The fourth gathering had some pretty ambitious planning behind it at first. The previous one presented a few problems stemming from delayed planning, so we started early this time, pretty much right after we got back. We figured out the best locale would be the Toronto area again, and the best timing would be three weeks earlier than usual. We were hell-bent on securing a cabin as home-base in a nice, quiet environment. So how did we not get one despite our fast action? Well we neglected to consider how many families have cabins like that booked year-round for their summer vacations. We also had a tough time determining exactly who was all going to be there until just a couple months before anyway. So much for planning early.
So we ended up in Oakville again. The setting was basically a repeat of Meet#2 and the first/last part of #3 for a couple of us. Yet there was still so much to experience that gave #4 an identity of its own. Some of the best stuff was decided spur-of-the-moment. Pfft, who needs planning after all?
The party consisted of five Mechs this time around. Gauntlet and Needle, the locals, were there of course. Top and I were returning for our third visit to the area. Mags was in Toronto for the first meet, but this would be his first time exploring Gauntlet's secret hideout, and seeing the astounding artwork and toy collections contained therein. Also, as is our unintentional custom, each year contains a special guest star, and this time it was none other than the irrepressible, all-devouring Ben!
Ben stayed in the guest room at the ninja house and since the couch room was being renovated, us other three guests rented out a hotel. The Monte Carlo Inn sounded ritzy from its website with a hot tub in the room and everything, but I guess we should have been wary of the low prices because the hot tub was more of a tub that just wasn't in the bath room, and when we got a load of the crappy unresponsive TVs, broken internet jack, loud AC, hot hallways stinking of smoke, and complete lack of response from hotel staff to any of our complaints to the above, we soon realized we would have been better off at the Holiday Inn across the street. We only accepted their breakfast vouchers once (no meat?) before just stopping at Tim Horton's on the way to Gauntlet's for the rest of the week.
So Gauntlet's and Needle's place served as the primary meeting place for most of the meet again. As expected, we spent a good deal of time in the den on our pooled video game systems. Can you believe we still hadn't played through half of the classic Megaman games together? Well we took care of that this time with MM4, 5, 6, 9, and 10. It was Gauntlet's first direct experience with MM9/10, and as we could have gathered from previous meet playthroughs he had a fair amount of difficulty. He wasn't all failure and defeat though. He insisted on lots of games Dr.Mario to kick our collective asses with. It was okay though, as we all brought something along that we could show off with that at least one other person cared enough to challenge the owner, and everyone else didn't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. My game of choice was Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom and my challenger was Rich. G and Top were the only ones remotely good with Dr.Mario. Nobody came close to Top at DDR but at least a few of us went along with him on Beginner Mode to show the vast difference between us. I lamented my lack of dance song knowledge a lot, but at one point at Playdium, Top knew how to get me into it by picking out the one tune on the machine that was a remix from Gradius II. I may be clueless when it comes to most popular music, but I guess it comes as no surprise to anyone that "Burning Heat (3 Option Mix)" is already a part of my playlist of video game music.
Yes, Playdium was one of our destinations during the trip. Twice, actually. Toonie Tuesday AND Toonie Thursday (partial alliteration fail). We didn't get much done on our first visit to Toronto's big arcade destination. We started with a round of Go-Karts, and afterwards we opted for the mini-golf. The course had a limit of four-per-group, but we convinced them to let us go in with six. Turned out the limit was for a good reason though, as it basically took us 1.5 times as long to go through the 19 holes as anyone else, and that took hours. We were tenacious about it though. After that we barely had time to spend any of the credits for the games inside, which gave us motivation to return two days later.
One of the first things we did together was attend the local Pirate Festival. What goes on at a Pirate Festival, you ask? You could probably guess. Lots of people dressing up and acting like pirates and having lots of fun with it. Needle was involved with her own amazing, dangerous-looking, pistol-wielding outfit, although this wasn't even one of the cosplay gigs she was really serious about! She just bought the get-up but still wore it like one of her own. She spent much of the first couple days there while the rest of us dropped in just on Sunday. With tents including cutlery, a blacksmith, and those big ham-flavored turkey legs, it was noticably similar to a Rennaissance Fair in some regards. There was a little pirate ship, but no water nearby besides the mud pit. The main destination for us was the archery range, where Needle got to show off her "game" of choice. Most of us had never fired a bow before and it wasn't as simple as it looks. Needle was getting good at it over the last year though. Her festival-working friends were giving lessons to little kids on one side of the range, but she managed to secure the other to give us our own private lessons (Many of the kids were better than us, but then again we were using Needle's more authentic wooden bows that were apparently a little harder to use.) Gauntlet fired the most shots out of our group, determined to get good at it. He eventually got a bull's-eye kinda by accident and figured that was a good place to call it quits. As for Needle, we noted her shooting ability made an appropriate skill for her team position namesake. She contends that her sewing is the main thing to attach that reference to though.
Seeing the sights in Toronto was on the agenda, as it was Ben's first time in the area. Like on the first meet, we visited Chinatown, the Silver Snail comic shop, and we were on our way towards the CN Tower when our tired feet decided stopping at the "Rubik's Cube Theatre" to watch a movie was a better idea. We actually saw a couple movies on separate occasions at different theatres, both sudden decisions that broke up whatever else we had in mind. We'd seen Inception in Oakville a couple days earlier (incredible movie) and Salt while in Toronto (alright, but not for G, who already saw it and was disappointed by its predictability. We never would have been able to agree on anything else showing though, so that was as good as it got.)
