Subterranean Fallout Shelter Blues

1. Remember last week, when I was excited about getting new glasses and we weren’t living in a constant state of anxiety wondering if our President was gonna livetweet about Crooked Hillary in an attempt to distract us from the coming nuclear apocalypse with North Korea?  Well, my new specs still haven’t shown up, and at this point I’m actually kinda hoping everything goes to shit so that I don’t have to pay off my credit card debt.

Seriously, though, now might be a good time to reach out and say hello to people you haven’t talked to in a while.  Even if we aren’t about to die in a blaze of hellfire, you should touch base with people you might’ve lost contact with.  I’ve been trying to get back into lyric writing, and it occurs to me that an idea I’ve been toying with for years – songs as letters I never got around to sending – might be the key to finishing this goddamned thing sooner rather than later.

2. I’m not as up on current TV as everyone else, but I am happy to report that the wife and I were able to finish the new Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later thing.  And we loved the shit out of it.  It is weird and random and breaks the 4th wall all over the place and Chris Meloni is fucking AMAZING.

3. I’d love to be writing about Tacoma right now, but I appear to be one of the people affected by a nasty bug in which I can’t get past the “Press A to Start” screen.  So instead I’ll offer some very brief first impressions of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which I can load properly.  I am intrigued by it, certainly; I’m a fan of Ninja Theory’s previous work and would give them the benefit of the doubt anyway, and at first glance the game’s presentation is outstanding – both visually and aurally.  The idea of exploring psychosis and mental illness through gameplay is novel, to be sure, and while I’m still only in the game’s opening hour I’ve already seen some subtle yet mind-bending things.  Tonight I hope to get to it while wearing headphones.

4. Hey, whaddya know, Spotify is now available on Xbox One, and it’s about goddamned time.  Now I can feel a little less sad about continuing to play Clicker Heroes, because I no longer have to play it in silence.

5. Kotaku says there is no longer a best time to play a video game, and I agree with most of the points in that link even if my primary concern (Fear of Missing Out / Fear of Being Out of the Loop on Twitter) is still valid.  In any event, ever since I finished Watch Dogs 2 I’ve been in an open-world state of mind, and I’ve been revisiting some older open-world games just to stay with that vibe.  GTA V continues to be the best open world I’ve ever seen, even as the story continues to be repellent and repugnant; Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate continues to be my 2nd or 3rd favorite game in the franchise (while also being a useful refresher for the upcoming Origins) and I’m also finally getting around to giving Mafia III more of a real look.  That game is pretty good, even if all the controls feel backwards.

6. I’ve also had a strange pull towards revisiting Headlander, of all things; I wrote about it briefly last year and while I haven’t gotten far enough to encounter those boss fights, I am still loving the hell out of that game.

7.  I finished Patti Smith’s “M Train”, although I should admit that I kinda skimmed through the back half, as it mostly seemed to be the same as the first half.  I’m happy to read about a real person’s idle hours, watching detective shows and drinking coffee and taking naps, but there wasn’t much more to it than that, and even though her prose remained gorgeous it just lingered on and and on and on, like a very slowly deflating balloon.  Not sure I would recommend it to anyone that isn’t a die-hard Patti Smith fan, though if you’ve got a library card you could do worse than read the first third of it or so.

gluttony

1. Good news:  I may have figured out how to finish my album!  Let me rephrase that:  I may have figured out how to get myself properly motivated and energized so that I can finish this album.  Until I actually do get re-started, though, there’s nothing really here to discuss, and I get that.  But it’s gonna happen.  I’ve signed up for the RPM Challenge, again, but this time I actually have: (a) a plan, (b) some actual material to work with, and (c) 10 cover songs to work on in case something goes wrong.  Considering that the last RPM Challenge I signed up for is the one that started this album in the first place, there’s a pleasing symmetry in the idea that I could finish this where it all began.

