Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Stand - CBS

 Okay, The Stand is probably my favorite Stephen King book.  I first read it more than 30 years ago.  I loved it then.  I still love it now.  I even love the original ABC miniseries.  (I seem to be somewhat in the minority on that) I felt that it did a very good job of condensing the massive epic into a coherent and generally enjoyable TV adaptation.  I attribute this, mainly, to the fact that King, himself, was the one to write the screenplay.  Events and characters were cut.  Things were changed quite a bit.  The sex, language, and violence were toned down to a 1990s network TV level.  But it worked.  It managed to tell the core of the story, about the characters that mattered, in a very good, and satisfying way.

So, I was pretty excited when I heard plans around 2010 to make a big screen version of The Stand, possibly split into multiple movies, and probably directed by Ben Affleck.  The man's kind of a crap actor, but he's actually a pretty good writer and director.  Rumors came and went, and eventually that project was passed from Affleck to others, and morphed into a new miniseries for CBS All Access.  I was fine with this, as I already subscribe to the service (on and off between seasons) for Star Trek, among other things.  And it meant that it would both have a decent budget, and be able to include some of the more "R rated" things from the book.

I've watched the first two episodes, which are the only two that are currently out to the general public, though there are some professional reviewers who have been allowed to watch the entire series.  I have to say, it's kind of not doing it for me.  The biggest problem I have is that it is VERY dependent upon you already knowing what is happening for literally anything to make sense.  If you have not already read the book, or seen the ABC miniseries, you will have no idea what is going on AT ALL.

Rather than giving you all of the very necessary parts of the story dealing with the virus wiping out most of humanity up front, (which is, in my opinion, the best part of the story) we start at what is basically the midpoint of the book.  It's not explained where we are.  Why these people are cleaning up dead bodies.  Where any of these people came from.  Why they are here.  Or really, what happened.  There are a few offhand comments about the end of the world.  But that's it.  That's all the exposition we get.  We are then treated to a series of flashbacks for two sets of characters.  Harold, being the only one of them we have seen before.  It flips between characters we don't know, unless we already know the story from other sources, in different situations with a disease sort of in the background.  We're never really shown what this disease is doing, how fast it's spreading, how many people it's killing.  You just see a few random people coughing, and then, all of a sudden, everyone's dead, and, unless you already know what's happening, you have no idea why or how any of it happened.  It's like it's trying to follow the format of Lost.  Where you have the events taking place in the present on the island, and then flashbacks to all of the character development and events that brought the survivors to where they are in the present.  This worked for Lost, because both the present day and the flashbacks were compelling, and didn't rush things.  The events in the flashbacks complimented what was happening in the present day, and the two stories would interweave extremely well.  In The Stand it's very jumbled, discordant.  We never spend enough time in either the present day, or the flashbacks to really get a feel for who these people are, where they are, or what's happening around them.  It's just not very well written or edited together.  You can really see the production values in the show, but the writing and editing are so terrible that it doesn't even matter.

This is something that the original miniseries, and especially the book, did very well.  The horror came from how quickly the disease spread, how deadly it was, and how we saw it killing so many people through the eyes of the characters that survived it.  I'd argue that the first third of the book dealing with the plague and the death it caused is far scarier than anything else that takes place later on in the story, and a hell of a lot more important to the characters and the overall story than the makers of this new miniseries are giving it credit for.

After sitting through two episodes of it, I think I'm done.  I don't want to watch any more of this.  The makers of this show have actually made me not want to watch anymore of one of my favorite stories in this world.  It's THAT bad.  I can't even imagine what watching this series must be like to someone who doesn't already know what's going on.  They must be soooooo confused.  I've read reviews of later episodes that have yet to be released to the general public, and it seems that things actually get even MORE confused the deeper into the series you get.  I just don't really care to watch any more than I already have.  This series is a pretty profound object lesson in how to take something great and utterly destroy it.  If the writing was better, things were explained a bit more and the flashback better linked to the present, and if the editing was considerably better, and if the scale and scope of the superflu were better shown to us in the flashback, this series might be watchable.  As it is in its current state, it's a mess that is both boring and confusing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Cybermeh 2077

