At least call the recipe what it is.

Shameful confession of the day: I know a number of people who are very into Final Fantasy XIV. No, that’s not the shameful confession; I haven’t tried the game yet (but might someday), but those who love it love it a lot and let no man cast shade upon them for so doing.

Apparently, there was recently a cookbook published featuring a bunch of various in-game foods. Neat idea, right? Sure. No problem with that either.

However, I overheard some discussion of a recipe for almond-cream croissants. I was quietly a bit impressed; croissants can be a Worthy Challenger for many home bakers, and I haven’t tried them yet myself. I wondered if the recipe might be interesting to take a stab at.

And then someone actually posted it, and the first ingredient was “6 croissants.”

…Really?

As someone who is sitting here planning to spend part of her evening making pastry cream in preparation for a later project involving choux: really?

So, yeah. The shameful thing is I am being a food snob about something from a cookbook based on a video game, what is wrong with me?

…I don’t know. There are plenty of shortcuts in cooking, and I do not usually judge people for taking them. But this is not a recipe for croissants, it’s a recipe for croissant filling. And the notion of someone putting in that labor and looking for uncommon ingredients like birch syrup only to sandwich it into one of those industrial grocery-store croissants is…just depressing really. A quality croissant from the bakery/patisserie down on the corner or something, sure, that’s probably going to be decent, but there are plenty of places I have lived where one of those “well, it’s not UNcroissantlike” options would be all there was.

Shouldn’t the authors at least have provided the instructions to make your own if you wanted to? Then the crazy folk like me who might actually want to give such a thing a shot could do it, and the people who look at that kind of thing and go “I cannot even, no thank you” could go in search of an acceptable-to-them alternative.

An offense to aesthetics and to the ambition of the audience, then, I suppose; perhaps that’s why it seems extra-irritating. I mean. Why assume the people who are interested in buying a cookbook in the first place wouldn’t want to at least consider making the thing?

An empty space for play

First, a delightful thing to begin the day with: Twenty Thousand Hertz did an episode on Simlish. I do not play The Sims, but you don’t have to be even remotely interested in the game itself to enjoy hearing the history of this fake language or the ways it’s expanded as the game’s popularity exploded. (Easily worth a listen for the covers of songs alone.)

It’s a funny thing about simulation games. I can easily lose myself for hours in something like a Civilization or one of the many little “build and manage a small kingdom/village/etc” games that are available on Steam…but not The Sims. Perhaps it’s related to how I never really played with dolls as a child (I much preferred going on epic quests with a stuffed animal or two.) I bought Euro Truck Simulator on sale once, but haven’t ever really sat down to try it out; it has not grabbed me the way something like Monster Hunter or Chicory or Ace Attorney does.

So…why am I perfectly comfortable spending hours laying out a little village in Banished, or trying to see what happens if I go for the technological victory with the Egyptians, or something, but just…bounce right off The Sims or [Insert thing here] Simulator [year]?

I mean, I suppose it isn’t all that surprising that I am more attracted to games that have a stronger plot or characters. I am a story junkie. But…I think more to the point, there’s something about the kind of game that just plunks you into a space and says “Welp. Have fun!” and then leaves you to it that tends to leave me cold. As though the people who made it aren’t really interested in engaging with me. (Which is foolishness, I recognize; that very openness is the entire point if you are the sort of person who loves this kind of sandboxy game most of all.)

You can of course add things TO such a game that means I can get stuck in comfortably. I’ve had a great time in Minecraft after adding a few mods that layer in a little bit more of a sense of progression, perhaps even a little framework on which I can build a plot in my head – and adding other people to a game like this turns it into a hangout, not an empty house I am wandering around in, which also helps immensely. It’s amazing how much more comfortable just puttering around doing not-much-of-consequence becomes if other people are around – and hey, perhaps at the end of it you’ve made something cool together.

It seems faintly ridiculous to me that the reason I might have trouble with sandboxy games is that they don’t seem to want to connect with me. In other games I like, I know the creators are entirely unaware of my existence…but it still feels, somehow, as if they did what they did in order to share it with me and others like me; there is a connection in watching someone’s movie or reading someone’s book or playing someone’s game or going to someone’s show.

Someone is expressing themselves, and I am there to experience that expression, and that is often very satisfying. If the thing they have made is delightful, so much the better.

In a sandboxy game, I suppose I am free to express myself – but there is unlikely to be anyone to share that expression with. It feels sort of lonely…and there is that strange sense that I have just been parked in front of the TV in lieu of some richer interaction.

I am probably overthinking this (I am awfully good at overthinking), but it’s an interesting little meditation.

Why I didn’t write yesterday

This is why.

I shoveled for an hour in the morning, when the snow was still coming down.

I shoveled for half an hour at lunchtime, trying to carve a path between my house and next door.

I shoveled for an additional hour in the evening, checking to be sure all the vents on the sides of the house and the various drains around the house were clear. (The street drain in particular, given that the last time that thing iced over I had to bail out my basement. Let’s not.)

By the time all that shoveling was over, my arms were shaky and I did not have the energy to cook anything more elaborate than frozen perogies or to…well, do much of anything really. (My prediction that I would be extremely sore today has also come true.)

It is probably true that more snow fell between 10 PM Sunday and 5 PM yesterday than I saw throughout my entire life prior to moving to Canada.

I will say, though, that the sunset was especially lovely; all coral-pink streaked with blue and gleaming off the snow as well as in the sky.

For now, off to deal with the rest of today – but please enjoy this odd little read about crossword puzzles, the craze for them in the 20s, and various animal clues.

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).