I’m a long way from Tipperary.

I miss how I used to listen to music. Anyone who knows my burning hatred of physical media should understand that I’m not directly talking about the little red My First Sony Walkman I got for my 6th birthday with a “Simpsons Sing the Blues” cassette (though that was several layers of bitchin’). The way I miss music listening is on a more abstract level. I miss how personal music listening used to feel.

Music hasn’t changed, I have. The distribution methods have. Perhaps it could simply be a case of scarcity. With the advent, nay proliferation, of streaming technology there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be listening to whatever you want whenever you desire it. The sheer quantity of music is limitless. Artists’ entire discographies within a few clicks. You can go from never having heard of a musician to devouring everything they ever produced in a number of hours. The framework now gives you more music than you have time to absorb. It’s easier than ever to explore new music, but if you’re anything like me, that brings with it guilt over repeated listens in order to know a new album inside and out. I’m willing to admit this is most likely a personal rather than widespread issue. I’m not even sure it’s an issue in the first place.

At age 14 I “discovered” music listening and it awakened something in me. Imagine one day discovering that eating was something humans did and becoming instantly famished. I was ravenous and desperate. These were the days of Napster, so I begun downloading tracks like crazy. I’d latch onto bands I liked and seek out others with a similar sound. I made mix CDs with pretentious names and had them on constant rotation. I knew track orders by heart. I experimented with sculpting  ebbs and flows. Making tracks together shape moods. I got into albums, enjoying the cohesion of tracks stacked in a deliberate fashion, as to curate a listening experience. Through rote, I knew every single track by heart in order, knew all the lyrics. I devoted so much of my brain to music archiving that I’m surprised I had any room left for school work.

This issue has less to do with the availability of music than it does an economy of scale. Let’s not pretend that I committed all 60GB of my first iPod to memory. You could just as easily tie it to shifting values with age too. At 30 the social capital of encyclopedic music knowledge has plummeted, especially when we all have pocket computers. I’d kill for that earnest enthusiasm though. The excitement that came with a new album release, dissecting and analysing the song composition, lyrics, track structure. These days there are several new bands each week, plus 2018 seems to be when all my favourite 2008-2010 acts are putting out new albums. It’s not possible to keep up and the thought of doing so is so daunting that it doesn’t feel worth trying. How did I have the time? I kept up with TV shows, video games and was always on top of the freshest music. What didn’t I have in my life then that I do now?

Oh, that’s right. I was single and barely slept for most of my early 20s. That’d do it.

We all knew that was coming, right?

A while back a friend told me of a Vonnegut quote that I think of constantly. I’ve definitely mentioned it on here before, but if my worst case scenario is reminding you, I’m willing to take the consequences. It reads:

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I wrote earlier that I think of it constantly, when really I should’ve instead admitted that I couldn’t think of it often enough. It’s easy to get bogged down by anything that irks you. Every day is a series of microaggressions and interactions that could’ve gone better. Living is anxiety, in that if we had to stop and consider every infraction, we’d find the nearest bridge and a pair of concrete boots.

Conversely, we don’t give enough credit to moments that lift us. Negativity is far easier to feed than the alternative and feeling petty is exponentially more satisfying than contentment. I wonder though, if that’s a function of how much energy we give to that which doesn’t go our way. If we spent more time acknowledging pleasant moments, to carve out those few seconds each time, if we’d notice the difference in our lives.

Take today for instance. Today wasn’t remarkable in any way, but it hasn’t given me anything to complain about. If someone tomorow were to ask me how my weekend was, today would’ve likely factor into my recount. Still, when I think harder about it, I’d almost say it was a perfect Sunday.

