Forever Wandering

In the past few weeks I’ve been having fun experiencing and thinking about spaces in fiction that can’t physically exist. Like a door that should lead outside but goes to a hallway instead. Or rooms that are too big to fit in a building. Or corridors that twist and turn so that you ought to have looped back to where you came from by now, but for some reason you haven’t. I like it all!

(There’s a big overlap with the recently-popular “Liminal” aesthetic, where you take or create pictures of eerily empty spaces* and pretend that they’re just outside of our regularly scheduled reality.)

Anyway, I want more, and I wanted to make a list of where I’ve been already. Not all of these are things I’ve taken in very recently; some are from several years back, but all of them tickled that part of my brain that says “this place shouldn’t be like this!” In games particularly, I often enjoy things that mess with my sense of geography and direction. It’s a list-based blog post, everybody! Let’s go!

*note: Not everything in this list is a strong recommendation from me! But, if something here seems interesting to you, by all means, check it out.

  • House of Leaves – This book is layered and crazy for a variety of reasons, but the main story involves a new door appearing in a house one day, and instead of leading out to the yard it leads to a black labyrinth.
  • Superliminal – Parts of it, anyway. This a first-person puzzle game set in a sort of dream hotel.
  • Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 – These are third-person psychological horror games both that delve into late-game spatial shenanigans. The first game has a mapless area called “Nowhere”, which mashes together rooms from previous places you’ve visited. The second has a section with stairways, holes, and elevators that lead the protagonist impossibly far down into the earth.
  • Piranesi – This was a really recent read! This is a book about a nice man who lives in a house of endless corridors, stairs, and statues. The lower floors are flooded by tides, the upper floors are collapsing in places and open to the sky. Piranesi (the main character) had such a fascinating mindset to me.
  • Manifold Garden – This was also very recent, like last week (as of this writing). A gorgeous Portal-style first-person puzzle game in a strange world with no boundaries. Sort of?
  • The Backrooms (Found Footage) – A YouTube series, soon to be a major motion picture, based on an old meme in which people find themselves in an infinite series of kinda bland and flourescently lit rooms. There is a monster in some of these, and I tend to agree with the folks who think it isn’t necessary; I enjoy the unease of the place just existing all on its own.
  • Severance – This is an Apple TV series about a group of people working in a dystopian corporate nightmare, and while it’s not a focal point of the series, the hallways and corridors that the workers traverse are deliberately mazelike and confusing for viewers.
  • Control – In a game full of creepy ideas and wonderful brutalist architecture, one particular section (The Ashtray Maze) really stands out for a lot of players. The design of the area is based on the hotel in Barton Fink, which I just learned. Walls and corridors open and close around you with this intricate folding animation, and even before any real action goes down there, it feels delightfully uncanny just to stand in. [Also, can I just note, what a heckin’ trailer! Wow!]
  • Ikea stores – I mean, have you been to these places IRL? Even though they’re very large, they seem even bigger inside, and the showroom disorients you immediately and then taunts you with “shortcuts” that seem to lead directly back to where you just came from.

That’s the list so far! What I want to note is that several of these are at least horror-adjacent, but I don’t need them to be in order to enjoy them; Piranesi had no scary elements (beyond the idea of living mostly alone in a house of mystery) but I enjoyed it immensely. If you have further recs for me, you can’t put them in the comments here because I’ve disabled them, so find another way to tell me about them lol

Thing I Saw: I should note somewhere, for posterity, that “AI” technology is absolutely blowing up everywhere. I use Microsoft’s Edge browser and as of pretty recently there’s a dedicated button to let you chat, in conversational English, with their Bing AI thingy. I don’t really know what it’s for, aside from helping you do really specific searches in your own words? And let’s be honest, at this point most “AI” is fancy autocomplete based on tons of our own writing on the internet. But still it is having a moment and I wanted to note that here.

Thing I Learned (Feat. Guest Writer, Bing AI) “AI-generated content can be a useful tool for bloggers who want to create engaging and relevant posts for their audience. AI can help with generating ideas, writing catchy headlines, summarizing key points, and adding some personality to the text. AI can also save time and effort for bloggers who need to produce content regularly and consistently. However, AI-generated content is not a substitute for human creativity and expertise. Bloggers should always review and edit the content before publishing it, and make sure it reflects their own voice and style.” So there you have it.

I’m Grateful For: Trustworthy local veterinarians. I recently had a small emergency visit with Gideon Cat, which I may describe in a future post, and every time I visit I’m aware that they have the power to make up pretty much any price for any service and people will probably pay it because…what’re you gonna do? You likely have no frame of reference for the cost of these services, and it’s your beloved pet’s health on the line! So all this is to say that I think we have good vets here.

