In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
It’s been a while since the last Stream Recap. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.
This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!
Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.
It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!
And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!
Back to game.
I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.
The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.
I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.
I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.
Maul: Lockdown, by Joe Schreiber, had me excited for a long time. I thought, originally, the concept was great. However, while reading the book, I realized I had misunderstood the summaries and dust jackets. I had thought the book was about Darth Maul trying to escape from the most dangerous prison in the galaxy. A Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, if you will. It’s not that at all.
Darth Maul is sent, by Darth Sidious, to Cog Hive Seven to find an elusive arms dealer. Maul must remain undercover, so he’s forbidden to use his lightsaber or force powers. The book follows Maul exploring the layout of the prison, participating in televised death matches and surviving gang politics.
Maul: Lockdown is entertaining…to a point. The death matches are well done with visceral action, some of the new characters are interesting and there’s general mystery to the identity of the arms dealer. It also helps that, like some of favorite Star Wars books, this is a standalone one-shot. However, the book has a few faults that kept it from being the thrilling and dark adventure it could have been.
For one, taking away Maul’s force powers and lightsaber, while an interesting challenge, means the book denies the reader what they might have come for in the first place. Taking away his weapons for a few chapters might have been exciting, but when it’s the whole book there’s a certain element of false advertisement. Maul, the character, still has that tiger-like cool, but is less interesting than your classic Darth Vader. Maul is all rage and hate and, after a while, that stops being interesting. He comes across as one note in this book and it doesn’t help that we learn nothing new about the character.
The book is dense, which isn’t always a problem, but I was coming in for something more akin to a thriller. The chapters are short and you can clear through pages easily, but it goes on for longer than necessary, reaching a climax weighed down by cameos and dull exposition. Near the end, I was trying to get to the finish line quickly not because I was interested, but because I was ready to be done. There’s not enough story, character or intrigue to carry this book.
I’m surprised by how critical I am of this book, because the concept seemed like a slam dunk. But, when compared to other Star Wars villain books, such as Darth Plagueis, Darth Bane, Dark Disciple and Lords of the Sith, it falls short. Maybe Darth Maul isn’t that intriguing of a character, or at least, not during this part of life. I still haven’t finished the Clone Wars show, so I haven’t seen the character resurrected and given robotic legs. Maybe then he has more depth, but here, there’s not enough.
Now, someone, please go write that Star Wars prison break I wanted.
I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.
Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.
Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.
What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.
The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.
The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.
I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.
Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff, is an interesting book, both in concept and execution. Taking place in America, 1954, we follow the Turner family as they deal with racism and the supernatural threats that plague them. Throughout the book, we start realizing that one of those is much easier to deal with than the other.
We start with Atticus Turner, a young, black man simply trying to drive up North. Along the way, he’s pulled over for driving while black and there’s always the looming sense of dread just from the embedded racism that he’s trying to avoid. Eventually, he heads to Massachusetts to find his missing father and things start getting more eerie.
Now, I thought about saying, “Things start getting more Lovecraftian” but that wouldn’t be acute. See, all the racism that Atticus deals with while driving is already Lovecraftian, as the influential author was quite a bigot. When a white police officer threatens to shoot a black man if he doesn’t get out of town by sundown, that’s Lovecraft, even if he never wrote such scenes. When monsters and ghosts start showing up, they seem rather mundane to all the racial tension and, sometimes, almost act as a relief.
It’s relieving to deal with the supernatural because it’s not real. I know, for the most part, that I don’t have to worry about ghosts and inter-dimensional beings. I know that. But, in the real world, racism and bigotry are very much alive. As a country, we used to worry about witches and now’s it’s part of our history, but the hate and ignorance that permeates Lovecraft Country is part of our present. Ruff uses the supernatural as a hook to get readers who might not want to confront these issues.
In the book, ghosts can be reasoned with, monsters are indifferent. These scary, immortal threats might not be rational, as Lovecraft often had characters go insane when confronted with them, but in way, they act rational. Some feed, some kill, some of them are just lonely. But, they’re beyond petty things like hatred for different races. Racism, when compared to the threats beyond our own world, becomes the irrational.
