Derik Badman's Journal

Content Tagged "Video Games"

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2020-07-25 09:27

I'm also still playing Ghost of Tsushima regularly. I'm somewhere in the second of three "acts", though I have nowhere near covered all the various side missions and locations scattered about the game. It's not as big as Assassin's Creed: Odyssey but it sure has a lot packed into it, much of which gets a little repetitive or kind of pointless (collectibles and visual customizations that serve little use). I enjoy the gameplay, but I am finding much of the story (especially a few of the characters) problematic. Perhaps it will change over the rest of the narrative, but so far it is far too "yeah, samurai's are awesome protector's of the people", which doesn't jive at all with my sense of how things really were (perhaps a lot colored by Sanpei Shirato's Kamui-Den which shows the samurai in very poor light and other readings I've done). The lord of the island who you spend the first act trying to rescue is an insufferable asshole noble, and I am just hoping that somewhere along the line the protagonist figures that out, since this is not the type of game where I can make any decisions on the storyline. I suspect it's headed towards some kind of rulership conflict. Some of the side characters are also pretty insufferable in their... stuck-up opinions and revenge obsessions (I think The Last of Us 2 really burned me out on the revenge narrative arc). But damn the game really impresses with the visuals of the world, the surprising variety of it, and the crazy use of weather and light. Sometimes as the sun is setting or rising a huge swath of your visual field is this soft yellow light that almost burns out everything around it, it actually makes it hard to see where you are going at times, but it looks cool.

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2020-07-18 12:38

I played more of the new game plus of The Witcher 3, and enjoyed it anew. But then yesterday Ghost of Tsushima showed up, so I've been playing that. It is very reminiscent of an Assassin's Creed game if one were set in Japan during the Mongol invasion. While the gameplay has a bunch of features that are specific to the setting, it for the most part has all the things you'd expect from an AC game except the annoying "present day" stuff. The setting itself is quite lovely just to look at.

It has a wayfinding method that I at first found kind of annoying but am getting used to. Instead of a minimap and compass, the wind blows towards your targeted nav point. It makes it quite hard to situate yourself without bringing up the big map, but it also has nice feel to it to just follow blowing flower petals and waves of grass and leaves towards where you want to go.

There are foxes you find in the world who lead you to little shrines (for bonus stuff). We've not seen our backyard foxes in weeks; we think they might have moved on to another den. I've read foxes tend to have multiple dens that they move between, and it tracks with the way we will see them a lot for a few months and then not at all for months. I do miss seeing them in backyard, and I still keep looking just in case they show up.

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2020-07-12 08:35

Finished up my rewatch of The Witcher yesterday. Even on second viewing the final episode felt like a long waste of effort. There just wasn't a need for a large extended, convoluted battle scene. It puts a lot of focus on characters that were otherwise undeveloped and seems to diminish this awful battle (never directly narrated in the books, only referred to afterwards) by making it a seen event. Ended up playing some of The Witcher 3 yesterday too, as I'm out of new games to play, and was feeling like doing something interactive.

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2020-07-03 09:41

Still playing Ashen though I am nearing the end as far as I can tell. Unlike the Souls game it does have clear "missions" to accomplish and a map that marks out those missions, so everything is not so obscure and cryptic. Though I'm also wearying of the long dungeons that you have to get through at a few points in the game, where there are no places in the middle to save. Though, at least, the boss fights have proven much easier to deal with (I think so far I've done all of them in the first or second try). I might be at the point, so close to the end really, where I just want to give up on it.

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2020-06-27 09:24

Started a new (old) video game yesterday too, Ashen (on the PS4). Mechanically it's very much a Dark Souls clone. Almost everything about the mechanics is nearly identical. It's a similarly dark fantasy, but feels much less oppressive and is certainly less difficult than the Souls games. For one thing, you always have a companion character with you (which apparently can be another remote player if you are hooked up for that, I'm just playing with a computer NPC). This certainly provides an easing of the difficulty. Above and beyond that, the game, despite having no difficulty settings, is clearly not made to be as punishing. So far I've gotten through a few missions and 1 boss fight, and I only died once (and that was from drowning because I didn't understand how swimming worked).

The game is also a lot more open as far as landscape goes. There are caves that are more dungeon-like, but outside you are not stuck in the limited pathways of a Souls game. This allows for more freedom of movement (including climbing and jumping) though it also means enemies can suddenly appear just about anywhere if you aren't careful. So far, I'm enjoying it.

