What Are You Playing This Weekend?

Thomas Middleditch

Thomas Middleditch, comedian

The Shakespearean improviser laments the overwhelming vastness of open worlds.

By Steve Heisler • January 11, 2013

In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.

Thomas Middleditch is a comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central’s Mash Up and is a staple with the touring improv geniuses The Improvised Shakespeare Company. He also runs a games-centric blog, n3rdlyfe.com. He spoke to The Gameological Society about why role-playing will always be a part of his life.

The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?

Thomas Middleditch: I finally broke down and started playing Far Cry 3. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty slick. Big games nowadays impress me less and less with each passing year. It’s like the difference between watching a small movie like Brick or Little Children, and the new Bourne movie—it’s awesome, but it’s just different.

Gameological: Is there a trend that you’ve noticed with the big studio games?

Middleditch: The best analogy I can make is the movie one. You go to see a big blockbuster, and you’re like, “That was fun.” You’re not leaving that moving saying, “Wow, I was emotionally affected, but man, there were some sequences that were really exciting, suspenseful even.” There were some cheesy moments that you might have even rolled your eyes at. You were never really caught off-guard by the plot or what actually happened.

Conversely, the other game I’m playing is called War Of The Roses for PC. It’s by no means an in-depth story game. All it is is a multiplayer-only, medieval melee game literally set in the War Of The Roses. You get points to get gold and buy new weapons and armor and stuff. It’s kind of like Mount And Blade. You get to a point where you’re just playing one game, you end a round online, and you’re first, the number-one-ranked player in the match, and you’re like, “Oh my God! I’m getting good!” It’s both awesome and bad at the same time.

Gameological: How important is story in a game to you?

Middleditch: It really depends what type of game it is. For example, I play a lot of flight simulators and stuff. I don’t need a story. There are some of them that have some kind of campaign where essentially you have a pilot career and you do battle and you progress in the world.

Story is—it just really depends on the game. A great example: A game like Braid. Incredible story and by the end you’re done. The first BioShock. Oh man, what a satisfying story that was. Here’s an interesting problem that some games are having, especially open world games. The main story in, say, Skyrim is pretty cool. You go and you play it. It’s very standard high fantasy stuff. It’s interesting and engaging, but some of the other stuff just takes away from it. I actually found that Skyrim, for me, is too vast. I’m 60 hours in, and I’m like, “I’m not half way done with the fucking game! What am I going to do?”

In Far Cry 3, the main story is pretty cool, and the voice acting and the motion-capture acting—the actors are great. If it were just that game, I think you could center in on it and make it a much more satisfying experience. That’s what games like Half-Life and Portal do. It’s not really an open-world game. You’re kind of on rails, but I think you get a better story that way.

Gameological: In Skyrim, the Mages’ Guild stuff was reduced significantly.

Middleditch: Yeah, it was really disappointing. What bugged me was, you got in and there’s a problem, obviously, with the Mage’s Guild, and everyone’s kind of suspicious of the one guy, and you meet the one guy, and he’s super-evil. He’s like, [in a cartoonish evil voice] “Ha, I’m bad. I’m a bad man.” He’s so obviously evil that I thought maybe if you uncovered the truth that he’d be a sort of Severus Snape kind of guy—he looks evil, but he’s actually doing good—but no. He’s just a bad guy.

Gameological: Do you play multiple games at once? And if so, how do you keep track of where you are?

Middleditch: Sometimes I do play multiple games, but the tangential game will be a game like War Of The Roses—an online-only thing where it’s like, “Ugh, I just need to hack and slash other humans.” Usually the tangential one will be some kind of multiplayer thing. Even if I’m in the mode where I’m consuming games at a rapid pace, I do like to complete one and move on to the next.

Gameological: Does your interest in games bleed over into your interests as a comedian?

Middleditch: Because I play so many video games and I’m involved in a lot of other nerdy stuff—I have a remote control helicopter, and I play a game like Dungeons & Dragons that’s called GURPS.

Gameological: It’s called what?

Middleditch: It’s called GURPSGeneric Universal Role-Playing System. [Laughs.] I don’t know if you’ve ever played it, but it’s a pen-and-paper role-playing game. You can buy a whole game and play in a certain world, but this is just a set of rules and you can apply these rules to any scenario.

