Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Ubisoft (2013), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in the 18th-century Caribbean.

Welcome back to the super special TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 May, it’s Month 5 and I am terrifically excited to announce this month’s title.

As you know, we’re on an historical trajectory throughout this year. January and February were pre-history. March was Ancient Greece. April was the Middle Ages, specifically 1272. This month, we are going to leap forward about 450 years to the year 1715, so we will see if civilisation has advanced any, after we spent most of April travelling around primitive, rural villages.

Yes, it is the 18th century, an age of swashbuckling piracy. Our hero for the month is Edward Kenway, a Welshman who leaves his home for a year to do a spot of piracy because he needs to start making some proper money. His ship meets with disaster and he soon finds himself washed up on a sun-drenched island in the Caribbean, where many pirate adventures await him, taking him to cities such as Havana and Kingston as well as out on the open seas.

Readers who by now are coming to know my taste through the Year of Console Gaming will immediately recognise why this game, not particularly new and the sixth in Ubisoft’s perhaps over-exploited Creed production line, made it into my list of must-play games for 2017. I hardly need to explain, do I. In theory, it has everything I want. Glorious sunshine. Beaches. Glittering blue sea. Palm trees. Tropical plants and birds. Ships. And not just pootling about on a raft, like I was doing in Ark: Survival Evolved, but actual galleons that have epic sea battles with other ships. That’s what I want. That right there. That is my idea of sexy.

Oh please oh please oh please let it be a good game. It is like looking at holiday brochures.

It promises large, open-world gameplay and is the first AC title to make naval exploration and battle just as important as land-based activities. I cannot wait to get started. I dipped my toe in the blue Caribbean water when I was having my Xmas holiday and the PlayStation was brand new and I really liked what little I saw of it so I am really thrilled now that I get to play this exclusively for a month. Wish me luck. I need to hit the beach running so that I can get out there on the sea for some proper adventures in the short time we have available.

Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for.

Year of the Console, April Review. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Welcome back to the official Year of Console Gaming that we are having here on TLYW. I can hardly believe it is the end of April already, which means it is time to stop playing this month’s game and give it a review. As you know, we are following an historical trajectory through 14 months of gaming. April represents the Middle Ages: I spent the whole month playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which is set in the 13th century; a time of peasants and rural villages and suchlike.

White OrchardWitcher 3 is a lot like Skyrim, as I expected. One critic remarked that W3 is to Skyrim as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings, and after a month of gameplay, I think that’s fair. Skyrim is more serious and I would say more atmospheric also the artwork seems a bit more imaginative. That said, I seem to remember that Skyrim makes you spend a lot of time fighting in dark, labyrinthine caves and I really prefer to be outdoors as much of the time as possible. W3 provides for a lot of outdoor PVE. You can ride your horse around the open countryside until you come to a cemetery or disused sawmill and if there are wolves or ghouls or drowners around that want to feast on your flesh, they come out into the open and you can fight them under the blue sky and the sun. I say that, in fact the weather in W3 is usually terrible. You can be riding through some meadows, following a stream and admiring the mountains in the distance and then just as you remember that you should take screenshots, the weather turns. It starts pouring with rain and there are miserable, howling winds. As a result, while there is lots of open countryside in W3, which I like, it is a bit too close to the real thing, in my view, what with the terrible weather and resulting puddles and mud. I felt like I spent a lot of time in muddy fields, ruining my hand-crafted boots.

witcher 3 a

What you think it is going to be like.

Velen

What it is actually like. Geralt stands outside in a howling storm. Oh look, it is raining again.

There’s a distinct main quest chain and for much of the first four levels you are going to be directed around and locked into the story, which results in what feels like a lot of time watching cut scenes and taking messages from one NPC to another. This is particularly noticeable as the first four or five levels seem designed to be slow paced in the sense that you don’t get much XP for anything that you do. You are going to spend the first few levels firmly in the starting zone and the game really makes sure that you explore it thoroughly, unlock all the hidden treasures, start crafting and learn how to engage in combat semi-competently before releasing you into the wild to take your chances in the larger world. This was initially frustrating but then by the time I moved out of White Orchard I was happy that for once I knew how to fight and how to get new gear.

