Midweek Meanderings: Witcher v Fallout, Picross Praise

(Props to my buddy Greg for helping me find a temporary alternative to Random Ramblings.)

1. My future as a professional games journalist is, obviously, going nowhere.  So I’m grateful that Patrick Klepek keeps saying what I’m thinking, and saying it much better than I can – in this case, about how The Witcher 3 has ruined Bethesda RPGs for us both.  As he notes, I think the biggest reason why I couldn’t get into Fallout 4 – a game I’d been anticipating like crazy, a game I was so excited about I spent an extra $50 or whatever for the special Pip-Boy edition, which I’ve used exactly once – was because Witcher 3 raised the bar for open-world RPGs so incredibly high that FO4 was doomed to be a disappointment from the get-go.  Fallout 4 doesn’t feel particularly different from Skyrim or Fallout 3 or anything – nor does it even look that different, for that matter – and it suffers for it, I think.  I never felt the pull to just go in a random direction and explore the way I did in previous Bethesda games, and I think it’s because, for whatever reason, Fallout 4 felt particularly uninspired.  The whole thing looks and feels very last-gen – which is not necessarily a bad thing, given how much I adore Fallout 3 and Oblivion – but I couldn’t help wanting something new and fresh.  Bethesda owns iD, right?  Shouldn’t it be able to use their graphics tech?

2. I am reminded, yet again, that I need to get back to Witcher 3 and finish Blood and Wine.

3. OK, so have I mentioned yet that Picross 3D – Round Two is one of my favorite games of the year?  I have only two complaints, and neither of them are necessarily the game’s fault:

  • I’m about 180 puzzles into it, and I’m playing on the hardest difficulty, and I’m usually able to finish every puzzle with 1 error at most.  And that 1 error is, 99.9999% of the time, because I hit the wrong button, not because I made a mistake in deduction.
  • The 3DS is murder on the wrists after more than 20 minutes, especially when lying down in bed.

Other than that, it’s easily in my top 3 for GOTY.

4. For the bulk of this current console generation, my platform of choice has been the PS4.  As I’ve mentioned, however, I’ve been hoping to crack 100K on the ol’ Achievements by year’s end, and so I’ve been mostly playing Xbox One games of late.  And I must say – while it’s true that multi-platform games look better on the PS4, I really like the Xbox One experience.  For starters – the Elite controller is, bar none, the best controller I’ve ever used.  The Xbox One’s interface is so much more enjoyable to navigate – sure, the store could use some work, and neither of the two consoles has quite figured out the ideal way to look at your cloud-stored games – but, by and large, I’ve really enjoyed using the Xbox One over the last few weeks.

Remind me of this paragraph when the PS4 Pro comes out in a few weeks, by the way.  I don’t have an HDR-enabled 4K TV, nor do I have any inclination towards getting one at this particular moment in time, so there’s literally no reason why I should get the PS4 Pro beyond having a marginally better experience with PSVR (assuming that PSVR is worth picking up in the first place); and so if Microsoft’s upcoming Scorpio console is as amazing as they’re touting it to be, I kinda feel like that’s the upgrade I should continue saving for.

5. My 3-year-old has started being interested in games.  And I’ve been struggling to figure out what to let him play that he could actually make sense of.  I bought Minecraft: Xbox One edition because I figure that’s an inevitability, and he liked chopping down trees and such, though he can’t figure out the controls.  So I’m opening up the floor here:  are there any good games for 3-year-olds with super-simple control schemes, where he wouldn’t necessarily need my help in terms of moving around?  Is 3 too young to expect that sort of thing?  Do I have to buy a Nintendo console?

Random Ramblings: Wednesday Edition

Sometimes I sit down at my computer and open up a blank post and just sit there staring at the screen, hoping something pops into my head.  And then other times I’ll be doing something else and 600 different ideas start showing up and I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing so that I can write them down.  This doesn’t mean that any of these ideas are interesting, of course, but I’d rather write something down than nothing.  (This is how I tend to write lyrics these days, also, which is why it’s taken me over a year to work on this album, and even after all this time I’m still not where I want to be on that front.  But that’s another story.)

Anyway: last night I headed down to the basement to decompress and play something that wasn’t No Man’s Sky, and my brain went bananas.

My train of thought went something like this:

– It’s 8:30pm; the kid’s asleep, the wife is upstairs.   My rental copy of Deus Ex probably won’t show up until Thursday, but I really want to play it now.  But it’s 40GB+… even if I bought it, I still wouldn’t be able to play it until tomorrow night.  Maybe it’s a good thing that my poor impulse control and need for instant gratification has been trumped by my slow internet.

– So, then, let me get back into that Witcher 3 DLC that I’d put down a few months ago.  Oh, wait, shit, it’s been a few months and my hands are still used to No Man’s Sky‘s control scheme.  How do I play this game again?  And is this a thing that’s going to keep happening as I continue to get older, that I forget how to play games with complicated-ish controls?

