A Light In the Darkness

Happy Eclipse Day, everyone.  Just remember, this afternoon’s darkness is only temporary; the political and social climate of the country will remain darkened for (at least) the remainder of 45’s term.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I occasionally have trouble getting motivated to continue writing here.  Sometimes it’s just because I don’t have time; sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have anything important to say; most of the time it’s because I’m well aware that there are far more important things to be paying attention to than whatever I might write, especially since what I write here is about rather trivial stuff.  That being said, sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on the trivial stuff, if only because it’s a necessary reprieve from the crushing Sisyphean despair that comes from constantly refreshing Twitter to see if the world is still falling apart.  And, also, my mom is back in the hospital for the third time this year and while she’s in much better spirits this time around, it’s still emotionally draining and stressful to be worried about her, especially since there’s not much I can do beyond visiting.

So, then, allow me to indulge in some nonsense.

1. My glasses finally arrived!  A week and a half after they were supposed to arrive, but still!  New specs!  That’s the old look on the left, and the new look on the right.  (Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt.)  Similar-ish style, to be sure, but the new prescription is finally up-to-date and features lenses that are both progressive and transition[al].  I’m still getting used to them, but they’re already making a big difference.

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2.  Yes, I pre-ordered the super-special Project Scorpio edition of Xbox One X.  Don’t judge me.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me just in case I haven’t – ever since I went on my quest to break the 100K Achievement barrier late last year, I’ve more or less made the Xbox One my main console of choice, despite knowing that the PS4 is more powerful.  Yes, I’ve played the same games on both consoles; yes, I can see the difference.  Nevertheless, I like the Xbox One’s UI a lot more, and the Elite Controller is by far the best controller I’ve ever used, and since I knew I’d be getting this new Xbox anyway, I figured I’d be able to put up with some performance issues since they’d get patched down the road.  And I have, for the most part.  I don’t have a 4K TV, nor do I feel like I need one, but at least now I’ll be able to justify getting one in a year or two.

3.  I’ve rented and have played a few hours of Agents of Mayhem, the new Saints Row-adjacent 3rd person shooter from Volition, and I think I love the hell out of it?  It’s this weird hybrid that lies somewhere between a single-player Overwatch (in its multiple hero system), Crackdown (in its visual style, as well as its super-powerful characters who defy the laws of physics), and Saints Row (obviously).  But there’s also something…. I can’t find the right word for it, but I want to say that it feels sincere.  That’s a weird thing to feel for an over-the-top open world game where everything blows up all the time, but it’s also true – I get the sense from playing it that the developers were really excited to work on something new, even if Saints Row’s DNA is heavily embedded in it; instead of having to try and out-do the off-the-wall insanity of Saints Row 3 and 4, they just went in a completely different direction.  I don’t know if I’m going to finish it – my backlog is INSANE at the moment and there’s some new stuff arriving shortly that I’m eager to try out, but for the time being it’s a very pleasant diversion.

4.  Regarding that backlog – yeah, it’s rough.  To wit:

  • Sonic Mania (looks and feels so much like the original Genesis games that it’s almost scary)
  • Tacoma (I’ve only played the first 30 minutes, but I’m always down for a Gone Home-in-space thing)
  • Observer (bought this because of some very intriguing word-of-mouth recommendations; I’ve only played the first 30 minutes or so but I’m still very much intrigued)
  • Undertale (Vita)
  • Hellblade
  • Pyre
  • Superhot VR (need to get back to this now that there’s been a few patches; when I first tried it my hands were glitching out all over the place and the game was near-unplayable)
  • a replay of the new and improved No Man’s Sky (I don’t know how much time I’m going to sink into this but I’ve already visited a few planets in a brand-new playthrough and it might as well be a completely new game – if you bought this and gave up on it when it first came out, I’d suggest giving it a look now)
  • Vostok Inc. (I am, as noted, a weird sucker for idle clickers – this is an idle clicker hidden within a twin-stick shooter, which is a pretty interesting hybrid)
  • a replay of Headlander (strictly for Xbox ‘cheevos)
  • Halo Wars 2 (why did I even bother getting this in the first place, I’m allergic to RTS games)
  • FF15 and FF12 

Plus:  this week sees the release of the Uncharted thing, and then there’s also the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC shortly thereafter.

