Category Archives: Entertainment

Music, books, movies, etc.

The Summer of Harry Potter Wrap-up

Okay, so the Summer of Harry Potter became the Autumn of Harry Potter, which became the Winter of Potter, because I’m a slow reader. It also went that way because I had a hard time getting through those last two books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a slog. It ditches the whole Hogwarts setting for… camping. Aimlessly looking for horcruxes. Hiding from Death Eaters. It ditches the prophecy leading to the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort for some wand magic rules that weren’t important to the rest of the series until this last chapter. It reveals that Snape was actually good the entire time and gives him a most ignoble death for all of his sacrifices. It denies redemption for Draco and all other Slytherins, and some of the worst characters, like Dolores Umbridge, never get their due. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a bad book and a terrible end to the series.

Over the series, I’ve learned that Harry is the worst character, the rest of the cast isn’t much better, and Neville is the only character with any development. They’re largely brats who don’t learn anything except what they’re taught in wizard school. Neville, on the other hand, learns confidence and leadership, and even he immediately defers to Harry when he’s around, despite Harry proving to be an awful leader. And it’s like the whole prophecy introduced in Order of the Phoenix was meaningless. It teases the possibility that Voldemort got it wrong, that Neville is the one who will defeat him, and immediately forgets about it. Neville was never going to be the one. Voldemort choose Harry and he was right.

And Voldemort. Voldemort is an idiot, not a menace. How does he not know that someone is destroying his horcruxes until it’s waaaaaay too late? It’s obvious he notices when one is destroyed. Did he think those were accidents??? And he never suspects that Snape is not working for him. He kills Snape over the Elder Wand, not because he’s spent decades in Dumbledore’s service. I can’t really figure out how he got so many followers. He uses dark magic and kills people, two things that seemingly any wizard can do.

Speaking of dark magic, it seems that dark magic is a very bad thing until Harry and his friends use it. They use the Imperio curse to break into Gringotts to steal a horcrux, with the intention of screwing over the goblin that helps them steal it. None of that is good! And throughout the series, Harry uses dark magic, sometimes intentionally, to get things done, so how is he so different from Voldemort?

The series peaks with Order of the Phoenix. That’s when Neville didn’t trip all over himself, the department of mysteries makes the wizarding world actually wondrous, and real sacrifices happen. Everything afterward was a downhill slope to a poor end. I’m not happy about being such a downer about it, but at least I’ve experienced what Harry Potter brought to SFF. But please don’t ask me to finish the dreadful movie series.

Thoughts on Patreon changes

Patreon is changing how they charge patrons for their pledges in a confusing way that’s probably going to hurt creators in the short term. I’m not a creator. I’m a patron, pledged to six creators that don’t always produce a pledge charge monthly.

The change is explained here in language that isn’t particularly clear. The gist of it is that instead of charging me what I’ve pledged and taking their service fees out of what they pay to my creators, they’re going to charge me what I’ve pledged, plus a flat fee, plus a percentage per pledge to cover those service fees. This ultimately gives my creators and Patreon more money at my expense.

The bottom line is that I don’t know what I’m going to be charged next month to support the creators I’ve pledged to. Some of them are charged per month, some of them are charged per item produced, and I don’t know if those per-pledge charges are going to be applied to each item produced or once per creator.

Last month, I spent $17 supporting creators on Patreon. I can look at the list of charges and what each pledge was and it simply adds up to $17. By my math, with the same pledges, Patreon is going to charge me an additional $2.25 or $2.60 depending on how they apply the fees.

I can shoulder the additional cost. The money isn’t a big deal. The problem is that they’ve instantly added 15% to what I’m spending supporting Patreon creators. And the smaller the pledge, the more their fees are adding to it. For the odd $1 pledge, they’ve added charges equal to 37.9% of what I’m already paying. If you’re a patron with a lot of $1 pledges to many creators, congratulations; your charges are going to go up by more than a third of what you previously paid.

This sudden increase is sure to cause patrons to reevaluate how many pledges they’re willing to make monthly, particularly those with low dollar amounts. That $0.35 flat fee per pledge is a real killer. I’m personally not going to stop supporting the creators I pledge to on Patreon because most of my pledges are not that small, but this will absolutely cause me to reevaluate the small pledges I do make. I’ve seen some creators trying to come up with different tier costs to reduce the effect of these new charges on their patrons, which is admirable, but Patreon is putting them in a bad position.

