Weekend Recap: moaning and groaning

Truth be told, I don’t feel like writing about games right now.  I’m kinda sickened by what’s happening in Ferguson, and talking about video games seems awfully trite and silly in the wake of Mike Brown’s death.  But I’m going to write about games because if I don’t do something, I’m going to start going crazy.

Ironically, then, there was very little gaming done this weekend; my son was recovering from a bad bit of constipation (that required a visit to the ER on Thursday), and I had (and still have) a pretty bad cold, and we ended up having to cancel a bunch of plans, and when I wasn’t sleeping I was mostly trying to keep my son happy.  That’s a fun game, too, when it’s working.

I did finish The Last of Us Remastered on Friday night, though, and I must admit that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time.  I must also admit (though I’m not ashamed of it) that I played it on Easy, which made it a much less frustrating experience; I still died a few times, but I was able to enjoy and savor the world and the narrative and take many screenshots and still feel dread while not being unnecessarily frustrated.

And speaking of dread, I went ahead and played P.T., and even though I’d already watched a bunch of people’s Let’s Play videos and was somewhat prepared for that first jump scare, it still managed to creep me out.  In this current era of open betas and Early Access and the seeming absence of demos, it is sincerely refreshing to get something like P.T., which is technically a teaser for an upcoming Silent Hill game but which is also a wholly self-contained creep-fest.   As someone with no real hands-on experience with the Silent Hill franchise (beyond a few hours with both SH4 on the 360 and Shattered Memories on the Wii), I came into it not needing to look for hidden SH clues and callbacks, but simply to take in the experience.

And it does capture that feeling of dread pretty goddamned well.  Despite my massive Stephen King collection, I’m not really all that into horror films or games, so I can’t necessarily speak to how effectively creepy it is for other people (although there are lots of YouTube videos of people playing P.T. and freaking out, so I know I’m not alone).  But even just the basic concept of the endlessly looping hallway – my god, it took me right back to a horrific mushroom experience I had in college, where I had the sensation of being caught in a time loop and where the same 2 or 3 things kept happening over and over and over and over and over and over again, and I thought I was going mad.  I might also add that I played P.T. with my wife on Wednesday night, and that’s the night that my son started having stomach pains, and woke us up by crying at 4 in the morning.  So the “crying baby” trope hits pretty goddamned close to home.

I still don’t know whether I’m going to play the actual game.  Like I said – I’m not the biggest fan of horror games, and I’m certainly not a big fan of Hideo Kojima.  That being said, having Guillermo Del Toro on board certainly does a lot to offset Kojima, and if it ends up reviewing well, I will probably feel compelled to check it out.

I’m not sure what’s on tap for this week; I’m not playing the console release of Diablo 3, and in any event most of my recent free time has been taken up by Book 3 of the Locke Lamora series and a rekindled obsession with They Might Be Giants, of which a carefully curated Spotify playlist follows.

On Screenshots and Console Exclusivity

1.  There’s never going to be a SFTC YouTube channel, for whatever it’s worth; I simply can’t consume video the way the rest of the gaming community does, and so I’m incredibly ill-equipped to provide it.  For one thing, I just prefer reading as opposed to watching; for another, my day job is not conducive to watching videos (partly because it’s abundantly clear that I’m not working, partly because my office’s internet is kinda terrible), and when I’m home I’d rather be playing.  That being said, I can’t stop taking screenshots.  Yesterday I posted some shots I took from The Last of Us Remastered, and today I’m posting some shots from Mind: Path to Thalamus, a first-person exploration/puzzle game on the PC that is absolutely stunning to behold.  Everything I want to say about it was already said in this Rock Paper Shotgun review; the short version is that it’s staggeringly beautiful, and the puzzles seem to be smart and challenging without being unfair, but the narrative is, sadly, utterly dreadful and is not helped at all by possibly one of the worst voice-over performances I’ve ever heard in my life.  It’s absolutely worth playing, despite the VO, but just be aware that it’s dreadful and that everything else is terrific.  [EDIT:  I just re-read the RPS review and realized that their page features 2 nearly identical screenshots to ones I took and had originally included below.  I removed mine just so there’d be no confusion, but it was kinda neat to see that we were both taken aback by some of the exact same vistas.]

2.  I was away from the internet yesterday, and so I was only dimly aware of Gamescom.  When I started catching up, I found myself warming up to Microsoft’s news, getting excited about their upcoming indie releases, getting intrigued by the Sunset Overdrive bundle… and then the news about Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s exclusivity hit, and I found myself getting irrationally angry.

Look, I get it; I get that Microsoft is feeling desperate, and that it’s a bitter pill to swallow to find yourself in 2nd place after clearly dominating during the last console generation.  Indeed, Sony was in this exact same position with the PS3, as a matter of fact; they were flying high and mighty after the PS2 and totally misread the marketplace.  The difference, though, is that Sony owned up to their problems, displayed genuine humility, and their solution to win over the hearts and minds of the gaming community was to create spectacular first-party software that simply couldn’t be replicated on their competitor’s console.

