Friday evening we had the Morrises over to see the Cirque de Soleil production of Twas the Night Before Christmas, which was as amazing—and as French—as you might imagine.
I finally watched the movie that concludes the Venture Brothers TV series, and while it was a bit convoluted and maybe didn’t hit all of the beats I wanted it to, I thought it was a great wrap-up for the characters and storyline I’ve been following for twenty years. Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart had some great callbacks, some laugh-out-loud bits, and some surprisingly heartfelt moments. There were some things I had to catch up on, as Adult Swim wasn’t playing the final season online, so I backtracked and went through the last episodes on MAX, and then watched the movie again. Clearly I would have loved to see them continue the series but I’m glad they were given the chance to tie it up properly.
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 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.
There are a lot of “Will it Run??!?!”-style videos on YouTube these days, which all follow the same basic format: a guy (they are usually guys) drives or flies somewhere to find a long-abandoned car in a field or barn, spends 3/4 of the video trying to get it running and driving with a minimal set of tools, and then spends the last 1/4 driving it halfway across America to get home. They are hugely popular for reasons I can completely understand: they involve older cars, the host explains what they’re doing, there are usually one or more catastrophic things wrong with the car they must address, and there’s always something that breaks on the way home. I love these videos because I like old cars, I appreciate learning how to fix things, and I love road trips. I would love nothing more than to do this for a living—but I’m not a good enough mechanic yet. Much of what I’ve learned from these videos has come in handy as I’ve gotten the Chrysler and the Travelall running, fixed the brakes, and worked my way through the other systems.
Anyway, there are a lot of these out there now, and I like some more than others. As with podcasts, it’s all about the host; some people are insufferable and rub me the wrong way, and others I enjoy spending time following. I just found a new one with a guy who split a major revival into two parts: a get-it-fixed half and a get-home-but-visit-interesting-places half. The car in question is a beautiful rusty 1960 Impala, abandoned for years, and he manages to keep it running across the country as he checks out some really interesting landmarks. Subscribed.
I’ve been playing The Division 2 for quite a long time now, and it got stale months ago but I haven’t seen any new games that I’ve been interested in trying—until now. Bethesda, the developers behind Fallout 4, are about to release a new game called Starfield, which is a space-based explorer/shooter/dogfighting game that sounds amazing by all accounts. I tried another well reviewed space-based game a while back called No Man’s Sky, which wound up being very repetitive after about ten hours or so, so I’m hopeful this one has the detail and storytelling I enjoyed in the Fallout series. It’s out next week, and I do believe I’ll give it a shot.
We drove over to the other side of Baltimore to see a double-feature of Legally Blonde and Barbie last night at the only remaining drive-in theater in the area. Apart from watching most of the first movie through windshield wipers as a giant thunderstorm swept through the area.
Barbie was surprising and bright and thoughtful and everything you don’t expect it to be; we all enjoyed it immensely. I hope it wins awards for best original screenplay and acting—for the leads and supporting roles alike.
Vulture reminds us the Venture Brothers movie will be released in
a month tomorrow, which is something I will be looking forward to intently. They ranked the 15 best episodes, and while I agree with some of their picks there are a bunch that should have ranked higher and others that aren’t represented at all. I realize they were trying to spread the list out among the seasons, but the first and second seasons are so strong, it’s hard to choose among them. That being said, Showdown at Cremation Creek (Pt. II) is strangely missing, and Escape to the House of Mummies should be in there just for the addition of Edgar Allen Poe. I’m glad 20 Years to Midnight is included. IGNORE ME!