Everything you’ve ever heard about having a child and how much time you spend taking care of them is 110% true. While my son Nathaniel is the greatest thing to ever happen to us, it has been pretty much non-stop for my wife and I since June 11. We wouldn’t have it any other way, but still, whoa.
I have managed to get *some* gaming in, however.
My least favorite dungeon in the game; the Thieves’ Den! (Still fun, though.)
I was in the mood for a thorough play-through of A Link to the Past, so I popped the kid in his swing and played (and recorded) one of my favorite games of all time. He was only a few weeks old when this was taken, but I did catch him watching the screen intently at some points.
In any case, I am still working on the YouTube series I planned on doing a while back, and I’m also working on some posts for the blog. I most definitely intend on keeping the CPB alive!
This game has been out what… just over two months? How could I already have an unforgettable memory associated with it?
Well, a lot has changed in regards to Star Wars since Battlefront II was released on PC and consoles back in 2005. Of course there was the sale of the franchise to Disney, the creation of new movies – pretty much one a year for the next few years (!!!) – the well-established Expanded Universe no longer being canon, and one of the biggest heartbreaks, LucasArts being shut down.
But fear not! EA and DICE were there to pick up the slack, and they promptly announced Battlefront III! Well, kinda – it would just go by Battlefront, but still, it was frickin’ BATTLEFRONT!!! It was coming back, baby!
Actual game footage was a bit slow to pour in at first, but it became obvious at E3 2015 that this would be a pretty-looking game, to say the least.
But would it be any good?
Also, what in the world is Endor-Luke doing on Hoth? Where’s Hoth-Luke???
On November 17th – almost ten years *to the day* that Battlefront II came out – Star Wars Battlefront was released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Having just purchased an Xbox One not too long before, and with more friends of mine owning that console than a PS4, I went ahead and picked up that version.
I obviously started with the single player stuff with the intent of treating this as a game I would play by myself after a long day of work. You know, to unwind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after playing through a few missions that I realized Battlefront was mainly built as an online multiplayer experience.
There are eight solo and co-op “missions” as well as four “survival” rounds spread across eight maps for you to play offline – but that’s it. Even then, the missions are quite literally all about killing AI with no other objectives in sight. The lack of anything containing a story, especially considering the Star Wars saga is so story-driven, was quite disappointing.
I quickly realized that if I was to enjoy Battlefront for what it was, I had to go online. For those of you who know me and how I feel about multiplayer games – specifically shooters – that was a pretty big deal.
I held my nose, bought myself an Xbox Live Gold subscription, hopped online and hoped for the best…
Well, to say that I’m glad I did that would be an understatement. I have played the various multiplayer modes like crazy, and although I’ve stuck to some more than others, they all have their merits.
So many modes, so little time.
Drop Zone – claim and defend randomly-dropped escape pods (one at a time) in hectic 6 vs. 6 action. First team to claim five pods wins the round.
Droid Run – 6 vs. 6 like Drop Zone, but with three Gonk Droids slowly roaming the battlefield. Hold all three for 20 seconds, or hold more than the other team when time runs out to win the round.
Fighter Squadron – 10 vs. 10 battle in the skies with a very Rogue Squadron-like feel to it. Incredibly fun, especially when you get on a roll or manage to snag a token to pilot Slave 1 or the Millennium Falcon.
Heroes vs. Villains – each round, three players on each team of 10 are randomly assigned the role of a Hero. If you’re on the Rebel side, Luke, Han and Leia each have unique and extremely powerful abilities. If you’re with the Imps, Vader, Palpatine and Boba Fett get the call… the first team to eliminate all three of the opposing side’s “celebrities” wins the round, and the first team to win five rounds wins it all.
Supremacy – 20 vs. 20 battle for capture points, probably the most similar mode to the classic Battlefront games.
Walker Assault – my most-played mode by far. 20 vs. 20 battles where Imperial AT-AT’s slowly make their way to escaping Rebel transports on the opposite end of the map. As the Rebels, defend beacons long enough to have Y-Wings swoop down to take out the AT-AT’s shields for a limited time. The longer you defend the beacons, the more Y-Wings come to disable the AT-AT’s shields, giving you more time you have to damage them. As the Imperials, defend the AT-AT’s by deactivating the beacons as best you can, then suppressing any fire the Rebels might throw at you.
Decent round, but I didn’t do as well as a poopsicle.
So yes, to say that I’m having a blast with Battlefront so far would be an understatement. The crazy part is that I’m not nearly as good as most of the strangers I play against! At the same time, the game does a good job of not making you feel like a piece of garbage for having a terrible Kill to Death ratio. By sticking to mission objectives (such as capturing droids, damaging AT-AT’s, etc), you can accumulate tons of points and help your team a lot!
Sometimes I suck! Sometimes I snag the Millennium Falcon and go to town! (My old friend Josh still manages to get more kills, however…)
OK, so as far as unforgettable memories go, this one ranks right at the top. Like, major-big. Huge.
My wife Anita and I met on June 16, 2006, and when it came to choose a wedding date five years later, we thought June 16 would be as good a date as any. The courthouse here in town only does weddings on Fridays however, so we set June 17, 2011 as our date.
