Welcome back to the stage of history!

Sunny Koda is a concept artist from Australia who went to the US filming a Documentary about Gamer Culture. He went from Sand Diego to Vancouver, from Comic Con to PAX. Now he's following his dream of working in the daunting US Games industry. Will he make it? I hope so. Because I am that guy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Party Time

Whether you are religious or not, by mid-December it's generally time to hit pause and just chill for a minute. Look back at what you've accomplished and celebrate the fact that another year has transpired and you have lived. You have lived well! I happen to be beset with the annoying notion that as long as I keep living, every day is something special. Yes it's very hard to argue with a man who finds the joy in spending 3 hours on a bus or getting the flu, but this zen awareness really helps remind me to be happy sometimes. Just because living, no matter how you spend your life, is awesome. Look at the sky. The fact that you can see is pretty damn cool. I'd be completely lost without it, my world being mostly about art and video games (If you are reading this on some blind-person version of the internet then my other big passion is music - pick up the Tron soundtrack; Daft Punk have been winning all over my ears while I've been working and it's awesome).

Living in the country and working from home I am getting a little lonely. Fortunately my fiancée and I went halves in an Xbox for Xmas (quick aside, the X is from a Greek root and is just an archaic spelling, it is not for use by atheists or whatever). She bought me the new Majin and the forsaken Kingdom from Yoshiki Okamoto, which I am putting off until I finish my work and have a few whole days to throw at. I bought her the Kinect thingey and Fable II (Fable II is proving far more popular right now and I admit is makes me love her all over again seeing her play through an adventure/rpg). I'd like to tell you all more about Kinect, when they release some actual games and they implement the voice features. Yeah that's right once again Australia has gotten the big old shaft* and the voice activation (which is apparently really effective) has been removed for the time being because 'the Australian accent is too different'. Arguments to the contrary- my accent is very mild, often mistaken for English AND the system was released in the UK and damned if they don't have some of the most difficult accents in the world. I do however clearly remember having to put on a Yosemite Sam voice to navigate automatic voice phone services in the USA.

Anyway, while I am still mainly playing Warhammer Online along with the occasional international bout of Starcraft 2 for my social component, I do miss my friends. Hopefully this season will afford me the chance to catch up with them. Ah, we'll see.

*I think the last one was removing the PS2 backwards compatibility from the PS3, which really sucked for me and my carefully manicured collection that somehow doesn't include a PS2. Hey, that's why I moved in with my girlfriend!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Please stop making games for the Wii

...I don't have one!

Quite a few games recently (Capcom vs Tatsunoko, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye) have been released for the Wii and while yes, it does have a large market, it pretty much puts the big fail-stamp on your product. The original Donkey Kong Country was a polished platformer that pushed the graphics of the snes to the limit while the Wii limits the graphics and ensures polish is replaced with wiimote gimmickry*. More importantly I DON'T HAVE ONE, I don't want one, and the only person I know who does wishes he didn't. So I get to play SSB:Brawl about once in a blue moon (now I'm thinking about sonic, who pwnes that game) but that's really about it.

Take into account that PC games only seem to come in the MMO variety and that I refuse to buy a DS game when they are three times the American price (Look at it this way; Professor Leyton and the Latest Adventure currently costs the same price as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood which is on sale, which would you invest in?) and suddenly half the games store just isn't my concern anymore. Then so many games are released on both Xbox 360 and PS3 that I'm really just looking at one shelf. Why go in at all anymore? Why indeed. After bombing around all the stores in the local area and trying to balance the price of a new game with whatever enjoyment I thought I would get from them I went home empty handed (on three consecutive days). About half an hour ago I just hit up ebay and bought a really cool game I'm looking forward to playing for $30.

The game was Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. I played a demo of the second game at PAX and it was the truest and best rendition of the comic/anime that I had gotten my hands on. The Naruto game I had waited some 20 odd games for (still waiting for a great One Piece game, protip - oldschool rpg or the most awesome MMO imaginable... I mean, the Grand Line? COME ON! They even have the sea kings and calm belt to stop players wandering off the map, you know I could go on). I told the guy at the booth, who looked like he was about to die what with it being 4pm on the second day, that I would find it and buy it then promptly high fived him. I then asked what happened to the first game and he told me it was a big hit and just as solid. Huh, I didn't even see it in Australia. No surprises there. The first game covers the first anime with the new game covering Shippuden. I think I'm up to the 50th episode of Shippuden (because that's how many there were last I watched Naruto) and I'm excited to relive the story through a video game and perhaps even experience the new Shippuden storyline for the first time as a game instead of the anime. I really love the media overlap here and I'll let you know how it goes in terms of a familiar story with an interactive twist.

Finding it on ebay after fifteen minutes spent browsing hundreds of games, I was then able to pull up as many reviews and gameplay videos as I felt necessary to convince me one way or another (can it be played with japanese dialogue? yes? good). Then I pressed a button and waited for it to show up at my front door, literally meters from my console. WHY DO I STILL GO INTO EB? I mean, it's not like I enjoy the stifled atmosphere, garish sales posters, irritating prerecorded PA, incompetent sales staff and complete lack of soul in the place. I suppose games stores have been my generations arcade. My parents left me in them when I was a kid while they shopped. As a tween I paid a guy $5 to play Sonic 2 for 30 minutes. In my teenage years I hung out the front selling and buying second hand games just above the stores going rate until they chased me off. But now they've gone from gamer haunts to the the cheapest of fire-sale prostitutes. As dead as arcades. I wonder what the next generation will reminisce about in terms of a gamer environment? Their grandma's padded Wii-room? That sounds bad.

Yes it's been a while since I updated. Coming back from a three month trip to realise it's all over and now you have to pick up the pieces of the life you dropped so fast it smashed has a way of making you not want to write a blog for a bit. Also the trip's over, so the blog is done right? Well, while progress on the doco is slow (nothing really happening until my brother gets settled into his new home and I have some time between freelance jobs, which I totally have!) I do want to keep using this blog as a way to put down my thoughts and opinions on games and other miscellaneous brain-waste.

All I need to do now is pair it with a regular psudo-funny comic strip about two guys who play games on a couch and occasionally cause miscarriages and I will have the attention of teh interwebs which I so sorely crave. I have been meaning to start my most awesome of strip-form comics, ADAPTORFACE so maybe they (the comic and my blog) can be friends? I'm also "rebooting" a scrapbook comic I used to make to entertain my Warhammer guild. Yes, I said reboot just to make you cringe. But I'm playing again so I figure, why the hell not?

*blogger wants to auto-correct this word to 'goldbrickery' which is a term I will now endeavour to use. Yes, it's 'vour' not 'vor' Blogger... you idioth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nerd stuff! And you thought this blog was over.

This is, apparently, my 60th post on this blog. If it were a man and each post was a year then he'd be looking towards retirement and reflecting on a life all but spent. Although this is not the case, it is definitely a good moment for reflection. It's a shame that people rarely read back-dated blog entries, there's a great story that unfolds through those virtual pages.

Well I did make it home relatively cleanly and have spent the past week seeing friends and carving a space for my life in Erin's countryside house. I also have a fairly nice chunk (900gig) of footage to address that will hopefully become the meat of a film, one I'm not yet sure what to expect from. I am sure I want to make it, but I'm unsure and perhaps rightly modest when it comes to the repercussions of it's impending release. In some secret place I'd love to see it picked up and shown perhaps on local tv and hosted online, perhaps the good people at Penny Arcade would finally feature a link to it on their own website and the resulting attention and entertainment would provide some kind of future for my brother and I. But I try to keep a lid on that and just look at making something with enough value to personally justify the endeavour.

I have been binging [bingeing?] on video games. I missed playing with my brother, and even though I did play a lot on the road (in fact that was the mission honestly) I feel like I've been missing the ceremony of dedicating a day solely to a new release. To playing games on my terms.

Scott Pilgrim and Castle Crashers were once more set upon, but this time with my brother, sister and fiancee as comrades. So important are the personalities of the people I play with that this rotation made them feel like brand new games.

Halo Reach was blown through, continuing to disappoint all the way. As soon as I learned that you couldn't play as the colourful members of the Noble team but had to instead play the completely blank 'Noble 6' (and I thought Master Chief was flavourless) I realised I was in for a weak ride. It would be easy to write pages on Reach's shortcomings but what it really comes down to is that it's not Halo 3. There was also the knowledge that Bungie are done with Halo, replacing future hopes with the knowledge that Bungie are stepping out quietly.

On a far more uplifting note, XBox Live Arcade is working hard to finally make GameStop redundant with two excellent titles: Sonic 4 [Episode 1] by SEGA [Sonic Team] and Comic Jumper by Twisted Pixel [and friends].

Sonic 4 is the awesome that I and all other Sonic fans have been waiting for for the last 16 years. That means there are teenagers who have lived their whole life never knowing a decent Sonic Game!* I just secured the last three Chaos Emeralds (after completing the game yesterday) and have been enjoying setting ridiculous act times and killing myself by moving too fast with Super Sonic. Ah Super Sonic, the traditions continue. And that really is the point here, it's pure nostalgia. This game was made for me and everyone who gave me props for my Sonic 2 t-shirt (my favourite on the trip). It is crammed full of references to the first 3 Sonic titles and just makes me smile a big stupid grin. However this is also the most obvious complaint amongst gamers; it's just the old games with better graphics. But I say no! And I say it with authority.

