The King is Dead

Today, a king has died.

I first met him when I was 10 years old. He was a tiny ball of fur, black with a white stripe down the middle along his belly. He was curious, and friendly, and got along well with his siblings. He was adorable, and my brothers and I instantly fell in love with him.

We named him Oreo. Not very original, but it suited him.

As he grew up on the family farm, it became evident that he was the smartest in the litter. He knew his name, and came when we asked. He was a crafty hunter, only matched by his somewhat psychotic sibling, Boots. He adored being around people. At some point, we decided we needed a house cat. Oreo was that cat.

He didn’t live inside the house though. We let him out as often as he liked, and so he became very social with the neighbourhood cats. I always liked to imagine he was stalking and hunting with his little pride of cats while he was away. When he came back, several of his posse would come back and wait for him while he ate.

He was such a bad ass that dogs were often afraid of him. Between him and a golden retriever puppy, he assumed dominance. He fought off angry german shepherds. That cat was strong and proud, and nothing would take him down without a fight. He was truly the king of the neighbourhood.

He wasn’t always in the city. We used to bring him to the cottage. Because he was unused to cages and didn’t like them, we would let him roam around the car. One minute, he’d be on our laps: the next, my dad would be shooing him away from the dashboard. Most of the time, he was content to get attention and sit on the dash where it was warm, and thankfully out of the way for most of Dad’s driving.

The last time he went to the cottage was when I was 14 or so. He decided to hide on us when we tried to bring him back to the city. It took us almost 2 hours to catch him, between about 10 people looking. On top of that, he was ornery and upset during the trip back: we decided that was going to be his last trip there.

We brought him back to the farm every once in awhile, but those visits soon stopped: the rest of his litter, and even his mother Liquorice, had all started to go missing: killed or become strays. Regardless, we didn’t want the same happening to Oreo, so we stopped bringing him.

When I was about 19, Oreo began to get sick inside the house. Dad wasn’t happy about that happening on his expensive carpets, so the decision was made to send him back to the farm to live his days out. Unfortunately, barns are hardly cat proof, and when our neighbour went to feed him, he escaped.

We thought we would never see him again.

About 6 months later, after a Canadian winter, my brother and I were working, moving lumber. We hefted a particularly large log when we heard a noise. We had no idea what it was, so we listened. We heard it again, and it sounded a bit like a raccoon. A third time, and we were incredulous: raccoons don’t meow, and all our cats were dead. There was no way both of us were hallucinating, so we went looking for the source.

Defying every expectation, the King was still alive: nothing but skin and bones, minus a good number of teeth, and smelling like a ragged corpse but… still alive. After some coaxing, and a little bit of food, Oreo came out of hiding. Just like was in the past, he was extremely friendly and happy to see us. He even Remembered Steely, and rubbed up affectionately with the beast. I wonder to this day if Steely knew Oreo was alive all this time.

The problem presented to us was that Oreo would not be allowed back in Toronto; but there was no way we were going to leave him on the farm. This is when my brother Sebastien came to the rescue: because he was relatively independent and living in Ottawa, he would take care of Oreo with his girlfriend, Megan.

After driving to pick him up, and then making the long trek back to Ottawa, Seb put him through the vets. A few thousand dollars later, Oreo no longer had worms, was no longer sick, and was about as well as could be expected from a 10 year old cat with the feline version of AIDS.

From then on, every visit to see Sebastien and Megan was a visit to see Oreo. He hated the cute bandanas that the vet would put on him. He demanded your attention when you were watching a movie. If you were sleeping on the air mattress, he would join you (though I suspect it was more because of the air mattress than the person, but I digress).

This year, he went blind in one eye. Months passed, and Oreo was still the same cat. Then, two weeks ago, age hit him right in the sweet spot.

FAIDS has kicked in with a vengeance, and diabetes had robbed him of his sight. His inner ear had gotten messed up, causing his sense of balance to become completely screwed up. Instead of spending most days sitting on chairs and pretending to be human, or getting chin scratches, his day by day life became a struggle to find his litterbox and his bed.

He was confined to a single, but large, room for his safety. When Sebastien came back to Toronto to help my dad out, he brought Oreo with him. I watched as he spent his last days trying his hardest to meander around my dining room, his incontinence causing me to feel angry, and then guilty. This wasn’t the cat I remembered.

What I remembered was a proud, powerful cat with sparkling green eyes and a fierce sense of intelligence. A strong lion: and the sleeping sack of ever diminishing skin and bones was nothing like he was. I became angry, thinking how this could have happened. I then felt guilt for judging a creature who had no business being judged: he was living his life the best he could.

