Week 32.21

  • Kim left quarantine and got the all clear this week, so I’m getting used to living with another human being in the house again. It mostly means that I can’t listen to the new albums out this week without carving out some time and sitting down with headphones on. I’m curious about the new Nas and how the Atmos mixes of Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper’s have turned out.
  • The Tokyo Olympic Games have come to an end and this might be the most Olympics I’ve ever watched and the one I’ll remember best on account of the circumstances. I certainly don’t remember any of the earlier ones very well.
  • To acknowledge the occasion, I thought I’d read some Japanese lit again. This week I finished Breasts And Eggs, which was a bit depressing, and made the decision to immediately move on to Tokyo Ueno Station, which was also quite a miserable exertion, and coincidentally, written in protest of the 2020 games. Luckily, it only took another hour or so to get through.
  • I considered making it a trilogy of Japanese melancholy, but went for Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace instead. I wanted some sci-fi or anything with a pace and high stakes conflict really. I’m now about 25% through it and my Kobo reckons it’ll take me another four hours to complete. It’s… not bad. A solid 3-star novel at the moment. It describes a familiar dystopian world where we’re all short of essential supplies, living in high-tech slums, plugged into VR for hours, with corporations ruling the world and waging war against each other. What it does differently is ask you to believe that streaming as a career is still viable for these broken future people, more viable really, and that corporately owned, scientifically engineered super soldiers can not only be celebrities with product endorsements and merch, but even their AI-controlled NPC avatars in the MMO game can. Getting a glimpse of them in the virtual world is as big a deal as in real life. That’s the part I’m struggling with instinctively, but I should know better. Let’s see how the next generation, who will undoubtedly be raised on virtual art, property, and goods, approaches this scenario.
  • Gaming wise, I’ve only been regularly playing Call Of Duty Mobile and a crappy ad-ridden game called Solitaire Cruise (I think). I just want a nautical themed solitaire game. Years ago, when I was in the military and had hours to kill each day and only a very weak administrative computer to do it with, I played a tiny Windows game called High Seas Solitaire like a form of meditation. It was a vehicle for banner ads from a company called Zapspot but I didn’t care. It had peaceful wave sounds and a few squawks from birds, and stacks of cards you had to clear, tripeaks style. I just want that back in my life but I’m not going to buy a PC to do it.
  • Over the weekend, we had occasion to eat a very rich delivery dinner from one of Singapore’s best restaurants, and put together a true crime marathon on Netflix. Sophie: A Murder in West Cork and Jeremy Epstein: Filthy Rich, both about horrible crimes committed against women, both unsettling and frustrating; effective arguments against ever going out or trusting other people again. My kind of television.

Week 31.21: Calling… you hear the calling

Let’s start with games; skip this if hating on games is part of your identity. I spent way too much time on Call of Duty Mobile this week. It’s the mobile game addiction I’ve always been searching for, but not the one I expected: all stupid guns and camo instead of illustrated gacha. The new season has started and I’ve already cleared half through the Battle Pass objectives which are meant to last all month.

A couple of weeks from now, there’s gonna be some sort of new undead/zombie survival game mode that I’m looking forward to. Call me old and an MMO noob, but games with timed events and “seasons” are fascinating. I’m used to being able to play any level or mode you want once you’ve bought it or it’s been released. But here, in Fortnite, and I’m sure many others, the principles of live broadcast TV have been co-opted to create time-limited community experiences. Is this how the metaverse works? 🤪 I’m into it though (while acknowledging Episodic Everything calls for a huge time commitment).

I don’t know who this might help, but do not go into Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club games with high expectations. I got Game #1 of 2, The Missing Heir, and was thoroughly disappointed. Specifically, I wrote down “what a crock of shit” in my notes. I ended up finishing it with the help of a walkthrough just to have it over with.

These are game designs from the late 80s, remade with all new graphics (honestly good), but the core gameplay and writing survived for this first-ever release outside of Japan. For historical reasons, I can see why they did it. But nobody really needs to click through obtuse dialogue and travel-to-location menus over and over until some new option gets unlocked, not in 2021. I would have preferred if they went for a linear visual novel with less interactivity. As things stand, it was a dated, painful experience and I’m glad I didn’t buy the two-game bundle.

In anticipation of playing NEO: The World Ends With You which just came out, I started watching the anime adaptation which covers the events of the first game. I wasn’t expecting much because other such series have suffered from cutting the story down too much, or low budgets, or the inability to translate an action-oriented game to a different format.

