Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

As I type this, Charlie Company of the 2012 Reborne Rangers has arrived at Lake Ann Camp and is learning their first lesson about conflict and teamwork in the face of the impossible on the paintball field as the final week of Reborne Rangers for 2012 begins.  I am still mulling over and telling the tales of week Alpha to friends who find themselves wishing they were there with me; to see what I saw.  Looking back, it’s accurate to say that the last day of Reborn Rangers Alpha 2012 was the most challenging one, as I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me throughout that day.

That morning, after breakfast and hearing from Chris, I tagged along as the Rangers headed out to a new physical challenge:  The Leap.  I thought I knew what The Leap was, I was so very wrong.  I thought The Leap was a event out on the challenge course at Lake Ann Camp that I had facilitated years ago involving slabs of tree trunk functioning as “lily pads” which the Rangers had to safely traverse while abiding by whatever restrictions their wise counselors put upon them.  This is not what The Leap is; The Leap is more, much more.

As I walked through the wooded area to our destination, with light filtering through the trees while leaves swished and crunched beneath my feet, I saw all the Rangers gathered in a large circle ahead of me.  As the circle drew nearer, I looked above me dazed and a bit confused.  Far above my head were cables strung between trees in proximity to what looked like small telephone poles about thirty to forty feet in height; and what was that red thing dangling off the cable, was that a ball?  I stood there somewhat speechless and amazed as the situation was explained to us:  Each Ranger would don a climbing helmet and full-body harness hooked to a rope and proceed to climb one of these telephone-like poles to a platform at the top.  Once atop the wobbly and wooden platform the Ranger would jump off into nothingness and attempt to strike the red ball hanging in mid-air from a cable.

As I contemplated what was going to transpire here, I began to think what many would consider “the unthinkable”:  Could I, in all of my physical weakness, instability, and pain, actually do this?  It’s not like I was 17 again, or even in my early twenties like when I was a counselor here; could I climb that AND THEN, somehow, jump off?  Something in me said I might be able to and that I’d regret it if I didn’t attempt to.  So I asked Chris what he thought: ‘The Youth Pastor in my says yes, you should do this and that it would be a sight the Rangers need to see; but the Program Director in me is conscious of the time constraints we’re under.  If we did this, what would you need?”  I explained the inherent stability issue, that  I would need one of the counselors already positioned on the platform located thirty-plus feet in the air to help me get on the platform and then to help me exit the challenge.  This wasn’t normal procedure and not everyone involved was 100% in support of the idea of me doing this but we forged ahead.

As the morning minutes spun on and the time for my challenge drew ever closer, I watched Ranger after Ranger climb this pole and leap into thin air like it was the most natural thing in the world.  To watch one such as Katie Champagne pull what amounted to “Spider-Man”, I just thought “how is she doing this?” Never doubting her ability or that of any other Ranger, but uneasy about my own.  As the last of the Rangers ascended and jumped, I handed all of my “pocketfuls of tech” and my lightsaber to Josiah Wyse so I could then get harnessed and helment-ed; one foot, then one arm, after the other.  I watched as the guy counselor for Rangers, JB, climbed the pole and fastened himself to it; waiting for my arrival.

Singularly focused on the challenge at hand, I walked through the circle of Rangers to the pole, where Doug Champagne strapped me in.  Suddenly Chris appeared to my right and asked me the same questions he’d asked every other Ranger he knew, past and present:  “What challenge are you facing back home?  What does climbing this represent?”  Considering the events in my occupational sphere and the knowledge that I’d be out of a job at the end of the year, continued employment was foremost on my mind.  Then, the climb began.

