Heading Off Into the Wild Blue Suburbs

1.  First thing’s first – I’m in a much better mood today.  We had our house inspection yesterday, and it went far better than we could’ve hoped – the first house’s inspection was an utter disaster, and this inspection was really almost perfect – and basically now we’re just waiting for the bank to hold up their end, and for there to be no more hiccups between now and the closing date.  We even got to meet our neighbors, and they’re super-sweet and awesome, which is a huge relief.  And so if all goes well – I’m not naive enough to say that nothing could go wrong, but I’m hopeful – we should be moved in to the new digs in the first weekend of August.

1a.  It occurs to me, suddenly, that my gamertag for the last howevermany years is going to be out of date.  How can I continue to call myself JervoNYC when I’m living in New Jersey?  It also occurs to me that I’m gonna be 40 in December and I think it’s safe to say that I no longer give a shit about other people think.

2.  The Steam Summer Sale is happening and here’s how out of it I am – I had no idea it had even started until late last night.  I’m not particularly going out of my way to check out the deals.  Sure I’ve got a bunch of games on my wishlist that are dirt-cheap right now, but I’m so thoroughly consumed by Witcher 3 at the moment that it seems silly to spend money on games that I’m not going to get to for months (not to mention that my PC backlog right now is utterly, ludicrously huge anyway – I’m so, so sorry, Invisible Inc.).  If Pillars of Eternity comes down by more than 40%, I might pull the trigger; otherwise I’m going to sit it out.

3.  Re: Witcher 3:  I’ve played enough of it by now (currently level 22, most likely on my way out of Skellige) to know that I’m never going to 100% it, and I’ve accepted that reality, and it’s totally OK.  In the early going, I was doing nearly every sidequest and monster contract and treasure hunt I could get my hands on, and now I’m at the point where I’m at least 7-8 levels above the recommended level for the main story quests, which is maybe not the best way to experience that content, especially as the rewards I get for those quests aren’t necessarily all that hot anymore.  All the questing I’ve done so far has been enjoyable, in and of itself; it’s just that the rewards are starting to become less impressive, and that’s solely because I’ve done possibly too much questing.  (An additional bummer is that I’ve got a whole bunch of crafting recipes for enhanced items, which are sadly useless since I never found the recipes for the original, vanilla items.)

There are some minor nit-picky tweaks that I’d like to see implemented in future patches, especially when it comes to crafting (which I’m finding myself spending a lot of time doing), such as:  if there’s a recipe for something where you currently lack an ingredient (i.e., a silver ingot as part of a sword), but you do have the materials to craft that missing ingredient, you should be able to directly jump to the missing ingredient and craft it and then jump right back to the original recipe.  I’m also holding on to, like, a bazillion flowers and monster parts that I’m not sure I’m ever going to need, especially since any alchemy item I craft is auto-replenished after a meditation period; it’d be nice to have the game tell me as much, or at least let me sort my items by relevance.

And while we’re at it, re-loading saves TAKES FOR-FUCKING-EVER.

Still – these are very minor concerns.  The overall experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  This is the most into a game I’ve felt since probably Red Dead Redemption, and I’m doing my best to savor each and every moment I can with it.  You know that feeling where you’re reading a book and you love it so much that you literally can’t put it down, not even when you’re half-asleep?  That’s how I’m feeling with Witcher 3.  It’s my GOTY and I’ll be very, very impressed if anything can knock it from the top spot before the year’s end.

4.  I still kinda can’t believe that E3 is next week.  My day job is going to be nuts, and so I’m pessimistic that I’ll be able to follow any of the main press conferences beyond a cursory nod every once in a while.  I’m sure my wishlist is the same as yours (i.e., Fallout 4 gameplay footage), and I’m also sure that my dream wishlist (i.e., any news whatsoever about Red Dead 2) will most likely remain a dream.  But I’m also becoming more and more wary of E3 and similar events, where the hype is so overwhelming that, at the end of the day, it’s hard to know what I’m actually cheering for, or even why I’m cheering in the first place.  Most of what we’re gonna see next week is going to get delayed until 2016 anyway, and a great deal of it will have changed radically between next week’s reveals and the final release code.  So I’m going to be looking at next week’s news with a highly cynical eye.

That’s it and that’s all.

