Half Life 2

I really didn’t think it were possible for me to get this much into a videogame again. Sure, I had a good and unhealthy obsession going with The Sims 2 when it came out, but it’s always been and is always going to be more about the potential of what you can create out of it than just being an “experience.”

And the whole “Steam” copy protection/installation nonsense for Half Life 2 sucks ass. It’s intrusive, it’s annoying, it’s slow, and it’s even offensive in its Big Brother-ness. As my friend Cory would say: F MINUS. In fact, the whole installation process pissed me off so much that I was all set to hate the game. I spent the first fifteen minutes or so thinking, “Big deal. Textures aren’t all that impressive. Whole setting is boring. Nothing I haven’t seen before. And they got the havok engine. Whoop-de-shit. Great. A big physics engine demo. With a see saw and some cinder blocks. Bravo, Valve. What else you got?”

Then, I’m in an apartment building and the shit hits the fan. All of a sudden noise is going on all around me and people are yelling at me to get to the roof. And all of a sudden, I’m no longer thinking about level design and triggered events and texture maps and enemy spawn points, I’m just thinking I’ve got to get up to the roof. Running through hallways, not even bothering to stop and look, oh crap there’s another bad guy!, where the hell did he come from?, out the window, up to the roof, getting shot at, not looking back to see who or what is shooting at me, until I finally get to safety. And when it was over, I just stopped and though, “Okay, now that’s the way you make a videogame.”

Sure, I’ve still got issues with it. It’s not really a big virtual world; you can tell that there’s a single path through the levels and a solution to every puzzle, even though they’ve attempted to integrate that into the story. There are jumping puzzles and a whole Mario-esque sequence I still think was too “gamey.” And they rely on some of their gimmicks, especially the physics engine, a little too much to where it knocks you out of the story.

But then, I’m riding in a speedboat, jumping over dunes, turning tight corners, running down evil guards and hearing the beep of their communications failing fade off behind me into the distance, knocking down scaffolding to kill other evil guards, being chased by a helicopter shooting at me and dropping mines to slalom around, narrowly avoiding a burning car to smash through a barrier and jump over a big wall of fire made from more exploding cars, and tears of joy are just streaming down my face. It’s just bad ass; there’s no better way to explain it.

I’m going to have to take a week off for Thanksgiving, and I’m already missing it. Is this going to mean I’m actually going to like playing videogames again?

Ruby Tuesday

Another night of web-browsing trying to get to sleep led me once again to Grandpa and Drella’s family pictures. And I’m struck once again with, although I don’t see them that often, how beautiful a person Ruby’s turning out to be.

Frequently I find myself dispensing advice (although I clearly don’t have all the answers), and it always come down to the same thing — you have to put up with the bad to be able to recognize not just the good, but the wonderful. And I wonder if it’s easier for me, as an outsider who doesn’t have to put up with tantrums and the day-to-day existence of getting a new person ready for the world, to recognize how wonderful it is to be able to see the world through a new person’s eyes and re-discover everything along with them.

And I think that maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe your reward for just being two awesome people, is that you get to bring somebody new along for the ride and show her how the world works. And that gives me the reassurance that maybe there’s hope for someone like me in this post-11/2 world.

Maudlin

Maybe the watering-down of Jack Daniels’ wasn’t such a bad thing, because I’ve drunk just enough to be pleasantly maudlin, but not enough to feel sick.

It’s just really hit me over the past couple of weeks that this has been a pretty rough year for me. I hadn’t really noticed before, because I was always too busy just trying to keep on top of things and stay in control of it all. I think on the whole it’s been a net gain, but it definitely hasn’t been easy.

And once again, when I needed it, my friends started popping up and helping me out of it. Either by knocking some sense into me, or giving me some practical advice, or giving me the chance to give some advice and feel useful, or just listening to me. Usually I’m neurotic enough to wonder, “What did I do to deserve this friendship, and what bad is going to happen next to make up for this?” Now, I’m just thinking, “I don’t know what it is I’m doing, but whatever it is, I must be doing something right to be able to have friends like these.” And that’s a pretty damn good feeling, whiskey or no.