– The difference between No Man’s Sky and The Witcher 3 in terms of how they handle their open world exploration could not be more different.

– I still adore The Witcher 3 – it’s one of my favorite games of all time, probably – but it’s not the sort of game that I can just dip in and out of.  I feel like I need to set aside a full day without interruptions in order to play it the way I’d like.

– Shit, I’m not enjoying Witcher 3 as much as I’d like.  Let me switch gears.  Do I want to restart Fallout 4, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few weeks?  Is it even worth it, considering the influx of new stuff that’s about to land?  Can I allow myself to get into it, considering that I’d originally thought it one of the most disappointing games I’d ever played?  Or is it simply that Witcher 3 has completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me?

– I’m gonna go back to No Man’s Sky.  Oh, shit, here’s a kick-ass ship that I can actually afford!  Hey, all right.  Whoops, it’s 11:30pm!  I should probably go to sleep.

* * *

Nathan Grayson’s piece over at Kotaku story about “The Guy With The Lowest Possible Rank In Overwatch” is wonderful.

“What I found was that the people in the 40s were much more willing to try and still work together because these are probably people like me who are winning some but losing more,” Brown said. “Then when I got into the 30s, I was starting to see people who still have vague hope.”

Overwatch’s season one skill rating system was never intended to be a straightforward progression. Through hard work and diligence, you could slowly, painstakingly gain a fraction of a rank, but if you lost even a couple times in a row, you’d almost certainly take a nasty spill down the skill rating ladder. Ultimately, the system was meant to balance out. You were supposed to move up and down within a general ballpark of numbers. Blizzard didn’t do a super great job of making that apparent, though. As Brown observed, that led to players with chips on their shoulders and burning mounds of salt in their hearts.

“In the mid-30s, I met the angriest people in the world,” Brown said. “It’s somewhere in that mid-30s and upper 20s [area], these are just the angriest people in the world. They think they should be doing better and they’re really not good enough, or these are just people stuck on really bad streaks.”

* * *

Confession: I thought I’d gotten over it, but apparently I miss Achievements.  Especially since it appears I’m within striking distance of 100K.  I could almost certainly break 100K this year if I played all multi-platform games on XB1 (or at least the ones where I wouldn’t necessarily notice a graphical downgrade – like South Park).

I wish the major outlets would go back to including console comparisons in their reviews the way they used to in previous generations – or even at the beginning of this one; I feel like I can’t make an informed decision until Digital Foundry does their analysis, and they almost never have one out before the release day of a significant title.  (i.e., Deus Ex.)

* * *

I have given up on my 2nd book so far this year.  The first was “Girl On The Train”, and now I’m adding “A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall”.  I’m not sure if my being 1 book away from completing my Goodreads challenge has anything to do with it, but I ran out of patience far earlier than usual.  I’m willing to put up with an awful lot of pretension, but this was too much.

 

 

A Lack of Patience

1. My latest Uncharted 4 correspondence for Videodame’s Co-Op Campaign is up!  Check it out here.

2. Earlier this year I wrote that I was done with Lego games, having struggled to finish Lego Marvel Avengers..  To be more specific:

The voice acting is mostly taken from the movies, except each line reading feels strangely sleepy and deadened in its delivery; the action is relentlessly tedious, endless waves of enemies descending out of nowhere, for no particular reason except to pad everything out.  Plenty of bugs.  A whole bunch of puzzles that do not explain themselves at all, which is all the more frustrating because the game doesgo out of its way to explain the dumbest shit in agonizing unskippable camera swoops.  I know, I know – I’m 40 years old, I’m at least 25 years past the target demographic, etc.  This doesn’t stop a shitty game from being a shitty game.  Remind me that I said all of this when Lego: Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few months.

Well, for some stupid reason I decided to rent Lego Star Wars TFA, and, lo and behold, everything I said in the above paragraph applies to this new game as well.  I am no longer interested in having to repeat the same platforming exercise dozens of time because the game is too stupid to recognize where I’m jumping.  And while it’s great that they added some new stuff to break up the formula – 3rd-person cover shooting, space combat – the new stuff is so poorly executed that I’d rather they kept it out.  I barely got through 2 chapters before deciding I’d had enough.  I’d rather watch the movie anyway.

3. I realize that I never updated my progress with respect to INSIDE.  Well, I finished it, and… um… yeah.  I stand by my initial assertion that it packs one hell of a first impression, and that the animation and sound design are particularly excellent.  That being said, I have literally no idea what the hell happened there at the end, and I was left with a lingering sense of “what the hell did I just play, and why?”  Hard to explain unless I get into spoilers, though even with spoilers it’s not like it gets any easier.  Would be curious to discuss it with someone who got it.  Otherwise, I’m starting to wonder just what it is about PlayDead and their fascination with child murdering.

