Monthly Archives: May 2011

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m drifting

Every so often I feel like reminding myself that I no longer am 14. The proper assessment method is to pull an all-nighter for no apparent reason and realize once more that such initiatives should never be considered in the first place. What may once have been a feat of strength at LAN parties with other guys sporting long, unkempt hair, is nowadays nothing more than a measurable burden. Speaking in scribbles, wondering whether one is asleep or awake and especially passing out at a family dinner while leaning on your own fist are all occurrences that should be left in the past. For a reason.

But what choice did I have? We went drinking with the Embassy Trainee Squad (ETS) on Friday. As Friday turned into Saturday and I woke up at 5 in the afternoon, I realized that it would be quite difficult to come back from the admittedly self-caused predicament. The only sensible way I could think of was to play Rift until dawn and pull an all-nighter Sunday night in order to then “get up early” and go straight to Tsukiji for some world class sushi first thing on Monday. Plan set in motion.

You can't really miss the general fish market area.

Whoop Whoop!

Sushi Dai is a renowned and ridiculously small sushi stand at the Tokyo Tsukiji fish market that has been given rave reviews online. Upon arrival it became clear that the store appealed more to foreigners than locals, immediately setting off my tourist trap alarm. The clock dinged 6:45 when I arrived, yet I still had to queue for around 45 minutes for my early breakfast sushi. I was too tired and hungry to take any pictures of the meal, and since other bloggers with better skills and tools have done it before, I refer you to EdEdition and Paul’s Travel Pics for lengthier illustrated reviews of the place. I really can’t be bothered at this stage.

La queue (queque)

I do agree with most reviewers that the sushi at Sushi Dai was definitely the best sushi that I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, due to the immense hype surrounding the place, I was pretty much expecting to get raptured while my taste buds sang songs of praise. That didn’t happen. The problem wasn’t in the quality of the sushi, but merely in the experience as a whole. It is also possible that I found my limit as a sushi lover.

The place has 12 seats, and queues of 1-2 hours to get inside are not uncommon. Those two things combined create a barrier that effectively prevents people from enjoying Sushi Dai as a lengthy social experience. Maybe with the exception of people who happen to like the queue simulator. ¥3900 for a dozen pieces of excellent sushi after and hour’s wait in a remote location is not entirely worth it, at least more than once. The sushi was excellent, but I’ve had excellent sushi at other locations which offered additional perks. The slight increase in quality does not justify all the fame surrounding Sushi Dai, merely some of it. But since freshness is such a selling point and there are 50 other sushi stalls at Tsukiji, there should not be that big of a quality gap between Dai and all of the rest. The next time I venture into Tsukiji, I’ll try to find a cheaper, less gaijin-infested sushiya. I’ll also try to sleep the night before.

-Stark Dålig

Interviewee vs. Interviewer

Being in a job interview is usually, though maybe tenuously, linking an applicant and the part where said applicant is getting the job he once was interviewed for. That said, there are not only lots of different types of conducting an interview (e.g. some of the best questions) but also differing bargaining positions partly in relation to who has the higher stakes at play in the interview.

This time around, I had not applied for anything but instead the company contacted me by phone as I had left my contact information a few years before at their stand (while attending a competition with prizes in beer) in some convention. Interesting, to say the least. Maybe they really needed talented people with proven record, I thought. I told them I was already employed, but asked them to send some more information through email anyway.

In a way, the situation was upside down from what it has previously been. Getting my first real study-related boulot was a fascinating experience in itself and afterwards I prioritized continuing my working career without gaps while studying. Now, being employed and doing something I enjoy, I need something else to even remotely consider going somewhere else. Luckily, there is an unlikely solution to this dilemma. Why not simply sit down and chat about it? Instead of reading cheesy and polished up job descriptions, emailing back and forth and wasting a lot of time doing so.

So why go through the trouble? For starters, getting experience of these kinds of situations is something I am always looking forward to. In addition, I like to explore different kinds of options that may be available to me and within my reach. Moreover, it helps me gather a picture of how highly rated my current experience (or perhaps lack thereof) would be out there in the real world. And how about plain old curiosity? Of course, there are also the cool socializing and networking aspects involved. Alright, that is plenty of buzzwords for today.

An interview is, after all, a mutual information sharing and interest shaping session. One could even argue that the stronger the interviewee’s position, the better the outcome. Then again, if I do not have any reason or incentive to sell myself to you, spare me the marketing pitch and tell me why I would like to work with you. This is something I regard very highly.