In case you need a soundtrack for your 30-second video of raytraced chrome spheres on a chessboard

Expectations (Un)Met

The dog we were sitting went home at the beginning of the month and I am okay with that. This is Fudge:

Laying on the puppydog eyes because I wouldn’t play tug-of-war anymore

He is tall and energetic and just over a year old so basically a giant, extremely mischievous puppy. For the month of February it was like having two toddlers in the house. We had our moments of connection but he was a lot.

On the other hand, part of what we wanted to know was: are we good with having a dog again? And the answer seemed to be yes. My daughter loved him and my son was sorta hit-and-miss, but I think partly that was because Fudge was like, the size of Clifford the Big Red Dog to my boy. Aside from the mischief, he was a good reason to get out and go for walks, so that was nice.

So, a dog that is not as big. We’re keeping our ears to the ground, folks.

Two other things:

Fudge’s owners gave us a bunch of different gift cards to thank us for dogsitting, one of which was a Tim Hortons card that I took. I rarely go there. The lineups are often very long and my time on this earth is too short to wait for mediocre coffee. But I won’t argue with essentially free food, so I tried it. Wouldn’t you know, it’s Roll Up The Rim time!

For those unfamiliar, Roll Up The Rim is a popular annual contest where you win prizes by buying coffee and rolling up the cup’s rim to find a little printed message to see what you got. Only, what I did not know was that two years ago they shifted to a digital format; there’s not actually any prize information printed on the cups and no rolling is required anymore. What is required is an online account in their stupid app, so that you can scan a code at the restaurant and enter that way.

I bought my coffee, drank it, and rolled up the rim, hoping to win another. But nothing was there. I was confused, and a quick Google search shows I’m far from the only one, even though this change was made in 2021. I guess…why call it Roll Up the Rim anymore? I don’t think the change would have bothered me quite so much with any other name. I felt old and disconnected, angrily muttering that maybe living in the future has cost us too much this time.

The other thing was that I just wanted someplace to put my thoughts about The Mandalorian. I’ve had this idea for a long time, but starting the third season very recently has brought them back to the forefront.

When I watch a show I love to peruse discussion groups afterward. And every time people complain about the writing quality or silliness of the show I want to say, “yeah those things are to be expected” because guess what? The Mandalorian is just a super high-budget Saturday afternoon syndicated TV adventure.

I had that thought early in the first season and it’s helped me excuse any part of the show that didn’t really click. When I was a kid & before I had cable, there were always cheesy adventure stories on TV on Saturday afternoons, after the infomercials had finally died away. No big budgets, few big stars, not always a very big cultural impact but often lumbering on for way more seasons than you could’ve thought possible for something that hardly anybody in your orbit actually seemed to watch. Like Xena Warrior Princess or Earth: Final Conflict or Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. This show feels to me like those, but with way higher production values.

This part is harder to articulate but the thing that sealed the deal for me was the theme song.

This plays in full over the credits and when it winds down I always expect there to be one of the Disney TV logos I saw a million times, like Buena Vista or Touchstone. I think it’s a good show and I enjoy it, but I am sort of keeping my own expectations low haha

Thing I Saw: The parking lot of a local grocery store is a popular hangout spot for young adults in their cars; gosh I sounded so old to myself when I read that back, wow. Anyway there are now large signs in the parking lot reminding people not to make so much engine noise, which I think will be 1000% ineffective.

Thing I Learned: Kung Fu: TLC, as mentioned earlier in the post, had four seasons. Humorously, Warner Bros. apparently just released the first two on DVD and then never bothered about the rest.

I’m Grateful For: A (slightly) less chaotic house now that Fudge has gone.

This blog is one of my favourite wastes of time

Hello Jay

Two things happened recently that really made me feel my age (one bigger and one smaller)

Bigger Thing: Encountering “Jay”, the Wal-Mart Floor Cleaning Robot

Try to find the spot where my phone erased a guy with a cart (difficulty: easy)

I was headed for the checkouts and came around a corner to see this thing, which was slowly and awkwardly inching around a display in the centre of an aisle. I’ve seen pictures of robots in stores online but this is the first one I’ve actually encountered, and I was completely caught off-guard. I stood there, watching it, with a feeling I was not immediately able to identify. (And thought: I should blog about this moment so maybe I can figure out what I’m experiencing)

A nearby store worker saw me staring, and helpfully informed me that I was fine to walk past it, and that it would stop for me. “No, I know, I’m just looking at it,” I hastily replied.