So I’m sure Microsoft felt that they had to do something big, something that would make the Xbox One appealing to Sony fans and ex-360 fanboys who were reluctant to upgrade (like me), and so snagging exclusive rights to a highly-anticipated title like Tomb Raider was an absolutely necessary thing to get more people invested in the Xbox One.

But it’s clearly a move made of desperation, not out of humility and genuine concern for gamers.  (Not that I’ve ever thought that Microsoft and Sony’s #1 priority is to genuinely care about gamers, but Sony’s been doing a much better job over the last few years of selling that idea as believable.)  Microsoft isn’t investing in their own development studios and making their first-party portfolio more appealing; they’re simply buying exclusivity from a company that shouldn’t be making this deal in the first place.  Square’s already been on record as saying that the first TR didn’t meet their sales projections, and so putting the new TR on the 2nd place console literally makes no sense unless Microsoft made them an offer that they absolutely couldn’t refuse.

That Microsoft was once again unable to see how this decision would anger the gaming community is, sadly, par for the course.  And the fact that it took less than 24 hours for Phil Spencer to admit that the exclusivity period “has a duration” makes the whole thing just sad.  Microsoft wanted to win me back, but instead they’ve just pushed me farther away.

Hello Goodbye

1.  The short version is that I have decided to stop writing for Gamemoir, for the foreseeable future.  It’s not them, though; it’s me.

The tl;dr version is that I’ve been stressing out about each column for months, frantically trying to find time to concentrate and write something that isn’t terrible, all the while knowing that with one or two exceptions, most of my posts pretty much died on the vine.  I was home sick yesterday, and I hadn’t yet pitched a column for this coming Monday, and I couldn’t think of anything, and I realized that I was going to be super-busy this weekend, and so unless I was able to pull it together under less than ideal circumstances in the few free hours I had, I wasn’t going to get anything handed in.  And I ultimately came to the realization that while I do tend to like the pressure of deadlines, there’s only so much pressure I can take before I feel defeated by simply looking at an empty page.

It’s easier for me to post here, because I can just sit down and stay in my own voice and not be so preoccupied with traffic-grabbing headlines and topics and stuff.  And I think that I’ll probably be able to post a little bit more here, actually, since I won’t feel like I need to “save” anything.  (Indeed, this post ended up at almost 900 words and it only took about 45 minutes to write.)

It’s also a kick in the ass, though.  If I’m ever going to get regular freelance work – and I still feel like I’m a ways off in terms of having the sort of chops that can compete in an over-saturated freelance pool – I need to be able to concentrate, and be able to carve out writing time without losing too much family time (and/or getting in trouble at my day job), and so even just learning what I have to do just to get an 800-1000 word column up every week is an eye-opening experience, to say the very least.

I still plan on trying to pitch to other sites, but only when I feel that I have something good to pitch.

I’m eternally grateful for the patience, the support, and the invaluable experience that the Gamemoir crew gave me in my too-short stay there.

2.  Much to my surprise, I’ve been getting sucked back into The Last of Us Remastered, even though I felt pretty resolute in my decision to bail.  Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that I’m playing it on Easy, right from the get-go.  It’s still challenging, but it’s not nearly as frustrating as it is on Normal, and so I’m able to explore and move the story forward without getting bogged down in repetitive combat scenarios that lose their effectiveness with every restart.

I’m also surprised as to how much of the game I remember.  True, I’d just played it last year, but I was also playing it under newborn-baby sleep-deprived circumstances.

It’s hard for me to tell if there’s really that much of a graphical difference between the PS3 and PS4 versions.  With other 2014 HD remasters of 2013 games (Tomb Raider immediately comes to mind), the difference between last- and current-gen was actually quite pronounced.  That being said, the PS3 version of TLOU was the best-looking game on that system (and possibly of the entire console generation), and so the PS4 version basically feels slightly more rich, if that makes sense.  Beyond that, I think the only way I’d be able to tell the difference is that the PS4 controller makes the game a lot easier to deal with.

3.  I am really, really, really enjoying The Swapper on Vita.  I liked it on the PC but didn’t get all that far into it and eventually lost interest, but it feels absolutely perfect in my hands (even if I’m currently stuck on 2 different puzzle rooms). I’m especially loving the cross-save support, in that I was able to pick up some orbs on the PS4 (because I wanted to see what it looked like on my TV), and then move that save to the Vita so that I didn’t lose anything.  Cross-save support is the best.  As far as I’m concerned, Sony’s cross-save system might just be the biggest ace up its sleeve in the console war with the Xbox One; having indie games that I can play at home or on the go without losing progress is too good an offer to walk away from.

4.  Speaking of cross-save, I must admit to being a little bummed that I can’t get my PC save of Diablo III over to my PS4.  Blizzard’s doing a hell of a job letting you import console saves from different generations AND different manufacturers, and that’s certainly commendable, but I’m not about to lose over 100 hours of PC playtime just so that I can start over from scratch in my living room.

5.  I am an idiot.  I took a screenshot from The Last Of Us Remastered yesterday and a Twitter pal asked if it would make for a new SFTC mascot, and OF COURSE it would, and now I’m wondering why I haven’t been taking screenshots of couches in every game I’ve played for the last 4 years.