Singapore, And How to Sling It

This is a repost of my blog entry on Rose City Transplants.
It was originally posted on March 14, 2016.

One story below us in one of the few parts of Singapore that resembles a proper grid, the lights came on. While the city didn’t cool as much as one would expect as the sun fell1and rarely does, truth be told, an orchestrated dance of fans, some styled to resemble those from a more, colonial time, moved the air above us, cooled the room with the peanut-shell covered floor, proved proof against sweat in a city covered with it.

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Without Justice

This is a rewrite of my blog entry on Rose City Transplants.
It was originally posted on September 28, 2015.

My legs are stiff and sore, the result of climbing countless steps on our journey to heaven.  Many of the great temples of Angkor are designed as representations of Mount Meru, the holy mountain of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist faiths, the five spires of the temples symbolizing the five peaks of the mountain.  The most famous of these temples, Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, looks like it only has three spires when viewed straight on, but it too is a symbol of heaven on earth. We stood in queue to climb to the top of that building, waiting our turn to see heaven.

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The Worst Day of the Year

This is a repost of my blog entry on Rose City Transplants.
It was originally posted February 9, 2015.

It was the sight of a couple, riding a bicycle built for two, wearing bug eyes and antennas that broke a storm of weeping for the city we’ve come to love.  I couldn’t help but laugh, how much more Portland could that have been?  It was something straight out of Portlandia, us in the car, her crying at the sight of two weird denizens on their silly bike.  Clouds rolled overhead and the wet streets reflected whatever sun was available.  It was the worst day of the year.

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The Art of Transplanting Roses

This is a repost of my inaugural blog entry from Rose City Transplants.
It was originally posted on January 15, 2015.

It was sometime late October when she had something to say.  She’s reserved, so much so that she likely will dislike my sharing that fact, but her reservation is never more present when she thinks confrontation looms.  She is to be forgiven for fear, however, because what she was about to say would start one of the most important conversations of our lives.

She was testing the waters of a move to Singapore.

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30 Days Coda: Favorite Game

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

It will come as no surprise, as I’ve probably mentioned it about 36,834 times already on this site; my favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Hardly a controversial choice, as Ocarina is often listed highly or at the top of a number of ‘greatest of’ lists, and remains the all-time highest-reviewed game on Metacritic.  We’re not just going for the popular route here, though – Ocarina remains a top of list of great games for me as the pinnacle of what a good role-playing game can be.

Wait, did I just say “role-playing game?”  But, Josh, you might say, silly boy, Zelda isn’t an RPG?  Okay maybe so.  But in its defined genre of “action-adventure”, Ocarina (as many of the other Zelda games) tells a story with far more panache than any Final Fantasy could ever.  More importantly, Ocarina did it with a sparing amount of cut-scenes and almost no high-end graphics effects (saving the best effects for the final battles) but with amazing ‘camera’ work – lingering, haunting shots of the protagonist and his allies, framing shots of Zelda, Link & Ganon with a mastery more suited for cinema than video games.   Nowhere in the game was this better illustrated when Link leaves his home for the first time;

In that receding 8-second shot of Saria, you see everything Link is sacrificing to become the Hero of Time – a life others have lived before him and the life-long friendship of Saria.  You know that Saria will play a more important part of the story, but just like Link, the player has no idea what his sacrifice will truly cost.   Other decisions are equally amazing in their execution – no music plays during that entire scene (outside of the chimes that accompany Link’s acquisition of another item) – just the background noise of the forest, a tranquil chorus of bird calls.  The silence is heavy, eerie, even, as Link takes two hesitant backward steps into his destiny.  It’s made even more stark by the inanely cheerful background music for Hyrule Fields and when Kaepora is on-screen.

The story-telling elements are just one piece of the masterpiece wrought by Miyamoto and his team, but they are ever-present.  Link’s first confrontation with Ganon is another excellent use of camera work and lighting, as is the slow-pan reverence paid to the first time the player (and Link) sets eyes on the Master Sword;

Or the beautifully framed image of our three principals, beginning what would become a generations-long battle for the soul of Hyrule;

(look at the :49 mark.)

