Friday, February 15, 2013


     So just a week after the attack on the American Embassy in Ankara, I went to get my passport the American Embassy in Ankara. Fortunately, savvy traveler that I am, I was able to avoid both explosions and tedious paperwork. Waiting and disappointment, unfortunately, was inevitable.

     I began my journey at a quarter past nine, Turkish Standard Time. The time-zone is actually completely irrelevant, since I didn’t change time-zones at all. Mehmet drove me over to the Konya High Speed Train (that isn’t a capitalization error, the name of the high speed train company is High Speed Train) station. I got tickets, and got to practice my Turkish to confirm that he’d be back to pick me up.

     I learned the Turkish words for “Departing from” and “Destination,” after giving the chick the wrong ticket...Yes, I should have checked the times, but it was far too early for coherent thought.

     The interior was pretty nice. Like economy class on airplanes before they decided that only First and Business class passengers are likely to travel with femurs (Rumor has it they’re working on a drug that will temporarily liquefy your bones for the flight so they can cram even more people onto crappy domestic flights invariably and inexplicably bound for Atlanta). I guess where I was going with that is that there was actually a bit of leg room. It was as good as sitting in the same place for two hours can get without the addition of expensive electronics, copious amounts of booze or an attractive companion (and a little privacy).

     I elected to spend my time gazing out of the window at the stunning Turkish least until I realized the area around Konya looks about like southeast Idaho which I’ve driven through enough times that I know exactly where both of the trees are (perhaps I’m exaggerating). Instead I zoned out and started trying to come up with ideas for the sequel to Twin Suns which I am (supposedly) working on.

     The first disappointment came when I studied the monitors, and noted the train’s speed. It took a while to get up to top speed, but it topped off at 250 km/s. That’s right. As you no doubt just calculated, 559,234 mph. While it’s still only a paltry .08% of speedlight, it’s certainly respectable. The disappointment came when I recalled that "saat" is hour in Turkish, so we’re only talking 250 km/h. About 155 mph. Which is still slower than a 1992 Corvette (top speed 179 mph), which I’ve driven.

     When I got to Ankara, I wandered about in the underground portion of the train station, seeking an exit. Fortunately, the exploring-underground-structures skills I picked up playing Oblivion and Fallout 3 came in handy (though I refrained from killing anyone with an ax/plasma rifle). I found the weird subterranean market section (oddly enough, it's not all that different from how I envisioned the city on New Vladivostok in Twin Suns), and had lunch.

When I finally made my way to the surface it started raining (of course). I hopped in a cab, and made my way to the embassy, where they promptly told me to piss off, since my appointment wasn’t for half an hour. I had wishfully envisioned a dry waiting area where they serve complimentary (overpriced would have been acceptable) bacon-cheeseburgers and ice-cold Budweiser’s. I’ll certainly be writing to the State Department to suggest this. Fortunately there was a bar across the street so I slogged my way there.

The bar was closed (of course), so I trudged back, wondering how water had entered my right shoe. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this question. I loitered under the slight overhang afforded by a nearby shop, and waited. Since I didn’t have my iPad, or even a watch, I annoyed those around me by asking for the time every two minutes.

At long last, it was time, so I walked right past the massive line of Turkish people waiting for visas, flashed my blue passport, and went right in. I briefly wondered at the logic of detonating a bomb near the gate. The very prominent signs saying “walk right-in if you’re American,” make it clear that none of the people waiting outside are actually Americans, and all the security personnel are Turkish. You’d have a better chance of actually getting a few Americans if you hit the bar across the street from the Embassy around happy hour. Then again, I suppose most suicide bombers aren’t burdened by an overabundance of logic.

I got in and went straight to the special window for Americans, and got hassled by old people who didn’t get that the big-ass flag and the words “US Citizens Only” (printed in both English and Turkish) meant it was a special line. The person showed up, I signed the forms, paid them, and was in and out in a matter of six minutes. It was by far the shortest amount of time I’ve ever spent in a US government building.

The trip back wasn’t particularly eventful, though I would like to discuss the TV on the train. It cycled through random stuff, including cartoons, commercials and slide-show things that appeared to be compilations of pictures from e-mail forwards. I’m 95% sure my mom has forwarded some of them to me before. I remember some neat custom cars (including a purple double-decker bus turned into a spaceship that looked a bit like Astrotrain mid-transformation) and some weird hairstyles (None were as awesome as my mohawk).

