Sunday, December 27, 2009

356 Days UP - "But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logicial, oh responsible, practical..."

I just realized I lost a few days in my count somewhere along the way, realizing that by own count I would have hit 365 days earlier than Jan. 6 2010, otherwise known as my Pause-A-Versary*. No matter, I'm probably gonna stop counting after that day anyway, as it seems moot to count the days at this point. I had the countdown of the year before and the 'count up,' of the year after. I think what I'll start doing in my titles is listing the animal I most feel like that day. Ha, no, I won't be doing that at all.

So... nearly a year back on games after a year off of them. The other day a friend saw me after reading a Facebook posting I'd made about being excited to watch Dexter Season 4 and play Assassin's Creed 2 all Christmas weekend (which I did, and was pretty damn awesome on both counts) and said to me: "didn't you learn anything from your year off?" which struck me for a moment, because, yeah, I sorta felt like I did. But he seemed to be of the mindset that learning 'anything' would involve me picking up the controller again, deciding it was a waste of time, and putting it back down again for good. Which I obviously haven't done, and don't think I will, ever.

But certainly there has been a fair amount of reflection recently. Looking at what I accomplished in 2008 versus 2009, there are obvious drops in my reading (probably about half or possible less books read), writing (less blog entries, though I think I've maintained this pretty well), exercising (not much since I ended my gym membership in April), and so on. Part of it can be blamed on being unemployed for seven months of the year, when I certainly had the time but wasn't nearly as motivated as I once was to keep those things up. And I did spend a fair amount of time cooking this year, which is the one thing I'm really proud of myself for that I didn't do at all the year before.

But the reality is I don't think I've found the perfect balance just yet. I indulged quite a bit in gaming, and while I certainly had some catching up to do, I probably could have found a few more projects with which to spend my time. I definitely err on the side of not pushing myself hard enough, hence my seemingly brazen - but to me perfectly logical - decision to go all the way last year and just not allowing myself to play at all.

Perhaps what I've learned is that, for me, limiting myself to playing just a handful of hours per week is even harder than forbidding it entirely. That's the big note to myself for 2010. Gaming is such a time-consuming hobby it's incredibly easy to invest hours, days, weeks without even realizing it. It's also incredibly easy to realize it, post about it in a blog post, and then forget about it again an hour later when you're on your 2nd 4 hour marathon of the day.

Closer to the end of the full year back on games I'll show the full fun list I've compiled of what I played in 2009, without any of this lovely self-judgment.

Oh, and guess what I got for Christmas? PAX East tickets baby!

-Matt

Currently Playing: As I mentioned above, I've sunk my teeth into some Assassin's Creed 2, and am thoroughly enjoying it. And right now I can't-a help-a wanting to-a always a speak with-a dis accent!

*Somewhere in the course of writing this blog post, I realized 'Matt: Un-paused' - sounded a lot like 'menopause', and I had a moment like Troy did on a recent episode of Community where I said to myself: "there's a joke in there." Unfortunately, after 2 minutes I couldn't find it, so I gave up. And this is where jokes that don't get made get tossed folks. I hope you enjoyed this look...behind the scenes!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

334 Days UP - "I'm so 3008, you so 2000 and late..."

(I missed posting about a few shows but I'm going to try to get back on track now and post an little recap of my improv show last night)

What you missed from last night's Phooka show, in words and pictures (12/9/09):

-A teary breakup between a polygist prison guard, his second (at the very least, non-maternal) wife and his first wife, now in prison.
-A joyful reunion between an escapee husband, his boisterous, loud wife, and some noisy neighbors.
-My very first full on male on male improv sex scene in which I, as a gigalo, was instructed to yell "You're a free man!" and "You can go to the bathroom whenever you want!" to my john, a man who after getting married and being imprisoned in a women's prison, told me "I can finally get back to his roots: paid homosexual sex." (Easily my favorite line of the night)
-A family of children, desperate for their real mamma's breast milk, and not 'fake mamma's empty, dry, useless breasts ', ultimately settling for what they could get, a suitcase full of stolen food.
-A prison guard letting his prisoner choose his own fate, an easily escapable men's prison, or easily escapable women's prison?
-A non-caring but VERY confident politician who, after spotted fake UFOs for years is finally visited by aliens, albeit primarily for a get-rich scheme.
-The politics of a far away alien land, and an alien species tired of the same old farklong.
-"Boobie milk? Now that's worth screamin' about!"

We have great shows every week. I encourage you to come check us out if you live in NYC area. Wednesdays @10PM at the Magnet Theater.

-Matt

Friday, December 4, 2009

328 Days UP - "Take the key and lock her up, my fair lady..."

Lots of people ask me: "Matt, what kind of games do you play when you're not playing video games? Do you know of any games to play with say, a group of friends at a party? Friends who may be adverse to wires, controllers, dice, boards, and even complex instructions?" Ok truth be told no one's ever asked me that, but let me tell you, it would be an excellent question to ask, because I totally have a great answer for it! And I'm going to provide it right now.

I'm particularly fond of these two great party games, which I've presented to enough different groups at this point to realize they're pretty universally loved, one perhaps a little more than the other. They're a staple of improviser parties, which I suppose makes a lot of sense, but I think anyone and everyone should check them out the next time they're at a party where they feel, like I inevitably always do, that the alcohol, the music, the relaxed mood and the time catching up with friends, coworkers and/or family aren't quite enough.

Ok, I confess. That's my ass.

Celebrity

This game can be played with anywhere from 4 people to 100 people, though those 100 people would have been VERY into the idea of playing a game together. It's a perfect party game because even people not into the game (or gaming in general) at first inevitably get caught up in the fun, and various levels of intoxication really only stand to make the game even more fun.

You form two teams, usually by splitting the room in half (odd numbers don't matter so much) and giving everyone playing anywhere from 3-5 (or more, depending on how long you'd like the game to last) small slips of paper on which to write down 'celebrity' names. A celebrity can be anyone, living or dead, real or fictional. And it can be completely obscure if you choose, however keep in mind by writing down Phineas Gage you're as likely to screw over your own teammate as you are the opposing team. So generally known personas is usually the way to go - though I personally love testing everyone in the room's knowledge of random video game/80's cartoon characters.

Once everyone's written down their names you put them all in a hat or similar hat-shaped container and you start the first round. In Round 1, each team takes turns, getting one minute each, to pull out as many names as possible and get their team to guess the names. The only rules in the first round are not saying the person's name, or saying things like "rhymes with Messica Malba". Every correct guess is a point, and unless you're playing with pansy rules, there is no passing on a name. The teams swap off, and another member on the opposite team goes next, eventually giving everyone on each team a chance to show off how much or how little they know about the list of celebrities. I recently had a game where I got 'Thomas Jefferson' and I opened with "The 3rd, or possibly 2nd president!" which was semi-embarrassing, only to be met with blank stares from my teammates who initially couldn't name either. "He loved sleeping with his slaves!" somehow still didn't work, either.

After the entire pile of names has been finished, you take all the names and put them right back in the hat. What!?? Yes, that's right. You're about to use the same names again in Round 2, which plays out exactly the same, except this time each person CAN ONLY SAY ONE WORD, which can be extremely difficult. But bear the mind all the names have been revealed, so at this point its just about summarizing the earlier clues as succinctly as possible. A few important things: while they can only say the one word, they are allowed to emphasize/say it however they want and they can repeat it ad nauseum.