All in all, I enjoyed the three hours I spent this week being interviewed – to my surprise – for something I had not originally thought of. This was a breath of fresh air and a starting point of sorts for a whole new thought process.

- Joona

Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!

“I actually don’t treat life any differently than an RPG. I’m always thinking of leveling up myself, which in this case, is actually myself, not my World of Warcraft character.” -Brian Wang, co-founder of Fitocracy.

What can I say? Someone has unknowingly answered my wishes. I alluded to the lack RPG-type real life achievements in the last couple of sentences of the first Sebaattori post, more than half a year ago. If I had had any functional knowledge in coding I would’ve attempted to create such a service myself. It would appear that in addition to not being possible, it is also no longer needed. Fitocracy is a service that has now been in beta since February. It offers its users experience, quests and achievements for logging real life physical exercises and sharing them with others. Tsumari, it’s like a HeiaHeia for gaming nerds and objectively the greatest invention since those cat ears that read your emotions.

At least that’s the image I’ve gotten from surfing around the site. I’ll need to test it in practice later tonight but it’s needless to say that I’m enthralled by the mere concept. Originally I was slightly reluctant to go to the gym today because it’s raining and the place is boring, lacking in fundamental equipment and whatnot, but the possibility of leveling up from doing a couple upper body exercises is far too tempting. Therein also lies the danger.

Yatta, yatta!

According to Owen Good of Kotaku, “[Fitocracy developers] are of course exploring ideas like mobile applications so you can ‘play’ at the gym; the community constantly asks if nutrition will be integrated into the XP system, and they’re considering that too. The manner in which I created my new weights workout was absolutely intended, and Fitocracy wants to grow that out in the quest system. “Character classes” or something approximating that are also a possibility, for those who want to specialize in, say, running, or weight training, weight loss or toning up or whatever.”

If Fitocracy is as effective an incentive as I currently believe, I may well die from exhaustion in the next couple of months while relentlessly trying to multiclass into a Runner/Leaper. I wish I was pumping iron already. That’s a first.

-Antti

Update: Reached level 3. Ding! Grats! Ding! Grats!

Motor Crazycycle

Mille Bornes

One more workweek over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at the workplace. I managed to save more money on travel costs than ever before by cycling to work for five days in a row. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and ¥3300 less to pay to the private railways. After now having zigzagged between cars for over a thousand kilometers during my first three months here, I’ve thoroughly began to enjoy the peculiarities and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. Five days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles, though, so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After a long week of sitting in front of a screen for no purpose, I awarded myself with finally deciding to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick yelp of “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo dashed to the counter confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian Traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the fillings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specified in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for people who judge take-out pizzas based on how they are cut.

À emporter

Take away (or one of the other options) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was ¥1700 (->¥1360), affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their peak and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seats or tables in the restaurant which is more reminiscent of, or veritably is just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

It's dangerous to go alone, take this.

Once I had received my dinner, I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, returning the occasional baseball to the neighborhood kids playing nearby. The Italian Traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike all other pizzas in Japanese restaurants till the end of time, this one managed to both look and taste like a pizza, never mind the millefeuille crust. It was so appetizing, actually, that as I let my vigilance level drop for only a few seconds, a huge crow appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong. As did the crow. We quickly exchanged a couple of Finnish curses and the crow was on his way again. I did most of the talking.

Gym? What’s a Gym?

The real challenge of the day was still looming ahead. Following a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the Nakamuraminami gym, finally carrying the only proof I had for living in Nerima, my new and shiny Alien card. The lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go down the stairs to the training room area. I was instructed to fill in some sheets about general contact information and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then, the gym guide guy (GGG) proceeded to present me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard bench press. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed a measly five kilograms each.

Thus, every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit down and lock yourself up as to prevent people from pulling off any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell on themselves AND DIE! That meant that there were going to be no squats, no deadlifts, no lunges, no pull-ups and no bench presses, ergo no possibility of doing anything I would’ve wanted to. What they did have was a free blood pressure measurement with the GGG offering to keep statistics of the results, so that was a positive surprise. They also had two of those Japanese… rodeo… machines that make you look mental when you ride them. They may or may not be of any use. The gym costs ¥200 a pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Obviously. Despite its self-explanatory shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying ¥13,900/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and force myself to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.