I woke next to my girlfriend and we snuggled for a bit. I got up, breezed through public transit and headed for the gym. Without immediate engagements, I didn’t feel remotely rushed. I took my time between sets and really considered which muscle groups I was hitting. While normally I’m bound by evening events or exhausted from work, today I got to spend as long as I wanted without trying to get in and out in about an hour. I left the gym and dawdled around a few shops, then checked out a new Japanese restaurant that opened in Koreatown. It was great, the yakiniku beef was incredibly flavourful, the salad was much more than the usual iceberg lettuce drenched in (admittedly delicious) salad dressing. There was some kind of dried vegetable on the side and the miso soup tasted unusually vibrant. I left satisfied, without a bulging stomach.

I did some fruit and vegetable shopping on my way home. Ten minutes after I arrived, friends came over to play some Magic. We played for hours, the games were interactive with shifting status and tensions. There weren’t huge stalemates, play was fluid and dynamic. We had discussions about the wider metagame and format, then they left and I had the house to myself.

I’ve got a bolognese sauce on the stove which is minutes away. I spent time prepping, listening to music and took advantage of the fresh ingredients I bought earlier. Having tasted it already, it’s gonna be piquant as fuck. Plus the satisfaction of having cooked it myself is an entirely salient taste.

I don’t know what else to say, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Spidey must have such a rubbish time at Haunted House attractions.

It’s been years since I owned a TV. The last time I had frequent access to one was when I flatted with a bunch of friends back in New Zealand. “Frequent access” is a bit of a misnomer, because it was mostly in use already. I’m not hanging lopsided streamers for a pity party here, it was excellent. Not least of all because one flatmate had a PS3 and Wii. Aside from getting verbally abusive playing NBA Jam (2010) and mildly less abusive playing You Don’t Know Jack, access to the PS3 meant I could actually dig in and play quality games, without digging deep in my pockets to get the systems. After my flatmate virtually forced me to play Bioshock (thanks J), he also suggested I give Batman: Arkham City a try.

The game was a revelation. No mere fun romp around the high rises of Arkham, the game made you Batman. Which Batman? Whatever fucking Batman you wanted. Love gizmos? You could be guns-a-blazin’ Batman with all manner of widget stuffed batarangs and bombs in your arsenal. There were stealth components to the game and a plethora of handy nooks, crannies and outcrops for staying out of sight. Then all of a sudden you could swoop in for an unnoticed knockout. Or, if you were like me, you could stick with dickhead brawler Batman and beat the shit out of innocent thugs and louts. The combat system was fluid freeform. You could rack up lengthy combos, even incorporating your fancy whizzbangs and gadgets for more flare. The background characters had fun conversations you could spy on. There were numeros puzzles to solve throughout, unless you took the Riddler route in which case there were hundreds. The boss fights were varied and interesting. The voice acting was impeccable. Top to bottom, the game kicked ass.

Which is why I was so taken with this E3 trailer for the new PS4 Spider-Man game. It’s a near nine minute gameplay trailer that’s worth every second you spend on it. In every way that Arkham City made you Batman, this looks to do the same for Spidey. It’s packed to the brim with all his characteristic quips and webs. Of course this play-through is optimised for presentation, but it looks so goddamn smooth. It moves quickly, with a multitude of options in play style. It’s fun and clever with a bright colour palette. The action is fast and varied. There look to be beat ’em up moments, stealth kills and gadgets galore. This level at least takes into account the surrounding environment in order to aid combat and puzzle solving. There are quick time events like God of War and it flows effortlessly between cut scenes and gameplay. Spider-Man, like Batman, has a fun rogue’s gallery that’ve always been fun in past games (Ultimate Spider-Man was a splendid play through).

I don’t think this is gonna be the title, but one of these days a console game will come along that’s so compelling, I’ll have no choice but to get one. In any case, this definitely has my Spidey Sense tingling.

But they weren’t even giant mechanical spiders? So heartless, but not Loveless.

If my Space Madness was low level yesterday, it became a full blown contagion today. Why? Watch the Skies, my dear friend.

As I said yesterday, Watch the Skies is a full on megagame experience involving 60 or so people in an international (and intergalactic) game of diplomacy, scientific development, espionage, military action and press coverage. Things started slowly and ramped up exponentially.

