Back in the saddle, more or less

(blows dust off blog)

OK, so: I was on vacation last week, but given certain recent events both personal and professional, I apparently needed to unplug from the internet for quite a bit longer.

i am still here, in my mind.

It’s hard to write about games when you’re not playing anything; it’s hard to write about music when you’d rather have people actually hear what you’re doing instead of poorly describing the process of creating it.  Also it’s hard to write, in general, when certain professional obligations make it impossible to do so.

But:  I’m back from vacation now, with my batteries somewhat recharged (it’s hard to fully relax when you have a two-year-old who’s favorite words are “No!” and “Stop!”), and I’ve returned to a day job that is considerably less stressful now than it was before I left.  These are good things!  Hopefully this means I’ll be writing here a bit more frequently than in recent weeks.


I’ve been thinking a lot about loops lately.  I’ve been watching my two-year-old son get into these “fun loops” at the local playground; he’ll climb up a ladder, run over a bridge, climb some steps, go down a slide, and then run back to the ladder and do the whole thing over and over and over again; he will not be deterred; if a kid gets in his way he either waits for them to pass (if they’re bigger) or steps around them (if they’re smaller) and then continues along his path; he’ll accept a brief respite for me to wipe his nose but that’s the only interruption that’s allowed, and he screams bloody murder if it’s time to go.

Maybe he gets it from me.  I’ve had a thing about loops ever since I can remember.  Not just in terms of games or playing, either.  I remember when I was first getting into music – like, really getting into music, during endless adolescent afternoons, when I would just tune out the entire world and get thoroughly absorbed in a cassette tape – I’d get to a favorite part in a song, and as soon as it was over I’d have to rewind and hear it again, and I’d do this over and over again until I memorized exactly how long I needed to rewind before getting to the beginning of the section.  (I still do this, of course, but instead of memorizing rewind time, I’m now memorizing timestamps.)

The point being:  that famous Halo quote about “30 seconds of fun” would appear to be something that’s hard-wired into our brains from an early age.  Speaking of which, that link above gives that quote a bit more context, in that the guy who said it didn’t mean to imply that in Halo you’re doing the exact same thing over and over again, but instead they’re switching the context on you so that the 30-second rush is constantly new and fresh.  This applies to the music analogy, though, too – if I get caught up in a favorite music section, I’ll listen to something once and then focus on a specific part, and then rewind and focus on a different part, each successive time my brain holding on to something new and different.


I did play some games on vacation – and on my Vita, too, which is nice.  I’d bought a few things before we left – Shovel Knight and Titan Souls, while also still staying heavily engaged with Stealth Inc. 2 – but as it turns out I ended up getting sucked back into SteamWorld Dig, for some reason.  That game is pretty neat, I think.  I’m still very early on, but it seems to be doing this very neat open-world Dig-Dug thing, which I find very pleasing and enjoyable.

I beat the first boss in Shovel Knight, and that game is fun, but – as I’ve said elsewhere – I don’t have that much nostalgic fondness for the 16-bit era that it’s clearly emulating, and so I’m finding that while I appreciate its slavish devotion, I’m not necessarily hungry for it the way everybody else is.  (Same thing goes for Axiom Verge, too – and where’s the Vita version of that, I wonder?)

I’m not sure Titan Souls is for me, though I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand so quickly, given that I’ve only actually beaten the very first boss.

Last night I felt a bit restless (for reasons I’ll explain at a later date, if all goes well) and downloaded Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China for the PS4.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous 2.5-D stealth platformer that makes me really wish I was playing Mark of the Ninja 2; it’s still very Assassin’s Creed-ish, which means the controls don’t always work the way I expect them to, and the UI is still very crowded (which is annoying, given the aforementioned graphical beauty).  But it’s at least not the same old thing, as far as the AC franchise is concerned, and so I’ll try to stick with it for the time being.


