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.

 

Weekend Recap: Dismantling the Patriarchy and Playing With Expensive Toys

Well, it took a little while, but I’ve finally caught the cold that’s been running around my house for the last week, and I’m very fortunate that I’m out of sick time and vacation time at my day job and also that my day job is now suddenly extremely busy with very time-sensitive stuff and the acceptable margin for error is even more nil than usual.  The timing couldn’t be better.


So I’ve been reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which is an absolutely gorgeously-written book about some rather unfortunate subject matter, given the recent news developments about how all men are trash.  I don’t mean to be flippant about that, by the way – men are fucking trash, and if there’s one good thing about the disastrous Trump presidency it’s that the patriarchy might finally come crumbling down, and good fucking riddance to it.

I don’t think my own actions have been as horrific as, say, Louis C.K., but that doesn’t necessarily get me off the hook; I was a shithead in my 20s, and I didn’t know that I was a shithead at the time, and it sucks.  Facebook has that little “memories” thing and it was almost exactly 3 years ago today that I went back and re-read my college diary and was simply aghast at how shitty a person I was, and the whole thing still makes me nauseous.  All I can do, now, is raise my son to be a better man than I used to be.  I’d like to think that I’m at least a halfway decent man now, and that’s really only because of a concerted and conscious effort and my eternally patient wife straight-up telling me when I’m unconsciously mansplaining or being a jerk.


As noted above, I’ve been kept away from writing here for a while.  I’ve been wanting to pop in here and write about, oh, I don’t know, my new Xbox One X and how my son and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together, which is really all I’ve ever wanted to do with him.  Let’s start with that, then, because it’s wonderful.

Henry loves Super Mario Odyssey.  We’ve been playing it in 2-player mode, where he’s Mario and I’m the hat, although he’ll hand me his controller when he needs help getting to a tricky place or when there’s a boss fight.  And more often than not he’s just happy to watch and show me where to go, and when we collect a moon he goes “YES!” and gives me a high-five, and it’s like, man, this is the best.  I’ve said it here a million times – I never had a Nintendo system in my house; I had an Atari 2600 when I was a little kid, and then my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, and so I’ve never had the Nintendo nostalgia that everyone else in the world has.  But seeing my kid go nuts over Mario is awesome.  I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with him.   (In fact, when I was getting him dressed this morning, he told me he had Mario dreams, and he couldn’t wait to play some more with me tonight.  Plans = made.)

As for the Xbox One X:  well, look.

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I don’t (yet) have a 4K TV, but I can tell you that the difference between the OG XB1 and this new XOX is night and day.  It’s much quieter, everything loads much faster (even the stuff that hasn’t received “enhanced patches” perform better – The Witcher 3 loads at least a full minute quicker than before, and it seems to perform much smoother too), and the stuff that has received updates is even more pronounced.  Wolfenstein 2 on XOX, in particular, makes the OG XB1 look last-gen.

I’ve been spending the most time with Assassin’s Creed Origins (heretofore AssOrgy), and yeah, that game looks really nice.  I’m still in the early going – I’m only level 15 or so, and I’ve just gotten to the Hippodrome – but it has a wonderful sense of pace to it.  Feels a lot like Witcher 3, actually, in all the right ways, and this game’s open-world structure seems to suit the nomadic player character quite well, in that it makes sense for him to be wandering around and picking up missions here and there, helping out where he can.  I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter that while people like AssOrgy, it’s not necessarily a great Assassin’s Creed game; I suppose that’s a fair assessment, given that the “assassination missions” feel a lot less scripted than they used to, but overall I really like the direction this game is moving in.  In fact, the only bits that I’m finding myself missing are the environmental puzzles, though supposedly that element starts to show up a bit later, once you reach Giza and the Pyramids.

I understand that there’s a fair bit of confusion as to who the Xbox One X is actually for.  I can tell you this:  it’s for me, the Xbox fanboy who has been disappointed by the performance of the Xbox One and wants a comparable experience to the PS4.  And who also has a little bit of extra cash (or doesn’t care about excess credit card debt).  Is it necessary?  No, probably not, but I don’t regret my purchase in the slightest.  It makes my existing library look and perform drastically better than it did, and so I’m all for it.  If you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade, I would highly recommend buying an external hard drive and backing up your current Xbox One and moving all your games over to it first, as it makes setting up the X1X a twenty-minute breeze.  (For whatever it’s worth, this is the one I have, and I bought it because Major Nelson uses it too, and it was on sale at the time.)

the necessity of distraction

You ever take an allergy pill and then drink too much caffeine?  It’s all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack but you’re also very zoned out and breathing very deeply.

Hi, welcome to my Wednesday afternoon.  My job is slow at the moment, and I have all this nervous energy that I need to expel.  So I’m gonna talk about all the crap I’ve bought of late that I haven’t had the time or inclination to enjoy.


Before I get started with some aimless rambling and babbling, I just want to thank everyone for their support this past week.  We did end up putting Lily to sleep on Saturday, and it was awful and gut-wrenching and sad, but hearing from everyone really did make a difference.  I am in the midst of another one of my love-hate spats with the internet and social media, but in this particular instance it was really nice to feel like all our friends around the world were giving us a much-needed hug.

