Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on October 14, 2018

Metro 2033 is a 2010 FPS based on an apparently internationally popular Russian scifi/fantasy/horror novel series, about post-apocalyptic Russia, with the only survivors of the nuclear war being people who crowded into metro stations, and venturing out to the tunnels and surface involves dealing with both radiation and mutated monsters and also like ghosts or something. You play as a guy named Artyom, a young soldier who gets a usual video game quest to do something dangerous which turns out to be a much bigger deal than he first thought.

The steam version is a 2014 version called Metro 2033 Redux, which I doubt is that different for the PC, but they updated it for the latest generation of consoles. Even with the re-release, windowed mode is a pain, bordered window isn’t even an option. There are some frustrating aspects:

  • There are an overwhelming number of keymaps (put gas mask on, wipe gas mask, change gas mask filter, turn on flashlight, use medkit, melee, throw grenade, use journal/lighter, plus the usual generic use, reload, jump, crouch).
  • There are gameplay elements that you’re not told how to do. I had to google to find out that I need to use my lighter to burn away spider webs. And I had to google to find out that I have to sprint towards a door in my dreams to stop my inexplicable dying.
  • Most of the game has optional stealth stuff, but there’s one sequence that pretty much forces stealth on you, because if the things notice you, they kill you in about three hits, and they take like 4 clips of ammo to kill. I managed to take out one, but it would consume my entire ammo supply to fight my way through this library full of them. So… stealth. And I hated that part.
  • I had no idea what I was doing with the weapons. I settled on a shotgun and an AK for most of the game, with a pistol as backup for a third ammoy type, but there were all kinds of ammo and weapons that I never picked up because I can only carry three weapons and I couldnt tell if the weapon I was going to buy or loot would use the same ammo as the AK or shotgun.
  • The ghost part is dumb to me. They appear as shadows and whisper to you and you have visions, and I don’t care.
  • There’s a Russian guy named Miller with no explanation. Is that a thing?
  • It’s an FPS with an unvoiced protagonist and no plot choices, but you spend probably 10-15% of the game locked into sequences where NPCs talk at you while nothing else happens. Not like cutscenes, but in-engine, you can’t move but can look around, NPC talks at you. And asks you questions, followed by a moment of awkward silence, followed by them continuing as if you’d answered. I get that in some situations, like Portal, giving the character a voice makes them feel less like you, since you wouldn’t choose their words. But in this case, you can’t say stuff like “yes, I read you” on the radio, or “try it now” when you flip the switch that should let some other guy operate a door or whatever.

However, the post apocalyptic atmosphere and the Russian winter and the metro stations make for a cool setting. Aside from the question of how they have fuel and food 20 years after the apocalypse when they rarely go outside, it’s very believable with cramped quarters and grime on everything and pre-war Russian tech barely holding together.

That, and the game being pretty short, meant that I stuck it out. Aside from the ghosts, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. And though the dialogue was corny in parts, it felt kinda appropriate for Russian accented people. And there was one great sequence near the end which amused the hell out of me.

I’m going to grab the sequel, since if I don’t play that I have nothing else to play, having nothing on my wishlist that’s cheap or on sale, and I’ve replayed all my favorites in the past year or so.

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Posted in tv by Bill on October 12, 2018

The Good Cop is Netflix’s new series starring Josh Groban, which immediately makes it seem like something that’s not for me, but it’s from the creator of Monk so that and the fact that the girl in it looked pretty cute were enough to at least check it out. It’s not great, but it would have fit just fine in those old USA lineups. Murders are solved and mildly amusing times are had along the way. It’s not as good as Monk or Psych but probably like In Plain Sight quality? Fine as something to pass time, but not something I’d ever seek out.

