Thursday, November 15, 2018

All good things...

When I read the articles about Stan Lee, I kept wondering why most of them didn't take the time to explain why this modern day P.T. Barnum who made himself out to be a literary Edison was so racially sensitive. Maybe it's because he was Jewish, and had adopted the name Stan Lee because he wanted to save his real name for when he wrote the great American novel.

Stan's passing is tragic. I remember sometime ago reading something, on twitter or someplace, about how one day we'd watch a Marvel film and there wouldn't be a cameo. That's when it would hit you, because the films now almost need a cameo. I hope that they'll continue in some fashion - maybe for Spider-man movies it's advert on a passing bus with Stan's face - or his portrait in an embassy or the UN in the background of the next Black Panther film. Something. I'm just saying, it's an idea.

Damn. I must be getting old.

With great power, comes great responsibility...

Friday, October 26, 2018

This is all you got?

Rambling Post #357
Two gaming posts in a row? Wow, really big into gaming lately. Nothing about the upcoming story project, or goings on at the Ranch, or politics, or something that caught your eye or just about life in general. I could talk about lottery pools or go on about the sudden chill in the air that the seasons have brought us or general opinion stuff. Remember when I was mad at Burger King for putting fries on the burger? I could do that. Maybe family events? Changes in dietary habits? Books you've read then? No, none of that. Just the gaming then? Damn. I need to get out more. After I finish this game. And it gets warmer.


Before I saddle up and take on the Quentin Tarantino -esque masterpiece of Red Dead Redemption 2 (started my download on Wednesday night, thank you very much, only took took 30 hours) I want to take a moment to examine the title I'll be putting on hold for a while. A very long while. My original plan after finishing the sorely disappointing Just Cause 3 earlier this year was to dust off my older Playstation and revisit the original Red Dead Redemption. But my "To Be Played" list is so long - damn you flash sales - that I started a new title instead.

I think Rockstar has spoiled me.

The title that  I started was Mafia 3, the story of a black Vietnam vet taking on the mob in a fictional version of 1960s New Orleans. The game specifically indicated in the setup that to the producers felt it imperative to the gameplay that the player experience the actual racism that the main protagonist would have experienced. But this is a first person shooter. So the hero is a black guy...shooting racists in the old south. This would be the part where I give a sinister smile and say..."Go on." But that's it. And it's executed so poorly that had I won the billion dollar lottery I would have bought the title, hired new developers and redid the whole thing. As I said, Rockstar it is not.

Rockstar set the bar for open world games and nobody seems to have even gotten close since Saints Row 2 (another title I would have bought and done over, but just for the better visuals). Now let me say this, the location cinematics for Mafia 3 are amazing. Driving through the downtown area at night or traipsing through the swamp right at dusk are just visually stunning. The layout of the city, with it's divisions has a good feel for it as well. Right about there however, is where the game goes left.

It all looks so nice. But life is more than looks. 
Let's start with driving. I'll admit it, I'm used to wheeling and dealing about under sunny Los Santos skies going where I want how I want, i.e., driving on curbs, breezing through lights, clipping pedestrians, etc. Police shmolice, pfft.  As you move through the city in Mafia 3 however, the game makes a point of letting you know the cops are watching. So a drive through the city feels different. Plus the brakes are too harsh, people lean on the horn to quick and it all feels stiff. Even when I had the cops on my tail racing through the bayou it didn't feel true.

Then there is the actual gameplay. Most shooter games let the player decide how to approach things. Are you sniper? Do you lie in wait? Ambush? Go in guns blazing? Well, not so much here. Despite implying that the game allows some choice, based upon the tools you have and the way the weapons are set up it's basically a stealth game. That you only get two guns at a time is okay, I even enjoyed the tactical feel of making weapons decisions in Far Cry. But you're limited to less than 40 bullets for both the pistol and the other gun, the health bar is wonky and the bulletproof vest may as well be worthless. I mostly find myself working myself through the maze of the building, dock, warehouse, or where ever it is, lying in wait in a dark area until the enemy NPCs split up and then whistling to lure one of them closer where I do silent takedowns. So I'm maybe shooter isn't the best term.

What's severely lacking here however, is what makes the difference between a top tier title and everything else: There is simply nothing else to do in this gorgeous setting. A top tier open world game, like say Witcher 3, is practically overflowing with races, side characters needed things, etc. They have none of that here. They have the standard collectible search, but it's hardly a search since there is a simple way to display everything on the map which reduces the hunt and find to run around and grab. And although there is money, er, kickback and other cash, there is nothing really to spend it on. Your outfits are all set at the beginning so no shopping, you don't have to eat, one of you lieutenants has a car service to brings rides. Other than on your very limited arsenal, the money is barely a way to keep score. And with no side gigs it means to me that most of the map is just wasted.

Just some ideas. Since the ambiance radio updates go on about civil rights activities, why doesn't this character have a mission or fifteen dealing with that? And the main character gets a CIA buddy to help him out, so why are those side missions in the DLC? This could have been a robin hood -esque story with moral choices. There should have been a shopping system where on the poor side of town he can shop but as the neighborhoods get more racially sensitive, he's not allowed to shop unless the clerk is black or he has to buy the store? He should have had a hideout, or series of hideouts that he could upgrade. There is so much they could have done with this...and they didn't. Maybe it's all in the DLC?

Sigh. 

Barkeep. Two fingers of rye. Enough of this, I got to mount up and ride!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Wither mine 2K

Ramblings Post #356
I like gaming. I first started gaming on a PC, long before consoles were a big thing, with a game called Cannons. You estimated wind and powder needed to shoot the cannon on the other side of the valley. It was thrilling at the time. At this point if the game is well put together I'll give it a try. At least that's my excuse for Dwarf Fortress, as it is very well put together. But because I'm not totally cerebral, I also enjoy the occasional console masterpiece. Or I did. The more things change...


My affection for the company that produces the better console basketball simulation is long gone. What was a fun little setup that allowed you to live out your NBA superstar fantasies has become a near naked annual digital shakedown. I'm a realist, and I am fully aware that games are not charity or community work and that companies need to turn a profit. I am also fully cognizant that stuff that used to be part of the game is now sold as DLC, as well as this newest development of planned accelerated obsolesce.

As you may know, I'm a Playstation guy. Not that I have anything against XBOX, but I kinda do. Not the point. But my unit was one of the older models with a paltry 500 GB hard drive. It sounds like a lot, and it was when your average game was 35-55 GB. But as the games get more complex, the sizes have also grown, the next big thing - Red Dead Redemption 2 - was supposed to be coming in at 105 GB. I understand now it's just 88 GB, but that's still pretty damn big. It would, er, it will take up almost 20% my hard drive. But my drive was over 90% full. Which means something had to go.

Or did it?

A conversation with the guy at Gamestop, they are actually good for something, kicked off a little research and I eventually stumbled upon a Playstation upgrade kit. At Staples of all places. (Amazon has one too, same kit.) With that in hand it took me a short half hour to switch out the smaller drive for a larger one. I had properly backed up my games - use the backup feature if you do this, don't just save your game files like so many YouTube videos say, otherwise you leave out your settings, backgrounds, and your saved highlights. It was after I reloaded the games when I discovered the issue.

Now, I still have 2K15. I like 2K15 because I play Career Mode and the this is the last one free of much of the dramatics of the modern iterations. Just a touch of story: you start on a 10 day contract and play your way into the league. It eliminates the possibility of Rookie of the year or the Rookie all-star game, but it's still a pretty fair little deal. I understand the new 2K has you start in China and go through the developmental league. Ugh. Why they don't go back to the All-Star game play-in sequence from 2K12 I don't know. Or why with every new year you have to start over instead of letting your character continue like in The Show. In any case, I'd played my first half a season - and I play the full 48 - and my character had become a hot commodity. I was in the midst of a 2 year deal, the league's leading scorer, clocking some endorsements and my team was first in the division.

So I'm checking to make sure it's all back. I had a ton of Witcher 3 DLC, but since it was all free why wouldn't I? My Mafia 3 game picked up like I hadn't even turned off the game. Baseball, sword fighting game, WWII bomber game etc., were all good. I start 2K on my new drive and ...to play my saved 2k game, which I played off-line after they took the game servers down, and my system says it needs to connect to those now non-existent servers.

