Weekend Recap: Noodling Around

MUSIC:  If we’re judging the new album’s progress solely by how much I’m uploading to my Google Drive folder every week, then obviously I’ve slowed down rather considerably since February.  But I’m still working / thinking / contemplating / scribbling down lyrics whenever they pop into my head, nearly every day.

My beta listeners might disagree with my analysis, but as of right now, out of the 20-odd demos I’ve uploaded, I’ve narrowed my attentions down to 10 of them.  One of those 10 is a brand-new thing I recorded the other night, which I was tempted to upload and share immediately after I bounced it to mp3, even though I probably shouldn’t.  I really like it, but I also am fully aware that it’s a nearly 5-minute-long guitar noodle, similar to the looping stuff I was doing about 15 years ago; and if it were to actually make the cut and appear on the album, I’d be doing some drastic edits in order make it a bit less self-indulgent.   (Ironically, this is why I’m tempted to post the original version in all its noodle-tastic glory, given that it’s almost certainly not remaining in its current form.)

I’ve also reached the inevitable crippling self-doubt phase, which is what happens when I listen to these demos too many times and end up either (a) hating them or (b) getting too attached to their rough-draft imperfections and wanting to keep them as is.  That second part is also why it’s hard to make second drafts out of these things sometimes; even though it’s a relatively minor thing to simply cut/paste sections over a few measures to insert some extra time for a verse or whatever, I’ve gotten so used to how these things already sound that even though the adjustment makes the song better, I don’t like it as much.

I might need to take some time away from the demos and simply listen to this stuff in my head for a while.

I also might go ahead and post this new thing anyway, or at least a little snippet of it.

BOOKS:  I realize I haven’t talked about what I’m reading in a while; I’ve been slowly going through David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet for the last few weeks; last night I started Part 3.  I was always apprehensive about starting it (which is why it’s been in my backlog for as long as it’s been), given that I’m not particularly drawn towards historical fiction, especially in an era that I have absolutely no prior knowledge of (in this book’s case, the Dutch/Japanese trade of the very late 1700s).  But Mitchell is still a hell of a writer, and I suspect that his reasons for setting this book in this very specific period and place will make sense, and in any event it’s very cool to see characters from his other books show up in this one.

FILM:  I don’t usually talk about movies in this blog, if only because I simply don’t have the time to consume film the way I used to.  But I did want to take a few minutes to talk about Interstellar, which the wife and I finally saw over the weekend.  I’ve been a devout Christopher Nolan fan ever since Memento exploded my brain – that’s one of the few films I’ve bothered to see in a theater twice – and I’ve enjoyed everything he’s made ever since, despite their varied flaws.  (My biggest problem with Inception, besides the fact that it gave me a panic attack when I saw it in the theater, is that there’s no character development in any line of dialogue; everything’s flat and expository and it’s a credit to his actors that you feel anything at all towards them; a similar line of attack could be levied towards the Batman films, too.)  In any case, I’d heard mixed things towards “Interstellar” but I knew I had to see it for myself anyway, and so I did, and I absolutely loved it.  It’s not without its flaws (though I wouldn’t dream of taking issue with its science; it’s out of my depth anyway, and whether or not it’s 100% scientifically accurate is somewhat besides the point, I think) and I saw certain twists coming, but I still gasped at their reveal, and I can’t help but admit that Matthew McConaughey (an actor I’m not terribly fond of) was really, really, really good.

Side note:  in the wake of the Marvin Gaye/Robin Thicke lawsuit and the troubling precedent it could set, I can’t help but think that Philip Glass could sue the pants off of Hans Zimmer for essentially ripping off Glass’s soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi.  Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the “Interstellar” soundtrack immensely; it just sounded somewhat familiar to me, and then I listened to it on Spotify and realized why.

GAMES:  Lots to talk about.

1.  I finished The Order: 1886.  I stand by my earlier faint praise, though now that it’s all over I can see why people would be disappointed:

  • The game’s premise is still very intriguing – the Knights of the Round Table are quasi-immortal knights currently engaged in a war with vampires – but nothing particularly interesting is done with that premise.
  • For all the game’s cinematic aspirations, it doesn’t stick the landing at all.
  • Any game, film or book that contains a scene between adversaries that has a variation of the line “We’re not so different, you and I” is now getting docked a full point in my arbitrary and non-existent rating system.
  • The combat system never really evolves.  You mostly fight human soldiers, usually head on although there are some stealth sequences here and there; maybe three or four times you fight some beasties, who have a much different attack pattern; and then I think there are two “boss” fights against these monsters which are mostly QTE-enhanced.  I don’t hate QTEs as much as most people, but I don’t necessarily like them all that much either; I don’t mind them here, but that’s also because they don’t pop up all that often.  (That said, the very last shot in the game has a QTE prompt in the dead center of the screen, which robs the moment of whatever gravitas it was aiming for.)
  • The “hidden collectible” aspect of the game is dumb and underdeveloped and a waste of time.

