stressin’ and confessin’

Very happy to announce – 6 years too late, perhaps – that “Untrue Songs” is now available on Spotify and other streaming platforms. I know it’s on Youtube and iTunes; it very well may be on Tidal and Amazon, too, if that floats your boat.

I’m a little stressed out. My money situation is, shall we say, not good. I’m terrible with money anyway, but it’s kinda really bad right now, what with debt and the repayment of loans that contribute to further debt, etc. So, for real, if you can, go check out Untrue Songs on your digital platform of choice and maybe I’ll be able to buy a very small coffee at the end of the next fiscal quarter.

BOOKS: I’ve been on a kick recently of short weird horror fiction, which has been quite fun. If you like such things, I heartily recommend Nathan Ballingrud’s “Wounds”, which is utterly fantastic – his other collection, “North American Lake Monsters”, is also quite good. Also, Paul Tremblay’s “Growing Things” is excellent and especially fun for people who’ve read his other novels; there are some neat connections in these stories to those novels. And, well, the story “Notes from the Dog Walkers” might be my favorite bit of meta-fiction that I’ve read in the last 10 years.

GAMES: As per usual, I’m having trouble staying engaged in anything. I had been pretty excited about finally getting into Breath of the Wild, but it still gets a bit obtuse at times and I feel wildly underpowered everywhere I go. But I will give a quick shoutout to Slay The Spire, which is one of the best rogue-like card combat games I’ve ever played (and which makes dragging my Switch around that much more worthwhile). Also, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is just as fun as the first one while also being a hell of a lot more accessible and having a bunch of necessary quality-of-life improvements over the original. Finally, Etherborn is a super-trippy puzzle-platformer thing that feels like moving around in an Escher drawing.

The First 33 Hours: MGS V

One of the reasons why it’s been so quiet around here lately is that I’ve been working on a gigantic freelance thing about Metal Gear Solid V.  I handed in my draft last night; it clocks in at a little over 3800 words, which makes it somewhat long-winded, but also appropriate given the subject matter.  The article is ostensibly about my long, sordid history of active loathing and befuddlement of the Metal Gear franchise, trying to figure out just what it is about these games that gets under my skin the way no other game seems to do.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been playing the shit out of MGS V, and I have lots of comments about it that weren’t particularly appropriate for the article I was writing.

Current status:

  • 33 hours
  • 23% overall completion
  • 31% mission completion (16 missions completed)
  • 19% Side Ops completion

One of the reasons why I was able to finish my draft yesterday is because I’ve hit a bit of a wall in the most recent story mission, one where I have to extract a moving vehicle out of a convoy of tanks.  The game’s checkpoint system kinda sucks, which is why I’m a bit frustrated at the moment.  The mission starts by putting you a short distance from a guard post; you take over the post and discover the convoy’s route.  At that point you can do whatever you want, and after some trial and error I decided to take a shortcut and head to a camp towards the end of the route, which would give me plenty of time to clear out the camp and prepare to lay siege to the convoy.  The problem is, I’m able to clear out the camp with no problem, but the convoy destroys me, and when I restart at the last checkpoint, it puts me all the way back at the beginning of that second camp’s stakeout – which means I’ve lost at least 30 minutes of progress, and which also means that I’ll be a bit more aggressive the second time around because I’ve lost patience.

As far as stealth games go, MGS V is remarkably free of the usual trial-and-error routine – except in situations like this one, where I’ve yet to figure out how to solve the convoy issue, and where I’ll continue to butt my head against the puzzle until I eventually figure it out.  It just becomes less fun the 5th or 6th time around, especially since the game doesn’t let you keep all the collectible stuff you’ve found if you restart.

Beyond that particular bit of frustration, I have to admit – I’m having a really good time with it.  I mean, 33 hours is nothing to sneeze at, and now that I’m done with the article I might actually be able to relax a bit more and stop hyper-analyzing every single pixel.  I’m grateful that the game makes the exposition stuff optional and relatively unobtrusive, especially since the few cassette tapes that I’ve bothered to listen to are dull and awful and absurd in all the usual Kojima-esque ways that normally drive me insane.

I suppose I should start mixing up the times of day a bit more; I usually do my sneaking around at night (because if the game’s going to give me that option, why the hell not), and so there’s only one dark gray color scheme that I get to see.  I’m sure the deserts of Afghanistan and the savanna plains of Africa would be a bit more vibrant in the day.

