Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Almost Made Me Wish I Was Dead!

This'll be a super short one, just something kinda funny I thought of.

When I was little, maybe 6 or so, I had a toy set called Playskool Pipeworks that I LOVED. I think I had the the Pipeworks 2000: Big Builders Set. Basically it was a set of white tubes and connector pieces that you'd use to make appropriate child-size furniture, forts, wheelbarrows, etc. It was fantastic. The instruction manual was the same for the 1000, 2000, and 3000 sets, and I was always wishing I had the parts to build the items that were in the 3000 set only. Pipeworks 3000 reached this mythic status in my young brain, a Holy Grail of toys.

Now, I was raised more-or-less Catholic by my parents, Steven and Diane Thirty, in that I attended CCD weekly, but usually didn't actually go to mass. I did eventually go to a Catholic high school. My parents, they're both Catholic, but in a pretty loose sense of the word, not like Nonnie (the late and very missed Mary Lebowski), who I think would've fought the Python at Delphi to get to church if she had to (and she, like Indiana Jones, hated snakes). In any event, at a young age I fully believed in such concepts as Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, etc... although I tended to imagine them in whatever way seemed fun or interesting to me, Catholic dogma be damned. (It was only a hop, skip, and jump to full blown apostasy and agnosticism! What up, present day?)

I remember more or less vividly a conversation I once had with my beloved uncle Hulka at that young age. I was curious about Heaven, just what it was like. I figured Hulka knew a lot of things, maybe he knew what was so great about this Heaven place. He told me that anything I ever wanted and anyone I ever loved was there. That sounded pretty good, but I needed to know more.

"Hulka, do they have Pipeworks in Heaven?"

"If you like Pipeworks, they have Pipeworks."


"Hulka! Hulka! Do they have Pipeworks 3000!?"

I was totally unprepared for what would come next.

"Remus, they have Pipeworks 1,000,000."

I think my brain exploded. Could. Not. Process. The. Awesome. I couldn't do this math in my head then, but Hulka, in a sentence, in an INSTANT, took the greatest thing I could imagine and improved it by 33,233.33%. That is a return on investment you don't often see, my friends.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Advice for Renting Your Apt. on craigslist

I'm on the hunt for a new place to live, with one definite and one maybe roommate (super cool people). In reviewing craigslist ads over the past several days, it's become clear that this can be a slightly frustrating process. However, just bitching about things doesn't really help anyone, so I thought I'd offer some constructive criticism to the people posting ads (which also probably won't help anyone, because nobody who needs to read this will probably read this).

1) Include photos. Seriously, we live in an era of ubiquitous cell phone ownership and I don't think cell phones even exist anymore without some form of camera, even if it's a shitty camera. And beyond that, many people own digital cameras or at least know somebody who does. Not providing photos tells me that either a) you're lazy, too lazy to take photographs of the place you want people to pay you for or b) there's a reason you don't want me to see what this place looks like.

2) Do not post your listing title in all caps. It is obnoxious when you do this. It makes me not want to read your ad. 2BD GREAT PLACE ONLY $850!! CALL DOUG AT 123-456-7890. This ad title is garbage (and fake, but similar to many I've seen). Do people still not realize that caps lock is the printed equivalent of shouting? Your ad doesn't stand out more because of this, especially not when you post LIKE 15 ADS IN A ROW all in caps lock (and yes, I meant to internet shout those words).

3) Another reason the fake ad from DOUG up above is shitty is because it tells me next to nothing. The title of the ad should give me as much abbreviated information as possible. Here is how DOUG's ad title should read: $850 - 2BD, 1.5 Bath, W/D in building, hardwood floors, 2nd floor unit. This tells me so much more in just one line, enough to help me decide if this is one I want to take a further peek at or not. If I'm browsing these ads, I already want an apartment you idiots, you don't need to convince me of that. Imagine walking into a pizzeria and someone coming up to you and shouting "WE HAVE PIZZA HERE CHECK OUT THIS PIZZERIA!"... Wouldn't being handed a menu be much more helpful?

4) Beyond the ad title, the ad itself should have as much information as possible. Yes, including photos (as mentioned already). I want to be able to picture this apartment after reading your ad, start imagining if it's a place I'd want to live. Honestly, I don't want to have to physically visit every apartment listed just to get a first impression. Help me understand the unit you're renting and if it fits my need, I will actually want to contact you and you won't need to convince me. Like I said, I'm already here looking for a place. Stop trying to convince me to check you out and help me check you out.

So yeah. If any of you dear readers know of a great place opening up at a good price, preferably with a W/D in unit and would allow a rabbit, 2+ BD... let your ol' pal Remus Thirty know!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Maybe 1 Person Will Find This Interesting (And That's Rounding Up)

When I was in 3rd grade, I got a very special birthday gift from a very special uncle. That uncle was Hulka, whom you may remember from, uh, like every other post on this blog. That gift was a Nintendo Game Boy. I remember it now: the olive green screen, the gray brick-like shape and weight, the mountains of batteries it killed... I loved that Game Boy. I loved it for years and years.

My cousin Sarah Thirty had gotten one about a year before me, and had a few games. So, naturally, we'd trade and try each others' games out. One game in particular that she had stood out to me. The label on the cartridge had a picture of a sword on it. And the gameplay... holy crap, it was like Zelda! It was like Zelda, but with more weapons besides swords, and with partners who followed you around! This game blew my mind. It was called Final Fantasy Adventure. Sarah didn't particularly care for it, she had too much trouble finding Bogard at the falls (the first objective). When I found ol' Bogard, she was impressed and offered to let me borrow the game for a while, since I seemed to be more into it than her. I played that game like an obsessed madman until I finally had to give it back. I needed more. I begged my parents for the next gift-giving holiday to include a copy of Final Fantasy for Game Boy. I got my wish on Christmas. I got double my wish.

Unbeknownst to me, there was more than one Final Fantasy for Game Boy. On that Christmas morning, I shredded wrapping paper to find not just Final Fantasy Adventure (the green box one), but Final Fantasy Legend II (the blue box one). Also Jeopardy! which I found difficult to type answers for using a D-Pad and two buttons, and played maybe 5 times. (Still, 2 out of 3 were and are all-time classic favorite games, so thanks Mom & Dad!) So Final Fantasy Adventure was a known quantity, and I focused my attentions on it first. And I played the hell out of it. I took a few minutes to try starting up Legend II, but it didn't play at all like Adventure. I couldn't use any weapons, and instead of enemies showing up on the screen, I'd walk around and the screen would flash and go to a "battle screen" where I'd have to choose my actions from menus. What the hell? Back to Adventure, the Zelda-style action-RPG. Eventually though, I found my way back to trying "the blue one" for real.

Reader, I married him. ... Yes, I just quoted the book I hate more than just about any book I was ever forced to read. I love(d) this game THAT MUCH.

This is the game that cut my teeth on RPG turn based battles, and what a long strange trip it's been since that point. But this game was SO NEAT in SO MANY WAYS. To start, you pick your character from a list of 8 character types: a male and female Human, a male and female Mutant, a Robot (a freaking robot!), and three different Monsters. Each type of character plays differently, and within moments you get to choose 3 characters from the same list to round out to a team of 4. You can double/triple/quadruple up, too. Lots of combinations to try!

So to run the types down, Humans are a basic character type. They use items and weapons and get stronger by participating in battles (I learned the hard way that this means running from as many battles as possible means you have weak-ass humans by not far into the game). Mutants also get stronger by battling, but more slowly than humans. This is offset by the fact that they randomly learn up to 4 special abilities, which are either innate (like preventing enemies from sneak attacking) or rechargeable (like fire magic). The rechargeable thing is important because weapons have finite uses before "breaking". So the male human's starting sword, for example, gets 50 uses before it's gone. That mutants have abilities that can recharge by staying at an Inn is a real economizer.

Robots (and can I just tell you how effing delighted I was at that age to have a robot on my team!?) grew in a really neat way. Equipping weapons and armor to robots increased their raw stats. They didn't need to battle to get strong, they just needed to hold your best stuff. And when they equipped weapons, the number of uses remaining got halved (ouch!) but they could recharge at an Inn, just like mutants' abilities. So instead of 50 shots from the basic gun of the game, I got infinite shots, but no more than 25 before needing to recharge. Again, this was a real economizer and made rare one-or-two-in-the-whole-game items stick around much longer.

Monsters grew in an even more interesting way. The monsters you could have on your team were the same as the enemy monsters of the game. Same stats, same abilities, everything. Basically whenever you fought a monster, there was a chance it would leave behind its meat (somehow, even skeletons, ghosts, flowers, and viruses [amongst others] left meat). Eating that meat transformed your monster into a new monster (through a complex table that is unexplained in the game and confused me to no end as a kid). It wasn't foolproof, but generally eating a stronger monster's meat made your monster transform into a better one. Learning certain patterns in this meant you could wind up with a monster on your team several worlds ahead of the ones you were fighting. This kicked an ass or twelve.

Uhhh, is it clear I was really into this game? The story was pretty awesome for a Game Boy game. Basically there was a network of worlds all connected to one larger "Celestial World" by giant pillar-like vines. You'd go from world to world solving crises and looking for shards of a statue of an ancient goddess, trying to track down your lost father. Various non-player characters would join your team temporarily (including that selfsame father!) as the story required. Usually they were awesome help in battles.

Here comes my favorite part about it all. I was a mythology nut as a kid, and I still love those stories. This game weaved several world mythologies into itself. You're not the only one looking for the pieces of the ancient goddess statue. New Gods, seeking to bolster their own growing power are on the hunt as well. I hadn't heard of Ashura before, but Venus? Yeah, I'd heard of her. Odin? Yeah. Apollo? Check. (I guess technically his pre-translation name was Apollyon, the Greek spelling of Abaddon, the demon of christian mythology, but as far as I knew, it was Apollo, Greek/Roman light god). This game required me to KILL GODS. Not just made-up, in-game gods. These were gods I'd heard of. Even the final-stage monsters were gods or epic legendary monsters. And the ones I hadn't heard of, I was so curious about! It gave me tons of leads to learn more about different mythologies.

Good lord did I love this game. At one point I was even working on the novelization of the game. OK, it was fan-fiction, but really, this was pre-internet and I didn't realize this would eventually be commonplace and ridiculed. So yeah, after my initial obsession with it, I'd still go back and replay it every few years. The advent of the internet shed light on all the hidden mechanics of the game for me to go back and retry. ("Ohhh, so this is how to know ahead of time what monster I'll transform to!") I've long lost the cartridge, and even if I hadn't, by now I don't have that old Game Boy, or any player compatible with it. But by George there are emulators now! And I'll be damned if FFLII wasn't one of the first ROMs I downloaded when I learned about emulators (and no, it's not even gray area illegal, since I owned the game legally before downloading. Well, THIS game anyway...).

Now, nostalgia put away, it wasn't a perfect game. There's a lot of game mechanics that really should be better explained in-game, but aren't. Some things are glitchy. I mean, it happens. Such is the nature of older games and their limited programming space. But there are other issues, such as gameplay balancing. There are too many abilities, particularly monster attacks, that are clones of other abilities, just with different names, leading to very little actual meaningful variety between early-game monsters. And a lot of the monsters are just plain useless compared to others. Rotate between the fairy, eye, medusa, ghost, and maybe slime classes and you're all set. It's nice to know how to power through the game, but it lacks variety. Human and mutant stat growth is random and slow. So yeah, flaws.

About a year or two ago, Square-Enix announced a Nintendo DS fully enhanced rebuild of this game. I was PSYCHED. I sifted through the internet for information, images, music from the new release. Seeing my old pixelated monochrome buddies in color and 3D filled me with oddly powerful nostalgia. The Japanese release came and went. Surely they'd announce the US release soon. Surely. ...surely?

... please?

Still no word on if that'll ever happen (I still hope it does). But two very interesting things have happened for me and this game recently. 1) I got an Evo 4G. It runs Android. Android has an app store. The app store has emulators. Miss Susie went to Heaven, the Steamboat went to... um, anyway. After years of having to play this game boy classic chained to a desk (WHAT IS THIS COMUNISTS RUSHIA AM I RITE?), I can take this game handheld, like it was meant to be played. 2) There are a few folks on the internet who apparently loved this game as much as me. Actually more. And they have programming skills. I just downloaded a hacked, patched version of the game that seems to fix most of the flaws, adds variety and difficulty, and even does cosmetic touches like allowing longer names (originally 4 characters max).

I am back on that Christmas morning, with my brand new Game Boy Final Fantasy. The other, blue one. A whole new, harder version of the game I've loved for years awaits me. It is new and old, mingled together. Nostalgia and novelty. ... Why yes, I am 27, chubby, and single, why do you ask?

I know I rambled on this one, guys. To those of you who read this blog for funny stories (80% of my readers, or 1.6 people, if you do the math out), I apologize. Actually, you probably stopped reading several walls of text ago and I can say awful terrible things about you, your mother, and other loved ones. But I wont. To the remaining 0.399 of you who stuck through this, thanks for bearing with me! And to the 0.001 of you who can relate, or maybe even loved this game yourself... let's hang out and be best buds forever.