Weekly status update [0071/????]

Yeah, the calendar says Sunday, but I haven’t gone to bed yet. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing this very late on Saturday night. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  • I’m about a hundred pages from the end of the third book in Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, a set of seven fantasy doorstops that were recommended in one of the many “ugh Game of Thrones” threads that inhabit the modern Internet. It’s fine. Nothing mind-blowing, but its take on a fantasy version of France in the Middle Ages is plenty enjoyable. Most importantly, the series is completely written and books four through seven sit right next to my chair, ready for me to pick them up.
  • I finished up Chernobyl, which was excellent. I can’t recommend the official podcast strongly enough; it’s kind of amazing to hear the writer/producer of the whole thing point out the (intentional) factual flaws that make the show a better watch, not as some kind of back-pedaling “well I had to” sort of thing but as a frank admission that the story is fundamentally too complex in some aspects to be filmed coherently.
  • A bit over halfway through the second season of Deadwood, I am constantly reminded of just how good a show it was, and how angry I’m going to be when I get to the end of the third season. I still think The Wire is better, but not by much, and together they’re the two best television shows that have ever been made. So, uh, modern HBO: what the hell happened?
  • As last week, what little time I’ve spent with videogames has almost exclusively been with Everett Kaser’s puzzle titles. I created sixty-four maps/designs for his upcoming final game, partly because I wanted to put a small stamp on his last title and partly because there was a decided lack of bite-sized puzzle designs from the other folks cranking them out. I stopped there because 64 is a nice, round number, and I don’t have it in me to do another 64 to get to the next one.
  • I did put about six hours into Dragon Quest IX for the DS today, though. It’s only because some intrepid Internet hacker set it up so that you can download all of the exclusive online-only quests again if you set your DS’ Wi-Fi up in a particular way, and I wanted to take advantage of that before it inevitably goes away. The game’s fine? It’s very much Dragon Quest, for good or ill.
  • Yesterday marked my nine hundredth logged game of Dominion. I plan on writing a long-form expansion-by-expansion review once I hit a thousand. I suppose I like it somewhat. I also participated in an impromptu game night at Fercott on Tuesday, which was nice. Roll to the Top has become my favorite roll-and-write game, and I wish it were more easily available. It seems like the sort of game that should be in every Target and Barnes & Noble in America.

Given that it’s almost 4am, I, uh, should probably get some sleep… if only to let it become Sunday for real.

Weekly status update [0070/????]

Readin’. Less so the writin’ and the ‘rithmatic.

  • Yeah, lots of reading. After tearing through the Eternal Sky series, I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It was fantastic, one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. It’s a… re-telling, I guess, although without the modernization that usually implies, of Achilles’ rise and eventual fall, told from Patroclus’ point of view. A quick read-through of Wikipedia’s synopsis on the Iliad is helpful but not required. The book’s a romance, a tragedy, occasionally even a bit of a farce, but most of all just a damn fine read. Strong recommendation.
  • I also read Light of Other Stars by Erika Swyler and String City by Graham Edwards. The former feels like a mashup of a modern literary novel and sf, not quite great as either, but I enjoyed it well enough. String City is one of those books that seems like I should have loved the heck out of it–multiple dimensions, weird sf/fantasy, noir mystery–but it felt like considerably less than the sum of its parts. I was thinking last night as to why it felt that way, and the answer I came up with is that the plot felt weightless; gods and major figures die in large numbers around the main characters, but no harm ever seems to really come their way, in manners which honestly beggar belief. That’s impressive for a book with a Greek Titan in a major supporting role.
  • I’m still watching Deadwood an episode at a time; season one is nearly done. I’ve also been watching Chernobyl and listening to the official HBO podcast after each episode, with just the least one remaining now. Both are excellent, and I fully expect Chernobyl to do well in awards season this year.
  • My videogaming has been very light over the past week, with the little time I’ve spent devoted to Everett Kaser’s puzzle games. After doing a stream a couple of weeks ago where I played a puzzle or two of each of his “Sherlock series” games, I decided to explore one of the two titles in that series I don’t particularly like, Baker Street. It’s still not my favorite, but I enjoy it quite a bit more than I did just a month ago. I’ve also been doing some beta-testing of the next game Mr. Kaser is working on, which also happens to be the last one, as he plans to retire after it’s released. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a solid culmination of his work, and while it’s not my favorite I look forward to giving him money one last time.
  • Quite a bit of dominion.games, along with some actual in-person boardgaming on Tuesday. We played Transatlantic, which I now feel I can comfortably place in the “very good but not great” bucket, worth playing at most once or twice a year. I like the aggressive economic system, and it feels very different from Concordia (which is my favorite Eurogame of all time) despite sharing a non-trivial amount of that game’s DNA, but it has some design and production issues that make it harder to teach and harder to enjoy than its ancient-Rome counterpart. Still, I’m glad I played it again.