Saying another word gets them disqualified (and some meaner versions I've played makes "Um" count as their one word, thus essentially giving the team no clue at all for the remainder of the round), and you can't use gestures, because after the 2nd round comes the 3rd round which is essentially charades. No words at all, just wonderful hilarious interpretive motioning and flailing about. Again, all the names go back into the hat and once all the names are finished in Round 3, you count the total points up and name the winning team. And that my friends, is 'Celebrity'.


Ok, I confess. That's my hairy, wolfman-like visage howling at the moon.

Werewolf (a.k.a "Mafia/Assassin")
This party game is a little trickier to pull off, simply because its a little more complicated to understand initially, and it requires a bit of roleplaying - even if ultimately it's just a simple game of suspicion and accusations. Werewolf, also know as Mafia or Assassin depending on which variant you are playing (which is essentially just a theme, a window dressing to the actual game itself) involving a group of people, no less than 7 (less may potentially work, but you may get some very short games) who are all playing villagers trying to decide who is killing them off at night. It's a murder mystery game that brings out both the actor and the suspicious neighbor in everyone.

The game starts off by randomly assigning every player into one of four roles: villager, werewolf, doctor, or fortuneteller. In a game with say, 12 people, there will be 3 werewolves, 6 villagers, 1 doctor, and 1 fortuneteller (technically also a narrator, which I'll get to in a second). In general there's always one doctor and fortuneteller, and the werewolf to villager ratio simply depends on the number of players (usually 1 werewolf for every 2 non-werewolf players, though 3 seems like the magic number from anywhere from 10-15 players, the number I've usually played with). You can use a deck of cards to assign everyone, with Aces as Werewolves, a King as the Doctor, a Queen as a Fortuneteller, and Jacks and 10s for Villagers. Have everyone look at their cards, and then keep them nearby, face down. There is one final role, that of the Narrator, who guides the whole experience. This should be the person who knows the rules the best, and if you're playing multiple times, the role should obviously be passed off so everyone gets a chance to play.

The game operates in two phases: night and day. At night (when the game begins) the narrator asks all players to go to sleep, putting there heads down and closing their eyes, and then for the werewolves to arise. At this point the werewolves open their eyes and acknowledge each other. They then silently agree on who they wish to kill amongst all the remaining villagers. The narrator acknowledges this, then puts them back to sleep. When morning comes (via the narrator's voice), everyone wakes up, and is immediately told who has passed away. A dead villager then turns over his card and is removed from play, no longer allowed to accuse or participate in any way.

Now the fun begins. Every player, villagers, and werewolves posing as villagers are sitting in a room together, and their job right then is to decide who they think the werewolves are based on the scant evidence they have. Anyone is able to throw an accusation at any other player based on any evidence - i.e. "Sharon is being SO quiet right now, quiet like a WEREWOLF would be!", and once accused, a person is put on trial, asked to defend themselves, and then a vote is cast. A majority vote leads to a lynching, in classic mob style. If not enough votes are cast, the group must decide on someone else to kill. This is important, as games where the lynching is optional often leads to the werewolves whittling down the innocent villagers until the game is over. Speaking of which, the game ends when either all werewolves are lynched, or there are an equal number of werewolves to villagers, at which point the villagers have made winning mathematically (and strength-wise) impossible.

There are two roles I haven't discussed yet - the doctor and the fortuneteller. Both of these players are technically villagers, but they have special roles that come into play at night. After the werewolves has made their kill and gone back to sleep, the narrator wakes up the doctor and then the fortuneteller, one at a time. The doctor is allowed to point to any one person in the room and choose to "save" them, essentially saving their life in the event of a werewolf attack. This includes his own life, though the doctor cannot save the same person two nights in a row. Also the doctor has the same information the rest of the group does, and thus is equally likely to save a werewolf if he has been misinformed. Once the doctor has gone back to sleep the fortuneteller awakens. The fortuneteller is allowed to determine if any one player is a werewolf or not. The narrator will give a silent thumbs up/thumbs down to let them know.

The two special villagers have as much at stake as the werewolves do in keeping their identity hidden, as revealing themselves too soon makes them a target for killing. A good fortuneteller tries to sway the group without making it to obvious he or she has inside information. And while it's perfectly legitimate for a fortuneteller to say "I am the fortuneteller, and this is what I know..." keep in mind its almost guarantee death for the fortuneteller during the next round, AND anyone else (like a werewolf) could say the same thing at any time. Devious, huh?

A game can play out quickly or slowly, depending on how the day portion of the game goes. A more timid, gun-shy group of villagers make take a while to make accusations, but usually once the game gets going (or you're playing for the 4th or 5th time) accusations start flying and the body count rises very quickly.

I love both of these games a lot, and I recommend giving them a shot at your next dinner party, book club meeting, or corporate event!

From Your Professional Party (Game) Planner,
-Matt Shafeek


Yes, that's my Rock Band 2 Microphone I'm using.

P.S.: I recorded my first podcast last night for amped! I highly recommend you check it out, assuming you're into video games at all. Friends of mine looking to support me can find other outlets, as I'm sure you wouldn't enjoy hearing me talk games for over an hour in person, let alone in a recording.


Currently Playing:
Still working on that pesky back catalog, but I'm making some nice progress. I beat (as in, totally destroyed) Shadow Complex, I've beaten Resident Evil 5 twice now, and am still somehow addicted to the Mercenaries mode you can play afterward. And I'm slowly and co-operatively making my way through New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I have yet to play it alone, but I may have to do so soon, as the opportunity to get through the game with others isn't presenting itself at an equal level to my desire to simply play it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

319 Days UP - "Baby seasons change but people don't..."

A few months ago while I was at PAX I was lucky enough to be interviewed by one of my favorite new gaming podcasts, A Life Well Wasted - which, I've coined the This American Life of video game podcasts. It's less about current events, and about game culture itself, and the people in the industry/gaming world who eat, sleep and breath games. The latest episode is entitled: 'Help,' and I'm the 2nd of three segments. Like many people I hate hearing the sound of my own voice, but I think I come off intelligent enough, eh? Leave a note in the comments if you've given it a listen!

-Matt

PS: Isn't the poster for the episode awesome? And not just because my name is on it in tiny letters at the bottom! I bought it the second it went on sale (admittedly, mostly because my name is on it in tiny letters at the bottom).

Friday, November 20, 2009

314 Days UP - "The mood is right, the spirit's up, we're here tonight and that's enough..."

AMNY (apparently my new favorite source for material) had an article yesterday on how the service industry stands to lose a lot of money this year on seasonal tipping. Another tragic victim of the economy, blah blah blah. Anyways, the highlight of the whole thing comes in a quote from Patricia Fitzpatrick, head of the Etiquette School of New York, who "advises clients that if cuts have to be made, it's gifts for friends and family that should go first, because service providers can earn 10 percent of their annual income through the year-end bonuses."

Man, would I HATE to be that woman's relative and/or close friend:
"Billy, Mary, Jerry, George, Cathy, Uncle Greg, Aunt Lisa, little Derrick, Gem-gem, I just wanted to let you know I've cut back this year on the gifts, because as you all know the service industry is struggling, and it's up to each of us to prop them up during this tough economic climate. So everyone dig into this box of assorted teas - whatever you can grab is your present for the year..."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Blatantly copying from an old improv friend, I'm starting a new feature in my blog where I'm going to highlight some of the great moments from my most recent improv show with Phooka, which I perform with at the Magnet Theater every Wednesday night.