There was a mass deployment of alien saucers across the world. Some human nations rose to intercept them, but were easily defeated. Then nothing. Total alien silence. Suddenly old nuclear waste began disappearing from the map. The nations were confused. Why were the aliens ridding the world of nuclear material? What could be their objective? Were they here to aid humanity? Or did they have inscrutable plans to doom us all?

A rogue faction rose up, the Humans First contingent. “Why should we trust these extraterrestrials?” They asked. “They may be seeming to help us now, but what will they come for next?” Nobody knew.

Alien missions were conducted across the world with little to no opposition.

The aliens made themselves known in a press conference. They came in peace. Their goal was to rid the world of hazardous nuclear material that spread disease across the world. Furthermore, they had a cure for cancer they were willing to spread across the world. Or at least, to any nations willing to disarm their nuclear warheads. What would the nations do? Accept the alien aid, while losing out on their nuclear capabilities? Could the governments in good conscience deny their people a cure for cancer?

Humans first responded. “Would you really leave yourself defenceless against this menace? If we trust them, what will they do with that trust? Will they offer gifts in one hand while the other holds a knife behind their back?”

Riots broke out across the world. The human race was unsettled. Nations sought to quell these rioters and did so through military force. Bad press came from all sides and the nations’ economies took a hit. They were in turmoil. What would they do?

All the while, Aliens continued mounting successful missions across the globe. Their missions? Unknown.

Most nations took the olive branch offered by the aliens, save Brazil. Brazil ran with Humans First and begun launching a full scale attack on alien troops wherever possible. They were unsuccessful in all of their interceptions. Meanwhile other nations quietly researched their technology and sought to gain stability in their home nations. An Alien base was erected in Turkey.

Russia and the USA united against the Alien base and crushed it completely, gaining valuable alien tech.

Aliens began offering consensual operations to humans, implanting them with alien DNA. Many took them up on their offer. The Aliens gained a seat at the United Nations

Russia decided to launch a nuke at the Alien moon base. Many nations rose to support, while others opposed. Aliens attempted to intercept, but were struck down by a mysterious contagion developed by Russia. Despite a fierce battle on all sides, the warhead was successfully defended. It struck and destroyed the Alien moon base.

Brazilian forces marched on the Alien influenced nation of Venezuela. They successfully destroyed the insurgent army and annexed Venezuela in the name of Humans everywhere. Russia and the UK annexed another nation from Alien influence. The United Nations were in an uproar.

The final battle arrived. Shit went sideways. China built a space ark to leave the planet. Japan joined them and fled the Earth, escaping from all the madness. Russia and Brazil together successfully fired two nukes at the Alien Mars base. However, the base was nothing but an illusion. Their efforts left nuclear craters on the face of Mars.

Aliens appeared all over the map and humans intercepted, casualties on both sides. Outnumbered, many Alien missions succeeded.

With the war over, the true nature of the Alien mission was revealed. Earth had now been greatly infiltrated by Aliens. The result of their missions was slowly infecting as many humans as possible with an infertility treatment. 53% of Earth’s population were now infertile. India somehow escaped unscathed, thanks to their superior medical technology. Nations across the planet were irrevocably shaken, unsure how to adapt to this strange new world. How would the world cope? Only time would tell.

Also apparently Australia was overrun by giant spiders, that they then domesticated and trained for use as transportation. Stuck in the war room as Military Control, so many other subplots escaped my notice. There’s no way I’d be able to describe the sheer scale of insanity going on in that game, but I hope I’ve given some indication.

Once again, blame the Space Madness.

It’s a common affliction, trust me.

I think I’m developing Space Madness. I’ve been cooped up all day in a prison of my own volition. Feeling unwell I stayed home from work. Unfortunately, aside from a couple of salt water gargles, some off-brand NeoCitran and the Hail Mary that is Oil of Oregano, I’ve still managed to spend most of my waking hours at the computer. Healthy living, eh?