The Last Weekend Recap of 2014

2015 will be upon us in just a few days.  This would be an opportune time to whip up a “Top 10 Games I’m Looking Forward To” post, or even a “New Year’s Resolution” post, and perhaps I’ll get one of those going before long.  I do have material for both of those posts, because I am nothing if not over-prepared.

But I’m finding it hard to be upbeat about gaming right now, and it’s hard to look forward when the present is still dragging me down.  We’re still in 2014, after all, only a few days removed from the PSN/XBL hack that ruined everyone’s Christmas break.

So as far as a weekend recap is concerned, well:  what could any of us do?  As it was, pretty much every game I have stored on my PS4 and XB1 was impossible to play, given that everything needed an internet connection, even the single-player stuff.  Thank God I’d already finished my Dragon Age campaign, or else I would’ve lost my friggin’ mind.    (Speaking of which, for a few days there I thought my Vita was broken, too – although now that the networks are back up, it appears all is well.)

In any event, because Xbox Live came back faster than PSN – and it’s more than a little distressing at how Sony still doesn’t have their online shit together – I did end up getting back into Forza Horizon 2; I’m now only 2 championships away from the Finale.  Goddamn, I love that game.  I can’t tell if the computer AI is too easy, or if I’m really good at it, or what – I win nearly every race, but they’re always close, and they’re almost always really entertaining.

I only found out that PSN was starting to come back online because I’ve been waking up at 3am every night for the last 2 weeks, and so during Saturday’s insomnia I decided to check my iPhone and see if I could log into the PSN app, and – lo and behold – I could.  So I downloaded Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (which was part of the PSN Holiday Sale), and… it’s good?  I liked the first one a lot, and this one seems like more of that same thing, but it seems like it’d be much better with friends, so I think I’ll save that for online buddies.

And speaking of sales, I succumbed to my better judgment and picked up a few things in the Steam Holiday Sale:

  • Divinity: Original Sin
  • Secrets of Raetikon
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Super Time Force Ultra

Of those four, Divinity is the biggest pickup on my list, though after Dragon Age I can’t help but wonder if I’m epic-RPG’d out.

What else… oh yeah, I’m nearly finished with Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things“, which is absolutely heartbreaking and devastating and maybe not the best thing to read at 3 in the morning during a seasonal depression.  But it’s also really good, and I’m looking forward to diving into his back catalog.

Speaking of which, I already have a sizable book backlog to get to, though I also can’t help but notice that the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by Javier Marías is finally available on Kindle, and so I’m kinda itching to get started on that, given that I’ve been wanting to read it for several years now.  I’m really trying to not buy anything new until I finish everything old (and this goes for games, too) but this is a special case, and I’ve got some Amazon credit burning a hole in my wishlist.

Also also:  the wife and I watched Don Hertzfeldt’s “It’s Such A Beautiful Day“, which is available on Netflix streaming.  I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and I’ve been eyeing his progress on this film for quite a long time, and then to suddenly find out it was on Netflix was a very happy accidental Christmas present.  The film itself?  Not necessarily what you’d call “happy.”  But it’s utterly brilliant and dark and amazing and considering it was basically one dude working in isolation for 10 years doing these incredible in-camera hand-drawn animations, it makes me feel like I’ve been wasting my creative life.

So look forward to my new album, which I am determined to start and finish next year.

The (Dragon) Age of Anxiety

1.  I’m 20 hours deep in Dragon Age Inquisition now, and I think it’s fair to say that any doubts I might have had about BioWare following the 1-2 punch of Mass Effect 3‘s controversial ending and The Old Republic‘s failure to topple World of Warcraft can be put to rest; BioWare’s got their mojo back, big-time.

But let me qualify that “20 hours” first:  20 hours is a rather considerable length of time as far as games are concerned, and yet I’m still dickering around in the early areas of the game… because I haven’t yet decided to align with the Mages or the Templars.

I mean, the Templars were huge dicks when I met them, and the Mages weren’t, and it seems pretty straightforward to me that the Mages would be better for an alliance… but this is BioWare, and they’ve been known to throw curveballs before, and I don’t want to piss off Cassandra (even though she hasn’t been rolling in my party for the last few hours).

I guess the thing I’m most concerned about is making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, which is why I’ve been grinding sidequests for the last dozen hours and trying to gain more powerful equipment.