Over the vacation I finished the Valis trilogy by Philip K. Dick.  That’s the first PKD I’ve ever read, by the way, and I’d probably guess that it’s not the best way to start off with him, especially since I’m not what you’d call a religious person by any means.  It’s certainly very interesting and thought-provoking, of course, and after reading VALIS I’m certainly interested in at least thumbing through PKD’s Exegesis, though I know that’s probably a bit too much for me to chew right now.

I did end up breaking my “no new books until I finish the backlog” rule.  (Look – when I go on vacation, I tend to splurge – and given the sort of emotional stress I was going through before we left, I maybe went a bit overboard.)  I bought a bunch of stuff, all of which I really want to get to, but I ended up going with Arthur Phillips’ “The Song is You”, which is exactly what i’d hoped it would be (I really liked his “Egyptologist“, and when I’d read the description of this book I knew I had to read it as soon as humanly possible), and it’s also feeding me lots and lots of lyric ideas, which is useful, given that I really need to get back to work on the album.


OK, so, that’s it – I’m alive, I’m well, I’m getting back to work.  (And if you can, please cross your fingers for me; I’ll explain later.  It’s good news, if the finger-crossing works out, is all I’ll say.)

Stuffed

Capture

You may or may not have noticed that I keep a widget of what I’m currently playing.  I do my best to keep it accurate and timely, though sometimes I miss a few things here and there.  In any event, I’m marking this specific moment in time here because, if for some strange reason you’re reading this particular post in future weeks/months, it won’t look like that.  The current rotation widget may not look like that ever again.  Such a thing is simply unsustainable, because (i) unless I’m suddenly unemployed and (ii) I am also no longer required to be a parent, there can be no time to play all these games, and (iii) if everything in (i) and (ii) is (god forbid) true, then there’s certainly no money to purchase them.

More than that:  having this sort of to-do list is incredibly intimidating, and we’re not even taking into account my Steam backlog.   I’ve spoken before of the weird need to be part of the conversation, or to at least to have an understanding of what the current conversation is about, and this pathological need to be “up” on as many possible games as my brain can allow is basically a recipe for disappointment.  In my mad rush to dip my toes into all of these games, I’m resistant to letting myself get sucked into any particular one, and so I’m not having nearly as much fun with the fall blockbuster releases as I’d like.

I used to be this way with music.  I’d go to the record store and buy 5-10 CDs all at once (I realize that there might be some of you who are totally unfamiliar with this experience, and for that I pity you – to be fair, I also did this same sort of binging on iTunes and Amazon MP3) and listen to them all, only eventually sticking with the one that I liked the most.   It took two things to get me to stop acting this way:  the first was the realization that taste-making sites like Pitchfork, which I’d been relying upon since a few months after it launched, were no longer in sync with my own personal tastes (this 6.6 for the self-titled Forms album, for example – one of my favorite albums of all time – was the final straw), and the second was Spotify, which I was more than happy to spend $10/month on, considering how much listening I was doing (and continue to do).  (And yes, I do wish Spotify would modify their method of distributing revenue to artists – this Medium article has a much fairer and better approach.)  I still devour new albums and catch up on older ones I’ve missed, but I’m no longer putting self-applied pressure to absorb them into my bloodstream as quickly as possible.

I do still binge on books, but I can only read one thing at a time.  I have a good friend who’s constantly reading 2-3 books at once (while also writing her own novel and poetry), and I have no idea how her brain doesn’t explode.  As far as books go, though, the idea of a book backlog is comforting as opposed to intimidating; I generally read rather quickly, so I know I can get to stuff, but I also like knowing that I have a new book for nearly any mood that might strike.

Games, though… there’s this pressure to play them all, as soon as possible, and the pressure comes from all different angles.  If you’re into multiplayer, you more or less have to start from Day One – I just bought an Xbox One but I can’t possibly imagine jumping into Titanfall right now, since none of my friends are still playing it and I’d have to guess that only the hardest of hard-core fans are still around, which also implies that there’s absolutely no possibility for survival for a noob.  On the flip side, if you’re into single-player, you have to start early, too, so that you’re not accidentally spoiler’d.

