Early morning flights

There seems to be Two Types of People (A wild Tumblr post appears!) when it comes to travelling in the wee small hours of the morning: those that like to go to bed early, trying to sleep until the last minute; and those that decide to stay up all night and try to sleep on the plane. I belong to the latter category.

I’ve never fallen asleep at bedtime that easily, and I tend to be a little on-edge before a flight anyway, constantly trying to think if there’s anything I’ve forgotten. Wandering around the house at 3AM does sometimes lead to remembering vital things like ‘the phone charger’ or ‘power converter that I left on the kitchen table earlier to pack away’. I do also really appreciate virtually cutting a few hours from a trip via plane-sleep, and the additional tiredness at the end of the day helps me go to sleep at the appropriate time at the destination regardless of time zones.

There are some downsides however. Overdoing it and leaving yourself a zombie isn’t great, you don’t want to be leaving your hand luggage and passport in the security area or attempting to lurch your way on to the wrong flight.

The worst thing that ever happened to me in this regard happened while travelling to San Diego. I was to fly from Glasgow, to London, to San Diego. Simple enough, and I did have a few hours for my layover. I even went through check-in and security with a couple of hours to spare at Glasgow!

I was *really* tired this time though, due to an activity-filled day prior. So while I attempted to stay awake playing my DS, I still had an hour and a half to go, so I prepared for the inevitable. I sat literally less than a meter away from the ticket-checking desk. I had my passport in my hand with my boarding pass clearly visible inside it, displaying my name and flight. Surely, nothing can go wrong.

Does it count as foreshadowing if you go back on it in the next paragraph?

I woke up to see my plane slowly rolling away from the terminal. Panicking, I try to find out if there’s anything I can do to get on it. No such luck. I ask why on earth I wasn’t just, you know, nudged a little bit, or a “Hey, Mister, your flight!” didn’t happen. Apparently, it was against the rules for any staff to wake me up, even though they knew fine well I was going to miss my flight.

The rule, apparently was a health and safety issue. It was “too dangerous” to wake me up, because seemingly if you wake up someone they turn into a rabid wolverine and go for anyone within range. This seemed… well I *understood* why the rule was there, but I wasn’t happy about it. I am not physically imposing, and it felt crazy that the 6ft5 staff guy that was built like a house was too afraid to call out to the 5ft5 nerdy-looking guy that had a Pokémon game in his hand.


So hardcore though.

In the end I did manage to persuade them to put me on the next flight to London. Other than those particular gate staff, all the other staff expressed disbelief that they’d just leave me there, and were sympathetic. I arrived in London *just* too late to make my original connection, and had to be changed to another flight which arrived 10 hours later than my original plan.

So ever since then I’ve resolved to never fall asleep in an airport, just in case. If you’re alone with no one to wake you, it’s just not worth the risk! When I have been feeling particularly tired, I just decide to stand up and pace around.

Clearly, it *was* my fault for falling asleep, but at least I learned my lesson.

Wait, why I was talking about early morning flights? Oh, I know, I just had one. But this seems like an entry by itself. Tchau for now.

-S.M.

Fun with words

I have to say, while I am not good at speaking any language other than English (and perhaps even that is debatable) I always enjoy learning about languages. I find the little differences in accents and phrasing between regions fascinating.

Probably my favourite thing to happen while interacting with people who are speaking non-English languages are when their words happen to sound like unrelated English words through coincidence. I’ll tell you what I mean.

Not that long ago, I was in a room with someone speaking Romanian via Skype. I don’t speak Romanian barring some bare-bones utility, so I wasn’t really paying attention. Then, because brains are designed to register sounds that we understand, my ears perked up at the seemingly out of context repeated uses of “Farty beany” and “Poop poop”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was pretty sure that these meant something, but sometimes toilet humour just catches you by surprise, and I found this hilarious. I mean, ‘farty beany’ couldn’t have been a coincidence right? Beans are notoriously connected to farting!
beans-flatulence
Everyone knows.

I investigated after the call was finished, and everything was explained.

My bean-based misunderstanding was actually “foarte bine” which means “very good”. Whatever the rest of the conversation was about, things had clearly been going well, since it was repeated often!

The worrying sounds of ‘poop’ were actually just how to pronounce “pup” (short for “pupici”) meaning “kisses”. It was seemingly difficult to end the conversation, so ‘pup’ was being liberally dropped into the conversation as a hint to say goodbye.

So it all made sense, but it tickled my sense of humour. Best of all, it made these words very memorable. I am unlikely to forget them, compared to the dozens of other words that fade away because I don’t use them. The only danger would be if I was to start speaking Romanian, and get my words mixed up back in Britain. That’s the kind of thing that gets you thrown out places.