I play all that stuff and naturally it’s going to influence my comedy stuff. It’s not as if it’s a secret thing. I have a blog about all these passions and I don’t write under any alias. I do like to keep some elements of my life segmented, but in no way am I shy about any of this stuff. I think it’s pretty important if you’re going to know me to know that I’m insane about this stuff. Some friends and I were talking about making an old point-and-click adventure game. That would be an interesting second dream of mine realized, to somehow make a video game.

And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.

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  • hcduvall

    That Far Cry 3 story…I just went through 3 “twists” and it just lost me. I wasn’t super into it, but I wasn’t hating it either. It has much better gameplay than 2, but the story is much less satisfying. It’s weird, because the characters clearly get commentary that works meta, but the makers opted no to go with satire or a tight story like Far Cry 2 (and all it owes to Heart of Darkness), but what feels like one cliche piled on another. Man, maybe it’s like a Verhoeven movie. Maybe the joke is on me…

    • Effigy_Power

      I hear ya… I just thought that FC3 is way too repetitive and in essence never feels like actual wilderness.. not that FC2 managed to do that any better.
      The issue is that the justifiably scared and incapable protagonist turns into Solid Snake within a few minutes and that sort of ruined it for me to begin with.
      Two insta-death crocodile attacks and several quicktime events later I had pretty much lost all motivation.

  • PaganPoet

    I agree with him about some games being too vast. There is such a thing as having too many choices.

    As for me, I’ve finally started Mass Effect. Only about 10 hours in. Charlotte Shepard is a tough as nails, no nonsense badass who will stop at nothing to get the mission accomplished. By contrast, Carlos Shepard is an understanding hero who is always making sure his crew is happy. After all, a happy crew is a good crew. I’m doing my run first time through as Charlotte…maybe all three games? Then going through again as Charlotte. As for my crew, I tend to keep Garrus around, because he’s a badass, Tali, because I like her accent, and Kaidan, because he’s so so handsome and that’s a useful skill to have in battle.

    Those of you who don’t know, I play FemShep (Charlotte) as my Renegade and ManShep (Carlos) as my Paragon. I’ve already played through ME2 all the way as Carlos, but only partially through as Charlotte. Unfortunately two members of Carlos’s crew died in the last mission. Being a PS3 owner who held off on buying ME3, I was pretty excited when the Mass Effect Trilogy was announced. Figured it was a good chance to start the whole series afresh.

    !!!MASS EFFECT SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

    Carlos has to have Kaidan around in Mass Effect 3 to romance and have awkward, hollow man-sex with, so I’m thinking Charlotte is going to send Kaidan on *that* mission so I can see how Ashley’s racist story continues on in the other two games.

    !!!END MASS EFFECT SPOILERS!!!

    I’ve also been dicking around in Gravity Rush again, trying to get a Gold Ranking in all the replayable missions. I still don’t quite get the hang of the gravity slide, is it just me?

    Anyway, I really do hope this game gets a sequel. Yeah, the battle system is a bit off and frustrating, but with some tweaking it could turn into something truly outstanding. Is there anything better than hurtling Kat (and maybe a few innocent bystanders, mwahahaha!) across the city, hunting little purple gems?

  • EmperorNortonI

    Not all that much, recently.  10 hour days at work are fun.

    I’ve been making progress on Borderlands 2.  We just got to flying Sanctuary, and a whole bunch of side-quests opened up.  Woot.

    At home, I’ve been playing Tropico 4.  On the one hand, it’s a well put together city builder with a reasonably thought out economy.  On the other hand, it’s SO aggressively stupid in its presentation.  Everywhere it doesn’t matter, they loaded on the racist stupidity.  Argh!  I can forgive that they overlooked the systematic imbalances in trade that kept Caribbean nations impoverished, and I can forgive the utter and complete disregard for the rapacious local elites who brutally exploited the laboring peasants.  But those silly caricatures?  That just kind of hurts.

    No time lately for PlanetSide 2, sadly.  Maybe soon.

