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.


*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.




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.


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:


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!