Patreon should’ve been more conscious of their creators and they definitely should be more open with patrons about how much their next bill is going to be. The sticker shock next month could really damage their creators’ income for the following month as patrons unhappy about the new charges drop their pledges. It’s billed as a win for creators, and I hope it is, but it feels like it’s going to cause a backlash against them.

Quantum Break

This isn’t a review, but I really like Quantum Break. It’s a qualified kind of like; it has quite a few problems. But I’m really into it overall, and I need to put some words on screen to get some thoughts about it out of my head. There may be spoilers here but I’ll mark them or I’ll put them at the end.

My first impression of the game was very poor. It looked beautiful, it ran terribly. It was barely playable on whatever the default settings were. But what I saw was interesting, and it immediately started with Alan Wake 2 teaser that was absolutely amazing. I love Alan Wake so much that the teaser could’ve kept me going through Quantum Break just for a chance to see another one. I eventually got it running smoothly.

To note, the way I did it was capping the framerate at 30fps, turning off v-sync, and disabling AA. It was disabling AA that got the most obvious benefit. I didn’t go back and try uncapping the framerate or enabling v-sync to see if they’d make any difference.

I kind of view Quantum Break as three separate part; there’s the combat loop, the exploration loop, and the TV show. Where Alan Wake often threw combat in with the exploration, it basically never happens in Quantum Break. However, the combat in Quantum Break is a lot more varied because there’s a greater variety of enemy, and your time powers give you a lot of tools to fight them. Weapon variety is limited to fast shooty or big shooty, but freezing people in time bubbles and dashing around is a lot of fun. Somehow, you can make time explode. I can’t explain it, but it’s cool. Later, there are enemies immune to your time powers and their direct effects (so you can’t freeze them in bubbles) but dashing behind them and time blasting still works. The only time I had much trouble with a fight was at the very end.

A lot of the game is exploration, surprisingly enough. Quantum Break has a lot to say, and it can’t quite say much during combat. The game goes through a lot of locales, and they’re all extremely well built with tons of environmental details. The whole game looks incredible. It doesn’t just look good either because, throughout the game, time is breaking and it gets worse as you go along. Time stops, starts, reverses, speeds up. It’s hella cool. But there in these sequences between combat, there are a ton of emails to read and radio shows to listen to. It’s overwhelming, and really wrecks the pacing. At some point, I committed to finding the collectibles but reading them later, and then I never ended up reading most of them.

Finally, there’s the TV show. Between the five acts, there are four episodes of a 22 minute professionally produce TV show. They’re not about Jack Joyce or any of the protagonists, but from the perspective of the bad guys, which is pretty interesting. It manages to make sympathetic characters of some of them, but it’s almost so deep into the background that is barely touches the game. What’s weird is the “quantum ripples”. These are things you find or do in the game that affect the TV show. However, they’re so incredibly minor that you might miss them if you’re not paying attention. For example, an early one is setting up an audiobook to read over the Monarch radios. Then in the TV show, someone hears that audiobook playing over the radios and remarks “what’s that sound?” and that’s it. Between the TV show and the huge amount of collectible stuff to read, it’s almost as if Quantum Break is trying to draw out the experience as far as possible. It’s not quite a complaint on my behalf, because some games just jam so much action in that I can’t really stand playing them for long before my nerves are shot, but it’s weird to play.

Then we get to the time travel, and here’s where I’m going to get spoilery. What in the fuck is going on with the time travel. It is Primer-esque in its complexity, and I still can’t tell what they’re saying about it. They make a big deal about The End of Time and how it’s unavoidable and it’s a direct result of the fracture. But by the end, Jack has averted or at least significantly delayed the End of Time. This means Serene’s premonitions were wrong from the start, or the timeline can be changed, which goes against every other thing that happens in the game. What I’m lost on is where one timeline breaks from the other and why. Was the End of Time a result of a timeline without Jack working to prevent it? Did the timeline change when Jack retrieved the CFR, or was it when he stopped Serene from preventing him from using it? Also, Serene, more than anyone, is convinced that the timeline is immutable. So how is it that he can make a decision at the end of every act that changes how the next act proceeds? He can clearly see the branching paths and their results before him, and he chooses a path. Why didn’t he just choose a path where he works with Jack and Will to activate the CFR and prevent the End of Time, rather than developing the Lifeboat protocol to eventually, maybe fix time.

