It’s not a song, per se, but the theme music from the podcast I was listening to on the train is a bit of an earworm.
There is a broad, fuzzy, blurry, guilt-ridden no man’s land that is part of every game purchase, a place between Point A when I’ve reluctantly typed my PIN number into the credit card terminal and Point B when I feel like I’ve justified typing my PIN number into that credit card terminal. This justification comes in the form of value: entertainment value, experience value, novelty value, or just general I-now-don’t-feel-like-I’ve-wasted-my-money value.
Having paid for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim multiple times, the math on that value equation is exponentially more complex to compute. One needs to factor in a long list of other variables not limited to but including things like nostalgia, updated content add-ons included in late versions or even one’s previous purchase of a cheat manual that is technically out-of-date but useful enough to nudge a frustrated player through most situations as required.
Ten hours into my third Skyrim playthrough, this time on the Nintendo Switch, and having kicked off writing this series of posts I’m calling my Skyrim Adventure Journal … well… actually I haven’t settled on a proper name yet so never mind that part… but, having kicked off writing this series of posts and videos and general commentary recapping my time in this overgrown land of playing with magic and fighting dragons and picking mountain flowers for hours upon hours, alas, I feel like the math on my value justification is starting to reconcile itself into a positive number.
I’m making progress, in other words, and pushing through the story…
So, I Died For the First Time
And the second… and the third time, too. All of it by the same group of thugs.
I don’t know why I can never quite bring myself to being a bad ass. I was lunkering around in the dark, picking flowers or mining ore or something equally grind-worthy and mundane, and a random thief — that was his name “Thief” — runs up to me in the evening wilderness and hands me a sword. “Keep this. Don’t tell anyone… or I’ll come back and kick your teeth in.” The dialog was probably a little more Skyrimmy, but you get the idea.
A minute later, two cops show up: “Have you seen this guy? His name is Thief?” With a name like Thief, what do you expect? Who really stands a chance in like when their parents burden them with a terrible name, especially a professional title?
“Yeah. He threatened to kick my teeth in and gave me a magic sword. Do you want the sword?”
“Oh, yes. By the way, we’re going to run away without much more than a midnight thankyou, and good luck finding a dentist in any of these random mountain villages. Yoink!”
As promised, Thief put out a bounty on my bicuspids and a group of thugs showed up to make a claim. Had they not caught me completely off guard I think I could have handled them, but sadly it took four attempts and a bit of luck to keep my dental premiums at their low, low zero claims rate.
I dealt with them, but not without taking a small hit to my pride. Fortunately the game doesn’t track this, as such.
Let’s Chew Off Some of this Main Quest, Shall We?
What followed was a resolve to actually put in some time on the main quest.
Here’s a recap thus far: it has been determined that I, Aenea, Nord of the land of Skyrim, occasionally hunter of wolves in my knickers (see part one), and escapee from the Imperial Guard for the crime of being an important narrative story point, am the chosen one. Or, specifically, one of the chosen ones… chosen… by a few old men living atop a mountain chatting with dragons (who until very recently no one believed existed despite significant evidence). I am the Dragonborn… in that I have “dragon blood running through my veins” …. about which the guy in me with a university degree in biology has a number of poignant and potentially awkward questions. Alas, I’ve been summoned to said mountain top by a shout from the sky… also a thing that everyone seems to have casual knowledge about. Thus, I must climb the stairs, brave the ice trolls, and level up my way to this place where I can learn about my destiny, acquire some new fetch quests (WOOFS) and keep the linear plot stumbling along through this open world adventure game.
Apparently these dragon whisperer guys are not in much of rush, and I figure I may as well start making my way in the general direction of the plot so that I don’t need to grind through it as an afterthought later on. I mean, that could be a fun alternative to playing the game. Oh… you’re the champion of our land, please save us from the dragons and the end of the world.
Uh… you know what? I think I’m just gonna pick wild flowers and maybe focus on learning to play the lute in this here tavern in the middle of nowhere if it’s all the same to you.
Sigh. Alright. I’ll go talk to them. But I’m not promising anything.
Along the way I find myself presented with numerous distractions. For example, the innkeeper of the town (I use the term loosely) at the base of Mount Main Quest is worried about the state of the local tourist industry. Never mind you can’t walk twenty paces without being attacked by vicious wolves anywhere in this whole country, because there is a strange noise coming from the house on the hill over there, oh, and would you mind checking that out for me?
I guess if I lived in a land of literal magic and where the undead rising from their graves well-armed and pissed off seemed to be a general state of issue, I’d probably park myself behind a bar, too. Y’know… I’ve been outside. I’m good. I’ll just stay right here.
This turns out to be one of those minor WOOFs that results in me learning a new Skill of Questionable Utility (SQUIRT) and burns another two days of game time and a couple hours of play time.
