iOS, Kovacs, and Other Winter Distractions

Even Google’s in on it.

Ah, December. The month of an arctic-dwelling fat man who runs a factory of elves, handing them manufacturing quotas from lists written in childhood handwriting. Their orders are many, encompassing brands from Lego to Sony, but the elves possess the technical knowledge, company schematics, and rare metals necessary to assemble them, because otherwise they wouldn’t be elves. They receive most of their lists a week or three before Christmas, but they never collapse while operating forklifts, or misplace important parts, or call their labor union; they churn out products hour after sacred hour, as if fed meth through their office coffee maker.

All must be completed by Christmas Eve, when their employer loads the enormous heap of merchandise into a single wooden sleigh. Like an inflammatory Instagram post, he traverses the globe overnight, delivering presents to every child who didn’t skip their homework too many times. He has no difficulty locating their gifts, or remembering the hundreds of millions of address throughout his path. He enters each family’s house through the chimney, no matter how narrow, or the porch, if they don’t have one. He deposits his cargo under the Christmas tree, consumes a glass of milk and a plate of cookies as payment, and flies away without waking anyone, no matter how many children inevitably suffer insomnia from their excitement.

I live in a neighborhood in the Deep South, where guns are nearly as plentiful as secondhand Marlboro fumes. When I learned about Santa Claus in elementary school, I expressed fear that our neighbors would shoot him. My mother reassured me they would make an exception for him; if I’d been older and less impaired, I would have realized the truth. As it stood, between The Polar Express, YMCA nursery rhymes, and fear of no longer receiving presents, it took me until grade five to realize Santa Claus didn’t exist. Many children are disappointed; I wondered how I could be so dumb, and then I wondered why my parents would lie to me. I write sarcastically now, but as a ten year-old, it was an unpleasant experience. Afterward, my father apologized. My mother told me I discovered the myth in preschool, and she feared the social consequences if I argued about him with the rest of the class. In retrospect, I can’t blame her, but deception unsettles me. At least where science is concerned.

I’m writing this on an iPad Pro I purchased from Best Buy several weeks ago. It measures 10.5 inches in height, with four speakers and a 64-bit A10X Fusion chip. With the case and the stylus, it cost slightly over a thousand dollars, and I was lucky enough to find a used model in excellent condition. The system boasts 4GB of RAM, and my particular model carries 512GB of storage space, before the operating system is accounted for. Weak by modern desktop standards, but stronger than computers from older decades, and far more portable. Apple’s trying to market it as a laptop substitute, but it’s more of a souped-up iPhone. Some models even possess cellular capability. Still, it works well for many tasks, if you don’t require a USB port. The battery also lasts for slightly over ten hours, which is more than my gaming laptop can say.

In many ways, iOS offers a more focused experience than Windows 10, if social media apps are used in moderation (or not at all). The virtual keyboard is large enough for comfortable writing, unlike my old iPod Touch, and it can run Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Pages, or other software. The larger screen makes web navigation richer, and iOS Safari almost feels like a desktop browser at times, although there remain glimpses of dodgy mobile loading. On the other hand, iOS is much less vulnerable to viruses than Windows 10. On the entertainment side, you can download Spotify, Netflix, Kindle, YouTube, and numerous other apps, and the larger screen offers many advantages. It would be difficult to watch a movie with two other people on an iPhone, but I could imagine doing so with my iPad.

It doesn’t have the firepower to run intensive PC games, and most of them can’t be installed on iOS anyway, but it does handle App Store releases quite capably. Being App Store games, a lot of them suffer from microtransaction abuse, but there are decent titles—Infinity Blade II, Final Fantasy VI, and Bloo Kid II, to name three I’m familiar with. Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, and V were ported to iOS as well, although I haven’t tried them here. You can even get Final Fantasy VII and IX, which were PlayStation titles.