I have a seven-volume door-stopper fantasy series to read now. Wish me luck!

Weekly status update [0069/????]

Insert metatextual reference about inserting a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure reference here here.

  • Having finished off all of the core content in Borderlands last week, I set about getting the Platinum trophy, because I hate myself. Of course it has That One Trophy; in this case it’s actually not a hard one to get–you simply have to reach level 50–so much as it a tedious one. I had to play through about two-thirds of the game all over again on the second, more-challenging playthrough to get up to that level. Ugh. I was honestly quite surprised, looking at trophy counts, that it was far from the most rare trophy; I guess people like grinding through the same game multiple times? Anyway: done and dusted and trophies are still the worst.
  • No more Borderlands most nights means my time has been spent elsewhere. I’ve been doing my best to transfer it to books, because I’m in danger of having another “bring a bunch of unread titles back to the library because I can’t catch up” moment, but the awful McDevitt books were slowing me down there for a while. Thankfully I powered through them and am now most of the way through Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, a fantasy novel I bounced hard off once before but decided to give another shot. And I’m glad I did, because it’s actually quite excellent. I’ll be finishing that up today and moving on to the second and third books in the trilogy post-haste. The book I read in between, Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan, was also quite good.
  • The ugh-factor of Starhawk and The Last Sunset prompted me to write a piece about long-running series earlier this week, which in retrospect comes off mostly as an “old man yells at cloud” bit. Not that I disagree with anything I said there, but, y’know, still.
  • Quite a bit of dominion.games scattered throughout the week, along with Real Actual In-Person Gaming on Sunday night, thanks to Chris and Jenna inviting me over for dinner and tabletopping. (Shut up, Chrome spell-checker, that’s totally a word.) I’ve had BattleCON: War of Indines on my brain for weeks now; I honestly think it’s my favorite 2p game of all time, and wanted to show it off. Jenna seemed to enjoy it, even though it is quite overwhelming the first few times you play. We also really enjoyed a couple of games of Roll to the Top, a super-easy roll-and-write game with just enough strategic oomph to be worth playing. A game of Hanabi didn’t go great, Race for the Galaxy was interesting and challenging as always, and there was an absolutely bonkers game of Dominion where I almost cracked 100VP in a non-artificial setting and without Colonies and Platinum. Woof. Great game night all around: excellent food, company, and experiences.
  • I finished watching Origin on YouTube Premium, which was solid but not amazing, and started rewatching Deadwood in anticipation of the movie this evening. I’m nowhere near done with that rewatch, but I’m also not in the biggest hurry either. My original watch was very binge-y, and sipping at it slowly over the next couple of weeks will–I hope–make the movie that much sweeter to watch.
  • After being a GoodBoye on my diet for several weeks I fell off the wagon hard for a couple of days… but have managed to right myself and am back on track (and actually better off than before) already. I’m still not down to where I was immediately before those gall bladder attacks, but I should be getting there soonish. I hope.

It’s ugly wind and rain here today, which seems like a perfect excuse to curl back up with a book. And so I shall!

Weekly status update [0068/????]

Even quieter than last week. Maybe next week I’ll just sleep for seven days.