-Antti

 

One more workweek is now happily over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at work. I managed to save more money than ever before on travel costs by cycling to work every weekday. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and 3300 yen more in my pocket instead of the railway system. After having zigzagged between cars for over 1000 kilometers during my first three months I’ve now thoroughly beginning to enjoy all the peculiarities of and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. 5 days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles though so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After the hard week of sitting in front of a screen I awarded myself by finally going to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo ran from the backroom confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox. (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the stuffings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specify in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for someone who judges pizzas based on how they are cut.

A emporter

Take-away (or take-out for all you native English speakers) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was 1360, affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their max and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seat or tables in the restaurant which is actually just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

Once I had received my pizza I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, occasionally returning the odd baseball to kids who were playing nearby. The Italian traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike pizzas in Japanese restaurants, this actually was one, millefeuille crust or not. It was so delicious, actually, that after concentrating for 5 secs to throw a baseball back to some kids (far too hard as well, poor fellows had to run to the other side of the park to get it and I was the one who ended up apologizing) a huge crow had appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong.

What’s a GYM?

Yet the real challenge of the day was still ahead. After a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the gym with my new and shiny Alien card, which proved where I lived and the info of an emergency contact so someone could save my if I die exercising. At the local gym, the lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go to the training room area. There, a linguistically challenged but friendly guy made me fill information sheets about general stuff and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then he proceeded to introduce me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard benchpress. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed 5 kilograms. Every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit as to prevent people from pulling any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell over themselves AND DIE! That meant that there was no squatting, no deadlifts, no pull-ups, no benches and no lunges, ergo no possibility to do anything I would’ve liked. They had free blood pressure measurement which they keep statistics of though, so that was interesting. And also two of those Japanese rodeo machines that make you look relatively daft when you ride them.

The gym costs 200 yen / pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Despite its obvious shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying 10000/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and learn to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.

Running and You: Road to Helsinki City Run 2011

For once I decided to take upon a non-gaming, non-technology topic. Hell, it would not even fit into the casual nerd talk category if I were not the one typing this. So, what could be the reason I am not going out and about, but striving for something out of the ordinary? In fact, I accomplished my second half marathon almost two weeks ago and so I decided to sharpen my pencil (or maybe stretch my fingers) and share my journey with you. Physical prowess is, after all, only second to gaming skill on my scale from zero to awesome.

History

The Leivo Dynasty has long been engaged in numerous events related to running. It was not until last year that I had the opportunity to be asked to join this great bunch of people for the whole duration of a half marathon. Naturally, I could not (and still cannot) refuse that kind of challenges.

Due to numerous coincidences and some mitigating factors, I ended up running last year as Jaana Olkkola, my (female) alter ego. Being the first time I actually ran for that long, and without proper training, my target was merely to finish the course and see how it goes. Well, I guess I was not too shabby, as my time back then was around 2 hours and 2 minutes. That is roughly a pace of around 6 minutes per kilometer. Somehow, and maybe for a good reason, I had the gut feeling that I could do better and that this had not been the end of my running endeavors.

This fateful Saturday afternoon things were different. I was prepared for what was about come and I knew I could definitely beat my old record and maybe even surprise myself while doing so. I had the right mindset and I had even considered what to eat beforehand to maximize my performance. I even had the right kind of lenses for my sunglasses. My choice of eyewear definitely did not go unnoticed.

Training

Instead of really concentrating on work and studying, I have been endorsed in taking the physical capabilities of my body to the limit each week for the past three months. It started with buying a runner’s card to a local indoor arena when I got back from Japan. Then I ventured forth and began to go the gym a couple of times each week. Soon, my evenings were filled with different types of exercises. Now I find it hard to spare one or two days each week for resting purposes. My housemate has been a great motivator. Together, we have been aiming for maximal stress (i.e. the state of Hapetus, for those familiar with our training methods) when doing lunge jumps, ankle jumps, squat jumps (among other kinds of jumps) and different types of running exercises.

Not all training was for this single half marathon. To tell the truth, I was not even supposed or prepared to participate in the competition a week before. However, thanks to Antti not being here to uphold the Leivo dynasty, he wanted to transfer his participation right to me thus allowing this feat of strength to happen. Instead, I have been training for an orienteering relay called Jukola along with a couple of mountain biking events. Then again, orienteering mainly consists of running so it’s a win-win situation when it comes to participating in this year’s HCR.

