Posts Tagged ‘Legend of Zelda’

In 1986 I was four years old.  That same year Nintendo released a little game for it’s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) called Metroid.  Something different than what had been done before, it was a side-scrolling game like Super Mario Bros. but the player also collected various items to enhance Samus Aran:  an inter-galactic bounty hunter that roamed this non-linear world (akin to the Legend of Zelda).  Due to the game’s vastness, it also included a password feature like the Mega Man games.  I was finally introduced to it a few years after it’s release and spent hours working to saves Planet Zebes from the Mother Brain and her dreaded Metroids; something similar to a “face-hugger” from Alien.  The greatest shocker to the original came during the game’s end credits, when you realized that Samus was a woman.  Samus Aran was the first real video game heroine.   Since that time, Metroid has gone on to become an impressive franchise of it’s own, spawning numerous sequels over various Nintendo gaming systems; all of which I own or had played heavily, as Metroid is my favorite video game franchise behind The Legend of Zelda. Metroid almost became a major motion picture that would have been directed by John Woo.

Sometimes I get nostalgic for first generation versions of games like Metroid, Mega Man, and The Legend of Zelda; ok, more than sometimes.  Recently, I found a few videos on YouTube of “speed runs” though the original Metroid and Metroid II:  The Return of Samus:  incredible play-through of these games in record times.  As I watched both of these – and yes I watched both in their entirety – not only did the memories return from when I was nine years old, but a I marveled at the perfection of the game-play.  The amount of time someone would have to play the game to know it so well, where very item is hidden and the optimum method and order to collect them.  The daredevil risks taken in the game for the sake of that record time: taking certain hits on purpose and rushing in to certain areas – seemingly unprepared – long before one should but emerging victorious precisely because you know the material, obstacles, and terrain so well.  That’s preparation.

My mentor, teacher, and dear friend Ken Rudolph often preaches a sermon about David’s Mighty Men each summer at Lake Ann Camp.  In the sermon he talks of how these men where men of practice, men of preparation; they knew their craft and knew it well, for this small band could have conquered entire nations by themselves; they were King David’s “Special Forces”.  These guys took huge risks, like breaking into enemy territory just to get King David water from the well of Bethlehem, his home town, but they were prepared.  These guys were like the Bible’s version of The Expendables.

I think that faith in Christ works this way too:  the more you know of Him, the more you see Him do, the more miracles – great and small – that you experience, the more your faith is built up.  The more your faith is built up and strengthened, the more you trust Him with the life He’s given you (yes, it is a weird paradox).  The more your faith is built and you embrace the greater Freedom of trusting Him, the more you can help others by loaning that faith out to others to build them up; Revelation 12:11 in real-life.    The more your faith in Him is built and the more you can trust Him, the greater risks you can take and step out all the more into the destiny He has for you; Ephesians 2:10 in real-life.  It sounds a lot like the journey of Samus Aran in Metroid and Link in The Legend of Zelda.

Right now, my risk is spending $500+ to go to Nashville, TN on September 21, 2012 for The Quitter Conference lead by Jon Acuff – not knowing a thing about what my future will look like after early November.  The board is set and the pieces are moving towards that day.

Are you prepared to step out?  What do you need to risk?

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What is your name?  What is your quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” – The Keeper of the Bridge of Death

What is a Quest?  The term is defined as “a long and arduous search for something” or “An expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat”.  I looked a few days ago through the dictionary that sits just to the left of the dais on the floor of the House of Representatives for what it had to say about “Quest” and what I was presented with was nothing but lame jargon…on the floor of the House of Representatives?!  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Tim Keller purports that a quest is a journey upon which one embarks  – not entirely of their own choice – that either leads to their death, or they return from the journey so changed that they cannot return to their old life.  Conversely, an adventure is something chosen freely that one embarks upon and at its end is able to return to their old life as it was before they left.

Looking at an example such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a quest, while The Hobbit or There and Back Again – as it is also calledis an adventure (even if the the trailer for the upcoming film may hint  at it being a quest rather than an adventure).  Bilbo comes back to his old life as it was before he left it.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippen do not – and – spoilers – Baromir dies.  Frodo and Gandalf go with the elves to the Grey Havens; Aragorn marries Arwen, becomes a father, and embraces his destiny as the long expected King of Gondor;  Gimli and Legolas become life-long friends; Merry and Pippen are now the tallest of Hobbits and in the books must return to the shire to defend it from destruction; and even though Sam marries Rosie and lives inHobbitton for some time – sans Frodo, his dearest friend – he eventually is called to the Grey Havens as he had been a  ring bearer too, never to return to the Shire once he leaves.