What you missed from this week's Phooka show:
-11/18/09 @ 10:00PM-

-A Communist themed toy shop, complete with self-propelling yo-yo
-A film director and his brother fascinated by a story (an immigrant toy shop owner, her sister, and a laundry list of sexual encounters) that writes itself
-A David Lynch feel running through the entire show, complete sporadic non-sequitors, nonsensical moves, and a collapse of the 4th wall. Oh, and Lynch himself emerging from the body of another to end the show.
-Pro-Nazi Agenda Themed Cards
-Lesbian sibling sexual experimentation (with a creepy cymbal monkey watching) in the attic of an Anne Frank-esque hideout
-Finally, my favorite line of the night: "When they came for the toy shops, I said nothing. When they came for the high-end yogurt shops, I said nothing. And then, they came for me."

-Matt

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

311 Days UP - "It's time like these, time and time again"

Just try and unlock me!

Hoo-doggy! I just had one of the greatest, most nostalgic, multiplayer-based gaming weekend of my life, and boy are my thumbs tired*!

Friday night I spent some time playing Street Fighter IV with an old high school friend. This particular friend - whose name is Ryu, believe it or not - and I met in high school, and soon after we met we both discovered we had an affinity for Street Fighter II, the most popular (well, only) fighter of the time. We spent many a night shooting fireballs and dragon punches back and forth. And this Friday night was no different. We actually invested most of our time into unlocking one of the final secret characters, (a character speculated about as far back as Street Fighter II, but never seen) which was awesome.

Saturday I hit a milestone I don't think I've hit before, and it was thanks to two close friends of mine who amazed me with their passion and dedication to both purchasing (we waited on line for nearly two hours to get the game a day early from the Nintendo World Store in NYC) and playing (we immediately went back to said friends' home and played from 5:30pm - 12:30am) New Super Mario Bros. Wii. As crazy as I am about video games, I rarely cross the 4 hour mark in any one sitting. But minus brief beer, chinese food and bathroom breaks, we powered on through all night long. We even wore the free, bright Mario-red colored t-shirts we were given when we bought the game to rehearsal the next morning, proudly showing off our dedication to...looking like total dorks, I guess.

It's-me-Ma--ah, surely you-a know by-a now..

It's almost cliche to mention my love of classic Mario games, but it was really was the first Super Mario that solidified my current love if video games. My dedication to playing and beating that game easily surpassed all my other friends, which should have been an early sign how much this stuff was going to take over my life. And each Super Mario sequel got me more and more excited for what the creators had to offer.

By the way, did I mention the new one is fantastic? Fans of old school Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 3 in particular (a personal favorite of mine), will absolutely adore this game. Plus, 4 player co-op, with the ability to help (or if you're feeling naughty, hinder) your fellow players, as well as drop in and out at any time make it a really great game to play with company over.

Chris!!!!

Finally, Sunday, as well as several chunks of time surrounding the weekend, before and after, I invested quite a bit of time into Resident Evil 5. The Resident Evil series has been a staple in my gaming diet since college, when I discovered RE2 my freshman year of college, and obsessively played it over and over again (in the dark, just to solidy my presence in my dorm as someone not to be socialized with) to discover every little secret waiting to be unlocked.

Though I mostly wound up playing this sequel alone as well, I did spend a little bit of time busting caps in zombie's heads with friend of the blog (read: reader) Will Claiborne, whose companionship informed me that despite all the glaring flaws the game may have, the co-op play, the game's one incredibly strong addition (well, two - the game is gorgeous in HD) makes you forget just about everything else.

This weekend was amazing because 3 nights mostly spent indoors in front of a television is, objectively speaking, not usually considered a particularly exciting one. But sprinkle in a few friends and a heaping dosage of nostaglia to my video games, and Christ on a cracker, there was nothing else I'd rather be doing!

-Matt

Currently Playing: (See above)

*Just kidding, that never happens to me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

297 Days UP - "I know I say that I'm just fine, but I hope you wonder from time to time..."

Leafing through a recent AM NY, I saw an article on wellness that listed a few simple steps that were supposedly small, preventative measures that go a long way to long term health. As I've gotten older I've noticed - in a narcissistic, self-esteem boosting, completely unscientific way - that I tend to get less sick than most of the people my age that I know. And while I've always truly hoped it was because I was born with the same healing power mutant ability as Wolverine, every time I cut myself shaving I am forced to concede that it must in fact be something else. Apparently that something else is haphazardly falling precisely in line with the six small steps listed in this article that lead to an overall healthier lifestyle, which I'll take the time to co-opt and re-list here as if I came up with them on my own:

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #1: Take A Walk
One of those obvious ones (as most of these are), I wound up walking a lot more simply by being a NYC resident. And those life-extending steps wound up getting even higher once I sold my car when it become more of a financial burden than I wanted almost two years ago. The article claims '10,000' is the minimum you should aim for each day, which is about 5 miles apparently. I walk about a mile during my commute to and from work, and while I have absolutely no idea how much walking I do during the rest of the day, (and I refuse to buy an pedometer to find out) I'm going to say right now that it's probably close.

Hmm, it's thicker than I remember...

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #2: Nix Soda
Soda actually wound up playing a pivotal role in stopping a HUGE amount of weight I wound up gaining in college. Throughout high school I was ridiculously skinny - I graduated weighing around 90-95lbs, but that was the MOST I ever weighed. I won my high school pull up contest not so much by being stronger than the other guys in my class, but by simply having so little to lift that it made the contest a little unfair.

Anyways, in college I wound up gaining the 'Freshman 15', which for me was totally welcome (the day I broke triple digits I did a little dance). I was eating 4 desserts a day, and gaining the weight I'd wanted for so long! Then I wound up gaining the lesser known 'Sophomore 20' as well. Ruh-roh. Around the time my junior year rolled around along with a paunch and even some chin fat (!), I realized something had to give - besides my belt! Badum-tish.

Up until this time in my life I drank soda with most of my meals (not breakfast, but believe me there was sugar to be found in morning beverages as well). A turning point in my life came when I woke up in the middle of the night incredibly thirsty with no soda or juice in my fridge and I wound up walking around campus in the middle of the night in the dead of winter in a small college town in Western Mass (I'm trying to emphasize here that it was COLD outside) in my pajamas, desperately searching for a soda machine.

After that day I decided maybe I'll a little too dependent on sugar in my drinks. I stopped cold turkey and started drinking water with almost everything, and it actually wound up being a pretty easy transition. Diet soda disgusts me, and I didn't give up dessert or any other treats, but along with some moderate exercise I immediately noticed some great results. Also, drinking tap water at most restaurants must have saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #3: Strengthen Muscles
Hmm, well - I've belonged to/attended gym for probably less than 2 years of my life, so I really can't say I totally do this on my own without any even realizing it. Truth is the gym has traditionally been an active choice - BUT I will say that I do miss the days of being younger living on a block with tons of kids who during any given school night would be running around outside playing a block spawning game of hide and go seek or freeze tag, where I'm sure I burned more calories in a night than I ever have during a trip to the gym.