No big deal – it would just be two days of anniversaries instead of one!
‘Twas a great day!
As is usually the case, people started asking us pretty much right away when we would start having kids. It’s something every couple inevitably goes through when they get married – heck, some people even go through it before they get married, and even when they’re single.
We started trying to have a child about a month after getting married. As time went on and we were unable to conceive, we naturally began to wonder what the deal was. Was there something wrong? Was it me? Was it her? Are we healthy?
We started going to various appointments, taking tests, doing all the things that people wanting to be parents will do. To make a long story short, we ended up being told it would be very unlikely that we would be able to have a child by traditional means.
We could either adopt or try various means of fertilization or try to improve our chances with drugs… but because we are the way we are, we wanted to do it normally.
Besides, with our luck, we’d take fertility drugs and end up with quadruplets right off the bat!
The decision to let things be was a tough one, even though it was one we were eventually okay with. As time went on, we kept getting the questions – “when are you two going to start a family?” “Shouldn’t you be ready to have kids by now?” “I saw you in that picture with a child, and it looked really good on you!”
Any progress we would have made with *not* being bummed out about our situation would take a bit of a step back. We eventually made complete peace with it just being her and I for the rest of our lives, and it was a HUGE relief for both of us when we could finally just let things be, and all the questions would just roll off our backs…
A day or two after Canadian Thanksgiving, Nita called me at work requesting that I bring her Subway for her lunch… that was incredibly odd, because during the entirety of our relationship, she had a notorious dislike of Subway.
Mostly as a joke (but also because I had a hunch), I went to Wal-Mart to pick up pregnancy tests before picking up and dropping off her sandwich. We shared a laugh, and I went back to work.
I sent her a quick note to say, y’know, “you should probably take a test, just in case, because you never know?” She agreed, but was like “haha, when this comes back negative, you’ll eat your words!”
A few minutes later, the Facebook message came in.
“Uhhh…….. holy s**t.”
So, Anita is pregnant, and is due this coming June. To say that we were surprised to learn this would be an understatement, but when she started feeling sick and craving weird things, I knew something was up.
We had the positive tests, we had confirmation from an after-hours clinic doctor that “oh yeah, those tests are accurate, you’re pregnant”, and we had a very sick mommy-to-be. But other than that, it hadn’t really sunk in.
I had a couple days of vacation to use before the end of the year, so I used two of them in November the week Battlefront was released. The 16th, Nita had her first appointment her new family doctor, so I took that day off… the 17th would be dedicated to crushing Rebel scum\Imperial scum.
During the appointment, the doctor said “we’ll try to hear the heartbeat – we might not be able to hear anything yet, but we’ll give it a shot!” Nita and I both thought “well, hopefully there’s an actual baby in there and it wasn’t a false-positive test”, mostly because it was still such an unbelievable turn of events.
The doctor’s office overlooks a 200-plus year old cemetery, and it was a really cloudy day that day. While the doctor asked Nita questions, I stared out the window and tried not to get bummed out. What a dreary and gross day!
*Man, I can’t believe I finally get to play Battlefront tomorrow…*
I just kinda sat there in my own little world, paying attention pretty much only when I needed to pay attention. When it came time to try and hear the heartbeat however, I snapped out of it. After a few moments, we heard it.
I couldn’t believe it. That was *our child*. After being told it probably wouldn’t happen for us, there it was, clear as day.
I looked at Nita, and she looked at me. Time froze. Was this real??
After the tests and her countless bouts of vomiting, we knew she was pregnant, but it hadn’t hit home yet. When we heard that heartbeat, that was the moment it truly dawned on both of us; we are going to be parents.
I got Battlefront the next day, but to tell the truth, I was on such a high from the day before that my first experience with the game was a blur.
Even now, after a couple months of playing the game religiously, I’m still experiencing some pretty amazing stuff.
We’re in the process of moving to a new place, and although we were going through and packing\moving things gradually, I left my Xbox One and Battlefront unpacked so I could keep playing it. Not only am I incredibly pumped for the move into a much better place to raise a child, but we have also gone for an ultrasound to *see* our baby.
As mind-blowing as hearing the heartbeat was, seeing the child and learning the sex was even crazier.
So yeah, these past few months have been a whirlwind, but I’m so incredibly excited for what’s to come in 2016!
A bunch of Battlefront DLC and a bouncing baby boy. Not too shabby.
The Mega Man series is one retro gamers look back on fondly, but there’s a lot of talk about the quality of the fourth, fifth and sixth installments. Depending on who you ask, you might hear them say “ohhh you could tell they were running out of ideas at 4”, or “things really started going downhill with 5, and I didn’t even bother to play 6”. Whether it was a lack of originality or simply a time when gamers were moving onto other things, those last few games didn’t get quite as much love. But… why?
Maybe it’s because I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, but I’m of the impression that all six games really have something going for them.
The first game is tough to go back to after playing the sequels, but it still has that Mega Man charm to it. It’s tough as nails, but once you crack that hard outer-shell, you’ll see that the inside is full of fluffy 8-bit goodness. Obviously not as good as 2 or 3, but that goes without saying.
These guys were jerks.
