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Lost Our ‘licia

Filed under: General — 19day @ 16:14:05

Went to John’s cottage this past weekend. On average it was pretty relaxing, and on average there were six of us. Averages are used here because there were seven of us at one point, and, on a separate note, we thought it was just possible that one of us had drowned.

(cue opening titles)

It was a simple plan. I traveled with Laura after having met her near York Mills. That was around 4pm. Alicia and Chez left at around 5, and John, Alissa and Kristina left much later. Laura and I were to get the food, Alicia and Chez the drinks. The four of us met up for dinner after we shopped (giving them the time needed to catch up). Then there was a simple plan put in action: Chez had his seadoo hitched to his car. He would drive to the marina in order to launch it, and then drive to the cottage itself. Alicia would drive the seadoo to the cottage. By water was much much faster than by driving, so she would arrive first. But getting to the Marina at all would take time. So everything hinged on us getting to the cottage first so we could turn on lights so Alicia could find us. She’s not a frequent seadoo user and coming at the cottage from the water was an unfamiliar direction. Plus it was pitch black out, no moon, no stars for the most part. And no light on the seadoo. But that’s fine, we would turn on the lights at the cottage and act as the beacon.

Sadly, events didn’t play out like that. Laura and I were engrossed in conversation, and missed our turn-off, it took is 20 minutes to realize it, and 20 minutes to get back to it, and then the further 20 minutes and change to take the slow dirt road around the bay to the cottage.

When we got there, we saw two cars. “Damn it, we left first, but got here last” I thought. I expressed this exasperation to John, and then saw the concerned look on his face. He and Chez were preparing to launch the boat. For Search and Rescue. “We’re going to look for Alicia”. With no lights on because of our unexpected detour, she wouldn’t have found the cottage. Sure, when Chez got there he turned them on, but with no sound of the engine in the mirky black, no one knew where she could have been.

We’ve had a little bad luck with the cottage trips. Well, the last big example I was semi-involved in was when the other car (of our 2-car convoy) was involved in an accident with a deer. That at least was sudden, but it was easy to take count of people and know that, despite a stressful situation, the worst was over. But this incident trumps that for me. It was a weird sensation.. I usually don’t like to panic, but I simultaneously thought that she was probably fine and out on the lake somewhere, but also fearing that, maybe this was it… you read stories during cottage season of people drowning, without details it could be anything, or as simple as a capsized boat where someone just didn’t surface, and this time it could be happening to us. I started to head down with them to the boat, when the phone in the cottage rang. Laura answered it, and all I heard of the conversation was her asking “Have you found our friend?”

As it turned out, Alicia had gone a ways, and she says quite possibly to the cottage area and back again, in circles. It was hard for her to say since she had no light, and since it was completely black, she went very slowly for fear of running into an island. She did however get caught in a bog for a while. A cottage around the bend had heard her and turned on the lights to investigate, and she thought for a second it was us. They managed to look up the number for our cottage and ring us up. Twice actually, since the first time no one answered in time. Alicia insisted on driving the seadoo the rest of the way, and now that the lights were on, she headed in with us waiting what seemed an eternity for her to arrive.

It was a very unfortunate combination of elements that lead to it, but thankfully it all worked out okay. My heart had leaped into my throat for scant minutes, some of the others must have experienced that for over half an hour. Alicia herself seemed unphased by it all.

To celebrate continued survival, they had a night swim (as I didn’t bring a bathing suit, I contented myself to watch the slightly less dark blurs roaming the utterly dark surrounding waters). Alicia swam over to some rocks and sliced up her leg somewhat, those rocks are sharp, I’ve encountered them before. Then we went in and taught Kristina one of our drinking games, Fuck You, and got into a festive mood.

