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.

The Pre-Thanksgiving Reckoning

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, which means that I need to start thinking about organizing my year-end lists.

I’m gonna be honest with you; right now everything’s a bit of a mess.

My games list is basically trash; I bought a lot of games but barely finished any of them, and there were long stretches this year when I was utterly disinterested in anything I was playing.  I’m kinda-sorta back in the swing of things now, but it’s doubtful that I’ll finish – or even get close to finishing – the stuff that will appear on everyone else’s lists.

Music-wise, well… I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but as I have no short-term memory and since this is my own personal blog and I can talk about whatever I want, please indulge me if I’m repeating myself:  I simply don’t listen to music the way I used to.  My commutes are too short to properly digest albums, and now that my day job has turned off access to Spotify, I don’t really get to listen to music during my down time.  Most of what I’ve listened to this year is my Discovery playlist, which continues to have a very high batting average; my Favorites From the Discovery playlist is currently 120+ songs deep, and that’s pretty much all I listen to.  Some of my favorite artists released very good albums this year, but I couldn’t tell you what they were.  (Indeed, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released four (4) albums already this year, and they’ve promised a 5th before year’s end; I feel tremendous shame that I still haven’t finished my album, which is almost 3 years old at this point.)

As for books – I can probably do a pretty good Books list this year.  I have found that the most effective and most enjoyable form of escaping the news is to get lost in really good books, and as such I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read this year, and I’ve managed to read quite a lot – far more than I expected to, at any rate.  I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do the Goodreads challenge next year, although I should note that setting the bar artificially low removes a great deal of self-imposed pressure.


On that note, I just want to give a brief shout-out to John Hodgman’s “Vacationland”, which I devoured yesterday and which I can confidently say is one of the best books I’ve read all year.  Rather than the very funny fake-trivia books that he’s famous for, these are memoir-ish essays about middle age and parenthood and home ownership and nostalgia and they are all very funny and they ring very true.  Hodgman is not just a funny writer – he’s a very good writer, which makes his comedy that much more effective; he crafts his prose with pitch-perfect pacing.

In other book news, I finally finished Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White”, which was absolutely brilliant except for the ending.  Not that the ending is bad, from a narrative standpoint – it’s ambiguous and unresolved, and that’s OK – but rather it’s very sudden, as if Faber simply ran out of gas and decided he couldn’t write another word.

had intended to start the new Brandon Sanderson, but instead I read this LA times review/overview of John Crowley and decided I needed to read everything he’d written.  I’ve been missing David Mitchell’s fiction something fierce, and it sounds like this might be a suitable stop-gap.  So I’m at the beginning of Little, Big, and we’ll take it from there.


My son and I beat Super Mario Odyssey last night.  Which is to say – we defeated Bowser, skipped past the credits, and now we are back in the Mushroom Kingdom, ready to do whatever happens next.  I’m not sure who was more excited.  Every time we found a moon, he’d jump up and give me a high five.  We evolved our play sessions over time; at first he’d control Mario and I’d be the hat, and eventually we decided that every time we landed in a new area, he’d get the controller and run around and see what there was to see, and when it was time to actually do stuff he’d give me the controller, and then when a moon showed up he’d grab the controller back and collect it, and then we’d high five.

Lots of high fives in our basement over the last week or so.  It made me very, very happy to be able to share that experience with him.  I know I’ve said it a zillion times here, that I inadvertently skipped over the classic Nintendo era in my childhood, and so I’m glad that Henry gets to make up for it, and that I get to participate.  Indeed, he wants me to participate.  For the last week, you can tell that he starts getting excited as he gets closer and closer to finishing his dinner, because he knows that as soon as he brings his empty dish to the sink we get to go downstairs and play.

I never had that.  I didn’t expect it, of course – video games were a new thing when I was a little kid, and I never expected my parents to be engaged with it.  (Nor did I particularly want them to, for that matter.)  But I’ve loved gaming since I was 5 years old, and now that I’ve gotten Henry interested, it’s something we’re going to be able to share together – just the two of us, a father/son thing – for a long time to come.


