Sucking at something.

“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

Jake the dog from Adventure Time

I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny 2 recently. It’s fun. I enjoy the world and the gameplay and it’s very pretty. But it can be frustrating. The game wants you to play all of the game. Even the bits you don’t like. Even the bits that you’re terrible at. It can’t force you to do that. But it can hold out the promise of something you want.

Below are light spoilers for Destiny 2, mostly the Forsaken DLC

The recent Forsaken expansion starts with a beloved character getting shot in the face with his own gun. There follows an epic quest to avenge his death and defeat the people responsible for it. That culminates in you, the player character, taking the gun from the man who killed him.

Then you’re stuck with this gun that’s been badly damaged and no longer works. In order to repair it you get sent on another quest. That involves shooting a lot of things under a lot of different circumstances with guns of the same type – hand cannons. That’s not a type of gun I’d used much before and it doesn’t suit my natural play style but I powered through relying on my other skills.

Then I got to the final challenge. 25 precision finishing blows in the Crucible. Which won’t make any sense to you unless you play the game so late me break it down for you. A precision shot is when you hit a weak spot, which differs from enemy to enemy. A finishing blow is the blow that kills an enemy. The Crucible is PVP- player versus player. The only weak spot on other players is the head, but they wear helmets and a headshot isn’t an automatic kill with a hand canon. Other players are sneaky. They use cover. They move unpredictably. They’re the hardest things to hit in the game. Which is why I didn’t play the Crucible much.

By the time I found out that this was the final step I’d already invested a lot of time and effort in fixing the gun. If I don’t get those 25 headshots then all that work would have been wasted. So I tried. And I sucked at it. I sucked hard. I didn’t know how to play the game like that. But I persisted. Because sucking at something is the first step.

I kept playing. Over time I sucked a little less. Eventually I failed my way to completion, did the final mission and repaired the gun. And then I understood. The gun is worthless unless you know how to use it and that takes practice. The quest to repair the gun taught me the skills I needed to use the gun and gave me a taste for the crucible. The damn game forced me to learn to like a part of the game that I’d been avoiding.


Game Review – InFAMOUS: Second Son

For lack of anything else to write about it’s time again to talk about the games I play when I’m not writing.

The PlayStation Plus free game of the month on the PS4 is InFAMOUS: Second Son. I was not expecting much but it looked pretty in the trailer so I downloaded it for something to play while I save up for the Dishonored 2 and Just Cause 3 DLCs. I have been pleasantly surprised.

This game has a lot of the stuff I like. There’s genuinely funny and warm dialogue that mostly doesn’t creep into maudlin, overly sentimental or cringeworthy. The voice acting is spot on and features the always entertaining Troy Baker as the player character, Delsin Rowe. Delsin talks to himself a lot so it’s good that they got the casting right. The gameplay is intuitive and the powers are varied enough to keep the grind from getting too repetitive. There’s a large map with quite a lot of freedom in how you deal with missions and when to tackle stuff. Your actions have consequences with a Karma mechanic that unlocks different abilities depending on how you play.

I like the range of characters. Delsin might at first seem like yet another tanned, dark haired, lone wolf male protagonist (and an angsty teenaged one at that) but he’s Native American and he has his big brother tailing along behind him. The women in the game are so far all well rounded people in their own right. The main villain is a mature woman who manages to be an evil, selfish, fascistic arsehole without getting her kit off. The teenaged girl with the purple hair at first appears to be a typical manic pixie dream girl but then turns out to be a deeply troubled person on her own mission of vengeance following the death of the only person who ever loved her (and he wasn’t her boyfriend).

If you have a PS Plus subscription then I recommend it. It’s worth the space on your hard drive and is good enough on it’s own to justify a month’s worth of the subscription. If you don’t have PS Plus and you see it somewhere cheap I still recommend it.

However it is not without it’s flaws. The Karma mechanic seems a bit heavy handed and doesn’t allow for nuanced choices. Your choices are clearly labeled as heroic or villainous and once you pick a path you can’t really veer off it without weakening Delsin. The boss fights feel a bit cheaty – there’s usually a trick to them and the trick isn’t always easy to spot while you’re trying not to get Delsin killed. I’m not enjoying it as much as Dishonored or Just Cause 3 and I’m not as driven to play it as I was with Wolfenstein: The New Order. So keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy it more.