The thing about this pole is its pegs: the first 1/3 of the climb features longer, sleek, black, metal pegs upon which a persons feet can perch, even if they are unevenly placed.  While challenging, because my feet stick out at an awkward angle like the webbed appendages of a penguin, it’s do-able; more-so because of the assistance from Doug.  It’s the next 2/3 of the pole’s pegs that look down on you and sneer like a rouges gallery of supervillians in all their tiny and rounded “snubness”; these pegs screamed impossible.  By the time I reached them, all that kept me going was the words of a personal prayer inspired by the Green Lantern Oath:  “In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, I cannot escape His sight; He who loves me with all His MIGHT, casts out all fear…Jesus Christ, the Light.”  My strength began to fade and I knew my feet would stage a protest if I kept going, not to mention feeling like my body was hugging the pole as if it and I were the only physical objects in my entire universe (for all I knew at that moment, we were).  I hadn’t given it everything so I kept climbing, one hard earned peg after another.  By this time I knew I was still hearing the voices of the Rangers below me trying to talk to me and shout encouragement, but so much of that became jumbled as I blocked out everything around me and could only think of the next peg and not about how much my legs were hating me for doing this to them.  One peg, then the next.  Most of the time my legs wouldn’t cooperate and I’d have to pull my body up at uneven angles so that my feet would end up far enough above a peg so that just the heel of my skater shoes could rest on them.  One peg, then the next; over and over.  Now the arms wanted to give out, but I was much nearer to the top.  Physically I wasn’t screaming the Green Lantern Prayer, but mentally it felt like it; one part of my brain was doing that while the other part kept repeating the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune:  “Fear is the Mind Killer, I will face my fear, I will let it pass through me so that when it is gone only I will remain…” I wasn’t sure if I could keep climbing; my body had about had it but my spirit hadn’t given up yet and that was the key, much like using whatever item you find in the dungeon to defeat the dungeon boss in any Legend of Zelda game.  I kept going; peg after peg, weak penguin foot after penguin foot.

Finally, I reached JB and the top of the pole; only then did the Green Lantern Prayer stop, but only for awhile.  JB reached out his hand to grab me and help me onto the platform.  Since the sun was directly facing me though the trees, I couldn’t really see him.  With his hand reaching out, the moment had a Terminator/”come with me if you want to live” vibe to it which I of all people can appreciate.  As I stepped out on to the platform, I finally had an idea of how high up I actually was…and all the Rangers were about four stories below.  This was the point of no return, there was only one way off this bird paradise.

Ever so slowly I turned around and faced JB, my back to the sun shining through the trees and the edge of the platform.  Using JB for support I backed toward the edge of the platform, keeping my sight on the guy who had his grip on me.  It flashed through my mind that I had a small idea of what Peter might have been thinking the feeling when he stepped out of the boat on to the water, eyes on Jesus.  I felt my heels go over the edge of the platform and I gripped JB’s arm ever harder as he said “Count it down, then let go…3…2…1…”.  I let go.

Then the yell came as I was free-falling though time and space, no control over what might happen in the next sixty seconds; the Green Lantern Prayer returned.  Arms out as the descent began to be controlled, I found out later I was rocking somewhat of a “Spider-Man” or “Ninja Attack-hug”  pose of my own; be you more of a Spider-Man or Scott Pilgrim fan.  Closer and closer to the ground I came, as the adrenaline was still coursing through my veins and my muscles still wanted to punish me.   I don’t remember a whole lot after that, just a lot of people wanting to talk to me and posing for a victory photo before collapsing on the ground to let my body catch up to where the rest of me was.

All I knew at that point is that it was done, I had beaten The Leap; the impossible had become possible and I was told I had been awesome, and the pictures did not disappoint.

Yet, this was but the beginning of what I considered, “the toughest day”…

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Summer is always a important time for video game culture and industry because that’s when the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) happens and the best time to see what next generation gaming systems will be released by Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.  This year at E3, Nintendo demoed their new Nintendo Wii U as the kick-off of a special promotional tour for the new gaming system; this weekend that tour came to Washington, DC.  It’s not everyday that I get invite-only access to gaming hardware before it hits the market – it happened once with Microsoft Kinect – and it never happens twice in a weekend, but last night and today it did  as I attended Nintendo’s Wii U experience in Washington DC.

To see a hotel ballroom transformed into something that reminds you of the starship Enterprise in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek is rather impressive; it also helps to know one of the guys running the event who spent two days helping lead the crew who executed the transformation.  The event is Nintedo Wii marketing through and through, as everything is white with neon blue mood lighting for accent.  The room explodes out from a central pillar sporting three  flat screens and Nentendo Wii U consoles, while additional screens and consoles line the perimeter of one wall  leading to a few VIP rooms featuring more popular games.  The setup was impressive and looked as if a lot of design and thought went into the presentation.     Add to that a supply of Berry Lemonade Jones Soda – as it is the “Wii Blue” shade – and you’ve got a party going on.

