Monday, March 23, 2009

Now We Are Six(th Kyu)

I finally broke down and bought the Orange Box. I'm kinda excited because I can now play Team Fortress 2 with some fellow reviewers, and I can finally play Portal, which I've heard so many good things about (and the fact that it's a puzzle game is an amazing plus), but I'm bizarrely not excited about Half-Life 2. As is, it's a miracle in itself that I'm playing TF2, a kill-your-opponents game, because I've never really been into shmups (although yes, TF2 technically is more than just a shmup). Maybe someday I'll get around to playing HL2, or maybe someday I'll just pass it off to someone as a gift. Does anyone know if you can pass off games that you've purchased on Steam but not yet installed?

Anyway, while TF2's downloading, I thought I'd put in a little blog update. Not that I expect to be playing it anytime within the next six hours (wait, this is taking up how many gigs of space?), but with my connection slowed down a bit due to having something better to do, I figured I might as well put in some time doing something productive elsewhere. I felt bad about leaving my last post being something that really only mattered for a couple of days (although BFG had another game sale this past weekend with code SPRINGBREAK... whoops), so I wanted to get something up as quickly as possible just to freshen things up. I actually tried two separate posts late last Tuesday night, but they were both so amazingly incoherent that I couldn't bear to even finish them. (That, and the general fact that they went absolutely nowhere anyway.) Today though, I have a solid topic to talk about, so let's put the Maria Rita on loop and go for it.

The title for today's post was lovingly lifted from a book of poems by A. A. Milne that I got a while back (it was... oh yes, on my sixth birthday). Unfortunately, poetry didn't really interest me back then, nor does it really interest me much now. I usually read over a piece of poetry like any other bit of prose, rather flatly and emotionlessly. So far as I can remember, only one poem has ever really stood out to me in a "huh, that's interesting" sort of way. That was Walt Whitman's "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer."

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

For whatever reason, the events I'll eventually get around to detailing in this post made me think back to this book of poetry, which I never even read, even in the almost fifteen years I've owned it. I dug out the book, and found that there really is no poem entitled "Now We Are Six," but instead the title comes from the last poem of the book (entitled "The End"), which is apropos for this post, so I might as well retype it here as well:

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive..

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

Abrupt subject jump: Let's talk karate. For those of you wondering, the famed "5000 Katas" tally disappeared rather quickly. Why? Well, once I started getting into the dojo and practicing the katas more heavily, I realized a tremendous problem: I lost count almost immediately. All of a sudden, the need to actually think about the movements in the katas and to focus on my stances and strikes and blocks completely overshadowed a petty little tally. If I focused on the numbers, the katas wouldn't have been good, and the entire exercise would have been futile. So for the 5000 katas plan to actually work, I would need to rent a midget to do the counting for me, so I could focus on the katas. (Why a midget? Simply put, he needs to fit inside my gym bag.) So yeah, 5000 Katas is dead in practice, although not in spirit. I'm still chugging along, just without the tangible steps toward a goal.

Since I've not had much more important things to do during the day than write reviews, prepare for work in the evening, or do whatever oddjob needs done around the house, I've been finding myself at the dojo roughly six days a week to work out. There are a couple of us who try to get together roughly lunchtime-ish (according to their work schedules) to spar around a bit, and there are another cluster of us who have been meeting after school-ish (according to their school schedules) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to work on different things, and I still have the usual classes Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons for organized group practices. To say the least, I've been practicing a lot, and a lot of different things. I've since started work with on a lot of kenjutsu exercises, including working on the Toyamaryu katas and preparing for a possible trip to a chanbara tournament in P'burgh next month. I'm pretty sure that if I could spend full days practicing in the dojo with someone, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

Last week though was sort of hellish though. Why? Testing. Need I say more? Those who know me know that I am bizarrely panicky when it comes to any sort of major test or examination. This past week was no different. I still went in town to the dojo everyday to practice as usual, but I could feel my nerves taking a hold of me. My mind was racing the entire week, and I had a hard time relaxing. (Okay, so not being able to relax is a running problem for me, but you get the point.) The night before the test, I had a hard time falling asleep, and I felt sick to the stomach for that entire day. I went into the test an absolutely jittery blob, and came out feeling like so much less. All of the katas that I had been working on for months were terrible, I blanked when it came time to recall terms and wazas, and honestly, I feel that it's by miracle alone that I passed that test.

Now I am sixth kyu. A blue belt. I was quite displeased that I had gotten to that level in the way that I did, because I felt that I had done a terrible job. I have no doubt in my mind that what I did was a terrible job. Nonetheless, I somehow passed, and found myself in the dojo the next day, wearing the hakama I wear for practicing kenjutsu, with a blue obi. I don't think I actually practiced that day. Instead, I sat on the floor of the dojo and meditated something fierce. I love the irony in how I phrased that, "meditated something fierce," but it's really the most accurate way of describing what I did then. I've never really been able to meditate before, but something actually worked this time around. For the last week, I had been completely unable to empty my mind and just relax, and the morning after, I finally accomplished thinking about nothing for probably the first time in my life. It's a nice feeling. I kinda miss it.

