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How I turned 30

I had originally written a longer and more detailed post about this past week but it got eaten and was not meant to be. Here are the cliff notes. I am sure that when I look back on this in a few years I will be unsatisfied with my lack of conviction but it's late and we just recorded a podcast.

Friday - Worked half day at home, The Foolproof Brewery and Brewtopia. I have great friends.

Saturday - Something ridiculous like 8 hours of Metal Gear. Ended up feeling sort of battle fatigue towards the end. Hung out with S.T. and watched horror movie MERCY. It was okay.

Sunday - Early morning flight, squeeze in seat, arrive in Miami, disorientation with new space, able to check in early, checked out art museum, drinks, bbq pork salad, night of champions

Monday - Headed straight to the pier at 11 because why not. Long walk around the american airlines center, got to the pier, forgot setsail passes, all good. Weird and cool being on a boat again, like going back in time to 2012. Told Em I am glad to be here with her but miss friends, hope we can do something like that with a big group again some time. Muster drill, set sail. Tried to find champaign reception but no luck. We jumped in the pool together for a while and hung out above deck and watched people line dance.  8PM welcome aboard show at the theater. Got antsy after showtune no. 300 and we headed to dinner for 9pm. Dinner was with one other couple, nice folks, not extremely memorable. Met the piano man Martin at the schooner bar. Ended up at the glow party at Spectrum. Flashing ball rings. Dance music. Late night pizza and nightcap at the schooner bar. It was everything I could have hoped.

Tuesday - Up around 10AM, head to fitness center.Weights and 5k. Shower back at the room. Breakfast which was more of brunch. Curry rice and salad. Got off the boat for Nassau. Almost considered renting a scooter.  Nassau is a difficult place. You really feel like a tourist. Very poor off the beaten path. We went to historical society, learned of Austin T Levy, and went to fort pencastle. Learned about the 64 steps and the slave canyon. We got robbed kind of. Short trip down the main tourist strip and got a glass of coconut porter at this pirate brewery. Very american feel. We went in a bit early. Team Challenge trivia in the Schooner bar at 5:00. Newcastle beer. Pedro the trivia guy was very quick and kind of not invested, did not speak english. Still a fun time. 8pm Comedy show, a juggler guy. A few good laughs in there and pretty impressive. He played it really really safe. Dinner at 9pm with a different couple and a pair of women that did not speak any english. Love and Marriage game show back in the theater at 10pm. Really funny and we played along with our own answers. Dancing Under The Stars was called off and changed to dancing inside because of the thunderstorms. We made a relatively early night of it after late night pizza.

Wednesday - Up and at the gym together! Weights and ran 2 5ks and felt bloody amazing. S.T. had yoga on the beach with a private instructor at around 9am. We passed each other after my first 5k and almost missed each other. Lunch before getting off the boat. We looked out the window at the private island adjacent to Cococay.  Managed two drinks before we got off the boat around 1pm. Cococay is a more touresty island with a fantastic beach. Owned by the cruise line. It rained on and off while we were out there. Couple of drinks on the beach, covered by plan. Swam together, very clear and nice water. Napped a little on the beach but not for very long. Headed back inside around 3pm. S.T. had a free spa thing and I went above deck to play some FF6 and we met at the art auction at 4pm. We hit Rock and Roll trivia at 5:45 in the schooner bar and did reaaaaally bad but it was fun. Scoped out the arcade and thought maybe we could hit the secret kid's arcade with Sonic racing some late night. We had a scorpion bath towel creature. I had the really uncomfortable incident taking a picture of a picture that I felt like a butthole about. Apologized to the guy. That was at 6:14. 8pm comedy stand up show with Steve Smith. Very tame and a biiiit lame but a few decent laughs. 9pm dinner with Thadeus and his wife. Battle of the Sexes and the Quest Adventure game in the Spectrum lounge that night. Ducked out of the quest game and did late night drinks and pizza. Looked at the ocean at night whle we cruised and dozed off a little in the midnight air feeling the boat rock before we went back to the room.

Thursday - Up nice and early to gym together. did just under 6 miles but no weights. Got to watch ship pull into key west from the treadmill. Called to do customs at 10:45 but the line was so ridiculously long that we went to get breakfast around 11/11:30am. Grabbed a quick drink and a swim at the pool, it was so empty as everyone was off the boat. Very nice. Key west around 1pm. Busy town, no one hassling you, we did the aquarium first and S.T. fed a shark. Saw turtle with extra flotation device on its shell. long walk along duval street to the butterfly conservatory. magical little place. saw adorable birds. took slow motion videos. popped into nickknack shops and art shops and got one drink at The Green Room Eco Bar. So many scooters everywhere. Back on board around 5pm. Team Challenge Trivia at 5:45pm, Vote For Pedro does okay but very hard questions. Probably best trivia. Recorded nice video on top deck together at 7pm. Dinner at the windjammer cafe and low and belod its sushi night. I ate like 4 plates of sushi as quick as the guy could make it and only felt a little bad. S.T. needed to lay down so I went above deck to swim and drink beer from around 8:30-10pm. Extremely pleasant time. Watched a little football from afar. Looked at the stars. Fell asleep on the floor of the room a little from slight exhaustion. Picked self off the floor and we went to the adult comedy Steve Smith show at 10pm. We were determined to make it and party all night. Negro Modelo at Boleros. Caught the end of the "Decades Party" at Spectrum after the comedy show. Danced our asses off. Like really hard. Awesome, awesome, awesome time. Mission was to party all night and the mission was accomplished.

Friday - Wake up and we are in the port of Miami again. Packed, got breakfast even though still a bit plugged up from the night before. We decide we are going to sort of recuperate today. Eggs and sausage are okay but something seems a little off. We were off the boat around 10ish and after getting the stinkeye from Customs we were back in the U.S. We walked back to the hotel in Miami, about a mile and a half. Actaully a rwally nice day. A little rainy. Waited in the hotel lobby a few hours until 1ish when they let us into the room. Showered, got cleaned up. Discovered that there is laundry here but its busy each time we check. We found a really cool salad place for cheap and got cheap salads and iced tea and diet orange soda. Got a coupon for Uber from a lady and returned to the room to watch Raw from Monday on my phone. Hung out in the room a while doing laundry, watched the end of Contact and A.I. Went out to the shops at Bayside Park and checked out everything from Victoria's Secret to Gamestop. Almost bought uncharted trilogy for like 8 bucks but decided against it. S.T. bought a sweet leaf necklace. We got dinner and a few drinks at Bayside; chicken and rice and vegetables and a mojito. We talked about life and priorities and happiness and it was wonderful. Returned to the room with a Pina Colata and watched Real Time with Bill Mahar at 11pm and went to sleep.

Saturday - Realize we never checked into our flight which was at 1:15ish. Also the MJS transport company was not confirmed to bring us to the airport. Checked in from the phone, group C. Booked an Uber which was there within 3 minutes! Nice and quiet ride, fantastic first experience. Plane is a little delayed so I say screw it lets go to Landshark pub in the terminal. 3 huge beers no regrets. S.T. and I split the bill which was around 30 dollars each for drinks and a side salad each. Met a nice lady to our left that was headed home to Phoenix after an extended business trip. She was looking up how to spell Dos Equis. Despite our late boarding group we had great seats. I didn't even have anyone to my right. Listened to podcasts and played a little more FF6 on the plane. Dad picked us up when we landed around 4:40 and New England Fall was in full swing. Seeing the cats again was nice. We were only home for a little while before heading off again for the soccer game around 6:30. It was a tame, slightly chilly exprience but we were dressed for it. Drank one Shipyard Pumpkin ale, the Revs tied the Philly Union 1-1. Got lost on the ride home and ended up adding an extra half hour or so onto the trip. Went to the supermarket on the way home to get eggs and a few other staples. Found a kid buying ping pong balls at 10:30pm and started up a funny conversation. Stayed up playing Metal Gear until around 1am and came down to bed.

Sunday - Awake around 9am. Played some Metal Gear, mowed the lawn around 10am. Washed feet. The lawn really really was in rough shape. Went to the market, S.T. and I watched the Patriots game at 1pm. I tapped out around the third quarter when it was clearly a slaughter. Normally a Pats slaughter is fun but its sad to see it happen to the Jaguars. had a few too many beers and went up to play more Metal Gear, determined to see the game's final mission and twist ending. Got really frustrated at my inability to press on. S.T. made a comment about it and I realized how ridiculous I was being. We watched a cheesy found footage horror flick called Archivo 253 which was a bit underwhelming but fun in its own way. I made a big bowl of ramen with vegetables.  S.T.'s mom came over and we talked all about the cruise and got caught up on family things. S.T. and I finished out the last night of the vacation with a few episodes of Justice League and JLU, laughing a lot and making fun of Batman. Got a decent night of sleep. I could have used a shower. I love her very much.

