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November 2023 Retrospective

The Good

Read Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall

If you're only going to read one book about cryptocurrency you must make it Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall by Zeke Faux. I am not going to spoil anything but I bet even if I did you wouldn't believe the batshit crazy stuff that has gone down. I've followed cryptocurrency pretty closely for almost a decade now and even I was flabbergasted by the utter stupidity of the people in this book.

Watched The Killer

David Fincher's latest film, The Killer, starring Michael Fassbender was released on Netflix this month and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This isn't your typical action thriller and I'll bet that a lot of people are going to find it boring. But in the world of big budget CGI slugfests that we inhabit, The Killer was a welcome breath of fresh air. If you have a Netflix subscription I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Read Empires of EVE: Volume 2

I have not played a single second of EVE Online but I have read about it for dozens of hours. Its massive battles, political subterfuge, and ponzi schemes have been a staple of gaming websites for over a decade now. In 2014 Andrew Goen ran a Kickstarter to fund a book that intended to chronologically detail the history of EVE. I believe I read Volume 1 sometime in 2017-2018 but had no idea that Andrew released Empires of EVE: Volume 2 in 2021. It covers from 2009 to 2014 culminating in the "Bloodbath at B-R5RB".

That fact that everything described in this book actually happened is astonishing. You could easily rewrite it in the style of a faux-documentary (à la World War Z) and it would fit perfectly. I understand that 99% of people will have no interest in something like this but I truly believe that Empires of EVE is worth your time. The stories told by Andrew Goen are more compelling than most films and TV shows I have seen lately.

Super Mario Bros Wonder

It is amazing how Nintendo is able to straddle that fine line of staying faithful to the Mario formula while also continually innovating upon it.

At its core Super Mario Bros Wonder is a phenomenal 2D side scroller that you are guaranteed to enjoy if you've liked any other 2D Mario game. Each level is a testament to Nintendo's ability to refine the formula and create something that is a joy to play.

But each level also contains something called a "wonder fruit" that when picked up can completely change how the level is played. To be clear this isn't a power-up like the fire flower or tanooki suit. One of them changed the perspective so I was suddenly playing from the top-down, yet the geometry of the level remained the same. In another one I became a ginormous version of one of the new enemy types and had to use their ability to jump and destroy things to reach my goal. One updated the entire world to be a shadow of itself and my character was suddenly on what appeared to be massive stilts which I then needed to crouch and jump with in order to progress. The sheer amount of time that must have gone into designing and building these one-off game mechanics is insane.

But Nintendo didn't stop there. They added "badges" for you to unlock as you progress which you can equip a single one of before starting a level. The more basic badges allow you to stay airbourne for longer or jump off walls twice. But others add entirely new game mechanics such as using your hat as a parachute or performing a spin attack underwater. These minor additions allow you to attempt levels with a completely new mindset.

I haven't even mentioned yet that the entire game can be played cooperatively with up to 4 players!

I'm actually struggling to think of anything negative to say about Super Mario Bros Wonder so there really isn't any reason for you not to pick it up if you have a Nintendo Switch.

Honourable Mentions

Visited Yokohama, Fukuoka, Osaka, and Tokyo

You can read my daily updates for this trip under the #Japan2023 tag. Undoubtedly the best part was getting to see sumo live. After watching it via YouTube for six years we finally got the opportunity to go to day 11 of the Fukuoka basho and it was magical. We arrived at 2pm, left a little after 6pm, and were not bored for a single minute.

The biggest disappointment of the trip was definitely the language barrier. I'm not sure what happened in the last six years but I had a much harder time interacting with Japanese people. We had a lot of difficulty finding good places to eat because very few advertised if they had an English menu available. The vast majority of places we found on Google Maps had no foreigners inside and perhaps the pandemic lockdowns have made me more introverted but I didn't want to be the first one. Please don't take this as me complaining that every restaurant must serve me. That is not what I am saying. I completely understand if a restaurant proprietor doesn't want to serve someone because they cannot communicate with them. But this issue came up so frequently that over the entire trip I would say I only had four good meals. Most of my "dinner" came from the convenience store or fast food joints like McDonald's because I figured I could just point at things at the menu without offending the minimum wage cashier.

At this point I'm not sure if I will ever return to Japan. While there is still so much more to see, the amount of time that was spent failing to find food has left a really sour taste in my mouth. The fact that I spent 14 days in Japan and never managed to eat any sushi or wagyu is disgraceful.

Beat Baldur's Gate III

I finally beat Baldur's Gate 3 this month but unfortunately the ending left much to be desired.

Even after 110+ hours I am still not a fan of the combat in Baldur's Gate 3 and the final boss did little to assuage that. The fight dragged on and started to feel like I had to fail in order to learn the "correct" way to beat it. Luckily I chained together some critical hits that killed the boss but literally seconds before this happened I said on stream that I thought I had lost. At that point the idea of having to replay the entire battle legitimately had me considering quitting the game.

Unfortunately things continued to go downhill from here. After defeating the boss I was effectively presented with a choose your ending screen that gave me flashbacks to the red, green, or blue endings from Mass Effect 3. After I made my choice I was shown a very brief cutscene and the game just ended. I actually have no idea what happened to any of my party members or even the world that I was supposedly working to save.