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2020-06-25 08:29

Finished The Last of Us Part 2 last night. It is an impressive game, brutal in so many ways, though not in the way the Souls games are brutal. It's not about play difficulty. The game offers an impressive array of options for difficulty and accessibility. The studio clearly made accessibility a priority, the first thing you see when you load the game, before you even see the studio logo is a few accessibility options, and when you get into the game the options become even more numerous. I ended up playing with a lot of them turned on, because I really wasn't looking for a skill challenge, I was looking for the narrative.

The game is like a movie with some interactive parts. Unlike say, Bioware games, there are no points where you really control or change the outcome of the story. You play puzzles and tactics in combat/stealth situations, but none of that effects dialogue or outcomes. In this case, the studio put that to good use by writing an excellent story. Most of the time I didn't care I couldn't control outcomes because I was just wrapped up in what was happening and wanting to know where it was going. The times I did want to control what was happening were where, I think, part of the point was having to sit and be complicit, in a way, with the actions of the protagonists.

While the mechanics of the game are (as best as I recall) pretty much unchanged from the first game, the game makes a bunch of interesting choices outside of the mechanics that really integrate with the theme and story.

[And here I will warn about tons of spoilers, which I don't usually do, but this game really does deserve to be played without knowing where its going.]

You start off the game playing Ellie, one of the protagonists from the previous game, but pretty quickly you switch to this other unfamiliar woman, Abby. Her story starts out pretty vague, but quickly intersects with Joel (the other protagonist from the first game). It switches back to Ellie and you see Abby kill Joel. It's pretty brutal and shocking. The game jumps ahead a short period, and you return to Ellie, headed off from her home with her girlfriend to Seattle to track down the group of people that killed Joel (in particular Abby). At first you think the early part of playing Abby was just a way to increase the shock of the murder.

In Seattle, Ellie starts killing the other people that were with Abby in the beginning. They are part of some kind of militia group (who is fighting a kind of territory/gang war with this religious group) and it's easy to see them as enemies. The militia attack you, you fight back, you track down the specific people. They get killed. (Other stuff happens with Ellie and her friends, including a bunch of flashbacks.) Then... one morning Ellie wakes up, and finds Abby holding a gun over one of her friends and Abby shoots another friend dead (it happens so quickly). Abby is pointing the gun at Ellie your protagonist... You expect... something... maybe a boss fight, maybe some kind of resolution... then...

You're playing Abby again a few days earlier. And suddenly as it continues, you realize, it's not another one-off thing, Abby is the other protagonist. And at first it's weird cause she killed the guy you played in the first game, but then you start to warm to her. You see all those friends Ellie killed as... Abby's friends, as people, struggling with what they did and what they do (well most of them). You play fetch with a dog you previously killed as Ellie.

And there are more flashbacks where you learn that Abby's dad is this doctor that Joel (you, the gameplayer) killed at the end of the first game. And there are all these parallels and connections and suddenly you realize, how it's just violence perpetuating violence. But in a way... in the beginning... Abby and her friends kill Joel but they leave Ellie and Joel's brother alive. They leave. But Ellie... she followed them and started killing them all. They are basically following the same path, revenge, but Ellie takes it to even greater extremes. And weirdly your protagonist of two games, becomes a villain.

So you end up playing Abby helping some kids that are part of her opponent religious cult, and you play her finding her friends' dead bodies, or seeing her friends killed (in a tough scene where you are hiding from a vicious sniper who is the friendly brother of Joel).

Eventually the game gets back around to the confrontation, Abby pointing a gun at Ellie, Ellie admitting the reason Joel killed Abby's dad was Ellie. And suddenly you are in a boss fight, but you're Abby fighting Ellie. And you win. And you let Ellie and her girlfriend live. Abby walks out.

Cut to a farmhouse, Ellie and her girlfriend are living on a farm with a baby (the girlfriend finds out she's pregnant earlier in the game). It seems as idyllic as post zombie apocalypse can get. It's a little coda, somehow against all odds this game has a happy ending, though clearly we see Ellie has ptsd after all she's gone through.

Then Joel's brother shows up (the first point you realize he is alive and that Abby didn't kill him) and he's heard a rumor where Abby is and you realize he hasn't given up, but still I held out some hope that it was still the end. A final "let it go". Then... Ellie is leaving. And you are her again hunting down Abby and the game continues for another couple scenes. And Ellie and Abby fight again, both horribly wounded. Abby doesn't want to fight, Ellie forces it, and you are her, so this time you are fighting Abby.

And this is one place where I was tempted to just... not fight. To let Abby win. But... what would be the point, when you die the game would start you back at the beginning of the scene/fight/location as usual. ( A nagging suspicion maybe this last fight they'd let you do that to get an alternate ending, but somehow I doubt it.) And when you win Ellie almost drowns Abby (they are fighting in the surf) and then let's her go. She sits there in the ocean in the fog alone.