Sonic 4's greatest traditional nod is to the way in which the sequels always reflect the original games. All you have to do to see Sonic 4's genius (and vast improvements/innovations) is go back and play the original games. Sonic 4 has distilled the Sonic franchise to it's essence. There are four (and a half) worlds, and they are the first four that come to mind in every Sonic Game- Tropical Island, Casino/Carnival/Pinball, Ancient Ruins (in Water and Lava flavours), Industrial Techno-nightmare and then theres always Eggman's 'Final Zone'. In fact I just found someone's list of Sonic level cliché's right here. What Sonic 4 does is first take Sonic for a walk down memory lane BUT then continues to innovate on those old designs and mechanics.

The first level: Splash Hill Zone is split into 4 Acts. The first begins with a carbon copy of the first part of Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1 and continues to play on those themes. The second Act is more reminiscent of Emerald Hill Zone from the start of Sonic 2 while still identifiably the same location as Act 1. In the third Act the sun is setting giving the level an orange hue which, along with the zip-lines that heavily feature, remind me of Angel Island Zone from Sonic 3. Finally the Eggman Boss is the very first encounter from Sonic 1 but with an aggressive twist in the second half of the fight. The Eggman Boss fights in the Sonic games have more often than not been a time to set speed aside and do some carefully timed attacking, I really like the way that some of the speed has been allowed to exist with Sonic's new physics. The Final Boss (a re-imagining of the Final Egg from Sonic 2, only this time I get rings thank god) was much more fun to play and was more about fast paced combat than nail-biting timing and placement.

So basically yes, this is a nostalgia driven game and all the Bosses and levels are a mixture of old and innovated old. But that is exactly what we've been crying for so I'm very happy. And here's the kicker; at PAX I got a chance to sit on a couch with one of the developers and chat about the fact that it's 'Episode 1' and seems to be largely reworkings. He was ready for the obvious question and what he said was (and now I feel like a real journalist) that this first Episode is all about nostalgia and getting the Sonic fans on board, getting them to trust Sonic Team again (and after Shadow with a gun and Sonic as a werewolf I can understand the need) but Episode 2 and beyond are going to be about taking the traditional 2-D Sonic adventure in a new direction. Keeping it true to retro Sonic style but heading into uncharted territory. This is exactly what I think everyone needs to hear. Yes, Episode 1 is very retro and not really new or innovative enough to stand alone as Sonic 4. But it's only the beginning, and it's a very strong opening.

Now that I've spent four paragraphs nailing down Sonic 4 and establishing myself as a complete fanboy let me tell you about a new game that is just as good but without having any history at all. At PAX I first saw it briefly; a superhero with an emoticon for a face sliding down the side of a building with a woman for a board. That's all you really need to know about Comic Jumper. The combat is simple but challenging and comes in three distinct game 'modes' that are switched between on-the-fly. But you need to get this game because the story is great and it's one of the few games to make me laugh. Captain Smiley's comic gets cancelled and you must guest star in other comics to earn enough money to re-launch. It's like Gumby with guns and jokes! Anyway it turns out that parody, mediocrity and a grumpy Bender-esque star are great forms of comedic entertainment and if there's one thing I love it's Genre-based adventure**. I particularly like how much effort Twisted Pixel went into making this game their own. There are live-action cutscenes of people reading the comic, the employees interact with Captain Smiley and offer advice and tons of little touches like the Stats Screen Song that really help a low-budget title from feeling second-rate.

Oh and I also saw "Resident Evil: Whatever... 4 Maybe" last night and it was pretty good for what it was. They haven't got better, but surprisingly they havent got worse. This leaves them as one of the few sci-fi-techno-apoca-horror franchises I still look forward to seeing. You can always rely on there being Milla Jovovich looking badass and mutated zombie-dogs looking all The Thing-esque. Unfortunately it was only playing in 3D. It was good, the 3D was actually cool, but I really don't want to encourage the mainstreaming of 3D films as I still firmly believe it is a gimmick. On a gamer note, while they don't follow the story lines of the Resident Evil games (at least not anymore) they do strongly follow on from each other in spite of their improbable endings. In this way they have created their own Resident Evil mythos, although it features the same main characters and themes. What I really like is that you can clearly see that this independent franchise has been created with as much effort and attention as the Resident Evil games. I think I may actually prefer it...

Enough for now. Gotta go play Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Finally they released a GH game with a songlist I actually want to play!

*Well Sonic Adventure was awesome in my book and Sonic Rush on the DS is a true successor to Sonic & Kuckles, just not on the big(ger) screen.
**Timesplitters, Viewtiful Joe, Psychonauts, Conker's Bad Fur Day are all great examples. Go play them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I’ve been gone so long...

so,
gone so long
But I will come back
I WILL COME BACK!

The Foo Fighter's 'Come Back' plays appropriately as I tap away, one last time as the sun illuminates the Californian noon. I'm used to looking at it now, but the view is still idyllic.

Packing is going okay, it looks like I might pull it off. Arrangements have been made to gate-check my precious guitar, everything else will just have to survive as best it can in the belly of the steel beast. My main thoughts now are whether the move to break up the flight was wise. 10 hours to Fiji, 3 hours in the airport then 5 hours to Melbourne feels like a better option than 15 hours to Sydney and then 1 hour to Melbourne. Plus I can say I've been to Fiji. Hopefully my stuff will make it too, but chasing up luggage is much easier when you're home.

The thought of home right now is positively titillating. This is probably the first time I've really truly missed anything or anyone. Sure there's a little bit of greed and remorse here and there, but at this point in time I just want to go home. I miss video games, I miss my mom.

I'm leaving Chris and Luke my NTSC copy of SSF4, I feel like I got some good use out of it and games here are only about $30 anyway. They are also getting the lion's share of the magic cards. I've transcended the demanding collection aspect of the game but they are both single, so I think they'll have a blast.

Time for one last lag-free game of SC2 with Luke. Wish me luck! He coached me to a crushing victory last night. It was rad-tastic.

Okay we lost a couple of times, but I played pretty well. Particularly in the second game, aside from not pushing at the right moments, it was pretty good.

Before I arrived in America, I just tried not to think about it too carefully. Until the moment I actually sat down in my tiny aeroplane chair it was just something that was going to happen in the future. But the future eventually becomes the present, leaving the present in the past and a sense of loss. This trip and this place has become a part of my personality for the last three months, and now I'm losing that piece of myself. But I'm not slipping back into the life I left, that's all over too. One adventure is ending, but I'm just as nervous as when I first got on the plane; another adventure is just beginning.

I'm coming home, for the first time.

See you all soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh Vegas, you silly town.

Just got back across the balmy desert and (because Ocean's Eleven isn't streaming on Netflix) are settling in to watch Fear and Loathing to compare and say 'We went there'. Because that's what you do when you go somewhere for the sake of saying 'I have been there'.

In reality, we had a great time. Despite travelling the lands and meeting colourful characters along the way, this was the first trip that actually felt like a real holiday. When Luke and I went to Comic-Con that was kind of cool, but this had the whole feel of a weekend away. For example; Luke and Chris took time off work, travel agents were consulted, we stayed in real hotels, we ate out, and most importantly were sad to leave but glad to be home. I know this isn't really my home but it's been my base camp for three months, which is half the time I spent in my last place and a respectable fraction of a year (one quarter).

So, Saturday morning we set off and took tollways to avoid Californian traffic. Going on Saturday morning and returning Monday instead of leaving Friday night and returning Sunday meant we comfortably avoided what I hear is terrible traffic.

The drive was really not that bad, just a straight shot down the I-15 Fear & Loathing style. The terrain was amazing! What was just as surprising was that when we arrived in Vegas it was raining... apparently they get one day of rain in October on average. Not surprising that it happened while I was there. But it was still hot, not half as hot as it would otherwise have been so in a way it was a blessing. By the evening it had cleared up and we celebrated with cocktails, burgers from the Harley Davidson Cafe and Bally's 'Jubilee' stage show which teleported us back to the 50's and all that made America once great (breasts and cabaret). Chris and I refused to let the night end, hitting up a number of Casinos and a western themed club called 'Gilleys' which included a mechanical bull and some top quality tail. While the high roller rooms were occupied by poorly dressed middle aged chinese, the Vegas from James Bond's era is maintained by the ridiculous amount of unbelievably hot women and dramatic spectacle. Chris suggested 'it's like Disney Land for adults!' which is a daunting when I consider my fiancée wants to go to Disney Land.

The next morning saw us a little rough around the edges, but for the most part I wanted more. We brunched at Max Brenners which was pretty spectacular. Mexican Chilli Chocolate and pancakes with banana, pecans, caramel glace and two vials; pure chocolate and white truffle sauce. Pow! Somehow we burnt through the day. We had decided to change hotels which was a small hassle but well worth it when we saw The Bellagio. That place is the classiest building I have ever inhabited and we really started to feel like we were in Vegas. I was up for a spot of gambling, but Chris agonised over the $10 minimums on the tables (and the $1 minimum on the slot machines which ironically no longer have coin clots) so I just fed a dollar into a machine and pulled the lever... I won $6! People always tell me to quit while I'm ahead so I proudly collected my $5 margin and swaggered out. Chris then dumped $5 trying to repeat the effect with no luck, so I guess between us we broke even. The house always wins, because it is evil. I am glad I understand that because I saw hundreds of sad faces that didn't.

