Ready Player Two

We met in the one of the worst households I have ever lived in. In an effort to get back to my roots, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to live with some people after living by myself for the last three or four years. It was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was that within three days of living with strangers, I quickly realized why the hell I like living by myself. Because goddamn it if an adult, who pays taxes and would be drafted in a war against aliens if they ever landed, can’t wash their dishes after they’re done with them. But I’m planning on saving the House of Hell stories for later. I still want to talk about video games. It’s kinda how I met my current girlfriend.

That was the blessing of the House of Hell, because she was one of my roommates.

I had been living in this backwards revival of my youth for about a week and a half, and so far it hadn’t been going all that well. The house was usually in a state of disarray and the kitchen was almost always a disaster. I had met everyone in the house, but hadn’t really spent any time with anyone, except for Kat, who split a bottle of wine with me a few days earlier. One of the housemates, an energetic 19 year old hot idiot by the name of Shay, was planning to get some of us together and have a few drink. Seeing as how I had nothing better to do, I figured this would be a great way to meet everyone in the same setting.

There was seven of us in the house. Three people said no, so there was the four of us hanging out. Shay, Katie, Kathryn, and myself.

Shay – The 19 year old Hot-Mess. The reason the house was always a pigsty. Smoked weed like it was keeping her alive. Thought she was the glue that held the house together. In reality, she was the reason most people stayed in their room. Very free spirited. Would have loud shower sex at 2:00 in the morning with her boyfriend. Always angry at the fact there was never any toilet paper in the washroom. Everyone hid their toilet paper in their room, because Shay would use it and never replace it.

Katie – The 27 year old Addict. Soft spoken with striking red hair, Katie was an incredibly nice young woman who just happened to be a full on alcoholic. I didn’t actually know what the word alcoholic meant until I met Katie. It wasn’t unusual to find her passed out in the hallway at 11 o’clock in the morning, or having the police show up at random times trying to find her. A story a lot more tragic than most.

Kat – The 25 year old woman who didn’t belong in the house. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with her. The only thing I could deduce was she was in the wrong place at the right time. Level headed and about a half inch taller than me. At this point in the story, she was the only person I was talking to on a regular basis and wasn’t a crazy person. Just finished a diploma at SAIT and was looking to go back to Lethbridge and finish a degree in New Media.

So it was the four of us, sitting at the kitchen table, having a few drinks. Katie downed a mickey of vodka in under five minutes, then went to bed almost immediately. Like I said, alcoholic. That left me, Shay, and Kat. They were both wondering about my lack of stuff. I mentioned that I was a minimalist, and that I was in the process of downsizing even more. In fact, the last big thing I was getting rid of was my Super Nintendo and my small collection of games.

“You have a Super Nintendo collection?”

Love is a weird thing. People talk about waves, or ups and downs when it comes to the emotion. My Super Nintendo, even though I was thinking of getting rid of it, represented my youth. It was my skateboards on the wall, my dumb posters on the wall, my hanging out with the crew. And here was this young woman, someone I had only known for a week, and she was flabbergasted that I was even thinking of selling it.

“I’ve got a Super Nintendo collection too! I’ve even got one still in the original box.”

Here’s this smart, funny, beautiful, slightly taller than me blond woman, and she has a Super Nintendo. I’m talking about burying my childhood. I’m talking about murdering the boy inside the man, and this wonderful person, in one weird sentence, is telling me both can exist at once. And she’s got no clue what’s going on inside my head.

Kat, if you were ever wondering why, or when, I fell in love with you, it was over the Super Nintendo collection.

I love video games. It’s how I like to spend my free time when I’m not working, or writing, or learning. When I’m kicking back, I like to do it with a controller in my hand. And this incredibly fantastic person fell into my life and wanted to pick up a controller and shoot zombies in the face with me. (Note: Kat is much better at Left 4 Dead than I ever will be. If we’re ever in a Zombie Apocalypse, Kat’s getting the gun. I’ll be organizing people, or doling out med kits, or something besides shooting zombies in the face).

That night, much to Shay’s chagrin, me and Kat stopped becoming interested the three person party and plugged in the Super Nintendo. We played until three in the morning.

It’s the weird little story about how I met my sweetheart. It wasn’t at a club, or a coffee shop, or the grocery store. It was in a shitty house, at a shitty time in both our lives, and it blossomed over a dumb hunk of grey plastic. I’m hoping later tonight, when we both get back home, we’ll pour a glass of wine, look each other in the eye, and fight over the good controller. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. We could use some recommendations regarding some sweet two-player co-op games. We’re both getting sick of the Borderlands series.

Mr. Charlton – Still Gaming

It was a week before I got the opportunity to sit down with my new computer and play a game on it for longer than five minutes. An entire week, plus a day. I got the new computer, in a number of smaller boxes, on Tuesday March 7th 2017. It wasn’t until Tuesday March 14th 2017, that I got to fire up a game and not just stress test my machine, but actually play for a bit and unwind. One very long week.