2. I don’t necessarily like to spend my time shitting on things I don’t like – at least, not as much as I used to – but I do feel obligated to mention that I just finished reading one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few Dan Brown books.  I bring up Dan Brown because the book in question, Kubrick’s Game, is basically a Dan Brown book, but for Stanley Kubrick film nerds.  I am a Kubrick nerd, and I’m also a sucker for secret society nonsense.  In any event, I read this i09 review, saw that it was available for $1.99, and downloaded it immediately.  And I feel compelled to warn you, now, to save your money and avoid this piece of shit at all costs.  What a colossally stupid waste of time.   Everything about it is dumb and contrived and poorly written and just… ugh, I don’t want to talk about it any more.  Avoid it.

3. Speaking of bummers, I just want to point out that in this 2nd week of 2017 – in these fragile days before possible nuclear apocalypse because someone said a mean thing about Donald Trump – I am now 0-for-2 in terms of finding keepers from Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist.  Considering that last year’s Discovery playlists caused me to fall madly in love with 140 songs from bands that I’d never even heard of before, this does not bode well.

4.  Can we talk about this new season of Sherlock?  And how, while it’s still problematic in certain ways, it’s far more watchable than anything that happened in Season 3?  And that last night’s episode was, for lack of a better word, fucking insane, with an epilogue that legitimately caught me completely off guard?

5.  As mentioned previously, I went on a bit of a gaming-purchase bender in mid-December.  I bought a whole bunch of new stuff, I bought even more stuff that I’ve already played (and beaten) on other consoles, and then I somehow managed to score a PSVR unit and then felt obligated to buy a whole bunch of shit for that.  This is all to say that I now have a bit of a backlog – which is fine, considering that there only probably only 2 games that I can think of off the top of my head that are definitely coming out in 2017 that I legitimately give a shit about (e.g.Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2).

I bring this up because I spent last week replaying Diablo 3 for a 3rd time.  I played as a female Monk, for the third time.  And I had a fucking blast with it, and I find it maybe a little odd that I found it as enjoyable as I did.  I don’t know what the current critical consensus is w/r/t Diablo 3 – I know that for me, when I first played it on PC, it took a loooooong time before it started to click with me, whereas I clicked with the PS4 version nearly immediately.  I will admit that I bought it for the Xbox One purely because it was on sale and because of the ‘cheevos, but I also found myself drawn to it far more than a bunch of new games that I’ve not yet finished (i.e., Watch Dogs 2Dishonored 2Final Fantasy XV).

This could be because I’m pretty goddamned great as a Monk in Diablo 3.  It’s interesting (to me, at any rate); normally whenever I play a game – regardless of genre – if I walk into a room full of baddies, I tend to pause and consider what to do.  Not so in D3 – if I’m wandering around and see dozens of bad guys in the corner, I will buff my shit up and saunter over there and just straight-up wreck shit quickly, and it’s incredibly satisfying and it doesn’t even matter if anything good drops.  There is something so very pleasing about landing a gigantic kill combo that just won’t stop because my monk is quick enough to draw other mobs towards me before the combo meter collapses.  I have a strategy, and that strategy works, and even after a 3rd playthrough it’s still fun as hell.

Not all games work this way, as it happens.  I also bought some other older games that were on sale that I thought I might replay and get some ‘cheevos out of, and some of those games are much more difficult to re-enjoy.  Case in point:  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which I very much enjoyed on PS4.  Coming back to it now on Xbox One, it feels… antiquated?  And it’s not even really that old, honestly.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve switched between ACS and Watch Dogs 2 of late, and they both have just enough shared DNA that make it a bit more difficult to jump back and forth.  It’s not as easy for me to go back and revisit as Diablo 3, I guess.

I’m not ashamed of this, by the way; I have bought movies in multiple formats, and I’ve re-bought books in Kindle form when I already own the physical copy and I’m just too lazy to haul it around with me everywhere I go.  (Believe me, Infinite Jest is much more manageable on a Kindle.)  I’ve bought plenty of games on multiple consoles (I think I own Portal 2 for literally everything it ever appeared on), and it’s fun to experience things in slightly different contexts (or, at the very least, with more comfortable controllers).  It might not be the most cost-efficient way of doing things, but I’ve never claimed to be smart when it comes to money.

