That’s one way to put a bounce in your step.

 

I was thinking about this game Ricochet today. Despite the title of this clip, it was a piece of shit and I loved it in a weird way. A Half-Life mod, two friends and I tried it out to see how bad it could be. It was terrible. Bouncing from pod to pod in outer space, aiming to knock one another off balance. The controls were clunky and awkward. The gameplay was repetitive and stilted. It probably took longer to program than the entire time players spent in game. It’s questionable how gaming powerhouse Valve could’ve thought it had the potential to catch on, but life’s about taking chances. I remember this one afternoon where the three of us had nothing much to do. I mean, we were teenagers. There’s jerking off, video games, angst and little else. Anime, probably. So we spent this particular afternoon racing to try and be the first to 100 kills. We all had our particular gaming skills, and while I was likely the least competent FPS player, this was new territory. None of us had spent time on this game, because we were too busy doing things like trying to beat Final Fantasy 7 in a weekend. Y’know, trendy shit. We didn’t give a freak.

So we played this game. I don’t know how long it took. Hours, I’m guessing. We were learning as we went. At first we’d get killed rapidly. We’d catch each other unawares and knock one another off with these silly discs. Then power ups started to come into play. If you hit someone, instead of knocking them off, you’d decapitate them. Points had an ebb and flow. Someone would streak ahead, then the others would catch up and overtake. Kills were racked up. Then muscle memory kicked in. We’d learn how to anticipate attacks, read opponents strategies. Lives began to last longer. The slog from 70-100 was probably longer than 0-70. Because it wasn’t a well designed game, I don’t know if any of us were even enjoying it. Why would that matter though? We were in for the points. For bragging rights on something with no real stakes. The whole time we were yelling to each other “why are we doing this?” “Does anyone even care?” “Is anyone having fun?” Our cries were in vain. We didn’t stop.

I didn’t win, but I also didn’t take umbrage with that. In the end it was within 10 points. While it wasn’t that enjoyable, for some reason it created a kind of bond. Every once in a while we’d mention “hey, you guys wanna go for a Ricochet rematch so I can finally get my title?” The answer was a resounding “no” every time. Still, we talked about it far more often than you’d expect. From time to time the game still pops into my head and I wonder if anyone still plays it. Was there ever a Ricochet community? Is there some dude all lonely waiting out there in space in the hopes that someone will play with him? Did Ricochet actually mean a great deal to anyone, and if so, why? I’m not often 100% sincere, but I really hope there’s love for the game out there. Not everything has to be a success and Ricochet obviously wasn’t. At the end of the day though, it left me with a mostly positive memory that ties me to these two specific friends. I hope I’m not the only one.

I wonder if anyone’s done a 4K port…

Happy T’ronahversary to me.

Happy Toronto Birthday to me. Four years to the day where I first wondered if I was walking into a hotbed of authoritarian surveillance. Four fantastic years where I’ve borderline Eat Pray Love‘d myself into a journey of self-discovery. I ate and had sex a bunch, anyway (though sadly never simultaneously), plus adopted a wide enough smile to make Julia Roberts frown with envy.

My path to Toronto wasn’t straight or direct. In fact it took many years before I even thought of it as a destination. Age five I decided that when I grew up I’d harness my citizenship and live in Canada. They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but with New Zealand’s famed agricultural economy, it was ironic I was so avid to head somewhere US adjacent. It seemed different and exotic, plus they sounded like people in the movies. At age 20 I begun to give it more thought. I’d recently watched Juno and fallen head-over-heels for the idea of Ellen Page. I decided I’d move to Halifax and miraculously stumble into some kind of meet cute. Roll the credits (complete with Hand Drawn Block Letters). Why not? It was a quietly hip port town with a ton of breweries. Sure, I wasn’t into anything quiet or port, but things would work out. Remember the meet cute I probably told myself every night before going to bed.

Then it was Vancouver. I had family in Vancouver and the transition would be easy. I’d lodge somewhere then make my mark on the city. It was a city, right? With my generic media aspirations, I’d slot in just fine. I’d be close to Whistler in case I wanted to… wait, I didn’t really like outdoorsy stuff. What would I do in Whistler? I’d work out the details later, that’s what I’d do. I told some dude at a party just that once and he shook his head. “Toronto is where you want to be, man.” Toronto? I hadn’t really heard of Toronto. “It’s the biggest city in Canada and if you want to get into the media, there’s no better place in the country.” This wasn’t some good friend, just some dude I talked to a handful of times. I’ve got no idea if he has any concept of how much that conversation shaped my life. In the few minutes we talked, my totally vague plans became slightly less vague.

