Further Adventures in Real Estate

1.  In last week’s entry, I wrote that I was incredibly distracted and overwhelmed by the very real possibility that the house we’d fallen love with was going to be ours within a matter of weeks, and that the speed with which this whole thing happened was dizzying and disorienting.  In my excitement and confidence and naivete, I’d told a work colleague that the only two things that could happen to derail this process was that (1) the bank would do their own appraisal and give us far less of a loan than what we’d bid, or (2) the inspector would say “this house is actually just a hologram and doesn’t exist in any sort of physical reality.”

As it turned out, (2) was closer to the truth than (1); the inspection went so terribly that we agreed to abandon it about halfway through, because there was nothing we could see that could possibly make up for what we’d already seen.  Words like “deathtrap” and “shitshow” were thrown around.  The inspector – who was hired by our realtor, and thus was professionally biased on her behalf – said to us, “Look – no problem is unsolvable.  But if you were my own flesh and blood, I’d urge you to walk away.”  I asked our realtor, who’s been doing this for a long time, how this flip ranked in terms of what she’d seen, and she said that it was, in fact, the worst she’d ever seen, and by the time we’d signed the inspection checks, she was already looking at other properties for us to visit.

So there’s that.

At this point, we’ve learned quite a lot in a very short amount of time, the most important of which are:

  • There will never be a situation in which an inspector looks at a house and says, “I can’t find anything wrong, this is a perfect house.”  But there’s a difference between a solvable problem and a waking nightmare.
  • The Venn diagram comprising available houses in this neighborhood in our price range that also meet our specific needs and that aren’t going to collapse in a stiff breeze is going to be very small, and we have to be realistic about what we can expect to find.
  • A good support team is everything.

We’re not giving up; indeed, we went back out there this past weekend and saw something that’s actually quite lovely, and we also learned that the very first house that we ended up being the runner-up bid for might be coming back on the market, and the chance to get a second crack at that one is certainly very intriguing.  But until we finally get out of the nightmare contract and get our money back, we’re still on the outside looking in.

2.  I need to get back to the album at some point, but as you can imagine, it’s just impossible to feel creative and focused when so much big stuff is happening.  Looking at houses is exhausting, especially with a two year old who loves climbing stairs and saying “No.  Stop.”  and hitting you when it’s time to stop climbing steps and leave the house.  I’d hate to think that I’m not going to get back to it until we’re moved in to a new place, because who knows how long this process is going to take; in the meantime, though, it’s rough going.  I’m trying to not beat myself up about it; these are extenuating circumstances, to be sure, and I’m sure that soon enough I’ll be able to carve out some time and mental energy to get back to it in earnest.

3.  I am kinda playing games again, though, if only because that’s easier for me to deal with when I’m collapsed on the couch.  There wasn’t a lot of time this weekend, but there was enough time for me to be able to see a few things.

  • Invisible, Inc. is a really interesting turn-based stealth game – it’s by the team that made the fantastic Mark of the Ninja, and it looks an awful lot like XCOM – and I can’t wait to really settle down and play it for real.  The simple truth is that for me right now, even on the easiest difficulty setting, it’s very stressful, and I’m already too stressed out as it is.  Supposedly it’s coming to PS4 later this year; if it also came to the Vita, I’d gladly buy it twice, as I think it’d be perfect as a handheld title.
  • Project CARS is really beautiful and really obtuse; I played it for about 5 minutes and then put it back in the Gamefly envelope.
  • For some reason, I felt bad that I’d not turned my Xbox One on in a while, and so I decided to rent Dead Rising 3, even though I’ve never really cared for the first 2.  And after 10-15 minutes, I remembered that I’d still not finished Sunset Overdrive, which is one of the games I bought the XBO for in the first place, and that if I had to choose between two zombie apocalypse games, I’d much rather play Sunset Overdrive.
  • Did I end up playing Sunset Overdrive, though?  No, I did not.  Instead, I tried to cram through as much of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood as I could.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and even though it’s not nearly as engrossing as last year’s New Order, it’s certainly fun enough in its mindless action, and shooting Nazi zombies is always a gas.  (Even though they also shoot back, which, I mean, come on.)  I’d like to finish it tonight, so that my plate is clear before The Witcher 3 unlocks.