I could, of course, consult a walkthrough and see what happens; I could also manually save before making my decision and see for myself how things play out.  And I could also just arbitrarily decide to do one thing and then play through the campaign again as a different character (in all senses of that word) and then really play up every opposite choice I made the first time around.  But all of those actions feel like I’m simply hedging my bets; while I’d like to think that my Herald of Andraste is a woman who carefully considers her options before taking decisive action, I can’t very well believe that if I’m taking advantage of a design flaw of the medium itself.

Real life does not contain these sorts of loopholes.

It should go without saying that being afraid of making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, is a fear of mine that extends to nearly every avenue of my life.  Jobs, friendships, romantic entanglements; I get paralyzed by fear and doubt and anxiety and more often than not I end up simply treading water until something else happens, and then the decision is made for me.  In those instances where I do take charge and make a difficult decision, I actually do feel a bit empowered and accomplished; but it can be terrifying to make that leap.

In the game, however, I can essentially continue treading water forever; there’s no alarm bell ready to go off if I haven’t committed to a specific story-driven course of action by a certain time, and so I’m free to dick around in the Hinterlands until I’ve seen every single blade of grass.  And so I’m grinding because I’m procrastinating, so at least I’m being productive.

It is to the game’s immense credit that there is so much to do, and that so much of it is actually worthwhile, and – most importantly and refreshingly – that it treats its open world with a careful, considered grace, unlike the spatter paintings that become the Ubisoft maps in Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.  I don’t feel the need to explore in those games, because more often than not, anything I come across is likely some variant of something I’ve already done.

I haven’t enjoyed questing like this probably since Oblivion or Fallout 3.  And even then, the writing is so much stronger than in Bethesda’s games; I love this world, I love seeing what there is to see, and I love that the game’s letting me see it instead of constantly reminding me of other stuff.  At some point I’m going to have to actually make a choice, though, even if only because there’s a lot more world out there that I’m going to want to see.

2.  I don’t mean to keep harping on Ubisoft.  The truth is, I did end up giving Assassin’s Creed Unity another go, now that it’s been patched rather thoroughly.  The patches have helped, I think; the game certainly seems to be running smoother, and now I’m in this weird state where I’m reluctantly finding myself wanting to finish it, even if it hurts.  At the very least, I fully levelled up the Theater Cafe and did all its missions, and so now I have a very healthy stream of income coming in.  I bought some bad-ass weaponry, too, and all my gear is 4 stars or better, and so now my enemies are cleaved in half like a soft pat of butter.  If I must proceed, at least the proceeding is relatively easy-peasy.

The thing is:  while I appreciate that the Paris of Unity is gigantic and really quite spectacular to behold, it’s also quite tedious after a few hours.   I rarely actually walk from point A to point B any more; if there’s a fast travel location anywhere near where I want to go, I use it.  Why bother walking?  So I can get chased by bad guys simply because I’m running?  So I can collect hidden collectibles that don’t actually offer anything worthwhile?  So I can open hidden chests that don’t contain anything useful?  So I can engage in those murder mystery side quests that are just mind-bogglingly dumb?  The only reason to walk from one side of the map to the other is so that the in-game clock continues to run and that I can collect more money in the Theater.  (Speaking of which – the fact that this money isn’t directly deposited and must instead be manually claimed is absolutely insane.)  The world may be historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean I want to walk every inch of it when so much of it doesn’t really matter.  GTA 4‘s Liberty City felt like New York, but it certainly wan’t an inch-by-inch recreation, and it was a lot more fun to explore in that regard.

3.  Speaking of GTA:  the more I replay GTA V, the more difficult it is to take seriously.  Let me rephrase that:  the GTA franchise is “satirical”, a playful poke in the eye of American pop culture, and so it’s not necessarily meant to be taken seriously.  But in light of what’s happening in Ferguson, it’s incredibly difficult to play Franklin’s storyline and not feel like it’s just a way for white kids to feel OK with casual use of the “n-word”.  Indeed, it’s almost as if GTA V was specifically built for people like Michael’s spoiled, privileged son Jimmy, even as it makes fun of Jimmy at every single turn.  It’s hard not to feel that Rockstar has moved from satire to outright contempt.  And while American pop culture is certainly deserving of contempt, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the game’s writing is so lazy about it.

