Snakeman: Well what?
Shadowman: Well, how's that summary going?
Snakeman: Oh. Did we still plan to do those?
Shadowman: Of course!
Snakeman: Because I think I'm running out of stuff to say.
Sparkman: No, man, we definitely have to keep the tradition going. If only for ourselves.
(Shadow and Spark stare at Snakeman.)
Snakeman: Oh so it's up to me?
Sparkman: Well, obviously.
Shadowman: I'll help!
Snakeman: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Alright, let me set the mood.
(Snakeman hauls out an old fashioned slide show projector and pulls down a white screen from out of nowhere.)
We Mechs had another small meet-up in the Toronto area at the end of July, 2016. Snake, Spark, and Top met up with Shadow in his home town of Oakville for a few days of catching up, hanging out, and subjecting ourselves to contentious media.
Topman: What do you think we should do first?
Shadowman: How about an episode of GoBots? It's terrible!
Snakeman: Oh yeah, Gobits.
Snakeman: Transformers totally ripped them off, right?
Sparkman: Oh come on!
One of the first things after settling in on Friday the 29th was taking in an episode of Challenge of the GoBots, which Gauntlet was in the process of marathoning at the time. I would constantly forget where GoBots and Transformers actually fell in relation to one another in their various multimedia incarnations, which was the better one, which was a ripoff.
Snakeman: That seemed okay.
Sparkman: Was Carnage in C Minor any worse?
Shadowman: Oh come on, man!
Speaking of imitations that might not go over well, we also started on our Mega Man playthrough of the year, which in this case was Mighty No.9. I was the only one that had played it up to that point, and no one else was particularly excited to.
Topman: Everyone says it's horrible.
Sparkman: Yeah, I'm not really into it.
Snakeman: No dammit! I backed the Kickstarter for a lot back in the beginning, so I'm determined to get my money's worth one way or the other, and forcing you all to suffer through it is the way to go.
Topman, Sparkman, Shadowman: Awwwww.
Snakeman: Anyways, who knows? You might not find it so bad.
With his first pass at the controls, Gauntlet got hung up on using just one shoulder button to dash in the direction facing rather than using each shoulder button to dash in the direction pressed.
Shadowman: In my defense I'm horrible at video games and am used to cheating through everything.
Topman: That's ... not really a defense, G.
Over the course of the first few days of the Meet we got to see much of the game's low points including some random game-freezing bugs and the ear-grating voice acting, as well as some of the things I considered high points, like the concept of Mighty Numbers helping you out after beating them, Ray's gameplay outside of bosses, some of the concepts from the art book, and uh...not much else.
Sparkman: I can't believe how disappointing this turned out.
The last thing we would have seen was Ray's ending, but actually beating the final boss as the character that loses health constantly was determined not worth the time, so we deferred to YouTube after turning the game off for good. There was a cursory attempt to see the multiplayer, but there was no local mode and no one remote to connect to so it all kind of just fizzled out, as was fitting.
Snakeman: So ... again?
Shadowman: How about we play something else? Who here hasn't quite forgotten that I'm a master at Dr. Mario?
Topman: Them's fightin' words!
Sparkman: Much of our time with video games was spent going back a few generations with Dr.Mario 64 and Bomberman 64, because apparently competitive play never got any better than that, or at least to the owners of those games that liked winning (there's just no beating Gauntlet at Dr.Mario).
Topman: It's because your controllers suck!
(Gauntlet plays on the crappy controller and still wins.)
Topman: Damn it! NO! I was so close ... I was on my last one! I had just put my last pill on the last one!!
On Saturday, we were joined again by Gauntlet's girlfriend, Leah, as well as Ben, through the magic of video chat. We had set up the call for a round of D&D -
Topman: Wait, we're playing D&D?
Topman: Why ... are you all looking at me like that? Hey, don't tell me you all expected me to just whip up something out of nowhere!
Sparkman: Aw, come on.
Topman: But ... but ...
Topman: I guess ... I'd better get to work (mumble grumble)
We had set up the call for a round of D&D, picking up with the characters we borrowed from last year. It was a little more haphazard, with us losing a bit of time to struggling with the technical aspect of getting the connection with Ben to work, as well as getting our new/forgetful players up to speed.
