Avoiding the Cold in a Virtual Snow-scape

I have started to realize I’m not a normal gamer. Whatever normal is anyhow.

Here’s the thing.

First, I bought a brand new PS5 (luck of the restock lottery!) and though I’ve had it for about a week, I’ve used it almost exclusively for PS4 games so far.

Then, I bought a PlayStation Plus subscription which came with a few great monthly free-to-play games, and a large collection of classic PS4 titles. Instead the game I’ve been playing the most was a title I bought on the side called Steep.

Not to mention that it’s been 20 degrees below zero outside all weekend and I’m inside on the couch playing a video game about winter sports.

Not normal.

I’ve logged roughly ten hours on Steep over the last week.

Snowboarding games and I have a long history. When I bought my original PlayStation in the ’90s, I added in two games to take home with me that day: Crash Bandicoot and Cool Boarders 2.

After picking up a PS2 half a decade later, I quickly added SSX3 to my game collection and then upgraded that with a PS3 and SSX a few years later. (Don’t ask me about the game numbering conventions here!)

It was only fitting, I suppose, that the first game I have really dug into on the PS5 (or my overkill PS4 if you’re a console purist) turned out to be a winter sports title.

The game is beautiful.

I slink through reviews and discussion boards online and the loudest, most caps-locked voices seem to be yelling and screaming about resolutions and framerates and OMG how dare this game NOT be 120 FPS in 8K, I WANT my MONEYZ baCK!!

Old gamer alert: I’m still sitting here with my HD screen, so… 1080p … I think. And if you told me it was 60fps I’d probably … dunno … shrug?

Having gone through the eras, remembering when my little teenage mind was gobsmacked blown away at Super Mario Land on my friend’s Gameboy (I mean, I went home and tried to literally draw a picture of how amazing it was for my little brother to comprehend how cool Mario… in your HANDS could be!) … I digress. I think my point was just that I’m easily impressed. And blah blah something about gameplay and fun and enjoying myself as I slide endlessly down a beautiful mountain in the virtual snow.

The old virtual snowboarding legs returned pretty quick. The folks who developed this title must have played some of the same classics that I had over the years. It took me merely half an hour before I was flipping and sliding and jumping and barely even crashing at all through the powder. I also quickly learned about the joys of ragdoll physics.

Of course there are a million new features that I’ve barely dabbled in.

I mean, I put a classy grunge outfit on my dude.

I tried a bunch of the other sports, like gliding … and jet crashing your head into a cliff something or another sport.

I unlocked a sled, yes a toboggan on a ski hill, and spent a whole evening telling my wife the same bad joke about bringing a sled on our next ski trip. (She said no, BTW.)

And I’ve ignored a whole bunch of multiplayer online people who seem to want to “group together” for some reason I can’t fathom in a sport where I can neither keep track of where I am virtually, and tend to lose people (sometimes deliberately) on the real mountain when I do this kind of thing in real life.

So it goes that as I wrap up my first week with this new PS5 console, I’ve been hiding away from the crazy-cold temperatures on the other side of the window. I’m avoiding the winter (avoiding the pandemic, avoiding the fact I can’t see anyone in real life, avoiding the lack of travel and fun and other winter joys of a normal year) by enjoying a virtual winter scape.

Chilling, as we used to say. See what I did there?

Jumping the Sharks with Maneater

It figures. The first next generation console game that would spark my interest and capture an hour or so of my precious free time would be a gore-filled fish-based role playing game about a killer shark.

Yesterday morning a large brown cardboard box landed on my doorstep. When I slit the tape and pulled the slightly smaller white box from inside, extracted the even slightly smaller and whiter box from inside that … then unpacked the contents of four or five significantly smaller white-ish boxes from inside of that … the tangle of cables and electronics left behind on my media shelf perfectly resembled the Sony PlayStation 5 gaming console that I’d seen online.

This was ideal… because a PS5 is exactly what I had paid a lot of money for just late last week.

Rewind. The story of my finally deciding to buy a PS4 about eighteen months ago (then not actually buying one when I saw the release announcement for the PS5) and the long-wait, ultimately leading to me receiving a box with the hard-to-find console on my doorstep yesterday is a long, boring, and whatever story. In fact, that was pretty much the whole thing. Yet, there a PS5 now sits. Having skipped an entire generation of console game systems, I find myself with a vast collection of new-to-me titles at my fingertips, and expectations more closely aligned with older systems.

Also, I opted to pick up a Plus subscription because (a) they were still on sale, (b) I think I’d like to try some multiplayer online, and (c) it comes with a boatload of free, eclectic and/or older games (that, again, are all new-to-me).

…including this one (first) game that I downloaded last night called Maneater.

The game cinematic starts off as if you are about to be thrown into the deep end of a video game version of Deadliest Catch with flashy introductions of the harpoon-lugging guys driving a shark-hunting boat as they trek out towards open water to take on a villainous aquatic predator…

…you will explore a large and varied open world encountering diverse enemies – both human and wildlife.

store.playstation.com

But wait!

You are the shark. You kick off your adventure by breaking through some basic control orientation, and then out into an open harbour. That’s when the fight begins. One of your first challenges is to brutally attack a happy little beach full of swimmers then defend against the angry shark hunters that (surprise!) want to hunt you down for doing just that and…

Maneater is a single player, open world action RPG (ShaRkPG) where YOU are the shark.

store.playstation.com

But wait!

Boom: you’re actually dead. Channelling some serious Moby Dick vibes, the angry Deadliest Catch captain cuts a baby shark from your limp belly, maims it for spite, then curses its name as it bites off his arm and swims away and…

But wait!