4. I’m kinda drifting along through my gaming library at the moment.  I should be focused on finishing Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, but that requires a time commitment that I simply don’t have right now; that’s not the sort of game that I can play for just 30 minutes and then log off.  For some reason I bought the PS4 editions of Saints Row 4 and Gat Out of Hell, probably because they were stupidly cheap.  I do kinda love how ridiculously dumb SR4 is; it’s the Crackdown sequel I always wanted.  The PS4 edition barely qualifies as a “remaster”, but that’s not necessarily enough to ignore it completely; it’s a fun, dumb game, and I’m happy to mess around with it unless it completely crashes (which it actually did the other night).  I’d never played Gat out of Hell, and after 30-45 minutes with it I’m not sure I need to.   I am obviously going to start playing Red Dead Redemption again on Friday, once its transition to the XB1 is complete; I don’t know if I’m going to start over from scratch or just pick up where my cloud save left off, but all I really want is just to hang out with it again.

that thing where everything sucks

1. First thing’s fuckin’ last:  my first piece in Videodame’s Co-op Campaign is up, in which me and my buddy Sara start our discussion about Uncharted 4.  I’d deliberately avoided talking about U4 in these pages because I knew this thing was going to start up, so go on and give it a spin, why don’t you?

2. I’m in a weird place, gaming-wise.  I’m not playing anything with any enthusiasm.  Work has been killing me and my three-year-old is a vortex of I’m exhausted, for one thing, and so if I do end up playing anything it’s not for very long; I’m inching along in Witcher 3: Blood and Wine for this very reason.  (Also, I appear to be wildly under-levelled for some of the sidequests, and so I’m kinda just treading water.)  I gave up on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, because it was hopelessly dumb; one particular side quest has a broken Runner’s Vision thing which kept sending me off a ledge too high for me to survive, and it’s not like I particularly cared about what I was doing.  I’ve more or less given up on Trials of the Blood Dragon, because the off-bike stuff is soooooo bad.  My rental copy of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens should be arriving next week, but if the demo is any indication, it’s still the same old broken platforming bullshit that’s been plaguing this series for years.

I honestly can’t remember what else is on my plate at the moment.  I beat the new Gauntlet mode in Swapperoo, my current iOS GOTY candidate; woo-hoo.

3. I’ve read a hell of a lot of books lately, though.  Of note:

  • I finished Justin Cronin’s “City of Mirrors”.  Among the few friends of mine who’ve also read it, I probably have the highest opinion of it; I think, if nothing else, that it ends quite well.
  • Victor LaVelle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom” is a very short Lovecraftian novella that inverts Lovecraft’s latent racist attitudes into something much more powerful.
  • Joe Hill’s “The Fireman” is a really interesting premise and an absorbing read, though I wouldn’t call it a horror novel.
  • Daniel O’Malley’s “Stiletto” is the 2nd installment of his Rook series, and it’s arguably more entertaining than the first entry; the premise is essentially if the X-Men were running the British Secret Service and defending the country from other supernatural forces.  Very witty, very clever, and this 2nd book is very exciting indeed.
  • Sylvain Neuvel’s “Sleeping Giants” had been popping up in my periphery for a while, and I started it last night on the train and finished it this morning.  If this is the beginning of a new franchise (there is at least one more book coming next year), consider me signed on.
  • And now I just started Emma Straub’s “Modern Lovers”, which is very much NOT action/sci-fi.

4.  This eulogy for Other Music is hitting me in the feels. I might as well have written it myself.

…My scramble for self-identity was tied up in records, and Other Music was where I went to get myself sorted out. What did I like? What did I want? Which section did I want to start flipping through first, and what did that say about me? The classification of a person via her cultural preferences and proclivities—maybe that’s something we should be glad to wave goodbye to. One is no longer either a punk or a goth, In or Out; one merely is.

But it’s also why I think of Other Music as an integral player in my making, and why witnessing its end feels especially personal. We all experience some version of this dissociation a million times in a life: a drawbridge being raised behind you. The sense that you couldn’t re-create yourself now if you tried. When I needed it to, Other Music turned the whole notion of “Other” into something prideful—it forced me to make a choice about who I thought I was, or could be—and for that I’ll always be grateful, beholden.

And just like that, the day job is busy again.  Until next time!  [Exits, pursued by a bear]

E3 2016: much ado about nothing

I’d hoped to have posted my impressions of Sony’s press conference much sooner, but events have conspired against me.  I suppose it’s for the best, since I have the benefit of hindsight now and I feel that I can be a bit more objective about what Sony had to offer.