These RPGs often suffer in the area of NPC dialogue, facial animation and acting. It’s hard to get it right. I found the Skyrim NPCs stilted and puppet-like, with wooden conversation. W3 is a bit better in this respect, but only a bit. Geralt’s adopted daughter is annoying, which doesn’t make you feel like going on a life-threatening, epic quest to get her back when she disappears. His wife, Yennefer, is horrible. She’s very attractive but she keeps saying sarcastic things that she thinks make her seem funny and clever when in fact she’s just being a bitch. Again, do we care if she and Geralt are permanently separated? Finally, there is Geralt himself. He is not badly acted, if you overlook his unlikely American accent, but he keeps having to make all these moral choices in the game and the implication is basically that he is a good guy. Except the game is also programmed in such a way that if you want crafting materials and saleable junk, which you do, then you loot them from crates and barrels and cabinets. Including inside people’s houses and no-one will raise an eyebrow or say a thing about it.

Eventually, Geralt will start crafting in a serious way, because he has realised he will need level 6 gear (ooh), and this will drive him into every house he passes so he can burgle it, in full view of the owners. His morals quickly evaporate and he robs the poor, the sick, the elderly. He robbed one family who were all lying on the floor of their house, apparently starving to death. Inexplicably, they had a silver platter and some emerald dust in the kitchen dresser (why didn’t they sell these items for food?!) and Geralt walked into their house, took their valuables and walked out again, stepping over the dying bodies of their children on his way to the door. Really nice. And that’s our hero.

Maybe that’s why I ultimately don’t care too much what happens to Geralt. He isn’t a very nice man, his personality doesn’t have much depth and his family members are unpleasant. That said, he is great at riding his horse and finding his way around and he knows how to have fun with fighting. The sword strokes and small repertoire of magic spells aren’t too hard to pick up and he certainly looks quite flashy and sexy as he jumps around, beheading things and showing off his special moves.

White Orchard

Geralt heroically slaughters a low-level bandit.

I managed to become a reasonably good fighter at level 4 and I could see how if I keep playing it, combat is probably really fun and satisfying as one’s skill increases at later levels.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt (2015), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in 1272.

Plot and setting: Monster-hunter Geralt rides on horseback around the countryside and various mediaeval villages, slaying ghouls and mythical beasts while searching for his missing wife and daughter.

General remarks: Fairly engaging. A large open world with lots of space to explore and move around. A generous amount of quests and a good balance between the main quest chain and various side quests.

Thumbs up: Runs smoothly, seems to be bug-free so far. Combat and crafting are both pretty easy to learn – systems have some variety without being needlessly complex. There’s a really nice thing you can do when riding your horse, if you hold down the X button on the PlayStation, the horse will canter and automatically stay on the path, if there is one. Really helpful. Lets you enjoy the scenery and concentrate less on driving.

Thumbs down:  Because I don’t like Geralt and his family very much, and because Geralt isn’t a character I would have built for myself, it’s hard to know what my long term goals are within this game. Build good armour and weapons, obviously. The main quest line takes off quite quickly once you get out of the starting zone and the Wild Hunt faction looks like an enemy worth fighting.

Return to?  Yes, possibly. It’s a strangely amoral and emotionally detached experience but combat is quite enjoyable and there are abundant quests.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Year of the Console as we move on to a new game and a new era of history, starting on 1 May.

Oh god, the hoarding.

OK, so you know that nice lady who says that decluttering your linen takes 10-15 minutes? Yeah.

  • I did 7.5 hours of ironing before I lost track of the time. 7.5 HOURS. The way it goes is you iron a duvet cover with the fancy, difficult edging, then right at the end of ironing the duvet cover for 45 minutes you discover a hole or a stain or something else wrong with it. Poppers that don’t do up. This also especially applies to fitted sheets. You can spend ages ironing a fitted sheet and then in very last bit you iron there will be some disfiguring stain or hole that disqualifies it from being your best linen.
  • I own 15-20 duvet covers. I do not know how that happened.
  • I only own about 6 bottom sheets and nearly all of them are marked or flawed in some way.
  • I have too many sets of matching pillowcases where one pillowcase has eyeliner or mascara stains on it that I can’t get out.
  • I can now fold a fitted sheet, not that brilliantly, but okay.