  • I’m most of the way through Origin, which continues to be a perfectly fine version of The Thing in space, but not a lot more. The only other television-y thing I’ve watched since last time was the series finale of Game of Thrones, which, uh, yeah. It prompted me to write a thing, at least?
  • I finished Starhawk, which was dire, and made the mistake of continuing to another McDevitt novel, The Long Sunset. It’s not as bad but it’s still not great, and having it as my on-the-queue book has sapped my reading speed pretty dramatically. Ugh. On the plus side, a random suggestion in an AVClub thread about GoT led me to a (completed, thank goodness!) seven-book fantasy series. I put all of ’em on hold at the library–thanks, Cardinal system!–and they’re winging their way to the local branch as I type.
  • Borderlands at night, Portal Knights on Thursday evenings. I also put a lot of time into Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone, which is both the best rhythm game I’ve played in many years and one of the most uncomfortably Japanese games I’ve ever played in my life. What a combo. I’ve beaten every song on Easy and Normal and am alternating between songs on Hard and boosting my completion percentages and perfects on the lower difficulties. One thing you can’t criticize the game for is lack of content; it has well over 200 tracks, which I’m pretty sure is the most I’ve ever seen in any single rhythm game ever.
  • I’ve played quite a bit of Dominion on dominion.games this week after a bit of a hiatus. The person I play the most with is starting to get pretty good; it’s a hard row to hoe against me, with my nearly 900 plays, but they’ve gone from usually losing big to usually just losing, or even winning. In fact, they had their first “big win” night Wednesday, beating me in three of the four games we played.
  • I did a bit of streaming this week. My biggest stream was playing through one or two puzzles each of Everett Kaser’s “Sherlock” series of logic puzzle games. It forced me to revisit some titles I hadn’t touched in a while, and two of them I’m not very fond of, Baker Street and Mrs. Hudson. I still don’t like the latter very much at all, but I’ve found myself doing quite a few Baker Street puzzles after grousing about them on stream. I still don’t love them, but I do like them quite a bit more than I did. See, people can change. (Also, Mycroft’s Map is still ridiculously overwhelming. I don’t see how people play that game.)

…zzz…

On endings

The last thing the Internet needs is another think-piece on the last season of Game of Thrones… but that’s not to say that I’m past using said event as a jumping-off point1.

Endings are hard.

One of my favorite authors is Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon is an amazing book, packed full of details and fascinating characters and interesting twists. And then, about thirty pages from the end, it just sort of… becomes something else? And ends, kinda sorta? Given that it’s a 700+ page novel of itty bitty print, the ending doesn’t feel so much abrupt as it does not an ending. Similar problems plague several of his other otherwise-excellent novels, like Snow Crash and Anathem. Amazing writer, Stephenson, but he has more than a little trouble sticking the landing.

And, hoo boy, so do I. Most of my novels aren’t even complete, really; I just write until I hit 50K, because I’m doing it during November, and then finish the sentence or paragraph and leave it there. I recently went through all of my own novels to see what my “actually wrote an ending” ratio was: it’s either seven or eight out of fifteen, depending on how you want to count a book that was intentionally written as the first of a trilogy (and, no, I never wrote the other two). And several of those endings are, to put it mildly, utter trash. In one case it was a rushed summary of what should have been more of the book, and in another it wasn’t the ending that’s the problem so much as the missing third of the book right before the end.

So, yeah, endings are hard. They’re particularly hard when the ending is of something that has a deep cultural resonance, or heavy buy-in, or however you want to describe the couple-of-times-a-decade phenomenon that has people tuning in like Game of Thrones or reading like the Harry Potter series2. We as consumers of media hate to see a thing we love end, so we are already predisposed to dislking however it is the author or writers’ room or whoever actually goes about wrapping things up. We all have a mental map of questions we want resolved, characters we want to see succeed–or get their comeuppance–and when the ending inevitably doesn’t address All The Things we feel disappointed. It’s only natural.

I’m not justifying the (myriad) issues with the ending of Game of Thrones, mind you, although I think a lot of the problems with the show are covered by this excellent thread on Twitter that explains the difference between pantsers and plotters and what that meant for the last couple of seasons3. I think that, with more breathing room and some showrunners that were more interested in the show they were making rather than the shows they’d rather be making, we could have gotten a better ending. But it was never going to be a great ending, the sort of thing we’d smile and feel smug about and go “yes, that was exactly what we wanted.” There was too much investiture into the show to be happy about its end, no matter how well done it was.