So I cleaned the floor, and I pet his now bony spine. He didn’t even have the strength to meow.

Today, I left with a little goodbye, thinking I would see him tonight. I left to go see a friend I hadn’t seen in some time, and have a good day. I made a grave mistake, as Oreo’s condition worsened: a terminal tumour threatened to cause him unbearable pain before he passed.

Sebastien, braver than I would have been, made the tough decision of giving Oreo a painless passing, a sweet sleep. I can imagine me being there, looking into his unseeing eyes as the light of life dimmed. I can imagine what it would have been like to wish him goodbye one last time, and thank you for being such an amazing friend. I imagine I was strong for him, and held him one last time like I used to so long ago.

I did none of these things. I was oblivious, and by the time I got home, it was done. Oreo was no longer with us.

I owed him so much, and couldn’t be there for him when he needed me; once, when he needed a new home, and once when he needed to go. I don’t think I will forgive myself for a long time.

Regardless, Oreo was the best cat I have ever known. Sweet, intelligent, and confident. I love him. I will miss him.

I am sorry I wasn’t there Oreo. I’m so happy Sebastien and Megan were. I am so happy that, with them, you were able to have a long and happy life. I’m sorry you had to go. I understand why you had to, though, and I’m glad it was peaceful.

The King is dead, and a little piece of me died with him.

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I have no idea what I am doing.

For serious, I have no idea.

Last night, after toying around with my Psycho in Borderlands 2 until two in the morning, I decided it would be a great idea to catch up on Book 2 of the legend of Korra. side note: that was a lot of twos. I watched tv until 6 am, wasn’t sleepy, proceeded to go crazy, and now here I am.

By crazy, I mean the following: breakfast, wake up my mom side note: very rare occurrence considering her vocation, clean basement, start to clean room, listen to the Owl’s theme from OoT on loop, delve into the mysteries of cheese making and nasal mucus, and now I am here.

Exhaustion and caffeine have an interesting effect on me side note: read “interesting” as downright weird. I have been active, and now that I’m sitting, I’m having constant microsleeps. It’s very odd.

I would have hoped for a bit more creativity on my end, but alas no such luck. Short stories are in short supply side note: not a funny pun, dispense with those and I really don’t write much on here. Any idea?

I’m thinking that I just need to get some sleep; but that’s not happening until Kepora Gebora gets out of my head. I think I’ve finally figured out the major parts of it on the piano, and I won’t be happy until it’s transcribed.

Mother’s Day, done badly.

I’m bad at mushy stuff, but here goes.

To my mom:

Hey mom, it’s one of your favourite sons. I just wanted to say happy mother’s day, and I hope today works out for ya in a big way.

I’m happy to have you for a mom for a lot of reasons. For one, you helped make me the geek I am today. You have more french comic books than comic book guy from the Simpsons, read a lot, and I have picked up on neither of those things to the same degree.

Okay, well at least your taste in movies is all thanks to you. Stargate, Die Hard… action movies and sci-fi were always cool because you made it.

I’m going to teacher’s college now largely because of your support, and I hope I’m as good as your are. Heck, I looked up reviews. People think you’re awesome. I think you’re awesome. There’s definitely a something there that I hope to emulate.

We both kinda hate cooking all the time, so that’s a bonus. It’s also a bonus that ordering in food is certainly easier than what the Croods have to do.

Frankly, I picked up a lot of my habits from you. You helped me grow into this big, hairy mess of a human being. I couldn’t have done anything in my life without you and your guidance.

So, from the bottom of my big, though very-bad-at-articulating-feelings afflicted heart, I just wanted to say thank you for all the help, the love, and the care. I love you. I’m very lucky to have had you for a mother.

Happy Mother’s day,
Phil

Stone Tears

But as to such this predicament

be mine is a mystery to me

and of import only in mine eye it be.

 

Yet its urgency is real, I cannot peel

the veil from my choice to make.

 

Instead I weep as a stone angel

passing time in my hands

until the moment a weakness

revealed

moves me from my stale sands.

For a friend in need

These poems are for a friend who I really can’t help. I feel horrible for him, and I want to try to do something meaningful for him. These poems are the best I feel I can do right now.

Sam, stay strong.

We lead short lives
Like leaves underneath a foot
Our colour is crushed

Nature is ugly,
And awesome, but perfection
Must have an ending

A perfect life is
A creature; it has a head,
A tail, a body

Our lives are short, though
A life well lived is simply
A beautiful thing.