Now, I had trouble getting into this book for two reasons. First, the stress of reading about a black family in the 50s was enough to make for slow, uneasy reading. Second, the book is told in parts. I couldn’t find a pace while reading because the first chapter is actually the first short story. Eventually, when I started realizing how the book was laid out, I found my rhythm and was able to cruise through the novel. Considering that Lovecraft mostly wrote short stories himself, you’d think I would have figured that out sooner.
In the process, the book became less creepy and more of an interesting cross between Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone. I didn’t find the overarching plot that connected the chapters to be that compelling, though the resolution is fun and brings all the different elements together. The individual stories, however, are memorable. Each follows a different member of the Turner family and shows a different aspect of 50s America and the supernatural elements of Ruff’s world. There’s talk of Lovecraft Country becoming a movie, but it could make for a great HBO or Netflix anthology series.
I had started this for Halloween and it wasn’t a bad choice for the holiday, but it might let some people down if they’re looking for straight horror. Really, it’s more acute to call it urban fantasy, as nothing in it is much scarier than what you would find in a Jim Butcher book. But, for a great example of how fantasy and science fiction can be a mirror into our world, how it can be a commentary on prejudices and our own faults, Lovecraft Country is easily recommendable.
The concept of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, was almost too depressing for me to start. Telling the history of the systematic murders of the Osage Indian Nation, a story that is promised to have little closure or justice, I had to force myself through the first twenty pages.
I’m glad I continued on, however, as the book became a compelling read, spanning multiple subjects while never losing focus on it’s depressing main topic. The Osage Indian Nation, through the government’s orders, are moved to a desolated land in Oklahoma. To everyone’s surprise, their new home is one of the richest deposits of oil and the Osage become wealthier than White America is comfortable with. In fact, the government tries to control the flow of money that each Osage receives, appointing them “guardians” who give them their allowances, fractions of their millions. It should be no surprise, that when the murders begin, little is done about them.
At first, it seems like every Osage murder is going unsolved and unpunished. Local authorities are either incompetent or apathetic to what’s happening around them. But, eventually, the news of what is happening starts to spread across the country. White men start getting murdered from trying to help. The Osage murders get more brutal and public, as well as obvious in their intent. Once the young FBI gets involved, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to steal the Osage wealth.
Killers of the Flower Moon is half the history of Osage and half the story of the FBI. Reading this after watching Netflix’s Mindhunter had me amazed by how we take for granted simple terms and methods in law enforcement. While Mindhunter showed us how new the understanding of criminal profiling was, this book goes even further back and shows us simple detective skills still being born. Mug shots, fingerprints and keeping the crime scene from becoming contaminated were either just starting to be used or unheard of altogether.
It doesn’t help that the FBI and many branches of law are filled with corrupt employees. Crimes are being covered up or ignored by bribes and threats. Judges are on the take and prisons are a mess. J. Edgar Hoover is out to make a name for himself by cleaning up the FBI and solving the cases of the Osage murders. He sets Tom White out to form a team and take care of business and from there we learn the twists and turns of this dark history.
It was fascinating to me how well Grann kept this moving and held my attention. The subject matter is morbid and new to many readers but it’s still non-fiction and could have come across as a text book. Yet, Grann writes it like a thriller and even had my jaw drop after a revelation midway through the book. We get looks into everyone’s past, from the Osage whose grim fates are only the newest forms of abuse to White’s childhood and sense of honor. Every topic gets explored and explained in a digestible manner.
After reading this, I definitely want to pick up Grann’s other book, The Lost City of Z. I tend not to read many history books, but Grann does a great job at holding interest and moving the story forward. With Killers of the Flower Moon, you know things won’t be solved in a satisfying manner and that people will go unpunished. That’s not to mention how hindsight kept me from feeling any sense of victory even when things start to turn around for the Osage. You don’t have to be well-versed in history to know this will only be another stepping stone in the injustice Native Americans will go through, even in the 1900s.
Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t for everyone, some might not have the stomach for the hopelessness of it all. But, it’s a story every American should be familiar with, despite how little has been told about the subject. With talks of a movie being made, hopefully more will have to reckon with this dark past. If you can handle the darkness, pick up the book beforehand.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
After SOMA, I needed something easy going for my next game. What happens, you see, is that after I play a big, modern game with an emotional wrenching story with limited game play options I tend to need something that’s more traditional. I need a jump button. The power of a jump button should not be dismissed.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a jump button. But also a grappling hook. And nerve-wracking swimming. And unlimited bullets. It’s a reskin/reimaging of the first Tomb Raider game, which is a game I never played. I did, however, play Tomb Raider: Legend, which was a beauty of platforming when it was released. Anniversary uses that engine, though it’s never as pretty or impressive as that reboot.