Anywho, I guess if there's one thing I "got" out of that time, it was that I came to accept my "fate," per se. I've come a long way since when I first started practicing karate back in what, June? Since then, I've picked up so much knowledge not just on karate but also kenjutsu and other fun forms, and it's weird to think that at one point in time in my life, I never thought I'd even make it this far. And yet, here I am. I have great potential, and I can't talk myself into thinking otherwise. After the test on Thursday, I managed to learn Heian Sandan in a matter of ten minutes on Friday and fifteen minutes on Saturday, with more fine-tuning today. When I first started, Heian Shodan took well over three days to get the hang of, but here I am now, understanding everything that's going on, and everything flowing so much more naturally.

I'm still by no means perfect in what I do, nor do I expect to be anytime soon. I'm still bitter about the test, but all I can do is just work out my kinks (and my tics) and just prepare myself for next time. I've come a long way, I can't deny myself that, and I have so much further to travel. Now I am sixth kyu, and I am clever as clever. But I can only hope that I will continue to grow for ever and ever.

Actually, in retrospect, that was kind of a dumb way to tie everything together.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Big Fish Sale

Bah, Big Fish, the bane of my existance? Why? Too many games to choose from, and so little time. Then they come along with these crazy sales, and I end up spending lots of money on them.

But now, I pass the blessings/curses on to you. Big Fish Games is currently offering half off on all of their games, with coupon code LUCKOFTHEIRISH. The sale ends tomorrow, so if you want a game, you'd better get it quickly. There are plenty of games to choose from, so as a slight takeoff on my other job, here's a quick list of some things to consider, if you're in the market for another time-wasting addiction. I haven't much time, so I apologize for keeping these somewhat brief and lacking glitzy screenshots and that. Starting from the top of my current BFG play menu...

Diner Dash - link
Synopsis (in 10 words): Time management with fast restaurant action. Keep the customers happy!
What I Think: This one's really a guilty pleasure for me. I'm a fan of time management games, but don't like some of the hyper-excessive bells, whistles, and other unrelated tasks that some have you do. GameLab (maker of too many other awesome games) really does a nice job with a fun game with a great atmosphere. Also, Flo and the customers rank up there among my favorite character designs in a game.
Will I Buy It? Most likely. It's fun, it's quirky, and it's simple enough to be a great challenge.

Slingo Supreme - link
Synopsis: Bingo plus slots in a classic strategy game. Darn Devil!
What I Think: Again, another guilty pleasure game. I've been a fan of the online version for a while, and it's a fun time-killer when there's nothing else to do. This downloadable version has a lot of interesting bells and whistles in the form of power-ups, but it still feels like it has the potential to get stale quickly and suffer from PMMS, or Pictureka! Museum Mayhem Syndrome, in which a game has one short game aspect which is played a billion times over to obtain a rather uninteresting goal. (Remind me to heavily pan that game on here sometime.) This here has a lot of emphasis on getting high scores, which is something I usually don't find as a fun goal.
Will I Buy It? No, for several reasons. One, the PMMS mentioned above. Two, there's still the free version on or something like that. Three, I've come across an interesting bug. I tried this when it first came out, played the hour demo, then uninstalled it. Several months later, I'm playing it again, but with my saved progress still intact. So... yeah, sort of a free game on a bug, there. Keep it under your hat though, right?

Puzzle Quest - link
Synopsis: Match three manas to beat an opponent on your quest.
What I Think: Oh geez, the match-3 genre, such a boring and overused thing. When Bejeweled/Diamond Mine first came out back in the day, it sucked out trillions of hours of productivity from the American workforce. Just think where our economy would be today if the game had never been invented. Since then, so many clones have popped up, with very little variety to offer, Puzzle Quest, however, stands out in a huge way: It's essentially a 2-player game. Now instead of just matching any three items together just to get it done and over with, you have to strategically plan your moves so that you leave an opponent with ineffective moves. A much needed refresher in the genre, I think. I'm not much of a fan of the forced-Celtic atmosphere, but I guess it comes with the territory.
Will I Buy It? Definitely. If nothing else, there's an online-multiplayer mode that looks awesome, and I know of at least one other reviewer that would be up for a throwdown. (This means you, John.)

Boonka - link
Synopsis: Blast off critters to restore the wooded lands. Oohn Shtarna!
What I Think: It's been a long time since I've seen an arcade-ish keep-the-stuff-from-getting-to-the-top puzzle game, so this was a welcome entry. From the moment you start, you're sucked into this cheery and whimsical world of a Buddha-like god trying to restore his trees, his friends, his people. Fast-paced and unique, this one's definitely worth a look.
Will I Buy It? Already did, after my first time playing it. Too bad it was full-price back then.

Mystery Case Files series - link, to one
Synopsis: Find the hidden objects to solve the mysteries at hand.
What I Think: I'll spoil the ending and reveal that I actually got two of these games (Huntsville, Madame Fate) for free during a game giveaway BFG had not too long ago. Do you remember those I Spy books we spent weeks at a time looking through back in elementary school, or those hidden pictures pages in Highlights magazine? This is basically that, but usually with a haunted/murder mystery theme. Find the hidden objects in different settings to unlock riddles and solve cases, the synopsis above pretty much says it. I don't want to sound bitter about these games, because they're actually quite excellent, but hidden-object games really aren't my cup of tea, especially with my poor eyesight (which I strain greatly when playing for a couple hours, thank you very much).
Will I Buy It? Aside from the fact that I got them for free anyway, no, but only because it's just not my genre. MCF games are some of the better in the genre though, and are strongly worth considering.

Hopefully that's enough to get you started off. Just remember, you still have to save money to feed the wife and kids. And the sale ends tomorrow, March 17!