And I really do enjoy running on a nice day. I wouldn't have done the half marathon last year if I wasn't able to derive some pleasure out of the training that it required.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #4: Chill Out
Ah, here we go. If I ever write any kind of "Health & Wellness" book at some point in my life, it will be probably be best summarized by the above two words. I'm truly the king of making time to just chill out, and while it's kind of hard to smugly sit back and acknowledge that the many hours sitting around playing video games, watching television, and browsing the internet have been beneficial to my overall health, it is something I've been telling myself more and more these days to offset the growing guilt that comes along with it. Relaxation is a choice, and when done in moderation, is as valuable as other use of your time.

I guess I've also made a lot of 'anti-stress' choices throughout my life that some may see as lazy, which I'm sure is a factor. Graduate school? Nope. Financially rewarding career choices? Negatory. Children? Ha, as if! I guess I'm incredibly lucky in that even before I get home and unwind, I'm barely all that wound up to begin with. Before this starts to seem like bragging, note that I am also very poor, and as of right now my DNA will be passed on to no one.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #5: Eat Out Less
By now you've started to notice that my relative stages of poverty throughout life have led to an amazing side benefit, which is that I am apparently to have a longer, healthier life of eating dinner out of cans. As I mentioned recently, I made learning to cook a big project this year, and it was 100% exacerbated by my 7 months of unemployment. The large increase in available time, along with the large decrease in income created the perfect storm of forcing me to abandon my ritual of rotating through every item on the Chipotle menu each week.

Mmm, this looks like Tuesday!

For a long time I made the argument: "cooking for just yourself is boring, and it doesn't really save you that much money!" but once I set my mind to it, the opposite was soon proven to be true. If you're comparing a Wendy's value meal to a fancy home cooked meal, then yeah, that night 'eating out' might have actually been cheaper. But when you buy a packet of chicken, rice, beans, vegetables, and you cook ALL of the food, save the leftovers, and make multiples nights of dinners/lunches out of it, there's really no comparison anymore, health-wise or money-wise. Plus, plug in your iPod, turn on a podcast or some tunes and no task seems boring anymore!

This, combined with my relative awareness of caloric intake from the time I gave up soda has made me a very much haphazardly healthy eater. Actually, that's not super true - I probably still don't eat the well balanced diet that would REALLY keep you feeling healthy forever, but I'd like to think that keeping a relatively svelte figure and never getting more than a mild cough and the sniffles is a sign that I'm not doing SO bad.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #6: Be Social
I've always been really shocked by people who up and move to a new city/new life because I really can't imagine myself ever doing that. And its not just because I live in New York, the greatest f-ing city on the planet. My entire social network is here. College friends, high school friends, family, the improv community, scores of ex-lovers*. How could anyone just give all that up, right?

But here's the revelation I made recently -while it would truly pain me to leave all my friends and family behind, I should be incredibly confident in the knowledge that wherever I go, I can and WILL make tons of new friends. Because that's what I do. I put that time in to socialize without even really thinking about it. I'll invite new coworkers to come see shows, new acquaintances to a party at my place, and really just about ANYONE with an inkling of interest in video games to come play with me anywhere at any time. I need people in my life more than almost anything else. And apparently, according to the article:

"...research has shown that joining a club, group or sports team or keeping in constant contact with friends can create a sense of identity that can help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia. 'Loneliness breeds both illness and early death,' according to the MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging In America."

Stop f-ing around and play the game right! Your health is on the line!

So there you go, Matt Shafeek's Co-Opted, Haphazard Steps To Wellness. It's the wellness guide I somehow didn't know I was making with my off-beat lifestyle! In hindsight I didn't actually offer any tips on how to start doing those things yourself, but hey, that's time I could be spending 'Chilling Out,' so I'll leave the rest up to you, dear reader!

BAM!
-Matt

Currently Playing: I've finally managed to secure all those cores in Defense Grid, and I've started putting in some serious and enjoyable playing time in my new favorite XBLA release, Shadow Complex. I also snagged a cheap, used copy of Resident Evil 5, which I've just started playing as well (Side note: I NEED a partner - find me if you're down to play the game, again or for the first time!), (Side note to the side note: I kind of hate that I NEED a partner to fully enjoy a video game!), and last night I checked out the demo for Left 4 Dead 2. I could definitely see myself enjoying that game, and between that, Modern Warfare 2, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it's looking a bit like the season of multiplayer, eh? Too bad I still have so much of a back-catalog that I won't be enjoying those games anytime soon...

*that's right, I said SCORES!!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

289 Days UP - "I can disappear any time I want to, time I feel you..."


(2/1/10 UPDATE: He totally responded...in a roundabout kinda way. I agree with him that C&H ended in a good place, but I'd still love to see something new from him at some point. Ah, well)


The follow is an open letter to Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson:

October 26th, 2009

Dear Mr. Watterson:

Good evening sir. My name is Matthew Shafeek. I'm 30 years old, and a longtime fan of yours. I own every single Calvin and Hobbes comic (though I haven't bought every single collection obviously, because - let's be honest - there's a lot of redundancy in there), and was truly sad when you retired it back in December of 1995. With just a few panels a day you managed to really inspire me and create a world that more than other fictional place I really want to be a part of. I am writing this letter tonight to inform you that sadly, after nearly fourteen years of waiting for your next work, you have officially let me down as a fan and as a fellow artist, and I think you have become, in my eyes, one of the biggest wastes of talent that I have ever known.

Let me take a step back for a second before I delve into the heart of the matter. Back when you were writing C&H, you made a lot of, shall we say, curious decisions that threw a lot of people off. You refused to license your property and denied any and all merchandising of your characters. A very bold move that few artists with the kind of sweet, sweet cash sitting in front of them have ever made. You also, for less obvious reasons, decided to prevent C&H from ever being animated. In the face of so much logic and money, you denied the evil corporate machine any claim over your beloved characters and comic strip. You kept them pure, and you kept them your own. And to that Mr. Watterson, I say kudos. You obviously have a very sense of integrity and you take your work very seriously.

Then after 10 years of wonderfully imaginative, funny, and brilliant content you decided to call it quits, and you sent the following letter to your fans:

Dear Reader:

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Sincerely,
Bill Watterson
Ok, so you quit the daily grind. Awesome, good for you. No more deadlines, no more artistic constraints, woot! So what did you do over the next 14 years?

"Since retiring, Bill Watterson has taken up painting, often drawing landscapes of the woods with his father. He has published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes strips"

Wow. Ok. Now, I don't want to devalue your wood drawings or anything, but seriously? That is what a man, with the ability to literally DO ANYTHING he wanted creatively and have throngs of loyal fans who were ready, willing and able to support him, chooses to do with himself, artistically?

Bill (can I call you Bill? If not, please indicate as much in your response), I want be clear here: yes, I feel burned as a longtime fan of yours. But I can learn to live without any new C&H comics, or any new work at all if you've really decided to just call it quits on any sort of public artistic offering. Hell, I'm reading plenty of new, great comics online right now that certainly fill the void you left me all those years ago. What I simply cannot understand is how you, as an artist, have no desire to create anything new for the world to see.

I don't see the PAIN in your eyes. DO YOU???

