For who could live without love? (Das Rheingold, redux)

So, remember how I mentioned those upcoming Big Games, the ones that likely mean we’ll be playing them for hours at a time and falling way behind in all of our TV-watching? One of these is the upcoming Elden Ring, From’s latest offering. This means we can expect the usual punishingly-hard combat, I’m sure – and this time it comes with a vaguely familiar premise:

A magical ring, now shattered, remnants of its power still clinging to the shards of it, power-hungry folk pursuing such fragments and jealously guarding what they have. A world tree – well, an “Erdtree,” anyway. There’s something a bit familiar about this, to be sure – but no, the world tree’s rather more Nordic

Ah. Of course. It feels very Wagnerian.

And so it is that we have, prior to the game’s release, embarked on the massive project of re-watching the Ring Cycle.

This time around, we thought we’d give the recent(ish) Lepage staging a look, with its notorious huge machine that (when it works smoothly) shifts and rearranges itself to form abstractions of the various landscapes we see in the show. Happily, the Metropolitan Opera has joined the video on-demand space, and a month’s worth of their subscription fee is plenty to let us see all four shows.

We begin with Das Rheingold, in which we learn how the Cycle’s eponymous Ring came to be: Once, long ago, the Rheingold rested somewhere deep in the bed of the Rhine river, guarded by the Rhinemaidens, who delighted in its light. Alberich, a Nibelung (translated in the libretto here as a “gnome,” though in the earlier production we saw he was much ore of a Gollum-like monster), watches the Rhinemaidens play with a kind of searing possessiveness. “If I could only catch one!”

…That’s right, Alberich is basically an incel. (One wonders what the “chan”-equivalent of the mythic age would have been like.) Since he cannot win any of the ladies he’s ogling, he instead steals the Rheingold from them, crafting of it a ring that should, in theory, allow him to wield the latent power of the gold and give him dominion over…well, everything, ultimately…provided that he renounce love for ever, for only one who has forsaken love completely may craft such a thing.

Meanwhile, the gods (that is, the Norse-Germanic contingent, headed by Odin and company – here with Germanicized names, like Wotan) have just had a spectacular home built for them by the giants Fafnir and Fasolt, and promptly demonstrate that they are spectacular assholes. Or at least Odin is, having promised the giants the goddess Freya in return for their labor (apparently without asking anyone including her), then promptly stiffing them when the expected outrage ensues.

Considering that one of the things Odin is known for is contracts and the honoring thereof, this seems like a bad sign.

Anyway, we learn just what a monumentally stupid idea this was when it is revealed that if Freya is taken, the gods immediately weaken, beginning to age and die without the influence of her apples of immortality. Helpfully, Loki (because of course Loki) knows somewhere they might be able to find enough gold for her ransom – after all, the Nibelungs have plenty.

And on that note, we’re off to the races.

What follows is a couple of hours of more leitmotif than melody and of characters behaving very, very badly. I mean, yes, Alberich is a power-obsessed asshole, but so is just about everyone else in this thing – the Ring Cycle is surprisingly light on sympathetic characters, and just in case we weren’t already fully aware of this, the gods’ majestic ascent to Valhalla is underscored by the Rhinemaidens lamenting that, basically, they’re dicks who can’t be trusted. (In this staging, Loki also looks on, having just pondered whether he might not just set everything on fire, who knows?)

The staging must have been really spectacular seen live – it’s essentially a huge conglomeration of…beams that reconfigure themselves into various shapes to set the scene. These are further enhanced by projections that appear to be either timed by the music or somehow are coordinated from up in the booth – the gravelly banks of the Rhine actually scatter stones as characters slide along them, for example. (Rehearsals must have been a beast.)

Here’s the thing about that set though: often, the surfaces it creates are just about vertical, and there’s nothing to hold onto. So a surprising number of the performers in this are kitted out with a flying rig, basically, allowing them to do things like “swim” directly upward, or (in the case of that final Bifrost crossing) walk directly up a wall. It is both very impressive and rather nerve-wracking to watch; I hope nobody was injured.

