What’s Up? (9/6/2017)

  1. I ran to Southside early in the morning on Labor Day. Early enough to see waitresses from Hofbrauhaus step out of their cars in full dirndl uniforms (think Oktoberfest) and walk into work. It was like seeing Disney behind the scenes.
  2. I made that run to Southside in under 40 minutes. Really pushed myself to do it, but it was good.
  3. Logan Lucky was a good time, with a unique genuine wholesome-ness that I rarely feel in movies anymore.
  4. I rewatched the Mayweather/MacGregor fight, and it’s kind of nuts how much leeway they gave MacGregor since he didn’t 100% grasp the rules of boxing… I guess? I wish I wasn’t sucked into the extravaganza the first time around; I lost my head, and a few bucks, over nothing. On top of all that, a serial abuser did make a lot of money.
  5. Logan Lucky has me listening to John Denver, what the f-
  6. On this full moon, I’m going to be thinking about the autumn and winter to come, and how I can best end 2017 on the best possible note. What do I do at home to make me happy? How do I dress to create happiness? How do we keep summer vibes around after the summer is gone?
  7. For years I’ve thought about participating in NaNoWriMo, this thing where people practice writing by cranking out a whole novel during the month of November. Sounds like a lot of work that could be therapeutic.
  8. Hoe gaat het met uw? Met mij, ga het goed.
  9. The ending of Twin Peaks has my heart in a knot. If you love 90% of a thing, but you can’t reconcile with the final 10%, then I don’t know if the other 90% matters all that much.
  10. I wish I had more to say at this time.
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What’s Up? (8/8/17)

Where the hell have I been?

Downtown Run

June (6/11/17) marked the first time I ran from my home in Squirrel Hill, to the neighborhood of South Side. A straight run from Point A to Point B? No, but I’m running a good 75-80% of the way. July (7/30/17) marked the first time I took that run a bit further, stretching all the way to The Point, Downtown. I suppose that makes it all a 5 or 6-mile adventure. Maybe more.

Altogether, it’s really amazing to sit by the huge fountain at The Point after such a long run. To stick your tired feet in a freezing cold pool, and get misted by this geyser shooting water two stories in the air. To be in an entirely different place than you’re used to because your body carried you there.

Change in a person is so gradual. I know people can tell I’ve lost weight; heck I can tell I’ve lost weight too, but I don’t look the way I imagined a runner to look.

Battlegrounds

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds lives up to the hype. Quickly put, this game is Battle Royale / Hunger Games on a huge scale. 100 Players enter, only one gets the chicken dinner. I’ve made the Top 10 a few times in my 7 hours; but even the matches where I die early are exhilarating, and each match memorable in its own way.  If I die in the first 5 minutes because I bring a pistol to an assault rifle fight, or my fists to a gun fight, that’s fun. If I smoke 4 dudes with a shotgun, and run over 2 with my car, that’s fun.

But the fun is mostly in hindsight – in the moment of playing the game I am anxious, alert, and really trying my best not to get murdered and sent back to the lobby. I think that’s why, for a game I love, I’ve only played 7 hours; I’m almost afraid to boot the game up because I know my heart will be pounding, my hands sweating, and my ears perked trying to listen for footsteps.

It doesn’t help that the game’s bugs and quirks sometimes lead to serious frustration. Murdering some fool for his jeep gives me an intense rush; dying because I jumped out of that moving jeep then completely ruins it. Killing someone who has better armor and guns then me through sheer tactics makes me feel amazing; dying because I couldn’t escape the force field makes me feel like an idiot.

It’s worth playing, I think the whole of the internet knows that now, and everyone who isn’t playing is experiencing the fear of missing out – I know I was. But while I can appreciate Battlegrounds for the narratives it spins just by playing it, I don’t think I have an appetite for the white knuckle “kill or be killed” gameplay. I do and I don’t… I guess what I’m trying to say is I love this game, but man do I “hate” playing this game.

Mid Century Modern

Someone once said, “where did you get all this Mod furniture?” I think that was the first domino. The furniture I had was the furniture that fell into my lap, hand-me-downs and things my parents bought for me. I never noticed how heavily it leaned into a certain style; the Mid-Century Modern look. Noticing was damnation, because once I noticed what fit the style, I noticed everything that didn’t. If it was Mid-Century it belonged, but everything else had to go.