I have to imagine that Calvin and Hobbes wasn't a tortuous endeavor for you - that you really did enjoy making a boy and his imaginary-but-not-really-imaginary tiger friend come to life in newspapers every week, and that the joy it brought to the people who read them somehow made you happy. Have you no desire to create something to put out to the world ever again?

Let me give you a little personal history, since I realize you may not be as aware of my whole life as much as the average reader of this blog is (though honestly, clearly you're not too busy right now, so do me the courtesy of at least reading a few entries). On top of writing this blog I also perform at a local improv theater here in NYC. And while the dream is to one day get discovered and get my own sitcom - where I get to play a slightly more hilarious version of myself, I have a super hot girlfriend, and there's also a randy, incredibly overweight female next door neighbor who is obviously just me in drag - a long time ago I realized I'd be happy to get up on that stage and just perform in front of an audience forever. Because I love getting up on that stage and making people laugh.

At the end of every improv show the host always thanks the audience for coming, and says that "without you none of this would be possible, nor would it make any sense." It's kind of silly and obvious, but it perfectly encapsulates my feelings about art in general. If you're not creating something for people to see and enjoy, you're not really an artist anymore, you're just a guy standing up on an empty stage in an empty theater being ridiculous. And I simply can not wrap my head around the fact that you've made this decision voluntarily. People dream of being in your position, to have the clout and the freedom you have, and by all accounts you've decided you'd rather paint trees.

Sure, you have people like George Lucas who know all too well how to trade every last ounce of artistic integrity for another dip in the obviously infinite well of content that belong to their franchises, but goddammit Bill, he's still doing something for his fans and for the world (for better or for worse), which is more than can be said for you.

Can I tell you a secret? It's something I've told very few people. About once a year, every year since you stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes, I have a dream that involves me going to a bookstore (somewhere I don't spend a time normally in my waking hours) and discovering a brand new Calvin and Hobbes book. Yes, a new book written by you, and this is during a time my mind could easily be fantasizing about anything else - sex, space adventures, heck, even new Far Side comics. Of course, being a dream, and coming from my brain the new comics aren't very good, and usually leave me more confused than anything else. The point is - there remained in me, for a very long time, a very deep personal WANT for something more from you.

I guess I'm just disappointed more than anything else. Apparently you've become something of a recluse in general, so who knows what's going on in your life right now. And look, far be it from me to say you OWE me or anyone else anything after what you've already contributed. But consider this one man's last glimmer of hope that someday you'll reach your full potential as an artist and inspire him again like you did once before.

Sincerely,
Matthew Shafeek
(You can call me Matt, or just "Shafeek", lots of people do that too)

PS: Congratulations on being the recipient of my very first open letter!

PPS: Have you seen any of those kinda gross comics of Calvin all grown up? They're even worse than all the ones of Calvin peeing on things! Oh, and did you know someone made a pretty strong connection to C&H and Fight Club? Crazy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

281 Days UP - "But now we spent the day so completely uninspired, askin' why oh why would I be tired?"

The Multiplayer Postcard. Still plenty of copies in stock!

Two years ago, before I became 'Paused' I wrote a one man show called 'Multiplayer' about 4 gamers and the world they live in. Writing it, putting it all together, and ultimately performing it for a few months at UCB Theater in NYC was what I consider to be one of the my greatest accomplishments and proudest moments, as well a wonderful convergence of my two biggest passions.

I finally got the show up on YouTube, and while there's certainly a bit of quality lost in live theater put to video, I think it holds us well enough to post it here. This'll also be a great chance for me to add some 'DVD Commentary' to my show as well. So without, further ado, I bring you Matt Shafeek's Multiplayer, circa 2007:

MULTIPLAYER @ UCB THEATER
(JULY-ISH 2007
)

Part One - The Hump Day Challenge:



Fun Facts:
-This first scene was the impetus behind the entire show. While playing Halo 2 one day, I got the idea for a sketch centered around a guy in the most intense Halo match of his life having to contend with his teammate's mother while he played.
-The opening song, as well as all the music in between the pieces is courtesy of OverClocked ReMix, a video game music remix site that I highly recommend checking out if you're into that sort of thing. By the by, add 10 nerd points for each song you recognize.
-Any video game props, with exception of the Nintendo shirt in the second scene and the Luigi hat in the 4th I already owned. Hence, this is my original, crappy, taped-together original Xbox headset.
-It's very hard to eat and get out your lines when you already have a tendency to mumble on stage.
-All of the GamerTags mentioned except for my own (which I'm sure actually exists) are/were friends of mine on XBL.
-I think one actual Halo fan ever saw the show. He talked to me after the show and later friended me on XBL.

Part Two - Zack's 64-Bit Summer Vacation:


Fun Facts:
-This scene wound up needing the most work, and actually what you see here isn't the final version. I eventually made Zack put on a powerpoint presentation with real slides transitioning into his not so subtle video game slides which gave a much needed visual to what was going on on stage. The last slide featured an animated King Hippo gif that Zack put on boxing gloves and fought!



















-The teacher's voice, done a la the Peanuts, are all sounds from Q*bert.
-Yes, that was my entire DS collection at the time.
-During one performance of the show I walked out without my wig, and had a silent mini-freak out. I wound up mumbling some line about "shaving my head" during my vacation and moved on, though it was definitely not my best performance of that scene.
-I want the Megaman 1 victory song to play for every one of my minor accomplishments throughout the day.

Part Three - Last Dance Dance:



Fun Facts:
-Yeah, I don't know what that accent is. I've been made fun of on more than one occasion for doing terrible accents in improv. This is probably as good as it gets for me.
-The dance is hard to see, but just know that it involved me sticking my ass out and in the air whenever possible.
-The song is actually not from any real DDR song. It's called "Burn The School Down" by Zebrahead, and it just so happened to be the song on my iPod that I was most able to envision doing this dance to.
-For you purists out there, yeah, there's no way anyone could actually play like that, but I DID make up a pattern to tap based on my limited experience with the game.
-I bet you're thinking: "Wow, such stamina! I'm surprised he didn't lose his breath!" Well...

Part Four - Teeger's Baggagecast:


Fun Facts:
-...Yeah, I'm still catching my breath at the top.
-This character is probably the least far removed from the real Matt Shafeek. In fact, over the course of writing this scene I fell in love with the fictional Katja and have yet to really get over her.
-I was so into this character and his relationship with Katja that I was tempted to shoot a quick video to play in between the sets of a snippet of a previous episode of the podcast to establish more history. Ultimately the idea was scrapped...because no girl could ever live up to the Katja in my mind.
-Note the portending PAX reference!
-I'd like to nominate myself for best portrayal of Luigi in any medium, ever. Again, note the amazing accent work!
-Some of the slides are not entirely visible in the video, but I have to say, I'm pretty proud of the whole motiff. It was basically a loading screen with some tips of being good to your game consoles. And boy oh boy did I have fun shooting pictures in all kinds of wackadoodle poses with game consoles. Amongst them: Waking up in bed with my GameCube and an unopened condom wrapper, being run over by an Xbox, and coming into a run with a R.O.B. robot that had hung itself with a letter reading: "See You In Hell."

Special thanks again for everyone who helped make that show possible, Rob Morrison, Dan Fairall, Pat Baer, Anthony King, and especially my brother Mo for doing the recording and eventually importing onto YouTube. And thanks to everyone who supported it when it went up. Special thanks to Robert Astley from A Life Well Wasted for lighting the fire under my butt and getting me to finally get this on my blog.