Wow, this one seems to be an exception. It’s all here, the stylish character designs, graffiti and hip-hop inspired art direction, and even new mixes from the soundtrack. The battle scenes are actually dynamic, three-dimensional, and inventive. It captures the excitement, look and feel, and atmosphere that the old Nintendo DS game implied and articulates it. If the new game is anything like this, I can’t wait to get started.

(The post title is a reference to this song from the original game.)

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Otherwise, lots more Olympics. If I just tune into some live event, that’ll be a couple of hours evaporated in mushy minded sloth. It’s too easy to have it on and kinda pay attention. Michael C. mentioned in his last weeknote that he’s a conscientious objector to the games on account of the public health hazard and incompetence surrounding Tokyo now. I’m not joining in solidarity, but since I’ve started watching them I’ve developed an opposition to certain events because they are just unnecessary suffering, especially in the Japanese summer heat.

Take weightlifting: why do we need to see men carry the equivalent of 10 fully packed travel suitcases above their heads? Someone lifted 226kg today. His knees were wobbling. I saw several bruised and swollen knees being iced, actually. Their elbows probably pop out all the time. It’ll be wheelchairs and discount vodka for many of them in their later years. Do we need this? Why isn’t Russian roulette at the Olympics then? I’m sure it’d be a hit.

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Did I do anything productive? Erm… I took some photos (without leaving the house)! We get some nice sunsets in my area, and while this example was far from the best, I decided to get a camera out and play with some RAW processing on my iPad. I got some shots over an hour and a half and made a collage.

Also got back to some 3D modeling in Dreams, but discovered my brain is currently not wired to do it very efficiently, so I’m in for some painful neural trench digging over the next few weeks.

Week 30.21

  • The Olympics are underway, and I watched as much of the opening ceremony as I could stand while playing Infinity Loop on my phone. The parade was tedious, but the game is a very satisfying cleaning-up of puzzle pieces, not unlike the satisfaction you get from performing a Tetris, but without the time pressure. I played it years ago and suddenly found my way back this week. I like it a lot as a chill way to pass time.
  • Tetris Beat has been announced for Apple Arcade: a new musically driven version of the game, which sounds to me as a fan of Lumines like the best thing ever. Unfortunately, in my initial excitement I misread that it was coming from Tetsuya Mizuguchi himself; it is not. Still, I have high hopes for it, especially since being on Arcade will mean we’ll get its monthly drop of new tracks/levels without IAPs or scummy mechanics.
  • The Wikipedia page about the Tetris Effect — how your brain starts to imagine fitting shapes together in real life after you’ve been playing too much — is worth a look. It happens for other games too. I remember when I picked up pool and would play for hours each week, I was seeing geometry and angles on everyday objects. Like, ‘if I hit that at this point here then it’ll go that way and land over there.’
  • I dropped back into Hades after months of having it sit on my Switch and gave it a real go. Wow, it truly deserves to have won Game of the Year at the Game Developer Choice Awards. For an unforgiving action game, it manages to frame your eventual death/defeat as such a natural thing, nothing to be upset about, that it feels not-stressful and kinda good for mental health.
  • Anyway, those other games. For someone who doesn’t really care for sports, I’ve watched more of the Olympics so far than expected. Gymnastics, archery, skateboarding, judo/taekwondo, and table tennis have been entertaining in particular. Our local broadcaster Mediacorp has 14(!) live channels in their meWATCH app, which I’ve got going on my Apple TV. It’s actually really good.
  • Since the games are in Tokyo, I figured I should read something Japanese. That’s currently Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts And Eggs, and although only a chapter in, I can say it’s been a welcome change from Klara And The Sun, which I finished awhile ago and found disappointing with nothing much new to say about artificial intelligence and a future where genetic editing blahblahblahGattaca.
  • I also read Chaos On CatNet, the follow up to Catfishing, and it was… sequelly. More action, new characters, bigger scope and higher stakes. As a result, I missed the coziness and quiet insular internet thrills of the first, but I can see why it went down this road. I’ll still read the next installment whenever it’s done.
  • Kanye’s new Donda album failed to materialize on schedule and no one is surprised. I haven’t bothered to watch recordings of the “listening party” event because I’m sure the tracks will change and I’d like to hear them properly the first time. Whenever it arrives, my AirPods Max and its new headphone stand that I impulse bought on Lazada will be ready.
  • I drew myself as a Peanuts character, following the instructions from this excellent Today At Apple video on YouTube.