Much like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is a quest, Dune is certainly a quest, as is the Terminator franchise; in these cases the main characters go through things that leaves them vastly different than when they began.  Luke Skywalker goes from a lonely and forlorn  farm  boy on a backwater word to the hero of the Rebel Alliance and the last of the Jedi Order.  Han Solo: from rouge smuggler to, Rebel hero, hunted bounty, General, and the pirate who actually has a change of heart and finds it within himself to love a princess.  Leia: from youngest member of the Imperial Senate, to Rebel leader, orphan without a home, hunted fugitive, warrior princess, and willing to risk it all to save the life of the pirate who’s heart she won.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi…from Jedi, to hermit, to teacher, to sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself:  allowing the rebels to escape the Death Star and calling out the potential he saw in a 19 year old farm-boy who he’d spent the child’s entire life thus far guarding in secret under the guise of “a crazy old man” (who thought it too dangerous to go alone, so he gave him his father’s lightsaber).  In Dune, there is no doubt what-so-ever that young Paul  Atradies cannot go back to the life he lead as the son of Duke Leto on the water-world of Caladan once his family leaves their home to manage spice production on Arakis at the behest of Duke Leto’s cousin, Emperor Shaddam the IV.  Paul goes from a young teenager to the Duke of House Atradies after the murder of his father and subsequently  the undisputed leader of the Fremen – the native people of  Arakis – waging war on House Harkonen and the Emperor for the freedom of Arakis and the Fremen; eventually waging war across the galaxy and becoming Emperor of the known universe himself.

These stories are fraught with danger and intense conflict which bring about great transformation and change within it’s characters, but it often isn’t “all pony rides in May sunshine”  We often shy from quests because we don’t like the pain and difficulty that must be persevered though and the unknown that is the fork in the road:  deciding to do what is right or shirk from it.  It’s why some, when faced with such choices, become the hero while others become the villain of the story and such a choice leads to a destiny of “glorious purpose” bent on selfish and devious ends.  It’s why Yoda voiced concern about Anakin Skywalker and was reticent to know what came after suffering because he didn’t know if perseverance and character would result in Anakin’s life or resentment and anger and it took a generation to ameliorate that mistake amidst Yoda questioning the readiness of the younger Skywalker.

The truth though, is that human beings need quests, especially men, and Superhero movies – from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man and the Avengers, and Green Lantern – to video game franchises, like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda, readily support this idea.  Often though, destiny does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing and we are reluctant to get involved.  We’d rather save whales, because that’s easy…and not the universe.

And so I will end as I began: Who are you and what is your Quest; what are you searching for…and are you willing tto embrace that quest in the same manner which young Talia Al’Guhl escaped the pit…jumping without the rope?

Sometimes the telling of a tale doesn’t end when you expect it to because there is more story to tell than first anticipated, as shown by  Peter Jackson’s announcement regarding what is now a trilogy of Hobbit movies.  So it is with Alpha Company of the 2012 Reborne Rangers.  When we last left our intrepid band of young heroes they had gone to lunch and I was face down upon leaf covered ground trying to get my body to calm down after successfully jumping off a telephone pole thirty-feet-and-some-change into the air.  In retrospect, if that doesn’t live up to Joel Clark’s motto of “do it for the story” I am not sure what does (even if it isn’t jumping off a skyscraper construction crane in South Africa).    I felt like after that experience I’d given it all and there was nothing left – no more wisdom or challenges –  and once again, I was wrong.

By the time I got my bearings enough to just sit and rest at lunch, the Rangers were on to their next challenge:  Goliath.  After eating what I could for the sake of needing energy, I slowly made my way out to the the Goliath challenge,  just to watch this time.  Watching this larger team of 24 assemble itself into six smaller squads of four is interesting, as you get to witness wherein the bonds of what will be life-long friendship in many cases has really formed; adversity, difficulty, and challenge does that.  Continuing these friendships is somewhat easier than the first group of Reborne Ranger had it because of Facebook and other social media tools such as Skype.

