Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Portland Report

I was in Portland a week too soon to partake in its annual Retro Gaming Expo, as I was visiting town for entirely unrelated reasons, but that said -- if your antenna are attuned to the cosmic vibrations of gamery, it will find you. Case in point: this street art showdown on Alberta Street:
I gather that I may have possibly missed for the second year running an opportunity to play Johann Sebastian Joust, a game that basically is pointless to describe if not possible to demonstrate. I did however manage to fortify my gaming book collection at Powell's City of Books, yielding among other finds the "Worlds of Power" novelization of Metal Gear for the NES by "F.X. Nine", described by Fireguard somewhat mordantly:
It's always struck me as bizarre why anyone would write a novelization of Metal Gear but do everything humanly possible to downplay the violence when the people you're hoping will buy the book are kids who like or are at least curious about a game about a commando running around blowing up enemy soldiers and tanks. Then again, the geniuses who dropped Snake behind enemy lines sent him into danger armed with nothing but a pack of cigarettes.

Honestly the book isn't that badly written considering it's adapted from a video game and meant for young readers, but it's nothing to write home about either. It feels more like reading an online walkthrough than an actual story.

Still, my biggest problem is the dissonance between forbidding the writer to have the main character kill his enemies, when it's not only allowed but often encouraged in the game they give tips for at the end of chapters. It's self-defeating, and speaking as a writer that's about the worst thing you can do.

On trips to Powell's, I used to have to scour the sci-fi and children's sections trying to find gamebook and game novelization needles amongst a tremendous haystack. There were always plenty of finds, but I could spend hours combing the stacks. Looks like someone eventually took notice of my very peculiar receipts, as a couple of years back visits to Powell's surprised me with shelves and sections consisting exclusively of this somewhat niche material I'd been prospecting for. I can go right in the front door, walk directly to the shelf, compare what I see with what I have on my "want" list, pay at the front counter and be out within 5 minutes. It's a very different experience, that's for sure!

Portland has plenty to offer game enthusiasts outside the PREX and Powell's -- on previous visits, I have whiled away many a happy hour at the Avalon Nickel arcade. (And, well, some hours there haven't been so happy -- once, I drove over with friends with the express intent of serving skeptics with my formidable Dance Dance Revolution skills, honed in the UBC arcade during picnics with friends on campus, but while exiting the vehicle somehow got my fingertip pinched in a closed (and, eurk, locked) car door. We immediately iced it in a major way, and decided to continue on with our planned activities only to find that the DDR machine had a massive line up. I'd paid my entry to the arcade, but couldn't use my mangled hand (the nail eventually turned black and fell off) to operate any other machines. Sometimes a can-do attitude isn't enough.)

I gather that there are other gaming sites in the good ole PDX -- the name of Ground Kontrol comes up regularly, though somehow I've managed to never go! Also seen in my recent travels was an arcade bar in Eugene, OR, two hours south of Portland -- entitled Level Up. (Google reveals another one in those environs, named Blairally. What I want to know is why Eugene of all places has two arcade bars and there are none here at my home in Vancouver? The answer is, of course, real estate prices. Admittedly the Storm Crow Tavern does come close, but it's conspicuous that the bar owned by the founder of PopCap games -- responsible for Bejewelled and Plants vs. Zombies among others -- takes as its focus the earlier culture of pen and paper tabletop gaming.)

Also down in those parts, we passed a Chuck E. Cheese's. Is that still a going concern? Are they filled with Xbox 360s and iPads now instead of arcade cabinets? Has the pizza gotten any better? Are the robot mascots holograms instead? These and other questions will just have to wait to be answered. Next time, Portland!