When you wish to include an Octorock in your game, but you don’t work for Nintendo

I’m currently playing Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, a Zelda clone created by Cornfox & Bros. The graphics are slightly clearer than a 3DS title, and the levels are built decently enough, but I’m finding the controls somewhat awkward, and combat is shallow as a result. It’s not very difficult, mind you, but pure touch controls have issues with this style of game, and it’s hard to move and attack precisely at the same time. Even Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass had a few buttons to augment their touchscreen maneuvers. It also takes great inspiration from Wind Waker, but sailing occurs through rapid autopilot, sacrificing both the frustration and the adventure that defined the GameCube title.

On the other hand, I haven’t encountered any ads or microtransactions yet, which does wonders for immersion. There’s nothing wrong with imitating Zelda, per se: good ideas are good ideas, no matter where they come from. I’m glad Oceanhorn exists, but we’ll see how it holds up by the end of the journey.

I’d planned to finish Dark Souls II by the end of the week, but when I take the DLC areas into account, I doubt I’m going to get there. It’s a massive title, and I’ve devoted so much (extra) time to level grinding that I’m only at Dragon’s Aerie after a hundred hours of play. My tentative score for the game is a 9.25/10, unless something very disappointing (or impressive) happens in the final stretch. I feel some of the lore was squandered, which is an issue in a game this fucking long, but it offers enormous challenge and freedom of movement. After the tutorial realm of Things Betwixt, you’re presented with two large areas to explore: Heide’s Tower of Flame, and the Forest of Fallen Giants. You select a character class at the beginning of the game, but those merely determine your starting gear and abilities, and you can adopt an entirely different strategy by the end. There are four different types of magic and numerous weapon classes to choose between, and with the proper stats, a single character can experiment with all of them.

I’ve been reading a novel called Woken Furies. It’s the third book in a cyberpunk trilogy by Richard K. Morgan, which began with Altered Carbon and Broken Angels. It takes place centuries in the future, when mankind has learned to upload their minds into computer stacks and travel to distant planets. Fatal injuries can be survived simply by transferring to new bodies, and minds can be kept in storage for tens or hundreds of years with no loss in functionality. If that sounds idealistic, rest assured; it’s one of the bleakest fictional worlds I’ve ever encountered. The main character Takeshi is a former U.N. Envoy soldier with extensive mental conditioning that enhances his reflexes, memory, and capacity for violence. The books follow his journey from detective to mercenary to vigilante, with different employers each time. He initially comes across as a power fantasy, but he either lost some of his humanity to gain those abilities or never had it in the first place.

The series has a bit of a liberal bent, with extreme technological advancement, numerous female authority figures, cynical treatment of religion, and a few homosexual characters that are described quite casually, but it also contains copious bloodshed, cursing, references to sexual violence, use of fictional hallucinogens, and warfare with nuclear weapons and civilian casualties on every side. It blends philosophy and scientific details with naked human barbarism.

It’s also one of the few series I’ve encountered that contains pornographic sex scenes without being pornographic in general. Altered Carbon features a passage where a male and a female character have explicit, prolonged sex under the influence of Merge-9, a drug that causes each partner to share the sensations of the other. It’s just as explicit as Fifty Shades of Gray, if less sadistic and more clearly consensual, and the writing is much, much less clumsy. You could probably use it as masturbatory material, if nothing else was available. But against a backdrop of spinal mutilation, chemical weaponry, murderous corporate figures, virtual torture realms, and other such wonders, it feels downright wholesome.

Like Dark Souls II, I planned to finish it by the end of the week, but at the time of writing, it’s 3 AM on Friday and my Kindle position is 24%. On the positive side, I wrote this almost twenty-four hours after taking Adderall, and little of the drug remained to assist me. My natural state is slightly easier to tolerate than when I was younger, although great stupor remains. I suspect my brain is improving as I mature, and I also had ordinary, garden variety childhood deficits to contend with, which behave almost like a disorder in their own right. On some level, I probably still do, but I’m approaching my twenties, the peak of human fluid intelligence. If that sounds harsh, then perhaps you understand why I dislike lying to children, or corporal punishment. All humans are impaired in my eyes; we merely suffer to different degrees. My kind know that well.

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