In which works are in progress

Still thrashing about trying to come up with a good name for the YouTube channel; there is now a temporary name and two streams up, both of which I’m slightly dissatisfied with for various reasons but I have Plans to fix that. That said, you should go there, and … smash? that subscribe button? I’m unsure of the proper verb. I think Subscribe buttons are smashed but I can’t be certain.

The bitmoji is probably temporary too, but I need some sort of temporary branding to go with my temporary channel name, so.

Why not just go with existing names? Well, I sort of want this (and probably my TikTok account as well, which is due for a rename) to be something I can cross-promote from here but still be something that isn’t a problem if my students discover it. I spent a moment thinking about just calling the channel Infinitefreetime Gaming, but I did an experimental Google on the phrase and it leads straight back here. Infinitegametime already exists and infiniteplaytime sounds like it’s something for small children. I could keep Luther Plays Games and just play it off as not wanting to use my real name– that is my grandfather’s name, after all, so it’s not as if I don’t have any connection to it– and so long as the word Siler doesn’t appear anywhere it ought to be fine. But I’d prefer a third choice. Possibly something making fun of my advanced age. Who the hell knows.

I spent six hours today in a Zoom meeting for my real job, which bounced back and forth between being useful and tedious depending on whether we were in breakout rooms with people from our school or listening to the presenters. Every alarm I have started going off early in the day, when one of the presenters called on someone to read the slide being displayed on the screen out loud, and then interrupted her after two sentences so that she could call on someone else to read more of it. I was not called on, but I hope y’all don’t think I’m bullshitting when I say that my mic and camera would have stayed off if I had been, and to hell with any social consequences. We’re adults. That shit borders on sin. I don’t know how the hell we’ve been conducting everygoddamnthing over Zoom for over a fucking year and people still think that kind of unbearable nonsense is the way to run a meeting.

I also got to put aside one of my projects for this summer; I’ve discovered that the earliest I can take my math test for my National Board certification is April, and as a lifelong procrastinator I’m sure as hell not going to start studying in June for a test I’m not taking for ten months. So that’s exciting. It gives me more time to plan for next year and work on other shit. It means when I do start studying I’ll have to do it during the school year, but something makes me think that’s not going to be all that much of a problem. We’ll see.

An essential Returnal update

Y’all. I am having fun with this one.

Returnal has one major problem and one major annoyance. The major problem is the saving thing. It is absolutely crazy that there’s no way to take a break in the middle of a run. Go ahead and wipe everything after dying just like you’ve been doing; hell, set the save functionality at the Reconstructors and charge me Ether for them if you want to, but there’s got to be a way I can quit and go have dinner like a human being or, hell, go to bed on time without risking a run.

The major annoyance? Maybe not that major, I dunno, but Trophies are borked to hell and back, and for people who are known to be completists like me, that’s aggravating. I’ve beaten one particular boss three times and the trophy for beating him hasn’t popped yet. I assume it’ll show eventually, maybe after the next patch, but right now it’s pissing me off.

(If you don’t understand a single sentence of the last two paragraphs, forgive me; I don’t have any friends or even online acquaintances who share my video game habit so my only real option is to write on the blog. I can’t even get anyone to bite on Twitter. You’d think at least a handful of the nearly eleven thousand people who follow me there would be a gamer, but you’d be wrong.)

Beyond that, though, this is one of the most fun shooters I’ve ever played, right up there with Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is probably my favorite shooter of all time. The controls are just beautifully executed on a technical level, and this game shares some DNA with the Dark Souls series, in that at least so far everything has felt fair. Like, don’t get me wrong, everything and everything and everything wants to and is able to kill your ass, and absolutely will kill your ass, but the word “bullshit” has escaped my mouth very few times during some very long runs, although there’s been a serious difficulty spike in the most recent area I’ve gotten to. The weapons are all great; everything that I’ve used except for the starter pistol has been my favorite weapon for at least a little while, and the pistol’s not bad, it’s just … y’know, a pistol, which isn’t remotely as fun as, say, the weapon called the Rotgland Lobber.

I love my Rottie. Love it.

The story is another thing that is holding it back from my usual BEST THING EVAR enthusiasm, but it’s possible that I’ll feel differently once I finish the game. There was a hell of a mid-game twist, but they’re leaning heavy into what-the-hell-is-going-on-here and it remains to be seen whether I’ll think the story is coherent once I’m done with the game. I will, of course, update again at that time.

I know you don’t have a PS5, and don’t buy one just to play this, but if you get one, you should probably pick Returnal up with it.

A current and timely post

I have been playing Returnal for the last several days, a game that, at least currently, does not allow you to save. And as I’ve been playing I’ve been thinking about the roguelike genre, which sort of incorporates constant player death into its story model, and thinking about some spoilers that I’ve heard about Returnal’s late-game story, which I won’t repeat here but which touch directly on the idea of “you” dying over and over again in a game.

And that got me thinking about Bioshock, one of the best games I’ve ever played, and a minor tweak that could have made it even more amazing.

Spoilers for Bioshock, a game from 2007, follow. Have a divider:

Bioshock has one of the greatest mid-game twists I think I’ve ever encountered. It’s basically a first-person shooter, and your character is exploring this underwater city, and you’re taking instructions and direction from this guy somewhere in the city who is talking to you over a radio. At about the midpoint of the game, you encounter the guy who has basically been your adversary throughout this journey so far, and after a whole lot of exposition that I’m not going to go into, this guy, wanting to control his own destiny, tells you to pick up a golf club and kill him with it. Well, asks, actually, specifically using the phrase “Would you kindly” in setting up the question.