I went over to another hotel in the afternoon because I desperately wanted to see an old-fashioned Burlesque show and I actually found one that was playing. Unfortunately the starting time clashed with our tickets to Cirque Du Soleil and I wasn't about to miss awesome-made-flesh. The show 'O' has been running at The Bellagio for 12 years. It incorporated a stage made up of elevator platforms that can submerge into what must be 10 metres of water. So sometimes it was a stage, sometimes it was a pool, sometimes it was a bit of both. The show itself was dark and ambient with awesome music and it showcased the incredible abilities of a human body trained by purpose. After that we saw the elegant fountains dance to music outside The Bellagio before going to watch TI's Disneyland-esque stage show on the two ships out the front of the hotel, the difference was one of sophistication.

Monday we blasted back across the desert (with only a brief detour to Barstow!) and just chilled out.

Oh and we played a draft with the new Scars of Mirrodin. Chris and Luke forced me into B/G infect... which I then beat the snot out of them with. I think it's okay 1v1, but they need to change the number of poison counters in 2HG.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Text Log

My phone databank is full, so here's the sms version of my trip:

Luke - Hey man; so, the plan is for us to leave here about 5.45 and head over as soon as we get back, so be ready to leave around that time.
Luke - Just sending an email now :)
TMobile - Do you have life insurance? Get the best policy and the lowest premium.
Jorden - What are you up to tonight?
Tim - We are in line outside if you want to hop in with us
Luke - Near the front; I'm over at the Bandai booth now.
Luke - And holy crap is it awesome
Tim - Hey i think we are trying to leave at 8.
Chris - Picking up your guitar pretty soon dude!!
Luke - Yo; looks like we'll be heading stright over from sketch group tonight, just to let you know :)
Luke - Okay man, sorry 'bout the organisation there; I'll see you guys later!
Luke - Up for a game?
Luke - Alright, I'm ready
Lauren - Oh no! That sucks! What Did You do?
Lauren - No problem just let us know
Luke - We're coming back! I'll run up and drop em off.
Luke - Alright, you're set for 5.45
Lauren - What type of bus? Greyhound?
Lauren - I didn't know they had buses. Learn something new i guess
Lauren - Going into cahill street diridon station?
Lauren - When you get here if You want to do mystery house We need to get tickets Soon. First available on thursday
Lauren - Ok, We Can order when You get here ;)
Luke - Hey hey! Sorry, I don't always notice messages arriving :P No sensation eh? Hope that's cleared up now! I'm assuming you've made it all the way now?
Chris - Nice one dude, have a wicked time
Chris - How is San Jose treating you dude?
Chris - What's up dude?
Mojo - Cool beans.
Mojo - Not much going on, headed home early
Luke - The topic is mobile garlic castle, with bonus frog :)
Chris - Yeah I neeeeeeeeed it!!!
Chris - Cool. Don't spend it there! ;) have fun dude!!
Chris - Yeah that's the last state I need! You gotta be kidding me?
Chris - :) :) keep on the lookout for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands too lucky charm boy.
Mojo - Sure, take the Bart to Castro Valley station. Let me know when you get to San Leandro station I will strat driving.
Mojo - There was a miscommunication, turns out I don't need to be here yet. Headed home :)
Kristin - Be there inna bit
Chris - Cool dude. Shall we wait for you for grub? Not a problem...
Erin - When are you coming online? I want to see you and chat and what-have-you. Love you lots sunny-pants. Erin
Zack - Hey man I just wanted to leave you my friend andy's number so when you get into the train station you can give him a call and he can come pick you up.
Zack - Also our other aussie friend is getting into pomona station at 10 to 8 so if you wanted to get in at the same time that would b great.
Luke - Feel like some SC?
Zack - No worries that sounds good, andy will get u then. So just let him know when u arrive and ill see u when I get there.
Zack - Do u happen to know what bus line the 757 is?
Zack - Cool ill let andy know
Chris - Sorry bout the scare earlier! Was stressed tryin to get you on time. Have a fun trip!!!
Chris - After all that my game tonight just got cancelled!
Chris - stupid cow! You did say no one knows where they are going here but you'd think a bus driver would for gods sake! :( back on track???
Jason - Hyatt at Olive 8 is hotel name. 1635 8 Ave is address. Room is 863. Just so you have the info handy.
Ty - enjoying downtown?
Chris - How's PAX dude?
Chris - Holy crap! My favourite album of all time!!!!!!!!
Jason - Have to stop at verizon. hows the line?
Jason - We're midway in the line. they aren't letting cuts at all.
Zack - Its.pretty fun were just playin ds and talkin with ppl while the line games r ran i the background
Zack - That sux dude. I could probably do that but i don't want to commit just yet. Put me.down as a probably.tho
Mojo - Nice man, are you inside the convention center?
Mojo - I'm on duty in bandland all day, come on by.
Jason - So who is going to tonight's concert?
Jason - Anyone at benaroya?
Chris - Papers in the mornin. Bowler hat on head.
Chris - Ok I've put 25 bucks on your phone. :)
Erin - Calling from mum and Dads compuet! The mike is really shit and the cat is swalking on the keyboard.GAH!! It'll have to be tomorro when i call again!
Ty - should I bring your stuff over?
Zack - Freeplay console?
Ty - do you still have my metroid poster?
Mitch - Hey man. My number is XXXXXXX. See you tomorrow at 1230. :)
Ty - Godspeed, sunny. godspeed. hopefully I'll see you soon enough
Mitch - Hey man, quick check, do you get here at 1230 or 215? Or some other time? Not sure if you were supposed to leave or arrive at 1230.
Mitch - Haha, awesome. I will see you soon then!
Zack - Hey man we just got back to cali. Hope your travel plans went ok and we will see u in a cpl weeks
Erin - I LOVE MY SUNNY PANTS
Mitch - Hey man. I will be heading back seen. There may be a friend of mine that will get there a bit before me, if so want to let him up? His name is matt. :)
Luke - Hey man, I'm about to send that figure, I hound a box; what's your brother's address?
Luke - Cool, I'll send it off tomorrow morning :D
Jag - hey leaving now. will be there in 30 min or so
Mitch - Hey man, sorry, i thought you guys were there until tomorrow for some reason. The guy can't let you in because if doesnt have a key i think. I will be back about 630, so is it alright if i just meet you then?
Mitch - Hey man. I am just on my way back now. Where are you? I can meet you where ever.
Mitch - hm, do you have anything to drop off? We can just head straight to the draw jam thing if not, and i can just meet you where you are rather than you walking all the way back to the apt.
Mitch - alright, haha, meet you at the apt then. :)
Mitch - Hey sunny, where are you at? I will be off soon so we can meet up and head over to the pub to meet with everyone if you want.
Mitch - Jeff and people are going to the blarney stone. There is a facebook event for it, you are invited.
Mitch - Sounds good man. See you there!
Mitch - Hey man. Can you make sure to lock up on your way out? Thanks!
Mitch - Hey man, we are here, where ya at?
Erin - I can't seem to phone you back, according to skype you are still online. I can wait for 15 minutes than i have to go get dinner
Rob - Hey it's Rob I'm just leaving now. Please don't tell me you are there already.
Rob - Text me the address. I'm at 1138 Hastings.
Rob - three blocks away
Rob - I'm at the cafe artigiano
Rob - One...
Rob - Two...
Chris - Presumably you didn't end up needing my card then?
Chris - Good stuff. I'm alright but took the day off as have a bit of a cold. Made 2 magic decks, played some guitar and now some mafia 2. Not too exciting really. Have fun in Portland!
Erin - Oma passed away this morning. I'll call you in about half an hour.
Zack - Hey man i just wanted to let you know we are meeting up at andys place friday night for the prerelease. Let me know when u want to meet up.
Zack - Sounds good man, ill make sure we partner up for that
Chris - So are you going to be getting to the station at 6.30? Only I have s football match at 8 tomorrow...
Chris - Bowler hat on head?
Chris - The original and the best.
Chris - Our teams not that fast!! ;)
Zack - Knows how to paaaarrttyyyy!
Chris - I'll be there asap. Still at work...
Zack - So what's the plan aquaman
Zack - Lol this whole time? Were going to all the ones we want. Im heading over to andys tomorrow after work and spending the night. The doors open at 6:30 so we will get there a bit before and play til were done. We can stay at andys for re weekend if we like
Zack - Ya the radisson. O so u aren't going to b coming with us. Ok we will b there all day
Zack - Ya it goes from 6:30-midnight
Zack - Sounds good
Chris - Come in.
Erin - Yo sunny, u watching this? Whats ur dad's number.
Erin - I can't believe it but its a draw!
Erin - Well. Sorry I woke u. I'll be better tomorro ;-). I am going to learn how to play d'n'd tomorro. I have to come ur with a character and a name and i am unsure of how to do thisn
Zack - O damn sorry about that man! Ya definitely, several of those games could have been won if we weren't flooded but no worries it was fun so come back and we will have to play again sometime
Luke - We're on the way :)
Chris - We are going to leave at 6.15 from Blizz. Cool?

