12:00am 2016-01-01

This is a response to the Daily Post’s prompt: Stroke of Midnight

Where was I on New Year’s Eve? I was home.

The last couple of years, I’ve been keen to stay home an celebrate the new year privately with my wife and my best bud and roommate, Shon.  It kind of works out because I don’t get any invitations to go anywhere anymore (I must’ve pissed off too many people or something), as I used in the past.  So, we’ll stay up to midnight, alternate between Univision and KRON-TV.  Univision because Spanish Television is far more interesting than any of the major media outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc) and KRON because it is the last remaining local coverage of the San Francisco fireworks left on the air.  Univision’s ads for their programming is also entertaining as hell, and it makes me want to brush up on my Spanish so I can follow along.  Not to mention, the women on Univision (and Telemundo) are hot as hell.

This year’s San Francisco fireworks were pretty impressive; it looks like the city really went all out this year.  San Jose, on the other hand, had nothing.  When I was a kid, they used to do a huge party in downtown with the big black bowler hat coming down on top of the clock tower (I’m assuming as an homage to the ball dropping in Times Square) but I guess no one wants to pay for that anymore, so the city doesn’t do it.  That stopped happening a while back, actually.  The only city in the Bay Area that does any kind of major celebration is San Francisco.  Oakland, given their distance from the city, probably lets SF pay for their show and then everyone goes to Treasure Island for a front-row seat.  I know that it was mentioned that this year, it was an unusually clear night, so the fireworks weren’t obscured in the slightest.  Even through the shitty cameras of KRON, you could see how awesome they must’ve looked from the ferry building.

In years past, I used to host a huge NYE party with all of the friends that were around back then.  We had built up a gamers’ paradise tradition back in 1994, where we would hunker down at someone’s house and play games all night.  In those days, that usually meant bringing over your Pentium PC, or an N64, or your PlayStation (original).  My buddy, Ken, had his house in San Francisco overlooking City College with this huge balcony.  With the lack of visibility toward the bay, we couldn’t see any fireworks, really.  But we all brought food (I usually cooked), shared a lot of laughs, took breaks watching anime or sitcoms, and enjoyed the company until the wee hours of the morning.  As time went on, we lost touch with some friends, made new ones, but the parties continued through until around 2009, when we decided to do a trip down to Disneyland for New Years.

Disneyland is a whole other ball of wax.  It is crowded as hell.  In order to make it into the park, you need to arrive at the opening of the gates at 9am and then be prepared to hang out in the park all the way to midnight.  Disney’s California Adventure is a great alternative, though, and it also happens to be the one part of the park that serves alcohol.  If you’re looking to ring in the new year with a flute, then you have to go to DCA.  2009 was the first and best year we did Disney.  We went again in 2012, and it SUCKED.  It was so packed, you could not move anywhere by the time you got to the Hub (the big circle in the center of the park).  Kiss any semblance of personal space goodbye, because you were shoulder-to-shoulder with perfect strangers.  I kept my hands in my pockets, and sure enough, someone kept trying to reach in to grab my wallet… it was a pickpocket’s dream.

People were getting trampled as we were trying to get the hell out of there and over to DCA, because I knew that it would be far less crowded.  Sure enough, you could breathe over there.  After that, I think Julia and I made it clear that if we should happen to be down at the Disneyland Resort for New Year’s in the future, we would choose DCA over Disneyland.  A lot of fun, less people, you could get on a lot of the rides.  The only drawback is that after the New Year is rung in, they shut down DCA and force everyone to either go home, go into Downtown Disney, or take their chances back in Disneyland.  We went back to the hotel, obviously.

Next year, I don’t know where I’ll be to ring in 2017.  Maybe someone will put together a party and toss an invite, or maybe I’ll just be home again.  Either way, I hope that it’ll be the end to an amazing 2016.

First Look: Tribes Ascend

First Look: Tribes Ascend

I have had a long-running affair with the Tribes series since Dynamix and Sierra announced it as part of the Metaltech series back in the mid-90s.  I had gotten used to the Sierra Games’ sim, which was based on FASA’s Battletech games, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the switch to a first-person shooter.  After all, my experience with that kind of gameplay back then was limited to iD Software’s Doom, Quake, and of course, the original FPS that I played, Wolfenstein 3D.  Although I might not consider it a first-person shooter, I feel that Descent falls into the same category. The feeling of being in a mech in the original Earthsiege (1994) games was awesome.  I played them off and on, often times I would return for replay value.  Later on, after Tribes was released, they came out with the mech sim game, Starsiege, which featured the same universe/backdrop that the rest of the series does.