Looking back, I think maybe the feeling was a mixture of:

  • The Future is here, right in front of me, and I’m not ready for it
  • Is this really better than just having a person do it?
  • Also, I sort of wish they hadn’t tried to put a ‘face’ on it, but that’s an aesthetic preference and not really a philosophical issue

All of this was a little confusing to deal with because I’ve always considered myself a ‘heck yeah, tech is awesome, bring on the sci-fi-stuff’ kind of person. But I realize now that events of the last few years have really damaged my notions that Big Tech has our best interests at heart and will make things better. And, the last month or two in particular has seen a big rise in conversations around AI and machine learning and I just have no idea where any of it’s headed and yeah! Frankly, it all kinda concerns me. So this robot is just an outcropping of that general sort of Future-related anxiety.

Anyway, I finally went past it, but glanced back and noticed a screen that said its name was “Jay”, which is where I got that little factoid. Lastly, you’ll notice from the picture that the machine’s work was pretty uneven (streaky), so here’s the kicker; the store had a human being with a mop following the robot, too. If that isn’t some kind of metaphor for the broken promise of a Better Living Through Tech, I’m not sure what is.

Smaller Thing: Cassidy Asks a Simple Question

At breakfast with my daughter, my wife and I reminiscing about our elementary school days. I told Cassidy (age 6) that my school even brought in Ronald McDonald once to talk about how great reading is. (I was in grade 3. Ronald had a puppet friend that kept interrupting him, and the bit killed)

“Who’s Ronald McDonald?” she asked. She loves McDonalds, so I just assumed she’d know, because who doesn’t? But I guess they really have scaled back his appearances a lot. The question honestly kinda winded me. On the other hand, when she heard about his being a clown, she immediately asked us not to show her any pictures, ever. So maybe the McDonalds corporation has the pulse of today’s children better than me.

Thing I Saw: What, besides the robot? We’re dogsitting for a co-worker of Lori’s, so he and the cat have had tensions that I haven’t witnessed since our old Yorkie was around. Gideon Cat is getting braver every day, but I actually saw him hiss, which is super rare.

Thing I Learned: Discord voice chat is integrated at a system level in the Xbox user interface. I might not have the terminology quite right but it means you don’t have to download a separate app. On the other hand, if you’re used to chatting via your phone, you’ll abruptly end the voice chat when you forget and turn off your Xbox for the night haha

I’m Grateful For: Lori. The days of late have been challenging, particularly with a rambunctious dog to sit upon, and I’m grateful to have a partner to do the days with.

We’re experiencing a bit of a Wiggles Renaissance with Avery now, so here’s this. I got Wiggles on the brain

Don’t Move

One of the items on the list I posted last time was to “just sit and listen to music”. It was about a year ago that I realized that, even though I love music, I didn’t make space to just sit with it and listen. I have music on almost constantly throughout my day, but always as I’m doing something else. And sure, there’s points where I’ll stop and listen, or jam out, or sing along. It’s not that I’m not hearing it. But the experience I had a year ago was different.

My boy was about 10 months old at the time, and (as he still does) he needed to be held and rocked to sleep. So you create a quiet, dark space in his room, and of course bring headphones along because you’re gonna be there for a while. Sometimes I’d listen to an audiobook or music on shuffle, but recently I’d learned about something called Vinill Vikunnar. It means “Vinyl of the Week”. An Icelandic radio DJ talks for a few minutes, then plays a record front-to-back without interruption. Every show goes online and stays up for a year afterward. And when I can’t decide what to listen to, I just hit play on the next thing on their list.

The next thing happened to be this:

Floating Points by Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra

This album is actually one continuous 46-minute track, divided into ‘movements’ as it rises and falls. There’s a pattern of notes established in the very beginning that persists the entire time. And while I rocked my boy and listened, I was enthralled — though the album was so unusual to me that I couldn’t have said that I was really enjoying it at all.

Still, the experience of sitting quietly and just…going along for the ride left a big impression on me. I kept returning to the album on Spotify because I wanted to hear the pattern of notes again, and usually got pulled into listening to most or all of it every time. Eventually I could say: yes. I do enjoy it. It was initially pretty far from the kinds of music I enjoy, but like good art does, it stayed on my mind afterward.

To bring the story back around to my initial point, that kind of experience is something I want to try and keep making space for. I don’t expect everything to make an indelible impression, but I do want to relax and let my mind voyage, and maybe discover something brand new.

Thing I Saw: I tried to find one years ago and gave up, wondering how anybody ever got their hands on them. Suddenly, today, a local department store has aluminum can crushers for sale. Big stack. Too bad we hardly drink cans of things around here anymore 😐

Thing I Learned: You can substitute coconut oil for butter/margarine on a 1:1 basis in recipes. But! If you melt the coconut oil and don’t mix it fast enough it can start to harden again and then you’ve got big chunks that you’re not sure what to do with (melt again)

I’m Grateful For: Financial stability. I can go out to the shops and pick up random lil’ things without worrying how they’ll impact our budget. It’s a big privilege!