There’s also the long-term pressure of simply staying current with the hardware you’re using.  If I’d never gotten around to playing, say, Red Dead Redemption, I’d be totally screwed now – my PS3 is in our bedroom, and my 360 is basically dead.  Sure, the PC is a bit better in terms of legacy titles, but by the same token – why would I want to start Baldur’s Gate 2 right now when I could instead start Divinity: Original Sin, which is itself already a few months old by this point?  And why would I play either of those when I have Dragon Age Inquisition on my PS4 right this very minute?

At some point I know I’ll get over this pressure to be on top of everything, especially since I’m currently under no professional obligations to actually be on top of everything.  But in the meantime, it’s driving me insane.  I think I said this yesterday – wanting to play all these games at the same time means I can’t actually allow myself to get sucked in to any of them.  I was telling a friend this morning – playing the new GTA V right now is an exercise in absurdity, because I’m too used to the first-person controls of Far Cry 4 to be able to deal with the changes in GTA’s 1st person scheme (even if you can change them), and similarly I’ve got Assassin’s Creed Unity in my fingers, which makes moving in GTA’s 3rd person scheme tricky, too (I keep hitting R2 to run, and I end up punching people in the face).  And having all three of those games in my hands means that the aforementioned Dragon Age Inquisition – the one game I genuinely want to play more than any of these others – is basically impossible.


In that list above you’ll also notice I’m currently playing Rollers of the Realm.  It’s a pinball/RPG hybrid, and it’s on the Vita, and it’s everything you could ever want a pinball/RPG hybrid to be.  (Here, let Kotaku’s Leo Wichtowski tell you about it.)  I played it during this morning’s commute and was charmed immensely; the dialogue is unexpectedly sharp and well-written thus far, but the pinball itself is solid and fun, and will be my go-to commute game for the foreseeable future.

I don’t know if this is true for all Vita owners or if it’s just my own particular experience, but my Vita’s download speeds are so ridiculously slow that it defies logic and reason.  Rollers of the Realm is 350 MB.  I started downloading it at 8:00 pm last night.  It didn’t finish until 7:00 this morning.  That’s 11 hours to download 350 MB.  The only reason why a 350 MB download should take 11 hours is because the current year is 1997.

Hello Goodbye

1.  The short version is that I have decided to stop writing for Gamemoir, for the foreseeable future.  It’s not them, though; it’s me.

The tl;dr version is that I’ve been stressing out about each column for months, frantically trying to find time to concentrate and write something that isn’t terrible, all the while knowing that with one or two exceptions, most of my posts pretty much died on the vine.  I was home sick yesterday, and I hadn’t yet pitched a column for this coming Monday, and I couldn’t think of anything, and I realized that I was going to be super-busy this weekend, and so unless I was able to pull it together under less than ideal circumstances in the few free hours I had, I wasn’t going to get anything handed in.  And I ultimately came to the realization that while I do tend to like the pressure of deadlines, there’s only so much pressure I can take before I feel defeated by simply looking at an empty page.

It’s easier for me to post here, because I can just sit down and stay in my own voice and not be so preoccupied with traffic-grabbing headlines and topics and stuff.  And I think that I’ll probably be able to post a little bit more here, actually, since I won’t feel like I need to “save” anything.  (Indeed, this post ended up at almost 900 words and it only took about 45 minutes to write.)

It’s also a kick in the ass, though.  If I’m ever going to get regular freelance work – and I still feel like I’m a ways off in terms of having the sort of chops that can compete in an over-saturated freelance pool – I need to be able to concentrate, and be able to carve out writing time without losing too much family time (and/or getting in trouble at my day job), and so even just learning what I have to do just to get an 800-1000 word column up every week is an eye-opening experience, to say the very least.

I still plan on trying to pitch to other sites, but only when I feel that I have something good to pitch.

I’m eternally grateful for the patience, the support, and the invaluable experience that the Gamemoir crew gave me in my too-short stay there.

2.  Much to my surprise, I’ve been getting sucked back into The Last of Us Remastered, even though I felt pretty resolute in my decision to bail.  Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that I’m playing it on Easy, right from the get-go.  It’s still challenging, but it’s not nearly as frustrating as it is on Normal, and so I’m able to explore and move the story forward without getting bogged down in repetitive combat scenarios that lose their effectiveness with every restart.