Anyway: I’m presenting my December backlog, because it’s insane, and because if I ever complain about not having anything to play I’m hoping that one of you will bookmark this blogpost and shove it in my face.

  • Xbox One sale (to play)
    • Dishonored 2
    • Watch Dogs 2
    • Gears of War 4
    • FFXV
    • ReCore
    • Sky Force Reloaded
    • Westerado
    • Stardew Valley
    • Oxenfree
    • Mafia 3
    • Battlefield 1
    • Steep
  • Xbox One sale (to replay for ‘cheevos)
    • Diablo 3  
    • Doom
    • Batman: Arkham Revisited
    • Saints Row 4 / Gat out of Hell
    • Metro Doublepack
    • Rayman Legends
    • Darksiders 2 HD
    • GTA V
    • Deus Ex MD
    • Far Cry 4
    • AC: Syndicate
    • Witcher 3
    • Skyrim HD (why????  why did I do this?)
  • PSVR and PS4 stuff:
    • Thumper
    • Rez Infinite
    • Batman VR
    • Rise of the Tomb Raider
    • The Last Guardian  (I am kinda-sorta waiting for a patch for this one before I get back to it; I am fascinated by it but the controls and camera are distressingly and distractingly bad, and I’d prefer to play it if they actually make it more playable)

the fall release calendar

1. I keep waffling on how personal I can allow myself to get on this blog.  But since other social media avenues are closed to me at the present moment, and since it’s been at least a week since I last posted, I might as well explain – I’m on some new head meds, and even though it’s only been a week, I seem to be doing rather well.  So that’s good!  It’s not necessarily an easy thing to admit, but I don’t want to create the impression that I am somehow ashamed of taking prescription medication for depression or anxiety; the quality of my life was not good, for a long time, and it seems to be getting better, and that’s the most important thing.

2.  I am nearly halfway through Nathan Hill’s “The Nix”, and it is amazing.  I’d read reviews that compared the author to both DFW, DeLillo and Pynchon, and so I bought the book almost immediately, like some sort of reflex had just been triggered.  I suppose I can see a bit of that comparison – there are occasional passages in which Hill articulates a particularly neurotic train of thought that covers every conceivable base, in much the same way that Wallace did in “Infinite Jest”, but beyond that the book is very much its own thing.  And while I’m only halfway through, it’s certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

3.  I found myself listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Up The Beach” not too long ago, and I decided to declare it the best opening song on an album post-1985.  (Why 1985?  I don’t know, but I knew that going back farther would make any discussion impossible to reconcile.)  I started a thread on Facebook about it, and got some other very worthwhile candidates, and so I’ve created a Spotify playlist with most of the suggestions that cropped up.  This is by no means definitive (nor is it sequenced in any particular order beyond where they appeared in the original discussion thread), and it is obviously a bit too white-guy heavy, and so if you’ve got further recommendations, by all means send ’em my way.

 

4. I’ve been trying to finish most of the games I play this year, but I decided to give up on finishing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.  This is mostly due to the fact that I was right near the end of the game and I was suddenly asked to make a choice, and I realized that not only did I not care about either of the options presented to me, but that I had literally no idea what the hell was going on.  I’d been content to find sneaky and non-lethal ways to infiltrate buildings and do whatever task needed to be done, and had stopped paying attention to the why at some arbitrary point that was, I realized, too far back to return from.  There are a lot of interesting critical analyses of why DE:MD’s story is fucked up and/or irresponsible and/or bad and/or misses an opportunity to take current political issues and do something interesting with them, but I never got anywhere close to seeing the game’s story in that sort of detail.  I instead found myself focused on the mechanics, because that was the thing that was enjoyable; the story was never particularly engaging, and then by the time I realized that the story mattered, it was too late.

