Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We missed the whole thing

I keep missing the big storms in New York.  I was out of town at Christmas when a massive blizzard swamped the city in 2-3 feet of snow for a week.  And last weekend I had the good fortune to be out of town for Hurricane Irene's visit to my adopted hometown.

My girlfriend and I had already planned to be out of town this past weekend for a couple of family events in Ohio.  By the time we were ready to leave on Thursday morning, the NWS had just updated Irene's projected path for New York.  As we were packing Mayor Bloomberg was on TV telling people to prepare to evacuate low-lying areas.  While we live in Zone C and we're well up a hill from the Gowanus Canal, I went to my basement storage room anyway and moved a few valuable boxes off the floor.  And I moved my viola onto the bed, just in case potential floodwaters came up into the apartment itself.  We left the cats with plenty of food and water (and I'd arranged for a friend to check on them on Saturday) and we got on the road.

By Friday afternoon the predictions of doom and destruction had gotten so bad that we went to Wal-Mart in Boardman, OH, to pick up some emergency provisions in case we returned to a Brooklyn devoid of power and rife with anarchy.  They had bottled water for sale at $4 a case, and I insisted we get three cases.  At that price, it would have been irresponsible not to buy it.  We also bought two heavy-duty LED flashlights, candles, granola bars, peanut butter, and jelly.  I thought we'd get bread on Sunday on our way back to the city.  As the weather predictions grew worse, on Friday night we decided we'd try to go back to New York on Monday instead.  I wasn't able to fully relax until Saturday afternoon and evening, no doubt helped by the samples of homemade wine my girlfriend's uncle served at a family picnic/tasting that night.  We got home late and I found myself watching a Times Square webcam, comforted by the bright lights and the knowledge that the city was still standing, at least at that hour.

As soon as I was awake on Sunday morning I was back online, checking Twitter and news sites for updates on the storm.  By 10 AM it was clear that the hurricane had spared the city the worst of its fury.  I relaxed and hoped that I wouldn't see a photo of a tree branch through my living room window.  I worried a little when I saw photos of the Gowanus Canal close to cresting its banks, but I never heard anything about the canal actually overflowing.   We drove to Johnstown to see my mother, secure in the knowledge that our apartment was OK.  Late on Sunday night, a friend tweeted that he'd gone to a bar on 4th Avenue and confirmed everything down there was clear.

The return trip to New York was the least eventful drive I've had in the past few months.  It was busy but there were no long delays or backups.  As we drove through Park Slope, we marveled at the lack of evidence of a hurricane.  The damage we saw looked like it was from a strong microburst, not a sustained storm.  The cats were fine when we got back.  Based on the mess they left us, they must have had quite a hurricane party.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

32 (now 33) blog posts this year? WORST. BLOGGER. EVER.

It's true: Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr have all killed my blog.  Also, work has been kind of busy lately, so I haven't had much time to write.  But right now, I'm looking at my worst year ever and I'd really like to keep this blog going into a 10th year.  I'm not giving up on this forum yet.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

And now, a rant about Duke Nukem Forever

About two months ago, I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever for the Xbox 360.  I was a huge fan of Duke Nukem 3D in college and waited patiently but in vain for this follow-up game throughout the ‘90s.  By the time I moved to New York in 1999, I’d given up hope that the world would ever see the sequel.  I was as shocked as everyone else to find out a few years ago that the game would finally come out in 2011.

I received the game on June 14, its release date.  By that time I’d already read a couple of advance reviews and they were not positive.  But I’ve played mediocre games before, most notably the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series, and I’ve had fun with them.  The Star Wars universe is always entertaining to me.  I hoped that I’d find a return to Duke Nukem’s world of misogyny, quips, big guns, and aliens would be as much fun as it was in 1996.  I was wrong.  I’ve actually quit playing the game part of the way through, and I’ve never quit on a game like that before.  It’s that bad.

Duke Nukem Forever is not fun to play.  It feels like work.  It’s a formulaic first-person shooter, and by that I mean you go through level after level of shooting halfway intelligent aliens and solving puzzles so you can shoot more aliens.  None of that gameplay is new to shooters, but in most shooters there’s something appealing about the effort.  For example, in Halo, the worlds in which you fight are gorgeous, lush tropical paradises, terrifying underground caverns, or creepy wrecked spaceships.  In The Force Unleashed, you play on familiar Star Wars worlds.  DNF is set in a half-destroyed Las Vegas, but there’s nothing particularly unique about the levels.  While there’s interactivity with the universe, I’m not interested in playing with toilets or making popcorn in a microwave.  Yes, you can throw objects at your enemies when you run out of ammunition (and you often run out of ammunition) but while you’re looking for a barrel or box, the aliens are killing you.

When you die, you reload the game from the last automatic save.  Duke Nukem Forever’s levels aren’t graphically intense but for whatever reason (bad coding? Bulky graphics engine? Poor overall game design?) they take over a minute to load.  And when you die often, that’s a lot of wasted time.  If I were enjoying the game play the long load times would be annoying, but in a game that feels like punching a clock, they remind you that you could be doing better things with your time.  You could be playing a better game.  At least DNF lives up to the “Forever” in its name.

After you’ve killed enough aliens, you face a big “boss.”  Again, bosses are a feature of just about every shooter I’ve ever played.  Duke Nukem’s bosses are gimmicky in that there’s a trick to defeating them.  I don’t remember the first boss I faced or how I beat it, but when I got to the “queen” alien with three giant breasts protected by impenetrable wings, I gave up.  It was such a predictable Duke Nukem thing to do.  I saw the gimmick right away: wait until the queen screams and spreads her wings, then fire rockets at the breasts.  But while you wait for her to scream, she’s throwing her offspring at you and trying to crush you with her tail (or something like that).  It was a pointless and frustrating moment in a game full of pointless and frustrating moments. 

That’s when I stopped playing.  I’ve gotten bored with games before and not finished them, or gotten distracted by another new game.  I never finished Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, GTA: San Andreas, or GTA IV, but with all three games I felt like I got my money’s worth.  (There’s always a chance I’ll go back to GTA IV if there’s a massive blizzard.)  And in the San Andreas and IV cases, I had a feeling going in that the games would be so big I’d never finish them.  I had every intention of playing Duke Nukem Forever from beginning to end, just to see where the story went and for the sheer nostalgia of shooting pig cops and flying monsters.  But I can’t do it.  I have a limited amount of time to spend on video games, and I’m not going to waste those precious hours on something that I don’t enjoy.  I played Call of Duty: Black Ops for about 45 minutes last night and had more fun in that time then in all the hours I put into Duke Nukem Forever.  There’s no chance I’ll ever put that game back into my 360.

So, does anyone want a slightly used copy of Duke Nukem Forever?