I kill some more wolves, of course. I am an ecologist’s nightmare, trouncing through habitait that’s been largely undisturbed for generations, killing every living thing that crosses my path, decimating the population of wolves that seem overly agressive for some reason, but given their dwindling numbers and fierce competition with freaking-real-live dragons you gotta think that there’s some overlap in the food chain there that’s at play somehow. I should really be looking at some habitat preservation and stabilizing their food sources, not burning them to a painful end with magical fire for their their hides.
Oh, the Troll of It
Ultimately I start my hike up Mount Main Quest, apparently carrying a dozen wolf pelts somehow and a yet another WOOF bag of supplies for the dragon whisperers.
And then I remember the frost troll.
I’ve played this game twice before and literally the only way up to the top of Mount Main Quest is along a narrow path inhabited by an angry abominable snowman who is waiting to rip my arms out of their sockets. No one else seems concerned about this. It’s not like the dude (who incidentally had the same last name as a girl I run with in real life, so that was a little weird) who got me to carry up his bag of supplies warned me, or offered to sell me a can of troll spray or anything. But this being my third play through, something familiar about the little hairpin, rocky pass triggered in my memory and — oh right… frost troll.
For those unfamiliar with battling frost trolls in real life or otherwise, they are very unlike battling angry wolves. Where a wolf will crumple into a lifeless corpse ready for you to field-skin them for their hide with the merest of fireballs ejected from your magical palms, a frost troll is like picking a fight with a hairy tank.
My first play-through left me shell shocked for hours after this encounter. I almost shelved the game, I seem to recall, when I first met my new friend in the mountains. It was a brutal fight, a fight that was probably reported to some sort of gaming monitoring committee for allowable number of mulligans on the same part of the game: “Sorry sir, we don’t know if the reload button can take this many hits! We never tested it for this kind of scenario! We’re monitoring for stability, but this is uncharted territory!”
My second play-through I remembered Mr. Frosty, and had specifically power-grinded my archery skills so that I could camp on a rocky outcropping and empty a mega-quiver of magical arrows into his adorable white fur.
Now here I was again, having just kinda remembered that this was quickly turning into one of those moments where I would either walk away victorious or be picking up pieces of my Nintendo Switch from the floor of public transit.
It went down something like this: For what seemed like about ten minutes I hurled magic and arrows at the beast while I cowardly hung out on a rocky overlook. It was to no avail. His health would drop a bit then he’d run back to his cave, emerge a few seconds later fully recovered. Lydia, who I haven’t talked about much at this point because she’s been more of a glitch than a help, charged in and got smacked into the snow a few times. I was starting to think it might be worth brown-streaking it back down the mountain and hoping frosty didn’t make chase, but I was also thinking I might just save my game and jump in like a maniac and see what some wild clubbing with my sledgehammer of doom and see how much damage I could make before I became a frozen smudge on the rocks. In looking for something that might give me a better chance than a pinata at a ten-year-olds birthday party, I dipped into my bag of tricks and threw some kind of summoning magic at my new icy friend.
The video shows the result: He didn’t stand much of a chance and the whole thing wrapped up in about 20 seconds.
Next stop, Castle of the Dragon Whispers on the top of Mount Main quest.
…to be continued.
The temperature peaked around 10°C this afternoon, so the Kid and I went to the hill.
Actually, the hill was mostly glazed in a thin coating of ice, and what wasn’t ice was starting to melt, so much so that we ultimately called it a day when we were starting to get simultaneously wet and cold.
As per usual, I bolted the GoPro to the front of the sled and recorded the more interesting parts into a short video:
It’s not the first time I’ve recorded sledding photos or video. It’s something of a winter tradition: snap a camera to the front of the sled and see what comes out the other end. But I will say that with the new GoPro Hero6 and the built in stability the results of this afternoon are some of the smoothest footage I’ve taken.
Loving that camera a little more with each outing.
Snorkeling in Roatán last month I swam out through a fairly narrow channel between some sharp corral, explored for about 20 minutes, then had a few moments when even though I could see the shore I couldn’t see a safe way back to it through the dangerous maze a foot below the surface.
This is actually quite delightful.
Last year while out running, avoiding the ice-covered sidewalks of our usual routes, we took a turn through a side pathway, into a neighbourhood not far from where we would have otherwise travelled, and… there was a Griswold house.
You’ve seen the movie, right? Chevy Chase, as the bumbling Clarke Griswold hosts his slapstick family holiday gathering, terrorizes his yuppie neighbours, tolerates his red neck cousin-in-law, avoids throttling his mother-in-law, and of course, decorates his home in a visible-from-orbit display of holiday lighting that has become the yardstick by which all future lighting displays will ever be measured.
We found someone who is competing for the local title.
