A Light In the Darkness

Happy Eclipse Day, everyone.  Just remember, this afternoon’s darkness is only temporary; the political and social climate of the country will remain darkened for (at least) the remainder of 45’s term.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I occasionally have trouble getting motivated to continue writing here.  Sometimes it’s just because I don’t have time; sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have anything important to say; most of the time it’s because I’m well aware that there are far more important things to be paying attention to than whatever I might write, especially since what I write here is about rather trivial stuff.  That being said, sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on the trivial stuff, if only because it’s a necessary reprieve from the crushing Sisyphean despair that comes from constantly refreshing Twitter to see if the world is still falling apart.  And, also, my mom is back in the hospital for the third time this year and while she’s in much better spirits this time around, it’s still emotionally draining and stressful to be worried about her, especially since there’s not much I can do beyond visiting.

So, then, allow me to indulge in some nonsense.

1. My glasses finally arrived!  A week and a half after they were supposed to arrive, but still!  New specs!  That’s the old look on the left, and the new look on the right.  (Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt.)  Similar-ish style, to be sure, but the new prescription is finally up-to-date and features lenses that are both progressive and transition[al].  I’m still getting used to them, but they’re already making a big difference.

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2.  Yes, I pre-ordered the super-special Project Scorpio edition of Xbox One X.  Don’t judge me.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me just in case I haven’t – ever since I went on my quest to break the 100K Achievement barrier late last year, I’ve more or less made the Xbox One my main console of choice, despite knowing that the PS4 is more powerful.  Yes, I’ve played the same games on both consoles; yes, I can see the difference.  Nevertheless, I like the Xbox One’s UI a lot more, and the Elite Controller is by far the best controller I’ve ever used, and since I knew I’d be getting this new Xbox anyway, I figured I’d be able to put up with some performance issues since they’d get patched down the road.  And I have, for the most part.  I don’t have a 4K TV, nor do I feel like I need one, but at least now I’ll be able to justify getting one in a year or two.

3.  I’ve rented and have played a few hours of Agents of Mayhem, the new Saints Row-adjacent 3rd person shooter from Volition, and I think I love the hell out of it?  It’s this weird hybrid that lies somewhere between a single-player Overwatch (in its multiple hero system), Crackdown (in its visual style, as well as its super-powerful characters who defy the laws of physics), and Saints Row (obviously).  But there’s also something…. I can’t find the right word for it, but I want to say that it feels sincere.  That’s a weird thing to feel for an over-the-top open world game where everything blows up all the time, but it’s also true – I get the sense from playing it that the developers were really excited to work on something new, even if Saints Row’s DNA is heavily embedded in it; instead of having to try and out-do the off-the-wall insanity of Saints Row 3 and 4, they just went in a completely different direction.  I don’t know if I’m going to finish it – my backlog is INSANE at the moment and there’s some new stuff arriving shortly that I’m eager to try out, but for the time being it’s a very pleasant diversion.

4.  Regarding that backlog – yeah, it’s rough.  To wit:

  • Sonic Mania (looks and feels so much like the original Genesis games that it’s almost scary)
  • Tacoma (I’ve only played the first 30 minutes, but I’m always down for a Gone Home-in-space thing)
  • Observer (bought this because of some very intriguing word-of-mouth recommendations; I’ve only played the first 30 minutes or so but I’m still very much intrigued)
  • Undertale (Vita)
  • Hellblade
  • Pyre
  • Superhot VR (need to get back to this now that there’s been a few patches; when I first tried it my hands were glitching out all over the place and the game was near-unplayable)
  • a replay of the new and improved No Man’s Sky (I don’t know how much time I’m going to sink into this but I’ve already visited a few planets in a brand-new playthrough and it might as well be a completely new game – if you bought this and gave up on it when it first came out, I’d suggest giving it a look now)
  • Vostok Inc. (I am, as noted, a weird sucker for idle clickers – this is an idle clicker hidden within a twin-stick shooter, which is a pretty interesting hybrid)
  • a replay of Headlander (strictly for Xbox ‘cheevos)
  • Halo Wars 2 (why did I even bother getting this in the first place, I’m allergic to RTS games)
  • FF15 and FF12 

Plus:  this week sees the release of the Uncharted thing, and then there’s also the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC shortly thereafter.