Anyway. It’s a fairly spectacular show, and the stage is definitely set. The ring, now cursed to incite ferocious greed and jealousy that will destroy both those who possess it and those who yearn for it, is in the hands of the giant Fafnir, who slew his brother for it. The Tarnhelm, which grants shapeshifting powers to the wielder (forged under duress by Alberich’s brother Mime) is lost to the giant as well. Alberich has slunk back to the underworld in shame and possibly minus a finger, and the gods have moved into their swanky new digs…though Odin clearly isn’t going to be able to stop obsessing about that ring anytime soon.

Next up: someone I can actually root for shows up, and it doesn’t go all that well.

Where the colors are

I suppose it’s kind of heartening that I’m not alone in feeling that an awful lot of media products lately have had that washed-out, desaturated, “this is serious so we can’t use colors” look to them.

It is, of course, autotune for the eyes. Didn’t hit the pitch you were aiming at? Can’t quite get the light for the scene just right? No problem, we’ll just do it in post – and then we somehow end up with a kind of…samey-ness to everything that I am marked as An Old for noticing.

I mean, yes, computers are cool, and yes, you CAN do some really awesome stuff with them, absolutely. But I love practical effects in movies; even the ones that read as a little clunky to a modern viewer still elicit a sense of ‘how did they DO that’ wonder that I just do not get from watching something or other from Marvel. I know how they did that. It isn’t mysterious to me. Respect to the crews involved in making all that CG come together, but there is a real delight in watching something and knowing it came from a whole team of bright, creative people devoting their energies to figuring out how to build that alien or explode that city or what have you, then doing it.

I suppose if all your art is “content” now – if it is more important that you make money than that anything is expressed – it is best to keep your costs down by letting the computers do more of the work. From the studio’s standpoint, all movies and tv – all media products really – need to be min-maxed in service to capitalism, and so here we are with cop shows with weird greenish filters, CG everything, lootboxes in video games, and entire generations of music listeners with preferences for computer-modulated voices over organic ones.

It’s also probably why approximately 97% of new movies/tv I hear announcements for make me check out immediately. Yet another entry in an exhausting cavalcade of sequels and reboots and so on, any new thing with a glimmer of promise or interest certain to be pounced on, copied endlessly, and wrung for money until absolutely nobody can muster the energy to care about it anymore.

I know, I know. Old man yells at cloud. It is a marker of my out of touchness with the world that it bothers me.

There must be others though, surely, who keep asking their tvs “…OR you could, you know, make new things?”

I suppose there are. The market for indie games is bustling and vibrant at the moment, at least until the big boys take notice and decide they need to muck everything up; I’ve played literal dozens of things from smaller studios that have been polished, complete, delightful experiences on release. Sure, some of them don’t quite go where I was hoping, and sure, there’s some janky bits, but oh boy is it ever worth it to be playing something that has the capacity to delight one.

The same goes for other media products, too. I will forgive an awful lot of rough edges and jankiness in something that delights me, in something that feels, as I experience it, like the people who made it were enjoying the act of making.

There is a kind of communion there. You had such an amazing time making this; I do not know any of you, but I can tell. I am having an amazing time experiencing it; thank you for sharing. At the tabletop, when it’s going well, everyone gets to have that feeling at the same time – making and experiencing simultaneously, enjoying it together.

That is just the best. Seriously.

I wish more of the people who make decisions rather than things understood it.

How do you feel today?

A while ago, on a bit of a whim, I Kickstarted a little mobile game project called Kinder World. In it, you have a cute little houseplant, and every so often, you need to water it. In order to do so, you may (optionally) perform a little wellness-related task: practicing a little gratitude meditation based on a prompt, for instance.

I’ve been participating in the alpha in this case; not something I normally do, but as I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from myself of late, and it’s…actually pretty helpful to receive a little reminder a couple of times today to take a minute, already.

My favorite of the activities implemented so far has been “emotional naming.” This is exactly what it says on the tin – you take a few minutes to consider and name what you are feeling. Exactly what you are feeling, that is, not just the general feeling-family; you want to try and be as precise as you can.