The act

After a slowish start to the course (first two kilometers took roughly 5 minutes 50 seconds each) I was a bit uncertain if I could make it under my initial goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes. Sadly, most of the people in my group (with target time between 1:50 and 2:00) should not have been in that group – at all – as they clearly had no incentive or capability to accomplish what they had bargained for. Without giving it too much thought at that point, I aimed to up my pace to around 5 minutes per kilometer. As I had my watch with me this time around, I could easily keep track of time spent covering each kilometer.

I recall arriving at the halfway mark at around 53 or 54 minutes, which was in line with my expectations. However, nearing the latter part of the course, first at maybe 12 kilometers and then at around 16 kilometers (after passing Antti’s brother Aleksi whom I had been following for the majority of the run) I realized that I might actually make it under 1 hour and 45 minutes, which was nothing short of a magic barrier for me. Were I to make it, I would have definitely outdone myself. I remember thinking while running about how Antti had commented earlier on one of my trainings that he had a hard time believing my results. Perhaps that gave me the final boost.

At exactly 1 hour, 44 minutes and 33 seconds after walking over the starting line along with a merry crowd of people, I crossed the finish line at the Olympic stadium. This year’s HCR was over!

My feelings at the end of the course were quite magnificent. It had been a wonderful day. I had not had any kind of trouble during the run. I beat my old record. Moreover, I beat my target time. I could even surpass the magic pace of 5 minutes per kilometer which had been my maximum training pace. As an additional bonus, I even beat the Super Leivo Brothers. All things considered, I am happy to admit that I am damn proud of all of it.

- Joona

PS. Next up in my schedule are the following physical challenges: Lohja MTB next weekend, Jukola in mid-June, Tahko MTB in early July and finally Espoo Rantamaraton (another half marathon, target: under 1,5 hours) at the end of September this year. I can hardly wait!

Not Fasth Enough

This spring has been a good spring for Finland, and me, when it comes to ice hockey. Naturally, I’ve also experienced the frustration of being on the other side of the world when all the good things have happened. Last night, the Finnish ice hockey team won the IIHF World Championship for only the second time ever, after losing finals in six different championship tournaments (Olympics and World Cup included) between 1995, year of the last championship, and 2011. In late April, HIFK, the only group of burly men I’ve ever called myself a fan of, won the Finnish championship after a 12-year drought. You had to be there. I fucking wasn’t. And as an additional bonus that only I give two shits about, we will get at least one Finn as a Stanley Cup champion in June. Sounds like a moderately good hockey year for Finland. But let’s get back to the IIHF World Championship.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dll9THt4Vgs

After a very satisfying win over the Swedes in the final, the country erupted. A score of 6-1 helped right all wrongs that our Western neighbor had inflicted upon us in the rink during the years, and people partied all over Finland until dawn. This shows how much unparalleled joy was drawn from winning, and serves as a premise to the following rant.

Äbäwäbä näin kolmelta aamuyöstä

What really grinds my gears is that some people feel an obligation to criticize the significance of the game, of the tournament, and of the victory. They somehow feel it is important to analyze ice hockey from an international perspective, and point out how this actually means nothing and everybody should calm down and go to sleep.

It’s true that ice hockey is a relatively insignificant sport internationally. Less than a dozen countries realistically compete for the championship, which, to trivialize it even further, is held every single year. In addition to this, the best players in the world have often little interest or possibility to join the tournament. The NHL playoffs are still ongoing, with arguably the best teams and players still competing in North America. Even players whose teams never made the playoff phase are either injured or find it very difficult to find motivation to play in a yearly tournament after playing a season just short of 100 games (pre-season included). Even Teemu Selänne has stated that the reasons given when opting out of national team duty are often just excuses. These are the facts. I don’t argue against facts. I argue against idiots.

Some besserwissers, often Finnish football fans, feel the need to point out how, objectively, we should not give a fuck about the IIHF World Championship. “Why do Finns get so excited about a sport that only a few countries play?” “Stop the hype, the tournament is worthless!” “There are so many sports that we neglect and instead concentrate on stuff that nobody else in the world cares about, like ice hockey, ski jumping and javelin throw!” I remember my basketball coach 15 years ago telling me that there are more registered ballers in Spain than there are hockey players in the world. He made the statement to prove a point about basketball being meaningful, whereas hockey supposedly wasn’t. I disagree.