I may have posted this before but I’ve been obsessed with it lately so it’s time for you to rewatch as well

My One Hundred Percent for 2023

‘Round these parts, we don’t like to use the word “resolution”. Too many made and too easily broken (by me). Lori suggested I approach the New Year list like our Saturday to-do lists, which we call our 100% List.

I got the idea from a MetaFilter post I saw one million years ago. The idea is that you jot down everything you would do if you had things 100% your way, all day long. Work things, relaxing things, fun things, whatever. We both write things down on the same sheet of paper in the morning, usually over coffees, and then set about prioritizing the items and discussing how we can get them done. Importantly, the expectation is not that we will get everything done, because that is almost never possible. But it’s good to identify the important stuff and communicate our wants to each other.

So this is my 100% list for 2023. I’m not gonna get all of it done, maybe not even most of it, but here’s some things I’m aiming for!

[Update: The day after posting the original list I decided it would be fun to make this a sort of “living post” that I’d update throughout the year, both as I do things and as I think of more things. So check back from time to time for my progress, if I remember to mark it haha]

  • Finish Final Fantasy VI on the SNES We did it!
  • Continue organizing my games room / office

(The games room / office downstairs has been in a perpetual state of disarray since we moved here almost a decade ago. Sometimes it is more under control than other times, but it has never been entirely Organized and Tidy. Made some strides last year though!)

  • Make more music
    • sub-item to this, learn one (1) accordion song
  • Make a new site banner for my comics

(The current one is [1] missing my son and [2] includes a dog that is no longer with us)

  • Keep playing Disco Elysium with my neighbor across the street
  • Keep working on mental health
  • Update my work procedures

(There are some critical tasks at my work that I’m the only one that knows anything about. I should probably write something down in case I’m not there for one reason or another [i.e. I’m in Acapulco, or just really sick])

  • Travel somewhere by aeroplane
  • Play through Super Metroid at least once
  • Finish the books on my nightstand
    • That’s Ducks by Kate Beaton and The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron
  • Install Christmas lights on the house

That’s a pretty solid list! Probably I’ll think of more as I go throughout the year. Let’s check in at the end of 2023 and see how I did.

[Below this line: items added after the original post was made]

  • Get my Raspberry Pi-powered arcade machine up and running properly
  • Just sit and listen to some music sometimes
  • Blog more times than last year

(That one should be easy, because last year’s total number of posts was six)

Thing I Saw: Curiously mild winter conditions frosted the trees in the area for several days on end, and it was beautiful. The effect is usually rare and doesn’t last very long, so it was a treat to get to see it every day for a while.

Thing I Learned: There’s an upstairs bathroom at my in-laws place. I’ve been there many times in the ten or eleven years I’ve been with Lori, but all this time I thought there were only bedrooms up there. In fairness I didn’t go upstairs super often, and I guess that door was always closed when I did? Still, this is the perfect moment to go join those redditors who are convinced that reality has been altered because they misremembered or didn’t notice something lol

I’m Grateful For: Managing to stock up on cold/flu/infection medicines today. Viruses have been running rampant in the area and a lot of pharmacy stock is depleted, so it felt very pleasant to be able to find a few things we’d been keeping an eye out for.

After multiple listens I’m pleased to announce that Sloan’s latest album is: Good!

2022 Gaming Roundup!

Since 2019 I’ve been keeping track of every game I’ve completed throughout the year, but until last year I didn’t really do much with that information. I liked having the end-of-year roundup I did last time, so I’m going to do it again, along with links to my tumblr reviews of some of the games. You do know I have a tumblr, right?

The Complete List of Completed Games

  • FAR: Lone Sails (Switch)
  • Metroid Prime (PC)
  • Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye (XSX)
  • Ratchet & Clank (PS3)
  • The Gunk (XSX)
  • Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls (XSX)
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (PC)
  • Ynglet (PC)
  • FAR: Changing Tides (XSX)
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch)
  • Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (360)
  • Black Mesa (PC)
  • Pikuniku (XSX)
  • Hexcells (PC)
  • INSIDE (PC)
  • Hook 2 (PC)
  • Gears of War 5 (XSX)
  • Beasts of Maravilla Island (XSX)
  • Cave Noire (GB)
  • Immortality (XSX)
  • Cyberpunk 2077 (XSX)
  • DOOM (2016) (PC)
  • Mega Man X (SNES)
  • SOMA (PC)
  • Grant Theft Auto V (PC)
  • Super Metroid (SNES)