Goliath is the only high adventure challenge at Lake Ann Camp that I haven’t done; I missed the chance to do it in 2005 because I was in Washington, DC during that part of counselor training for the summer.  I think it’s about 30-40 feet tall from the ground to the bell at the top of the challenge.  While most of the high adventure challenges at Lake Ann Camp are more “solo” oriented, Goliath is a team challenge from start to finish.  First, the four teammates climb a rope net to reach the first rung of the large ladder. Next, the team must find a way to traverse vertically up four horizontal beams held together by cables.  Finally, the squad needs to fund a way to enable one of the team members to ring the bell suspended ten feet above the final rung of the ladder.  Ringing the bell is even tougher when your counselors decide who get to be the one to attempt the “jump shot” and it’s always the most in-obvious choice (oh the wisdom of counselors).

While not all the Ranger squads successfully rang the bell, every squad came close.  As I sat and watched these challenges unfold, and engaged some of the Rangers in conversation about things they learned so far this week, I began to recover from the exhaustion that came from The Leap.  At the same time though my mind was racing because I was still piecing together what I thought would be my final address to the Rangers later that afternoon as part of their commissioning/graduation ceremony from the Reborn Rangers program.  As the hours ticked by I kept watching, talking, and thinking; reaching back to some of what I discussed earlier in the week about the purpose and destiny  for every one of these Rangers.

Soon enough, the time came to head out to Pine Chapel for the Rangers’ commissioning ceremony.  As I slowly walked down the path to Pine Chapel, I saw that almost all of the speakers from the last few days were back again to address the Rangers one final time:  Jim Dourty, Cheryl Tinsley, Doug Champagne, Ken Riley, Ken Rudolph, Chris Howard, and myself – all of them wore the Rangers shirt for Summer 2012, a symbol of what these students were about to step into.  As Chris handed me my shirt I was reminded of the last time someone bequeathed a Ranger shirt to me, 13 years prior.  As I took my seat next to The Commander, Doug hefted a wooden mallet I call “The Hammer of Thor” and began striking a bell with it as the Rangers filed down in two columns to their seats; 26 strikes total, one for each of the twenty-four students and their two counselors.

As the Rangers were seated, the addresses commenced and Jim Dourty was first at bat.  Drawing on some of what he had talked about earlier in the week, the telling of his time in combat and relating it to the spiritual life, Jim explained to the Rangers that, as Rangers, we’re leaders and targets on the spiritual battlefield; life from here on out would not be easy and difficult things would happen.  He also made it clear how proud he was of these students and that he considered it an honor to stand with them as a Reborne Ranger.  I was up next.

As I walked the short distance with my trusty walker and locked my feet in to sit on the back of it to address the Rangers, I reminded them of my words from earlier this week about the unique purpose and destiny that is at work for (and in) each one of them.  I told them that because Christ is the greatest Superhero of them all, and because we are to be like Him, we can he heroes too.  That with heroes, there is so much work to do that there is only enough down-time to iron the cape and then it is back to the skies.  In the midst of this, I heard the quiet and familiar tones of the “Warp Whistle” of both Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 fame; my phone was ringing.  Someone was trying to call me and I had no idea why, and everyone heard it.  Ignoring the call, I continued addressing the Rangers; this was their first step into a larger world, a new reality, and as they stepped into the new world Jesus would be with them…always.  I couldn’t have been prouder of this group of teenagers; all they had been through this week, all they had learned, they were ready to join the ranks of Rangers from summers past.  Drawing my lightsaber, I saluted them then walked back to my seat.

As I sat down and switched my phone to “buzz mode”, I tired to shake the sudden onset that something wasn’t quite right.  My phone buzzed again and I ignored it, trying to focus on the other speakers who were addressing the Rangers.  It kept buzzing; it hadn’t gone off like this all week long and all of the sudden it was exploding, and taking me from where I was – Ranger graduation – to somewhere I didn’t want to be:  Distracted-ville.       I honestly don’t remember much of what the others said in their final charge to the new Reborne Rangers.  After the final words wrapped, the counselors were called upon to be the first inducted into the ranks of Reborne Rangers, signified by the individual striking the mallet against the bell and receiving their shirt and congratulations from the speakers who just addressed them.   Afterwards, the counselors called their students up one at a time to strike the bell, receive their shirt, and be congratulated.  It’s an emotional thing to be a part of this after watching these teenagers grow, during this intense week, further into the individuals the Heavenly Father has for them to be.