It sounds very simple, right? I’ve actually been finding it quite challenging on some days, though, especially with the pandemic’s tendency to render all experience into a poorly-differentiated sludge.

Synchronicity being what it is, one of the podcasts I follow has recently started a special mini-season on emotions and the naming and management thereof. Here are the first two episodes for the curious: “How to Identify Your Negative Emotions” and “Emotions are Data…So Listen to Them.”

That first one features Brene Brown, of the famous TED talk(s) on shame and vulnerability. Apparently her most recent book is a discussion of 87 (!) different emotional states, and if the discussion of these in the book is anything like the discussion on the podcast I think I may need to go read it.

For example, the idea that resentment is a function of envy. Perhaps that’s obvious to everyone, I don’t know, but to me the idea is worth taking a pause to consider. Those days when I am tired and strung out and the resentment is high? If I consider resentment as a variety of envy, what does that mean I am envious of? What do I want that someone else has, or seems to have?

The closeness of anxiety and excitement seems to make sense, as does the idea that in at least some cases it might be possible to re-frame the former as the latter (the example given in the show of a job interview is a good one). I’m a bit less sure about how or where I might be able to apply that in my own life, given that when I have anxiety it frequently arrives out of all proportion to…well, anything in reality really. Bit hard to work out how to turn that into excitement about something.

I think I’d like to learn more about this – how feelings work and what cues we might be able to take from them. (Clearly I am not the only one – I went to place a hold on Brene’s new book Atlas of the Heart and am currently 740th in line. Hazards of a big public library system, I suppose.)

The bigger challenge here will be avoiding turning this curiosity into yet another element of work, something for the to do list. Something else my inner critic can use as a weapon to attack me with when it thinks I need to be taken down a peg or six.

I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Clearing the decks

We’ve been clearing our gaming queue a little over the last week or so – there are some major releases coming up that we anticipate will consume a significant amount of evening playtime, so it’s seemed prudent to try and wrap up anything that’s been lingering in the backlog.

Case in point: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (or, at least, the first half of it), which we began in September before it was thoroughly derailed by an unexpectedly packed October spooky-games fiesta. We’d made it all the way to the last case, even, just hadn’t picked it back up to get to the conclusion.

As of last night, we did…only to find that they’ve left an astonishing number of dangling threads, even literally introducing another layer of mystery in the final scenes. What about the mysterious thing your best friend apparently was supposed to be doing in England? The list of names? What was up with that William Shamspeare guy who is conspicuously introduced, has an actual character model, and then is never seen or mentioned or even thought of again?

This isn’t usual for Ace Attorney games, which will normally wrap up everything rather neatly within an individual installment; I can only imagine how maddening it must’ve been to finish this back when the first of these games came out and realize you would now have to wait years to know the answers.

It’s “But what about the gas station guy???” all over again.

Anyway. Given this I think I’ll hold off on a more elaborate discussion of the title until we’ve played its sequel, too.

It’s been nice to “drive” the last few evenings while we wrapped up this title, though. Immersing yourself in something is, I think, restorative; you dive right into a thing, letting yourself be wrapped up in it and carried along. All those executive function “muscles” – the ones that constantly tense with little reminders that you need to buy a chicken for dinner tonight, that someone’s birthday is next week, that you need to hire more people – get to relax.

I’d best get on with the day, but for now, please enjoy this kitten, who is very cute.

Recently played: Moonglow Bay

I’ll just begin by dropping the trailer here. If this looks at all like your jam, why are you still here? Go play this.

The launch trailer.

For anyone who might like a bit more detail before jumping in, here’s the elevator pitch:

Somewhere in the Maritime provinces of Canada, a couple is preparing to embark on the launch of a new business: the kitting-out of a small fishing boat that will bring in the essentials for a tasty array of street foods. Unfortunately…something goes wrong.

Cut to three years later. One half of the couple has been missing since then, and the worst is assumed by all, attributed to some superstitious minds as being part of a curse upon any who dare to fish these waters. The remaining partner is shaken out of a depressive funk by the sudden arrival of her daughter from Quebec, and the two of them decide to at least give the business a try.

