sleepless in suburbia

Before I begin, a word of warning:  I am tired.  This is a different tired from the usual exhaustion of a busy week at work and parental duties.  This is the tired that comes from our almost-3-year-old son, who now refuses to go to bed.  Since the day we brought him home from the hospital he’d always been a terrific sleeper, but for the last two nights he’s completely changed his ways.  We get him into his jimmy-jams, we brush his teeth, we read three books, we tuck him into bed, we turn on his night lights and his little sound machine, we turn off the light, we close the door… and then, 5 seconds later, he tear-asses out of bed, opens the door, and looks at us, giggling.  We lead him back to bed, tuck him in wordlessly, close the door.  He gets up.  Last night this went from 8:00 until around 9:30.  In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t terrible; we’ve had friends whose children refused to sleep, and to his credit our son does eventually conk out.  But it is exhausting, especially since my wife and I are both a little under the weather, and we both have stuff to do after he goes to sleep.

So, yeah; between Henry’s late night antics and the barrage of work-related stuff, there’s been (a) little opportunity to write, and (b) not much of an opportunity to gather topics to write about.  But I’m gonna do my best here.

1.  I started and finished Firewatch last weekend.  I’ve read a number of illuminating and insightful pieces about it (Brendan Keogh, Emily Short, Ed Smith, among others), which have helped me piece together my own opinion about it, though I’m still not 100% sure I know what I want to say about it.  It feels less like a “walking simulator” and rather very much like an interactive short story, with wonderful dialogue and terrific voice casting.  And of course, given that the player character’s name is Henry (as is my son’s), I felt even more connected to him than I otherwise would have.

All this being said, there’s a part of me that feels somewhat disconnected from it; that all the decision-making I did in the conversation trees didn’t necessarily matter.  While Henry and Delilah have their own crosses to bear and work through, the larger story of Firewatch is about something else, and so at the end of the game I felt a little hollow.  (Maybe now I understand why everybody was so up in arms about the original ending to Mass Effect 3; you can feel a bit like the rug got pulled out from under you when 180+ hours worth of choice-making feels like it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much.)

The ending – such as it is – is bittersweet, and I suppose it’s the right way to end this sort of story.  But it also makes it somewhat difficult to return to, I think.

2.  I played about an hour’s worth of The Division beta on Xbox One last night, and I’m hoping to play it again on the PS4 tonight (just to compare/contrast, in terms of graphics).  My original impression of The Division upon its E3 reveal was that (a) I’m growing tired of this type of apocalyptic scenario, (b) it was very pretty and there’s simply no way it’s going to end up looking like that at retail, and (c) I don’t know if I need to play this.  But then, just a few weeks ago, it was revealed to be an RPG, and now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, it’s now become something I’m very, very interested in.

Making a Tom Clancys’ game an RPG is a very interesting decision, as far as these things go.  While all the Clancys’ games have had some very “game-y” aspects to them, there’s an additional level of abstraction that happens when you’re playing an RPG; leveling up, adding perks, comparing weapon pickups, etc.  You don’t necessarily notice this in the moment-to-moment gunplay (which, actually, reminded me a great deal of Mass Effect, come to think of it), but you can’t help but confront it after each battle when you’re running around looting corpses and lockboxes.  Any attempt at gritty realism and immersion kinda sails out the window when bright green columns of loot start glowing on the ground.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you; if anything, I’m all for it.

The problem, though, is that the writing – at least in the beta’s abbreviated levels – is kinda terrible.  I don’t know if it’s Destiny-level terrible, but it’s certainly not Bioware, or even Bethesda.  Maybe terrible is too strong a word; basically, I didn’t really care why I was doing what I was doing, and I was content to simply follow the arrow to my destination.  The game also, sadly, features the classic Ubisoft trademark of having over-complicated controls; after an hour, I still couldn’t reliably get my grenades equipped and ready.  This is a third-person cover-based shooter, Ubisoft; most of us know how these games are supposed to feel in our hands, and it’s simply bizarre that Ubi feels compelled to arbitrarily change the formula to make it twice as complicated as it needs to be.

Still, I’m intrigued, if only because I’ve got nothing else on my gaming plate at the moment.  Tonight I test the PS4 version, and then I’ll run some sort of poll to figure out which of my gaming friends are picking it up, and on which system.  That said, I played what I played solo, and it wasn’t necessarily that lonely an experience; I think it’ll be more fun in co-op, obviously, but what isn’t?