  • Effigy_Power

    Apparently I clocked over 40 of my 80 hours of Crusader Kings 2 in the last to weeks, so… I may have a problem. That said, half of North Africa drinks Guinness, so who are you to judge.

    I am trying to do good on my desire to want to shake things up a bit and stop shooting at stuff in games, because I am so bored with the game mechanics of it, as the people woefully listening to my tirades in the Steam chat can attest to. So obviously I’ll be putting hours into Unreal Tournament 3 pretty hard.
    Just kidding. I just got the technically weak, but possibility-rich Gothic 3, which I haven’t played in a while. I blame Sub.
    I was thinking that this game could really use a free-form Co-op mode a la DayZ which would make it amazing… alas, no such thing.
    I also want to get some more Civ 5 stuff going. I’d love to be able to play a longform game without bitch-slapping some uppity neighbor who thinks he can just steal my damn cities with his catapults and camels…
    Plenty to do in Sleeping Dogs still, but I must admit that now that I am through the story, the air is a bit out, despite this being an excellent game.

    I seriously have to get back to drawing. I have been slacking for a few weeks now since I did the GS-feature and I always have to make sure that that doesn’t extend to a month of regressing to stick figures and fart jokes.

    • djsubversive

       There apparently IS a Multiplayer Mod for Gothic 2: Night of the Raven, but not 3. And it looks like it’s “standard deathmatch, but set in the world of Gothic,” which is beyond dumb. I’m still investigating how hard it would be to mod co-op into it. A party of Nameless Ones, skinnin’ boars and pickin’ herbs… oh, and getting stun-locked by raptors.

      I ran into my first “Monster” enemy recently. they’re like small tyrannosauruseses. I stood on a cliff and shot them full of arrows while they roared uselessly below me. I’m a great hunter. :D

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Of all the glass beads, shiny geegaws and broken pocket watches I was compelled to buy over the Steam holiday sale, the purchase I’d be most likely to slip on a fake cover if it were a paperback I was reading on the bus, is RAGE.
       I haven’t played much.  I enjoy it despite, hell, probably almost because it feels like an antique.  An antique given an incredibly shiny new coat of paint.  It’s like the game RAGE has an inverse ratio applied that the more advanced the graphics, the more remedial every other element must be in return.
       In fact, the game is almost sentimental and a little quaint.  Making the name RAGE almost ironic.
       Like a really big guy named ‘Tiny’.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

       I got RAGE for $5 on Steam as well, and honestly I was still disappointed. What galled me the most is that it was actually a really fun shooter at its core. It was just buried under a terrible UI and atrocious graphics and repetitive quests with recycled dungeons and a lame story. Half those complaints would go away if it hadn’t been designed specifically for consoles and then straight ported to PC.

  • caspiancomic

    After playing the first couple of hours of like fifty games in the weeks following Christmas, I’ve been forced by the beginning of second term to commit myself to only one or two titles, played for a couple of hours a week, like some grounded high schooler. Responsibilities! Who needs em!

    Anyway, in addition to chipping away at New Game Plus in Persona 3:FES (I will always be playing this game forever, so from now on even if I don’t list it just assume I’m probably playing it), I’m going to finally start Mass Effect. Also, I’m going to put my head down and get a bit further in 999, if I’ve got the time.

    Hahaha oh man, I’m so used to posting door-stopping essays in WAYPTW, it feels weird to just list the games I’m going to play. I’ll make up for it by linking to my newest 5,000 word indulge-a-thon in Keyboard Geniuses.

    • PaganPoet

      I’m actually anxious to get back to P3FES sometime too, as I still haven’t had a perfect playthrough. Too busy with other games atm though.

      I just started Mass Effect myself, so you, Jackbert and I can document our space operas!

  • Nudeviking

    Mrs. Nudeviking and I have been playing the Gamecube version Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and will probably play that unless she has to work (does freelance stuff and will occasionally gets called on weekends) in which case I’ll play Zelda: Skyward Sword.

    No new games for me in 2013 until I play through some of this backlog!

  • Erdschwein

    First off, yay gurps! If I recall correctly, GURPS is the inspiration for the the original Fallouts’ SPECIAL system and those games were fucking spectacular.