Here, Carolyn Petit said 1000x better than I ever could:

I don’t think the so-called satire in GTA is daring at all. I don’t think it “goes far” at all. I don’t think it takes guts at all to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity, to mock women and trans folks, to reinforce the status quo. I don’t think there is a single moment in GTA V when the average straight male player will find his worldview challenged, his notions about masculinity seriously called into question, when he will feel in any way threatened or caught off-guard by anything the game is saying about our culture.

It doesn’t take nerve to side with the powerful and to punch down.

4. Aside from my initial splurge, I’ve been trying to ignore the Steam sale, even if there’s a few things on my wishlist that I keep thinking about.  On the one hand, do I really intend to play Resident Evil 5 again – a game I might be alone in saying that I enjoyed far more than 4, and played to death on the 360 – even if it’s only $6.79?  On the other hand, knowing that my PC can run it but not necessarily run it well, do I even want to bother trying Divinity Original Sin at 33% off, especially while I have my hands more than full at the moment?

As it is, I tried playing Vanishing of Ethan Carter before I left on Wednesday night, and the damned thing crashed on me about 20 minutes in.  So that’s a drag.  Supposedly there’s a PS4 version coming in 2015; I suspect it’ll run much better there, but I wasn’t necessarily planning on buying it twice.

I’m also kinda debating whether or not I should get Geometry Wars 3 – and if so, what system to get it for.  It’s a little ridiculous that it’s not on the Vita, I think, which is why I haven’t already bought the PS4 version.  The reviews are on the lukewarm side of positive, which makes me more inclined to wait it out for the time being.  Again – there’s way too much on my plate as it is.

Further Adventures in Steam Sales and Self-Loathing

1.  I am an idiot.  I complain that I have too much on my plate, that there’s not enough time to play all the stuff I want to play, and then the Steam “Exploration Sale” starts and within one (1) hour I go out and buy 5 games on my wishlist.  Now, to be fair, those 5 games were all on sale, and the total came out to less than $43.  BUT.  That’s 5 more games that I have no idea when I’m going to get to.

For the record, those games are:

  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (and I’ve just learned, literally minutes after finally buying this, that the developer is apparently somewhat pro-GamerGate, which is annoying)
  • NaissancE
  • Lifeless Planet
  • Neverending Nightmares
  • Munin

2.  I’m now 8 hours into Dragon Age Inquisition and I love it to pieces.  My female warrior is now at level 7; I have moved beyond the Hinterlands; I have explored lost dungeons; I have acquired a horse (which I do not use); I have solved quite a few of those constellation puzzles, which are kinda neat; I have watched (from a safe distance) a dragon battle a giant; I have sort-of figured out the crafting system; I have decided to go for it with Cassandra.

3.  Considering that Ubisoft has now issued an official apology for the absurdly horrible launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity, I now wonder if I’m ever going to bother getting back to it.  With every day that passes with me not playing it, I think about it less and less – especially now that I’m fully engaged with DA:I.  For whatever it’s worth, the next game in my rental queue is Evolve, which comes out in February, so it’s not like I’m in any rush to send Unity back; I may yet try to finish it in a few weeks’ time, once more patches have come out.  In any event, I remain forever grateful that Sony let me cancel my digital pre-order (especially given that I’d ordered the deluxe edition).  And I’ve also now learned my lesson:  I’m never pre-ordering again.

4.  Over the last day or two, after finishing a lengthy DA:I session and needing to cleanse the palate, I’ve found myself playing more GTA V and less Far Cry 4, which directly contradicts what I said I was going to be doing.  I don’t know.  I’m finding myself annoyed with Far Cry, for reasons I can’t yet articulate fully.  On the other hand, while GTA V is still relatively fresh in my memory after spending 50+ hours with it just last summer, I’m finding myself drawn to it again.  And I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s worth repeating anyway – everyone’s talking about the first person camera, but for my money the best improvement is that you can raise the height of the driving camera, which makes all the goddamned difference in the world.  No longer do I have to constantly pull back on the right thumbstick as I steer, which makes driving 100% easier.

5.  Unless we get snowed in and driving up to my mom’s house becomes impossible, there will be little to no gaming over the next few days.  So, then, let me take the opportunity to wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe holiday, and I’ll see you all next week.

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!

Weekend Recap: Legos, Steam, Valiant Hearts

Between the craziness of my day job, the baby, and the World Cup, I’m somewhat surprised I was able to fit in any game time at all last week.  As it is, I didn’t do all that much, and what I did wasn’t particularly fulfilling.