5.  We are about to enter the fall release schedule, which means shit’s gonna start getting real.  I’d already bought the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3, which means I get to start playing it tomorrow.  (Possibly tonight at midnight?  If I’m awake?)  But I’m not sure there are any must-plays that are grabbing my attention more forcefully than others.  I mean, I’ve got a bunch of these upcoming games in my rental queue, and I did pre-order Gears 4, but I’m not quivering with anticipation.  Maybe it’s the meds?

I did stop myself from ordering the Bioshock remasters; I still might get them, but I’m waiting for a Digital Foundry verdict first.  I’m currently replaying Batman: Arkham Knight on Xbox One, because (a) cheevos and (b) procrastination.  That game still holds up, though I can say definitively that the PS4 version looks better.  If that matters.

Anyway, as far as the schedule is concerned, Kotaku posted a release calendar; my personal picks are in bold.

September 23

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided System Rift | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Story DLC

September 27

  • FIFA 17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • X-COM 2 | PS4, Xbox One | Strategy
  • Forza Horizon 3 | PC, Xbox One | Driving
  • Dead Rising 2 HD | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice | 3DS | Platformer
  • LEGO Dimensions Wave 6 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Darkest Dungeon | PS4, Vita | Dungeon Crawler

September 30

  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits | 3DS | RPG
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls | 3DS | RPG

October 4

  • Warhammer End Times: Vermintide | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

October 7

  • Paper Mario: Color Splash | Wii U | Action Adventure
  • Mafia III | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Five Nights At Freddy’s: Sister Location | PC | Horror

October 10

  • 100ft Robot Golf | PS4, PS4 VR | Robot Sports

October 11

  • Gears of War 4 | PC, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • Dragon Quest Builders | PS4 | Action RPG, Sandbox
  • WWE 2K17 | PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Sports
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider Blood Ties/Lara’s Nightmare | PC, Xbox One | DLC
  • Duke Nukem 3D 30th Anniversary World Tour | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Memories

October 13

  • PlayStation VR | PS4 | Hardware  [I will obviously need to read some reviews and/or determine if I need to upgrade my OG PS4 to the Slim or the Pro before plunking down any money on this.  People appear to be having cathartic, out-of-body experiences with Rez Infinite, though, and who am I to say no to something like that?]
  • Batman: Arkham VR | PS4 VR | Action Adventure
  • PlayStation VR Worlds | PS4 VR | Action
  • Battlezone | PS4 VR | Action
  • Harmonix Music VR | PS4 VR | Music
  • Hustle Kings | PS4 VR | Pool
  • Rez Infinite | PS4 VR | Music Action
  • Shadow Warrior 2 | PC | First-Person Shooter

October 16

  • Skylanders Imaginators | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

October 18

  • Batman: Return To Arkham | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Lego Harry Potter Collection | PS4 | Action Adventure

October 21

  • Battlefield 1 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Horse Simulator
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization VI | PC | Strategy

October 25

  • Dark Souls III: Ashes Of Ariandel | PC, PS4, Xbox One | DLC

October 27

  • Just Dance 2017 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U | Dancing
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Fighting
  • World of Final Fantasy | PS4, Vita | RPG
  • Harvest Moon: Skytree Village | 3DS | Simulation

October 28

  • Titanfall 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Third-Person Shooter
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition | PC, PS4, Xbox One | RPG

November 1

  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita | 2D Platformer

November 4

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare | PC, PS4, Xbox One | First-Person Shooter
  • Mario Party Star Rush | 3DS | Party

November 7

  • Lego Dimensions Wave 7 | PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U | Action Adventure

November 10

  • PlayStation 4 Pro | PS4 | Hardware

November 11

  • NES Mini | Nintendo | Retro Console
  • Dishonored 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 15

