDoc, because I’m ridiculous.

2a. My end-of-year “Favorite Sentences of 2016” post might end up being on the short side of things; while I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read, I haven’t found myself highlighting a lot of beautiful phrases.  To wit: I just finished reading Ted Chiangs’ “Stories Of Your Life and Others”, a rather remarkable collection of speculative science-fiction-ish stories (mostly because the title story is the source of the upcoming film “Arrival“, which I very much want to see); each story is incredibly fascinating and certainly very well written, but I never found myself lingering over a particularly affecting phrase.  This is not an indictment of the book at all, but rather just something I’ve noticed in terms of my own reading.  I think it’s fair to say that in order to meet my Goodreads Challenge number, I opted to read shorter books with heavy genre trappings, and while those kinds of books are highly enjoyable, they don’t necessarily feature poetic prose.

3. I’ve hit something of a wall with respect to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with it.  There’s a sudden difficulty spike at my current stage of the game – all of Prague is on lockdown, which makes getting around town incredibly difficult, at least in terms of my current character build – and I’m so far removed from the narrative’s motivations that I’m tempted to call it a day.  While I do enjoy some of the gameplay loops – i.e., enter an area, scout out hidden pathways, sneak around, hack stuff, get out without being seen – I’m struggling to stay invested in the story, which is just this side of Kojima-esque silliness.

4. On the flipside, I am thoroughly addicted to Picross 3D: Round 2, which is the first thing I’ve used my 3DS for in maybe 2 years.  It is a little strange that you’re not actually solving the puzzle on the 3D screen – that is, in fact, what I’d been hoping to do – but whatever; I love it anyway.  Solving a puzzle feels like sculpting a figure out of marble, in much the same way that playing Rock Band feels like playing music – it’s not 1:1, obviously, but it produces the same creative euphoria.  I worry that if I continue to bring my 3DS to work, I will get fired.

5. I’ve also been playing some indie games on XB1, as I continue in my quest to hit 100K.  I finished Valley, which I don’t really know how to talk about – there are parts of it that are wondrously exhilarating, and other parts that are a bit of a slog, and the ending – such as it is – felt a bit underwhelming.  I’m also about halfway through The Turing Test, a first-person puzzler not unlike Portal or The Talos Principle; the narrative is a bit clumsy in its execution but the puzzles themselves are satisfying to solve (at the moment, at least).


I’m continuing to feel somewhat withdrawn and hermit-like – this is something I’m working on, privately – so please bear with me if it gets even more quiet around here than usual.

Random Ramblings: Wednesday Edition

Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a blank post and just sit there staring at the screen, hoping something pops into my head.  And then other times I’ll be doing something else and 600 different ideas start showing up and I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing so that I can write them down.  This doesn’t mean that any of these ideas are interesting, of course, but I’d rather write something down than nothing.  (This is how I tend to write lyrics these days, also, which is why it’s taken me over a year to work on this album, and even after all this time I’m still not where I want to be on that front.  But that’s another story.)

Anyway: last night I headed down to the basement to decompress and play something that wasn’t No Man’s Sky, and my brain went bananas.

My train of thought went something like this:

– It’s 8:30pm; the kid’s asleep, the wife is upstairs.   My rental copy of Deus Ex probably won’t show up until Thursday, but I really want to play it now.  But it’s 40GB+… even if I bought it, I still wouldn’t be able to play it until tomorrow night.  Maybe it’s a good thing that my poor impulse control and need for instant gratification has been trumped by my slow internet.

– So, then, let me get back into that Witcher 3 DLC that I’d put down a few months ago.  Oh, wait, shit, it’s been a few months and my hands are still used to No Man’s Sky‘s control scheme.  How do I play this game again?  And is this a thing that’s going to keep happening as I continue to get older, that I forget how to play games with complicated-ish controls?

– The difference between No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 in terms of how they handle their open world exploration could not be more different.

– I still adore The Witcher 3 – it’s one of my favorite games of all time, probably – but it’s not the sort of game that I can just dip in and out of.  I feel like I need to set aside a full day without interruptions in order to play it the way I’d like.

– Shit, I’m not enjoying Witcher 3 as much as I’d like.  Let me switch gears.  Do I want to restart Fallout 4, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few weeks?  Is it even worth it, considering the influx of new stuff that’s about to land?  Can I allow myself to get into it, considering that I’d originally thought it one of the most disappointing games I’d ever played?  Or is it simply that Witcher 3 has completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me?

– I’m gonna go back to No Man’s Sky.  Oh, shit, here’s a kick-ass ship that I can actually afford!  Hey, all right.  Whoops, it’s 11:30pm!  I should probably go to sleep.