Final scene, this time for real, Ellie returns to the farmhouse and it is all cleaned out except for her stuff in one room. She leaves.

That's a ton of plot description, but even that much feels like it misses elements that made the game so effective. The game consistently makes the violence vicious and brutal and keeps turning around on you and not letting you forget that all those human enemies are people. And having you play basically mirrored antagonists was a brilliant decision. It's uncomfortable and sad and painful at times, but it's also really effective.

Even in the last scene when Ellie is trying to find Abby and fighting these gang members who captured Abby, when you kill them the others in the group shout out their names. They each have names and you hear a lot of them. It's surprising and unexpected and it makes you feel how much Ellie, is basically just a mass murderer.

Probably the least effective or interesting part of the game is all the zombie fights. They provide an important background for why society has fragmented so much and why there are these desperate warring factions and such, but unlike in the first one where the zombie's and the potential cure for the zombie plague were a major driver of the plot, this one has no real connection anymore to the zombie's, they are just there as another obstacle, and playwise I found them the least interesting parts of the game.

Still, wow, a powerful game. I basically spent a huge portion of my free time playing it over the past 6 days because I just kept needing to know what was going to happen next. But also... I don't think I could ever play it again. Without the plot surprises, the narrative would be much less effective I think, and the gameplay itself is not exciting enough to want to redo (plenty of other games I could play if I want a third person stealth shooter type game).

I also wonder where they can go from here. Can the studio follow this up with a game with violence without being total hypocrits? Can they find a way to make a violence free game? Seems like very few of the big games are not about killing stuff.

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2020-06-20 12:44

Started The Last of Us Part 2 this morning and am already predicting there will be no happy ending in this game. It's pretty brutal narratively, even for a zombie apocalypse game, partially, I think, because it starts in a good place, not pre-apocalypse (since its a sequel), but at a sort of mostly happy status quo, and then it punches you in the face and runs off cackling.

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2020-06-19 16:49

After months of not playing anything, I gave in and downloaded a video game to play. I was waiting for The Last of Us 2 to come out (today) so I replayed Dishonored which I first played way back in 2016. Just finished it up this afternoon. I'm not a fan of its first person viewpoint (I never am), but it is a fun game and it (unlike say Assassin's Creed, which I've complained about before) actually lets you get through the missions without killing everything in site. It rewards you for being stealthy and finding alternate means to stop your enemies. This time through I managed to find the non-violent alternative for all the missions. The world building in the game is pretty interesting too (ditto for its sequels).

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2020-03-20 08:53

Giving up on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as I've gotten tired of it. I found an ending, wandering accidentally into a final boss fight, followed by a brief and unsatisfying denoument. I was confused, as there were still many places on the map I had not explored, so I looked online and discovered there is a second more complete ending that involves attacking a moon in the background of one fight and other things that seem like they'd be hard to figure out on one's own. I went back and played more to find some of the other areas and bosses, but having still not completed I've gotten bored with it as there are decreasing returns in what is becoming too repetitive. Maybe time to stop playing games for awhile, or maybe just find something else, or replay something old.

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2020-03-17 08:25

Also been obsessively playing Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on the Switch. It's a 2d action game, basically a modern version of an old Castlevania game: work your way through the gothic castle with all its monsters and weird npcs. It's fun and weird (one monster is a giant puppy head that bites you), and not so hard (on normal mode) that I get frustrated by the boss fights.

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2020-03-14 13:40

I played another short game on the Switch, Gris. It's a beautiful 2d action game that is both simple (in play) but complex visually and metaphorically. It's clearly built around a metaphor of depression. You play a young woman who starts out in this grey world of mostly ruins. You can move left or right and you can jump. As you explore, you find these little stars, and as you find them as connect them in shapes and constellations you gain some abilities but also add colors back to the world. So at one point red comes back to the world and the landscape changes and red is infused in the setting. The artwork and design is really impressive. It looks almost hand drawn, often with a watercolor texture and gradiation to the coloring. As you gain colors and abilities you can explore different areas. There's no fighting, just exploring and puzzles based around the use of your abilities and certain items and creatures in the setting that respond to your abilities in different ways. The landscape is also at different times dotted with these cracked or crumbling statues of a woman (she does not look like the protagonist, but I also find it possible to read them as a representation of the same individual). My main issue in the game was how much there was of setting that had no interaction and passages where you are basically just moving through areas with nothing to do but move through them. Otherwise, though it was fun and moving game. Not excessively short but also a pretty quick play.

