Archive for the ‘ A Quiet Normal Life ’ Category

Happy Hour – September 9

OK, I lied. It’s actually the wee small hours of the 10th right now. I’m up late waiting for Windows 7 to install for a second time. The first time it didn’t clear away the hard drive, and I really didn’t feel like rooting out all the old files from the previous installation.

Tomorrow is likely to be grim, but hopefully I’ll be going into it with a vastly superior gaming rig. Some great friends spotted me a new power supply and a GTX 560 video card, and I just bought myself an ASUS 27-inch monitor, along with 8 gigs of RAM, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7. This should get me through to next year, at least. Longer, if consoles keep acting as an anchor on hardware requirements.

This is probably the only weekend where I could fit this in. For the rest of the month, I’m on reviews duty, with no end in sight. This upgrade needed to happen now or never, and it’s a load off my mind knowing I’ll be hitting the major releases with the great hardware. But before I get to reviews, I think I’ll have to install Crysis. Crysis, Sengoku, and Age of Empires Onlines should occupy my weekend quite nicely.

But what about my weeks? I haven’t done a great job of explaining what I’ve been up to lately, but the truth is I’ve kind of been everywhere of late. For instance, you can find me on the last couple Gamers With Jobs Conference Calls, talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and other things.

We’ve also been going great guns over on Three Moves Ahead, what with Soren Johnson killing some lazy summer days by spending time talking strategy games with us. It’s been impressive to see the spike in listeners. We do a good show over at 3MA, but a guy like Soren packs the house when he’s headlining. It’s great to count him among 3MA’s fans and recurring panelists.

I also made an appearance over at the mighty Rock, Paper, Shotgun, writing a review of the surprisingly good (yet still somewhat unfulfilling) Tropico 4. It’s thrilling to find myself writing at a place that was such a huge influence on me when I was starting out as a freelancer. To my relief, the RPS readership seems to think I fit in pretty well over there. Some of them didn’t even guess I was a Yank.

I’ll be popping up in some other unusual places over the coming weeks, and I’ve got some projects I’m really excited about. Hopefully tomorrow (today) I’ll be working on one of them with my pal JP Grant. Preferably with some brews in hand.

Happy Hour – August 20

When my time is evenly divided between reading, writing, gaming, and cooking / dining, I am happy and productive. You would not think that should be difficult, considering my occupation and how much I enjoy all of those activities. Still, it seems like every couple months I find myself in need of a mental tune-up, usually after struggling for a couple weeks.

I’m in the middle of that process right now, after a near-meltdown on Friday. I lost sight of the simple things that comprise my job and give me such pleasure. I always do, the moment I start to worry. Worry, self-doubt, and guilt are all old friends of mine, and like the dwarves at the start of The Hobbit, when the first knocks on the door, the rest are soon to follow.

But at least this time I headed things off. I cancelled a project, requested a deadline extension, and took the night off with some Bad Company 2 and Farscape. Today I finds me playing an awful lot of Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy as I wrap up a review for PC Gamer. I’m very happy to report that I’m enjoying the game a lot more now, after a very rocky start, than I ever thought I would.

Tonight we’ll be making some ratatouille and hopefully watching Fort Apache. Tomorrow I have a date with my D&D group, although I wonder if this is the right group for me. The group is very large, and our first session seem very combat-focused. I expect we’ll have fun tomorrow, as it is a terrific group of people, but I still hope for more of a narrative payoff in this session.

Next week, Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes out. I wish I could say I’ll be playing it on day one, but I think I’m going to start putting games off until after I make some upgrades to my PC. It’s still a fine gaming machine, and the aging PS3 and 360 ensure that it’s still capable of running modern games, but it’s not able to keep up with all the high-end options that games have today. I suspect after my upgrades, I’m going to have some catching-up to do in the fall and winter.

Happy Hour – August 5

Monday morning I will be 28 years old, and undeniably in my late 20s. I’m always a bit troubled by how quickly time is passing, and how much I wanted, and still want, from life. At the same time, things are going great and I’m feeling far more optimistic about the future than I was a year ago.

So what will I do with these waning days of my mid-20s? I will let them wane as all the others did, with videogames, cooking, and books.  I’ve been loving A Game of Thrones the last couple days, even if it is torture watching tragically flawed characters walking around with targets painted on their backs.

But I like, and even draw comfort from, the way one of the book’s themes is that misfortuneis inevitable, and the heroes are those who confront that head-on. I do not mean that they overcome adversity. That’s often another false hope, another lie we tell ourself. I mean that they accept that the fates are cruel, and so characters like Tyrion or Ned Stark aim for something that cannot be taken by force or fate: self-mastery.

Whether this really serves those around you, or whether it is in some way a selfish indulgence, is another question.

Outside of that, I will be playing some EYE: Divine Cybermancy for review, and at some point I must sneak in a viewing of Life with Father. Aside from that, I’ll be trying to get my Lotus to stop flying off the track at Silverstone in F1 2010, and perhaps destroying some cars in Burnout: Paradise when F1 gets frustrating.