Seeing this show again makes me want to put together something else, something new. During production of Multiplayer I got so busy I mostly stopped playing games, and that's when I got the idea to go Paused. Maybe posting this video is completing the circle of creativity, and starting tomorrow I'll be in the market for my next big project.

-Matt

Sunday, October 11, 2009

274 Days UP - "It's the only way I have learned to express myself..."

(Update - Here's an interesting addendum to my post from Kotaku. I can safely say that with Batman - it was 95% enjoyment, 5% compulsion - those last few challenges were really annoying)

I start all of my blog entries off with a snippet from one of my many favorites songs - either currently loaded up on iTunes or from a quick google search, but today I want to use a much longer section, because despite whatever the song might actually be about (I'd prefer it if all bands just explicitly listed the backstory/details of what they're signing about in all their songs, but it would seem they all prefer that we foolishly speculate), I happen to think it works REALLY well as a metaphor for a gamer, and for my life in general. Here's the snippet, from the song "Let's Get Fucked Up And Die" - already getting excited, right? - from one of my favorite bands on the planet, Motion City Soundtrack.*

Let's Get Fucked Up And Die (snippet)

Let's get fucked up and die..
I'm riding hard on the last lines of every lie,
And the BMX bike of my life is about to explode, I'm about to explode.
I'm a mess, I'm a wreck.
I am perfect, and I have learned to accept all my problems and shortcomings,

'Cause I'm so visceral, yet deeply inept.

I want to thank you for being a part of my forget-me-nots and marigolds..

And all the things that don't get old..
Is it legal to do this? I surely don't know.
It's the only way I have learned to express myself
through other peoples' descriptions of life..
I'm afraid I'm alone and entirely useless...
(In this department)

Explaining what every little line in the poem means to me would be kinda lame, and is something I have to fight the urge to do right now (but I'd be happy to tell you if you really wanted to know. You see, Regina Spektor, was that SO HARD?!?) - however I'll say one thing: the use of the word visceral sealed the deal for me.

Actually, all I wanted to post today was my latest gaming achievement, something I haven't accomplished in quite some time:
Say, what's Batman looking at over there?? Is there villainry afoot?

Oh no, it's just my PERFECT F-ING SCORE CARD!!!

I feel like the most definitive way to judge a game's a quality is to give it to a 30 year old gamer with a full time job, outside hobbies, and a generally busy schedule, and see how much he plays it. If he likes it, maybe he'll put in enough time to beat it. If he LOVES it, maybe he'll power through many many BRUTAL and nigh-RIDICULOUS challenges outside the main game in order to do everything there is to do, and just keep playing it because he's having so much goddamn fun.*

So there you have it folks. My first official review on this blog. I, Matt Shafeek, have 100%-ed Batman: Arkham Asylum. If you are a gamer, you need to play this game if you have not already.

-Matt

PS: Slightly cold off of the presses, but still just as entertaining, I have two more episodes of Extremely Local News for ya!





*They are a fantastic band, in general, if you're in the market for some great music I am in no position to try to describe other than 'kick-ass'.
*Or maybe, you know, that one gamer just happens to be awesome at video games in general.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

270 Days UP - "Can't tell the difference between myth and man..."

Above: not my kitchen

I've discovered a new sanctuary in a place that for 30 years I actively tried to spend as little time as possible - my kitchen. Up until this year I knew how to make a handful of meals, all with probably less than 4 ingredients usually requiring minimal preparation time and a lot of sauce out of a jar. This year a couple of factors - lengthy unemployment and my "Dinner and Games" experiment - changed my perception of cooking, and as a result, I can safely say I now rather enjoy the process of making food.

What makes all of this all the more surprising in that besides just being generally lazy (something I'm sure more than a few men can be considered guilty of), I realized recently that when it comes to the finer details of a lot of man's greatest inventions/triumphs - architecture, machinery, the Kama Sutra, I generally don't spend more than a few seconds going "Gee, that seems complicated!" and moving on. For some reason the only things that typically catch my attention are mysteries, the unknown phenomena that still have people scratching their heads.
Please explain this in one word or less...

When I was a kid I remember reading about Stonehenge and being absolutely fascinated with it. I even planned a hypothetical trip there to go and not just see the site, but to solve the mystery that at the time was still plaguing scientists. Of course, after analyzing the stones, their size, their positions, and their age, my best guess at the time would probably have been "magic." And that's probably getting to the heart of it - I was interested in something so long as it was possible that the only explanation for it could be something mystical. I was never one for deep analysis or study. As soon as scientists get down to the nitty gritty and figure out exactly how or why something works, it becomes a snooze-fest for me. (Side note: it's funny - as a lifelong agnostic/atheist, I NEED science to explain everything that's out there, but so long as it eventually gets explained, somehow the actual details typically don't interest me)

With games, I only learn what is necessary to play them. It's more a means to an end than something to ponder. And even then - as my two failed attempts into programming have proven - I simply don't have any interest in learning specifically how to make them.

Back to being in the kitchen - cooking real adult meals involves forcing yourself to become one of those lame-o programmer/designer/
scientists, and fully committing yourself to the tiny little details that go into the creation of something. You can't help but get invested every single detail of the process - from purchasing the ingredients, to preparation of each portion of the dish, to the actually cooking of the meal - and notice how small changes anywhere affect the final product. Since the results are going to be your sustenance for the next few hours, it definitely pays to not half-ass your way through it, (as is often my instinct) lest your taste buds and stomach suffer as a result.

The best part about all of this is that you quickly realize the FUN you could have improvising a meal once you get good enough at the basics. When I first started I was following cookbooks as strictly as possible, but as time went on I developed an instinct as well as a taste for what I wanted. I'm a big quesadilla fan (its basically an E-Z-P-Z pizza, because yeah, I am still kinda lazy - but in my defense, they're delicious), and I've made a different version of it every time I've decided I wanted to eat one. And recently, long time friend and new time favorite blogger Matt Stillman showed me true versatility and confidence in the kitchen when he told me to pick up a protein and vegetable and we cooked one of the best dishes I've ever had, Chicken Rollatini, on the spot using just what I had in the kitchen.

Food I helped (and learned how to) make!

So cooking has opened my eyes in more ways than one. Not only that, but it's obviously saved me a pretty penny as well. I recommend spending more time in the kitchen to anyone who:

A) feels like they are bored with everything they eat (I had a rotation of Chinese Food/Pizza/Fast Food/Pasta Dinner that I went through for what I'm sad to admit was most of my 20's)
B) feels like they aren't particularly great at anything (not so much my problem, because, you know, I'm totally awesome, but whipping together a nice meal definitely makes you feel like you accomplished something - and more like an adult, too!)
C) wants to lose weight (its MUCH easier to keep track of what you're eating when you're making it)
D) wants to save some $$$ (this is well known)

And if you don't fall under any of those categories, then hey, pat yourself on the back there, mister - life's going pretty ok for you and your non-cooking ways!

Thanks to everyone who's been a part of my "Dinner and Games" experiment this year - I hope to continue it indefinitely, and I also hope to spend lots of time in the kitchen on my own, allowing myself to discover what 'real magic' is like. Since I've decided against blogging after each D&G, I'm going to post them all here (eventually) and update as I do more and more of them. I'll list the meal, the people who taught it to me, and what we played.