Anyway, Anniversary! Is it fun? Sometimes! Other times, boy, is it frustrating. It can be buggy, which means that my live stream was sometimes me looking at my phone for tech help. That bit where the game wouldn’t register Laura grabbing the ledge high above a death fall until I switched the V-synch? Yeesh. But, other times, it’s darn impressive with it’s platforming. It made me want to play more games like that, not the collect-o-thons that Mario 64 wrought upon us.
Even though I didn’t play the early Laura Croft games, it made me nostalgic for games of old. It reminded me that I miss the days of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Luckily, I still have Tomb Raider: Underworld, which I’m looking forward to after the slightly archaic nature of Anniversary. Glad I played it, met some viewers who had good feelings about the series and it delivered on the “game” sensibilities I needed after SOMA.
It’s fine. The movie is fine. It’s not great or as grand as a Justice League movie should be. It feels small, but not in an intimate way. It’s scale and tone reminded me of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. For a movie that cost as much as it did, I sure doesn’t look great. There’s a lot to dislike about the movie, but, for the first time in this non-solo Wonder Woman series, there’s some stuff to generally like.
After the face-slap that was Man of Steel and the so-dumb-I-feel-bad-for-it Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I pretty much retired any hope of ever enjoying these films. Some people like the darker tones, the hopeless characterization, the over-complicated plotting and maybe that’s a good thing. We don’t want every superhero movie to look and feel the same. I simply had to resign that, like Deadpool, these movies weren’t being made for me.
After Wonder Woman gave Warner Bros. their first great DC movie since The Dark Knight, I felt a bit better but could tell from the lead up and trailers that Justice League was going to be messy. Zach Snyder leaving for personal reasons and bringing in Joss Whedon to rewrite and reshoot seemed like a good way to mess up the joint. And messy it was! But, somehow, the worst feeling I had while watching it was boredom. The anger I used to feel has burnt out and maybe that’s due to the small amount of sunlight that’s allowed through all the sepia tone and CGI-smoke.
First, I suppose, the good. Ray Fisher came out of nowhere and impressed me as Cyborg. In fact, while watching his story, I kept wishing I was seeing the Cyborg movie already, because it would have to be more compelling than what I watching at the moment. I didn’t hate this version of Aquaman, despite being the bro-est bro of bro-dom. I look forward to being surprised by him in his own, solo movie. And Gal Gadot is still a Wonder Woman I would follow into battle. Oh! That reminds me! The fight in Themyscira was fun! And, when there was action on screen, it was entertaining, for the most part.
Now, for the rest. During any scene that there was no fighting, I was bored. And, hey, I’m not some action junky who needs people to shut up and punch! The conversations between these characters, Justice League members or not, felt like time killers or placeholders for the real script. There was always the element of humor laced in the lines, but nothing was able to be truly funny, except for Batman’s, “I don’t not” line.
Ben Affleck’s Batman was less interesting this time around, lacking the fire of his previous performance. The Flash doesn’t really impress and I’m sure that’s due to the fact I’ve been watching a successful representation of the character weekly on the CW for three years now. And Superman, well, that character has been a wash since day one. They try to clean him up a bit, make him a beacon of hope and all, but it’s not enough. He’s still not a Superman I want to watch, even when using all his cool powers. These movies love showing off how strong he is, but the heart is never there.
I’ll say this, and I don’t want anyone thinking I like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or think it’s even close to a good movie, but Justice League feels small in comparison. BvS felt like an event, albeit a dumb one. It’s tone, cinematography and over-dramatic dialog made it feel like an important, stupid moment in history. Justice League just sort of happens. A big, gray monster-man shows up and is going to make more CGI fire and smoke and some people get together. This doesn’t feel mythic or memorable. If anything, it feels like a preview for a real Justice League movie, with a full roster and characters who aren’t learning their powers or motivations.
