Week 10.22: Stayin’ home, playin’ games

Probably nothing significant happened this week, apart from losing some money doing dumb trades. People seem to think all I do during my time off is play video games and watch TV, and for once this week that was actually kinda true.

Mood!

Media activity:

  • Picked up Doom Classic on sale for the Switch, only $2.49 USD to relive one of the most impactful moments of my youth. I remember walking into the game store the week it came out and seeing people play through the first episode. It was like a glimpse into the future: dark atmospheric “3D” graphics far better than anything I’d seen, with incredible music synthesized through a Roland sound card (real sampled electric guitars!) — I couldn’t believe it. It was thrilling just to watch. When I asked how many floppies it came on, and I think the answer was two, my head exploded. Shareware? Two disks, not a CD-ROM? And it would run on my lowly 386-SX?! iD Software pulled off a moonshot that raised the bar for all games.
  • I made it through 4 of 10 episodes in Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s probably the best (least annoying) game in the series I can recall. Mild spoilers follow. A large portion of the game covers the protagonist going to Victorian London, and there’s a fair amount of racism and xenophobia depicted. People calling you an untrustworthy Nipponese from a backwater Eastern land, and so on. What’s cool is that your party’s initial impressions upon arriving are so positive, so rose tinted about everything being wonderful and better there, that I thought I was in for an entire game of Japanese people romanticizing England to death (another trope), but then came the swift and surprising subversion. An hour later and your lawyer character starts questioning how superior the “world’s greatest legal system” really is.
  • Puzzle Quest 3 came out on mobile as a free-to-play game. I loved and played the hell out of the original on several platforms including the Nintendo DS, bugs and all. So I was ready to get sucked in again, but it’s hard to recapture that kind of charm, and the addition of in-app purchases and timers don’t help at all. I’ve leveled up my character to a point where I’m now caught between being too strong for easy missions and too weak for normal ones, and I’m not sure how to even grind upwards because the UI is inscrutable and I can’t see a way to replay previous story missions, which would help. Sad.
  • Bad television: the reunion episode of Love Is Blind USA, all but two remaining episodes of Love Island Australia, and a trash new Netflix movie starring Leighton Meester, The Weekend Away. I have to admit I really enjoyed the latter, which appears to be based on a book which is probably found on shelves next to The Girl On The Train and other improbable, twist-filled paperback murder mysteries.
  • We finished The Afterparty on Apple TV+, a comedy murder mystery not unlike Only Murders In The Building, but without the thing I liked most about that one: nosy amateur sleuths. In The Afterparty, the police are doing the detecting, and everyone’s a suspect. Worth a watch because each episode emulates a different film genre and most of it works well.
  • I also finished season 1 of Foundation on Apple TV+ and daaammnn. I started watching it way back when the new Dune came out, and it looked distinctively “TV” against the scale and aesthetic of that film. It took a few episodes before I found the core of the show for me, and that core is actor Lee Pace in the nuanced role of the tyrannical galactic emperor. You cycle through all possible feelings for him over the story arc, and making that work sure isn’t easy. There are a bunch of other things that could be improved/decheesed, but I’m down for season 2 ASAP.
  • Saw Part 2 of jeen-yus, the Kanye documentary, which made me go back to playing The College Dropout again. Undeniably great and timeless. The documentary is also a priceless artifact, because how often do you get a camera following an artist over 20 years, from before they even make it big? Can’t wait to see the third and final part covering his journey into madness and arguably even further greatness at the same time.
  • The Beatles 1 compilation album of all their #1 hits received a full Dolby Atmos remixing at the hands of Giles Martin, son of George, and you can hear what that means using spatial audio on an Apple device with Apple Music. They went back to the original four-track tapes and separated the instruments, previously flattened together into a single mono channel, so you can now hear them with a fullness that can only be described as “live”, especially with dynamic head tracking enabled on AirPods/Beats Fit Pro. So I’ve been listening to some of that, slowly.