Topman: Seriously, G, planning next time!
Shadowman: I know, I know ...
Gauntlet and I retained our characters as the emotional teen Tiefling and deceptive Goblin mage respectively, Spark traded his paladin to Leah for the absent Needle's Dwarven bard, and Ben took over for Magnet's fighting robot.
Topman: I remember you saying you were going to change everything about that character, G. I like that you didn't wind up changing anything and just got into her.
Top got us through the opening of a new campaign involving the wondrous city of Ravnica, a city so wondrous it had the players wondering about what it was based on several times after Top told us not to worry about what it was based on. After getting lost in the city for a day, we wake up the next morning to find that months have passed and we all got jobs with the local guilds. We were just starting to look into what that was all about when we ran out of time. We may have to revisit that one next time.
Topman: And maybe tell me next time? And make sure to set things up beforehand.
We also took a shopping trip on Saturday mainly so Spark could pick up a Fortress Maximus, which apparently was easier to get there than in the US. Caught up in the moment, Gauntlet and I ended up buying some Transformers too. Nothing too unusual for Gauntlet, but I tend to keep my acquisition of things that take up physical space to a minimum these days, especially keeping in mind my limited carry-on luggage space for the plane ride home. I decided to make an exception for the remake of G2 Superion, which was one of the few Transformers I had as a kid (and the only combiner) so it hit a special target of nostalgia for me. It was all too big and expensive, but what the hell. Big toys for big boys.
Sparkman: You're an enabler.
Shadowman: Hee hee hee.
Sunday was our big outing to the Toronto Zoo! There was a ton of stuff to see there, so much that we didn't have time for everything. We might have had a bit more time if we had decided to pass on the most popular attraction with the longest line -- the pandas. Featuring the only cubs born in Canada, the lethargic beasts obviously didn't do much, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance just to see them, regardless. I, for one, was glad I got to see some pandas in person once before they go extinct next year.
Topman: I'm a little disappointed. I didn't get to ride the pandas, I didn't get to eat the pandas. What a ripoff.
A good amount of the rest of our time at the Zoo was dedicated to a Mechanical Maniacs theme scavenger hunt. Snakes weren't hard to find, obviously. We had to get a bit obscure for others. The camels had two humps and that was kinda like Gemini? Eh. The biggest disappointment was the lack of mandrills, despite one sign at a crossroads promising some in the direction it pointed, and a couple icons on the map looking like they could represent them, but in the end the closest we could find were baboons.
Sparkman: I still made his best Mandrill pose for the camera in front of them though. Alpha Movement represent!
On Sunday we made our way back to Omescape to try out two more Room Escape games. Last year we attempted three from their suite and basically failed to get through without hints each time. There were only two we didn't get to try, one of which was cycled out for a new one this year. We first went for the one remaining from last year, The Kingdom of Cats.
Snakeman: Even without guest star Jason Meyers it's the lowest difficulty setting.
Shadowman: Say ... do any of you notice something off about this room?
(The first room is littered with plush cats.)
Shadowman: I'm gonna guess this is for kids, mostly. (Well, with a grown up to reach the higher-up stuff).
Topman: Lets kick some ass, team!
Embarrassingly enough, the game with baby puzzles was STILL too hard for us to complete without one hint and only finishing within seconds of the time limit.
Shadowman: We opened the door just as the attendant was going to. And just asking for one hint is better than out ten million hints like last time.
Snakeman: The lateral thinking involved in some of the puzzles would presumably have been easier for children than for our over-analytical adult minds.
Also, a few of them were legit hard. They were mostly based around the five senses and the one where we had to match multiple not-so-distinct smells in bottles would have been impossible if we hadn't eventually figured out we could cheat and use our sense of sight to look at the more distinct-looking substances inside the bottles..
Shadowman: (grinning smugly) We figured that one out thanks to my super cheating skills. The key was looking in the bottles instead of using our nose.
Topman: If only you had thought to clue us in on those "skills" earlier we might have solved it all sooner.
Sparkman: Wait, what? No, I figured that one out.