Did Sony “win” E3?  Was this “the greatest press conference ever”?  I’ve seen several tweeted headlines that answer in the affirmative to both of these questions, but I’m not convinced.  Again – I’m writing this a few days after the presser, so I’m not nearly as breathless with anticipation as I might’ve been during the actual event.

Sony’s actual press conference was certainly not the epic, no-doubt-about-it mic drop of a few years ago.  (And when I look at that recap, I am simply stunned by what I managed to be stunned by.)  I did find it much more substantive and tasteful than Microsoft’s, though that could’ve been the live orchestra.

More to the point, the games – or, rather, the portions of new games that were presented to us – seemed more mature, more sophisticated.  This new, Norse-themed God of War reboot feels like a Naughty Dog game, with a nuanced relationship between a father and son.   Horizon similarly looks quite astonishing, although it’s hard to know how to extrapolate a full game experience from that 7-8 minute demo.  We have a 2016 release date for The Last Guardian, which is nice, even if I haven’t read any preview coverage that managed to get a clear handle on what it is.

Honestly, I’m mostly excited about the Crash Bandicoot remasters.  And also the PSVR, which comes in at a price point that I can most probably survive.

This is all well and good, but now that’s it’s been a few days I’m more concerned about what we didn’t see – like No Man’s Sky (which I suspect was withheld simply because they’re in crunch time and didn’t have time to show anything without severely cramping their style).  And of course Sony did not talk about the “Neo”, which begs the question – will my PSVR work better with the new hardware?  Can I afford a Neo and a Scorpio while still paying my mortgage?  Will my wife leave me if I buy them both anyway?

* * *

With regards to the rest of the show: I am the wrong dude to ask.  Work has been crazy, and whatever free time I’ve had this week has been devoted to posting about gun control and how horrible Donald Trump is. But I can run off a few bullet points:

  • I bought Trials of the Blood Dragon after hearing about it at the Ubisoft presser because I love the Trials games, and after 15 minutes with it I can tell you that whoever decided to make a Trials game where you get off the motorcycle and engage in shitty platforming/shooting segments needs to get fired immediately.
  • The South Park game looks awesome.
  • Ubisoft’s winter-sports thing looks promising, though I’ve heard some absolutely dreadful impressions.
  • I must cop to admitting that Call of Duty in space actually looks pretty neat.
  • I very nearly pre-ordered the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3 earlier today.  I don’t know why, nor do I know why I stopped.
  • I’m willing to give that standalone Gwent game a look, though I never played more than the tutorial in Witcher 3 proper.
  • Speaking of which, I need to get back to that Blood & Wine DLC.
  • Also need to get back to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, though to be honest I’m not enjoying it all that much.  It feels like EA’s first draft of a Ubisoft open-world game, and you can take that however you want.

weekend recap: Dangerous Golf, Overwatch, Blood & Wine

Today’s favorite album:  Steve Gunn, “Eyes on the Lines.”

This was a very busy weekend; lots of fun family activities, plus also a wee bit of a stomach bug last night.  You can’t win ’em all.

I’ve got three games I want to talk about, so let’s get to it.


First up: the eagerly anticipated Dangerous Golf, the first game from the ex-heads of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout driving games, also known as my personal favorite driving series of all time.  On paper, this sounds like a perfect little arcade diversion: take Burnout’s crash mode, but instead of a car smashing other cars in glorious slow-motion, it’s a golf ball destroying hundreds of fragile, breakable objects in an assortment of rooms.

In execution… well, it’s not quite there.  It’s so close to being great.  Sadly, it feels a little rushed and unpolished.  The impression one gets after an hour or so is that this is a snazzy proof-of-concept physics demo, rather than a well-thought-out game experience.  And it’s not just the strangely bare-boned career mode, or the inconsistent camera control, or the aggravating load times; there’s just a curious lack of attention to detail that make this feel a lot rougher than it ought to be.  Just as an example, there’s no interstitial music.  This is obviously not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does come off as an oversight that ends up becoming more and more distracting.  Ironically, the 5-second guitar flourishes at the conclusion of each round sound not unlike the sound cues you’d hear after putting a set list together in Rock Band, which is *also* just a bit weird.

There’s also little things like having the control scheme graphic feature a whole bunch of advanced features that don’t actually unlock right away, which can lead to some frustration.  Key example – there’s a thing called “Pistol Tee” and “Pistol Putt”, which happen by pushing RT when you tee or putt (obviously).  But you don’t unlock those two things until after your 2nd “tour” is complete, and even when you unlock them, they aren’t ever explained.  Indeed, the whole putting game is never explained – and you can’t move the camera after you shoot, so when the flag is in a different room you can’t see where your shot is going.