Begrudgingly Unkillable

Holy shit, has it really been almost a year since the last update? Well that simply won't do.

To my ears the following statement sounds laughably hollow despite being completely true; the theme of my life recently has been self-acceptance. There are aspects of ourselves that perhaps we don't like very much or that we choose to ignore in order to better preserve our inner narrative. Your self image is a person that doesn't necessarily exist and certainly doesn't include a number of nasty habits and thought patterns that you happen to exhibit on a regular basis. But those things that you think and feel and do are truly a part of who you are. And fighting them doesn't make them go away.

This is a really high and mighty and ridiculous way of saying that I've fallen in love with a Japanese RPG. That may not sound like a big deal. In the grand scheme of things it literally means absolutely nothing. But it means something to me. I grew up playing a lot of Japanese RPGs; Breathe of Fire, Final Fantasy 4, 6, 7, Lufia 2, Secret of Mana, Soul Blazer, among others. Nothing to be ashamed of there. But then in my teens and early twenties I developed an affinity for slice of life fiction uuughhhh. I feel deeply in love with shows like Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Love Hina and Kita E anything else that exhibited the everyday lives of young people with their entire lives ahead of them. Anything that was deeply rooted in emotional depth and had characters that you could fall in love with and hate at a drop of a hat.

And then I grew out of the period of my life where I was the age of the people in those shows.

Seriously, since age 23-29, I've secretly hardbored a deep resentment toward not only shows/games that featured high school students saving the world and/or going on adventures, but I also took a sick pleasure in looking down on those in my own age bracket that did enjoy those kinds of media. "I'm an adult now," I would think. "I am making my own adventure and writing my own story." Why would I need to stood to childish fantasy of high school students? That would be to admit that my own station in life was empty. I would be confessing that 23-29 year old people were soulless and empty inside and that our ownly respite was to seek escapism in the fantasy of younger days when the future was bright and our opportunities were many.

I've been playing Persona 4. I haven't just been playing it. I've been enjoying the fuck out of it, I've been loving a daily life simulator from 2008 for the Playstaion 2. I've been relishing its delightfully realistic depiction of life as a high school student that also moonlights as a dimension-tripping adventurer solving murders. I've delighted in picking what after-school club to join and trying to socialize with certain other classmates that I would like to be closer to.

I am almost 30 goddamn years old.

I was supposed to be beyond this kind of foolishness. In my late teens and early 20s I always relished in the fact that I was "in the age that people wrote excisting stories about." All of the fiction I was enjoying was structured around characters the same age as me. I could identify directly with all of them. But then I got a little older. And then a little older again. And now as I knock on the doors of thirty I am looking at my life, for which I am extraordinarily grateful, and realizing that I have been wrong about a few things. We are cursed as subjective being with always being inclined to see ourselves as the "main character" of life's narrative, despite how poorly we fit the role. I still want to be the protagonist of Persona 4 despite how poorly I now fit the role. I'm not a fite 16/17 year old stoic student. I'm a slightly overweight, goofy but slightly cynical american dude that works in what is essentially a call center. No one writes interesting adventures about people like me and that is totally okay!

But it also has to be okay to me that I am enjoying playing Persona 4 and reliving the days where I used to feel like a real protagonist. I don't want to be ashamed of wanting that anymore. It's a pointless thing to feel. So I will play Persona 4 and I will be excited over getting closer to Chie and Yosuke and I will remember what it felt like to be totally alive again and I will be okay with the fact that this is a thing that I want.

______________________________________________________

Tomorrow I am applying for the very first time to a literary agent. As the gross adult--no longer the age that people write stories about--kind of person that I am, I have decided that it is time to buck. the fuck. up. I love writing fiction. It's something that I have literally always done. I'm not saying that it was always good or that it was even ever good but it is something that I do and this old mantra of "maybe somebody will publish my stories after I die" is bullshit and I am way too afraid of death to trust in it anymore.

In a fit of determination at the start of the year I resolved to "collect a few rejection letters" from anyone that would send them. I have so many stories that I love and feel like deserve telling that I told myself that I would force myself to at least try to get them seen by somebody and yet as of yet I have done nothing. And yet tomorrow I am going to approach a certain Rhode Island literary agency and see if they are interested in something anything

Scan//Seek
How To Imagine Monsters
Mask Her, Ayd
Flaw's Collective

The Memory Well
Autopilot

Those first four stories have a chance even if most places take the other two sci-fi ones as below their standards. Those are six fully realized novels over the last, what, ten years? Something halfway decent has to have come from it.

So tomorrow I am drafting a letter of application to one of the local literary agencies here in Rhode Island to gauge interest in perhaps going to bat for the publishing of one of those books. I am under no illusions. They will say no. There will be a letter of rejection or even no response at all. And next week I will try another agency and they will reject me too. And so on and so on and so on. I do not expect a positive outcome to any of this but I am going to give it a shot and I will be glad for having done so. That is the truth.
 

Alone is usually so comfortable

It's Saturday morning and I don't know quite what to do with myself. Unlike most Saturdays, the light at the end of this ring-shaped tunnel in which I've been circling these last few months, I woke up at 7:30am. This is basically unheard of barring extraordinary circumstances.

It's a beautiful day. You can't tell by looking outside; it rained hard last night. The sump pump is working hard and keeping the constant cascade of ground water at bay. Happy to report that there is almost no excess ground water down there; we may have this flood zone thing finally figured out.

But outside it's very damp and from where I'm sitting I can't tell if the sun is shining or not. It looks like it will be later on at the least.

I was ready to be productive this morning. S.T. needed me to drive her into Massachusetts at 8am and I had convinced myself to be ready to make this happen. It wasn't until basically 11pm last night that, by happenstance, this responsibility was lifted from me and I never bothered to reset my alarm.

Despite having a clear schedule I couldn't shake this need to do something "active," something with a sense of non-leisure, so I washed and folded a few loads of laundry. I did the dishes. I made some scrambled eggs with hot sauce. I sat down at my computer and realized it was only 9am and I was out of things to do.

I wait all week for a free block of time on the weekend to exercise, play some Steam games, watch movies, anything to distract myself and take me somewhere else. But right now that's just not happening. For the first time in what feels like a very, very long time I just want to talk to somebody. But I don't know anybody available that would know quite what I'm talking about. That's when I remembered this journal and the very first post in it about twelve years ago.

S.T. left so early this morning because she is a bridesmaid in Gen's wedding. Gen is getting married today to her fiancée Bob. They've been together a very long time. According to this journal, which began the day before I turned sixteen, Gen and I were dating at the time. I think we both recognized sometime around the end of high school that neither of us really knew what that actually meant, though. We really had no idea what we were doing. It's easy to look back at now and honestly I can't believe it was only twelve years ago. Those were different people back then. Children. A lifetime ago.

Gen and Bob are really good people. I have known Bob in passing for years now but only had really meaningful interactions with him in the last year or so. Unfortunately, the most recent of those was when we spent a pleasant night out at the bar, came home to drink some scotch and play video games, and ended up having an embarrassing shouting fight over really stupid things. It was over a stupid comment and I let out frustrations that I didn't know I really had. The details aren't important. It had nothing to do with Bob as a person but merely what I was taking him to represent. He's been nothing but kind to me in the past and I took one comment and, in my mind, it shaped him into an archetype that I actively dislike.

The difficult part to accept is that I know that I'm not entirely incorrect. He has firm beliefs that I consider well-meaning at heart but the way that he sees fit to express them is, in my opinion, obnoxious and not constructive. I believe it is the signs of a person that was once bullied and now seeks to bully the world in the name of a good cause. A quiet retaliation as a shield to hide behind.

Look at this. Look how pathetic this is. The man has been nothing but kind to me over the years. He invited me to his bachelor party and I didn't go. I wish that I wanted to; we would have had a good time. But whenever I think about him I think of that night we had the fight. I hate who I became and I hate the thing that I think I saw in him. I hate that this is overriding my thoughts of just being happy for a pair of people that are good and deserve to be happy together.

These aren't the ordinary thoughts of someone going to their ex's wedding. I don't think they are, at least. Like I said, we didn't really share any kind if meaningful connection at all and we were children. I see Gen as a kind of cousin figure in my life and I love that she and S.T. have so much history and have landed where they are now as friends. There is an incredible saga there and it would make a great Lifetime movie. There is no way I come out a likable character in that story, though.