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2020-03-11 07:09

I beat the main storyline in Breath of the Wild yesterday. The final boss fight turned out to be maybe even easier than some of the earlier ones. Graphically, narratively, the designers went for this Dark Souls-y horror monster drama, but it didn't really feel like it jived with the rest of the game or the actual difficulty. Then there was a second boss fight that was so easy and guided it was almost pointless. And finally a brief epilogue where the eponymous Zelda finally makes an appearance (well, one that was not a flashback).

Having little experience with the franchise (I played the first and second ones on the old Nintendo system for very very brief times at a friend's house long ago), it feels like Zelda, the character the series is named after, is almost a non-entity. You don't play her, you don't really interact with here. She appears in some flashbacks you can find as one of your missions, where she is mostly acting the sad princess routine doubting her abilities (and in one weird one getting yelled at her father the king). It's a missed opportunity that you can't play as her, or that she doesn't have any real part to play in the narrative other than appear at the end to make the monster go away after you win the boss fight.

The game doesn't let you continue after the win, rather you can just go back to the save right before the battle. Do I care enough to do that? There are tons more places to explore in the game, but also there probably isn't anymore story to find, just more monsters and puzzles. As a game it succeeds as a lovely open world to explore, but it also suffers a lot from feeling empty and static when it comes to any narrative storylines and in particular any interaction that isn't just running (climbing, swimming, gliding) around, picking up stuff, fighting monsters, and solving the occasional puzzle. Compared to games like Skyrim or Dragon Age or Mass Effect or The Witcher it felt... lacking in narrative and feeling. (Skyrim also often suffers from lack of npc interactions, but in its open world there is tons of narrative going on.) Also, Link, as a protagonist is so boring. If I can't customize my character then at least the character I am forced to play should be interesting (or at least have a personality of some form) like in The Witcher. In the end, I guess I am disappointed.

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2020-03-04 06:55

Still playing Breath of the Wild in bits and pieces. After spending a lot of time running around the world and doing random side missions, just exploring, I started doing more of the main mission - what they seem to call dungeons but are more like puzzle rooms, large ones with a boss monster fight at the end. While I have had to look up some of the puzzle bits online, I was pleasantly surprised that the boss monsters are not crazy hard, which I guess I've been trained to think they would be by Dark Souls and such. In this case, I've gotten through the first two on the first try. I am still wishing the game had a little more in the way of NPC interactions and storyline choices. I can kind of run around and do whatever I want and whatever I want but in the end it's just my really blank character (he never even speaks) running around by himself occasionally doing things that people ask him to.

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2020-02-05 08:17

Breath of the Wild continues in small bursts. It truly is a very D&D-esque old school sandbox. After you get through the opening tutorial section, you are unleashed upon a very large world that you can mostly explore, barring elemental dangers (it gets cold high up on the mountains without adequate protection) or running into tough/large monsters (I've stumbled upon quite a few that I just turned tail and ran from). You almost immediately get your final goal, but the steps along the way are so far pretty vague. Talking to people gets you clues to locations or small side missions. But otherwise it seems you just have to keep exploring. You don't get experience points or level up, but if you complete the puzzles in these shrines scattered across the world you can increase your health/stamina. Otherwise it seems like getting better equipment is the only way you change, and I mostly just occasionally stumble onto something new or interesting, but have no clear idea if there is a way to find anything better. I don't even have a sense if there are "harder" areas that might require me to be tougher but also net me better treasure.

One of my main actual goals is finding the location of these various photographs so I can restore my character's memories. Between this and the shrines, it's mostly just exploring. You can get to high locations to look for landmarks to note on your map, and then you head off to reach them, stumbling upon things on the way. It might be the most directionless game I've played yet. I assume at some point I will get more clues on how I actually complete the end goal, at this point I have no idea, but that seems ok... for now.

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2020-01-30 07:17

I don't think I mentioned it before, I ended up ordering a Nintendo Switch the other day, so I could play the Zelda Breath of the Wild game. I've been playing it a little bit slowly over the past few days, trying to figure it out, how it works and not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It's still in the early section where you're learning how the game works. One thing I find certainly frustrating is that the Switch'a generic controls for okay/yes and backwards are the exact opposite placement of the buttons on the PS4, so I keep going back when I mean to okay something, and okay something when I mean to go back. I'll get used to it eventually, but it's been pretty frustrating. The game is nicely open world even the small section you are stuck in at the beginning as you learn the game is pretty big and varied. You can just run and climb and swim all over it. You don't seem to have any of those places where it just blocks you like in a lot of games where you can't climb so they just put up stuff you can't pass. In this one, as long as you can maintain your stamina level for climbing you can just climb up things. It's pretty neat. There's also a cooking system that I'm still experimenting with to make food and potions that have different powers. Something I don't particularly like is the way weapons run down and break fast. Feels like you fight a couple monsters with one weapon and it explodes into pieces, so you're constantly having to pick up new weapons and manage your weapon inventory which is a pain. I hate doing a lot of inventory management in games always seems like an unnecessary burden.