And it's 5:45 now so I better get going!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

gah

I hate this country and I want to go home.

Yesterday I was in a bad mood for no evident reason. Chris and Luke played in their first Magic tournament and won a few games. I played 2HG with Zack. Zack is a fun guy, but I hated the new set. In 2HG poison decides every game in an immediate and non-interactive way. It's worse than permission magic (which I actually love). Infect is a terrible mechanic and I'm particularly angry because I know Rosewater fought the other designers to make it happen when he should have just let it go. Given the 600+ geeks in the Radisson hotel the air was also thick with infection. Perhaps I'm getting a little ill. Speaking of which, we went to Kaiser Hospital again today to try and get some paperwork so I can claim back the ridiculous $350 I had to spend to get a prescription for codeine (which you can buy over the counter in Australia for $20). It was particularly upsetting because I didn't want to go in the first place but Chris felt guilty and insisted. Not half as upsetting as the events of this second visit. Turns out the paperwork that got 'lost in the mail' was actually a bill. What I had paid was just a down payment on the $816 I owe for my visit. I'm so furious at how ridiculous it is. Chris is beating himself up about it. For taking me and then, because he has insurance and could have got painkillers easily, not lying to the staff and got them himself. The whole situation is terrible but it doesn't look like there's much I can do about it. I'll get the paperwork and then try to claim it from my insurance.

We also spent this morning trying to organise flights to Las Vegas. So far it's proving expensive and daunting and possibly not worth while. Tomorrow we'll got to a travel agent and try to get Anj's flight vouchers validated. So much business here is conducted in an underhanded way. But I guess that's not so much different from Australia, more that I don't know how to avoid it. Unfortunately neither do my international chums.
After unpacking and repacking all my bags it looks like I lost a small one somewhere between the station and Chris's apartment. It had my travel essentials so iPod, Nintendo DS, Ventolin and earplugs. No big deal.
Found it. I used my enormous powers of deduction and complete refusal to believe that I could lose something through negligence to deduce that it was in Chris' sports bag with his soccer shoes. Bam! Cheered me up before bed.

In other news the Scott Pilgrim game is fun.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What you say? No rubbish, or Ayla head go boom!

There's probably a lot that I've forgotten to write about, there's certainly a lot I didn't capture on film. Tuesday saw Kristen and I reviewing footage for most of the day (whilst enjoying Rogue, Dead Guy Ale and an assortment of Tillamook's best cheeses) and while there was plenty to see and talk about there were also big holes, where I had put the camera down to have some fun. Ironically my strongest memories are the ones when I wasn't filming so the whole things has a peculiar quality. When I get home there will have to be another beer & cheese day while we figure out what to do with this terabyte of random stuff.

After spending Wednesday in transit, a phenomenon that has become all too common, I am safely back in Irvine, CA with my good friends Luke and Chris. The next couple of weeks will be great as I take time to relax and take stock. I'm also hitting the gym to get rid of the fat I gained in my travels. All day in a train/plane seat followed by hamburgers'n'soda is not a healthy way to subsist and it's starting to show. Fortunately Luke and Chris tend to maintain a fairly healthy diet and there's a swimming pool right there *points*. This weekend we are heading into LA for a grand MtG prerelease. I have arrived back here to find they have been steadily buying more cards and playing most evenings. Their training is almost complete! All that remains is the sanctioned trial-by-fire as they pair up for some 2HG and hopefully more than a few drafts with the new set.

The following weekend is still potentially a trip to Vegas. After not being able to go to Austin I am fairly determined to at least make a night in Vegas and hey, gotta have a bucks party right? Who and where better to have it? I hear there's a pinball museum...

Monday, September 20, 2010

I attack The Darkness!


I'm currently back in Portland OR, where it's International Talk Like A Pirate Day. They actually had a big Pirate festival which was mildly amusing and fairly entertaining. Portland is unique in it's culture. The people who live their are economically challenged but enthusiastic; the whole city is overrun with street performers, artists and the like. I find it a very enriching environment to be in, perhaps I'll live here one day? It does seem like it's for the young and single though, whereas I'm simply passing through whilst moving on towards a future in which I am married and gainfully employed. Yay me.

The friends I have made here treat me very well, we have been playing a lot of games and my documentary is going great. This weekend I also took them to the Retro Gaming Expo where we played the games that my Grandma used to have on the Atari 2600, some of the old Mario titles that we played on the spurious 'Mega-genie' and even Donkey Kong Country, the only game I ever needed to have on the Super Nintendo. I still remember eating Hungry Jacks in the Tullamarine terminal waiting for my Dad to get back from a trip to India, waiting for a Super Nintendo... Such retro games brought back waves of nostalgia as far back as the 80's; going to campsites and wandering into the simple Arcade-Sheds where they had three or four machines set up. I played Galaga for the first time since I found a machine at Phillip Island with a coin stuck in it and played until 11pm when you and Mum came and found me. I played Moon Patrol for the first time ever, although when I was seven it was my favourite machine to stare at because the demo screen had recorded gameplay. I even played Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Adventure (although I do this at home from time to time). The first reminded me of being best friends with Sean Jenkins in primary school, he was so good at the special stages. We would take the levels in turn, on long car trips to scout camps we used to try and hum the level tunes in order from memory. On this trip my Sonic t-shirt has been the most popular by far (as expected). The latter brings back two really vivid memories of my father; we are at Chadstone shopping center and I just stop dead still, the tv's in the EB window showed Sonic the Hedgehog moving in 3D. Dad wants to leave so I pretended to tie my shoelace so I can watch just a little bit more. 9/9/1999 at 9am, my Dad brings me home a Sega Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure. I play it in my underwear about a foot from the screen until he gets home from work and tells me to turn it off.

Now I'm going down memory lane; December 1997, I carve a 3D 'N' out of Styrofoam and paint it to look like the Nintendo 64 symbol and hang it on the Christmas Tree. It works and I spazz out like the kid on the youtube video. My dad takes me to 'World 4 Kids' and pick out any game I want. I pick Goldeneye and Bomberman 64 because they are both half-price. A year later my father plays his first video game: Diddy Kong Racing on an Ice track in a Hovercraft, never plays again. 19th May 2002, Southland shopping center food court: I've been living on my own for a few years and flat out ask my Dad to buy me a Gamecube, explaining that it will help me relax between studying. To my complete surprise he agrees on the condition that I work hard and get good grades. I don't, but I do play Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mariokart: Double Dash for the next five years.

Thank you for always supporting my interests Dad. Even if you didn't share them! I've been asking people I interview about their parent's view on their lifestyle and the results are varied. However most people can agree that there is a definite divide in the mentalities of the Baby Boomers and Gen X that is less pronounced in further generations. For most of us, our parents were the last of the rustic folk who lived their lives before the technological boom of Mobile Communication, The Internet and Virtual Reality. Whereas people of my generation are the Cosmonauts; more dream than substance, ambitious and doomed. Not really understanding the new frontier we discover, but delving deeply irregardless.

Since arriving I have hit up a couple of games stores and managed to get my hands on my very own copy of Aye, Dark Overlord and a copy of D&D:Castle Ravenloft as a gift to Kristin and Seeth for hosting me for a second week of my trip. I saw Castle Ravenloft at PAX where it was demoed. It sold out by Saturday so I'm glad I managed to find a copy. After two games we are still getting the rules right (All Hero XP is kept in a communal pool, Adventure 4- you keep all treasure cards drawn BEFORE nightfall and then just Item cards) but it is a great, fun, versatile, well paced game that does everything right to find a balance of power, speed and danger. You can play the game in an hour but it still feels very D&D. You could even write your own encounters if you get tired of the 13 game variants supplied. It even has Solo player adventures. How many board games can you play alone? A series of expansions featuring new monsters, missions, treasures and classes seems inevitable and would be welcomed with no errata to rules. It is fashioned after 'Dungeon' and it's ilk, but is executed much better. Seeth admitted to not being that interested in board games (he ran a gaming store!) but in spite of this did enjoy it enough to want to play again. I think it's also a very good gateway game to introduce people into D&D in a fast and fun way. 9/10

Meanwhile Halo: Reach did nothing for me. I was more excited before I played the game. Nothing has that epic feel, you don't get to play as Team Noble and a lot of the fights seem like dicking around on a whole new level. I played it when I was tired, but it felt like more of a chore than the awesome final curtain. It felt like ODST:2, sans plot. Hopefully I'll get more out of the online slayer? I can almost hear those foul mouthed kids now. 5/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seth Green can't rap. There, I said it.


After my recent obsession with Alma Wade, I feel there should be at least one or two subliminal horror elements spliced into my documentary. I think it'd be fun. I don't really like being scared, but the stories behind F.E.A.R, Dead Space, Fatal Frame and Silent Hill have always been so compelling that I am actually brave. Even if the danger isn't real, I feel the fear and likewise, I feel proud for facing it.

Last night Mitch and I went to the Vancouver Best Buy Halo Reach midnight launch to get footage for my doco, Mitch ended up with the Legendary Edition of the game. I must admit it's a damn awesome set. The diorama of all five members of the unit is good enough to feature on any artists desk and the diary filled with cryptic notes and cards looks like a sleuths wet dream (I may just have to get my hands on it). To my credit I have sat here all day specifically -not- playing it, waiting for Mitch to get home so we can play Halo the way god intended: CO-OP.

