Hitting that nostalgic note

It’s late, and I’m clicking through Youtube watching random clips while waiting for the cheese in my chorizo and mushroom toastie to melt. All my neighbours are likely in bed, and no cars drive by on my street this late, so the only sounds are coming from my laptop and the sandwich press. I scroll through the suggested options, pick a video and watch as it takes two seconds to load up the inevitable advertisement. It starts, and I hear it. Six notes that hit me deep in the frontal lobe; the opening riff to the Battlefield series theme.

Duh dun duh duh duh Daaaah!

And suddenly it’s well over a decade ago, and I’m at a mate’s place watching him put a rocket through the hatch of a German tank in the original Battlefield 1942. I’m in high school and internet cafes are a thing, me and the lads are hanging around Burwood Westfields; we watch a movie, we get lunch, maybe we hang in the park, then we disappear into a well-lit room filled with rows of computers to gun each other down in Battlefield 2 or Battlefield Vietnam. I’m at home and killing time on Battlefield Heroes, free-to-play, casual-as-fuck, a-lot-of-fun, and maybe the only time I’ve ever been good at an online multiplayer shooter (funny how much I’m reminded of that goofy browser game, that no-one else remembers, whenever I see Fortnite – makes me happy to see a goofy browser doing so well). Hell, I remember going paintballing for the first time when I was sixteen, at a place over in Rouse Hill with an old decommissioned tank sitting in the parking lot, humming that song as the others laughed and joined in.

I realise that I haven’t played a Battlefield game since Bad Company 2. A mate leant it to my brother so he could play the multiplayer, and I went through the campaign. It was fun. Not amazing, not ground-breaking, but I probably would have played the sequel that was promised at the end (but never came, you dreadful teases). I lost interest with the series (as did everybody else) with the forgettable 2142, all the way back in 2006. I played a bit of 1943 when it came out a few years later, but completely ignored 3, 4, and definitely Hardline. What the fuck even was Hardline? Like yeah, EA has a problem of trying to hop bandwagons with its shooters (think Medal of Honour 2010, and Warfighter), but who were they trying to copy? Maybe Rainbow Six: Siege. I haven’t played Battlefield 1 either. The very concept felt odd to me. That brutal, crawling war of attrition did not seem like the best setting for the fast paced, mechanised fights of a Battlefield multiplayer match. Nor did what I saw of the Single Player campaign appeal to me (not least because it seemed more than a little America-centric – please feel free to correct me if that wasn’t the case).

And really, for all the nostalgia, the Battlefield series was never really that important to me. I played a lot more Age of EmpiresCivilization, and Command & Conquer. Even looking at the shooters I played, there was a lot more Medal of Honor and Call of Duty in the house. But that was back when single player mattered.

So I hadn’t put that much thought into Battlefield. I mean, I’d seen a few trailers before, and a few things had caught my eye. One of the campaign gameplay trailers (which I looked for but couldn’t find) ended with a lady with a European accent and a prosthetic arm beating a Nazi to death with a cricket bat, and, if I’m being honest, that is actually a very specific kink of mine. But for all that, I have no interest in any online multiplayer anything, so it just isn’t worth it. And I forgot about it.

But then…

Duh dun duh duh duh Daaaah!

Suddenly I want this game, I actually want this game all. Because I’m remembering shooting down my mate’s helicopter with the main gun of a tank, or playing cat and mouse with another sniper in an otherwise empty section of the map, or watching a good friend put rocket after rocket into panzer after panzer. And I know that those experiences were specific to where me and the mates were at the time, and I know that I can’t re-create those memories, and I do not give a shit about online multiplayer at all, but goddamn I want that game.

I’m not going to buy the game new, at least not at full price. I cannot emphasize enough for some reason that I do not play online multiplayer, but I’d like to play the campaign at some point. Because one-armed lady beating Nazi’s to death with a cricket bat. So I’ll wait for a sale.

Before, I wasn’t going to buy it at all.

The power of a piece of music, aye?

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Once in a lifetime laundry lessons

So I moved about a three weeks ago. It’s been a bit stressful, partly because it was shorter notice than I was expecting and partly because the only furniture I had to take with me was my bed. I’ve basically started from scratch, and honestly moving to fucking Canada (and then back to Australia twenty months on) was easier, if only because I booked the tickets months in advance and gave myself time to plan. But it’s done now and I love my little apartment. Will love it even more when my new couch finally arrives.

Funny thing though, moving. It’s full of very specific lessons that you probably will never use more than once a decade, if ever. Such as when you’re buying a washing machine.