The premise is that Groban is a strait-laced cop who compulsively follows rules, and his dad (Tony Danza, playing an Italian-American named Tony, so it’s within his range as an actor) is an ex-cop who was kicked off the force and convicted for corruption. A murder is solved every episode, and through elaborate and convoluted scenarios, Tony Sr. ends up being involved with every case. Much like a lot of these shows, they do a mix of “who did it?” and “we know this asshole must have done it, but how?” episodes. The dad’s parole officer in the pilot is the aforementioned cute girl, but apparently parole officers can just take a test and immediately become homicide detectives, because she’s Josh Groban’s partner by the second episode. That doesn’t make sense that they could do that, but it’s cool because it puts her on screen a lot more. Isiah “sheeeeeit” Whitlock Jr. plays one of the other detectives and is pretty funny as a lazy piece of shit.

Posted in video games by Bill on October 11, 2018

Singularity is a first person shooter from 2010 which I saw a bunch of people recommending as underrated, and though it took a bit to grow on me, I ended up enjoying it a lot.

You play as member of an American military recon team sent investigate an abandoned island, where the Soviets did research in the 1950s on a new material, because the island is suddenly kicking out tons of radiation in 2010. Most of your team dies in a crash, and you start to explore on your own. Not knowing yet that this new material has weird temporal properties, when you get temporarily shifted to 1955, you accidentally save the life of a guy who was the key to developing and weaponizing technology around the stuff, and you come back to 2010 to find he and the Soviet Union now rule the world. So it’s on you to figure out how this stuff works and try to fix the timeline.

It’s very much in the style of Bioshock. Creepy, mostly-empty environment with retrofuturistic styling (Soviet propaganda + Atompunk here). You’re often walking through empty hallways and seeing the shadow of an enemy at the end of the hall, trying to build up tension for when it eventually jumps you. Radio instructions from a variety of people who may or may not actually be trustworthy. Voice recordings and retro-style film clips all over the place to fill in the backstory. But I guess they throw in a little bit of Portal too, with some of the design (you have a very Portal-ish pair of orange and blue icons on the HUD to indicate your ability to age and de-age some stuff with your time powers, and they almost made cool puzzles involving using it to jump between time periods… apparently it had a troubled development and they cut a lot of stuff and left other stuff half-baked).

At first, there were a few elements of the game that bugged me. The starting weapon is total shit, really one of the worst weapons I can remember using in an FPS (it’s inaccurate, slow firing, and doesn’t do much damage unless you headshot, which isn’t easy with how inaccurate it is, and it takes forever to reload). But later weapons are good, and some are pretty inventive (there are two sniper rifles, the regular one which has a time-slowing effect which can help to headshot 3 guys before they can even fire on you, the other is a special weapon and lets you steer the bullets on their way to the target). Early on, the game lacks waypoints or any direction, and that often results in missing loot by going the “right” way by mistake (and you have a single save file that autosave/overwrites at checkpoints, so there’s often no going back to get something you missed). But later you do get a navigational tool. By about the halfway point, it’s a nice shooter with some variety. Your Time Manipulation Device provides some alternatives to just shooting everything, so even when you are going through a sequence where you fight the same kinds of enemies for a while, it doesn’t get repetitive.

The story plays out nicely with three possible endings and a nice post-credits scene. The ending I picked I don’t think works with the way the timeline went, but was a fun twist type thing anyway, and watching the other two on youtube, they seem appropriate. Sadly, the hot girl companion type is only in about 1/3 of the game and plays a much smaller role than two old guys.

 

Posted in movies by Bill on October 10, 2018

Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as an ultra-competitive married couple who add Bateman’s super cool and successful brother (Coach Taylor) to their usual game night, and he decides to kick things up a notch from their usual charades and scrabble. Hijinks ensue. I thought it looked potentially good from the trailers but could easily have gone more towards the comedy end and been a dud if the jokes missed. But it strikes a pretty good action/comedy balance and is a perfectly good way to waste an hour and a half.

Both McAdams and the girl from Pitch are easy on the eyes in this. There are a few genuinely funny moments. Some of the plot twists are obvious, but some aren’t. Some of the action scenes are actually pretty well done. Better than you’d expect from a comedy co-directed by the kid from Freaks and Geeks/Sweets from Bones. Which bodes well for the Flash movie that he and his partner are supposedly going to direct.