Now onto more dour business, this (just hit pause when you've had enough):

EMBED-Geek and Gamer Girls Song - Watch more free videos
With detailed coverage here.

Be a part of our world (Be a part of our world…)
In latex and bows
Cuz’ these girls play ‘cos
Set our phasers to stun (Set our phasers to stun…)
You’ll be falling in love
Ooooooh oh ooooooh


If only I'd pointed the camera at my own grim face when watching this for the first time. Sure there's Stan Lee, Seth Green, David Duchovny... a few others (almost all male) and they're saying the names of a bunch of things I like but if they're making a case for 'gamer girls' then why the fuck are they naked? And screeching like harpies? I get it, you're vapid attention seeking actresses. But why do actresses thing they can sing? Bah. It's like if I, an artist, decided to star in a film about gaming! Oh wait shit.

Apparently this is a celebration of all things geek. Well, it certainly is a poorly sung list of all things geek I'll give them that. It seems like an attempt to secure a pedestal of worship as a 'Geek Goddess'. Why can't girls who play games just be gamers? Why must they be worshiped? But it's not really the girls who are to blame for this, just look at Felicia Day. But I would point out that unlike many female gaming celebrities, she has actual talent. And if you're thinking I'm being too critical here, may I present exhibit 'B':



Team Unicorn's first film, which actually won an award. I guess it was for 'best wank-fantasy'.

Fun and name-calling aside I really don't see this as a) representing female gamers, b) promoting a positive image for ANY gamers, c) encouraging the acceptance of female gamers in our culture. I see talentless self-promotion at the expense of people I care for. Like many girls before them, Team Unicorn (because they don't really exist?) are using sex appeal to climb into the media spotlight to the detriment of the female image and acceptance in our culture. In that respect Geek/Gamer Culture is not unlike Vampires or 3D tv; someone wants fame and fortune so they decide to slap some Glasses and a Nintendo controller on a nude model and ride the resultant fetish to the bank. Jonathan Coulton is another case, which most people will disagree with me on. I don't find his music to be enjoyable beyond the novelty of it's cultural references. Like Stephen Lynch, I will listen to his songs and laugh at the references and then never listen to them again. In Warren Spector's keynote he mentioned Wil Wheaton's 2007 address and the way he engaged in 'tribe building' and 'flag waving'. This really made me think carefully about people who just yell out a bunch of cultural references and what they really offer us. Games Journalism is another big issue in that regard, what do we really get out of sites like IGN and Wired?

I have always liked to think that Geeks practice a sort of anti-culture, where the social norms are inverted. Appearance is low, respect is precious and character is king. But perhaps we are just the same, or as we are integrated into the societal mass we lose the things that we once cherished in exchange for acceptance and longevity? While being pecked at by buzzards that make money by tapping into cultural capital?

You'll notice I've started referring to gamer culture as 'our' culture and that's because I really did find it at PAX and I very much feel a part of it. As members of a young, growing society I feel we do have a responsibility to shape it's future. And anyone who capitalises or subverts that culture for personal gain (Gamestop, IGN, Girl-Gamers [as opposed to gamer-girls, see old posts], EA) I intend to confront in my documentary.

I saw this the other day and I was like yay, another 'date my Avatar' which was totally awesome and not lame and slutty at all, but no alas, it was a pile of shit bad ripoff of that. Like not a single one of those girls inspired me to want to be part of the 'female gaming' community at all. Just because we are girls and we game doesn't give us license to strut around like total sluts and think that we're the most exciting fucking thing in the world to nerdy guys. In fact I find it kind of insulting to male gamers, they act as though they've never even seen a girl its ridiculous.
-KG


Thank you KG :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

LEXX was an awesome show... sort of.

The weekend I have spent in Vancouver felt much more uplifting than the first few days. I went one night to the Gaslight district which is a beautiful spot and quite cool on a Friday night. We spent the night at a tavern called The Barney Stone and were entertained by an Irish band that has been playing there for 30 years. They are fairly tight. After travelling I have come to realise that in Australia we are being robbed blind by alcohol taxes etc. In the US a six-pack will cost you about $10. Cocktails cost as much as a beer. I had a rather exciting martini consisting of Spiced Rum, Butter Ripple Liqueur and Lime. I've had the opportunity to talk at length with lots of people who work in games about all facets of the Industry. It has been educational and a little shocking, unfortunately none of them are too keen to be interviewed on film. I must admit my filming has degraded a fair bit after/during PAX. So many people have refused to give interviews I'm almost not bothering and just filming scenery here and there. I'm also a little crushed by all the things I've missed because I can't be involved whilst filming, and all the shots I've missed because I can't film while doing stuff. Despite meeting lots of good connections and contacting people in every city, my inbox is empty. It's been quite the adventure, but has it been worth a year's savings?

That may sound grim, but I'm not done with that question yet. I won't be able to answer it for another year. Then we'll see where I stand.

A trip like this is a lot of work. A lot of difficult work. Before leaving I could only plan so much; I didn't know who I would be staying with, where I would be staying or what dates I would be there. This means I end up spending about %30 of my trip planning the next few moves and booking flights/trains/coaches. Today has been one of those days, hopefully the last.

After trying to decide between extending my stay at great expense or going home unsatisfied I finally bought another ticket home (thanks to encouragement from my brother). It's $700 I didn't need to spend, made even worse by the fact that if I'd changed my return flight sooner I wouldn't have had to buy another ticket, but th stop-over in Fiji is making me dread the otherwise 15hour flight a lot less. For my money I get to cover the Portland Retro Games Convention this weekend and see my friends Kristin and Seeth again. I also get to see Austin, Texas which I'm very much looking forward to as it seems like a realistic place to find work and spend one last fortnight with Chris and Luke, who I will miss back in Australia.

Excerpts from an email to a friend (an awesome friend):
In Vancouver B.C. at 2pm on a Monday, 14,000km away from everyone I know, it is abstract indeed.

As for gamers, I'm not so surprised to find that they are for the most part all awesome people. Some year, an inconceivable distance from now, you'll have to come to the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) as I've never felt more at home anywhere in the world. So cool!

As for travel, while it's kind of absolving, it's pretty damn scary to be truly alone. I've always enjoyed parts where I'm staying with a local more than being in a hostel because that security and trust helps a lot. I still go out by myself a lot but it's good to have someone to lean on in a pinch.

As you are no doubt aware I have been playing a slew of games as of late. PAX did nothing to abate the tide slowly drowning me however it did introduce variation in the way of board, card and dice games. They are as much fun as video games with the main differences being that you need a group of people to play them and they don't set themselves up nor pack themselves away. I recommend Zombie Dice and Citadel as quick games and Aye, Dark Overlord, Dominion, Settlers of CATAN and Arkham Asylum if you have a little more time. I do not recommend Magic: The Gathering as that game has eaten up a decent chunk of my life (although the artwork is incredible). With my new friend Mitch I've been plowing through console games before leaving his apartment; Call of Cthulu, Too Human, Shadowrun, Call of Juarez, Riddick: EfBB, Fable 2 and F.E.A.R.2. I would say that none of them really held my attention. Call of Cthulu is a cool game version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, one of H.P.Lovecraft's best works. F.E.A.R.2 also had it's moments and the story is pretty awesome at times but the game is just a FPS with very occasional horror moments that leave a lot to be desired. Alma Wade is well creepy, particularly the ending, but I think Silent Hill is just a much better version of the same idea. Although the other night I dreamed I was at the bottom of the sea and she was trying to bring me bubbles to breath. There's some imagery laden with gamer subtext if ever I had one.

I can't wait for Halo Reach, which comes out this evening.


Mmmm Halo. I only wish I was home for the release so I could stay up all night playing it with my brother. Then play it again with my good friend Jai. When I close my eyes I can almost hear the foul mouthed 12 year olds screeching into their mics.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A week in Vancouver, BC.

At the border to Canada I didn't expect trouble, perhaps that was a mistake. Upon arriving at LAX I was expecting racial profiling or general US paranoia but was instead greeted warmly (relatively) and wished a pleasant stay. The guy at the Canadian crossing looked at me like I was guilty until proven otherwise. I later heard they've been doing this to anyone who isn't white. Assholes!

I am staying with Mitch Lagran and his gilfriend. He works for Rockstar and knows a lot of other talent working in Vancouver. It seems to be a very incestuous scene up here with lots of work. From what I can gather you can in fact get a job here, but keeping it or even liking it can be challenging.
We immediately visited the Aquarium which was very cool and continues my theme of gamers being fascinated by learning. Mitch and I had a good chat about that just after meeting each other. He recommended a book called A Theory of Fun which I will definitely read.
I don't know what to make of Vancouver. Walking round I couldn't find anything I was really interested by and I was accosted by several bums with elaborate stories. Tim Hortons has become some kind of refuge, a place I can go and hide. But even there the obscene 12% sales tax strikes! They don't incorporate it into their listed prices which always stings. I bought a nice jacket for the cold weather and some new jeans after my others tore and the sales tax really hurt.