Week 52.21

  • Merry Christmas to any readers! I had a good one with lots of eating, lots to be thankful for, and everyone fortunately safe and healthy. The Instax mini Evo camera I got as a present to myself proved useful on Christmas Day at dinner with my family. Although the quality is poor in low light, I got to leave behind little prints for the fridge door, and gave souvenirs to my aunt and uncle too. There was a sleepover, day drinking, and a kid stood on my shoes because she wanted to be walked on top of them. In all, I count about five events over the weekend. Pooped.
  • For other photo-worthy moments, I got a lot out of FiLMiC Firstlight, a camera app that I hadn’t touched in a couple of years and recently rediscovered. It has a lovely, warm, film-inspired filter called Leopold (based on Kodachrome, I think), and behaves unlike the HDR-happy iPhone camera of today. Images come out with heaps of contrast and deep blacks, and generally don’t need any correcting in post. On reflection, I should just set my iPhone Camera.app to use a “Rich/Warm” photographic style.
  • The Misery Men NFT collection is now up to #78, which was a Sad Santa. I held a giveaway and got 12 takers, so it was minted as a — I don’t know the right word for this — series of 12 editions? 12 prints? Anyway they were sent out on Christmas Day, and hopefully everyone who isn’t a bot is happy with them. I’m taking a break from the daily drops and will resume in the new year. There are already a few finished ones in the can, and some of them are pretty good by my standards.
Misery Man #78: Shackled to the wheels of capitalism for all eternity.
  • It was also the week of The Matrix Resurrections, which we saw in a regular Golden Village cinema after a gut-busting visit to Five Guys (my first one in this country). Dim screen, muffled audio, noisy patrons… it reminded me of why I no longer like going to theaters (Gold Class screenings are the exception, fixing all the above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film despite having many of my expectations subverted. I’ll need to see it again properly, but I expect to still agree with my initial assignment of 4.5 stars. Side note: Cien and Peishan saw it the same evening in the same cineplex and hated it.
  • Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was also much enjoyed. It’s an insane directorial flex; every shot and sequence is beautiful and meticulously composed, existing just to indulge a particular sense of humor and beauty. Both films shine with the joy and energy of creators who have nothing left to prove, but where one is happy to keep iterating on a style even at the risk of self parody, the other reclaims its own fandom and fabric for self satisfaction. And I’m here for it, as the young ones say.
  • Once again, nearly no video games were played, but I picked up Steamworld Heist and Saints Row IV on sale for my Switch. The latter is probably a decade old now, but was irresistible at $2.79 USD, down 93% from its standard price.
  • Instead, I got more reading done and am closer to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target. Finished Iron Widow (3.5 stars at best) and The Power (a solid 4), both mentioned last week. It looks like I might make it, if I can finish The End of Men next week. Quick recap: all three books deal with the decline, displacement, and/or death (literally) of men due to overwhelming Qi force, mutant powers, and a gender-specific virus respectively. I’m also here for this as men probably have it coming.
  • One last thing. A year ago, I got a Backbone One controller for my iPhone and loved it. It made for a more console-like experience with many games, and it was more comfortable to use and more capable than a Nintendo Switch. So why did I buy another Switch this year? Let’s not answer that directly, but it may be no coincidence that I’ve been unable to use my Backbone since moving to the new iPhone: the larger camera bump isn’t compatible. The company then designed a simple adapter and provided the plans for 3D printing one on your own. Never having gotten around to convincing myself of a 3D printer’s utility in the home, I had to place an order for one of their officially manufactured ones, and have been waiting on it since September. It finally arrived this week and I’m happy. But if supply chain problems are gonna continue next year, perhaps getting a 3D printer isn’t such a bad idea!

Week 38.21

Media diet

  • I picked up Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life after coming across a few of his videos on YouTube. It’s a combination of anecdotes from his experience as a clinical psychologist, insights from his study of Christianity as a pillar of Western culture, and long-assed tangential stories and did-you-knows, the kind that only a supremely confident and self-interested extrovert can tell at a dinner party, padding it out for the sheer enjoyment of the storytelling process. 3 stars, I suppose.
  • Went out and saw Dune Part 1 in a plush cinema, where most of us were eating and drinking with masks off for the majority of the two hour and forty minute runtime. If I got Covid from this, would the movie have been worth it? No, of course not, but the length of the pause indicates the film’s score. This warrants a prolonged “Hmmm” at least. It’s something I’d happily watch again, and it didn’t feel long at all — I’d happily have sat through the next half right there.
  • Foundation comes to Apple TV+ next week as a series, and while I can’t recall a damned thing about the first book which I read as a teenager, I’m really looking forward to seeing Apple spend that iBegotten cash on some epic space shit instead of real-world dramas and comedies. Prior to seeing Dune, I was often mixing up the two franchises in conversation because I probably read them around the same time in my life, as one does.
  • Zookeeper World on Apple Arcade has not been as addictive as I’d hoped. Perhaps it’s the landscape orientation, or the UI for managing your zoo. Maybe I don’t want to manage a zoo at all. In what must be a data-driven programming decision, Friday saw the release of another match-3 game on Arcade, Temple Run: Puzzle Adventure. This one plays in portrait, more closely resembles Bejeweled’s proven gameplay and power-ups, and with a streamlined approach to story and progression. I find it much harder to put down as a result.
  • I “pre-ordered” World Flipper on my iPhone as soon as I heard about it, because it’s a F2P mobile gacha game with pinball as its gameplay mechanic. But I left it untouched and didn’t start playing until I saw this review pop up on Twitter. It’s a 2019 Japanese release from CyGames, which made Dragalia Lost with Nintendo, so it could be pretty good. I’ll put more time into it soon and find out if it’s the one for me.