  • Watch Dogs 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure
  • Road Rage | PS4, Xbox One | Racing
  • Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection | PS4, Xbox One | Action Adventure

November 18

  • Pokémon Sun | 3DS | RPG
  • Pokémon Moon | 3DS | RPG
  • Killing Floor 2 | PC, PS4 | Survival Shooter

November 29

  • Final Fantasy XV | PS4, Xbox One | RPG
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | Oculus, Vive | Simulation

December 1

  • Syberia 3 | PC | Adventure

December 2

  • Gravity Rush 2 | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Steep | PC, PS4, Xbox One | Extreme Sports
  • Super Mario Maker 3DS | 3DS | Mario Maker

December 6

  • The Last Guardian | PS4 | Action Adventure
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew VR | PS4 VR | Simulation
  • Dead Rising 4 | Xbox One | Action Adventure

Weekend Recap: Dividing Together

1. I believe I’ve said this already about a million times, but on the off-chance that this is your first visit to this site (welcome!) it bears repeating if only so that this post makes sense:  I have been making an effort to not buy so many full-price games this year.  Barring some surprise announcements at E3, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that I feel compelled to own, and certainly nothing that I need to pre-order.

That being said, I did kinda sorta end up buying Hitman over the weekend, and I’m still not sure why.  I have never been very good at Hitman games; while I can certainly appreciate how free-form they are and how they encourage creativity and improvisation – there’s any number of ways you can take out your target and all that ultimately matters is that you escape – I always feel like I’m missing a crucial piece of the game’s vocabulary when I sit down and play.  I came to the series late, I guess, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t occur to me to try all sorts of things; I tend to be very basic, which means my schemes are generally somewhat rudimentary, and so when I pull off a hit successfully I don’t feel any particular satisfaction.  But then I’ll hear or read about or watch some spectacular methods of assassination, and I’ll once again realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I did enjoy Hitman Sniper on iOS, though, which is maybe why I’m predisposed to giving this new Hitman a shot.  Specifically, the iPhone Sniper game (which is itself an iteration of Hitman Sniper Challenge on PC, which was a sort-of demo that came with Absolution) was simply one level, which you played a zillion times, but each time you had different targets and challenges; with each successive playthrough, you’d begin to recognize guard patterns, and with each new challenge you’d learn certain tricks you could perform – as an example, you could lure a cluster of targets near a furnace, which you could then explode with a well-aimed shot; you could wait for a few minutes for a target to lean against a glass railing, which you could then shoot out and have the body fall off the cliffside below – and so even though the game fundamentally remained one of endless repetition, you’d begin to dive deep and develop a microscopic understanding of the level’s design.

So the idea that the new Hitman game would be episodic, and that each level would have these similar abstractions that you could explore, so that you’d never be replaying the same level the same way – well, I understand the appeal of that in a way that I definitely would not have, had I not spent a significant amount of time with those sniper challenges.

I finished the first tutorial level, but only once, and I didn’t do such a great job of it, and I’m anxious to give it several more tries before moving on to the next level; while the game has gotten somewhat mixed reviews, the people who like it really like it and even if I’m coming at the game from a completely different perspective, I think I can understand the appeal of this game and, specifically, the way it’s being delivered.

2.  I also finally got to do some online co-op in The Division, and that is definitely how this game should be played.  I continue to enjoy the single-player experience (if only because I’m content to play it mindlessly, instead of actually paying attention to how seriously fucked up it is), but playing with a friend is infinitely more fun and engaging.  My character is around 10 levels higher than my buddy’s, so we were able to pretty much wreck havoc and managed to unlock all three wings of his Ops Base relatively quickly, and so even though I’d already played these missions before, and even though none of the gear that dropped for me was useful, it was still fun to strategize and call out enemy locations while also experimenting with new abilities and talents (since only one of us needed to use Pulse, I started playing around with the medic abilities, which ended up coming in handy, actually).