5.  At some point I’m going to write a thing about my fascination with / addiction to the idle clicker genre.  But I did want to at least mention that I have “finished” Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, in that I’ve gotten every driver up to their maximum level and now there’s nothing else left to do.

 

Return of the Subway Gamer: War Tortoise

I’ve never claimed to understand the appeal of game streaming; why would anyone watch other people play games, when they could be playing the same game themselves?  Even if the streamer is funny or insightful or entertaining, it seems like a perverse way to spend one’s time.

But by the same token, I’m one of those weirdos who is fascinated and compelled by auto-clickers; games which, eventually, play themselves.  I still have an active Clicker Heroes save, which I’ve actually checked on several times today.  I’ve been heavily invested in Cookie Clicker – twice.  I had been playing Mucho Taco on my iPhone, but then put it aside to play Doomsday.   I’ve spent actual money on these games.

So who am I to judge?

Point being:  in the last few days I have become rather enamored of War Tortoise, which is a strange and uniquely compelling hybrid of auto-clicker and tower defense, with an RPG-lite skill levelling system, a strikingly gorgeous presentation (for the iPhone, at least), and the ingeniously designed option to jump in and play, rather than just watch.

This isn’t just an auto-clicker – the gameplay is that of an endless turret sequence.  You can usually just let it run while you tap on various currency drops, but if there’s a tough bullet-sponge enemy bearing down on you, you can reclaim the turret and use some of the heavy weaponry to help take it down.  It’s not necessarily difficult, but there is a strategy involved in terms of how to best spend your money and build up your defenses, and that’s where the fun (for me, at least) lies.

It’s a strange game, don’t get me wrong – I don’t know why I’m on a tortoise, or why I am some sort of field mouse facing off against hordes of armored iguanas and beetles and such – but I don’t care.  The game doesn’t explain any of this, nor does it really need to.  Nobody plays these types of games for any sort of narrative sustenance.

It’s weird, and I’m weird, and I get it, and I accept it.  War Tortoise is awesome.


I’m in a bit of a holding pattern as far as my game playing is concerned right now; supposedly the review embargo for Uncharted 4 drops tomorrow, and while I’m nearly positive I’ll be buying it, I’m still curious as to how it reviews.  I worry it’ll be too combat heavy, but I’ve said that about all the Uncharted games, and by and large they are still enjoyable games.

I bought SUPERHOT for the Xbox One this morning, even though as a Kickstarter backer I already had it on my PC; my PC is basically busted, though, and I never got a chance to finish the game.  It looks absolutely fantastic on the XB1, for whatever that’s worth, and it plays just as well as I remember it playing on the PC, so that’s really all that matters.

I’m close to the end of Ratchet & Clank, which has remained a very pleasant action platformer which eventually gets a little tedious and exhausting.  I’d like to finish it, but I won’t necessarily kill myself to get there.

Most of my gaming has been on the iPhone.  Before War Tortoise came along, I was heavily invested in Marvel Avengers Alliance 2, which is a free-to-play turn-based RPG with impressive production values and a rather enjoyable combat system.  I’ve also been addicted to Loop Mania, a rather deceptively simple arcade game that is easier seen than described.

further adventures in sleeplessness

This post will be somewhat random.  I am tired.  The boy’s sleep habits are continuing to evolve and change; last night it took him about 45 minutes to stop getting out of bed, which is better than most nights, but then he climbed into our bed at around 2:00am, and he does not necessarily sleep lengthwise.  (Funnily enough, when our alarms went off at 6:00am and we turned our lights on, he very slowly climbed out of our bed and very sleepily walked back into his room and climbed back into his own bed.)

There is also a faint, weird smell in my office, hovering near my desk.  The engineers have been here all morning; nothing’s on fire, but it has that dusty heat smell, like a space heater kicking on after a long period of dormancy.  I am distracted.