Poutine is really good though, as is Mt Whistler. On Wednesday night I met my old work friends Jeff and Alex along with Colin and Jag (who supplied some poignant dialog on obesity for my film) and we went to stay in a resort at the base of the mountain. On Thursday we went to the summit and I was completely blown away by just how awesome our planet can be. It makes a pleasant change from dry bush and endless flatlands, and I look forward to going there again in the winter when there is snow to slide about on.

Last night we went to a draw jam at a pub called St Augustine and enjoyed Pumpkin Beer and an Imperial Citric Ale. I met people from all facets of th industry and got some insight into a variety of companies. It seems they fall into one of two categories; companies like Blizzard who celebrate their game launch with Champaign Luncheons and trips to Las Vegas, and companies like EA who celebrate by firing the development team that actually made the game. I can't help but think about this city and Erin and my future... my brow furrows and I just feel like I need to get home and regroup. My resolution does not waver. At this point I can only go forward; it's too late for me to do anything else with my life! But I'm terribly anxious. Life seems like PAX: every second you take deciding what to do others are getting in line, while you play one game you miss countless others, and at the end of each day you wonder where you went wrong. There's another PAX in six months, but this is the only life I'll ever have.

PAX comes to an end ;(

SUNDAY:
Today I did have any panels that interested me enough to queue for hours and I still hadn't filmed much so I enlisted Ty's help in shooting footage of the expo hall for my doco. I also managed to win my second M11 draft and score a short interview with THE Steve Jackson! Not bad at all. The expo hall had nothing on Comic Con, but at the same time every single booth had game demos that I wanted to play. This left me with a desperate realisation that I would leave PAX wanting more. So much more! I didn't even enter any tournaments or use the various free-play areas (which included Rock Band, DS Lounge and even 16 player Steel Battalion campaign zomg) so really I feel almost defeated. I could spend every weekend with those people, they are my countrymen. Jerry was right; for one weekend we have our own country to which we all come home.
I spent the afternoon interviewing Ty in my hotel and then went back to PAX to use their free-play computers to check my email, update stuff and win a 3v3 SC2 match with the guys sitting next to me (first opponent dropped when I landed 20 vikings in his secret expansion, moments later the second dropped when my reapers finally overwhelmed him). As I looked up I realised that I had just missed an hour of PAX, meeting up with my friends and the Square-Enix raffle drawing (featuring a statue of KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND!!!) I had entered AND the closing ceremony was already underway. The final round of the Omeganaughts was the OMEGACLAW. Those terrible claw games that are perhaps harder and less forgiving tan Donkey Kong. It truly did make for a great spectator sport.

After the festivities died down and we were done wandering the streets of Seattle looking for something other than a coffee shop (pro tip: does not exist) along with some 50,000 other gamers, we headed back to the Sheraton to let the death of PAX 2010 settle in. But we did not go quietly! There were many people playing games in the lounge and we annexed a table, recruited some unknown gamers and learnt to play Aye, Dark Overlord. ADO is probably one of the most fun games I've ever played. Having said that I'm reluctant to play it again because I kind of gave it my all, leaving nothing in reserve for future bouts. The first game our friend Nick from Sydney delighted in grilling us as a vain and petty Overlord of evil. I managed to go from a sniveling coward to the mightiest Orc in his army, a quick move that put me in good stead and more importantly drew the lulz. In the second game I took the reins and really pushed the game, becoming Emperor Palpatine and forcing my lieutenants to take every card and apply a Star Wars spin. Trek references were also rewarded, as were wookie-threesomes. In the end the fleet admiral was blown out a hatch and Zack was burnt to a crisp by a butt-load of force lightning and spittle.

A fitting end.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SATURDAY


SATURDAY:
I spent most of Saturday looking forward to the Magic The Gathering Scars of Mirrodin party I had scavenged an invite to the previous day. You had to find these magic areas and complete cryptic challenges to arrive at a keyword which, along with the stamped card, would grant you access.
First thing I did was line up for another two hours for the first major event of the day which was Mike and Jerry making a comic live. It ended up being another Q&A with comic being done in the background, I thought we might get input but it seemed like they'd already figured it out ahead of time. Gabe drew a Dickwolf and Jerry called PAX East the 'bitch PAX' which was all met with roaring laughter. They are highly entertaining which I suspect is the real secret of the comic's success.
After that I tried to find a boutique shoe store [I found out where it was on Sunday just as it was closing and Monday was a labor day. Fail...] to get my brother some sweet kicks but after wasting an hour of precious PAX, gave up my search. By this point I was sorely missing the internet.
At this stage I realised that we would have to leave to line up for the Magic Party around 4:30 and I wasn't going to get to any more panels that day. So I entered a Magic draft with Andy and Zack. I won that one too (even though Andy didn't pass me the Baneslayer he busted) and the adrenalin was running high. I think Child of the Night is my favourite card in M11.

The Magic party was EPIC. I'll write about it tomorrow. Right now I have to play some games with Mitch's friends from Rockstar!

The Magic Party itself played host to an even more insidious grammatical treasure hunt with $1000 and a replica Opal Mox up for grabs. It was based on divining information from the oversized preview cards from Scars of Mirrodin scattered about the room. Between this and the complimentary Mirrodin themed cocktails most people were well entertained. But I was greedy and wanted to try and get some face time with some industry people I really admired. At one point Brady Dommermuth and Mark Rosewater made themselves available. Maro gave me a hug but then sent me on my way. Fortunately I had spoken with Brady's brother and he made the connection. We chatted a bit and with his help (and Mon's, the man behind Mon's Goblin Raiders and lifetime mtg playtester) I met Aaron Forsythe and much to my delight, Jeremy Jarvis the Art Director of MTG. I gave him my email and he said he'd be in touch and was willing to look at some of my work. Brady said to me quite fairly 'We don't mess with our artists, you're either good enough for Magic or you aren't'. I am killing myself a bit for not bringing a whole box of business cards to America. If it is my downfall I'm not sure how I will continue. But I am reassured nonetheless; when I get home I have some good leads for a career as a professional artist.

PAX is upon us. The cauldron is ready; the stars are right.

Let the ritual begin.

PAX was awesome, and that was always going to be the case. I tried to divide my time between getting close to Mike and Jerry and filming something useful for the documentary. Playing with friends, eating food, trying new games, buying merch, entering competitions, talking to people, seeing bands and exploring Seattle were all secondary. Unfortunately with only three days this meant that few of those optional quests were completed.

FRIDAY:
Queued for two hours to see Warren Spector deliver a stirring keynote that makes me want to rethink the angle of my documentary. At least a little. In a nutshell he challenged gamers to support the move of gaming from fringe to mainstream and to be more aware of gaming's future. I believe he said something along the lines of 'we won the war for acceptance, but now we don't want to share' and I suddenly feel guilty. I suppose my documentary is looking at the culture that surrounds games whatever it may be, but I now feel responsible for supplying a message that predicts and encourages a future in which we all play games. Or at least have the opportunity to do so without being judged or harassed by the hardcore or the oldschool. It's okay to be casual. If you are 80 years old and want to play Jet Grind radio, that's fine too.
Following that I held onto my seat for Mike and Jerry's first appearance and Q&A. I didn't ask a question, although I perhaps should have got up just to remind them they said they'd plug my documentary on their site. I'm not looking for people to stay with anymore, but some public interest would be nice. The best part of that was probably Erika's boyfriend proposing to her.
Then I met up with Zack who was losing a GP qualifier and checked out the expo hall. There are youtube videos and pro articles on the event so I won't put much here. However I did play Mortal Kombat, NBA JAM and Sonic 4 and they brought a smile to my face. The good thing about being a young adult is that everyone entering the industry are your peers and so games are coming full circle and being made by people like me who grew up on what we would consider 'classic' games. Finally companies are doing what we told them and making games just like they used to, without the pressures of the latest gameplay innovation and cutting edge graphics. Jerry said his kinds get bored of the old games bad graphics, I wonder how these new iterations will be received? Personally I loved to play them and will be first in line to buy them all.
I did chat with the Sega guy for a while and he told me that while the demo is of a level that may as well be a prettier Green Hill Zone, the following Episodes will take Sonic into brave new territory. And I don't mean stupid like turning into a were-hog, I mean brave like Sonic CD. And while I can't say the same for Mortal Kombat, when you see the Romeo Must Die-esque Xray grapples and the new brutally awesome fatalities you will shit yourself with joy. I hope it gets to Australia unmolested but I won't say I'm optimistic.

Actually the questions I get asked when I tell people I'm Australian are (in most common order):
1) Do you guys hate being mistaken for New Zealanders? Because they do and I watch Flight of the Concords.
2) You are all descended from convicts [more of a statement].
3) Don't you have retarded videogame laws?
4) Don't you get delayed releases?
5) Don't games get banned there?
6) Why is your country so shit in regards to games?
7) Where did you get that from and can I have it/some?