-S.M.

Old Pro Tour stories: Amsterdam 2010

Pro Tour Amsterdam wasn’t a memorable Pro Tour for me because of my performance in it. Most likely because I wasn’t participating. Why was I there then?

Well, back then there were ‘Last Chance Qualifiers’, which were just as they sound. They ran an extra qualifying tournament the day before the Pro Tour at the venue, and if you did well enough, you’d be in. I’d never been to a Last Chance Qualifier before, and I never would again. (I did also attempt to go to PT London, but that’s a whole different story)

Amsterdam was one of the few geographical locations that felt reasonable to travel to, and hey, they used to have a lot of side events at Pro Tours as well, just in case I didn’t win.

‘Not win’ doesn’t quite do it justice either. In an embarrassing turn of events, I didn’t even make it to the venue in time for the LCQ. The plan was to fly in, get the train to Centraal, then walk East towards the venue. I hadn’t been there before, but I thought I could tell where the exit would be, and I’d memorised the route from there.

Naturally, I managed to leave on the wrong side of the train station, thus making my directions lead me in quite the opposite direction. I couldn’t quite tell if it was correct or not, and by the time I’d found a map out in public and discovered my mistake, it was too late, I didn’t have enough time to reach the venue.

Oh well. At least there were side events.

I also remember about this Pro Tour (extended) that I sort of thought that White Weenie would be a good deck, but lacked confidence in expressing that. Thus, I sort-of-jokingly suggested it to people, but not really. Then two White Weenie decks made it to the top 8, one of them winning. Thus, I missed my chance of predictive greatness.

In between side events I ended up mostly hanging about and talking to people. Here are some highlights, where I was:

– Discovering one of the UK’s most enthusiastic Eternal Format players wrapped up in a tablecloth like a mummy, sleeping on an unused table. A Judge eventually spotted him and moved him on, but he just found a more secluded table.

– Being startled by a sudden noise, turning to see Cedric Phillips angrily** yet accurately tossing his PT draft deck in the garbage.

– Speaking to some UK guys who were playing 2HG (2 person team event) in a side event, distracted by an angry European ranting about his poor draws, expressing dissatisfaction that he hadn’t drawn his Baneslayer Angel, which at the time was quite the expensive card. (25 to 30 pounds, I seem to recall, I may be wrong) I thought it was over, before he expresses ‘Fucking Baneslayer!’ and rips it in half, then into smaller pieces and storming off. His team mate is speechless, and the surrounding players are either wincing, laughing, or both.

– Being introduced to iced coffee by judge friend Kim, which has become my default drink should I ever find myself in a Starbucks or similar.

In hindsight, I probably should have spent less time hanging around at the venue, and more time being cultured, visiting museums and whatnot. But that would need to wait for the next time I travelled there. This time, I was too busy walking to and from my hostel which was not particularly close to the venue!

That’s pretty much all I can remember of that ill-fated venture. Not because of any memory-altering substances you understand, it’s just that nothing earth-shattering happened, and most of my memories of exploring have been replaced by my more recent exploration. I did learn some lessons about making EXTRA sure what exit I am leaving train stations from though…

Till next time.

-S.M.

** Cedric wrote a tournament report about ‘Disasterdam’ here! I am guessing it was round 6.

Thoughts about Syberia

Once upon a time, when I regularly used my XBox 360, I bought some Microsoft points, with which I bought some of the excellent Live Arcade games that were available, and left me some spare for later.

Then, for various reasons, I ended up leaving said 360 at my parents’ house untouched for years. Seemingly, at some point in that time, the points system was done away with and replaced by a wallet set-up.

I’m not sure what else is changing with it, but this wallet contains money that expires(!), but at least the XBox people had the courtesy to send me an email warning me to use the 20-ish pounds before the end of May.

Not being one to pass up value, I managed to get the console running, connected to the internet and updated on the last day possible. And so I came to semi-impulsively purchase Syberia, alongside some indie titles and Ecco the Dolphin. (I’ll beat that game one day!)

I’d not heard of Syberia or it’s sequel previously, which was fairly unusual. Having looked through every available arcade/indie title, this stood out to me due to the interesting art direction, and the fact that it was a port of a PC point and click game.

Since I’m not personally traversing Europe right now, I figured this game would be a good substitute for this week. I decided to not do any further research beyond determining that it received ‘generally favourable’ reviews at the time of release, because I like to give my media the chance to surprise me.