 So, Cyberpunk 2077 finally came out.  That was a thing that happened.  Ever since this game was announced you've had people on the internet gushing about how great it's going to be, how it's going to transcend gaming and storytelling.  How it's going to transform the way studios make games going forward.  And blah, blah, blah, blah, BLAH.  And god forbid you happen to say that you didn't really get it, or thought it just looked okay, nothing world changing or anything.  And god help you if you ever uttered one disparaging word about the game or the developer.  These people were worshiping a game that they had never played, and had seen relatively little information about.  How exactly does that happen?

Anyway, I preordered the game like a year an a half ago and completely forgot that I did until it popped up on my PS4 to predowload.  It was a game I was mildly interested in.  I like the Witcher games, so I figured it would at least be a decently put together game, with an interesting story and some memorable character.  I have never been a member of the Cult of Cyberpunk, and, frankly, I never really saw what the big deal was.  I may have watched a trailer or something once, but I don't remember if I did.  I didn't follow news of the game.  I, frankly, didn't really care all that much about it other than it being a new game from a studio that has made games that I liked in the past.  I say these things so that you know I'm being completely unbiased here.  I didn't care enough about the game for my non-existent hype to bias me either way, for or against it.  I'm looking at it purely as someone who randomly picked it up and thought, eh, it'll kill a few hours.

Okay.  First thing.  I played this game on a PS4 pro, which I swapped an SSD into when I bought it.  Not the most powerful console in the universe to be playing this game on, true, but it's got enough oomph to it that it should have played this game without too many framerate issues.  Even still, the game plays like garbage.  The graphics are blurry.  There are problems with NPCs populating slowly so they're just kind of randomly appearing in any area you step into while you're there.  (kind of like a MMO in a hub area)  If there is literally ANY action on the screen AT ALL the framrate drops to about 20 fps.  This is driving.  Walking.  Running.  Action setpieces.  Cutscenes.  Moving the camera during a conversation.  And NPCs walking through the background.  If you're not sitting still and talking to someone who is also sitting still, your framerate is going to drop considerably.  And the more things that are happening on the screen, the worse it gets.  I cannot even imagine trying to get this game to work on a base model PS4, if the pro can barely handle it.

Second, the controls are garbage in this game.  I can't speak for how well the game handles on Xbox or PC, but on PS4 they are complete crap.  Driving is an absolute nightmare.  I literally cannot get behind the wheel without killing several random pedestrians, and destroying huge amounts of property.  So just walk, you say?  Yeah.  I tried that.  The problem is that you are REQUIRED to drive to certain locations, and stop the car exactly on a predetermined marker before the next event in the story will trigger.  The car HAS to hit the mark, or you cannot progress in the story.  You HAVE to drive, even though it's impossible to control.  Aiming is difficult and unresponsive, even after jacking up the sensitivity to the max.  Hit detection is all over the place.  Stealth detection is all over the place.  Combat feels very clunky.  Games of this type will usually have dedicated buttons for swapping out weapons.  This game does not.  They'll usually allow aiming while in cover.  This game does not.  They'll usually allow for fluid shooting from cover and returning to cover.  This game does not.  You have to pause the action to use most abilities, to change weapons, to switch from guns to melee.  It does not handle well, and it's just not very enjoyable to fight the control scheme while trying to play the game.

In addition to running very poorly on PS4, and having absolutely broken controls, the game is full of glitches and bugs that, at times, make it unplayable.  There were about a dozen and a half times when a glitch or bug completely broke the game for me, making it impossible to progress in the story.  I had to reload from my most recent checkpoint, and cross my fingers that it wasn't still glitched.  Sometimes I had to reload more than once to get the game to progress. There are countless graphical glitches, from floating characters, to characters only partially loading in, to characters gliding along instead of walking, textures not loading properly, or at all.  My car once fell through the street and was suddenly inside of a building that I never figured out how to leave and had to reload from the last checkpoint on.  I had a lot of audio glitches as well.  The music either playing really fast or really slow.  Dialog either playing really fast or really slow.  Weird popping crackling sounds when some characters were supposed to be speaking.  I mean, the game was delayed almost a year.  I think I really could have done with another year.  This game is absolutely broken.  I got the digital version of the game, so the day one patch was already included with the download.  In addition to that already included day one patch, I have downloaded nearly 50GB of further patches since release, and NONE of these issues were fixed by them.  