The Incredibles

I saw The Incredibles on Sunday (before going to a birthday party for a new friend and meeting some pretty cool new people in the city).

I’m kind of torn about the movie; I really, really wanted to love it, but I think I just liked it a lot. It’s a very well-done action movie, with some sequences that are spectacular. Technically, it’s flawless. The animation is perfect. The hair and cloth and water and lava and lighting effects are amazing. The set design is extremely imaginative — all inspired by 50’s and 60’s cool and James Bond movies. There’s so much to be impressed with; the movie really is the state of the art.

But overall, it just had this tone of bitterness and pettiness, smugness, a desperation to be cool. I kept being reminded of ShrekIncredibles is light years ahead of that movie in every respect, but what I found so repulsive about Shrek was that it had no soul. The Incredibles never seems to have any real love for its characters; it feels as if it’s more concerned with being cool and not being corny for long enough to care about anything that’s going on.

Disney movies have a reputation for being maudlin, treacly, and formulaic. But Pixar’s already found the antidote — movies like Finding Nemo and Toy Story that manage to be cool while still being sincere. They already broke from that formula, and it wasn’t just by dropping the songs and the wacky sidekicks, and it wasn’t by some fascination with being cool or letting characters die or any nonsense like that.

For that matter, The Iron Giant broke the formula, and it had a lot of heart and sincerity. I have to wonder what happened with this one. I’m probably going to see it again, and I’m all over the DVD, but I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed.

A General Malaise

Huge dark clouds were looming over the bay for the longest time today, until they finally broke and pissed all over the residents of a city dealing with the beginnings of its post-traumatic stress disorder.

And I spent the day just coming up with over-dramatic lines like that. The weather put a damper on my plans to “see San Francisco,” so I spent the day wallowing in self-pity, staring at the inbox that didn’t fill and the phone that didn’t ring. Occasionally interrupted by a mournful, dramatic sigh.

But on the bright side, there’s only so much of that even I can take, so once that was over I was able to come up with a plan:

  1. Get my shit together.
  2. Do the stupid stuff that I always planned to do when I had more time, like working on the website and learning Japanese (I really think so!) and seeing more movies so I’m not such a cinema illterate and I’m not wasting all that Netflix money.
  3. Stop spending so much time online. It’s a huge time-suck, it’s generally unhealthy and depressing, and unless you make the effort to see people face-to-face, the relationships just end up being shallow with no real solid ground.
  4. Quit smoking.

I’ll get around to that last one.

But… I never learned to READ!

Seems I’ve been very distracted over the past few months, and over the course of that I’ve forgotten what I used to do in my free time. There are clues scattered all around my apartment; apparently, I used to watch movies on DVD’s or play these “games” on the television or computer device. Occasionally, it seems, I would read a book. Especially this week, I’m going to have to slow things down and figure out how to get back into my hobbies so I don’t freak out so much when I’m not working and not going out.

Did nothing, seriously, nothing today except vote. Voting in California is like taking the SAT’s or something; you’ve got to study and take a cheat sheet to the polling place. I think I voted correctly on all the various city and state propositions. I’d assumed that it would be as simple as finding out my governor’s position on each proposition and just voting the opposite, but it turns out politics is a shade more complicated than that.

I flip-flopped on a bunch of them, and can’t even remember which side I came down on for some, for instance the stem cell research bond. But I know that I did vote to keep Candlestick Park named Candlestick Park. Screw the tax revenue; having to call the thing “3COM Park” is just an embarrassment.

And speaking of symbolic propositions, there was a weird one to make the city’s official position against the war in Iraq and for a recall of all our troops. I voted in favor of it, because I’m against the war, but still think it’s a pretty boneheaded thing to do via a city proposition. I can’t imagine the kind of stuff they’re voting on in Berkeley.

And I’m still smoking.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Today’s the first day of a week off, my first since May but what feels like 15 years. The past couple of weeks at work have been very slow, waiting for the other shoe to drop and then just sitting there without much to do. it just seemed like a better idea to go ahead and take the time off than to keep spending all day at work doing nothing.