Shadowman: No. I definately looked in those bottles and figured that one out.
Topman: uh ...
Snakeman: Hm ...
Shadowman: This is what happens when we write these late.
Sparkman: I guess so, damn.
Snakeman: The final puzzle was a fairly simple math problem once it was put together, but there were just enough layers of abstraction to make me forget PEDMAS order the first couple times through the equation. Maybe...just MAYBE... the narrator's cutesy intonation, the plush kitties littering the set, and everything else about the presentation was just a psychological trick to make us think it would be Kindergarten-level puzzle solving and therefore lower our level of preparedness for the subtle insidiousness of the challenge.
Topman: Or maybe Duke Fluffybuns Catsworth just handed our asses to us.
The second game, the new one, left us feeling much more triumphant. We finished within the time limit with NO HINTS, earning us the coveted titles of Elite Escapers and the privilege of sticking our signed Polaroid on the big wall in the lobby. "Project Sphere" revolved around investigating the research of a renegade scientist and starting up a dimensional transporter, ending up as a prequel to the incredibly bizarre backstory of the Penitentiary games we completed last year. As if just beating the game wasn't satisfying enough, it also brought us full circle. There were some annoying puzzles in that one, most of all the mini computer game that was one part arranging a pipe maze and one part just hitting a button every two seconds to keep the screen visible as a pretty cheap design to necessitate the division of labor.
Shadowman: I pressed the buttons on the keyboard so he could man the computor game, bringing it up to eye level so I didn't also have to continuously look down. Additionally I found a very hard to find cylinder.
Topman: I carried the weight on most of the computer puzle. And really a lot of the logical problems overall in both rooms.
There was also a puzzle that involved a map of timezones that was meant to have the same solutions whether you counted given time clues as AM or PM, but I'm sure one of the letters was different, which I tried to convince the staff to check afterwards. Still, we persevered, and all four of us contributed something crucial to our success.
Raijin: I solved the time zone game with Top.
Sparkman: And tripped the lazer trap constantly. Even on purpose!
Snakeman: I got tired to trying to crawl on the floor.
Topman: Why knew Snakeman would be the worst at sneaking on the ground?
Sparkman: I can't believe I got that puzzle, being Spark Mandrill at one point, while you kept triggering that, constaltly walking down the hallway even after it was sovled.
Shadowman: Seriously, in the end we all managed to get past that hallway. Those alarms get annoying, man! And someone (me) constantly had to crawl back to stop them.
Snakeman: Ohhhhh ... shut up!
Sparkman: Top tried working with the control panel at the very end, but it was dark, and we couldn't see. Somehow, I don't remember how, I figured out how to turn on the light so we could see what buttons we needed to hit, and which the fuel canisters went where. And I was also the one who realized that this room escape tied in with the Water White room escape, making it slightly less out of left field.
There was less stepping on each-others toes than when we were in the bigger group last year, and maybe by now we had just enough experience with Omescape's esoteric logic system to sufficiently breeze through those goofy puzzles. A worthy victory.
Speaking of victories, I believe I got at least one in our usual board game battles. The new challengers Top brought in this year were Splendor, a strategy game based on mining and trading precious gems, and Tiny Epic Kingdoms, a deceptively lopsided civ builder. Splendor was the easier one to get into and thus the one we spent more time trying to best each other with. Each match would have a ramp-up period where everyone struggled to get off the ground, but then right when you think you have a working strategy, things accelerate to the end in the blink of an eye. Basically everyone gets to the point where they can win within one turn and it's whoever wins best that actually wins. That made it pretty hard because I often felt like I was winning when it turned out I was merely riding high to fourth place.
Shadowman: I don't think I got to win at any of the board games this time. Humbug!
I mentioned "contentious media" at the top. In no field was that phrase better represented than in our choices for movies to watch when we had the time to kill. Admittedly, I pushed to go see the new Ghostbusters partly in defiance of certain absent team members that had only cynical things to say about it. We enjoyed it overall, but still had plenty to critique about it on the way home vis-a-vis how much it leaned on referencing the original and a few scenes where the humour fell flat.
Shadowman: I liked it! What can I say, I found it funny.
Sparkman: It was only okay.