 

I would love to offer up some insightful comments after playing bits of both Superhot and Far Cry Primal, but I can’t.  The above-mentioned issues with my kid’s bedtime are interfering with my evening free time, and by the time he does finally go to bed I’m usually too exhausted to do anything.  If I’m repeating myself, well, what can I say?  It is what it is.

Superhot is awesome, and I am also not very good at it.  I’ve tried playing it with the Steam controller (which is very, very bad), with mouse and keyboard (which is better), and with the good ol’ 360 gamepad (which is probably best), and I continue to get killed very quickly.  I am tempted to wait on it until the XB1 version comes out, which is supposedly coming in a few weeks; I’m wondering if perhaps my couch and big TV might at least make the experience more comfortable.

Far Cry Primal, on the other hand… well, it’s basically Far Cry 3 and 4, but in the Stone Age.  So it’s not exactly the same game – there are no guns, cars or gyrocopters, obviously, and you’re speaking in caveman gibberish – but in nearly every other respect it’s the same game I’ve played over the last 2-3 years.  I appreciate the novelty of the game’s setting, and the game looks fantastic… but I really don’t know if I care enough to keep pushing through.  It’s not like the game’s story is all that interesting, and in the meantime the game suffers from that ubiquitous Ubisoft-ness where the map is covered with so many different things to do that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s actually important.  Mostly I gather flowers and light bonfires.  I’m holding onto it for at least a few more weeks, because there’s nothing else on my radar until The Division, but I’m not feeling pulled toward it with any urgency.


 

I’m kinda racing through Foucault’s Pendulum, now, which I don’t like doing.  It’s a book that I still have very fond feelings for, but it’s also somewhat tedious in its digressions; I didn’t mind that so much in my previous readings, but for whatever reason I’m finding it tedious now.

I’m wondering if part of this feeling of urgency is tied to the Goodreads challenge.  I’m still 4 books ahead of schedule, but I don’t particularly like feeling rushed.  And I’m reluctant to read some of the longer books in my to-read list for that specific reason; I don’t want to get bogged down in something enormous if I start feeling like I’m falling behind.  I’m fully aware that this is a ridiculous, self-imposed neurosis; I don’t win a prize for beating the challenge.  That doesn’t stop me from succumbing to it.


Two good reads to recommend:

  1. Holly Green wrote an absolute stunner of a piece about Firewatch and unrequited love; I only wish I felt as strongly about the game itself as I do about this essay.
  2. John Biggs wrote a pretty great piece about writing 11,000 blog posts.  That essay is why I’m writing this particular post right now, even though I feel like I have very little to say.

I need to get back to the album.  I took a little break from thinking about it, and that break got extended thanks to the boy’s recent adventures in stretching out his bedtime boundaries, but honestly I could come up with a dozen more excuses (Trump!  Thinking about getting a new car!  My day job’s impending office move!) and none of them would change the simple and obvious fact that if I wanted to find time to write, I’d make the time to write.  Well, I need to make that time happen.  So I’m logging off now.

 

 

the inevitable Rockstar wishlist

In this interview with Take Two Interactive’s Strauss Zelnick, it is tantalizingly revealed that something is happening at this year’s E3:

With a number of new games, plus its eSports plans, 2016 is shaping up to be a far busier year for the teams at Take-Two. But could there be more? What about Red Dead Redemption 2? Or Ken Levine’s new project? Zelnick is tight lipped, but points towards E3 as an event to look forward to.

“We will be there in a big way,” he concludes.

This can only mean one thing, and that is:  Table Tennis VR.

Well, but also, surely this means we’re going to hear something definitive about Red Dead Redemption 2.  Right?  There is no other existing Take Two-published property that is in greater demand.  A remastered Bioshock Trilogy for current-gen consoles is inevitable.  A new Borderlands is probable.  And yeah, I’m sure we’ll hear something about Ken Levine’s new thing, though if it’s a small indie game made by a small team, I can’t imagine it’ll dominate their news cycle.  XCOM 2 for PS4/XB1 makes sense.  Civ Rev 2 for Vita is a thing that is supposedly still happening.