Loading screen for Starsiege Tribes

Ah, the good ol’ loading screen for Tribes.

My first entry in playing Tribes was when it first came out.  I played through the solo tutorials, but although you can shoot these dumb bots and get a feel for how the different armor classes work, and jet-packing all around the map.  The very basic aspects of the game are transferred, and then after that, you’re on your own.  The only way to really enjoy the game is to jump on a multi-player server and have fun.  And of course, fun is relative.  The fact is thatTribes is probably one of the most fast-paced FPS games out there, if not the fastest.

Dogfights are quick and utilize a wide array of weapons, from spinfusors (basically, glowing blue discs that impact with a nice-sized damage AoE), to plasma guns and cannons, mortars, mines, grenades, flares, and of course, my favorite… turrets!  The original Tribes came with only three sets of available armor: light, medium, and heavy.  What I always though was the best aspect of playing the game, was the mods… oh, the mods!

My clan (Clan Oni) was very much into two mod types: Rengades and Shifter 1.1/Shifter X.  I wish I had kept all the videos I shot during those days, so I could put then online.  Instead, I did a quick search on YouTube and found the following video that I think adequately shows the various classes from Renegades:

And here’s one from the Shifter mod:

Anyway, I wanted to give you a proper understanding of what Tribes is before I launch into my look at the latest incarnation.  Do we all have a better appreciation for the game, now?

Login screen for Tribes Ascend

The login screen for Tribes: Ascend.

For those of you who don’t want to waste any time, let me just say this: Tribes: Ascend is a worthy successor to the lineage.  After wasting my time with Tribes 2 and feeling better with Tribes: Vengeance, I feel like Ascend is what I had hoped would come next after playing the original for so many years.   It carries on the speed, and picks up some of the better aspects of Vengeance that I thought were great changes (skiing, for one).  Although they do add a lot of the mod changes into the base game, they’ve also integrated some of the ranking systems that we’ve come to expect from our FPS’, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and even Halo 3.

Ascend is a Free-to-Play game that really means it.  While you have the option to pay for Gold in order to unlock more classes, weapons, and add-ons, you can also unlock the same items through gameplay.  I started out a free player before I went VIP, and I did pretty well for myself with the basic weapons and earning experience points.  Gold is the quickest way to get those unlocks, as the ratio of Gold to XP is kind of skewed.  But play enough, you can rack up about 150,000 XP and spend it to unlock a few weapons or classes.

The Thumper

Since I play with my Technician armor the most, I equip this weapon every time and I ended up mastering it fairly quickly. Click on it to see the various bonuses.

Once you’ve acquired the various tools of the game, as you use them, usage allows you to master them.  More exposure to them in the field will elevate the bonuses that you have with each one.  Armor experience unlocks more health, or faster regeneration.  Some of the toys you use, like the light turrets, will have a higher armor class and gain damage bonuses when firing at the enemy.  When I play my favorite, the Technician class, my turrets will allow me to gain a lot of kills as people try to jump into my generator room to take it out in order to shut down the base guns and the radar dish.  If they destroy my prized turrets, I’ll deploy them in a new spot just to keep things interesting.

As with the originalTribes, players recognize defensive and offensive patterns, so you have to vary it or else predictability is a killer.  Just ask the Heavy Armor that insists on taking the same route into your gen room, and is surprised when you set mines down along his skiing path.  Or the light armor that boosts toward your flag and then goes SPLAT against your sudden deployment of a forcefield on the other end.  Those things are like brick walls to them, and given their speed, well… they leave a nice little splotch against the field and then I get the points for flag recovery.

Defending the Generator Room on "Crossfire."

My Technician-class armor character setting up defenses in the Diamond Sword generator room on the “Crossfire” map.

Before, I mentioned how fast the game can be.  Ascend injects nitrous into the speed of gameplay, and seeing some of these guys float in and zoom by, you have to adapt and keep up as much as possible in order to successfully play and give as good as you get.  Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time respawning, and that’s no fun for anyone.  The greatest thing about the game though, is that if you don’t think you can keep up with the speedsters, you can opt to defend the base or the flag through various means.  The game gives points for defense and repairs just as much as kills and captures.  And while everyone else on the game is more interested in taking flags and flying across the map, they’ll need someone to defend against the raiders who’ll baserape like crazy.


