Weekend recap: alternative facts

And so here we are, finally, the first Monday in Trump’s America.  We are expecting Nor’easter-ish conditions here in the NYC region, which seems fitting.

I don’t necessarily want to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but these are strange times, and like it or not, Trump’s current employment is going to affect us all one way or the other.  (I cannot and will not call him President.)  While I understand the impulse to say “Hey, man, leave politics out of it, you’re talking about games and music and books,” the truth of the matter is that Trump’s decisions are absolutely going to affect games and music and books.  Not just in terms of their subject matter, but – in more practical terms – they may very well affect our ability to purchase games and music and books.  Because unless you are a (white, male) billionaire, life is about to get more difficult, whether you like it or not.

And the thing is, Trump and his cronies are legitimately frightening, while also being incredibly ridiculous.  It is hard to take ridiculous things seriously, and yet we as a nation have to take them seriously, because otherwise the truly frightening fascistic shit will get lost in the shuffle.  So while we’re all enjoying a laugh at the insanity of Kellyanne Conway presenting “alternative facts” as a sublime bon mot, let’s not forget that it’s only been 72 hours and the Trump administration is already preparing to leave the United Nations, renegotiate NAFTA, and go into full-bore isolationist mode.  Oh, and that whole healthcare thing… that’s gonna fuck everybody up, too, including people who already have healthcare through their jobs.

In any event:  I despaired on Friday, but after seeing the enormity of the protests on Saturday, I am inspired and rejuvenated.


To that end, I spent last night replaying Wolfenstein: The New Order, because suddenly killing Nazis is cathartic again.  I wrote about this the last time I played it, and it’s still true.  Given that one of the highlights of this weekend was seeing alt-right neo-Nazi Richard Spencer get punched in the face, and then having that punch become a viral meme, I felt that it was my patriotic duty as an American to get my Nazi-killin’ skills in good shape.  I’m still a pacifist, I still hate guns, I still feel a little weird about the shooter genre, but I will alwaysalwaysalways have room in my heart to mow down some Nazis.

If I’m honest with myself, I should probably concede that I have not yet spent enough time with my PSVR to fully justify the expense of owning it.  And yet, my brother and his fiancee hung out with us over the weekend (they were escaping DC, as it were), and I got to blow their minds with that shark tank demo, and that in and of itself is justification enough.

I also dabbled in some other VR experiences; I gave Bound another look, and the difference between Bound in regular mode vs. VR is night and day.  It’s still a bit weird, but the visual experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  Similarly, I finally unlocked the fabled “Area X” mode in Rez Infinite, and all I can really say about that is wow.  Good lord.

I continue to screw around with my backlog, and I continue to find myself drawn towards replaying old favorites in lieu of playing new stuff.  I am having a very difficult time getting into Final Fantasy XV, and Dishonored 2 is also a bit of a struggle (although in that case it’s more that I’m just not very good at it, and while I want to be able to sneak around I end up having to kill everyone, and it becomes a bit of a drag).  I’m also having the same problem with Watch Dogs 2, actually, except I really don’t care about getting into gunfights, even though I feel like I should.

And yet I am more than happy to revisit The Witcher 3, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and such.  Those games are still great, and given that time remains something of a limited resource, I’d rather spend my time enjoying what I’m doing than not.  It’s an indulgent attitude, I suppose, but these are strange and difficult times, and one has to find happiness where one can.

the other side

Let’s see how I did with my 2016 Resolutions and Reminders:

1. Do not pre-order.  I did pretty good at this, actually.

2. Don’t buy everything.  Remember that you have an active Gamefly account.  I started out doing really well at this.  But I also kinda went a little bananas during the Xbox holiday sale, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

3.  It’s OK to not finish stuff.  It’s OK to not start stuff.  It’s OK to not want to feel like you’re wasting your time.  Recall #1 and #2 above.  I finished most of what I started last year, and while I’m in a bit of a backlog logjam at the moment, I did relatively OK at this.

4.  Don’t worry about “missing out on the conversation.”  […]   This will always be an issue for me.  But I’m also becoming a bit more comfortable with the realization that nobody really cares.

5. Write when you can write;  read when you can read; listen when you can listen.  Enjoy what you can, and don’t fret about what you can’t.  Try not to be idle, unless you’re looking to achieve stillness, which is another matter entirely.  I think I did OK at this, all things considered.  I would’ve liked to have written more – and we’ll get to #7 shortly – but I enjoyed most of the media I consumed last year because I allowed myself the time to properly experience it.

6.  Set reasonable goals.  You wanted to read 30 books in 2015, you ended up with 41.  Don’t challenge yourself to read 45 books in 2016 when you already know that’s impossible.  This apparently applied specifically to my book-reading habits; as it happens, I ended up reading 51 books last year, so, go me.  But the pressure to hit my Goodreads number drove me insane.  I purposefully set a lower number this year (30) only because I like how Goodreads lays all this stuff out.  I plan on blowing past it.  There’s also a ton of exciting books coming down the road pretty soon, and I already splurged on a bunch of wish-listed items at year’s end, so I’ve got plenty to read in the meantime.