I’m also surprised as to how much of the game I remember.  True, I’d just played it last year, but I was also playing it under newborn-baby sleep-deprived circumstances.

It’s hard for me to tell if there’s really that much of a graphical difference between the PS3 and PS4 versions.  With other 2014 HD remasters of 2013 games (Tomb Raider immediately comes to mind), the difference between last- and current-gen was actually quite pronounced.  That being said, the PS3 version of TLOU was the best-looking game on that system (and possibly of the entire console generation), and so the PS4 version basically feels slightly more rich, if that makes sense.  Beyond that, I think the only way I’d be able to tell the difference is that the PS4 controller makes the game a lot easier to deal with.

3.  I am really, really, really enjoying The Swapper on Vita.  I liked it on the PC but didn’t get all that far into it and eventually lost interest, but it feels absolutely perfect in my hands (even if I’m currently stuck on 2 different puzzle rooms). I’m especially loving the cross-save support, in that I was able to pick up some orbs on the PS4 (because I wanted to see what it looked like on my TV), and then move that save to the Vita so that I didn’t lose anything.  Cross-save support is the best.  As far as I’m concerned, Sony’s cross-save system might just be the biggest ace up its sleeve in the console war with the Xbox One; having indie games that I can play at home or on the go without losing progress is too good an offer to walk away from.

4.  Speaking of cross-save, I must admit to being a little bummed that I can’t get my PC save of Diablo III over to my PS4.  Blizzard’s doing a hell of a job letting you import console saves from different generations AND different manufacturers, and that’s certainly commendable, but I’m not about to lose over 100 hours of PC playtime just so that I can start over from scratch in my living room.

5.  I am an idiot.  I took a screenshot from The Last Of Us Remastered yesterday and a Twitter pal asked if it would make for a new SFTC mascot, and OF COURSE it would, and now I’m wondering why I haven’t been taking screenshots of couches in every game I’ve played for the last 4 years.

Cutting the Cord

A few months back, the wife and I decided to cut the cable cord.  Even after drastically cutting back on premium channels and removing our landline, our monthly cable bill was still over $200, and it was killing us.  So we killed our cable.

We kept our internet and bought a Roku3.  And last night we hooked up our over-the-air HD antenna, and now we sort-of have regular TV again – enough for us to watch football (and Hannibal when it returns in the winter).  I said this on both Twitter and FB last night, and I’ll say it here again, because it’s true:  it feels soooooooo good to not feel ripped off.  The Roku was $90; the antenna was $40; both of those expenses have already paid themselves back, as far as our needs are concerned.

Being cost-conscious is difficult but necessary for us these days.  We have a kid, after all, and we’re trying to eventually move out of the city and into the ‘burbs.  We’re not necessarily pinching every penny, but we are trying to pay attention to (and put and end to) unnecessary spending.  Between the Roku and the free over-the-air TV, our TV needs are pretty much completely sated.  Sure, we don’t have DVR anymore, but considering the amount of crap we were taping and didn’t have time to watch, I’d say it’s a justifiable loss.

I bring this up here because, well, games are expensive, too.  I’m trying to not buy anything I don’t absolutely have to have.  I’d love to play Divinity: Original Sin, but I’m sure that’s going to be in a Steam Sale at some point, and it’d be nice to actually take advantage of those sales next time around.  Similarly, being a Playstation Plus member very nearly pays for itself, in terms of free stuff for the Vita; of the 20 or so games on there, I’m not sure I’ve paid full price – or, indeed, anything at all – for 15 of them.

Speaking of the Vita:  man, I wish I had more time in my day for it.  As it is, I’ve spent the last few days trying to fit in time with both Rogue Legacy and The Swapper – both of which I’ve played before on PC, and which absolutely shine on Vita.  It still takes far too long to download stuff – see, for example, the 12 hours it took for me to download the ~600MB Metrico – but my goodness, it plays these sorts of games absolutely perfectly.  (I did say earlier this year that it was an ideal platform for today’s indie darlings, and I’m glad to have been correct.)

