So. News first. I have found a dorm-sized room in Park Slope. It's smaller than my room in Crown Heights, which is smaller still than my one-bedroom in Washington Heights. I've joked to several people that I've developed a habit of moving into progressively smaller rooms in progressively smaller neighborhoods. Which makes sense considering the rent I'm paying isn't all that much higher. When your spending power doesn't grow, you can't trade up; you can only trade off. If you've been to Park Slope, and you know how beautiful it is, you probably understand how it's worth the smaller room and longer commute.
I am spending much of my time moving and worrying about moving. I have few things to move, but progress is hindered by stupid things, like not having packing tape, or not having enough boxes, or not having Internet access, or not knowing where to find a moving company that will not rip me off and will be ready at a week's notice (I tentatively have to be out by the 15th). A few kind souls have tentatively offered to help drive my stuff over, which might be preferable. And I've bought tape and have been stealing boxes from dumpsters, so, sorted.
So what have I been doing while I've been stalled for time? Well, little side projects, mostly--writing songs I can't play, percolating stories I can't write. Computer games have helped me cope with Internetlessness. Tried Crawl--it's apparently what everyone plays when they graduate from NetHack--but I'm not finding it half as enjoyable, despite the richer gameplay and vastly increased complexity. There's something about the pace of that game, moving back and forth between two dungeon levels, getting killed by monsters too fast to run away from, that makes it kind of tedious. Of course, I thought NetHack was tedious at first, too. We'll see if the game gets any more fun as I get better at it.
I've also been playing a lot of Iji. The freeware indie game community darling of 2008, and a four-year, one-man labor of love, this platform/stealth game is already sparking Most Awesome Indie Title Ever: Cave Story vs. Iji flamewars on forums across the Internet. (Bet Ultimortal would be real thrilled to hear that I'm using a Cave Story icon with this entry. :b) The comparisons are maybe unfair, as the games have different design goals. Cave Story is more geared towards post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania style free exploration; Iji is more of a Metal Slug run and gun with Metroid-like exploration elements. But it is no small praise for the independent game community to speak of a 2008 release in the same league as one of its best-loved classics. What Iji lacks in Cave Story's charm it makes up for with a rich abundance of pretty explosions. (Japanese developer, meet Western developer!) And it does come close to matching Cave Story's level of gameplay depth, attention to detail, rich backstory, and giddy berserker-like battle rage--which, as anyone who has played Cave Story will testify, is no small feat.
But enough unfair comparisons to my favorite indie title ever. Iji really does stand on its own. Remember that fight scene in the original Ghost in the Shell movie in which Major Whatsherface is fighting that giant robot spider tank, and she rips off the top of the tank with her bare arms and hacks into it and makes it blast itself to death? Wasn't that awesome? Well, apparently Ultimortal would think so, because that scene is this game. Hacking minigames are nothing new these days--for doors and safes. But this game gives you the unique ability to sneak up to almost any enemy, hack into its nano-armor, and run away cackling with glee as he fires his rocket launcher at you and it blows up in his face. You can even hack the behemoth half-a-screen-tall Annihilator mechs, which is extremely dangerous, but makes them immensely easier to deal with.
The story...wishes it were awesome. (The main story, at least--the flavor text, which you mostly pick up from in-game logbooks a la System Shock or BioShock, is great.) The writing for Iji is some of the most forced I've ever seen in a video game. It feels very much like it was engineered, not written--like every dialogue box was optimized to convey the maximum amount of exposition or character development in a minimum amount of space. "I feel guilty because I always loved your sister more!" "Are you okay? It's been three weeks since we started grafting nano-armor onto your body in response to the destruction of human civilization by a superweapon fired by an alien race called the Tasen! Good to see you're awake." This is a shame, because the game puts a huge emphasis on the story, building up an amazingly deep (and mostly implied) backstory, expressive character art, gorgeous set pieces, and a decently sized cast of well-developed minor characters towards an impressively apocalyptic end. It's a shame that so much of it is told instead of shown. Despite the poor writing, however, all the gimmicks still somehow make the story enjoyable. I'm sure you've all read the game marketing trope "Your actions have a real impact on the story!" on the back of a box at Best Buy; this game actually delivers on that promise. Important plot and gameplay events change drastically based on how many enemies you kill, what special items you hold on to, and what routes you take. Even subtle aspects of the game are dependent on your choices. If you kill everything on the screen, Iji will become bloodthirsty, rationalizing violence in the cutscenes and screaming "Die!" or "Vengeaaance!" whenever she kills something. If you play like a pacifist, however, she'll appeal to level bosses' gentler natures and squeak an "Oops!" or "I'm sorry..." if you manage to kill an enemy by accident. In one level, if you killed few enough enemy troops in the previous sector, you'll declare a truce with the other side, and you get to enjoy a vastly different gameplay experience as you sneak and jump past all the turrets and soldiers instead of shooting at them. It is, in some ways, akin to a platform-hopping Metal Gear Solid.
Upgradable (and combinable!) weapons, ten levels, a rockin' soundtrack, half a bajillion unlockable secrets, and some truly epic boss fights make this the second best game ever to be released for free. Worth playing just to get to the last boss--that memorable David vs. Goliath moment right before the last battle, in which (minor spoilers) Iji, her once-impressive MFPB launcher looking like toothpick, stares down a huge army-obliterating battle mech fifty times her size, as thousands of space cruisers in the distance power up their superweapons in the nanonuclear sunset, is everything a last boss is meant to be.
Oh, and there's a strong non-sexualized female lead. And one of the sideplots involves a tragic lesbian relationship between two of the otherwise faceless soldiers who patrol the level. And a Machinae Supremacy cover of a VNV Nation song plays in the end credits. Icing on the cake--but sweet, sweet icing.
tl;dr? Watch the trailer.