***Several Years Later***

I was 26 years old and I’d just been through the biggest breakup of my life. I was on a short term contract with the local university and it was coming to a close. There was funding for an interesting new contract, but I thought again. I’d never put down the torch I was holding for moving away. It’d been a not-insignificant part of the breakup. As soon as it ended, things fell into place. I bought a one way ticket to Vancouver (with the goal of heading to Toronto via Montreal) a few weeks later. I’ve never looked back.

Starting anew in Toronto was both hard and not. Picking up the pieces is always gonna be tricky, but Toronto kept throwing opportunity after opportunity at me. I hit the ground and started getting out to all kinds of events. I needed people in my life and I found them with ease. Walking back from a concert, running from a bus, OkCupid dates, movie screenings and Magic the Gathering games. Employment was less forthcoming, but I took whatever came my way and rolled with it. I tried and learned things I never imagined: Teaching gymnastics, feeding kids in schools, being a test subject, working the election polling booth, trying my hand as a barista. Toronto meant discovery, excitement and eventually community.

Perhaps it was a matter of getting out what I put in. Reaping the rewards of saying yes to the call of adventure. Maybe I lucked out, or learned to see the potential in coincidence. Toronto has given me so much, including a new lease on life. Over the past few years I’ve changed in ways that I’m still realising from day to day. I hear people talk about how cold Toronto is and possibly I missed out on that because of Accent Privilege. In my time here though, I’ve learned something about this city.

Toronto’s heart beats in its inhabitants, who create something larger than their sum. Toronto is discovering just how much people can surprise and impress you. Toronto is about learning the importance of saying yes, because opportunity is waiting for you to find it. Opportunity might not look like an Ellen Page meet cute, but that’s not to say that your wildest dreams are out of reach.

I mean, The Pink Ranger lives here you guise.

You win some, you Cthulhu’s some.

I’m excited. Today we’re playing Arkham Horror for likely my first time in three years. It’s a tremendously complicated and difficult Lovecraftian board game with a strong overarching narrative. You play a group of investigators in 1920s Massachusetts looking into strange happenings around town. A disconnected bunch, there’s a drifter, scientist, professor, nun and all kinds of characters who’ve experienced the supernatural. This was a pre-Ghostbusters era, obviously, but this motley crew have tasked themselves with exploring otherworldly locations to prevent the rise of the horrifying Ancient Ones from destroying our world. It’s atmospheric and at times staggeringly oppressive, but with the odds stacked against you there’s no choice but to fight back against the rising tide of evil.

There was a period of about two years where I’d play multiple times per week most weeks. I loved this game to bits. My friends and I composed rigorous strategies to attain victory. We’d seek to understand the game better on a macro level, breaking down what really made it tick, working out lines of play and crunching statistics. One of my friends started putting together an excel spreadsheet tracking our win/loss percentage, whether we won by closing gates or defeating the Ancient One and which investigators we used. We’d add expansion packs one by one, which would drastically change how it played. To say that we were obsessive would be both fair and accurate. It was intoxicating to dive head first into something new with a core group, developing our own lingo and shortcuts. In jokes too, of course. I’ve got rosy memories of those late nights and I want to recapture that feeling.

When I got to Toronto, one of the first things I did was seek out an Arkham playgroup. In fact, at a concert on my second night in the city I met a guy who played. Serendipity on my side. A bunch of us would visit his friend who had stacks of board games and have these great days spent playing through them. We’d throw on atmospheric music and have a blast. Then Fantasy Flight games’ updated Eldritch Horror came out and we dove in, exploring all the nuances and updated mechanics. Being new to the city, it was a damn swell time. Sadly the main guy who owned all the games moved away to Vancouver and it kind of fell apart. Before he left, however, he sold me his base copy of Arkham Horror for dirt cheap so I could keep up with this game I loved so much.

After buying it, I haven’t played it once.

