Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cubing in a strange place

So, I escaped my local orbit over the weekend and slept in a different city Friday night. That city was Daytona Beach Shores, just south of what most people understand to be Daytona Beach.

I had not been to Daytona for a while, and it was a little sad not to see some of the buildings that I had seen there in previous trips to the city over the last 30 years or so. There are only two arcades left on the old part of the boardwalk - video game arcades, I mean. I do not refer to those slot-machine-for-dinner-coupon gambling establishments as an 'arcade', even though that word is used for that other purpose*. No, I mean Tetris, Ghost Squad, the not-so-new but still awesome Terminator Salvation light gun game, Skee-Ball, sit-down driving games, and a pinball machine or five. I was hoping to show Bubba a Pac-Man machine in the wild, but both arcades had a non-functioning Ms. Pac-Man machine and no other Pac-related games. It's cool that they put in a Ferris Wheel and a G0-Kart track, but all of the mini-golf has been relegated to the other side of the road and they are all required to have a large volcano replica, a crashed airplane replica, and live alligators (not replicas).

It was nice that Pizza King was still there - they make a great pizza with a crust reminiscent of fresh-baked French bread. They have a giant Hobart mixer there in the kitchen that's about the size of a residential refrigerator. Another thing that was somewhat the same? Parking. If you have a hotel right on Daytona Beach, you may not notice, because you have hotel parking - but if you need to go anywhere farther than you can walk, you quickly notice that you can't park anywhere worthwhile without paying for it until 9PM. We luckily found a space that allowed 30 minute parking from 9AM to 9PM at about 8:30. At the same time we pulled in, a rather rowdy group pulled in the space in front of us - the three of them had loudly congratulated each other and my wife on their excellent parking coup. One of them commented on my cube, and I did a quick solve for them while the wife and the children snuck away from the rowdiness undetected. I had forgotten how amazed the slightly inebriated can be with a cube demo. One uneasy high five later, I ran to catch up to the family already making a beeline for Pizza King.

After the evening pizza adventure and subsequent disappointing hunt for a Pac-Man machine, we watched a little beach volleyball and some guy with a bunch of snakes, three lizards, and the fattest skunk I have ever met. He was making some money by getting people to pay $10 for a picture with one of the animals. I didn't see anybody with the skunk - the albino Burmese python seemed to be the favorite, perfect for teenage girls to dare each other into a frenzy with.

The next day, my cube and I were on the beach for about 8 hours - and I only dropped the cube in the sand once. I have cubed at the beach before - usually I just have it in my hand while I'm walking, but if somebody asks me about it I'm happy to give a quick demonstration. At Daytona Beach, my cube was largely inconsequential other than as a distraction for me, and that was quite OK. Dropping the cube in the sand was not so OK. The difference was in the sand. Here at home, the sand is very coarse. If I drop a cube into the sand, it's actually difficult for a piece of sand to get in the cube because the grain size is so large. At Daytona, the sand is very small and enough stuck to the cube to worm its way inside rather quickly. Even though my cube got a thorough cleaning when I got home and a fresh application of silicone lubricant, it still has the tell-tale whooshing sound of plastic with grooves in it.

*If I am ever elected to a public office that allows it, I will mandate that the use of the word 'arcade' in signage for a public business require at least one working Pac-Man machine on the premises.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thank goodness school is back in...

#1 son just finished Capcom's "Okami" (Wii version). I am proud of him for finishing it, because the only things that he wanted help from me on were the timed races. He gets a little freaked out on missions where you are timed, so it's understandable that he can't really do them. It's easier to play a race or two for him and let him take over again when he's ready. We might have looked up a puzzle or two, but I am impressed that after showing him a little bit of technique on one of the first bosses he did every subsequent boss battle himself.

"Okami" is an adventure game like the Legend of Zelda series games, but the game has more of an emphasis on character interaction for completing missions, and has an art style that makes it appear as an animated Japanese watercolor painting. Another major difference between "Okami" and the Zelda game for Wii "Twilight Princess" is that when you aim the Wiimote at the screen in "Okami", it's only to use the game's magic system. The Celestial Brush, when activated, is how the wolf god Ameratsu interacts with her surroundings. You pull the B trigger on the Wiimote, time stops in the game, and you draw various symbols on the screen to achieve various results. Lighting fires, blooming flowers, making the wind blow, and delivering quick slashes to enemies are all done in the magic system. The other fighting moves are done with buttons and shaking In "Twilight Princess", the slingshot, boomerang, and bow and arrow are all aimed on-screen with the remote in real time during battles. It's great for someone like me with lots of game experience, but it's not so great for a 9-year-old that gets anxious when he's trying to aim at something that's shooting back.

Finishing "Okami", I think counts for more than finishing one of the LEGO games - there aren't too many boss battles in the LEGO games that can even compare.

When I asked him if he wanted to finish some other game now that he finished "Okami", he said that he wanted to play "Okami" again so he could find all of the stray beads in the game. Luckily, this will be a good bargaining tool to get him to finish his homework.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A little run-in with the locals...

I had to yell at an apparently intoxicated or otherwise mentally impaired woman today because she had to get in my face and tell me that my sweet Border Lab was actually a Pit Bull and if it got off the leash or bit her or her dog that she would sue me. If she was that concerned, she should have stayed on the other side of the street where she was. Oddly enough, she did not deny that she was intoxicated when I asked her. I guess 12:45 isn't too early to drink on a Friday.