4 was what some fans call the “beginning of the end”, and I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. The addition of the Mega Buster was an obvious upgrade, and I really liked how every stage had a unique obstacle; the rain and waterfalls in Toad Man’s stage, Bright Man’s grasshoppers crossing spikes and tricky swooping platforms, Dust Man’s giant trash compactor with chunks you had to destroy to make it through, and so on.
Ring Man’s platforms were also a fun challenge! Vibrant and colorful, too.
5 was a lot like 4, except slightly refined and tuned on, while 6 added branching paths and completely re-vamped Rush to have him morph into a body-suit with some really cool new abilities. Sure, a couple of the bosses and weapon upgrades were pretty lame in those last two games, but they were still tons of fun to play!
These days, if anyone popular ever says something bad about a game online, what generally happens is that their legion of followers will pipe up in agreement. It snowballs into a “general consensus”, and it almost becomes taboo to go against the grain and say something favorable about it.
However – if you were to absolutely have me choose a weakest game in the series, I guess I would have to go with Mega Man 5. That’s somewhat odd, considering I owned it as a kid and played it a TON. I also remember exactly what I did on one of weekends I rented it.
Whenever my mom would let me rent a game, it would often be with the understanding that I would allow her to run errands without having me complain about being bored. I was lucky enough to never have to take the bus after class because she worked at the school library, but I always hated those stops at the grocery or department stores. Renting a game was her way of coaxing me into being patient.
Mom had to stay at the library a bit late one Friday, and to make things worse, she had a hair appointment immediately afterwards. If I was bored walking the aisles of the supermarket, imagine me waiting for her to get her hair done!
She offered to rent me a game, and obviously I agreed to it. I chose to rent Mega Man 5 (which I had played before), and from Blockbuster Video we went straight to the hair salon at the new strip-mall on the corner of Smythe and Prospect Streets…
The salon-salon used to be where I now get pizza-pizza.
Waiting at the salon wouldn’t be all bad. My mom’s hairdresser had twin daughters who were my age and in my class. I was only about 12 years old at the time, but I had a HUGE crush on one of them that everyone in my grade knew about – probably even the teachers. It was just a silly and juvenile thing, but I just thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. I would often ask people if she had a boyfriend (as if those things were serious business in Grade 6), and I would sometimes talk about her when she wasn’t even relevant to a conversation – no wonder people knew about it.
Anyway, the twins were both very friendly, and I’m not sure why I chose to “fall in love” with one and not the other. They hung out with a more popular crowd than I did, but they always treated me with respect. Whenever my mother and theirs would go for coffee after church and Catechism (yep, I was one of *those* kids), I got to sit and chat with both of them for a while. Of course, just talking to them and making them laugh gave me butterflies.
That night at the salon, I thought about Star Man’s anti-gravity stage, Charge Man’s choo-choo train stage, and how much I couldn’t wait to play the game. But then whenever I would hear the ladies mention the twins, I’d snap out of my daydreaming and listen intently.
I really don’t know what I was expecting to hear – maybe their mother would say something to the effect of “oh they really love Andre”, or something of that nature. She obviously never ended up saying anything like that, but it was fun to think about, and it helped pass the time as I waited.
I went home that night not only wishing I owned Mega Man 5 one day, but also wishing I’d someday get to go on a date with the first crush I ever had. Hell, I would have even settled for a slow-dance!
A few weeks later, I went to my first school dance. Late that evening, they played a couple slow songs in a row, which was a clear-cut sign the evening was winding down. I had spent most of the night trying to work up the courage to ask her to dance, but one of the more popular guys always beat me to it. There was no way in hell she’d even say yes if I asked anyway.
During one of the last songs of the night, I slow-danced with another girl the “classy way” – our arms outstretched with hands on each-other’s hips or shoulders – while everyone else seemed to be “hug-dancing”; chest-to-chest, arms around each other’s shoulders, that kind of thing.
The girl I was dancing with had to leave in the middle of the song because her parents were there to pick her up. I wasn’t too bummed out about it, so I turned around to have a seat to wait out the rest of the night. Just as I did that, there was my crush with her arms wide open – “ANDRE!!!” she said, and my heart skipped a beat. *She* was the one who grabbed *me* and brought me in for a “hug-dance”.
That was as close as I ever got (aside from maybe a few other slow-dances), but talk about an unforgettable moment from my childhood.
Here I am with my date that night.
Back to Mega Man 5…
I played it a bit that night we got home from the hair salon, and then again the next morning. I was at Crystal Man’s stage when my sister came upstairs and asked if I wanted to watch a movie with her. She had rented Forrest Gump, which was an incredibly popular movie at the time, so I decided to go down and see what all the fuss was about.
To be honest with you, I greatly enjoyed the funny and not-so-serious parts of the movie… but WOW, was I ever bummed out by the time that movie was over. So many people doing drugs, dying, getting sick, or losing their legs… I wasn’t as aware then as I am now of the historical context of most of the scenes in the movie, but it was just an all-around depressing film.
By the end of it, I had a headache from the wide range of emotions I had while watching the movie. I was so bummed out, and when I saw that the weather outside was rainy and cold, I just went back to playing Mega Man 5. But even when I did that, I couldn’t stop thinking about poor Bubba and Jenny… dammit, Forrest!