7.  GET BACK TO MAKING MUSIC AGAIN.  Don’t procrastinate by playing games you’re not even enjoying.  You like making music; you always have; if you need to fancy up the studio area, do it, but the work is the work is the work, and if you’re not working, there is no work.  I failed at this, big time, and it’s my primary regret of 2016.  I aim to turn this around.

8.  Make regular doctor appointments.  On it.

9.  Hug and kiss your family every day.  Don’t go to bed angry.  Communicate always.  On it.  This one’s easy.

10.  Be good to yourself.  On it.


I spoke with my therapist this past weekend; he asked me if I’m a New Year’s resolution kind of guy.  I’m not, generally speaking.  I know I need to lose weight, I know I need to eat better, I know I need to get to work on my credit card debt again, I know I need to get back into a creative routine and finish that album.  But let’s be honest here:  Donald Trump is going to be President of the United States in less than a month and I’m starting to have recurring nightmares about nuclear war again, which is a thing that I only finally stopped having when I was 9 or so.  Life in this country is about to become so thoroughly surreal that I don’t even know how to properly process it.  I suppose I should be grateful for being properly medicated, because at least I can still leave the house.

To that end, I’m not going to make any resolutions this year, beyond (a) taking proper care of myself, both physically and mentally; (b) spending quality time with my family, who I love more than anything; and (c) getting back into a creative routine, because I miss it and I need it.  That’s all I have control over, at any rate.

Mounting a proper resistance to Trump is another matter entirely, and that will take shape in due course.


As noted in #2 above, I did go bananas during the Xbox holiday sale.  Truth be told, now that I’ve spent a bunch of time with it in my mad quest for Achievements, I’ve started to realize that I like the Xbox One a bit more than the PS4, even if the PS4 is a more powerful machine.  And so part of the aforementioned banana-going was to buy a whole bunch of heavily discounted games that I’ve already bought and beaten on PS4.  And you know what?  That’s fine.  I was sorta enjoying Dishonored 2 and Watch Dogs 2 and I needed to get back into Final Fantasy XV, but the thing I’ve been playing the most over the last week has actually been Diablo 3, of all things.  I’m playing a female Monk, from scratch, yet again, and I’m still having as much fun as I ever did.

I, uh, also managed to score a PSVR unit, which arrived yesterday.  And, um, it’s amazing?  Sure, the graphics are a little lo-res compared to what one wants, but the experience is nothing short of astounding.  I gave my wife the shark-tank tour last night, and she was amazed – I even gave my 3-year-old a few minutes with it, and he lost his mind.

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I spent the bulk of my time messing with Thumper and Rez Infinite, both of which are simply astonishing in VR.  I also gave Batman VR a quick spin – just enough to say, yeah, I should probably carve out a few hours with it and use the Move controllers instead of the Dualshock 4.  But even the tech demos in the VR Worlds collection are impressive; for people who come over and have never used VR before, it’s a perfect introduction.  I’m still in the baby stages, of course, and so I don’t necessarily need a full-fledged game just yet, but I’m already looking forward to seeing what fun stuff will emerge from the indie space.

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.

the end of things

1. Whether we like it or not, all things must eventually come to an end.  We’ve all had that experience where we’re reading a book that we love so much that we never want to put it down, or a song that we can’t stop listening to… but eventually we do, and we have to, because we don’t want to ruin the thing that we love by wearing it out.

This is why it’s sometimes hard for me to stay engaged with a game once it’s outstayed its welcome, and especially when the game in question doesn’t actually have an official finish line.  I’ve put in probably close to 30 hours in The Division by this point; I’m level 23, I’ve only got a few more main missions to go before my Penn Station base is completely finished, but I’m starting to grow weary of the game’s repetitiveness.  The side missions and encounters and diversions are all identical except that tougher enemies take more bullets.  I’m no longer wandering the streets looking for collectibles, since I know that once I finish all the side missions they’ll automatically pop up on my map anyway.  I was hoping I’d stay engaged long enough to hit level 30 and do a little cursory exploration of the Dark Zone, even though I don’t care about PvP; now my goal is simply to make it to 41st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, to see if my day job’s location is accurately portrayed.  (Spoiler alert – it most likely isn’t; with a few exceptions here and there, the NYC that’s portrayed in this game bears little resemblance to the actual NYC.  I’ve already glanced at the map and immediately noticed that there’s no exit/side-street for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which bisects 4-5 blocks between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; then again, the game also features a 2nd Avenue subway, so perhaps this near-future Manhattan has done away with the tunnel altogether.)