Patrick Kleplek, Vice/Waypoint:

I’ve spent the last week thinking about this comment made by a follower on Twitter and the dark energy that surrounds it: “Everyone is just waiting for the gacha made just for them.”

The gacha game that grabbed a lot of new people was 2020’s Breath of the Wild-esque Genshin Impact. The gacha game for me is, apparently, World Flipper, a pinball RPG that had its “global release” this week.

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Apple gear stuff

I’m writing this week’s update from a new MacBook Air and boy is it nice to have a full-sized keyboard again! The last Mac I bought was an 11″ MBA back around 2011, as a complement to my iMac at the time. Big mistake, trying to have two Macs; it hardly got any use and was eventually handed down to my mom.

Then I went down to zero Macs around 2017, my work laptop aside. It was with the advent of the Files.app on iOS and the sufficient stability of iCloud Photo Library that it became semi-feasible to use an iPad as one’s main computer. Now and then I still relied on my work laptop for a few tasks that you just can’t do on an iPad, e.g. updating firmware on external devices, using Calibre for managing a library of ebooks, web apps like Figma or Miro that don’t perform well in Mobile Safari.

Over the past couple of months, I started to think about getting the cheapest, most basic MacBook later this year or next for infrequent personal use. But it was not a priority or a pressing need — I really enjoyed living off an iPad, perhaps masochistically. Then an opportunity to get a good deal on the M1 MBA suddenly presented itself ahead of schedule (thanks, Robyn!), and I found myself saying okay before I could overthink it.

I understand that many reviews rate the M1 MacBook Air a great computer, but I haven’t read any of them because I’d “left the Mac world”. So I wasn’t really ready for how amazing this is, especially for a base model, which doesn’t feel compromised to meet a price target in any way. It feels more capable and responsive than the top-end 16″ Intel MacBook Pro I was using just months ago.

As a result, I find myself using it more each day than I’d planned. Theory: the device with the biggest screen mentally becomes your “main computer”. And the windowing UI of a Mac just makes it natural for you to sit down, get comfortable by getting every app and document open, and then watching hours disappear just goofing off. The iPad’s multitasking limitations kinda protect you from that by requiring conscious intent at every turn.

Of course, it was also the week in which the device with the second-smallest screen got updated, and in my opinion these new iPhones are meaningful updates. Certainly the XS was the slightest and maybe the worst value, and I got one that year even. But most years I go through this dance of setting out to resist upgrading — last year was an exception because I’d been waiting years for a return to flat edges — and then the FOMO increases hourly until pre-order day where I inevitably capitulate. The same happened this year (13 Pro in Silver), and I’m now resigned to just being that fool, that insufferable self-debater, that joke of a justifier, balancing insincere buyer’s remorse and tainted consumer delight in a joyless game of self denial. I should stop getting in my own way and just sell the kidney with a smile from next year on.