Week 29.21

  • Don’t try this at home: Kim is away in the UK this week; not the most advisable travel idea. Cases there are rising sharply and I oop, I suppose the same could be said for Singapore. A couple of clusters have formed around illegal KTV operations (the comedy of that phrase!) and a fisheries port, which has led to fishmongers and wet markets across the country becoming danger zones. We had 88 local cases on Sunday, the highest since August last year. For the record, the UK had about 56,000 cases on Saturday alone. The mind boggles.
  • So until she gets back and clears the quarantine process 🤞, I’m on a sort of Sabbatical+, where I have more freedom to eat junk food and play games well into the night. I didn’t leave the house all weekend and it was the best.
  • I finished Root Film on the Switch, and while I still enjoyed it on the whole, it became needlessly convoluted and improbable in the final acts. Pick it up on sale maybe, but bear in mind it offers no challenge whatsoever. In any case, Root Film was always going to be the appetizer for the two games under Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club banner, which I’ll try to buy and play next.
  • Thanks to the NYT’s SF Summer reading list curated by Amal El-Mohtar, I discovered the joys of the CatNet series (just two books at the moment). Catfishing On CatNet is the first, essentially about teens hanging out in online chat rooms and getting pulled into an adventure, and it was so much fun that I blazed through it in about a day.
  • I then missed hanging out in chat rooms so much I decided to give Discord another try and joined a few servers. The quality of conversation in most was a step down from what I remember of IRC in the early days of the net. Then, spending time in chats was a main attraction, not an alleyway off the main boulevard of social media. So I was disappointed until I found a server dedicated to older people, a distasteful category I now find myself in. Ah! There, I found people speaking in complete sentences and actually communicating with one another. I may continue this.
  • I saw Black Widow and felt it unnecessary and stupid. I’m kinda over Marvel the way I’m over Star Wars, except the first episode of Loki on Disney+ worked well with the pairing of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson — I thought I’d be annoyed by his usual mannerisms but it’s actually been a long time and we’re in a pandemic, so you do your thing Owen, we’re here for it.
  • Installed iPadOS 15 Public Beta 3 on my main iPad. Haven’t run into any issues yet, and I’m relieved at finally being able to customize my home screens with only the icons and widgets I want, leaving everything else in the App Library. You can also have two of the same app icons up as well, so I have Photos on my first Home Screen but also on the page I’ve dedicated to photo editing apps a few swipes away. It’s the little things!
All in a day’s work with Dreams
  • A feeling of being useless, sitting around consuming all the time without making anything, has been fermenting and I’ve consciously allowed it. Over the weekend, I made it my mission to begin prototyping a game I’ve had in mind for awhile, let’s give it a code name… Feline Fiddler? Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage was going to be where I’d learn the basics and try to start, but upon investigation, you have to use its built-in asset library, and if you can’t find what you need in there, too bad. So I ultimately went with Dreams on the PS4, and oh boy, is it a stupendously powerful tool for 3D modeling, animation, and visualization.
  • On Saturday, I started playing the demo game project that comes as part of it, Art’s Dream, which showcases what you can do with it. And then started doing a few tutorials. By Sunday afternoon, I was able to assemble something close to the scene I had in my head using models others have built and shared on the platform, light it, and walk around in it with a character. And it’s all achievable on a PS4! I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be something like this on iPads, apart from the App Store rules. Maybe Roblox is something like this? I should check it out…

Week 28.21:

  • This week was partially lost to the lasting side effects of my second vaccination. I spent several days feeling ill, fragile, and tired. There was a local case of a teenager who experienced cardiac arrest while exercising a week after his first dose. So when I had to move the couch a little on Wednesday and it caused my heart rate to spike again, I just elected not to exert myself at all afterwards.
  • I didn’t have any coffee for about four days, which might have made the headaches worse. I didn’t have any alcohol for seven. Probably the longest stretch since the pandemic began.
  • Felt like the perfect conditions to finally get started on a visual novel, so I’ve begun Root Film on the Switch. I played the (narratively unrelated) Root Letter years ago on the PS Vita, and it was a shoddy game. This one’s much better. It’s got great atmosphere and vibrant, lovely artwork, with almost all dialogue fully voiced.
  • Nintendo also announced a new Switch model that appears to address my main gripes with the original: the awful, dim screen and poor battery life. The latter was already “fixed” with the silent gen 2 upgrade over a year back, but now we’re talking OLED. I may be tempted when it finally gets here, provided the markup isn’t extreme.
  • We were meant to visit Gardens by the Bay for a walk and to see the Chihuly exhibition, but since I wasn’t feeling up to it, we settled for the new Fast and Furious movie instead; our first time in a cinema since you know when. Hey what do Apple and F9: The Fast Saga have in common? Most of the people we used to like are gone, a successful formula is followed all the way to the bank, and they’re just obsessed with magnets.
  • I’ve been coming up with lame standup routines in the shower. What do you call sexist jokes? Classical humor.
  • During the movie, the sole of my barely worn New Balance sneaker damn near came off. I had to hobble home to avoid it falling apart in public. I don’t get why shoes do that when you wear them a few times and then leave them in the cupboard for a couple of years. The glue disintegrates? Does that happen if they’re unsold in a store too? Anyway, managed to find a new pair of Nikes in my size on their official Lazada store, which used to be almost impossible. Feeling good about my future shoe needs.
  • Pushing our luck even further with the going out, we had dinner at an izakaya over the weekend which, as many others have noted, feels really weird now with the ruling that no music should be played in restaurants (to keep people from speaking loudly). It was… libraryesque. One more reason to choose outdoor seats.

Week 25.21: Spacing out

  • I noticed once again that my AirPods Max battery was draining faster than normal while not in use. Coupled with intermittent stuttering/connections issues, I decided to call it a hardware fault and contact Apple support for a replacement. One came via courier within two days and I am now listening problem free.
  • After several months of distracted 10-minute reading sessions, I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in one concerted go. I read Snow Crash in 2019, Cryptonomicon in 2020, and this makes three. I’d really like to just chain them and keep going but/because the density and brilliance of ideas in his work is staggering. If the stuff he was writing 15 years ago is just beginning to look like our future at present, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking about today. I could read one of his newer books and find out, but first, a break.
  • I decided to pick up Andy Weir’s new book, Project Hail Mary, after seeing some positive reviews, and it’s a return to the formula of a science-based, plausible, AND interesting life-threatening problem solved in the first person that worked so well in The Martian. I barely enjoyed his last book, Artemis, but I’m halfway through this now and can’t put it down. It’s about another guy in space, slightly adrift, needing to ‘science the shit out’ of a crisis.
  • I finished the Eizouken anime series on Netflix and can recommend it although it’s not so bingeable. It works well as an episode or two a week. What’s it about? A trio of high schoolers learning to produce anime. I thought it would be like Shirobako, but that one’s set in the real world of running a business, whereas this one is not grounded in reality and just works as a deconstruction cum demonstration of animation and filmmaking techniques you may not normally notice. It must have been so gratifying to work on this as an animation artist; it literally screams ‘appreciate me!’
  • Videogames: Played a bit more Persona 5 Strikers but am not really feeling it. It’s an example of the game getting in the way of the story. As a beat-em-up, it’s just not much fun especially after coming from Yakuza and Judgment. Started and finished Coffee Talk which is an indie game where you act as barista to a cast of cafe regulars and see their stories and relationships unfold. That’s it, you just make coffee and click through dialogue. A nice little afternoon killer. Went back to the Doom reboot on PS4 for a bit of mindless FPS action. That one’s an example of story getting in the way of the game.
  • Speaking of backstory in games, Mythic Quest’s second season is coming to an end on Apple TV+, and it’s a half-hour sitcom I’ve really enjoyed as a person who hates half-hour sitcoms. Both seasons play with a single flashback/world-building episode in the middle, which sounds like a bloody annoyance but the resulting achievement is art.
  • I also finished watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which looks like a lot of tight movie money but plays out like a lump of TV fat. It’s often corny and disrespectful of the viewer’s time. But it does raise the bar for action sequences and production design. I haven’t seen Loki yet, but if it doesn’t deliver then I may just burn through the rest of The Mandalorian in fast forward and cancel our Disney+ subscription.

Meta-sabbatical observation: This was the first week where I’ve felt the days start to blend together. When we went to meet some friends on Saturday evening and someone said they’d come from somewhere other than the office, I asked, “oh did you have the day off?” thinking it was Friday. That wasn’t the first time I’d lost track of time. Perhaps I need more milestones and structure for the weekdays. I’ve started a to-do list of things to get done or try out.