I suppose I should also say that I’m fine, as far as the horrific event that took place in lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon.  Indeed, my office is so close to it that I could see the men in white hazmat suits milling around as I ran a quick errand this morning.  I was never in any danger (though I had been walking right there only a few hours prior), and I never had a chance to get anxious because by the time that the actual, real news was starting to come in, it was already over.  I suppose it might seem weird that I’m not really all that messed up about it, but, I mean, what am I gonna do?  I’m already a nervous wreck about the world in general.  I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.


I’ve been in a non-stop escapist fiction mood of late, reading lots of horror and thriller and mystery stuff, and I needed to switch things up just a bit.  So I’m now three chapters into The Crimson Petal and the White, and it is gorgeous in ways I haven’t yet even begun to parse.  I enjoyed Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, and everyone on Goodreads who saw that I’d enjoyed it told me to immediately drop everything I was doing and start reading Crimson Petal; it’s been a few years, but here I am.


I am desperate to talk about Stranger Things 2, except that I haven’t finished it yet.  Assuming that the wife is amenable, we will watch the final 2 episodes tonight.  Yes, I am aware that a lot of people have very intense problems with Episode 7; I also just read a thing that the Duffer Brothers are aware of this but felt it necessary to fully tell the story they wanted to tell.  Given that I am fully on board with this season – even more than the first one, and I adored the first one – I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say this, in the meantime – one of the things that I love about ST is how people actually cooperate with each other and believe each other and don’t act stupid for the purpose of plot contrivance.  It worked remarkably well in the first season and it’s working even better here.  Also – genius casting of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.  (I noted on Twitter the other day that people who recognize Sean Astin from LotR and not The Goonies make me feel incredibly old, and then a friend reminded me that 16 years passed between the Goonies and LotR 1, and that 16 years have also passed since LotR1 and ST2, and holy shit I am old.)


In my dog-related grief, I accidentally did a thing and bought a Nintendo Switch, plus Zelda and Mario (and then Golf Story and also Stardew Valley).  So that’s happening.  I’ve been able to play maybe 15 minutes of Zelda, Mario and Golf, and they are all things I want to continue playing, so that’s nice.

I also have Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II burning a hole on my Xbox One’s external hard drive, and I’ve played just enough of both of them to know that I’d rather play them on my Xbox One X, which is supposedly arriving next week although I haven’t yet received any shipping information, which is unnerving.


 

The Last Weekend Recap of 2014

2015 will be upon us in just a few days.  This would be an opportune time to whip up a “Top 10 Games I’m Looking Forward To” post, or even a “New Year’s Resolution” post, and perhaps I’ll get one of those going before long.  I do have material for both of those posts, because I am nothing if not over-prepared.

But I’m finding it hard to be upbeat about gaming right now, and it’s hard to look forward when the present is still dragging me down.  We’re still in 2014, after all, only a few days removed from the PSN/XBL hack that ruined everyone’s Christmas break.

So as far as a weekend recap is concerned, well:  what could any of us do?  As it was, pretty much every game I have stored on my PS4 and XB1 was impossible to play, given that everything needed an internet connection, even the single-player stuff.  Thank God I’d already finished my Dragon Age campaign, or else I would’ve lost my friggin’ mind.    (Speaking of which, for a few days there I thought my Vita was broken, too – although now that the networks are back up, it appears all is well.)

In any event, because Xbox Live came back faster than PSN – and it’s more than a little distressing at how Sony still doesn’t have their online shit together – I did end up getting back into Forza Horizon 2; I’m now only 2 championships away from the Finale.  Goddamn, I love that game.  I can’t tell if the computer AI is too easy, or if I’m really good at it, or what – I win nearly every race, but they’re always close, and they’re almost always really entertaining.

I only found out that PSN was starting to come back online because I’ve been waking up at 3am every night for the last 2 weeks, and so during Saturday’s insomnia I decided to check my iPhone and see if I could log into the PSN app, and – lo and behold – I could.  So I downloaded Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (which was part of the PSN Holiday Sale), and… it’s good?  I liked the first one a lot, and this one seems like more of that same thing, but it seems like it’d be much better with friends, so I think I’ll save that for online buddies.

And speaking of sales, I succumbed to my better judgment and picked up a few things in the Steam Holiday Sale:

  • Divinity: Original Sin
  • Secrets of Raetikon
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Super Time Force Ultra

Of those four, Divinity is the biggest pickup on my list, though after Dragon Age I can’t help but wonder if I’m epic-RPG’d out.


What else… oh yeah, I’m nearly finished with Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things“, which is absolutely heartbreaking and devastating and maybe not the best thing to read at 3 in the morning during a seasonal depression.  But it’s also really good, and I’m looking forward to diving into his back catalog.

Speaking of which, I already have a sizable book backlog to get to, though I also can’t help but notice that the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by Javier Marías is finally available on Kindle, and so I’m kinda itching to get started on that, given that I’ve been wanting to read it for several years now.  I’m really trying to not buy anything new until I finish everything old (and this goes for games, too) but this is a special case, and I’ve got some Amazon credit burning a hole in my wishlist.

Also also:  the wife and I watched Don Hertzfeldt’s “It’s Such A Beautiful Day“, which is available on Netflix streaming.  I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and I’ve been eyeing his progress on this film for quite a long time, and then to suddenly find out it was on Netflix was a very happy accidental Christmas present.  The film itself?  Not necessarily what you’d call “happy.”  But it’s utterly brilliant and dark and amazing and considering it was basically one dude working in isolation for 10 years doing these incredible in-camera hand-drawn animations, it makes me feel like I’ve been wasting my creative life.

So look forward to my new album, which I am determined to start and finish next year.

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