Often times when I have a memory that I didn't expect to come back to me, something I have forgotten that I have forgotten, I have a chilling sense that the person in that memory is not me but merely someone that I remember. I can hardly identify with the person that I was then; he is a stranger that I somehow know extremely well. I remember how he felt and why but in no way do I feel like it was I, as I exist now, that went through it. It was an episode from some TV show I only catch every once in a while or a chapter in a book told all out of order. Even now I look back at the fight we had and I don't know the fool that was doing all of the shouting. I know him inside and out at the same time, however. And I am irrevocably tethered to him and there is no undoing that.

When I've expressed my insecurities about that night to other friends a common response that I have gotten is a fairly sound piece of advice: stop thinking so much about what other people think of you. I don't know how to do that. It's narcissistic that even now I'm putting so much thought into how they view me even though it is their wedding happening today. The only way I seem to know how to interact with people, though, is by picturing what they must be seeing in front of them. I want to understand them and what they think and then make them like me. If that is so much more important than actually saying anything meaningful, why did I bother to freak out so much about a stupid comment? It's frustrating, and I cannot erase the ugly face of myself from anyone's memory. That is assuming that they give a damn or have given it a second thought. I wrote an honest letter of apology the next morning. I was embarrassed. I had taken things too far. I meant that. It was only later that I realized I wasn't apologizing to them for being rude, though. I was trying to make myself feel better and trying to fix my image in their eyes out of some ridiculous necessity to be liked. I needed to do everything in my power to be excused for what I had done.

S.T. and I are getting married ourselves in two weeks. She knows what a basket case I am; we've talked about this problem more than a few times and she accepts me for whatever I am for whatever reason. I love her for that. I love her for a lot of reasons. I love her for loving me despite the fact that I'm not a better man than I am.

Is it a common phenomenon, I wonder, to feel like everyone around you is playing in the big leagues and doing it "for real" while you are merely pretending. Relationships, friendships, work, hobbies. When I picture Gen and Bob up there saying "I do" I picture a couple that I've witness go from children to adults that now have real dreams, real lives. They seem to know what they are doing and they seem to be doing it really well. I'm in awe of them in a lot of ways. I'm sure they would laugh and tell me how wrong I am but they really seem to have it together. They seem confident in who they are and ready to take on real life.

The sun has come out. It's going to be incredibly nice weather for a wedding.

Long haul

    The most incredible part is that it has been less than a year.

    Back in January I was still feeling new to the role I was working at Schneider and we were still living in our little apartment on Linbrook Drive. I was still drinking most every night and, while optimistic about the future, was generally not handling the day-to-day very well at all from what I can remember. Has it really already been nearly a year since then, though?

    It feels cheeky to say that a lot has changed in less than a year. But truly it has. Since the last update we've selected a house, gone through an excruciating mortgage process, and moved into a lovely home just three or four streets over from where I used to live with my father. Rather than the living room and bedroom into which our entire lives were crammed we now occupy the space of a master bedroom, a truly satisfactory living room (with furniture and everything!), and a kitchen that actually has ample space with which to utilize a kitchen. Just yesterday I, with perhaps 20% success, used it to make what vaguely resembled fish and chips. My fingers still kind of smell like it now three showers later.

    I've canceled my gym membership at Planet Fitness in lieu of a NordicTrack treadmill that squeezes quite nicely into a tiny room off of the kitchen. It has enough room to do push-ups and sit-ups but best of all it is located within our house, which means exercise is available day or night with zero travel necessary. There have been times that I have gotten up early in the morning in order to run before work. Conceptually I know this to be a good idea but even a well-rested body, at 5:30AM, will stare grudgingly down at a ringing alarm and declare NO, refusing the waking world in exchange for what is really an insignificant amount of sleep. Today I ran after getting home from work. Sometimes I don't work out at all. That is one of the perks of treadmill ownership.

    Upstairs S.T. and I have our own offices. I've got my computer set up in one of them. The chair is back-to-back with a cheap futon that I procured, which sits perhaps three feet back from the re-purposed television from our old apartment, now jury-rigged to mount to the wall at eye level. Attached to this television we've got an HDMI cable that runs along the wall and to my PC. It acts as a secondary and sometimes primary monitor. This has made it extremely convenient to play PC games on the TV using an XBox 360 controller and it has been awesome . Seriously, the experience has been unparalleled. Most recently I've plowed through the two Batman games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and there is no end in sight. It really has opened up a whole new section of games that I'd had sitting in my Steam library unused and there is something just so dreadfully satisfying about relaxing on a couch with a controller in hand and nowhere else to be on a Saturday morning/afternoon. There's something pure about it.

    Shortly before moving I started doing a video games podcast with a few friends. One on hand it has been extremely invigorating to be driven to create something every week and feel motivated to constantly improve. It's also quite nice to just have a designated time every week where we can get together and gush about games that we are playing or things that are happening in related news stories. I'm often afraid that the two guys doing it with me see it as a chore and are too afraid to tell me but, whenever I have asked, they seem like they are generally having a good time. We don't have hundreds upon thousands of listeners but I am aware of at least two complete strangers that indeed listen to every episode and even send us comments about them. We have attracted approximately 100% of our listener base by giving away free video games as contests. Even if no one listens I don't really mind, to be honest. It's a bit narcissistic but I really enjoy going back and listening to our old recordings once enough time has past and I have forgotten most of the details. There is something thrilling about that realization that we made this

    There are two cats that now live with us. In addition to Waffles, who is now a very healthy and more mellowed out six-year-old tuxedo cat we have Six, a two-year-old orange purr machine. The two of them keep each other company very well as far as we can tell. Six has a passion for jumping onto the bed and purring as loudly as he can around 4 or 4:30 in the morning, however, and of that I am not so much a fan. More or less, though, it is great having them around.

    It has not, of course, been all sunshine and rainbows. Up until very recently I was fully prepared to quit my job. Certain conditions in the workplace were getting a bit unbearable and I had called S.T. in an emotional heap more than once on the drive home. In the last two months, however, things have truly shaped up and things have been operating eerily smoothly. I'll take it while I can. This may, in fact, end in January. Back in July I received a job offer from one of our business partners. He wants me to leave Schneider and work for him full time, dispatching for his company remotely from my house every day. The salary that we discussed would theoretically be much higher than my current one. He said that it would start in January but we have not discussed it since then. I'm not sure if he is simply being discreet or if he has changed his mind. Either way I don't plan on broaching the subject until he does.

    The house needs work, just like every house does. The basement gets a lot of water when we have a heavy rainstorm and I have to go downstairs to squeegee it all into the sump pump. Emily's office on the second floor has a leak in the ceiling, a result of a botched water/ice sealant job on the roof. This, as well as some electrical and plumbing work, are getting taken care of soon. I expect these will not be the last problems that we experience.

    The comforts of having this space available to us have proven to be especially problematic in terms of human relationships. I more or less had an intervention from one of my friends; I was warned that if I did not start interacting with people or coming out to make appearances that people were going to stop making attempts to see me. I was frustrated by this. Between work, classes at the institute and the occasional weekend soccer game I've felt more strapped for time than ever. The free time that I did have... all I wanted to do was disappear into my office and play video games on my couch. I felt like I had done more than enough to extend my hand out to everyone and invite them over. There is more than enough room to stretch out at our house and I thought that everyone's needs could be met if people would just drop by to see us at our new place if they wanted to hang out so badly. My friends are creatures of strong habits, though, and I have been told in no mixed terms that, quite paradoxically, I have to start leaving my house more often before they will consider returning with me to it. I don't understand it but I don't want people to stop guilting me into coming out of my shell, so I am making an effort to comply.

    S.T. and I had a similar issue. She brought up with me a number of times that she was bothered that we occupy in the same house and yet sometimes she feels as if we don't live together. Of course I did not agree and I thought that things were going along fantastically. I understand that she did not feel the same way, though, and I'm making an effort. Surprisingly it has been nice. I haven't played a single game since this last weekend when I completed Saint's Row 4 and honestly the change of pace has been nice. I do really like spending time with her and I like that it makes her happy. The same goes for our friends. It's just so... good, after so long, to finally have a space that I can really occupy and where I can be here. When we moved in I went as far as to put a little "EXIT" sign above the door to my office. I don't keep S.T. up playing Payday in here. Two Mondays ago I sat in here, home alone with the day off, and watch four episodes of Mad Men over some whiskey. I can't feel like that anywhere else and, if I have learned anything about myself over these past months, it is that I love feeling that. Maybe I'm a bit of a coward and I like to get through with the real world as quickly as possible so that I can hurry up and get to my cave where the real world is no longer my concern. Maybe that same school of thought is related to the way that I used to get drunk nearly every single night. But I like to think that reality and I are coming to an understanding. There has to be time for everything and, sometimes, that means putting off the escapism to be sure that the reality hose doesn't kink up and spray you in the face later.