-Matt

Currently Playing: My gaming time at home has been split between defending my cores in Defense Grid: The Awakening, and Shoryukening some skulls in Street Fighter IV, while my gaming time away from home has been split between solving some puzzles Professor Layton (and the Diabolical Box)-style, and saving the planet, Final Fantasy VI-style. I have to say, it's a nice balance. I recently secured a free copy of Fable 2 from a friends who apparently hated it so much he felt the need to get it out of his house, but I'm sitting on it for now, afraid of the hours I anticipate it sucking up. Still awesome to get it for free though!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

262 Days UP - "I get to be real close to God, I hear that he's a swell guy..."


16 months after being misdiagnosed with cancer in his jaw bone, and a roller coaster of health issues involving ear infections, kidney disease, and finally, a real, actual cancerous lump I could see my poor cat struggling with every day, I was forced to put Milhouse down this past Friday. I mentioned how much I was going to miss him way back then, and the interesting thing about all of this is even though it was one of the saddest moments of my life, the truth is I'm actually feeling really really grateful now more than anything.

First of all, I've been thinking my beloved pet was going to die at any moment since May 2008. That's not entirely true - he recovered from what was actually a really bad ear infection that left him deaf last year, but after that he basically fully recovered and was living large in what was presumably a suddenly very quiet world to him. Then in April we discovered his kidneys were weakening, which we once again assumed was the beginning of the end. The four months later, cancer, which quickly made the kidney problems seem obsolete.

But you know what? My cat didn't die last year like I thought he would. He made it through my year off from games, and he hung around through 7 months of unemployment all the way until I got a job again. Now, I normally reject any discussion of the words "fate" and "destiny" outside of Lost but goddamn if that ain't something.

September wound up being a totally insane month in a what's clearly been pretty damn ridonkulous year. It was like the guy in the asylum that all the other crazies make it a point to stay away from, lest their toes get chewed off. So far, 2009 has been the of some pretty exciting small but significant developments on my part - all bogged down by this pesky lack of a job/financial stability thing. And this past month, all but one single event of September was utterly fantastic - I got a new job, I got to go to PAX, which was ridiculously fun, I spent all month played what I consider to be one of the greatest video games of all time, and last night I was lucky enough to be a part of a fantastic production - a brand new musical that went out phenomenally, and will hopefully be the beginning of a long run at the local theater I also perform improv at every week, another recurring highlight.

This is the opposite of the me of 72 hours prior

And of course, in the middle of this awesome sandwich is a pickle, which, as everyone knows, ruins ANY good sandwich. I can, however, tolerate* the pickle on it's own, as long as I get to eat the sandwich too.

I guess what I am trying to get at with my terrible metaphor is that I'm incredibly grateful for the fact that one of the saddest, most emotionally trying moments of my life was cushioned by so much overwhelming positivity (and this is in regards to not just the great events but also the loving support of family and friends) that gave me the strength to get through it.

Thank you to everyone I know who reads this blog, and even those of you I don't who are supporting me right now as we speak.

And Milhouse, wherever you are buddy - know that you'll always have a place in my heart. You were a wonderful pet, and I'm incredibly thankful to have had you in my life for these past 8 years. Finally, know that to date I've cried more tears for you than any other animal, person, or - I'm actually finally able to say, and proudly at that - event from a movie or television show.

-Matt

*Truth is, I enjoy a good pickle on it's own, just not in sandwiches. Forgive me loyal readers for the brief deception.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

248 Days UP - "Has boxing been good to you?"

Earlier today, while reaching over (and ostensibly cutting) a group of middle school children who were waiting patiently around a table for a sample of a mini-cinnamon roll-esque treat, I spotted a gorgeous Indian woman who immediately caught my attention. Thankfully she hadn't spotted me yet, hastily scarfing down the remnants of the pastry, licking the tiny paper cup for one last spot of flavor. She was busy on her iPhone, the modern day symbol of cultural and technical savvy. She was small, very petite, with dark skin and jet black hair, and...as I'm incredibly oblivious when it comes to clothing and fashion, so I can only note that she was not naked, nor was she wearing something that excessively hid or displayed her figure.

So there I was in a Trader Joe's in Brooklyn, presented with a challenge I've failed hundreds of times before.

I want to talk to her.
She's probably not interested in you.
I want to talk to her.
She probably has a boyfriend, or a husband, or a girlfriend.
I want to talk to her.
She probably doesn't want to be bothered right now.
I want to talk to her.
But there's no good reason to do that.

Let's jump back in time a little bit real quick. About 2 hours earlier I was sitting at home on my Xbox 360, getting pummeled by Seth, the final boss in Street Fighter IV. I was playing as Chun-Li, my 2nd favorite character in the series (having already beaten the game with my go-to guy Ken the day before), but having a real heck of a time taking 2/3 rounds against this character, who, as final bosses go, packs quite a punch. He's also a bit of a dick. He practically gives you the first round, then proceeds to 'power up' and goes ballistic during the next two. Despite my best efforts I got knocked out AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN. It took nearly 45 minutes before I finally eeked out a win. A video of this period of time would have shown me cursing up a storm, speaking to and personifying the A.I. in the game ("Of course you're going to do that, why should you give me a chance, you're having too much FUN, aren't you?!?") - and eventually, stone cold quiet rage.

God I hate you Seth

I eventually won because I HAD TO. It was a moral imperative. I was simply not going to get up from that couch until Seth went down. Giving up wasn't an option (neither was changing characters for the record, in case you were wondering). So I just kept banging away, trying different techniques, getting destroyed over and over but doing just a little bit more damage each time until I finally devised a winning combination of kicking, sweeping, and backing away (thus dubbed the Chun Li Kicky-Sweepy-Runny technique) to ensure victory.

I mention this little game story because the parallels between my undeniable resolve when it comes to completing a task in a video game and certain very specific real world interactions never cease to amaze me. In Street Fighter IV terms, when I see a girl I'd like to talk to I basically think of all the hundreds of ways I could get beaten in the fight, and instead of pressing 'Start' I put the controller down and walk away immediately. Victory seems like such a ridiculously slim option that it's the only logical thing to do.

The reality is there was nothing this girl could have said that would have upset me more than having Seth with a tiny sliver of health and HUGE lead and blowing it due to a series of unblockable combos without a chance for recovery. Normally my justification is: "I'm having fun along the way with video games!" but no, that game had gone far past the point of fun. I wanted to reach into the game and break Seth's weird shiny glowy neck myself. And all those stupid scientists running around in the background too.

Now, of course I wasn't thinking about any of this at the time - I was busy staring at the spice area running 'failure scenarios,' through my head, as I am apt to do. But, the victory against Seth must have done something to me, because I actually powered through all the negativity, demons and nightmarish visions and in a semi-confident stride I followed iPhone girl into the frozen foods aisle, caught up with her and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Excuse me..."
"Hmm?" (she gave a sort of odd deer in headlights look to me, like she was in trouble for something, which I thought was kind of funny)
"Hey, I saw you over there, and I knew I'd be kicking myself for the rest of the day if I didn't come over to you...so uh, I'm Matt."
"Hi, Matt I'm Natalie. It's nice to meet you..."