But:  it is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s relatively bug-free (which is very impressive in today’s AAA space), and I think a sequel could be something truly special, if it’s done right.

2.  During this weekend’s 2K sale on Steam, I ended up buying both Civilization Beyond Earth and Sid Meier’s Starships.  I keep forgetting that I need to be in certain moods in order to really get into Civ games, and I was not in those moods this weekend.

3.  On a whim, I decided to get back into Shadow of Mordor, which I’d put aside a few months back.  Decided to start over, from the very beginning, to remember how to play it properly.  Lo and behold, I’m enjoying it about a thousand times more than I did the first time; I don’t know what happened to my brain between then and now, but something about it finally clicked, and now I’m really enjoying it.  I’m also much better at it this time around, for whatever reason; the first time I was getting my ass kicked left and right, but in this second go-round I’m holding my own much better.

4.  My almost-2-year-old son is infatuated with the Lego Movie – and given that I enjoy it as well, I don’t mind him watching it over and over again.  So I decided that this would be as good a time as any to replay the game again, if only so that he could control Emmet directly.  The game is still buggy as hell, but whatever – if Henry wants Emmet to jump, Emmet jumps, and he gets quite a kick out of it.  (Also, my dog Lily is an expert-level photobomber.)

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Weekend Recap: Legos, Steam, Valiant Hearts

Between the craziness of my day job, the baby, and the World Cup, I’m somewhat surprised I was able to fit in any game time at all last week.  As it is, I didn’t do all that much, and what I did wasn’t particularly fulfilling.

I did finish The Lego Movie Game.  I’d have liked to keep playing it and try to get 100%, but there are some near-game-breaking bugs that make it a lot more difficult (and a lot less enjoyable).  The game came out early this year alongside the movie, if I recall correctly, and I must say that I’m awfully surprised that some of these bugs haven’t been addressed in the meantime.  No game is ever bug free, of course, but some of these are pretty hard to miss.  Case in point:  the very first hub world, Bricksburg?  If one of my characters got in a car, they were stuck inside there forever.  Another case in point – the bonus level that unlocks after you finish the game?  In order to get the 10th golden brick, you must get 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers.  I got more than 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers and the golden brick never appeared.  So.  Whatever.  I had fun with it, as I tend to do with all Lego games, but it’s also in rather shoddy shape.

I suppose the stress from work ended up influencing my Steam Sale binging.  I’d laid out some easy to follow ground rules before it started; I’d only get stuff from my wishlist, and only if it was at least 50% off.  Still, I didn’t mean to get as much as I did, and although I’m still pretty sure I never spent more than $10 on any one thing, I still ended up with more than I expected.

The grand haul (I think I mentioned the first 4 pickups last week):

  1. Baldur’s Gate II (Enhanced Edition)
  2. Jade Empire
  3. Sudeki
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. The Banner Saga
  6. Resident Evil 4 HD
  7. Resident Evil 6
  8. Goat Simulator
  9. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Complete)
  10. Memoria
  11. Typing of the Dead (Deluxe)
  12. Spacebase DF-9
  13. A Story About My Uncle
  14. Escape Goat 2

Of the last 10, I dabbled in a few.

The Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy RPG, reminding me of Fire Emblem but subtracting the cute anime and replacing it with downtrodden misery.  I’d read really interesting things about it when it came out earlier this year, which is why I picked it up; I’m just really terrible at those sorts of games, though.  And now it looks like it’s coming to iPad?  Shit.

I picked up Resident Evil 6 primarily because I wanted to play the Ada Wong chapter, which had still been locked away when I’d tried playing the game on the 360; shortly after I sent the game back to Gamefly, Capcom announced they were patching the game and unlocking all chapters from the get-go.  I’m not sure that patching the game will fix what was wrong with it, but I’d heard that the Ada chapter was by far the best one, so I’ll get around to it when I can.