The skies eventually cleared outside, and I went across the street to my friend Michael’s place to play Spot – the basketball game where you shot at the hoop from various spots, and whoever succeeded in scoring from each of them first won the game.
I can’t recall who won that day – I just know that I spent the rest of the weekend trying not to think about that damn movie. It bummed me out so much, but hey – it would probably make for good conversation with the twins at The Coffee Mill the next day.
Still a bit depressing to watch today, but I appreciate it a lot more now that I’m older.
What can be said about Satoru Iwata that hasn’t already been said in the last few days?
He was more than just the President of Nintendo. He had been a developer since the early 80’s, and had worked on some of the most iconic games ever made. He was also a gamer, which was obviously something all of us could associate with. His enthusiasm for the craft was genuine, and you could feel it every time he spoke in public.
Speaking of, well, speaking, Iwata could have easily said “ohh, I’ll just speak Japanese for the Nintendo Direct broadcasts, and then someone can over-dub it or put in subtitles for the rest of the world.” He never did that, though. Every Direct was quite literally that – he was speaking directly to us in a language he wasn’t completely proficient at, but the effort he put into each word was quite remarkable. I always appreciated it, and I truly hope he knew how much us fans appreciated how much he cared for not only his company, but also games in general.
He will be greatly missed, and I can’t help but think the next presentation from Nintendo will leave me with a lump in my throat.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but once again, I feel bad for letting this blog of mine go without an update for so long. Even though I’ve made the occasional memory post, there are a few things I realized I hadn’t even mentioned yet.
Item #1 – A New Frontier
From the beginning, CPB has been more than just a blog. It’s a place where I can put these memories so they can live on forever, like a photo album I can flip through on a rainy day to reminisce about the old days. It’s a place where my friends, and even people around the world (apparently!) can join in on the nostalgia.
I’ve been dreaming a bit bigger as of late, however.
Late last year, I started writing “scripts” for a series I intended to create and post to my YouTube channel, aptly named ControlPadBlues. Aside from basically taking posts from this blog and making them into videos, I also planned on making Top 10’s, series retrospectives (inspired by the GameTrailers series of the same name), and perhaps other kinds of informative videos.
With a few scripts completed, I started recording footage… and then the USB ports on the PC I was using to record went kaput. It was a pretty old capturing device on a pretty old computer, and it wasn’t exactly the greatest quality (my current gen console recordings looked pretty abysmal), but it at least it was something. I wasn’t sure how I would make these videos without being able to record anything – or even be able to get what I recorded off the PC – so I put this grandiose idea of mine on the back-burner for a while.
Item #2 – (Another) Christmas to Remember
One of the YouTube channels I had begun to watch regularly was The Gaming Historian. Not only did his videos help inspire me to get my own videos off the ground, he eventually made one where he answered fan questions. One of the questions just so happened to be “how do you record your game footage?”
It was called an Elgato GameCapture HD, and it recorded pretty much everything from the NES on-forward, and in HD. Perfect! I’d have to keep an eye out for it…
Then came Christmas. My wife had an opportunity to hop on a flight and go visit her parents, who had recently moved about 4,000 kilometres away. The only problem was, it was a bit of a last minute trip, and it didn’t leave her and I with much time to get some shopping done before the 25th.
Now, I hate to get all mushy on here – in fact, we both hate getting all mushy anywhere, about anything, period – but having her back home after a week of being alone was so great. Hot damn, I missed my wingman like crazy.
The day after she got back, we set out to get at least some of our Christmas shopping done. Our first stop was Future Shop (now Best Buy) to get some ideas for gifts. She casually asked “hey, do they have your recording device here?”
To my surprise, they did – it was a bit pricey, and we had some presents to buy for others, so I stored that in my memory banks. I went back and found her, told her they had it, and she promptly told me to go back and get it.
Now, she’s usually the type to encourage me to buy things like that. She often has a “you only live once” mentality when it comes to me treating myself, whereas I’m a little more conservative and feel slightly guilty whenever I do. We went back and forth a few times, and after she insisted one final time, I went and got it.
She took it, went to the counter, and with the cutest damn smile on her face, said “Merry Christmas!” Long story short, I had no idea that her parents had given us a gift, and here she was, spending a chunk of it on me. To have her buy me this silly little recording device so I could be an über-nerd and make Internet videos… well, it was amazing, and I almost choked up right there at Future Shop. haha
We did some more shopping, and surprisingly managed the crowds well enough to get everyone’s gifts. After a full day of walking around, I was so pumped to finally hook it up. Figuring out how I was going to do it was going to be fun, though; I have my PC in one room, and all my consoles in another. I thought maybe a bunch of USB extension cables would do the trick, but even that wouldn’t be ideal…
As I was thinking stuff out, Nita gave me that look she always gives me when she has a potentially-crazy-but-probably-awesome idea.
“So… what kind of laptop would you theoretically need to record stuff?”
I laughed it off, thinking she was being funny. She was completely serious, though! She wanted me to look at the requirements, and then drive us back uptown to shop around for a brand new laptop.