Yeah, I bought a washing machine. A decent washing machine as well, as far as I can tell. Not one of those fancy fuckers that somehow manages to iron your clothes while it’s removing stains, but one that doesn’t seem to tear apart clothes or walk itself across the room while it’s spinning. A decent washing machine. With short pipes.

That’s the first lesson I learned. Manufacturers assume (not without reason) that the taps, outlets and waste points are going to be right next to where you’re putting the machine. So this means if said taps are more than, say, a metre away they’re not going to reach. No big deal, nothing that a trip to the hardware store can’t fix.

So I hooked it all up, plugged it all in, went for a walk back to the hardware store and picked up a clamp so the extension was properly sealed over the appropriate waste pipe (lesson number 2 learnt – always buy a clamp). Realised they’d sent me the wrong fucking washing machine. Gave the company a call, was told that I could keep it if I wanted. Did a quick Google and discovered that this was a probably a slightly better machine than what I ordered. Decided to keep it. Wondered how the bloody hell these people were still in business. Figured the answer was probably “because the internet” (lesson number 3 – the internet). Ran a quick fifteen minute cycle to clean the machine out.

Then I finally did some laundry. And that’s when I learned the big lesson. Never put whites through as your first load in a new machine.

Now I searched the inside of the washing machine before I switched it on, but I apparently missed the silicon pack hiding in the barrel. I’d run desperately low on the clean white shirts I’m required to wear to work, so in they went, and out came the murder evidence.

Seriously, they were streaked and splattered with lines and splotches of vibrant red, as if I’d been finishing each shift by bottling all the customers I didn’t like. As if I’d been out American-Psychoing hookers, hobos and coworkers without wearing the appropriate raincoat or protective smock. As if I’d seen seen the re-animated body of Jackson Pollock working a canvas with a can filled with what may or may not have been red paint, raised both arms and cried “have at it!”

Fuck my life, is what I’m trying to get at.

I needed the shirts the next day, so I pulled out the gel pack and resisted the urge to take it outside and peg it at a moving vehicle. The stain removal spray came out, the shirts went back in with my hopes and prayers. And to my surprise most of them came out passable clean. A few faint marks on the sleeves or hems, where I could hide it, but otherwise clean and white. Except for one, which still looks like Exhibit A two more washes later, and which I’ll have to soak in some proper stain remover. But that’s okay.

So life lesson learned. Never put your whites in first when you’re breaking in a new washing machine.

But when am I going to use that information again?

Hopes, dreams and more than a few memories: On Age of Empires 4

I must have been ten years old when I was given the Age of Empires deluxe pack. I can’t remember if it was Christmas or my birthday, but I remember it was my Aunt who gave it to me. First game, second game and their respective expansions across four CD-Roms, an artbook and a manual. Goddamn, remember when there were manuals? Lotta kids don’t.

It’s what we had before wikis were a thing, children.

Anyway, I played hours and hours of those two games, especially the second. The first was and remains a classic, of course, but Age of Empires II: Age of Kings stands in my mind as the pinnacle of real time strategy games, something that I reckon a lot of people would agree with. And it wasn’t just me: my parents played almost as many hours as I did (mum, in particular, was fucking ruthless). I remember watching that opening cinematic for the first time, the excitement and joy, the exuberance at what I was going to be able to do. What I would build and what I would destroy. The theme became a key part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

After Age of Empires came Age of Mythology. Again I found myself disappearing into an epic world of Ensemble Studios’ creation for days at a time, leading armies of Centaurs, Valkyries and Anubites against the poor bloody infantry of my many, many enemies. The first time I watched a cyclops pick some unfortunate pixel bastard up and toss him across the map was pure magic. It was about this time that my brother started playing video games – too young to fight a campaign, he’d park himself on the scenario creator and put together epic battles of blue versus red. Christ, I wonder if he remembers that. He must do. I should ask him one of these days.

Finally came Age of Empires III. Fuck me dead, the base game came out in two-thousand-bloody-five. That’s twelve years ago. I’m getting old. Anyway, whereas the first three base games (and their expansions) from the franchise were instant classics, AoE III was not. Now I’m not denying a bias on my part, I was deeply disappointed by this game and its expansions, but it received mixed reviews across the board and hasn’t found its way onto any “best ever” or “most influential” lists that I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, I played through the game. I built up my home city, burned my enemies’ colonies and bought all the expansions hoping that it would get better, but it never did.