Also, I never knew that you could hang off the ledge like that – huh, learn something every day.  Which is a great segue into the other outstanding element of OOT – the gameplay.  Ocarina is, after all, an action-adventure and is really not an RPG.  While the acquisition of loot has always been a hallmark of the Zelda games, each piece of new gear Link gets is just another means to unlock his next objective.  In that sense, Zelda games are more puzzle games than RPG, and Ocarina, again, leads its siblings in that regard; the 3D environment was fully utilized, beautifully so in the dungeons (except for the Water Temple, assholes.)  Solving a dungeon no longer required knowing exactly where to drop a bomb (though there was plenty of that – especially in the Goron temple,) but figuring out how to get back to the same room but in a different location, and most often, a different height.

The 3D environment added amazing elements to the combat as well – consider the Queen Gohma fight (a truly creepy use of camera effects, by the way) or the Forest Temple boss fight, where the subtle difference in height between the mounted shade of Ganon and Link made a simple concept of whack-a-mole a bit more tricky in execution.

Lastly, the story itself of OOT is as endearing to me as any.  There’s really not a lot to it that’s original, really, it’s a coming-of-age story, but with a really cunning twist; the protagonist AND the damsel are both having to come into their own powers.  The setup is flawless – the young-Link part of the game has a child-like innocence about it and a simple quest, but during the course of this quest, Link unwittingly damages his home severely; not only by allowing Ganon access to the Triforce, but in his interactions, Link (and through him, Zelda) create a lot of disorder in the lives of their countrymen.  Mari… I mean Talon & Walug… I mean Ingo’s toss up leaves Talon’s business in disarray and Malon’s heart as collateral damage.  Ruto too gets her heart broken, not to mention her entire species almost gets wiped out.  While “Bad Things Happening to Good People” is a time-honored tradition in story-telling of vilifying the antagonist, OOT does a great job of laying a lot of the blame at the real root cause – young Princess Zelda, who acts out of impulse in her early career, instead of the Wisdom that she later earns.  Link too is shown as having to own up to his childhood mistakes, earning over (and then some) the Triforce of Courage.

Ocarina was a watershed moment in video gaming, there’s little doubt of that.  Nintendo has often scored big victories with its two flagship franchises, but they truly hit everything right when it came to Ocarina.  From beginning to end, the story of the first Link will always hold a special place in my memories, and in my heart;

I think someone just started cutting an onion around me…

 

30 Days: Game You’d Thought You’d Hate

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

There are a lot of valid answers here: EverQuest is definitely an option, though it falls into the “love to hate” category a bit too much.  And the reasons I did love it had little to do with the game itself.  Total Annihilation is another one that I could talk about: initially it seemed like a low-budget knock-off RTS game and then like it was burdened with too many options.  However, I’m going to break with the PC for a bit and talk about Twisted Metal 2 for the PlayStation.

Twisted Metal is an interesting series; they’re ‘fighting games’ with cars.  Or better described, the games are a demolition derby with guns & rockets.  The art and concept aren’t exactly high-brow (the logo for TM2 features a clown with flaming hair, for Christ’s sake;) but the gameplay was addictive – low learning curve and nearly instant rewards of blowing your buddy(ies) to hell and back with an array of various explosive gadgets.  At the time, I was living in a fraternity house (don’t ask) and as a bunch of drunk college kids are wont to do, we spent an inordinate amount of time playing various games.  Tekken and Soul Calibur were other perennial favorites of ours as well; but Twisted Metal just filled the savage need to blow the ever-loving shit out of ice cream trucks.

It’s probably not a game I would go back and play now, but for a time, it was an amazing way to burn some late (or early) hours.

30 Days: Favorite Game Designer

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

There really is only one answer here; Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo.  His contributions to gaming are legion, including some of the most critically acclaimed and universally beloved games.  Super Mario BrosThe Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong 3…  along with those respective franchises, the Star Fox franchise, hell, even Wii Fit2goddamned animated fit board aside.  He simply is the Greatest of All Time.

That being said, there are plenty of great designers that belong in the pantheon alongside Miyamoto: Sid Meier, Will Wright and Richard Garriott are among many others.  But leading that pantheon is by far, Miyamoto.

30 Days: Favorite Gaming Moment

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

I made reference to this an earlier post, but where that post was about the addiction and trauma in my life, this is going to be the uplifting side of the coin.