Yeah.

Now, when I bought the game the servers were still up. Yes, I've had it that long. And after the shut them off I actually restarted. Now after switching out my hard drive, I have to restart a third time? For like serious - serious?

I really don't want a My Career game scripted by Spike Lee, or starting in China, or whatever. It's shame that modern gaming has devolved from "getting what you paid for" into "getting what I want you to have until I need you to buy some more product." If 2K just created a cap out patch every time they shut down the servers for a previous iteration, allowing you to keep what you paid for, OR sold a side DLC that let you import a previous character or league with all the accumulated stats into the latest version I would be fine with their business model. I might even be cool with buying the new versions. But this just feels wrong. It feel exploitative. And since I'm the one being exploited, it's extra not good.

May have to check NBA Live and see what they've got to offer. After I've played Red Dead Redemption 2 for a while of course. 

Barkeep, I'm need my saddle and my gear. It's almost time to ride out. And whiskey neat while we're waiting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I coulda been a ...Kingpin!

Ramblings Post #355
I made a big deal about getting back to writing, at least on here, then I just kinda whiffed. I'm still not writing enough of anything , shorts, poetry, etc, and with the big one coming up at the end of the month I'm still not quite there. I have stories I've been meaning to write and I have been using this as an excuse to write them, but this year feels different. To many things in flux I guess.

So let's see how many half finished posts I have that I can't get done right now: Construction near office causes professional fatigue, bad television show critique, political post that got trampled by current events, other bad television show critique, other political post and more trampling, middle age rant about traffic, middle aged rant about cleaning my house, book planning for November writing frenzy, and office bowling teams.

That last one: Office bowling teams. Yeah, I signed up for the bowling team because at work ( i.e., the Ranch) I can spend hours not speaking to anyone. Because of the nature of what I actually do, It is possible to go in, ride herd and stack hay and not have an actual conversation with a live person until mid-afternoon. My fellow cattlehands have embraced the headphone lifestyle, rocking out all day oblivious to the goings on around us, and that combined with a series of rolling meeting schedules that mean its not uncommon to look up and me be the only ranch hand I see on these particular forty acres. So in an effort to be sociable, I signed up for an office bowling league team.

I need to have my head examined.

I signed up as an alternate, so that what I should have been able to do was show up and have a beer or two while cheering the rest of my team on. You know, just being sociable. No fuss, no muss. They even threw in a free T-shirt for my trouble. So, planning to breeze in late and leave early because I actually had another stop or two to make, your boy slid through for a quick meet and mingle with the "other farmhands." Have some laughs, drink a bit, knock the kinks out of the old social mojo, that sort of thing. 

I got roped into playing as the inaugural event had a sparse showing. But I guess you saw that coming, didn't you?
Our spot wasn't near this nice. This is a "representative picture" of where we were.

I might have last been bowling over a decade ago. Have the lanes gotten narrower? I think the lanes have gotten narrower. I'm going to partly attribute my poor showing to the fact that by arriving late I did not have time to warm up. And that my ankle was sore. And that Mercury was in retrograde, causing my chakras to become misaligned and knock my vibes out of sync. Something like. Could it have been I'm just not a good bowler? Nah. Or yeah. One of them. They're all equally valid reasons. 

The guys in the next lane (also farmhands) could have been on the pro tour - they had that classic spin on the ball, the made it curve like a bow, picking up spares off splits and other bowling lingo that makes them seem cool. I was bowling with people who once the ball left their hands would turn around and ask us not to look at the lane and we cheered for two or three pins going down. I was bowling against someone from the Bedrock bowling league who literally heaved the ball a quarter of the way down the alley Flintstones style. The sad part is that he is still a better bowler than me.

The Ranch provided us with some "social lubricant", but me being of a certain age and temperment I decided to go get what I actually wanted. The bar, in a throwback bowling alley that looked like it was time locked in 1973, was a bit of a surprise. Not that it was there, I mean where else does the beer you're supposed to drink while bowling come from? No, what was a shock was that I spotted a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Seriously. I asked the bartender if I was seeing things and he assured me that he was not. I asked how much it was and he indicated that it was $40....a shot. Not a drink, a shot. So I went back to the beer.

It was a fairly good evening. If the point of the game was fun, then my team clearly won. Unfortunately the actual point of the game is knocking down pins, and we knocked down less than they did. But this wasn't like bowling but golf rules, right? No? I went out again for week 2, but this time they'd made such a big fuss about all the fun  even the company execs showed up. And none of those deep pocketed bros even broke down and got the Pappy. Weak. It was still fun, but halfway work associated fun, you know? 

Barkeep. How much is the Pappy? How much? A glass of your finest  *cough* cheapest, beer on tap please. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

So, um... what was that?

Ramblings Post #354
I am, at heart, a creative. I didn't realize how much I missed this until I started writing this again. As of late, as the ranch has gotten more intense due to our 'change of the week' feature (it's feature, not a bug), an old injury reasserted itself, the Cowboys look extra pedestrian and so everything has kind of gone to seed. I'm not even reading, and I love to read. I have writing I'm not doing, stories just sitting around as notes on bits of paper and scribbles in a notebook. But life ain't supposed to be easy. So, I'm doing something even if it ain't exactly what I want. The journey of thousand miles starts with a single step. Or in my case, the first sentence.

So instead of watching the Bucs slowly come back to football reality, I switched over to see what all the hubub was about with the new iteration of Magnum, P.I. last evening. Thomas Sullivan Magnum is back. Only now he's....Latinx? Latino? Of Hispanic descent? His name sounds so mid-western though. I'll need to look up exactly what the proper term is later but he's played now by Jay Hernandez, who I'll admit looks properly easy going enough to play the titular character, but I would like to see him grow a mustache. Tom Selleck's Magnum always looked to me like a guy whose grin said he knew his life was just a little too good to be true - in Hawaii, spot on an estate, Ferrari to drive, etc, but he was smart enough not to screw it up. This new guy, I dunno yet.
That's not a Magnum. This is a Magnum. And no, that doesn't even sound right.
Let me tell you why. I'll be honest, I could only watch twenty minutes or so because after I was almost done with the whole thing. So very many cliches.

The show opens with a space jump. Like the Red Bull skydive from like the edge of space. Into North Korea, because those are only international people left you can reliably get to call bad guys at this point. So then, from the promo it's the  car chase with an old Volvo and APC, which Magnum disables with a handgun to signal TC and Rick in the chopper. Ha ha, gotcha, it's all fake, because in this version Robin Masters writes Clive Cussler-esque action novels (no disrespect to Cussler, I have enjoyed way too many of his books) and Magnum and his friends are one of the inspirations for the stories. This whole scene is from one of Robin's books and the principals are sitting around laughing at how outrageous and hokey the whole thing sounds. Ah, a little misdirection, but as an opener it kind of threw off the old school low-key cool of the original.

Then we meet Higgins as a woman, and who is now young enough and cute enough to throw off a "will they or won't they vibe" between her and Magnum. Which is also so off-putting. The grudging respect the two characters developed was one of the key elements of the original series. Making the major domo a woman is an interesting twist, but they could have made her older in my opinion. And a little more English. Or at least television English.

Then the first giveaway. Magnum is at the estate with Rick, TC and a fourth guy who is part of their crew. So a new character for the reboot I'm thinking. They laugh it up and crack jokes but when the opening credits roll, guess who is missing? So my new math is the new guy is dead before the episode ends. Then Magnum meets a client where he doesn't so much do his job as counsel the woman, to show his empathy and charm and suddenly I'm bored because this is hack television. Now, I wasn't expecting The Wire, or Better Call Saul, but this is barely a cut above Empire.

If I had looked at the Promo shots, I would not have made that first assumption.
Give it few more minutes I say.

So, soon to be dead buddy calls to hire Magnum, and he heads over in a Ferrari..., not THE Ferrari, but an newer one because as head of security at Robin Master's estate you get to drive his car. Makes sense. It made sense during the original run, why not now? He arrives and has made for TV gun battle with the bad guys who kidnap soon to be dead buddy and proceed to turn the car into Swiss cheese. That was painful to watch. Magnum pulls out the old trusty handgun, maybe a .45, I dunno, and instead of ducking for cover and shooting out a tire, um, misses at every shot? The cops arrive, don't hold our hero for questioning and don't notice when he takes evidence from the crime scene because he's Magnum. Then we go back to the mansion, which happens to have what must be a showroom of Ferrari and there it is, the classic GTO! Yes! And no. He's taking the 'old Ferrari?" Is that even a phrase? This beautifully manicured estate doesn't have an old pickup truck he can use? He just got a three hundred thousand dollar car destroyed, so take the classic one, please.