For me, I think the most disappointing thing about it was the campaign, a fucking ridiculous tale about multiple generations of a family fighting an evil secret society that wants to obtain the fountain of youth. No, really, that was what the campaign was about. Compared with the simple yet stunning campaigns of AoE II, which allowed me to follow in the footsteps of William Wallace, Atilla the Hun, Joan of Arc, Frederic Barbarossa and Saladin, it was ridiculous and riddled with cliches. Even when AoE III‘s second expansion, The Asian Dynasties, brought the story campaign back to actual history, they failed to understand that a bit of solid voice over work, a decent script and a couple of sketches will create far more emotional investment than watching a tiny rendered figure, indistinguishable from all the other tiny rendered figures around him, committing seppuku ever could. Whereas Age of Kings cemented in me a love of history and will forever stand as one of my favourite examples of the possibility of interactive education, AoE III will forever stand as one of the games that left me the most disappointed.

Regardless, that last expansion was released in 2007. Microsoft would announce the closure of Ensemble Studios a year later, and one of the greatest franchises ever (despite a disappointing younger sibling) seemed to go out with a whimper.

Then 2013 came and an HD version of Age of Kings was released through Steam, to much fanfare. Not only that but two new expansion packs, The Forgotten and The African Kingdoms, have since been released. I can tell you right now, they hold up. But they weren’t a new game, and it didn’t seem like we were going to get one.

Until now.

Ye-heh-eah you gorgeous bastards! Ten years on and being developed by a different studio, but I haven’t been this excited about an announcement trailer in I don’t know how long.

Months. Years maybe. Man, I used to get so excited about new releases. I mean, I still do, but I’m not quite the rabid fanboy I used to be. Is that another sign of aging? Shite, it probably is.

Moving on, with Ensemble Studios no longer being a thing the reins have been passed over to Relic, famous for the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes franchises. Considering that this is really the only information we have so far, we really know fuck-all about the game. I mean, yeah, we don’t know the era or the art style, but we also don’t know much about the mechanics beyond that it will be an RTS. Of sorts. Whereas you know more or less what you’re going to get with other studios (you know roughly what a Firaxis turn-based game will look like, or how a Creative Assembly grand strategy game will work), Relic constantly shake up the formula, even within the same franchise as is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the profound difference between the first Dawn of War game (which had fairly standard RTS base-building and resource collecting mechanics) and the second (which played more like an isometric action RPG). In all likelihood Relic won’t shake up the classic AoE formula that much, but we can’t be certain.

I’m excited to learn more though. To find out how the mechanics will work, what era/s the game will be set in and how the campaign and single player will work. Who will I be able to play as and who will I be able to crush.

But as excited as I am, all this is tempered by the fact that I probably won’t be able to play it, at least not soon. I’m a Mac user, y’see, and this is a Microsoft game. There is every chance that this game will not be released on my platform of choice, at least not until well after the initial release. Yes, yes, I am aware that there are emulators and Bootcamp, but the former is generally pretty shit while my computer is getting too old and fat to adequately run the latter. It might be released on the X-Bone, but my experience with Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 on the 360 was not a positive one. So yeah, bit of a mood killer that. Almost as bad as how old I’m feeling as I write this.

Anyway, I’m still happy to see one of my favourite franchises, the series that more than any other got me into gaming, is returning; I’m glad to see it given to a studio with such a fantastic pedigree; and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to add another AoE game to the ‘Best of…’ lists. We’ll just have to wait and see.

I’d absolutely watch that: A quick thought on M*A*S*H

So I’m at the bar and staring at a few gin bottles and for some reason my mind wandered across to the show M*A*S*H (possibly because of all the recent talk about North Korea and Kim Jong-Un’s continued testing of bigger and better missiles and talk of a possible US military response, possibly because we’ve got a Korean bartender and two Korean cooks who are just awesome, and make the best fucking fried chicken you’ll ever taste). My mind goes to weird places sometimes. Anyway, I’ve had to explain to someone recently about how gin is grain alcohol that’s had juniper berries added somehow (generally infused). That without juniper berries it’s just not gin, it’s vodka. At this point I remembered Hawkeye and Trapper (later B.J Hunnicut) had a love of dry gin martinis, going so far as to keep a gin still in their tent, and a question occurred to me: where were they getting their juniper berries?

Seriously, where were they getting their juniper berries from? They’re in an army hospital a few miles from the frontlines of what was a massive fucking war, often struggling to get supplies and equipment even through the black market (in fact that was the theme of a couple of episodes if I remember correctly), and juniper berries are not native to the Korean peninsula. But they clearly say they are drinking gin martinis and, as I’ve already mentioned, without juniper it’s just not gin. It’s vodka.