Take heart, my good friend
You will feel sadness and pain
Which gives way to joy

They lived a great life
Though ended, beautiful in
A love filled ending

Take from this, and know
Of beauty in a complete
Story of a life

Beginning, and then
Body, they loved and were loved
Ending, conclusion

They loved you, and you
Love them still, and that is all
That really matters

The Camel of Comedy

HURR HURR HURR

I once heard Jason Biggs, “Jim” from the American Pie movies, say something to the tune of “If you can’t get embarrassed, then you’re missing out on a lot of funny”. Not an exact quote, but it has kinda stuck with me.

Unfortunately, my little 8 year old self didn’t know or understand this. This is probably fortunate from a parenting standpoint, because this means I didn’t watch American Pie when I was 8. Could you imagine? “MOMMY, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?!” “That is called fucking a pie, honey.” Yeah, nope.

Sexual scarring possibilities aside, I didn’t see that movie or hear that quote from the extras in time to avoid feeling horrible about the most embarrassing moment of my life. It took place in a grade 1 Christmas play, and I was about 8.

My class was a joint grade 1 and 2 operation. Our poor teacher was the head of this sorry state of affairs, but was adamant that we were going to put on a classroom Christmas play. We were going to go full out, with props, and lights, and the gymnasium stage…

To me, this was my time to shine. I was going to be the best, I was going to stun everyone and show them that yes, I was totally cool. If I could act super well, if I could nail my lines, if I could just be the most awesome person ever, people would be nice to me. This hope stemmed from a healthy amount of bullying and schoolyard douchbaggery directed towards me from an early age; seriously, I thought this school play was going to change everything.

It was going to be this easy.

The Christmas play was about the birth of Christ if I remember correctly. We were to all play the part of animals making our way there, and eventually be super happy about all of this baby stuff. 8 year old me didn’t give a shit, I just wanted to show them bullies who was da man, and who wasn’t. I was totally going to be the man, in case you didn’t know. They totally weren’t. That was just the way I knew it had to be. So I waited for the eventual assignment of roles: who was going to be who.

Someone was given the cat. Another person was a horse. Here I sat, waiting for all these animals passing me by; the frog, the lobster, the dog… none of that mattered. All that mattered was when the teacher called my name.

“Philip Budd?”

I frantically stretched my hand and practically shouted “PRESENT”. Giving me an awkward look, she then assigned me my animal.

“You’re going to be the camel.”

You can be ME.

Oh my fuck yes please. I was going to be the coolest camel on the planet. Dogs? Not a chance. The cat wasn’t even remotely swank compared to me. The bird had to go elsewhere for shiny stuff, ’cause my camel ass was going to blind them. As soon as I got my lines, I started rehearsing and learned my lines in 4 hours.

Seeing as this was two weeks before the play, my parents got very tired of hearing my epic camel soliloquies throughout all of that time. Too bad, I thought, I had to be perfect. Which I totally was going to be. Duh.

My mom worked on my Camel costume personally, tirelessly, and the day before the play it was finished (or she bought it, which is entirely possible). The onesie piece was brown with a beige belly, complete with a tail and a hump on its back. One hump, mind you, which my 8 year old self was keen to notice was actually a dromadaire, but meh, who cared. It was awesome, and I wore it for a couple of hours while practicing my lines yet again. Imagine a big, furry monstrosity with a hump that was perfect for knocking over glasses and chairs like so many pieces of fine china, all while reciting Shakespeare.

To be or not to be, moo.

That was how it was.

The night of the play, I was ready. The lines? perfect. The outfit? Immaculate. The Phil was ready. I wolfed down my dinner, and made a beeline for the costume. I waited for my mom to help me into my outfit, and I felt great… but then the trouble started.

I looked into a mirror. It was then that I realized that Camels are actually really stupid looking. Why did they have a hump? Or a tail? They were weird horses, really, and I was instantly aware of how stupid I looked. How could I look cool as a Camel? HOW? There was no way.

Mom and I made our way to the school, and the prevailing feeling of doom was upon me. I knew my lines, I thought, I’ll be fine; but I was a camel! They’re going to make fun of me for being a camel, no way they weren’t. I was screwed.

I was shuttled into the waiting area backstage with the rest of the animals in their costumes. The dogs? Totally wicked. The cats were cooler than cats. Even the zebra looked great; and here’s this camel. I could practically hear the snickering.

And so, the play starts. A few animals do their thing. I prayed it wouldn’t come to me, that they’d skip the camel part. A few more. The time passed so slowly that I could practically see everything in slow motion. Then a couple more, and finally, it was time. The camel walked out onto the stage.