5.  At some point I’m going to write a thing about my fascination with / addiction to the idle clicker genre.  But I did want to at least mention that I have “finished” Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, in that I’ve gotten every driver up to their maximum level and now there’s nothing else left to do.

 

Random Ramblings: Wednesday Edition

Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a blank post and just sit there staring at the screen, hoping something pops into my head.  And then other times I’ll be doing something else and 600 different ideas start showing up and I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing so that I can write them down.  This doesn’t mean that any of these ideas are interesting, of course, but I’d rather write something down than nothing.  (This is how I tend to write lyrics these days, also, which is why it’s taken me over a year to work on this album, and even after all this time I’m still not where I want to be on that front.  But that’s another story.)

Anyway: last night I headed down to the basement to decompress and play something that wasn’t No Man’s Sky, and my brain went bananas.

My train of thought went something like this:

– It’s 8:30pm; the kid’s asleep, the wife is upstairs.   My rental copy of Deus Ex probably won’t show up until Thursday, but I really want to play it now.  But it’s 40GB+… even if I bought it, I still wouldn’t be able to play it until tomorrow night.  Maybe it’s a good thing that my poor impulse control and need for instant gratification has been trumped by my slow internet.

– So, then, let me get back into that Witcher 3 DLC that I’d put down a few months ago.  Oh, wait, shit, it’s been a few months and my hands are still used to No Man’s Sky‘s control scheme.  How do I play this game again?  And is this a thing that’s going to keep happening as I continue to get older, that I forget how to play games with complicated-ish controls?

– The difference between No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 in terms of how they handle their open world exploration could not be more different.

– I still adore The Witcher 3 – it’s one of my favorite games of all time, probably – but it’s not the sort of game that I can just dip in and out of.  I feel like I need to set aside a full day without interruptions in order to play it the way I’d like.

– Shit, I’m not enjoying Witcher 3 as much as I’d like.  Let me switch gears.  Do I want to restart Fallout 4, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few weeks?  Is it even worth it, considering the influx of new stuff that’s about to land?  Can I allow myself to get into it, considering that I’d originally thought it one of the most disappointing games I’d ever played?  Or is it simply that Witcher 3 has completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me?

– I’m gonna go back to No Man’s Sky.  Oh, shit, here’s a kick-ass ship that I can actually afford!  Hey, all right.  Whoops, it’s 11:30pm!  I should probably go to sleep.

* * *

Nathan Grayson’s piece over at Kotaku story about “The Guy With The Lowest Possible Rank In Overwatch” is wonderful.

“What I found was that the people in the 40s were much more willing to try and still work together because these are probably people like me who are winning some but losing more,” Brown said. “Then when I got into the 30s, I was starting to see people who still have vague hope.”

Overwatch’s season one skill rating system was never intended to be a straightforward progression. Through hard work and diligence, you could slowly, painstakingly gain a fraction of a rank, but if you lost even a couple times in a row, you’d almost certainly take a nasty spill down the skill rating ladder. Ultimately, the system was meant to balance out. You were supposed to move up and down within a general ballpark of numbers. Blizzard didn’t do a super great job of making that apparent, though. As Brown observed, that led to players with chips on their shoulders and burning mounds of salt in their hearts.

“In the mid-30s, I met the angriest people in the world,” Brown said. “It’s somewhere in that mid-30s and upper 20s [area], these are just the angriest people in the world. They think they should be doing better and they’re really not good enough, or these are just people stuck on really bad streaks.”

* * *

Confession: I thought I’d gotten over it, but apparently I miss Achievements.  Especially since it appears I’m within striking distance of 100K.  I could almost certainly break 100K this year if I played all multi-platform games on XB1 (or at least the ones where I wouldn’t necessarily notice a graphical downgrade – like South Park).

I wish the major outlets would go back to including console comparisons in their reviews the way they used to in previous generations – or even at the beginning of this one; I feel like I can’t make an informed decision until Digital Foundry does their analysis, and they almost never have one out before the release day of a significant title.  (i.e., Deus Ex.)

* * *

I have given up on my 2nd book so far this year.  The first was “Girl On The Train”, and now I’m adding “A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall”.  I’m not sure if my being 1 book away from completing my Goodreads challenge has anything to do with it, but I ran out of patience far earlier than usual.  I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of pretension, but this was too much.