I’ll describe the game here, at least, our particular version of the game, I may have some of the upper numbers wrong, but all the elements are there if merely misassigned.
Place a shuffled deck of cards face down on a table and scatter them a bit (such that people can take a random card from the pile)
Gather in a circle, and pick a direction of turn-switching, and then have someone pick up the first card to start the game. Oh, and put a glass in the middle of the table.
If the card drawn is Ace through 5, those are drinks to be allocated. You can give anyone (including yourself) ‘drinks’, and either give all of them to a single person, or split it up, however the player likes. The only downside is if you target someone, they might target you back.
Drawing a 6 means the Category game is up. The player picks a category, like “NFL teams” or “Beers”, and then says something within the category, and then the person who’s turn it would be next must do the same. No repeats. The person who fails takes a drink.
Drawing a 7 indicates the ‘fuck you’ portion of the game, or the ‘counting game’, wherein the person who draws the card says ‘one’, the person who’s turn it would be next says the next number, ‘two’, this continues until someone would need to say either a multiple of 7, or a number with 7 as one of the numerals. When this happens, instead of saying the number, the person should say ‘fuck you’ and then the direction of play reverses, so that the person who had just said the number 6, for example, before the person who now needs to say ‘fuck you’, now must say 8. This is one of the games that becomes progressively harder as the night wears on, especially for me who hates the 7 times table. The first person to mess up, takes a drink.
Drawing an 8 is the Never Have I Ever game, which is a kind of Truth or Dare round, without the Dare. You say, “Never have I ever …” and then your Truth statement, such as “Never have I ever robbed a bank”, and anyone in the circle who has robbed a bank must take a drink.
Drawing a 9 is the Rule card, the player can create a new rule for the game. Such as “No Swearing” or “No use of first names”, the usual punishment for anyone violating the rule is a drink. Some rules are in the form of “Any time a male drinks, every other male must drink as well” or “double drink”. The only rule on the rules is usually no singling anyone out.
Drawing a 10 designates that player the thumbmaster. At any time during the game (until someone else draws the 10 and takes the thumbmaster mantle) the thumbmaster can press their thumb against the table, quietly. All others need to notice this and do likewise, the last person to do so must take a drink. Preemptively putting thumbs on the table also earns a drink.
Jack – all the males take a drink
Queen – all the females take a drink
King – the glass in the center of the table is filled a quarter of the way with whatever drink the player has. If the fourth King has been drawn, then after adding their contribution to the glass, the player must drink it, and the game is over.

So basically, playing this game, the worst thing that can happen to you is to draw the 4th King, cause then you have a whole other glass of mixed drinks that you need to drink, and relatively quickly so the game can start up again. Alicia lost twice. She has bad luck at this game. At least we were all drinking similar coolers and such. We once played where someone had baileys and another had beer, both got early Kings and made the center cup a congealed mess.

After the game most others went to bed, but Laura, Alicia and I started half-heartedly playing a game Laura had brought called True Colours, not alcohol based though. In this game, each player is assigned a colour. And each player is given coloured tokens, 2 of each colour for each player’s colour except for their own. A player reads a question off a card such as “You’d want to spend your life on a desert island with this Player” or “This Player is most likely to end up in jail” and you secretly vote with exactly two tokens. If you feel someone is especially described by the statement, you can vote both the same colour (for their colour), or split vote. All the votes are put into a ballot box. Then each player tries to decide for themselves how many votes they will get. They can either select that they will receive all of the votes, none of them, or some of them. Scoring is based on if you are right (3 for all or none, 1 for some). Basically, it’s a game that can destroy friendships. For example, I know now that people think I would be a better (more critical) Simon on American Idol, no one wants to be my neighbour, or be my employee. There seems to be a theme here.

The next day Chez and I made breakfast. I brought the waffle maker and made blueberry waffles. Rather unfortunately, the waffle iron takes quite a while to make a crispy waffle, so it took a long time for everyone to get their food. But it was more or less well received. Kristina had to leave in the afternoon, so we were down to 6. We swam (they swam, I watched/slept on the dock) for a bit, but then there was a sudden downpour and we came inside.

We had dinner, with a meat and veggie lasagna. We played another drinking game called Caps. Everyone takes their bottle sits in a circle with the bottle in front of them. A cap is put upsidedown on the top of the bottle, and people take turns in the circle trying to throw other bottle caps at the ones on the bottles. If you cap is hit and it falls off the bottle, you take a drink and put the cap back on. On your turn, if you successfully knock a cap off, you can keep going until you miss. Once you miss, it’s the next person’s turn. Continue until everyone dies of alcohol poisoning, or people decide to stop. Then we watched Clue, which put everyone to bed. It was only a bit past midnight, but everyone was sleepy so that ended saturday.

In the morning, I helped Alicia prepare breakfast, eggs, bacon, bagel, fruit salad. Sunday was a much brighter day, and more time was spent at the dock. Laura and John built a sandcastle, which ended up being ammunition for their sand-fight later. In the afternoon, we started gathering our belongings, cleaning the cottage and bringing stuff up to the cars. Alicia was reluctantly willing to drive the seadoo back up to the marina in a reverse manoeuvre of what was done on Friday, except this time there was light. We all got texts on our phones later (once back in coverage) that she made it safe and sound.

