the dummy

So I am a dumb-dumb.

I’ve been complaining for months now that I haven’t been able to get to any of the Witcher 3 DLC, because I started a New Game + and need to be at least level 60 in order to start the last episode, Hearts of Stone.  And even though I’d downloaded the newest installment yesterday morning before leaving for work, it didn’t appear to be available when I started my NG+ save.

So I decided to back out, close out, and see about starting a New Game from scratch.  And lo and behold, there’s an option to play just the DLC (as well as any non-main-storyline quests) as a level 32 character, with properly leveled equipment.

I could’ve been playing the DLC this whole time, in other words, except I didn’t realize it was an option.  Or maybe I did, but ignored it (and then forgot about it), figuring I’d want to get there on my own via NG+ and such.

Unlike other RPGs where I’d find myself attached to my specific character build, Geralt is such a well-defined character in his own right that it seems completely unnecessary to bring my previous hundreds of hours along with him for a stand-alone adventure.  I’m certainly not attached to any of my weaponry or armor, and I have to figure that the DLC content would drop new stuff soon enough anyway.

So, as I said before, I’m a dumb-dumb.  I’ll be playing the Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine DLCs now, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.


I don’t write about music nearly enough on this blog, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my current front-runner for Album of the Year: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s ridiculously awesome “Nonagon Infinity”.  One of their songs had shown up in my Spotify Discovery playlist a few weeks back and I’d thought it pretty good, and for whatever reason I decided to give the rest of the album a listen, and NOW I CAN’T STOP.  Which is helpful, because the album is designed to be listened to on repeat – the last song leads directly into the opening seconds of the first song.  The whole thing kicks a tremendous amount of ass and now I’m finding myself falling down a garage-rock-psychedelic-prog rabbit hole; I’ll be listening to this and Thee Oh Sees for the next month, at least.



I’m about 2/3rds of the way through Justin Cronin’s “The City of Mirrors”, aka the final installment in the Passage trilogy, and it’s… hmm.  I’m enjoying it very much, though it’s paced a little too deliberately – there’s lots of short chapters with cliffhanger endings.  I appreciate that he’s trying to build momentum and tension, but it feels a little artificial to me.

On the other hand, it’s very interesting to see earlier events from the previous books told through different points of view – my favorite sequence in the entire trilogy, Amy’s visit to the zoo (from the first book), is now seen through Amy’s own POV, which adds an illuminating layer of intrigue to an already spectacular set-piece.  And there’s also a very long sequence detailing Subject Zero’s personal history, which contains some of the best pure writing in the whole series.

Obviously, if you’ve read the first two, you’re probably already reading this one.  I’ll be looking forward to talking it over with people once I finish.

preposterous architecture

First thing’s first:  regular readers of this blog know that I have a tendency to post somewhat irregularly.  Unfortunately, due to events beyond my control (i.e., my day job just moved to a new location and my computer monitor is now far more visible than it ever was at the old location), this is probably only going to get worse before it gets better.


I’ve been stressed out about the Goodreads challenge.  I am still 2 books ahead of schedule, but I don’t like only being 2 books ahead of schedule; there’s not a lot of breathing room.  But more to the point, I don’t like feeling like I need to read quickly just to hit some arbitrary number that I selected at the end of last year.

In any event, I finished David Means’ excellent and very trippy meta-Vietnam-memoir “Hystopia” this morning, which means I can now jump to “The City of Mirrors”, the just-released and final installment in Justin Cronin’s wonderful Passage trilogy.  I recently re-read the first two in order to get better prepared; I’d always adored the first book, but wasn’t quite as hot on the second.  After this re-read, though, I thought the 2nd book was much better – possibly because the first book was still fresh in my mind, and also possibly because I wasn’t rushing through the ending and so I found myself better able to follow what was happening.  I still think he’s better at writing about people than he is at constructing elaborate action set-pieces, and to that end the 2nd book is still problematic, but it’s still engaging.



As for games:  I’m finding myself having conflicting thoughts about Uncharted 4, the longer I stay away from it.  It’s tricky.  While I was playing it, I was thoroughly enraptured by it; the pacing is so fucking good and I always felt involved and invested in what was happening.  But now that it’s over, and I’ve read some more critical appraisals, I’m starting to wonder if it’s “THE BEST GAME EVER MADE.”  I certainly wouldn’t go quite as far as, say, David Shimomura’s disemboweling of it in Unwinnable, but there are some interesting points raised therein.

I had planned on replaying it, but as it happens, I’ve found myself more and more entranced by the new Doom.  It started off very slow, almost alarmingly slow – though I concede that this might’ve been because my initial hour or so was spent in that post-Uncharted 4 haze.  But it’s become quite enjoyable.

I don’t have the same relationship with Doom that most people do; I played the first few levels back in the day but I don’t think I ever beat it.   Same thing with Castle Wolfenstein.  The only games I had access to in those years, for whatever reason, were Duke Nukem 3D and then Quake 2.  I’m sure I bought the Xbox Arcade version of Doom, just to have it, but I don’t know that I did anything with it.

Point being, even in my limited experience, I’m familiar with the old Doom enough to recognize that this new Doom feels like it’s coming from the same place.  Certainly the movement feels similar.  The momentum through a combat arena feels the same – constant movement, jumping all over the place, nonstop action, and then a very pleasing break after that last kill, when the music calms down, and then you can begin to explore for hidden stuff (most of which I can’t find, even though I do look for it – even with my recon upgrades, I’m still missing things all the time).  It has the same confounding first-person platforming bits on preposterous architecture.   My first visit to Hell felt… well, not particularly hellish the way a more modern horror game might depict it, but it certainly felt like a Doom version of Hell should, which is appropriate.