And at that point it’s revealed that would you kindly is a trigger phrase that has been implanted in you, and that you’re conditioned to obey any order that follows that phrase. And the game flashes back for you to your ally using that phrase several times in directing you to go to certain places and do certain things throughout the parts of the game that you’ve played– all of which you’ve done, because that’s how video games work. Characters tell you to do things, and you go and do them. There have certainly been times where I, the player, didn’t necessarily want to do a thing that someone in a game was telling me to do, and there are games where player choice is a big part of the game itself, but you’re gonna play along, because the nature of gaming itself demands that you do so.

And so, here you are, with a golf club in front of you, your other weapons disabled, no way out of the room, and you literally cannot progress in the game unless you obey orders. And in the game, it’s presented as a question of free will, and whether free will even exists, and meantime here you are, the player, and you’re literally 100% in control of this fictional person’s actions and 100% constrained by the rules of the world the game has set up, and it absolutely blew my mind when I first played it all those years ago and frankly it still has a lot of impact.

And it just hit me this morning how it could have been better.

What if, instead of forcing you to kill the guy to proceed in the game, the game gave you the option to just … cut to credits? And then the game was over? The whole game is this extended meditation on free will and choice, right? So why not give the player to make the choice to disobey their conditioning, and by “their” I mean both the character and the player, and refuse to kill this person, but at the cost of not being able to play the game any longer? I mean, obviously you can always do multiple runs, but you’d still have to play through the whole first half again. Just being offered the chance would have taken what was already an amazing gaming moment and elevated it into the stratosphere.

It would have been unbelievably awesome, and I wish they had thought of it fourteen years ago, instead of me thinking of it now.

In which we have a problem

On the one hand, something has finally dragged me away from Skyrim, although I’m not remotely close to finishing the game and will be going back to it sooner or later. Skyrim is just that big, if you’ve never played it, that a month of four or five days a week play has gotten me maybe halfway through it. If I’m lucky.

On the other hand, the game that has dragged me away from Skyrim is Returnal, otherwise known as the game where you can’t save, and I just had a pretty successful run (I finally found the sword, and I beat the first boss for the first time) that took nearly two hours, on a night where I legitimately had a handful of other things I would like to have done. I was having fun, mind you, and I don’t necessarily begrudge the game the time, because it’s immensely satisfying to play– but I would like to have quit after, say, an hour of that successful run to go do something else, and come back to the game at some other time. I’m only typing this now because I finally got killed a bit of the way into the second level and thus was able to get up and walk away.

They’re gonna have to fix this, I think, for this game to be viable. The basic gameplay loop is a hell of a lot of fun, and I’m going to get more efficient at it as I play more and get better, but tonight was about as long as I ever have to play at a stretch (he said, ignoring the imminence of summer vacation) and they’re going to have to build in a viable way to put the game down and walk away or I’m really not going to be able to play this for much longer.

I had a whole thing planned here as a follow-up to yesterday’s post, but it’s almost Goddamned nine already, and I guess I’l let you wait until tomorrow and tell you how my Cheating Solution went. I expect to leave work tomorrow with every student I have angry with me.

#REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (2021)

This is another one of those movies where reviews are probably entirely unnecessary, but whatever. Our most current re-up of HBO Max was basically done for this movie and for Godzilla Vs. Kong, and we haven’t watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters yet, so we’ll probably get that one done before I cancel it again. I was kind of surprised at how much I’ve been looking forward to seeing this; I’m not the biggest Mortal Kombat fan out there by any stretch of the imagination, although I have lots of good memories of the first two games. Scorpion was my main in the first game, as he had the easiest special moves to pull off, and I was all about Baraka in the second game, although I could play anybody in a pinch. The first movie was on IU’s movie channel all the time so I watched the hell out of it, and I don’t think I’ve seen whatever sequels there were for it– I think there was at least one, and there might have been a couple.

Anyway, this movie needed to do two things: it needed to look good, and there needed to be good fight choreography. That’s basically it! I get those two things out of a movie called Mortal Kombat, and I’m gonna be happy with it. And I was! There was something weird going on with the backgrounds in some of the scenes, as if the green screening came in a little bit too fuzzy or something, and there was almost a soap opera thing going on at the beginning that makes me wonder what the frame rate was, but in general the effects were good, especially when some of the more outlandish characters like Goro showed up.

And the fight choreography? Chef’s kiss. I have no complaints at all. It’s well-shot, even the fights in darkest areas you can always see who everyone is and what they’re doing, and the movie has a great sense of space and pacing whenever two people are fighting. The two standout fights are not surprising: between Goro and Lewis Tan’s Cole, a character who hasn’t actually appeared in any of the games, and between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. But it’s all solid, and the nods here and there to actual game moves and lines are cheesy but it works. The acting in this movie only had to not be ridiculous; the story, seeing as how it’s kinda stuck with the idea of Mortal Kombat, is only as ridiculous as it has to be and not a whole lot more. I mean, the story and the lore of this series has kind of disappeared up its own ass over the years, and you need to remember that the entire central conflict of the whole umpteen-game series stems from the decision to palette-swap one of the original characters. Everything in Mortal Kombat had to be kool (shut up, I kan’t not do that) before it had to make sense, and the movie more or less feels the same way.

The acting and the plot isn’t getting in the way of the fighting and the costumes and the monsters, is what I’m saying here. And Kano is an absolute Goddamn delight. I want a Kano movie. And I want to go back in time and refilm the entirety of Iron Fist with Lewis Tan as Danny Rand. I wouldn’t risk covid to see this in a theater under any circumstances, but this is pretty much exactly why streaming media exists.