Got home late on sunday, consoled the cat, and anointed my mosquito bites. I rarely get bit these days, but I’ve got a number of them this time. Ah well, it was worth it.



Filed under: General — 19day @ 00:57:48

I recently beat this game, so I thought I’d give it a little review since it seems to be something of an unsung hero in videogame circles. The game I have on the Wii is in fact a port of the PS2 version, so I can only speak of this Wiified port.

Okami is a game about saving the world, indeed, but you are a god, but alas, a god that’s down on her luck, since you had died and lost your powers, but have been ressurected. I’m not entirely sure how a being (a sprite in this case) able to ressurect a god of any kind doesn’t have the power to go off and save the world herself, but whatever. You are a god, in the sort of greek way, one that isn’t necessarily all powerful or all knowing. If this was a game about the christian god trying to save the world, presumably the game would congratulate you and say Game Complete after first pressing the start button.

The first thing one notices about this game is the artistic style. It is sort of cell-shaded, like Zelda: Wind Waker (oh, and the zelda comparaisons won’t end there alas). But in the way that Wind Waker looked like a cartoon, Okami looks like Japanese art on scrolls, which is handy since that’s what it’s trying to reflect. The cutscenes look great, and you think, “The game can’t possibly look like this the whole way through”, but it does.

The second thing one might notice is the plot is quite deep and, er, verbose. You notice this right away unfortunately, since the opening cutscenes last about 20 minutes, if you read as slow as I do and choose not to skip them outright. There are other portions of the game that have similarly long cutscenes, but it really does help flesh out the story. The game was trying to be Epic, it is both a strength, and a weakness.

In the game, there are two ways of interacting with the world. The first way is through the normal physicality that one might expect from a free-ranging adventure game. At this point, people might be reminded of Zelda: Twilight Princess, since, well, both have heavily to do with Wolves. Oh well. As Amaterasu (the wolf) you can run around, jump, hit things with your head, etc. In battle, you can use one of three classes of weapons (each class has 5 versions of these weapons, with increasing strength).

The first is a Reflector, which is a mirror that sits on your back, you can whip it out and swing it around. Much later you get what they call Glaives which are basically swords that you similarly whip around from your back. The third type is the usable type, Rosaries, which you whip about. Why do I say “usable”? Well, I’ve found that Reflectors and Glaives were pretty hard to use at first (I’ve gotten a bit better).

See, you start with a single weapon, the weakest reflector. When in battle, you naturally do what Twilight Princess taught you to do, which is waggle the wiimote like mad. The attack cycle would fire, animate and then as it stopped, it would see that you’re waggling, and do another attack cycle. But not the reflector. The only way to chain attacks, is to waggle at the right time. If you don’t, you sit around like an idiot, unable to attack for about 5 seconds wondering what the hell is happening. I didn’t even know this was the problem until I was in an ingame dojo and bought an extra chain to the combo. It took me 10 minutes to properly do it to be released from the training session. The problem is that, on the PS2, the attack control was, of course, a button. Hitting a button with rhythm is relatively easy. But when the attack control is wagging a wiimote, you get no feedback that it actually understood what you did, and it makes it infuriating. Further, as far as I can tell, it never told me that this chaining combo thing was going on, only the dojo upgrade cleared that one up.

Glaives, gotten much later in the game, I never really figured out. You’re supposed to raise the wiimote to charge it, then swing down to attack. In practice, it seemed to do whatever the hell it wanted on it’s own.

So I stuck with rosaries, which are unfortunately the weakest weapon type in the game, but at least you can waggle like mad and it will work. I’ll probably try the reflectors again at some point, since the second way of interacting with the environment had it’s problems, but once learned, was much easier.

The second way of interacting with the environment, and the main ‘gimmick’ of the game, is the Celestial Brush. At basically any point in the game, and in battle, you can press a button and the world freezes and the camera pulls back and shows the world as if it was on a paper scroll. You can then paint using the brush (in actuality your own tail) onto the world and cause various effects. You can cause the sun to appear by drawing a circle in the sky, or slash your enemies by drawing a straight slash mark over them. The slash was one of the first brush techniques you learn in the game, and boy, is it infuriating.