So, yeah, endings are hard. Look, I’m even struggling to come up with one for this ramble. I think I’ll just let it trail off… like… yeaaaaaah…

Weekly status update [0067/????]

This was an impressively uneventful week, even for me.

  • I wrote a short short story (what I tend to call a “vignette”) over the weekend; you can read it here and the story of writing it here.
  • I did some more Twitch streaming a couple of times across the week. I wasn’t in the mood to continue playing Live-a-Live, so I broke out an updated fan translation of Final Fantasy IV–the game we got here in the US as Final Fantasy II back in the early ’90s–and put in quite a few hours. It was quite fun; the game’s a sentimental favorite of mine, and the translation’s surprisingly high quality. I don’t know if I’m going to continue streaming it or not, but it felt good.
  • My car’s Check Engine light came on a couple of weeks ago, and replacing the gas cap didn’t fix it. I finally met up with one of my old coworkers to try resetting the lamp, but it turned back on the next day. My particular county in North Carolina doesn’t require emissions testing, so we’ll see come next year whether or not I pass the inspection despite the lamp…
  • I finished up watching the second season of Westworld, which was actually considerably better than the first, with a more coherent plotline that seemed to be saying more than just “look at these pretty visuals and ignore the mess this mystery box has made.” My follow-up show is Origin, a YouTube original that is solid (if derivative) so far.
  • Evening gaming sessions are still mostly Borderlands with the Thursday game slot taken by Portal Knights. We actually beat the main game of Borderlands this week and are working our way through the DLC. Whoever thought that making one of them effectively require making use of the awful driving engine needs to be firmly re-educated.
  • State Tectonics was fine, if not as interesting as the previous two books in the series. I’m now reading Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk, part of a series of SF novels I remember enjoying a bunch (and recommending on occasion). It’s… not good. Not good at all. I’m wondering if the book itself is a major dip in quality, or if I’ve become a more critical reader, or… ugh. I dunno. I’m going to finish it, because despite the not-greatness it’s a quick read, but it’s definitely a disappointment.

And just because it’s been a while: nope, still not bored.

Weekly status update [0066/????]

A surprisingly game-y week, even for me.

  • I ended up at Fercott on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening for boardgames, which was quite nice. Tuesday we played New Frontiers, which is the “traditional board game” version of Race for the Galaxy, one of my favorite games of all time. It was fine, but felt… unnecessary? That could be my huge bias in favor of Race speaking, though. Or the fact that I lost. We also played some Hokm; it was nice to get some traditional card gaming in. Wednesday had us playing a couple of Lost Cities/Keltis-family games, plus Grifters Nexus (which seems more interesting than the original) and proper Race. That last game was a tie broken by cards in hand, a very rare outcome. I got to hear someone say that they finally felt they actually understood the game as well, which is definitely one of the biggest hurdles it has.
  • Besides the real-world tabletop gaming, I’ve also continued to make fairly heavy use of dominion.games. If I were still gainfully employed I’d buy a subscription, but as-is I’m actually pretty okay with my base set + Renaissance set-up (thanks, rulebook!), to be perfectly honest.
  • After finally finishing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (which I wrote about earlier this week), I’ve moved onto State Tectonics by Malka Older. I’m enjoying it quite a bit, but I keep putting it down to do other stuff. It’s a fast read, it’s just not quite… engaging enough to make me sit in my chair and tear through it. I’ll be done soon anyway, though, given how zippy it is.
  • I finally decided to start watching season 2 of Westworld, mainly because of how terrible the most recent episode of A Game of Thrones was. It’s been enjoyable, more coherent than the first season, and still gorgeous as all get-out. I’m about halfway through and curious to see where it’s going to end up with several of the plot threads, along with wondering just what a third season of the show will look like.
  • On the videogame side, I went from playing Monster Hunter World heavily to becoming disenchanted with the game pretty abruptly. It started to feel way more mechanical than genuinely interesting, and I’ve put it aside for the time being. That still leaves Borderlands and Portal Knights, both of which are also pretty repetitive in their structure, but for whatever reason they don’t bother me as much.
  • I’m back on keto for the most part. I treated myself to the amazing “molcajete” at the local Tex-Mex place last night, a skillet full of delicious sizzling meat, onions, and even cactus. I ate every bite. Plus some tortillas, I’m afraid, hence the “for the most part.”

