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Archive for December, 2009

As much as I adore Amazon and their fantastic customer service, they clearly scraped the bottom of the muppet barrel when they employed the person who RAMMED the Mystery Machine into the Monty Python set to squeeze them into one small box!

Forgive the Beano-esque term.  I’m not talking ice lollies, I’m talking swag… dosh… spondoolix… moolah… cash.

I’m not feeling particularly festive this year and, even though it may sound a little shallow to say it, the reason is that I can’t actually afford to be festive.  There are those who would argue the point that christmas (note the lowercase) is all about family getting together to put the past behind and celebrate a joyous occasion in good spirits.  Others may extend this even further to see this period as being the time when we remember the birth of “The Lord Jesus Christ Our Saviour” (bet that was a bugger on name badges) and rejoice at how the three wise men chucked out their Garmins and decided to follow a star instead, and probably got there quicker anyway.

I don’t really subscribe to either of these pretenses.

To me, christmas is the time when I have the best ever excuse to spoil the one I love.  To throw caution to the wind and let the inner demon out to play… the Spend Demon.  I enjoy nothing more than to either withdraw a wad of cash and run around buying up everything that I think they will enjoy or, at the very least, get a kick out of.  I’ll quite happily sit for hours looking through EVERY single product on I Want One Of Those or Firebox until something bizarre sparks my interest and convinces me that they’ll REALLY like that towel with a CB radio and ashtray built in.  I love answering the door to the postman and the couriers, wondering which of the gifts arrived and excitedly checking to make sure that everything arrived intact… unlike Lorna’s “Monty Python Monster Box Set” which had been packed in the same box as the “Scooby Doo Mystery Machine Box Set” and the clever person at Amazon thought it’d be a smashing idea to just keep pushing the Mystery Machine until it went into the box, and ruined the Python box in the process.

The sight of all the sparkling presents under the tree is only ever superseded by the moment where she opens that first present, and the joy on her face as she finally gets to see whatever it was inside that odd-shaped box.  From one present to the next, the excitement and happiness is the only gift I really need.  Although I’ve never been that impressed by christmas as a holiday or a festive occasion, I do always look forward to that aspect and go out of my way to make sure that every single present is well thought out, well wrapped, and will be something that Lorna will absolutely adore but may not necessarily have considered for herself.

This year, however, that spark just isn’t there.  There are several reasons for this and the first is that it’s been a horrible year all told.  The stress levels in the last twelve months have been incredible and so I drag myself into December with extreme physical and emotional fatigue.  The second is that we simply can’t afford to do what we would normally, and so those moments as each of the presents have their wrapping ripped off are stripped down to a bare minimum.

It may be a beautiful set, but it won't be opened with the excitement of finally getting to play the game, alas

I very recently received an email from Play.com telling me that the Assassin’s Creed II Black Edition box set had been despatched… which was quite a shock to me as I didn’t recall placing the order, but it turns out I did so back in June.  That would normally be quite an exciting gift if Lorna didn’t already have the game in general vanilla format, so there’s no excitement bundled with that particular gift as it has, in reality, been demoted to an ornament.  Her next gift was supposed to be a surprise – a crate of the Crow’s Landing wine that she has taken a particular liking to.  Unfortunately, the courier delivered the box with several smashed bottles and in such a saturated state that he figured it was only fitting to announce at the door “your bottles of wine are ruined” so, even though there were ten intact bottles left… Lorna now knew about her surprise present.  She’d have found out anyway as I had to carefully slice open the box whilst wearing thick leather gloves to avoid losing a hand, and had to wash down every remaining bottle as they were covered in shards of glass.  Needless to say, as the gift was now ruined and the bottles looked like they’d been pulled out of a skip with torn labels and scratches from the shards, they went straight into the wine rack and are no longer christmas presents.