 

 

No Man’s Blues

The new Deus Ex comes out this week and let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve looked forward to having something new to play in a really long time, even if it’s something I’m only marginally interested in as that new Deus Ex game.  No Man’s Sky is starting to break me down.

I don’t talk about myself much in this blog.  I mean, not really.  I write in the first person nearly exclusively and the word “I” shows up at least a dozen times in every entry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m speaking my innermost thoughts and feelings.  I write here because I like talking about games and I don’t really know that many people that I can talk about them with outside of one or two close friends.

Well, let me rephrase that, since I’m apparently in the mood for being brutally honest: I have, one way or the other, removed myself from the possibility of having those conversations in real life and online.  It’s one thing to have social anxiety (which I do, and which I take medication for, though I’m still not quite where I want to be); it’s quite another when that anxiety of human interaction starts to bleed into my internet life (which is starting to happen more and more often).  And. as I mentioned last week, my availability to be present on the internet is now, due to forces far beyond my control, dramatically lower than it’s been in maybe 20 years.*

To put it another way: I’m 40 years old and I feel like I’ve forgotten how to talk to people.  Even with my friends, I feel like I can’t put words together.  Or I’ll say something and it totally comes out wrong.  Or I’ll try to reach out to someone that I thought I was friends with and I get total silence in return, and while total silence can be interpreted in any number of ways, I almost always tend to lean towards the most depressing interpretation.

I bring this up because, as I said at the top – I don’t think I can play No Man’s Sky any more.  I don’t care about reaching the “end”, as it were, if it means I’m simply continuing to do the same 5-6 actions I am currently doing for another 10-20 hours.  The game is becoming heartbreaking in its soul-crushing loneliness.  And it’s not just that my interactions with the game’s NPCs are meaningless.

My biggest question with respect to NMS after all this time is:  why?  Why is this universe so absurdly big?  What do we as players get out of this incomprehensible vastness that we couldn’t have gotten out of a more hand-crafted experience?

Furthermore – why do we have to be online, if we can’t interact with each other?  Last night I found myself on someone else’s path, which may or may not mean I’m starting to get close to the center; I presume that if we all started at the same distance from the center, eventually we’d have to cross paths.  But even though someone else was there before me, it’s not like there was any connection made.  I saw no traces of this random person (they didn’t re-name the galaxy or land on any planets) and it’s doubtful that I ever would.  I initially thought it would be neat to be able to cross paths like this, but it’s utterly meaningless in a game where one could stay on the same planet for 20 hours without needing to move on.

I find myself sinking into a depressive mood as my time in the game progresses.  I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore.  The vastness of the universe is no longer awe-inspiring, but is instead becoming oppressive and intimidating.  I land on a planet, destroy its resources, take photos (that nobody will ever see) of animals (that nobody will ever see) to gain a miniscule amount of currency that can’t begin to help me afford the things I’d want to buy.  I see no other traces of anyone or anything beyond the same 5 or 6 pre-fab outposts that I see on every other planet.

I don’t know what awaits me at the center of the galaxy, but at this point I’d settle for a hug.

And so this is, probably, the point where I should say goodbye to this game.  Maybe I’ll pick it back up after a few content patches arrive; or maybe I’ll just let it be.

[There’s been quite a lot of good writing about NMS, much of which has been curated here.  I’d particularly like to single out Brendan Keogh’s piece, which I thought was fantastic.]

 


* Short of getting a new job, and I’m not going to start looking for a new job just so that I can screw around on Facebook during idle hours.

The (Possibly) Final Few Hours: No Man’s Sky

I very nearly beat No Man’s Sky last night, except for one stupid thing I did 20+ hours ago.

Let me back up for a sec, though.  Firstly, don’t necessarily take my completion time as an average: I was specifically on the Atlas questline, which supposedly gets you to the center much more quickly than the regular way; secondly, I did finally upgrade my warp drive, which makes a huge difference when it comes to warping – I was jumping 4-5 star systems at a time, rather than just 1.  And honestly, at this point, I kinda just want to wrap things up and see what happens; there’s not enough meat here to keep me satiated, and meanwhile there’s still that Witcher 3: Blood & Wine DLC I keep meaning to finish.