    This weekend, I’m going to try to ignore the sweet draw of the screen and read some important stuff before term starts and I can’t read anything substantial and interesting. But realistically, I’ll probably end up playing more of Grim Fandango, which is just as good as I remember.

    Also I beat Far Cry 3 this week, it was pretty great. A thoroughly enjoyable open world, actual motivation to collect the random shit/explore/do side quests, and the story was decent. Jason was sort of my least favorite character. I definitely agree with the reviewer here, who said the character development wasn’t very good. But some of this is my fault. I’d say I played 3-5 hours before attacking the Medusa, meaning I was already a very capable killing machine with 4 guns strapped to me. So it didn’t really make sense to hear Jason going, “oh god, I don’t know if I can do this!” You skinned a shark underwater and then fought off another with your bare hands, I think you can kill 8 pirates undetected with your 3 silenced guns. This is sort of just a general problem with pacing in a genre that by definition refuses to pace the player. On the other hand, the character wasn’t developed very well beyond this. For a plot that focuses on the character’s transformation from average joe to ueber warrior, this is pretty damning. Still one of the best games I’ve played.

    SPOILERS: How dumb is the whole “He doesn’t know what you look like, right?!” Uh, yeah he does, remember the phone video? The fact that he was at Vaas’s camp in the very beginning while Jason was a prisoner? The fact that this is 2012 and everyone in America has a facebook page?

  • Citric

    I finished a game, yay! Yakuza Dead Souls is done! I’ll admit to breezing through it, since it seemed oddly inappropriate to go do karaoke with the city in crisis, but I enjoyed it a lot. I think I just liked how they recognized how silly it all was and just embraced it, just a joy. I kind of want to try the other Yakuza games now.

    Of course I bought something like 20 games since the last time I finished something (stupid Steam, stupid me impulse buying stupid crap) so here we are. I’m also considering getting a bunch of Atlus stuff on PSN ’cause it’s cheap. Riviera, Knights in the Nightmare, Yggdra Union and Hexyz Force. Thoughts? Hopefully, thoughts that will scare me away from such things?

    Anyway I’m still plugging away at Romancing SaGa (it’s harrrrrrrrd) and Persona 2, which really needs a more modern approach to random battles – that is, not one eery five steps. I like the world and atmosphere so much I’m better able to tolerate the (massive) flaw. I’m also sporadically playing Bit.Trip Runner, which is a dick.

    I may start up something new as well, but I haven’t decided what.

  • doyourealize

    Minor spoilers for Dragon’s Dogma ahead.

    I was excited the other day when I finally decided to sit down and finish Dragon’s Dogma. That would give me time to finally go through both Catherine and Lollipop Chainsaw before I headed back to Dragon’s Dogma for a new game, or maybe try the NG+ because, well, that game is fucking awesome. Start Spoiler However, upon completing DD, I find out that it’s not actually completed, so I still have some time to go. Still though, immediately being attacked by a drake outside Gran Soren was pretty thrilling and unexpected. End Spoiler

  • cookingwithcranston

    I just received my copy of Epic Mickey 2 for the 360 yesterday and will probably be immersing myself in that this weekend.

    I always wanted to play the first one but was only available for the Wii. If ever I considered buying a Wii, Epic Mickey would have been a motivating factor. The other being Zelda: Twilight Princess.

    The co-op feature with Oswald is an even sweeter bonus.

  • http://twitter.com/pocoGRANDES poco GRANDES

    oh man, i tried to get some non-RPG-playing friends to play GURPS and they mocked it mercilessly… all because of the ridiculous name! nice to hear a shout out, though. i was particularly a fan of GURPS Supers. 

    as for my plans this weekend, i’m finishing up my first playthrough of ME3. i’ve been playing the whole trilogy since it was released on ps3 for the first time, and yeah, i finally get what all the hype was about. it’s pretty awesome… i think i’m really close to the ending, though… like “finish it tonight” close. after everything i’ve heard about it, i’d be lying if i said i wasn’t nervous. 

  • Jackbert322

    Hmm, you drink your hooch out of a “paper back”? I prefer to hide my liquor in hardcovers, but to each his own.

