weekend recap: bits and bobs and odds and sods

So I had big, grand plans for blogging here last week, and, clearly, those plans all went to shit.

I’d written a rather gigantic review of Beyond: Two Souls for the NYVCC (which probably won’t be going up until early November), and in the process of putting it together I started getting a little philosophical about the concept of “fun”.  Not even necessarily about what constitutes fun (as an example, the fun I had in exploring the house in Gone Home is much, much different than, say, the fun of online Call of Duty matches, should you enjoy that sort of thing), but more along the lines of:  is “being fun” the thing that separates/elevates a game from an interactive experience?  Can a game with stellar graphics, a gripping story and fully-realized characters still be considered “great” if it isn’t “fun” to play?  And likewise, can a game with stellar gameplay mechanics (i.e., the “core gameplay loop”, or the “30 seconds of fun” design principle that went into creating Halo) still be considered “great” if the story and the characters and everything else is shitty?

I’d wanted to sink some serious time and thought into this piece, but, again, the week fell apart and I couldn’t put it together – not even after I tweeted that I was working on something ambitious, and that I sincerely hoped that I wouldn’t quit on it.   The tweet was more concerned with the post becoming too ridiculous for me to wrangle into shape; it didn’t take into account the many external factors that conspired against me even having the time to put it together (i.e., day job, sick baby, musical side projects).

Such is the blogger’s dilemma; as I am not in an environment where I can concentrate on writing 24/7 (or even 9 to 5), I seem to only churn out these sorts of lightweight posts – weekend recaps, uninformed gut reactions to industry news, whining about jerks on social media.  The heavy-duty stuff is problematic – I get intimidated because I want the piece to be great, and when I get intimidated I either allow myself to get distracted, or I get too critical and censorious and the whole thing falls apart.

I don’t necessarily want to abandon this idea, though, even if I just gave it away.  Because one thing that I am going to start doing over the next few months is a thorough examination of this console generation, and I’m very curious to see how my personal definition of “fun” has evolved over that time.

Case in point:  I ended up spending quite a lot of time in GTA V this weekend, trying to finish a few Strangers and Freaks missions, and also trying to trigger new ones – there’s quite a few missing in my Social Club profile, and I have no idea where to find them or how to start them.  Two of them started quite by accident; I decided to buy up some businesses, and one of them (the pier in the WNW area of the map) triggered two different quests that essentially sent me underwater, circumnavigating the entire island (one quest in a submarine, the other involving deep-sea diving).  These were strange, laborious and frequently tedious missions, and yet they were also, at times, deeply engrossing – if for no other reason than to simply appreciate the staggering amount of work that went into creating the underwater environment.   And since these missions were also untimed and free of enemies, I could explore at my leisure, and I personally really enjoy that sort of exploration – even if the speed of the sub and/or swimming was painfully, agonizingly slow.

Indeed, most of my time now in GTA V is spent driving around the northern expanse of the map, wishing there were Skyrim-esque dungeons to explore.  (Or, barring that, Red Dead Redemption-style gang hideouts to raid.)   (Also, mostly wishing that someone would mod GTA IV to incorporate GTA V‘s gameplay improvements – combat, penalties for mission failure, quick-saving, etc.)

Also this weekend:  I was generously gifted a copy of Deux Ex: Human Revolution (Director’s Cut) on Steam, and so that was a lot of fun to go back to.  I didn’t notice much in the way of the advertised graphical or AI improvements, and I haven’t gone far enough to see the re-tooled boss fights, but the commentary is a really nice touch, and it was neat to re-approach the first few levels without the clunkiness of my first playthrough.

Also spent a little time with Eldritch, a Lovecraftian roguelike that looks like a Minecraft mod.  I’m not really all that into roguelikes, nor am I particularly into Minecraft, but I do love me some Lovecraft spookiness, and so I finished the first dungeon and am contemplating a return visit.

Finally, I spent a few hours with the new PC port of Enslaved, which is a game that I remember being really impressed with on the 360 – I recalled it being a colorful adventure in the vein of Uncharted, which is a game that I could stand to see more clones of, and in my “Best of 2010 feature” I specifically called out Heavy Rain and said:

See, Heavy Rain, this is how facial animation should be done.  Hell, this is how storytelling should be done.  There’s more said in a character’s face here than in 20 overwritten lines of dialog.  The relationship between the two lead characters was thoroughly believable and authentic.

