Yesterday after lunch I found myself under a highway overpass in Washington DC with a can of spray paint can in my hand. We were doing an activity as part of a team retreat for work, and in one of the more inspired ideas for teambuilding I’ve ever experienced, we hired a guy to meet us with ten boxes of paint cans and show the uninitiated how to use them for street art. I’ve always used spray paint for projects but never really thought about how they work for art, so it was a lot of fun to look at the existing work on the walls and deconstruct how it was created. One big takeaway was that white and black are crucial colors to highlight and outline new work, especially when it’s over older art. it’s a lot harder than it might look, and I left with a new respect for good, cleanly executed graffiti, as well as a newfound desire to go tag something.
Back before Finn was born one of the things on my bucket list was to learn to ride a motorcycle. If I was to buy a motorcycle, it would (still) be something simple to operate, multi-role, and easy to fix. My friend John told me about the Kawasaki KLR series, an enduro-style bike with a single cylinder engine (affectionately called a thumper) and, in the first generation, shockingly little in terms of electronics or mechanical doo-dads to break down. I never got around to lessons and I don’t have the budget or time for a used motorcycle (nor do I possess a death wish in this, my fifth decade on Earth) but I still can dream. I’d read somewhere that the military was experimenting with highly modified multi-fuel versions of the KLR650, and an article popped up on The Drive about a surplus unit and the reasons why it’s so difficult to find someone who could fix one. Fascinating stuff.
This week’s earworm: My People, by The Beaches. They’re actually getting more play right now from a song called Blame Brett, which is also very good, but this one got stuck in my head. They sound like an incredibly tight live band; I’d go see them if buying tickets wasn’t such a fucking nightmare. This live mix is great other than the snare drum, which is tuned like a 5-gallon bucket.
Saturday morning, the family rose early and walked down the street to help sort and assemble boxes of foot for two local food pantries. We’ve done this for a couple of years now, and we’re getting to be pros at it; this year’s date was a month or so early, so the amount of food donated wasn’t as large as we were used to. But we all pitched in and made ourselves as useful as possible. At events like this, with decentralized leadership, we’ve found it’s always best to stand back and let someone else explain how things are going to work and what needs to be done, and I think we’re all very good at staying out of the way but pitching in where needed.
We walked back home, let the dog out, and then drove into the city for a tasty sushi lunch in my old neighborhood at the foot of Boston street. It’s boring and repetitive to write about how much things have changed down there, but it’s good to see some things are still similar. After filling ourselves on lunch I bought the girls our first PSLs of the season at the Starbucks up the street, which were…underwhelming. For $16 I was really expecting a lot more flavor. Then we drove up to my other old neighborhood and stopped in to the MICA bookstore for Finn to find some art supplies. I picked up a new watercolor pad and some window stickers to replace the one that crumbled on the Accord, and while I was there I spied a big retrospective book they produced a couple of years ago:
Thumbing back through the years I stumbled on a page about Portfolio Review day, which is (in an oft-told tale here at Lockardugan Central) where Mom and I drove down to Baltimore, I showed them my work, and was offered admission to the school on the spot. I took a picture of the page because this is exactly how I remember it—sitting on the steps in the Main Building to visit the various desks. Thankfully my friend Jeff and I had already attended a series of other Review days at Pratt and Cooper Union so we knew what to expect and how to set up our work.
On Sunday I got up and drove over to Columbia, where I met up with Scout friends and helped Bennett get the Hudson off the trailer and moving under its own power. We really didn’t have to do much, other than unstrap it and get it started; the accelerator pump is shot so it bogged down when he got on the gas, but it ran enough for us to take a few short drives up and down the lane.
Then we headed back to Bennett’s house to help demo a trellis on his back deck, which has been leaning drunkenly under the weight of a 20-year-old wisteria. We strapped it to an adjacent tree and used various power and levering instruments to remove most of the wood and stacked in in the back of his truck. Then we paused for some lunch and cold beer, and by 3PM were packing up for home. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed and we were all tucked into bed by 9:30.
I’ve played Starfield over several nights and gotten the hang of the way the game is structured, and I’ve got a couple of takeaways. The first is that the mechanics are almost a direct lift from Fallout 4 and Fallout 76—which isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t necessarily great, either. The structure is the same, the menu and inventory systems are the same, and the mapping system is expanded to include local, planetary, galaxy, and universe views—which don’t always work the way they should. Crafting systems are the same inscrutable mechanic, where you run around gathering junk to break down at a special bench to upgrade your suit or weapon, and you’re always running up against what you are strong enough to carry vs. what you can drag back to your base (in this case, your ship). So it’s a ton of inventory management. Which isn’t a bad thing, when done correctly, but when I’m constantly humping shit back and forth to build some stupid thing that’s step 3 on a 10 step quest, I’m gonna get pissed off real quick. And as with Fallout 4, the rules of how to build stuff is a black art you need to spend hours on a message board studying, which is also not my cup of tea.