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2019-12-29 08:24

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.

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2019-12-22 07:49

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.

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2019-12-19 08:39

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).

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2019-12-13 08:13

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.

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2019-12-11 22:02

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.

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2019-12-10 21:30

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.

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2019-12-07 08:05

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".

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2019-12-01 10:11

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.

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2019-11-27 08:59

Death Stranding after more play is still mostly cut scenes and narrative that makes little sense. Your character is... walking across a post-apocalyptic US in order to connect a bunch of bases and cities via some kind of advanced networking technology. But it's not even slightly explained why he is walking rather than driving the all terrain vehicles you see parked at the base he starts from. Nor why he's just one guy doing this mission by himself. The character himself is also sooooo clichéd, all reluctant and "leave me alone" and "I don't care about your plan," but then of course he goes along with the plan anyway because... he has some kind of dream.

The whole game is in need of serious editing. One wonders if Kojima, with his own studio, just doesn't let people edit his ideas, or if the people who work for him are incapable of editing him for some reason. Just the screens that show up when you complete a delivery (the protagonist is a porter) are filled with all kinds of text and numbers and charts and calculations and... I have no clue what any of it means, why I care, nor what effect any of it has on actual game play. You seem to be earning "likes" (like in a social network) as experience, but no apparent leveling has revealed itself.

The scale of the game is also super weird. It shows me this map of the US, and in one section about 5 minutes of actual movement in the landscape seemed to be a trip from Washington, DC to Ohio. And that's a human walking. Distance seems completely shrunk down. It's like they wanted to convey scale and distance through the slow process of walking, but then undermine that by exaggerating on the larger scale map how far you went.

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2019-11-25 16:30

Started playing Death Stranding the new Hideo Kojima game. It's got so many cut scenes that, so far it's more like an interactive digital movie than a game, and not a very good movie at that. It's a lot of too on-the-nose events and shots. And the explanations of what is going on verge from the excessively narrated obvious stuff to the completely incomprehensible. Of course the protagonist is the reluctant hero. It also appears to be all about "rebuilding America" which is super odd considering it's a Japanese made game. I may regret this purchase.

It started with a cut scene, then one where you pick up some boxes and walk to a cave. Then a long cut scene. Then you walk and pick up more boxes and go to a town. Then a cut scene. Then you're in the back of a truck and the only interaction is looking around. Then a really long cut scene, and another one. Then you walk across a town. Then a really long cut scene. Then you walk carrying a corpse from a town to an incinerator... then another cut scene started and I paused. So far I've spent way more time in this game with the controller sitting on my desk than actually doing any interacting.

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2019-11-20 17:21

And my normal break from stressful work, video games came to a halt this weekend when I hit a basically game breaking bug in Star Wars: Fallen Order. The game doesn't have multiple saves, so I've gotten stuck in a scene that I can't finish, can't back out of, and can't even return to an earlier part of the game. I guess that just means I'll be getting more reading and movie watching done until a bug fix comes out that lets me continue playing.

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2019-11-16 07:32

Got the new Stars Wars: Fallen Order game for my PS4 yesterday. I am not in general a big Star Wars fan. Sure, when I was a kid I had some of the toys (mostly inherited from my older brothers), and I've seen almost all the movies, but it's not like with Star Trek where I've watched full series multiple times. I saw the last few Star Wars movies just as a social event going out with my siblings-in-law. I tend to be impressed by the effects but bored and annoyed by the plots. But this game looks like it will be good, a third person action rpg type game.

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2019-11-09 03:04

A lazy Saturday afternoon. I finished The Outer Worlds which turned out being a smaller game than I expected. The space navigation map had a lot of places on it that it turns out you never actually go to. In the end, it was a fun game but not a particularly great one. Certainly not one I will be revisiting. I do have a tendency to replay games when I really like them. I've played the Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Witcher games multiple times each, and always enjoyed my replays: finding new parts of the game, trying out different characters, making different decisions to trigger different stories and endings.

The Outer Worlds had decision elements, but most of them felt pretty limited and once you made them didn't do much more than effect the long ending where a narrator tells you all about what happened to all the different groups, people, and places. The game also ended up feeling both small and... excessive. I was playing on the "normal" difficulty level and there were all these consumables and equipment mods and such that I just never really needed. It ended up being just a lot of stuff to pickup, carry around, and ossacionally sell for not enough money to make it worthwhile. While occasionally going the extra mile to explore and find secrets brought out alternate ways to resolve a quest or just extra narrative information, a lot of the time it was just discovering more crap that mostly you didn't need anyway. One of the things I always liked about the Mass Effect games is they didn't overburden you with stuff, and instead focused on character and story. This game felt like it was trying to go a little too far into the first person shooter mode but also maintain a rich narrative.