So, then:  if you were to look at any NMS guides right now, one of the first things they’ll tell you is don’t sell your Atlas Stones, no matter what – doesn’t matter if you need the inventory space OR the copious amounts of money.  As you might imagine, then, my particular problem is that when I started playing the game, this wasn’t common knowledge.  I needed money and saw that a Stone was selling for something absolutely absurd on the Galactic Trade market, and so I went for it.

You need 10 Atlas Stones to get the Atlas ending; I currently have 9.

I’m in a bit of a dilemma, in other words.  I don’t want to start over from scratch.  I’m not particularly interested in farming 2M units’ worth of materials in order to buy a Stone off the market – and I don’t even know if my current star system’s market is even selling them.  And I’m very reluctant to leave this system until I can resolve this situation, as I’m not sure if I’ll run into any more Atlas Waypoints – and I foolishly forgot to rename the system so that I could easily find it again if I got too far ahead.

So the way I see it, I’ve got two viable choices.  I can either use that item-duping glitch and get myself the 10th stone as soon as possible (i.e., before they patch it out), or… I sell all 9 stones and buy myself the sweetest ship I can find, and continue on my merry way through the galaxy… doing the exact same shit I’ve already been doing since I started.  I’m not necessarily in favor of using glitches and exploits, but in this specific case I can’t help but feel like it’s the right answer, since I didn’t know I was supposed to hold on to them when I first got one.  And, well… I’m starting to get a little bored.  I don’t really know what else there is for me to do beyond getting all my “Journey Milestones” up to level 10 – and as it currently stands, I’m mostly there on that score anyway.

I should also admit that I looked at the 10 Atlas Stones ending on YouTube – just because I needed to know if it was worth it.  I’m not going to spoil it here, but I will say this:  if the ending I saw is indeed the real ending (since it might’ve been filmed pre-Day One Patch), then HOLY SHIT what a colossally stupid waste of time this has been.

I don’t mean to sound so angry.  The game’s ambition is staggering to behold and I certainly don’t regret my purchase, even if I’m ultimately disappointed in my experience – the lethal combination of infinite monotony and incessant crashing would do that to anyone.  And I can certainly see Hello Games patching in a whole mess of interesting content down the line, and I’d be legitimately curious to see what they have to offer.  I’d love to see some hand-crafted planets with some new questlines; or, at least, some new variations in the planet-forming algorithms.  The game doesn’t take up that much space on my PS4, anyway, so it’s not like I’m going to delete it.

But I do wish that there was a bit more there, there.

image

here / not here

1. [cross-posting from my secret blog, but bear with me]

So every once in a while I get overwhelmed by whatever it is that overwhelms me about people, and so I publicly announce that I’m taking a Facebook hiatus, and each time I do the hiatus never lasts, and I feel like a hypocrite.  I’ll hit the “post” button announcing my farewell, and then I’ll be lurking on FB within 20 minutes of my initial post.  I acknowledge that this is ridiculous.

However: as I may or may not have mentioned, my day job has instituted these new draconian internet firewalls, and so not only can I not use my work PC to access my personal email, but I’m also completely shut out of Facebook.

And this means that, if I do want to use Facebook during normal business hours, I have to use my iPhone.  And the iPhone FB experience is a fucking dumpster fire.  It doesn’t matter how many times I ask it to stay in chronological order; it straight-up refuses to work in the way that I want it to.  Which means I invariably always miss something.  And since a lot of the reason why I used to spend so much time on FB is that weird “fear of missing out”, I kinda have no choice but to confront that particular fear head-on.

And so the oft-threatened hiatus is actually starting to stick.  I don’t really check it all that frequently any more, because I know the experience will suck when I do, and there’s nothing I can do to fix something that refuses to stay fixed.

Instead, I’m now on Twitter like a motherfucker.  (@couchshouts, if you didn’t already know.  If you knew me as @jervonyc, that account is long dormant.)  My twitter account is mostly political retweets and announcements of blog posts, so, you know, keep your expectations in check.