Yeah, but what about the story, you ask.  That was amazing, right?  Yeah, not so much.  In addition to being rather short.  It only took me 25 hours or so to get through.  It's kind of boring.  And generic.  THIS is the amazing, transformative story people have been hyping up for what, 7 or 8 years now?  I'm sorry.  I'm just not feeling it.  Most of the characters are either really boring, or really annoying.  Even the ones that aren't all that bad often overstay their welcome.  I really wanted to like Keanu Reeves, but I just could not.  It's just a very cookie-cutter, unimaginative story set in a world that might be amazing if it wasn't so buggy it was literally falling in on itself. 

But those sidequests though, you could do those for another 300 hours, right?  Three problems with that.  First of all, the game runs so poorly on my PS4 pro that it literally crashes every 10-15 mins beyond recovery.  I got in the habit of manually saving after literally every single action I did.  Talk to that guy. Save.  Drive there.  Save.  Shoot those guys.  Save.  Shoot their friends.  Save.  Shoot the bigger, badder boss-like guy.  Save.  So why would I want to punish myself by attempting to do any side content in this game?  Second.  I did play a few side quests.  And they were not very good.  Like bottom of the barrel, repetitive, MMO fetch quest type things that just weren't very fun, and didn't have interesting stories to go along with them.  And third, I don't actually like sidequests.  Every now and then a game will come along that I love so much that I want to spend every minute I can with these characters and world.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2, for instance.  I literally did EVERYTHING that it was possible to do in that game, because I loved it so much.  Games like that are like once a decade for me.  I do not care about side content.  Give me an amazing main story experience or F off.

So, all in all, the game is an absolute mess.  And even if it ran well and functioned, it has deeper problems with it, like just boring or unlikable characters, and a story that just isn't very good or engaging at all.  I did not like it.  And I would not recommend it to anyone.  

I give Cyberpunk 2077 3/10.  If it functioned and didn't have so many bugs and glitches, I'd probably bump that up to 5/10.  But that is not the world we live in, so 3/10 it is.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Philly Cheesesteak (sort of)


1-2 lbs pot roast (or pork, or chicken, whichever you feel like)

2 green bell peppers.

2 onions.

2 tbs olive oil.

1 packet Au Jus gravy mix.

4 cups water.

1 cup diced *Velveta cheese (preferably the queso blanco type)

Salt (or garlic salt if you want to get fancy).


Hoagie Buns.


Pour water into the instant pot and add the Au Jus packet.  Whisk together until the powder is mixed in.

Cut your meat into several medium sized chunks and place in the gravy mix spaced evenly apart.

Pressure Cook for 50 mins, and allow 10 mins to depressurize afterward.


While the meat is cooking, dice your peppers, onions, and Velveta.


When you have 20 mins left (10 mins cook, 10 mins depressurize) pour oil into a large skillet pan and heat up on high.  Add your diced veggies, lower heat to medium, and sauté until thoroughly cooked through, should take about 15-20 mins.


Once the meat is done, add 3 cups of the Au Jus to the skillet and bring to a boil.  Discard or save the remaining.  


Add in the diced Velveta and stir constantly until it has melted completely into the mixture.


Lower heat to medium and shred your meat with a fork.


Add shredded meat to the skillet and mix and stir in so that the sauce soaks into it all then leave on the heat until it thickens.  Add in 1 tbs of cornstarch if it seems really watery.


Season with salt and pepper to your preference.


Serve on hoagie buns.



*I use Velveta because it melts really well, you can use other cheeses if you prefer.