It is April, 2000.  For a few months now, I’ve been living back in the Bay Area, rebuilding my life, and spending a lot of time on the PvP forums, chatting with other fans of the comic, enjoying a golden age of sorts of gaming times & humor.  A few of us had started gaming together in random games, and one member in particular and I became friends and took the step to meet each other at the Metreon – then an “urban entertainment center” owned by Sony, now, a shopping mall in downtown San Francisco.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, before we left our computers to go meet in the real world.  “I have a boyfriend.  He asked me to tell you that.”  I don’t know if she remembers that line.

I laughed then, and I still laugh today.  It’s been 14 years since the erstwhile Token Female Gamer3Update 2016: TFG has hung up her writing spurs to focus on Twitch streaming.  You can find her as “The Jungle Queen.” entered my life, but she’s been one of my best friends, and meeting her has led to some of the best moments of my life, both gaming-wise and not.  Meeting TFG led to a conversation about EverQuest, which led to the idea of us starting a guild.  We took to the forums, gathered our friends, and in that April, formed The Fourth Wall.

4W, as we began to refer to ourselves, was more than just a guild.  It grew into a gaming family, a group of people that still manage to keep in touch, though the guild has drifted apart after so many years.  4W had more than its share of drama, but even through the tough times, the bonds of friendship held.  It was truly a joy to explore Norrath with the members of Fourth Wall.

The names are seared in my mind, and will be for all time.  Tolsia & Gaedan, the ill-fated lovers, were the bards that TFG & I played.  Dalakar & Kirilith.  Dedpool, my in-game brother.  Arshraam. Einkaran. Kindira.  Sagus, Hopshaus, Wazabi, Matzah, Vastistas the fallen, Holt, Xaaz, Naanaan, Kharlyn, Chrosite, Tiiomon, Xaffythe, Talonus, Mantrius, Khraelin, Ruann, Vaugerant, Anolis, Detesu, Felessan and Barlypop.  Many would join later; Fuurfuut would become one of the best guild leaders I have ever seen when I stepped down. Xilasrn was a brand new player that we took under our wing during a GM event – he joined the following day and has been one of the best gaming friends I’ve had. Eenae, Xaos, Elissa, Mikal, Satiya, Spicer.  Jete, my dear, dear friend.  Kerussk, who has been a constant in my gaming life.  The air is thick with the memories surrounding those names.

Some of the more specific memories, though…

  • When TFG & I were just wee bard-lings, we met Dalakar on top of “Orc Hill”, a popular place to gain experience for players in Kelethin.  We managed to die many, many times during the course of the night.
  • TFG, myself and a few others stumbled onto a dark elf camp while running to Mistmoore. With TFG’s bard down, our high-level bard friend Isabo ported in with her friends and wow’d us with their uber lootz.
  • Fourth Wall decided that the best way to spend our time one day was to strip out of all of our armor and ‘raid’ Crushbone, a low-level dungeon. The “Naked Crushbone Raid” lives on forever in 4W lore.
  • The Halfling Brawl.  We created a buttload of level 1 halfling warriors, turned in our PvP books and had an epic free-for-all in Misty Thicket.
  • Running into a zone and /yell’ing “HUZZAAAAAAAAAH” and having half the zone yell it right back.
  • The love song of Deddy & Isabella.  While running across Anatolia (this was a major undertaking, ports were not always available back then), Dedpool & Isabella fell in love while Dalakar & I, playing our bards serenaded them in-character.  Their wedding was one of the first big 4W events.  Gaedan punched the priest.
  • Elissa winning the “Pinwheel of Doom” during a GM event that was being “camped” by members of one of the elite guild.  “This is my BOOMSTICK!” became instant 4W lore when said uber player complained on the server forums.

Oh, the memories.  I can never thank 4W enough.

30 Days: Best Voice Acting

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

It’s not a game.  It’s Jennifer Hale.  The erstwhile Commander Shepard, Bastila Shan, Leah ad infinitum (or so it seems) – there really is no other actor that matches her range and body of work.  There have been so many notable roles that Hale has voiced that you could get as many responses as people you ask for who their favorite character of hers is.  For me, however, it was her voice acting in Mass Effect as Commander Shepard that made, for me at least, “FemShep” canon. Though I can’t deny that the model for the default male version of Shepard (Mark Vanderloo) is… um… easy on the eyes.

Though I do have to add an honorable mention, the iconic voice work of Mark Hamill, whose take on the Joker is pantheon-level stuff.