Her face then turned apologetic as she told me she was currently engaged (though the conspiracy theorist in me wonders where the RING was!), and then she thanked me for the compliment and told me I made her day. It's a shame I never got to my second line because I had NO IDEA what I was going to say, but I was certain it was going to be hilarious - something along the lines of a "anyways, I just wanted to ask if you knew where the deli meats were...", probably followed by some frozen food prop humor.* In any event, I wrapped up our short little tryst and proceeded to find the next item on my shopping list.

GAME OVER...

CONTINUE?

YES! YES! YES!


Although, really, it wasn't a Game Over at all. After so many years of not trying, it felt good to break down that mental barrier and be willing to do what I did today. I'm gonna call it a victory instead. I imagine in the future it'll get easier as well, much like Chun Li's Kakukyakuraku. You guys know what I'm talking about.

I guess what I'm trying to say here in a nutshell is that getting politely rejected in a Trader Joe's is no worse than a 45 minute brawl against the final boss in a video game, and thus all gamers should keep that in mind the next time someone catches their eye. Profound, I know.

-Matt

P.S. After 7 months and 9 days, my lengthy bout with unemployment has finally come to an end. I start my new job tomorrow. I have a feeling my first day at the new job is going to feel really weird. As will the money in my wallet.

Currently Playing: Arkham Asylum's Challenge Modes, Defense Grid, and a nice discounted Puzzle Quest, on top of the aforementioned Street Fighter IV rounded out my last week of unemployment. Glad I got the game time in before heading back to the daily grind!

*There's a reason I haven't done this stuff before. And there will be mistakes I know I'm destined to make that I can't even pre-emptively make fun of!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

243 Days UP - "Remember how we knew love was here to stay..."

Up and At Them!

Wow. It's hard to believe it's already been a week since I left for PAX. What a fantastic trip. I'm tempted to just transcribe my entire stay in detail, but maybe for the sake of brevity, I'll just go ahead and list the highlights. Before I do though, for those of you not in the know, PAX is the Penny Arcade Expo a weekend long gamer festival that up until now has taken place in Seattle every year, where its founders are based. I went there last Thursday - Monday, and now I'm back! Onto the highlights!

The People!
Corbin (L), and Zack (R). Er, trust me, they're cool...

I took a huge gamble on my trip to PAX - I stayed with complete strangers. I went onto the PA message boards and looked for people willing to share a hotel room, and basically took the first offer than came my way, no questions (other than $) asked. And the four guys I wound up bunking with - Zack, Corbin, Andy, and Hastin - were four very cool gamers who I instantly bonded with. We all had our different areas of interest, and at the PAX event itself we'd often split up and each do our own thing. But we always met back up to check in and see what the others had seen, usually followed by a meal together. It was an important tentpole in my trip, where I might otherwise had been a little more of a solitary experience, which for someone like me, usually equals less fun.

A Toast to Burritos and Games!

I met lots of other great people too on my trip there - despite some other gaming journalists' opinions, I found that anyone I attemtped to be friendly with was equally friendly back to me. I even managed to run into Stephen Totilo, a writer for Kotaku who I've been following for some time. He was super friendly and nice, and if he ever takes me up on the offer (since he lives in NY) he may even come see me in an improv show one day.

The Competition!
Hey! You-a glitched! This-a game-a is-a bullshit!

I entered a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament on the first day of PAX, knowing I'd lose, but just to see how far I'd get. I did manage to make it past the first round, which was about how far I thought I would make it. The competitive part of me can sit back and watch other people play all day to learn strategies for my next battle. If Smash Bros. (or for that matter, Halo 3, or Street Fighter 4) was the only game I owned, or the only game released last year, I would definitely spend all my time perfecting my skills, and when I entered any kind of competition, settle for nothing less than victory!

The Games, and the Technology!

Never have I felt closer to Chris Redfield

Obviously, I've got to mention the meat of the convention (there's something very sing-songy about that line, try saying it). I enjoyed the games available at PAX on two levels - one was the upcoming games that developers had brought for attendees to demo - tons of great titles I can't wait to have in my hands in a few months. One top of that, there was the cool tech demos for new technology that was going to change the way we game - including 3D technology, just like they are apparently doing to movies these days.

On top of this, there was a freeplay area for PC, Tabletop and Consoles, where you would just walk in, hand over your license, and be able to borrow any play from a super wide variety of old school and new school titles. It actually reminded me of my old job at NYCLAN here in the city, only this was on such a grand scale. And although I really only played Halo, Left 4 Dead, and some more Smash Bros., I loved that this area was around waiting for me whenever I had any downtime from the showroom floor.

The Cosplayers!
Not much to say here other than I tip my hat to these guys, who obviously all devote a ton of time and enery they could otherwise be spending gaming, texting,or sexting.

The Culture and Events!
This is chalk! Believe it!

This is sort of a catch-all category, including all the fun little things that were going on at PAX, like the Bioshock 2 puzzle that was perplexing many folks on the showroom, the giveaways, including buttons, knick knacks, and MANY, MANY t-shirts (I went home with 7, I knew some who had no less than 15), the fun but ultimately very frustrating "Match Your Code" Nvidia contest, that involved finding the other person at PAX with your matching button code (people set up stations with online spreadsheets and everything), the concerts, and of course, Omegathon:
I am oddly proud of this photo.



Good 'ol Skeeball. I missed the other rounds of it, but the basic concept and execution of it (Six rounds over the course of the weekend with random PAX attendees competing in various games, including Connect 4(!), with a grand prize of $5,000 and a trip to Tokyo) make me smile.



...and there's me riding "Ruin" the Bull/Horse at the Darksiders booth. Man did those guys want to make me fall! I'm glad they did though, because it obviously makes for a much funnier video.

So what sucked? The Food! Well, that's being a bit unfair. What I did eat, I enjoyed. But my new friends and I scoured Seattle on Saturday night for a meal, and other than the shops inside the convention center, and the Cheesecake Factory right across the street, it seemed like there was NOTHING. Especially after 10pm. It was kind of ridiculous - there are literally coffee shops EVERYWHERE (more Starbucks than in NYC, if you can believe it, and that's along with their many competitors), which leads me to believe the people of Seattle apparently have learned to live on coffee and pastries.

I also didn't make many of the panels this year, but given that all the information from those usually winds up on the internet anyway, I'm pretty ok with that. I did manage to make the Giant Bomb one, as those guys consistantly crack me up (and they did just that at PAX), but I wound up falling asleep during a panel on the future of games due to lack of sleep the next day(!), and I decided to just avoid them from then on.

Overall it was an amazing trip, and I'm incredibly happy that, despite my current financial/employment situation, I managed to keep the promise I made to myself a year ago, and get out there and have a kick-ass time. That is...until I was SHANKED:

-Matt

PS: Oh, also, apparently the Riddler was on the loose...

Currently Playing: Another month, another broken system! Just sent in my DS which has had malfunctioning L&R buttons since the day I busted in open back in January. Which puts my Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box and nostaglic return to Final Fantasy VI on hold. In the meantime, I've just stopped the Joker (spoiler alert!) in Batman: Arkham Asylum, yes, less than two weeks after getting the game AND with a 5 day break. But it was such a goddamned fantastic experience, and I've still got the challenge mode to tackle. Finally, I've just realized that after Plants Vs. Zombies and now this new XBLA title, Defense Grid: The Awakening I apparently LOVE tower defense games!