Interestingly, this year saw my lowest number of completions since starting the list in 2019. I wonder if having two rambunctious children in the house had something to do with that? Anyway, unlike last year, I played a decent amount of Game Pass games but actually completed very few of them. And I got a pretty strong gaming laptop early in the year, so a good amount of time was spent on games like Horizon Zero Dawn which I’m not quite done but can’t convince myself to finish. But Here’s:

The Top Five Games I Finished in 2022

  1. Immortality
  2. SOMA
  3. INSIDE
  4. Doom (2016)
  5. Outer Wilds – Echoes of the Eye DLC

The Top 5 Games I Finished That Actually Came Out in 2022

  1. Immortality
  2. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  3. Uh, welp
  4. It was just those two
  5. It is what it is

Honorable Mentions

This year I spent a lot of time playing three games in particular that I haven’t completed, and I wanted to shout them out: Horizon Zero Dawn which I’ve already mentioned, Vampire Survivors which I’ve just now gotten my friends hooked on, and Final Fantasy VI. I started FFVI near the end of January and have been picking at it off and on for the entire year. I’m now at the final dungeon of the game, and you better believe I’m gonna be telling everybody I know if I finally manage to beat the game that’s hung over my head since junior high.

Dishonorable Mentions

A new spot for notable games that I played a few hours of and dropped because I didn’t like them. Usually, when I stop playing something it’s because a shiny thing has drawn my attention elsewhere. But sometimes I actually get a ways in before deciding I don’t like a thing! This year, those games were:

  1. Red Faction Guerilla – ReMARStered (Switch)- Loved this when it came out, but playing it now I really do not. Time has not been kind.
  2. Watch_Dogs 2 (XSX) – I actually didn’t dislike this game and put in lots of hours, but it just didn’t compel me to see it through.
  3. The Ascent (XSX) – Played lots of hours in single player and co-op, but when you’re doing the same things over and over forever it’s hard to stay interested. Unless your game is Tetris I guess
  4. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA): so stilted, so many boring rooms
  5. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA): a bit less awkward but too much backtracking

What Am I Looking Forward To In 2023?

The new Zelda has a date of May, and I’m 100% there for it. Also, this might actually be the year that Metroid fans hear something about Prime 4 lol. I’m stoked for Silent Hill: Townfall, because I’ve really enjoyed the developer’s previous games, but there’s no date on that one so we’ll see. I mentioned Starfield already last year and of course I’ll give it a go when it hits Game Pass. Diablo IV will probably make me want to play it.

Canonizing

“What are five songs where it Just Isn’t Christmas if you haven’t heard them?”

It’s as good a blog prompt as any, and it’s something Lori and I were discussing the other day, so let’s put up my list. Please enjoy adding these five songs to your own Christmas canon, because they are inarguably that good. (lol jk but I hope you like them)

#1 – Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental — Vince Guaraldi Trio

I didn’t grow up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or listening to the music. I’ve mentioned in other places that my mom once DVRed every Christmas-adjacent program she could find on their satellite TV one year, and then made it her mission to at least try every recording she made. (She was still watching Christmas stuff well into the next year)

This program was one of the recordings. I was an adult when I joined her out of curiosity to watch it, and we both enjoyed it so much that it instantly became a staple of our holiday tradition. Of course, with that comes listening to the soundtrack on its own. However, each year I forget that this song is not the first track on the album, and I’m mildly surprised by this fact.

Anyway. The first thirty seconds are so cozy and warm that I want to build a little house in there and move in.

#2 – Mary’s Boy Child — Boney M

Now on the other hand I absolutely did grow up listening to Boney M on the house radio at Christmastime. So, I suspect, did many folks of a certain age in Southern Manitoba Mennonite households. This song was an absolute staple of the local AM radio’s programming, something that hasn’t really puzzled me until this year. I mean, how did a flashy German/Carribbean disco band become so beloved by such traditionally conservative people?

I guess musical greatness transcends boundaries.

#3 O Holy Night — Beta Radio

To be clear on this one, I don’t mean the Beta Radio version of this song in specific, although it is very nice. O Holy Night is the pick no matter who does it. It’s lovely, has lyrics that are meaningful to me, and if you want to you can really ham it up and belt out parts of it as loud as you can. It’s got range!

#4 Snow Falls — Lady Maisery w/ Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith

Most years I try to find new Christmas music to enjoy, because as much as we all love Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey, listening to the same twenty standards for a whole month gets old. And so I followed a rec from a random user on MetaFilter to Awake Arise – A Winter Album, which has become a staple of my December. To the point that I really look forward to the holiday season just because I know I’ll get to put this album on.