At some point I’m going to write my thing about idle clickers.  Because I have a thing for idle clickers, and I appreciate that it’s somewhat ridiculous to have a thing for idle clickers.  In any event, I just wanted to link to this thing about the upcoming Clicker Heroes 2, and how the developers decided to do away with the free-to-pay / pay-to-win thing specifically because it bothered them, ethically and morally, and I think that’s pretty amazing:

Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as “Whales”. Great. If you’re rich, please be my guest. But we don’t want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It’s not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.

We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.

I am one of those “whales”, and I’ve had to reckon with that quite a lot over the years, going back at least to the halcyon days of Farmville.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I’ve forced myself to delete a ton of apps off of my phone in order to resist the temptation to buy boosters.  (Needless to say, I didn’t even bother taking Battlefront 2 out of the rental envelope, loot boxes or no.)   So I’m grateful that a game developer is, at the very least, cognizant of this phenomenon, and that they’re directly changing their development philosophy because of it.  I should also mention that I still have Clicker Heroes running in another tab at this very moment, because – as noted above – I am insane.


Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everybody; eat, drink, be merry, sleep late, and don’t discuss politics.

 

A shortcut to R&R

In these strange and turbulent times, it is helpful to have an escape route or two.  Sometimes you just need to unplug and disconnect.  Zone out, as it were.

To that end, I would highly recommend partaking of a good-ish amount of your relaxation-inducing substance of choice, put on some good music, and play a bit of Everybody’s Golf, which is essentially candy for your brain.  It is a digital wave of happiness, a gentle endorphin rush flowing over your body.  It’s never too frustrating; the traditional 3-button swing mechanic is easy enough to pick up, and even if you inevitably shank one into the rough, you’ve still got a better-than-good chance of chipping it onto the green.  There’s even a gentle RPG system in place, wherein good performance improves your skills with each club.  A solid thwack off the tee will increase your power with the driver; a close approach will increase your control with an iron.  And so even if you do slice one into the sand, a well-placed shot will improve your wedge skills.  The whole thing is very pleasing and easy to pick up and blissfully stress-free.

I only have two real complaints:  first, I’ve been playing for 2 hours or so and still only have access to the first course.  I don’t actually know how many courses are in the game, but if they unlock this slowly, I might never see them all.  Second, I wish that this game was cross-buy compatible with the Vita; I would love to have this on the go.  (There is a Hot Shots Golf game for the Vita, to be sure, but it’s old, and the new stuff in this game makes the old game more or less obsolete.)


I finished Uncharted: The Lost Legacy yesterday.  Is it good?  Yes, it’s good.  It’s all the best parts of previous Uncharted games tossed into one short campaign.  I mean that quite literally, by the way – remember the train sequence in U2?  It’s revisited here.  The car chases in U3?  Also here.  The gentle banter between two stubborn and strong-willed protagonists, present in every Naughty Dog game since U1?  Here all over the place.  There’s not much that’s new, to be honest; this definitely does feel like DLC rather than a stand-alone game.  That said, it’s nice to play these games with non-Nathan Drake characters, and Chloe and Nadine are a fun team together.


I’ve also finished Pokemon Magikarp Jump, which has been one of the mainstays on my phone for the last few months.  Whenever I get around to my long-ish thing about idle clickers, I’ll write quite a bit about this one; suffice it to say, it’s better than I expected it to be, even if it’s still somewhat aimless.  But that’s the thing with the idle genre; they’re all aimless.  The thing you end up chasing is maximum efficiency, rather than any sort of definitive finish line.

Anyway, look – it’s gonna be quiet here for a little while, and so I just wanted to say hey, I’m alive, and doing my best to hang in there.  Have a lovely holiday weekend, everybody.

