weekend recap: principles, portals, and other p-words

Some scattered thoughts while I have a few seconds:

1. I picked up The Talos Principle for PS4 a few days ago, as it’s currently on sale for $20.  (Yes, I own it on PC, but my PC is falling apart, and as it happens the PS4 version runs incredibly well.)  That game is pretty good!  Tricky puzzles that give that pleasant euphoric rush once you finally piece it together, all tied together with a very subtle sci-fi / metaphysical narrative.  I think my only real issue with it is one of jarring textural elements – I know there’s a better way to phrase to it, but the words aren’t coming to me at the moment.  Essentially, each puzzle involves you trying to unlock a gate to pick up a puzzle piece; unlocking the gates requires manipulating certain things in the environment.  The disconnect is that the worlds each take place in very specific environments – the first hub world could be Ancient Greece (but with red brick), the second could be Ancient Egypt – but the puzzle elements are strikingly modern (laser-sighted machine gun turrets, light-beams guided by prisms mounted on industrial-grade tripods, etc.  Maybe there’s a narrative reason for this?  I’m about as far into the PS4 version as I was on the PC – maybe a little further along, actually, since I’m using a walkthrough when I get truly stuck (which is happening a bit more than I’d like).

2. So among the Xbox 360 games recently announced by Microsoft as now being backwards-compatible is Portal: Still Alive, a stand-alone digital-download version that came out maybe a year or so after The Orange Box was released.  Of course I bought it, even though I’d already beaten Portal a dozen times on both 360 and PC, and of course I immediately downloaded it for my Xbox One, because come on.  Portal is one of the best games ever made.  I mention this only because this past Saturday night my living room TV happened to be free, and my PS3 is hooked up to it as our blu-ray player, and I decided to give Portal 2 a whirl, as I hadn’t played it in a long time.  You know what?  Portal 2 is a perfect game.  I appreciate the argument that the first Portal might be a better game if only because it was so completely unexpected and that the narrative twist was (as my friend Greg put it) that it had a narrative in the first place.  Portal 2, though, is bigger and funnier, and the puzzles are just as inventive, and Cave motherfucking Johnson, and Glados is a potato, and Stephen Merchant as Wheatley is, bar none, my favorite voice performance in any game I’ve ever played.  My save game put me in place to finish the final third, and now that I’ve experienced the ending again I can certainly see why a Portal 3 might be difficult to pull off (from a narrative standpoint, at any rate), but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more Portal in my life.

3. Harmonix has announced a U2 DLC bundle for Rock Band 4, which means I have to now buy Rock Band 4.  It’s only 8 songs, and not the 40-song bundle that I’d hoped for many years ago, but it’ll do.

4. Still haven’t started my Games of the Year post; still not sure when I’m going to get to it, or if I’ll even be able to fill out a top 10.

5.  I’m actually more interested in working on a Music of the Year post, even though I haven’t written one in years, and even though I don’t really listen on an album-by-album basis.  My music consumption process has changed so radically in the last few years that it’s barely recognizable to me; the me that posted ridiculous lists on LiveJournal would be hard-pressed to wonder what the hell has happened to me.  It’s something I’m very much wanting to explore, at any rate, so… look forward to that, eventually.

The New Muse is Great, Thanks

Hope this “three things” isn’t getting tiring, because I’m quite enjoying it.

MUSIC:  Yesterday I whinged a bit that being suddenly snapped out of a 4-month-long nostalgic gloom might cause my creative impulses to dissipate.*  I got home from work, ate dinner, played with my kid, kissed my wife, and then headed into the music room, and about 2 hours later I came out with something that I’m still genuinely excited about.  I haven’t been this excited about something I recorded in a very long time.  It’s not finished, of course, and I have to keep reminding myself of that; this is normally the part of the recording process where I get excited about something and then listen to the mp3 about 500 times and then everything else gets derailed, and I’m very much determined to not let that happen this time.  If anything, I’m more excited than ever to get back to the music room tonight and pick up where I left off; last night’s demo is something of a departure from how I normally work and what I normally sound like, and I really like it, and I’m really anxious to get back and make more of it.