The PS2 version used the analog stick to control the brush, and so the straight line move was very easy. On the wii, using the wiimote pointing at the screen, it is quite a bit harder. There is a secondary button you can press at this point to ‘lock’ the brush to create straight lines, but even then, this is hard. You may get a line, but at an angle you’d prefer not having. This was incredibly frustrating for the first few sessions of play, but after 30 hours, I can usually manage all the brush techniques, even the slash without the straightness-lock.

One facet I enjoy about the game is that it’s not about killing things (well, you kills lots of demons and such), but about restoring the land. And some of the nicest cutscenes are when you bloom one of the guardian saplings and uncurse an area.

Gotta love that music

Another interesting aspect of the enemy battles is that they aren’t forced on you most of the time. Boss battles are, and some introductory battles, but the rest of the time, the enemy ‘encounters’ wander the areas as evil scrolls. When you run into them (or get close enough that they chase and touch you) you get trapped in an evil fenced off area and battle them. The introduction cutscenes are pretty neat, one of my favorites is for the yellow drum imp.

Evil musicians abound

Xenophones need not apply. The game is filled with Japanese myth references, and untranslated text. Like the ‘praise’ bubbles that power you up are inscribed with the word for ‘Happiness’ or so the manual would tell me. The brush gods you encounter give have spheres with their names on them as well. The evil-fencing that encloses enemy arenas seems to be made entirely of japanese characters, probably unfriendly ones at that. When you slash at an enemy that is blocking such attacks, the japanese for Useless appears. Now that one, I wish I had known earlier. The sound effect seems to give the correct indication, but even then, if the text “Useless” had appears, I might have caught on sooner.

A trailer to show general gameplay, PS2 but it looks the same on Wii basically

Even with the motion control flaws and annoying weapons, I still rate this game fairly high. I think I might have enjoyed it a teeny bit more on PS2, but watching speedruns, the brushwork is accurate, but really quite slow. Now that I’ve caught on, I think that aspect is much better on the Wii. The game is actually pretty easy, I died once and that was during the first semi-boss fight, when I was still struggling with the controls. It’s actually laughably easy if you use all the tools available. You can aquire what work as ‘extra lives’ effectively, and there are fairly inexpensive attack and defense boosters. There are also exorcism slips that you can spam (use in quick succession) that can take down bosses in less than a minute. A lot of these you get just through opening treasure chests, and even then you get quite a lot of money and can buy them. If you ignore using them (as I did) you can make the game a little more challenging. The dungeons were more puzzle based, with few enemies, but the dungeons were far less jarring with the rest of the overworld than in zelda. In zelda, you knew when you left the overworld and entered a dungeon. In Okami, it’s far less distinct, which makes it flow a lot better.

A couple more annoyances, but this time specifically with the port. There are a couple of bonus games missing from the wii version that could be done on the loading screens, but apparently Wii loads so quickly that they just took them out. I wish they could have left them in, maybe with a smaller requirement to ‘win’, since they give you fangs, a side-currency that you really can’t get enough of in the game, at least at first. Any source is a good source. More galling is the removal of the credit and epilogue sequence. Sure, without them, you don’t sense anything is missing, but knowing that such materials exist that you don’t have (other than seeing them on youtube or similar) is irritating.

But all in all, 9 thumbs up.

Addendum: One big addendum I have to make to this entry. One funny think about Okami on the wii is that it was hit by some controversy when the box art featured an IGN watermark that looked partially edited out, but still quite visible.

Okami Wii boxart

Oh, that’s photoshopped.. the shadows are all wrong…

For me, the irony (if it’s irony, I don’t know anymore) is that the controversy was what I first heard about the game. Then I had heard about how amusing it was that a game that prided itself on being artistic would have a problem like this. And so that’s how I found out about vague details about the game. Then I spotted it in a nearby shop when travelling with Curtis and Alicia. One thing about Alicia is that whenever you show interest in anything, she’ll take note of it for a future christmas or birthday gift (note to self: never feign interest in anything I don’t actually want). So thanks to her as well.


A Tale of Two Cities

Filed under: General — 19day @ 16:47:21

Murad, Laura, Alicia and I went off for the august long weekend to see three cities in three days. Well, that’s a bit of a lie, we count Toronto in there, but since we come from here, we didn’t see it much, other than leaving it and coming back to it. So that’s one city down.