I have not been well

For the first time in months I haven’t hit my preferred posting schedule. It’s because I have not been well. Or in the vernacular of my homeland, “Ah’ve been nae weel”.

I’ve had an infected cyst and it’s been super painful. I’m now on antibiotics and almost back to my normal levels of nae weelness.

I’ve been dealing with the pain with a combination of regular painkillers, vaping CBD and playing Just Cause 3 on the PS4. It’s free this month to anyone with a Playstation Plus subscription. This is not exactly a review because I am not a reviewer. It’s just information for anyone else who might need distracting from pain or from the existential horror of life in 2017.

I’m not sure that Just Cause 3 is a good game but it’s certainly a fun one. There’s a lot of violence but so far not much gore. It’s funny but only if your sense of humour is like mine: as black as the earl of Hell’s waistcoat. You do have to hang up some of your critical faculties to enjoy it properly because the protagonist has to be mildly superhuman to pull off most of the stuff he does but his abilities have so far not been adequately explained.

If it’s distraction you’re looking for then this game does it well. It’s pretty to look at, the voice acting is excellent, the in game music is subtle but compelling, and the plot is interesting enough to drive the action but not so much that you don’t want to stop and do the challenges and side quests. There’s a variety of gameplay though there’s not much of a stealth option and I personally find the vehicle controls on the PS4 controller a bit shonky. This is a game that kept me entertained when the pain wouldn’t let me sleep and I had to wait for the antibiotics to work.

Also there’s a David Tennant voice cameo as the person kidnapped by the regime to do the radio announcements.

As I say it’s currently free on Playstation Plus and available cheap in any second hand games emporium. Or on Amazon it’s available for XBox One, PC and PS4. The XBox and PC versions are less than £15 but the the PS4 one is the gold edition and is more than £30.

Life Lessons: You can enjoy stuff you’re not good at

When I was a kid I hated being bad at stuff. I hated it so much that I would avoid doing things that I was bad at. Which is a problem because when you’re a kid you’re bad at most stuff and you can’t get better at stuff if you don’t practice it.

One of the most important lessons I learned was that if I wanted to be good at something I would have to endure being bad at it first. I would force myself to practice things in the hope that I would eventually get good enough to enjoy it. That’s a good attitude to have but it’s not the complete lesson.

The complete lesson is that, with the right attitude, you can enjoy being bad at something.

Which brings me to World of Tanks. I’ve been playing it a lot recently and on a good day I’m kind of sort of ok at it. On a bad day I’m terrible. I will never be a world class player. I will probably never be great at it. I might eventually be quite good (probably not though). But that doesn’t matter because I can enjoy it anyway.

Sometimes it’s a tough game to enjoy. I’m in the wrong tank on the wrong map with the wrong team and the wrong attitude. Sometimes I’m playing my socks off and I still lose because my teammates are donkeys. Sometimes it feels like I’m faced with a team of psychic tank drivers who move out of the way the moment I hit fire.

But then sometimes I’m the psychic tanker hitting tanks I can’t even see because I’ve worked out where they are and sometimes I’ll carry that team of donkeys to victory anyway. Best of all are the battles when I’m playing well and so is everyone else.

Here’s my advice on how to enjoy stuff you’re not good at:

  1. Accept that you have to suck in order to improve.
  2. Accept that there are some things you may never be brilliant at.
  3. Accept that you’re going to lose a lot.
  4. Realise that the more you lose the sweeter those victories are.
  5. Take full ownership of your wins even when you know it was through luck or the incompetence of others.
  6. Try to make new and interesting mistakes, if only for variety.
  7. Remember that it’s not the end of the world.
  8. Forget about external validation.
  9. It’s ok to laugh at yourself when you fuck up in entertaining ways.
  10. It’s also ok to laugh when other people fuck up in entertaining ways but only if you also laugh at yourself.
  11. Sometimes it won’t be fun it will just be frustrating and it’s totally ok to go and do something else for while.