There were also a few other aspects of the game I literally never used, like some kind of time stopping power that I kept forgetting I had, and my NPC companions had special abilities that I never remembered or used. They seemed completely extraneous.

At least it didn't end up being a game I wasted weeks on. I was entertained, but also felt like it was not totally worth the time I put into it. Back to other endeavors. I really have a lot of books I need to read, I should devote the time I spent on games to more of those. The piles in my office are getting a little ridiculous and I have more books to pick up the library.

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2019-11-06 07:54

Still playing The Outer Worlds on my PS4. It's a fun game, though also pretty easy. There are no real puzzles or complications to it yet. I've yet to really have issues balancing factions (and there are quite a few that the game tracks your reputation with) or making decisions. Like many games I can turn up the difficulty on combat, but nothing else, and the fighting just isn't that exciting. Like many of these games, also, there is a proliferation of stuff you can pick up. I have tons of consumables (drinks, medicines, food, etc.) that offer various temporary bonuses, but even at normal difficulty I have yet to need any of them.

I am enjoying the narrative and world building though. There is a lot going on, that at times becomes a bit overwhelming. Like in Skyrim or Fallout 4 one quickly accumulates a large list of quests even when trying to stick to just one. (Edit: After finishing the game, this turned out to be an illusion, I had a lot of quests at once and then there didn't end up being a lot more of them later.)

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2019-11-03 07:46

Spent much of yesterday playing The Outer Worlds on my PS4. It's a new sci-fi action RPG. It doesn't seem terribly new at this point, but it's a solid game. My main issue with it so far is that it's first person which I really dislike. I find the way first person is handled in video games odd and inadequate, and I really prefer to be able to see my character as I move around, it's much less confusing. It's also weird in that this game, like most RPGs let's you customize your character but then... it's first person so you never really see your character. In general, the game is most reminiscent of Fallout 4, which I think is not unexpected as this same studio made some of the previous Fallout games. It has a similar sarcastic sci-fi setting, though this one is in space, so there are multiple planets to visit. It does seem to nicely allow for multiple ways to solve problems and for decision making. From a review or two I've read I understand that there are actual changes that happen based on your decisions. I seem to, I think, have found a better solution than one of the reviewers for the first major decision you have to make about a colony on a planet. So far, fun, not too difficult, and plenty of time wasted on it.

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2019-10-15 18:08

Following up from yesterday, I ended up watching the Code Vein "good" ending on YouTube. It seemed like a set-up for a sequel, which is kind of odd to do in only one of the endings of a game. It didn't so much answer any questions or provide any closure as just set-up a sequel. But still, I'd play a sequel if they made one.

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2019-10-14 08:13

Yesterday I also started the "Discovery Tour" mode of Assassin's Creed Odysssey. Basically, it removes all the enemies and quests from the game and you run around taking tours and learning about locations and Ancient Greek history and myth. The various tours take you through guided paths to different monuments/locations and then at each one you get a little cut scene with narration about the location and then some text you can read for more information. It's a pretty cool idea. The developers did it for the previous game in the series, but I never got around to trying it.

That also reminds me I never finished writing about Code Vein. I finished the game last week at some point. Based on what I'm seeing online I got the "medium" ending, mostly because early on there was an aspect I didn't totally understand and thus didn't do 1 thing I was supposed to to get the "good" ending. The ending was actually rather underwhelming, and after all the build-up of NPC stories via interactive memoirs, it feels like I never got any story for my actual character. Maybe I missed something, but I don't think I ever discovered what made my character have these special abilities.

Overall, I enjoyed the game. It was a really successful variation on the Dark Souls style in a way that was tons more enjoyable for the simple fact that I did not struggle with every single boss, and actually did get to the end without just wanting to quit (I never did finish Dark Souls 3).

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2019-09-30 07:39

Played a lot of Code Vein over the weekend after it showed up late Friday. It's almost blatant stealing from Dark Souls is quite successful, as are the many elements added to the game that make it both easier and more narratively satisfying. For one thing, when you die, there is no "Humanity" type loss, so while you lose some progress, it's not a similar winnowing away of your ability to survive (or get help). Also you pretty much always have an NPC companion with you to help out, which, for me, is crucial for boss fights. But the companion is optional, so someone who wants a challenge could go it alone.