BOOKS:  It’s possible that I was in such a good mood because I’d finished Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” on the way home from work.  (Did I really read it in less than a day?)  I’ve been a fan of Poehler since the ASSSCAT days at the old UCB theater in the late 90s; my friends and I would catch the free show (and then sometimes the paid show) every Sunday night and it was the best.  Man, I miss that comedy scene.  I was at Luna and Fez and UCB all the goddamned time, and even entertained the idea of taking improv classes (though I was still very much convinced that rock stardom was only a few gigs away).  The point is, a lot of Poehler’s early NYC days that she talked about is stuff that I might’ve been physically present for, or certainly I understood and related to her situation in my own broke-musician way.  The book itself is maybe a little uneven, in that certain sections feel a little formulaic and rushed, BUT a lot of it is really quite wonderful, and the chapter towards the end about her kids and her divorce and her trip to Haiti is fucking magical and beautiful and gorgeous and cathartic and OH GOD I WISH I WAS FRIENDS WITH HER.  Now I’m reading Richard Powers’ “Orfeo“, which I’d read quite a lot about last year, but never actually started.

GAMES:  Earlier this morning I ended up buying Sunless Sea as a present to myself for yesterday’s recording; that’ll be my post-recording wind-down process.  I also somehow managed to get The Talos Principle to start working again; every once in a while, one of my Steam games refuses to launch, and it drives me crazy.  Anyway, it decided to launch successfully, and given that I was somewhat jazzed with adrenaline after recording, I was needing something to wind down with, and Talos’s puzzles are a pleasant enough way to do that.  Solved a few rather quickly, actually, which was weird, given that I’d stopped playing around the point where some of the puzzles were breaking my brain in half.  So maybe I was just in a good thinking place, or something.  I’ll take it.

TONIGHT:  more of the same.


*  I’m not going to get into what happened; I’m just acknowledging that something did happen, and even if I’m not totally 100% certain that I, specifically, represented the punchline of a tweeted joke, I’m nevertheless taking it as a sign that it’s time to move on.

Taking the plunge

1.  So I just received the confirmation email that says I’ve officially signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is something I’ve been thinking about doing for years.  I don’t have any particular idea in mind, and November is also the busiest time of year in terms of AAA videogames, so who knows how this is going to work out, but that’s not even the point – if I can’t carve out an hour of writing time every day, then I have no business calling myself a writer.

I had an idea for a novel a few years ago, and I took a writing class to help develop and flesh it out, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do with it, and it ended up withering on the vine.  I’m not sure I want to attempt to resurrect it for NaNo, either; I know myself all too well, and if I got frustrated with reviving it, I’d give up entirely.  I’m also staying away from Scrivener, even though I’m dying to use it; Scrivener seems to be a useful tool when you already have a plot and characters and scenes in mind, and it’s also useful if you already know how to use it without having to hunt and peck.  And I haven’t turned my Macbook on since I updated to Yosemite, so I have no idea if Scrivener is even working at the moment.  In any event, I’m determined to not let technical difficulties get in the way, so I’m keeping it simple and sticking to GoogleDocs on my home/work PCs.

I suppose there’s a part of me that’s annoyed that it takes something like NaNo for me to get off my ass, but there’s another part of me that’s well aware that this is why NaNo exists in the first place, and so I’m going to try not to beat myself up about it too much.

2.  I am now into the third and final book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, which I am enjoying quite a bit; it’s a very quick read, and makes for an entertaining come-down after the lofty heights of The Bone Clocks.  The second book (“Authority”) wasn’t quite as well-written or as absorbing as the first (“Annihilation”), but the third (“Acceptance”) is immediately gripping and seems to be on much firmer ground, which bodes well.

After I finish this one, I’m not quite sure what I’ll read next.  I still have a hefty backlog to get caught up on, for one thing, and I’m also considering giving the uncut version of The Stand a re-read after polling my Facebook friends on their preferred Stephen King novel – specifically asking between The Stand and It.  “It” was always my favorite, whereas “The Stand” never quite hooked me; I’m willing to give it another shot, though.

Hell, I might as well open up the floor here:

3.  I recently received a preview code for The Talos Principle, a first-person puzzle game from Croteam.  I’m about 2 hours into it so far; I’m enjoying it, despite some odd tonal dissonance and puzzle repetitiveness.  I’m not quite sure what I’m allowed to say about it – I don’t often receive preview codes – but I will say that it’s certainly a refreshing change of pace after the suffocating tension of Alien Isolation.

4.  I’m having trouble finding the Sunset Overdrive Xbox One bundle at the discounted price, but Amazon has already started accepting pre-orders at the new price for their Assassin’s Creed Unity bundle (which also includes ACIV at no extra charge).  I’ve already ordered the digital version of ACU for the PS4, but given that Ubisoft’s already made it very clear that they’re aiming for graphical parity between PS4 and XBO, I can’t help but wonder if I should cancel the PS4 pre-order and get this bundle instead.

5.  I’m not much of a drinker these days, but I’ve developed a fondness for spiced rum, which is quite nice for sipping during a cool autumn evening.  I’m not sure why I felt compelled to bring that up, but it’s too late now.