We managed to find one that suited my needs perfectly, so we used the rest of our gift to help buy a brand new laptop for me to record my game footage with.
I was absolutely floored by not only her parents’ generosity, but also by how lucky I was to have someone so willing to help me be my geeky self.
I avoid saying it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever, because typing it out makes it feel like I’m telling Google Chrome how I feel. We’ve never been the type to be show the world how we feel about one another, mostly because it weirds us out when others do it in front of us.
At the same time, I can’t help but say HOLY SWEET MOTHER OF F*** I love my wife. Anita, you mean so damn much to me, and I can’t thank you enough for everything you do for me. Thank you for a Christmas I’ll never forget!
Item #3 – A New Generation!
Since the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were announced a few E3’s ago, I knew the PS4 was probably the way I was going to go. It was just a question of what would drive me over the edge and make me buy one…
Back in March, I pre-ordered Mortal Kombat X. I didn’t own a console to play it on yet, but hey, at least I could get Goro as a playable character, and maybe a few extra goodies to go along with it.
Yada-yada-yada, PS4’s went on sale for $50 off a week later, and I finally took the next-gen plunge.
I was a little underwhelmed at first – Little Big Planet 3 is nice, just not quite next-gen-ey – but then I played MKX… and then I played Far Cry 4… that was it! I was in! I had experienced that moment that comes once a (console) generation, and it felt amazing.
For the past six months, I’ve been writing more episodes and recording the game footage I need to make them. I bought a Samson Meteorite USB Condenser Microphone, and although I haven’t received it yet, I’ve read up on various sound recording and editing tips.
I intend to do a bit of travelling to get footage that might help with relating some of the memories I’ll be sharing, even though I don’t have an ideal camera for that sort of thing – yet, anyway.
I have 14 episodes written with more being worked on regularly, and the idea of sharing them with the world is pretty damn exciting. I don’t have a name for the show yet, but hey, that’ll come with time.
I enjoy kicking back, popping some corn and watching a great flick from time to time. My DVD collection is extensive enough that I never get tired of the old favourites, but there’s still a pretty big list of popular movies that I have yet to see for one reason or another. The Godfather, Scarface, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the list goes on… even with Back to the Future and Indiana Jones, I enjoyed the first ones, but haven’t taken the time to watch their sequels.
Now, I wouldn’t exactly consider the Addams Family movies as being on my “must see” list, but I do remember them being incredibly popular. They really seemed to be everywhere for a while in the early-to-mid 90’s; McDonalds Happy Meals and collectible cups, lunch boxes, cartoons, toys, and of course, video game tie-ins.
1993 – Ocean
While there were two games based on the Addams Family movies, Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt was based on the Saturday morning cartoon. I didn’t watch that either, and the only reason I actually had any interest in giving the game a try was due to the incredible power of marketing…
This issue of Nintendo Power was – to say the least – pretty underwhelming. There weren’t any mind-blowing game announcements in the Pak Watch section, no fun tips or tricks in Classified Information, and the contest that month was also pretty lackluster… surprisingly, the only interesting part was a walkthrough of the game on the cover. I enjoyed the colorful screenshots on display, so I decided to give the game a shot.
Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt plays a bit like Mega Man in that you can tackle the levels in any order you want. The idea is to collect an item from each room in the household, each of which having a specific theme – in looking at a playthrough just now, the only level I actually remember playing through was the bathroom one… go figure.
In retrospect, I think I just enjoyed the graphics and art style from this stage more than any other. Check out the detail on that soap scum!!
Anyway, it’s a pretty straightforward platformer, and there certainly isn’t anything revolutionary about it… it was your typical TV show cash-in. Plain and simple!
There are two things I vividly remember doing the weekend I rented this game. That actually explains why I don’t remember the game all that well – I was too busy doing other things that were obviously much more fun!
The first memory is about going to my friend Mike’s birthday party. It was hockey-themed, and pretty much just consisted of playing table hockey inside and having a street hockey tournament outside. I also remember us going down the street and around the corner, out of our parents’ line of sight, just so we could light a firecracker or two.
The part I was most excited about was the party favours we got just for showing up.
There was something like 15 kids at the party, so the names of 15 NHL teams were written down on pieces of paper and put in a hat. One by one, we drew from the hat, and whatever team name we had drawn, we’d get an official cap with that team’s logo on it.
These hats were really awesome and top-of-the-line, too – I remember some of them being close to $100 or so… that made these party favours pretty damn cool.
For some reason, I was among the last to draw. I didn’t exactly have a favourite NHL team at the time, but I did have a favourite color – green. While the other kids hoped to get a Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or Calgary Flames hat, I was hoping for a Minnesota North Stars or Hartford Whalers one.
As I reached into the hat for the draw, I closed my eyes and hoped for something cool… I ended up getting an even better one than I expected.
This exact hat! Well, this design, anyway.
The Sharks were still a new team, and I wasn’t all that familiar with them. Once I had a spiffy new aqua-colored baseball cap with their logo on it, I became a bit of a fan. I ended up adopting the Detroit Red Wings as my favourite NHL team since my dad had been a fan since the Gordie Howe days, but I have a handful of teams I always root for on the side. The Sharks have consistently had great teams through the years, but have yet to win the Stanley Cup… maybe soon!