He’s put up his display again this year, and on our way home from some holiday shopping we drove the you-just-gotta-know-it route to find this house.
“You need to see this house.” I told Karin.
“No… you just can’t understand how many lights this guy has up until you see it.”
“No… it’s brilliant, awesome and insane all in one.”
Afterwards in the car: “Okay, you were right.” She says. “That was pretty awesome.”
One house. Sixty-five thousand lights. Music. Characters. And a power bill that no one will envy in January. Many props to this guy, whoever you are: you’re making this crazy world a little bit more magical.
As I told a co-worker the other day, I am adopting a mental framework of “willful optimism” in the face of a society & culture that seems to be actively pursuing the opposite.
There’s a ton of construction downtown this year, which is exciting.
But there’s a ton of construction downtown, which is kinda putting a big giant “MEH” on the annual decoration efforts.
Work on the new LRT means Churchill Square has more plywood barricades than food trucks. Work on refurbishing the downtown library means that what was once a brutalist architectural eyesore of an old building will be replaced by a promising work of post-modern shape of angles and glass and modern style, but is now a concrete skeleton with some jutting steel and a crane looming over the whole thing.
The New Years fireworks have been moved away from City Hall.
And there is definitely no fifty-foot-tall tree in the square.
I took some early morning video to share what it looks like on Jasper Avenue, Churchill Square and in front of City Hall this month.
There is a bit of effort. It doesn’t quite look like the holidays are skipping our City this year. Fortunately there was some forethought put into (permanently?) lighting the larger trees, and the ice rink in front of City Hall still beckons wee skaters to show off to the mayor sitting in his office overlooking the spectacle.
It’s a subdued, meh-kinda holiday season downtown… but by necessity for a brighter, fresher version in a year or two.
According to one of my coworkers, a penguin. I…think it’s a compliment. Huzzah for corny office get-to-know-you culture exercises.
When I read the agenda for our work holiday party. It was not exactly family-friendly.
The Kid herself got it into her skull that we NEEDED to go to the Festival of Trees this year.
Every year, the University Hospital here in the city puts on a fundraiser wherein hundreds of holiday trees are decorated, displayed, and auctioned. We went four of five years ago to take in the heady kick off to the month-long xmas season, to walk around and ponder the effort and the splendour, but while it’s a feast for the eyes and camera lens, the Kid has never had much patience for it.
But apparently kids talk.
“Dad. They have a ‘Kids Only’ store there.” She says. “Only kids can go in and buy presents for their parents.”
“So you want to go?”
Of course, and she reminded us every other day for two weeks about it.
So Friday evening we coordinated a hot pair of precious free hours and we wandered the twinkling hall, taking in the festive gush that slapped us full in the face before it had honestly kicked in that, oh… right, it’s December again already.
I had plenty of time to nab a few minutes of colourful footage while the Kid disappeared into the ‘Kids Only’ store, where she lingered for a solid half hour and (of course) didn’t buy a single thing (“you wouldn’t have wanted anything in there, dad”).
Nothing quite screams “HOLY CRAP IT’S CHRISTMAS AGAIN!” quite like wandering among a couple hundred decorated trees, with five hundred strangers. Either way, it beats the mall.
I fell victim to the glitz and hooplah a few weeks ago when Amazon announced that their virtual assistant, the Alexa powered Echo, was coming to Canada. Thus, in a story that is both short and drab, I pre-ordered a heather-grey fabric cylinder of technological wonder that arrived on our doorstep via courier late last evening.
Our home network is a little bit more crowded today.
A few months ago, we installed the Disney Circle, a network parenting tool. It allows us to lightly police our internet traffic by content and usage time. It has had two noticeable effects on our lives: (a) the kid watches measurably less YouTube and (b) we go to bed earlier because we set the network to go completely dark at 11pm and we’re too lazy to disable the setting each night.
A few weeks ago I installed a couple of WiFi enabled switches in the house. They’re handy for vacation (tested and proven true) and the holidays (fancy light timers) and I made sure when I bought them (even before I knew about the Echo) that they were compatible with the Amazon assistant. I could buy more, but I’m not exactly sure just how many voice activated lamps one person needs.
And now, as of last night, we’ve got an Alexa.
I’ll spare the sales pitch. We chose it from the short list of options — siri, google, etc — because we have Prime, and I got free shipping and it will probably do something, someday, with my Kindle or Audible or one of those other services I’ve sold my soul to Amazon for. Today, it’s a voice activated radio and music player. It’s a lazy way of turning the holiday lights off and on. It’s … well… I’m not quite sure what it will do yet.
So, we’ll let the experiment begin: a new era in connectivity in our house… circles, and switches and cylinders, oh my.
I tried, spectacularly unsuccessfully, to sing along to a crooner-type song which I was also playing on the violin. I now have a new respect for people who sing and simultaneously play an instrument.