When discussing this list with Lori I actually slotted the entire album into one of my song choices, because it Just Isn’t Christmas without listening to the whole thing at least once. But if I was forced to narrow it down, I’d say one of the standout tracks for me is this one, Snow Falls. Over and over I resonate with its idea that the cold can’t last forever, that the hard times will give way to better ones. And likewise: the good times aren’t infinite either, so cherish them while you can. Also the harmonies are lovely and it’s comfortably in my singing range, so I get to join in.

#5 Der Friedensfurst (The Prince of Peace)

Sometimes jokingly referred to as the Mennonite Hallelujah Chorus, this Low German multi-part choral song is the only legal way to end a Christmas Day church service in Southern Manitoba. Well maybe not, but it sure is a favorite. And listen, even if I only know enough Low German to understand maybe one in ten words, I am absolutely going to be trying to make the appropriate mouth sounds to sing along as strongly as I can.

Every video is a poor substitute for actually being in a church on Christmas Day as the first line — “Horch! Die engelchöre singen” (Hark, the angel choirs are singing!) goes out. Because, as you’ll hear, the -en part of “singen” is when it explodes from unison into four-part harmony and I experience such the frisson and everybody is trying to raise the roof of the church right off.

Also, it was saved for the last slot because in my experience it is almost always sung to close out a church service.

Thing I Saw: My little (now nearly 2-year-old) boy turning heads as we walk past the school to its attached daycare. I’m biased, but he is a total cutie pie, and he’s often bright-eyed and smiling when he gets to “go-owsai”. More than once we’ve passed junior high girls that have openly squee’d at his cuteness, and he just tramps along, oblivious.

Thing I Learned: We have a small humidifer with a water reservoir that you have to flip over onto the base after filling. But if you don’t replace the cap after filling, you’ll just, you know, pour a bunch of water on your daughter’s bedroom floor when you flip the tank over

I’m Grateful For: Getting out for an evening to watch Die Hard with friends and drink a beer called “The Toques of Hazzard”. Both were really good.

I’m Dreaming Of: Wassailing! The aforementioned Awake Arise album has been a gateway into learning about Wassail (the drink, usually a combination of apples, hot beer, and cinnamon among other things) and Wassailing (the English tradition of going around with a bowl of the stuff and giving it to your neighbors while singing a delightful tune). I have found a recipe I’d like to try, and I can think of at least two nearby households to bring it to. Unfortunately, I don’t know anybody who’s going to learn the song with me, so probably I’ll just have to show up with a travel mug and say “here, Happy New Year” and scuttle away.

Imagine getting a bunch of friends to get together and go around singing this with! They’re probably all weird theatre kids, but still!

Don’t Have To

This past week I was chatting with a friend of mine who lives far out of province, and we were talking about the challenges of maturing and changing. That might seem pretentious; we certainly didn’t start there in the conversation, but this friend is one in particular that I’ve often talked on this level with. I really value the friendship! He’s done a remarkable amount of personal growth in the past bunch of years, and when I pointed that out, he fired it back at me.

As I often do, I deflected and self-deprecated, claiming that most of the learning I’ve done, especially in my 30s, has been “against my will”. I also made a sort of half-joke I’ve made pretty often, which is that personal growth is exhausting (this is sometimes true) and every so often I’d like to just announce that I’m stagnating for the next few months, and hide under a pile of coats from any and all ‘learning’ and ‘growth’.

(The “pile of coats” is key for some reason. It’s an image I borrowed from The Simpsons and I use it every time. I even searched this blog for “coats” to make sure I hadn’t already done this bit here)

Reading my words back after I’d sent them to my friend, I remembered a bit I’d heard recently in the audiobook of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall P. Rosenberg. In it, he talks about the things we tell ourselves we “have” to do; dishes, pay bills, go to work, or in my case, mature as a human being. He goes through an exercise where you write out the thing you have to do–

I have to keep growing as a person

Then, change the “have to” to “choose to”

I choose to keep growing as a person

And finally, add “because” at the end, then fill in your reason.

I choose to keep growing as a person because I really do think it’s better than the alternative.

Rosenberg encourages this exercise for all areas of our lives, and it clicked with me that I really don’t have to be making any progress in terms or growth or maturity at all. I could absolutely ‘check out’ every day. Probably untold numbers of dudes in my position have, throughout history. Disconnected from things that fill them up, never trying to understand another’s point of view, never bothering to do the work of improving themselves, even for the sake of a partner or family.

But I don’t, and I don’t want to, and I really don’t give myself enough credit for trying. I know growth isn’t linear, and I won’t do it perfectly every day, but I am trying, and I do myself a disservice by pretending that I’m just some dullard who’s somehow forced to accept new ways of thinking about himself and the world.