The second thing I remember doing that weekend was going to a maple syrup shack with my dad.
The day after the party, we hopped into our 1990 Nissan Sentra and headed out to Keswick Ridge, NB. Dad listened to his Merle Haggard cassette on the car stereo, and although I didn’t enjoy the music all that much, there was something pretty damn infectious about “Okie from Muskogee”.
Apparently, Muskogee is a place where even squares could have a ball… I didn’t quite understand why they “waived old flooring down at the courthouse”, however.
Ahhh. Old Glory. *Not* old flooring.
Anyway, Dad knew the older gentleman who ran the sugar shack and thought it would be a good idea for us to pay him a visit. I wasn’t really into maple syrup that much at the time, but I really was quite impressed with how far out in the woods his cabin was. It was so quiet, and the most peaceful spot I’ve ever been in.
I remember how muddy the dirt road was getting there, and how the sun was shining through the trees as we walked through the woods. It wasn’t quite spring, and although there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground, it had morphed into that “crystallized ice” stuff it turns into when the warmer weather rolls around.
We found the little shack, walked in, and there was this older fellow in overalls on the other side spreading something really nasty-looking on a piece of bread. Sure, there were giant boiling vats of sap (or whatever it is that makes maple syrup), and the place smelled great, but all I could focus on was whatever the hell he had started putting on that slice of bread just as we walked in.
Was it pate? Was it some sort of Spam-like ham spread? I really had no idea, and as he walked over to shake our hands, I swore I could still smell it on him… it was kinda like cat food.
We talked for a little while, and since there wasn’t anything ready for us to sample (unless we waited a few hours), we ended up leaving after about 15 minutes.
It was a memorable trip deep into the woods, and I had a fantastic time seeing a bit of the maple syrup-making process, but I was gagging on the car ride back home just thinking about the smell of whatever he was eating. I’m kinda gagging now just thinking about it, actually.
Whatever the old man was spreading on that slice of bread had more of an effect than anything else that weekend. It’s pretty sad that I remember that more than Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt…
I started the last post by saying I was a lucky kid, and I’m more or less starting this one with the same sentiment. There were two pieces of technology I was lucky enough to use on a semi-regular basis, and I didn’t know many others who had the opportunity to do so.
The first one is a VHS camera that my dad would borrow from his workplace from time to time. We were able to capture moments as early as when I was four months old, and as I got older, various moments of our lives were recorded on tape for us to cherish forever. I recently converted these tapes digitally, and I realized then just how lucky I am to have so much to look back on.
On a few of the occasions the camera was in our house, I would use it for my own purposes!
We still have that Mario\Zelda blanket, my favourite NASCAR driver is still Jeff Gordon, and my favourite TV show is… not Friends or Boston Common, I know that much. The game collection (top-right) has grown, though!
The other device I am incredibly thankful to have used from time to time is a laptop computer.
My sister had an electric typewriter for when she was in college, and I would often turn it on to type random things onto a sheet of paper. They were usually just lists of random stuff I was interested in – Ninja Turtles characters, video games I wanted, video games I owned, Toronto Blue Jays players, whatever came to mind. I don’t know why I had fun putting these things on paper, I just did!
The typewriter was quite loud – especially when hitting backspace, which I did a fair amount. My sister didn’t want to risk having me break it, and everyone around the house was probably sick and tired of hearing the grinding parts each time I hit a letter, so I wasn’t always allowed to use it.
I eventually lost interest in typing random stuff, but the day my dad brought a laptop home from work re-kindled that hobby. It was obviously for him to work on some sort of document, but I saw it as a flashy new toy.
One I was extra careful with, but still a toy nonetheless.
I can’t remember any brand names the laptops had, but I do know the first ones he brought home ran on DOS. Before too long, I was accustomed to all the commands you normally used. “cd a:”, “cd wordperfect” and “wp” were the only ones I really needed at the time, however.
That thing was HUGE, but awesome. (I was a blurry kid.)
I typed so much random stuff on the screen and played around with the keyboard’s functionality. I even remember watching the Super Mario World cartoon and trying to type the words to the theme song as it played. I couldn’t quite keep up, but I at least got the first part typed-out…
Superrr Maaaa-rio, Super Mario, Superrr Maaaa-rio! (Wooorld!)
I changed fonts (even though there weren’t that many), wrote in bold, italics and underlined, and just marveled at how easy all of it was. Everything was in black and white, but that was fine. I wasn’t in a position to be picky.
Eventually, Dad brought home a laptop that ran on Windows. I’m not entirely sure which version it would have been, but it was also the first time I ever saw a trackball mouse. If this was the direction computer mice were taking, I wasn’t very happy about it – the old computers we had at school had mice that were clunky squares with three big buttons, but at least they were intuitive to use.
The mouse Dad brought home was quite messed up. Your thumb moved the trackball, your index finger rested on a curved arch where the *tip* of your index finger pressed the left-click button, and the joint of your index finger rested on the right-click button. It made for a lot of accidental right-clicking, so I didn’t play much Solitaire before moving onto something else.
Like this, except it was light gray in color; the “up and down” arrows seen here were where the main buttons were and ran the length of your finger. It was awful!