In any event – yes, I’m enjoying it.  Normally I get a little annoyed if the game isn’t clear about why I have to get from Point A to Point B, but in this case the instant objective is simple enough to understand, and since I don’t give a shit about the larger soap opera, I can stay focused on the task at hand.  And even though the general infiltration techniques that I use remain largely the same from mission to mission, the game still manages to feel quite fresh; each situation is just different enough that it keeps me on my toes.  In the early going I felt that the “open world” was a bit misleading, because while there is a gigantic open world, there’s almost nothing to actually do in between each mission area.  There’s a lot of running around over empty space, in other words, which can get tedious (until I remember that I can call for a vehicle via supply-drop).

I will never get over the stupid dialogue and the endless, meaningless acronyms; there’s no way around it for me.  I get that the melodrama is part of the attraction to fans of the game, and that this franchise wouldn’t be what it is if people didn’t find this sort of absurdity enormously entertaining.  It’s not my cup of tea, and it never will be; I’ve accepted that, and I’ve decided to move on.  (That’s the ultimate thesis of the other article – spoiler alert!)

In other news, I’m kinda heartbroken about how terrible the new Tony Hawk game appears to be.  I had little faith that it would be as good as the original games, but I really hoped that this new one wouldn’t be a giant piece of shit.  Alas, it’s a giant piece of shit, and I’m sending back my rental copy as soon as it arrives in the mail.

What else, what else… I finished Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, and promptly started Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman.  The Tremblay is… good, not great; everything happens so quickly that it’s hard to get absorbed in anything, but it is awfully creepy, and the ending is somewhat horrifying.  I’m still too early in Tigerman to give it any sort of impression, other than to say it seems a bit more serious and a lot less whimsical than his other two novels.  That said, once I finish it, I’ll have met my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books in one year, which is awesome.

And speaking of which:  this past weekend the family and I headed into Maplewood Village for an “Art Walk”, and we walked into the local bookstore, and before I could even blink, my 2.5 year old son found a Thomas the Train book, and so of course I had to buy it for him, and also a Team Umizoomi activity book, and then I found a bunch of books that I’d actually had my eye on, and suddenly I walked out of the store with a whole bunch o’ stuff under my arm.

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A quick peek through the mental fog

I’m in a bit of a blur, and not just because of the allergy medication I had to take a little while ago.  I’ve been so focused on writing this freelance piece – currently at a little over 5600 words, and a bit of a jumbled mess at that – that I’ve totally put all my other creative stuff on hold.  The album I was hoping to finish is still going to be finished at some point, but in the meantime I’m going to be turning some of it into a 5-song EP – and some of those songs still need some tweaking.  Which I need to find time for.  Which is time that I simply don’t have.

I think I’d mentioned that I’ve been able to carve out a bit more reading time of late, which has been nice; the morning/evening trains are very conducive to reading without interruption or distraction.  And so it is that I finally finished My Struggle, Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgard this morning.  It is not the brilliant, earth-shattering book I’d been expecting, and it does tend to meander and wander from time to time – he (or his translator) is very fond of long sentences separated by commas – but it is insightful at times, and certainly very poignant, and his descriptions of places and times is downright novelistic in its specificity and clarity.  I suspect I will get around to the other volumes at some point, but I think I need a palate cleanser, so now it’s A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.

I won’t talk about Metal Gear Solid V here – because that’s what the freelance piece is about – other than to say that I’m enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay far more than I thought I would.  The story is still garbage but I find that I don’t particularly care all that much; I’m not paying attention to it.  I don’t find myself needing any particular narrative motivation to get from point A to point B beyond trying to execute a mission as well as I can (though I don’t beat myself up if the stealth falls apart and I have to get physical; and I did resort to wearing the chicken hat just to get past a mission that I was too far into to bother restarting).  Is it the greatest stealth game of all time, as most of the internet seems to think?  I don’t know, and I’m certainly not far along enough to even begin to grasp what my eventual answer might be, but I’ll say this – I do aim to finish it, even if the freelance piece comes first.

I’m very much wanting to play SOMA, though I’m also a bit of a chicken shit and may end up waiting for some sort of PS+ promotion.

Beyond all that, life is good.  My allergies are a mess but everything else is good: the job is busy but not inducing panic; the house is always good to come home to; my son cracks me up every time I see him; my wife is the best.  I feel good.  That’s the important thing.