So I’m gonna try to stop! Time to put the metaphorical pile of coats in a closet, or better yet, give them to metaphorical goodwill. I don’t know what the goodwill represents in this scenario. This metaphor got away on me extremely quickly.

Thing I Saw: A creepy YouTube short called Backrooms, which apparently has a few related videos by the creator and has spawned a cottage industry of fan creators AND of course those annoying “SLIGHTLY MYSTERIOUS THING FINALLY EXPLAINED!” videos. Gosh, I dislike those. Let something weird just…be weird. Anyway, this short reintroduced me to the concept of “liminal spaces” which is a great search on Tumblr, and the whole thing was apparently created by a 16-year-old using free tools! Amazing!

Thing I Learned: If you’re watering an African Violet, water the dirt, not the leaves. I know this because Cassidy gave me one for Father’s Day (she is 5 and we are still working on “picking a gift based on what the other person likes, not what you personally like and think they should”. It is in my office, in indirect sunlight, recently transplanted into a proper little clay pot and everything. I hope it lives. It sounds like a challenging flower to keep alive, and I’ve killed two cacti so far lol

I’m Grateful For: Kids that react positively to my presence.

I’m Dreaming Of: Continuing to play/record the game INSIDE which I will probably do after I finish this post. Future Nathan Plays?? We’ll seeeee

Bonus Thing I Learned: This artist is the bandleader for Stephen Colbert’s show? huh

NaShoStoWriYe (National Short Story Writing Year)

I was just sitting in bed, on my laptop, sort of itching to write something but not having any idea what. Then I remembered: I have a blog! Just prior to that thought, I was reading what I’d written during a “100 Days Writing Challenge” I’d done a while ago. My Google doc shows I made it to Day 16, back in September of 2020. I was just starting to write story snippets. And reading them back now…I actually kinda liked them!

This feels novel (ha) because for most of my life I’ve come to despise the art I’ve made when enough time has passed from the making. My major exception to the rule is my old comics, which can still be quite funny to me. Or, if not funny, at least something that I don’t hate and want to destroy on sight.

I may just pick up where I left off with that 100 Days thing, and ride it for a while longer. Of course, like with unfinished video games, my impulse is to start over from scratch (because “what if I don’t remember some crucial bit”) but there’s a good chance that if I did I’d get back to where I was, on Day 16, and then drift off again, getting no further in the challenge.

It’s funny; I tried the National Novel Writing Month thing some years back and got halfway through before giving up, realizing that no, I actually did not enjoy the process of trying to write a whole long story. (My wife got a little miffed — she’d been following along with my updates and actually wanted to know where it was all going, so I had to give her the sketched out version of the 2nd half of the story).

Ever since then I’ve still been tempted, hit by the urge every few months when I feel creatively dissatisfied (or just existentially bored) and I think “I should write a novel! Surely I have a story in me” but I reflect on the NaNoWriMo experience and remind myself of the wasted effort it will bring. But maybe I should just go for it anyway. Who cares about not finishing? Maybe it would be good to try and scratch the itch anyway, rather than forcing it down until it passes. Maybe the next time I get the writing itch, I might learn to pick up where I left off, against my nature of “got to start over from scratch”. Let the end product feel disjointed! It might not! Who knows?

Thing I Saw: The rock band Big Wreck is coming to do a free show at a local summer festival. Discovering this aged me terribly; it means that bands from the 70s and 80s have probably run their course, and the bands of my formative musical years (the 90s) are now the washed-up old fellas doing the summer festival circuits. Aw.

Thing I Learned: “Bonsai” isn’t a species of tree. Bonsai is the art of maintaining and shaping the tree, but the trees themselves can be common varieties like junipers, pines, and so on.

I’m Grateful For: Moments of quiet reflection, few and far between though they may be. Not to imply that my life is too crazy to have them; I’m sure I’ve passed on opportunities to sit and think for my own reasons. Anyway I’m glad for this one!

I’m Dreaming Of: Writing stories, I guess??

This is actually a cover of a Japanese band, and the original didn’t have lyrics so Greg’s good friend Michael Jackson helped him write some

The Question Nobody Asked

The other day, as a thought exercise, I asked myself what kind of game I would make if I made a video game. My assumptions for this scenario were:

  • I can code as well as I need to to make the thing I’m thinking of
  • A small, short (1-2 hours) game, like the kind you’d make for one of those Game Jams
  • Mainly just me working on it. In other words, not a team or company.

