A time for some contemplation, then action

I actually had a post scheduled for today. A lighthearted celebration of recent characterizations of Harley Quinn in TV and film. That post can wait until next week. I think this weekend is a good time to reflect on the legacy of the second female justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I also think it’s a good time to consider what actions we might want to take as we contemplate our nation’s future.

This message isn’t unique or original. I’m not trying to be unique or original with this post. I know a lot of people are saying something similar, and that gives me some hope about the future. I hope momentum stretches beyond merely talking about things for many of us. I think it might be a good moment to turn off the escapist pop culture navel-gazing, if only for a weekend.

Unlike my earlier prolonged hiatus with the blog earlier this year, I think I’ll be back on my bullshit by next week. I can make time for this activity I enjoy. There are certainly quite a few things to talk about. I’m finding a fun daily exercise routine in Ring Fit Aventure, I’m doing more action-stealth gaming in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, I’m devouring the newly released Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, and I might finally be reaching a review of Phenomena on the horizon. But these things can all wait. For a little bit, at least.

New experiences on a new computer

I do sometimes have reason to work from home, and I’d reached a point where my desktop computer simply wasn’t all that reliable for that task. It was the final straw for me, and so I purchased a new (well, refurbished) computer and a new monitor. That ends a ten-year reign for my last desktop. I built that computer, and I upgraded it at least a couple times over the years, and it served me well. I have nothing but fondness for that machine, though I’ve now set it aside.

With a new computer came opportunities to test games and graphic settings that would have taxed–or entirely overwhelmed–its predecessor. Look, it’s not like I went out and bought a top-of-the-line computer. But it could at least comfortably handle current-gen titles!

The first thing I tried out was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Jurassic World: Evolution. I’d played the hell out of that game, but always on lower graphics settings, and I still experienced frequent frame-rate drops, lag, and crashes. It now looks incredible running on the higher-end graphics settings, and the game loads quicker and runs smoothly without any perceived technical issues. The lighting, the vegetation, the building and people textures, and even the already-lovely dinosaurs were all vastly improved!

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Notice the details within the Explorer itself, with sharper resolutions and more clearly defined textures. You don’t get the best part of the experience with a still image, though; the movement of individual blades of grass in the wind and the dynamic lighting and shadows make me feel like I’m really there.

I mostly play games that are older or from mid-sized or smaller studios, so consequently I can typically get away with fairly limited or outdated tech. I actually struggled to think of another game that I wanted to play that would actually test out the computer’s abilities a bit more. I ended up purchasing the second Star Wars: Battlefront II (which really seems like it should just be Battlefront IV). I didn’t push things that hard, opting for medium graphics, but the game played smoothly, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Interestingly, the gameplay itself was incredibly smooth and I don’t think I ever had any noticeable framerate drops or weird pop-ins or anything to disrupt the experience, but the cutscenes, which all looked incredible, often had little hiccups of drops in performance in between scene transitions, especially for those scenes following the end of a level. This isn’t going to mark the shift of my attention to a greater number of AAA titles (not that that was ever very likely, given my interests), but it at least means I have a computer I think can safely handle the occasional newer Star Wars game, like Fallen Order or the upcoming Squadrons.

Also, while I’m not interested in “reviewing” the newer Battlefront II, I do want to talk about its story. That story is surprisingly short; I’ve played less than 10 hours in the game so far, including in some of the Arcade and Instant Action modes, and yet I’ve already completed both “campaigns” with the middle difficulty setting. That said, I think it’s clear enough what one of my future blog post topics will be about…

A final thought for this post, though. My Arena save file is on the old machine. Maybe I’ll transfer it at some point. Maybe I’ll start a new one. But I’m betting that my attempt to play through Arena might have truly met its end (an end that admittedly came months ago). I actually feel okay with that.

Anti-mission statement

I haven’t been updating for two reasons. Reason one is simple enough: I’ve just been too busy. Job stuff, so I don’t really want to get into it here. But I’ve been having to put in a lot more hours lately, and it will probably be like that through June. Things already feel less chaotic now, at least.

Reason two is more complex. It’s not like I don’t have anything to share for this blog, but its subject matter has felt especially trivial in light of the national tone and the widespread protests at the moment. I’m glad I stepped away for a little bit, and even with my little platform, I think it’s important to avoid being another white, cisgendered, heterosexual man sucking up all the oxygen and attention within a space. That said, things were bad before. And bad systemic issues definitely aren’t getting solved overnight. I’ve decided I take enough joy out of writing and sharing these posts that I want to keep doing them, and I don’t think they’ll get in the way of anything important.

So, I’m not coming away with a mission statement or anything. I’m going to keep writing about what strikes my fancy within my own pop culture niches (and I’m sure that will continue to have way too much emphasis on the giants of Jurassic Park and Star Wars). I enjoy doing that, and I don’t think it hurts.

All that to say, I think I’ll be back to posting things again. I’m looking forward to that–and that’s enough for me!

What’s that in the trees?

I’ll probably have a more traditional post up tomorrow, but for today, I just want to share a screenshot I took last night in Jurassic World: Evolution with the Capture Mode feature. I’m just thrilled by how it turned out; it might be my favorite screenshot I’ve taken in the game, and it feels like it captures a lot of the mood of the franchise. I hope you like it!

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Concluding the weekend

This weekend was sort of a “project” weekend.

My wife and I were sharing one of our spare bedrooms as an office, but the size of the room and hardwood floors apparently resulted in poor sound quality for her podcast recordings, regardless of what she tried to do to improve the situation. She ended up moving to a nook in our basement, with plenty of wood panelling and carpeted flooring to apparently resolve those problems. She set it up into a nice little office space, and after a couple weeks went by, she pushed me to make “our” office my own.

So my project this Saturday was clearing out the piles of unpacked stuff and reorganizing. Finally the room looks “finished,” no longer in that transient post-move state. And I reorganized the shelves in the room, the location of my desk and office equipment, and even what sort of books were on display up there (versus in the basement with most of the books).

Saturday was also unique in that our 60-pound, year-old puppy split a toenail, requiring a semi-urgent trip to the vet to get the nail removed to the bone bed. She’s on antibiotics and pain meds now, cone secured around her neck, and being pampered. She’s doing fine. Still, it was quite eventful at the time. And weird to go to the vet during the pandemic–you drive out, call them, then they come out and get the pet from your car, and you wait in the car for another call with an update before they finally return your buddy.

Today was Mother’s Day. We made sure to call our mothers, who are in Florida, and it’s one of those days I wish we were closer. It’s a reality we’ve adjusted to at this point, several years into living in Indiana. We don’t have kids of our own, so nothing special happened in our home. I tried to mow the lawn and more or less finished the back yard before a thunderstorm raced through, drenching the ground (and pounding me with a little sleet or hail or something before the first distant rumble of thunder made me finally give up).

The evening has been spent reading and gaming today. I’m nearly finished with the Las Venturas missions in San Andreas. I had forgotten how much things slowed down toward the end. By Venturas, you’re so removed from the intimate struggles of Grove Street, and you lose most of the close interactions with family and friends from San Fierro. You just…do stuff. C.J. seems to have fun prepping for a big heist with his pal Woozy, who folds him in as a casino business partner. But I’m just itching to get back to Los Santos to bring the story home.

The book I’ve spent time with today is Children of the Jedi. It’s rather slow for a Star Wars book, although I like a lot of the ideas and themes explored. I’ve been picking slowly at it, and I’m a little anxious to finish it too and move on to some library books I’ve been sitting on.

I also just learned that I’ve missed out on a heck of a lot of story expansions to Jurassic World: Evolution, including missions that appear to cover at least alternative plots for virtually all of the movies, so I’m eager to get into that, too.

Finally, I’ve been watching a lot of TV, mostly cartoons. I’m currently rotating between Rebels, Cheers, The Simpsons, and DuckTales. I’m falling in love with Rebels all over again. And DuckTales was a Twitter mutual’s recommendation that has proven very worthwhile.

I wanted to post something for today, and so it’s been one of those rambling update posts. I’m satisfied with it though. Now to settle down and get ready for the week ahead…

Wrapping up these GTA posts

This GTA post is to say that I’m done with the GTA posts. If you were avoiding the site because you’re just annoyed by this game series (or even justifiably upset with or disturbed by it), then it should be fine to return to it after today.

I’ll still be playing San Andreas for a while. Maybe after this, I’ll get back into some of the newer games I’ve been playing or wanting to play. We’ll see. It’s also possible down the line that I might have another post or two related to San Andreas. In writing these posts, I’ve thought a little more about how GTA games–especially in Vice City and San Andreas–provide the player with the opportunity to engage in an amoral tourist trip through the life of a career criminal engaged in organized crime, but while that’s already quite artificial in concept on its own, the artificiality is further inflated both by the intense parodic nature of the games and their starting point as stories based on pop culture representations of criminals and organized crime. In other words, the portrayals of the Mafia or street gangs are about as authentic as Olive Garden. I’m not sure that there’s a full post there, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. And I might just want to recap my experiences with San Andreas whenever I finish this playthrough. I’d be particularly interested in writing about Carl’s goofy personality or the heavy use of foreshadowing employed to communicate the true natures of Big Smoke and Ryder and to set up certain plot beats. But any such post, if it ever happens at all, is a long ways away.

For now, I’ll settle back into something more like weekly posting. And I’ll write about other things. I got whatever this past week’s set of posts represented out of my system.

Now, if you like San Andreas or have actually been reading my posts with some level of interest, I’d like to close out today’s post with a series of screenshots I’ve taken from my time in HUD-free play. Enjoy–or don’t! And stay safe out there, everyone.

A mental refresh

I was hoping to use this time of self-isolation to work more on projects. So far, it hasn’t panned out that way. I have the privilege of retaining a paying job through this crisis. And while many people are working from home, and others have to work in fairly close proximity to the public in groceries and hospitals and pharmacies, I can still come into my office, where it’s very easy to socially distance from the few other people coming in. I’m sure it would still be much better for me to stay at home, and that’s an option. I stayed home for a couple weeks while my wife and I were dealing with cold symptoms that could have been something else, just to be safe. We’re both fine, but that time of disruption to my routine was harder on me emotionally than I expected. The days bled together. Rather than being more productive, tackling more writing projects and getting more done around the house, I devolved into my worst habits from my younger years. I’ve been inactive. I’ve eaten a lot of unhealthy foods. I’ve played a lot of video games, mostly nostalgic titles for me instead of anything challenging or fresh. So many hours of video games.

I’m lucky. I could go back into work and restore my routine to some degree. I’m still more inactive than usual. Thankfully, I’ve at least avoided putting on more weight, though my weight loss goals have been derailed for the time being. But it’s amazing how that lack of a routine, even while being able to work from home, disrupted so much of my life and my mental and physical health. It took a couple days of being back at the office to realize I was bouncing back from depression.

Again, I’m so lucky to have a job and to continue to be able to meet my financial obligations. I’m lucky to work in an area in which it’s easy to social distance. I’m lucky that I don’t always have to work from home. It’s still a weird time, and I think the ramifications of this pandemic and our national response to it are affecting us all in weird and sometimes unexpected ways. This too shall pass, and while the eventual reopening of the economy and public life (probably months from now) will surely look different than our pre-coronavirus norms, it’s good to remember that things will reopen, that there will be some sort of return to normalcy. And these disruptions will be worth it in the lives saved.

For now, I’m going to go easy on myself. I hope to post on here close to regularly. I won’t expect more of myself than that. If I take on new projects, that’ll be good too, but I don’t need to demand that of myself. It’s okay.

I certainly don’t mean to downplay the suffering of so many people, from sickness and death and lost jobs and low incomes and exposure to potential harm and exacerbated anxiety in the face of an onslaught of distressing news. But it was nice to write this out and give myself a little space to vent and to reflect.