Quantum Break’s a wild game, and it’s given me a lot to think about. I’m sort of bummed that it didn’t seem to do well, through a combination of being an Xbox One console exclusive, and the PC port being kind of a mess. I love everything Remedy makes, and I want more of this. And more Alan Wake. I want Remedy to be able to make more cool stuff.


Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter is a game that looked cool on Kickstarter, but I passed on backing it. Then it came out and it still looked cool, but I’d read a lot of comparisons to Zelda and notes on high difficulty, so I passed. Zelda’s not a series I have a lot of love for, and I’m not attracted to games that get a lot of buzz just for being difficult. However, when it got a lot of love during the Giant Bomb game of the year deliberations, I finally took it as a hint that it might be more than Hard Zelda.

The good news is that it is more than Hard Zelda. The action is much more varied and nuanced than classic Zelda. It requires taking a hit-and-run approach more often than not, and the game loves ambushes and overwhelming numbers. It’s a game where I had to be prepared for almost anything because it’d suddenly trap me behind a wall and drop a dozen enemies in the room.

A sorrowful tone permeates the game. The drifter regularly goes into (scripted) coughing fits between fights, leaving behind pools of blood. The landscapes are littered with skeletons and remains and the color palette is muted. It’s style is more Saturday morning cartoon than Warhammer 40K, but still evokes grim imagery. Combined with an amazing Disasterpeace soundtrack, it sets a perfect mood to explore the world, kill monsters, and die slowly.

Where it doesn’t really work is in the story and characters. The only written dialog is in a cypher scrawled on monoliths hidden throughout the world. The rest is conveyed through images; when you talk to anyone that has something to say, you hear sounds but see pictures of what they’re describing. It’s not always clear what the message is. There’s a short cutscene at the start, and a short one at the ending. Between those, if you find enough puzzle pieces in each of the four regions of the world, you’ll get another short cutscene. They’re not particularly revealing. As far as characters go, there’s one other character with any sort of agency. You’ll find them amid a pile of enemy bodies, and they’ll mark where the boss is on your map. Hyper Light Drifter is a lonely game by design, but it suffers from having so many NPCs around that do basically nothing. There’s more in this world, and they’re not saying anything about it.

This is a bummer because it feels like all of this sorrow should have something to say and it just doesn’t. It’s a beautiful, dark game with some fantastic gameplay, but there’s not much to the mystery. It’s only skin deep. But the challenge will get you through it, if you’re hooked by the combat loop, and it’s well worth playing for that reason. I don’t want to play a game that frustrates me, and Hyper Light Drifter nails difficult without getting too close to unfair.

Review: Hacknet [2015]

Way back when, there was this cool game called Uplink. It was a hacking simulator. You bounce your connection off of hacked machines, hide your steps, steal data. It was sort of close to how real hacking works, but it was just different enough and directionless to a point that it was kind of overwhelming. It was a hard game.

Hacknet is something of an Uplink-inspired indie game. It’s terms and tools are much closer to the real world. It’s also quite a bit more straightforward. It’s paced well enough, with a mixture of contract-type hacking jobs, and some narrative missions that lead to a story conclusion. The mission objectives are clear enough that I never failed for incompletion. However, I found some missions were either offered before I had the tools to complete them, or without ever having the tools and forcing me to abort the contract to continue.

To complete missions, you have to combine your tools with your knowledge. An early mission involves a counter-hack. Someone has stolen a file. You need to get on their server, find the file, and delete it. The tools will get you into the server, but you’re on your own for finding the file. Part of it is knowing where to look, and part is knowing what you’re looking for. If you think you’ve got it right, you send a reply to the customer, and get a “contract successful” email. If you didn’t, the game will stop you from replying with a “mission incomplete” screen.