After the ceremony concluded I sat down to pull out my phone and the uneasy feeling returned.  There was a message for me to call the office in Washington.  Finally getting in touch with the right people I learned that my boss was resigning that night and that things would be different when I got back to town.  By this time, the Rangers had left Pine Chapel, but the speakers were lingering.  Slowly getting up from the bench I shuffled over to them, explained the situation, and Chris, Doug, Cheryl, and Jim all prayed for what might lie ahead.  I realized later that it was no accident that I was at Lake Ann Camp when learning such news, there was no better place for me to have been.  That night as we sat down to dinner I ate my first steak in who knows how long; it was great.

Chapel at Lake Ann Camp on Friday nights is intense.  Instead of it being just 200+ Senior High campers, it’s almost all the programs, combined. Jump Start, Junior High, Fresh Start, Senior High, and Reborne Rangers are all represented.  As I arrived at Chapel late I saw Ken Rudolph sitting outside the building preparing to preach, so I sat with him; I love talking with this man of God.  We talked a bit about the news I got from Washington earlier – I love that my Lake Ann family watches out for me – and we prayed for the situation, Ken’s preaching, and that lives would be touched and transformed that night.  Then it was time for Ken to go under the lights again and preach with everything he had in him (and he did).

In the midst of Ken’s sermon, I stepped out to try and contact my parents to let them know the situation in Washington.  Once I couldn’t get a hold of them I quickly hung up the phone as I realized that Ken was telling the story of someone who was at Lake Ann Camp this week; Ken was telling a packed house the story of Josiah Wyse.  Realizing this, I hopped up off that bench and ran back into the chapel to find Josiah at the end of a row of seats near a window.  We just sat there together as Ken told the tale and watched the light come on in the minds of many of the campers as they realized that Ken was talking about someone who was in the very room with them; the room just came alive after that.  This was a moment in which tears were acceptable as the story of Josiah’s life, that would have ended in darkness, in fact, did not and the story was now being used to facilitate real-life impact in the lives of hundreds in the room with him.  There are few, if any, proper words for such a moment; just awe, really.  There is no doubt in my mind that some of those who took to the stage that Friday night were moved by Josiah’s story, what the Lord had done, and won’t be the same as a result.

Glory Bowl:  A time to enjoy a large fire that makes the inner pyro of most guys jealous and, more importantly, to share what God has done in the lives of campers that week.  It’s a Lake Ann Camp tradition that happens every Friday night after the combined chapel.  I’ve learned that Glory Bowl is much longer than I remember it.  More than anything though, the Glory Bowl confronted me with the reality of how much pain teenagers are in these days; I just couldn’t believe it.  From additional stories of struggling with suicide, drugs, abuse, and even homelessness, story after story just hit me like a smooth stone to the forehead; I just don’t remember it being like this when I was a camper, if it was it was to a much lesser degree.  Yet, in the midst of all this pain, the new Reborne Rangers rose to the occasion and more than once went to comfort and encourage these campers who were clearly hurting and the Rangers’ actions served as a great indicator of growth in their lives.  As I drifted off to sleep that night I was saddened that my time at Lake Ann Camp with these Rangers was drawing to a close, but there was one last nagging thought on my mind and I fell asleep without a resolution to it.

Saturday morning came bright and early and with it, that nagging thought.  As the Rangers gathered in the training room one final time before breakfast, to exchange contact information and spend moments together as as team, I just watched; sometimes laying on the floor to rest.  These teenagers had arisen to the “Avengers Challenge” – taking a group of leaders in their own right and forging them into a team.  I may never know what it was, or multiple things, that served as “the push” but they had done it.    And the time to give them one final charge and pass the torch was quickly approaching.

As breakfast was ending, the cinnamon rolls having been gleefully consumed, I asked for the attention of the Rangers.  As I stood there, I reminded them of what Jim Doughtery had shared with us the night before about being spiritual targets and the reality that tough things would happen.  I explained that hard things were happening to some of us and relayed the basics of what was happening in Washington and how I would be affected.  I reminded them that we had spent time ironing our capes this week and it was time to go back to the skies again.  Then I did what no one expected:  as I talked about passing the torch from one generation to the next, from one of the first Rangers to those newly minted, I asked Josiah to stand.  As he stood, somewhat bewildered, I explained how there has never been a story quite like his happen at Lake Ann Camp before and I wanted there to be a symbol for the passing of the torch that they would all remember.  With that, I removed my lightsaber from my belt and handed it to him.  For a few seconds no one spoke, they knew what was happening and couldn’t believe it.  In fact, Josiah didn’t want to take it but I assured him it was being freely given.  With that, the nagging thought fled so very far away.