If this next episode of A Game of Thrones is as bad as episode four was, I may have to break out my emergency TV rations and finally start watching Fargo season 2 or The Deuce. Here’s hoping I don’t.

The tyranny of choice

I bought a subscription to Playstation Now yesterday, because it was only $60 for a year. And as I started to browse the games available, my overwhelming feeling was one of stress, of trepidation, rather than pleasure. Here’s another several hundred interesting games to go along with my existing PS3 and PS4 libraries, never mind the thousand-plus games I have on Steam, and all the game systems I don’t have hooked up right now! My DS and 3DS sit at arm’s length from me, both packed with even more experiences.

How exhausting it is to live in the Golden Age of content.

This golden age is part of why I’m always baffled when people tell me that they get bored. With hundreds of television shows, thousands of video games, and tens of thousands of books available at the modern consumer’s beck and call, how is it possible that you can’t find something to entertain you? People constantly inform me of shows on Netflix that seem totally in my wheelhouse–Mars is a recent example–that I’ve never even heard of, because there’s just so much stuff on there that hasn’t been surfaced to me by the app or my casual reading of websites like the AV Club. And that’s just one source of many.

But the golden age can be oppressive too. Where do you start, what do you dig into? I’m the sort of person who generally likes to commit to a thing, to play the game through to the end rather than just taking a nibble and moving on, to watch every season of the show or read every book in the series, and that makes picking content difficult. Thirty hours spent on thing X means that I’m not spending that time on different thing Y, which may be qualitatively better for me. Even though I’m retired, there are only so many hours in a day; there is a hard limit to how many more games I’m going to be able to fit into my life. The choice feels weighty, and there are too many to choose from.

I know I’m not alone with this problem. Being overwhelmed by choice is a common issue nowadays. I contrast it with when I was a kid; I had a Nintendo and a reasonable library of games, but a quick dig into my database tells me I have 36 titles for the original NES. That’s way less than I have for the Wii (66), a system I barely played at all, and a fair number of those 36 were acquired after the NES had gone off the market, from friends who had moved on or stores that were liquidating old stock, before the retro game boom. (I have a copy of Goonies II? When did I pick that up?)

And the Wii is old hat. My PS4 library has over 700 games in it, my PS3 one almost 600. That’s enough content to last a lifetime, but new stuff just keeps. coming. out. Television? With Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, there’s already way more to watch than I’m willing to set aside time for, never mind HBO and Showtime and all the old broadcast standbys. And my stack of puzzle books grows way, way faster than my ability to complete them.

I’m most of the way through Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is fantastic and absolutely deserves the Pulitzer Prize it won, and I wish I had gotten around to it sooner. But there are so many books that still beg to be read, stretching back over a hundred years, and the rate of publication is far greater than any fan can possibly keep up with. I stopped buying the vast majority of my reading material several years ago, relying instead on the library, and that mediation helps quite a bit… but my list of “things I need to check out” is near infinite and expanding.

Any one of these venues for entertainment would be enough to keep someone going for years. Having them all available is exhausting, with that constant question in the back of my mind: what do I do? What do I do? Limiting my passive screen time to a couple of shows does a lot to reduce that particular space, but it’s a decision to basically write off 98% of a particular medium, which seems like a shame… even if that decision feels absolutely necessary to keep sane in this modern era. And I try to do something, rather than sitting and spinning my wheels making a choice, even if it often results in me switching between three or four puzzle books over the course of the day, with reading and videogames interspersed in between. A goldfish-like attention span at least gives me the feeling that I’m getting something out of all the various media available to me, even if it’s not sustained in any one direction for long.

And then there are the days when I pick up a controller in the morning and don’t put it down until 4AM, when I curl up with a book and only leave my recliner to go to the bathroom, when the tyrannical bleating of choices is silenced or at least quieted. This is the thing I’m enjoying right now, and everything else can piss off. But those days are rare.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish up this damn book. And then play a game… or do a puzzle… or watch a show. I don’t know yet. I’ve gotta make a choice.