For months now I’ve been caught in a sort of shopper’s hell, spending dozens of hours shopping on Etsy, Ebay, Wayfair, Overstock, etc. for Mid Century Modern furniture, decorations, knick-knacks and junk. Hours that normal people probably spend watching TV, you know? Or reading a book. But I can’t get over how stylish, garish, or kitschy some of the stuff made in the 1950’s-1970’s was. And I think it makes me happy, surrounding myself with this aesthetic like a blanket. “Look at me, I’m surrounded by Mid-Century things! I know what I like and I’m sticking to it!”

But this also scares the hell out of me. Maybe just a little bit… because my apartment looked nothing like this in May. And I keep telling myself “once I get this one last thing, then the apartment will be complete.” But where is that line? Am I ever going to stop and be satisfied with what I own?

It’s an overreaction to an overreaction. Redecorating my apartment is not hell, it’s not a problem like an addiction, and I’m being responsible about it — but I also didn’t need to do it so quickly, cutting out the old furniture root and stem in a month or two. Change should be gradual.

What’s Up? (6/18/17)

South Side Run
Panther Hallow. Junction Hollow. Eliza Furnace. Three Rivers Heritage. Hot Metal Bridge.

Two weekends in a row this is the new path I’ve been running, and it’s hard, tiring, and incredibly rewarding. Last Sunday, (6/11/17) I ran to South Side, probably 4ish miles, and snacked up at Crazy Mocha, grabbing a banana and monkey mocha before going on another run which added a little over 1 mile. Ran all the way out to the 10th street bridge! I also made stops to an H&M that was sadly going out of business, and the Hofbrauhaus which opens its doors at 12PM on Sundays. After a significant amount of running and sweating, let me tell you, some beer and pretzels really hits the spot.

This Saturday (6/17/17) I repeated the first leg of the run, but this time I called it a day after getting breakfast at Crazy Mocha. I’m not going to do myself any favors if I get beer and pretzels after every 4-5 mile run.

Still, this is such a rewarding trail to take. Running the Panther Hallow Trail brings you to a small “Panther Hallow Lake” which is quaint, and you can also catch the Cathedral of Learning over in Oakland. Running all the way out to the Hot Metal Bridge is such a bigger reward though… it’s like you break out of these thin woods and BAM, there’s the Pittsburgh skyline, and you’re running over the Monongahela River. In time, I’ll make it all the way downtown on a run. That probably requires an early morning start though. You probably want to get out at sunrise before peak heat and all that.

A part of me still can’t believe this is part of who I am now. Running.

What’s Up? (5/29/17)

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
Let’s keep it Tweet-sized.

“Did for me what Fast Five did for F&F. The family element finally works, I got emotional & I had fun. A personal adventure for the gang. 5/5”

I’m glad I saw the first one, even if I didn’t like it very much, because it set up something special in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Instead of setting up how the team met each other (wasted time, really) you just get to jump in an enjoy their chemistry this time around. The soundtrack is again used to great effect in this movie, with some songs putting butterflies in your stomach – like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” I’d say one more thing about this movie… if the “fun” in the first one just didn’t connect in the first one, I very much actually felt the fun here.

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks is back and I’m incredibly obsessed. It helps that “Twin Peaks: The Return” aka Season 3, is good. It’s new, shot well, and in high definition, telling an equally eerie story that continues exploring with very little in the way of retreading. I need to rewatch the original series, but a part of what I think I loved about show is its utterly realistic blend of horror, sorrow, humor and charm. “Utterly realistic?” Yeah, life does that. Life is scary and tragedy strikes, but it’s full of heartwarming characters and comforting routines like coffee and pie.

24
The twenty-fourth birthday was marked by a long weekend of events. Baseball on Friday, a house party on Saturday, racing on Sunday, and here, on a Monday off from work – new Steven Universe and the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a good, if crowded birthday weekend wherein you’d be forgiven for forgetting some details (absinthe was consumed, after all). Yet, one of the best moments in the last four days was simply running to the park today, listening to my funky disco playlist, and laughing as two dogs chased each other into the pond. I’m fortunate to have people to bring to PNC Park for a Mets vs. Pirates game… to invite me to a house-warming party for a night of Jackbox… to sit next to me during the Monaco Grand Prix, and drink with me while we order Domino’s… but being alone has its upsides too. It was really nice to just get some necessary things done with this day off. Maybe most important of all is just, this, talking with myself. Figuring things out.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ll start with a tweet-sized summary.
 