One of the best parts of playing is being able to ski!

And they will not hesitate to rack of generator and turret kills, people, trust me!  On certain maps, there are numbers of choke-points for entry, and if you know the maps well enough, you can set up your defenses in the proper areas.  Drop a turret in a spot they won’t see until it’s too late, but then get ready to have it destroyed the next time they come through.  Make sure to set down some motion sensors/detectors to combat those pesky stealth guys, because you won’t see them until it’s too late.  Or even at all… man, they’re sneaky bastards!

Dogfighting out in the field takes on a new dimension with the ability to ski.  Skiing is essentially letting your momentum carry you along the slopes/angles of the map.  If you fire your jetpack at the right time, when you land, should you do so on the downward slope of a hill or a mountain, you will pick up speed with you engage your ski thrusters.

All in all, though, I love this game.  It has mixed everything I loved about the original with spectacular graphics and excellent features.  I found this great video on YouTube that does a great job of portraying what I do on a nightly basis, now (courtesy of Gamespot):

If you’re interested in playing Tribes: Ascend, then feel free to use my referral link to download the game.  I appreciate it!  I’ll leave you with the full set of screenshots from my gameplay, below.

Obama and Me

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written here.

I’ve since joined the Obama for America campaign as an IT specialist for the field offices in the area.  I have been helping them in deploying new field offices in South San Francisco and East Palo Alto, where lots of people came in and made over 10,000 calls to New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Indiana.  It’s been a lot of fun, but the one question I keep getting from some people that I see occasionally, is why.

With the exception of a couple of years of Republican registration, followed by Libertarianism, I’ve been a registered Democrat.  I was raised by a Republican father, and a Democratic mother.  My father and I sided with Reagan in 84 and Bush in 88, I voted Republican during the midterms in 94 and then switched parties in 96 to vote for Bill Clinton, before being convinced by my then-fiancee, Stephanie, to register Libertarian in 98.  Back then, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about politics even though I stayed in touch with what was going on.  After we split up, I did not re-register for a while there until the Bush v. Gore election of 2000.  I switched back to the Democrats, because the religious right had a nice, tight stranglehold on the Republican party.  I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that faith and politics have their places… just not in the same place.

Simply put, I’m not supporting Barack Obama because he’s the Democratic candidate for President.  In fact (and you can ask my wife), I wasn’t all that impressed by Obama during the primary season.  The one guy I wanted to run (Wes Clark), didn’t, and ended up supporting Hillary Clinton, instead.  As much as I admired Bill, Hillary was a stark contrast to her husband and I just couldn’t back her, either.  My mother and grandmother, on the other hand, were huge Hillary fans and came down hard on Obama.  I decided, at that time, that I would wait for the dust to settle and see who came out on top.  And when Obama became the presumptive nominee, it was time for the party to unite and win this thing.

So yes… in the beginning, you might say I supported him because he won the nomination.  During the Democratic National Convention, however, as they were rolling out their platform before America, I learned a lot more about him than I did during the primaries.  The primaries were hard-fought and there was a metric asston of bullshit that flew between the candidates.  As during the general election run from the conventions, with all the mud flying, it’s really difficult to get someone’s story without it being tainted by others.  At least during those four days in Denver, there was no more bickering.  I finally got to learn and appreciate what we had in this guy, and while I really dispised Biden during the primaries… his acceptance speech really wow’ed me a great deal.  I began to see both these guys in a new light.

I have never, in my life, been energized about a presidential campaign so much as to join one.  But then again, a lot has changed since 2000 and 2004.  A little television show called “The West Wing” turned me around significantly in participating in politics.  “Decisions are made by those who show up,” struck a serious chord with me.  It has that benefit of being absolutely true.  It was high time I started showing up and putting my money where my mouth was.  This time, it wasn’t going to be enough to donate to a campaign.  This time, it wasn’t going to be enough to hope for the best while others did the groundwork for me.  This time, I’m not going to look back at another election season and say, “Damn, I should’ve done more.”  This time, I’m not going to lament the election of a shitty Republican candidate looking to further a crap agenda for an additional four years after living through the last eight and wondering if President Gore might’ve done better.  And this time, I’m not going to threaten to move to Canada when it doesn’t go the way I want it to.