  • Effigy_Power

    Well, only two more points until they win the Grand Prix of sports and go to over time with the sudden death.

    I don’t know shit about football.

  • Cloks

    I loved Dishonored but it really tried my patience a lot at times. I think I liked the idea of the game more than the execution and the levels after you SPOILERS eliminate the overseer END SPOILERS weren’t really as good as the ones that came before. Apparently it sold well enough to merit a sequel so I’m hoping they can refine the game and provide a more satisfying narrative and some good new levels.

  • Effigy_Power

    They really cut them down too much… I still wish you didn’t end up Dragonbornmasterthiefuberassassinthanethiefmasterarchmage, but well, the magic dudes are lame ducks compared to their Cyrodillic cousins.

  • PaganPoet

    I’ve never actually watched Battlestar Galactice, but it did inspire my favorite sketch on Portlandia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQttrkzWOo4 That was pretty much me when I discovered Breaking Bad.

  • Enkidum

    Hive’s quite a bit of fun, nice thing about it is it’s very quick – games usually take half an hour at most. My friend claims to have solved it so that whoever gets the first move wins, but I still haven’t gotten there.

  • Drew Toal

    Here’s everything you need to know: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbm-jzs-gds

  • Effigy_Power

    I had a feeling the reason I don’t get football is because I don’t find Benny Hill funny.

  • Effigy_Power

    Mooy and I did a few MP games once and ended up nuking Ghandi to kingdom come, so fun is to be had. Plenty of people have Civ 5, so we probably should get that going with like 4 people on a small map.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Watching BSG helps make that sketch even funnier, when the actual Ronald D. Moore and castmembers arrive!

    Not that I’d recommend watching it. It’s definitely…compelling…in the way the sketch shows (especially when it’s on Netflix and you can keep going “just one more – I need to see what happens next!”), but it’s also seriously trashy and dumb and kind of makes you feel bad for investing so much time in it (unlike something that is genuinely great like Breaking Bad).

    I kind of made peace with its campiness and soldiered on, which helped me stomach the later seasons when it  totally goes off the rails and becomes totally insane.

  • caspiancomic

     Hahaha, yeah, I really love how if his brave stat is high enough Neku can walk around Shibuya in high heels, diamond earrings, and a two piece bathing suit and be all “bitch, I’m fabulous.” In its own way it’s actually sort of progressive that the clothing isn’t gender segregated.

    I’m planning on starting Mass Effect this weekend if I can get the time. I’m honestly actually a little bit stressed about building my Shepard. It’s such a big commitment!

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

       Just make sure to tilt his/her head from left to right in the creation stage so they don’t end up having a disturbingly concave nasal bone and forehead like mine did.
       I tried to pretend my Shepard was the unfortunate recipient of some degenerative bone disorder which he rose above to become a great leader.
       But it weirded me out too much and I had to start over.

  • dreadguacamole

     This is my second playthrough, and playing as a mage, I’m finding it a bit easier to get through. I’m not *that* scared of the Demon Ruins, actually… it’s the Duke’s Archives and the Tomb of Giants that I’m dreading.

  • Electric Dragon

    I think you actually get more XP for killing things on foot than with the Mako.

  • dreadguacamole

     Spec Ops really is something special. It’s making Far Cry 3′s weak, limp attempts at commentary even funnier to me.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I tried for a non-lethal run, but I mistakenly killed a few guards near the beginning, and then I rewired an arc pylon, not knowing that it would incinerate my enemies. I still got the “good” ending, but it felt tainted.

    So naturally, next time through, I’m just going to kill everybody.

  • Effigy_Power

    Sure, but if you want to follow the quest-lines, you do no matter what. It would have been nice to instate others to those positions rather than become dear leader yourself. There’s no shame in being a good second-in-command at times.
    If you want to be archmage, fine. But maybe if you don’t, it might just have been nice for someone else to take over that job. For example someone who has been with guild X for years, rather than someone who just walked in through the door a few days ago.

  • Effigy_Power

    -cheers-
    Throw that ball in the generally preferred direction of your chosen discipline and make it do the thing that helps you win somehow!

