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.

The Year (So Far) In Games

A bunch of sites have been putting up “Best Games of the Half-Year” posts this week, and I was tempted to follow suit, but after looking at my Games Played spreadsheet I found myself wondering how I could spin Wolfenstein: The New Order and South Park: The Stick of Truth into 800 words; it’s just not happening.  Those are two surprisingly terrific games, and they’ll most likely end up in my year-end list, and you should play them if you haven’t already.  Beyond that, it’s a bit of a reach.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call the first half of 2014 a disappointment; I expected this transition period between last-gen and current-gen to be a little weird and underwhelming.  That being said, a lot of the year’s biggest-hyped games fell relatively flat for me.  I was certainly impressed with the tech in Infamous: Second Son, but I hardly gave it a second thought after easily getting to 100% completion.  Similarly, there are certainly quite a few things to like about Watch Dogs, but if I think about that game for more than 5 seconds I get irrationally angry.  And Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is what it is, I guess, though I haven’t felt compelled to pick it back up since I finished it the first time.

I could continue on in this vein – there’s plenty of bummers on my Games Played spreadsheet (*cough* Thief *cough* Mario Golf World Tour *cough*) – but I’d prefer to keep the rest of this somewhat positive.

Jazzpunk!  That’s a spicy meatball if there ever was one.

I enjoyed playing Tomb Raider again on the PS4 and my HDTV, although I suppose its retail success is partially to blame for the HD double-dips that are in our immediate future as we wait for the real next-gen stuff to appear, i.e.The Last of UsGTA VDiablo III, to name a few off the top of my head.  And I’m planning on at least renting all of those games, too, so I suppose I’m partially to blame as well.

Speaking of Diablo III, I suppose I should heap a little bit of praise on its Reaper of Souls DLC and the additional patching that game’s received in the year since I last turned it on; the DLC managed to suck another dozen hours of my life after I’d sworn I was finished with it forever, and the daily missions and objectives are an intriguing carrot that I still consider chasing after.

I really enjoyed Bravely Default right up until I realized that I was going to have to play the entire game a second time; and then I read some walkthroughs that revealed that I’d actually have to play the whole thing 3-4 times before getting to the final ending.  This will not do.

What else, what else… I’ve not yet had that much time to actually play anything in depth on my PS Vita, and yet I keep downloading free games on it.  I’m very happy to finally own it, though.  The port of Fez is great – I just love having it in portable form – and Luftrausers is excellent and I need to get back to it, and Olli Olli hurts my brain but is also really good.

I was also going to include my favorite bits of gaming journalism and criticism, but it’s a gigantic list so far, and it’s also full of rather depressing stories of how toxic this industry is.  Still, if you’d like to check it out, I’ve made it publicly available as a Google Doc.

This weekend I’ll be away with the family, so I’m not sure what gaming there’ll be.  I’m currently playing A Story About My Uncle, which is both exhilarating and frustrating, sometimes simultaneously; I’d like to try and finish it tonight, since I’m not taking my PC with me.  I picked up Civ Rev 2 for my iPhone this morning; it’s not quite as graphically interesting as the 360 version from a few years back, but it’s leaps and bounds better-looking than the previous iOS version, and the touch controls are a lot more intuitive.  I’m still way over my head most of the time, but such is life.  And I guess I’ll bring the Vita along, too, and maybe keep plugging away at Tearaway and also perhaps one of the 6 Final Fantasy games I’ve got on there.  (The voting was inconclusive.  I might go with 8 or 9, since I’ve never touched those before.)

Have a happy and safe 4th, everyone.

A Series of Transitions

This is not an apology for not writing this week, but rather an explanation of sorts:  the day job has been extremely busy and hectic and stressful, and I’ve been going to bed on the early side of things when I get home.  Not much time for writing or gaming.

Though, that said, I did manage to finish Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4) this week.  It is still a fun and worthwhile experience, and the graphics are noticeably improved from the already-impressive previous version.  The narrative is still a bit whackadoo, and I’m still weird about seeing Lara thwack a dude to death with her pickaxe (which somehow counts as a stealth kill), and I’m not entirely sure that this is worth $60.  But I’m glad to have played it, and to have let the developers know that I’m still on board for this sort of thing, thank you very much.

Also downloaded Outlast (which is this month’s free Playstation Plus game, even though I already have it on the PC).  I played right up to the first real jump scare (which is about where I got to on the PC), and turned it off.  It doesn’t look to be enhanced in any way for the PS4, but – more to the point – it looks like the PC version with all the settings turned way up, and so that bodes quite well as far as I’m concerned about the PS4 getting quality indie games.