Saturday night I brought a few friends along to share in the fun; it’s just better that way.  The Saturday event featured games such as Super Mario Bros Wii U, Nintendoland, Warioware, Zombie U, Ninja Gaiden, Batman Arkham City:  Armored Edition, Pikman 3, and Rayman Legends.  I can’t say I played all of these but I enjoyed a fair amount of them.

Before I dive into the games though, I need to talk about the feature of the Nintendo Wii U that is causing the most waves:  The Wii U Gamepad.  This is the piece that has folks scratching their heads, and understandably because a gaming console hasn’t gone this route before.  I’ll admit I was skeptical before using it, but having done so I am less so now and see that there’s great potential here.  Thankfully, the new Wii often still utilizes the Wiimote from the previous version of the Wii.  The Gamepad features a touch screen, classic D-pad, dual analog control sticks, L and R shoulder buttons, and LZ/RZ Trigger buttons (a first for Nintendo)  among other things.  It’s lighter than I expected and the weight and form factor don’t feel bulky in hand; it’s a rather natural feel.  Most games utilize the Gamepad in a unique way.  The only caution I would have is that the Gamepad element makes it feel like almost too much is going on at once in a given game, but for the most part it works.  On to the games:

Batman Arkham City:  Armored Edition – This is a port of the XBOX/PS3 Batman title, but with a Nintendo Wii twist, you play it with the Gamepad as the controller and aspects of  the game has been re-engineered to allow for more interactivity with the game.  The touch screen serves as the map and the gadget select mechanism and the Gamepad is used to solve many of the security related puzzles in the game.  It’s a refreshed look at a great game, but if someone owns it for another system there is much less pull to embrace this version, although this version does come with all the DLC content integrated into the game and new combat techniques.

Super Mario Bros. Wii U: A new version of the classic title released on the previous Wii, this version features new puzzles, power-ups, and levels while the basic game mechanics are the same.  However, this newer version allows for a fifth player to tag along and assist/hinder the other four players using the Wii U Gamepad to place blocks and distract enemies.  I enjoyed playing this with Drew and Ian and learned to never doubt the platforming skills of a nine-year-old; he out-played all of us, it was like that movie The Wizard with Fred Savage.

Nintendoland: This is a “party-game” title through and through that features mini-games based around classic Nintendo franchises such as Mario and Luigi, Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing.  While I played most of them, Legend of Zelda:  Battle Quest was the undisputed favorite.  In it, three players function as two swordsman and one archer as they work together to battle the evil minions of Hyrule.  The swordsman utilize the Wiimotes to hack and slash enemies and the archer uses the Gamepad to fire arrows of light at enemies from long range or enemies the swordsman cannot reach.  A lot of teamwork goes into the game to battle enemies and solve puzzles.

WarioWare:  Another “party” game that features mini-games.  The skiing mini-game requires the Gamepad to be used vertically instead of horizontally, and the player focuses on the Gamepad screen and not the larger flatscreen; it’s an amalgam of Mario Kart Wii and that ski game for Windows 95.  The archery mini-game however, was rather engrossing.  It’s a tower defense game wherein the player uses the Gamepad as a crossbow and points it at the screen to target and eliminate wave after wave of enemies to defend a small patch of four strawberries.

Pikman 3:  Apparently this is a long standing Nintendo franchise, about which I knew nothing expect that Pikman is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii.  It’s a strategy/adventure game involving catching fruit and defeating baddies using these little creatures known as Pikman.  Kinda fun, but I needed more time with it.

Project P-100: A game where you create your own superhero team to fight evil robots; what else do I need to tell you?  That’s just awesome.  It utilizes the full functions of the Gamepad to execute special moves and feels a bit like a Final Fantasy RPG as your team grows and brings the beat down on the evil metal minions.

ZombieU:  I didn’t play this, but a few friends did and it was clearly their favorite.  Apparently one person directs the zombies  using the  Gamepad and the others hunt the zombies.  Pretty basic, but sounds like a lot of fun.