At least WordPress still works – for the time being, at least.  I don’t expect this to last forever, either, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

2. We are all agreed that Portal 2 is one of the best games ever made, yes?  Yes, of course.  It was recently made backward-compatible on the ol’ Xbox One, which is great news, because I very much like that game and would like to continue to play it.  Especially the online co-op mode, because that mode is SUPER AWESOME and it’s been a long time since the last time I played it and I’ve forgotten all the solutions.  HOWEVAH, the online co-op doesn’t seem to work anymore?  Possibly?  I’d like some external confirmation about this, actually, because me and my buddy tried to do a bit of the co-op campaign over the weekend and we couldn’t keep a session together for more than 10 minutes.  ALSO, Portal 2’s online interface, as designed and intended for the 360, does not work at all with respect to the XB1, which is a bit of a problem.

tl,dr version: remaster Portal 1 and 2 for next-gen consoles and, hey, why not include Portal 3 while you’re at it.

3. I was feeling pretty good about No Man’s sky again, especially in light of yesterday’s post.  So last night I fired up the game, struggled to find the one element I was looking for in order to complete my super-mega warp drive for about 90 minutes, and then the game crashed. Again.  So, yeah.  Maybe I’ll keep that one on the shelf until the next patch.

 

The Next Few Hours: No Man’s Sky

I’m in a weird place with respect to No Man’s Sky.  There’s been an ongoing critical discussion with respect to what NMS actually is, and how the reality of what NMS presents may or may not conflict with what people wanted NMS to be, and whether the hype that NMS generated was warranted (even if, from my point of view, the “hype” was mostly about people’s self-generated expectations based on the very vague statements that Hello Games was willing to impart), and that’s a fine discussion to have.  But the reality is that, well, I spent $60 on this thing and I’m trying to figure out how to have fun with it.

I am not terribly attracted to truly open sandboxes.  Minecraft, as the most obvious example, has never been my cup of tea; I was always the sort of kid who followed the build instructions that came with my Lego sets, and so I always felt a bit at sea without a guiding hand pointing me in some sort of direction. Even the Hitman franchise is somewhat impenetrable, if only because I never feel like I have enough of an opportunity to improvise before everything falls apart.

NMS is a bit more guided than I originally thought, though it wasn’t until I had a quasi-epiphany about how to play it that I figured it out.  We’ve always been told that our primary goal is to get to the center of the galaxy.  And I’ve read enough stuff online that strongly urges you to follow the Atlas questline in order to get there more quickly that I’ve opted to go that route (even though those Atlas stones are killing my ability to properly manage my inventory – would it be too much to ask for some sort of Village Chest analog, where I could safely store the stuff I wanted to keep and it would automatically be available at each space station?  I suspect, actually, that it might).

But even those two arrows are still a bit too open-ended – getting to the center of the galaxy could very well take years unless I pay proper attention to what I’m doing.  And so, to that end, I’ve decided that each play session will be devoted to accomplishing one specific task.  Last night I wanted to finally buy a new ship.  So first I decided to suck it up and fully discover each of this particular planet’s species, which netted me a cool 325,000.  I then mined the hell out of as much expensive shit as I could find (keeping the starred inventory items at the Galactic Trade Portals in the back of my mind), and eventually I happened to find a ship at a spaceport that (a) represented a decent inventory upgrade (22 slots, up from 19), (b) had better built-in upgrades than my current ship (more effective shields and cannons), and (c) hit my price range.  This took about 2 hours or so, and now I’m feeling like I accomplished something.

Tonight’s goal is to upgrade my warp drive, which means I need to farm certain specific elements and buy a Dynamic Resonator or whatever it’s called (I do have the recipe to craft it, but in terms of managing inventory space I’d rather just have it already so I can mine the other stuff).  And once I do that, I’ll be able to push a bit farther along each time I enter warp.

(I’ve read some hints as to how to get better versions of those Atlas Passes; I may try to do that, too, since apparently the v3 passes open up doors that contain warp materials.)

So I’ve managed to turn the unstructured chaos into something manageable and do-able, and so that’s something.  The problem is that I don’t know how much longer I’ll find it interesting.

The bummer with respect to such a gigantic universe as NMS is that I can’t really tell you about any exciting adventures I’ve had.  If I were to describe my average session, it would almost certainly sound a lot like yours.  There’s no real possibilities for emergent narratives to form, because there’s almost nothing to interact with.  The creatures all look a bit different but they don’t necessarily do anything particularly interesting; the sentinels either attack you or they ignore you; sometimes there will be space battles, but you won’t necessarily reap any rewards if you didn’t have any open inventory space on your ship before you got started.  Unlike The Witcher or the Elder Scrolls games, there’s not much of a reason to explore neat-looking caves, because aside from mining materials there’s nothing to find.  The algorithm that created this universe is certainly impressive, but nothing feels hand-crafted.