Speaking of quality indie games, I will be writing a review of Jazzpunk for the NYVCC, which should go up later next week.  I have not yet touched it – I’ll be buying a retail copy like a regular shmoe – but everything I’ve seen indicates that it will be a wacky good time.

And speaking of the NYVCC, the 3rd Annual Critics Awards are happening next Tuesday, and I’m going to be one of the award presenters!  Which is very exciting indeed.  My category is Best Mobile Game…

…and speaking of best mobile games, I cannot recommend enough the new game Threes, which came out last night.  (This Polygon piece about the game’s development is a must-read, by the way.)  It’s made by the guys behind Puzzlejuice, and it is absurdly addictive, and I can’t stop playing it.  Also worth picking up is Spell Quest, which is a free word-search RPG (similar-ish to Bookworm Adventures).

I am also working on a slightly more ambitious piece for this here blog about games and memory, although I suppose I’ve already jinxed it by mentioning it here while I’m currently stalled out on it.  That will go up whenever it’s ready, which who knows when that will be.

The First Few Hours: the new Lara, the new-ish XCOM

cw

So on Tuesday, I spent $60 to digitally download Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for my PS4.  As I’ve already played and beaten this game (to 100% completion) twice already on the PC, I was a bit apprehensive about why I had to buy it; if I’d only been willing to wait a few more days, I’d have received a rental copy early next week.

There are three reasons why I succumbed, as it turns out.  The first reason, as always, is that I am a consumer whore, and I cannot resist the temptation of instant gratification.  (Even if “instant gratification” in this particular case means waiting over an hour for the download to finish, and then (because the game is still familiar) playing through the beginning so quickly that I caught up with the download progress and had to turn it off for the night.)

The second reason is that, like most PS4 owners, I really, really want to play games on it.  Even if it’s a game that I’ve already played before where the only real difference is a number of substantial graphical improvements.  (Exhibit A:  Assassin’s Creed 4.)

The third and final reason is, perhaps, guilt?  Square-Enix came right out and called the original release a “failure”, even as it sold 3.5 million copies in its first month.  As I was already a Tomb Raider fan, and as I was also a big big fan of this reboot, I felt compelled to at least offer my support – again – in getting a sequel made.  I don’t know what else I can do, Square-Enix.

In any event:  I bought it, and I’ve played through a few hours of it, and for the most part I can say that I’m happy I bought it, even as the graphical enhancements are not as eye-popping as I’d hoped.

This is not to say it looks bad, of course.  I never played the original version on console, but on my PC it looked quite nice, and this enhanced version on the PS4 generally looks phenomenally better.  Most everything looks sharp and crisp and finely detailed; forests actually feel dense and, well, forest-y, with swaying foliage and trees and mists; Lara’s face is far more expressive and realistic.

Still, there’s some weirdness here and there.  In that opening gameplay sequence, where Lara is suspended upside down, the much-vaunted TressFX has her ponytail hanging upside down, but her bangs remain right-side up; when Lara crouches in crawlspaces with her torch, the fire against the roof is still a 2D sprite; when Lara moves through water, the water still ripples oddly and unconvincingly; the deer that you hunt still look… weird.  These are very small nitpicks, to be sure, but the whole point of this “Definitive Edition” was that the graphics were redone, and as I’ve already played the hell out of this game I can’t help but look at the small stuff this time around.

The game is still great, I’m happy to say, and I’m also still impressed by the PS4 controller.  I know I keep bringing it up, but you gotta understand – I hated the Dualshock 3 almost as much as I loved the Xbox360 controller.  My only gripe is that I keep forgetting how the face buttons are configured, which means I usually fail the game’s quicktime events the first time around.  That aside, the game works just fine, especially where combat is concerned, and so now I am really getting excited for Uncharted 4.

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As far as Operation Backlog is concerned, I have spent the last week or so slowly playing through XCOM Enemy Within, which feels a bit like a “remix” rather than a full expansion.

I am playing it on Easy, because I’m a grown-ass man and I can do whatever I want; but also because I’m still terribly intimidated by the game.  I try as hard as I can to not make any mistakes, because the game absolutely beats the shit out of you if you do, and so every mission is very stressful and tense and I’m kinda just creeping along, desperate to stay in cover, trying to remember which of my squad are holding the medkits just in case.

I have not gotten far enough into the game to get into the “Meld” business – I’ve only done the first 5 or 6 missions, and I’ve got quite a stockpile of the stuff, but I don’t think I’ve yet built the requisite facilities to work with it.  It may take some time, really, as my play sessions only tend to last for one mission (and then the requisite post-mission housekeeping).  I can only take so much stress, people.