What’s Up? (10/1/2017)

  1. Lingering. After a fantastic week with my family in Pittsburgh, I need to hit the reset button on my apartment, there’s some lingering differences. Guests have been gone for a week, but there are still guest towels in the bathroom. Small things like that.
  2. End of Summer. I get the feeling I’m surrounded by people who are like “I love fall” or “I love autumn.” Like, sure. I like autumn things as much as the next — foliage, apples, pumpkins… etc, but I don’t live for this season. Halloween? Yes. Cold temperatures? No.
  3. New Retro Arcade: Neon: Again. Next to Pokemon, there’s probably no game I’ve talked about here as much as New Retro Arcade: Neon. On some level, that’s because NRAN is almost more about the games inside of the game. (I can talk your head off about SEGA’s OutRun… and I just might.) On another level, the amount of work I put into NRAN outside of the game, is what makes me want to spend time inside of the game. 40 in-game hours are probably matched by 20 hours spend in Photoshop, creating, arranging, and fine-tuning arcade cabinet art so that it is exact to real-life cabinets, or at least visually appealing. Sharing that effort with the NRAN community, so others can enjoy my cabinet art, is also a nice bonus.
  4. SEGA’s OutRun. For the first time since picking up OutRun back in February, I made it to a third level. OutRun can be both extremely relaxing, and extremely tense. I’d say for the first few hours of playing, I was casually cruising through its pixely beaches without caring much whether I saw a second level. Now, I feel like any run where so much as a single mistake is made on the first level, might as well be trashed. There only so much that’s under your control though, and that’s probably what makes OutRun such a good quarter-stealer. You can be great at lifting on the gas through corners, you can be great at driving and all of that, but the traffic on the road is different every time, and sometimes, brutal. Still, celebrating a small victory in making it to a third level after months of on-and-off practice.
  5. Signing Off. Look how close the end of the year is approaching. Soon enough, I’ll be recapping my year in movies again. The end of the year makes me melancholy in a way that the summer never does. The end of the year is loaded with expectation and tradition. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years; things you have to get right because they only come once a year, and family, and all of that.
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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.

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.

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.

New Retro Arcade: Neon

New Retro Arcade: Neon (NRAN) is the type of thing you’ll either install and play for a few hours, or something you’ll go DEEP on.

What is NRAN? It’s an arcade machine emulator, with 35 empty arcade machines ready to accept ROMs, set in a neon-80’s/90’s arcade that’s probably way cooler than (but just as filthy as) any arcade that actually really existed. It’s basically MAME but modeled in 3D space, which I think ads to the arcade experience, but more on that later.

As you might imagine, since it’s a product for sale on Steam, NRAN doesn’t come with any actual arcade ROMs. Luckily, dozens of people have made their NRAN configurations available, and it’s really easy to end up with a fully-functioning arcade without putting any work into it. I suspect that if you’re 100% satisfied with someone else’s arcade configuration, your time with NRAN might be short lived, or at least shorter lived than my time will be. I had fun trying out games for the first time, like Final Fight, Street Fighter 2, or OutRun, but I wanted my arcade to be a collection of my favorites — not just the classics.

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The great thing about this game, and it’s dark side, is that you are the arcade manager — everything is customizable to your whim, and the moment you change one thing; one arcade machine, one poster, one VHS or cassette tape, I think you’ll be drawn down the rabbit hole.

After trying lots of arcade games for the first time I made a list of the machines I felt no love for, and was eager to replace them. I’ve mostly removed side-scrolling beat’em’ups from my arcade in favor of puzzle games like Puyo Puyo Sun and Puzzle Bobble, or Neo Geo classics like Windjammers and Neo Turf Masters. This is the easy part; with an internet full of ROM dumps you’ll have no problems finding the games you’re looking for. Problem is, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself also spending hours obtaining assets like cabinet art, and fine-tuning it in Photoshop just to make sure the texture maps onto the arcade cabinet the way you want it to. Games like Puyo Puyo never had stand-up arcade cabinet art, so I had to invent cabinet art using box art from various Puyo Puyo releases, and scans of arcade flyers advertising Puyo Puyo.

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Even if your desires are less esoteric, and you’re just hunting down the art assets for Donkey Kong, you’ll have a few steps to complete before the cabinet is perfect. You’ll want to set up the attract mode — the video that plays on the arcade cabinet before you actually interact with it and “insert coins.” Only it’s not as easy as uploading an MP4 ripped from YouTube, because you have to use video editing tools to render a 35 video  grid, which corresponds to each of your 35 arcade cabinets. Luckily, tools exist out there made just for NRAN that makes this process easier, but you’ll have to re-render the attract screens any time you introduce a new arcade machine, or rearrange the order of your arcade.

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And yeah, after spending 25+ hours customizing it, it will take on the personality of being YOUR arcade. How long you spend inside of it is completely up to your patience I suppose. I personally can spend an hour playing straight through the Puyo Puyo Sun campaign (using 40 continues, so anywhere from $10-20 in credits) or a dozen minutes playing OutRun before giving up out of frustration and taking that frustration out on a much more relaxing round of golf with Neo Turf Masters. This ability to storm off from one arcade game to the next is exactly what makes NRAN a superior arcade emulation experience than MAME. While great for video game preservation, having a list of practically all arcade games ever, MAME always felt like a clinical way to play arcade ROMs — which never bothered me with emulators for SNES or Gameboy ROMs. NRAN takes the MAME technology and brings it into this 3D space, where you can look at the cabinet art, your buttons and joystick,  and be slightly overwhelmed by the sounds of all the other machines going on in the background. When you’re tired or frustrated with one game, you can walk onto the next, or you can obsessively pump in quarters until you’ve beaten the game, all the while having a debate with yourself like “I really should turn the attract volume down on Street Fighter 2, those damn elephants are so annoying… but if that’s the way Street Fighter 2 was, I have to keep it that way.”

In New Retro Arcade: Neon nothing is easy, but everything is worth it. I might never be done fine-tuning my arcade. I’ll want all of the cassette tapes lying around to have music I want to listen to, I’ll want all of the VHS tapes in the cinema to have videos I want to watch, and I’ll want all of the posters to correspond with my personal nostalgic feelings. NRAN is so worth the effort that I put this together just in the hopes that it might reach other people who have a secret, untapped arcade curator inside them, that’s just waiting to put together their own personal arcade.