Geebs pointed out that there was an after-credits scene for no reason, and when I saw it I actually thought it was cool if it tied in to something in the mid-credits, but then I rewound and discovered that it doesn’t. Missed opportunity.

Posted in tv by Bill on October 10, 2018

Star Wars: Resistance is the newest animated Star Wars series on the Disney channel, which I’ve had on my tv calendar forever yet still forgot to set the DVR to record but conveniently already has this week’s (and the next two weeks’) episode on demand. It focuses on a young pilot named Kaz who runs across Poe Dameron and latches on to the resistance shortly before The Force Awakens, being dispatched to what seems like a neutral station where pilots and gearheads hang out and race so that he can listen in for any First Order intel.

It’s got a weird CG style that’s straight from Disney’s Tr2n animated series, but without the Tron-style lighting the people look weird. They get very realistic facial geometry but skin of perfectly monotone. This, combined with the fact that the CG lighting really emphasizes shadows, makes the shadows cast by their noses quite distracting. It works really well for the scenes with ships and speeders flying, though. And BB-8 for some reason looks like he’s done Borderlands style with heavy outlines and random blemishes on him. They do get the actual actors (Oscar Isaac and Gwendoline Christie) to voice the new trilogy characters, which is kinda neat, but I think just for guest spots.

It seems ok-ish so far, with a decent mix of action and comic relief, but it’s yet to grab me with the overall plot. It’s watchable enough to stick around to see if anything develops on that front, though. My biggest real complaint in the early going is that there’s this purple skinned alien girl with a mohawk who I want to be a character, but so far just seems to show up in the background. I don’t want it to be the A-Wing pilot from The Last Jedi all over again.

Posted in tv by Bill on October 7, 2018

Maniac is a new Netflix miniseries with Jonah Hill and Emma Stone about mental health and the inability to discern fantasy from reality. The reviews have been very strong, but the one I’d seen emphasized sticking with it, as it supposedly doesn’t get off to that strong of a start. And it doesn’t. But the main concept of the series, where Hill and Stone enter a series of pharmaceutically-induced alternate realities, doesn’t start to happen until the fourth episode.

It doesn’t get that good, but it’s kinda interesting watching the different realities, Emma Stone is quite cute in a few of them, and it’s unusual enough to be pretty fascinating just for that.

The episode lengths vary quite a bit (26-47 minutes, says wikipedia), and the division between episodes is sometimes arbitrary (it’s more of an act break for a segment of the story). It plays in some respects like a meandering ~5 hour movie. The real world parts have a Spike Jonze feel, with some kind of oddball retrofuturism, while the alternate realities obviously come in a variety of styles to interesting effect. Sally Field, Agnes from Moonlighting, Justin Theroux, and that Asian woman from Ex Machina, Gabriel Byrne, and that guy who’s been in a bunch of stuff but I mostly think of him as one of the Florida real estate douches from The Big Short all show up in various roles.

 

Posted in tv by Bill on September 28, 2018

I was a very occasional viewer* of Murphy Brown in its original run and thought I might as well check out the relaunch on CBS.

It’s a weird show to bring back. I get what they were thinking, with what seems like interest in politics at an all-time high, and plenty of material for jokes. But when it went off the air in 1998, it probably already had an old audience. Not many kids follow current events enough to get all the topical humor, so it was aimed at a 30-60 type audience. I was probably on the young end of viewers of the show in the 90s, and in 2018 I’m not particularly young. Those 30-60 people are 50-80 now. And it’s not a show like Friends or Frasier that has had life in syndication/DVD/streaming and has acquired new, younger fans. Because Dan Quayle and Tom Daschle jokes don’t play well in the 2010s. And the show is strongly anti-Trump, which will piss off most conservatives, so they’re courting that “baby boomer liberal” audience which is… small.

