It wrenched me forward from the first chapters and only lost momentum in the last. A little bit The Unwritten, a little bit everyman. Some fun diversions with the text and typography themes. Unpredictable in themes and concepts, if not in plot and character progression.

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Somehow, this is the first time I’ve played through Ico. Blind spots.

It’s kind of beautiful. Escort quests are notoriously bad. They feel tacked on, don’t mesh well with other mechanics. But in Ico, escort is the core mechanic. Yorda serves as your health bar, your key, your purpose.

This is reinforced in the hand-holding. That physical connection not only makes it easy to direct her, but heightens the emotional. It has texture.

Combat is a skeleton of an afterthought, which is fine. It makes the few upgrades you find, which add nothing of the mechanics or style, still feel monumental.

Environments are spectacular. It reminded me of Dark Souls, exploring ancient castles and revealing secret paths, without the hanging sense of dread and stiff-backbone caution. A sense of discovery. The scale of the castle when you first emerge from the innards and out onto one of the massive walkways.

The ending is satisfying, a resolution and a soft, chewy center of potential. I’m looking forward to Shadow of the Colossus next.

A misdirect followed by a fantastical tour of the diabolical.

What does the Devil mean to us? Along with his companions (the jester, the knight, the fool, the witch) he swivels the whole of Moscow on its axis and shakes loose the city’s structure. His efforts are more unrelenting than evil. But I mean, really only slightly less evil than what you might expect from typical depictions of Satan.

It’s cut through with passages of a novel (written by the titular Master) about Pontius Pilate, and describes an alternate but recognizable crucifixion, along with subsequent events and those leading up to it. These were less interesting to me. But I’m sure they mean something.

I liked it. Not too long. Vivid and unexpected in atypical places.

 

I had a little fun with the Guild Wars 2 beta this weekend, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to play around with video recording. I’ve used FRAPS a few times before, and it’s always incredibly easy, but when it came time to upload to Youtube I could never find the right settings so it wouldn’t look like garbage.

Finally I took the time to figure it out! Turns out Sony Vegas was a little easier to work with than Adobe Premiere, and after a few hours of experimentation I think I’ve got something that looks pretty crisp at 1080p.

I’ll probably do more of this in the future, and it might be fun to try livestreaming too. We’ll see!

The following post contains explosive spoilers for Breaking Bad’s fourth season.

Escalation.

With each season, Walter White’s foray into the underworld of methamphetamine production creates new threats against him and his family. He’s cheated death—by outplaying first the cartel, and then Gus Fring—and evaded detection by the DEA. To overcome these dangers, he’s had to become a different man, assume a new identity far removed from the impotent high school chemistry teacher in season one.

We’ve watched Walter become more comfortable in his Heisenberg skin as a man with a cold instinct for self-preservation, more than willing to sacrifice others to protect himself and his family. He watched a woman die to bring his partner back from the brink. He ordered the same partner to murder a man who could have replaced him. And, at the end of season four, all signs indicate that he poisons a child to bring the same conflicted partner back to his side.

Each action compromises whatever lines of morality he has left, and I think the premiere of season five this Sunday will see Walter lurch even further down his dark path. As his hubris grows (and in the last shot of the trailer above, you can tell he’s riding high after bringing down Gus) and he devotes himself fully to the business, I think we’ll see a man unwilling to accept anything less than exactly what he wants. At the start, he only needed quick cash to support his family, expecting his cancer treatments to wipe out what little they had.

What does Walter White want now? I don’t know, but I know I can’t wait to find out.

I think, more than anything, I’m looking forward to Mike’s return and his reaction to Gus’s death. His relationship with Walter has been strained while he’s taken Jesse under his wing. When we see the two of them clash again, Mike might be enough on his own to tip the balance of power.

If you need a refresher before season five starts this Sunday, check out The A.V. Club’s four-part interview with Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, in which he talks about each episode. Part one is here.

Short update: My story “Too Careful” was published by Daily Science Fiction this morning. It goes out by e-mail first, and then I’ll have a link to it online in a week! DSF is a great way to start the morning and I’m honored to have another story under their banner.

Progress! I have a few trophies up in my Hall now and it motivates me just enough to keep chasing them. Fellowship and Devotion are still the only platforms I’ve activated (’til I finish up the Ebon Vanguard missions) and they’re starting to fill up. My flamingo hit 20, I delved far enough into Factions to capture the Black Moa, and I managed to get a Stolen Sunspear Armor to upgrade Koss. And it turns out I had 18 different miniatures lying around.

With my new fire build I feel like I can keep up the momentum, too. AOE hits harder than it did with earth, and I dropped Ranger and took Monk as a secondary for a little just-in-case healing and so I can capture a few Monk skills to kit out my heroes so they aren’t dead weight.

I realized this after crawling through a few forums over the weekend: heroes are far less effective than henchmen if you don’t have them kitted out. I assumed (for whatever reason) that heroes would be better by default because you have control over their build. But what if someone with ZERO knowledge of the class is setting up the build?

And that’s why I was taking such a terrible beating with a party full of heroes. I have very few elite skills right now, so most of my friends were woefully under powered. I’ve switched over to a team of all henchmen for now, at least until I can play around and capture a few vital skills for each class. Encounters feel much more manageable now, and it’s nice to actually make some headway in Eye of the North.

My approach to the Hall of Monuments has been pretty scattershot OCD so far, but I think I’ve narrowed down my next few goals:

  • Finish the Eye of the North campaign to fully unlock the Hall.
  • More Stolen Sunspear Armor for Nightfall heroes.
  • Finish Factions campaign and work on Kurzick stuff.

If I concentrate on those I should be able to keep my brain intact and functional. Looking at the beta calculator is pretty intimidating right now, especially when I scroll through the massive list of titles. I don’t think I have the willpower to do much in Hard mode or shoot for all the Master’s rewards in missions, but I should be able to hit 30/50 without them.

I’m sorely tempted to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2 so I can hop in for the beta next weekend, but at the same time… shouldn’t I just keep working on the first one? I can’t decide.

Diablo 3’s received only neglect in the last few days. After hitting 37 with my barbarian I totally ran out of steam just before the Butcher in nightmare mode. I have a hard time playing through the same content, following the same story for a second time (and a third and a fourth if I persevere to inferno mode). I think for now I’ll just be playing when I have friends online. Three of us created hardcore demon hunters and had some fun for a little while over the weekend, rapid-firing our way through the cathedral catacombs. Hardcore definitely adds an edge to each encounter, especially considering the buffed difficulty playing with others.