Today though, today I get to crack it open and relive those past experiences with a fresh perspective. Back to the mean streets of 20s Massachusettes. Sifting through the stacks at Miskatonic University, searching for treasure at the Curiositie Shoppe, canvassing for allies at Ma’s Boarding House. Or frankly, just trying to avoid getting devoured by The Hound of Tindalos. With so many ways to die or be driven insane, what’re the odds of survival without at least one major psychosis?

Where’s that damned excel spreadsheet when I need it?

If I didn’t wake up tomorrow, I could hardly be that angry.

Oy vey, if the point of life is to live, then today was a fulfilment of my true prerogative. What a full day. Stacked to the brim with bustling activity, decadent consumption and love all around.

I woke up with plans to meet friends for lunch. Headed to my local for a coffee, which delivered on everything a decent coffee should. Why else would the place be my local? Do you think my standards are low enough to settle for shit in a mug? Fuck no. The baristas are super consistent and the beans are smooth and aromatic. I walked out of there with a mocha in hand and sunshine in my heart.

BRUNCH. Brunch plans came together hurriedly late last night. I basically got tacked onto a friend’s already scheduled brunch engagement. There was very little planning or discussion, but I figured I’d go with it and see how it turned out. As it happened, the brunch skewed more towards fine dining at Globe Bistro. It’d been yonks since I last visited a fine dining establishment (maybe Liverpool House in Montreal?) and was more than up for it. Even better, Summerlicious happened to be on. Summerlicious is a period of prix fixe menus, often experimental. A $23 three course meal at 11am? Why the fuck not? I call that a Saturday.

I started off with the Dry-Aged Steak Tartare. I’d never had Steak Tartare before. I’d been yearning to give it a try ever since hearing a story of my dad on his first date at a fancy French restaurant and ordering the steak. The Tartare wasn’t what he expected. It was, however, what my body wanted this morning. A little pool of miso aioli sat to the side, with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts, mustard greens and rice chips planted in a nicely sized circle of minced beef. It was so goddamn rich and all the flavours alley ooped one another like fucking champs.

For my main, I went for the Lake Trout. Served on a corn sake kasu broth, with Norther Woods oyster mushrooms, baby bok choy and scallions. Bloody divine. Soft and flakey, with crispy seared skin running along the top. I’d never imagined corn and mushrooms complementing one another, but somehow the textures meshed. Perhaps soaking in the sake broth mellowed them out. An A+ success.

The dessert was a Milk Chocolate Pannacotta. Soft and smooth, with a hazelnut meringue, Chantilly cream and salted caramel sauce. Decadent enough to melt my tastebuds to blissful numbness.

Then with a stomach fit to bursting, I met my girlfriend for rock climbing. I hadn’t climbed in some time and I think all the rich vittles were dragging down my centre of gravity. I did a bunch of climbs and to be honest, they weren’t too shabby. I got up those walls, I had a couple of well executed foot placements. I made it up a few walls easier than I’d expected. Defeated an overhang or two. Sure, I was still lunging for more holds than I would’ve liked, but having not climbed for aaaaaaages, I did pretty damn well. I also went upstairs to try out some stuff on the rings and it turns out my muscle ups are still solid. Stoked to bits.

We walked down the hill to Christie Pitts park and met up with a bunch of friends we hadn’t seen in far longer than was cool. All of us had been somewhat reclusive and had sorely missed one another. We snacked on cheese, fruit, popcorn and chips (because I hadn’t eaten enough already). We unleashed pun after pun. I got to try out handstands and round-offs after what’d felt like forever. All of which turned out really bloody great. We felt full of food and love, content with a day well spent.

Then went home to spend some quality time without clothing. Because there’s no such thing as too much love.

Do you think Natalie Imbruglia enters Tornaments?

I’ve played Magic the Gathering for years. 17 of them to be exact. During all that time I’ve never set foot in a big tournament. I’m strictly casual and a competitive environment doesn’t excite me. The idea of grinding away at opponents in the hopes of being able to make day two of a tourney seems like a great way to welcome disappointment in my life, which has no place in one of my prime leisure activities.

With that out of the way, Grand Prix Toronto starts tomorrow and I’m pretty chuffed. I think the majority of that chuff-ed-ness comes from the fact that I’m not grinding away. I’m planning to pop in and out of the event all weekend. Unlike the pro players assembled from across the globe, I’ve got nothing riding on the weekend. I’m purely going to have a great time, take part in some small side events, trade and get a bunch of EDH games in.