Side note: I’ve been debating whether or not to buy my rental copy of The Division.  On the one hand, it’s only $45 to keep my copy; on the other hand, there’s the lazy-ass part of me that’s gotten used to the idea of not having discs, even though my PS4’s hard drive was filled up many months ago.  Speaking of which, my co-op buddy recently upgraded his PS4’s hard drive to 2TB, which I was also tempted to do… and then, literally the next day, Kotaku reported that there might be a PS4.5.  I’m already trying to figure out if I’m going to get the PSVR bundle… if there’s a VR bundle that comes out alongside the PS4.5?  Can I trade my PS4 in towards the new one?  Do I even need a 4K TV?

3.  I’d whined a little while ago that Spotify’s weekly discovery playlists felt a bit lackluster this year, at least compared to last year; this week’s playlist, though, is among the best I’ve ever received.  I keep a separate playlist of my faves from each week; usually I’ll keep one or two, but I think kept, like, 8 or 9 from this week’s list.  (Should you be interested, my 2016 list is here, and also should be in the sidebar to the right.)

I was hoping to write a bit more here – about some of the new Irish whiskey I bought over the weekend, and a little about books and such – but it’s suddenly gotten a little bananas over here at work, so I’m gonna put this up while I still have a second.

disconnection

I’m feeling a little disconnected lately, which might explain why I’ve been quiet here.

The biggest problem I mentioned in my last post – that of my almost-3-year-old son refusing to go to bed – is starting to wind down, so that’s something positive, at least.  Of course, my wife is sick, and the kid has a bit of a cough as well, and I’m very much feeling on the verge of catching something, too.  We’re all falling apart, is what I’m saying.

That said, I’m feeling guilty about whining.

I’m trying to tone down the amount of whining I do on social media, which is actually a bit easier than I expected, given that almost all forms of social media are driving me crazy right now and make me far less inclined to post than I normally would be.  Facebook keeps hiding posts from friends; Twitter is a garbage fire; Tumblr is filled with ads and every once in a while a random naked person will show up, unannounced and uncalled for, and so that’s off-limits.

I’m also starting to reach critical mass in terms of the upcoming election.  I’m disgusted and anxious and not at all prepared to move to Canada.


 

And, of course, I’m disconnected from the things I normally talk about here.

Book-wise, I’m re-reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which I’d been thinking about recently (especially after reading Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master), and which I felt obligated to pick up in light of Eco’s passing.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and yet I’m having trouble fully engaging with it this time around for some reason.

Music-wise, I’m still struggling with writing lyrics, and in the meantime I’m not listening to anything particularly inspiring.  On a related note, I have to say that my weekly Spotify Discovery playlists have been awfully lackluster this year; the ratio of hit/miss is way, way off, especially as compared to last year.

Games-wise… I’m a big pile of “meh”.  I’m very much intrigued by The Division, and I’m looking forward to playing it in co-op, but I’m also wary of it; the beta showed off a lot of high points as well as a lot of lows – the writing in particular is just awful, and a lot of the mission designs felt very familiar (i.e., the final encounter in the Subway Morgue is a very typical “hold your ground for an arbitrary length of time”, and I was tired of that kind of mission in Destiny).  I tried playing a little bit of Fallout 4 last night, given that it’s been patched up quite a bit of late, and… yeah, I still don’t give a shit about that game.  I’m inching along in my NG+ of Witcher 3, but the Hearts of Stone expansion is for level 61+, and I’m still only at 43 or so; that’s an awful lot of ground to make up, and as much as I love that game I’m not sure I have it in me to repeat it.  Later this week my rental copy of Far Cry Primal will arrive, and as I’ve been lukewarm on that franchise for the last few iterations, I’m not sure that I’ll be fully engaged with it – even if the Stone Age setting is novel.

So, yeah.  I’m scared of American politics, I’m culturally out of sorts, and I’m physically falling apart.  I hit the trifecta.