What follows is a surprisingly cozy little adventure with RPGish undertones in which the hero/ine (depending on which character model you choose to play) sets about exploring the seas near the town of Moonglow Bay, fishing up all manner of curious creatures, cooking piles of cute little voxel seafood, and gradually rehabilitating the initially faded and run-down little town.

The voxel art style may take some getting used to for some audiences, but I find it rather charming in its simplicity, and it lends a rather charming toy-like quality to the environments; everything is lovingly rendered from the models of new fish to the flag of Nova Scotia flapping at the stern of your little trawler to the cute little beds of vegetables in the community garden you (eventually) help to install.

Maybe this toylike quality lends to the relaxing vibes of the game, or perhaps there’s just something inherently soothing about the loop of going out onto the seas, fishing things up, then bringing them home to perfect another recipe in a series of little minigames reflecting your various cooking techniques. The core mechanics are generally pleasing and low-stress, making this a good choice for unwinding on a lazy weekend afternoon.

Or maybe there’s just something fun about doing it all with a friend or partner – there’s two-player couch co-op in this one, with player 1 taking on the role of the main character and player 2 their daughter River. While only player 1 can progress quests, both characters can team up in both fishing and cooking (in more complex recipes), making the process of stocking the aquarium with all of those rare and curious fish that much quicker.

Fair warning for those who prefer their experiences be highly grounded in reality: There are definitely some fantasical elements present in this little story – mainly regarding some of the more improbable sea creatures you meet. (Unless there is something going on in the Maritimes that they’re not telling us further west, I am fairly confident we’ve got some imaginary fish happening.) There’s also a little janky-ness, but nothing too out of the norm for an indie title; we haven’t experienced any showstopping bugs to speak of.

Also, you have a dog named Waffles, who has an annoying habit of parking himself in the middle of the deck when you’re fishing – but he is still a very good boy, and you can pet him, which sort of balances out in my opinion. 😉

Anyway. Overall, this is a charming little chill-out game with easy drop in/drop out co-op – great for those lazy Sundays when someone just needs to take a minute to flip a load of laundry or stir the soup or whatever. Easy recommendation for anyone who enjoyed Stardew Valley, especially if they enjoy the fishing angles of such games!

Maybe make that soup a chowder or something, though, because you WILL crave seafood something fierce.

The matter at hand

Who out there has an inner child?

I mean, everyone, in theory. All of us are, or were, one once.

But for some of us it’s more present than others, I think. I know people who seem to have been adults forever, with only a sort of shadow-memory of what it must have been like. I have known people whose inner child is very present in a sort of healthy way and people whose inner child seems to dominate.

I think my connection to mine is pretty strong, usually. I spend a lot of time in my imagination, more than maybe one might think for somebody who also typically has a longish to-do list and works in a Proper Grown-Up Job and everything. I find it easy to connect to a more playful energy and to honor the principle that the fear of childishness is one of those things one lets go of in adulthood.

Usually, anyway.

Lately I haven’t been feeling very much myself, and I think this is one of the big ways. I am finding that the balance between “Let’s pretend” and “oh god how is the pantry this disorganized AGAIN when are we going to fix that faucet got to remember to do…” is…not great.

For example:

I have been using my creative energies, but not for myself – I’ve been helping others execute on their ideas, and it’s taken so much energy that when I do have some time to just Do Whatever I feel too tired to do much at all. I don’t regret this (I love that I’ve been able to help out, and the act of working on the projects was fun even if the tightness of the schedule meant I have burned myself out a bit) but it’s a…well, not a red flag, exactly. An orange one, maybe.

I have been a little too keen to try to Improve Myself – trying to build better habits, reading a lot of various advice, and have noticed a certain…gravity of responsibility happening. Fixating on whether [insert activity here] is a “good” use of time. Wondering if I am doing enough (spoiler: I never am, in my own estimation) to move things in positive directions.