Snakeman: The references were way too heavy handed.
Shadowman: I dunno, I thought the references were alright. But why did Rowan bother asking the Ghostbusters to choose his form? That came out of nowhere and was only there to tie in with the original.
Topman: It came out of nowhere there too.
Shadowman: No, they seeded it in an earlier scene.
Sparkman: Hm, now that you mention it that part was kind wierd.
That was just a warm-up though. On Tuesday, after Spark had left, Top, Gauntlet, and I watched the Force Awakens on Netflix. G and I had already seen it but Top had not and he was the one that wanted to with some apprehension. He was mainly curious based on the validation of a friend that wasn't even a Star Wars fan, and when I echoed that sentiment it clinched it. Gauntlet wasn't quite as into it though, and we hit a point in the viewing where we were the angel and devil on Top's shoulders arguing over whether Rey was too "flawless" or not.
Shadowman: It's not that I wasn't "into it" I just think Rhey is perfect.
Snakeman: Oh, come on!
Shadowman: Look, she kicks way too much ass, AND talks to droids -
Snakeman: Which everyone can do!
Shadowman: AND, coincidentally, knows just all about the Falcon and how to drive it -
Snakeman: She's a mechanic as part of her profession!
Shadowman: AND she learns the Jedi Mind Trick right away, AND uses force powers right away, AND has herself a pretty decent light saber fight against Kylo Ren - I mean what, exactly, are her flaws?
Snakeman: Look, you may like flawed heroes but I enjoy pulse pounding action!
Shadowman: That isn't a rebuttal of Rhey being "perfect", though.
Another day later when it was down to me and Gauntlet, I got my first viewing of Big Trouble in Little China on G's DVD. I feel like I'd heard a lot about it over the years yet I was still completely unprepared for what I saw. It was goofy and fun and I'm glad I filled that gap. It still managed to generate a minor argument afterwards between Gauntlet and Needle -
Needlegal: Yeah, I had a cameo on the last day.
- over whether it should be defined as a "good" movie, with Needle pointing out that just because it's amazing doesn't mean it's technically platonically ideal. I gotta say she had a point at that.
Shadowman: I never said it was "ideal." I said it was "a good movie." Because it was entertaining.
Needlegal: It's entertaining because it's bad.
Shadowman: Which makes it good!
Snakeman: We also watched the Last Airbender because we talked about it a lot the day before.
Shadowman: No arguments there. It sucked.
As we were walking/driving around each day there were quite a few opportunities to play Pokémon Go. For me at least. Top was the only other one that had played it but had kinda given up on it shortly before the trip. I, on the other hand, only started the week prior, so I still had plenty of eager stumbling around to do. The timing of the trip was actually a main motivator for me to start the game, as my understanding of how it worked dividing species across real-world regions meant that the cross-country trip would be my one chance this year to experience the game in two different contexts. It kinda worked too. There were a lot more water types in Oakville, possibly due to being next to Lake Ontario? At home in Regina things seem to be skewed more towards Rock and Fire types.
Snakeman: There was one afternoon where we just went for a nice walk in the woods and while I may not have been very successful taking pictures of squirrels next to Pikachus, it did open up for some more heated discussion over what was the key to the game's success. Obviously it was the brand combined with the platform that put it well beyond expectations from either side
Shadowman: Come on, it was obviously because they chose Gen 1.
Topman: Here we go.
Snakeman: Look, the game wouldn't have been successful if the game wasn't actually good.
Shadowman: Of course it's good! But nobody would care if it wasn't Gen 1. Like, if you couldn't catch Pikachu nobody would care.
Snakeman: It's not pure Gen 1. It has eggs!
Shadowman: And who cares? When I say "Gen 1" I mean "Gen 1 Pokemon."
Somehow, somewhere along the line we shifted to griping about Avatar and the Legend of Korra no less loudly on that same walk.
Topman: We really made sure passersby knew what huge nerds we were.
That's where a lot of the fun lies, though. Having a lot to say on a subject is what makes the experience worth it. Now, if I had written down more of these thoughts less than four months later I may have retained more of it. Something to keep in mind for the next trip, I guess.
Gatherings: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019