You are now the baby shark, and role playing game adventure ensues as you navigate through a swamp on a quest of…

Starting as a small shark pup you are tasked with surviving the harsh world while eating your way up the ecosystem.

store.playstation.com

So. I haven’t played much further than that.

I just downloaded this last night, remember?

As much as I have sudden access to a small library of new games, clever and quirky titles often entice me the most. See, I’ve played as many zombie shooters as I ever need to in my life. Platformers are stuffed with nostalgia, but I’ll always compare back to my childhood full of Mario games. And I’ve already queued up a snowboarding classic called Steep for some zen, downhill action, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with it on the PS5, but those kind of games just make me look longingly out the window at the real snow.

Call me a sucker for novelty, but I’m looking forward to some more shark adventures later tonight.

Neglecting all that Anthropomorthic Island-Hopping

Rating: 8 out of 10.

One of the last walks I took through the downtown shopping mall near where my pre-pandemic office was located took me past a video game store where a large stand-up cardboard cutout display heralded the impending arrival of a game of which I was only peripherally aware.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in late March 2020 to the kind of gloriously suspicious fanfare that actually floated wacky conspiracies that Nintendo had created the COVID-19 virus to coincide with the launch of its lockdown-perfect game. After all, checking into a virtual island daily for multiple hours was a luxury few had until forced to stay home and avoid human contact — by law!

I bought into the hype in early April and ordered a copy from that same mall video game chain (but online) and the Switch cart arrived on my doorstep on one of those blurry days of the spring first wave. We plunked it in, built an island (with a trio of family players) and —

Truth be told, my family kept at the progress long and strong, while my interest faded to other things by early May. My character spent each night in a small, one room house with a cot for a bed, while the other residents built multi-story mansions, elaborate virtual friendships, and checked off the museum bingo card of collectables.

So it seemed pandemic-appropriate that the first of my neglected games for the holiday season saw me booting up the title that had kicked off the first month of what is now a nine-month-long ordeal and a two week stay-at-home (by law!) vacation.

After nine months the family has come close to capping out their own progress. I re-enter the game as a player who missed out on halloween goodies, thanksgiving party supplies, and a summer of curious collectables. My little house invited me in and reminded me of my neglect by releasing an infestation of cockroaches scurrying across the floor.

“You gotta squish them, dad!” The kid informed me.

Yet despite the virtual oppulence that has blossomed all around me, I am no further ahead as a ride-along passenger on our Anthropomorphic Island. My recipe collection lacks. My house is crowded among cultivated gardens and groves looking more like it was in the way of the kid’s inspiration than part of a larger plan.

I ran around the landscape and tried to remember what I was supposed to be doing. I shook some trees, picked up some tree branches, dug a worthless fossil from the ground, and was scolded by some very outgoing animals for disappearing for SEVEN MONTHS! I thought you were avoiding me, they chided.

Maybe I was.

Yes, maybe I was.

The game became something of a meme, landing on multiple lists of pandemic lockdown to-dos.

Did you bake sourdough bread? Check.

Did you grow your hair to your shoulders? Hell, yeah.

Did you binge-watch Netflix? Of course.

Did you play Animal Crossing? Did we ever!

The game has a way of keeping you connected, of course. Unlike mobile app games it can’t send you reminder notifications or nag you to check in, though. Instead, it worms into your brain and implies that this little virtual world is alive and chugging along in real time, and stuff still happens while you were out there in the real world, y’know, working, buying groceries, and trying to stay sane through the wackiest year of your life.

Will I keep checking in? It’s the holidays and it’s so easy to load it up for a few minutes while chilling on the couch — so, yes? It may not satiate that trigger-finger, action-craving gamer urge, but I’ve got an extra reminder to visit more often: Dad? Have you checked your mail? I sent you something. Dad? … Dad?

Neglected Games Project

I buy too many video games.

To be precise, I thrift purchase a lot of video games when they show up on really good sales or in humble bundles or in clearance bins.

A small number of my games I do buy at full price, things I really care about or titles that I’ve been tracking through their release and am excited to play, but my honest self would tell you that I am a bit of a digital hoarder and I’ve built a fairly extensive library of titles that looked interesting or piqued my curiosity, yet have never once been loaded on my system to try out.

Some day, I tell myself, I’ll have time to play them and then rather than pay full price I’ll realize I already own them and

It’s been a kooky year and while most people have been struck by an abundance of free time as they stay home and isolate, I’ve been working more than ever. I do one of those jobs that has a key role to play in a piece of the public pandemic response, but is neither front-line nor considerably public. I just need to put in long, often 10 hour days, to get my little part done, and then also the other parts of my job that have nothing to do with living through a pandemic. In other words, I’ve had a lot less free time than many. And what little free time I have had has recently gone to writing a novel and caring for a puppy.

But I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off from work. We’re not actually going anywhere for the holidays, and given the lockdown, this ultimately means little more than sitting in a different chair, maybe some longer mid-day walks, and logging into a different computer each day.

Such as, say, logging into a computer with access to a couple hundred new or newish-to-me video games that may make for an interesting “not work” project for two weeks of deep-winter, pandemic lockdown, can’t go anywhere for Christmas fun.

My plan, and as always this is subject to mood and other obligations, is to load a previously unplayed or barely-played video game title each day, spend at least ninety minutes exploring it, playing it, enjoying it, and then posting a short update here. There are no strict rules other than me trying to find something in my library of games that I’ve spent less than ninety minutes on in the past, install it, play it, and accumulate some play time at least as long as a cheezy holiday film.

Stay tuned.

I’ll warm you up and tell you that my first title, and the title that inspired this, is playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. Bought for a song on sale. Sitting there teasing me… never even installed. Let’s fix that.