The game also makes much greater use of NPCs, cut scenes, and a comprehensible story. You have a sense of why you are doing things and what the goal is. And, via a series of "memories" you view via items found in the world, you also learn more about the world, the background, and the other characters. So far I am quite enjoying it. I had a lot of trouble with the second boss fight, but I think that was partially because I hadn't totally understood how a few elements of the game worked (that "passive" abilities had to be... equipped). And like many of these games, I end up constantly wanting to know what's next, to keep exploring and see what happens.

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2019-09-22 17:32

Finished Greedfall yesterday. In the end, an enjoyable game, but not one that was particularly innovative or unique. While it plays up the idea of factions and diplomacy, it seemed too easy to actually get along with everyone. Someone how I managed to stay on everyone's good side, except for one time towards where I made a choice that I knew would make one of the factions angry but seemed like the right choice. Had I not done that I probably would have managed to gather all five factions for the big fight at the end (though I am not clear what difference it actually makes in gameplay). I appreciated that there were always ways to handle most quests with different methods: fighting, sneaking, talking. But I also feel like those options were never very hard to pick. Unless I were just like "bah, I'm going to fight everyone" I don't see how there it was really that hard a choice. The end of the game offered some narration showing all the various companions and factions along with some line or two of denouement. It's a strike against the writing that for each companion they work in something about going back to visit their friend (i.e. your character) in a way that was just too simplistic and pandering. I'm actually curious what you would have to do to get a bad ending in the game, besides just willfully making bad decisions. One thing Dragon Age (and Mass Effect too actually) did well was having decision points where it was hard to choose between options, where you wanted to take all the options but couldn't. I don't feel this game every managed to get me in that type of tough quandary.

Somehow I ended up trying out the trial version of Code Vein today. It's like an anime Dark Souls and trying very hard to be like the latter. While there are added elements, the core mechanics are basically direct lifting from Dark Souls (with it's equivalent of souls and bonfires and the same death/resurrection mechanic). That said, for at least the trial part, I did not find the game as... onerous to play. While I died a few times, I also did get through the first boss fight without too much trouble. The game is not, to that point, as dark and suspenseful as Dark Souls. It helps that for much of the trial at least, you have an NPC companion running around with you, which helps with distracting opponents (especially the boss) and makes the settings seem less lonely and quiet. The mechanics are a bit involved as is the back story, but I think I'll pick up the full version when it comes out (this week or next I think). Seems like it will offer some of the same fun of Dark Souls but hopefully without quite the same high level of difficulty/frustration. One way that seems to be mitigated is that it offers a way to dynamically switch classes, which should help with issues I've had in Dark Souls where because of whatever type of character I decided to play certain bosses would be ridiculously hard.

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2019-09-15 12:04

Still coding, still playing Greedfall as my week of vacation comes to an end. I was thinking to myself about the nice absence of lots of fetch quests, when of course I ended up taking on this quest that involved a lot of running back and forth to get an object and then talk to a person somewhere, none of which involved going anywhere new or facing any sort of challenge, so in the end it was just a lot of stupid busy work.

Like many of these sorts of games it also suffers from the constant inventory/equipment management both to keep encumbrance below max (so you can run) and to keep upgrading so you can face the challenges of the game. You keep having to swap around equipment or upgrade it, and so even if you find something you like visually, you can't end up using it for long without falling behind. One thing Assassin's Creed Odyssey ended up doing well was when they added a way to change the look your armor/clothes to match any set you had previously discovered. That way you could keep upgrading in different ways, but you could also choose what your character looked like. Greedfall does have the extra element of faction clothing, so that you can put on the armor/clothes of a faction as a disguise and then be able to more freely walk around specific areas. Of course that does then end up meaning you have to carry a bunch of extra armor around for when you need it.

Narratively, I am enjoying the slowly unfolding mysteries and the handling of the colonizer/native dynamic, though I'm finding it hard to be sympathetic at all to the colonizers, which may be a failing of the game (it makes a lot of the choices easy) or maybe just an indication of my sympathies. I also think they have, so far as I've gotten, missed an opportunity in regard to the protagonist. And some spoilers here... You learn that your character is actually a native, born on a ship back to what they have thought is their home. I don't feel like the cut scenes and dialog are adequately representing what should be a fairly major questioning of the character's position in regards to the colonizer/native dynamic. Perhaps that is partially a limitation of the order one does quests and the game just not accounting in various side quests for changes wrought by the main quest discoveries. Curious to see how it plays out further along the main quest lines.

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2019-09-14 12:58

Also more playing of Greedfall which is a decent game with a few shortcomings, some clearly because it is a lower budget game with high aspirations, partly just because of conventions of this type of game.