    There was a brief time when I thought that I was never going to use this journal again and instead start using wordpress. As if moving to a different web site was going to make some kind of change. I'm not entirely certain where my mind was going with that train of thought. That blog turned into a rapid-fire series of amateur game reviews very quickly, however, and that was abandoned entirely to make way for the podcast and related web site, The Quick Time Event. I've recently been approached by a listener that wants to start contributing his own reviews to the web site. This is something that both delights and terrifies me. It's delightful in that it is confirmation that a stranger somewhere in the world cares enough about something that I have created that he wanted to actually be a part of it. Terrifyingly, this means that I would be affecting more than just my friends and I should I ever decide that this is all too much work and quit entirely. I've had web sites before and have always put a lot of heart and soul into them. No one has ever cared. I'm starting to wonder if things were better off that way.

    There was a brief period where I had entirely lost every Nanowrimo novel that I had ever written and this put me into a deeply lonely state of mind. My computer had required a full wipe a few weeks back and I had done it forgetting that my GoDaddy storage account had expired. All of it was gone and I suddenly realized that the horrible black hole that opened in the pit of my stomach at the mere thought was going to be completely alien and maybe even laughable to most of the people currently in my life. So I had lost a few unedited stories that I had written when I was younger. Doesn't that happen to everyone at some point? It was nothing worth getting upset over.

    But I was quite upset over it. Every one of those stories was a chunk of my head torn off and preserved on an annual basis. They have served as a way to know myself, even if they are contrived and unimpressive. Even if no one on Earth ever hears of them again I would want to have access to them because I remember what they were before they even existed. As pathetic as they may be they are my proof that I was alive and I'm not sure that everyone has something that makes them feel that way. To suddenly realize that they were gone and that I hadn't even considered them when wiping that hard drive was akin to realizing that I had driven away from the gas station with the baby on the roof. Except here I only realized when I got home after that long trek on the highway.

    Luckily for me, thanks to WayBackMachine, I have most of them back. The Line, Steve Booth, Scan/Seek, How To Imagine Monsters, Mask 'Er Ayd', Flaw's Collective and The Memory Well all survived in pdf form though the original docs are gone. That's no huge loss. Unfortunately no backup of the 2008 first draft of Flaw's Collective was ever made and that unfinished bit of my brain that had fallen out while struggling through graduate school is indeed lost forever. The same goes for The Soft 17, the detective thriller that, due to my inability to overcome a few insurmountable vicarious struggles, never saw completion. That one does bother me a little. Some very dark things were happening in real life while trying to write that story and it was hard run away from the darkness of reality and just create more of it in that world. I wonder if it was ever going to be any good. It might be a fun story to come back to some day.

    This year might be the most challenging yet. Quarter 2 at The Institute begins this Monday.

    I can't believe it's already been nearly a year. But then again I also can't believe it's only been that long.

    When I was younger it used to bother me when people of my own age complained of feeling old. I felt like I knew better than they did about how naive we all still were and that they only wanted to feel old as a result of their own insecurities. It's no fun admitting to yourself that you are the worst-informed person in the room but I felt it was necessary to remember. That may be precisely why I never felt like I belonged in graduate school; I never reached that turning point where I was supposed to magically feel like my opinion and work suddenly mattered.

    But now... I do feel old. It's not in that way where I slouch in an old chair and look at my feet, wondering where my life and youth have gone. I'm aware and thankful that, for the most part, my body is still healthy and should fortune smile on me I will have a good many years yet. The thing that has changed is the sense of wonder. The fact that it is missing is nothing new; the world hasn't been a romanticized ideal for a while now. It is more that I have stopped looking for it altogether and I have no idea when that happened. I still know that I know and understand next to nothing about the world and yet I find myself fussing over the small realm that I have occupied, focusing on small, realistic and concrete goals, rather than looking to the sky and dreaming of lofty ones. The dreams of youth were difficult to pin down and, for that reason, were wonderful. The dreams of today have a beginning, middle, and end. Everything does. I wonder if there is still any room for growth in that.

    It's late and time for bed. Let's do this again soon. It's been nice.
    

The Institute

    It's worth mentioning that S.T. and I paid a visit to New England Tech a few weeks ago. They have moved since the last time I was there, and seeing as I never had a reason to be there and cannot remember when that was I have to assume it was a long time ago. The new facility is located in East Greenwich just down the road from the apartment where we lived before our current one. You can tell that it's new because there is a koi pond right there in the front lobby. If that does not screa new school 'd be hard pressed to tell you what does. From here on I will only refer to it as The Institute.

    Currently I am enrolled in the computer programming associates degree program at CCRi, a place with which I am very familiar, but it came to my attention recently that we're unfortunately not a great fit for one another. While Schneider Electric is entirely on board with funding this degree for me, I discovered that many of the core programming language courses necessary to the degree are only offered during the day and, if I truly want to acquire this skill, it likely will not be through the Community College. Out of curiosity I put out feelers to both The Institute as well as DeVry University's online college and found that they both had programs that I find ridiculously interesting. Both of them have programs that not only cover all of the programming and software engineering skills that I would like to learn, but both also have courses specifically directed towards designing and utilizing game development engines. For a moment I was awash with regret, again, for having made the decisions that I had with my life and I wondered what would have been today's everyday life had I attended such a program directly after high school or after the one year at CCRi. There is, of course, a very good chance that the programs in question did not even exist back then, and the more that time passes I seem to be getting less and less out of such regret. The truth is that life is pretty great the way that it is right now, and though I wish I were seeking a new skill as a younger person, isn't that where we all are? One might as well do it now because we certainly aren't getting any younger.

     The tour of The Institute made the prospect of attendance profoundly attractive. The Game Design and Simulation Programming associates degree has a path where you attend night classes Monday-Thursday from 5:45pm~10:30pm, which from where I'm seated sounds like an insurmountable course load but, given what I'm currently doing with my time, not at all impossible. Also, after all, the program lasts a mere year and a half divided into six quarters, and I already have most of the general education requirements fulfilled. The facilities seem very conducive to the kind of learning with which I'd like to engage and I definitely can't argue with the time or the location. The price is steep, however, clocking in at around 40K for the entire associates program. I obviously don't have that kind of money lying around, and unfortunately I have every reason to believe that Schneider will withdraw their assistance once they see the word game design n the curriculum despite the fact that it contains much of the same content as the current CCRi program. I've filled out the FAFSA to see what kind of aid is available for someone in my position and don't have huge hopes of being able to make it work in terms of attending this coming October, but I need to try. As difficult as I think it would be this is likely the first time that I have considered a program that actually feels right to me. I've thought of changing paths a few times ever since graduation but nothing ever moved me enough to want to pull me off of this sleepy call center tract upon which I currently sit. But this feels right. I want to get back into coding and I want to help create something that I find interesting and that requires a team. I'd settle for just being interested in what I'm doing for a living. Right now what I do is not bad in the very least but, let's face it, there is not a whole lot of fulfillment in being a dispatcher for Schneider Electric's IT Business unit. 

    I'm picturing it already, though. If this does happen by some miracle of student loans I'll be so busy and miserable that I'll lose all interest in making or playing games and will start to wonder why I didn't go for my PhD in Japanese Studies or something. I wouldn't put it past myself. We'll come to that when we do. For now I'd like to continue thinking that I can survive being the old guy in the class for a degree that only fools would pursue hoping to find the time to create the nex Battleclash while working around his full time job. A guy's got to keep dreaming.

