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Other Pursuits July 2023, Or, Last Of The Wobbegongs

Dredge (Switch)

Everybody loves a fishing minigame! Especially if it’s more than just Press A To Make Fish Happen!
Dredge is the title that dares to ask: what if the whole game was a fishing minigame, where every fish’s capture-mechanism is different, and also with some inventory-management-and-upgrade-tree stuff!

As all great games do, Dredge starts small: you crash your boat on a small island, where the mayor is kind enough to lend you a boat until you can catch enough fish to get back on your feet. Get on out there, champ! Just, he warns you, don’t go out on the water at night. Or do! I’m a mayor, not a cop!

So you set sail, discovering other islands and their residents, learning to catch all kinds of fish, finding mysterious black stone-clusters inscribed with glowing runes that react when you touch them, improving your boat, pointedly not looking at the glowing eyes that follow you from the fog as nightfall approaches, and catching even more 👏 PERFECTLY 👏 NORMAL 👏 GODDAMN 👏 FISH.

Even if you should find something a little unusual in the waters around the Marrow Islands, don’t worry about it! The local residents will be perfectly happy to take your weird fish! Not an odd amount of happy though. The usual amount!

While out on the waves you might even discover a friendly message from a fellow sailor saying wassup and wishing you well!

Things get even more normal from there!

Gang Dredge kicks ass, I scootled my little tugboat up to a shipwreck and guess what, nope, not a shipwreck, a giant crabbum who had, Tamatoa-style, simply decorated his chitinous self with the ruins of the ship he killed and who was eyein’ me in terms of a new set of accessories, go play the shit out of this gross, extremely upsetting, surprisingly beautiful game.

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition (Switch)

(YES I KNOW I MENTIONED THIS IN A PREVIOUS LIST, but that was prior to your Tears Of The Kingdom and your Final Fantasy XVI; those things have now passed into shadow, and I am back where I belong, among the squalid weirdos and pregnant streets (not a metaphor) and cranium-rat hive-minds of Spire, City of Doors. God, it’s good to be back. ((Also I forgot that I’d already talked about this one so I kinda started over below before I realized; I assume this kind of bullshit endears me to you people, I’m like your favorite dumb internet-dog who politely waits for a watermelon to eat first at the food-bowl until I starve to death, my skeletal tail still wagging in the hot black wind)))

I normally like my RPGs a bit more turn-based and, if I’m being honest, a bit more from Japan, but I was completely enthralled by Pillars Of Eternity a couple of years ago until I had to stop playing when I read that both it and Torment: Tides Of Numenara were spiritual sequels to the weirdest bastard child of the Baldur’s Gate CRPG family of games: Planescape: Torment, a world-shiftingly incredible game with one of the worst titles imaginable. (In my customary research I learned that it was originally titled Planescape: Last Rites, which is so much better that I just killed an endangered wobbegong with the power of how angry I am about it. That’s on you, Black Isle Studios. You just measurably reduced the ugly-ass carpet-fish population, not me.)

Due to the choose-your-own-adventure, D&D-ass nature of the story (which this replicates about as well as any video game possibly could, for my money) it would be difficult to tell you much of what happens because there’s no guarantee it would happen for you, but I CAN promise that you wake up in a mortuary, where you were very definitely supposed to be dead, where it turns out that you can’t stay dead even if you wanted to, and your only companion is a floating skull who is somehow an unbelievable horndog, a self-described encyclopedia of the world around you, and will not shut the fuck up.

If that character sounds familiar, it’s because Jim Butcher uses a nearly identical character, Bob the Skull, in the Dresden Files series, which I very much enjoy.

Listen: I’m not here to accuse Jim Butcher of anything, I’m just saying that this game came out in 1997 and the first Dresden Files novel came out in 2000, and knowing what we do about Jim I’d actually be shocked if he hadn’t played it, but stranger things have happened, and given the differences in setting and character development over the 25 years Jim’s been writing him, I’m pretty sure we can just call Bob a loving tribute to Morte.

It’s not necessarily a mark of quality if a game has an active player-base long, long after its rightful day in the sun–there are people still playing Aliens Vs. Predator on servers they have to privately maintain because its parent company dissolved–but I do think a good indication of whether a game is worth your time can be found in how weird a game’s fanbase is about it, and on that axis the evidence is unimpeachable:

It is perhaps worth noting that the nature of this threat changes when one remembers that of the two of them, only Morte can die.

There’s an in-game journal system that keeps track of stuff for you (and is actually searchable by onscreen text-input, which is impressive today, let alone in 1997) but this is one of the games where my newer, but vigorously embraced, custom of keeping a game journal of my own has been not just a vital tool in keeping track of what’s going on, but an extremely fun, rewarding experience in its own right. I recommend this for anyone else who’d like to play it (or any game of this milieu) because the game and I do not always agree on what’s noteworthy, and on more than one occasion I’ve been saved some serious hassle by documenting something it didn’t. Also I get to make jokes:

I can’t get over how much I love this game, and it’s even inspired me to go back and give Baldur’s Gate, BG2, and Icewind Dale a more honest try ahead of the release of BG3, which I was planning to play anyway but now won’t have to drop $70 on for a few months.