* * *

Nathan Grayson’s piece over at Kotaku story about “The Guy With The Lowest Possible Rank In Overwatch” is wonderful.

“What I found was that the people in the 40s were much more willing to try and still work together because these are probably people like me who are winning some but losing more,” Brown said. “Then when I got into the 30s, I was starting to see people who still have vague hope.”

Overwatch’s season one skill rating system was never intended to be a straightforward progression. Through hard work and diligence, you could slowly, painstakingly gain a fraction of a rank, but if you lost even a couple times in a row, you’d almost certainly take a nasty spill down the skill rating ladder. Ultimately, the system was meant to balance out. You were supposed to move up and down within a general ballpark of numbers. Blizzard didn’t do a super great job of making that apparent, though. As Brown observed, that led to players with chips on their shoulders and burning mounds of salt in their hearts.

“In the mid-30s, I met the angriest people in the world,” Brown said. “It’s somewhere in that mid-30s and upper 20s [area], these are just the angriest people in the world. They think they should be doing better and they’re really not good enough, or these are just people stuck on really bad streaks.”

* * *

Confession: I thought I’d gotten over it, but apparently I miss Achievements.  Especially since it appears I’m within striking distance of 100K.  I could almost certainly break 100K this year if I played all multi-platform games on XB1 (or at least the ones where I wouldn’t necessarily notice a graphical downgrade – like South Park).

I wish the major outlets would go back to including console comparisons in their reviews the way they used to in previous generations – or even at the beginning of this one; I feel like I can’t make an informed decision until Digital Foundry does their analysis, and they almost never have one out before the release day of a significant title.  (i.e., Deus Ex.)

* * *

I have given up on my 2nd book so far this year.  The first was “Girl On The Train”, and now I’m adding “A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall”.  I’m not sure if my being 1 book away from completing my Goodreads challenge has anything to do with it, but I ran out of patience far earlier than usual.  I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of pretension, but this was too much.

 

 

Some quick Battlefront Beta impressions

I am lucky enough to have both a PS4 and an Xbox One, which means I got to try out the Star Wars Battlefront Beta twice last night.  I didn’t have a ton of time last night to devote to it, so I just did the single-player mission on Tattooine.  My intention had always been to get this game for the Xbox One, since I know more people on that system who might potentially play it, but I figured I might as well compare the two systems just to see what’s what.

And, um.  The PS4 version kicks the shit out of the Xbox One version.  It’s a direct hit from a laser blaster to the nuts.  Digital Foundry will give you a more thorough examination of this if you’d like the hard data, but even my untrained eye could see drastic differences in image quality; the XB1 is jaggy all over the place, has an inconsistent frame rate, and makes far-off enemies much harder to spot since everything that’s far-off is somewhat jumbled together.  The PS4, on the other hand, is buttery smooth and looks absolutely gorgeous.  And I think I actually prefer the PS4’s controller over the XB1, which is not something I’m used to saying out loud.  So, there it is.  I’ll be playing Battlefront on the PS4.


I also got the new Xbox One dashboard last night, and, well… I kinda hate it?  It took me several minutes to figure out where my actual games are located, which is the whole point of the device – and when I finally found their location (which is below the main homepage stuff), I felt a bit stupid.  The rest of the redesign just seems unnecessary.  I’ve never really minded previous Xbox dashboard updates, because they at least made some sense.  This one seems to be there for the sake of being there, and it doesn’t have any coherent purpose as far as I can tell.  It’s also a bit sluggish, especially if you click the left menu from the main homepage; hopefully that will get fixed soon.


In other news, I’ve completed my 2015 Goodreads challenge, which was to read 30 books.  And it’s only the beginning of October!  Hell, at this rate, I might very well get past 40, unless I decide to only read gigantic stuff (like the forthcoming City on Fire and any further volumes of Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle memoirs).  I finished Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, which I liked very much; he’s a hell of a writer, and his dialogue is so good it makes me want to start acting again just so that I can adapt his books into screenplays and then say this stuff out loud.  I’m now about halfway through Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, which I can’t recall buying, but which is pretty good – sort of a supernatural James Bond sort of thing.  Apparently it’s book one of a larger series; the second one comes out in January, I think.


This weekend is primarily about recuperating from this relentless headcold/stomach thing I’ve had all week.  There may be some Uncharted, and there really ought to be some serious music stuff happening; I’ve got 5 songs that are, like, this close to being finished, and my buddy and I really want to get this stuff out before too long.  So that’s the plan.  Lay low, get healthy, get busy.