A couple of times on the road, Gauntlet had to stop by his cousin's house to feed his cat while he was away. Why mention such a mundane task? Because this cat is awesome. It's name is Napolean because it's fat, pompous, and ultimately impotent, having been declawed. The declawing was for a good reason as it is extremely bipolar. It's incredibly affectionate at first, actually head-butting into people's hands to get them to pet her, but after a few minutes love is over, and she's all hissing, biting, and upturned-noses. This cat is full of evil and contempt and it's hilarious. Needle's alternate name for it was Dr.Jekyll.
Gauntlet insisted on doing the driving at first, believing it would be a waste of time and gas to have Mags follow him or take directions, leading to a repeat of the "four people jammed in the back of the car" fiasco from year two. It was a relief to switch to the Magnetmobile, a rental van that at least let the sixth person fit comfortably (but still probably illegally) in the trunk where we could still talk to them. It even had a sunroof for Ben to poke his giant head out of, and Rich's dad's custom James Bond mix CD or the Metal Gear soundtrack playing constantly on the sound system. With Big Boss in the driver's seat taking directions from G, he got to know Oakville over the week almost as if he lived there (and became increasingly enticed to the idea of doing so), but not so much Toronto, much to Top's chagrin as one wrong turn on his last day en route to the train station almost made him miss his ride home.
As usual, Top had some card games to try from the shop where he works. The new challenger this time was Citadel, a game that involves building up your own city and smashing down your opponent's using a cast of characters with different abilities whose identities you must deduce each round in a manner similar to the previous year's favourite Shadow Hunters. Ben earned a reputation as a "wild card" in games like this for his insistence on using completely unpredictable and strategically unsound moves like squandering his ability card to crush any building of his choice on the docks Rich just built "out of spite" rather than one of the more valuable buildings in Rich's possession. Rich ended up winning that game. We tried to explain to Ben that he might be mixing up "spite" with "help", but he was steadfast in his decisions to do whatever made no sense whatsoever.
We also played Cutthroat Caverns again, and for the first time I actually made it to the end without dying! Albeit with just 2.5 HP. Not sure if it helped or hurt that we played more than half the game forgetting the rule that allowed us to replenish our hands at each encounter, forcing Needle to play without any attack cards for several rounds, and me to play with no cards except the single one I drew each turn, which I usually had to waste with the obligatory attack move, whether it was an attack or not. We determined by the end that it was like "hard mode" for that game. Gauntlet came in first place, which came as a relief as he was complaining about coming in last for everything else we played over the week (not sure which set of games he was counting, since all his Dr.Mario victories ought to have balanced things out at least.)
For once I'll be able to let a couple of our activities speak for themselves. We deigned to record an attempted playthrough of the doujin game Rockmen R, and of course there was "Business of Flame War" planned from the get-go. We also wanted to record the Megaman 3 speedrun challenge that had been delayed for the last couple years, but technical difficulties stopped that from happening. Rich and Top were done putting off their big showdown though so we did it without recording it. We didn't have a lot of time so they only ran through the 8 robot masters. Both were in the 30-40 minutes range, with Top beating Mags by a good ten minutes thanks to the latter's lack of practice and actually needing to use a continue on Shadowman's stage. You can bet we'll be gearing up for another challenge next time, and to do it as intended. I wanted to join in as well but we just didn't have time by this point. I don't think I would have been able to keep up with Rich or Top anyway, after seeing their techniques. (Gotta practice.)
Actually, it seems we might not be posting the Rockmen R playthrough. Basically, it's a fangame featuring Roll as the protagonist. We took turns and died a lot, utterly failing to beat any single level, which we blamed mostly on the controller, as the analog control pad made a lot of intended jumps into slides and vice versa. It was filled with gripes, in-jokes, and embarassment. It would probably be even less entertaining than the average "Let's Play" video, which is pretty awful already, so count yourself lucky if you never see it.
Most unexpected activity of the week? Karaoke. I was baffled by the very suggestion. This was right up Needle's and Top's alley, but the rest of us, myself particularly, were a little out of our element. It was going down Wednesday night at a bar where some of Needle's friends frequent. Gauntlet was enthusiastic about it, but it eventually turned out he was more excited about having a drink at the bar since he wasn't the designated driver for once. His rendition of "Hey Jude" was decent, but listening to that endlessly-repeating outro is murder. Top lit things up with "Bent", Needle did a frighteningly lovely "Angry Johnny", and Rich was all set to dooo "The Twist", but (un?)fortunately we had to leave early as the loud volume of all the songs wasn't sitting well with Ben. I mentioned earlier how completely lost I am when it comes to music that isn't heard in my video games or played in my marching band/orchestra, which turns out to include just about anything with singing ever. I had already bravely embarrassed myself with DDR, so I thought I was ready for karaoke until I realized I had to at least know the melody of what I tried to sing. I spent so much time going through that book looking for something I recognized and felt remotely comfortable singing, eventually settling on "Break on Through" of all things (that would have been a weird one, but at least short), that I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed when the plan was aborted. Nonetheless, it was fun while it lasted. We even ran into the guy that rescued us from the bus home last year, and he gave our team a shout-out during his song. I was sorry I couldn't give him more acknowledgement when he did so, but I was still fretting over the selection book at that point.
With all that went on, it's hard to believe there's still more to see and do if we can gather in the same area again next year. That's if we don't head for Montreal like we're still planning on doing, or daresay somewhere distant and exotic (we'll make it to Lennon's neck of the woods eventually, I swear it.) Ben fit in great and we hope to see him again. We're still not sure exactly what will happen next year as some of us have ambitious plans in the interim that might make summer travel difficult, but I for one thrive on these meetings so I'll be there, whatever and wherever it is. See you then.