The PC version for the most part looks incredible, although the camera has considerable moments of severe jank.  And for whatever reason, this second time around, the story seems to be moving a lot faster than I remember – especially in regards to the relationship between Monkey and Trip.  The game is still fun, though – and it’s also pretty neat to see how the combat in Ninja Theory’s reboot of DmC evolved from what they did here in Enslaved.  If you didn’t play it on the console, this PC version is definitely worth picking up for $20.

I seem to doom myself every time I promise a blogging schedule for the upcoming week, so I’m not going to do that now.  But as I said above, my larger project over the next few months is to reexamine this console generation.  As I’m probably going to hold off on getting a next-gen console (most likely the PS4, first) until next year, I anticipate having plenty of time to get caught up on some backlog titles, and to revisit the console games I felt compelled to hold onto (which is to say, the games I liked too much to want to trade back for credit).   When I consider my Top 10 of this generation, it’s mostly just off the top of my head – with the exception of Red Dead, which I recently played to get warmed up for GTA V, I haven’t played any of the other games in my Top 10 in at least a year or two.   And it turns out that I really want to play Portal 1 and 2 again.

scatterbrained

I might’ve mentioned this already, but I suppose I might as well bring it up again; having a kid has completely changed my gaming habits. Granted, it’s also completely changed nearly every other aspect of my life, too, so the gaming slice of my life pie* was bound to get caught up in the sweeping change that having a kid inevitably brings.

Still, it’s something that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet. I’m finding it harder to get into new games, for one thing; I’m also finding it harder to stay engaged in the games I’m already playing.  And in any event, long gone are the days when I could just plug in to a game and stay there for 8 hours; now I’m lucky if I can stay focused for more than 30 minutes.

I think it’s been at least 2 months since I turned on my 360.  Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true – my kid was a bit restless a few weeks ago so I put in Rayman Origins because I figured it was colorful and musical and would maybe focus his attention for a little bit.  Alas – no such luck; he stuck with it for about 5 minutes before deciding he’d had enough.

This is all to say that I’m not necessarily doing a whole lot of gaming these days, and when I do, it’s very much in short bursts; I’ll get up to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else; get to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else.

Case in point: Shadowrun Returns.  I never played the original, and don’t know anything about its history.  Didn’t even follow its Kickstarter, beyond knowing that it had one.  I bought it because it seemed like something right up my alley – a cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting, a turn-based RPG with a battle system straight out of XCOM, lots of well-written text.  And for the most part, I’m really enjoying it – except for the lack of a quick-save, which means I can’t experiment, and if I die, I have to replay the previous 20 minutes all over again.  And while the text is fun, and the dialogue is sharp and witty, there’s also quite a lot of it, and I find myself scanning it quickly as opposed to taking it in.  And the game doesn’t necessarily explain its mechanics all that well – took me 3-4 battles before figuring out how to throw a grenade.  So, basically, I’m playing it one room at a time; once I finish an area, the game quicksaves, and then I log out.

I’ve been also sorta dabbling in the PC port of Fez, in a sort-of meaningless loyalty gesture to Phil Fish.  When I first played it on the 360, I got very, very deep into the hidden language and went out of my way to scour newsgroup discussions about some of the more obscure puzzles; this time, though, I’m really just out to enjoy the scenery and find some cubes if I see anyway.  It’s a very peaceful world to be in, which is a feeling I don’t often experience in games.

What else, what else… oh, I accidentally-on-purpose picked up XCOM on the iPad last week, when it was on “sale”.  And you know what?  It is perfect on the iPad.  Not that it wasn’t highly enjoyable (if a bit stressful) on the PC/console, but having it on the iPad makes idle moments on the go a lot more interesting.  The touch controls make perfect sense, and the in-between-mission ant-farm view was basically built to be used on an iPad.

Beyond that, I’m kinda just twiddling my thumbs, waiting for GTAV and trying to figure out how to play it without alienating my wife and child.  The next Mario & Luigi RPG comes out on the 3DS next week, which should be fun… Gone Home should be out on Steam next week, too, which I’m very much looking forward to… I’m still skeptical about Saints Row 4, the new Splinter Cell, and that other XCOMThe Bureau thing… and in the meantime, I still have my Steam Summer Sale to go through.

