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.

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.

 

%d bloggers like this: