What I’m Into: Fall 2021

It’s been a long time since I’ve had posts just talking about what I was into at a given moment. Not review, or analysis, just an overview of everything engaging me at the moment. Those posts were sort of aimless, but also sort of fun, because I’d just talk about whatever was absorbing me at the moment. I’ve had so much narrowed focus on big franchise things lately on the blog that I think one of these sorts of scattered, aimless, free-form posts is long overdue.

So, what am I into right now?

What I’m Reading

I’m reading quite a few things, hopping between them. I’m finally around to Michael Crichton’s posthumous Dragon Teeth, which so far has been an enjoyable Western adventure romp with the fairly unique focus on the Bone Wars and early field paleontology. Marsh and Cope are characterized quite colorfully but the rest of the cast, including the protagonist, are fairly bland. I’m simultaneously reading Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray, which does a great job portraying Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan at an especially fraught moment in their relationship before the events of the prequel trilogy, alongside a lot of cool Jedi Stuff. Then I’m reading Jon Dubin’s Social Security Disability Law and the American Labor Market; it’s been a while since I’ve tackled a truly academic book, and so I’m making slow progress through this dense text despite the rather slender physical packaging, but it’s very worthwhile, and I’m sure it would be a tremendous resource not just for disability law scholars but practitioners like me and perhaps even a general reader seeking to better understand the arbitrary and archaic way that the Social Security Administration attempts to account for an individual’s ability to perform other work and to determine how much of that work actually exists, and in what form, in the national economy.

I’ve also been churning through the published materials for the Alien RPG from Free League. This is just tremendous stuff. I’m not particularly interested in published adventures in general but the cinematic mode gameplay modules that have been published so far offer some really tense, vivid, horrific scenarios. And mechanically, there are a lot of ways to make the players feel insecure, underpowered, under-resourced, and facing threats they can’t possibly comprehend or defeat. (I’ve seen at least one reviewer suggest that agendas and effects like panic take the roleplaying out of the players’ hands, but players would still have to play out how things happen–this if anything just sets up more dramatic opportunities and encourages a feeling of loss of control at key moments that reflects the horror focus of the game.) Just as importantly, the RPG recognizes that the Alien franchise has been about a lot more than the alien from the very beginning, and it builds out enough complicated politics between interstellar governments and mega-corps to provide entertaining storytelling possibilities for their open-sandbox campaign mode. I hope to get some friends to play through at least one or two of the cinematic games in the near future. I think I’ll have more to say about all the materials when I’m through reading them, but of course a proper review of a game is rather incomplete if not based on play experience, so you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt unless I get a group together for this quicker than I think likely. In fact, there are a few different Alien/Aliens posts coming up, but I’m going to keep them to a single day, rather than another series spanning multiple weeks; Halloween seems appropriate.

What I’m Playing

I’ve been in a bit of a tabletop gaming mood lately. Way back in February, I wrote about a routine I had of playing Ring Fit Adventure, a single-player RPG, and then Star Wars: Squadrons with friends over the course of the week. All of that’s changed since then. Ring Fit Adventure play is now quite sporadic. The single-player video game of choice varies a lot as well. And the Squadrons play changed over to (virtual) tabletop roleplaying with those friends; one of them has always been an exceptional gamemaster and has been leading us through an Edge of the Empire campaign, and I haven’t had this much fun with a tabletop RPG in years. I’ve even led a couple of sessions with some side characters set within the same continuity. So between that and reading the Alien materials more recently, I’ve been really energized to try to get to more tabletop roleplaying. As usual, I’ll probably spend a lot more time thinking about settings and stories than actually playing any of these systems, but it’s generative creative energy either way. In addition to the aforementioned materials, I broke down and purchased the Cypher System Rulebook and its Predation supplement because the Terra Nova-meets-Dinotopia-meets-Xenozoic setting looks too damn cool.

I also just pledged on Kickstarter to back a physical printing of Matthew Gravelyn’s survival-adventure journaling game Clever Girl because I can’t get enough of dinosaurs in games and fiction. It’s not the only unlicensed work heavily inspired by Jurassic Park that I’ve recently purchased–about a month ago, I got Dinosaur World from Pandasaurus; it’s a delightful competitive game about building the best dinosaur park you can, producing dinosaurs amid other attractions and amenities and attempting to keep interest in your park maintained through constant expansion and greater risk (it’s also a sequel to their previous Dinosaur Island, which I haven’t played). My wife and I have only played Dinosaur World once so far, and it took a while for us both to get a feel for how the rounds flowed and everything that we should be keeping in mind during the different phases. Once we got that down, it was a lot of fun, and I’ve been itching to play again with a full four players (it’s for 2 to 4).

