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.