Listen, people:  I want my Red Dead 2, and I want it now.  Please and thank you.


Very pleased to see that Superhot is getting terrific reviews.  Assuming the boy goes to bed at his usual time (and nothing is certain on that front anymore), I will be checking it out this very evening (presumably while my rental copy of Far Cry Primal installs on my PS4).

Superhot impressions

I received a spur-of-the-moment invite to check out a near-final version of SUPERHOT last night, and you’d better goddamned believe I went to check it out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably just come right out and tell you that I am very, very biased in favor of this game.  I was following the game even before the Kickstarter; I am a Kickstarter backer; and, completely unbeknownst to me beforehand, one of my friends was hired to punch up the story.  (You wouldn’t know it by looking at it – I certainly didn’t – but there is a narrative justification for all this madness.  I was shown just the faintest edges of this, but it’s there, and what I’ve seen looks very, very interesting indeed.)

I knew a bit about the game before last night’s demo, even if I’ve been trying to avoid learning too much.  (I’m one of those weirdos who’ll back a Kickstarter and then deliberately ignore the updates because I don’t want anything spoiled.)   I knew the game’s hook – where time only moves when you move – and I knew the super-minimalist art style (which is unmistakably distinctive).  Here is what I did not know until last night:

  • You can shoot bullets out of the air.
  • You can throw your empty gun at an enemy, stun them, grab their gun out of midair and then shoot them.  This is incredibly awesome and empowering to pull off.  Until you realize that enemies can also pick up the dropped weapons of their comrades out of thin air as well.
  • You won’t just be using guns, or your fists.  Any black object can be used to throw and stun your enemies, including bats, hammers, bottles, briefcases, billiard balls…
  • There’s also a bunch of hidden stuff in each level.  In order to find this stuff, you have to keep one enemy alive; each level ends as soon as the last enemy is killed.  Obviously, this makes searching for things a bit trickier.
  • Each level is very short and feels more like a puzzle than a firefight.  There will, however, be an endless mode (similar to Horde mode); I’m not sure if it will be unlocked from the beginning or not.
  • There are some very interesting gameplay differences between controller and mouse/keyboard inputs that can’t be ignored.  On the one hand, the mouse is far more precise than a controller in terms of aiming – and there won’t be any auto-assist aiming on the Xbox One version.  (Oh, yeah, there’s an Xbox One version coming soon-ish; no date was given, but it’s apparently undergoing certification as I write these words.)  The disadvantage of the keyboard, however, is that using WASD means you can’t adjust your movement speed.  Whereas with a controller, you have infinitely better control over your movement; you could conceivably finish an entire level in slow motion, which you simply can’t do using a keyboard.  It will be very, very interesting to see what people gravitate towards.
  • We’ll be able to see these things for ourselves as there will be some sort of Superhot “Killstagram” service, where people can upload their various moments of awesome.
  • Speed runners will get through the game in an hour, tops; people looking to find hidden stuff (of which there are bunches) will take 3-4.
  • I did see one mechanic that I am not allowed to reveal, but HOLY SHIT.

I am somewhat reluctant to compare this game to anything else, though any game with this sort of bullet-time mechanic will automatically trigger a Max Payne response, but it’s a completely different thing.  You could conceivably play through Max Payne without ever triggering bullet-time, whereas here in Superhot the game is bullet-time.   As noted above, each level feels like a puzzle rather than a prolonged firefight, and when you conquer each level through the acrobatic use of slow-motion agility and bad-assery, you feel like Neo at the end of the Matrix.  It’s positively euphoric.

Superhot will be released on PC on February 25th, and Xbox One soon thereafter.  (No official comment on a PS4 release.)

2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


 

Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015

THE MUST-HAVES

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below

THE RENTALS, AT THE VERY LEAST

  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)

THE CURIOSITIES

  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.

 

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