Also – I did end up finishing the TLOU DLC the other night.  I’m of two distinct minds on it – on the one hand, the story is beautiful and heartbreaking, and told exquisitely well.  On the other hand, the combat sections feel shoehorned in and obligatory, and are a drag, and make me feel even less likely to give the remastered original game a second look.  I’m still probably going to, being that the release schedule is still so gawdawfully dry, but I’m not going to like it, no matter how spiffy the new graphics are.

Tonight is the NYVCC’s 3rd Annual Summer Hoohah, being held at Barcade in Chelsea (148 West 24th Street).  If you’re in town, come on by!

On Comments

The first rule of Internet Club is (sing along with me) DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.  (The second rule of Internet Club is don’t ever go to WebMD, regardless of what symptoms you might be feeling, and third rule is to simply be yourself and have a good time.)

That being said, when the comments are starting to go apeshit over something that you’ve written, sometimes you can’t help but wonder what it is they’re getting so upset about.

Which brings me to the startling realization that, apparently, nobody actually reads the article they’re commenting on, or even (in this specific case) the actual headline.  They see what they want to see, and comment and yell and scream about how the article disagrees with their perception of what was written.

To wit:  I wrote a piece about No Man’s Sky for Gamemoir yesterday that seems to be doing quite well, as far as generating traffic is concerned.  It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest, because a lot of the posts I’ve written over there lately have more or less died right on the vine.

It’s not the best thing I’ve written, nor is it a deliberate, transparent attempt at click-bait.  The premise of the article is that for all the new games on the new console systems, the only game that actually seems to be “genuinely new” and “different” and “something impossible to achieve on previous generations of hardware” is No Man’s Sky, and therefore it’s the first “real” Next-Gen game.  That’s all I was trying to say.  Nothing particularly controversial, nothing particularly noteworthy.

But apparently I did generate some controversy, because on one of the portal sites the article was linked to, there’s a lively bunch of comments from people who have obviously not read the article or even read the headline fully.  The article’s headline is “Why No Man’s Sky Is The First ‘Real’ Next-Gen Game”.  The angry people are saying no, Infamous Second Son and Killzone SF were the first next-gen console games; those are the ones who seem to have glazed over the emphasis on the word Real.  Other angry people are saying that because NMS is an “indie” game, it doesn’t really count as a “real” game.  I guess their premise is that because the game isn’t being developed by 1000 people in multiple time zones with a gigantic budget, it can’t possibly be any good.

Here’s the thing – there is every reason to wonder if NMS is actually going to be fun to play.  For all its majesty and wonder and jaw-dropping vastness, the actual moment-to-moment gameplay is still very mysterious.  But even if the moment-to-moment experience is fun and engaging, there’s also the very real possibility that the game could be horrendously boring and tedious after a time, if the universe is as big as they claim it to be.

But that’s neither here nor there.  I’m excited for NMS because it’s different.  While I’m sometimes intimidated by truly open-ended games like Minecraft, I have a very easy time losing myself completely in open worlds like Skyrim and GTA, and as such I can see myself being totally immersed in exploring the vastness of NMS’s galaxy.  Moreover, it appears to be not only something I’ve never played before, but also something I’ve been wanting to play for as long as I can remember.  I’ve been wanting to explore the universe since I was a little kid wearing Star Wars underpants.   The Mass Effect games have come the closest to giving me that feeling, but the exploration was severely limited and very tightly scripted.  NMS is a completely different ballgame.


 

I did end up finishing A Story About My Uncle last week.  I sat in front of that aforementioned gauntlet, set up a timer on my iPhone, and said to myself – if I can’t get past this gauntlet in 15 minutes, I’m quitting, deleting the game from my hard drive, and moving on with the rest of my life.  I ended up getting past it in 10, and as it turned out it was the 2nd-to-last challenge in the entire game; the credits rolled about 10 minutes after I finally reached that elusive checkpoint.  Can I recommend it?  Sure, if it goes on Steam Sale again.  It’s got charm, and it’s certainly doing something different, and it’s nice to not kill anything for a few hours.  The difficulty does tend to spike unevenly at times, though, and it can be incredibly frustrating.  I am glad that I finished it, though I almost certainly won’t return to it.