Euro Truck Simulator 2

    Euro Truck Simulator 2:
    The last kind of game that I could ever see myself enjoying is a humorless, realistic truck-driving simulator with unforgiving repetitiveness and true-to-life traffic laws and shipping routes. I have never even had a passing interest in any kind of driving or racing game outside of Mario Kart, and even that is only entertaining in groups and paired with things like Mario Party, pizza strips and beer.
     Consider my surprise, then, that even before I had heard the acronym ETS2, I found my imagination captured by a reddit post that innocently postulated how unique it would be if there were a game that realistically simulated truck driving with realistic time management and mechanics like keeping track of your sleep and food schedule in order to stay alert and on track. I couldn't explain why, but this idea wiggled its way into my head and would not leave me alone. I love taking road trips, especially when driving, and I take any excuse to veg out and listen to podcasts or talk radio. Throw in a few RPG elements like money and time management and you actually have my full attention, but only if it can be done correctly.
     Then enters Euro Truck Simulator 2, as if summoned into being by my interest. It is made by a company of which I have never heard and is a sequel to a game that I'm sure not too many people played. Still, on the surface, it is precisely what the aforementioned redditor and I had in mind. You choose a starting location, a base of operations, somewhere in Europe or the UK and begin as a humble driver-for-hire with no skills or certifications. Slowly, as you do more jobs and earn more experience, you actually level up and get skill points to put into attributes like the ability to drive longer distances, the ability to support more valuable or more fragile cargo, and the different certifications necessary for the various kinds of hazardous materials that truckers can transport. This doesn't mimic RPG mechanics, this is n RPG mechanic. Additionally, as you gain skills, you can take jobs that will earn more money, and with money comes the ability to purchase your very own truck and actually begin choosing the jobs and freight for yourself, eventually earning enough, ideally, to build your own shipping fleet and even actually hire additional drivers to work for you. Don't feel patient enough to grind away the mercenary jobs in order to buy your first truck? You'll be getting emails from the bank offering you a loan to borrow money for your first truck, given you are willing to pay them the requisite interest in repayment.
     This is where Euro Truck Simulator 2 roped me in. From many of the quick-views and joke-reviews that you may find on YouTube, and there are many, you may mistake this game for something that is not really a game at all but instead an actua simulator, as boring as the name implies. And why wouldn't you assume that? It's right in the name! There are plenty of aspects of ETS2 that actually make it a rather poor simulator, though. The travel time is drastically scaled in order to provide a more pleasant and reasonable experience. I've never timed myself, but I can assure you that the haul I did the other night across 1100+ miles, taking an estimated 24+ hours according to the in-game GPS did not take an actual full 24 hours to complete. I'd say that at times it is more like 1/12th realistic scale in terms of the travel time. This means you are taking around two hours to drive from the UK to Austria, which is obviously impossible. This makes for a terrible simulation but is pretty much just right from what is more like a truck-driving-centric RPG. Just the same, though there is "damage" in the game to be accounted for, it is spoken of but never shown. You can slam full force into the back of a tiny coup with your several-tonne-killing-machine and will encounter nothing worse than a "thunk" and a repair bill. The truck and the car will look just fine, giving the game more of the impression that you are playing with very realistic model vehicles but not actual cars and trucks that take realistic damage. Again, this makes for a piss-poor simulation but is an understandable design choice in terms of a game. Accidents do happen, especially when you're playing a game with virtual people and not actual lives, and the tone would certainly change quite a bit if you had to stop and fill out a police report every time you murdered a family on their way to the soccer stadium.
     That brings me to another notable aspect of this game (game, mind you, not simulation.) I enjoy the Saint's Rows and Grand Theft Autos of the world. I really do. I'm not ashamed of the fact that, given virtually complete freedom over an urban landscape sandbox I'm able to enjoy a little senseless vehicular rampage every now and then. Even in a game lik Sleeping Dogs, which rewarded you for good driving and discouraged plowing into pedestrians, the occasional clean sweep of the sidewalk during an important police mission was worth a good laugh. Perhaps it is the total lack of foot traffic in ETS2 (even the cities are devoid of people on foot) but I'm never driven at all to senselessly plow into other vehicles or run people off the road. I understand that, at any point, could, but there is no desire to do so. I think I know why.
     A game lik Sleeping Dogs as people flying out of windshields, screaming, and bouncing off the sidewalk. Grand Theft Auto will have the police on your tail, shouting and shooting at your for your bad behavior. Saint's Row... is very unique. When it comes to violence in ETS2, however, the game's silence is deafening. So you ran into that oncoming car and got a bill for it. Are you proud? The expression on the face of the driver of the other car is illegible; they could not be bothered to care if you are alive. They wait with infinite patience until you get yourself out of the way so that they can continue onward and the only satisfaction that you have is knowing that you have lost time and money from the ordeal. There is no police chase, no shattered car parts or explosions, and no external force slapping you on the wrist for your bad behavior. Euro Truck Simulator 2 does not have time for your childish distractions. And that's weird.
     It is not impossible to get bored with this game. Even playing with a friend (there is no multiplayer, but noting can stop you and a friend from both playing and communicating over headsets as if they were CB radios) the longer hauls can be somewhat excruciating and test your patience. Part of me, however, is satisfied knowing that this is part of the experience. The real-world suffering adds an odd kind of authenticity to the in-game rewards if you can tough through them. On a personal note, when I notified my fiance that I had finally purchased my own pitch-black Valiant truck and was starting off on my own trucking business, there was a serious level of pride in my voice. As silly as I know it is, it felt like an accomplishment.
    Let's state the obvious: Euro Truck Simulator 2 is not for everyone. As graphically pleasant as it is, no one will want to stare at cars and countryside for hours on end if they are not into that kind of niche gameplay. If you have an open mind, however, and are the type that can get easily drawn in to grind-intensive RPGs, you may find yourself surprised by how approachable this game is. It even got me out of my house to drive almost tw real ours to purchase a used Logitech wheel off of craigslist and that has to mean something. My passion for this game may not last forever, I realize. Like any grind-intensive game I may grow tired of it soon and leave it behind, but having picked it up for $24 from Green Man Gaming, and even with the added expense of the $20 wheel sold separately, I feel like I have already gotten my money's worth and can easily see putting upwards of 30 hours into this game before it really starts to get old. 

    Pro tip: Import some actual radio station streams into the in-game radio. The immersion is exquisite.
    Far Cry 3:
     I understood choice few things about the Far Cry series before picking up this game. I knew that there had been two of them so far (duh). I knew that the trademarks of the series were the fact that you played an outsider in a far off land, somewhat out of your element. The first two, I knew, were known for their excessively difficult enemy A.I., which had superhuman aiming and accuracy. They were known for being very pretty if somewhat lacking in the plot department. That was all, however, and I had never actually played any of them despite owning the 2nd game after purchasing it on a whim during a steam sale some months ago.
     All in all I had little interest in this game when it was announced. I'd gotten my fill of open-world jungle combat with Crysis a few years ago and even that I never finished. The story of surviving in the wild on some remote island and gunning down pirates with AK47s sound fun, sure, but it is not exactly the type of game that I jump at. Also, despite being labeled "Skyrim with guns" it was clear that this game had a central plot that was tied to the character you played; there was clearly no option to play as someone other than Jason Brody, ignore the main plot, and settle down as a rice farmer on Rook Island. The lack of this option, in my opinion, precludes the title o Skyrim with guns. On top of this, the base plot of the game could take upward of twenty hours to play, apparently. If the plot of a game is on rails, which isn't a bad thing, my interest starts to wane after ten hours or so. I like to be able to blow through the story on a single, hermit-cave Saturday. It was clear that Far Cry 3 was not going to be that game, nor was it a open world, live-here-a-while kind of Fallout game. It did not sound like this game was for me.
     I cannot remember where I read it. Someone planted that seed of interest in my head somewhere on the internet and I would like to find them and shake their hand. I had no serious intentions of playing the game and so I was not looking to avoid spoilers to the plot. I'll not spoil anything here and will speak in the most general terms that I can. There were two things that I happened to learn about the game that sealed the deal: The final choice at the "end" of the game and the thing that happens to Keith. Both of these things, when I started to think about them, cast a very interesting and critical gaze on the entire culture of these kinds of violent video games in a similar if greatly subdued way that Spec Ops: The Line did. Far Cry 3 is not judgmental of people that enjoy violent fantasy escapism, but it does ask the questions. Why do we like feeling this way? How would this kind of experience really change a person? What is true power, and how much of a role does self-delusion play in these violent fantasies that have taken up such permanent residence in our gaming culture? Suddenly, despite my reservations, Far Cry 3 had my attention.
     Luckily the game went on sale for something reasonable like 25% off during one day of the Steam winter sale and I bought it right away. Honestly the experience was somewhat lackluster at first; the POV on this game felt a little unnatural at first and, at Ultra settings, it was maintaining around 18-22 FPS. The beginning of the game is bleak and very effective at making the player feel alone, scared, and weak. After making it through the beginning sequences I was under the impression that getting through the rest of the game was going to be a bit of a chore, to be honest.
     One thing that will kill your Far Cry experience is trying to play this game in chunks, an hour or so at a time. This was how I approached the game for the first two weeks or so, and every time I tried to get through a bit more of it after working all day I grew distracted and could not maintain interest. The world was far too vast and there are always far too many things happening at once to take this game in small pieces. It wasn't until one day where I got out of work early to have my car worked on that I ended up putting in a nice and healthy five-hour jaunt into this game where I gallivanted around the top island, primarily concerned with liberating outposts and radio towers. Though I had no option to settle down and become a potato farmer, Far Cry does et you run around and do almost every side quest available in the first half of the game before even going to meet the doctor and get the rescue plot underway. That is precisely what I did, and that is an itch that I did not know needed so badly to be scratched. Running around the island and clearing off the pirate-infested parts of the map is a blast. It is very easy to become obsessed with one particular task and spent hours on end seeing it through to completion. Once all of the outposts and radio towers were liberated it was time to concentrate on crafting. Once crafting was taken as far as it could go it was time to play through the story. Once the story opened us up to the bottom island it was time to clea those outposts and radio towers. This past Saturday I literally spen 12 hours oing every single "Path of the Hunter" and "Wanted: DEAD" quest in the entire game because I had put all of them off. I'd had no interest in going hunting for dogs with a flamethrower while there were still outposts to liberate, but once I started on these hunting quests it was massively satisfying to knock them away one after another after another.
     This sounds a lot like grinding, but it's not. There are "levels" and "experience points" but that is not why you do any of the things that you do in this game. Often times I would level up nearly a dozen times before pulling up the skills tree and assigning the points to anything. The game gives you all of the tools that you need almost right at the start. It is the journey that makes it worthwhile, not the reward.
     It should be noted that, while I was extremely thorough with the outposts, towers, hunting and assassinations, I did almost none of the regular side quests and none of the "Supply Drop" or racing quests. They just didn't grab me as something that I'd want to marathon in the same way, and fortunately the game was completely fine with that. It never once forces you to explore any of the side content. It never takes you by the nose and forces you to grind these mini games that they spent so much time and effort on programming. They respect the pace and style at which you would like to enjoy the experience, and I can really get behind that. In this way it is extremely similar to the Fallouts and Skyrims of the world. I found it very fun to become massively leveled and powerful in Skyrim before ever actually heading to Riverrun to advance the plot and the game was fine with that. Far Cry 3 copies this and transplants it into their first-person shooter flawlessly and that is really very commendable.
     The plot of Far Cry 3 is, on the surface, nothing terribly special. The characters are excellently written, and some of them, the villain Vaas especially, are delivered in such a believable way that it borders on the uncanny. The transformation of Jason Brody from a scared valley boy to self-styled jungle warrior is a slow burn that requires the massive game time in order to fully appreciate. Yes, it is silly how quickly he is able to effectively murder scores of pirates with machine guns and knives. It's a video game and that is what happens in video games. The neat part is how they acknowledge it; at one point Jason's girlfriend might as well have stared directly at the camera and asked the player outright "how is any of this fun for you?" In actuality she was criticizing Jason for whooping for joy and excitement after the two of them escape from certain death and/or sexual slavery with a lot of bullets and explosions. Jason is us. We are enjoying ourselves. What does that say about us?
     Lastly, Far Cry 3 makes use of an unreliable narrator. The colorful and confusing dream sequences grow more and more frequent as you progress through the plot and personally, by the end, I am left wondering how much of it actually happened and how much was entirely fabricated in Jason's head. (Did Vaas ever actually exist, for example?) That is something that I was not expecting from a big-budget first-person shooter. It has left me thinking. Consider that, and then tack on the fact that the creators included an entirely undersold side-campaign in the form of a cooperative multiplayer mode that drops you in the role of one of four new characters, set as a prequel to the main game. It takes a whopping six hours or so to complete and in no way feels like an afterthought. There was a lot of love put into this game and it shows. My only regret is that I doubt that I will ever want to much play through the game again in the same way that I find myself returning to Skyrim or New Vegas. You can only really appreciate Jason's descent into madness the first time. Time will tell. There may come another Saturday where I decide it's time to plow through all of those untouched side quests... 
     Great game, though. Play it but only if you have time.

