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.

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...

gone so long
But 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
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!