Yeah, The Witcher 3.  I’m trying to keep my expectations in check.  I played bits and pieces of the first two and couldn’t really get into either of them.  The hyperbole surrounding this newest one is ridiculous, which is impossible to ignore; but given that I’m also feeling rather sour about games at the moment, it must be said that I’m kinda putting a lot of pressure on it to really be as good as everyone else seems to say it is.  If The Witcher 3 can’t get me excited about gaming as a medium, then maybe I should start thinking about switching off for good.

The Rest Of The Year

I seem to have picked up a number of new followers over the last few weeks, ever since I decided to expand the scope of this blog’s subject matter.  For those of you new to the blog, hello!  I’m glad to have you here.  That being said, today’s post is probably going to be of very little interest to you; for today is, more or less, the beginning of the fall videogame release deluge, and you might as well know what you’re going to be in for, if you’re coming here on a regular basis.

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again because, well, why not:  I am not a professional game journalist, and the readership of this blog is relatively small, and yet despite all this I still feel compelled to play as many of the big game releases as I can, if only so that I can talk about everything in short bursts that are not nearly as insightful and helpful as if I actually sat down and focused on one thing at a time; this comes out of a desire to be part of the larger conversation about games, even if I am but a tiny voice in the throng of much more well-informed speakers.

As it happens, I’d originally started writing this post yesterday afternoon, listing (in order of priority) the games I planned on playing for the rest of 2014. This list, of course, contains no critical insight; I’m putting it here so that (a) I can remember what’s coming up, and (b) you might have an idea of what I’m going to be writing about over the coming weeks.

But after this morning’s astonishingly good reviews for Dragon Age Inquisition and this afternoon’s equally astonishingly disappointing reviews for Assassin’s Creed Unity, the list has gone all sideways on me.

So, then:  here’s what’s coming up.

  1. Assassin’s Creed Unity (PS4) – Thank God I was able to successfully cancel my pre-order – of the super-deluxe edition, no less.  That being said, the rental copy is still on its way, and so I’m probably going to at least try it out for a few hours, time permitting.  I am wary of this franchise; it was a slow and steady climb that peaked for me with Brotherhood, fell apart completely between Revelations and AC3, and somehow was built back up with last year’s Black Flag.  I’m glad to hear that the last-gen Rogue is getting better reviews, though my 360 is dead and my PS3 is in a similarly unplayable state.
  2. Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4) – Meanwhile, holy shit, have you seen the reviews this has been getting?  I was a bit on the fence about this one – the first game didn’t really appeal to me, and the second one played a bit better but had some very significant and unfortunate flaws – but WOW.  When I need a long, deep RPG to sink my teeth into this winter, I’ll be very grateful to have this one around.
  3. Grand Theft Auto V (PS4) – I felt conflicted buying the HD conversion, because I find the story abhorrent and – well, look, I’ve already written about it.  But at the end of the day, I still have a greater affection for the world than I do for the narrative, and so being able to explore it again on my own terms is a far more appealing prospect.  Maybe I’ll even muck around with the online side of things a bit more, who knows.  And some of the forthcoming single-player content sounds intriguing – like that murder mystery bit, which is a nice knowing nod to L.A. Noire.
  4. Far Cry 4 (PS4) – Given Ubisoft’s worrying track record when it comes to next-gen AAA titles this year, I’m not necessarily holding my breath.  But I already pre-ordered it, so, I guess I’m stuck with it.  I’m not necessarily feeling as conflicted about it as I was with Far Cry 3 (which coupled my already-heavy shooter fatigue with the heavy, sorrowful feelings I had regarding the Newtown massacre), but I haven’t been paying a great deal of attention to the preview coverage, either.   
  5. Little Big Planet 3 (PS4) – I’m renting this one, and this might very well mark the first time I let my 19-month-old son put his hands on a game controller.  I have a fondness for the franchise because how can you not, it’s the cutest goddamned thing you’ve ever seen, but let’s be honest – the platforming can be a bit fussy and floaty, and I’ve never really given the creation tools much of a go.
  6. continue playing Forza Horizon 2 (XBO) – I don’t know that I’ll ever 100% it, but I plan on keeping this in the rotation for as long as it continues to be entertaining, and given that I’ve been putting 2-3 hours into it every day without getting tired of it, it’s going to stay in the rotation.
  7. continue Sunset Overdrive (XBO) – This has taken a back seat to Forza, obviously.  I haven’t forgotten about it, but I don’t know that it’ll be high on my to-do list, either.  (Ironic, too, given that the Sunset Overdrive bundle is the Xbox One bundle I’d had my eye on in the first place.)
  8. try to finish Shadow of Mordor (PS4) – I expect this game to rank pretty high on the various GOTY lists that will start going up at the end of the year, but it never quite did anything for me.  I don’t want to give up on it, necessarily, but I had a hard time staying with it and it’s been so long since I picked it up that I may just have to start over from scratch.
  9. try to finish Mind: Path of Thalamus (PC)
  10. try to finish The Talos Principle (PC) – These two are very enjoyable (though somewhat obtuse) puzzle games, but I’ve gotten to the point in both of them where I’m just not quite smart enough to advance.
  11. maybe try the Halo collection (XBO) – You can’t beat the price, but:  I was never the biggest fan of the campaigns, and I’d wager that the main reason this is coming out at all is so that hard-core Halo fans can continue to play their favorite maps on their new console.  I suck at competitive Halo, so the pull isn’t quite there.