Speaking of questions, I then attended a Panel on games journalism that was kind of pathetic. Not only was only one of them currently a games 'writer' (he made the specification after I questioned their journalistic integrity) but they had no material prepared and just fielded questions from the audience. One guy from Canada asked if he could get a job in America; 'No' was the short answer. I decided to ask them, since a couple of them were actually studio publicists, about getting in contact with games companies but the person before me asked the question. So I just basically threw out a bunch of criticisms of games journalism which were met largely with two responses.
a) Yes, it's not really journalism it's just writing about games. There's no real money in it besides what the big news sides grind out of their advertising and that involves keeping readers with spectacles, sexist pieces and using numbers between 7 and 10 to rate games (unless they sponsor the site, then it's 9-10). This model I would like to compare to Penny Arcade, who have the freedom to speak honestly without fear for their livelihood and are therefore the only professional commentary worth listening to.
b) We're just trying to feed our families. Games companies exist to make a profit, news sites exist to make a profit, retailers exist to make a profit. Any sort of obligation to gamers or idealism about creating games is secondary. To that I say, find a new line of work. If your heart isn't in it then you really shouldn't be involved. Yes, I suppose publicists are a necessary evil but they can be honest from time to time. One of them basically said they speak for the companies because developers are socially retarded. I prefer to speak to developers 100% of the time and will include no PR dickholes in my documentary. And as for games 'writers' well we don't actually need them at all. I'd rather read a review written on a forum by a fan or by Jerry on Penny Arcade than a page or two of drivel someone who fancies themselves a writer saw as a paycheck.
After the panel I did apologise to Chris Kohler and John Drake, I didn't want to hold them accountable but I did want to get some reactions to guide my documentary. John mentioned he'd like to see gamers portrayed as normal people, focusing on their lives outside of games. Interesting.

I also met up with Ty, the 16yo kid who has been coming to PAX since before he was toilet trained. He shoed me the ropes and helped me get around town a bit. Then he gave me a free ticket to go see Testament, Megadeth and Slayer with him O_O

So now he's the coolest person in Seattle (cooler than Valve, cooler than Penny Arcade) and I've seen Megadeth play Rust in Peace COVER TO COVER. \m/
The bus ride to Pomona was tense. I was on my own hoping to meet my contact I'd never even seen at the last stop which was in a car park in the middle of nowhere. To make things worse the bus driver had never driven the route before and was trying to ask me for directions, then complaining that I should remember when we inevitably became lost. Unfortunately I figured out where we were long before she did but of course she wouldn't listen and ended up driving halfway back to the depot before radioing them for assistance. She was Latino, but when my contact Andy turned out to be of Mexican descent I described her with more of an Asian slant. 'Damn Asians' he remarked, as I apologised for being late.

Zack and Andy reminded me of a Hispanic version of Gabe and Tycho. Zack with his boundless energy and hilariously forward attitude and Andy with his calculating reserved demeanor and biting wit. I immediately took to them both. Later in the night I met Nick, a fellow Australian. But he was from Sydney and had a penchant for the theatric, so it took a little longer to warm to him. We went to a supermarket and bought enough junkfood to satisfy all of PAX and prepared ourselves for the train the next morning.

The PAX train was certainly worth the effort as the two days really flew by. I learnt to play a heap of new board and card games. And why not? We were literally a captive audience. I managed to garner my first win in an M11 booster draft (no doubt in part to my practice with Chris and Luke) after gesturing to my first pack and announcing that it contained a Baneslayer Angel (which it did) that I would ride to victory (which I did). Another highlight was attempting to play a game of Diplomacy which to my complete surprise really is fun once you start actually playing. The rumors that swirl about the game and it's intimidating rulebook are enough to scare away all but the most hardcore board gamers (who instead whisper about it with mystical awe) but the thrill of Diplomatic success and betrayal are worth the effort. I could see it being played like a murder mystery night where everyone dresses as a country's ambassador. I learnt a couple of excellent card games too, and I would have bought them today if they had been in stock. Citadels is a very fun game for about six players. You must try to predict other players choice of character each round while building your kingdom. Dominion is also very cool, each player builds a deck that they constantly play cards from to improve. But Citadel is widely known and Dominion has won multiple awards so there's few surprises there. I also heard of Arkham Horror's excellence but have yet to play it.

It was so easy to sit down, introduce yourself and just play games. Even the food was okay. The only downside was trying to sleep in a chair when you knew you could be gaming. This feeling only increased at PAX.

Playing Rockband on a moving train is trippy.
I don't know how to title this or where to start. Laptop keyboard is unfamiliar and at this point in time there is almost too much to write about. This is the first chance I've had to write since I got on a bus to Pomona in San Ana. I'm now in Vancouver BC, some 2,100km away. 13,192km from home.

I think I'll just make a few posts.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Not a full post or update, but Penny Arcade's hot topic seems to be the re-sale of video games and I have a few things to say along those line.

Basically screw Game Stop: rot and die you outdated leeches.

When stores are buying second hand games for minimum store credit and then re-selling them at 90% of the retail price at 100% profit, the issue seems very simple. And I believe it is. If merchants undercut the profits of the companies actually making the product to a point of serious detriment, how can that be anything but bad? Games Companies are not the enemies of gamers, they make the god damned wine! The relationship is symbiotic with the retailers sucking parasitically at either end. I suppose the counter-argument is that some people can't afford games upon release and that it's everyone's free right to re-sell their assets. But Game Stop is not an individual selling off single copies of old games they're done with. It's like a store selling DVDs or CDs that are barely weeks old second hand right next to the new ones. I'm curious, would you buy them? Or is the lower price of a dvd or cd enough that it becomes incidental?
Game Stop (because in America and Australia they are pretty much monopolising the product)exist because they offer distribution and advertising for games. But when I buy a product from any other retailer I am not offered scratch guard, extended warranties, pre-orders, peripherals, VIP cards that do nothing, fucking strategy guides! it just goes on to the point of insanity. I just went and bought Mafia II for Chris, which I am about to sit down and lose an afternoon* with, and the guy at Game Stop offered me the strategy guide for 'half price when you buy the game' which is basically bullshit to begin with as they can set the price wherever they want. I firmly said 'no' with the seasoned tone of someone that runs afoul of all too many Game Stop employees and homeless beggars. He then decided to 'get fresh' and spin an anecdote about how he got stuck on the first mission and was going to check out the strategy guide on his lunch break. Okay stop right there guy, 'Don't you have the internet?' I prodded. No response there. That's right, strategy guides are redundant. I tried to console him with a little anecdote about getting stuck on Discworld 2 as a child and having no recourse but an old issue of hyper I found in an op-shop but even that turned bitter as I related the redundancy of strategy guides to the inevitable redundancy of his shitty store.
Having played MMOs and a variety of XBoxLive/PSNetwork titles I have no fear of paying for games that are pure download with no physical box or disc. I long for the emerging technology. Game Stop isn't a place to meet or an enjoyable experience. It's just a place where, if you want to buy games, you have to routinely go to be offended and ripped off. Anyone who whines about trade ins and pre-owned games should check ebay, you'll find that second-hand games can be bought for less and sold for more than Game Stop and delivered to your door.

Also Daelmans Delicious Caramel Bites are delicious.

*A girl who gave me a taste of Slam Poetry in Portland asked me, 'Don't videogames take up too much time and get in the way?' In the way of what exactly? I can't think of a better use of my time.

Chris, Luke and I didn't get up to much this time around. We bought an entire box of M11 and spent the whole weekend drafting. Stopping only to clock Castle Crashers, which was brilliant. Again I went to Monday Night sketch group at Blizzard. This time I filmed a bit of general randomness. It's mainly for my own enjoyment although it could be B-roll stuff if none of them are keen to sue me. Perhaps a few shots for the MG interview? All of a sudden I'm off again. Hopefully I get to extend my stay and enjoy a final week or two with my bestest bud Luke and new bestest bud Chris.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back at Backspace, the place to be in Portland before Ground Kontrol opens, enjoying 'Bawls' G33K B33R and raspberry mousse pie. I hear this is a PAX enforcer hangout, so far I've met a couple.
Yesterday was less explosive than Tuesday, but no less full. The first day in town always ends up being pretty crazy, I'm amazed at how well I do meeting people and ending up places. I went to Dark Horse Comics and interviewed some of the people working on video game comic tie-ins. They understand the importance of having the original game's dev team contribute to the design and writing of the comic, to offer an authentic experience that is canonical. I think this is a great idea and strongly encourage them to keep putting comics into special editions of games, like that awesome Warhammer Online SE bundle. I also talked to a Gamer-girl who works there. She introduced me to the idea of the 'Gamer-girl' and the 'Girl-gamer'. Something I feel very strongly about is girls inclusion into gamer and geek culture and she spoke very well on the issue. I will do my best to faithfully convey her opinions and hopefully I can convince a few more girls to speak on the matter. After promptly replying months ago, I've still had no word back from the Frag Dolls about setting up an interview. So (before I lose my thread altogether) the term gamer-girl would suggest that a girl is first and foremost a gamer, just like any guy who plays games. Super cool people like my fiancee and my cousin's girlfriend and some girl's I've met in the US would fall into this category. Then there are girl-gamers that represent gamer-girls like the Frag Dolls, Hex from GG, Morgan Webb. I'm not saying they can't or don't play, but as public figures they are girls before they are gamers. Then there's downright offensive characters such as Jessica Chobot (who I have been told by former friends had nothing to do with games before she realised it could make her famous) that simply use the fact that they play games and are attractive to garner fame, at the expense of the hard earned respect of gamer-girls everywhere. It seems that this has forever been a part of human nature; a girl's worst enemy is not the oppressive man, it is another girl. Unfortunately as long as websites like IGN and tv channels like G4 desperately try to remain relevant (pro tip: they aren't) by appealing to the basest instinct of an audience they assume is predominantly male (pro tip: they aren't) then girls who want to be worshiped will always have a role to play in the objectifying of women who just want to play games without being harassed.