I’ve never felt hoarding tendencies so strongly before today. Normally I am good at decluttering, I can pitch things and not feel bad for their loss. But I need to let go of a lot of bed linen, a lot. Some of it, I was glad to see the back of:

  • Two depressing duvet covers with matching pillow cases that are 20 years old and that don’t have particularly good memories attached to them and that I don’t use. One threadbare Postman Pat pillowcase. A couple of sheets for a single bed (I own no such bed). Duvet covers that are grey and industrial and make my bedroom look like a man lives there.

Some of it is much harder to let go of!!

  • Duvet covers where there is nothing at all wrong with them except I have too many. I can hardly bear to let go of them. There’s a big part of my brain that keeps going “but you might need them! they’re perfectly fine! they might come in handy!” But realistically, what is going to happen? Am I going to have 15 guests come to stay? No, I am not. And anyway I don’t have 15 duvets that I could put that many covers on. And I don’t have the storage space for all this crap, I really don’t. It’s got to go.

Anyway. I have managed to get it down to 4 sets of linen. 4.5 if you count one duplicate duvet cover that I can’t bear to part with because it is particularly nice, this being why I bought two. I don’t know why I am obsessing. It’s not even expensive stuff. I looked on Amazon and you can get duvet covers just like this for £8 and pillowcases are going for 55p each.

Here are three of my sets of fully ironed linen. As you can see, I succeeded in making each set fit inside a pillowcase and pinned the parcels shut with dressmakers’ pins like so. That’s my Portmeirion tea set in the background, which I will show you properly another time.

folded sheets

Right, I must do a bit more ironing for the last parcel of linen, then all the rest of it is going out the door. And that’s me done for today. Needless to say, I have not started on the towels.

More horrifying scenes of domestic squalor.

As you know, beloved readers, TLYW is not just about skipping around London and indeed the world, going to art museums and operas, even though these things are very important. It is about trying to find out how to live. How to organise yourself, how to discipline yourself, how to get all your work done, how to arrange things so that they are as comfortable as possible today while not being liable to fuck you up tomorrow. How to provide for your own needs.

You would think this would be easy, being single and not part of a family unit but I think it is in some ways harder. You have the freedom to curate your home and your life the exact way you want but it also gives you the freedom to trash your house if you have tendencies in the direction of untidiness, hoarding, thinking the housework only needs to be done 2-3 times/year, etc.

I suddenly find myself in the middle of a massive episode of decluttering, the like of which we have not seen for probably a couple of years. This is because I have thoroughly filled up my so-called spare room with rails of dresses, with the result that there’s no room left for all the other junk I routinely throw in there. So, bit by bit, I am pulling it out into the hall and rationalising it as much as possible. A lot of it is just cardboard boxes of assorted crap, old papers, 19 tubs of lip balm, etc.

That’s when it occurred to me that there were sheets and towels in about five different locations around the flat, so I gathered them all together. Those two boxes on the right are all towels. That’s not counting kitchen towels. The entire tower on the left is bed linen.

linen

Clearly, this is too much bed linen for one person. Even if I have a guest sleeping on the sofa bed and we both vomit on ourselves in the night, I still only need 4 sets of bed linen in total. So I am going to use this lady’s advice to rationalise down to 4 sets, stuffing each set inside of one of its own pillowcases.

She says it is a 10-15 minute task but as we all know, I am shit at housework, so I will time myself and find out how long it actually takes.

Then I will rationalise the towels. The objective is to make all the bed linen and towels fit into this cupboard.

linen cupboard

Wish me luck. This is not particularly what I wanted to be doing, I have a lot of work on and I would rather be at the gym if I have any free time, but it is what it is. I have a lot of clothes now, and I know which I like more between new dresses and old duvet covers. Something had to give.

ironing

I’ll post photos when done. Oh god, this is going to involve folding fitted sheets and everything.

Jewels

I may not be able to retire, but no-one can say I didn’t go out and enjoy London.