We left at 4am on Saturday morning to evade the traffic and to not need to pay for another hotel room. I slept at Alicia’s place to avoid people having to come down to my place, which meant I would be leaving my cat on her own for even longer. We drove to Quebec City first, and that’s a long haul. I forget how long a drive that was, like 8 hours or something. On the way we got breakfast from Wendy’s, which was kind of bad for me since most fastfood breakfasts are egg-centered. When we got there, we went a sightseeing a little in the morning until settling in the hotel room at the checkin time. That morning sightseeing was at Montmorency Falls, which I like better than Niagara falls actually. Niagara is so big that you can’t really see the falls as distinct from the not-falls. At Montmorency, there is a bridge over it where you can see the falls, the erosion, and little waterfalls near the trails. We didn’t walk up the stairs, and a good thing too since the city itself was still to come.
We spent the rest of the day poking around Quebec City, in the old section. It’s a hilly place, like a sheer cliff is hilly. The streets are narrow and charming, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the people who live there, with all us tourists hanging about. We had lunch/dinner at a restaurant that I honestly can’t remember much of, other than the waitress remarking “oh, you speak english” in a way none of us felt very at ease with when we arrived, and that Laura, when cold, was offered a restaurant blanket that was honestly a new concept for us. At night we watched a sort of heritage/propoganda film projected against an old building with many silos. They made very interesting use of the space. It was done without dialog, mostly using animation that was in an interesting style, with special effects with lights on the building itself, and lit-up steamwhistles and such, so it was more than just the projection telling the story. We left early as it has begun to rain and none of us had brought umbrellas, alas. After failing to get a cab, we hiked back up the hill to our hotel. Laura and Murad had one room, Alicia and I had another. Neither of us snore, so it was a restful night. The next day we had brunch at a nice french place. One thing that surprised me was how easy it was to get around with english, everyone seemed to speak it. Montreal I saw had been like that, but I thought other places would be more exclusively francophone, but I guess a tourist spot like Quebec City would be bilingual as well. Just as well, as most of my french has fled me.

We made the shorter trip to Ottawa that afternoon and arrived in the evening, and checked into our hotel. There were some street performers around and we watched this one guy juggle an apple, knife and flaming torch whilst on a bicycle which was perched on a 15 foot pole being stabalized by members of the crowd, it had a long pre-amble but it was an amusing show. Then we went to The Poor House to sit on their second-floor patio and had bar food (since it was after midnight at that point). Then we went to the parlement building where they were showing their own heritage/propoganda film projected on it. This was really did seem like propoganda, “I love my country. My country will grow with me. All hail the hypnotoad”. But at the end the national anthem started to play (I quipped “Oh, the building is going off the air”, meh), Murad made us stop (correctly, though it caught us off guard) to face the building and stand for the national anthem. It was one of the versions that flips between both languages, and it was so slow that I had a hard time knowing where we were in the anthem. We headed back to the hotel and slept.

The next day we had breakfast at a place underneath the place we went to the night before and met up with two of Murad’s friends. We hung out for a bit, did some limited sightseeing since we were still kinda tired from the day before, went to the market, went for a stroll in some wooded trails near Gatineau if memory serves. The people who programed the traffic lights obviously want pedestrians to die since the walk signal gets displayed for all of two seconds before the flashing hand comes on, and even then, that doesn’t last nearly as long as it does in Toronto. Later we went back to his friend’s place and had some snacks and then started the drive back home.

I was decanted at York Mills and got home sometime after midnight, where my cat of the same name was very annoyed at me for effectively having been gone for 4 days. After a few bites on my feet, she got over it. My only regret is not having bought a souvenir from Quebec City (Ottawa is not very exotic for me) to put on my bookcase of souvenirs. I have a number of them from friends who have traveled, but none of my own, alas.

I don’t have any pictures of my own since I’ve had some entertaining time with my camera. After getting a new battery and even a new charger, it seems that nothing works, both batteries in both charges show as defective. So my brother who was dealing with Henry’s for all of this gave up and just bought me a new camera, which seems to be a rather extreme solution especially for someone who I wouldn’t normally describe as being made of cameras. In any case, I didn’t have it for the trip, so no photos from me. But I’ll have it for the next one, and that’s the important bit.

It was a nice little trip, and now the next event in the distance is the trip to Greece, I’ll have to get a souvenir from there definitely.

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