I also gave Sniper Elite III a quick look-see over the weekend, and saw enough of it to know that it’s not my bag.

I’m mostly playing Stealth Inc. on my Vita, which I’m enjoying the hell out of – I’m at the beginning of Stage 8, which means I’m near the end, and it’s getting very difficult.  But it’s also a lot of fun, and it’s a perfect puzzler to play in short increments.

Speaking of the Vita, I still haven’t decided which Final Fantasy to commit to.  I’ve already played the first 6 hours of VII (though I think I’d have to start from scratch), I’ve played the first hour or so of X (and found it kinda meh), and also gave the first 20 minutes of IX a whirl (but couldn’t find a save point quickly enough).  As it happens, I’m probably not going to play any of them any time soon, being that I rented Persona 4 Golden.  I haven’t started that one yet, but I figure I might as well give it a shot first.

The Destiny beta comes out on the 17th.  I pre-ordered the game digitally a while ago on the PS4 but haven’t yet received my beta code; supposedly they’re arriving via email any minute now.  If you get in, look me up on PSN – I’m JervoNYC.

The Year (So Far) In Games

A bunch of sites have been putting up “Best Games of the Half-Year” posts this week, and I was tempted to follow suit, but after looking at my Games Played spreadsheet I found myself wondering how I could spin Wolfenstein: The New Order and South Park: The Stick of Truth into 800 words; it’s just not happening.  Those are two surprisingly terrific games, and they’ll most likely end up in my year-end list, and you should play them if you haven’t already.  Beyond that, it’s a bit of a reach.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call the first half of 2014 a disappointment; I expected this transition period between last-gen and current-gen to be a little weird and underwhelming.  That being said, a lot of the year’s biggest-hyped games fell relatively flat for me.  I was certainly impressed with the tech in Infamous: Second Son, but I hardly gave it a second thought after easily getting to 100% completion.  Similarly, there are certainly quite a few things to like about Watch Dogs, but if I think about that game for more than 5 seconds I get irrationally angry.  And Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is what it is, I guess, though I haven’t felt compelled to pick it back up since I finished it the first time.

I could continue on in this vein – there’s plenty of bummers on my Games Played spreadsheet (*cough* Thief *cough* Mario Golf World Tour *cough*) – but I’d prefer to keep the rest of this somewhat positive.

Jazzpunk!  That’s a spicy meatball if there ever was one.

I enjoyed playing Tomb Raider again on the PS4 and my HDTV, although I suppose its retail success is partially to blame for the HD double-dips that are in our immediate future as we wait for the real next-gen stuff to appear, i.e.The Last of UsGTA VDiablo III, to name a few off the top of my head.  And I’m planning on at least renting all of those games, too, so I suppose I’m partially to blame as well.

Speaking of Diablo III, I suppose I should heap a little bit of praise on its Reaper of Souls DLC and the additional patching that game’s received in the year since I last turned it on; the DLC managed to suck another dozen hours of my life after I’d sworn I was finished with it forever, and the daily missions and objectives are an intriguing carrot that I still consider chasing after.

I really enjoyed Bravely Default right up until I realized that I was going to have to play the entire game a second time; and then I read some walkthroughs that revealed that I’d actually have to play the whole thing 3-4 times before getting to the final ending.  This will not do.

What else, what else… I’ve not yet had that much time to actually play anything in depth on my PS Vita, and yet I keep downloading free games on it.  I’m very happy to finally own it, though.  The port of Fez is great – I just love having it in portable form – and Luftrausers is excellent and I need to get back to it, and Olli Olli hurts my brain but is also really good.