I was at the Royal Opera House again tonight, for the second time this week.

roh3

roh2

It was ballet this evening, I felt extremely fortunate to see George Balanchine’s Jewels, which is now 50 years old, just like me (sigh).

Here’s the official trailer for the version I saw tonight.

It goes without saying that the dancing was amazing, this is the Royal Ballet, they are world famous.

Thanks to my mother I saw many 19th century classical and romantic ballets when I was a kid. Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Coppelia, La Fille Mal Gardee. It was a treat for a little girl. The last time I saw a ballet performed could have been 30 years ago. So it was a very interesting experience going to this 1960s ballet (in fact, 1967) as a mature adult.

Jewels is an abstract ballet in three acts; there is no story-telling. It is divided into three sections: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. Dancers, performing solo or in groups as large as 35, are elegantly arranged on the stage in geometric configurations. The effect, especially in their sparkly and bejewelled costumes, is kaleidoscopic. Each dancer is a jewel and they form chains and make squares and triangles on the stage. Music by Fauré (emeralds), Stravinsky (rubies) and Tchaikovsky (diamonds).

I also want to remark on the set design, which is gloriously 1960s. There are ostentatious chandeliers and pillars that make the stage look like a grand American hotel.

Royal Ballet dancers and members of the creative team who worked on this 2017 production discuss why it is a special ballet.

See the whole thing in this Russian production broadcast by Euro Arts Channel:

The American Lawyer

Longtime readers may recall that among my admirers is a fairly rich American lawyer. He flew in to London from the US five years ago just to take me to dinner at the Savoy. He was very enlivening company. That was our first date. He was 85 years old.

We stayed in touch by email and he later figured on the scene when I was having my economic crisis of 2015. There was some talk, if you remember, of my moving out to the midwest to live in his house and drive his car and run my business from there. A very kind offer but my business needs to be where it is, in London. NY would have been okay or somewhere else that has its own major international airport.

It’s now 2017 and he is 90. He’s starting to feel as though he wouldn’t mind a few days of holiday from work (LOL, this guy, I admire his strength and reserves of energy). So he is going to his house in the South of France for a week in August, to sunbathe and swim in the pool and go to the beach. Do I want to come along? Yes, I do. Thanks very much for inviting me.

So that’s my second holiday lined up and all I have to pay for is the flights. Awesome. It will be our second date.

Return to the naked beach.

I have been desperate for some beach. Trips to South Africa and Philadelphia in 2016 were amazing but were not holidays. The last time I saw a beach that I could actually lie on was when I went to Gran Canaria in early April 2015, when I was having my mid-life career crisis.

I blogged about Gran Canaria. The weather was nice, if not quite hot. There is a nude beach at Maspalomas, and I discovered the sublime joy of swimming and sunbathing without a costume. It was a relaxing break and I did some useful reading and thinking about business and my career.

That was two years ago. I have been desperate for some holiday because the two years in between then and now have been very hectic, in which I worked hundreds of hours of illegal and unpaid overtime for the World’s Worst Company. Now I’m out of that job and I am my own boss again. Business is doing okay. I control my time. Everything is fine.

That’s why I’ve just booked a quick four-day break in Gran Canaria again. I would really like a proper holiday, where I go somewhere new for several days, I personally think 10 days is a good amount of time. But I cannot book anything like that just yet because new business is incoming and work comes first. So I’ve just booked four days in a one-bedroom apartment near Maspalomas beach. It was the one of the cheaper holidays I’ve ever booked. The apartment complex sounds ideal for me, it has multiple swimming pools, is within reach of the beach and shops/restaurants yet at the same time is nestled in a hillside, slightly away from the sea front. Guests complained that it was ‘too quiet’ and ‘boring in the evenings’. That sounds absolutely perfect for me. Slightly out of the way, quiet and boring, and still not too far from the beach, you can see the distance in the photo below. There’s a little bus shuttle to the beach all day apparently, or you can walk, or it’s about 4 Euros in a taxi.

I can’t wait. Four days is a lot better than nothing, a lot better, and it is coming up in May so it’s quite soon. Hooray. I can organise a longer, more adventurous holiday later in the year if business continues well. Beach, here I come. I’ve waited for this for so long.

Palm Oasis

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