I think I know what that is. It’s a sneaky new tactic for the worst impulses of my inner critic: a means to corrupt a legitimate interest in my own wellness without being obviously nasty. Becoming a taskmaster rather than a coach. And the playful parts of me see this and promptly nope the hell out to go hide in their bedroom, figuratively speaking, Can’t say as I blame them.

I have not been paying enough attention to the state of my inner landscape. Things have been too busy and too overwhelming and now we have the psychic equivalent of walking downstairs this morning and suddenly realizing that somehow there are pizza boxes and empty instant ramen packets and laundry everywhere and you’re not entirely sure how the heck that happened exactly.

There is a reconnection that needs to happen.

I can probably blame almost all of this on some combination of the pandemic and its forces – the isolation, the restrictions on where to go and what to do, the narrowing of the universe and the restriction on stimuli – and the overall creeping dread one is nearly overwhelmed by when contemplating…everything these days. None (or almost none) of any of that is within my control; I can acknowledge it and do the little I may, but I will not be able to address this by removing the cause(s).

The urge to try to Fix This, right now, is remarkably strong, but I fear if I give in to it right away that will just be perpetuating that second issue by turning this into another opportunity to be self-critical. Which will also not be helping.

So…okay. Let’s just try and sit with this a bit, at first, and then try to focus on that reconnection. Don’t “fix” it. Just spend some time thinking and doing and try to be careful not to turn everything into a referendum on something. Recognize the critical “why are you not FIXING THIS” impulses as they come up, set them aside, and keep trying.

That is going to be very hard.

I suppose I will see how it goes.

Winter seems to be doing that thing it does in January.

The sky is a frosty, stainless-steel gray, indifferently-lit; snow considers lingering on the ground, waffling on the question of whether to melt or merge into a glossy treachery of ice. Light either fades to a wan indirectness or ricochets from every surface in a blinding fury. The air becomes hostile; outdoors a mob of invisible creatures try to shred your chest with icy claws from the inside out, inside you find yourself wandering through a deceptively-pleasant desert.

Every time, after the holidays. As though it held itself back out of politeness until now.

By the time I am officially another year older it is typically fuck-everything degrees outside, and I may count myself fortunate if I can get anyone to join in should I have something planned.

Which I don’t, this year, other than claiming a couple of days off for myself. The winter break wasn’t all that restful this time around; I do not regret participating in the various holiday visions of my loved ones, but I could certainly go for some more unstructured time.

Maybe I’ll make a cake. I don’t know.

It’s a bit hard to feel enthusiasm for much of anything on a morning like this, I suppose (I am reduced to talking about the weather, even). Still. Building habits. Right? Just do a little of anything, anything at all.

This must be that languishing thing again. Time to go looking for some flow, I suppose.

Good thing(s) of the day:

  • Wordle, a once-a-day word puzzle break. Guess a five-letter word in six tries or less. (via Polygon).

What does having a hobby feel like?

A new year, a new effort to build good habits. Or, at least, to build habits and then hope that they turn out well.

I considered opening this post with a “How was your holiday, everyone?” or a “Happy new year, everyone” – but while I am interested in the answer to the question and legitimately do wish a happy new year to all of humanity at present (god knows we could all USE it), I don’t quite feel right saying that here. It’s the “everyone” that is the sticking point; I shall be exceedingly surprised if anyone other than a bot looking for an opportunity to monetize things ever turns up here.

(I imagine them arriving, an armful of malware links and broken English piled into a briefcase just that bit too plastic in its newness. An unsettling leer precariously balanced somewhere between a car-upholstery-patterned suit and the sort of hat lesser movie villains might have worn in the 1940s. Ringing the bell and, on having no answer, almost doubling over to peer into the window, all that uncanny length and angle contorting. It dismays them to be chased off by the watchdog, the spam-catcher, but they are, over and over again, in a flurry of loud and ferocious barking. The leer never wavers, though, not even as they withdraw and drift to the next house.)

All the same, here I am, taking up the effort to undertake a small expressive practice, most days. The latest villain in this, ironically, has been the effort to exercise for at least half an hour, most days; success there has thus far meant failure here, and vice versa.