So, to summarize, Justice League is fine. It’s watchable and has some moments that make it worth the time. It’s not epic and it’s not a trendsetter, which is a shame. The Justice League deserve better, they deserve to have the best superhero movie, to put the Avengers to shame. This is a team with the biggest names in super-lore and I had hoped for a feeling of awe and insperation. But, that feeling never comes. Sometimes, during the movie, Batman and Superman’s classic musical scores of the past will play and I was reminded of the good feelings and pleasant memories I had for these characters. Unfortunately, I realized, nothing on screen was causing that to happen this time around.. If anything, those themes emphasize the lack of direction and identity this movie has, requiring past visions to guide the way.
I hope a Justice League sequel will be better and I hope the characters can rebuild from here. Whereas the continuity in the Marvel films feels like a boon, these DC movies suffer from it. Every time a movie comes out, I can’t shake the past these heroes are burdened with. You can lighten Superman up, but he still snapped a man’s neck. You can make Batman a team player, but he still loves his guns and shooting people. But, with Justice League, they’re now another step in a more enjoyable direction. I hope they can keep that momentum and get past this version I’ve had not interest in before. I hope I can enjoy future DC films. But, for the first time in a long time with these movies, at least I can hope.
Books on the history of gaming are culturally important to my own life. Genealogically, I’m a mutt with little foundation. My family and myself have no real traditions or history we share beyond our own generation or two. I’m Italian but I don’t have a a deep identity in it. But, as a gamer, I have a history, music, traditions and my own self-perception is very much rooted in tabletop and video games.
When I read a book like Console Wars, it’s partly me accepting that this culture is bigger than myself and there’s elements to learn about. I felt that connection when reading Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, that this part of my life has been going on for longer than I’ve been around and there’s names and history that are important to it all.
Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars taps into that, except this was a history I experienced. Harris follows the war between Nintendo and Sega; how Sega fought for and won it’s place in the market and how Nintendo fought back. Both companies make mistakes along the way, sealing certain fates for themselves.
One factor that makes this book fascinating is it’s focus on the differences between the Japanese and American sides of each company. While Nintendo was more focused on having like-minds, Sega was much more divided. Sega of Japan rarely agreed with SOA and these arguments and differences would prove to be the companies downfall. Even with Sega earning it’s place in the market, it’s lack of strong leadership would have it go on to follow the success of the Genesis with multiple consoles with little individual identity.
Nintendo, on the other hand, had a direct and strong hand when it came to it’s leadership. So much so that some employees began to chafe against the lack of freedom. Whereas Sega of America was throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck, Nintendo was nailing their decisions to the plaster, even as the wall was crumbling to the floor. The desire to avoid direct competition due to tradition and lack of respect for it’s rivals led Nintendo to lose a few loyal employees, but also to the creation of Donkey Kong Country and Rare’s rise as a second party. It also was responsible for the Super Mario Bros. movie and stabbing Sony in the back when it came to CD technology, so not all good things.
The book is written in prose, using the facts and history to tell more of story than real life might have been. The dialog is where this technique is a hit-or-miss, but the rest of the book is a compelling read, with great insights into the two companies and their respective employees. This style might not be for everyone, but if you’ve read the aforementioned Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, you’ll be right at home. This isn’t the text book tome that was David Sheff’s excellent Game Over, it’s edutainment and a turn pager.
Reading about Sega’s marketing plans, Nintendo’s resistance to fire back, Sony’s frustrations with entering the market and the whole industries growth is highly entertaining. There’s a lot of egos on display and hindsight gives the reader a one-up on the players in this book. The most frustrating part of this book, for myself, is that it ends just as things are getting really juicy. The Sony Playstation has just entered the market, Nintendo is about to release their 64-bit console and we all know what happened to Sega soon after. I wanted an account of the next war, of the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft getting ready to enter the fray.
But Console Wars is a dense book as it is and I’m sure someone is preparing a book on the stage that followed. If you’re interested in the history of video games, Japanese business practices, the thought process of marketing, 90s culture and the whole Sega vs. Nintendo fight, I highly recommend this book. You might have to get past any hangups over the style of writing, but, once you do, you’ll find this to be a great resource.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Frictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.
Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.
Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.
I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.
The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.
Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.