That “something else” I usually ended up playing was the edutainment classic, Cross Country Canada.
Such beautiful fields of blue grass and red lava.
CCC was a text-driven transport truck “simulator” set in Canada. The goal was to teach not only our great country’s geography, but also the commodity each city and town was known for.
For example, you’d have to make a trip to Charlottetown, PEI or Edmundston, NB to pick up a load of potatoes, while Fort McMurray, AB was the place to go if you needed oil. Having to pick up stuff like Zinc, Sulfur or Nickel was a bit challenging to me at first, but the game taught me that I had to travel to Yellowknife, Grand Prairie and Sudbury (respectively).
The animations you’d see when you actually picked up the commodity varied from city to city, which was a nice touch.
As you traveled the Trans-Canada highway, you’d have to stop for food, sleep, gas, and whatever else you needed to survive the trip. You could risk an accident or a speeding ticket by typing “SPEED”, or even pick up a hitch-hiker if you were feeling generous enough… you could never be sure if they’d leave peacefully or steal your commodity at knife-point, so I rarely stopped for them!
The game’s presentation is imprinted on my memory, and it’s undoubtedly my favourite edutainment title of all time. Watching footage of it brings me right back to sitting on the living room floor, playing on that black and white laptop… simpler times, man.
From the day I was born, my parents paid into a trust fund for my post-secondary education. Whenever the time came for me to choose a college or university, my only worry was making sure I chose a field I would actually enjoy studying. There was a bit of paperwork to fill out and faxes to be sent to and from the Registrar’s Office at STU, but when I eventually chose Journalism as a major, everything was pretty much paid for.
Except textbooks. So damn expensive!
Because of this, I didn’t feel pressure from my folks to get a job while I was still in high school. I had friends working at restaurants and big box retail stores, and although they were making good money, they’d sometimes show up to class absolutely exhausted. My grades were only decent as it was, and I didn’t need anything to hinder them any further.
In the spring of ’02 after writing my last exam of the year (at university – I graduated high school in ’01), I decided that being 18 without anything noteworthy on my resume was not good at all. I applied at a few different places and landed a couple interviews, but being new to that process, I was nervous and stutter-ey enough that I didn’t get a call back from any of them.
I started my second year that fall, and it wasn’t long afterwards that I managed to snag a job at the liquor store in uptown Fredericton. I learned pretty quickly that having a job is a lot of work (duh), and that working 8:30AM to 10PM shifts was as hard on the head as it was on my feet and back.
Arch supports – the best investment I ever made, in that it helped me not quit that job.
Working on a regular basis was quite the wake-up call. I went from being a lazy kid who lived at home to being a young adult who had responsibilities. Crazy!
Six months into it, I was getting into a pretty good rhythm. I was well-trained, did a good job (I thought, anyway), got along well with my co-workers, and even decided to take a year off from STU to save money before going back a year later.
On one Saturday morning, I went to work feeling particularly good. It was nice and sunny, and my shift was only from 11AM to 7PM. This allowed me to sleep in in the morning then get home in plenty of time for that night’s NASCAR race in Charlotte, NC.
Almost immediately as I walked into the store, one of the assistant managers called me into the office with a serious look on his face… I was going to be asked to work an extra three hours until 10PM. I just knew it.
I had to put my foot down, though; I had some serious plans!
“Serious plans”: watching cars go around Charlotte Motor Speedway for a couple hours.
I took a seat and was promptly told that a fellow employee’s father had unexpectedly passed away, and that she was out for the day. I’m not sure how, but I was the only guy available to cover the time she was out.
Now, if you were to put me in this situation at 31, I would have said “yes” in a heartbeat. At 19, however, I had to “think about it”.
I went to the lunch room for a bit and mulled over missing at least the first part of the race, the very thought of which made me grumpy. I then thought about what the other person must be going through with the loss of her father, which made me feel awful about playing hardball at a time like this… I then walked back to the office and agreed to work until closing time.
It was a decision I wasn’t happy about, but at the same time, I knew deep down it was the only sensible decision for me to make. Having the job was evidently changing me more than I thought it would.
Back in the office, the “atta boy’s” and “thank you’s” I got from my superiors only made me feel marginally better. I decided to treat myself to a bit of retail therapy on my supper break, so I went to Zellers next door and bought myself a frickin’ Xbox.
Celebrating maturity and growth… by going out and buying a new video game console.
I picked up Enter the Matrix and Star Wars: Obi Wan to go along with the pack-in duo of Jet Set Radio Future and Sega GT 2002. When I got home that night, I was torn between unpacking my new toy and watching the race… then this happened.
Gor-don’t spin the other guys out, they get mad.
My favourite driver making enemies by spinning them out made my decision to stop watching the race a whole lot easier. I hooked up the Xbox and games well into Sunday morning, and I kept playing it the rest of the week as well… I could get used to this “making mature, adult decisions” thing.
As I drive home from work and listen to any old song my iPod shuffles to, I can pretty easily think back to the first time I heard it. At the very least, it’ll bring back a memory or two, much like playing games often does.
Not that I’d start another blog based on music memories, but I certainly could do that if I wanted to.
