El Ess veE-Sports.

Another Magic the Gathering themed post. It’s been that kind of week.

What a day. I’ve basically become a caricature of myself. I’ve spent my entire workday watching replays of old Luis Scott-Vargas Magic the Gathering drafts. For years I pooh poohed the idea of watching others play Magic in the same way that I shat on sports viewing. Why watch something if you could play it instead? Discovering what everyone else has seemed to know for years, here’s why:

It’s not something I can just play. I don’t have the experience, the time or funds to play like LSV does. He’s a professional and as such gets paid to stream this kind of thing. I haven’t bought into MTGO and frankly, couldn’t afford to. I’ve spent long enough building up the collection that I do have to suddenly buy into digital. So to watch someone else put in the efforts and be led by his superior knowledge of the formats is a blast.

It hits on multiple fronts. Firstly, LSV really knows his shit. My mind Boggles at how quickly he’s able to assess and analyse a pack, formulating a draft path with solid potential outcomes. It means he can react appropriately when an otherwise shitty pack would pop up, creating contingencies. While I tend to find a strategy and stick it out, even if it’s drying up, LSV doesn’t. He knows when to pivot and signal. Better yet, his knowledge of the format and strong cards allows him to gauge when something could wheel the table and come back to him. It’s like watching magic (pun actually wasn’t intended) happen in front of your eyes.

Secondly there’s a nostalgic element to it as well. I’ve watched him draft a bunch of formats today. There was triple Ravnica, triple Mirrodin, triple Time Spiral, Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse and a few Holiday Cubes. I remember these formats, but at the time where my limited skill level was pretty… well, limited. I didn’t understand the wider archetypes nearly as well as LSV does, so I wasn’t able to as adroitly piece together a playable pile. Plus I tend to have a predilection for forcing green. Sue me. Getting to relive those old formats helps me recall where I was in my relation to the game during that time. I don’t know if I ever tried an IPA draft, for instance. I think I just went to pre-releases. Hell, the Invasion pre-release was my first taste of limited and sparked a lifetime love of sealed.

Mostly it’s a vicarious thing. I can’t afford to play these throwback sets, so the next best thing is to watch a master do it for me. I can cheer for his plans coming together and root for him as he’s playing the subsequent games. It’s interesting, but having seen the formation of the deck, it engenders this strange attachment to the pile. You want to see LSV win a) because you feel oddly involved in the process, b) because he’s a good player and c) because he makes a fuckton of puns. I don’t remotely begrudge him for getting to have this experience. He’s worked for it and creates a shitload of compelling, informative and funny content. As a humble viewer, I get to profit from it.

In any case, it’s about time I get going. I wanna see how he drafts Return to Ravnica next.

Advertisements

It is only August, but I could go for a 2.5 month nap right about now.

I had this thought today of how audacious it would’ve been for Microsoft back in the 90s to licence The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” in order to advertise Windows 95. Seriously, right? How on the nose and garish. “The baby boomers will SHIT THEMSELVES.” Wouldn’t that have been fucking dumb?

Turns out that was a memory, not a thought. The 90s was a silly time.

In other news, looks like Seeso’s dead. That’s a real pity. It was fantastic to see yet another streaming platform putting money in the hands of creators to go out and do what they do best: create original and well produced content. I certainly didn’t see all their originals, but loved the shit out of MBMBAM, Harmonquest and Take my Wife. They also had a back catalogue of years worth of quality comedy. Decades of SNL, all the Monty Python stuff, tons of stand up specials. It’s the kind of service I would’ve happily shelled out to support. Too bad that they never branched outside of the US. I’m sure it had to do with all manner of rights and distribution contracts, but I know I’m not the only one who actively wanted to push money into their hands. When you’ve got a heap of consumers keen to throw dollar bills at you, wouldn’t you want to pull out all the stops to make that a reality? Yet again, I’m certain it’s far more complicated than I’m making it out to be. Thankfully a bunch of their shows found a home on the VRV platform. Another platform that’s still not available in Canada…

Speaking of American Idiots (I kid, but I needed the segue), I listened to the 2004  zeitgeist album on my run today. At the age of 17, that album was gargantuan. In the context of 2004, Green Day’s popularity was waning hard. To give further context, in 2002 they’d co-headlined with Blink 182 (as opposed to sitting atop that throne as you’d expect). American Idiot came out of nowhere and suddenly was everywhere. Each subsequent single utterly dominated the airwaves. We threw it on at every party, road trip and holiday weekend away. To us, “Jesus of Suburbia” was a sprawling epic. The album had punch, flair and the most relevant social commentary 17 year olds could imagine possible.

As a 30 year old, it’s a neat listen. Like a grand ol’ rock opera. It’s still catchy and tons of fun, but it also sounds like clever pop punk juggernauts capitalising on a movement. Sweet to run to. In the era of Trump, the anti-authoritarian sentiment feels mellow and wholesome. Equal parts melodramatic and innocent. The title track would probably have hit just as hard had it been released in 2017, but would’ve taken on an entirely new level of meaning. Maybe it’s my inherent nostalgia, but I’d say the album holds up to the fanfare 13 years later. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” may drip a little saccharine, but the tracks have an excellent ebb and flow, coming together as a cohesive record. If you were a fan at the time, try dipping your toes back into that water.

You watch. In five years I’ll book a vacation from an ad that features Green Day’s “Holiday”.

Is there anything mo 90s than Space Jam Pogs?

I had Pogs as a kid, but I didn’t really know why. I think I primarily just wanted to order from Consumers Distributing. I may have been living halfway across the world, but how would a spread like this ever not be enticing? There was some kind of cheap multi pack of pogs complete with a slammer, special mat and some shiny ones.

I may have had Pogs, but I’m not gonna say that I got Pogs. Understood the ethos, anyway. Pogs didn’t make a dent in New Zealand. Ostensibly they had something to do with milk bottle tops? I had my set of ten, but nobody to battle with. I think I tried to figure out how to play solitaire. So mostly, they sat there, destiny unfulfilled. I probably threw them out, eventually. It’s weird, but even at the age of eight, I saw them as a thinly veiled marketing tool. This is saying something, I wasn’t a savvy kid. If it weren’t for my more pragmatic parents I probably would’ve been shaped into the perfect little consumer. I’d read Toyworld brochures for fun. I knew what I was getting into, but I jumped in with both feet anyway, because I wanted to know what it felt like to get a package in the mail. Shit, imagine if we’d had Amazon at that age. I would’ve never left the house.

I remember so badly wanting to get mail. My parents would get letters constantly while I stared with wide-eyed envy. “They’re all bills.” They’d say. “Trust me, when you’re my age you’re not gonna want this mail.” I didn’t care, in a way I think I just wanted to be surprised. When I mentioned how badly I wanted to get letters (it happened in movies and cartoons all the time), my mum turned it back on me. “You want to get letters, but how often do you send anyone letters?” I shook my head “no, I don’t want to send letters. I want to get them.” With the patience of an adult, she explained “but if you never send anyone letters, why would they send them back to you? If you send one of your friends a letter with a question, maybe they’ll send you a response.”

It was a light bulb moment. My bulb switched on. Dimly.

A friend was having a birthday and I saw my chance. I got a birthday card and wrote the following message:

Dear ______

Happy Birthday!

Is today Thursday?

Love Leon

Keep in mind these were pre-internet times, otherwise I’d obviously check out isitthursday.org. I gave him the card. He responded “no, today is Saturday.” I had my answer, but I was in no way satisfied. It wasn’t about the question. Over time, I’d get letters here and there. Our former Japanese au pair girls were lovely and sent the most beautiful letters. Invariably they were on cutesy cartoon themed stationary (Disney was a hot favourite), written with delicate penmanship. They became cherished possessions, tucked away in a special drawer for nice things I liked looking at (as well as many Christmas cards I never looked at again. I didn’t think I was allowed to throw away anything that had intended sentimental value. Once I learned that wasn’t true, I threw out almost everything of intended sentimental value).

I haven’t yet reached the age Mum was when she told me that bills sucked, but I’m old enough to have caught her drift. It’s rare to get anything great in the mail these days (whether E or IRL). A couple of times a year I’ll get a tax return slip that puts a smile on my face (last time I got a whole nine dollars!).

If only Consumers Distributing still existed.

If you took him to jail, would you be committing Scumocide?

When did you last walk into a room pulled straight from your heartfelt dreams and wishes? When were you last face to face with a tangible manifestation of hope? How did your mind react, knowing that the architects of your imagination had erected their monument within your arm’s reach?

Were you also at Tilt last night?

As a kid I adored arcade machines, or “Spacies” as we called them (the moniker derived from Space Invaders, of course). They’d sit in the entrance of takeaway shops or movie theatre lobbies. My parents would rarely give me money to play, so often I watched or pretended to play. On the odd occasions (a friend’s birthday or something) that I actually got to play, I lost my mind. Fighting games such as Street Fighter 2, King of the Monsters or Mortal Kombat 3, side scrollers like Captain Commando or puzzle games in the vein of Snow Bros or Bubble Bobble. I guess I wrote about it a bunch here.

I walked into the doors at Tilt, paid my $5 and had free rein on a collection of 40 or so machines, all set to free play. The aforementioned Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 3, Captain Commando and Bubble Bobble all made an appearance. Live DJs played a cavalcade of cheesy 80s hits (including a chiptune cover of Haddaway’s “What is Love?”) and the bar was stocked with great beer. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would’ve rather been.

Playing arcade games with an adult perspective is interesting. With their revenue stream dependent on players pumping in quarter after quarter, you can see how they’ve specifically engineered the games to feed the addiction. Captain Commando and other similar games featured unique and powerful character moves that would do area-of-effect damage at the cost of HP. Health items were few and far between, meaning that the more you used these moves, the more likely you’d have to keep paying the toll to stay in the game. NBA Jam was fucking great. A four player machine. In the years since childhood I’d forgotten that players had to pay per quarter (time period, not currency), with the winning team getting the next quarter free. For that genre of plane games like Raiden, so many bullets were flying through the air that it was nigh impossible to survive without repeated cash infusions. They knew what they were doing.

On free play however, none of that mattered. A friend and I fulfilled a childhood dream and clocked Captain Commando. I finally got to use Mack the Knife (instead of my older brother repeatedly hogging him), the purple alien mummy with twin blades. I’d like to believe that even as a child I would’ve cringed at least a little to learn that the final boss’ name was Scumocide. Let’s be real though, I sincerely thought Street Sharks were jawsome. I was no critic.

I also didn’t realise how physically demanding it was to toggle and mash repeatedly. Some of those beat ’em ups were a one way trip down a long carpal tunnel. If I needed yet another sign that my body is succumbing to the ravages of time, my mangled hands tell the truth.

OH WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

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?

Because of course I’d have no skin. I don’t know how you do it.

I wouldn’t bet on any cohesion today. So with that out of the way, let’s get into it.

As a teenager I resented that I wasn’t a good enough artist to masturbate to my own sketches (oh, and if you’re reading this mum, hi!). I’d look at boobs in T-shirts and think that doesn’t seem so complicated. IT WAS. My first mistake would always be starting with circles. Silly teenager, boobs look like teardrops, not circles. There was also that thing where boobs in a tight shirt would have these three or four parallel lines. Never in my teen years (or let’s face it, still) could I figure out how those lines sat. Was it something to do with nipples? Or certain shapes of bra? No fucking idea. I didn’t even bother trying to draw labia. I’d have as much luck as if I were blindfolded sketching an Escher. I persisted with my drawings of women and consistently had no idea of proportions. I’d scribble away on little pads, pages ripped from books. Then I’d get shitty that I wasn’t better, scrunch my drawings into paper balls and aim for three-pointers into the rubbish. This was a two step process, since I was about as skilled at basketball as I was with a pencil. I’m probably lucky I couldn’t free my own porn. What reason then would I have to leave my room? Once they pried open the sticky cumwebs sealing the door, they’d see a skeleton amongst pages of lewd, oddly proportioned drawings of Cameroon Diaz. Nobody deserves to walk in on that.

Listening to The Strokes today cast my mind back to one of my university projects. We had sub ten minute mini-docos to make. Our group went with my idea to look at online gaming and the rise of virtual communities. I remember so clearly believing that I wasn’t going in with an agenda, but with the benefit of retrospection it’s easy to see just how biased I was. I think the big pull to make the video in the first place was this short montage I’d envisioned in my brain based on The Strokes’ “The Modern Age”. I had a friend who played World of Warcraft. There’d be a side shot of him sitting down at his computer, a shot from behind as he switched on the screen. There’d be an overhead shot of the CD drive opening and his hand putting in the WoW CD, a shot of the screen opening the game then one from behind of him with the title menu. Then a couple of in-game action shots.

The funny part was how little of it came together. We couldn’t get the top down shot of the CD drive that I wanted, which was my favourite part of the montage. I think we did it at some dumb angle instead. Even sillier was that the game was loaded to his computer. He only needed the CD for installation. The camera also wasn’t configured to tape screens. It recorded those horizontal lines continually scrolling down the screen. Bullheaded, I wasn’t ready to give up on my vision. We made it work and I told myself I’d shot what I’d wanted to shoot.

Then came the bias. A couple of us in the group were gamers and we clearly had an agenda. At this point, online gaming still carried a bunch of stigma. We wanted to put forth that the interaction and camaraderie within online communities helped form meaningful friendships. That while most saw these games as antisocial loner behaviour, they were anything but. We interviewed two of my friends. Our central character played a ton. He had regularly scheduled raids and a bunch of friends in game. Our other character had stopped playing a while back. Thing was, once we’d done our interviews we discovered that the guy who’d quit actually had a much healthier outlook on the game. He’d gotten out because it stopped being fun. He found that a lot of his time involved logging in to mine gold. Not super interactive or exciting, but the economy was important to his ability to play. What was the point in playing a game he didn’t enjoy? He had more than enough other ways to kill time. Our central character, on the other hand, was addicted. He’d forgo other social engagements to log in and leave his character performing mundane activities. He admitted that he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he used to, but that he’d sunk so much time and money into it that he felt obligated to keep playing. This really didn’t gel with our hypothesis.

So we took creative license and selectively edited the footage to make it look like the roles were reversed. We “proved” our theory by creating our own truth and in doing so, learned the most important lesson of all: You’re not wrong if it looks like you’re right.

If I owned an arcade my official title would be Cabinet Minister.

I live every day in the shadow of my past. I know full well that life peaked years ago and with each sunrise, that gets easier to bear. Maybe as the years continue to stack, I’ll discover some shallow reflection of my former glory. Hope isn’t dead. Not yet.

The peak that I so fondly recall was after my brother’s bar mitzvah. Not the service, that was the usual ceremonial boredom. But the after party? My parents hired arcade machines. IN OUR GARAGE. There was Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Bad Dudes, Ninja Turtles and other stuff that wasn’t the aforementioned collection. When you have titles like those, why would you need anything else? The after party wasn’t even the peak. There were so many people, games were in use and I had to interact with others. There were arcade machines in our house. What need had I of non-player people? If they weren’t engaged in my game, I wasn’t engaged by them.

After everyone left, however, we had another couple of days with the cabinets. My best friend came over and we clocked as many as we could. Endless free play on Mortal Kombat? How could life get better than that? YOU COULD UPPERCUT PEOPLE INTO SPIKES. This was pre-internet, so we had no idea how to do fatalities. Instead, we’d select our characters and hope we’d get to the spikes level. Once we were there we’d swap turns of letting the other player beat us so they could have a go at spike uppercutting. THERE WERE DECAPITATED HEADS AND EVERYTHING. We also beat Bad Dudes a bunch of times, to prove that we were bad enough dudes to rescue the president. These days, perhaps not.

Today a bunch of us all visited the house of a mutual friend. She had a newborn and was planning to fly away to visit family in Fiji. If we were gonna see the kid before he left on an airplane, we had to take the chance. More importantly, the house we were visiting had a fucking pinball basement. I’d read about it in Toronto Life last year and didn’t realise we were heading to the same place. My childhood was dominated by arcade cabinets like our bar mitzvah hires. I didn’t play as much as I watched (and pretended to be playing while the demos were on screen), but I adored the flashing lights and tactile nature of the towering machines. I’d never sunk much time into pinball (outside of Space Pinball, of course). Holy hell, it’s a blast.

This house had a row of 15 machines, all lovingly taken care of. Some with custom mods. A plethora of flashing lights and bonus modes. Of course pinball looks busy, but I had no idea how expansive the games were. It was such a different experience to the games I’m used to playing. There were large pieces that moved while the cabinet shook. On Medieval Madness for instance, if you knock open the castle door and hit it three times, you destroy the castle. The parapets shake and fall down. Hitting a certain target sends the game into troll mode, where troll heads pop up and you’ve gotta bop them a certain number of times. It’s so much goddamn fun. Also having a multi-ball with four simultaneous balls is pure insanity. Most of the games were from hugely popular IPs. Spider-Man, The Avengers, AC/DC, Metallica, Ghostbusters, Tron. The Game of Thrones one was amazing. You could choose your house allegiance and conduct missions against the other houses. There was a miniature pinball table in the top left corner with a dragon mini game. It had cut scenes and bonus balls and so many flashing lights. Stimulation overload!

Awww. I miss sketchy old Yifan’s. Maybe it’s finally time to check out Tilt Bar.