There are draft pods firing off all day, with the chance to finally try out a multiplayer Conspiracy draft. I can do some spectating and see just how degenerate the cEDH format is. Plus the prize payouts are insane, with something like six boosters for a third or fourth placed finish, ten boosters for second and eighteen boosters for first. There’ll also be a bunch of rare stuff for sale/trade and I’ll hopefully be able to pick up a shit ton of stuff for various EDH decks. I miss being able to trade stuff away all the time. In recent years I’ve accumulated a pile of cards I don’t need, but others might. I’m more than happy to offload a heap of rares for a couple of specific rares. Why stockpile tons of cards I’ll never need? There’ll be so many casual players in attendance that I can probably spend hours simply trading and not even playing.

Playing will be fucking great too though. One of the best parts of this game is seeing the variety of decks and strategies that players employ. Interesting, bold and tight lines of play, curious interactions and quick thinking are the bedrock of Magic. A Grand Prix is a world class event and you can bet your arse I’ll be able to find the kinds of players I enjoy facing. There’ll be players who’ve stopped taking the game so seriously, just looking to get in neat interactive games. There’s a higher chance of seeing hard to find commanders in a tuned shell, honed from years of use. I’m sure there are stock lists that people will be running. Your Merens, Nekusar, etc. But there might also be Rasputin Dreamweaver or Diao Chan, Artful Beauty, maybe one of the original Elder Dragons. Hell, it’s even been years since I faced a Norin the Wary deck.

I’m looking forward to spending the weekend in a Magic smorgasbord, picking and choosing how much I want to partake. It’ll be exciting exploring my hobby with others who’re passionate about it. Not to mention the fact that I’ll have friends there to hang out with anyway. Who knows, we might even enter a team event. What’ve we got to lose?

Aside from the event, that is.

No man is an I LAN.

Are LAN parties dead? A relic of 56K modems? Left in the dust by Steam’s handy functionality? X-Box Live supplanting the need for proximity co-op gaming? Do we sound the keening bell in lament of fond memories? Of late nights and tired eyes? Of Red Bulls and caffeine pills? Of companionship born out of necessity? All laid to rest at the altar of a new age.

Without sarcasm, I can say that LAN parties were some of the highlights of my teen years. I’d pack my bulky desktop computer and CRT screen into a large rubbermaid and bug my parents for a lift to a friend’s place. Typically their parents would be out of town. While other kids would be conducting Risky Business, we’d get hopped up on sugar and play video games until our eyes bled.

It was the natural evolution of sleep overs, but with added ixnay on the sleeping. You’d maybe catch a couple of hours if you were lucky, optimal downtime to leech video games, movies, music and anime off others. If your computer was gonna be out of use for three hours, why not let yourself recover? Much like sleepovers, LANs offered the optimal outlet for a good D&M (Deep and Meaningful chat) about who you had the hots for, typical teenage gloating and all sorts of angsty shit. Unless a game was in progress, of course.

What games? Whatever was in the nerdcore zeitgeist, in as much as we could all run it. We tended to cater to whoever had the lower spec’d rig (usually me). Starcraft was a common favourite, making sure we evenly divided skill level across teams. A few years later Warcraft 3 was Le Jeu Du Jour. We’d mess around on Heroes 3, Counterstrike (NO FUCKING AWP CAMPERS) or if I begged enough we’d give the much maligned Ricochet a try (I mainly loved the death sound). Star Wars: Jedi Knight was awesome. While we began by tearing apart one another with guns, eventually we learned how much fun it was to go HAM at one another with lightsabers and force push/pull. You could deflect bullets and turn opponents’ attacks back on themselves. Who wouldn’t want to play a recurring game of stop hitting yourself?

Aliens vs Predator 2 was possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had, primarily because one of my friends Lost His Shit Constantly. We’d play survival mode, in which we started out with one xenomorph and everyone else was human. Whenever you died, you became a xenomorph and hunted down the humans in a pack. Our friend would constantly be in a palpable state of terror, literally screaming and borderline hyperventilating. I think he enjoyed it, though clearly not as much as we did.