12 year old Mr. Charlton would (have tried to) kick my ass for leaving a sweet rig sitting around for a week before playing a game.

Twelve year old Mr. Charlton had a lot less responsibility than thirty-three year old Mr. Charlton. Twelve year old me also had a lot less disposable income than I currently do. But this train of thought led to me thinking about exactly when I started playing games.

The earliest I can remember was playing games over at other people’s houses. I remember heading over to the Spehar’s place when I was five to play with Stef. They had a Nintendo, the old school grey box, and they had a couple of sweet games with it (notably Super Mario 3 and Ducktales). I’m pretty sure that after playing the first time, I sped back home and started begging my parents for a Nintendo.

There was a bit of problem with this. Nintendo Entertainment Systems were goddamn expensive. When they first hit the market, they were retailing for $199. Adjusted for inflation, this was about $450. And those were American dollars, so for a brand new Nintendo, you were looking at a pile of money. My parents didn’t have a pile of money lying around, so I never did get a Nintendo Entertainment System. What we did get, in the winter of 1989, was a Nintendo Gameboy, the handheld version of the console. We also got a couple of games thrown into the mix.

Now, this was an incredibly smart move and a really bad move on my parents part, and this was no fault of theirs. It was great because it was cheaper than a big system and could be taken on long car rides, which was a pretty common occurrence when we were children. It was bad ’cause you COULD take it anywheres, which meant I was bringing it with me on every camping trip we ever went on. It was also bad because unlike the system you could plug into the wall, this little punter used 4 AA batteries, so I’m pretty sure my parent ended up spending more on the Gameboy when you factored in buying piles of batteries every other day. The biggest flaw with the handheld device is that it was a one-man operation. So even though there were three boys, there was only one Gameboy. I’d have to ask my mom, but I’m pretty sure we fought over the stupid thing constantly.

Both my brothers play video games. Heck, even my mom is playing HayDay on her IPad. But I’m pretty sure that out of the family, I’m the only one who’d be called a “gamer”. I was, and still am, a fiend. I’d consider getting a ‘Legend of Zelda’ tattoo. I’ve put a Super Nintendo emulator on basically every electronic device I’ve ever owned. I’ve beaten ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’. I played Cave Story before it was cool. Man, have you even played Cave Story? That’s straight Indie goodness at its finest.

Now I’m starting to build games. This has been on Mr. Charlton’s bucket list for a long, long time. I told myself that 2017 would be the year I at least give it the ol’ college try. So I grabbed a couple of classes from Udemy and I’ve been taking the plunge.

Luckily, I’ve got some skills from a previous life that’s making the process of learning a little easier. A decade of drafting has given me a lot of tools for designing, planning, and executing basically anything you throw at me. I’ve been slowly learning to code for the last couple of years, so when I was tasked to learn a new language, it wasn’t complete gibberish I was learning. I’m using Unity for the game engine and development environment, Blender for the 3D modeling, Visual Studio for the IDE, GIMP and InkScape for the 2D art and textures. There’s only one thing I’m lacking…

Music. Sounds. A video game needs some sort of music to fill the space between your ears. That’s the weakest link in the chain, easily. Even though I’m not a great artist, I can manage. Even though my code is rudimentary, there’s a vibrant community who’s willing to answer questions and help a noob. Even though Blender is still new to me after years of having it installed on my machine, I’m picking it up quicker now that I’m allocating time to learning it. But music?

Look, I consider myself a lousy guitarist and an OK harmonica player. But I don’t know where to begin with making music on my computer. I’ve been given some pretty good advice so far, it’s just that I’m so new I might be asking the wrong questions. So if I’m making music on the old PC here, here’s what I need to know. Ignore these questions if you’re not

  1. What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is right for me? And when I say right, what I mean is cheap or free. Unity? Free until I make bank with it. Ditto for Visual Studio. Blender, GIMP, and InkScape? All free. I’m going to start out with Audacity, ’cause it’s free. But people keep telling me I’ll have to upgrade eventually. I’m leaning towards Reaper, ’cause it’s cheap and people seem to like it. Keep in mind I’m doing this legit. Don’t fire me a link to a torrent for Fruity Loops.
  2. People, I’ve got no sense when it comes to plugging instruments into a computer. No sense? I might have to steal some of that sense from you. Should I get a keyboard? Or a controller? Can I rock one of these things into my computer via USB? Where can I get some cheap instruments? Where’s the shady guy with a van full of gear that ‘was just left behind in a warehouse’ somewhere? Mr. Charlton is in desperate need of some cheap stolen shit.
  3. All the other programs I’m using make sense to me. Blender is just 3D modeling, and I have a background in that sort of thing. I’m not a great coder, but I know what they’re talking about when they’re asking me to import a library. But this audio shit? Holy Christ on a cracker am I out of my element. I might have to actually sit down with someone and get this sorted out.

So music people, I’m asking you; what the hell are you people doing making music so damn complicated? I don’t need this malarkey. Can’t a guy just hammer on his computer keyboard to make some beeps and bloops for a game? Did you folks make this complicated to pretend like you’re doing actual work? Where’s the MS Paint version of music making?