We technically attended Gen Con this year, but we were only there for part of a day (Sam really struggles with crowds and being in public now). Nonetheless, between Gen Con and online purchases, I’ve picked up quite a number of board games–nothing super-new but certainly games released over the last few years that I’ve been wanting to play. Aside from Nemesis, the ones I picked out this year have been mostly licensed stuff. I’ll write more if/when I get around to these games. I also might write about some of the older games we haven’t played in a while if we pull them out in the coming months–which I hope to be the case more and more as we’re trying to set aside some time for board games, both between the two of us and with a couple friends, on a recurrent basis. Hopefully, there will be no dramatic new developments in the pandemic that would require us to back off from that.

Normally, I would have brought up video games sooner, but I haven’t been playing as much lately. I’ve been intermittently playing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. I’m trying to do three playthroughs of each game in the trilogy (on top of the playthroughs I had in the original releases of these games). I’m currently on the second playthrough of the second game with my only Renegade character, and even without being a pure Renegade, I don’t enjoy how much of a dick you are with this playstyle. But I’ve been just as likely to play a little bit of Jurassic World: Evolution (yes, I keep coming back to it after all) or The Sims 4. I’ve even given Alien: Isolation another try, finishing…most of it. I’ll have a post about that experience on Halloween, as well. The video game I’m most excited about isn’t even out for about another month: Jurassic World Evolution 2 looks like an improvement on the original in about every way–and at 280 hours recorded, I’ve now put more time into this game than any other in my Steam library.

What I’m watching

I re-watched “The Ninth Jedi” and “The Elder” from Star Wars: Visions this weekend. They’re so good. I’ve also been watching Letterkenny, Marvel’s What If…?, DC’s third season of Titans, and Only Murders in the Building. I’m only current on Only Murders, which is hilarious while simultaneously being surprisingly heartfelt and mysterious. Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez are all delivering fantastic performances every episode. Lastly, for television at least, I’ve started watching The Haunting of Bly Manor, just as most people are now talking about Mike Flanagan’s latest Netflix series, Midnight Mass. Ah, I’m forever behind the times.

I don’t think I’ve watched very many new or new-to-me movies recently, or at least not since The Suicide Squad, which has already been nearly two months ago. Once more, it’s what’s in the near future that my attention is more focused on. I’ll be seeing The Many Saints of Newark, actually in a cinema, sometime this week, and I’ll also be going to Dune in theater later this month or early November. I’m sure I’ll be posting reactions to both when I can.


I’ve written before about trying to balance consumption of big franchises and existing IP with original creative works. Looking at my blog posts this year, and paying attention to what I’m currently engaging with, I am a little disappointed to realize how heavily my consumption has favored the former this year. But since 2020, life has been tumultuous for a lot of people, and that’s certainly been true for my house. Plus, work has remained quite busy for about a year now. So I guess it’s okay if I’m taking in more junk comfort entertainment. I’d also argue that even though these creative works most benefit large corporations and often regurgitate existing ideas, characters, plot structures, and so on, some of the current franchise productions are managing to mine new territory and do really interesting things. Still, it’s something worth being mindful of, and it might gradually lead to a rebalance of what I’m spending my time on.

I think I’d like to sign off by doing something a little differently and talk specifically about what I’m into creating instead of just consuming. Outside of this blog and the briefs I prepare for work, I haven’t written consistently in a long while now. But I do have sporadic bursts of creativity. I try to jot ideas down in a journal. Over the past few months, a few dreams have connected with other, older ideas and led to two full outlines for fantasy stories set in a shared universe. I think they’re each maybe novella length, at least, and I’d really like to devote some time to writing those stories in full. I’ve also been dabbling with fan fiction, though I haven’t completed any of those projects. Some of it’s been related to those Jurassic Park gap stories I mentioned in that series of posts on here. The fantasy stories are closer to my heart and so even if I finish them, I probably won’t post more than some excerpts here, but I think I very well might just post any finished fan fiction to this blog. Maybe writing this here, publicly, will get me to commit to completing some of these projects.

And that’s just about everything I’m into, for now.