I did finish The Lego Movie Game.  I’d have liked to keep playing it and try to get 100%, but there are some near-game-breaking bugs that make it a lot more difficult (and a lot less enjoyable).  The game came out early this year alongside the movie, if I recall correctly, and I must say that I’m awfully surprised that some of these bugs haven’t been addressed in the meantime.  No game is ever bug free, of course, but some of these are pretty hard to miss.  Case in point:  the very first hub world, Bricksburg?  If one of my characters got in a car, they were stuck inside there forever.  Another case in point – the bonus level that unlocks after you finish the game?  In order to get the 10th golden brick, you must get 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers.  I got more than 1,000,000 studs without any multipliers and the golden brick never appeared.  So.  Whatever.  I had fun with it, as I tend to do with all Lego games, but it’s also in rather shoddy shape.

I suppose the stress from work ended up influencing my Steam Sale binging.  I’d laid out some easy to follow ground rules before it started; I’d only get stuff from my wishlist, and only if it was at least 50% off.  Still, I didn’t mean to get as much as I did, and although I’m still pretty sure I never spent more than $10 on any one thing, I still ended up with more than I expected.

The grand haul (I think I mentioned the first 4 pickups last week):

  1. Baldur’s Gate II (Enhanced Edition)
  2. Jade Empire
  3. Sudeki
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. The Banner Saga
  6. Resident Evil 4 HD
  7. Resident Evil 6
  8. Goat Simulator
  9. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Complete)
  10. Memoria
  11. Typing of the Dead (Deluxe)
  12. Spacebase DF-9
  13. A Story About My Uncle
  14. Escape Goat 2

Of the last 10, I dabbled in a few.

The Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy RPG, reminding me of Fire Emblem but subtracting the cute anime and replacing it with downtrodden misery.  I’d read really interesting things about it when it came out earlier this year, which is why I picked it up; I’m just really terrible at those sorts of games, though.  And now it looks like it’s coming to iPad?  Shit.

I picked up Resident Evil 6 primarily because I wanted to play the Ada Wong chapter, which had still been locked away when I’d tried playing the game on the 360; shortly after I sent the game back to Gamefly, Capcom announced they were patching the game and unlocking all chapters from the get-go.  I’m not sure that patching the game will fix what was wrong with it, but I’d heard that the Ada chapter was by far the best one, so I’ll get around to it when I can.

Goat Simulator is delightfully silly and goofy and stupid and exactly what I needed when I picked it up.

I’d already played the hell out of Kingdoms of Amalur, and there were still hundreds of side quests I’d never gotten around to.  Obviously I can’t import my 360 save file, but I still remember liking it quite a bit.  It runs a little janky on my PC, though; might have to tinker with some settings.

Typing of the Dead is probably my big winner of the haul.  I’d played the Wii version with my wife a million years ago, and while we didn’t get that far we did appreciate the over-the-top grindhouse/schlock-horror insanity.  This tone is multiplied exponentially for the better when you replace shooting with typing.  And I am a very good typist.

Finally, I played the first few levels of Escape Goat 2, and it’s a really smart and interesting puzzle platformer, and I have a rather nice appetite for those sorts of experiences.

This week I’m hoping to take a look at A Story About My Uncle.  Patrick Klepek put up a video essay on it last week that more or less sold me in 5 minutes.

Also this week – I hope to spend some more time with Valiant Hearts, which I picked up for the PS4.  It’s using that gorgeous UbiArt engine (the one that the recent 2D Rayman games and Child of Light use), and it’s set in WW1 and is very, very dark in tone; but the gameplay is also a little goofy?  Or silly?  It feels somewhat at odds with the story they’re trying to tell.

I’m pretty sure I’ve played more Ubisoft games this year than I can count.  And I’m sure I’ll be picking up ACU in the fall.

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.



The Summer Doldrums 2K14

Every night after we put our son to bed, my wife and I will ask each other if either one wants the living room TV.  I use it to play games; she’s currently hooked on Orange Is The New Black.  Last night, she asked me if I wanted the TV, and I suddenly realized that I’m not going to need the TV for months.

We have officially entered the summer doldrums, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The next game on my to-do list, according to Game Informer’s Release Calendar, is Oddworld: New & Tasty which is released for PS4 on July 22.  After that, it’s mostly odds and sods until Destiny comes out in September.  I haven’t made up my mind if I’m going to purchase the remastered The Last Of Us or not (July 29), and while I’d like to play Diablo III (August 19) with my PS4 friends, I’m only doing it if I can carry over my PC characters – and there’s no direct confirmation that I can do that.

I’ve still got quite a lot of backlog to get caught up on – plus a ton of Vita stuff to try – and there are new rumors that Steam’s Summer Sale is starting this Thursday.  Thankfully, my Steam wishlist is very eclectic right now; it’s mostly weird indie stuff that I don’t necessarily need right this very minute.

(the top 5 titles on my wishlist)

  1. Goat Simulator
  2. NaissanceE
  3. A Story About My Uncle
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. Escape Goat 2

Lots of goats on my wishlist, as it turns out – the original Escape Goat is further down the list, too.  2014 is the Year of the Goat, I guess.  So it goes.

Looking at that release calendar, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.  There are certainly a few highlights to look forward to, and I remain hopeful that there’s enough stuff between DestinyAlien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Evil WithinEvolve, Middle Earth Shadow of MordorAssassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 to fill out the year’s presumptive top 10, but I’m definitely missing some of the notable titles that were delayed until 2015 (especially that new Batman game).

There’s also the notable absence of Civilization: Beyond Earth on that list, which I was pretty sure was still coming out this year, and which I’m very excited for even if I remain incredibly intimidated by the Civ franchise as a whole.

So, then:  what are you going to do?  Tackle the backlog, or go nuts on Steam?  Or both?  Or neither, and spend time with your family and read books and enjoy the summer weather?  Or maybe go back to writing music on a regular basis, which you’ve pretty much stopped completely ever since your son was born?

2014: the year of the empty wallet

I spent the last day of 2013 at home with a horrendous stomach virus.  I’ve had stomach problems for most of my life, but this was something else entirely; this was the sort of thing where I was wondering if I needed to go to a hospital, while also wondering if I could even manage to leave the apartment for the 5 minutes it would take to get Gatorade and ginger ale at the shitty bodega across the street.  We’d made arrangements for my in-laws to be babysitting that day anyway, so at least the baby wasn’t completely neglected, but MAN.  Not the best way to spend the day.  I was in bed on New Year’s Eve at 8:30.

Like I said in my previous post, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions.  I have objectives, I have plans, but “resolutions” seem silly and doomed to failure.  I’d mentioned that one of my goals this year was to conquer my 2013 backlog, and I briefly mentioned the financial considerations of that goal – that is, it’s silly for me to spend money on new games when I’ve already spent money on older games that I haven’t finished, or even started.

There’s another benefit to that angle, too:  the longer I can hold off on a new game, the better chance there’ll be that I can pick it up in a Steam sale.  And frankly, it’s been a long time since a Steam sale came around that actually meant anything to me.  I bought almost nothing during this most recent sale, and the stuff I did pick up was bought with a $20 gift card, so I didn’t actually spend any “real” money; and I bought them mostly for the sake of buying them, and not out of any real need.  And meanwhile, all these amazing AAA games were being sold at ludicrous prices, and… well… I’d already bought them at full price.

If 2014 is to be a year of more mindful spending, then it would behoove me to stick to this backlog strategy; this way, I can eventually pick up the stuff I’m looking forward to without having to pay full price for it.  This is hard for me, of course, because I’m an idiot with incredibly poor impulse control (and, also, I like to keep this blog somewhat timely and relevant), but I also have a baby now, and if ever there was a time for me to get my shit together, this would be the time.

The other part of this strategy, though, is:  I’m going to sell every Steam trading card that comes my way the moment I get it.

Before writing this post, I made the decision to go through my Steam inventory and sell all the trading cards I had.  And before I’d even finished unloading everything, I’d already made $2.50.  (I’m up to $3.76 right now; I think that covers everything I put out there.)  If I can keep getting card drops from my backlog – ~ $0.10 – $0.20 a card, 4-5 cards per game, 27 games (give or take, considering that I sold some cards from games in that backlog) – I mean, it’s not much, but it’s free money.  I could conceivably buy Terraria right now with the money in my account and still have change left over.  It’s certainly as good an incentive as any to go through that backlog as thoroughly as possible, right?