It’s going to be a weird next few weeks, is all I’ll say.  Not at all sure how updated this blog is going to be, though it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

 

* I was going to cut this out, but you know what? It’s not often you come across the worst metaphor in the entire history of written communication. So, really, you ought to be thanking me for leaving it in.  I very nearly changed the name of this site to better serve its honor.

as we merrily roll along

The Steam Sale continues to roll along, and I continue to buy things here and there that I didn’t necessarily mean to.

Here are my spoils, updated as of Friday morning with newest additions in italics:

  • Rogue Legacy
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Dirt 3
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe
  • Bully
  • Toki Tori 2
  • Skyrim DLC
  • Gunpoint
  • Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

As of right now (again, Friday morning), there’s only one thing on my wishlist that I’d like to pick up if it goes on sale: Magrunner: Dark Pulse, which apparently has a Portal-meets-Lovecraft vibe going on, and I’m a sucker for that kind of shit.  I’d also love it if that Civ V: Brave New World DLC came down in price, although considering that it just came out like a week ago, I highly doubt it’ll get anything beyond a token 10% discount.  (And if I’m being honest, here, the truth is that I’d probably only play it once, on Very Easy, and still fuck everything up and maybe give up halfway through the campaign.  Which is, again, why I wouldn’t mind picking it up if it came down in price.)

In the meantime, I continue to plug away at things I’ve already played before – specifically Tomb Raider, which I’m enjoying just as much the 2nd time around (even if the things that were problematic before remain so now).

Also received Shin Megami Tensei IV in the mail yesterday, which has received a rather positive reception even if nobody’s really articulated exactly what it is.  But it’s just as well; ever since I gave up on Animal Crossing I’ve been kinda just dicking around in Paper Mario Sticker Star, which is good but not nearly as fun as the Mario & Luigi games, and so any excuse I can find to play with the 3DS is one I’ll gladly take.

No gaming plans this weekend; I will be in a recording studio, making music, for pretty much the whole 48 hours.  Fun!  I only hope there’s air conditioning over there.

SFTC 400: a bit of a downer

WordPress says this is my 400th post, although that number includes the old posts at the now-defunct blogspot URL and some drafts-in-progress.  Still, though, 400 posts!  Let’s celebrate this historic milestone by talking about anxiety, depression, and my poor impulse control as it relates to Steam Summer Sales.

You see, every time there’s a Steam sale, I get all excited and tingly – which is ridiculous, because according to the Steam Calculator, I already own everything and I’ve only played less than half of it:
  • Games owned: 338
  • Games not played: 166  (49%)
…and so not only do I get excited and tingly for no good reason, but I also, then, find myself getting a little disappointed that there’s nothing new on sale that I haven’t already bought.
Of course, that doesn’t actually stop me.  As of Monday afternoon, here’s my current haul (10 games, approximately $40):
  • Dirt 3
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Puzzle
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Bully: Scholarship Edition
  • Toki Tori 2

There’s more stupid irony to come, as you might expect.  3 of the games on that list are games I’ve already played and simply wanted better-looking versions of (Dirt 3, Sword & Sworcery, Bully).  I’d heard good things about Home and Thomas Was Alone, and since I keep saying I’m tired of shooters I figured I’d get on board with some quality indie non-shooters.  I can’t necessarily explain The Last Remnant, other than that every once in a while I get a JRPG itch, and this was $6 or something.  Toki Tori 2… well, for some reason Steam had given me a 10% discount coupon, which on top of the sale discount made it a no-brainer.  Blood Dragon was stupid cheap, and I still sorta-like Far Cry 3.  But the ultimate point that I’m driving at is that of the 10 games on that list above, Rogue Legacy is the only one that I had a genuine hunger for, and while it was modestly discounted it wasn’t even part of the actual sale.

And yet, here’s the dumbest part of this whole enterprise:

Even though I’ve added 10 new games to my already absurd collection, you know what I ended up playing the most this weekend?  Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, which are games that I’d already beaten quite thoroughly earlier this year.

I don’t know why.  I suppose I was curious to see what this Steam Badge thing is all about; I’m still not 100% sure what they are or why I need them, and I’m not about to start annoying my friends list in hopes of completing a set, but after playing for half an hour or so and coming back up for air, I’d see that I’d unlocked a new badge, and so that’s an easy enough carrot to chase.