I had just come back from and errand and lunch with #2 Son and Suki the Wonder Dog. There is a woman with a dog in my field of vision, something I am used to looking for with a dog in tow. I see her walking on the sidewalk on the other side of the street as I am getting out of the car. She is shorter than me, but a little taller than my wife. She is normal weight, which is not so normal these days. She is older than me, perhaps she is in her late 40s or early 50s. She has fairish skin with spots - she looks like she has spent her fair share of time outside, but she does not seem to tan. She is wearing a shirt that goes to her elbows, some random or tie-dye pattern, and maybe some sort of dark colored Capri pants or cargo shorts that go to her knees. Her dog is small, black and white. The dog's ears look like the Batman cowl ears from the 70's costume. Perhaps it is a French Bulldog, I cannot be certain until I spend more time with Google Image Search.

Realizing that I had not taken the recycling out, I grab the bins while I still have dog leash in my hand. Suki sniffs around the yard while I take her back and forth from the side of the house to the road. As I get the second bin to the front, I see the woman crossing the road, dog leading. So far, this is normal dog owner behavior, and I expect people to ask me about Suki because she's a little bit small for a Lab, and her face is a slightly different shape.

"What kind of dog is that?"

"A Border Lab."

"A what?"

"A Border Lab." I say it slower because I worry that I'm not enunciating.

"A what?"

"Labrador. A Border..."

"That's a pit bull. You're a liar." Until the moment that she calls me a liar, I was assuming that I was having a normal conversation with a sane person.

The conversation gets complicated at that point, because we're talking over each other a little. She continues to assert that I am a liar, and that if that dog gets off the leash or bites her that she will sue me. I ask her if she is intoxicated, and if I might have to call for a D&D (drunk and disorderly). She suggests to me that she might call her lawyer. Judging from her behavior, it seems plausible that she both has a lawyer and has his number memorized. At some point, her belligerence puts her face in the proximity of mine, and I mentally check the way that she is standing against the way that I am standing. I am worried that she will decide to kick me in the crotch. I am worried that I will not show proper restraint. Since yelling may still be covered by the First Amendment I opt for standing to my full height in front of her and saying:


She complies, punctuated with a disgusted "Fine". She mutters something else about a lawyer, and yells back to me to ask if I thought she was stupid.

"No, I think you're intoxicated."

Before she is out of visual range, but well past earshot, I catch one of the other neighbors out walking his dog, an old retired guy. I ask him if he had seen that woman walking that dog before, and he said that he had not, and he mentioned that she was muttering to herself the whole time about "Doesn't he know that thing is dangerous?"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The radical fetishization of game cases.

On my usual Friday trip to Wal-Mart, I added a CD organizer thingy to my shopping list - not like the big Rubbermaid photo&CD organizer totes that I have been getting, but one that just has little sleeves in it for the discs. I took 2-1/2 bins of PS2 games and condensed them down to something the size of a large hardback book, with 1/3 of a bin now being taken up only by what game manuals came out of that stash. A success overall, as it now allows me easier access to a lot of games that I don't always go digging through the bins for - and I even got so crazy as to alphabetize them. I had a couple of games that I couldn't bear to take out of the cases - no, they weren't Street Figher Alpha Anthology or Capcom Fighting Evolution - actually they are R-Type Final and Mister Mosquito. Too wacky to mess with, I suppose. I was surprised by a few things - I forgot that Death by Degrees had a demo disk for Tekken 5 in it, I forgot that Ribbit King had a second disk of bizarre movies on it, and I forgot that Barbarian was made by Titus, the same people that made that awesome Xena:The Warrior Princess fighting game for N64. I have no idea what has kept me hanging on to plastic cases all this time, but I think that part of it is how fragile the first era of CD's were.

At some other point on Friday, I wandered into out local Gamestop with the kids in tow. #1 son and I looked around in the Wii games, and we were looking at Sega Superstars Tennis as a light and fun way to break up our overly serious Okami adventure. I was a little annoyed with the employee on duty - it was a middle-aged woman. I don't mean to be ageist or sexist, my annoyance stemmed from the fact that she gave off no 'gamer' vibe at all. As a matter of fact, that particular store has had, in the past, quite a number of female employees that were gamers - and even one female general manager that was rather knowledgeable about intricate details of Final Fantasy that were even a little scary (in a good way). In general, I have found female employees a little easier to deal with largely because they tend to be a little more professional. Also, you would think that a store staffed with female gamers would be sure to attract the attention of the predominantly male gaming audience and be a little less off-putting to moms of gamers when they have to make a trip there to ask an employee something about a game. I'm sure that Gamestop's rigid rules and procedures will continue to produce their desired employee churn and anybody good they ever have will leave as usual. We bought nothing and left - we may consider the tennis game later, but it's not going anywhere.

By the time I have all of the games out of their plastic cases, I was starting to think that just putting them all in the recycle bin was the wrong move - so I called Gamestop to see if they wanted them. I got Middle-Aged-Non-Gamer-Woman on the phone, as I had suspected that I would. I pleaded my case for not throwing out cases, and suggested that they could make good use of them. She plainly stated that she got all of her game cases from corporate.

After a subsequent phone call, I think that one of the local Play-N-Trade stores has warmed to my idea. Where's the sense in putting game cases out for recycling when they could just be re-used directly without all that processing?

Also, Cherry Crush is awesome, and so are Ketchup flavored Pringles. I would advise, however, having them separately.