     Battlefield 3:
     I spent a good four hours on the single-player campaign of Battlefield 3 on Sunday and figured that it was worth a mention. The hardcore Battlefield fans that I know like to talk about the single player campaigns of these games as a silly distraction to keep yourself occupied between the real meat of the game: multiplayer matches. I, unfortunately, have a severe allergy to most competitive multiplayer experiences and almost never play those modes. The only two reasons that I own Battlefield 3 are that I was able to get it for ten dollars a few months back and that it is so pretty that seeing the beautiful environments and sequences run at 80+ FPS on my computer is an enormous ego boost.
     Battlefield 3 is extremely pretty. The sound design stole the show for me, though. I had my headphones on the entire time and I have never played a game tha sounded etter. Every RPG that whirred past my head felt real, and all of the guns sound unique. You really can close your eyes and truly feel like you are there. The stunning visuals help in this regard as well.
     At it's core, though, it is a modern military shooter just like all of the other modern military shooters and doesn't try to be much more. It doesn't so much glorify war but it certainly doesn't study it or its ramifications or its impact on society or anything like that. It's a fun chance to play G.I. Joes and it is a very well-made game. If you're into that kind of thing.


     What I'd really like to be writing now is how much I love Stealth Bastard Deluxe, which was basically the sole reason that I ordered an XBox controller for my PC. The game worked well for the first 3 levels or so, but now I cannot play it more than five minutes at a time before the entire game locks up and my computer requires a hard reset in order to function. That is a deal breaker for me and thus far I am unable to find a fix for this very unfortunate problem. This is a massive shame because the gameplay was super tight and was something really fun to poke around at for a little while after work. I purchased this from Steam along wit Mark of the Ninja, another stealth side-scroller, and while MotN is more critically acclaimed it does not draw me in the same way that the Bastard does. Shame.


    Up next I'll be spending some more time on, believe it or not Euro Truck Simulator and trying to figure out just why I love it so much. Also coming up, hopefully, is a blemished gem from a while back (or so it has been called by people who have actually played it Alpha Protocol

Binary Domain

     Let's talk about some games.

     Binary Domain:
     I am not at all sure how to say too much or too little about Binary Domain. I picked up this game for something completely and utterly ridiculous as $2.49 on a whim after hearing it discussed with some guarded affection on the Giant Bomb podcast. They made it sound like it was, at its core, a solid if somewhat flawed third-person shooter with a lot of heart and some surprising moments of quality. Seeing it on sale for such a price and coming fresh off my love affair with Spec Ops: The Line, which reinvigorated in me the enjoyment of 3rd Person Shooters that Mass Effect 3 got so right, I scooped it up without hesitation and tossed it to the top of the backlog list. Games like this only take 8-10 hours to complete and that it somewhat of a sweet spot for me. It implies that, while the game is mostly linear, the developers have in a mind a certain sense of pacing and the game can be fully appreciated in two or three sessions. I like that in a game; the drawn out, 40-hour romps tend to feel like a waste to me if they do not grab you, but on the other extreme I adore the virtually endless, open world games such as New Vegas and Skyrim. After spending so much time with Sleeping Dogs, I was excited for a game that promised to get in and out in less then twelve hours before I help my breathe and dove into the time-suck that would be Far Cry 3.
     First off, someone needs to sit down with SEGA and explain a few things to them. If you can say one thing about the way that this game was handled it is that the buried the lead. In fact, no. They didn't just bury it. They interred it deep underground in a secret subterranean vault, the location of which is only known by a few privileged individuals of a secret watchdog society that is only rumored to exist. Binary Domain received no marketing that I was aware of, as is often the case with their games. It is a shame that this game sunk to such an insultingly low price point before I was even aware of it because it is clear that a great deal of work went into it.
     Let's ignore the non-existent marketing, though. Let's assume that, like me, you happened to get wind of this game and scoop it up. Great. Let's hope that you have never played a third person shooter, or really any kind of shooter for that fact, because it seems like the default controls of this game goes out of their way to irk you and challenge convention. Get ready to reload your gun and charge your special attack with the middle mouse button, and before you ask, no, these two things cannot be separated. Even if you rebind the key, those two actions have to share the same input. Why? When you have all of the keyboard available, why would you program it in such a way? That is just one example, ignoring the strange defaults for the use, melee, and other keys. Thankfully, this is mostly fixable if you spend a few minutes in the options menu and reassign everything. You also mercifully have the option to turn off the Voice Input option, which, though it is ambition, is woefully inaccurate and nothing but a scorn upon an already frustrating control scheme. Retool the controls, turn off the gimmicky voice input, and the game actually becomes somewhat approachable.
     At this point, Binary Domain begins to shuffle its feet nervously as it realizes that you are still playing and have not yet given up in frustration. In a last ditch effort to shake you, the first hour or so of the game explains absolutely nothing and is full of some of the worst, unnatural dialogue between the player character and your partner, the irreverent Big Bo. I can entirely understand and sympathize with the number of reviewers that seem to have been put off by this first section. It's loud and feels like an clunky arcade rail-shooter, complete with a score system in the top left-hand corner and a strange polish over everything that feels just a littl off.
     And then something magical happens. Once you've survived the arguably unnecessary prologue you are treated to what is actually a very interesting science fiction story with a lot of great cyberpunk themes quite neatly interspersed throughout the engaging plot. The environments are varied enough to keep it interesting and look great. The gun-play is basically what you would expect from a game like this and the cover mechanics are crisp enough that you always feel in full control of your character. Sure, the dialogue is shamelessly littered with somewhat over-the-top tropes and cliches but that, combined with the positive aspects, actually gives the game a unique and quirky charm that I was not at all expecting. The difficulty is satisfying for the most part, though there are a few boss fights where the sharp ramp up in challenge had me pulling my hair out; the hard parts felt cheap and not legitimately difficult, and though I'm not asking any game to hold my hand it would have been nice if there had bee some kind of indicator as to whether or not you are supposed to aim for a specific weak spot on th final boss of the game. Spoiler alert: you are not. Through the entire game you fight bosses that are all classically invulnerable save for a specific weak point, though the final boss has none and completely inexplicably your are expected to just assume that you are to unload on him with indiscretion until he eventually dies from it. That was beyond frustrating and drew me to Youtube with bewilderment. 
     Overall, though, I really enjoyed my time with Binary Domain and it's a filthy shame that SEGA made sure that no one would play this game by not telling anyone about it and then making it incredibly difficult to access. This guaranteed poor reviews weak press and low sales, all which mean it is abysmally unlikely that this game will get the sequel that it rightfully deserves.
     The last thing that I'll say about Binary Domain is this: kick back and think about how many third-person shooters you have played that didn't require you to kill anyone. You are fighting robots this entire time and it did not get old shooting off all of their little robot bits. You do not kill anyone but you do think a little on the nature of being alive, and I'll take that any day.