What I found exceeded my expectations. Set in a… mostly realistic yet still fantasy version of Europe, you take the protagonist Kate on a hunt to fulfil her lawyerly duties and sort out some inheritance contracts. That doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but the mundane real-world grounding of a modern woman from New York venturing into slightly surrealist situations really worked for me.
Siberia Screen 2
I’d visit this village for a day, no problem.

The puzzles were decent. Not really that challenging for the most part, but they all basically made sense within the rules of the universe, which I appreciate. I also very much appreciate dodging the trap of ‘cryptic bullshit’ that certain games along the vein of Myst would fall into.

The story is quite engaging. No spoilers, (I say about a game that is 12-13 years old) but I will say that it all felt like a pleasant journey. I was half expecting things to be more grim and gritty than they were (you spend a lot of time among rusting buildings and contraptions you see) but I was pleased to find that it didn’t really feel the need to follow too many of the tired tropes of escalating stakes and danger. It was more about discovery, and people changing their outlook on life.
Syberia Screen 1
And mammoths. Definitely about mammoths.

Aesthetically speaking, I thought the game really held up considering how old it was. Mostly due to how excellent the pre-rendered backgrounds are. The environments felt like they could easily be lived in, while still feeling appropriately grand or unusual, depending on where you are at the time. Musically, I thought the soundtrack was also very appropriate for the mood of the game, and not overused either. Many areas have no music, only sounds of water or birds or mechanics and so on. Honestly, one of the highest compliments I can pay it would be that certain areas were reminiscent of Rupture Farms from Abe’s Oddysee, because I think the atmosphere of that game was first rate.
Syberia Screen 4
A lot less grim than there though, what with the lack of slaughter and slavery.

So, I’d recommend it, you got that. But I suppose I wanted to write about it because I’m still thinking about it after the end. It’s not that the end was particularly special, just that the overall experience felt different from other games I’ve played. It managed to be melancholy also uplifting. I was able to be just absorbed into the world because there were no time limits or unnecessary threats of death. Kate Walker seemed like she could be a real human from the universe in which I exist, and the more fantastical elements seemed charming.

It’s a product from a certain era, and games don’t really get made like this now. Sure, there are story games, and adventure games, but this game felt different. I think it’s a ‘the secret ingredient is love’ kind of deal. The game had a specific author, who had their own vision for how the script should be. Maybe that’s why it feels more personal than usual.

The game isn’t perfect or anything though. Time for nit-picking!

The most egregious problem is that somehow Kate manages to have difficulty traversing the environments without getting stuck on things, or sometimes nothing at all. The only time when I was truly stuck came from not being able to find a certain room, simply due to the game not letting me run to a very particular spot on an empty area of screen before sending you to the next area, and I had tried repeatedly, before determining that there mustn’t be anything over that way. (perhaps this is not a problem on PC)
syberia error
The offending invisible wall/vital progression doorway.

So that’s a bit immersion-breaking, but I put up with it. I have a small quibble with the story (side story really) where Kate has several phone conversations with people back home in New York. The timescale is a little bit unclear, which leads to the other characters seeming a bit odd, escalating their comments disproportionately to the amount of time we perceive Kate to have been away. It’s like if your boss sent you from London to Edinburgh to attend a meeting, and they started calling you up demanding results when you’re just passing York.

Oh, and as much as I love pre-rendered backgrounds, they needed some kind of illusion to make the water look like it’s moving at least a little bit. The static water looks ridiculous (though you can’t tell that from a screenshot).
Seberia Screen 3
See? Nice. Until it moves, or doesn’t as the case may be. 

Enough griping though.

I wasn’t expecting to find a game I’d find especially memorable when trying to maximise the amount of games I could buy with expiring credit, but I did. Now I’m looking forward to playing the follow up, and google tells me a third game was announced for release this year. Huzzah!

-S.M.

*cautious peek around the doorframe*

Nice to meet you, strangers. Welcome to my page of (pending) stories of nerdy things, travelling, languages, music, and any other given thing that tickles my fancy at the time.

Uncountable are the number of blogs and journals that begin strong and taper off quickly, when the initial topics of enthusiasm are discussed at length. Or maybe those people just went away and got themselves jobs, who knows?

Will that be the fate of this blog? I wouldn’t rule it out. However, I often like to muse aloud, and sometimes people tell me that I should write things down, and that perhaps other humans out there in the wide world would find what I’m saying to be quite interesting.

So I am treating this page like the stream of conciousness that it is. I hope that you will enjoy it, even if I’m writing about something you aren’t directly interested in every time. Obviously it will help if you like Magic: the Gathering, but honestly it was more non-Magic people who found my stories interesting, so who knows?

I feel like people are supposed to have a catchy sign-off phrase, but that shall have to wait!

-S.M.