I walked in from the left side to glaring lights and what looked like a million rows of shadowy people I couldn’t see. The nerves forced my heart so skip a beat; I gulped, I put on my best acting face, and I started my lines.

As an aside, it’s important to note that, when I’m nervous, I have a couple of ticks: biting my nails into oblivion, fiddling non-stop, and sweaty palms.

As I got going through my lines, my nerves got the best of me. I grabbed the first thing I could and started fiddling with it while concentrating really hard on my lines. This was when I started hearing giggles from the crowd.

Laughing? Why? Nothing I said was funny. Everything I had done was oscar worthy, not giggle generating. I wanted to create a stirring solo of solemn sereneness, but instead it was becoming chuckle palooza.

I stopped, and the laughing got worse. Everyone in the room, and I could only think one thing; they were laughing at me, because I was stupid, a camel, and a loser. Even with the best performance anyone had seen since Muppet Treasure Island (8 year old me had a skewed sense of good movies), everyone was laughing at me. I couldn’t take the ridicule.

I crumbled, fell to my knees, and started crying. “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING AT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE???” I wailed, and the audience laughed even harder. I cried, and was dragged off stage. I don’t remember the rest of the night very well, but I’d like to think I went on a grape juice binge while snorting lines of powder sugar to forget the feelings I was feeling.

So the question was, why were they laughing at me? Imagine the following.

A small boy walks onto stage in an adorable camel outfit. He starts adorably reciting his lines, just like he was told. It’s at this point he grabs his tail, pulls it through his legs, and starts waving it around like a hose at a sexy carwash.

Yeap. This. But with a tail. In a children’s play.

That is why I love comedy: because if you can’t laugh at yourself, you slump down on stage and turn into a sopping wet heap.

What about you folks?

Mechanics that Make Games GO

I recently started developing a board game. It is currently still lacking the basic mechanisms needed to even play, but the overall ideas and guidelines for the relationships between my 3 largest mechanics in the game are in place.

Here’s the thing: I actively started work on this side project for about 4-5 days. That’s it, and I’ve gone through not one, not two, but three iterations of the main mechanic E, 2 iterations of mechanic A(t) and birthed a third mechanic (e) to help add depth to the game. Still, it feels… loose.

What I mean here is that the game doesn’t look like it has an engine. It is about prediction and card counting for the most part, coupled with resource management of about 2-3 main resources, and eventually coming out on top by avoiding stronger opponents or overpowering them while augmenting your resources and diminishing theirs in, ideally, an elegant symbiosis of mechanics; but it feels like there’s no drive. There’s no singular thing that the game could not roll without.

One excellent example of a game with an engine mechanic is King of Tokyo. For those who don’t know about this game, I find it’s a lot of fun in big, casual groups. It handles 2-6 players at any given time, and features a really quick and exciting atmosphere. Imagine Yahtzee meets Godzilla, which then makes random lizard babies with King of the Hill. That is how King of Tokyo do.

WHY DO YOU LOOK LIKE CUBES WTF

Integral to the game, to a point where the rest of the game is impossible to play without it, is dice rolling. By rolling the dice, the game comes alive: when the dice stop, the game is dead. It’s that simple, and that uniquely powerful engine is not only easy to understand, but easy to use. Furthermore, it is the driving force behind a money mechanic, health, damage, and points. 4 interesting things with very cool relationships with one another.

Other games lack a central mechanic completely, and still manage this interesting phenomenon. Sentinels of the Multiverse, for instance; despite its huge amount of variety inherent in the many, many, many decks it has, the game has only that: variety. The mechanics of the game are almost non-existant, leaving only one, card management. As a result, interesting relationships emerge only once in a little while from the rules, but the game is still fun to play so long as you make use of the variety and enjoy a fairly simple game which relies on the relationships between the cards in play rather than underlying mechanics at work.

Mechanics? WHAT MECHANICS? HA HA HA!

Even here though, with no underlying, overarching mechanics, the game still has a driving force: the self-played villain and environment decks, which consistently throw problems to solve at the players, which are solved usually by bashing it repeatedly in the face, but the solutions can be a lot more elegant on occasion. This constant barrage of problems to solve moves the game at a reasonable pace, and keeps players playing.

And so I look at my game, and I have to ask myself: what is driving my game? How do I create a relationship between two mechanics that really gets players to WANT to do things in my game? How do I get the person playing my game to really want to go? It’s not an easy answer…