     P.S. How can you hate on a game that actually addresses the age old question: Don't any of these characters have to go to the bathroom during these 10 straight hours of conflict and running around? That hilarious moment alone made this worth the price of admission.

The Woodcutter

    I purposefully told GoDaddy last year to stop automatically renewing my domain name and hosting service because I hadn't been expecting the $96 or so to hit my credit card when it did at the end of 2011. The reasoning was that I hadn't been using it all that much and, instead of addressing that problem, I chose to run away from it like I always do and I cut myself loose from it. I figured that if I got myself back on track within the span of 12 months and started chipping away at the translations like I should have been I would be fully aware that I would need to renew the license at the end of the year. Failing that I would need to at least use the domain to upload the rough draft of my 2012 Nanowrimo attempt, and that would be in November, just in time to catch the service right before it expires.

    We now sit in January after a year of almost no progress on the translations and a Nanowrimo upon which I gave up and scrapped at just over 60% completion. I have not touched or thought about the domain in months. While originally the entire idea of translating the stories of Miyazawa was envisioned as a sort of primer for a doctoral thesis, I've now more or less shut the door on that prospect by beginning the process of both getting married and investing in a house with a grown-up mortgage and everything. The possibilities of picking up and shipping off to some far off university that has a PhD program that would take me is extremely slim at this point. Pile upon this situation the fact that I have signed up for a computer programming associates degree program at the community college which begins in a matter of weeks, and I'm not even entirely certain if all of the course offerings will be available after 6PM when I get out of work.

    This very weekend I could sit down and pummel away at translatin The Origin of the Deer Dance nd that would complete the first official collection of Kenji's works. I have no doubt that all of this has been done before and I know for a fact that there are countless other people with far better language skills and more time that could be doing this. It does not have to be me, and if it is me it is very unlikely that anyone is going to care. That is perhaps what gets to me the most. No one is looking for this. I was once interested in it when I was outward-facing, back when I wasn't so afraid of getting involved, but it is very difficult to get past the woodcutter when it comes to matters like this.

    The woodcutter is a pastiche of characters in my head from movies and other media that I may or may not have actually seen. It is the closest approximation to the type of person that I believe I am trying to become as of late. The woodcutter is the NPC seen only in the background of an RPG as the adventurers pass through town. He lives on a mill and, as his name implies, chops wood for the better part of his day. He's got a cozy setup and has a task that keeps him busy, though it is not the most glamorous occupation. It is not impossible that the woodcutter was once an adventurer or that he may one day pack up and head off to seek some sort of magic chalice, but for the foreseeable future he's just going to keep a grin on his face, swing that ax, and carry his wood off to market or to the chimney. What the woodcutter lacks is ambition and he is at peace with that. He's achieved happiness and doesn't need to fill his life with danger and  excitement in order to maintain it.

    Being the woodcutter is easy except for when I remember the ambitions that I used to have, in which event I get momentarily very depressed. As evidenced by my behavior this past year I have had no problem keeping my head down, doing my work, playing my games, and basically just enjoying this little life that S.T. and I have carved out for ourselves. It is not always easy but for the most part it is comfortable and we are happy. Quite often, in fact, I'll actually fire up Skyrim and literally chop wood outside of the cottage that I've built with my Argonian wife and I'll listen to podcasts or the music of the game world or even just the sound of the stream and the world of Skyrim itself. There are times, though, when I think back about Japan, or the senior year at UMass or about Grad school. I think about the ambitions that kept me motivated to get through Centech and Bank of America. I think about that short call that I made to the Comp. Lit. department at Brown University last year where my pipe dream of attending a doctoral program locally crashed and burned on the launch pad. I think about my old professors, Miller especially, and I wonder if they would be wildly disappointed with the woodcutter, or if they saw this coming and knew that I would not amount to anything as an academic. Most likely they would not care at all; they've had dozens of graduate students come through the program since I left and I'm positive that I didn't leave any lasting impression worth a thought.

    And there it is again. No one is listening. No one will care but me if I do any of the things that I had planned to do. I'm looking back at the past and I see the open fields of Middle Earth full of promise and adventure but there is no one there. There are trees and mountains and distant, unreachable cities but there is no one there that wants to share in the journey, and there are no companions to meet along the way. As pretty as it is, that road is unused and barren and I can see myself easily going mad with every silent step along it that I would take. That is what stops me from flailing pitifully about and slowly working o Deer Dance. No one cares, maybe not even me, and it is a solution to a problem that does not exist. But maybe some journeys may be worth it just because there is nothing better to do. But do I have nothing better to do? Is staying here, chopping my wood, really so bad?

    Over the last few months I've been reading a lot of the games subreddit, and a few weeks ago I took it to the next step and subscribed to a number of podcasts that discuss video games and the gaming industry. Like I mentioned in the previous couple of entries I've been motivated to get a bit more dedicated at actually playing through the catalog of Steam games that I've amassed. Last weekend I capped off at 10ish hours on Binary Domain and put maybe equally as much time int Far Cry 3. Shawn and I started on the painfu Operation Raccoon City wo nights ago and, thanks to the fact that I was able to get my hands on a 360 controller that works flawlessly on the PC, I've been chugging through the levels o Stealth Bastard and dabbled i Hotline Miami. That's a lot of time in front of my computer. Additionally, S.T. and I watche Loope an Antibodies. These are all things that I'd like to talk about, really, and do something constructive with so that they are not just things that distracted me for hours on end. That is what I hear in these podcasts like Giant Bomb, TGS and Idle Thumbs; these folks are literally professionals. They play games for a living and talk about them and write about them. I watched over an hour of footage of Vinny from Bombcast playin Euro Truck Simulator 2 ast night and I actually really enjoyed it. It goes without saying that my envy knows no bounds. I could see myself trying to do something like these guys do and becoming one of the literally thousands of unentertaining, unwatched content creators that litter the internet. That's just something that I don't think is going to happen. 

    Maybe something will come of this computer programming track, though. I'll be hitting thirty years old and finishing an Associates that I'm not sure will actually be useful but I'd like to have a skill that I could actually tinker with in some kind of way, though I'm afraid of it being exactly what Japanese has become to me: something that I was once passionate about that I had little talent for and no one had any need of. Still, though, I'd like to again be able to craft a little text RPG in C++ like I once did in high school. We'll see where that goes. That's all my complaining for now. Hopefully I'll be back soon to rant a bit about Far Cry and Binary Domain and the others.

Sleeping Dogs and FTL: Faster Than Light

    So far the trends of good decision making have continued for the past week. There have been one or two difficult spots where maintaining a healthy mindset has been absurdly difficult but so far no slip ups. I'm finding it easier to stay on track when there is a regular schedule in place; work, gym, shower, food, games, bed. And what an experience that has been. At time of writing I've dumped about 16 hours into Sleeping Dogs (sorry Dishonored. Maybe we'll try again some time), another hour or so into Scribblenauts, and over 5 hours in FTL: Faster Than Light. Friday night in particular was nice. Without any substance in my system at all I stayed up until about 1AM on Sleeping Dogs and set my mind to falling asleep on the couch to a Netflix movie. That didn't work out, though, as Roland Emmerich's Hell proved far more interesting and thought-provoking than I'd anticipated. It hardly even fell within my pet sub-genre of "bad horror." In fact, it was not bad at all. It was well shot and well acted, and though I don't know why, I was really taken with the idea of a post-apocalyptic setting based that used intense heat as a setting rather than zombies or radiation. It really made for an interesting setting that allowed the showcasing of the true monster in all apocalypse movies: humanity's cruelty against itself. Rather than go to bed like a responsible adult when it was over around 2:30AM, I decided to try for one more go at FTL, which ran me well into 4AM. Between those two games and that movie I found a lot to enjoy that night. 

    Let's talk about some games.

Sleeping Dogs:   
    I've had my eye on this game ever since they started saturating the commercial breaks for AMC;s The Walking Dead with TV spots. Innumerable were the times that we heard "You're a cop. I'm an undercover cop. The rules are different!" in the background while we hurried into the kitchen to freshen up our drinks. Really, though, the concept of an open-world "GTA-Clone" cop drama set in Hong Kong and published by SquareEnix hit me in all of the right places, and my interest only grew once the reviews started to rave about how well optimized the game apparently was on the PC. I'm not entirely sure why this game did not get a bigger release than it enjoyed, but I suppose it is the same reason that Saints Row: The Third did not shatter sales records either. As much as I think that they are a massive step in the right direction for game design, I feel like these kinds of free-roaming open world games still occupy somewhat of a niche market (they're not as safe as, say, the third-person over-the-shoulder cover-based shooter, which also has its place) and the playing field is relatively saturated with them at the moment. In a world with Skyrim, Far Cry 3, Just Cause 2, and Saints Row: The Third, Sleeping Dogs was not set up to make a big splash in the free-roam marketplace. I think that's a shame, because while Sleeping Dogs does not do anything particularly new, it does everythin better han the source material from which it borrows. This applies in terms of graphics, leveling mechanics, driving, plot, side missions, and pace.
     Unluckily, I missed a short sale at GreenManGaming that let people pick up a Steam copy of this game for something crazy like $5 and instead waited until an Amazon sale that listed it for something like $15. The game then went on sale on Steam a few days later and I picked up all of the DLC that was discounted (all but one or two packs). Normally I don't this kind of practice. I don't much like rewarding a publisher for selling a relatively new game along with a dozen pay-more-packs that could have just as easily been included with the main game, especially if they don't add any new story content. This was exactly the case with Sleeping Dogs. All of the DLC I bought added extra things like outfit, weapons, in-game money, experience bonuses, while only a few added a few side missions that were completely extraneous to the plot. I only did this for two reasons. For one, I was so floored with the performance of the game that I was violently driven to get as much of the extra content as I could while it was still on sale. Secondly, I took this approach with Saints Row 3 and found that having all of these extra goodies at the start of the game did not cheapen the experience for me but enhanced it. I understand that this will not be the case for everyone. Personally, though, when it comes to open-world games like this I have no problem getting over-powered as soon as possible. More power usually means more freedom and that is exactly what I'm looking for in a game like this. Your mileage may vary, especially if you are not comfortable with the fact that two of the DLC packs (Gold and Silver Top Dog packs) literally just drop more Triad and Cop experience onto your character out of nowhere. That is leveling that you could have done on your own and doe nothing ut overpower you for the earlier missions. Again, though, not something I would have bought without the sale but I was driven to support the game.
     The first thing that I installed for this game was the free high resolution texture pack. I didn't even know that it was available at first, but upon seeing it listed in the possible DLC for the game my PC began to throb with self-satisfied pleasure and I had no choice but to begin the lengthy download. I say as much because I want to make it clear that I have not seen the game in action without said pack installed nor do I have any interest in doing so, and that means that I have no means for comparison or for measuring the difference. With the pack, however, the graphics are astounding ood. Hong Kong comes to life in a very real way and the entire city is brimming with life from the brightly-lit high rises to the crowded sidewalks to the street vendors hocking their bootlegged wares. I would not go as far as to call the character models photo-realistic but the facial animations are likely second only to the higher end video capture that you see in games like L.A. Noire lend themselves very well to an entirely immersive experience. The vehicles (and the scooters! Oh, scooters everywhere!) look particularly good and I really enjoy the way that the textures adapt to the environment. Wet clothes look wet and Wei Shen looks like a bloody mess after scrapping with a horde of gangsters in a back alley. 
     The binary leveling system in Sleeping Dogs borrows its essential mechanics from Saint's Row's respect system and improves upon it. You gain levels in both your Cop and Triad trees by performing up to the standards of each. When on a mission, you will obviously lose serious Cop points for "accidentally" plowing through a crowd of civilians or "accidentally" pulling one of them off the street, shoving them into a phone booth and beating them mercilessly with the receiver until they die from it. You gain Cop points by doing good boy scout activities such as busting drug deals and securing the safety of the public. Triad points are gained by destroying enemy vehicles and generally being a badass while on official Triad business. The decision to turn off the accumulation of experience points while outside of missions and just wandering freely around Hong Kong is an odd but understandable one; the amount of damage you can do to the general public while in free range mode would ruin your ability to ever level up your Cop attribute and would instantly level your Triad ranking to its maximum. I rather like this. It implies that Wei gains experience while on the clock but is free from all judgment while wandering around and doing his own thing. If I'm just stealing and selling a few sports cars for extra cash and decide that I want to murder a girl from the massage parlor just to blow off some steam, who is to know? One odd thing about the binary system surprised me, though. Given that Cop points are generally gained b not oing and that Triad points are gained fro doing, I figured that I would see the Cop score stagnate while the triad score skyrocketed. The opposite proved true, however, as there are plenty of side quests that improve the Cop score while only doing story missions will advance your Triad level. Overall it feels balanced and appropriate.
     The driving in this game feels like the weakest aspect of the game and that is great because it is actually pretty good. The camera is nothing short of boggling, though, and that is my one major source of complaint for this game. Trying to run down a crowd of mobsters so that you don't have to get out and get blood on that nice suit you just bought? I hope you like randomly changing directions midway as the camera whips inexplicably around your car to ensure that you have the worst view possible of what is in front of you. Driving on the highway and in the streets is just fine, but any kind of quick handling or turn-arounds almost out of the question. On the positive end, however, the ramming system is nothing short of a massive and necessary improvement on driving mechanics that are otherwise on par with similar open-world games. The slow-motion moment that you get when you manage to ram a car into decommission never gets old, nor does the "action hijack" where you leap from your car onto the roof of another. Again, Sleeping Dogs doesn't really do anything new, but it does all of it better.
     I cannot speak too much regarding the plot as I have not completed the game but I find the character of Wei Shen very sympathetic and I'm with him every step of the way. Some of the interactions between characters feel uncomfortably realistic while others are rather light-hearted and a little goofy. Overall, though, I always look forward to where the game is headed next, though it always takes me a long time to get there due to my next point...
    There are so many side missions! So far there has not yet been a single moment where I have ha to continue the main plot. There is nothing stopping you, for the most part, from spending the entire game breaking up drug busts, stealing cars, singing karaoke, dating and hunting for health shrines. Sometimes I have no idea what I am going to do when I boot up the game and leave my apartment and love hat. My one complaint is that a majority of the available side content is in the form of street races, which are likely my least favorite aspect of these kinds of games and they showcase the driving mechanics, which are certainly nothing special in Sleeping Dogs.
    I plan on playing this through to the end and will likely keep coming back to it the way that I have with GTA4 in the past. If one is into these kinds of free-roaming crime dramas I would dare say that Sleeping Dogs is worth it even at the sticker price. Get it.

FTL: Faster Than Light
     FTL is easily one of the most deceptive time-sucks that I have ever encountered, and I mean that in a good way.
     Originally I'd had no plans to buy this game in the least. I'd heard that Kickstarter had produced a decent rogue-like space sim that had enthusiasts of the genre all tittering with excitement and I was very happy for them. The only thing remotely rogue-like that I'd ever played was the Desktop Dungeons beta and even that was just a nice distraction from when I was supposed to be working. The hype for this game, however, was incessant by the third time I heard it nominated for a GOTY consideration at the same time as it went on sale on Steam for $5 I had no choice but to pick up this odd little quirk of a game.
     It is an interesting coincidence that I'm playing this game alongside Sleeping Dogs. I mentioned before how little I mind being over-powered in an free-roaming romp, and this is because while I enjoy a challenge, I tend to like knowing that I can win and the path to winning is what I enjoy. FTL pushes this button as well, though in an entirely different way. One does not win FTL, one tries t survive t. If you had to sell me on a game where you can expect to die over and over again, such as Dark Souls, I'd have little to no interest. FTL sneaks in and grabs you, though, and you find yourself doing precisely that and wanting more.
     The mechanics of the game were a bit overwhelming at first but after the tutorial and about 20 minutes of play I had a grasp for the scope of things and found myself on the precipice of a deep chasm. There is a lot to this game. It is complex in its simplicity. It takes your time away. It's good and it is cheap. Get it.