In a way, though, NMS also reminds me of what I’d hoped there’d be more of in Destiny, which had a much smaller universe that I only saw tiny portions of, and which provided almost no incentive to venture off the beaten path.  Perhaps it’s just because a lot of NMS’s UI feels like a straight-up clone.

I remain intrigued, and I suppose I’m glad there’s something of a lull in the release window at the moment.  I do not know if I’ll make to the end.

The First Few Hours: No Man’s Sky

Current Status:  I probably should’ve written this down – I think I’m about 10 hours in, approximately 10 systems visited.  I’m on my 3rd ship, my first exosuit is maxed out in terms of inventory slots, and my gun/multi-tool is built for mining, not for combat, which has proven to be somewhat of a problem of late (I’ll get to this in a bit).

Like most people, I had no idea what No Man’s Sky was going to be.  And now that I’ve spent some time with it, it turns out that it is more or less exactly what I’d hoped it might be, which is a more in-depth version of the free-form exploration bits of the first Mass Effect.

Now, look: I knew that the free-form stuff in ME1 was dumb as hell, but I did it anyway; I visited every goddamned planet and finished every goddamned thing there was to do, because it made for decent XP.  And I also did it because I felt that I understood what Bioware was attempting to do, and I gave it the benefit of the doubt on that score because I loved everything else, and ultimately I also knew that it would only take 30-45 minutes per planet.

NMS is a different beast entirely.

The size of this game cannot be overstated.  Which is hilarious, because the game’s size has been the single-biggest selling point since it was first announced.  But I truly couldn’t comprehend just how big the game is until I realized that each individual planet is bigger than every other open-world game ever made, times x10000.  And considering that there are 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets, well, you get the idea.

This being said, the game’s size can be overwhelming – and a bit frustrating.  As an example, let’s say you forget to stock up on plutonium before you land in the middle of an unexplored planet.  And then, after you finish whatever task you set out to do, you realize you can’t take off because not only are you out of plutonium, but there’s no plutonium to be found within a literal 5-minute walk in any direction – which is especially daunting considering how slow your default movement speed is;  well, at that moment, you can be tempted to junk the whole thing, delete your save file, and start over from scratch.

There are also some technical issues that have been frustrating, to say the least.  I crashed to the PS4’s dashboard at least 4 times yesterday, even after deleting and re-installing twice.  The game does do a somewhat decent job at checkpointing, but sometimes it crashes at very unfortunate moments – like after a 10-minute jaunt to find language stones.

Speaking of technical issues, my current task may possibly be bugged – or simply impossible.  I’ve veered off the main path and am following some Atlas quests – I really want to open up all those locked doors – and my current task is to find something in an abandoned building.  The building in question is about 50m underwater, and – like the other Abandoned Buildings I’ve run across – there’s no obvious way to enter them.  And if I need to blow something up in order to gain access, well, I’m totally screwed because I focused my multi-tool on mining as opposed to combat/explosives, and while I’ve discovered dozens of multi-tool blueprints, I haven’t come across a new multi-tool with upgraded slots in hours, which means I have no idea what to do.  Similarly, I’ve entered more than a few star systems that have Distress Signals in outer space, but I have no idea what to do when I find them; there’s nothing attached to the signal icon, and hitting L3 to search/locate brings up nothing.

Nonetheless, I am compelled by the overall experience.  I’ve long expressed a desire to explore strange new worlds at my own pace and with a more-or-less pacifist bent, and that’s literally what this game is.  I’m maybe not as crazy about the constant mining/survival aspect of the game, but it’s usually not that big a deal – there’s almost always something lying about that will fix whatever is breaking down.

The game’s rhythms, while repetitive, are enjoyable.  And every once in a while I happen to discover something unexpected, and those moments are really fun and rewarding.  The game’s mysteries are tantalizing, but I’m also just enjoying the scenery; I’m not necessarily worried about getting to the end as much as I am simply getting better stuff and hoping that something cool is around the corner.

And, well, that’s the thing, isn’t it:  there are so many corners.