    Also yeah, Dragon Age 3 is hopefully going to be tight. Tapping Sandal for “The Maker”, btw.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I thought that Ashley was a worse person than Kaiden, but she was far more interesting. So I’ve always kept her around. (In RPGs, I tend to do what makes for the most interesting story.) On my next playthrough, though, I’m going to see how things shake out with Kaiden.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    That’s a good one.  This same Steam Sale, I bought all the Fable 3 DLC even though I turned off the game in disgust when the climax began without me even knowing it was happening.  And that’s even when I was forewarned of the abruptness.  That’s some shitty game design.
       The other would probably be some Deus Ex DLC that gave you a sniper rifle and 10,000 exrtra credits.
       Not only am I opposed on principle to that type of cheap buying a gameplay edge DLC, but it wasn’t until after I bought it that I discovered it only applies to a new play through and couldn’t be applied to my current character.
       It was like a really lousy O. Henry story.  I mean, it only cost me a $1.75, but I still felt sullied. 

  • Effigy_Power

    I agree with you on everything there.
    Especially deserts have yet to be made well (other than Journey), because they never feel as desolate as they should nor as wide and open. Fallout New Vegas’ Mojave is at times a joke, especially when you first walk down to the city being raided by the legion. Sure, there are sandstorms and such, but I don’t really feel as though I have to pack a waterbottle if I can see the other side of the desert pretty clearly.
    Fable 3 tried to simulate desert by making the air flicker and wave around a lot, but that only worked if you stood still. In the end you could still walk across it in 3, 4 minutes.
    The desert in Gothic 3 is quite good, but not empty at all. Weird life-forms spring up everywhere, which I assume is due to the (in my opinion) false belief that large swathes of empty landscape equal boring.

    Deserts can be repetitive, that’s part of their appeal. They can be empty and they can be desolate, so neither texture design nor map-space ought to be a problem.
    I actually think the same can be said of most landscapes. It’s fine to re-use the same tree-model a trillion times, I will still buy that I am walking through a huge forest.

    I am definitely an exploration-player. The entire appeal of WoW when I played was leveling so I could see more areas of the game, same for Lotro. MMOs have gone away from that again, streamlining landscapes so that less time is “wasted”, but I think they are poorer for it.
    Even the vast land of Skyrim feels fairly small due to the unrealistically small and empty cities, the constantly popping up wild-life and a compass that is never empty but constantly makes you very aware that there are plenty of landmarks around you.

    Funny enough, Mooy, Sub and I once drove around in a tank at night on the titanic map of Chernarus in ArmA2, which was fun and kind of creepy, despite the complete emptiness of the map. Sure, there were towns and houses and forests and all, but no life at all. The exploration still felt amazing.

    It’s a kind of gameplay aspect that I am hoping will see a bit more focus in the coming years.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I tried running in the park. Then I saw some of my professors running shirtless there.

    *drinks*

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

     I only hated them because of the terrible controls. Even despite that, they were a lot more fun than PLANET MINERAL SURVEYOR SIM in ME2.

  • djsubversive

     @twitter-259492037:disqus  oh, definitely. Survivalist’s logs are the best part of Zion, even better since they’re not part of a quest (well, it’s sort of an unmarked quest, and there IS a challenge for finding all the caches).

    But Joshua’s voice… “I don’t enjoy killing, but when done righteously, it’s a chore, like any other.”

    Also, Honest Hearts was a pretty neutral (even somewhat positive!) look at religion and God, and I enjoyed that. I’m by no means religious, but I do get sick of “stupid sheep believing in pretend sky-man” bullshit. If it makes somebody a better person, then why do you have a problem with it? Joshua Graham is a great character, even if they DID introduce him a little oddly.

    “Whatever you do, DON’T mention Joshua Graham or The Burned Man on this trip.”
    *five minutes after arriving in Zion*
    “Oh, Joshua Graham? He’s our leader. I’ll take you to him now!”
    *ten minutes later*
    “Welcome, stranger. I’m Joshua Graham. I have a fetch quest for you, but first watch me clean these guns.” (okay, I thought that gun-cleaning animation was fucking cool – especially the “spin the gun and check the barrel” part)