The cartoons featured a penguin and a polar bear. Interesting, as they are the Arctic Circle (where I used to work) mascots, and two species that never ever come into contact with one another. It was moderately funny, and visual enough that you could get it without sound (there was no sound). The most bizarre part was that I heard the middle-aged businessman sitting next to me laugh, not only at each cartoon, but at the same cartoon each time it was played. They only had about twenty-minutes worth of material that they cycled through, and I watched the same cartoons, and heard him laugh at the same bits all four times. It was like clockwork. Weird and confusing clockwork.

I would write some sort of conclusion at this stage, but there isn’t much to conclude. After the trip, I went home, ate some kofte and taught a class. Pretty typical evening. So, yeah, That’s it.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: Beowulf: The Game

     As I write, I’m hiding out in a basement nargile (hookah) cafĂ©. I was trying to get some “real” writing done, but then the music died, and an eerie silence descended on the place. It was far too unsettling to write fiction, so I switched to this. As it turns out, it they just killed it for a few minutes for prayer (meaning it’s only a little after noon, so I’ve still got about three hours to kill before I can go home).

     As I said in my previous post, I’m reviewing the last four games I’ve played in order from worst to best. Next up is Beowulf: The Game (not to be confused with the epic poem). I’m not sure what company made it, but I believe it’s the same company that did Laxdaela Saga: The Game (it did poorly until they re-released an online version called “”). It’s one of several games that I snagged at Play N’ Trade for next to nothing. At $2.50 it’s well worth it. It’s easily as satisfying as a pint of domestic beer, but not quite to the level of a micro-brew. It does, however, keep you occupied a little bit longer (even if you got bored and quit as early as I did).

     To begin with it was a pretty okay game. It’s not all that different from other third-person melee based action games (Think Dante’s Inferno or Assassin’s Creed). You push the stick in different directions to target different hostiles and mash buttons for a variety of attacks. In an attempt to be true to the poem, there is a bit of an emphasis on grappling. You can, by pressing “B” (it’s almost always “B”) grab your enemies and either kill them (generally by tapping buttons repeatedly or in a sequence), or toss them (with a poor level of accuracy) at other enemies. With enemies who have weapons, you can disarm them and steal their weapons, too (this comes in handy since any weapon you carry seems to break/vanish/get lost after a short amount of time).

     There is also a bit of climbing, but it’s generally on cliff-faces with poorly marked hand-holds, and thus mostly just annoying. In most cases, it’s to find a hidden something, or lower a bridge/open a gate for your merry band of thanes to follow you.

     Damnable Thanes. Anglo-Saxon kings may have had a use for thanes, but that isn’t the case in this game. When sailing, you have to tap buttons in a rhythm (like the banging of drums) to make your thanes row. This would be a kind of neat touch if it didn’t go on for so long. When you play a game like this, you don’t mind tapping buttons in a repetitive fashion, but something damn-well better die the majority of the time. They also seem to throw in random bits where a similar process is required to make your thanes move a big stone door out of the way. This seems pointless when (after filling up your badass meter) you’re capable of using a stone column twice your height as a club to beat Grendel senseless (before ripping him limb from limb), slaying a slew of slippery sea serpents, brutally bashing a bevy of barbarous beasts and splitting the atom with a single roundhouse kick (that last one may have actually been Chuck Norris, but you get the idea). Unless you’re trying to boost the poor bastards’ self-esteem by making them feel useful, I fail to see the point.

     That isn’t the main reason the thanes annoy me. Like every NPC ever, they’re next to useless in combat (this is why I’m confident I can put down any robot uprising). They demonstrate this fact by dying very, very quickly. This wouldn’t be so bad if some sadist at Epic Poem Game Studios hadn’t decided that you lose if you fail to keep at least one of them alive. This is especially true given that you lack any useful control over them (you can’t leave them some place safe, for example). Their primary strategy seems to primarily involve getting themselves completely surrounded and then being brutally slaughtered. On the plus side, they haven’t got automatic weapons or explosives, so you don’t have to worry about them killing you or one another (like Ian in Fallout with his stupid SMG).

     So, it’s a great game for the price, but overall, rather meh. I’d write more about it, but I actually haven’t actually played it since then. I also must take this time to apologize for not posting this earlier. I wrote it about a week ago, and then promptly forgot that I never actually posted it. Sorry about that.