Aside, it would be really easy to say “what the hell is up with games costing seventy dollarbucks now???”, and the answer is that yes, it’s capitalists gouging us by weaponizing art other people worked to the bone to make, BUT they’ve always done that and NOW those artists are also starting to unionize and demand their rightful slice of that sweet sweet profit-cake, maybe even a corner piece if their advocate can swing it at the negotiation table/Albertson’s bakery-counter.

Baldur’s Gate III, for example, costs $70 and by pre-release estimation offers 75-100 hours of casual gameplay and up to 200 of thorough, which works out to less than a dollar of cost per hour of gameplay even if you’re just skimming through it, a price-point I think we can all agree is actually stupidly weighted in the consumer’s favor. (To say nothing of the fact that if it’s anything like its predecessors, it’ll mostly be reading and you’ll be able to spend literal real-world hours of gameplay just having conversations with your party members that sometimes yield rewards or secrets and sometimes just end in dick-jokes, but always deepens the world and characters you share it with.)
Game designers and their entire solar system of labor deserve more money than they’re getting, and they’re in a position to ask much more than the extremely reasonable compensation they’re requesting, so count yourselves lucky and pay the extra ten bucks.

Psych (Peacock)

Y’know, it’s a funny old life.
When I was a younger, slimmer Bageler, my cool coworker at Blockbuster told me about this show he thought I’d like, about a guy who bamboozles his way into being a fake police psychic; it was one of his favorite shows (and he’d been right about Sherlock Holmes and The Dresden Files), so I gave it a shot and despised it. Everything about it was stupid and insufferable, despite all the pieces forming the shape of something I really should’ve liked, much like that show Castle, with which it definitely shares more than a little DNA.

For more than a decade I went on like this! Then my pal William (one of the three Jackson Two), pointed out that I was, archetypically speaking, basically a kind of Shawn (the main character); not that I invalidated hundreds of criminal cases by illegally obtaining evidence (a valid criticism of the show ((also ACAB))), but in that I was and remain a grinning, giggling, motormouthed goblin who banks on being good enough at what he does to get away with doing it in the way that will be the most fun and probably wildly irritating to his superiors. I had no choice but to agree to this, because I only lie when it’s entertaining and obviously false (as MC Frontalot said, “if I don’t mean it and you know it then you know just what I mean“), and William suggested that perhaps as a younger, less secure Bageler I was uncomfortable seeing that aspect of myself on the screen. I had absolutely no defense against this idea, and was obligated to give it another shot, at which point I realized that I had been a fool.

Psych absolutely rules, it’s one of the cleverest, sweetest, most fun shows of the modern era, with writing and a cast capable of pivoting from good-time goofs to genuinely touching and/or terrifying on the turn of a pineapple-slice; unfortunately, beginning as it did in 2006, its early seasons are also simply chocka with era-accurate regrettable “humor” mostly rooted in straight panic, though it quickly works to outgrow this and fit into its wholesome-pants. It helps that the show is absolutely obsessed with three things: fun, the depth of the friendship between its two main characters, and perhaps most of all, snacks:

Also, apropos of nothing but I can’t find anywhere else in the section to put it, there’s a reason hour-long comedies are rare; the episodes are a little too long and I couldn’t get the hang of them, I was always caught off-guard when they ended, until I realized this is a feature, not a bug. This is a show from an era with commercials you couldn’t skip, and the show needed to account for the possibility that you’d channel-hop and miss a chunk of what happened here or there (or, as is more relevant in 2023, be watching while looking at your phone/working on an article/deep in the gentle, trumpety embrace of a jazz gummy). After this clicked in my head the extra runtime wasn’t bloat and cruft from loose writing, it was bonus loading time where they could put jokes or character moments or just a fun little bit of business for the actors, and it’s such a smart episode-structure technology that hedges its bets with the audience and let its world and cast breathe and develop.

Humor is subjective, and it would be very easy to find Shawn (or me!) extremely irritating, but there’s a reason this show got eight seasons and three movies, the last of which was released in 2021. Give it a try, but as an incentive I’ll leave you with my favorite of the show’s many running gags, which I took the time to build into a table just for you, enjoy:

So that’s me for the month! What about you tchotchkes, what are you playing and watching? Where and in what condition of life, unlife, or anti-life have you woken up lately? What squamous, luminescent horrors have you hoisted out of their natural habitat where they were minding their own goddamn business in the sunless depths? When are you gonna stop pretending that you don’t know that I know that you know that I’m not telling the truth? Give a shout in the comments!

–The Bageler

There’s a sign in the desert that lies to the west
Where you can’t tell the night from the sunrise

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