Poor Erin is very sick, please take care of her in my absence. Talking to her yesterday filled my dreams with doors and windows I couldn't seem to get through, I woke in a sweat... there's always at least one screen still dividing us and it brings me down. It brings me down.

Then we got some lunch at The People's Sandwich of Portland which was awesome, authentic and very affordable before heading back to Ground Kontrol for their free play night!

I defeated Shredder and Krang, Magneto and his children, blew up the Death Star using THE FORCE, survived Adams Family Pinball for a few seconds, tore out Johnny Cage's spine, cleared several levels of Donkey Kong and Crystal Castle, needed food badly in Gauntlet Legends, and laid Ken Masters smack-down in SF2-SF3Alpha and SF4. I was even served some Slam Poetry out on the street that made me long for a childhood I never had.

All in all, a good day. Now I have to make sure I catch my flight back to LA so I can have a few days of rest with Chris and Luke. I miss those guys.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm in Portland this morning, eating black cherry pie and drinking pear soda in the famous Backspace net cafe. I'm going to Darkhorse Comics this morning to visit some funky gamer chick I met last night at Vendetta. I also met the brother of the head of Magic Creative Dev! He's working the coffee machine behind me right now. Then I better go back to Powell's (the largest new and used book store in the world spanning an entire city block!) to pay for the books I grabbed yesterday. I found some vintage Frazetta, the best of H.P. Lovecraft (for $8) and a gorgeous Italian book about satanic erotic art. It'd make a great present for a heap of people but I want it for myself. If you need something, chances are that's the place to find it! Around the corner is Ground Kontrol where I played some oldschool games last night. My favourite so far is Star Wars where you get to used the force and blow up as many Death Stars as you want. They blast videogame sounds from outdoor speakers to lure customers and deter the homeless (which, due to the temperate climate and the pro-homeless laws, there are heaps of*) and everything about the 'barcade' is pretty amazing. They had 100+ people last night with Rock Band karaoke!

We also attended trivia run by 'real' pirates, the guys who started Talk Like a pirate day etc. They carry loaded flintlocks, fuck! Basically assholes that never grew up but I love that they can get away with it in Portland. Then hung out at Ground Kontrol some more, went to Voodoo Doughnut, Town square and finally a genuine Suicide Girls strip club. One of the girls spent a lot of time with us 'cause she's an oldschool gamer from the Atari era. She gave me her card so we can hang out at PAX. I feel there's a great interview right there. Perfect after spending the afternoon discussing girls growing involvement in the culture. When I have more time I'll go into some detail on that subject.

Portland is my favorite city thus far; when people decide to do something, everyone goes along with it. Rent is very low, cute girls hang out at arcades and you can get married by a robotic Elvis head for a quarter. Music is everywhere and everyone is cool. It's like what Seattle was supposed to be in the 90s.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"You could have saved a lot of money using your own boxes." she said, hefting the super light package
"But because you used our flat rate box, it's the maximum charge regardless of weight."

At this point the transaction is already in progress, she's just making me even more miserable as I hand her over a hundred dollars. The contents of the parcels cost half that. Screw the postal system.

Add to that the cost of a last-minute flight and accommodation in Portland and I'm suddenly running hot. The next looming expense is the hotel for PAX (a princely $550) but after that it's Canada and good friends and all that cheer. I suppose I'll just pick a date and buy my fares south now, to avoid digging into my savings too much. Good thing I got that tax return.

The train from San Francisco up into Oregon was great. Not only did I get some uncomfortable sleep but I made friends with some like-minded young travelers (a gamer and a film buff) and saw some truly beautiful vistas including the huge bald eagles that are so iconically American.

Albany is a rural town; not unlike those found throughout Australia, yet classically American. It sits close to Corvallis, the 'college town' and Lebanon, the town with an indoor shooting range.

It was here I met with Kristen, Seeth, Steven, Eddie and Pony; definitely the coolest people (and Canid) in the town. I'll write some more later but we had lots of fun and played D&D.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

IN MEMORY OF...

Aerith Gainsborough

1997 - End of Disc 1

Ahem, where was I? Well I'm still at Mojo's house, but preparing to leave tonight for Albany. It's a 15 hour overnight train trip and hopefully I will endure with more grace than that horror plane flight over the pacific. While we have gone on to play Guitar hero, drink Chimay and watch Hot Tube Time Machine (seriously underrated) the main thing I've done is leave for a night.

I went and wandered about the city on Tuesday, visiting the Academy of Science (definitely the best modern 'museum' ever), the infamous Pier 39 and the less well known but largely superior Pier 43 1/2, home of the Musee Mechanique. I met a rock looking fellow on the streets of SF named Diego Trinidad, talked to him for about half an hour and promptly bought his cd. I know what Raj is getting for christmas!

After all that I went to San Cerrito, the upper east-bay and met Steph and Tristan. They are the most awesome gamer couple I have met since Lauren and Josh! We had a blast and there was such an intense combination of junk food, gamer talk and game-play that I really wish I could have spent more time with them. Maybe I could have? Well regardless of where I end up, I'll be sure to visit all my newfound friends again some day. In the meantime there's always Xbox Live right?

Steph introduced me to something I found fascinating: Subversive Cross-stitch. She has a wonderful passion for video-game inspired crafts. Tristan works at GameStop and is as 100% pure gamer. We began by complimenting each other on our clothing and ended with back-to-back SC2 victories. I don't think I've ever bonded so quickly or met people so genuinely nice.

I'm sure there's more I could put here, but the bones are on the table and the meat is in my head.


Monday, August 16, 2010

...but the soul still burns.

Arrived yesterday at Mojo's house up in Castro Valley (east-bay San Francisco) and the view is incredible! He's a student and enforcer at PAX, specifically helping with the VIPs which has allowed him to get some pretty premium signatures (stares wistfully at the head shot of Felicia Day).

Since then we have done some serious gaming, I have enjoyed some serious hospitality and scored some not so serious interview footage. This is what my trip was supposed to be about! So that's ace :)

I'm begrudgingly wrapping my hands around Soul Calibur 4 (that's 3 variations away from SC perfection, Soul Edge wasn't quite there) in an attempt to stand ready, should I get a chance to face off against the nefarious Robert Khoo at PAX. I was literally untouchable back when I first got my Dreamcast and it was the game that finally brought me into the fighter sphere. My only previous experience was one round of SSF2:T at an eleventh birthday party. I split a dollar with my friend; we chose Cammy. We lost. I thought SC3 was a return to form, with the best features of the previous two games, updated graphics and all those weapon styles! But SC4 is a big facepalm back to the failtrain of SC2. I can still go back and play SC, the graphics are superb and the combat just so brutal and right. For the time the character animation was deliciously smooth. Lizardman's tail!

For his part, Mojo is a perfect host (as you'd expect from a PAX enforcer); I feel welcome and free to chat/play. If you are going to PAX and see a big fuzzy enforcer with glasses give him a high-five. In fact, high-five them all. Then again with the shadow of PAX flu in the back of people's minds why not a convention-friendly 'air-five'? Mike and Jerry actually shook my hand when I met them. Which, in consideration, was a great honour. Their grips where present but unassuming, perfectly matching their friendly countenance.

We also traded SC2 tips and managed to win a couple of games each and hit up an All-American diner for beef steak and cherry pie. Who know's what's in store for tonight's meal? I hear there's a game of Munchkin for dessert.

I found today's image here and it's essentially an official rip of the artwork on the original SC Dreamcast disc. I browsed that gallery for hours (once I'd spent hours unlocking each piece) and it's exciting to see some more of my unconscious inspiration. I think you could actually stick the disc in a PC to get all the artwork. Brilliant. I'm going to spend a while in that online archive.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Press START to play

Hokay.

What is it, Friday? Lauren and Patrick are taking good care of me. We've been to the SJ Tech Museum and the Winchester Mystery House. Patrick also showed me around the impressive EA Headquarters here. They display new concept art in the lobby along with huge statues of dragons and heroes from their fantasy franchises. I really enjoyed their timeline featuring some very, very oldschool EA products; back when their logo was a Square, Circle and Triangle. I was also impressed by their (probably) unrivaled hall of Platinum titles including two Harry Potter games that were 9xPlatinum. Although I wonder if it's the quality of the game that is reflected here.

Tonight we are driving out to a nature reserve to see a meteor shower, which will be amazing. I hope. Then I can finally record my first gamer interview with Patrick. He's a hardcore WoW fan and has as many figures (including Frostmorne and some resin prints of his own character) as any of the Blizzard staff. He has a copy of Dante's Inferno I've been eying too.

Tomorrow we'll check out San Francisco and then Sunday I'm actually going over to the East Bay to meet up with my first volunteer Gamer. He plays board games too and even manages to play D&D over Skype with faraway friends. Exciting!

The gum trees are freaking me out. I woke this morning forgetting where I was...