Is a single hour of the day in an adult life so impossible? Half an hour for the body, half an hour for the mind; how is that so difficult to maintain?

Yesterday I read What Having A Hobby Feels Like, which is quite the mood on a number of levels. One of the many facets of our Boring Cyberpunk Dystopia: the idea that there may be people, a lot of people even, who either legitimately cannot identify interests to pursue or who have lost the knack of pursuing them without feeling the additional need to monetize them. Another: how incredibly difficult it is to actually start anything new, especially with all of the algorithms competing for our attention, uncaring whether that attention is legitimate interest, fury, or just…filling time.

I cannot decide whether or not it is ironic that an article about the difficulty of finding and keeping hobbies is on Substack, where a number of people who express themselves in long-form writing like this gate their thoughts and ideas behind paywalls. Factor in the recent letter from the president of Square Enix that appears to be trying to justify the incursion of capitalism into every free moment with baffling suggestions like “people will create more things if we offer them incentives to create!” and I begin to wonder if I am going mad, or just getting old. (Old enough to remember a version of the internet that felt less like corporations inserting themselves between me and…everything else in the world.)

I have always believed that a creative person’s need to create is elemental. That creating things is a thing they just…need to do, in the same way that a husky needs lots of vigorous exercise every day. That it just IS, whether or not one is getting paid, whether or not one becomes famous, whether or not one changes the world or builds a career. Being able to convert that energy into a career is certainly amazing, and lots of us would love to, but even if that isn’t possible, one would still need to make something. It is a truth.

On occasion I have flattered myself that one reason I might be feeling a malaise (vague, or not so vague, or sharp and keen and cutting) is that I am one of these creative people, and that the habit everyday life has of rushing in to fill every nook and cranny in the spacetime continuum with grocery lists and laundry and spreadsheets and doomscrolling and maybe, on a good night, a little old-fashioned escapism means I do not get that exercise, doing the human equivalent of sprawling on the hallway carpet looking longingly at the door.

Capital already gets a decent chunk of my days. It has the money, and so I exchange some time for the resources I need in order to live. Outside those hours I would appreciate it if it would kindly fuck right off.

Recently played: Lacuna

If you go and look at Lacuna’s page on Steam, it will tell you right up front what it is. “A sci-fi noir adventure.”

And what we get is exactly what it says on the tin. Our hero lives on the planet Ghara, the big dog in its solar system, working for this universe’s equivalent of the FBI. One evening, you’re preparing to do protection detail for a diplomat…except that he gets shot before you have the chance to so much as say hello, and then we are off to the proverbial races.

What follows is indeed an extremely noir-ish story, both in presentation and content. We have the protagonist with the estranged family and the brooding voice-overs (the only fully-voiced lines in the game). We have the murder plot that leads, in a roundabout way, to something complicated and infrastructural. We have a little blackmail, even, for that extra frisson.

We navigate all this in a very point-and-click sort of way, roaming from grandiose hotels for VIPs to the rough-but-colorful neighborhoods of the lower layers, always taking the train. (And yes, I do mean literally “lower layers” – the stratification of society in this universe means that your only shot at regular doses of direct sunlight is to be wealthy.) At each locale, we meet a character or two, chat with them, and gather clues from the environment. So far, so normal.

And then we get to the tricky bit for any detective-themed video game: How do you gamify detection? How do you make a process that is so very essentially internal to the player’s brain manifest on the screen? How do you try to guide them through working out the right answers to key questions, rather than brute-forcing it with guesses?

Lacuna’s answer to this is…homework.

No, really; when there’s a problem that needs to be worked out you receive a “sheet” to complete with a series of multiple-choice questions, and when the game determines you’ve advanced far enough that you ought to have the clues, you’re invited to submit it. These are typically not incredibly complicated – two or three questions – but in order to identify the right answers, you must first have asked the right questions of the NPCs you interact with, found all the clues in the environments, and then trawled back through your chat logs, etc., to work out what you ought to submit.