I was also going to include my favorite bits of gaming journalism and criticism, but it’s a gigantic list so far, and it’s also full of rather depressing stories of how toxic this industry is.  Still, if you’d like to check it out, I’ve made it publicly available as a Google Doc.

This weekend I’ll be away with the family, so I’m not sure what gaming there’ll be.  I’m currently playing A Story About My Uncle, which is both exhilarating and frustrating, sometimes simultaneously; I’d like to try and finish it tonight, since I’m not taking my PC with me.  I picked up Civ Rev 2 for my iPhone this morning; it’s not quite as graphically interesting as the 360 version from a few years back, but it’s leaps and bounds better-looking than the previous iOS version, and the touch controls are a lot more intuitive.  I’m still way over my head most of the time, but such is life.  And I guess I’ll bring the Vita along, too, and maybe keep plugging away at Tearaway and also perhaps one of the 6 Final Fantasy games I’ve got on there.  (The voting was inconclusive.  I might go with 8 or 9, since I’ve never touched those before.)

Have a happy and safe 4th, everyone.

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.

Vita_FF

 

Weekend Recap: Fun in the Sun

As with most weekends of late, there wasn’t a lot of gaming done.  Two reasons for this:  (1) I’m not particularly engaged with any specific game right now, and (2) it was an absolutely gorgeous weekend in NYC, and we were out and about for a great deal of it.

I’m still sorta playing Diablo III, though only in quick bursts – which is fine, actually, considering what the new endgame is like.  It’s easy enough to go in to an Act, collect some bounties, enter a rift, and scoop up some nice loot and then hop out after 30 minutes or so.

Did I mention that I formally gave up on Mario Golf: World Tour?  I won the first two tournaments but found the whole thing so empty and shallow that I just wanted it out of my house.  There’s a country club filled with stuff you can’t actually do – including a fully built-out gym, and you’d think you’d be able to hang out in it and do some mini-game exercises to help train your character and improve your stats, but there’s literally nothing to do in there but talk to characters who offer dumb platitudes about hard work – but you still have to walk through it in order to get to the courses.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  And the golf itself is as uninspiring and rote as the rest of the game, which is depressing.

I am now starting to sink my teeth into my Vita, though.  I played enough of my rented copy of God of War Collection to gather that it’s a rather uninspired and bare-boned port of the first two PS2 games, which were much better presented in an HD collection on the PS3.

But I’m also now a few save points into Final Fantasy X, which is, among other things, one of the main reasons why I finally bought the Vita when I did.  Having never played the original game, I can’t really vouch for the Vita experience other than to say that it looks utterly fantastic, even on the Slim’s “inferior” screen (which also, sadly, highlights just how not fantastic the God of War Collection looks).  I am very much looking forward to spending more time with it in the coming weeks, although how much time remains to be seen – Transistor comes out this week, as does Wolfenstein, and then Watch Dogs comes out next week.

And as long as I’m talking about the Vita, I might as well pimp my latest Gamemoir column, “Five Ideas to Help Save the Vita“, which is an admittedly hacky title but comes from a sincere place.  I genuinely dislike those types of SEO-friendly headlines – which is probably why this blog is still pretty small – but in this case, it is what it is.

Weekend Recap: Easy Mode

My new piece for Gamemoir just went up:  “There Is No Shame In Easy Mode.”  I feel pretty good about it, though it did go up a few hours before I thought it would, and I would’ve liked one last chance to proof it and make sure it was in tip-top shape.  In any event, it’s too late to take it back now!

Almost no gaming happened this weekend; we were at my mom’s new house for the Mother’s Day weekend, and between the baby and two sets of grandparents and everything else, I barely had the time to finish revising the Gamemoir piece, let alone play anything.

That said, I did finally get a chance to look at Borderlands 2 for my Vita, which took a literal three (3) days to download.  And after all that, it pains me to say that as much as I love Borderlands 2, I’m not sure this port was worth it.  I mean, hey, it’s great, portable Borderlands!  And it’s free, and came with all of the DLC!  But it also kinda looks a little shitty, and the Vita’s controls are just never going to compete with using a real controller.  And yet, because it took 3 days to download, there’s a part of me that would feel stupid to delete it from my memory stick.