What's not to like? © Mika Ranta / Helsingin Sanomat

Choo choo, here comes the clue train, last stop is you

Sports are not something that people can forcibly try to enjoy just because they’re internationally popular. Might as well tell a Finn not to enjoy salmiakki (or even better, Salmiakkikossu) because nobody else in the world does either. Countries and cultures have their own traditions, games they’ve played for decades or centuries and that the locals happen to be interested in, no matter how much they are bashed on the head with ridiculous slogans to the contrary.

Should all countries strive to only play and follow the internationally important activities, like football? And how do you measure importance, anyway? By prominence per country times amount of countries? By the amount of money circulating in the major leagues? By the amount of registered players worldwide? I bet cricket and ping pong would score pretty high on the latter. I haven’t really heard anyone complain how Finns don’t concentrate more on cricket.

And let’s suppose all governments made an effort to promote sports directly relative to their worldwide notoriety. Smallish, nationally and culturally relevant but internationally obscure sports (sumo anyone?) would slowly fade, and in the end we would be left with football & pals. How exactly would this achieve anything positive?

In general, I hate the widespread football vs. ice hockey mentality going on in Finland. Unlike some, I fail to see it as a zero-sum game. Why would enjoying ice hockey somehow be detrimental to football? Football is big, but we suck at it. Ice hockey is small, but we’re good at it. Personally, I like both games. Promoting football in Finland is certainly something I’d like to see increase. However, the key to that certainly is not to cry a river over everything ice hockey.

History will be made. © Yle

I know the world is global and international, but ignoring all locality in a field such as sports is beyond ludicrous. Finns are often internally accused of trying to suck up to other, larger countries and constantly wondering how others see us. Isn’t downplaying the importance of ice hockey, to us a nation, just an extension of this sycophancy? “Let’s play what everybody else plays, then people will respect us!” How about we just keep on playing a game that others don’t care about and be proud of it. Never mind the tournament, never mind the players, in 2011 our team won!

People get emotionally involved in sports even though they’re not actually responsible for any of the events that unfold on the field. The first purpose when following sports is to draw enjoyment from something that other people achieve. Rational thinking is thrown out of the window anyway. Why should we, as a nation, feel guilty about getting excited over a world fucking championship? Oh, wrong sport. And wrong championship. And too excited. Who the fuck decides these things? Despite all its shortcomings as a sports event, winning the IIHF World Championship Tournament is not entirely without merit, and even if it were, the only thing that matters is that people care about it. Watching sports, getting excited by sports and celebrating when your team wins is not a novel concept. If you can’t accept that, just pull a hood over your head and flee to the mountains.

-Antti

The author is a dead sea monkey and ice hockey enthusiast

What do you think the next happen now?

If I haven’t made any game-breaking mistakes in my personal study plan, I am now one mouse click and four months away from graduation. All I need is for my last essay to be graded, after which I’ll just have to wait for the summer vacation to be over to officially receive my degree. Also, the last essay, which I wrote today, was called a maturity exam, so if it actually measures maturity I may never pass it.

To make the situation even more hilarious, taking an exam abroad at a Finnish Embassy has a set fee of 100€, which I was told was a foreign ministry policy. For once I decided that I was not going to take any kind of arbitrary crap willingly, and took advantage of our foreign minister being one of the rare Finns on twitter by questioning the policies of the institution he’s responsible for. Considering he had replied to a friend’s earlier tweet about casting a vote for him in the parliamentary elections, it was not surprising that he answered me within the hour despite the sarcasm with which I had expressed my disdain for the system. I subsequently sent him a mail which he transferred to one of his assistants. It has now been two days with no further replies. I will resume spamming them on Monday until I receive an answer that satisfies me. That, or they cancel my passport.

Once I was done with proving my maturity by reproducing some of the main topics of my thesis on a couple of sheets of paper, I spent an hour chatting with other trainees at the embassy. The topics covered, among others, duties in Japan, the unenviable task of soothing relatives after a massive earthquake, and how to improve communication between trainees in the future. To make life even more interesting, my boss also offered me the possibility to go to Hiroshima for a week in the beginning of June to look after our emergency embassy facilities. Someone needs to go, and I’m not exactly the most critical human resource at the Tokyo office. Truth be told, my immediate answer was centered more on the efforts of trying to contain my grin than the words that came out of my mouth: something along the lines of  “surewhynot”.