To be honest, aside from the solid two or so hours I spent vidya gaming this morning. Oh, and the hour or two I lost catching up on some Brooklyn Nine Nine. Shit, I can’t not mention the three or so hours spent aimlessly clicking around on The Internet. Well aside from that, I’ve been studying. Wait, I did also venture into and out of the kitchen maybe 25+ times, can’t forget that. GODDAMMIT ALL, I HAVE BEEN STUDYING I HAVE.

Studying pourquoi you c’est? Studying up on the rules for this megagame I’m helping out with tomorrow. And what, I hear you ask, is a megagame (and yes, I literally heard you ask that in my head. Thanks to good ol’ Space Madness)? Think a role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, but on a larger scale. Instead of five or so players, this one’s closer to 50 or 60. The particular game we’re running is called Watch the Skies. Want the spiel? Well I heard a resounding “yes” thanks to Space Madness, so here we go. Watch the Skies is basically a large scale Model United Nations role playing game. When I say large scale, I mean eight player nations each with their own military, heads of state, politicians, communications and scientists. Alien sightings have emerged with alarming frequency and it’s up to the nations of the world to decide how to handle it. Are they friend or foe? Could they be leveraged for political gain? Their superior technology harnessed to advance nations’ military might? Will everyone be able to forget personal squabbles to co-operate against the encroaching invasion? Or will the world be left a festering heap after tempers run high and the nukes start flying? We’ll find out tomorrow.

I’m studying feverishly today because I, being the lazy lout that I am, have left everything to the last minute. I had months to learn the rules, but as was the case with most of my university career after first year, I did the bare minimum before crunch time. Given that I’m co-running Military Control, one of the most rules dense sections of the game, I should probably know how the rules work. Not only that, but I should know them well enough to explain to others. Today (except for the aforementioned gaming, TV, internet dawdling and eating) has been spent brushing up on the rules and weaving between multiple rule sets to find the optimal combination. I then funnelled that info into a written introduction to establish the rule set for the players tomorrow. They have some prior knowledge (though most of them probably half-arsed it as much as I did), but I’ve got a mere 15 minutes to explain it before the first round commences. Fingers crossed they don’t see through my clear ineptitude. Shit, I need some aviators for cover.

From everything I’ve heard of the event, it’s an insanely packed day that gets out of hand quickly. There are 15+ volunteers just to keep this running. Fortunately, when all else fails at the core of everything it’s a role playing game. As long as I’m consistent and fair, I can make up any rules I forget.

If it goes south, I can simply blame Space Madness.

Dear Telltale: Quit playing games with my heart. Also Backstreet may or may not be back, alright?

I’m trying to rush and finish this entry on my way home from the gym. The goal is to get as much time as possible playing vidya games tonight. I’ve got the evening to myself and one of my goals at the moment is to rekindle my love of gaming.

I started the other night, by loading up a year old save file for the Telltale Games Tales from the Borderlands. Like most in the Telltale line, it’s the gaming equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. It’s all on rails, with assorted dialogue options depending on how you want to interact with the game’s characters. Some decisions have consequences that could dictate whether or not a beloved character survives or perishes. Telltale do an astounding job putting together the dialogue and plot. They’re refreshingly funny, and emotionally manipulative throughout. I don’t know what kind of heartless sociopath could through the adventure without becoming immensely attached to characters both central and supplementary. The Borderlands universe was an excellent choice for this style of gameplay, considering the original games did a superb job of etching character into every aspect of that would. Everything oozes personality and Tales from the Borderlands both takes and runs with what they’ve been given. One of the best aspects is how they break down the stats at the end of each chapter. You can see how your choices measured up with other players. It’s fascinating to note how your moral compass measures up with fellow players and just how effectively the writers have toyed with everyone’s emotions.