I have mixed feelings about this as the major detecting process. On one hand, assembling the pieces into a confident answer can be quite satisfying. On the other, one thing that Lacuna seems to really enjoy doing is obfuscating information. In one early case, you are told very explicitly by the NPCs at one location exactly what the answers to some crucial questions are – except that those NPCs are wrong, and the only way you can possibly know that is to correctly deduce a different set of answers, open up a different location, and then complete a mostly-unrelated side task that will eventually lead to a single casual mention of the right answer you need.

Here’s the wrinkle that makes this especially important: Lacuna does not allow you to manually save. Ever. All choices you make are permanent, so it’s very easy (presumably by design) to lock yourself into a kind of cascading failure state. We did not do this, for the record; both of us have fairly well-honed detective-game instincts, but it seems remarkably simple to end up on a path to doom from pretty early on without knowing it. (A post-playthrough review of the game’s discussion boards on Steam suggests a number of people had this kind of experience.)

There’s also a feature that will add an additional layer of pressure to this by putting a timer on all of your answers to questions. We somehow managed to disable this without ever knowing it was there – or perhaps it defaults to “off” and is only enabled if you want an extra challenge? Some of the choices were plenty difficult even with time to think them through, so I can only imagine how much easier it would be to miss a key piece of information, or accidentally piss off an important NPC with that timer bar ticking down.

I appreciate the commitment to the “choices matter” approach to storytelling here, but I’m not sure I am completely behind these design decisions myself; at the very least, an option to go back and replay some scenes to make different choices without having to start the entire game over again from the beginning would have been welcome.

Oddly, despite the massive difference your choices can make in terms of story outcomes, your actual progress feels somewhat “on rails”; there are a number of occasions where we were barred from trying out something or following up with an NPC rather arbitrarily (usually by someone attempting to move or carry something very large and heavy. The effect is a bit more Marx Brothers than perhaps the designers intended.)

All of this sounds a bit like I didn’t care for the game, doesn’t it? Not quite; whatever I might think of some of the design choices, the story itself is enjoyable and nicely told, and the art – of the “pixels + dynamic lighting” variety that seems popular lately – is evocative and has a lot of fun little background detail that I wish we could have interacted with a bit more for additional flavor.

If any of this has piqued your interest, perhaps it might also be helpful to know that the game is quite short, even for thorough players like ourselves – perhaps 5-6 hours if you’re taking it slowly, and easily complete-able in a session or two. (The ending we got was pretty satisfying, but if you ended up with one you didn’t care for I expect a second playthrough would go even faster.)

If you find yourself with a few hours and the inclination, give it a shot; perhaps you’ll have different feelings about the detective system than I do, and then we can discuss it.

I start a short vacation today. Just a week, and I have no particularly exotic plans – some days’ worth of taking care of miscellaneous household activities but otherwise not doing very much, followed by a short trip to a cottage with some friends.

No grand aspirations there, either; I shall take my just-started embroidery project (my first ever), the needful devices to try and keep up with my writing initiative, some books downloaded from the library, perhaps along with a proper print book or two. I will attempt not to make too great a botch job of the former, and socialize a bit, and probably let myself get roped into playing a board game or two.

In the meantime, some cooking plans, and some quiet, and that is about all.

The sensation of simultaneously not particularly feeling like doing anything (distressingly common the last few months) and of being completely overwhelmed with choice paralysis when the moment comes to try doing something anyway (which of the, oh, twenty-five or so different games out now, all tempting-looking, do we want to play? I have a backlog of books approximately a mile high; what shall I read first?) is an extremely first world problem, I know, but it’s very acute right now. And very annoying; now, finally, for a little while, I will have time to do things!

…and so what shall I do?

While catching up on my podcast backlog (because of course I am behind on that too) I listened to an episode of Cautionary Tales which ponders the possibility that it is not only raw talent that leads to brilliance, but also…well, having time to muck about doing whatever, basically. The idea that these unstructured periods of doing nothing may in fact be essential to the creative process; that busy-ness and focus may be quietly undermining us.

I wonder about that.