Weekly status update [0056/????]

The weather’s been pretty nasty here this week. So I guess it’s a good thing I almost never leave the house?

  • My heating system completely failed sometime Sunday night. It took until Wednesday for it to get fixed; it was just a blown fuse. Fortunately my landlord loaned me some space heaters in the interim.
  • Played lots of videogames. Along with finishing Horizon: Zero Dawn, I’ve also made my way through Batman: The Telltale Series, which was quite good, and started on their Game of Thrones title. Plus there’s the most-nights EDF4.1 pew pews, and Overcooked! 2 on Thursday.
  • So far so consistent with Tabletop Simulator on Thursdays as well; we played Aeon’s End again this week. And Friday night was a “shorter games” game night at a friend and old coworker’s house; we played a bunch of different things. The highlight was an extremely tense game of Tempel des Schreckens where I had to do some of the most creative, wheeler-dealer lying I’ve ever had to do in a social deduction game. I also bounced hard off of Deja Vu, bailing on the game after a single round.
  • I’ve been slowly reading Sarah Rees Brennan’s first “Lynburn Legacy” book, Unspoken. It’s… fine, but definitely not the lightning in a bottle that In Other Lands managed to capture. I also read Auggie & Me, a collection of three short stories that paint in some gaps in the narrative of Wonder. Inessential but quite readable.
  • The third season of The Expanse was excellent through and through, and I am delighted to see that it’s been picked up by Amazon Prime for at least one more season. The only other thing I’ve been watching is keeping up with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which feels just as good after the network switch as it did before.
  • I actually did some puzzles for the first time in a while. I’m almost done with Penpa Mix 2019, having done all of several types of puzzles in the book. I suspect when it’s all said and done the slim volume will have taken me somewhere around 30 hours to complete (but I plan on doing the math to see one way or the other).
  • You know that annoying thing where you know you’re eating properly for, like, a week plus, but the scale refuses to budge even though there’s mathematically no way you shouldn’t weigh less given caloric intake? Yeah. That’s been this week for me. Fortunately I resisted the siren call of “screw this, buy some Biscoff cookie butter at Walmart” that rang in my head most days when I saw the numbers. We’ll see how much longer I can resist.

I’m going to try and finish that first Lynburn book today, even though I find myself putting it down for just about any reason I can devise. Then I think I’ll finally read Guns, Germs, and Steel, a book that has been “things Phil is interested in”-adjacent for too many years to still leave unread.

Weekly status update [0055/????]

Running a little late this week, but it’s for a good reason, honest.

  • Most of my spare time was spent playing videogames, primarily Horizon: Zero Dawn. I’ve been enjoying that game quite a bit. Its controls are (mostly) less janky than the Assassin’s Creed titles I’ve been playing recently, and although I thought I knew where the story was going, it took a couple of unexpected twists that I’ve quite enjoyed. And Aloy is a delightful main character, a smart, self-assured young woman who is supremely competent at beating the tar out of robot dinosaurs. More like her, please.
  • Evening EDF4.1 runs continue apace. I’ve still been streaming several of them… but no one comes to watch, so I’ll probably stop doing that sometime soon.
  • I’m a little over halfway through the third season of The Expanse, which continues to be excellent. It’s without a doubt the best “traditional science fiction” show I’ve seen in a very long dime.
  • Thursday night’s Tabletop Simulator play went quite well. The big game was Aeon’s End, a game I had only played once before. I still think it’s a very good game, if a touch slow… but presumably that slowness will abate as people get used to, y’know, playing the game.
  • The reason I’m running late with this: I spent most of Friday hosting Inverse Phase, one of my favorite chiptune musicians and an old online friend/acquaintance. He lives out of an RV now, and parked at my place while we went to JD’s Barbecue for some killer brisket and hit up several thrift shops looking for old tech. (The best thing we found was an original NES controller in good shape, alas… but those are pretty rare.) It was nice to visit with someone, for sure! And you should check out his music. I’m particularly fond of his cover albums; his Pretty Hate Machine song-for-song covers are amazing, and his version of “Drive” I find almost as affecting as the original.

Now to get back to HZD. I’m so close to the end. So close.