I remember playing Final Fantasy VIII at age 13 and being so enthralled by the story. It felt like I was playing through a book. I related this to my dad, who responded with a generous attempt at empathy of “that’s great. Glad you’re having fun”. He seemed otherwise unconvinced of its merits. As a kid I never could have predicted that gaming would be the most lucrative entertainment product on the planet. Years ago I had this dream of an interactive movie in a cinema. There’d be certain points where the audience would be able to collectively choose the direction the film took. Having several options, the most popular one would decide the outcome. Each showing then would have the chance for one of several endings, with some endings requiring rare audiences choices. It’d possibly even encourage repeat viewings. Maybe there’d be a discount for each subsequent visit.

After getting into these Telltale games, I’m half convinced the the technology is accessible enough to put into practice. There’d be an expensive set up cost, but the reward would be a wonderfully​ organic experience. I mean, considering Twitch Plays Pokémon, the technology to do this online (rather than in a theatre) more than likely already exists, though it likely wouldn’t feel as immersive as it would with the added proximity of inhabiting the same room.

Is someone out there gonna jump on my idea? I’d certainly love to see it come to life. I wonder if I know anyone at Telltale…

So wrong, it’s Rite.

Disclaimer: This one’s gonna be big on Magic the Gathering speak. You’ve been warned. If that’s your thing, I’d strongly advise you download Autocard Anywhere.

I can’t be bothered turning off the MtG Grand Prix Omaha stream, so I’m gonna talk about it instead. Streaming pro MtG has been a great way to kill time on weekends. I’m starting to understand how Nascar fans feel. The format had been pretty stale for a while, but the bannings of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai have opened things up a bit. The first few weeks were a lot of Mardu Vehicles vs Temur Marvel (a deck that spins Aetherworks Marvel to find Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn four). Then Zombies edged in and now BG Delirium is making a comeback. In short, the format is getting more interesting (with the exception of Aetherworks Marvel being the boogieman of the format).

Right now though, I’m totally in love with Sam Black’s Anointed Procession deck. It looks like a total pile, but in reality it’s a rogue deck stuffed full of synergies. It takes advantage of the format’s lack of preparation to deal with enchantments and really doubles down. The thing to keep in mind is that Anointed Procession doubles all tokens, which includes clue tokens too. To take advantage of this, not only has the surprising all star (hey now) Thraben Inspector earned a slot, but from out of nowhere he’s giving draft chaff Ulvenwald Mysteries a go. So Anointed Procession doubles the clue tokens that Thraben Inspector makes, but the Inspector also offers a corpse for Ulvenwald Mysteries to investigate. Upon cashing in the clue, Ulvenwald Mysteries adds two 1/1 tokens. God forbid two Ulvenwald Mysteries hit the board, because things get nuts.

There’s a ton of draft chaff, to be honest. As dumb as it sounds, Anointer Priest helps slow the bleeding against aggro decks. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with mine own two eyes. Blisterpod gets in there as a one drop who can trade in for a one shot accelerator. Oh, and Hidden Stockpile, if you were worried things were getting a bit too heated there. It’s not even all jank. There’s room for both Oketra the True and Bontu the Glorified, plus Gideon, Ally of Zendikar pulls double duty making 2/2 knights and an anthem emblem.

The glue holding everything together is Cryptolith Rite. I’ve always loved the card, but goddamn if it isn’t absurd in here. While it’s no Earthcraft, Cryptolith Rite allows the deck to go apeshit, sacrificing clue tokens (to make even more 1/1 dudes) and using the abilities of both Bontu and Oketra. Then if he needed another angle, he runs Westvale Abbey to pump out a hasty Ormendahl, Profane Prince from nowhere.

The deck doesn’t have a ton of resistance against an all out air assault, but on the ground it does an amazing job of gumming up the works. You’d think that it’d fold outright to wraths, but that isn’t the case. Between Ulvenwald Mysteries cashing in dudes for clues and clues for dudes, the indestructible gods, Hidden Stockpile, Gideon and Anointer Priest’s embalm ability, it can build back up without completely falling to shit.

I don’t see the deck winning the tourney (especially since as of now it’s going 5-2), but it’s nice to see innovation coming up against a field of Aetherworks Marvel and showing them how durdling gets done. C’mon Sam, bring this standard environment back into the Black.