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Seriously, I am a fish out of water when it comes to music production. Any advice you wish to solicit would help me out greatly.

p.s.s. I ended up going with Reaper. I’m slowly, slowly learning it. The manual is only 500 pages long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Charlton – Gamer for Life

“Do we have enough tape? This is important. Everybody, even Grandma, games–meaning checkers, cards, if not now, in the past. Show me even freakin’ nun or a hermit who hasn’t done cards or checkers.”

Adam Wood, from ‘King of Kong’

A couple years back, I can’t remember the exact date, a few years ago, but yeah, a few years ago I was sitting on a friend’s couch, and I was playing a game with Jered and Metal Rob. I’m pretty sure I was playing with Rob, and we were playing ‘Gear of War 2’. Now, the two of them had played this game before but I had not, and I was picking up the game about half-way through the story mode. There was a lot of plot I was missing, but the gist of the story was one of the main characters was looking for his wife. Alien/Demons/Monsters/Baddies had taken her, and you and your friend were tasked with finding her.

I’m just going to point out, if you haven’t played this game or don’t play the big ‘Triple A’ games or don’t play games at all, ‘Gears of War 2’ is not a happy game. It’s set in a bleak, grey world, where humanity has it’s back against a wall. The last shred of our civilization battles an unknown horde, one that has emerge from the ground under our feet. Most people have been drafted into the war, essentially becoming ‘Gears’ in this awful machine. It’s a visually stunning game, but it’s not painting a pretty picture. I mean, your gun has a chainsaw on the front of it so you can saw Baddies in half. It’s that kind of game.

So here I am, playing this game with my friend, the two game characters are battling through this horrible underground cavern trying to find a wife, and we hit the game’s climax. You find her. It breaks to a cut scene.

She emerges from her prison cell. She looks exactly like his memories. She come out and passionately embraces our character. But this is an illusion. The game character snaps out of his fantasy, and sees his wife for how she really is. Incredibly malnourished, missing clumps of hair, hollow eyes. She’s completely catatonic. Whatever soul used to inhabit this body has disappeared completely, and there’s now just a shell of human being. The game character is shattered. With no way to help his wife, he can only help her by ending her life. He takes his sidearm, and while holding the husk of what remains of his wife, he puts a bullet in her head.

Pardon my language, but What The Fuck?

People, I put down video games for a year after I played that sequence. A goddamn year. I told people I was giving up the game, forever. This wasn’t a small statement, either. I loved video games. I used to be able to play with my feet. It wasn’t just something I did, it was part of who I was. But after that jarring scene, I thought I was done.

I went back to gaming, but my views on the medium will never be the same. I grew up in the ‘Mortal Kombat’ period of gaming history, when violent video games like ‘Doom’ and ‘Splatterhouse’ and the aforementioned ‘Mortal Kombat’ were taking the arcades and the home by storm. A lot of people thought these games were obscene. For me, there was always this fat, thick line, between the game and my emotions. I couldn’t see how they’d be offensive, because it was so obvious these pixels weren’t stirring any emotions. ‘Gears of War 2’ changed my perspective forever. I mean, kudos for the medium for stirring emotions in me so greatly I couldn’t touch a controller for a year after that. If there was any question in my mind whether video games could be art, this shattered any doubt.

I went from being a die-hard gamer, to quitting cold turkey, back to being a hardcore gamer.

I’d be lying if I said the only reason I gave up gaming was because of this emotional roller coaster ‘Gears of War 2’ put me through. Deep down, somewhere buried in my psyche, was the notion that video games were a waste of time. And they are. They are totally a waste of time. But sitting down and watching a film is a waste of time. Going to an art museum is a waste of time. Cheering for a baseball team is a waste of time. And yet everyone reading this has partaken in time wasting with games or film or sports.

Which brings me to the quote above. Everyone games. Everyone, every once and a while, likes to blow off steam by doing something irrelevant, like playing crib with a deck of cards, or playing ‘Candy Crush’ on their phone. The moment cave people starting losing their teeth was the moment someone decided to collect those teeth, rattle them around in a coconut shell, and then toss them to see how many they could get right side up.

There’s this weird underlying idea in our culture that if you’re not hustling 100% of the time, you’re doing something wrong. That you should feel a little ashamed for kicking back and taking it easy for a bit. Screw that baloney. You know what people aren’t doing when they’re watching sports? They’re not killing people. You know what people going to the movies aren’t getting up to? Definitely not eating babies, that’s for sure. And you know people aren’t doing when they’re playing video games? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not trying to create a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room of my apartment.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If there was only some way of combining work and play into one…

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I am definitely not building a low-yield nuclear device in the spare room.

p.s.s. I made a game. Click on this link to see it. It’s not my first game (nor is it the most complicated), but it’s the first one I’ve been able to upload to the web.

p.s.s.s. This link is only good for 30 days. When I finally stopĀ  being lazy and build an actual website, I’ll put it up again.