The First Few Hours (for real): Xbox One, Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2

1.  Before I get into the topic at hand, a confession:  I haven’t written for NaNo in 2 days.  Nor am I sure I’m going to pick up where I left off, if in fact I do decide to keep going; the subject matter is a bit more emotionally loaded and intense than I’d thought.  If I’m going to successfully fictionalize it, I need to understand it first, and boy oh boy am I not emotionally prepared to do that at this present moment in time.

2.  And in keeping with things that make me feel depressed, I can’t help but notice that my writing just sucks these days.  Even just emails to friends, FB status updates, and twitter replies – they all feel like they’re coming out wrong.  I’m feeling very much like Salieri; I have a tremendous passion for writing, but I feel that I lack the natural ability to do it as well as I’d like.  I may very well end up taking more classes.

This is all to say that trying to write a novel about super-intense emotional stuff when I’m feeling like I can’t even write a simple declarative sentence that’s enjoyable to read is discouraging, and depressing, and ugh.

3.  It’s November, which means that it’s time to start getting to work on year-end Top 10 lists.  To that end, I’ve been making it a priority to listen to all the 2014 albums I’ve saved on Spotify that I’ve never actually got around to listening to.  I’ll be putting out a playlist of my favorite songs soon enough; but there are also some albums that I’m loving the hell out of that don’t necessarily have one stand-out song.  Case in point:  Adult Jazz, “Gist Is”, which is (to me) a beautiful, melodic mixture of the avant-garde songwriting structures of Dirty Projectors and the latent melancholy that dwells within certain Vampire Weekend songs.  I can see why some listeners might find it incredibly pretentious and off-putting, but it’s been hitting me really deep of late.  Another case in point: the new Deerhoof album, “La Isla Bonita”, which might be the best (and most accessible) album they’ve put out since “The Runners Four.”  Likewise, Run The Jewels 2 and Flying Lotus’ “You’re Dead” are both utterly amazing headtrips, and near-impossible to pick just one or two tracks that stand out from the rest.

4.  So:  when I got home last night, both Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 had finished downloading.  I’m enjoying both of them, but it’s also entirely possible that my current weird, depressive mind-state is making it difficult for me to fully engage with either game.