E3 2016: much ado about nothing

I’d hoped to have posted my impressions of Sony’s press conference much sooner, but events have conspired against me.  I suppose it’s for the best, since I have the benefit of hindsight now and I feel that I can be a bit more objective about what Sony had to offer.

Did Sony “win” E3?  Was this “the greatest press conference ever”?  I’ve seen several tweeted headlines that answer in the affirmative to both of these questions, but I’m not convinced.  Again – I’m writing this a few days after the presser, so I’m not nearly as breathless with anticipation as I might’ve been during the actual event.

Sony’s actual press conference was certainly not the epic, no-doubt-about-it mic drop of a few years ago.  (And when I look at that recap, I am simply stunned by what I managed to be stunned by.)  I did find it much more substantive and tasteful than Microsoft’s, though that could’ve been the live orchestra.

More to the point, the games – or, rather, the portions of new games that were presented to us – seemed more mature, more sophisticated.  This new, Norse-themed God of War reboot feels like a Naughty Dog game, with a nuanced relationship between a father and son.   Horizon similarly looks quite astonishing, although it’s hard to know how to extrapolate a full game experience from that 7-8 minute demo.  We have a 2016 release date for The Last Guardian, which is nice, even if I haven’t read any preview coverage that managed to get a clear handle on what it is.

Honestly, I’m mostly excited about the Crash Bandicoot remasters.  And also the PSVR, which comes in at a price point that I can most probably survive.

This is all well and good, but now that’s it’s been a few days I’m more concerned about what we didn’t see – like No Man’s Sky (which I suspect was withheld simply because they’re in crunch time and didn’t have time to show anything without severely cramping their style).  And of course Sony did not talk about the “Neo”, which begs the question – will my PSVR work better with the new hardware?  Can I afford a Neo and a Scorpio while still paying my mortgage?  Will my wife leave me if I buy them both anyway?

* * *

With regards to the rest of the show: I am the wrong dude to ask.  Work has been crazy, and whatever free time I’ve had this week has been devoted to posting about gun control and how horrible Donald Trump is. But I can run off a few bullet points:

  • I bought Trials of the Blood Dragon after hearing about it at the Ubisoft presser because I love the Trials games, and after 15 minutes with it I can tell you that whoever decided to make a Trials game where you get off the motorcycle and engage in shitty platforming/shooting segments needs to get fired immediately.
  • The South Park game looks awesome.
  • Ubisoft’s winter-sports thing looks promising, though I’ve heard some absolutely dreadful impressions.
  • I must cop to admitting that Call of Duty in space actually looks pretty neat.
  • I very nearly pre-ordered the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3 earlier today.  I don’t know why, nor do I know why I stopped.
  • I’m willing to give that standalone Gwent game a look, though I never played more than the tutorial in Witcher 3 proper.
  • Speaking of which, I need to get back to that Blood & Wine DLC.
  • Also need to get back to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, though to be honest I’m not enjoying it all that much.  It feels like EA’s first draft of a Ubisoft open-world game, and you can take that however you want.

E3 2015: What Are We Excited About, Really?

I’ve always wondered who cheers and claps their hands and loudly yells “WOO!!!” during E3 keynote presentations; I’d been under the impression that they were press-only events, and even if “common folk” were allowed entry due to winning a contest, they’d still be outnumbered by the press by a wide margin.

But, then again, here are some of my Tweets during the Microsoft and Sony press conferences the other day:

in response to Microsoft announcing backwards compatibility:

in response to a Cuphead trailer:

in response to the Minecraft/HoloLens demonstration:

in response to the beginning of Sony’s press conference, before we realized we were seeing Last Guardian footage:

in response to the No Man’s Sky demo:

in response to FFVII Remake:

in response to Shenmue III:

So, yes, in the heat of the moment, I was very much jumping up and down and hooting and hollering, and if I’d been in the actual room surrounded by actual journalists, I probably would’ve forgotten myself and jumped up and down and hooted and hollered.   GUILTY AS CHARGED.

But now that it’s been a few days, and I’ve had some distance and some time to process everything we all saw, I’m feeling… well, maybe I’m still a bit pessimistic.

For starters:  almost all of Sony’s announcements, as dramatic and breath-taking as they were, did not contain any release dates – and when they did, almost none of them were for this year.