These are things that could arrive in a future patch, but I can’t imagine they would.  I know lots and lots of Burnout fans who have yet to play this game – either they don’t know about it, or they’re busy playing Overwatch, or they just don’t care.  It’s a shame, because with a little more elbow grease this could be a ton of fun.  As it is, it’s almost a ton of fun – and I’m giving it the extreme benefit of the doubt, given that (a) I love golf games, (b) I love the developers’ previous work, and (c) this combination is right in my wheelhouse,  but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to spend with it.

* * *

And speaking of giving prominent game developers the benefit of the doubt – as well as mentioning Overwatch in passing – well, my rental copy of Overwatch finally showed up on Saturday.  I am probably not going to play very much of it.

But I want to stress that this isn’t the game’s fault.

I have nothing but respect for Blizzard’s past work, and Overwatch has received superlative writeups from all the critics I care about, and my friends all love it, and I’m all in favor of vibrant colors and a diverse cast of characters.

The problem, of course, is that I do not like competitive shoot-’em-ups, no matter how amazing they are.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing; maybe I’m never going to like competitive shooters.  It’s the part of every big game that I go out of my way to avoid:  Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Gears of War, Destiny, The Division – I just can’t do it, man.  It’s not even that I suck at them – I mean, I kinda suck at Rocket League but that game’s never coming off my PS4 hard drive*, because even being terrible at it is still super-fun.  There’s a certain mind-set that goes into enjoying competitive shooters, and I just don’t have it, and I don’t know that I ever will.  I’ll be very curious to see what game comes along to break that particular pattern, especially given that I’m always going to be older than the target demographic, and also given that I will eventually spend less time per night gaming than I used to.

Finally, I gotta talk about The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine DLC.


As I noted last week, I had no idea that I could’ve been playing the first DLC all along.  So I started a new character and began the first Hearts of Stone mission and very quickly  realized that it was all familiar, and very quickly remembered that I’d already played it  and simply forgotten that I’d done so.  So I then immediately started the new one, Blood & Wine.  Now we’re all caught up.

Here’s the thing about this particular bit of DLC – it’s a perfect bit for a player like me, someone who loved the original game but hadn’t played it seriously in a long time and had forgotten what the overall rhythms of the gameplay experience feel like.  Unlike other prominent RPG DLC missions, this is not merely a quest with some side objectives; this is an entirely new and rather large landmass, with at least a dozen heavy-duty side-quests that I’m compelled to tackle if only because I’m still underleveled for the main quest.

I haven’t even really begun to mess with the whole “I own a vineyard and a country villa” angle, if only because I’d already foolishly spent a lot of money improving a different DLC merchant before I realized what I needed it for.

The long and short of it is:  godDAMN I love this game.  I love how this game is built; each quest has its own pace and its own “hook”, and the characters you meet are almost always interesting.  It’s nearly impossible to predict how a given quest will flow; even the monster-hunting quests, which are the closest thing this game has to a “cookie-cutter” approach, are different in terms of your combat tactics.

Here’s another thing about Witcher 3 – it’s completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me. I was already having trouble enjoying Fallout 4, and now I know I’ll never be able to go back to it after this.  Same goes for Skyrim and Oblivion and the like; even if Bethesda remasters them for current-gen consoles, they’ll still feel clunky and archaic.  Playing Fallout 4 after playing Witcher 3 is similar to what it’s like to play GTA 3 after playing GTA 5; even though I adore GTA 3, it’s damn-near impossible to play given how shitty the controls are.  And Fallout 4’s cutscenes and writing just simply aren’t as sharp or as interesting as Witcher 3; and Geralt is infinitely more compelling than any blank cipher I come up with.

But whatever – I’m not here to be sad about Bethesda, I’m here to celebrate The Witcher 3 – one of the finest games of this generation, and one of my favorite games of all time.  I’m so glad to have a compelling reason to revisit it, and I’m even happier that this DLC is, so far, really, really good.


* This reminds me of a question that popped up on Twitter not too long ago – what games will you always keep on your hard drive?   My PC, when it was working, had a 1.5TB hard drive and so everything stayed on it.  My XB1 doesn’t really get used all that often, but I will always make sure that Pinball FX2 stays on, and I suppose I’ll always keep the latest Forza Horizon title on.  (I did recently delete and then re-install Sunset Overdrive, because I forgot how to play it and the only way to re-tutorialize is to completely wipe out any record of you playing it, both locally and in the cloud, and I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed yet.)  As for the PS4, my primary console of choice – well, I’ve had to do a fair amount of juggling in the last year or so, but I suppose I’ll always make sure I have room for Witcher 3 and Rocket League.

the dummy

So I am a dumb-dumb.

I’ve been complaining for months now that I haven’t been able to get to any of the Witcher 3 DLC, because I started a New Game + and need to be at least level 60 in order to start the last episode, Hearts of Stone.  And even though I’d downloaded the newest installment yesterday morning before leaving for work, it didn’t appear to be available when I started my NG+ save.