I appreciate Sunset Overdrive’s over-the-top lunacy, it’s vibrant color palette, and that it’s breaking the fourth wall at every possible opportunity, just to show you that it’s not taking itself too seriously.  To that end, it’s also possible that being self-aware of how un-self-aware you are is also a form of overt self-awareness, and so the more bananas it tries to be, the more silly and toy-like it becomes.   It reminds me a great deal of Crackdown – it’s similarly graphically vibrant, non-linear, and you basically jump and soar and fly and blow shit up, but I don’t feel like I’m moving as quickly as I’d like (I suppose that’s something I’ll be leveling up at some point); it also reminds me a great deal of Sony’s Infamous games (especially the grinding and other traversal maneuvers), except that the traversal in Sunset Overdrive feels a bit more convoluted and non-intuitive – two button presses to grind, plus shooting?  I get the hang of it, but I don’t feel like I’ve mastered the controls as quickly as I should.

I’ve only dabbled with one or two events in Forza Horizon 2.  It’s astonishingly gorgeous – far better-looking than I expected – and I’m also really happy with how the Xbox One controller feels while driving.  The rumble is pleasingly intense, the buttons are well-placed, the triggers feel responsive; unlike in Sunset, I felt in control the entire time.  I may end up spending more time with this one, which is fine with me; I loved the first game, and this one looks like a bigger and better model.

As for the Xbox One itself?  I like it.  I like the system.  The dashboard is overwhelming at first but it does make sense, and it’s fun to engage with in ways that the PS4 isn’t.  My wife and I got rid of cable and we have a Roku3, so I don’t think I’ll be using the TV functionality all that much, but that’s fine.  I will still more than likely continue to use the PS4 as my primary console (especially as long as multi-platform releases continue to perform better on it), but I’m glad to be back in Xbox land, and I kinda forgot how much I liked earning Achievements.  (Sorry, Sony – trophies just aren’t the same.)

Weekend Recap: Words, Words, Words

1.  I am around 1700 words into my NaNoWriMo project.  I started with a blank page, put on some ambient drones to keep focused, and let my mind wander a bit until it found the story it wanted to tell.  The story is a bit of a surprise, actually, being that it’s decided it wants to be somewhat non-fictional.  For that reason alone, I’m pretty sure I’m never letting this thing see the light of day unless I change all the names and fudge some of the historical record, but I have to admit that it does feel good to talk about some of this stuff.  I’m not sure I’m going to get 50,000 words out of it – and honestly, most of the words I have written aren’t particularly good – but that’s neither here nor there at this point.  The primary reason that I’m doing this at all is to get in the habit of writing every day, without fear of an audience’s reaction, and I’ll worry about the end result when it’s finished.  To that end, I’m probably not going to write about my progress here, beyond word counts, which is just a way of keeping myself honest.  (And is there anything more insufferable than hearing someone talk about working on their novel?)

2.  I finished the Southern Reach trilogy at around 3am this morning, due to some Daylight Savings-related insomnia, plus a headcold.  I’m not sure that I enjoyed the latter two books as much as I did the first one; one gets the feeling that the first book came all at once, and then the next two were meant to fill in the backstory and to answer some of the first book’s many questions.  Still, they’re all quick, fun reads.  Now I’m re-reading The Stand, which is starting off very strong (and which I apparently remembered in more vivid detail than I’d thought).  Even though I don’t have any Ebola panic, it’s not hard to get sucked into the idea of an apocalyptic plague these days.

3.  I did it, I pulled the trigger; I bought an Xbox One.  And it might even be arriving today!  I was able to get the Sunset Overdrive bundle at the reduced price after all, which was a bit of a relief, and so now I hope my long-lost 360 friends can forgive my prolonged absence.

4.  I don’t know how I feel about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare getting such positive reviews.  The last CoD game I played was (I think) Black Ops, of which the campaign remains unfinished and the multiplayer remains untouched.  That said, if my XBO friends are playing it, I might give it a quick look after all.

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