All in all, two sessions at a well done gaming event wherein I got to enjoy being a 10-year old again for a few hours.  The Mushroom and Koopa Shell cakepops were great too.  As soon as Nintedo releases a Legend of Zelda and/or a Metroid title for Wii U, I’ll be all over it like Mario on mushrooms; until then, I’ve got a handful of Zelda and Metroid titles to still finish.

From Nintendoland,

Aaron

 

 

The year was 1986, and I was only four years old.  I wouldn’t know of it’s existence for a few more years, but that’s the year the “golden cartridge” known as The Legend of Zelda appeared on the 8-bit video game scene dominated by the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and changed things, forever. That golden cartridge gave us Link, the Hero of the Land of Hyrule, destined to confront and defeat Ganon, the Dark One with an iron grip on the land, Princess Zelda in his dungeon, and the power of the Triforce in the balance.  But it was only the beginning, as this legend has spawned numerous video games, music, apparel, philosophy book, and even a short lived cartoon.    While in many ways  built on what had come before, such as Dungeons and Dragons on the Mattel Intellevision; a game I have fond memories of playing with my Dad, Zelda took things to a whole new level.  The golden cartridge has left a hero’s legacy that is far from over, with the new Nintendo Wii U releasing later this year (which I’ll be testing tonight).

A portion of that “hero’s legacy” lies with the music made famous by these games over the last quarter-century; The Main Theme, Zelda’s Theme, The Song of Time, The Lost Woods, Guredo Valley, and many melodies played on the mythic Ocarina in Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time – the Zelda game that’s generally considered perfect.    I’ve spent many hours over the years enjoying the music of this franchise, second only to Star Wars, and Thursday night I finally got to see it live.  A friend and I heard about the possibility of the Legend of Zelda Symphony coming to our area and successfully plotted to attend; an event such as this is the musical version of seeing a Star Wars film or The Avengers at 12:01 am, complete with some in costume.  In a performance like this, musical pieces are arranged according to the games they came from, and each musical piece uses music from within the game to accompany the telling of the story of that game on the screen; something similar to Star Wars in Concert (which I attended a few years ago).

The show began with a “Legend of Zelda Overture” exploring the use of the “Overworld Themes” in the various games, and a “Dungeon Suite” to highlight the many variations of labrynthian tone in the Zelda-verse, after which the creative producer arrived on stage brandishing the legendary “golden cartridge” and the crowd came alive with clapping and cheers.  That moment was only outdone a later in the concert when  the conductor of the orchestra stopped the show in between the Ocarina of Time suite and the Windwaker suite to draw the attention of the audience to the fact that she would be conducting the Windwaker suite with the actual Windwaker baton, and this too was met with much clapping and cheers.  It was after the Ocarina and Windwaker suites that the storms started, and led many a fan to make references and jokes about both the Windwaker baton and the “Song of Storms” from Ocarina of Time (maybe it was one of those “you had to be there” sort of things).  The show continued in spite of the rain, fitting as the orchestra moved into the darker world of Twilight Princess and then into Link to the Past (as that story starts “on a dark and stormy night”).  It was after this musical number – and the included “finale” – that some thought the show was finished and started to exit, but far from it.

The creative producer took to the stage again to introduce the first encore as “coming from a small cartridge”, which meant we were headed into GameBoy territory with “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Legend of Zelda:  Link’s Awakening; a game I spent many hours playing on both black/white and color screens.  At this point I knew the show couldn’t be over, as the most epic of all Legend of Zelda tunes had yet to be heard, the theme for the almost amazonian tribe of characters in Hyrule known as the Guerdos and fittingly, before it was played, it was dedicated “to all the ladies in the audience”; and subsequently, there was no doubt of it’s musical “epic-ness” as the music was accompanied by video footage of Link challenging the ways of the Guerdo to learn of the one male told of in legend, to be born and to lead – the one who would become Ganondorf, the dark and evil king.    The final encore was good, but a bit of a letdown, as it was a suite from Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask; a game I never really got into when it released, because the surroundings and game mechanics were very different from what had come before (but it certainly has its fans).

In the end, it was a wonderful evening of fantastic music; a portal into the past and a childhood I was blessed to have and will happily never quite let go of. Of greatest imprtance though, this musical journey serves as a reminder that without the foundations of divine Wisdom and Courage, the pursuit of Power is but foolishness.

Love for Hyrule Always,

Aaron