🎵 The song for this post is Main Theme of Shovel Knight, by Jake Kaufman. 🎵
It's my birthday! I might write a more reflective post or something, but instead I'll just publish this, which I've been chipping away at for a while. Here are things I've read or played!
I read this book almost a year ago. It's alright! I wouldn't peg it as a must-read, but you could do a lot worse.
In the world of NYT Bestseller listings for fiction, a certain type of work gets overrepresented. It's usually written by a serious-looking White Dude about Serious White Dudes dealing with aging by fucking a younger women with delicate bones. It's written ponderously. Even the young White dudes who break into this, a least ~a decade ago (Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers) tend to write like they were wearing a sweater-vest at a typewriter the whole time.
I imagine some of the praise this book gets is from a sense of voyuerism by people steeped in the above: this book has capital-I Immigrants! People in poverty with no chances for upward social mobility! It feels gritty!
So I'm trying to be mindful of the above and not fall into the trap of exotifying it inappropriately by saying it was very satisfying to read, in part for the novelty of those elements, at least to me. I haven't read many stories taking place around Albanian immigrant communities. When I see something this unfamiliar, reminds me of how little I see Guatemalan stories, and I root harder for them. I like a sympathetic character who's been failed by our social systems. I like that not every story about non-rich people is a Blind Side story of golden hearts prevailing. People are all over, and they've got stories. I also really appreciated the voices of the narrators, and the compositional choice of the ending. I hope this author keeps putting them out.
Jessica Jones S3
Jessica Jones was always the best Netflix Marvel series, and the only one to get to 3 seasons before Netflix cancelled it, because capitalism can't let good things last. Netflix no longer tweaks its algorithms to deliver you content you love, but to keep you watching as long as possible, which is a subtle but important distinction: before they were trying to touch the ceiling, now they just want to avoid the floor. Their CEO once said "sleep is their competition," which I find pretty harrowing. And now that they're in the content creation game, they tweak the algorithms for new user acquisition over current-user satisfaction, so they've decided the optimal number of seasons for getting new people on the platform is… two.
(that's not the only reason: new work is hungry for exposure over something that's proven its value, so it's cheaper. The cast of Friends weren't making a million dollars per episode in the first two years).
That's likely not what killed Jessica, though: now that millenials are hitting their 40's and we're finally getting trickles of our own wealth (and enough Boomers are starting to die, I guess?), business trends are finally focusing their efforts on and seriously investing in products around our habits. That means streaming video over the internet, now that cable is another industry we're "killing" (most things we've killed are because we're fucking broke, at least until the Boomers die en masse and bequeath all that wealth they're hoarding en masse into mostly-White people who'll be the next generation of Republicans, who'll wonder why everyone else is complaining so much when it worked out for them). Anyways, Disney is taking its properties off of Netflix and will presumably milk exclusivity for Disney+.
What does this mean for me? Piracy is back, baby. With all the self-hosted bullshit and open Internet I'm trying to contribute to and feed myself, I'll be doing my damndest not to subscribe to 11 disparate services for one show each.
Sorry! Digression! This is about Jessica Jones S3. It's fine! Not the strongest JJ. Season 1 was hard to top, Season 2 took a compositional risk on its villain, which I really appreciated, but this one didn't add much to what the other two seasons already brought to the table, in my opinion.
Ori and the Blind Forest
This was fun! For my tastes, the aesthetics were a bit twee and I felt the soundtrack was overwrought, but as far as Metroidvanias go it was pretty satisfying. I weirdly appreciate how they straight-up opted out of a combat system — there's no real "aiming," you just mash the attack button when someone is nearby and it'll shock them.
It's mostly a platformer, and I think some of its mechanics are pretty novel (the badly-named "Bash" skill is extremely fun, and haven't seen something quite like it in other games). I'm not super-motivated to go back and go full completionist, but I'll recommend it on the basis of a few of its dungeons, which are best-in-class.
As much as it has a story, I found it weak. It was a tribute to aesthetics, which aren't nothing! But this isn't my aesthetic. There's also some attempts to redeem the main antagonist in a weird way, and I think the urge to have no real villains feels out of place.
American Vandal, Seasons 1 and 2
This may be one of my favorite shows in recent memory. Using a pastiche of a problematic genre to tell these stories (which are great stories touching on a lot of themes!) works exceptionally well. The craft is out-of-this world: the actors kill it, and the writing is spectacular, both in the technique and also the composition.
Like a lot of things I like, I regret to say it's backloaded: while the first episode or two of either season is entertaining enough, the show really gets good as more of the cast is introduced, and the finale of both seasons packs a wallop.
Part of the Flash Forward book club (about which I've written posts for the other books we've read), this one has the unlucky distinction of being read mostly on an elliptical since I lost my headphones, so I wasn't taking notes as carefully as the others, nor was I as good at retaining what I read. That said, I rather liked it!
It should surprise no one that I think race science is hot garbage, but this account of its history and why it keeps poking its head was still enlightening. I know a bit more about biology and genetics, at least at a very high level, than I did before. I feel a bit more complicated about some historical ideas than I did before. I wouldn't call the writing thrilling, but not boring? It moves, but it doesn't push.
Piece-wise, there's a lot about this that I liked! But on the whole, I can't say this cake came together for me.
On one hand: the soundtrack! Oh my God! It's so good; while most games with pixel art have to make hard choices about how "authentically" to score themselves, I don't think I've hit a soundtrack that absolutely nailed the line between "sounds like a real game from that time period" while also breaking a few rules to sound so palateable to a modern ear.
Additionally: the little writing there is, it's delightful. The Shovel Knight's inherent Lawful Good-ness, the amount of character they pack into the rival knights, the shovel puns that open each level; it's all exceptionally executed.
But the game itself, I didn't strictly love playing. In my head, I think I like the brutal platforming mechanics of the old Mega Man games, but in practice, I like them to be a little more forgiving. There were some obstacles that made me say "oh, that's a helper obstacle" (an example of what I mean is about 9 seconds into this timestamped video) This got pretty stressful near the end! Many of the platforming challenges felt like a big Fuck You, and I'm playing this while collecting Goldens in Celeste.
You could do much worse, and I'm happy for having played it. But while I've gone back to many games that have pushed me (The Messenger, a few times now) I don't know when I'll make a return here.
(that soundtrack, though)
Super Hexagon took me absolutely by surprise; it was a fantastic little masochism machine for my poor brain to chew on during one of the most depressed periods of my life. One of the highlights was its soundtrack, so when I heard its creator and composer were back for another, of course I'm going to get it.
Every review of this game starts with "well, indie dice-based Roguelikes are a dime a dozen now,…" and, like, are they? I'll take your word for it, but I don't play enough games (and I play a lot, I think!) to feel this way.
It's fun! It does a fantastic job of introducing new mechanics with the various characters to make it feel fresh (favorite is the witch, though the robot and inventor are also fantastic). It takes the a lot of great elements of dice probability and deckbuilding. I don't think I'll finish it (there are many levels, and it's pretty challenging!) but I'm happy to have played it, and Chipzel's score. Is. SO GOOD. I've been listening to it continuously while coding this week, it's just fantastic.
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