The game is narratively and partially mechanically based around choices. Your character is a diplomate dealing with a variety of factions that have varying levels of conflict with each other, so the story often puts you into a place where you have to choose sides or try to create some kind of compromise. This creates a sense that the choices matter, but like all games like this, it's hard to know if they really do, unless you play the games multiple times (trying variations). Many times, when playing games like Dragon Age or The Witcher I'll go to an online wiki about the game to lookup alternate paths, to see if the decisions I made really were making a difference or, if like a bad rpg module, you always end up with the same result. Greedfall is so new there is no suh source yet, so I'm quite curious about this.

I did discover one of the pivot points around a specific NPC the other day when I advanced through a main mission without completing a side mission. I ended up reloading a previous save and trying a different order to the missions, and that did, to a small extent make some different in the narrative.

The longer I play the game, the more I notice some of the limitations caused by a smaller studio budget. All the cities in the game have certain locations that are almost exactly the same (governor's mansion, barracks, tavern). There is also a sameness to wilderness encounters, where the majority of creatures you run into fall into about three species (with some ranked variations), unless you are in some kind of boss fight. These encounters end up a being a sort of busy work of the game, where you have to succeed in fights to continue the story, but the fights themselves are not particularly engaging on their own.

For me there is always this push and pull between wanting a challenge but not wanting to have to also be restarting from a previous save because my character died in combat. I quickly ended up setting this game on easy mode. For me these sorts of video rpgs are more interesting for the exploration of a narrative (and a narrative world) than they are about strategy and challenge. While I have in the past enjoyed playing strategy games in person, like tabletop miniatures games, the fun there is in playing against a live opponent. It seems less interesting when the opponent is a rather simple combat AI.

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2019-09-13 09:46

And I've been spending probably too much time on Greedfall on my playstation. It's Dragon Age influence is pretty clear in how it handles party members and a less open world that is made up of large zones to wander around in. Some of the UI is not totally clear, but play has been pretty smooth. The most annoying thing so far is how conversations are handled, particular with party members. The game tracks a metric of your relationship with party members and various factions. Actions you take positively or negatively effect the relationship. Much of the time this is fairly clear: help an npc or faction with a mission, the relationship improves, but sometimes just picking a conversation option will negatively effect the relationship and every time that's happened I've found it completely unclear or unexpected. It feels like there's no way to even gauge how the npcs will react. Another weird thing was a plot point that happened, when I progressed on one of the main missions that caused me to lose a bunch of side missions and one of my party members. The order I should do missions and if there is any time restrictions on them isn't clear (an issue Dragon's Dogma had too).

Otherwise, I am finding the story interesting and the world building is detailed enough to be engaging. The 18th century-esque colonial setting is also effectively done, and the conflict between the colonizers and the natives is so far handled in a suitably complex manner, with a good story twist fairly early on that adds mixed motivation for the main character in how to deal with it.

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2019-09-11 08:29

Also started a new video game yesterday called Greedfall. As I said to ███ in a text, it's not a AAA game, more like calling a tow truck for yourself... Coming out of Assassin's Creed Odyssey which was AAA and spectacular visually and very smooth in gameplay, this game is a step down in both, but I'm also intrigued in what it is trying to do, setting up a world and various factions you must interact with. I read an interview with the game's main... director? producer? not totally sure what you call it, and she (yes, a woman even!) was talking about the influence of Dragon Age on the game, which is what really sold me on trying it out. I'm hoping it pays off in the end, but I did play a few hours yesterday and enjoy myself and I still really only in the prologue.

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2019-08-05 08:10

Still playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey even though I've finished all the main content and DLCs, now I'm just running around finishing up whatever side missions are left and continuing to admire the scenery. It really does make me want to play a D&D game in Ancient Greece, so I guess I haven't totally given up on that idea.

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2019-07-16 08:39

I started playing Assassin's Creed: Odyssey again this week. I've been playing that game on and off since last year. They keep releasing new DLC and updates with missions, so every now and then I turn it on again to play some more, then I get tired of it (it can get repetitive) and turn if off for awhile until the next DLC. It's probably good in that it has kept me from really starting some other game that would take up more time. Playing video games for me is an engaging way to spend time that doesn't require me to be too thoughtful: more active than tv/movies but less so than prepping my D&D game or writing. In that respect it becomes an easy way to spend a lot of time, as I get immersed in the games and their stories (I always prefer games with stories), and then time flies by and in the end I have not really accomplished anything. But, then again, why must I accomplish something? Is there some inherent good in just getting something done, regardless of what it is? Is me making a comic anymore worthwhile than just playing a video game? Particular if almost no one will see the comic I make anyway? Not that I've made a comic in probably years now. Maybe I already decided it wasn't worthwhile.

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