It might surprise you to learn that, for all the games I enjoy playing, I rarely consider this question. There exists a game for basically every concept I can think of. Making one myself would probably only crib from other, existing, successful ideas. Also, I’d have to learn to code, which, ugh. But: if I take on the assumptions I listed above, those things matter a lot less; in my mind it becomes more okay to crib from existing ideas and intellectual properties because it’s just a short, fun, proof-of-concept exercise in development. It’s easier to imagine than putting yourself in the position of a lead developer at Ubisoft Montreal or something.

So, I let go of trying to be original and just decided to roll with whatever I’d come up with. And what I came up with was:

*ahem*

Untitled Sprawl Trilogy Hacking Game! (working title)

The Sprawl Trilogy is a loosely connected series of pioneering cyberpunk novels by William Gibson. The first, Neuromancer, was published in 1984, and coined a lot of the terminology and concepts we associate with the genre. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourite books. Stories of ethically shady computer hackers, sentient artificial intelligences, badass mercenaries, and gritty, neon-soaked future cityscapes. It’s my jam!

The first novel in the trilogy also puts forth the idea of the matrix (or cyberspace), a pre-WWW virtual reality in which folks put on a special headset and zoom around through towers and polygonal structures representing various corporations and institutions. It is famously described thus:

The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

William Gibson, Neuromancer

This conception of cyberspace forms the backdrop of the game. Your character is a hacker, a console cowboy, a cyber…uh…samurai? And this is a game of doing cybercrime. I picture much of the game looking like the classic Star Wars vector-based arcade game (which came out in 1983, and probably was one of the “primitive arcade games” Gibson was thinking of). Or more accurately, in my brain it looks a lot like Rez:

…but rather than being on rails it would allow for full freedom of movement in any direction.

There would be three maps, like explorable cities in a Grand Theft Auto game (but mostly not as interactive because again, programming team of one). The starting map has some towers but is mostly rows of smaller polygons representing homes, with a few larger towers that are small-to-medium-sized businesses. You would do a few missions of basic hackery stuff; change a grade, plant incriminating evidence, get an employee list for a rival company, something like that.

The hacking itself is probably a typing-based minigame. I imagine that the earliest stages would be you squaring off against simple countermeasures, represented by simple shapes; as the game progresses the hacking would get more difficult and the shapes more complex. Let’s keep it straightforward, though; keywords fly at you like Typing of the Dead or Epistory and you have to knock them down before they get closer. Maybe in the later stages I’d figure out some new mechanics to toss in, give the player more things to juggle.

2nd map is below the first one, and is the Industrial part of the matrix.

See the source image

Picture a refinery, but the pipes, towers, and warehouses are neon polygons as before. Now we start getting into more serious infrastructure crimes and corporate espionage stuff.

Third zone, highest on the map, is megacorporations and (remaining) world governments. Countermeasures here are the most complex and difficult to defeat. We’ve worked our way up to the big time, and since we’re knocking off the Sprawl books, there’s almost definitely something about an AI to set loose, or something.

Let’s take it easy on the music side, and just have our game link to a Spotify playlist of bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tangerine Dream. Done!

Last note: the game’s controls will be entirely designed around the keyboard. The novels don’t really mention extra peripherals, and mostly just talk about people working the keys as they fly around cyberspace. A very quick bit of research shows that mice only started getting popular around ’84-’85, so it’s likely that Gibson didn’t really have them in mind when he first started writing about the Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 deck, for instance.

See the source image
People have done some fun hardware mods to create their own cyberspace decks, but we can also look to real-world examples from the early 80s, like this Japan-exclusive MSX system. it’s so preeeettyyy

Anyway that’s my game pitch! To date, I’ve never seen a movie or game that exactly matches the way I picture Gibson’s descriptions of the matrix, so it would be fun to try and express that for myself. There was an actual Neuromancer game as well, but it was more of a point-and-click adventure. Not what I want!

Would you play my game? Sound off in the comments! Or don’t, actually, because comments are disabled, and I’m never going to make it anyway, so it’s a moot point. But thanks for reading this far!

Thing I Saw: More beautiful MSX systems.

Thing I Learned: It’s somehow canon that the Jawas in Star Wars communicate with scent as well as their chirpy language. My daughter was disappointed that the Wookieepedia article does not specify the kinds of scents, however.

I’m Grateful For: Speaking of my daughter, she spent a day in hospital earlier this week due to what everyone at first thought was appendicitis. It turns out that some of her lymph nodes may have been inflamed by a recent nasty cold. She bounced right back!

I’m Dreaming Of: Starting Horizon Zero Dawn, which I purchased today and want to boot up immediately after posting this.

Canadians of a certain age will remember this as the theme from The Raccoons, a fun kids show about environmentalist raccoons thwarting evil capitalists. They’ll also remember it because it goes so much harder than it needs to