In the spring of 2000 I found out my friend Tom played guitar. I messed around with that red Fender of his as we listened to bands of the day, but I found that chords were not my forte… one string and note at a time was pretty much all I could handle.
Tom mentioned that that was basically (bass-ically) what playing bass was like, so I took the plunge and bought one used with a small amp so we could jam.
Playing music with other people proved to be way more rewarding than I could ever have dreamed. The simple notion that I could play along – not to mention keep up – with songs I was just discovering and finding a whole new appreciation for was a high I can’t even put into words. It was so damn satisfying.
Most of that summer was spent indoors playing Green Day, Metallica and Offspring tunes, or anything else I challenged myself to learn. I call it the “summer of the Mission: Impossible 2 Soundtrack”, due to me listening to it (pretty much) non-stop.
“DO YAH BURY ME WHEEEN I’M GO-WAWN??? DO YUH TEACH MEEE WHILE I’M HEE-UHHH?? JUST AS SOON AS IIIII BELOONNGGG, ‘EN IT’S TIIIME I DISAPPEAAAARR!!”
Tom and his family ended up moving out of his house and into an apartment that fall, so jamming together loudly and to our satisfaction was no longer in the cards. The idea of recording ourselves somehow – like we had planned to do while he still lived nearby – also went out the window.
By the next year, my skills had improved a fair amount. My friends Justin and Max played guitar and drums (respectively), and we would practice almost every lunch hour in one of the school’s music rooms. One of the teachers approached us and said a few students complained about the noise and asked us to turn our amps down, which we were less than thrilled about.
This prompted us to name our band “Quityerbitchin’” after a sticker on Justin’s guitar case… when it came time to perform at our high school’s Battle of the Bands in May of ’01 – the ESApalooza – that name seemed a bit harsh, and we were asked to change it.
“No Complaints” was the next name that came to mind, so we went with that.
I’m the one in blue behind Tom (the guy in the red hat), who I felt compelled to bring in as a second guitarist for that night. Good times.
In the fall of 2001, Justin and I got together just for a quick jam session at his house. It was a rainy and depressing Sunday afternoon, and I had nothing better to do. It was also raining at the site of that weekend’s NASCAR race in Martinsville (Virginia), and it didn’t look like they’d be racing that day. With no race on TV, I might as well go jam!
He and I had a list of songs we’d jammed with Max, but we also had a bunch of tunes Max didn’t like… we would jump at the opportunity to play those whenever we could, and on this day, Justin had another idea to make things even more fun;
“I have a mic hooked up to my PC – let’s bring our amps up to my computer room, record it, and see what happens.”
New songs we both knew but had never played together, songs we had already covered with Max, songs he had never heard, songs I had never heard, songs we taught each other on the spot… we recorded something like 25 tracks, and it was a blast. I even sang on some of them – not well, mind you, but it was all in good fun.
It was quite warm in the room, so we took a break at one point and opened the window. Instead of playing loud and annoying the neighbors, we stopped and played some PC games.
The first game he showed me was a one I had heard about, but never had any interest in seeing in action.
2001 – PlayStation 2, PC
I just looked up footage of this game, and I remember even less about it than I originally thought.
It’s a third-person action game that combines hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. It was developed by pre-Halo Bungie and pre-GTA3 Rockstar Games. That’s pretty much the only noteworthy thing I know about Oni.
It wasn’t long before Justin switched over to a game I was much more interested in seeing in action…
2001 – PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
At its core, Max Payne is a dark and gritty third-person shooter that feels like a playable graphic novel. Comic book pages replace cutscenes as a method of storytelling, and there are great voiceovers and sound effects to keep them interesting. It’s pretty unique, and it adds a bit of intensity to the whole thing.
One other feature in particular helped add to the game’s appeal; the ability to trigger slow-motion at the touch of a button.
Having been popularized in The Matrix a couple years beforehand, it was just a matter of time before games hopped on the “bullet-time” bandwagon. It’s not infinite, but everything goes into slow-mo whenever you need it to; it helps you dodge bullets, allows you dive through the air, and helps you take out hordes of enemies in one fell swoop.
Neo would be proud.
Justin was in some sort of boiler room area and was busy dealing with enemies up above. As a nice cinematic touch, the camera shifted to follow the last bullet he fired as it went from the barrel of his gun to its intended target…
POW, right in the kisser!
From that point on, I knew I had to own this game. I only picked it up about a year later once I got a job, but it was that day in Justin’s computer room that sealed the deal.
After playing Max Payne for a while, we shut the window and got back to playing and recording tunes. We ended up burning a CD with all the best stuff we didn’t mind sharing with friends, and deleted whatever we thought was garbage. We titled the album “2/3 of No Complaints” – not really all that inventive, but that’s exactly what it was!
I brought my portable CD player to campus that week and showed off our work to a few close friends. My friend Mike made a little drawing as he listened to it in the George Martin Hall cafeteria, so I decided to make it my album art.
Whenever I think of Max Payne, I can’t help but think of that recording session in Justin’s tiny computer room. It was an absolute thrill to be able to hear the “other side” of us playing music together.
That being said, here’s a world premiere 13 years in the making! Enjoy!