Side question: Is Robin Masters selling like JK Rowling? An estate on a Hawaiian island that he doesn't even live in, fully staffed and multiple exotic vehicles just sitting around? Clive, you're getting short changed!

It was here I called it quits because it was starting to get a little too silly. Rick tracked down the getaway vehicle before Magnum had even made it home, the dead friend actually being dead (whoa), his repeating the phrase "Sully's dead" if Sully was the dead guy's name (I think, maybe) seemed to keep buying him way too much leeway, with Higgins, the Navy, etc., the flashback to prisoner of war camp where they pull off the Rambo medical procedure? Ugh, what's the score of the game?

I remember Magnum P.I. as a show with no so much A-Team style gun battles but more of a subtle Hawaii-noir, where everything was a little smoother, a little cooler and Magnum looked like an overgrown beach bum. Maybe I just didn't know the cliches then, but that was a different show. This seemed a little too slick, a little too new for my tastes. They had Zeus and Apollo fighting over a beach towel for god's sake!

By the way, I didn't see the end, but I'm betting the guy's wife set him up (The recap says that's not it, but I have imagination!). Because in the old series, Magnum would have searched around for this extremely complicated plot only find out it was something simple like that. That was kind of show it was. I'm going to give it few more views, but this isn't an exactly stellar start here.
I still say the should have gone animated for the reboot.

Barkeep. Whatever Magnum would steal from Robin's liquor cabinet. I'll watch for the dogs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Where you been?

Ramblings Post #353 
There should be something here, something smart and quippy that kind of sets the tone for the writing below. Nah, not this time. It is what it is. I is tired.

It's been a minute since I been doing this, so what happened? I've been doing nothing and  everything. A little bit of something and whole lot of time wasting. I have determined that sitting on my couch in the silence of my house is just plain relaxing.

I may have to get a recliner.

My days at "the Ranch" have become an adventure. Everyday a new bronco to bust, a fresh forty acres to tame, somebody who can't read a simple email. They just keep adding layers and duties up in this piece, and you keep wondering what's really going on. I have a long history of "falling into" pulling more than weight on whatever spread I end up on just because that's how it all falls out. Doing management things and making management decisions on a peon salary because no one else wants to step up and I have this impediment called a good work ethic and desire to always do my best. I went to law school to place myself in a position to avoid these types of setups and endgames, but this is starting to look pretty damned familiar.

Admittedly this time it's part of a larger overall plan, but still.

I've been thinking about it and the one exciting thing I've done this summer is -- work. Just work. That situation along with the legendary Atlanta traffic and a personal ennui makes the very idea of doing much productive a struggle. I'm not stuck writing, I mean I have the story outlined, I know clearly what I want to say, I'm just not writing it. I'm working out a bit, but not anywhere near enough. I need to take mine ass to the driving range and hit some balls, but that would involve doing something, so that's out. I need to clean up my house, but I keep finding reasons not to like, um, I have to look at something in the mirror, or the couch needs sitting on, or my personal fave, if I go in another room I can't see it's still junky. I have a stack of very stylish shirts with some of the weakest button-work in history on my ironing board awaiting a pressing. I just need a spark to get going, to get get back into the groove. To hit my grind hard again.

Now, my summer use to be a bevy of social events, house parties and street festivals as well as nights out finding new spots to waste time in. But with age comes new priorities - friends get married and have kids, kids get older, the music gets weirder, and the clubs start letting in people who don't realize Will Smith or Ice Cube had a rap career. My summer is now quiet nights at home, reading, halfway trying to exercise, writing as much as you can without actually writing anything, playing computer games (PC and PS4) and doing everything but what I need to be doing. I should be....

...seizing life. But right this moment, I don't know.

Barkeep, can I get a,... what? You need to see my ID? Are you kidding me?