So I’m at home doing nothing. I made it a point not to make any real plans, but to just spend the whole time in San Francisco, finally getting to see the city. And it’s an astoundingly beautiful day outside. And so far I’ve just spent the morning reading e-mail and browsing the internets. I keep thinking I should go look at the bay, or take a walk along Golden Gate Bridge, or go to the park and finally see the buffaloes I keep hearing about.

But then again, there’s that couch there, with a TiVo full of stuff to watch. And some DVDs. And a couple of videogames. This is going to be tough.

And I was too bored to do it today, so I’ll quit smoking tomorrow. Probably. Maybe.

The Peeve

Went to see The Grudge with Drella today up in Marin. To quote Crow T Robot: “This movie’s really not very good!”

It wasn’t awful, I guess, and there were some genuinely creepy things going on. Especially at the climax. And I did like that they kept it set in Tokyo, and explained adquately why there’d be so many Americans involved in the story. But it just didn’t hold together at all and just seemed silly. A bunch of horror movie scenes strung together with a bare minimum of real plot or sense at all.

And there were some scenes that were just laughable. In particular the one where Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character does a web search for stories with the name “Tohio” occuring in the year 2001, and instantly comes up with not just one but both of the stories that are relevant to what she needs. The bit where a woman’s in the elevator and sees the ghosts of Tohio and his mother on every single floor was pretty silly too — I kept expecting them to go, “Um, lady, could we just… okay and the… could you stop the elevat… okay, but…”

When we were out in the mall waiting for Drella’s ride to come, a young Asian boy came crawling past us on the floor. (We’d been standing next to the kids’ play area). He stopped, turned and looked directly at both of us. We both got kind of a panicked look on our faces and backed away slowly; hope we didn’t traumatize the poor kid.

Free at Last?

This is the first weekend I’ve had that I can remember where I wasn’t either at work or feeling like I was supposed to be at work. It seems that this entire year has been one long crunch mode. Over and over again I’ve turned down offers to go out and do stuff, because I just didn’t have the time. My Tivo is hemmoraging perfectly fine programming that I just don’t have time to watch. I’ve got a stack of videogames that I said I’d check out when I got time, a stack of DVDs I’ve bought and haven’t yet unwrapped, and (most daunting) a stack of books that I’m determined to read to make myself more literate.

And this weekend I did nothing. Yes, I spent a lot of it just sitting and staring. Everything seems like too much effort; even watching a movie. I just wanted to be. I’ve been in that weird state of hyper-boredom — plenty of stuff to do, but not wanting a part of any of it, and still desperate for something to happen.

I did finally go see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and I thought that it was just amazing. Except for Gwyneth Paltrow, but she gave it her best shot. There was just so much that the movie got dead-on right, that it seemed like it came directly out of my subconscious — that is exactly what a ray-gun is supposed to look and sound like!

Other than that, though, nothing. And it’s been driving me nuts. Maybe I’m still just decompressing. I hope it’s over with soon.

Signs from the cab seat

Last night, in celebration of the game’s finally going into CQC (something quality control, meaning that the game’s almost done), I went out to a bar with Alex and Bailey.

As the night wore on and we drank more, the conversation turned to a religious “debate.” I can’t say that it was all that deep, considering we were in a bar and had been taking full advantage of it. But it was fairly impassioned and belligerent, anyway. Alex is a “devout” atheist, Bailey’s agnostic, and I consider myself a Christian. It was the usual kind of discussion I’ve had with atheists in the past — I don’t believe that I’m “fooling myself” by believing in God, and I don’t think that the foolish and evil things said and done by people in the name of religion invalidates the entire notion of faith and spirituality. I’ve tried to conceive of a universe where God doesn’t exist, and it just makes absolutely no sense to me. There’s just too much beauty and too many people doing good things without realizing that’s what they’re doing.

We eventually got kicked out of the bar (because it closed, not because we were arguing) and started to make our way home. The last thing I said, as far as I can remember, was, “I can’t explain why I believe the things I do, I just do.”

Bailey and I shared a cab, and as I got in he handed something to me. “I just sat on this; the people in the cab before us must’ve left it. Do you want it? Ironic, huh?” It was a small crucifix, like you wear on a necklace. I should try to find a way to return it to its owner, but I can’t even remember what cab company it was. Instead, I’m thinking I’m going to find a chain for it and wear it myself.