As we aged, contraband got folded into the equation. Someone would always have an older brother or lax parent. LAN parties continued to help us unwind, while also resembling very real parties. We’d trade silly Newgrounds videos and obscure internet phenomena. If someone was temporarily absent, we’d go through their computers in search of their hidden porn stash. Or anything else equally incriminating. There was rarely any bullying, but friendly ribbing was a mainstay. Functionally it allowed a bunch of us to spend a large block of time together without having to part ways.

I don’t know what modern experience would emulate LAN parties. Do kids these days hang out with tablets? Does Nintendo Switch fill the void? Or do they get their kicks at their respective homes all playing Overwatch? As an adult, this seems like a hard sell. People enjoy going home to their beds and pets. Friendships seem emotionally closer, but less time intensive. Would people want to spend that long in a basement, huddled around computers? Or does that remind us too much of being at work?

It’ll be like my teenage years all over again (except for the angst and random boners that is).

It’s getting late and I don’t know what to write. Part of the trouble is that I want to have direction. If I start with a good enough prompt, it’ll give me somewhere to go. Another issue tonight is that I keep stumbling over my own fingers. Seriously, I do this every day. Why am I having such difficulty typing? Of course you’re not gonna see that outcome, since I’ll tidy it all up for you. Just know that it took two minutes to get this far into my entry. I was so bogged down by the trail of typos, scattered like bones amongst sand in the vast desert wastelands.

My improv teacher said one of the biggest issues that people face when they start out is trying to be funny. If you’re trying too hard to be funny, you’re fishing for the right answer, when you should ideally be going with your instinct. The right answer is often the simplest one. If you want to be spontaneous you don’t want to overthink it. When I think back to the origins of this project, that was the point. I wanted to find the creativity in lucid thought. Non-linear ideas were fine. As time evolved, I found that the entries where I had a theme to work turned out to be more cohesive. Restriction breeds creativity, right? At the same time, once in a blue, green or velvet moon I’ll flick back through my archives (they’re vast and mostly incomprehensible) and find some mental tangents. They’re weird, wonderful and yet cosy. I’m not sure how they feel to others. Having written them myself, they feel intimately familiar, like pulling a long forgotten hoodie out of your closet. While I rarely remember the day they were written, I’m sucked straight back into that frame of mind. I can follow the flow of thoughts from one point to another, understanding how connections were made. Of course I would say that though, wouldn’t I?

It’s funny, but as I’m writing this out, I’m having a concurrent conversation with a friend about my aversion to making plans. I used to plan ahead all the time. In recent years I’ve cooled off that kind of proactive plotting. I’ve become more enamoured with the convergence of spontaneity. Toronto’s a big city and there’s always something on. I think in a way it’s been a matter of keeping options open. Rampant FOMO, y’know Joe? While that sounds innately selfish, there’s actually a different reasoning behind it. If I’m really looking forward to an event, I get totally gutted if my activity partner cancels on me. I understand, because everyone’s time poor and has limited spoons, etc. That doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve been left in the lurch. More disappointed than Kevin Sorbo, even. Reflexively, I hate committing to anything if I might not be able to deliver. I abhor the idea of making others suffer those Kevin Sorbo disappointments. I wouldn’t want it done to me, so why do it to others? Subconsciously, I often take the path where this eventuality would rarely be a reality.

This mentality frequently pushes me away from relying on others. If my brain tells me it’ll likely end in disappointment, why bother? I’ll get concert tickets on my own. If it turns out another friend happens to be going, fantastic! Most often I’ll just go and chat to randoms while I’m there. Every once in a while I’ll make a new friend. I’ve realised lately though, that I’ve pushed myself into shitty patterns. I value spontaneity, but not everyone does. This means I’ll be continuously reaching out for companionship last minute and come back with nothing. I’ve been doing this for years and my success rate has gotten so bad, I’ve found myself refraining from asking instead. Obviously the lesson is here is to either conform to planning as others do, or get used to feeling let down. The latter seems a less rosy preposition. In any case, giving up on rampant spontaneity seems like admitting that the world isn’t a magical place. That too seems to be a shitty option.

Maybe the right answer is somewhere in the middle. Make plans, but loose ones. Book out time to be present with someone, but don’t sketch in the details too finely. Do x activity then get food. Be in this part of town and see what happens. Jeez, I can’t remember the last time I “hung out” with someone at their place. No agenda outside of experiencing one another’s company. Could that be the answer? Walk that tightrope between certainty and the unknown?

Or is it as simple as using Google Calendar again?