For another:  almost everything I hooted and hollered about above involved a known quantity.  I’ve already played Final Fantasy VII (well, the first 8-10 hours of it, I suppose); I’ve played ICO and at least half of Shadow of the Colossus and so while Last Guardian is technically “new”, it’s certainly somewhat familiar; I’ve played Shenmue 1 and 2 (and I have more to say on that in a bit); my primary reason for being excited for Xbox 360 compatibility (and cross-save support) is only because I love Red Dead Redemption too much to let it die (as do a lot of other people, too, apparently).

I’m very excited about what we saw of the new Tomb Raider; I’m hoping that Uncharted 4 doesn’t disappoint me the way that U3 did.  (The gameplay shown of each game at their respective presentations goes a long way towards explaining why I feel the way I do; both were exciting, but in very different ways – Tomb Raider’s slice was a very exciting and tense environmental gauntlet, whereas Uncharted 4’s slice began with gunfire and a car chase.  My favorite parts of both of these franchises are the non-combat environmental platforming, and Uncharted seems to be putting more emphasis on shooting people, and this is disappointing for reasons I’ve already talked about.)

I suppose I’m excited about Fallout 4, but when push comes to shove, I gotta say:  The Witcher 3 has raised the bar so fantastically high in terms of open-world RPGs that I’m not really 100% sure that Fallout 4 can hack it.  (And this is coming from someone who has devoured all of Bethesda’s big games, at least since Oblivion; the first time you play them, they’re quite stunning, but when you come back to them later they feel awfully stiff and archaic and janky as hell.)

I was impressed that Sony followed the Last Guardian reveal with a brand-new IP from the makers of Killzone, and which stars a female protagonist; I’ve already forgotten the name, and I don’t really know what it actually is.  I’m still really anxious to get my hands on No Man’s Sky, though even after the presser’s demo I’m still not 100% sure I know what that game is, and/or how I won’t eventually get bored with it.

And Shenmue… yeah.  We should probably talk about that.  I feel more than a little weird about the Kickstarter, as do a lot of people; on the one hand, I’m glad that people are giving it record-setting amounts of money, and I’m glad to know that I’ll eventually be able to play it, but it seems more than a bit strange that Sony would announce it in the form of a Kickstarter without also disclosing that they were going to contribute to its development.  I don’t pretend to know anything about Yu Suzuki or what he’s been up to for the last however many years, but up on that stage he looked like a man who’s been through hell, and the Kickstarter felt like some sort of strange attempt at maintaining pride and dignity.

And when I think about Shenmue 3…. do I even know what it is that I’m hoping for?  I finished the first game and got a few hours into the second one before getting incredibly frustrated by the controls and putting it down; I have no idea how the story ended.  Did I love the first game?  No, not particularly – I bought it because I owned a Dreamcast and I was contractually obligated to buy it, especially since its pre-release hype was breathtaking and deafening and I wasn’t yet properly cynical of these sorts of things (I have a memory of reading about its development – probably in the Official Dreamcast Magazine – and read something about how the game was so detailed that when Ryo went to drink a can of soda, the soda itself was motion captured), and yet it’s stuck with me in ways that many other, better games haven’t.  Something about it deeply resonated with me, even as I’m at a loss to explain what it was.  I remember it being somewhat stiff and clunky (especially Ryo’s voice acting), and I remember wanting to explore the city but always feeling pressured by the real-time clock and my in-game curfew; I remember the combat being better than expected, and the QTEs being interesting and innovative (Shenmue might’ve been the first game on that sort of grand scale to use them to their greatest effect), but also some ridiculously absurd forklift business towards the back third.  (Which, in a way, reminded me a little bit of GTA V‘s big heist, wherein part of Michael’s subterfuge involves literally mopping the floor.)   Above all else, I recall that Shenmue felt very honest and sincere about its intentions; it wasn’t being clever with its technology, but rather tried to be generous and inviting.  It had a story to tell and a world that the story inhabited, and the game very much wanted you to live that story in a way that no other game I’d played to that point had ever tried.

Time and technology have changed rather dramatically since those first two games, of course; I was 24 when I last played the first Shenmue, and when Shenmue 3 comes out – which, if it holds to its Kickstarter promise and is released in December 2017 – I’ll be 42.  I am curious; that’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be.

2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


 

Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015

THE MUST-HAVES

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below

THE RENTALS, AT THE VERY LEAST

  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)

THE CURIOSITIES

  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.

 

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