So I decided to back out, close out, and see about starting a New Game from scratch.  And lo and behold, there’s an option to play just the DLC (as well as any non-main-storyline quests) as a level 32 character, with properly leveled equipment.

I could’ve been playing the DLC this whole time, in other words, except I didn’t realize it was an option.  Or maybe I did, but ignored it (and then forgot about it), figuring I’d want to get there on my own via NG+ and such.

Unlike other RPGs where I’d find myself attached to my specific character build, Geralt is such a well-defined character in his own right that it seems completely unnecessary to bring my previous hundreds of hours along with him for a stand-alone adventure.  I’m certainly not attached to any of my weaponry or armor, and I have to figure that the DLC content would drop new stuff soon enough anyway.

So, as I said before, I’m a dumb-dumb.  I’ll be playing the Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine DLCs now, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.


I don’t write about music nearly enough on this blog, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my current front-runner for Album of the Year: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s ridiculously awesome “Nonagon Infinity”.  One of their songs had shown up in my Spotify Discovery playlist a few weeks back and I’d thought it pretty good, and for whatever reason I decided to give the rest of the album a listen, and NOW I CAN’T STOP.  Which is helpful, because the album is designed to be listened to on repeat – the last song leads directly into the opening seconds of the first song.  The whole thing kicks a tremendous amount of ass and now I’m finding myself falling down a garage-rock-psychedelic-prog rabbit hole; I’ll be listening to this and Thee Oh Sees for the next month, at least.



I’m about 2/3rds of the way through Justin Cronin’s “The City of Mirrors”, aka the final installment in the Passage trilogy, and it’s… hmm.  I’m enjoying it very much, though it’s paced a little too deliberately – there’s lots of short chapters with cliffhanger endings.  I appreciate that he’s trying to build momentum and tension, but it feels a little artificial to me.

On the other hand, it’s very interesting to see earlier events from the previous books told through different points of view – my favorite sequence in the entire trilogy, Amy’s visit to the zoo (from the first book), is now seen through Amy’s own POV, which adds an illuminating layer of intrigue to an already spectacular set-piece.  And there’s also a very long sequence detailing Subject Zero’s personal history, which contains some of the best pure writing in the whole series.

Obviously, if you’ve read the first two, you’re probably already reading this one.  I’ll be looking forward to talking it over with people once I finish.

Alive And Well And All Moved In (almost)

So I was hoping to write up a big thing here talking about the events of the last few weeks – specifically, the move – but today’s been so absurdly busy that there simply hasn’t been any time.  It’s 3:19 as I type these words and this is literally the first time all day I’ve had more than 10 consecutive non-interrupted seconds to write.

Given that I’m not 100% sure what’s in store for the rest of the afternoon, let me make this quick:

1.  The new house is awesome.  The move itself went very smoothly (aside from a guy crashing his car directly into the back of the moving truck without hitting his brakes, and it’s amazing nobody got hurt), and the kid was a champion (although the poor dogs were locked in bathroom doors so as to avoid antagonizing the movers / pee on everything), and we even got the bulk of the necessary repairs fixed while we were both off work last week, which is a huge weight off our shoulders.  Really, all that’s left at this point is a few miscellaneous boxes in the office and the hanging of pictures and artwork.

1a. Also the mancave needs a new thing for the TV, but that’s not something I need to get right away.

2. Also we bought new HDTVs.  Let me tell you – we bought two Vizio 48″ LED HDTVs and the mere fact that both of them, combined, cost less than $1000 is astounding, considering that I’d bought my old 40″ Samsung about 8 or 9 years ago for over $2000.  But the TVs themselves are pretty great, too.  There’s a part of me that’s curious about 4K, but the more realistic part of me knows that we don’t really have any 4K content right now, and it seems silly to shell out that much money when a 48″ TV for less than $500 is already getting the job done.

3. Given how busy the last two weeks have been, there’s not been that much opportunity for gaming/reading/watching things.  That said, of course we found time to watch Wet Hot American Summer – First Day of Camp, which we loved.  It’s true that the transformation of a 90 minute movie into 8 30-minute episodes means that it’s not as easily digestible as a whole, and it requires more work on our part to absorb it in the same way that we did the film, but it should also be said that it was also a really funny and silly way to spend a few evenings when we were exhausted from unpacking.  I don’t really understand why anybody would watch this that hasn’t seen the original film, especially since so much of the show is surreptitiously designed to show how the film’s events and characters got to where they are, and when I think about it now there’s a few not-quite plot holes that don’t necessarily add up (like how, given the events of the Netflix show, Gene would already know about the talking vegetable soup can, whereas in the film it comes totally out of left field – as it should, when you think about it), but whatever – it’s an inspired bit of silliness, and everybody gets more screen time, and at the end of the day I’m honestly just glad it actually exists.