-Antti

Legendary Lost Treasure of Mêlée Island

Gaming on the iPad

Aside from Rovio’s Angry Birds, there is in fact quite a lot of other goodies available in the entertainment ecosystem that Apple has so graciously provided us with. Anyway, some months, maybe half a year ago I realized that there is a bunch of old, quality point-and-click adventure games available on the iPad. Games such as Monkey Island. Needless to say, I bought the full suite. And a few others.

These recent developments have not gone unnoticed in the media. The one and only Finnish gaming magazine, and my all-time favourite called Pelit (i.e. Games) has recently been publishing more and more articles and reviews of games made for the iPad. From what I have read (and also experienced at firsthand) it seems that even the most cynical journalists have approved of iPad’s capabilities in this area. And why would they not? For those of us interested in older PC games (or even console games for that matter) the device kind of feels like an old PC with its 1024 x 768 resolution and simple graphics compared to modern video cards.

The latest revolution has been the adaptation of both old and new board games to the digital world. Titles like Carcassonne and Small World are now in their full glory on the iPad. And judging from the reviews alone, the change of platform has been a successful one. Unfortunately not all games work. Playing first-person shooters such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D is possible, but moving and aiming at the same time without a physical controller has proven to be a bit frustrating. The same goes for a bunch of driving games and other types of shooters.

Accessories for Gaming

The iPad has Bluetooth connectivity so it would be possible to use gaming controllers for modern consoles (such as the Dualshock 3 made for Playstation 3) with it. In theory, at least. The system being closed I would not hold my breath for anything to happen on this front anytime soon. Perhaps Android-based Playstation-enabled phones (and perhaps tablets in the near future) will have this kind of functionality. I guess the technology enthusiast collective could cook up something similar with jailbroken iOS devices. Then again, it may not be something to attract a large enough audience, as jailbreaking requires some effort and technical knowledge. Ironically, right now the iPad is only as good as Apple allows it to be.

There have been some tries to make the touch interface a bit more suitable for fast-paced action gaming (such as the Fling joystick quickly viewed by Engadget). I have not tested any of these yet, but they could prove fairly useful to those of us wanting to broaden the capabilities of our gadgets and get the most out of the gaming experience. For point-and-click games and the ever-growing genre of games for the iPad such extra gimmicks are of course useless.

Now, if only Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 (and their excellent expansions) were available on the iPad. Then I would be set for life. At least for the time being. Now where did I leave my Carsomyr +6?

- Joona

Glxblt

Entries have been a little rich in gaming and ramen stories lately, so let’s start with something else; noodles will follow soon enough. With Golden Week nearing its end, I proceeded to do something extravagant on Saturday, and went out to a Sakurahouse Fiesta in Ikebukuro in order to socialize. It was about time as well. Nothing makes you realize you’ve been deprived from civilization too long like putting cooked sausages in a coffee mug due to all other dishes being unavailable. Or biting off a chunk of butter for cooking purposes with your teeth because the knife was almost out of reach. These are fictional examples and I definitely, definitely didn’t behave that way.

The problem with going to meet lots of new people is that I tire quickly. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of good friends, and while they are not here with me at the moment, I tend to get slightly complacent. To quote the great Peter Cook, I’m very bad at being interested in people. And if the new people I meet happen to be uninteresting, I have a very hard time concealing my boredom. Booze does help though.

Despite all my fears, the evening proved quite a pleasant one. The earthquake was a major topic of discussion, as were different nationalities and awkward gaijin situations in Japan. As a bonus achievement, I was able to communicate in Japanese extremely efficiently after eight beers, much like speaking Italian only requires a moustache. I returned home before the last train and was in high enough spirits to buy a box of half-priced sushi at the station Seiyu and enjoy some midnight fishy goodness.

Ota ja Nauti

By accident, I woke up at 5 in the morning on Sunday, the only goddamn day when the Tsukiji fish market is closed. Then Murphy did something, and my internet connection went down as well. Around 9 I finally stopped caring about the router and walked to the station to enjoy the sunny weather accompanied by some curry bread and one of those awful cold canned black coffee things. There was “best” written on the can, but it must have been for irony.