Ring Fit Update

At the start of March, I got sick for like a week, and a week off from Ring Fit Adventure signaled the start of a lot more sporadic use. When I got back to the game, I also hit somewhat of a plateau with an abdominal fitness gym in the New Game Plus that I was not quite prepared for. It’s weird to dial back on something when the way to overcome the obstacle is to keep practicing, but it’s what happened. I’ve diverted from Adventure mode, using the Custom mode to try to work on improving my weak areas, but I’m just not playing as much now without the steady narrative progression. I’m still typically getting in two or three sessions a week, and I’m trying to be more active in other ways in my life, but it feels weird to not have Ring Fit Adventure as an everyday thing anymore, at least for the moment.

In some ways, stepping back a little was probably healthy. It’s definitely true that the extra exercise every day was good for me, but it often came at the cost of cramming in activity, with even more screen time, at the very end of a busy day. I tried to hop into the game by 8 PM, but there were many nights where I’d be working late and end up finally carving out time for a 15- or 20-minute session at 10 or so at night. Now, if I’m running later with work, I’ve tried to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. But it’s certainly the case that several nights, I’ve just made a series of lazy choices.

This doesn’t lessen my opinion of Ring Fit Adventure at all, by the way. I am, after all, still using it. And it prompted me to start being more active in general, often in little ways, even when I’m not playing it. Plus, it had me going back to it daily for several months, which is worth a recommendation by itself, I’d think.

I’ve also introduced another effort to have a little healthier lifestyle by subscribing to Noom. I’m not a huge fan of everything–the coaching aspect and the group component, even while elements that can be kept to a minimum, just aren’t my cup of tea. But it does provide a lot of helpful ways to think about what I’m eating and how to live a healthier life, and the in-app encouragement and reminders, coupled with a one-stop source for step-tracking, calorie-counting, and daily weight-recording, have really helped me to make better choices AND to reflect on how far I’ve come. So far, I’m actually losing weight, more or less in line with my goals, so it seems to be working well enough.

Between Ring Fit Adventure and Noom, I may have inadvertently stumbled on a combination of diet, lifestyle changes, and fitness that works for me. We’ll see how it goes long-term, but I’m happy with where things are at.

A comfortable gaming routine

While I’m still struggling to pick up a regular reading habit again, I have found a very comfortable gaming routine. I try to spend some time in Ring Fit Adventure every day. I aim for 8 PM every night, but in reality this ends up being one of the last things I do before I get ready for bed most evenings. Then, my weekends get split between two games. A good chunk of at least one day is spent playing a single-player RPG; currently, that’s involved the Baldur’s Gate franchise, but I have a lot of other unplayed options lined up. Then I’ll spend a couple hours with some friends playing Star Wars: Squadrons on the other day of the weekend. It’s a satisfying cycle.

I’ve barely touched the single-player mode in Squadrons. If I ever get around to finishing the campaign, I’ll probably write a short review. But I’m there for the multiplayer, which is so very unlike me. We’re usually flying with a near-full squadron of friends at this point. The dream will be all five slots filled with friends. It’ll be a while before we’re doing more than battles against AI opponents, though. I made two important changes to how I play: I’ve switched from mouse/keyboard to a 360 controller, and I’ve finally figured out how to effectively use targeting and call-outs. Really basic. I would never claim to be a natural at these sorts of games! But now it feels like Star Wars, with really fun dogfighting, working together with a buddy to take on the enemy squadron, coordinating our strikes and retreats for resupply, swooping in to try to pull enemies off our companions or to draw attention away in anticipation of a bombing run. I’m sure I’d be absolutely shredded against a human opponent, of course! But it’s great fun and something to look forward to every week.

So I’m finding fitness, socialization, and immersive storytelling all in gaming. Now to find ways to implement more reading into my days!

Pit stop on Ring Fit Adventure

I finally missed a day in Ring Fit Adventure last night. Work’s taken up a lot of my time and mental capacity lately, and I was exhausted by the time I got home. The tendency to get home after dark, which is so easy to do in the winter, doesn’t help with that. My wife and I ordered delivery from our favorite Chinese restaurant and finished off a familiar movie we’d started the night before, and I fell asleep shortly after the end, reclined in an armchair. When I awoke a bit later, I felt too exhausted to even attempt the game, so I went to bed, feeling a bit guilty about skipping.

But I hopped back into the adventure again today, and I was greeted with the same cheery welcome as ever, with an oft-repeated bit of advice reminding me that breaks are important. It was random that I happened to get that advice today, but it felt nice. The guilt dissipated quickly, I had a good workout, and I moved on with my day. No negative vibes from it at all, just a continued positivity. Just what I needed to rebuild my motivation moving forward.

