Weekend Recap: Books, Debt, Pause

You ever have one of those weeks where you keep thinking that you have stuff to talk about, but then you start writing it down and none of it seems particularly interesting or important?  That’s where I was last week.  That’s sorta where I still am this week, but the day job is slow at the moment and I need to look busy.  So here we go.

I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to my almost-five-year-old (!) son last week.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and it’s one of the two books that I’d been looking forward to reading to him pretty much since he was born – every once in a while he’ll ask me to read “The Monster At The End Of This Book”, but Grover doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to me.  In any event, we made it through a chapter and a half before he started losing interest, and rather than force it on him, I figure it’s probably best if we put it to the side, and then he can get back to it when he’s ready.

Speaking of books, I’ve been on a tear of late.  The last book I’d mentioned in these pages was Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”.  Since then, I finally finished Zachary Mason’s “Void Star” (interesting premise, though the writing is almost too flowery and obtuse), Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” (which is as magnificent as everyone says, and which I vastly preferred over “The Goldfinch”), and now I’m catching up on some early George Saunders work – “In Persuasion Nation”, which is brilliant, and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”, which is equally brilliant.  I’d never particularly cared for short stories one way or the other – I generally always preferred getting sucked into a very very long novel rather than a short vignette – but what he does with the form is nothing short of revelatory.  And quite frankly, he’s a lot more sci-fi than most people tend to acknowledge – a lot of his stories read like Black Mirror episodes if they were allowed to be absurd, rather than just purely filled with technological dread.

I think I’d mentioned a few weeks back that the wife and I were determined to get back into our respective creative gears this year.  For me, this feels a bit more daunting than it should, because my laptop is running on fumes at this point and buying a new computer is just too goddamned much for me right now, what with credit card debt and the mortgage and car payments and day care and etc.  And yet, if I ever hope to make any money from making music, I need a new computer.  I did end up buying a new input box, but I’m so afraid of it not working that I haven’t yet attempted to hook it up.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.  Back in high school, I was writing music all day; I still have a notebook filled with at least 200+ songs with charts and lyrics and melodies and arrangements and such.  But I never recorded them, beyond sitting in front of a boombox and recording a sketch to show the band.  Eventually I bought a four-track, and that was also just used for sketches (and indeed I never had the proper means to mix them down, and so I ended up sending the mixes through my guitar amp and recording them with a hand-held dictaphone).  And so on and so forth.  The point being, I never needed to have professional equipment at home because there was always a band I could send this stuff to, and if we liked a song well enough to record it we’d just go into a studio and record it properly.  Now, of course, I don’t have a band, and I don’t have the money to pay for a studio (or to hire the musicians necessary to play this stuff), and so if I’m going to release this stuff I need to do it myself.  And so I need a new computer.  Anybody have a spare $2000 they’re not using so I can get an iMac?

If you’re looking for a good time on your mobile phone, you could do a lot worse than The Room: Old Sins.  The story is as obtuse is ever, but that’s hardly the point; this is the best game in the entire series, bar none, and it’s a pleasure to play through from start to finish.

Lastly:  I started playing Monster Hunter World this weekend, like most of the gaming world.  It’s my first foray into the franchise, and my understanding is that it’s the most accessible.  I can’t speak to that; I’m just coming to it as a newbie and hoping it makes sense.  Actually, let me rephrase that – I’m coming to it pretending I’m Geralt from the Witcher franchise, to the point where that’s what my character looks like.  I need to get out of that habit, of course, because the combat in Monster Hunter bears little to no relation to The Witcher, and that’s why I feel like I’m almost about to die quite often.

In any event, I finished the first 3 missions and am now at the point where I can explore without a time limit or without any particular objectives, and I think this is where I can see the game becoming quite awesome.