Of course, the wife and I did just start watching Breaking Bad last night, so I guess this backlog quest will be put on hold for at least a little while longer.


2014: the battle between old and new

You know, I can be full of shit sometimes.

I just wrote this 800-word post about 2014, and how I feel strange because for the first time in a long time I feel like I have absolutely no handle on what’s happening this coming year, and how I’m feeling a little cut off since I don’t have either of the new consoles just yet, and how I’m still not even sure if I should get one or wait for the Steam Machine or just buy a new graphics card for my PC, and how all of this is ridiculous since I have an absurd backlog of games to get through…

… and then, to prove my point, I listed the 27 games in my Steam library that I would like to get through, games which I either never finished or barely started, and which I was posting so that, later in the year when I inevitably start whining about not having anything to play, one of you could call me out and say, well, what about that gigantic backlog, and I could say, OH YEAH, right, the backlog…

… and then, after taking a brief moment to clear my head and open a new browser tab, I decided to check out the latest offerings in the Steam sale, and for some bizarre reason I actually came this close to buying Metro: Last Light, which is a game that I’m not even sure I liked all that much when I rented it on the 360 earlier this year.

NOT EVEN 5 MINUTES HAD PASSED SINCE I’D FINISHED PUTTING THAT LIST TOGETHER, PEOPLE, before I almost spent $10 on a game that I was only interested in buying because it was on sale.

I am an idiot.

Here’s the original post, and the backlog list, and a formal request – please punch me in the face, either in person, on this blog or on twitter (@couchshouts), if I do any whining about not having enough to play next year.  THAT’S my new year’s resolution – to finally get punched in the face.

(Please do not literally punch me in the face.)

*     *     *

I don’t “do” resolutions, but two things I’d like to start doing in 2014 – or, rather, stop doing – are (1) apologizing for taking long-ish breaks at this blog (i.e., anything less than one post a week – it should be understood by now that my available blogging time is in short supply these days) and (2) apologizing in general, but specifically if I let real-life intrude into this space.  This is a game blog, and I try to keep this blog focused on that topic… but it’s also my only blog at the moment (since my tumblr page is simply a place where I re-blog other people’s stuff and/or repost stuff from this blog).

I’d like to do a “What I’m Looking Forward To in 2014” post, but the truth is that this is the first time in a really, really long time where I feel like I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in terms of upcoming software.  I don’t have either of the new consoles yet (though I sorta came close to buying an Xbox One this past weekend, even though I’d still rather get a PS4 first), and so I’m not quite yet invested in either of their forthcoming lineups beyond obvious stuff like Watch Dogs and Destiny (and indie stuff like The Witness and Transistor).  I’m also still kinda waiting to see what the Steam Machine is all about, and I’m also wondering if I should just forgo new consoles entirely and just invest in a new graphics card for my PC.

(From my outsiders perspective, I’m starting to feel like this year’s E3 will be the first E3 in a long time that will actually matter; the new consoles are already in people’s homes, and everybody wants to know what’s coming next.  And it’s not even just about continuing older franchises – this is the best possible time to show off new IP, now that we’re all hungry for something to really put these consoles through their paces.)  

And yet, and yet, and yet… the truth is, all of this prognosticating is silly, as far as I’m personally concerned; I simply can’t afford to play all this new stuff.  I can only realistically afford one (1) console next year, and unless I start getting my freelancing career in order and can get review copies of games without having to pay for them, I will have to start being a lot more selective in terms of what I end up playing, Gamefly notwithstanding.

Moreover, I’ve got an absolutely absurd backlog of games in my Steam library, and I can’t keep ignoring it or pretending it’s not there.  I’ve said this before, of course, but it bears repeating if only so that I can remind myself that it’s out there.

If I start to bitch and moan that I don’t have anything to play, I want one of you to remind me of the list that I’m about to post below.  This isn’t everything that’s unplayed in my Steam library, but this is the stuff that I intended to play but never got around to finishing.