Weekend Recap: The New Year

1. In case you missed it, I wrote up some quick off-the-cuff thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  Now that I’ve slept on it, I can say with confidence that I still feel the same; it’s a very good Star Wars movie, and as far as rankings go I’d put it in my top 2 along with Empire.  In fairness, that isn’t necessarily saying all that much; the prequels are garbage, and both New Hope and RotJ have moments that we’d all rather forget.  Even if Episode 7 is simply a reboot of Episode 4, it’s really well done, and I feel like it’s OK to be excited for Episode 8 now.

2. My wife had attempted to buy me the Xbox One Elite Controller via Amazon, but even 3 weeks later there was no sign of it shipping any time soon.  As it happens, though, I was running some errands over the weekend and happened to be in a Best Buy and – lo and behold – there were three (3) Elite Controllers just hanging out, ready to be bought.  I bought one.  I had a tough time justifying the expense, especially since the XB1 isn’t my primary console, but.. I mean.. goddamn, once you hold this thing in your hands it makes as strong a case for itself as you can imagine.  It’s pleasantly heavy, the buttons and triggers have a remarkably more pleasing feel, and even if I never use the alternate buttons and back-panel triggers, I’m happy to know they’re there if I change my mind.

2a.  On a related note, I now feel contractually obligated to get back into Halo 5.

3.  I also bought Rock Band 4 for the XB1, and my old drumset and 1 of my 2 guitars still work, so there’s that.  I’m happy to have Rock Band back in my life, but HOLY SHIT the game feels barely half-built at this point.  How is it that in 2016, I can’t program my own setlist?  And the process of re-downloading songs I already own is beyond tedious; thankfully, I only have to do it once.

4.  I’ve read all the David Mitchell novels now, and so I’m back to re-reading Cloud Atlas, which was the first one of his that I’d read.  I didn’t necessarily see what all the fuss was about the first time out; I could certainly recognize his talent as a writer, and I appreciated how each story tied into the next one, but I didn’t really understand the point.  (I also felt similarly about Ghostwritten, his first novel, although the interconnected stories in that novel at least have a vague sort of butterfly-effect thing happening.)  This second time through, however, I’m feeling much more at home with it – and I also recognize many more of the characters from other novels, so that stuff makes it a bit more interesting.  All that aside, I feel like I need to read Bone Clocks again, and immediately.  I know I’m one of the few people on Earth who prefers Bone Clocks to Cloud Atlas, but what can I say?  That book affected me in a deeply profound way that few books ever have before.

5.  I’d been meaning to put up a Music of 2015 post – I even have a draft here, but I’m not particularly happy about it, and in any event all the navel-gazing I was doing about it is probably less interesting than all the other navel-gazing I do here as it is.  So, instead, I’ll cut to the chase and post two Spotify playlists:

 

 

Weekend Recap: the lovely outdoors

With every passing day I become more and more happy that we made the move out of the city and into the ‘burbs.  I know our house isn’t in the most desirable part of town, and there’s a lack of kids Henry’s age that live near us… but it’s only a 3-minute drive to get to the nearest park, and any time we go to a playground we end up meeting parents with kids around his age, and in any case it’s just nice to be able to do things again.  Something in me has changed since we moved; I’m not paralyzed with the same sort of anxiety that made it so difficult to leave the house back when we lived in the city, and so we as a family can go out and do stuff that we couldn’t necessarily do as easily (or as willingly) before.


I don’t know if it’s my memory that’s shot, or if it’s simply that I keep thinking I’ve written something here but didn’t (you should know that even if I’m not posting here every day, I usually spend have a “new post” tab open for most of my available computer time, and more often than not I’ll trash whatever it is I’ve written) but in any event please forgive me if I’ve already said this:  Spofity’s personalized “Discover Weekly” playlist has turned me on to more good music since it started than I can possibly hope to count.

