the creature awakens

[Insert standard intro apologizing for long delay, explain that everything continues to be terrible, make flippant joke about how the news keeps getting more and more depressing, then quickly segue into how because everything sucks, it becomes more and more important (and also more and more difficult) to allow yourself the opportunity to escape), and how time is short, and if you’re reading or watching or listening or playing something that isn’t working for you, you have permission to move on to the next thing.]

BOOKS:

One of the only things I’m looking forward to at year’s end is a full recap of all the books I’ve read this year; I’ve certainly put down my fair share of books that simply weren’t working for me, but I’ve also finished a lot more books than I’d ever anticipated. And quite a few of the ones I’ve finished are excellent.

Wanderers, Chuck Wendig. This was supposed to be the big behemoth of the summer, a 900+ page modern quasi-retelling of The Stand. It works, for the most part, and for a 900+ page book it moves very quickly. It’s also a bit forgettable, and some of the characters, while entertaining, could be completely removed from the story and literally nothing would change.

This is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone. I am a sucker for the epistolary novel, and this is one of the better ones. Two enemy spies in a time-travelling war leave love notes for each other.

In The Valley of the Sun, Andy Davidson. A gorgeously-written monster story, but to what end? I mean, the prose in this book is fantastic; it’s just that the story never quite goes anywhere, and there’s not much pushing the action forward.

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I genuinely loved this, and I think the only thing stopping me from loving it even more than I already do is that I’ve never had a reason to give a shit about Fleetwood Mac. There are a lot of familiar tropes here, but my favorite is probably the one rhythm guitarist who hates everything and everybody and is also the one guy not getting laid while everybody else in the band is neck-deep in ass and grass and coke and paranoia.

Mindhunter, John Douglas. Much like the Netflix series that it spawned, this works best when it’s focused on the work. The various asides about the author’s personal life are distracting and pointless and unnecessary, just like they are in the show. Everything else is lurid and riveting and horrifying.

FILM:

The wife and I don’t get to the movies as often as we used to, and when we do it’s either something family friendly or it’s something Marvel / Star Wars related. So it was a real treat to be able to go to the local fancy dine-in movie theater with reclining seats and see Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s been a few weeks since we watched it, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t know if that means I liked it or not; it’s a bit of a shaggy story, and it’s one that is more than content to meander and soak in all of QT’s indulgences, right up until the wildly insane final 30 minutes or so. Is it my favorite QT film? No, probably not, but it’s not like he’s ever made a clunker.

GAMES:

I’m in that zone where I’m kinda done with everything, or else I’ve hit a wall with everything.

I finished all three side islands in Dragon Quest Builder 2, and now there’s one last building for me to build and I just don’t give a shit anymore. As much as I appreciate the guided experience it gives (unlike, say, Minecraft), it’s also very tedious and clunky and the energy system is a huge pain in the ass.

I also finally dinged level 30 in Division 2 and I continue to tinker around in the final gauntlet before the endgame, and I really just wish the game was slightly better balanced in order to solo it without too many problems. I get that the game is meant to be experienced online, but I don’t know anybody else who plays it, and the game is mostly OK to solo except for the final wave of every mission, where I inevitably wipe out and have to do the whole goddamned thing again, until I quit.

As money continues to be tight I’ve resolved to use my Gamefly account more aggressively, and so while I’ve rented a bunch of notable titles, nothing seems to stick. The new Fire Emblem… is a prettier version of a genre that I’ve never been able to get into in its earlier iterations; Age of Wonders Planetfall is a very pretty Civ-esque type of game that feels clunky with a controller; Wolfenstein Youngblood looked promising but it kept overheating my Xbox One X multiple times; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 just felt janky and shitty, and I turned it off before it could disappoint me any further.

And that’s basically it, as far as I’m concerned.

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.