4. The little gaming I’ve done has mostly been cleaning up various contracts and side quests in Witcher 3, if only to be as fully prepared for the New Game + mode, whenever that starts.  But I’ve also been kinda helplessly devoted to Rocket League on PS4, which is maybe the most fun I’ve had in multiplayer since Burnout 3 (no joke).  I don’t even care that I’m not particularly good at it, or that if I’m hanging back on defense and the ball comes my way I start feeling the same sort of anxiety I used to feel when I was 6 years old playing soccer, and I’ve started getting used to and accepting that certain feeling of inevitability that comes when I miss the open ball or accidentally re-direct it to the opposing team who immediately scores.  I can live with that; I can live with myself.  (I also play online without headphones, so I can’t hear if any of my teammates are calling me names, which is highly recommended.)

Beyond that – I gotta say, I like the train in the morning.  I’ve yet to take the train home, so who knows how that’s going to work, but this morning’s commute was downright pleasant.  I even got to sit down, which hasn’t happened in maybe 20 years.

I can’t yet speak to the suburban pace, given that I’ve only been there a week and that first week was largely spend indoors, dealing with cardboard boxes and tape.  I can say that our town has a ton of cute little parks, and our son is INFATUATED with playgrounds, and so it’s really nice to be only a 5-minute drive from any number of them, none of which are filled with hundreds of people.

In any event – you are all invited to our backyard, as soon as I learn how to grill.  Also I need to buy a grill first.

Tomorrow is the release of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which has been high on my to-play list all year, and so I’m hoping to play that and write something up later this week.

Weekend Recap: The Crunch

[Apologies in advance; this post was written in a very haphazard manner over a period of several hours and whatever thesis I was trying to make when I started has been completely lost by now.]

I have a friend who can, somehow, read several different books at once; I don’t know how she does it, because I certainly can’t.  My reading time is generally on the short side as it is, and it occasionally can be a struggle just to remember where I am if I have to put a book down for a few days.  (For whatever it’s worth, I’ve already read 22 of the 30 books in my Goodreads challenge, so at least I’m ahead of the curve in that regard.)

I bring this up because, just as I can’t read more than one novel at a time, I can’t play 2 AAA, story-driven games at once; my brain can’t handle the distraction (nor can it adjust well to different control schemes).  I can play one AAA game and also, say, a driving or sports game just to cleanse the palate, but that’s really about the extent of it; if I’m playing a capital-G Game, that’s about all my brain can handle.

So I am desperately trying to finish The Witcher 3 before tomorrow, when the new Batman comes out.  I’m almost there, and yet I’m also very much aware that I’m procrastinating a bit.  I don’t want it to end.  And unlike a book, where you kinda just have to keep turning the page, there is almost always a “?” on the Witcher map that’s somewhat nearby where I’m standing, and so I’ll head over there to see what it is.  Or maybe there’s a monster-hunting contract that I’m finally sufficiently leveled up for that’s nearby, and so I’ll do that instead.  (At this point, though, I’m level 33 and there’s almost nothing I can’t handle beyond falling off a staircase.  It is amazing to me that Geralt can survive a dragon fight but dies instantly when falling off a 10-foot ledge, which is especially annoying when the fall is due to an accidental geometry clipping issue.)


I don’t like this feeling of rushing.  I don’t understand why I’m not allowing myself to take as much time as I want or need.  I have no professional obligation to finish this game; none of the posts I’ve written about it here have generated more than, say, 20 hits at a time, and it’s doubtful this post will do any better.  And the thing is, Batman’s gonna be downloaded and ready to go and I can start it whenever I want.   I am a grown-ass man, goddammit!  I can play it when I’m good and ready!

Of course, starting tomorrow, people on the internet will be talking about Batman instead of Witcher and I want to be a part of that conversation.  This is absurd, because I’ve been playing Witcher for the better part of a month and almost nobody is talking about it; granted, E3 had a lot to do with it, but even so, almost nobody on my PS4 friends list is playing Witcher 3, so if there is a conversation about it, I’m clearly unaware of it.


I suppose it would be premature of me to make some sort of hyperbolic statement regarding how I feel about Witcher 3 without technically having finished it; there’s always the possibility that the story’s conclusion will be an utter trainwreck.  I am hopeful that’s not the case.

On the technical side, there’s a more distinct possibility that I’ll run into some sort of bug that breaks the game completely; the game’s already crashed to the PS4’s dashboard more times than I can remember, and I’ve also noticed that towards the end of long sessions (and not even really that long – most of my recent sessions have only been 1-2 hours long) the level geometry will start breaking – last night, I had to restart one particular story mission several times, from a manual save point I’d made right outside a door, and each time I opened the door something bizarre would appear on the screen – the walls wouldn’t be formed, bodies would not have heads (or, more nightmarishly, heads wouldn’t have bodies), etc.  So there’s that.