This time… this time, people… I am stepping up and getting involved.  This time, I’m going to do whatever it takes to ensure that we get a president who gives a damn about those of us who don’t make millions and billions each year.  This time, I’m not going to regret not doing more, because if we lose, it won’t be because I couldn’t find the energy to get out of my chair and add my resolve, drive, and determination to those around me.  This time, good thoughts and clenched eyes would fall way short of the goal.  And this time, Election Night won’t be spent in bed lying awake, wondering if the next day will be better.

Members of my own family are voting for McCain.  I’ve had conversations, at length, and I’m convinced that they’ve chosen the lazy way out.  Being a Democrat means you give a damn about the person sitting next to you.  Being a Democrat means you care about seniors getting proper care.  Being a Democrat means you care about everyone getting health care.  Being a Democrat means that you believe in a strong ecomony driven by a strong middle class, not the failed Reaganomics of trickle-down.  Being a Democrat means you want the next generation of Americans to have a Department of Education fully funded and packed with excellent teachers, because a smarter generation means a stronger economy.  Being a Democrat means you want government to fulfill the promise of a secured future for our retirees in protecting Social Security.  Being a Democrat, in simple terms, means you’re willing to be a caring citizen of the community, not just someone living there.

We’re stronger as a team than individuals.

Sure, it’s so easy to not give a shit and think of only yourself.  That’s what Republicanism is, to me.  It’s laziness.  It’s complacency.  It’s being okay with keeping this country in a deep economic rut.  It’s being okay with racial slurs and calling someone a Muslim because you’re using the politics of fear to further your agenda.  It’s being okay with pointing out the differences between people in order to drive a wedge between them in order to quell the masses.  It’s being okay with the philosophy of name-calling when things don’t go your way.  Republicanism is selfishness.  It’s about “me, me, me.”  It is the ideal that if you don’t agree with me, then you’re instantly judged to be either a traitor to your country or inconsequential.  It’s the ideal that it takes too much energy to learn about the other side of the argument.  It’s the ideal that you hand over your ability to decide things for yourself and download Fox News en masse in order to determine your own positions on the issues because it’s easy.

It’s just too hard to try and understand for these people.

Now, in spite of my general points, I will say that I am friends with Republicans and not all of them are of this vein.  Most of the Republicans (who are not my family) are voting for Barack Obama.  They’re lifelong Republicans, too.  And I work closely with two of them… and by the way?  They made this decision on their own, long before I mentioned my campaign work.  I just wish more Republicans showed this kind of insight, to be able to reach across the party line and really read and listen to Obama’s vision for America.

It’s just too hard to try and understand, I guess.  It’s easier to use a label and dismiss.  It’s easier to be close-minded because maybe… maybe they’re afraid of being called out as a traitor themselves.  Or maybe, deep down, they’re afraid that the ideology that they cling to so fiercely… isn’t as strong as they claim.  I’ve noticed that a lot with people who claim to be Born Again Christians.  They want to convert everyone around them to make themselves feel better about this choice they’ve made.  If you’re really and truly okay with the choice you’ve made, then the way that I think and believe should not be a threat to you.

It’s not my fault you’re insecure and self-conscious about what you put your faith in.

Obama for America means just that.  It’s not Obama for Democrats.  America.  The whole country.  He’s fighting to win back the soul of this great nation.

And I’m helping him with everything I’ve got.

Won’t you join me?

Update and Upgrade

For those of you keeping score, we’re running 2.5, now.

I just got back from SakuraCon in Seattle this weekend and experienced snow for the first time since my trip to Philly in 2005. It was a metric fuckton of fun, including conversations that bordered on the absurd as whole portions of dialogue from Aqua Teen Hunger Force seemed to be the order of the weekend. We went up with Teri and Kailee, sharing a hotel room that had these tiny-ass double beds and a toilet that reminded one of the Disneyland Hotel in 2000 for Anime Expo (it will suck the soul right out of your body).

Fun was had by all, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

By the way, I know you all want to sponsor me for the AIDS Walk this year. I’m going to start walking now to build up the ability to do five miles a day, if I can. So please do me a favor and put down $25 at the link above. Thanks!