I’m also nearly fully soured on Mario Golf World Tour.  I’ve had no desire to play it, or even think about it, and that’s sad; I like golf in videogame form, especially in a portable one.  It’s a rental, and my queue doesn’t get busy for a few more weeks, so I may hold on to it and give it one more real go, but it’s hard to stay excited for it.

No idea what’s happening this week.  I’ve yet to play my rental copy of MLB 14 The Show for PS4; that might be worth checking out, especially since my wife and I just cut the cable cord and no longer have easy access to live sports.  But I’ve always been kinda terrible at the hitting phase of the MLB games, which is (as you might imagine) a rather large part of the gameplay experience.  So I’m not necessarily holding my breath.

In the meantime, check out that Easy Mode column.  I’ve got to start figuring out next week’s pitch, too…

on writing for other people

1.  My living nightmare has come to an apparent end; my new PS Vita Slim arrived yesterday, and it actually appears to work.  I haven’t had a chance to do much of anything with it yet, though, as its download speeds are still as dreadfully slow as they were before – Borderlands 2 is maybe 30% downloaded and I’ve had the thing continually running since last night at 8pm – but I’ve held it in my hands and configured settings and such, and it feels… better, somehow.  My memories of my original Vita are dim, as you might imagine, being that in my 4 weeks of ownership I only actually had it working for 48 hours.  In any event, the new Slim feels nice in the hand; it’s a little light, but that’s probably OK over the long haul.  I look forward to the day when I can actually talk about playing games on it.

(Oh – I did manage to import my PS4 save of Fez over to the Vita, and that’s just a super-cool thing to be able to do.  I also tried using the Vita as the PS4’s second screen, and that kinda looked a little janky – it looked like a very poorly compressed YouTube video.  So I’m not sure how much mileage I’m going to get out of that feature.  But, still, hey.  Maybe I can use it as a BluRay remote for the time being.)

2.  I have a column due on Monday for Gamemoir; it’s a rebuttal to an opinion piece about “The Shame of Playing on Easy Mode” and it ought to be a slam dunk, and yet for some reason I’m having a much more difficult time than I anticipated in making it work.  The most important thing for me is that I don’t want to be mean; I mean, I’m writing a column, I don’t want it to read like it belongs in a comment thread.  But I have very strong feelings on that topic and I’m afraid that I’m going to screw it up somehow by either throwing too much into the post, or else not throwing in enough, or else dwelling on minutia and rushing through the points I actually want to make.

It’s strange, what writing for other sites is doing to my brain.  I mean, I’ve only written 2 pieces for Gamemoir so far (and in the meantime I’ve gone 0-for-2 for pitches to other, bigger sites), but those pieces have reached far bigger audiences than almost anything I’ve written here, and as such I’ve had to craft those pieces a bit differently than how I normally write.  I also get a week to write those pieces, so I have a bit more time to think about them and figure out how to say what I want to say.

The stuff I write here is generally pretty quick; I’ve gotten quite good at not self-censoring myself the way I used to (even on my personal LiveJournal account), but I’m also very informal here, and I have a tendency to fully indulge all the weird linguistic tics and tricks I’ve developed over the years as a writer without a formal editing process.  Like:  this piece is already over 500 words and it’s taken me only about 15 minutes to write.  But it’s also more than likely that this post will be forgotten by everyone (and me, too) about 15 minutes after they’re done with it.  I’m not necessarily crafting anything here; I’m just putting my thoughts up as quickly and as coherently as I can.

If I want to get better as a writer – indeed, if I ever hope to get some freelance work – I need to get better at the craft.  So it’s probably a good thing, then, that I’m struggling with this piece; it means I’m learning something.

3.  There’s not going to be much gaming this weekend; the wife and kid and dogs and I are going out of town for the weekend, to hang out with both of Henry’s grandmothers.  I keep thinking about maybe bringing the Vita along, but I also know that any free time I manage to wrangle will most likely have to be spent in front of my laptop, writing that post.