But I think there’s more to it (i.e., the replaying of finished games) than mere curiosity over Badges.  I think that I just wanted to travel over familiar ground.

This happens sometimes, especially when I’m feeling anxious and/or depressed.  I suppose I’ve been feeling a bit of both, lately. Truth is, I’m in a bit of a life-rut.  I mean, I love my kid, and I love my wife, and those are the most important things and that’s all well and good.  But I’ve been super-stressed out about money, my day job, my music career, my flailing attempts at creativity, my kid’s future and my ability to provide for him, and etc.  And so there’s been times lately when I sit down in front of my computer and I look at my “Installed Games” folder and I’m overcome with a sort of paralysis – I have too many choices, and none of them are scratching the right itch, and so rather than try something new that might be confusing or “arty” or difficult or non-intuitive, which are normally things that I’m intrigued by, I end up going towards the thing that I already know and am familiar with.

Along those lines, I’ve also been punishing myself by replaying a little bit of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Playstation Network was offering free copies for PSN users, and so I felt compelled to download it and see how it felt on my TV, and I played for a few minutes… but the PC version just looks and feels better, and there’s also something about playing it in my tiny, cramped office that adds to the tension, so I went back to the PC version.   I’d lost my old game save when my hard drive crashed, so I’ve been starting anew, and it’s been an interesting experience getting back into it – I’m not playing nearly as stupidly as I did the first time around, for one thing, though it’s still very tense and I can only play it for 30 minutes or so before the tension overwhelms the fun.

Regarding the rest of the Steam Sale:  I’m trying to hold off, though there’s really not much else that I’d be picking up at this point that I don’t already have.  I suppose I’d like to see Gunpoint come back – it was up for a community vote and lost, but considering that Dishonored came back after losing a vote, perhaps this one will come back as a featured item.  I’d tried the demo and liked it, but I also knew that at a certain point I’d probably get flustered and frustrated with it… so I’d rather pay less if I’m going to get it.

What about you guys?

weekend recap: thrills and pills and headcolds

Not a lot of game-time this weekend; I caught a vicious headcold while in the middle of a double-feature at the movies on Saturday, and so I spent most of Sunday and Monday horizontal, with intermittent breaks for sneezing.

That being said, a few gaming-related items are worth mentioning:

1.  Before the movies on Saturday, I was more or less forced into buying an iPhone 5.  I tried as long as I could to wait until Apple announced the new model, but I couldn’t – not only were my apps struggling to work, but my 4 was missing calls and texts left and right.  (In fact, when my 5 was finally set up with my phone number, a flurry of voicemails appeared that I’d never seen before.)   The 5 has been around awhile, so this is probably old news  for most of you, but WOW – the difference between the 4 and the 5 is staggering.  Apps take almost no time at all to load, and the apps that are optimized for the 5 really show it.  On my 4, Temple Run 2 could barely hold a steady frame rate, but on the 5 it runs as smooth as silk and with lush textures and shadows and details that the 4 only hinted at.  (As I’m a fan of the endless runner genre, it’s very much appreciated to be able to play and know that any deaths are my own fault and not the fault of the phone.)

2.  Picked up The Swapper at some point over the weekend.  My cold kinda kept me from playing anything for more than 10 minutes at a time, but that worked out OK for the Swapper – I’d do a few puzzles and then switch it off.  It has a beautiful aesthetic – it actually reminds me a little bit of Little Big Planet – and the puzzle mechanics are novel and interesting.  Very eager to spend more time with it once my brain is up to the task.

3.  Played a few more missions of Call of Juarez Gunslinger.  As above, I could only really handle one mission at a time, but since most missions are around 10-20 minutes long, that was fine.  I’d stopped paying attention to the story and really just focused on getting through the levels, and that was fun enough.  Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek had called it a game for people who were sick of shooters, and I agree with that assessment – it mixes up the shooting formula enough to feel fresh and different.  I think he also mentioned that it reminded him of Bulletstorm, at least in terms of the scoring mechanic, and that’s absolutely spot-on.