Still, I am prepared to say that Witcher 3 is, for all intents and purposes, the best game I’ve played since 2011’s Portal 2 or 2010’s Red Dead Redemption.  And as I would put either of those 2 games in my all-time Top 10, I suppose you can see where I’m going with this.  It’s been an absolute joy the whole way through, and it does so many things right that it could very well ruin Fallout 4 for me.  Which is fine, honestly; I’d rather a game be that fucking good than not, and it’s been an awful long time since I felt this strongly about anything.  To think that, just days before this game arrived, I’d nearly given up on gaming altogether!

Heading Off Into the Wild Blue Suburbs

1.  First thing’s first – I’m in a much better mood today.  We had our house inspection yesterday, and it went far better than we could’ve hoped – the first house’s inspection was an utter disaster, and this inspection was really almost perfect – and basically now we’re just waiting for the bank to hold up their end, and for there to be no more hiccups between now and the closing date.  We even got to meet our neighbors, and they’re super-sweet and awesome, which is a huge relief.  And so if all goes well – I’m not naive enough to say that nothing could go wrong, but I’m hopeful – we should be moved in to the new digs in the first weekend of August.

1a.  It occurs to me, suddenly, that my gamertag for the last howevermany years is going to be out of date.  How can I continue to call myself JervoNYC when I’m living in New Jersey?  It also occurs to me that I’m gonna be 40 in December and I think it’s safe to say that I no longer give a shit about other people think.

2.  The Steam Summer Sale is happening and here’s how out of it I am – I had no idea it had even started until late last night.  I’m not particularly going out of my way to check out the deals.  Sure I’ve got a bunch of games on my wishlist that are dirt-cheap right now, but I’m so thoroughly consumed by Witcher 3 at the moment that it seems silly to spend money on games that I’m not going to get to for months (not to mention that my PC backlog right now is utterly, ludicrously huge anyway – I’m so, so sorry, Invisible Inc.).  If Pillars of Eternity comes down by more than 40%, I might pull the trigger; otherwise I’m going to sit it out.

3.  Re: Witcher 3:  I’ve played enough of it by now (currently level 22, most likely on my way out of Skellige) to know that I’m never going to 100% it, and I’ve accepted that reality, and it’s totally OK.  In the early going, I was doing nearly every sidequest and monster contract and treasure hunt I could get my hands on, and now I’m at the point where I’m at least 7-8 levels above the recommended level for the main story quests, which is maybe not the best way to experience that content, especially as the rewards I get for those quests aren’t necessarily all that hot anymore.  All the questing I’ve done so far has been enjoyable, in and of itself; it’s just that the rewards are starting to become less impressive, and that’s solely because I’ve done possibly too much questing.  (An additional bummer is that I’ve got a whole bunch of crafting recipes for enhanced items, which are sadly useless since I never found the recipes for the original, vanilla items.)

There are some minor nit-picky tweaks that I’d like to see implemented in future patches, especially when it comes to crafting (which I’m finding myself spending a lot of time doing), such as:  if there’s a recipe for something where you currently lack an ingredient (i.e., a silver ingot as part of a sword), but you do have the materials to craft that missing ingredient, you should be able to directly jump to the missing ingredient and craft it and then jump right back to the original recipe.  I’m also holding on to, like, a bazillion flowers and monster parts that I’m not sure I’m ever going to need, especially since any alchemy item I craft is auto-replenished after a meditation period; it’d be nice to have the game tell me as much, or at least let me sort my items by relevance.

And while we’re at it, re-loading saves TAKES FOR-FUCKING-EVER.

Still – these are very minor concerns.  The overall experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  This is the most into a game I’ve felt since probably Red Dead Redemption, and I’m doing my best to savor each and every moment I can with it.  You know that feeling where you’re reading a book and you love it so much that you literally can’t put it down, not even when you’re half-asleep?  That’s how I’m feeling with Witcher 3.  It’s my GOTY and I’ll be very, very impressed if anything can knock it from the top spot before the year’s end.

4.  I still kinda can’t believe that E3 is next week.  My day job is going to be nuts, and so I’m pessimistic that I’ll be able to follow any of the main press conferences beyond a cursory nod every once in a while.  I’m sure my wishlist is the same as yours (i.e., Fallout 4 gameplay footage), and I’m also sure that my dream wishlist (i.e., any news whatsoever about Red Dead 2) will most likely remain a dream.  But I’m also becoming more and more wary of E3 and similar events, where the hype is so overwhelming that, at the end of the day, it’s hard to know what I’m actually cheering for, or even why I’m cheering in the first place.  Most of what we’re gonna see next week is going to get delayed until 2016 anyway, and a great deal of it will have changed radically between next week’s reveals and the final release code.  So I’m going to be looking at next week’s news with a highly cynical eye.

That’s it and that’s all.