The Playstation Portal

When Sony announced the Playstation Portal, a Playstation peripheral dedicated to Remote Play, the Internet collectively jeered. It was too expensive, there were other devices that did the same thing (and more) and “no one” would buy this thing. In a lot of ways the Internet was right, except for that last part. Either Sony only manufactured a handful of these things, or plenty of people ARE buying it. I wanted one but couldn’t find one in stock, try as I might (and I will never support eBay scalpers).

Last week I finally got lucky when an account on Threads that tracks these things mentioned that Best Buy had some. I immediately hit bestbuy.com and snagged one before they sold out again.

So let’s dive in to the Internet’s complaints (don’t you like how I treat the Internet as if it has a single unified voice!). The Playstation Portal is $200 and it really does just one thing: it is a device that offers Remote Play from a Playstation. If does not run games locally and it doesn’t even support Playstation’s Streaming Game service (though many of us hope that feature gets added). The argument here is that there are other devices that you could use for Remote Play. The Steam Deck and the Logitech G Cloud are often mentioned. Both can be made to support Remote Play and both do a lot of other things, too. The G Cloud will stream GeForce Now and Xbox XCloud and the Steam Deck can be made to do both of those things and of course runs games natively. On the other end of the spectrum, you can get a peripheral for your phone (like the Backbone) that adds a controller and uses the phone’s screen and do Remote Play that way.

These are all good arguments but I still wanted the Portal. First, I have tried Backbone-style devices but my phone’s screen is just too small for my old eyes, so that was out for me. I do have a Steam Deck and have used it for remote play off the Xbox, and that was almost enough to make me bail on the Portal since there is an open source Playstation Remote Play app called Chaiki that seems to work well for most Deck owners. For two reasons I gave up on that. First, the Portal supports all the neat haptics of the Playstation controller, and second, I didn’t want to have to fiddle with things. The Xbox remote play worked great until something or other would get updated then I’d have to futz with it and of course this always happened when I just wanted to play a game.

So yeah, I went for it. If the Playstation 5 is a luxury item, the Portal is a luxury’s luxury. I’ll be the first to admit that. But so far I love it. It has a big screen (8″) which makes it the most comfortable (for my eyes) handheld I’ve used. It feels good in the hands and it just works. I kind of like the design of it, too. It just looks like a screen with a couple of controller handles attached.

I got it for two very specific use-cases. I like to watch sports, particularly football [soccer] and there are definitely times when the action slows down. I wanted an easy way to play console games at the same time I was watching TV. I’ll have a turn-based RPG (or something very pause-friendly) running on the Portal and when a team is killing time or officials are reviewing a penalty or something, I pick up and play. This might get me back to watching NFL games come fall; something I stopped doing due to all the ad breaks. And the other use case is gaming in bed, because who doesn’t want to do that?

I really only have one complaint with the Portal and that is in how they support the track pad on the Playstation controller. Since the Portal has a touch screen I assumed the screen would just act like a giant track pad, but no. In fact you have to tap the screen to enable ‘track pad mode’ which reveals two rectangles on either side of the screen. These are your ‘trackpad areas’ (and they are mirrored so you can you either hand to access them). Then you have to double tap in one of these to emulate a trackpad press. It’s a little cumbersome though I am getting used to it.

I’ve used the Portal every day since I bought it, so no buyer’s remorse so far. $200 IS a lot, but it is $100 cheaper than the G Cloud and $200 less than the cheapest Steam Deck and it has a bigger screen than both of those. Yes it also does less, but if you only want to do one thing with it, why not save some money and get a device that fully supports the service you want to use. The Playstation Portal certainly isn’t the right device for everyone, but it’s the right device for me.

March 2024

This might just be the shortest recap yet! I was pretty focused on one game for most of the month though as we head into April that has all changed.

Playing

The first half of March was all about Dying Light 2. I played nothing else until I hit the end credits, then I wrote a post about it so nothing much to recap here.

With that put to bed I went back to Horizon Forbidden West; I think my save there is at something like 60 hours and the PS5 tells me I’m not even 50% through it yet (which kind of tracks based on what I know about the main quest and by looking at how much of the map is still hidden). But HowLongToBeat says it has a 30 hour campaign and their “Completionist” figure is 88 hours so, yeah, just me being me and managing to turn every game I touch into a 100 hour marathon.

The weird sidetrack this month was Match-3 games (like Bejeweled). I suddenly got the itch to play one of these and went looking. The match-3 landscape is bleak, or I was just in the wrong aisle of the virtual game store. First I tried Gems of War which has fun gameplay but the most predatory microtransactions that I have ever seen. A great example are shrines. As you beat levels you get a certain in-game currency that is used to fill up shrines. Once you finally fill one you can PAY REAL MONEY to open it and get whatever is hidden inside (I did not pay). So yeah, you grind to earn the opportunity to spend money. And there are CONSTANT pop-ups to spend $5 or $10 or $50 for some item or other.

Screenshot of Gems of War taken around easter when the skulls have bunny ears
On the plus side, the skulls got bunny ears for Easter, so that was fun.
Screenshot from Gems of War prompting a $49.99 add-on purchase
On the negative side, about every 3rd screen you’ll see is something like this. I don’t think we can call these micro-transactions any more!

Then I tried Puzzle Quest 3, a much-maligned game just because folks enjoyed PQ1 & 2 and both those games used that old-fashioned “buy it & then play it” commerce model rather than being free-to-play microtransaction farms. I haven’t played as much PQ3 but so far it doesn’t seem quite as awful as Gems of War in terms of trying to pry open your wallet. It also has an interesting mechanic (I don’t recall if this was in the earlier games) where you make 3 (or more based on buffs) gem moves before anything happens. So you set up your moves, then gems go poof, then the enemy does the same thing. Otherwise same basic principles apply. Gems give you mana to cast spells, and skulls cause direct damage. Erm, which is how Gems of War works…I guess I didn’t mention that, did I?

Screenshot of the character sheet from Puzzle Quest 3
Puzzle Quest 3 feels a little more RPG-ish than Gems of War. For example here is a character sheet which feels like it could be from any rpg.

I also looked around on Apple Arcade for a good match-3 game that didn’t have microtransactions but by the time I got around to doing that I was reaching a point of Match-3 satiety so I didn’t get too far there. I havent’t tried it yet but from what I’ve read you can sync Puzzle Quest 3 progress between Xbox, PC and Mobile (but not Playstation cuz Sony) so maybe I’ll just go with that.

And then on March 28th Diablo IV hit Game Pass so I’ve been playing that, but since it’s just been a couple days I don’t have much to say beyond that I’m having fun so far. I’m also kind of obsessed with the look of my character, Petra (the header image for this post) named after the character in Horizon Forbidden West, not the character in Destiny 2. Not that it matters!

And that is all the gaming I’ve done! I didn’t even play Snowrunner this month! *gasp!*

Watching

Not a lot here either

Constellation (Apple TV+) has a slow burn sciencey-ghosty story. I have to admit we almost bailed after like 2 episodes but we wound up sticking with it and it got pretty compelling. But if you’re a “it has to hook me in the first half hour” kind of viewer, don’t bother. Also it has such a generic name that I always have to Google to double check I have it right.

Halo Season 2 (Paramount+) was really good this season, we thought. Apparently Paramount is about to fall apart so I dunno if we’ll get a 3rd season or not, but I hope we do!

And that’s it for new(ish) stuff. We’re now re-watching S1 of Sweettooth (Netflix) because at some point a 2nd season came out and a 3rd and final has been announced, but we’d both forgotten everything about the show so are doing a full re-watch. It’s about a kid who is like 80% human, 20% deer, hanging out with an ex-football player in a post-apocalyptic world. Yeah, it’s weird, but pretty good.

Other than that I’m watching a lot of football [soccer] what with the EPL closing in on the end of its season and MLS and NWSL both just starting. Watching a lot of football [soccer] has me for the first time wondering why we Americans assign the name ‘football’ to a sport where the (non-spherical) ball is more often carried or thrown rather than kicked. Sometimes I consider using futball for the kick-the-ball sport and football for the NFL sport, but then that makes me seem like I’m posing as a European or something.