The weather was perfect for cycling, and thus lunch was had at Tetsuya Ramen near Koenji station. I had been passing the shop on my way home from work for three months now, and it had lately become very difficult to refrain from stepping in, so it was ultimately a good thing to get that over with. I don’t really even know what I ordered. Somethingsomething tonkotsu was the name on the ticket dispenser, but weirdly enough the broth tasted more like fish, making me immediately think that something had gone wrong during the ordering process.

Mother's Day Lunch

Unlike Kiraboshi, though, the broth had a pleasant fishy taste. The noodles were really nice and chewy and the neatly placed chashuu slices were excellent as well. The ajitamago (egg) cost extra, rendering the meal as a whole relatively expensive at ¥1290. A serving of rice would have been available for free, but rice is not exactly a rarity in these parts of the world, so I passed. By the end of the meal, the intense saltiness of the broth had began slightly bothering me, but I was satisfied on the whole. This won’t mark my last trip to Tetsuya, as the renowned shop offers several other types of broth (miso, shoyu) that I need to get to try later.

-Antti

Do it yourself, Foster. I’m just a cleaning droid, remember?

I sometimes forget things. Important things. Such as how I used to love point-and-click adventure games during their golden era of the mid-nineties. At least it was the golden era for me. At that time, my gaming ambitions were severely restricted by my parents who did not exactly see the practice of hunting for pixels as a very fulfilling pastime, and as a consequence, my choice of games was also quite limited. I can still vividly remember one demo CD that I cherished so much that I probably finished all of the sharewares on it without ever being able to so much as get a glimpse of their respective full versions. There is no way for me to accurately recall what was on that disc, but The Dig, Beneath a Steel Sky, Full Throttle, Alone in the Dark, Big Red Adventure and Little Big Adventure were definitely present. In other words, the ones that have flayed my mind until this day were the heavily story-driven adventure titles.

Hello, Joey

Thinking about it now, it is difficult to comprehend to what level the imagination of a 9-year-old was enthralled by a space vessel landing on an asteroid, or a survival story in dystopian, post-nuclear Australia. These playable demo versions of games were able to get an extraordinarily strong grasp on me considering they would probably have taken an adult 15 minutes to finish and at that time I could hardly understand any of the complex nuances in the plot, nevermind the subtle humor. What I was competent at, luckily, was pointing and clicking. There are some layers of reasoning there that I can only try to understand in this day and age. Where did my enthusiasm stem from? Why do I fondly remember these games almost two decades later?

Maybe it was the sense of accomplishment from being able to gradually advance despite having to ask for help at each difficult word. Maybe it was the fact that I loved to be alone and solve puzzles. Or maybe the gray box sometimes referred to as a computer was all it took to keep me interested. In any case, that lone demo CD, which has now been lost for more than a decade, provided me with some everlasting gaming memories.

We will leave no crevice untouched!

Nowadays, I suffer from saturation fatigue. New gaming titles come and go constantly, and they are all offering tremendous amounts of playing hours, additional accomplishments, downloadable extra content and improved graphics. What a load of crapshaith. I’ve slowly come to realize that these are the exact things that have been pushing me to turn away from newer games in the first place. It makes me feel old when admitting to it, but I would rather play classics from the ancient days, when Fragilis sang and Saxaquine of the Quenelux held sway, when the air was sweet and the nights fragrant. I don’t want to partake in games that take me forever to complete, because there is simply no time for that anymore. Or even if there were time, my conscience would not allow me to waste hundreds of hours on a single game. By nature, I tend to go around every nook and cranny to make sure I haven’t missed any content in a game. This leaves me with a huge dilemma when playing newer adventure or role-playing titles with infinite playability and a throng of repetitive achievements to strive for. It’s far more rewarding – and cheaper – just to ignore the newer produce and regress back to childhood.

Amateur.

Naturally, the golden memories effect applies, and I abide by the theory that everything was better when you were 12. But this does in no way diminish the legitimacy of playing old classics. I recently saved Union City in Beneath a Steel Sky and jumped straight into Flight of the Amazon Queen afterwards only to crash… in the Amazon. By allocating a couple of hours to playing classics on a virtual machine, I can relive great stories from the best days of SCUMM games without worrying about graphics or computer requirements while avoiding the need to pour my entire life essence into the gaming process.

Be vigilant.

-Antti

P.S. Beneath a Steel Sky has also been remastered for the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone, so anyone even remotely interested in puzzle adventures should go pick it up for a fistful of virtual dollars.