  1. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (played the first 30 minutes or so)
  2. Antichamber (I’ve already played quite a lot of it, but I never finished it)
  3. Dishonored DLC (I got halfway through the first one, never started the second one)
  4. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (did the first 15 minutes and then got distracted.)
  5. Guacamelee!
  6. Gunpoint
  7. Hitman: Absolution (I’m maybe halfway through this one.  I found it somewhat distasteful, but I’m also compelled to stay with it, for some bizarre reason.)
  8. Kentucky Route Zero
  9. Lego Marvel Superheroes (which I was enjoying quite thoroughly until AC4 came along)
  10. Magrunner: Dark Pulse
  11. Outlast (which I just bought yesterday, for some reason, I don’t know why)
  12. Papo & Yo (which I played a bit of on the PS3, but never finished)
  13. Path of Exile (in case I need a free-to-play Diablo fix)
  14. Rayman Legends
  15. Resonance (which I have literally no memory of downloading, but I’m glad to see it’s in my library)
  16. Rochard
  17. Rogue Legacy
  18. Shadowrun Returns
  19. Shadow Warrior
  20. Spelunky (which I also just bought yesterday, and which I’m afraid of, if that amazing Polygon eggplant run story is to be believed)
  21. System Shock 2
  22. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
  23. The Last Remnant (these last 2 were picked up during a summer Steam sale)
  24. The Swapper (need to finish)
  25. The Witcher 2 (which I need to re-start and get back into)
  26. Torchlight 2
  27. XCOM: Enemy Within

That’s 27 games of generally excellent quality that I’ve not finished – and in some cases, have barely started.  This is ridiculous.  This is financially irresponsible.  This is why I have no business buying a new console any time soon, and why I should maybe not worry so much about trying to stay on top of all the new stuff.  Until I put myself in a position where I can play new stuff and get paid to offer written opinions about them, I have more than enough to keep myself occupied for the time being.

*     *     *

I also finished Batman Arkham Origins over the weekend, though “finished” is a relative term, of course – there’s so much side stuff left to do, and I’ve already done a great deal of it, but I don’t think I can do any more.

The game itself is… OK.  A little disappointing, and certainly very exhausting, but I sorta knew going into it that I should keep my expectations low, and so in that respect I feel like I got my money’s worth.  I guess it’s just that I love these Batman games, and even if I knew this was a B-team effort, I can’t help getting excited for them.  The combat just got to be too much after a while – there’s combat involved in nearly every single part of the game, and like I said in an earlier post it gets to be ridiculous.

There’s also some annoying technical problems, at least on the PC; while the game looks terrific for the most part, it did lock up and crash on multiple occasions, and there’s one boss fight near the end where the frame rate got very, very jittery (where you’re fighting Bane (and minions) with your shock-gloves turned on) – and in a game where combat is very much timing-based, my constant deaths in that sequence felt very, very cheap.

From a narrative perspective, it’s certainly conceptually interesting to see a prequel with these characters, but it feels like wasted potential.  The voice acting is woefully uneven – the new Batman and Joker voices are certainly good enough, but Jim Gordon couldn’t have sounded more bored and stiff if he tried.  Moreover, Joker’s character arc does not make any sense to me.  ***SPOILERS*** Joker and Batman have that post-Bane standoff at the hotel; Joker falls out of the building (can’t remember how) and Batman saves him; Joker, now incarcerated and being interviewed by the future Harlequin, appears to have some sort of epiphany about his relationship with Batman; but in the game’s final confrontation, nothing about his epiphany appears to have affected his plan AT ALL.  And I’m still confused about the bounty and Black Mask’s part in all this, and how if Joker was Black Mask all along, why was he trying to kill Batman in the beginning of the game?  Especially since Batman appears to be relatively new to the scene, and this game is where he originally learns about Joker in the first place?  ***END SPOILERS***

All that aside, there’s nothing quite like entering a room filled with bad guys and taking them all out without ever being spotted.  And even then, the difficulty on those particular challenge rooms is very, very uneven; I had a beast of a time in the early game because the room layouts made for very crowded enemy AI paths, but towards the end I was clearing them with ease because the room designs meant that enemies generally walked alone a lot more often.  I’m not complaining, necessarily, because it’s still a rush to clear those rooms regardless, but it’s odd.

I am now trying to figure out what to play next.  And before you remind me that I’m also playing Zelda on the 3DS, let me retort that I’m not having nearly as much fun with it as I’d hoped.  I may try some of the shorter games in that backlog above; Kentucky Route Zero has been on my mind a lot lately, and I wouldn’t mind getting deeper into both Lego Marvel and Rayman Legends.  And also Shadow Warrior.

Have a very happy new year, everybody!

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