Larian Studios has said they are working on a patch that will add an epilogue but I don't think I'll go back to the game for that especially if I need to beat the final boss again. Even with all of this negativity surroudning the ending I really did love Baldur's Gate 3 and it is easily my top game of 2023.

Suika Game

Like the rest of the internet I also was addicted to Suika Game this month. It is a basic matching puzzle game where if two of the same fruit touch they merge into a larger but different fruit. Your goal being to build up to the largest fruit (a watermelon known as "suika" in Japanese, hence the name of the game) while also trying to not stack the fruit so high that it breaches the top of the screen, like Tetris.

And just like Tetris this simple premise worms its way into your psyche allowing you to believe you know how to win while continually fucking up horribly in reality. I guarantee that if you play Suika Game you will find yourself at one point or another yelling at your Switch "touch you fucking fruits" so maybe only play it in the safety of your own home.

Beat Marvel's Spider-Man 2

It took me 22 hours to reach 100% completion in Marvel's Spider-Man 2. I also collected the platinum trophy on my PlayStation 5. But knowing what I know now, I wished I had played Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty or Alan Wake 2 instead.

Last month I wrote:

Well in the first 30 minutes of Spider-man 2 I played as both Peter Parker and Miles Morales so we're off to a good start. If I can get 10-20 hours of enjoyment out of this game I'll consider it an absolute win.

Of those 22 hours I played I can definitely say that 10 of them were fun so I should consider this a win. But everything that I enjoyed was exactly the same as in Spider-Man 1 and Miles Morales. The web swinging and open-world traversal remain the only really interesting aspects of the game to me.

The plot was your blog standard MCU one where the big bad guy is evil just for evil's sake. Even after beating the game I still have no idea what Kraven's motivation was either than he needs to hunt. And in another patented last second Naughty Dog twist they introduce the "real" bad guy who you barely have any time with to learn or care about his motivations either. This game would be more apropos if it was called Marvel's Spider-Man: Collateral Damage because that's all that seems to matter.

There are also all sorts of weird minigames and sidequests that feel like they were created for some hack week inside Naughty Dog and they just didn't want the work to go to waste. There is one minigame where you need to shake your PS5 controller to mimic rattling a spraycan and then slowly move your left stick to an arbitrary point on the screen to simulate painting something. It is a complete waste of time.

I haven't even talked about the combat yet which is worse in Spider-Man 2 because you seem to do a lot less damage to start which means enemies take much longer to defeat. Increased damage is locked behind skill points which take at least a dozen hours to unlock. I found myself actively avoiding combat because I knew it was going to drag out and be boring.

But the cardinal sin is that they brought back the Mary Jane stealth sections and somehow made them worse. The solution was not to give Mary Jane at taser/gun and allow her to magically kick the ass of soldiers who have captured and killed some of the world's greatest supervillains. Hell I'm not against there being a cutscene where Mary Jane gets to girl boss her way through some confrontation. I just have absolutely no interest in playing it. To beat the Mary Jane sections I literally held down the sprint button and mashed the attack button so whenever I got near an enemy I would instantly knock them out. These killing machines apparently can't hear a 120 pound woman sprinting at them at full speed.

What it comes down to is that I don't think there is anything in Spider-Man 2 that makes it a must play game. You could pick it up three years from now and it will be just as interesting and impactful as it is today.

Read Killing Floor

Back in February 2022 I wrote about how much I enjoyed the characters from the first season of Reacher but found the plot to be absolutely asinine. It was based upon the novel, Killing Floor, which I read this month and holy cow it is so much better than the TV show.

Don't get me wrong this is still a very pulpy book. It was released in 1997 and its age does show. You're following this 6 foot 5 Space Marine type dude around who feels more like an 80s action star than a real person. But because the novel is told from a first-person perspective I found myself empathizing with Jack Reacher even though he himself has a hard time expressing emotion. The plot of Killing Floor works so much better from this perspective compared to the TV show where the writers chose to use random side characters to communicate what was coming from Reacher in the novel. Also, the TV villain introduced in the first episode is an absolute piece of shit and he has to act like an absolute piece of shit in every subsequent episode so he can then die in the finale in a stupid 80s action film explosion. This same character in the book interacts with Reacher a fraction of that and has a much more impactful altercation with Reacher earlier in the story. There are all sorts of weird changes like this where the TV show unnecessarily drags things out for episode cliffhangers whereas the novel moves at a very brisk pace.

I need to mention the funniest thing in the book to me which was the constant use of the phase "cocked and locked", meaning the gun has a round in the chamber and the hammer cocked which puts it in its most ready to fire state. When I first heard this I thought it was the type of thing that someone who played too much Call of Duty would use and could not stop myself from chuckling every time it came up (which was at least a dozen times). It became even funnier when I found out this is a real phrase used in the firearm community as far back as the second World War.

The second season of Reacher is coming out December 15th and I am still not sure if I am going to watch, although the trailer does a good job at making me want to. But Killing Floor was definitely interesting enough to make me want to consider reading more of the Jack Reacher series.

Review November Goals

December Goals