I don’t give a shit about the narrative and, refreshingly, the game knows it.  It gives you just enough to point you in the right direction, but doesn’t overplay its hand; nobody’s playing this for the story.  (Which, again, is an interesting thing to experience after playing Uncharted 4, a game in which there are several different levels specifically dedicated to wandering around a person’s private residence, where every single item is part of a larger character study.)


So, yes:  it’s going to be quiet-ish around here for a little bit, until I can better figure out how to write without making it profoundly obvious that I’m not doing actual work-work.  Bear with me.

Civil War! Radiohead!

Here’s hoping you all had as lovely a weekend as I did.

First thing’s first:  normally I’m very late to the party when it comes to seeing big blockbuster movies in a timely fashion.  I spent 20 years dealing with the insanity of seeing big movies on opening weekend in NYC, a process that, among other things, entailed getting to the theater at least 90 minutes before showtime to ensure getting even a halfway decent seat, and this eventually wore on my nerves.  So between that and our weird reluctance to hire a babysitter, my wife and I don’t often get to go to the movies together, and certainly not for big big movies like Captain America: Civil War.  (Or, for that matter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My wife and I both saw it separately, and it wasn’t until the movie had been out for several weeks that we were able to see it together.)

But somehow we were able to see it yesterday.

I don’t know how valuable my opinion is when it comes to evaluating Marvel movies.  I’m not a comic book guy, and so my primary exposure to anything involving superheroes is through film – and film will always be different than the source material.  My wife, on the other hand, is a Marvel girl through-and-through, and she devoured the Civil War run when it was in print – indeed, I think the primary reason she was excited about the idea of an Avengers movie in the first place is that it might eventually lead to a film of the Civil War.

My understanding is that the film’s Civil War and the comic book run couldn’t be more different, even if they had a number of common similarities.  Obviously, the comic wasn’t constrained by all the various legal issues that have split up the various Marvel franchises among rival film studios – my wife is an X-Men fan, and so their absence in this Captain America film is rather strongly felt.  The comic was also, if I understand it correctly, spread out over a long-ish period of time; the movie, on the other hand, appears to take place within a 72-hour period, and the one big superhero battle is rather self-contained, all things considered.  It’s more of a grudge match than a capital-W War, like when a fight breaks out between teammates on the bench during a baseball game.

But this is all besides the point; I didn’t read the comics, so it makes no sense for me to look at it from that perspective.  As far as the films themselves, I’ve enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part; some films work better than others, to be sure, but all the heroes are well cast and the films possess a buoyant energy – far more so than the DC films.*

Anyway:  of all the MCU films, this Civil War film is almost certainly the best one.  For an ensemble action movie – with an absolutely gigantic ensemble – it’s remarkable how well-paced it is, how every character gets enough space to have their requisite emotional beats, and especially how both Captain America and Iron Man have compelling and valid points of view.

And the action sequences are similarly remarkably well-framed.  Unlike other recent action movies I could name, you can always tell what’s going on, who’s punching who, and there’s none of the motion sickness that seems to be part and parcel with these sorts of set pieces.  There’s one chase sequence in particular involving Winter Soldier, Black Panther and Captain America that is absolutely fantastic, specifically because the stuntwork is excellent and is shot in such a way that you can actually see what the hell is going on.  (The shot of Winter Soldier grabbing the motorcycle is arguably the most exciting shot in the entirety of the MCU thus far.)

It’s been noted by better critics than me that if this movie has one downside, it’s that the villain isn’t particularly memorable, and also that the movie makes up for this by not really needing a villain in the first place.  The Cap’n and Iron Man have been getting under each other’s skin for several films by now, and this film’s conflict is less about current ideological differences and more about, as Tony Stark says, simply “wanting to punch you in your perfect teeth.”

I want to say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything; I just hope I get another chance to see it on the big screen before too long.

*  *  *

The other big cultural event of the weekend: the new Radiohead album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, was released on Sunday.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until late last night, and even then I was being an idiot and struggling with the admittedly ridiculous decision as to how I should get it – iTunes? Amazon mp3? or hope for it to appear on Spotify before too long?

I’ll need a few dozen more listens before I can write about it with any authority, of course.  But even just on first glance it’s clear that this is a gorgeous album, with haunting melodies and Jonny Greenwood’s otherworldly string arrangements doing freakish things to my brain.  The thing about Radiohead albums – for me, at any rate – is that the production is always interesting, even on their lesser tunes, and on this album there are some rather startling and intimate sounds; the ones that got me in particular are how you can hear the piano’s hammers strike each string, as if the microphone was placed an inch away from the piano’s heart.  (I’m reminded of a Flaming Lips lyric – each press of a piano key is like “the softest bullet ever shot”).

It’s perhaps not the grand return to form I might’ve hoped for after the rather limp King of Limbs – I can’t help but wish there were a few more uptempo songs, though I feel certain that “Ful Stop” will absolutely destroy in a live setting – but this is definitely an improvement.  It’s hard to know what I expect from a Radiohead album anymore; the 1-2 knockout punches of OK Computer and Kid A will probably cloud everyone’s judgement on that score, not just mine.  But in terms of pure sonic beauty, this one’s a keeper.

*  *  *

Nothing to report on the games front; my digital copy of Uncharted 4 is already pre-loaded and that’s pretty much where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.

As for books – I finished re-reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage and am about halfway through my re-read of The Twelve, all so that I can get caught up for The City of Mirrors, which comes out in 2 weeks.  Those books are still great!


* I still wish that Edgar Wright had been allowed to make the Ant-Man film that he wanted to make; I bet it would’ve been spectacular.  But I suspect that his directorial vision would’ve been too idiosyncratic with the rest of the MCU; the final film feels constrained and reigned in, and it’s not nearly as joyous and charming as it wants to be.