Week 36.21

  • I said last week that I wouldn’t end up buying an NFT, but that’s exactly what I’ve gone and done. Two, even. I’m classifying the associated costs as educational, along with all the time I now spend looking up and absorbing blockchain-related knowledge. Upon reflection, this area probably constitutes the largest and most meaningful use of my time so far during this sabbatical; something I wouldn’t have guessed at the outset.
  • Since people like to display their NFTs, I’ve added a separate page on this site for them, which you’ll probably see in the navigation bar somewhere above. Speaking of which, I’ve also cleaned up the Sidebar/About section and made a separate page for navigating the blog archives via search, categories, tags, and all that.
  • I’ve been listening to Donda, taking it in and feeling kinda sorry for Kanye. Then Drake’s Certified Lover Boy came out this week and it was like easy listening. The first playthrough was smooth, kinda enjoyable, and unchallenging. It felt like relief after Donda, and so I thought I liked it better. After listening to them both again, I think Kanye has created the better work, patchy and weird as it is. As of this minute, the leaked track Life Of The Party still hasn’t been officially released, so I’ll be waiting for that.
  • Meanwhile in the UK, Dave’s just released his second album, We’re All Alone In This Together, and I urge you to give it a chance. The song Clash with Stormzy and In The Fire (which features a Giggs verse with his classic flow) are particular standouts.
  • TV-wise, I’ve been watching a rather good Chinese anime (can you say that?) series called Link Click which has a novel gimmick where one of the protagonists can sort of time travel into the past, provided he has a photo of the scene. He then inhabits the body of the photographer for a short amount of time: the window in which they have to solve a mystery or obtain some information.
  • Similarly titled but nowhere as fun is Netflix’s new series Clickbait starring Adrian Grenier of Entourage fame, which we binged over the weekend. Okay it’s not bad, and if you like having the rug pulled out from under you every other episode, then it’s a fine way to spend some time.
  • I’ve started playing Beatstar, a mobile music/rhythm game on iPhone by Space Ape Games. It will remind you of Tap Tap Revolution from the early days of the App Store, but is possibly even better than that. I learnt about it on Twitter from following @xndra who happens to work there — follow her for mobile gaming-related content.

Week 35.21

  • The week passed without much direction, pockets of time invested in various pursuits without any idea of their worth or contribution to a larger whole, psychologically enjoyable but with an undercurrent of guilt and worry. In other words, I’ve been a lousy bum.
  • The existence of a Gossip Girl reboot for today’s teens would make any Millennial feel old, but it… feels like it’s written by one of us? That’s not really a compliment. So while it’s trashy fun with scenes that would have been shocking on TV 20 years ago, the way it tries to incorporate current social media and cultural trends, and how it sounds while doing it, feels inauthentic. Haha, here I am complaining that Gossip Girl doesn’t feel real like it used to. I mostly spend every episode trying to figure out who each actor resembles most.
  • On Monday evening we took a walk in the neighborhood. By Tuesday afternoon, many of the homes we passed would have been flooded up their driveways. It was the single heaviest day of rainfall in any August ever, I believe the news said. It was a normal August’s entire month of rain in a single day. As apartment dwellers we were unaffected, but watched online videos of overflowing canals and mall basements in borderline horror. (It’s now the following Monday morning and we’ve got reports of flooding around the island once again.)
  • For much of the week, I was looking forward to Friday for the (re)release of Asphalt 8 on Apple Arcade, with all its in-app purchases removed and replaced with a more traditional “premium” progression model. The game is 8 years old now, but it looks just fine and is still being played and refined regularly — the free-to-play edition was updated last week, so it must be doing good numbers. As I said in a review I left on the App Store, this is a welcome return to Asphalt’s roots, as anyone who played its original incarnation back on the Nintendo DS (Wikipedia) would know. I paid $60 for it then, which was roughly a dollar per polygon.
  • It’s a testament to Gameloft Barcelona’s work (or my degeneracy as a gamer) that I can be literally sitting in front of a PS4 and Switch but spend hours playing a mobile racing game on my iPad instead.
  • The next Apple Arcade release I’m looking forward to is yet another Nintendo DS revival: Zookeeper World. If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Zookeeper, it’s essentially an animal-themed Bejeweled with a sort of blocky pixel art aesthetic, cheap but lovably annoying tunes, and a multiplayer mode where you mess with your opponent’s vision. This was also a $60 game back in the day, and I remember playing it to death in university on my DS Phat. It was such a blast that several of my non-gamer housemates ended up buying DSes just to play Zookeeper!
  • At the week’s end, I hung out with some friends at a cafe all afternoon and discovered with the help of my HiCoffee app how it feels to exceed the recommended amount of caffeine in a day: pretty fucking awful. I had what felt like a coffee hangover the next morning and had to cut down to a single shot for the day.
  • Tech-wise, I spent time looking at NFTs and being tempted to do something stupid (pretty sure I won’t) and getting my feet wet in the Terra ecosystem. In particular the Anchor and Orion projects, which enable high interest rates for savings, of around 19.5% and 13.5% pa respectively. To use Anchor, you’ll have to set up a Terra wallet and deposit UST (their USD stablecoin), but Orion makes it easier by bridging your Ethereum stablecoins like DAI/USDT/USDC over to Anchor while still returning higher rates than anywhere else. I think they’re incredibly interesting and worth looking into if you’d like to experience something that sounds too good to be true but actually seems to work. This is not financial advice, of course.
  • Now if you’ll excuse me, Donda (Apple Music) just came out and needs listening to.

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.