On most servers, there’s no particular danger to browsing around and screwing up. However, some will start tracing your location. If you let the trace catch you, you’re thrown into a minigame in which you have to reset your own IP address by hacking your ISP. It’s on a short timer, so you move from the intense countdown of the trace, to an even more intense countdown before you’re disconnected. It’d make for some really cool moments, if it were a little better explained the first time it happens. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what to do, so I kind of just sat there until I lost. Not great.

But the highs of the game are rather high. It’s fun to try to solve the puzzles getting into servers, doing it under the timer of the trace, and getting out. Some parts are less developed than others, and the appeal might be limited to people who have an interest in computer security, but it’s a good game for a weekend. Or a day, it really only took me 5 something hours to complete.

Steam Winter Sale 2015

The Steam winter sale is starting tomorrow. It’s kind of the best time to catch up on all of the games you might have missed in the previous year because it’ll probably be on sale. This year is the same in that regard, but there have been changes to how Steam runs annual sales.

Big annual Steam sales used to be pretty complex affairs! There were daily sales, flash sales, community sales, and sometimes more. Now, there will be just one sale price. Everything that is on sale will be at the same discount throughout the entire sale. In effect, everything that is on sale tomorrow will still be on sale up until the sale ends, and with no further discounts. You can run through your wishlist after the sale starts tomorrow and buy everything immediately with the knowledge that you’re not going to miss out on a cheaper price during this sale. You have a wishlist, right? They’re a great way to keep an eye on the price of games you might be interested in.

That said, I’ve pruned my wishlist and I’m ready. Obviously, I won’t be buying everything off of my wishlist, and not everything will be on sale tomorrow. I’m going to get stuff that I missed this year that really interests me, and stuff that I can keep around for rainy days. Here’s a short list of what I hope to pick up tomorrow.

  • Cradle – I love the look and I’m a sucker for a good first-person adventure game.
  • The Magic Circle – Many reviews I’ve read said that there is more to this game than what appears.
  • Axiom Verge – A metroidvania that’s obviously heavily influenced by the 16-bit era. SIGN ME UP
  • Assassin’s Creed: Rogue – I’ll be honest; I kind of hate this series, but I like to keep one on hand in case I need something to fill time until I find something I genuinely enjoy. It’s true, though, that I usually can’t stop playing them once I’ve started.
  • Her Story – I keep threatening to make my wife play an adventure game with me, and this one is getting a lot of kudos.
  • Volume – I loved Thomas was Alone and I like the idea of a lighter stealth game in small bits.
  • Nuclear Throne – Did you play Luftrausers? Because I did and it was fucking rad. I’ll be getting Nuclear Throne whether it’s on sale or not.
  • Mad Max – I’m not super interested in it, but it’s got enough going for it that I’ll probably like it if I start it.
  • Far Cry 4 – Same as Mad Max. If the price is right.
  • Civ: Beyond Earth – One of my fellow contributors at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together loved it, and it’s close enough to Alpha Centauri.

Squishy post-script: The change in the way Steam conducts their sales is (to me) kind of a bummer. I love the annual sales as much for the daily game discussions and recommendations as I do the cheap games. The daily changes to the deals gave me a reason to check the store page every day, every 12 hours, every 8 hours, or however often they changed. It also lent to common topics of discussion as people could talk about what the new sales were. As the autumn sale demonstrated to me, most of the discussion will simply happen at the start of the sale and not really long afterward.

I’m not going to be the guy complaining about a sale. The actual content of the sale is really inconsequential to me. I’m lucky to get another chance to pick up these games at a discount. And the new way in which the sale is conducted is good for people who aren’t obsessive about them like I am. They can check on any day of the sale and get great games at great prices without feeling like they’re going to miss something important. People short on cash don’t need to choose between food and a new game because it’s only on sale for 8 hours and they don’t get paid until tomorrow (sincerely hope no one is doing this, but I know someone is). But I will miss the daily discussions and the excitement surrounding constantly changing sales.

Fallout 4 Impressions

I’m seven hours in, and I’ve owned it since day 1. Given I haven’t had a ton of free time, that’s still kind of telling. I think I put twice as much time into The Witcher 3 at this point. Honestly, I’d probably rather be playing Destiny. Really early game spoilers below.

Seriously, I’m going to talk about my first seven hours with this game.

The start, the world before the bomb, looked good, it was a nice change of pace, but it was totally unnecessary. Unless they’re going to use those assets again somewhere, it seemed like a lot of effort to do something that would’ve been just as well served with a cutscene.