3. I’ve finished a few books since my last post.

  • The Lost Time Accidents” – I loved this book, even if some of the more scientific stuff flew over my head.  Marvelously written, fantastically drawn characters, a pure pleasure to read from cover to cover.
  • Childhood’s End” – Apparently they’re making a TV show out of this?  Interesting, though I’ve got no desire to watch it.  I’ve actually read very little Arthur C. Clarke – until this one, I think I’d only read “Rendezvous With Rama“, and even though I’ve watched “2001” a bazillion times it’s not quite the same thing.  In any event – I can certainly understand why this is considered an all-time classic sci-fi book, and it’s remarkable to see how close Clarke was to imagining current technology from the 1950s.
  • Sudden Death” – OK, I haven’t technically finished this one, but it’s very short, and I’ll probably finish it by Monday.  I don’t have any idea how to describe this one, but it’s certainly very readable.

Hey, I managed to poop out 1000+ words!  Even if none of them have any thought behind them.  Have a wonderful weekend, everybody, and may you all get some sleep.

 

Good books! Good games! Good times!

1. I’m only about a third of the way into John Wray’s “The Lost Time Accidents“, but let me say this: if the rest of the book is just half as brilliant as what I’ve already been through, it’ll still be one of the best books I’ll have read in 2016.  I’m reluctant to discuss anything so far, if only because I clearly have so much more to get through, but MAN – this is a great, great book.  What a great feeling it is to be incredibly excited for something and then have it be just as good, if not better, than one had hoped.

2.  I played through the first day of Firewatch last night.  It’s quite something, I’ll say that; the prologue, a text-driven series of events that sets up your character’s motivation for taking the park ranger job, is far more emotionally heavy than I was prepared for.  I’m thinking I might wait for the much-needed frame-rate patch to land before I continue.  The frame-rate hitching isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but given that the game is so beautiful and the atmosphere is so intoxicating, I’d rather experience it without being unnecessarily distracted.

3.  Also played through a little bit of Klaus, a very stylish 2D platformer that uses the PS4’s touch screen to great effect.  I can see that this one is going to break my brain in short order.

4.  Also, for some reason, I’ve been playing through the Batman: Arkham Knight Season of Infamy DLC, which is far better than any of the side-story stuff that had previously been released.  It’s short, but it’s well-written and visually striking, and there’s some pretty heavy-duty stuff that happens along the way.

I thought I’d had enough for a #5; I guess I didn’t.

surrounded

1. Achievement Unlocked:  we have a surround-sound system in our living room.  We don’t have to worry about annoying our downstairs neighbors, because the downstairs is still our house.  I’ve been wanting some sort of surround-sound thing for maybe 20 years, and now I have one.  Have I actually watched anything with it turned on?  No, not yet – we just got everything hooked up yesterday.  But it does work with Bluetooth and so I’ve been able to listen to rough drafts of my album with it via my phone, and that’s awesome, so, there’s that.  (As for what we got, we got this, which was in an Amazon Gold Box deal a little while ago for around $180.)

2. Books: the best part about not posting frequently is that when I do, I can suddenly recap a whole bunch of stuff instead of just one thing at a time.  I have finished Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest”, which moved the trilogy along in some very interesting and intriguing ways, and this morning I finished Samantha Hunt’s “Mr. Splitfoot”, which is a rather eerie and unsettling ghost story (and whose biggest reveal sent literally chills all over my body, on the train, which would’ve been even more awkward had I not been bundled up).  I’m about to start Christopher Buckley’s “The Relic Master”, which I’d heard good things about; I’m really mostly just treading water until John Wray’s “The Lost Time Accidents” comes out next week.  I don’t know why I’m so excited for that one, but I’ve been looking forward to it for many months now.

3.  Games:  I think I’m done with the Lego games.  I may have already said this.  I had to take a sick day yesterday and I ended up finishing the campaign for the newest one, Lego Marvel Avengers, and I’m fully OD’d on both Lego and Marvel, which is not a great feeling at all.  This game feels particularly uninspired in nearly every respect; if you’d never seen the movies, you’d have no idea what’s going on – but if you’d never seen the movies, why would you even be playing this?  The voice acting is mostly taken from the movies, except each line reading feels strangely sleepy and deadened in its delivery; the action is relentlessly tedious, endless waves of enemies descending out of nowhere, for no particular reason except to pad everything out.  Plenty of bugs.  A whole bunch of puzzles that do not explain themselves at all, which is all the more frustrating because the game does go out of its way to explain the dumbest shit in agonizing unskippable camera swoops.  I know, I know – I’m 40 years old, I’m at least 25 years past the target demographic, etc.  This doesn’t stop a shitty game from being a shitty game.  Remind me that I said all of this when Lego: Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few months.

That’s it and that’s all.