“Saw Guardians of the Galaxy 1000 days after US release. There was a lot of hype, but in the end it felt, just okay. Points for being unique.”
 
Now let’s break that down thought by thought. Why did I wait almost three years to watch this movie? Because I didn’t see anything super appealing to me in the trailers. Chris Pratt wasn’t yet sold to me as a leading man. I did not recognize Zoe Saldana as Gamora. I had no idea who any of these people were. In the end, not great reasons to skip out on an acclaimed movie.
 
Waiting all this time had an affect on the hype factor. In three years I didn’t run into a single friend who didn’t love this thing. Over and over I had friends who couldn’t believe I didn’t see Guardians of the Galaxy. “You have to see it.” “You HAVE to.”
 
So I finally saw it, in anticipation for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 — and it’s an okay movie. A solid 3 or 4 out of 5 depending on what day you ask me. It’s unique in some of the ways Dr. Strange was unique. It plays with comic book movie expectations and tropes, while still conforming to a lot of them. The music, great! Chris Pratt, great! Another Marvel movie that ends with too many enemies on screen? Yup!
 
Now, the version of me that wants to give this movie a 3 out of 5 is the one who “hates fun.” I like my characters dialed back a little bit. Fun is good, but constant quipping is irritating. It’s a sliding bar between Batman v. Superman (no fun) and Avengers 2 (Black Widow saying “beep beep” out loud). I don’t want superhero movies to go all the way in the no fun zone, nor all the way in the everything-is-a-joke direction. There are stakes in Guardians of the Galaxy, and dark backstories, but they take a back seat to the humor. The movie was on one level, and I wanted to be on another.
 
But the part of me that want to give this a 4 out of 5 enjoyed the comradery of the Guardians. They’re a family the same way that the Fast and Furious crew became a family. I forgive the movie’s overly jokey tone for the genuine bonds presented. I am, in fact, kind of excited to see what the sequel can improve on. Lower stakes, more one-on-one fights, fewer mass armies. Please, for the MCU’s sake, please don’t make another mvoie that ends with a huge CGI army.

Thoughts on Pokemon Sun

It’s best not to try and review a game a full four months since beating it, that much is common sense. That being said, there are a lot of movies, games, and albums I said I review on this website, which I went on to never actually write. Instead of letting another small failure pile up, I thought I could spare 30 minutes of my time to send this game off into the sunset.

Released somewhere in the vicinity of Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary, Pokemon Sun and Moon represent a fairly significant shift in terms of gameplay and plot that the core games typically tackle. For nearly 20 years, almost all of my life, Pokemon games have been about leaving your Mom at home to fight 8 Gym Leaders, while occasionally battling a Rival with some character arc, a “Team” of bad guys, and the Elite Four and the Pokemon League Champion.

Now, in Sun and Moon you still do most of that stuff. You leave you Mom at home, but she has little bit more of a personality than usual, and a Meowth. You battle a Rival, but in an anti-hero way, he’s just a misunderstood well-meaning brother of one of your best friends. You fight the Elite Four in the end, but for once the games actually make becoming League Champion feel a little bit more significant.

But walking away from a formula 20 years old didn’t always pay off in ways that I had hoped. Set in the Hawaii-inspired Alola region, there are four islands to explore — none of which have any Gym Leaders on them. Instead, there are an assortment of Trials (Boss Fights) against gigantic versions of Pokemon called Totems, which unlock battles with the Island Kahuna. While the Trials were harder than your average battle against a trainer, they lacked the oomph of a Gym Leader battle. When you defeat an island’s Totem Pokemon, something’s just missing. You’re told that defeating the Totem Pokemon is this great challenge by every Trial Captain, but it’s just a Pokemon after all, so you kill it and move on and that same Captain says “Great job kid!” When you walk into a Gym, there are mentors who test you before you can reach the Gym Leader; environmental puzzles, and then some philosophical musings from the Leader before the fight. When you walk out of a Gym with a badge you feel like you’ve taken down a person of significance, earned respect, and moved closer towards the end game.

While Pokemon Sun’s pacing and sense of accomplishment felt off, thanks to the removal of the Gym system, it still earns a place in my heart for its attempt at story telling, and of course the story that naturally develops with your team. The story in Sun feels the closest that the stories in game have resemble those normally reserved for the Pokemon animated films, which is to say, characters emote and go through development arcs, which is more than most Pokemon games have tried. Some characters introduced as good guys become bad, and vice versa, which in a game made for kids is still something. Problem is, Pokemon Sun and Moon tries to do more with the story than their technology allows for, with repeated animations and dead-eyed reactions being a constant problem.