4.  I succumbed to the Steam Sale and picked up Devil May Cry for 40% off.  I’d already beaten it on the 360 earlier this year, but I’d been finding myself thinking about it lately, and I was curious to see what it looked like on the PC.  It looks FANTASTIC on the PC, as it turns out, and it’s still as batshit crazy as I thought it was.  I made it to the beginning of the Upside-Down level, which I remember as being one of my favorites.

5.  I played about 10 minutes of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for the 3DS, and hated it.  Controls were floaty and imprecise, the difficulty was surprisingly high, and the graphics were a bit jaggy and ugly.  As this was one of the 3DS games I was most looking forward to this year, I’m calling this one a big disappointment.

a few words on intimidation, over-compensation, and apathy

This post might be a little rambly and random; last night the baby had, to put it kindly, an “uneven night’s sleep.”  I keep thinking I’m getting used to his sleeping patterns, but then every other day those patterns change into something totally different, and I get totally derailed.  It’s funny; I used to complain that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do all the stuff I need to do; but now it feels like each 24-hour day actually lasts for, say, 72 hours, and yet I feel more and more incapacitated.

As always, Steve Martin says it a lot better:

*     *     *     *     *

A few nights ago I attended a small, informal meeting of the NYVCC.  It was a very pleasant evening and I met some super cool people and I might be getting involved in some interesting-sounding future projects, and so this is all wonderful… but to be honest I was just happy that I didn’t totally chicken out and not go.  Social anxiety is still a very real pain in my ass, and even though I’ve gone to great lengths to overcome it (thank you, Ativan!), it’s still a source of frustration and agitation.  Still:  I showed up, which counts as a victory of sorts.

Of course, I should also mention that among the attendees were people who write for sites and outlets that I actually read on a semi-regular basis, and so I found myself engaged in this weird sort of social anxiety dance in which I was  somewhat intimidated by the pedigree of my fellow peers and thus desperately over-compensating by spewing forth opinions that may or may not have been a little half-baked.  It is an exceedingly strange phenomenon to find oneself pontificating about certain issues in front of the very people who provided one with the information in the first place, and so I am glad that I was a little drunk so as to dull the vertigo a bit, even if it loosened my tongue a bit too much.  Maybe next time I’ll remember to eat something first.

 *     *     *     *     *

It came out yesterday that Microsoft will be revealing its new console in less than a month.  Why don’t I care?

I’m not necessarily an Xbox fanboy, but the truth is that at least 80% of my game time this generation was spent on the 360, primarily because that’s where the bulk of my friends were.  And so I figured I’d get a bit more excited about hearing what’s next… but I’m finding myself surprisingly apathetic about what the big reveal will be.

I’m not sure it’s Microsoft’s fault, actually, even if Sony’s made tremendous strides of late in terms of courting and supporting indie developers (which is the very thing that XboxLive used to pride itself on).

I suppose it’s really just me and how my life has changed in the last few weeks.  Having a baby – and the financial repercussions that follow from such an event – means that I’m not sure I’m going to be acquiring both a PS4 and a new Xbox, and if I can only pick one, then I need to pick the one that will offer the most bang for the buck.  (And if we’re being brutally honest here, my choice between the Xbox and the PS4 becomes more or less null and void if the much-rumored Steam Box is actually a real thing and is sold at a reasonable price point.)

And I’m not even sure I know how to define “the most bang for the buck”, either.  I presume that both devices will continue to offer streaming video services, and that the new Xbox will come with a Blu-ray drive.  I also presume that both devices will have some sort of cloud-based storage system, and also that each will have a digital storefront that would allow me to download new games instead of buying discs.

Once again, it comes down to content.  And Sony’s been terrific lately in terms of offering exclusive, high-quality content.  And if the rumors are true and the PS4 is as easy to program for as the PS3 was difficult, then maybe the PS4 version of a multi-console release won’t be the “shitty” one.

But – again – if we’re talking about content, then what’s better than Steam right now?

If I look at my play habits over the last 6 months, I think it’s safe to say I’ve turned into a PC gamer almost exclusively; I’ve barely touched either of my consoles.  The living room of my apartment is too busy a place these days for me to effectively kick everybody out; whereas my PC is in the office, where I don’t bother anyone and nobody bothers me.  My aging PC still runs AAA games quite nicely, and Steam sales make acquiring those AAA games rather affordable.