The first episode of the relaunch is weak. Some clunky jokes and obvious plot “twists.” Her son is now a young journalist and gets his own show just as Murphy decides to come out of retirement, and shockingly they are rivals in the same timeslot. Her show is on a thinly veiled version of CNN, and his is on Wolf News, which is even more thinly-veiled and requires no explanation. Frank and Corky join Murphy on her show and Miles comes back to produce.

The guy who played Phil the bartender died, so they added Tyne Daly to replace him, and vaguely familiar but uninteresting handsome guy plays Murphy’s grown up son. Jim, the stiff anchor guy, is nowhere to be found, mentioned as having retired and getting a boat and going off sailing (the actor’s still alive, but he’s 82 and in the last ~15 years his imdb resume is empty except for a couple voice acting parts, so he may be retired or no longer well enough to handle a regular acting job). They also added a South Asian social media coordinator, probably because the show has an otherwise all-white cast and that’s weird in 2018.

Faith Ford is remarkably good looking for 54, though, and they did have one quality joke when Murphy is learning to use twitter (her son says something like “be careful what you write on there, shows have been cancelled over that”). But otherwise it’s pretty forgettable and I won’t be watching any further.

 

* – When Candice Bergen was on Colbert, they played some other TV theme (it’s only been a day, but I can’t remember if it was Murder, She Wrote or Newhart) when she came out, and I thought “why didn’t they play the Murphy Brown theme? What is the Murphy Brown theme?” Turns out it’s this, which I really don’t remember at all.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 27, 2018

Mr. Inbtween is an Australian crime series that FX is showing, then mostly having commercials where you can’t hear anyone talking because they don’t want to scare off people who don’t want to watch some foreign show. But their accents are quite comprehensible to me at least, so except for an occasional cultural or geographical reference I don’t get, it’s easy to follow, and the accents render the kinda cute girls even cuter. One downer, I think it might be made for an Aussie channel that doesn’t have commercial breaks? Because the cuts to commercial are odd.

Anyway, the main character is being called a hitman in reviews I’ve seen, but that seems inaccurate. I’d say he’s a heavy or an enforcer, which occasionally involves killing people, but just as often involves collecting debts, looking threatening, or outright making threats. Which means he gets to interact with a lot of low-life fuckups (the weirdest part of the pilot is the guy who played Dewey Crowe on Justified, who I knew was actually Australian, being Australian), and low-life fuckups are often highly entertaining.

Here, I think I might be missing out on what seems like it might be dark humor not translating especially well? But there are some things I like about it, and it’s only six half-hour episodes, and with a two episode premiere, I’m 1/3 of the way in, so I guess I’m committed.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 26, 2018

FBI is CBS’s new procedural from L&O producer DIck Wolf starring the always lovely Missy Peregrym. Jeremy Sisto and Connie Nielsen are her bosses and some no-name is her partner. But I’m entirely here for Missy Peregrym. It’s L&O but higher stakes (the pilot is about a series of bombings) and towards the SVU end of the spectrum making things personal/emotional. Sadly, I doubt we’ll get much Missy Peregrym fanservice (I may have spent a fair amount of the time googling for stuff like that while watching this), but crime procedurals are usually watchable, this doesn’t have anything off-putting in particular, and she’s cute even while looking all-business.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 25, 2018

Manifest is NBC’s new SF series where a plane takes off and lands, seemingly normally, except 5 years elapsed while they were in the air. I thought from the commercials it might be more of a Leftovers-y thing where one big supernatural event happens and we just see the fallout, but there’s more supernatural stuff going on. It’s possibly a religious thing, in which case I will bail out on the show immediately. In fact, I’m going to watch a second episode but I’m ready to quit at any point, because none of the main characters interest me all that much. I am curious to learn more about the larger plot, though, so I’m willing to give it another episode to see if the characters catch on, or if the plot moves fast enough that I don’t care about boring characters.