So I know how the game designers think and how they’ve structured the game. What I’m hoping to avoid are the issues that led me to drop their previous games. Fallout 76 lost me when the difficulty level of finishing a quest to get a legendary item skyrocketed past what I was able to build after hours of grinding through levels of experience and avoiding in-game purchasing. Shooting a giant beast eleventy billion times to no effect when they can kill you with one swipe gets irritating real quick. And if this game forces me into situations where I can’t complete tasks without joining up with a bunch of other players, they’re going to lose me pretty fast.
I also soured on the crafting/building/management aspects of the game. I craft, build and manage enough crap in meatspace. When I boot up a game I want to be challenged with a fun shoot-em-up, not a grocery list and errand run. While I don’t expect to be able to carry three tons of gear around in-game, they’ve prioritized survival by the number of different sets of armor and guns a character must own to complete different tasks, and those possessions need constant care and upkeep, and this requires one to continually run around and pick up every goddamn thing you see in the hopes that it will fix your stuff. At a certain point the task outweighs the reward.
However: the boot time is pretty negligible, which is some kind of black magic voodoo shit when you see how rich the environment is. The storylines are familiar and sort of comforting in a nostalgic way; I spent all of chemotherapy playing through Fallout 4 and the vibe is very similar here, which isn’t a bad thing. Flying through space and shooting up spaceships is fun as shit, and their mechanics there are very well designed. Last night I explored a mining base on Venus and then traveled to a space station orbiting the Moon to clear out a group of pirates. In between I had to chase down a spaceship and disable it. It was fun! So I’ll keep at it and see if things have gotten better.
Bill Willingham has been in my life since the early ’80’s, when I noticed his illustrations in my copies of the D&D First Edition Player’s Handbook and Gamma World modules I played with friends. Later, he wrote and illustrated a comic I enjoyed called Elementals, and at some point transitioned over fully into writing. He created a highly acclaimed series called Fables 20 years ago which sold many copies and won many awards, and was smart enough to sign a contract where he owned the IP. He’s just released that IP into the public domain as a preemptive move against DC Comics, who have withheld royalties, tried altering his ownership agreement, and generally been assholes.
Throughout the years of my business relationship with DC, with Fables and with other intellectual properties, DC has always been in violation of their agreements with me. Usually it’s in smaller matters, like forgetting to seek my opinion on artists for new stories, or for covers, or formats of new collections and such. In those times, when called on it, they automatically said, “Sorry, we overlooked you again. It just fell through the cracks.”
None of this is surprising, but I love his response.
For better or worse, DC and I are still locked together in this unhappy marriage, perhaps for all time.
But you aren’t.
I spent a miserable four hours trapped with no A/C on a MARC train yesterday attempting to get in to work; the brakes on my train stopped working about a mile away from Union Station and we sat on the tracks while they tried to sort things out. When that didn’t work, they brought up the following train with the intention of having it push us into the station. That train then failed and became stranded. So they brought up a third train next to us and disembarked two trains’ worth of rush hour commuters onto the third. I hadn’t had any coffee or breakfast, so when I finally sat down at my desk with some Blue Bottle and a warm burrito, I inhaled it with a couple of ibuprofen. Several of the trains headed north at the end of the day were cancelled but I was able to grab a seat on the first one out.
In happier news some new equipment arrived at the office last week and I was able to get it all organized: a new Sony A7Siii with a pair of new lenses in different focal lengths, as well as a shotgun mic and some other goodies. This doubles the number of Sony cameras we’ve got and almost fills out the full range of lenses we’ll need. I brought it home to set things up and familiarize myself with the menu system, and I think I’ve got things down. The new medium-range Sigma art lens I picked is absolutely glorious. I’m still wary of Sony gear, but we’re locked in now and we’ll see how it goes.
I booted up Starfield on my Xbox Sunday morning before the girls were awake and started playing through the introduction. Being a Bethesda game, it shares many of the same game mechanics as Fallout, so much of it was familiar immediately. I built a character, shot some space pirates, jumped into a spaceship, and landed on a different planet. One thing that’s wildly different is that it’s not a giant download of a game; I selected it in the menu and almost immediately I was playing. There are some network glitches where it drops out for a second or two and then comes back, which is a bummer when you’re in the middle of a firefight, so I’ll have to ensure my wired connection is still stable.