Happy Hour – July 21st

It is unspeakably hot here in Boston, and although my air-conditioner labors mightily to keep up with the heat, I’ve had to fall back on summer cocktails to maintain my equilibrium and cheery disposition. No matter what else, I can pretty much guarantee that this weekend will feature a lot of juleps, mojitos, and gin and tonics.

It will also feature a visit from MK, taking a break from her internship, and perhaps a visit with some friends for board gaming. I have a copy of Tribune that I’ve been meaning to finally play.

I’ve started Assassin’s Creed II this week, which I am only half-enjoying so far. I cannot quite get a handle on the controls. So much of what Ezio does is automated that I find the game interprets intention in many places where there is none. More problematic, however, is the sci-fi wrapper. It constantly breaks in to the Renaissance Italy setting to remind me of the boring “pirates vs. ninjas, Sharks vs. Jets” conflict the supposedly drives the action.

I’m also going to be checking out new time-traveling RTS Achron, and playing more Panzer Corps for work. Hopefully my friends will also find time to join for some Men of War.

Oh, and I appeared on the GWJ Conference Call this week, and I think Julian and I did a terrific 3MA with Logan Decker about that whole “strategy isn’t contemporary” kerfuffle. You should go listen.

Happy Hour – July 1

A miraculous deadline extension brought my week to an end a few hours earlier than I anticipated, so now I find myself crashing after a week spent at nearly full-tilt working on a review and three columns. This was instructive: while I generally got my copy in on time, I didn’t allow sufficient time for the revision process to play out, which had a knock-on effect that came to a head today. This tells me that I’ve got the slack in my schedule in the wrong places. I need to look at the copy deadline as the halfway point in an assignment, not the conclusion.

Anyway, I got my extension at the best possible moment: right after I’d finished writing my copy. Since the piece is finished, I can actually use the extra time to polish and find better art to accompany my piece. This is the best outcome. Early extensions have been known to be squandered on such literary pursuits as drinking in bars with friends, going to the movies, or trying to make it through a few more minutes of The Star Wars Christmas Special.

Still, there is no rest for the freelancer. I must log a few more hours with Pride of Nations and work up a review this weekend, and go on a screenshot expedition deep into the heart of Alpha Centauri. I should also figure out what we are doing for this week’s 3MA, something I was too busy to deal with during the week.

Beyond that, I’m going to use the weekend to finish up V for Vendetta, something I got distracted from by a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. I made the mistake of opening it, just to get a sense for what it might be, and the next thing I knew I was 50 pages in and utterly engrossed in the story. After V, I might move on to The Tombs of Atuan, or I might act on some of the excellent Terry Pratchett advice you guys supplied last week.

Anyway, while I try to lay the foundations for a great week, you should peruse this piece I wrote for GWJ on The Darkness and listen to a great conversation that Troy and I had with Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera. The discussion with Ben, in particular, is worth your time. I wanted a discussion that got beyond the usual, “Scores are broken, we resent Metacritic” nonsense and discuss our work from a procedural angle. What do we take with us in to a review? Who are we writing for, and what do we try to keep sight of as we work?

One thing deserves some expanding on: rates. I have no idea what my peers are being paid per review, but with most places with whom I do business, bigger games get more space, and more space means a bigger payday. As a working writer, I have every incentive to chase after major releases and every incentive to pass on smaller games, because they are often not worth the time they would take to review.

Now I still do a fair number of small reviews because, hey, strategy is a small niche and I genuinely want to cover games that other people might not be talking about. But I have also had to pass on work from a few outlets who want me to cover a neat looking independent strategy game for ridiculously low pay. By the word, it makes sense, but with certain genres like sports and strategy, the time I spend writing is a scant fraction of the time I spend playing.

This creates an awkward middle ground. A lot of games that require some time-consuming work from a knowledgeable reviewer will not be lucrative enough for the people best qualified to discuss them. It also means that people who read review outlets are not getting the best service reviewers can provide: intelligent criticism of lesser-known games. A few times in the last year I have had to explain what my minimum rates are, and many outlets are unwilling to meet them for a minor title. They want the review, but not enough to pay for a considered, informed opinion. That’s a shame.

Happy Hour – June 25th

I’m back in the countryside this weekend, and probably will be for a couple weeks. Rabbit and his family are on vacation once again, and I will never pass up an opportunity to surround myself with green hills and starry night skies. This comes at a good time. I’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do next week, and I’m coming off a grueling week that ended on a disappointing note.

It doesn’t bear getting into, because freelancing is nothing if not high hopes, frustrating disappointments, and quick rebounds. This time I dealt with disappointment by getting a stack of new assignments, then drinking my way into the weekend with some good company. Now MK and I are out in the woods, a chicken is roasting in the oven, and I’m back to being excited about my work. The nice thing about where I am at in my career right now is that each setback occurs against a backdrop of steady work. A year ago, I’d miss out on a good gig and there might not be anything in the pipeline to distract me from that failure.

As for this weekend, it’s going to be full of FEAR 3 and the Age of Empires Online beta, both work-related. I’m also hoping to work in a couple board games with MK, perhaps some Hold the Line with our new house rules, or maybe something from Rabbit’s collection. I’m also reading through V for Vendetta this weekend, as part of my slow-going comics education. However, the Murdochs’ collection raises an important question for me: what are some good Terry Pratchett books to start with?