New Toy Segment

Oh and tangential to what we’re watching… I decided to buy an Apple TV. We’d been using a Google TV w/Chromecast streaming device and it worked well, but a few things aligned. First, for some reason Halo on Paramount+ on the GTV stuttered a lot. As weird as this sounds I found other reports of this specific show (and one other, which I’ve forgotten) on this specific service streaming on this specific device, stuttering. So it wasn’t just us. Second, I discovered there’s a free service called NWSL+ that lets you stream replays of all (I think?) the NWSL games, but the app isn’t available on Android devices, but it is on iOS devices. Third, the GTV was full and I kept having to remove apps to install new ones (there are work-arounds for this involving external USB storage), and fourth, I just was having that “Need a new toy” itch.

So I bought the biggest, fanciest Apple TV 4K with 128 GB of storage and an ethernet port. @partpurple was dubious; this thing is stupid-expensive ($149) compared to the GTV 4K ($50) but it turns out, I was right for once. It is super snappy to use and we both swear content looks better. Maybe this is observational bias or maybe I had something set wrong with the GTV, but we’re both pretty happy with the purchase so far.

Reading

Slowing working through Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski (it’s one of The Witcher novels) but mostly just while I’m out walking the dog and she decides to flop down in a patch of grass for a while.

And that’s the recap for this month! Guess it was longer than I expected. I just talk too much.

GeForce Now Revisited

Last November during all the Black Friday madness I bought myself a new wide screen monitor. Nothing crazy fancy, it’s a 34″ curved Dell, 3440×1440. I didn’t go for 4K both due to cost and the fact that I didn’t think my PC could push 4K’s worth of pixels at a decent rate. I’ve got an RTX 2070 Super that feels like it is showing its age. I wasn’t even doing much PC gaming but I was having some issues with my setup of two 24″ 1920×1080 monitors. Anyway, point is, I bought a monitor that was much nicer than what I had. Higher resolution, HDR, curved screen.

It made PC gaming a lot more fun. One of the many reasons I enjoy console games is that playing in front of a 65″ 4K HDR TV with a good sound system is so immersive compared to sitting at a 24″ 1080P SDR screen with crappy speakers. A new monitor changed that (aside from the sound…still working on that). Problem now is that aging video card. I can still run older and indie games OK as long as I don’t push the settings too high, but I started thinking about either upgrading the GPU or just buying a nice new gaming PC. I really didn’t want to lay out all that cash though.

Then I noticed Scopique had started using GeForce Now again, and he seemed to be having good luck with it. I’d tried GeForce Now in the past and it had been OK, and I’m kind of fascinated by the idea of streaming games. I was a big fan of the Stadia technology, if not the business model, and playing games on Stadia had always felt good. On the other hand, playing on Microsoft’s XCloud always feels pretty bad. One thing I’ve learned is that your experience with streaming games is highly dependent on where you are and who your ISP is. I know folks who say XCloud works amazingly and I believe them. It just doesn’t work very well for me.

Anyway I decided to give GeForce Now another go. These days we have 1 GB Internet via Google Fiber with no data caps or anything. In practical terms a speedtest usually shows around 700 mbps up & down from my PC, so that includes any loss of speed due to internal networking and such. And my PC has a wired connection, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Screenshot from New World as played through GeForce Now.
My current system actually can play New World without too many issues but being able to jump in without the install and patch times made it kind of a treat!

I tried the free tier of GeForce Now and that was NOT impressive. First, the queue’s are crazy long. One night there were 210 people in front of me. I waited. After 20 minutes I was at 180 people; I figured at that rate I’d get a rig at about 1 am so I quit. Eventually I snuck in early on a weekend but even then there was a queue and when I did connect it was to a data center in Miami, and I’m in North Carolina. For folks not in the US, that means a data center about 800 miles or 1290 km away. I know that there are at least two data centers much closer to me, including one just over the state line in Virginia. I suspect that I got connected to the first usable slot and it happened to be in the Miami data center. With this set up the service worked but it wasn’t a great experience.

Undeterred and based on Scopique’s experience, I finally bit the bullet and bought a month of the Ultimate tier, which is required to go above 1080P anyway. And, aside from one glitch caused by some ‘optimization’ software running on my PC, so far the experience has been almost magical. At least for me and my puny PC. I’m playing on a 4080 rig with settings cranked way up and I’m getting 120+ fps on the server, though closer to 60 fps at my machine. But still I’ve never seen games look this good. Since becoming a paid member I’ve connected to that Virginia data center every time, and no more queues.

So now that I’ve drunk deep of the Kool-Aid I thought I’d talk about some pros and cons.

Cost

The Premium tier is $20/month which initially seemed really high to me. You can save a bit by going 6 months at time, which is $100 or $16.66/month (or $200/year). But remember, you’re playing on a 4080 which would cost you about $1000 right now. Spending $200/year instead might make sense depending on your needs. I kind of compare it to buying vs leasing a car. My brother has been leasing cars since forever and he just keeps rolling over to a new lease period and getting a new car every 3 years or so. This kind of feels like the same thing. It’ll take 5 years of GeForce Now to spend the same as you would on a 4080 today, but presumably Nvidia will keep bumping up the hardware so by then we’ll probably be playing on some even more powerful hardware. If you spend $1000 on a 4080 today, in 5 years it will no longer be state of the art.

On the other hand if you’re a “buy it once and run it into the ground” person then the monthly fee might sting a bit. My truck is a 2012, paid off long ago and no plans to trade it in. I’ll run it into the ground. So the monthly fee for GeForce Now is a little more concerning for me. My brother would love it, if he was a gamer. On the third hand, I pay $90/month for YouTube TV; the idea that I can cancel that for 2 months/year and cover GeForce Now is so compelling that I just canceled YouTube TV!

Performance

So far performance has been incredible. Games look amazing and the performance is so high it almost feels too high for me. I tried Doom Eternal and almost made myself sick, everything was so quick. I’ll have to get used to everything being this snappy. But what about the lag? I’m sure lag is there and if you’re a competitive gamer than a service like this isn’t for you. But as a 60-something dude with 60-something reflexes, I honestly can not detect any lag. I am NOT saying it isn’t there…just that my brain is too slow to notice it. Also bonus points for my PC staying completely quiet while I play. No more fans kicking into overdrive when I play a demanding game.

Convenience

This is a mixed bag. The good news is, I don’t have to worry about driver updates or anything. I can play on any machine. I don’t have to worry about drive space. I am not a sequential gamer so I like to have a bunch of games installed and my hard drive is constantly full. No longer an issue. On the other hand, if the service goes down or something, I’m totally out of luck. I can’t install mods. And of course not every game is on the system. So if I’m interested in a new game I have to both find it in a game store like Steam and also make sure it is supported on GeForce Now. And I had to assume that games LEAVE the service too so you could wind up owning games that you can’t play without upgrading your PC.

I initially thought I’d also be playing GeForce Now on the TV in the living room via the Nvidia Shield streaming box but that doesn’t work as well as I would hope. The tech works but so many games pop open some kind of login field or anti-cheat dialog or something that it feels like more trouble than it is worth. If I were willing to connect a mouse and keyboard to the Shield I could solve this issue, but I’m not really interested in doing that due to the “Cluttering up the living room” factor.

Some games also come with their challenges. Forza Horizons 5 (on PC Game Pass) would not run in widescreen mode and it is new enough that I have to think it is capable of doing so. And Metro Exodus (Epic Game Store) would only run at a low resolution or at a higher res but tucked into a corner of the screen. I haven’t really spent time debugging either of these issues but I think it boils down to “When it works, it works great. When it doesn’t work… well you’re just out of luck.”

Summary

Overall I am absolutely delighted with how well the service works. I still don’t know if I’ll keep it past this initial month just due to the cost and the fact that I have the Xbox and the PS5, both with big backlogs, and do I really need a 3rd gaming platform that comes with a monthly fee? Probably I don’t. But damn, games look SO good on this widescreen monitor with a Nvidia 4080 pushing the pixels!! Decisions, decisions… 🙂

Dying Light 2 Main Story Finished

I bought Dying Light 2: Stay Human at full price when it launched, and I played for over 50 hours before drifting off. That said I never completed the story. When developer TechLand announced a new update that introduced guns to the game I decided it was time to go back and finally complete the game.

Of course the usual happened. I booted it up, realized I did NOT remember how to play, so started a new game. The plan was to just play through the tutorial then move back to my old save but of course I never moved back. 99 hours later the credits finally rolled. Not that there isn’t a TON more content to do if I want to. It’s a huge game. But with all the other titles that are calling to me I’m thinking 99 hours is enough zombie bashing for now.

Overall I (obviously given the number of hours I put into it) liked the game. The combo of over-the-top violence to zombies and lots of first person parkour traversal worked together nicely and kept the gameplay fairly varied. Some times I’d be in the mood to get down on the streets and battle the hordes, other times I preferred to flit across the rooftops using my parkour skills. As you move through the main story you get new tools like a paraglider and a grapple that makes traversal even more fun.

A first person shot of the player paragliding over the city
Look ma, I’m paragliding!

The actual story was less interesting to me. You play as Aidan, a wanderer who is looking for his little sister Mia. Aidan and Mia were experimented on as children, and then were separated. These experiments are what make you such a super zombie slayer. It sounds like a decent setup but honestly I never really warmed to Aidan and didn’t really care about his sister. Maybe I’m the monster! The supporting cast was a little more interesting and I’m not really faulting the voice talent or even the writing. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but the story just never grabbed me.

The story also has some branches. Do you support Faction A or Faction B? Do you save Person A or Person B. I generally like these kinds of choices but for some reason Dying Light 2 doesn’t make it easy to explore the various branches. There is no manual save system so you can’t make a choice, then go back to an earlier save and make a different choice. You’re expected, I guess, to replay the entire story over and over again to see the different branches? On PC I expect you could just manually back up your save files but that’s not quite as easy on console. But if the devs think I’m going to put in another 100 hours to see if my decisions change things, they’re fooling themselves!

Zombies flailing about as they burn
Officer, I did not set these zombies on fire. Another zombie set them on fire.

Another aspect of the game that bugs me personally, but this is 100% a personal thing, is that there are lots of Challenges. I am pretty much turned off by anything that is timed and awards bronze/silver/gold medals based on how fast you get something done. I DO NOT like being rushed; I’m by nature methodical. There’re a LOT of these Challenges in DL2 but happily you can just not do most of them.

Changes Since Launch

In the years since the game launched TechLand has made some changes to it. Some are good, some (to me) bad. They’ve added some toggles to make the parkour stuff a lot easier on your stomach, if you’re a person prone to getting motion sick in first person games. I remember when Dying Light 2 first came out I had to play in short sessions until I built up a tolerance. (It doesn’t help that it is one of those games that from time to time takes control away from you and swings the view of the world back and forth as your character looks around…this never works well since we don’t keep our eyes fixed straight ahead when we move, but that’s what happens in games.) Anyway whatever magic they did (I turned on ‘motion sickness mode’ and turned down head bob) I was much more comfortable playing now. They also added some parkour toggles so you can make it a little more automated, or give yourself more control. Whichever works. Both of these are great additions.

First person shot of the player doing a drop kick
It took me a lot of tries to grab a screenshot that takes place mid-drop kick.

On the other hand, at some point they made the nights much more deadly. I guess long-time players were complaining the game was too easy. At night super-zombies called Volatiles come out and if they spot you they Chase you. Chases are a discrete aspect of the game and you get bonus xp based on how long you survive a chase. With the new update there are volatiles everywhere and as soon as you step out of safety they start chasing you and at low levels they WILL kill you if they catch you. So yes, night is much harder now, but that is a problem because there are areas, some tied to quests, that you are intended to go to at night. The fiction is these places are like nests where the zombies stay during the day. There are HUGE numbers of zombies in these locations while the sun is up, so you have to go at night when all the zombies are out on the streets roaming around. With the new update getting to these spots at night is really difficult since there are so many Volatiles waiting to chase you. In the end I just skipped most of these locations, which I remember being quite fun back at launch. Now when I had to do one I’d get near the location then hide in some bushes and wait for night to come. By which I mean I’d set the controller down and flip through social media on my phone or something while time passed in game. Not a great experience.

I’m hoping at some point TechLand adds a toggle for the “More Volatiles” mode so you can opt for the original experience or this new “challenging for long-time players” mode.

There’s a DLC pack called Bloody Ties that is now free, but it is all about doing more Challenges so I noped out of that pretty early on. The entire point of the DLC is that it is a fighting contest where you have to score well to advance.

What About The Guns?

Lastly, about this gun update, which is the entire reason I came back to the game. After 99 hours I have a pistol and that’s it. Guns aren’t found with the rest of the loot you come across. Instead they are purchased from a vendor for a special currency you earn by grinding stand-alone side missions. The game encourages you to do these in co-op though they can be done solo. I didn’t do many of them because I was focused on finishing the main story, and maybe this is by design. Maybe the devs don’t want you to have guns until the post-story game because even the pistol you get is pretty OP. I personally found this system disappointing; I was hoping to find guns out in the world.

Dying Light 2 is kind of a quasi-live service game, I guess. You have the story and the world that was delivered at launch, but there are a few of these reputation systems that you can grind to get better stuff so that you can kill stronger zombies and get better gear to kill even stronger zombies. In the base game the character level cap is I believe 9. I was 6 when I finished the story. Post level 9 there is some kind of Legendary level system which I don’t expect I’ll ever see.

The player about to hit a zombie with a scythe
Me beating up low level zombies post game

So those are my thoughts on Dying Light 2. As is typical of me, I think I’ve focused too much on the negative. I have put 100 hours into this game in the past 3 weeks or so. It is pretty much all I’ve played, and I was hooked to the point where I was getting up early to play a bit before work. So yeah, I really enjoyed my time with it and if the idea of over-the-top violence (and I should note you decapitate a fair number of humans in addition to zombies) and a robust parkour system sounds fun then I would absolutely recommend the game. I’m very glad I played it.

Shot of the player grappling with a zombie
When a zombie wants to eat your face

Why Am I So Weird (When It Comes To Games)

I’ve been thinking about my taste in games recently, mostly spurred on by Skull & Crossbones. The general vibe on the Internet is a negative one, and yet I really enjoy it. If this was a one-off I wouldn’t think much about it but it seems to happen fairly regularly with me. I loved No Man’s Sky when it first launched and was getting pilloried online. I loved Anthem when it seemed to get nothing but hate. Snowrunner is another example to a lesser extent. While it does have a dedicated fanbase it isn’t a widely popular game. In general when “open world” is starting to become a dirty word (or phrase) I still love open world games. All those towers that Ubisoft gets mocked for? I f’ing LOVE climbing those and getting that panorama fed to my eye holes!

I just started to wonder if I just like things to be contrary. Y’know? Like back in high school when you were too cool to like the popular stuff so you liked the other stuff.

But no, I think there’s a more practical reason. I think I just like to travel & explore in games. I loved No Man’s Sky because I enjoyed flying to different planets and seeing the sights, and the fact that I could lift off, fly to another planet and land without any loading screens. I didn’t let a single planet go Unexplored (which is part of why I never made much progress). Anthem I loved because flying around in those suits felt so damned good, and the more you played the better you got at it. Snowrunner is all about driving around, albeit slowly. And Skull & Crossbones? I just ADORE sailing around that world. Some nights I hardly do any fighting. I love trimming the sails way back and gliding silently through a strait between two islands, listening to the sounds of the surrounding jungle and watching the sun set and the moon rise.

The more I think about it, the more this makes sense. I tend NOT to use fast travel options (which is a big part of why it takes me so long to finish a game). I spent like 200 hours in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey just traveling back and forth across the map seeing new things and exploring. It’s almost like actual gameplay is just an excuse for me to travel around these virtual worlds. I am never particularly interested in being challenged by games (as long as they’re not so easy as to feel trivial, I’m fine). If combat is serviceable, that’s OK for me. I do want to be able to take my time. Really fast paced games, like Warframe for example, never last with me. I want to be able to smell the roses and poke around. Back when I played MMOs what drove me was getting strong enough to move into the next zone to see what was there.

I won’t deny I don’t also enjoy seeing numbers go up, but really it is just important to have a new vista to explore over the next hill.

I guess I’ll need to keep this in mind going forward, and before I recommend a game to anyone I’ll have to stop to decide if it is actually a good game, or if it is just an interesting/pretty world that weirdo me enjoys exploring. Because I know many, maybe most, gamers are much more gameplay and goal driven than I am.

February 2024

This month I’m more or less taking a break from doing a proper recap. It has been a crummy month and I haven’t been taking notes or many screenshots so this isn’t going to be much more than an overly verbose list of what I’ve been playing. I just don’t want to skip a recap because if I skip one, I might skip two, or three, or never get back to them.

Playing:

Hardspace: Shipbreaker — I wound up completing this one and even after taking my time, I still kind of wanted more. Very unique game about breaking up old space ships, ideally without breaking up yourself in the process. You’re in zero g in your space suit with various tools of destruction at hand. I even kept playing for a bit after the final credits and it is still installed. I may keep poking at it once in a while.

Shipbreaker screenshot of the termination agreement from Lynx Corporation

Horizon Forbidden West — Still plugging away at Alloy’s latest adventure. Too many distractions though and god this game just goes on forever and ever. I should maybe stop doing side quests and just push the story forward…if I could remember the story.

Snowrunner — I dunno when, or if, this one will leave the list! It is still my go-to “chill” game for when I’m feeling low energy.

No Man’s Sky — The Omega Expedition hit and it was intended as a way to introduce or re-introduce, as the case may be, the various gameplay loops of No Man’s Sky. I started yet another new save and played through it. First time I’ve completed an Expedition, but by the time I was done I’d had enough of No Man’s Sky for the time being.

Persona 3 Reload — I went hard at this for a couple days after the leak debacle, loved it, then got distracted. Really would like to get back to it.

Skull & Bones — Unlike the rest of the Internet, I love this game. Even wrote a post about it.

Helldivers 2 — Unlike the rest of the Internet, I don’t like this game much. Buyer’s remorse over this one. To be fair, the fault here is mine. It isn’t billed as anything other than a co-op game but after seeing a YouTube video on “Tips for playing Helldivers 2 solo” I got it in my head that I could play it solo. And while technically you can, there’s a bit of luck involved in getting a game session to yourself, and then it is NOT balanced for solo play.

Survivalboxes — I bought 3 PC survivalbox games in the past 5 weeks: Palworld, Enshrouded and Nightingale. Then never played any of them much. FOMO was getting at me big time. I need to stop that; I don’t have piles of cash laying around to spend on games I’m not playing. But I do WANT to play all of these so it’s not really a buyer’s remorse situation. Just I need to be more frugal.

The NPC Puck from Nightgale

Dead Island 2 — This hit Game Pass and I figured what the heck, let’s give it a go. And y’know, it was OK. Super gory, super cheesy and often fairly funny. They lean into the fact that it takes place in Hollywood, with all its unique (and wealthy) personalities. And here’s a thing: It has Alexa Voice Commands built in, and they work pretty well. You can say “Select my best weapon” and poof, your best weapon is at hand. The only real issue with Dead Island 2 is that it came to Game Pass right about the time that Dying Light 2 got a big update that added guns to the game which led me to…

Screenshot from Dead Island 2 showing globs of blood in the air from hitting a zombie, which is almost off-screen. Trying to keep the post from being too gross
I’m sure it’s just ketchup!

Dying Light 2 — I wanted to check out the guns update, but couldn’t remember how to play. So I started a new game and it kind of stuck… so now I’m playing Dying Light 2, I guess. I tried to split my time between this and Dead Island 2 but my brain got too confused and I kept trying to use the controls on one game while playing the other game. 🙂

Let me compare and contrast Dead Island 2 and Dying Light 2 for you. DI2 has more of a sense of humor and feels generally “lighter” (at least in the start) than Dying Light 2. (Though both games are incredibly gory so “light” is used relatively here.) DI2 doesn’t have the intense parkour system (which can cause motion sickness in some people, including me if I don’t stay in practice) that DY2 has. DI2 lets you pick from a few pre-made characters with different abilities, while in DL2 you always play a dude named Aidan. DI2 has a shared stash so you can trade gear between characters if you want to run an alt. The parkour stuff is the biggest different. If you wanted to play a zombie bashing game but Dying Light 2 made you queasy due to its first person parkour, Dead Island 2 might be of interest.

Watching

Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix) — We’d started this last month, when I was a bit concerned about how much time was spent on the sexual depravities of the various Usher family members. I said then that I hoped we’d get past that soon, and in fact we did. We liked this series more and more as it went on and the mystery became more clear. It’s only 8 episodes and is a complete story with no loose ends or dangling bits for them to tie a season 2 onto. It was creepy, gory, and overall, a lot of fun.

Bodies (Netflix) — Murder mystery with a time travel twist! This is a mini-series (that’s what we used to call ’em anyway) about a body that keeps showing up in a particular alley in London, about every 51 years, and the various detectives who investigate it. We went into this one pretty much blind and were delighted. We really enjoyed it, but it does mess with your head a good bit. There were points where we were like “I have no idea what is happening, but I love it!”

Halo 2, Season 2 (Paramount+) — This one is still on-going and I sorta wish we’d gone back to re-watch S1 again. But so far, so good.

Ghosts, Season…3? (Paramount+) — We don’t watch a lot of comedy shows, but this one keeps us entertained.

Attack on Titan (Crunchyroll) — I dunno why I got it in my head to watch this show. I’d watched S1 back when it was the hot new thing and found it vaguely disturbing. But with it being finished I went back to S1 and watched all 4 seasons and I guess I’m glad I did…I think? It was this weird situation where I didn’t really like it, but I was curious enough about WTF was happening that I kept pushing forward. But man, it has been a long time since I watched a show with such a large cast of characters, all of whom were completely unlikable to me. Usually if I watch 4 seasons of a show like this I’m a little sad when it ends because there’re a least a couple of characters that I’ll miss. But not here!

I struggled more and more as we got closer to the end. I don’t want to go into why for fear of spoilers. Maybe I’ll do a little post about it. But overall, really glad to be done with it and would never, ever watch it again. I did like the world building and the mystery of the titans quite a bit, but I felt like overall the show moved really slowly and I hated most of the characters. I think maybe we were supposed to hate them. I think the overall message was “Humans are awful and the planet would be better off without them.” Cheerful stuff!

Reading

No Reading to speak of this month.

So that’s February and good riddance. Hoping March will be better. Think it will be, but I don’t want to jinx things!!

I’m Enjoying Skull & Bones

Back in the stone age, Ubisoft announced that they were making a stand-alone pirate game based on the ship-to-ship combat in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. I was ecstatic because I LOVED that part of Black Flag. As time passed the game (Skull & Bones, just to be clear) kept changing focus. There was going to be a single player campaign (yay) and then there was not.  At one point it sounded like it was going to be an esports title. It was going to be open PvP all the time (boo!) and then it was not. It got delayed approximately 5,429,232 times and by the time it started to seem like it was really going to launch I had completely lost track of what it was supposed to be. I did know the single player stuff had been scrapped which killed a lot of my interest.

View from the crows nest

There was an open beta a while back and I downloaded it, fired it up and lasted about 10 minutes because it just didn’t feel good, and I was immediately annoyed by reading all the dumb gamertags/player names. As far as I could tell wind direction had no bearing on sailing my ship and I kept hitting a boundary where I was leaving the mission area. It was just a bad experience. When the game finally launched, I ignored it aside from raising an eyebrow at the generally mediocre reviews it was getting (as I write this it has a score of 64 on Metacritic). Then Ubisoft announced a free trial and for some reason I figured, what the heck, let’s give it one more try. I was surprised to find that the trial was a generous 8 hours long.

There’s a free trial

When I jumped into the trial I was immediately disappointed. For one thing, my open beta character was still there; a character I had spent like 30 seconds customizing because hey, it’s a beta who cares? (In fairness Ubisoft did tell us progress would carry over, I just wasn’t paying that much attention.) There was no way to reset/restart, either. I wound up watching a YouTube video of someone else playing the intro to re-familiarize myself. When I logged in I was on a dock somewhere and I was unimpressed both with how my character looked and how he moved. Then as I was trying to follow the tutorial steps (I hadn’t even made it out of the tutorial in the beta) some bug hit me where I was constantly being told that my death warrant with some faction had been rescinded. I closed the game again and went on social media to tell everyone what a train wreck it was.

Following a bigger ship through a narrow channel
Sunday afternoon traffic. I wish this guy would pull over so I can pass!

But then the next day I tried again and I’m not even sure why. But I played until I actually got to the title screen! And then I played some more. I upgraded to a proper ship with cannons and put out to sea and…

The magic was back. That old wooden ships and iron men magic. Once again I was firing broadsides (OK this little ship has 2 cannons on each side and 2 forward chasers so not sure you can call that a broadside) and having to time things with the heaving of the ship due to the swells. And wind definitely has a huge bearing on battles, thank goodness. The ‘boundary’ that a fight had to take place in was gone, though so far most of my battles have taken place in the straits between islands, but at least it isn’t a big imaginary marker in the sea. Yes there were other players on the seas with me, but that wasn’t so bad and more than once I’d see someone getting pounded and rush in to try to help; something I could do without grouping or communicating. And though the land graphics are definitely dated, I find the at-sea graphics to be very pleasing.

I used up 4-5 of the free trial hours before I said “Heck with it” and bought the game.

I like it, but…

Now all that said, I do agree with the few reviews I’ve read. The game is buggy and the character models are really dated, as is just walking around on land. I can’t comment on the end game, which is also getting some heat. There is no specific narrative and no specifically single player content, but you can definitely just go it alone (I’m sure there are parts that will require a group but I haven’t gotten that far yet). Think of it almost like Destiny. It does not feel like a game that should be $70 and a big part of why I was OK with purchasing is I happened to have enough Sony Reward Points to cash in for a $50 PSN card, which I did. So Skull & Bones cost me $20+tax out of pocket.

Corpses hung for display in a new overlooking the channel
Glad I checked this place out from far away, I don’t think they like pirates there

While there isn’t a campaign per se, there is a story of sorts. In the intro of the game you’re in an unwinnable battle and after it you are rescued by a couple of sailors in a dhow (basically a dingy with a sail). For whatever reason they put you in charge and now you have to make a name for yourself. You wind up in Sainte Anne, a pirate refuge run by John Scurlock, who has a deal with someone back in New York. He sends goods in exchange for weapons. And it just so happens he needs pirate captains to help acquire these goods, but first you have to make a name for yourself. And off you go.

That said though, most of the story is going to be the one you tell in your head and by your actions, supported by quite a bit of lore found in the form of notes and letters left strewn about.

A view from the helm
The view from the helm, though I usually play from a 3rd person viewpoint

I will survive

Surprisingly, there’s a little survivalbox in Skull & Bones. Everything you need to become a famous pirate has to be crafted from materials. Some of these materials you’ll find floating around. Others you’ll get from the wreckage of ships you destroy. But some of it you get by exploring and harvesting. You generally harvest from the ship which is a little odd but there ya go. There’s a mini-game involved which is at least different from typical survivalbox games, but  I can’t decide if this is an improvement or not. There’s also a progression of better tools you need to craft in order to gather better materials in order to make better gear. Having played Palworld and Enshrouded recently this felt very familiar.

It doesn’t take very much time before you’re sailing around, listening to the crew sing shanties, meeting various factions and getting quests from them and generally living the pirate life. I found I could re-customize my character so I could ditch the bad decisions I made in open beta. There’s a lot of emphasis on bling for both you and your ships, and there are a few currencies for this, one of which you can buy for real-world cash. They emphasize this is all just cosmetic but I haven’t really looked into it to see if that is true. I feel like a lot of the game is about earning a cool look for yourself so buying it feels like cheating myself. (A lot of Ubisoft games, including the AC games, have a similar system that I’ve never felt the urge to utilize.)

There’s more on-land content than I expected. I was rewarded for exploring various outposts in terms of finding materials, lore items and quest givers. I don’t think there is any on-land combat. In fact the only personal combat I’ve seen is harpooning things when you’re in the little dhow that you start off in (and even after you get a better ship, at least one mission required using the dhow).

The spectre of death

I was sunk once and found that when you sink everything in your ship’s hold is left at the place of your death and apparently anyone can pick that up. That seemed to be the only death penalty, at least at low levels. You do have a magical warehouse where you can store goods; magical in that many small outposts have a “cache” which is connected to that warehouse so you can store/retrieve things from it. So if you get some really valuable loot you can nip into an outpost and put that loot in your cache, then retrieve it from the warehouse once you are back in town.

There don’t seem to be any difficulty levels or anything of that nature, but I suppose that is to be expected in an always on-line game.

A crew, in the abstract

Shot of the crew with an arrow pointing at me at the helm
See? There I am at the helm!

This is one of those cases where I’m really enjoying a game that most people seem not to like very much and I don’t really blame them for not liking it. But I love pirate lore and I LOVED the ship combat in Black Flag and the combat here feels just as satisfying. I’ve seen people suggest that Sea of Thieves is a better pirate game and it might be if you have a crew to sail with, but I don’t. Sea of Thieves limits me to the smallest ships (unless something has changed since that game launched) since each part of sailing (steering, trimming sales, repairs, anchoring, loading and firing weapons) has to be done by a human and if you’re alone you just can’t do it all on a bigger ship. Anyway in Skull & Bones I am a captain and I command a crew so I have no such limits.

Crafting system showing that we're making grilled hippo
Listen this hippo attacked ME first so it feels OK to eat it

Speaking of the crew, they are basically represented by a stamina bar. Trimming the sails uses stamina, and sailing with full sails drains it constantly (you raise/lower sails by tapping a button and there are several presets between “sails down” and “fly every inch of canvas”). I am not sure yet if firing the guns uses stamina. You can feed the crew to give them a stamina buff (you get food by harvesting/cooking it). I like this mechanic of abstracting the crew to this extent. I don’t have to futz around with hiring a crew, but they still have a bearing on battles. (Slightly disappointing is that boarding another ship is completely a hands-off affair.)

So I like it, but will you?

Anyway this is all based on just 4-5 hours of playing. I would NOT recommend anyone run out and buy Skull & Bones but I do think it’s worth downloading and taking the 8 hour trial for a spin. If you do, play long enough that you get your first proper ship with cannons and do a couple of missions. The prologue/tutorial does NOT do a good job of representing the game; in fact I’d say it actively hurts the game. If you enjoyed the combat in Black Flag, you might find this is actually a Buy for you. Though even then, might be best to wait for a sale or at least until we see how well supported/patched it’ll be. I’m writing this at 9 PM ET and it’s because the servers are down for maintenance which is both a little annoying and maybe a little encouraging. At least they’re working on things!

[UPDATE: After I posted this I read some more reviews/thoughts on the game, and it seems a lot of people are disappointed that Skull & Bones is JUST a ship-to-ship combat game. They wanted sword fighting and burying treasure and such. That’s a 100% valid criticism. For me personally, I have dozens of sword fighting games, but not very many games about age of sail combat. So S&B is offering me something I’m personally very interested in, but I certainly get why this wouldn’t be for everyone.]

Sailing the dhow into the sunset

The Leak

Preface: The following post is a personal diary/timeline of dealing with a leak in our apartment. I’m just posting it to remind myself why we need to move. Probably not of much interest to most!

Tuesday, January 30th 2024 — I notice the carpet in front of the utility room floor is damp. The utility room floor seems basically dry though. This happened a few days after a freak warm, very wet spell caused us to fire up the air conditioning in January and I came to the conclusion that that A/C condensation drain had backed up and spilled over, which has happened in the past. We used a carpet cleaner and some towels to pull up as much of the water as we could and directed a large fan at the wet spot. Figured that was the end of it.

Wednesday, Jan. 31st — In the morning the carpet had gotten more wet. So much for the A/C hypothesis. We contacted building maintenance. They came over quite promptly, looked around and decided they needed to call a plumber. The plumbers also arrived pretty quickly. They disconnected the hot water heater so they could move it and get behind it. After an hour or so they told us the leak was “in the slab” and they’d have to come back to fix it. The utility room floor is concrete and the water line runs up through the concrete, and the leak, they said, was below the surface of the concrete. This means they have to break up the concrete to get to the pipe to fix the leak. This is not good news. They leave. Then a water extraction team arrives, uses a super powerful vacuum to suck up the water, they pull up the edge of the carpet and stick the outflow of a large fan under it. These things are LOUD and basically the whole carpet starts billowing up which puzzles the heck out of Lola. They leave. We wait. Near the end of the day we contact maintenance who tells us they “have to get approval from corporate” to fix the leak due to the cost. What the hell? It isn’t an optional repair unless you’re going to condemn the apartment! Then they tell us the plumbers and someone called “Leak Finders” will be arriving the next day. So now we’re living with 2 fans running and basically have to shout to hear each other speak.

Carpet drying fan similar to the one our guys used. They lift an edge of the carpet and stick the outflow under it.

Thursday, Feb. 1st — Nothing happens except the carpet water extraction team comes back. This time they take the door of the utility room off its hinges, pull up more of the carpet and tack it down around the fan, creating a really efficient ‘tunnel’ to fight the flood. We tell the maintenance guys no one has come and they assure us the experts have been called and we should sit tight. Another night of extremely loud fans.

Friday, Feb 2nd — Carpet water extraction team comes yet again, expresses disbelief that the leak is still active. They’re like family by this point. “See ya guys, have a great weekend.” AGAIN we tell maintenance that nothing has happened and they express surprise that no one has been out, even though we’d told them, several times, that no one had. At almost 5 pm some dude rolls up to check out the leak. He wrecks the set up the water extraction team had made (not really his fault, he had to get in and out of the utility room) and tells us the leak is in the slab. Exactly the same thing we’d been told on Wednesday. He leaves. Nothing from maintenance, until I see the head guy walking towards his car to leave for the weekend so I collar him. He tells me they have had a meeting “with corporate” to advise them of the situation and are waiting to hear back. He assures me that he’s going to be in on Saturday and so is the person in the leasing office we’ve been working with, and we’ll get an update then. He also says that we will probably have to relocate while the work gets done. For how long? No idea? 2 days? 2 weeks? 2 months? Not a clue. Another night of loud fans.

Saturday, Feb 3rd — Nothing happens. We finally call the leasing office (the maintenance guy never showed, or if he did he got in and out without talking to us) and they ask if our carpet is wet. What the F? Our carpet is soaked and it has been wet since Tuesday. They act like this is a surprise. We say yes and they say they’ll get the water extraction emergency team out. At about 5 pm some dude shows up with a giant dehumidifier. This thing is big enough that it is on wheels and it has an outflow pipe that has to drain somewhere, so he sets it up outside the bathroom that is off the kitchen. It too is loud. The guy leaves. The water continues to spread. I think about what our electric bill is going to be this month. We’re trying to hold it back with towels and the carpet cleaner (which sucks up some of the water but not much). We start searching for a new apartment and find something that sounds good to both of us. We send off an email to learn more.

Sunday, Feb 4th — The water has spread to where you can no longer skirt around it. As you walk across our living room the carpet is wet enough that water squishes up between your toes, like some kind of urban swamp. I start packing our stuff up. We do our best to hold back the advance using the carpet cleaner but it’s like bailing out a boat with a teacup, while the boat is still leaking.

Monday, Feb 5th — Carpet team came. Different team from last week. Last week’s team was excellent. Today’s was useless. All they did was turn up the dehumidifier. At this point the water is about 50% across the living room floor. We’ve moved everything we can but we’re out of room (we have a lot of stuff). Then maintenance shows up with someone “to get a 2nd opinion” even though 2 different plumbing teams visited last week. They decide to go check the next door apartment (since sometimes their leaks seep under the walls into our apartment) and then melt away without offering any further insight. Next, two trucks from a place called Leak Locators roll up. They go in to the utility closet. One of them is a real leak whisperer. He turns off all the fans and listens. “I don’t hear anything”. Then THEY go next door. Everyone is stumped until they hook up an air tank to the water line and pressurize it, and I clearly hear gurgling coming from the utility closet. The culprit is a single 1/2″ cold water line that runs to the downstairs bathroom. Of course these guys aren’t here to actually FIX it, they just find it. So now we wait, again, for the plumbers to come and fix it. Everyone seems to think they can “Just cap that line off and run it above ground” meaning they won’t have to break up the concrete slab. Once again, the waiting begins… we still are flooded, though.

Monday afternoon, everything shifted. First a team came to cut a hole in the sheetrock so they could dry out inside the walls, and to replace the carpet. Which seemed odd considering the leak was still leaking but whatevs. They needed me to move the entertainment center which was still all wired up, so I frantically started tearing out plugs and cables and moving stuff into the kitchen or far corners of the living room. I just about got that done when yet another plumbing team arrived, this one was here to actually fix the problem. But no one had told them exactly what the issue was. Fortunately I am nosy and had asked the earlier team what was going to have to happen, and I conveyed this info, best I could since I speak English and he spoke Spanish, to the head plumber dude. I tried to get the maintenance staff to come over and talk to these guys but they were AWOL. It took a few hours and a LOT of removed sheetrock but eventually, the leak was fixed! But this was not the end of the adventure. Now we need sheetrock replaced, carpets replaced and basically the apartment put to rights. But at least at this point things were no longer getting WORSE. The plumbers left but the carpet/sheetrock crew did not return, though to be fair it was pretty late in the day by that point. Monday night I spent both purging junk and trying to figure out how/where to move stuff to let them get at as much of the damaged carpet as they need to. Not sure if it’ll be possible.

Tuesday, Feb 6th — As we start the day, no leak, the carpet is semi-dry but disgusting. Inside the utility closet lots of sheetrock has been removed. Bright and early a team arrives to rectify the latter issue. Right behind them comes the plumber. But a different plumber. They are surprised to learn the leak is now fixed. Long story short, the plumbing team who’d showed up Monday is NOT the plumbing team maintenance had expected and now frankly I don’t know who they were! But the fix was inspected and deemed to be solid work so I don’t really care at this point. (I THINK they were affiliated with the sheetrock guys since they all seemed to know each other.)

Next step is the carpet. Management would like to replace the entire carpet but we have so much stuff and no room to put it that it isn’t really viable, so with our OK they’ve decided to patch it. The new carpet will not match the old but we’ll just live with that for now. We still expect to move soon and after we’re out they’ll no doubt replace the whole thing. Bad news is we’re not sure when the carpet repairs will happen and until they do we can’t really put things back to normal. In fact it looks like we’re going to have to move even more stuff for the patching and I’m not sure WHERE we’ll put stuff. We have TOO MUCH JUNK!

Anyway by about 3:00 pm the utility closet was patched and repainted & the door re-hung. Crew did a good job. Bad news was that the carpet guys wouldn’t be out until Thursday. I was hoping for Wednesday but we’ll manage another day of chaos. With no more work until Thursday I put the TV back and hook up the PS5 and put Lola’s bed back to its customary place in front of the TV (which she definitely appreciates) and we have a relatively normal evening.

Wednesday, Feb 7th — Things are feeling semi-normal. With the utility closet completed and the door back on the place was feeling a little less industrial. The only plan for the day was that a crew was going to come and take away the dehumidifier and I’ll be glad to see the end of that monstrosity. My plan for the day was to shuffle around more stuff to make it easier for the crew to patch the carpet, and once again disconnect the PS5 and the TV so we can move the entertainment center out of the way.

Picture of a giant dehumidifier in our living room
Lola included for scale…and because I didn’t want to bother her 🙂

Thursday, Feb 8th — We’d been assured this was the day that the carpet would be patched and we could start returning to normal. I woke up early and moved furniture, jamming everything into one big block on the side of the room and… waited. No one showed. After arguing with @partpurple [she is very much about trusting the process and assuming people will do what they said they would do, I am very much about checking in and nudging things along] about it, we finally contacted the leasing office to find out what was going on at about 11:30. They told us they’d call the company and let us know what was happening and then… more of nothing happening.

After lunch @partpurple went over and wouldn’t leave until she got an update. She was told the carpet team would definitely be there by 3 or to let them know. 3 came around, no team. She called them and was told “they’re just finishing up and they’ll be right over.” They never arrived, of course. We called, we went over. We were told over and over that they’ll be there soon, right up until 6 PM. Maintenance told me “We’re doing everything we can, we have one company we’re approved to use and we’re at their mercy.” I have no idea if this was true or not. End result though, no one showed and another day was lost.

Friday, Feb 9th — Today the story changes once again. Now we’re told the carpet company needs some kind of release form before they can do work in an occupied apartment. This is the first we’ve heard about this. The property manager has to sign it, but our property manager is out of work with a broken ankle so… once again we are screwed. Now this property is trying to get a sister property’s property manager to sign (they say — at this point I don’t believe a word coming out of their mouths because their story changes like the weather).

A few hours later we get notified that the mystery form is signed and in the hands of the carpet company so they’re willing to do the work. Now they were going to try to get the crew out and we should stand by for an update.

A few hours after that, no update so we nagged them again. And were told the Supervisor (of the carpet company I guess?) ‘admitted they dropped the ball’ and were trying to expedite a crew to come out.

And FINALLY at about 1 pm, a truck rolls up and a couple guys come in to patch the carpet. They were done and gone well before 2 PM, so we spent like 3 days arguing to get guys to come do less than an hour’s worth of work.

What a debacle. But finally we were dealing with stuff we could control. We’d decided to get a new table for the entertainment center. It arrives near 5 pm and @partpurple spends the evening putting it together, finishing near midnight.

Saturday, Feb 10th — I get up early and start setting up the entertainment center again, a bit more thoughtfully than the hodgepodge we use to have. I did some basic cable management and opted to remove devices we hardly use. By about noon I’m done and from there things are more or less back to normal.

Sunday, Feb 11th — We rest, and on Monday things are basically back to normal.

January 2024

Happy End of January for those who celebrate it. I’m never very happy about any month ending that gets me CLOSER to summer heat. Hell as I’m writing this it’s already warm enough I’m contemplating turning on the A/C. In freakin’ January. [Update: We DID have to turn it on as it was 75F in our bedroom and neither of us can sleep when it’s that warm. Since then it has cooled back down some.]

But before I amble too far down the “humans are destroying the planet” lane, let’s talk about games. I’m still deep in the rebound after finishing a couple of long games in early December. If y’all remember I was trying to stick to a small selection of titles until I finished them all. I made it to finishing two of them, then kind of exploded and that explosion continues. I played way too many games this month to list them all so I’ll just select some of the highlights.

Playing:

Horizon Forbidden West – I loved Horizon Zero Dawn and have played through it twice (replaying a game is something that I very rarely do) but for some reason had bounced off Horizon Forbidden West twice before this new attempt. Well I say “for some reason” but bounce #1 was because when I first started playing I couldn’t remember who any of the returning characters were, which elicited that replay of Horizon Zero Dawn I mentioned. And by the time I’d put 100 hours into that replay I was just kind of tired of bows and mechanical beasts and needed a break. But for bounce #2, I just sort of drifted off.
Alloy crouches in grass while scanning a machine

This time, I’m determined to finish and I’m much farther in than I’ve been before. And while I’m enjoying it, I’m not enjoying it as much as I did the first game. Not sure why…might be a case of more being less. I don’t remember HZD being this expansive and I just tend to lose focus among all the points of interest and side activities. I am also not finding the loot system all that compelling and machines respawn REALLY quickly which can be tedious if you’re trying to explore an area. You barely get the spot to yourself and the darned machines respawn. Last in my grumping, the combat system seems way more focused on matching elemental damage to elemental parts of the machine you’re fighting, which means you need to haul around a truck load of weapons so you have the right kind for each machine you encounter. I refuse to do that, so fights tend to be really lengthy for me.

Like I say, I AM enjoying it but I am not feeling compelled to play every single day in the same way I was for HZD. That in turn kind of dilutes the story since it can be weeks (real time) between story beats and I lose interest in the narrative. Interestingly, I had a very similiar experience with Red Dead Redemption (which I positively ADORED) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (which I bounced off of and never finished). Maybe I should just start avoiding sequels.

Hardlight: Shipbreaker – I talked about this one last month but I’m still trucking along and still enjoying myself. The in-game work shifts last 15 minutes which makes it a good game to play before dinner or something. A long session for me is maybe 3 shifts, then it starts to feel a little repetitive, but by the next day I’m ready for more. I just find it really fun to scan a ship and figure out the most efficient and safest way to get it to break apart. I am not sure I’ll finish it, but I’m still going to keep playing for now.

Here’s a recording of a single shift:

Nobody Saves The World – This is a 2D action game where you roam around an overworld looking for dungeons to clear. The twist is that you start as a very generic hollow-eyed nobody, and as you play you unlock new “forms” that you can morph into. Each form has unique attacks, and they’re very diverse. I’ve been a rat, a knight, a ranger, a slug and a horse (among others). It starts pretty simple but eventually you unlock the ability to mix and match skills and damage types (certain enemies are only vulnerable to specific damage types). It’s a highly rated game and I enjoyed it for a while, but I may be done now.

Combat example from Nobody Saves the World. I am playing as a slug.

This is a case of “It’s not you (the game), it’s me.” I generally am not a fan of 2D cartoony action games so the fact I’ve played as much as I have says something about the quality of the title. Plus the art style, which I don’t know the name of, but it’s that deliberately low-fi style that is popular in adult animation today, is not really my thing. Still for a game I got on PS Plus, I got maybe 7 hours of fun out of it. Not going to force myself to keep playing, though.

Snowrunner – I pulled back a bit from Snowrunner for a while, but towards the end of the month I started getting back into it. Last I looked I was at 125 hours or so and FINALLY finished the first area. Or as much of it as I plan to finish. Each map has 1 or more “Contests” that are time-based and the LAST thing I want to do in Snowrunner is feel rushed. The whole vibe of the game is slow and chill, at least for me. What caused my interest to wane were some logging contracts which just got tedious as I had to haul several loads of heavy logs (which means I was going slow, even by Snowrunner standards) along the same route. I’ve since learned there’s a better way to do this but I just got bored doing those contracts and kind of drifted away. But finally done, I’ve left Michigan behind and have moved on to Alaska where there is actually SNOW!

Palworld – I caught the bug like 7 million other people. I have never played a Pokemon game but so far I’m enjoying Palworld, which seems to me like some twisted parody of Pokemon. There’s a million people talking about this game so I won’t spend a lot of time on it, but just know that this is a game where you bludgeon cute creatures into submission, make them work for you, and maybe decide “Eh, what the hell, I’ll just eat them.”

Enshrouded – About a day after Palworld hit Early Access, Enshrouded did as well. This is another survivalbox game and I need to buy two of these at once like I needed another hole in my head, but the voxel-based building system grabbed me. My immediate reaction to it has been pretty positive and I’m looking forward to seeing how the game evolves as it moves through Early Access.

I haven’t spend a ton of time with either of these last two because, as is typical of me, no sooner did I purchase them than something else grabbed my attention (this time, it was going back to Horizon Forbidden West).

Watching:

Apple TV+: Monarch: Legacy of Monsters S1 and For All Mankind S4 both finished this month and we enjoyed them both. If you’re a Godzilla fan you gotta watch Legacy, and For All Mankind covers the Space Race if it had played out very differently and never ended. In the fiction of For All Mankind we’re now at something like 2010 and we already have a permanent base on Mars.

Disney+: Echo is a ‘street level hero’ Marvel show that we went into with pretty modest expectations but wound up really loving. The main character, Maya, is a member of the Choctaw tribe, and is deaf, and the show kind of explores both those facets or her life in a very interesting way. She was also raised by Wilson Fisk to be one of his main henchpeople, and she is a total badass. It’s short (only 5 episodes) which I think was a good call as every episode feels significant. Really a good show.

Netflix: The Fall of the House of Usher was a show I wanted to watch last Halloween but never got around to it. We’re not very far into it but so far it’s delightfully creepy. My only real complaint is a bit too much emphasis on the sexual appetites of each of the filthy rich Usher family members. Everyone seems to be coercing (seemingly, at least…I suppose some of them may be willing) some underling into being a sex partner. Hopefully now that the show runners have made their point we can move on and focus on the spooky stuff.

Reading:

Slowly making my way through The Sword of Destiny, one of the Witcher books. But really not doing a lot of reading lately.

Other

I dunno where this fits, but I suddenly developed in interest in how videos are made. Maybe it was watching a YouTuber recap a ‘season’ of his videos and talking about all the things he needed to learn to make them. But I’ve been started to noodle around with this in the tinest way. I’ve embedded a couple of clips in the post, just for laughs.

And those are January’s highlights. I’m looking forward to the Persona 3 Remake hitting on February 2nd and plan to jump into that big time. Not far behind that are a few more titles that I’m really interested in: Pacific Drive and Dragon’s Dogma 2. I’ll probably give DD2 some time to age before I jump in, but Pacific Drive might be a day 1 purchase for me. We’ll see. I’m juggling a LOT of games lately!

Hope your January was amazing, and that your February is even better!!

December 2023

Hmm, I just realized that I maybe should be doing an “end of the year” recap but geez that sounds like a lot of work. I did do that ‘year in review‘ post which is more or less the same thing, at least for my gaming, so I’ll just leave it at that and do a regular old monthly recap. Outside of gaming nothing of consequence happened in my life this year, which at my age is a good thing because most consequential changes are bad ones!

Oh, I guess it might be worth noting that I started exercising in VR back in April and though I’ve had some ups and downs I’ve basically stuck with it. Lost some weight but more importantly just feel strongers and more limber. Those old-person groans when getting up off a chair are now a thing of the past. So that’s one good change from this year.

Anyway, Happy New Year to all who happen upon this post! Now on to the December recap!

Playing

I came in hot this month, finishing both Persona 4 (loved it) and Final Fantasy XVI (hated it) in a single weekend. The plan was to then jump back into The Witcher 3 and Starfield but… I didn’t. I just wasn’t ready to hop back into more 100+ hour games. Well, maybe they’re that long. I haven’t finished either so I don’t really know. So I started game grazing…

First, I jumped into playing Weird West on the PS5 because it was a game I was interested in that HAD been on XBox Game Pass but left that service, and then subsequently was added to Playstation Plus Extra. I figured before it left there, too, I should play it.  I really WANT to like this game but I just don’t. I lasted about 8 hours before uninstalling it.

My biggest issue is the difficulty variability. The set up is that you’re a bounty hunter in a version of the old west that is just rotten with supernatural baddies. You have a quest line, side quests, semi-random bounties to pursue, random treasures to find. All of which sounds good. But when you accept one of these activities there’s no way to determine how difficult it is going to be, and many of them have time limits. Frequently I’d take on a side quest only to find I was completely unprepared to finish it, leaving me with the choice to either fail it (when time ran out) or reload an earlier save. If the designer had just given some kind of difficulty rating to activities it would’ve helped an awful lot.

Screenshot from Weird West showing (well, really NOT showing) my character hiding in a bush in an enemy camp

The other issue is on me: the game relies heavily on stealth and as much as I tell myself I enjoy stealth games, in practice I never have the patience for them. I sneaky-sneak into a camp and stealthily take out one, two, three baddies, then I slip up, alert that camp and get gunned down. Reload and try again. Fail. Reload and try again. Ugh. You’re supposed to be able to Quick Save, and sometimes you can which makes things tolerable, but a few hours in both the Save and Quick Save stopped working unless I was in a safe area. I am not sure if that was a bug or a feature, to be honest, but it was super frustrating.

Anyway I gave it 8 hours at which point I decided I have SO many games I really want to play, and I didn’t purchase this one so… I decided to drop it. If there’s a Weird West 2 I’d definitely still give it a try because I loved the setting and the world; I just didn’t have the patience for all the trial and error it required.

I went back to having a blast in Snowrunner (itself now a 100+ hours and counting game for me) but also kind of exploded all over the place onto PC gaming.

Y’see, I’d been having issues with my dual monitors where my PC would stop recognizing one of them and it would take me all kinds of hoop jumping like uninstalling/reinstalling video drivers to get them both back. I finally got fed up and used this as an excuse to get an ultra wide screen while Black Friday deals were still running. I got the Dell S3422DWG, which I cost me about $350 (regularly $500). It isn’t a super fancy model but it was a big upgrade from 24″ 1920 x 1080 to 34″ 3440 x 1440.

Of course I then discovered that one 34″ monitor does NOT have the same real estate as two 24″ monitors (of course) so I STILL have two monitors, with the better of the older 24″ units sitting in a very tall portrait mode off to one side, but happily the old issue hasn’t returned. {knock on wood}

Anyway I’m digressing all over the place. The end result of all of this is oh my goodness this monitor is a beauty and it makes me want to play PC games! Now my problem is… which PC game to play? I had a run at Astroneer, a game I’d once played a good bit of on the Xbox until I got frustrated with the wonky controls while playing with a gamepad. I had it in my Steam library so fired it up and played it for a few days but even with mouse & keyboard the controls still felt wonky to me, and it was just a little too  sandboxy. I’m not sure what my goal even is. So it was fun for a couple evenings but I moved on.

Example of a Train Valley 2 map

Christmas always triggers an interest in trains for me, as when I was a kid model trains and Christmas trees just went hand-in-hand. So I was delighted when I saw that Krikket was giving away a Steam key for Train Valley 2. This is basically a puzzle game with a transport theme. You have a small-ish map with a several hubs and you have to connect them with tracks and then trigger trains to run from one to the other. Each hub either produces a resource, or converts one (or more) resources into something else, or requires one or several finished products. So for example you connect a log-generating resource to a lumber mill to get boards.

It’s a fairly charming little game that can be played pretty casually (at least the early levels). For more challenge, each map offers a variety of goals, some of which get tricky. My only gripe is I found actually laying the track (which is basically the crux of the game) was kind of finicky, particularly when it came to intersecting two sections of track. Too often just as I released the ‘draw a track’ button things would snap into the wrong spot and I’d have to spend $$ to destroy and rebuild it. In the Steam reviews there are lots of calls for an “Undo” button which I think would improve the game a good bit. Still, it is a fun diversion.

View of the ship I'm breaking down. Full wide-screen image

I guess Krikket is my gaming mentor this month because another game I’ve been playing, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is inspired by her posts. Once again I’m not yet very far into it and honestly I haven’t committed myself to finishing it, but what I’ve played so far is quite entertaining. Krikket’s post will give you a fuller understanding of what the game entails, but basically it’s about cutting up and re-cycling space ships (reminds me of the start of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order), and trying to make a profit while doing so. It’s been a while since I played a game that has you maneuvering around in 3D space, which is definitely fun when it isn’t frustrating. Bonus points for this one as it is on Game Pass, both PC and Xbox, and is cross-play so I can work on the same campaign on both PC and Xbox, depending on my mood.

Screenshot of the ship as I'm about to pass through the open hatch into the interior

And this isn’t all! I dabbled in a few other PC games, and started a few more console games, but this recap is becoming boring to write so it MUST be getting boring to read. If I stick with any of these games (many of which I started just in the past couple days) I’ll include them in the January recap. But the header image gives a clue as to one of them!

Watching

Lots of hold-overs from last month. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and For All Mankind are still running (or if they’re not, we haven’t caught up to their ends yet) and we’re still enjoying both.

New this month is Lessons in Chemistry, a show very different from our normal viewing. It’s about a brilliant chemist (Brie Larson) who, mostly due to the patriarchal snobbery of her time (it takes place in the 50s) leaves her lab coat behind and becomes the star of a cooking show. It’s really good, and it feels like a ‘one season and done’ show that tells a complete story (it’s based on a novel). Very sweet story.

As for my ‘me time’ viewing, I’m still grinding through Attack on Titan but I’ve been watching a LOT of year end and Steam sale gaming recaps, primarily concerning strategy games that I’ll probably never play but think I would enjoy playing if I’d just devote the time to them. It’s always that lack of time that trips me up… maybe if I didn’t watch hour long ‘year in gaming’ YouTube recaps I’d have more time to spend playing, eh? I don’t know what it is about these videos I find so compelling but they are something I look forward to at the end of the year.

Reading

A Christmas Carol because I read it every year at Christmas. 🙂

So I guess it’s time to say farewell to 2023 and brace ourselves for whatever new disaster 2024 has in store for us. Expect the worst and hope for the best, right?