Everything immediately following emerging from the vault moves entirely too fast, and makes the game feel really small. I mean, I was immediately thrown into defending a “good” group of people, handed a suit of power armor and a minigun, and I killed a deathclaw. Thinking back to how hard it was to get those kinds of things, much less kill a deathclaw, in previous games, it feels like Fallout 4 is either trying too hard to make a strong first impression, or showing that these things aren’t going to be as useful in this game as they were in previous games.

Even more pernicious, I’ve already been handed several laser weapons. It’s really hard to determine if I’ve just stumbled upon a quest that’s breaking the game, or these are going to be worthless soon. Again, these are things that were hard to come by in the older games. Also, I’ve already been invited to join the Brotherhood of Steel. Knowing how the Brotherhood has been portrayed in previous games, I couldn’t possibly jump right in without getting more context.

Here we go, I’m going to say it: the settlement stuff feels dumb. I don’t want to play Sim City. I don’t want to be a pack mule to find stuff to make my settlement less shitty. A lot of the tutorial stuff wasn’t particularly well explained either. It took me a while to figure out I could use existing structures. Then assigning workers and planting didn’t make a lot of sense. Doing everything from the first person perspective doesn’t feel good either.

Inventory management, as in most Bethesda games, sucks. When I pick up new stuff, I have to do a lot of comparisons to see if what I got is better than what I have. It’s complicated further by all the weapon mods. Is a glow-sighted hunting rifle better than compensated high-powered pipe rifle? Shit I don’t know. And if it isn’t, I can’t figure out how to remove mods and slap them on a different weapon. Scrapping weapons just gives me a bunch of steel, not the individual parts I’d need to rebuild the mods. It took me a bit to figure out that I’d be better off wearing separate pieces of armor that covered body parts than a whole suit, but the first thing I ran into was a whole suit that was better than what I was wearing. When I got a piece of armor, it wasn’t better than the whole suit so I tossed it. Then I noticed I couldn’t modify the whole suit, but I could mod the hell out of the piece of shoulder armor I had. That was my hint that I should be gathering pieces of armor instead of wearing whole suits.

But here’s the real enthusiasm-killer for me: Fallout 4 doesn’t look or feel particularly different, or even better, than previous games. Combined with other Bethesda RPGs, like Oblivion and Skyrim, it feels like I’ve played this game before, several times even. The stuff that’s new (weapon mods, armor mods, settlements) doesn’t feel good, and the rest feels way too familiar. It hasn’t done anything new yet that I like.

I bought Fallout 4 on a whim, really. I didn’t follow its development much. When the release day came up, I decided to buy it outright. It’s only the second full $60 brand new game I’ve bought this year, the other being The Witcher 3. Ever since Fallout 3 and Oblivion, I’ve held the opinion that I should wait on Bethesda RPGs to get cheaper, or all the DLC is released and there’s a complete edition of the game. I didn’t stick to it, like at all, but I didn’t buy Skyrim or New Vegas without waiting at least for a sale. I really enjoyed those games and I definitely got my money’s worth. I likewise loved the hell out of Fallout 3, and I bought the super special edition of that game.

So why would I hesitate to buy Fallout 4 on release day? Because it leads to this exact kind of post-purchase questioning. I was way into Destiny when Fallout 4 came out, and I still had a handful of games I wanted to play. A game like Fallout 4, where I’m not entirely sucked into it immediately, would do better for me when I’m bored, not when I’m swimming in fun games to play. I’m certain I’ll put more time into Fallout 4, and I’ll enjoy myself, but I’ll probably put it down a few times, and play other games instead. I could’ve waited on this one.

In which I explain why I bought an Xbox One over a PS4

Hi. Less than 2 hours ago, I ordered an Xbox One bundle off of Amazon. We’ve had a run of good things happen and my reward was a new console. Katie told me I could get whatever Black Friday slash holiday deal I wanted. After giving it some thought, I decided on the Xbox One. It wasn’t a hard decision and here’s why.