My Five Favorite Games in 2020

Continuing the theme from the past couple years, I’m listing my top five favorite games that I enjoyed the most while playing over the past year. As is now tradition, they weren’t necessarily released in 2020; that’s just when I played them.

1. Ring Fit Adventure

Last week’s post should make it clear how much I love this game and how special it is to me. It’s made fitness fun for me. Enough said for this post. I’m so grateful for this game.

2. Jurassic World Evolution: Return to Jurassic Park

I’ve written a fair amount about Jurassic World: Evolution, even before it came out. Steam tells me I’ve put 200 hours into the game. I have unlocked 69 of 73 achievements and finished all story content. I’ve been playing intermittently since the game came out. But I did not include it on my favorite games lists for 2018 or 2019. Partly that’s because I played a lot of great games in those years, but partly it’s because the game felt incomplete and a bit rough around the edges. With a couple years of polishing and enhancements in the form of several free updates and paid DLC packs, the game is in a much better place. Furthermore, the nostalgia of running a park with the aesthetics of the original movie and a slicker, more streamlined economy without some of the more ethically dubious contracts of the base game make the Return to Jurassic Park expansion the singularly best version of Jurassic World: Evolution available. (Its story mode, while not incredible, is also the strongest in the game.) Encountering this new mode finally gave me the ammunition to add this to a year’s best list.

3. Prey

This creepy, compelling sci-fi story grows from survival horror to power fantasy all while presenting a smoldering plot guided by mysterious figures with competing motivations aboard a derelict and alien-infested space station. Moral choice, manipulable environments, a crafting system that requires you to make tough decisions with limited resources, and a varied and robust skill system make for unique gameplay experiences. And as required for a game of this type, the environmental storytelling as you explore the station and uncover its secrets is top-notch.

4. Dishonored 2

This is the peak of the Dishonored series for me. I enjoyed sneaking and fighting my way through the levels, and I loved the intimate characterization of its cast. As I said in my review, its plot was largely a repeat of the original game’s, heightened by an emphasis on legacy at least when playing as Emily. But that just gives it the opportunity to be bigger and better, the Terminator 2 to Terminator. And just like Prey, Dishonored 2 is another example of Arkane Studios’ excellent environmental storytelling.

5. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

I didn’t write about this one for the blog before now. Baldur’s Gate came out way back in 1998, and the Enhanced Edition was released in 2012. So even this newer version is still getting up there. Baldur’s Gate was such a formative experience for roleplaying gamers of my age; more broadly, it was hugely influential and came to form much of the basis of the Bioware style and of what people expected from CRPGs moving forward; even those who had never played it, like me, heard plenty about it. I had a disc at some point with several old Black Isle Studios CRPGS on it, and I gave Baldur’s Gate a try then. I didn’t get far. The Enhanced Edition, courtesy of Beamdog and Overhaul Games, provides several modern conveniences and lower difficulty settings, but my first encounter with it a year or so ago didn’t go so well, either. I decided to give the game another try out of the blue, and while the initial hours were still frustrating, it clicked with me enough for me to persevere until I got my party to a high enough level to where the game was actually fun and challenging instead of punishingly difficult. The story is basic, nested in tired tropes even when it originally came out, and the excessive and convoluted lore in this game feels so detached from the actual world-building, but there are a lot of distinctive, quirky characters (to be expected of a Bioware game) and several fascinating side quests that range from weird to funny to strikingly poignant. I might be playing more out of momentum than anything else, but I do generally enjoy myself, and it’s seen a lot of hours logged in the past month or so. I’d been wandering the city of Baldur’s Gate more recently, wrapping myself in the city’s intrigues, but the last play session led me off to a voluntary detour to Ulgoth’s Beard, and now I’m making my way down through the torturous labyrinths of Durlag’s Tower as I attempt to complete content from Tales of the Sword Coast. I’m having enough of a good time that I’m considering more isometric CRPGs for 2021, perhaps building up to another attempt at Divinity: Original Sin II, which I’d given up on near the start of 2020. Heck, maybe my newfound patience for old-school RPG mechanics (and their associated difficulty) might finally lead me to take another crack at Arena…maybe! For getting me excited about isometric CRPGs, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition deserves to make this list. It didn’t hurt that I lacked strong alternative contenders this year…

I did it! Beating Ring Fit Adventure for the first time

It came on me so suddenly that I didn’t realize it until the weekend in which I would accomplish it: I was going to beat Ring Fit Adventure. Last night, I knocked out three mini-boss fights, just so I’d be prepared to devote today to defeating Dragaux one last time. And that’s what I did this afternoon, in a roughly 25-minute activity session devoted to the final level alone.