That being said, the game makes some puzzling design choices; the one that drives me the most insane is that you can’t truly pause the game.  While it’s true that this doesn’t always matter – like when you’re in the starting hub, or if you simply decline to press “A” during a cutscene – it most certainly matters if you’re in the middle of a quest.  My game-playing time is in the evening, after my son goes to bed, and I’m in the basement, two floors below him; if he needs something and my wife isn’t available – or if my dog needs something – or if I need a bathroom break or a snack – I’ve gotta put the controller down and deal with it, and not being able to pause means that meta-Geralt is most likely going to die.  Not being able to pause is a source of needless anxiety and I don’t know how to get around it.  (This is also why I never stuck with the Destiny franchise.)

The First Few Hours: The Witcher 3

I want to write but I’m in a bit of a medication-induced brain-fog, and in any event I feel like it’s too soon for me to talk about The Witcher 3.  Even though I have a specific blog category that’s literally called “the first few hours“, and even though I’ve played maybe 1-2 hours of it so far – very deliberately and slowly – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface’s surface of what Witcher 3 is all about.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the entire Witcher franchise.  I own the first two Witcher games on PC:  I played through the three different openings of Witcher 1 and thought it was interesting, maybe a little cumbersome, and figured I’d get back to it at some point (but never did); I tried playing Witcher 2, both before and after the big patch that added a tutorial section, and while I was certainly impressed with the world-building (and the world itself), I couldn’t actually get past how obtuse its mechanics were.  Most of what I know about the Witcher franchise was from listening to old Giant Bombcasts.

So I’m really only able to judge this game – or at least form my own first impressions – on its own merits.  And even then, I feel like I should wait until the first few patches come out.  The first mega-patch is supposedly on its way towards the PS4 next week, and another patch that would fix the incredibly small text is in the works.  I’ve not yet run into any terrible bugs, though in some of the “detective” quests I tend to get stuck because I can’t find the last highlighted item, which sometimes requires a restart from the last save.

Here’s what I can say in the very limited time that I’ve spent with it:

  • really like how the conversation system isn’t so obviously skewed towards “good” and “evil” responses.  It’s much easier for me to simply respond as I’d like and see what happens – in other words, I can actually “role-play”, because I’m not constrained by any sort of artificial morality slider that I’m trying to skew.  Whenever I’ve played other games like Mass Effect or KOTOR or Fable or the like, I deliberately lean heavily to one side and then, if the game’s worthy enough of a 2nd run, I’ll play that 2nd run all the way to the other side.  Here, though, I’m happy to simply answer questions in the way I’d like – mostly positive and supportive, in the dozen or so conversations I’ve had thus far – and I’ve not felt like I missed something important as a result.  Maybe I have – maybe I’ve already cut myself off of half a dozen side-quests – but there’s already so much to do and see and explore that I’m not going to worry about it.
  • Even though I’m still in the very first tutorial town, the people I’ve met and helped out have been far more diverse and interesting than possibly all the people I met in Dragon Age: Inquisition.   I’d rather not spoil this, so I’ll just say that talking to everyone is ultimately a rewarding experience, and seeing the world react to conversations I’ve had with random people is incredibly gratifying.  And if the writing is this deep, this quickly, then BOY OH BOY.
  • The melee combat system seems mostly intuitive and familiar, though it’s going to take me some time to get used to the magic signs – I just wish they’d use “Fire” instead of whatever made-up word they’re using.  One might argue that using English words would ruin the immersion, but I counter that argument by saying that me fumbling through a menu and squinting to read the description of each spell is absolutely more disruptive than if they just said “Fire” or “Defense” or “Push” or whatever.  In any event, in my 1-2 hours or so, I’ve only ever used magic by accident.  (Though, in fairness, it did help kill the griffin.)

I’ve only had two play sessions with it thus far; the first night was kind of just a warm-up, getting a feel for the controls and the world, and I turned it off because I was tired and I wasn’t 100% sure I knew where I wanted to go next.  The second night – last night – I turned it off because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be marathoning it and calling in sick to work and I’d probably still be playing it right now.  Now I understand that I have to be careful going forward, because tomorrow is my 11th wedding anniversary and we’re going house-hunting and buying some toys for the 2-year-old, and if I get sucked into The Witcher right now I’m going to be sleeping on the couch.

(Well, the couch is where the PS4 is, so….)


%d bloggers like this: