December is here and it feels like the year passed by so quickly. If I try to think back on what happened this past year... what has changed? I'm still mostly doing what I did before, still some of the same issues, still many of the same delights.
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My new Herman Miller chair (the "Embody") showed up yesterday, and I've already made good use trying it out as I play Death Stranding. It forces me to sit up better, correctly, in such a way that I will really need some time adjusting to the differing muscle usage to not be slouching all the time. It seemed extravangantly expensive to buy, but I already feel like it was worth it. Here's hoping it will help with my tense shoulders and other issues, though I am realizing I may need to boost up my monitors more so my head is not always bent down.
Death Stranding continues to be a kind of weird, absurd, at times frustrating, at times creepy game. It's flaws do not, as yet, outweight my interest in playing and seeing where it goes, but there are times I am really annoyed by very minor concessions that could have been made to the player. For instance, the proponderance of tiny repetitive cut scenes that cannot be skipped though. Too many games have such things, where you perform some action and then have to watch as the character does something. This happens again and again in the game, with the same scenes, and it becomes increasingly frustrating to not be able to just hit a button to skip past.
The game continues to be, basically, a game about a post-apocalyptic postal worker, which is a pretty funny idea for a game. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The mechanics of carrying stuff seems to be a commentary on other games where your character carries a seemingly endless amount of stuff without appearing any different or suffering any penalties. In this games, encumbrance is the primary rule, moreso than almost anything else. When you carry something you see it on your character, and since the game is about carrying stuff, you often have all kinds of stuff strapped to your body or precariously piled up on your backpack, swaying from side to side if you don't walk carefully, tumbling off you if you take a fall or get hit by one of the bandits who try to steal your deliveries. Resource management is important, though, since I am playing on easy (though not the very easy, this game kindly does have a lot of difficulty levels), it's not been overwhelming me. This is mitigated a lot by the really interesting use of online play. You don't explicitly play with or see other people, but you can interact with the structures they create and the things they leave behind. It is an unusually cooperative form of online play for a video game, in a medium where competition is more often the case (or small scale cooperation in competition with others). My character can improve a road, and then another character can improve the next section and we all get to use both parts. I can contribute to upgrading a power station someone else built. This nicely mirrors a main/rule of the game, where your goal is connecting various disparate bases and people together via a "chiral" network (one of the many world specific things in this game that only sort of make sense). So as you connect the entities in the game, the area covered by that entity then starts to include the cooperation of other players. You get an actual connection to other people via the in story connection. It's pretty effective. I'm actually curious how that all works on the back end. Am I always seeing the content from a specific group of people? Are all players somehow group together in some way? I recall, now that I think about it, that very early on the game asked for my birthday and then made some comment about zodiac signs. I wonder if that is how they batched people together.
Some of the weird/creepy aspects of the game are also really effective. There are mostly invisible human shaped creatures that seem to be from the world of the dead... or something, that appear in places when it rains. You have a scanner that detects them via direction and proximity. So at times you'll be moving along and you'll hit rain and then suddenly your scanner goes off and you have to start creeping around, trying to ascertain where the monsters are and not have them appear and grab you. A pool of black sludge appears with sludgy torsos rising up and trying to drag you down, and it is really effective as something you want to avoid. I'm assuming at some point there will be some basic explanation for what it all is.
This morning's early viewing was The Inland Sea on the Criterion Channel, a filmic adaptation of Donald Richie's book of the same name. I've read a little bit of Richie's work (his Ozu book and his book on Japanese Aesthetic) and this made me want to read more. It's basically a travel journal (though in one of the supplimental interviews he notes how it was conglomeration of various trips and journals that he considers more of a novel), through a bunch of smaller island in the eponymous area between the main southern and central islands of Japan. Lots of attractive landscape shots and the sea and bright red painted Shinto temples. RIchie laments the encroachment of modernization and homogenization in the area in way that is nostalgic.
Oddly it almost immediately made me think of a D&D setting: a bunch of small islands between two larger ones, wherein the sea is primarily a passage between two large political entities (empires, kingdoms, whatever). So the islands are criss-crossed by civilizations but mostly unexplored or left alone excepting small ports or bases. Natives who are of neither entity with an animistic religion. And... what if those small craggy islands also house entrances to a vast system of caves that link the islands from beneath the sea. And just like that, I'm excited about a D&D campaign that I will probably never play or would get bored of before a session or two passes.
I'm really prolific today it seems, as I'm sitting here on the couch waiting for Lianne to return with some breakfast. She volunteered to go get some bagel egg sandwiches for us, so I sat to write and wait.
I've been reading a few chapters a day of Brad Warner's new book Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen. I've been reading his books regularly for many years now, more than 10 years, looking at the dates of publication. He writes (as that book title indicates) about Zen. He has an anti-authoritarian streak to him that I appreciate and also works hard at defusing any impression that he is some sort of "zen master" or is a wise, aloof, enlightened guy who people should follow. Sometimes, that latter quality of defusing his own authority becomes a little too much, as in his writings he often seems to work too hard at being goofy or jokey. But he is skilled at writing about Zen Buddhism in a way that is comprehensible, non-mystical, and practical. This latest one was written as a kind of "back to basics" guide to Zen, so it's a lot of things I've already heard, but I think it was a good move by him, as his previous two books (particular the last one, which I never did manage to finish) got very into the analysis of the Zen teacher Dogen's work, which gets pretty complicated. This new book is written as letters to a recently dead friend of Brad's while he is on a speaking/teaching tour in Europe. The narrative aspect holds together a lot of short chapters on various aspects of Buddhism and Zen.
The whole day passed by without my getting to this, and now I'm in bed writing before I return to some of the various books I'm working on. We'll see how this goes, though I do have the benefit of a couple notes I took yesterday and early this morning.
Watched Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique yesterday. It's been many years since I watched it, but I've always retained a positive memory of all the films of his I've watched. It's an unusual film, but one that feels very 90's euro art film to me, though I can't back that up with anything specific. It's story is one that makes me wonder where Kieslowski and his writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz got the idea from. The film starts with Weronika, a young Polish woman with a lovely singing voice. At one point she sees someone who looks exactly like her taking photos of a protest and getting into a tour bus. At one point in the movie Weronika dies and then the movie transitions over to showing that other identical woman, Veronique, a young French music teacher. The film follows her and an odd set-up for a romance that starts. Towards the end, her new boyfriend, in looking at the contact sheet of her photos from a trip to Poland, notices Weronika.
I think if I watched it again I would notice more connections between the two women, it feels like there should be overlapping narrative or symbolic elements. There are some just in regards to music, but overall the story doesn't do anything really explicit to parallel the two women. There's no cutting back and forth between them, for instance, or any indications that they are secretly related or twins or anything like that. But there are moments where there seems to be a connection. The latter mentions a moment where she suddenly feels like she is alone in the world, clearly referencing the death of the former. But the connection remains a mystery, the fact of the existence of two identical women is left unexplained.
Some movies are heavily dependent on the lead actor, and this is certainly one of those, Irene Jacob carries the movie with her presence. She is in every scene, the focalization never leaves Weronika/Veronique, though we do very rarely see things that they miss (late in the movie, Veronique is in a train station, and one of the women from the first part of the movie clearly sees her and is surprised to see a women who looks just the dead singer, but nothing comes of it, it's just in the background). Irene Jacob is really powerful in this, and it's weird to me that the only other thing I can think of with her is Kieslowski's Red (which I also mean to rewatch).
Two times in the movie (once for each of the women) she looks right at the camera, in a surprising way, especially for a film that is otherwise firmly behind the fourth wall. The lighting in the movie seemed really green to me, I'm not sure if that's a result of lighting or film stock, but it had to be intentional. It suffused the film in an odd way, that I can't quite explain, but it was beautiful. One scene beautifully contrasted that green light with a red one.
Seems like a movie I should rewatch before I forget too much of it, as I expect there's more to be seen in it, than I got out of a single viewing.
I mentioned the Brad Warner book I'm reading the other day, and there were two quotes I wanted to copy down. In one chapter he's talking about the idea of "no self" in Zen.
But we can say that our personality is not our self. Our feelings are not our self. Our experiences are not our self. This can go on and on. So finally Buddhists just gave up and say there is no self. It doesn't mean all that other stuff doesn't exist. But the idea that all these things &em; all these "heaps" or "aggregates" as the ancient Buddhists call them &em; are one single integrated thing that is the real "me" starts to seem absurd. You might as well just give up the idea. (110)
I think how sometimes, I try to be consistent to my "self". How I can define myself by things I like or things I do or ways I act, and then to go against those things or give up those things or just be contradictory, is really hard. It's like once you have this idea of yourself you have to hold onto it, and it can be hard to change it. Your self becomes this habit that you perform without thinking every day, and sometimes you think you want to change part of the habit, but then that would be... not your self.
It's like the idea of changing your mind. Changing your mind can be "flip flopping" or hypocritical or just plain inconsistent for other people. If I spent years liking... trying to think of a real example right now and failing, so falling back on a hypothetical... black tea and then decide, no, I don't want to drink that anymore, but everyone I know keeps offering me tea, or making it for me. And I'm not sure any of this completes a thought, but it triggered something in my head reading it (and probably it's more clear and evocative in context of the rest of the chapter).
The other quote, in a chapter about the 10 precepts of Buddhism, talks about one "Don't get mad."
I feel like you can divide anger into two phases. The first phase of anger comes on suddenly in response to a situation. It happens so fast there's not much you can do about it. Maybe something triggers you in some way. Maybe it's almost a physiological reaction to a situation. In any case, it's hard to avoid.
The second phase of anger is when you take that initial burst and hold on to it. You make it into a part of your self-image. I am angry. _My_anger belongs to me. You hold grudges. You plot revenge. You hate. It can get ugly. (138)
Brad talks about this in some of his other books, so it wasn't a new idea to come to, but it's one that has stuck with me and that I've tried to take to heart. I do get angry, especially when I'm stressed, especially when a bunch of little things build up. And I can feel that desire to hold on to the emotion, to be the emotion. I'm angry so I should keep being angry and yell or bang on things or stomp about. So, I've been trying to understand that, and to let it go. To feel the emotion: "I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm stressed." To own up to it, but then to not grab onto it nourish it and work it over in my mind and think about how I'm angry and what made me angry. None of that helps.
I occasionally read books for work related purposes, mostly related to web design (frontend, rather than the backend server side). I just finished Heydon Pickering's Inclusive Components which is based on his website of the same name. Oddly, I bought an ebook copy direct from his site and then like a week later an edition was announced from Smashing, which further solidifies my opinion that they make many of the best web design books. I've read a few of Pickering's books now, focused on accessibility and inclusive design. This one is quite good. It's divided up into different components like "Toggle Buttons", "Tabbed Interfaces", "Modal Dialogs", etc. And then in each he works through examples of each dealing with html, css, js (when necessary), accessibility, responsive design, progressive enhancement, etc. The content is solid, information, and entertaining, and while it is focused on a set of specific components, the advice and skills learned are generally applicable to other contexts.
Longer ago, but I never mentioned it, I also finished up Matthias Noback's Style Guide for Object Design which I got from his website and now also has been picked up a publisher, so it's now available here as Object Design Style Guide. This is specifically about php and was also quite excellent. His style guide bears a lot of similarities to how we handle our php at my job, so it was familiar and relevant. It's a book I feel like I could revisit, reread, and learn more. One thing he recommends that I don't do heavily in my code is throwing exceptions for invalid property values. I end up doing a lot of checking a variable (Is the id > 0? Does the input for this email address field look like a real email?) and then returning an error response. Or if the code fails to find a requested object it returns null and then if the object var is null, an error response is returned. Noback throws different types of Exceptions in his class instead. I can see how, for instance just throwing some kind of "InvalidInputException" which a message like "Email address is invalid" would allow my routing code to just catch that type of exception and send a response with the appropriate http status code and message. That way my individual controllers would not need to account for all the various invalid inputs as specific if blocks.
Walking down to the bakery for morning coffee yesterday there was a big black puddle on the macadam reflecting the trees and sky above like a mirror. Something about looking down into puddles and seeing myself and the world reflected always interested me, a natural mirror, flawed and dim. Yesterday I wondered at fantasy stories that use that idea. Surely, someone has done a dark mirror world (probably a fey world) entered by jumping into a puddle. Which makes me think of the mirror world in the various Star Trek series.
A few days got away from me. After finishing up Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen, I decided to get back to trying zazen again. So I sat for 10 minutes the past two mornings, but then I jumped right into work and never sat down to write. Other than work mostly just... playing Death Stranding still, watching tv.
Death Stranding continues to be both interesting and frustrating. If I weren't playing on easy I would have given up by now. I eventually figured out how to skip some of the little cut scenes, but it takes no less than three button presses to do it, and some of the ones you see regularly (like when going into your "private room" so you can heal, repair vehicles, and restock supplies) has no less than 6 different scenes you have to skip. It's absurd.
The way the game uses actors (some famous enough that I recognize them), is pretty interesting, in that it seems like something we'll be seeing more of. It does make the game a little more movie-like, and that is partly the frustration of the game. There is a story being told through a lot of cut scenes and monologues (the primary character, who you play, hardly talks at all), and the game part of it is mostly travelling from one place to another, dealing with various obstacles: difficult landscapes, bandits, encumbrance issues, time limits, and the creepy death monsters that are mostly invisible until they are right on top of you. The things you do in the game, as far as I can tell, have no bearing at all on the story.
With the game mostly about travelling and, in general, avoiding conflicts with the bandits or the monsters, it is extra weird that there have been two times where it drops you into this other world and suddenly you're playing a combat simulation fighting dead soldiers. It was a jarring change and one that the rest of the game really doesn't prepare you for. Even when you can't avoid fighting the bandits you have to fight them non-lethally (only explained quite a ways into the game) in case the bodies are left lying around and somehow... cause some kind of catastrophic event related to the death monsters and other worlds.
The mythology of the game is interesting, and very focused on death, but also rather underexplained (not sure if that will change as I get to the end). All the main characters have some kind of differing relationship to death: one character is some kind of artificial Frankenstein's monster and thus was never born, one character is constantly dying and coming back to life, the main character can't really die (he goes into this weird watery place and then comes back to life), one character doesn't really die but merges into her twin. It's all pretty crazy, and they all have names like "Dead man" and "Heart man" and "Mama".
Went to the Pax Unplugged show in Philly on Saturday with some friends. It was an overwhelming number of people and stuff and we only went into the one giant room at the convention center that had the vendors and the open gaming tables. There was a whole other floor for scheduled gaming events. We just walked around the vendor area looking at stuff, most of which looked pretty boring or redundant. There seem to be a ton of variations of a limited set of games/styles/genres. There are also a number of the kind of high end gaming accessory vendors (really fancy gaming tables, really fancy dice, etc). On the whole for me, I ended up just tired and bored. I don't need another role-playing game in some genre I already have a game in. I don't ever have the time or opponents with time to play any of the miniature games I have. Hell, I haven't even ever played the copy of Catan I bought... probably 2 years or more ago now.
I ended up buying one book Hamlet's Hit Points by Robin Laws which looked like it might be an interesting book about game mastering.
Sunday we had our in person session. I continued running _The Cursed Chateau_ which [we started back in October](/entries/2019-10-27-09:01), uses the "we'll make up the characters as we go" method, which isn't turning out too bad, except in the first combat everyone basically had to figure out a number of attributes, so it probably would have been faster to decide some of those all at once in the beginning anyway. I guess it really wasn't much of a time saver. Maybe if we had at least just rolled attributes before starting.
The party had just entered the chateau and moved into a covered walkway at the back of the middle wing of the house. Three armchairs and two armoires animate and attack and that combat took way too long for how unimportant it was. There were some good ideas from the players, though, like sitting on the chairs and riding them like bucking broncos, or pushing over the armoires into an oil puddle on the floor and lighting it up. After awhile I not so subtle suggested that running away is always an option (this group has never really done that), so they moved out of the walkway, which causes the furniture to stop attacking.
The actress PC spied into the kitchen and saw the two servants in there, but did not enter. The party went up the stairs (it was a literal toss-up to decide on going up or down). In the library they met one of the insubstantial maids, and the dashing lord swashbuckler PC at least helped her in tidying up the place a bit. The maid was also questioned a bit, and the party did learn that the master bedroom is in the west wing of the house (they were in the east wing). They also learned that the master has other books in the study, after searching for anything of interest in this room. Someone thought to look for a family bible, which seemed like a logical thing, so I left them find that and discover how the current lord's parents had died when he was very young.
Crossing over to the southern wing, lookig for a way to the west they found the winter dining room, wherein one of the footmen was found. He offered to show them somewhere, but instead they convinced him the staff in the kitchen needed his attention. The next room to the west was a gallery overlooking the main dining hall. A dessicated corpse stood in front of a stained glass window. The dragoon captain looked at the window and managed to pass a save against its (unknown to them) magic (which was disappointing as the results could be pretty hilarious). The nun used her sling to break the window.
At a dead end for getting west, the party went back downstairs and tried the room below the winter dining room, this time a servant's quarters of some kind, empty of any inhabitant at the time. The next room over was the pantry, wherein one of the other maids, this was looking very ghoulish and crazy, was looking for... something... the party directed her one direction, she went the other.
The combat took up too much of the time. The random table you roll on when the party enters each room is... often pointless. Little things that have no significance, don't add much to the atmosphere, and have no real interaction to them. At least once it actually came up with one of the servants (all the other cases were ones where the servant was in a specific room x% of the time). But in all cases the servants disposition and interaction was pretty clear, which goes against the adventure's instructions about how the servants disposition should be randomly decided with a reaction roll. Maybe I was just finding specific ones that contradicted that.
We decided after we stopped playing that Ian is going to take over DMing next. He's going to run us through one of the 5e adventures (the one that takes place in Waterdeep). He had started running that for a different group (including me) earlier in the year, but we never got very far. So I'll get a break from the DMing for a bit, though maybe I will instead try again to start up a game for some of my work colleagues, as we have a lot of people who have or do play rpgs.
All in all it was a busy weekend and now it's Monday and I don't feel like I got a lot of rest or anything (being on my feet at the convention for like 3 hours was a lot).
Just, I think, finished Death Stranding. I say, I think, because it is now the second time the credits have rolled, and if showing the credits twice during the game is super weird and annoying, showing them three times seems unbelievable. This game is... a big mess. It's like a game about walking and being a post-apocalyptic postal service mixed with a small amount of fighting game, mixed with a weird (and very bad) motion captured sci-fi movie. I read that Kojima, the director, wants to move into movies and this feels like his really awful attempt to mix what he has become famous for (games) with something he wants to do that he is clearly ill-suited for, making a mix that is... frustrating and annoying, and sometimes fun in between. After the crazy beginning I already mentioned, the ending is endless. There is like an hour or more of "game" that is tons of endless cut scenes with characters talking about stuff that had no real bearing on the actual play of the game, intercut with token elements where you can sort of do stuff with your control. But those parts are all severely limited and, in context, completely pointless, because there is still only one result. In fact, in all of this game there seemed no point where the narrative would actually be different.
This article from IGN does a pretty good job summing up some of the good and bad of the game. I find myself agreeing with a lot of it.
By the end (the endless end), I was just skipping through the cut scenes because they were so slow and it had become obvious they weren't going to really serve any purpose other than letting this narrative about a bunch of NPCs play out. Even from a narrative logic standpoint (as opposed to just a gaming one) much of it made no sense. Not just world building that was never explained, but even the main conflict seems like it could have happened without any of the intervening elements. One of the enemies was built up as this bad boss guy and was in some scenes given inexplicable and seemingly boundless powers and then in the end he wasn't even the end. You defeat him and then there's still endless more, and the story never gets around to explaining why that guy was of any important or served any purpose at all.
By the end it was more like watching a car crash than playing a game. I just got curious to see where it was all going to go even though I stopped caring about any of it. And... of boy, post second rolling of the credits there are... more cut scenes! Oh more credits... And a summary and oh my, it says I spent 34 hours on this game. That seems unbelievable. I wonder how many of those were spent in cut scenes.
Read Ursula Le Guin's The Beginning Place over the past couple days. It's a fantasy novel that starts in real life and follows two lonely characters who somehow walk into a fantasy world. A lot of fantasy like this works on two level, the literal, a fantasy world and an adventure story, and the metaphorical, a story about growing up or friendship or power. In this one makes the metaphorical story, two lonely characters finding each other, the foregound, and fails at the literal level. The fantasy world and the sort of quest that they undertake feels almost completely unnecessary, under developed, and underexplained, which is odd as normally Le Guin is really good at the world building and tying that into a broader theme. The interactions the two protagonists have with the people in the fantasy world, and the sort of quest they go on, all seem to be hinting at something else going on, some deeper mystery, perhaps even some kind of manipulation of the protagonists by the towns people who send them on the quest, yet none of it every plays out. Nothing is revealed about the world or what is going on. The characters leave it. End of story. For me, this was just a pleasant but unsatisfying novel. I don't need narratives to answer all my questions, but I also want to feel like major elements of the narrative are serving a purpose.
Still thinking about Death Stranding and why in the end it really failed for me. I think the sense that the interactivity was completely divorced from the narrative is one of the major elements. A lot of games I really like tell a good story with an involved narrative and a decent number of cutscenes, but they also manage to allow for interaction both during the cutscenes and to shape, in at least some ways, the course of the narrative &em; which really is what a game is all about, at least those that have stories. For instance The Witcher games, the third one in particular, have a really involved story with backstory and tons of characters and all kinds of things going on, but by giving you dialogue choices and action choices at different moments it lets you shape the narrative and also makes it feel like you're interacting and playing in the non-action parts, rather than just watching. Particularly in the beginning and the very long end of Death Stranding, I only felt like I was watching and that any interaction I had felt like a token bit of controller use that had no stakes and was completely pointless: things like walking on an endless beach while credits roll or controlling a character to run from one place to another that you have already visited that had no real obstacles of any kind just to play out another cutscene. And as a whole it was not helped by the narrative being kind of silly and obscure and frequently logically incoherent. So much of the narrative interacting with the gameplay felt arbitrary and design to limit what happens in a very structured manner (you have to walk, despite walking right past some vehicles, because the game wants you to do that before giving you access to vehicles). Also, throughout the game there was no sense of customizing the player character you had even at the barest of levels. Your average adventure game will at least give you something like choosing skills or being able to solve problems in different ways. I never felt like I had too many choices about problem solving in this game other than which direction I took and whether I walked or drove a vehicle or something like that. And that will be the last I talk of that game, I think.
While sitting this morning, I realized that this journal is like the imaginary conversations I have in my head all the time. Sometimes they are with some vague me I am talking to, sometimes a specific person, and sometimes it's just a vague someone(s) else. This journal is kind of all that, me talking to some imaginary audience. I don't know that that concept changes anything, though perhaps it clarifies to me a bit how to think about this project.
I finished up the fourth volume of Kentaro Miura's Berserk deluxe edition this morning. I don't think I've written anything about this manga before. I read a bunch of volumes last year when there was a really cheap sale on the ebook version, and then these deluxe editions started coming out so I never finished the series in the electonic version. These are nice black hardcovers, slightly larger then normal, collecting three of the regular volumes.
Berserk is dark fantasy of a very manga sort. It is not really interested in world building, throughout the volumes I've read I never had any sense of geography or society. There is a lot of generic pseudo-medieval backgrounds, but one never gets a sense of anything specific beyond the few characters that are required. There are undifferentiated kingdoms at war, and various leaders how mostly all seem awful, and generic peasants in the background.
It's also very human centric for fantasy. There's one elf, who is more like a fairy, and there are demons, crazy, weird, awful, creepy demons that seem to grow in variety as the story continues.
There's really no epic quest (to the point I've read), rather, like many manga, it has a lot of focus (at least in the early parts) on characters and their "be the best at a thing" (fighting) and their "dreams". But unlike a general "fight to the top" storyline this one is filled with creepiness and horror and a sense that the dreams of the different characters are in direct conflict.
The first section of the manga, also like many manga, is a little different, generic, kind of confusing. But then it jumps back in time (narratively, the characters don't time travel), and the story really picks up. At the point I've read the story hasn't returned to that first point in time. I kind of wonder if it ever does, or if that first section is written off as a kind of trial run, first draft. One thing I've learned in reading manga, is often the first volume and the second volume are dramatically different in one way or another as the creators and editors seemingly react to serialization and make changes to the concept. It can make it hard to make any judgemenets based on one volume (great for sales I guess), as I've read a few manga where the first volume was lackluster but I ended up really enjoying the rest of the series. Berserk is one of those cases.
One thing that bothers me about the manga is it's occasionally leering gaze. This volume of the deluxe edition, for instance, has a creepy scene where the decrepid king (who the protagonists are currently working for) basically molests his daughter (she's an older teen I guess). It's awful and the king is not drawn with any sympathy for his actions, yet, the daughter is also drawn in such a way that she is sexualized and perhaps shown a little too much from the view of the king, in a way that is uncomfortable on a meta level.
Returned to the Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order game yesterday hoping the latest update had fixed the bug that was keeping me from advancing. It did not, but then in searching around online again, I found a quick post that revealed to me that it is not a bug! It turns out in this scene there is a aspect of the control that was not at all explained or obvious. The scene involves you hijacking an AT-AT, so you are in different than usual controls (it's the first time in the game you drive a vehicle) and without explanation there was a second weapon I could fire by pressing a different button than the one I had been using. Pretty annoying that the game fails to provide any visual indicator about the changed controls to know what I was supposed to be doing.
Starting reading Robin Laws Hamlet's Hit Points that I picked up at PAX. I read the beginning and ending chapters around the analysis of three narratives that the book focuses on and I am underwhelmed. The beginning briefly writes off using literary criticism for its purposes, saying that it's all about words or theme or politics. Laws is either ignoring or ignorant (more likely) of the wide range of narratological lit crit that exists and would be suited for his purposes. I'm thinking of things like Russian Formalism, or the works of Gerard Genette, and in particular Barthes' S/Z which seems quite likely to be useful in the context.
Laws makes up a classification of "beats" to the narrative: procedural and dramatic being the primary ones, attached to a rising and falling motion that seems based on some audience reaction element. It's a bit squishy, but allows him to create diagrams (with icons and arrows!) of his analysis.
What, in reading the ending, he seems to fail at, is clearly applying this analysis to gaming. There's a brief comment about how of course in a game you have to allow for player choice, so it's not the same as plotting out a consistent narrative, but there's nothing practical about how to deal with that. In general, I'm lost as to how any of the "beats" are supposed to help me run a game, at least one that is not some sort of predetermined story path adventure.
Another blustery rainy December day. Playing the Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order again now I figured out how to advance. Had a big breakfast thanks to Ian, sat a bit (trying to do 10 minutes day), and then played some more of the game. Now it's this, sitting on the couch with Buddy, and then maybe a movie or maybe just reading more of one of my books. My box of stuff from the Old School Essentials Kickstarter showed up today, just in time, as I've been thinking about trying a D&D game with my work colleagues again. We tried... 2 years ago, I think, but had trouble getting enough people to show up regularly. We've hired a lot more people and more of them seem to play or have played in the past. I think the Old School Essentials rules will be a good set to use, as they are pretty basic, and with the nice layout I can send people a few page spreads and they can have all the reference material they need to play. Would just need to figure out a setting or a bunch of adventures to use.
I feel like earlier I had something I wanted to write about and now that I am sitting here, I have forgotten it all. I guess that's the way it goes sometimes... a lot of the times.
Yesterday afternoon I watched Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Still Walking. I heard good things about his The Shoplifters this year and then, of course, neglected to actually go to the theatre when it was playing. This popped up on the Criterion Channel yesterday as I was browsing, so I decided to watch it. It's a quiet family drama, taking place on the (12th, I think) anniversary of the eldest son's death. The main character is the middle son who has kept a distant relationship with his parents, in particular the father, a now retired doctor. Across the course of a single day, you see the various conflicts between the characters: the way the parents seem to be constantly disappointed in the son (especially since unlike the dead brother he had not become a doctor) and how the retired father is quite a quiet asshole. This is not a movie where everything is explicitly stated, nor one where any great drama erupts. In that sense it is rather like an Ozu movie, though there not as many cases where I was stopped short by the composition as in his movies.
Probably the most dramatic part of the movie involves the man whom the brother saved. He is invited to the anniversary, and we see he is slovenly, talks about the school(s) he quit and his lack of a job (he "helps out" at a place that makes grocery store flyers and hopes they'll eventually give him a job). It's clear the parents feel like his life in exchange for their son's was a waste. The middle son tries to defend him, clearly knowing what it's like to be devalued in comparison to the dead brother. And in a private moment between the son and the mother, she admits that they invite the man so that he will feel uncomfortable and unshamed, that hating him gives her some sense of purpose. It's a surprising revelation at a point where you have wanted to be sympathetic to the parents and this moment clarifies (for me at least) that all the things the middle son feels are not just his impressions.
Drove up to visit mom and dad yesterday. I don't drive much, but when I do, and I'm by myself, it's a good time to listen to some music with a little more attention than I do while working. While they were up the other weekend Loren asked if we'd heard of this band The Lawrence Arms. I knew they had former members of a late 90's punk band I like, The Broadways, but I'd never really given them a good listen since I found that out. I ended up getting their greatest hits album this week We are the Champions of the World. I've been listening to it non-stop since. They have a sound that to me comes out of the 90s East Bay punk scene, kind of an evolved Crimpshrine and Jawbreaker (it helps that of the two singers one has a raspy voice like young Jeff Ott and the other sounds a lot like Blake from Jawbreaker). It's dynamic both in volume and speed. You can jump around to it and sing along, and the lyrics aren't stupid (at least what I can make out so far).
I have really fallen behind writing this week for no clear reason, or rather for multiple reasons on different days.
Earlier in the week I was trying to finish up Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. In the end, it was a mediocre game. Dark Souls inspired but without the (thankfully) brutal difficulty or (unfortunately) the real spark of creepiness and originality. The maps were a fun mix of environments, secrets, shortcuts, puzzles, and fights, that you could neatly navigate as a projection from your droid. I liked seeing how the paths and sections swung around to meet each other in different ways. But, the secrets to be found were all pretty boring. You'd find little story bits that amounted to no more than a paragraph of text that revealed little, or you'd find chests that basically contained color customization options. Most of those related to customizing your lightsaber, which was really pointless because other than the color of the blade it is mostly too small to actually see anyway, especially considering how much it is moving around.
The storyline was choice-free, pretty simplistic, and fairly rote Star Wars: gambler ship pilot, old jedis, young (male) jedi, good jedi turned evil who was the student of old jedi. One thing they did really well at the end is a run-in with Darth Vader. Visually he was large, sturdy, and moved slowly with nonchalance. Instead of being quick and agile like a lot of the enemies, he just walks at you looking scary and waves his arm to deflect force powers or blocks lightsaber attacks as if he hasn't noticed them. The designers really made him seem tough and scary (and naturaly, the game has you escape him rather than defeat him).
Watchmen also finished up its season this week and felt hollow. Visually interesting, well acted, and with a plotline that retained a sense of mystery throughout, it didn't feel like it was anything more than an excuse to unfold the mystery and then, unfolded, it just lay there like a blank piece of paper. Sean T Collins, writing at Decider, has a good take on the finale. Sean's one of the few TV critics I read regular, and his piece on the first episode got me interested to watch the show, and, like him, I feel like it didn't really live up to it.
The holiday season is here, and I'm already into my second of five days off. Gatherings of various sorts are of course on the schedule.
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I guess I've been changing my mind a bit about Xmas as a secular holiday. For me, it was always wrapped up in my feelings about religion, well Christianity in particular (naturally), but it is good to have a reason to just get together with the families. Lianne likes the lights (we have wreaths up on the windows) and she loves buying presents for people and wrapping them. I enjoy neither (and am bad at both), and also get uncomfortable receiving presents. Thankfully most everyone who will give me something has figured out to give me edibles/drinkables, as I am not a fan of stuff (except books and no one really ever tries to buy me books). Though last year Ian gave all of us in the D&D group ceramics he made, and I've used that mug regularly all year.
Anyway... just started and finishing reading Kenji Tsuruta's Emanon vol.3 that showed up last night. I'm going to be writing about it and two other manga I just got for a Comics Journal article, so I guess I won't say much now. I started taking notes as I read (finding the voice-to-text good for that), which I am trying to be better at.
I'm also about halfway through a reread of Madame Bovary, I don't remember now what triggered that. I think I was getting burned out on all the sci-fi/fantasy I've been reading, and decided I wanted to reread some classic novels. It's not my favorite Flaubert (that's Bouvard and Pecuchet) but I am enjoying it. Weirdly, I keep thinking I'll get sick of it, but then I get caught up in it again and pages have flown by. I spent so much time looking into new books to read, but I really should (and I always say this and don't follow through much) reread more. I have lots of books on the shelf I've keep around because I tell myself I want to reread them, but how many have I actually? Yet, I rarely do reread something off the shelves and regret it.
Spent too much time yesterday (don't I always say that), playing Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, a port of an old pre-Dragon Age Bioware game (from 2006) to PS4. The graphics are blocky and the UI is clunky, yet I find myself engaged by it. The gameplay is very faithful to D&D 3rd edition rules, which can be a bit cumbersome for a video game. I can see in a lot of it where Bioware changed and improved from it to Dragon Age: Origins, simplifying a lot of the rule and character cruft and adding to the NPCs and party member interactions.
Finished Madame Bovary this morning, having quite enjoyed rereading it. On the whole, I feel Flaubert is quite sympathetic to Emma. He can be particularly critical about most of the characters, but he never seems to forget that her situtation is effected greatly by her place in society as a woman and the way men treat her. I also appreciate the way his descriptions are colored by the character seeing what is described. When they are feeling elated or in love everything is bright and beautiful, yet in the converse everything is dusty and dirty and dark. It's not so much what is there that changes but what one pays attention and how one considers its aspects. I don't really have much to say about it, I guess.
Been working on one of my personal coding projects, an online (but it works offline) character sheet for D&D 5th edition. I've been using it for a while now (the repository has been there for more than 3 years), and since we are going to be playing that edition again soon, I thought I'd update it and improve some issues I've had using it.
Xmas was a nice quiet day. Spent the morning and breakfast with Lianne's family, lunch and the afternoon with my family, then just us in the evening for dinner. Just sitting around a table playing a card game with some of my family made me wish we could all get together more often.
We watched Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You last night. I noticed it on a lot of best of year lists last year, and it did not disappoint. It was funny and weird and engaging and just a bit science fiction-y. The latter doesn't come in until late in the movie and is a bit jarring both experientially (it's a surprise to the protagonist and the viewer) and narratively (while it makes sense in context it also feels unexpected and a bit of a left turn).
I forget to mention last week that I borrowed Chris Ware's Rusty Brown from the library and then ended up not finishing it. While I appreciate Ware's mastery of the form, the combination of the story he is telling it and the too controlled artwork just bored me. It's almost a comfort to know there is a "mainstream" of comics now that is not superheroes but is also just not for me at all. That gets reiterated even more when I look at the recently relaunched New York Times Book Review graphic novels list. I forget the exact count but Raina Telgemeier has like half (or more) of the top 10 books. She is just insanely popular and neither superheroes nor "literary" comics. Comics really are just another... genre is not the word... category of publishing now.
After Bovary I browsed the dining room shelves (the fiction) and pulled Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew off the shelf to reread, a large baggy monster of a metafictional novel. It's been awhile since I reread it, though already some of the aspects and scenes are ones that were stuck in my head all these years.
I'm back to work today, though most everyone I know has the day off.
_The Comics Journal_ had an aggregate article of people talking about their favorite comics of the year. It got me thinking. My comics reading has gone down a lot over the years, and I haven't kept track of all my reading in a few years, so it's hard to always remember what I read in the past year, but certainly a few book stick out in the mind.
Pittsburgh by Frank Santoro: I read this last year in the French edition but it was a delight to read it in English this time where I didn't spend as much time being slowed down by the words (and then often not slowing down enough for the images as I try to not lose the text's flow).
Crepax Vol.4: Private Life by Guido Crepax: I already wrote about this for TCJ earlier in the year.
I Roved Out in Search of Truth and Love by Alexis Flowers: A webcomic (with print collections) of fantasy, that I discovered this year. It's part high fantasy, part sword and sorcery, and part sex comic. I think I learned about this one via the D&D/RPG blogs I read, as I've never heard about it from any of the comics people I follow.
The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga: I think the impact of this one was blunted a bit by the long running serialization, making this seem less "new" than it should. Still a smart, formally inventive, funny, and moving comic.
Fauves by Warren Craghead: It's always a delight to find these brightly colored short comics about his daughters in my Instagram feed. I'm still waiting for a collection.
Various works online and in small press by Alyssa Berg, Madeleine Jubliee Saito (née Witt), and Rachna Soun. All three of these women make quiet, beautiful, poetic short comics.
Emanon series by Kenji Tsuruta: A not really new to me manga series (I read scanlations of the first two volumes, years ago), that got an official translation this year. A quiet sci-fi series about a woman whose memory extends back to the beginning of the universe, that is lushly drawn by Tsuruta.
Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez: It's hard to not put a Jaime book on every year's list.
Dream: An old store with a leaking ceiling (I feel it drip on my head) has a bookshelf of manga, at the top of which are volumes, with black and white spines, from the series "Elfy Ma'am" that are almost human height, and I wonder how I could look at one, buy one, or carry it home.
(Actually from a few days ago, but it stuck with me.)
I turned 43 today. I don't know if that has any significance. I'm middle aged, guess I have been for a while now. Hasn't yet felt all that different from most other times except feeling more settled in my ways. We always joke that not having kids keeps us feeling younger, but I do think that is true to a large extent: there are no constant reminders of youth or childhood to make us feel old by contrast, and we've been worn less by time and stress.
I wonder at what I have accomplished in the past year. I worked a lot, but I also worked less than the previous year because I tried really hard to not work 10-hour days every day, so that's good. I got this journal started. It's been... I've forgotten how many months, but quite a few and while I haven't made an entry every day I've done a pretty good job. Still feel like I'm finding my method for this so that things I want to write about don't disappear into my memory and time.
I watched a lot more movies this year which was part of my plan to begin with so that was good. I enjoyed a lot of them, and it's good to accomplish a goal you set out to do. Not sure I did much else of note other than the daily walks and cooking and such. I got that one article written for The Comics Journal which I'm proud of, and seems like I'm going to be working on a one or two other things for them.
I did not really draw anything or make any art. I ran some various role-playing games, though it feels that was a lot unsuccessful as far as it goes, but we had fun so I guess that's the success. I didn't get any further with some of the other things I had been working on last year, like my research into doing an ancient Greek d&d setting/zine.
I probably played too many video games or spent too much time on the ones I did play, and I'm still not sure how I feel about that: good enough to keep doing it I guess, but bad enough that I feel like maybe I'd be spending my time better watching a movie or reading a book or writing something, but I'm not sure I can say that is objectively true. It's not like any of those things are really more productive, at least playing a game is a little more active for me than watching something and has been a good way to relax after work.
As usual I don't really have any plans for the actual day of my birthday. Just now, walking back from the co-op with some breakfast supplies to make myself breakfast. I will have to figure out what I want to have for dinner tonight, I'm never very good at the picking out a special meal thing. May just make some tacos or get takeout from the vegetarian Chinese restaurant that we don't get food from very often. Otherwise I will probably just stay home and work on my 5th edition character sheet thing that I've been updating. Maybe I'll watch some other movie. Maybe I'll read my book.
Watched Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir last night, which is another movie that was on some best of year lists for this year. I enjoyed it. It was not totally what I expected from the early parts. It's about this young film school student in the early 80s, and she's dating this guy. It turns out he has a heroine problem. The whole movie is pretty elliptical in the way it is told. We don't actually see how they meet just they're there having a meal somewhere, and he's kind of asking to stay at her place, and they seem to be in a relationship.
She only finds out he's doing heroin when a friend of his is asking her if she's a druggie and since she isn't, how it works as a relationship with the heroin addict. You can tell that to that point she didn't know, but then as the film goes on we never see them discuss it, there's no conflict or fight between them about it, but you can tell that she knows and he knows she knows, and she seems to drive him to places to get his fix. So it's interesting her learning that, in many narratives would be a point of drama and conflict. The story does that a lot throughout the movie, eliding things she would expect to see, avoiding certain tropes you expect to see (I don't think there's a single scene where they have any kind of violent altercation with each other).
And there are parts that kind of remain mysterious. He says he works for the foreign office (this is in London), but I got the feeling maybe he was lying since he's always borrowing money from her, doesn't seem to have a place to stay, and seems to use the nature of his work as a way to hide information from her. But we never get any kind of exposure of that possibility so maybe I just imagined it.
I was really expecting it to all be some kind of swindle and a catastrophe and... while it doesn't end upbeat, it was also less... agressive... than I expected.
It's a all filmed lovely, there are a few shots that have a voiceover reading what seems to be letters from him to her, showing the horizon, grass, some trees, and a lot of cloudy sky. That cuts in a few times as a kind of pause between scenes and then in the very final scene, these big doors open on some kind of warehouse and the camera is inside looking out, and in the gap between the doors seems to be the same landscape we saw in thse intercut voiceover shots. Are those landscape shots some kind of... film she made subsequently?
New Year's Eve is here and it's hard not to be a bit reflective about the past year, but I kind of did that on my birthday, so also... not much new. It was a good year on the whole personally speaking (nationally and globally one can hardly say the same). The main downside I can think of was putting our cat Zoe to sleep. I still think about her sometimes.
I was rereading Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew, but I think after reaching about halfway I'm giving up. The book has a lot of parody in it, and Sorrentino is very good at it, so much of it is parodying bad writing that in the skill he puts to it, it is hard to read. At times it is funny, but not always to me, and it is not getting beyond the parody and humour to something more as many of his later books do.
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but earlier in the year I subscribed to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My new issue arrived yesterday before I had finished the previous one (not the first time that's happened), so now I'm also more consistently reading last issue. Since it's short stories and novellas, I tend to read the issues in bits and bursts, often depending on how much a story catches my attention. Some of the issues are more engaging to me as a whole, than others. The one I'm reading now (November/December 2019) has been pretty good. Charlotte Ashley's "A Joy in Wounding" is a ancient greek fantasy story that was quite enjoyable. Matthew Hughes' "A Geas of the Purple School" has a fun sword & sorcery vibe to it (as does all the stories I've read by him).