Goat Simulator is delightfully silly and goofy and stupid and exactly what I needed when I picked it up.

I’d already played the hell out of Kingdoms of Amalur, and there were still hundreds of side quests I’d never gotten around to.  Obviously I can’t import my 360 save file, but I still remember liking it quite a bit.  It runs a little janky on my PC, though; might have to tinker with some settings.

Typing of the Dead is probably my big winner of the haul.  I’d played the Wii version with my wife a million years ago, and while we didn’t get that far we did appreciate the over-the-top grindhouse/schlock-horror insanity.  This tone is multiplied exponentially for the better when you replace shooting with typing.  And I am a very good typist.

Finally, I played the first few levels of Escape Goat 2, and it’s a really smart and interesting puzzle platformer, and I have a rather nice appetite for those sorts of experiences.

This week I’m hoping to take a look at A Story About My Uncle.  Patrick Klepek put up a video essay on it last week that more or less sold me in 5 minutes.

Also this week – I hope to spend some more time with Valiant Hearts, which I picked up for the PS4.  It’s using that gorgeous UbiArt engine (the one that the recent 2D Rayman games and Child of Light use), and it’s set in WW1 and is very, very dark in tone; but the gameplay is also a little goofy?  Or silly?  It feels somewhat at odds with the story they’re trying to tell.

I’m pretty sure I’ve played more Ubisoft games this year than I can count.  And I’m sure I’ll be picking up ACU in the fall.

Weekend Recap: a kick in the balls

Goddamn, that USA/Portugal game was rough.

As for video games:

I rented Lego Movie: The Videogame because we finally saw the movie last week, and the movie is as awesome as I’d heard, and I figured the game would be more of the same.  It is, though it’s also very padded (as Lego games generally are), and it’s also a bit tiresome in that regard.  It’s one thing if a Lego game is covering 3-4 movies at once, like LOTR or Star Wars or Harry Potter; it’s quite another if the source material in question is less than 2 hours long.  The game feels, at times, like an extended cut of the movie with all the deleted scenes thrown in, and then the outtakes of those deleted scenes, and etc.  The PSN Trophy list says there are 15 levels; I’ve finished 9.  It’s fine as far as Lego games go; occasional glitches and platforming frustration, but still fun.  I’m tempted to go back once I’m finished to try and 100% it, which is more than I can say for Lego Marvel.

Steam Sale:  Haven’t done that much damage, fortunately.  I already own so much stuff as it is, so almost none of the daily deals mean anything to me.  This year I also instituted a rule for myself – I’m only buying something if (a) it’s already on my wishlist, and (b) it’s over 50% off.  As it happens, I did buy a few things already that met that criteria – Baldur’s Gate 2 (which I’ve never played; thought about the iPad version, but figured I’d rather eventually experience it on the PC); Jade Empire (which I loved on the Xbox and missed dearly and have been thinking about a lot lately, and also which is totally fucked on PC; need to figure out how to get it to work); Sudeki (which is kind of a shitty Xbox action RPG that I have a weird fondness for; it’s super-janky and dated by today’s standards); and Vertiginous Golf (an early access steampunk mini-golf game; need to figure out why I can’t use my 360 controller).  At this point, I’m really only hoping for big discounts on Goat Simulator, NaissanceE, Story about my Uncle, Escape Goat 2, and Banner Saga.

Side note:  I’ve reached that point in my PC’s life where it’s not the best place to play new games, which is why I’m mainly focused on older/indie titles that it can still run well.

Vita:  I’m really getting into Tearaway, finally, which I picked up in this current PS+ sale.  I’d rented it earlier this year when my first Vita showed up; when that Vita broke, I returned Tearaway, not knowing if I’d ever pick it up again.  Anyway.  I can’t think of a better showcase for what the Vita is capable of; it’s charming as hell and while I’m not terribly big on customization (mostly because I can’t draw), it’s lovely to see my hastily scribbled snowflakes and pumpkins and decorations actually in the world.  And I can’t help but make funny faces every time I see myself as the sun, which is why I’m not playing it on the subway.

Also:  tell me which of these I should play.  I’ve only played the first 10 hours of 7 (which I wrote about earlier) before getting stuck, and I did maybe the first 2 of 10 earlier this year before not being sure if I cared or not.  Haven’t touched the rest; I bought them a year or two ago on PS3 during a weird retail therapy splurge, but never touched ’em.