The Team

So, as per usual the best thing about Pokemon is the story that you develop with your team. Part of the reason I go out of my way to document these teams is because, while it’s fulfilling to grow your team and grow close to them, it’s a repeatable, dispensable joy. Every time you see a game through to conclusion, you’ve easily spent 50-60 hours together, and the same sense of family arises from within. As a child in the early 2000’s I enjoyed Pokemon Silver so much, but without a long-term means of documenting that play-through, it’s a very faded memory. Since then, I happen to have save files for every game I’ve played since — from taking up Emulation in High School with a copy of Pokemon Ruby, to randomized runs in College, and today — my Pokemon Sun team. Each named after a character from Tenchi-Muyo, I remember a little something about each of them. Ryoko is the first Misdreavus I caught, evolved, and brought to the end-game. Ayeka is my token poison type, and her Pokedex entry has the words “reverse harem” in them, seriously. I went back an island to catch Mihoshi, after I missed the one patch of grass where you can catch a Vulpix. Washu is the first bug type I’ve ever brought to the end game. I distinctly remember the Alolan-form evolution music that played when Ryo-Ohki evolved, and I remember when Sasami was a bright-eyed Poplio.

And when the game ended, my gothic-lolita dressed Carmine returned home, where Mom was still hanging out with Meowth, and it felt like a definitive ending.

What’s Up? (4/3/17)

Everything Old is Still Old, It Turns Out: Emulation and the Nostalgia Chase

No coincidence that the longest thing I’ve written in months, is a review and love letter about the arcade I never had, something that itched a nostalgia for something that wasn’t even a memory for me – old arcades. The nostalgia chase is something you can be constantly frustrated by, or learn to live with. I think I’ve managed it well. It comes in waves. In high school I lived and breathed chiptune music, and discovered Gameboy Emulation. I rediscovered Pokemon cards early in my college years, and I got deep into 1980’s vinyl and Nintendo 64 games in my later college years. At the start of “real life” years, I think the Nintendo 64 stuff was wearing off, though I was happy to build a solid collection there.

Here of course, it helps to have a web blog like this, with which a record (however embarrassing) of my nostalgia chases come and go. Thousands of words written about Pokemon games litter the distant past, while a few dozen about the decidedly nostalgic Vaporwave and Future Funk musical genres color the recent past. The part that becomes frustrating is wondering how in-control I really am sometimes. When I find myself playing an emulation of an 18-year-old Gameboy game, the dopamine-joy-chasing part of me is happy, while the critically thinking part is asking “this again?” But I guess, where some people have that album they listen to once a month or that movie they watch over, and over again — I have this.

Mass Effect

Something else I also can’t seem to escape, no matter how much I want, is thinking about Mass Effect. The original game instantly gripped my attention 10 years ago when I saw a best friend of mine playing it. Without really having an understanding of the worlds of Mass Effect or Star Trek, I instantly made a comparison between the two. In a way, I felt like I was being introduced to my version of Star Trek. I felt like I was there on the ground floor of a new sci-fi universe that might survive my entire life-span, much like how Star Trek was there before my birth, and will survive long after my death.

Unfortunately, its a sci-fi universe who’s best story is told between three very different games. The first of which, while it might have the best story, has the worst gameplay. The sequel, Mass Effect 2, is by far my favorite, with a darker feel, cyberpunk vibes, and the best characters. The downside of this being the best game? I’ve played for 160 hours, more or less milking it of everything it had, making replays hard to fathom. And finally, Mass Effect 3, the game with the best gameplay of the series, but an utterly disappointing story. If Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi ended with Luke Skywalker in a room with Darth Vader and three buttons, one which killed Vader, one which made Vader a good guy, and one which made Luke turn into Vader, you might start to approach what made the ending a complete fustercluck.

Upon the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is for all intents and purposes, a reboot of the entire franchise, I can’t help but look back and feel stuck as a Mass Effect fan. Behind me are three games; one that kind of sucks to play, one which I’ve played to death, and one that I know ends in an incredible unsatisfactory manner. Ahead of me is a new game, that is broken, poorly received, with none of the charm that pulled me into the original. I want to traverse and experience Mass Effect again, but not with Andromeda… not until that experience doesn’t come at the cost of $60.