And you know what else?  I don’t quite care about Xbox Achievements the way I used to, which is a huge psychological burden that I don’t have to worry about anymore.  It’s stupid, right?  And yet I always felt obligated to get big Achievement scores so as to be able to prove (to whom?!) that I was hardcore, or something.  Even if Steam has achievements, I don’t really care – there’s no “score”, and they don’t get all up in my face about it.  I still appreciate how Achievements fundamentally changed the way I play games – in terms of really diving in and exploring certain facets of a game that I might have otherwise overlooked – but I’m not hyper-competitive about the actual number anymore.

I suppose I reserve the right to completely change my opinion once the new Xbox is revealed, and then after E3 rolls around and the actual list of upcoming games comes out – because by the time the new consoles are actually released, I expect my son to have established some more regular sleeping habits, and so I won’t feel so guilty about claiming the living room again.

weekend recap: saying goodbye to 2012

1.  As promised, the wife and I finally finished The Walking Dead.  What a hell of a thing that was.  There’s a part of me that wants to nitpick a little bit, that sometimes a character will suddenly change their entire outlook in a matter of seconds, as if there was a transitional scene that was cut, or as if a different writer took over the scene without looking at the previous pages; or that, all things considered, the “game” part of it could’ve used a little work; or that, at least on the 360, there are a lot of weird graphical hiccups and frame-rate stutters that are somewhat jarring.  But all that aside, it tells one hell of a story, and we were fully invested from the very beginning.  And that ending!  Oh God.  Gred, my SFTC podcast co-host, said it’s his favorite ending since Red Dead Redemption, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

2.  I am also replaying Mass Effect 3, now that I’ve got the DLC installed and a renegade mindset.  Finished the Omega DLC last night, actually, and being a renegade was kinda awesome – Aria T’Loak very much appreciated it.  But, man… it’s hard to be a renegade all the time.  Granted, the choices I’ve had to make aren’t anywhere near as devastating and as ethically dubious as the ones in Walking Dead, but sometimes it’s just rough.  I have to remind myself that I already went through the game as a paragon, and part of the reason why I’m doing this again is to see all the stuff I didn’t see last time.  Still, though… it’s tough.  I’m very much enjoying the game, though, even if all the stuff on the Citadel bores me to death.  

3.  If any game developers are out there reading this, please make a true GTA in space for the next-gen consoles.  That is the game I want to play.  I’d do it myself except I can’t code, draw, or design.   (One of my new year’s resolutions that I’m coming up with right at this very moment is to teach myself Unity, but who knows if that will stick once the baby arrives.)

4.  The Steam Sale continues to torment me.  I’ve managed to be pretty good, for the most part, although I did pick up three things last night:  Little InfernoRochard, and Closure.  I haven’t yet tried the latter two, but Little Inferno is an interesting little puzzler that is threatening to get subversive.  And a few days ago I picked up Retro City Rampage and Mark of the Ninja, which looks absolutely gorgeous on my PC monitor.  I’ve been slowly going through it again; it’s even better than I remember it being.

5.  I was going to do a big “Predictions for 2013” post, but I’m not really feeling it.  Honestly, there’s not a hell of a lot to say about 2013 – there’s not very much coming out that’s all that exciting besides 2 or 3 big titles, and in any event, once the baby comes in April I’m sure that my gaming time will decrease dramatically.  Basically, I’m just hoping my 360 survives long enough to get me through GTA5, and then I’ll take it week-to-week until the new consoles come out.  I’m still toying with the idea of getting a 3DS; I’m also toying with the idea of upgrading my iPhone 4 to a 5, but also perhaps waiting until they announce the 6 (or the 5* or whatever).

In non-game news, I might do a Books post here later today (or later this week, depending on time).  I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which came highly recommended from a million different people.  I’m normally not very big on fantasy novels, but this one’s particularly good, and I might be checking out his earlier stuff – I’m not sure I’m prepared to dive into the Wheel of Time series, though.

I will not be doing a Music post, though.  I haven’t done a music post in a few years, actually, and this year I felt particularly out of touch with the music scene.  That being said, I have been keeping a Spotify playlist of my favorite 2012 songs, and while it’s not as thorough as I’d prefer it to be, it’s still pretty good:

weekend recap: the christmas splurge

It would figure that I’d need to make some serious additions and edits to my Games of 2012 post, because not 24 hours after that post went up, Steam had another sale.