Writer’s guilt

This week I have not been a good writer. I wasn’t a good writer last week either. I have not been working towards my writing goals. I’ve only done a couple of proper writing sessions. I haven’t queried the existing finished novel. I feel like I’m not going anywhere.

On the other hand I’ve written a few blog posts and played a lot of World of Tanks. I had fun doing both but they don’t really take me anywhere.

I feel guilty about the lack of progress. But I also feel like there’s no point in working towards those goals. What’s the point in querying if rejection is guaranteed and the rejection just makes me depressed? What’s the point in pushing myself to write when no-one else is going to read what I’ve written? If I’m only writing for myself then there’s no hurry.

Is rejection guaranteed? I don’t know if it is but it certainly feels that way. It feels like I’ve already been turned down by the agents most likely to actually want it. If getting a deal is a 1 in 100 chance then I don’t feel like I’m working through the 99. I feel like I’ve already tried the agents that were a 0.5% chance and a 0.3% chance and a 0.1% change and with each new agent I try I’m just adding zeros before the final digit.

It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to face rejection when you know that your chances are slim but when your chance of failure only increases every time you try it does make the whole thing feel kind of pointless.

I try to tell myself that it’s not hopeless. People get agents all the time. Novels get published. Readers buy books. Writers make a living. These are things which happen. There’s no reason they couldn’t happen to me. Well, no reason apart from that it’s me. And when good things happen to me it’s only because life is setting me up for a kick in the teeth.

So I might be feeling guilty but as soon as I’m done here I’m probably going back to shooting at virtual tanks.

Do the thing now

If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently (and I really should have learned it a long time ago but sometimes I am hard of thinking) it’s that you should always do the thing now. Don’t put things off. If you can afford it, if you’re physically able, if you have the time or you can make the time. Do it now.

Clean up the mess as soon as you notice the mess. Wear the nice outfit while it still fits. Go see the film before someone spoils it for you. Tell the people that you care about that you care about them while they’re still around to hear it. Don’t wait for some far off perfect future to write your novel. Do the thing now.

I wanted to go and see Logan on Monday. I was really tempted to book the tickets on Sunday but I didn’t and when Monday came around my other half wasn’t really feeling it and we didn’t want to cook and see a film and we couldn’t afford take out and tickets and so we didn’t. We put it off.

Then we got some bad news. News so bad that it colours everything. I could still go and see the film but I’ll never enjoy it as much now as if I’d gone on Monday. And with every passing day the temptation to spend the ticket money on something more sensible grows. It becomes more and more likely that I’ll never see the film.

It will become the latest in a long line of lost joys. These are the things that would have given me a tiny spark of joy but didn’t because I didn’t do them. I put them off. Or decided they weren’t sensible choices. I waited and the moment was gone.

This does not change my positions on technology and computer games though. Leave the early adopting to people who get a kick out of being first. Let them deal with all the bugs and the glitches and the exploding batteries. Buy the fancy new kit when the price drops in anticipation of the next model coming out. If you can stand to wait for the computer game at all then wait for the game of the year edition or the Steam sale.

Not that I expect I’ll be able to follow my own advice. I give it 6 months before I make exactly the same mistake again and I’m back here saying this all over again.

Progress Report.

Work continues on my novel. I have finished the phase one re-writes and part one of phase two. I  am now about half way through part 2 of phase 2.

Phase 1 was rewriting end of the novel because I’d made some choices that were funny but were the sort of funny that would bug the living daylights out of me if I was reading it. Phase 2 is a combination of re-writes to fix a change in continuity and polishing the language so that there’s a consistent quality all the way through.

I would be much further along but I was so upset by the EU referendum result that I spent two days playing Plague Inc. I dealt with my anxiety, fear and disappointment by repeatedly destroying humanity with a series of pathogens all called Brexit.

If you’re feeling really down about something I heartily recommend Plague Inc (the mobile game) or Plague Inc Evolved (for the PC). Name your plague after the source of your woe and rejoice in in-game messages like “Humanity has been wiped out by Depression” or “The cure for Trump is 50% complete” or “Brexit has spread to France”