As a musician, I suppose I ought to be more conflicted about using Spotify as my primary music service.  I used to spend between $600-$1000 a year on new music; now I spend $120/year for my monthly subscription.  I know that the artists earn a tiny, tiny fraction on each stream instead of what they’d get in a straight-up album purchase, and that Spotify’s equity disbursements are not actually doled out the way they ought to be (i.e., you’d think that the artist you listen to gets paid based on what you stream, but instead “Spotify doesn’t pay on a “per song stream” model, exactly: the total royalty pie is split among all rights holders based on the percentage of total Spotify streams their songs garner“, and this royalty rate is not necessarily split equally between artists and the labels, and it’s certainly more favorable to big artists instead of indie bands), and if I wanted to make any money from my album, I’d rather people bought it outright than stream it.  Of course, at this point in my life – approaching 40, with a wife and a child and a mortgage and a day job I can’t realistically quit to go on tour, especially since I can’t pay a band and nobody wants to see a 40-year-old man with social anxiety on tour – I’d simply be happy if people listened to it, and I know that if I put “Untrue Songs” on Spotify, a great many more people would listen to it.  That album sold enough for me to recover my sunk costs and get a few cups of coffee afterwards, but I’m not sure anyone else bothered to track it down besides those initial sales.

Regardless – that’s not even the point.  The point of this section is that Spotify’s algorithms are better at finding good music than I was prepared to give them credit for.  I now look forward to each Monday’s playlist refresh, and I’ve even started a separate playlist with my favorites because there’s at least 4-5 songs in each week’s list that are keepers.

I bring this up also because some of the stuff I’ve been listening to has been so fucking good that it’s causing me to rethink my own music-making approach.  Like I said a few weeks ago – I have a bit of a creative inertia problem; when I’m rolling, I can’t be stopped… but when I stop, I stop, and it takes me forever to get moving again.  Sure, I could blame some of that on the move, but we’re all moved in now, and all my stuff is set up, and yet I’m still not quite back in the swing of things.  That said, there’s three albums that I’ve discovered this week that are fucking my brain up – in a really good way – and I’m back to wishing I had more available hours in the day.

Maybe I need to find a collaborator.  When I can’t get my shit together on my own, it’s often useful to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and to feed on that collaborative energy to make something brand new.  There was a music festival in town last weekend, and it was some of the first live music I’ve seen in… years?… and the bands were quite good, and now I’ve got an itch to play with other people again.  This is usually a good sign that my creative gears are starting to turn again, so even if I don’t end up starting a new band, I’m hopeful that at the very least I’ll start writing new music again (or at least finishing the stuff I recorded earlier this year).


I’m already about 1000 words into this Metal Gear Solid V piece and I’ve only put, like, 6-7 hours into the game itself.  I can’t say much about the piece – or the game, for that matter – but I can say that I do not hate it, and indeed there are parts of it that I quite like – not the least of which is the ability to play one mission and then turn the game off without dealing with a 45-minute unskippable cutscene.

That said, I do find that I need to cleanse the palate every once in a while, and so I’m very glad to have Forza 6 in my life again.  I’d been a Forza loyalist through the first 4 installments, and then I fell madly in love with the Horizon offshoots, and didn’t really feel bad about skipping out on Forza 5 since I had other stuff on my plate at the time.

I’m not a car enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination; I own a car out of necessity and it’s a hand-me-down at that.  I like driving games for the same reason I like golf games – they’re usually very pretty, they require minimal focus, and the feeling of executing something well is just rewarding enough to keep on going.  This is a way of saying that I don’t come to Forza for the cars as much as I come for the tracks.  The first 3 or 4 Forza games reused a lot of the same tracks, so much so that I’d sometimes think I’d put the wrong disc in the tray.  Forza 6 feels a lot more fresh in this respect; the tracks aren’t the same old, same old.  Indeed, some of the tracks remind me of other games I haven’t thought about in a while – there’s a track in Prague that reminds me of Project Gotham Racing for some reason, and some of the new rain/fog effects make me think of DiRT.  (We need a new DiRT game, by the way.)

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