What I’m getting to is that I would totally watch a show about a Korean black market juniper dealer braving snipers and shelling to ensure that US army doctors can enjoy their dry martinis without having to resort to using vodka (like peasants). We can call it SM*A*S*Hed, or something less stupid and copyright-infringing, and it can be about more than just juniper. Maybe he also smuggles peat to a Scottish tank crew? Maybe he’s struggling to fill and then transport a big order of sugarcane to an Australian warship with a monopoly over the supply of rum to the rest of the allied fleets. There’s a lot you could do with this. Give him a dark yet hilarious past and a sassy cockney lesbian business partner and I reckon you’ve got television gold.

There you go Alan Alda, I’ve done the hard work for you. Now make it happen. ‘Cause I’d watch the hell out of that.

Not always appropriate travel music

Do you love songs that you never actually listen to?

Anyone that knows me well can you that my love of Bostonian Celtic-punk rockers The Dropkick Murphys runs as long and deep as Spicy McHaggis’ famous pipes and infamous pipe. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since I was old enough to know what good music sounds like and remain one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, not least because a Murphys’ audience is one of the best fucking mobs you can ever be a part of. Their latest album, 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory, is another collection of epic distilled into musical form. A group of anthems and ballads telling stories of love, loss and missing hats. Take this fella right here:

Yeah, that right there? That anthem right there is everything I love about hard rock. Big, loud and proud. Strong and powerful, offering hope through the guarantee of community and support. Wind, rain, storms, violence, tragedy. Come what fucking may there’ll always be someone beside you. So stand tall and dream big. How can you resist singing along to a chorus like that?

I can’t, so nine times out of ten when it comes on through my earphones I hit the skip button.

If I’m listening to music odds are good that I’m at work (in which case I have no choice over the music being played), I’m in the car listening to the radio (in which case I also don’t have much of a choice in the playlist), or I’m on the train listening to music through a pair of headphones (where I have full control over the playlist). When a song like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ comes on I can’t help but sing loud, sing proud, sing tunelessly. And that’s just not polite on the train.

Now I have no problem telling people that I love the Dropkick Murphys, and even less of a problem telling people I love this song. I wouldn’t be writing this if I did. But no one in a crowded train (or bus) carriage wants to listen to someone else’s music. Definitely not just the chorus sung badly without any musical accompaniment. There’s a name for people who do that, and it starts with ‘C’ and rhymes with ‘runt.’

So I never really listen to this song, but I don’t love it any less. And when I do I’m probably singing along at the top of my voice.

What about you? Any songs you love but never listen to?

The Bakery

Over in Haberfield, not far from where I live these days, is the superbly named Sunshine Bakery. In a neighbourhood known for its Italian patisseries, cafes, pizzerias, delicatessens, and, indeed, bakeries, the Sunshine is unique for the fact that it is actually Vietnamese.

At least we all seem to assume it’s Vietnamese. Now that I think about it this might actually be a case of racial stereotyping since, as any true gluten-eating Aussie can tell you, the Vietnamese are fucking awesome bakers. For the sake of brevity, and not starting an entirely different discussion, I’m going to continue assuming it’s Vietnamese, and if someone can confirm or deny the fact please let me know.

Anyway, the Sunshine Bakery is a bit of a landmark for those who’ve lived and continue to live in Haberfield. It hasn’t changed at all from what I remember of the first time I got sent there to pick up a loaf of bread fifteen-odd years ago (Christ I’m getting old). A little tacky, a nice smell, an easy place to get a cheap cheese and bacon roll or something sweet and mostly sugar. Good folk too, always very friendly, honest smiles.

Now, I want to be forthright here: they do not make the best bread and pastries in Haberfield. Honestly they don’t even make the best pastries on the block. But their meat pies mate, their meat pies are the best in a fifteen kilometre radius. The pastry’s soft without falling apart and flaky on top, with the right sized chunks of meat and fresh-as-can-be ingredients, all kept at the perfect eating temperature and sold at a very reasonable price (three-fifty for a steak and mushroom! I’m bloody laughing mate). There’s nowhere within a reasonable distance that sells as good a pie, and nowhere even further out that sells’em at a non-extortionist rate (which I will still pay, because I will do a lot for a good pie), making the Sunshine Bakery an absolute gem.

I feel like there’s a metaphor there: Asian immigrants in a primarily Anglo-Italian neighbourhood producing an iconic Australian cuisine. A good metaphor, I reckon. The kind you can staple to an Australia First Party member’s racist face.

I’ll think of it later, right now I feel like a pie.

Any good pie shops near you?

Merry Bloody Christmas or Whatever

Didn’t have a Christmas tree last year. Talking to my housemates it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, since none of us were gonna be around. A couple of us were on holiday across the silly season, a couple were going to be celebrating it with separate groups of friends, I was always working or sleeping when any celebrations with what was left might have happened. I joked a couple of times about raiding the parking lots of some of the office buildings lining the Skytrain tracks. They’d filled their flowerpots with pine trees you see, to mark the season. Wouldn’t have been all that hard one night to have hopped a fence, sawed off the top of one of their trees and brought it back to the house. We all laughed, remarked that it would have been a pretty awesome attempt at getting into the holiday spirit, but never did. Mostly, I like to think, because we didn’t have a saw. Not sure if I would’ve had the balls to do it if we did, but the fact that I looked for a saw at all says something about my state of mind last silly season. Only positive things, I’m sure.

So my celebrations last Christmas were small. Practically non-existent if I’m being perfectly honest. Most of the close mates I’d made were locals or localish. They had families they were spending time with and there are certain holidays you don’t ask your random Aussie bud to attend, Christmas being the top of that list. It didn’t help that it just didn’t feel like Christmas, hilariously enough. Cold, wet, quiet and a little formal, whereas Chrissy for me had always been hot, loud and casual. Shorts and t-shirt, soccer or cricket in the backyard, water bombs and water guns, loud conversation and gorging ourselves on stew and barbecue. Far different to the semi-rigid traditional family dinners that so many of my Canadian mates described. Then again I didn’t actually attend any, so how the fuck would I know?

Cultural points of reference are different as well. I mean, sure, I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life before. It’s apparently a classic. I haven’t seen it in about ten years though, and I’ve never watched A Christmas Story. Didn’t even know there was a movie called A Christmas Story and that it was a cultural milestone for North Americans until I saw it on a Cracked video. Nor have I seen A Charlie Brown Christmas or that version of A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray. As for on the Australian side, well, I guess they don’t understand the Boxing Day Test? They don’t actually understand Boxing Day if I’m being perfectly honest. I don’t know. I guess I was just a Stranger in a Strange Land. Doesn’t matter. Aussie Christmas is the superior Christmas.

Fewer concerns about the ongoing “War against Christmas” as well. Seriously, I heard three months of comically stupid bitching about Starbucks decision to stick with plain red cups last year. This year Peter Dutton (Member of Parliament and comically stupid example of the physical and psychological effects of sticking your head in a barrel of botox for extended periods) called upon good, honest Aussie Christians to rise up against the PC crowd’s war on good, honest Aussie Christmas. That was on the news for about two days, and then we forgot about it. Thank God.

I guess the celebrating I did was on Christmas Eve. That was fun. Went with a coworker and her boyfriend to go see Die Hard at the Rio Theater. Went for a walk trying to find an open bar somewhere on Commercial Drive, failed, and ended up just knocking one back in the back of their car. Yeah, that was good fun. Not being sarcastic, I have very fond memories of that. Called my parents when I got back to the house, it already being Christmas Day over there. Here. That was nice. Funny how it was a year ago now. Feels like so much longer, while other memories feel like they happened yesterday.

I helped put up the family tree. I might even claim that I did most of the work. Not in front of my siblings, of course, but they’d make the exact same claim. It’s artificial, and been in the family for over twenty years. Still looks fantastic. The underneath is filled with presents, the results of six people (five of whom earn an income) making up for all those years when beneath the tree was bare. We’re waiting for some close family friends to arrive, ready to eat, drink, laugh and reminisce. I’m downstairs, with my brother, earphones in to drown out the music my dad’s playing upstairs. Shitty music by shitty artists and Coldplay. Swear to god he hasn’t bought a single new song since well before I left. He had to shave off his beard a couple days ago as well, after he mangled a trimming, which is shame cause he had a great silver fox black santa thing going. Mum’s been cooking, prepping and cooking some more. I’ll be pouring drinks later. It’s gonna be a good day. So’s tomorrow.

I hope you guys all have a great couple days as well, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or your own tradition’s or don’t celebrate anything at all. I hope you guys have an excellent time.

Wishing you a very Merry Bloody Christmas, and a Happy New Year.