This is not to say that I think The Division is a bad game; frankly, compared to Ubisoft’s other recent offerings, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable to play, and in many ways it reminds me of what Watch Dogs could’ve been.  But I find myself turning my brain off the longer I go; I ignore cutscenes and narrative beats because they’re meaningless at this point.  I finish a mission and they show me recovered video of atrocities committed by the game’s “enemies”, but I find it hard to care considering that I just killed hundreds of people single-handedly.  All I’m doing is moving from waypoint to waypoint, mowing people down, hoping they drop something useful.  This was fun for the first dozen hours, but it’s growing monotonous; there’s no depth.  I continue to hide behind cover and pop off shots here and there, the same way I did 30 hours ago, but now I have a portable turret.  I spend too much time agonizing over the relative merits and statistical improvements of different kneepads.  Do I sell?  Do I deconstruct?  Is there any point in engaging with the Advanced Weapons Dealer in the Ops Base before hitting level 30?

I need more co-op time, I guess.  That made the game a lot more fun to play, because suddenly I could think tactically instead of simply rushing from cover to cover; my friend and I could consider locational positioning, and work on flanking and suppressing.  Granted, this too eventually gets repetitive, but at least we can still talk to each other instead of simply listening to the horrible, horrible stereotypical New Yorker voice acting of each safe house’s side-mission giver.

Then again, I’m not necessarily in any rush to get it out of my house; if my rental Q is to be believed, I still have more than a week before Quantum Break and DiRT Rally show up.  But I do need to put it away, soon, because otherwise I’ll just feel like I’m wasting time.

2.  Oculus Rift reviews are dropping all over the place, and they all seem to be saying the same thing:  “a key to a new era of entertainment“, “like nothing you’ve ever experienced before“, “It [has] changed how we think of games.”  I guess this is good?  That hopefully this isn’t a fad?  I have no stake in this tech one way or the other; I think I’ve said this already, but in case I haven’t, right now the only VR set that I’ve got any eyes on is the PSVR, because my gaming PC is more or less busted and I can’t afford a new one right now, much less a new one AND a Rift.  I’m curious, I suppose, but until I actually experience it I will remain skeptical.  (I also wear glasses, and I suspect that wearing glasses underneath a VR headset is problematic.)

I’m also a little skeptical of Sony’s ability to make their VR unit compelling for more than, say, the initial launch quarter.  Considering the horrendous support that the PSP and the Vita have gotten, it’s hard to have faith that PSVR will be worth the investment – especially since it sounds like any PS4 owner would have to upgrade to the PS4.5 in order to get the most out of the VR setup.  As someone who’s owned multiple iterations of iPhones, of course I’m going to upgrade to a more powerful PS4, irrespective of my decision to jump on the VR bandwagon, but not everyone can make the same jump, and the more I think about it, the more of a mess it becomes.

3.  Regarding the aforementioned “all things must end”: I’m currently reading Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” and it is slow-going; it’s beautifully written but there’s tragedy on every page, and it’s the sort of thing where I have trouble sticking with it, if only because there’s only so much Chechen atrocity I can handle in one sitting.  (There is a section describing the plight of teenaged refugees being kidnapped and executed, and the remaining family members asking for portraits of their missing loved ones; and while it is poetic and beautiful to read, it’s also gut-wrenchingly devastating; I was reading this on the evening commute, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting out in sobs.)

4.  I finally got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” over the weekend.  I’m… I’m not sure how I feel about it.  It’s impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so I might make a separate post about it.  I’m glad I saw it, and I’m sure it would make one hell of a play, but I’m also wondering if I’m starting to get a bit weary of QT’s tics and mannerisms.  (It also didn’t help that the film’s opening credits introduce the film as “The Eighth Film from Quentin Tarantino”.)

5.  I was going to wrap this post up by talking a bit about Corey Feldman’s IndieGoGo campaign, but I don’t feel like mocking him.  I mean, if you click on that link, most of the mocking is already done for you; you will cringe and recoil in horror involuntarily, whether or not I prepare you for what you see.  Frankly, I have no business making fun of him; I have an album of my own that I’m trying to finish, and while I’d love to raise some funds to be able to hire my friends to play on it and have it recorded and mixed by a guy who actually knows what he’s doing instead of me simply dicking around on my Macbook, I’d be lucky to get even half of the pitiful amount he’s raised.  If you’re making art, and you’re sincere in your desire to make something that you believe is important and beautiful, I don’t want to make fun of you.  I’d rather be angry at myself for not working as hard as I should, because I at least have some measure of control over it.

So instead, let me leave you with maybe the best remembrance (of many) of the late, great Garry Shandling.

“Make the spiritual search more important than the problem,” he told me once. Better than anyone I know, he understood that the search was the destination, that messiness was better than tidiness, that the complexity that makes us suffer also is the source of all beauty.