Those fuckers.

I’ve gone and done foolish things.

  • Retro City Rampage
  • Mark of the Ninja (which I’ve already beaten on 360, but GODDAMN that game is amazing, and I’m happy to support the developer wherever possible)
  • Civ V – Gods and Kings
  • Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition
  • Solar 2
  • Unmechanical
  • FTL

I’ve managed to avoid buying both Borderlands 2 and Hitman: Absolution, even though they’ve both been 50% off several times over the course of this sale.  (Leaving aside that I’ve already beaten Borderlands 2 and bought its DLC Season Pass on the 360;  didn’t I already say that I wasn’t ever going to play Hitman, because that marketing campaign was so hideous and because I’m tired of gratuitous violence?  Why am I even still considering it?  Am I that much of a slave to sales?)

The only other thing I’d like to pick up is Little Inferno, which has been holding steady at 33%.  If that goes down to 50+, it’s mine.

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And in spite of all these new pickups, I’ve been playing a bunch of old stuff, actually.

On the PC, I’ve been playing Batman: Arkham City, which I’m enjoying possibly even more than I did the first time around.  I’m not really paying attention to every single Riddler challenge unless it’s something I remember the solution for and/or currently have the right equipment to solve, but I am doing all the side missions, which are fun and involving and interesting.  And GODDAMN, that game looks incredible.  I’d been playing Far Cry 3 at high resolution but with a somewhat shaky framerate; Batman:AC, on the other hand, is at a high resolution and is at a blazing 60+ FPS.  The difference is striking.

On the 360, I bought some of the DLC for Trials Evolution, and was instantly reminded of 2 things:  (1) that game is really, really fun, and (2) that game can be really, really difficult.  But my main focus has been on doing a Renegade playthrough of Mass Effect 3.  I guess I’d been thinking about it lately, and I’d heard good things about the DLC, and since I hadn’t even thought about the game since I first beat it in March, I figured it’d be a (somewhat) fresh experience.  And it is, it really is.  That game is still excellent.  And porting over my completed save – where my FemShep was at level 58 – means I’ve got crazy powers right from the get-go.  I’m not quite yet at the part where I have full control over the Normandy and can go wherever I want to go, but I’m pretty close, I think, and I’m very much looking forward to checking out the new DLC.

And on iOS, I picked up Poker Knight and Gua-Le-Ni.  Poker Knight is a puzzle/RPG where your attacks are based on creating poker hands – it pushes a lot of very good buttons.  And Gua-Le-Ni is something I heard about earlier today from SlideDB – it’s a really unique puzzle game for the iPad with a fantastic art style and a very neat gameplay hook, somewhat akin to a set of children’s letter blocks.

Here’s hoping you all had a lovely holiday.  Did you get everything you wanted?

the beginning of the end

I’m currently re-reading Justin Cronin’s excellent “The Passage“, primarily to get reacquainted with the world and the characters and the story before diving into the sequel.  But I’m also just totally in love with the book itself, and I’m probably enjoying it even more the second time around.  Cronin is a masterful storyteller, to be sure, but I think I’m most impressed by his words.  The man just knows how to write a sentence; no detail is superfluous, no word feels out of place, and every paragraph has a perfect rhythm that sweeps you along to the next one.  For me, there are few pleasures like being sucked into a great book.

I say this only because my experience playing Assassin’s Creed 3 is very much the opposite of what I’m feeling when I’m reading The Passage.  AC3 feels like a depressing slog; the already-tenuous narrative is now fraying and starting to make very little sense, both in Connor-time and (especially) in Desmond-time, where the cutscenes between Desmond and that weird ghost lady are just flat-out dreadful – the ghost lady’s dialogue is flowery and pretentious and desperately trying to sound important and mean something, even though it sounds like nonsense.  I suppose I could try to see past this if the gameplay was still holding up, but it’s not.  I just escaped from a New York City prison, and while that sounds interesting in theory, in practice it was dreadfully dull and I just wanted the damned thing to be over with.  I’m not sure I’m going to keep playing, and while a part of this makes me a little sad (as I really want to care about this franchise again), the truth is that I don’t like feeling that I’m wasting my time.