The Xbox One has the exclusive games I want to play on it. The ones that aren’t going to be on PS4, probably not on PC either. There’s one game for PS4 right now that qualifies as exclusive to the console and something I absolutely want to play, and that’s Until Dawn. Pretty much everything else it has is multiplatform, or not interesting to me. I’m a huge sucker for Halo; Xbone has Halo. I’m a huge sucker for Gears of War; Xbone has Gears of War. Rare Replay is on Xbone. It’s not necessarily a deal-maker, but it’s something I’m very interested in and can’t get on any other platform. If they come to PC, I’ll be surprised. Thrilled, but surprised.

I want the new Rock Band. My plastic instruments for Xbox 360 are all trash, so I’m looking at the whole band-in-a-box. All of my Rock Band songs are on Xbox. There’s no chance in hell I’m buying a PS4 and Rock Band and all of those songs all over again. I know Guitar Hero Live is probably a better game. It won’t fit what I want Rock Band to fill. I want all of those plastic instruments, not just guitar and vocals. I want my whole Rock Band song library. If I have friends over, I want them to have a choice of instrument. I want a choice of instrument. If I feel like getting Guitar Hero Live, I can do that and it’s not like I’m losing my whole Rock Band library. I can’t do both on PS4 without spending a shitload on Rock Band songs. Again.

I’m a Windows guy, and Xbone is a Windows platform. I’m going to know how it works. It’s going to work with my PCs. I’m not going to have to fiddle with any janky PS4 interface that kind of works or doesn’t. Streaming Xbone games to my PC sounds cool. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but I know I can’t do that with a PS4. I don’t own a Vita, so I’m not really glued to the Playstation platform. The Xbone will fit in better.

I know that when the new consoles were announced, I was pretty much ready to write off the Xbone entirely. It sounded like a pile of bad ideas. I even pre-ordered a PS4, which I canceled months before it came out because buying any console on day one is dumb. But this is why I wait at least a year before I buy any console. I couldn’t have made this decision on day one. I would’ve owned a PS4 and I would’ve found ways to enjoy it, but it wouldn’t have solved these problems. I’d still be looking at buying an Xbone for the exclusives and Rock Band. The PS4 is still a cool console, and I still want to own one some day, but it’s not what I want right now or for the foreseeable future.

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

I think I’ve played about as much of this as I need to. Saints Row 3 is the last complete original Saints Row. Saints Row 4, though almost as large as SR3, was more or less a rehash of SR3 but with a Matrix twist. Gat Out of Hell is SR4 except on an new arrangement of a smaller landmass. It’s not Steelport, it’s an original map, but everything looks and feels like the previous two games. It feels like we’ve been deriving less interesting games from SR3 ever since THQ folded.

Gat Out of Hell is, at best, a standalone expansion pack. It directly continues from the end of SR4. You can only play as Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. You can’t change their appearance. There’s no licensed music. There’s not much music at all. There are no story missions per se. Once you start the game, you’re given free reign to do any of the multitude of side missions available. They’re all plays on the same missions from previous Saints Rows. Once you complete enough of them, you get the one boss fight in the game, and then the story is more or less done. It takes less than 3 hours to get through.

Afterwards, I spent a couple more hours completing the rest of the side missions, which rewarded me with animated epilogues for the companion characters. They’re no more than 30 seconds of video each. If I were to keep playing, I could pursue the rest of grindy missions like getting 100 kills with a particular weapon or power, or chase collectibles, but the game is over. My clock reads over 7 hours but no more.

The most interesting part of the game is that it offers something like 5 or 6 different endings, a couple of which could clearly lead to a more interesting Saints Row sequel. Hopefully it’s a ways off, because this series desperately needs a shakeup. It feels like they’ve thoroughly exhausted what they started in Saints Row 3.

Vegan MoFo 2014!

Every year, Katie participates in Vegan MoFo. She puts a ton of effort into it. For the last couple years, she’s been doing a vegan dinner and a movie theme. She usually asks me for suggestions and I give her nothing but garbage. Bad sci-fi. Movies without any food in them. Movies she doesn’t even like. I’m useless.

Except this year, she said I should do guest blog post for one of my inane suggestions. She was probably joking, but I took her up on it! And here it is, vegan dinner and a movie for Johnny Mnemonic! And I wouldn’t want to wear out my welcome, so you’re only getting one out of me this year. See you again at Vegan MoFo 2015!