A Light In the Darkness

Happy Eclipse Day, everyone.  Just remember, this afternoon’s darkness is only temporary; the political and social climate of the country will remain darkened for (at least) the remainder of 45’s term.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I occasionally have trouble getting motivated to continue writing here.  Sometimes it’s just because I don’t have time; sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have anything important to say; most of the time it’s because I’m well aware that there are far more important things to be paying attention to than whatever I might write, especially since what I write here is about rather trivial stuff.  That being said, sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on the trivial stuff, if only because it’s a necessary reprieve from the crushing Sisyphean despair that comes from constantly refreshing Twitter to see if the world is still falling apart.  And, also, my mom is back in the hospital for the third time this year and while she’s in much better spirits this time around, it’s still emotionally draining and stressful to be worried about her, especially since there’s not much I can do beyond visiting.

So, then, allow me to indulge in some nonsense.

1. My glasses finally arrived!  A week and a half after they were supposed to arrive, but still!  New specs!  That’s the old look on the left, and the new look on the right.  (Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt.)  Similar-ish style, to be sure, but the new prescription is finally up-to-date and features lenses that are both progressive and transition[al].  I’m still getting used to them, but they’re already making a big difference.

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2.  Yes, I pre-ordered the super-special Project Scorpio edition of Xbox One X.  Don’t judge me.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me just in case I haven’t – ever since I went on my quest to break the 100K Achievement barrier late last year, I’ve more or less made the Xbox One my main console of choice, despite knowing that the PS4 is more powerful.  Yes, I’ve played the same games on both consoles; yes, I can see the difference.  Nevertheless, I like the Xbox One’s UI a lot more, and the Elite Controller is by far the best controller I’ve ever used, and since I knew I’d be getting this new Xbox anyway, I figured I’d be able to put up with some performance issues since they’d get patched down the road.  And I have, for the most part.  I don’t have a 4K TV, nor do I feel like I need one, but at least now I’ll be able to justify getting one in a year or two.

3.  I’ve rented and have played a few hours of Agents of Mayhem, the new Saints Row-adjacent 3rd person shooter from Volition, and I think I love the hell out of it?  It’s this weird hybrid that lies somewhere between a single-player Overwatch (in its multiple hero system), Crackdown (in its visual style, as well as its super-powerful characters who defy the laws of physics), and Saints Row (obviously).  But there’s also something…. I can’t find the right word for it, but I want to say that it feels sincere.  That’s a weird thing to feel for an over-the-top open world game where everything blows up all the time, but it’s also true – I get the sense from playing it that the developers were really excited to work on something new, even if Saints Row’s DNA is heavily embedded in it; instead of having to try and out-do the off-the-wall insanity of Saints Row 3 and 4, they just went in a completely different direction.  I don’t know if I’m going to finish it – my backlog is INSANE at the moment and there’s some new stuff arriving shortly that I’m eager to try out, but for the time being it’s a very pleasant diversion.

4.  Regarding that backlog – yeah, it’s rough.  To wit:

  • Sonic Mania (looks and feels so much like the original Genesis games that it’s almost scary)
  • Tacoma (I’ve only played the first 30 minutes, but I’m always down for a Gone Home-in-space thing)
  • Observer (bought this because of some very intriguing word-of-mouth recommendations; I’ve only played the first 30 minutes or so but I’m still very much intrigued)
  • Undertale (Vita)
  • Hellblade
  • Pyre
  • Superhot VR (need to get back to this now that there’s been a few patches; when I first tried it my hands were glitching out all over the place and the game was near-unplayable)
  • a replay of the new and improved No Man’s Sky (I don’t know how much time I’m going to sink into this but I’ve already visited a few planets in a brand-new playthrough and it might as well be a completely new game – if you bought this and gave up on it when it first came out, I’d suggest giving it a look now)
  • Vostok Inc. (I am, as noted, a weird sucker for idle clickers – this is an idle clicker hidden within a twin-stick shooter, which is a pretty interesting hybrid)
  • a replay of Headlander (strictly for Xbox ‘cheevos)
  • Halo Wars 2 (why did I even bother getting this in the first place, I’m allergic to RTS games)
  • FF15 and FF12 

Plus:  this week sees the release of the Uncharted thing, and then there’s also the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC shortly thereafter.

5.  At some point I’m going to write a thing about my fascination with / addiction to the idle clicker genre.  But I did want to at least mention that I have “finished” Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, in that I’ve gotten every driver up to their maximum level and now there’s nothing else left to do.