So, while I wait for Gamefly copies of Lego LOTR, Hitman and Far Cry 3 to arrive, I’ll probably start diving into my Steam Sale purchases.  I didn’t go too nuts this year, but I did buy enough to keep me busy for a few months:

  • Tropico 4
  • Yesterday
  • Thirty Flights of Loving
  • Resonance
  • Batman Arkham City GOTY
  • Dishonored

Those last 2 require some explanation, I guess.  I’d already played Arkham City on the 360, and I’d found over 300 of the Riddler’s challenges, too, but I’ve found myself thinking about it lately and figured I couldn’t go wrong for $7, especially since my PC makes it look really, really nice.  Similarly, I guess I kinda felt bad about quitting on Dishonored, and since it was 50% off, I figured I’d give it another ago, now that at least I know how to play it a lot better than I did, previously.

In all, I spent less than $40 on 6 games, most of which have gotten great reviews, and since as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worth playing until either Bioshock Infinite or GTA5, whichever comes first, I might as well dig in.

weekend recap – conquering fears, one drive at at time

Here’s hoping all of you (whoever you are) had a wonderful holiday break.  I can’t necessarily say that my break was relaxing, but I can say that I’ve come through the other side feeling almost like a changed man.

See, Thanksgiving is simultaneously the holiday I look forward to the most (since I get to see all of my family), and also the holiday I end up getting the most stressed out over.  There’s lots of travelling (which can stress me out), lots of food I can’t eat very much of (as I’ve got some annoying food allergies and a pretty sensitive GI system, generally speaking), the requisite family drama (which I’m sure everyone else has, too), and my day-to-day schedule is usually so busy that there’s hardly any time to chill out and relax and digest.   (I’ve got 3 different family units to visit, is the thing.)

This year’s edition was doubly stressful because I was also picking up my first car, a process that had already been stressing me out for the last 2 weeks as I dealt with epic DMV hassles and endless forms and insurance companies and such, and this car-acquiring process was going to end with me driving this car back to my apartment in Brooklyn, a process that necessarily involves driving through New York City.  I have lived in NYC since 1993, and the prospect of driving here has never ceased to freak me out.  (I have, in fact, driven in the city a few times, and even had a shitty moving van stall out and die – three times! – on a crowded, uphill onramp to the Queensborough Bridge, and I am still alive.)

And yet, even though the holiday was busy (as predicted) and there was drama (unfortunate), the food I did eat was quite delicious and didn’t kill me, and in general my stomach was quite cooperative, and it was wonderful to see everyone, and the drive back to the city on Saturday night was shockingly easy and stress-free, and we even had time to build a bureau for the baby’s room on Sunday AND go bowling in the afternoon with friends AND watch the first half of the Giants game before totally passing out from exhaustion.  This was a good weekend.

Conquering the drive, though; that was big.   That was the thing that was stressing me out more than anything else, and it turned out to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.   I’m already dealing with general anxiety disorder, which has made me somewhat of a recluse in recent years.*   Medications have helped drag me out of my apartment, but sometimes you just have to face your fears head-on if you’re ever going to conquer them.  And let me tell you, when I finally pulled into our parking space, a part of me really wanted to hear the Achievement Unlocked! sound.

In any event, I’m back in town.

Not a lot of gaming stuff to report.  I’ve been more or less successful in avoiding the Steam sale, though I did buy a few things last night on steep discount (including Hotline Miami).  (And, as I write this, I see that there’s a Flash Sale where Tropico 4 is 80% off.  I suck at strategy games, and yet I’m close to pulling the trigger on this.)

One other bit of non-gaming news to report:  the Kindle Paperwhite is fantastic.  My previous Kindle was old and losing its charge pretty quickly, and the Kindle iPad app can be hard on the eyes at night (and is also too full of distractions to be truly useful as a reading device).  The Paperwhite, though, is super-easy on the eyes, rests very easy in the hands, and has gotten me back into a heavy reading rotation.  (I may end up doing a little Books of 2012 post here, as a matter of fact; my personal blog, where I usually post stuff like this, is more or less defunct these days, and I’ve been thinking about expanding this blog’s topical range anyway.  Hope that’s OK with you!)

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* That being said, being a semi-agoraphobe has also meant that I play a lot of videogames, and is a large reason why this blog even exists in the first place.