It was tough to say goodbye to these new Rangers, my padawan learners.  The same could be said for my Lake Ann Camp family old and new.  Sharing in the staff Glory Bowl later that morning I urged those at Lake Ann Camp this summer to enjoy every moment, as there would come a time when life would take them away from Lake Ann Camp and on to other things and the encouraging and uplifting environment would no longer be the norm.  It was a joy to get to be a part of that once more and hear what happened that week in other programs.  As the staff Glory Bowl was ending I knew my time was ending too.  I slowly walked my way to from the chapel to the trailer to retrieve my luggage as my ride pulled up.  At that moment who should be walking down the gravel path but the Commander himself, Ken Rudolph.  Introducing him to my brother and sis-in-law and saying farewell for now, I got into the car and we drove off…

…but I’ll be back, you can count on that; thus ended one of the greatest weeks of any summer at Lake Ann Camp and I got to be there for it.

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”…

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

 

 

Author’s Note:  Thoughts on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (via a Facebook note) after it’s release in 2010; great movie.

Anyone who knows me knows that I really enjoy heroes, comic books, and video-games. Now if someone can successfully turn that into a movie, I am all in. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is all this and more. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on the six volume comic book saga of the same name, volume six having just recently released in the last month. In truth, I have not read the comic books yet, so I do not know how well it follows the source material.

In the film, Scott Pilgrim (played perfectly by Michael Cera) is a 22 year old bass player in a band with some friends from high school. The band’s desire is to make it big, to sign with a producer everyone calls “G-man” and Scoot is dating Knives Chow a high school senior. Enter Ramona Flowers, a roller-blading punk girl with wild hair colors that Scott really wants to date. The audience soon learns that in order to date Ramona Flower, Scott Pilgrim has to fight and defeat Ramoa’s seven evil exes (a.k.a. The League of Evil Exes). It’s a riot to watch Scott Pilgrim go one-on one with with Lucas Lee (played by Chris Evans – Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and soon to play Captain America) and Todd the Bass Player (played by Brandon Routh; Superman in Superman Returns). I particularly enjoyed the “Bass Battle”. Some are going to see this as romantic-comedy-esque, because yes, romance is one of it’s main themes, and it’s a very funny movie. As someone who doesn’t like romantic comedies all that much, I actually like this (battling a League of Evil Exes who all have superpowers to win the heart of a girl; who doesn’t?).

This is a movie that is a complete ode to a generation that’s grown up loving video-games and comic books. One of the wonderful aspects of the films is the use of music and sound effects from the classic video-game franchise The Legend of Zelda (a Nintendo series which happens to be my all-time favorite gaming saga). From using the history of Pac-Man as a pickup line; learning the bass line to Final Fantasy II; many nods to classic arcade fighters like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter; Thor’s Hammer – Mjollnir; and a final duel influenced as much by role-playing games as it was by Star Wars; this is a movie that a gamer/superhero fan will love. In many ways this is the movie that was made for the “Nintendo generation”. There are nods to many other cultural icons like Bruce Campbell/Evil Dead, The Seven Samurai, and the late John Hughes.

The whole idea of seeing Scott Pilgrim (while surely flawed) as a hero goes beyond honing skills, winning fights, scoring points, and collecting change in the process – it’s the idea that he’s willing to fight and defeat seven evil villains so he can date a girl, not so he can take over the world. He’s willing to risk life and limb because of a girl (and to protect his friends). Most films don’t execute this all that well, but Scott Pilgrim does so in a way that’s humorous and nostalgic. It’s nice to see the geek hero triumph and see a character actually learn something worth learning. Pilgrim is a much better hero than many of the anti-heroes who are popular today, such as Wolverine, Punisher, Blade, and Spawn. There is an innocence to his heroism that is akin to Link in the Legend of Zelda games –Scott Pilgrim didn’t seek to become a hero, the circumstances found him. I think this is a film that will define this generation long after it leaves theatres. Children of the Eighties have The Goonies, and this generation has Scott Pilgrim – just beware the Nega-Ninja.

The FENX, surprisingly, not in this blog post.