After growing accustomed to some repetitive gameplay and level design over the last several worlds, I was shocked to experience how refreshing this final level felt. There were interesting combinations of platforming challenges, as the game tested the variety of skills built up over the course of playing through the adventure; I zip-lined, stair-climbed, flew, paddled, sprang, and jogged my way to the final stadium battle. And that final boss battle was appropriately challenging, a proper synthesis of every fight with Dragaux before, reflecting how far the dragon and I had come. He used every tactic present before (blessedly free of any supporting enemies), which included hurling boulders and barrels, using a debuffing glare and a super-powered attack requiring Mega Ab Guard, and holding one of each main attack color’s special challenge attacks–that last set brutally delivered in quick succession here, one after another. Then, of course, defeating him the first time, knocking out a few full bars of health, only led to a Final Form battle against a Darkness-consumed version of Dragaux, requiring several more rounds to finally KO the dragon and free him of his curse.

The game ended in its charmingly cute, chatty, and blunt way. Dragaux released the Four Masters and was in turn released of the Darkness. Reformed, he was penitent and ashamed, but Ring convinced him that he should work with the Four Masters in opening training stadiums across the land. The end, for now. It’s a nice setup to the new adventure, a new game plus mode that promises more powerful enemies and more training gear to collect as I journey back through the land. I look forward to having Dragaux as a friendly rival and trainer, rather than an enemy, as I find him rather charismatic in his dorky way.

I’m a long way away from my ultimate weight goal, mainly at this point because my dietary changes have been more gradual than my activity changes. But I have lost weight, and more importantly for now, the last few months have seen me grow in strength and endurance; I feel good, and I have more energy. And I can see the results when I look in the mirror. It’s been a wonderful fitness journey, and I plan to continue it. Amazingly, I haven’t missed a day since I started, and that’s a wild achievement in and of itself. Fitness is now built into the fabric of my life, and I look forward to exercise every day with this game. Even back in August, I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be this excited to get a workout in on a daily basis.

Ring Fit Adventure is not a perfect game. Its level design is great but not diverse enough, so levels become quickly repetitive even with mix-ups to atmospheric effects and enemies encountered. Monster design is fantastic and imaginative, combining classic RPG monsters with exercise equipment to create fresh, new, and often very cute opponents, but even so, the limited variety makes these feel somewhat stale after a while. The story is fine, but it’s elevated by cute and campy dialogue rather than a particularly compelling plot. For that matter, NPC assets are quite limited, so you see the same faces again and again when chatting up townsfolk in town for bits of info or side quests (in turn, overly formulaic and dependent on tired tropes like the classic fetch quest). Still, while other components may be less than excellent, the core of the game, the platforming and combat, remained stellar and engaging throughout. All these features come together strongly to provide a compelling gameplay experience, part platformer and part RPG but really something quite different and new. It’s a fitness game that offers both good fitness and a good game. I just can’t get enough of it, and while I look forward to the new adventure content and the jogging and custom exercise programs once I run out of story eventually, I certainly hope they consider making this into an ongoing franchise.

Yes, Ring Fit Adventure is not a perfect game, but it’s a perfect fit (pun intended) for me, offering a cute and colorful world, charming characters, and an addictive balance of (physical) challenge and advancement. And it gifted me a way to truly enjoy exercise, like never before, without skimping on actually providing a real work-out. This game might be my favorite of the decade for what it’s given me.

Level 100 in RFA; no post next week

I’m going to a virtual professional conference this week, and I’m going to be using some of today and a lot of this week’s evenings to catch up on some normal work stuff. So I don’t think I’ll have a post at all next weekend, and this weekend I don’t really have the motivation to write anything longer than this.

I do, however, want to call attention to the fact that I’ve now surpassed Level 100 in Ring Fit Adventure. Woohoo! I’ve actually made it to level 101, because my last fight today was against some Rare Hoplins, whose beefy experience drop was heightened further by the use of an experience-enhancing potion. So I jumped from 99 to 101 by the end of that encounter. But it’s not as eventful a milestone, so I’m here to celebrate LEVEL 100!!