Jaws used to be part of my christmas ritual, along with King Kong (the original) and Star Wars

So now, with only five days until christmas, I find myself with only that one gift,  the Assassin’s Creed set.  Christmas morning will consist of Lorna opening up one present that she actually already knows about, which she already owns and has already played in standard format, albeit briefly.  The excitement of being able to rush through and finally get to play the game just won’t be there.  I have ordered another present for her, but I’m not sure if it’ll arrive in time or even if she’ll actually like it.  I couldn’t just settle for that one gift though, it’s not in my nature.

Mariusz Pudzianowski... the greatest strongman since Bill Kazmaeir and Jon Pall Sigmarsson... my new christmas ritual

With no presents to light up Lorna’s face, no Jaws or Star Wars on the TV, no trip to Berlin for the christmas markets and no personal religious leanings whatsoever… it seems likely that this christmas will end up being an entirely forgettable experience for the first time in years.  Ultimately, this comes down to not having money.  I’m not materialistic, even though I enjoy spending my money on nice things, but a christmas without watching someone’s face light up from one present to the next just won’t be the same.  I’m looking forward to the time off.  I’m even looking forward to perhaps being bored a little too often, but it still won’t be the same.

Thankfully, there’s always World’s Strongest Man.

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Overspill

Sometimes the echoes of the day reverberate into our subconscious so much that we relive certain repetitive facets of the day’s activities without ever giving our minds the permission to do so.  The last “goodnights” are whispered gently into your ear by the one you love or, as was the case last night, a kick in the shin and a Sid James cackle… and you close your eyes to dream of better days.  Sometimes, however, the brain has its own idea of what you’d like to experience… all… night… long.

The all too familiar "clank clank clank" of the UFO soldiers is enough to drive you insane, even during sleep!

For years it was my little guys from UFO: Enemy Unknown clunking around all over the place from forest to alien base, desert to space craft… over and over again, tile after tile after tile.  The garbled sounds of an over-compress audio file groans in the darkness as the lone Sectoid falls to the ground with a pitiful death rattle. More recently it’s been 720 degree flat spins, barrel rolls and other flashes from Burnout Paradise mixed in with the odd peppering of my Wasteland Wanderer trudging through the Capital Wasteland in a seemingly endless forward motion towards a destination which, to date, has yet to materialise.  After several hours of this “cloud goes up, cloud goes down” repeition, I start to come around and realise it’s all just a dream, and so I close my eyes once again and think about something a little less repetitive like cheerleaders… or more cheerleaders… but still the gaming images come.

The morning sun rips through the gap in the curtains like a raptor claw through the obligatory alluminium door and, with it, only a half full stock of energy is delivered for the day ahead.  I recall the previous evening’s looping visions and how they prevented me from achieving what would be regarded as a decent sleep, and so I muster enough drive to go about my day-to-day… because there’s no way that my gaming memories will interrupt my working day.  Right?

Wrong.

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and in the Capital Wasteland these are the difference between starving and eating irradiated crap. Worthless in reality though.

Even walking up from the house towards the train station, I find myself scouring the grass verge and can’t understand why.  I’m not usually this attentive, certainly not when I’d much rather be indoors lapping up the warmth, and so I drag my eyes away from the littered roadside and concentrate on reaching the station in one piece.  Several moments later the realisation hits me that I am, once again, staring at this godforsaken verge… but before I can question my reasons, the answer presents itself as I begin to mutter the words “ooh a bottle cap” and have to quickly stop myself .  A bottle cap.  The world is strewn with discarded bottle caps, and has been for perhaps my entire existence, and yet I suddenly appear to have a vested interest in those shiny little trinkets.  They have no worth.  In fact, they are nothing but a marker that someone had a good night out, and yet I am somehow drawn towards this detritus.

Fallout seems to have taken control of my subconscious in such a way that I am now thinking in game terms even when I’m not playing.  This was further reinforced when, standing in the low level platforms in Glasgow Central some months ago, my mind started to drift during a conversation with Lorna and I realised that I was scouting the tracks for railway spikes.

I don't care WHAT you say... there's a superjump at the top of that building, and I bet I'll beat your flatspin!

It’s not just Fallout though.  Other games have done the same, even games in which I haven’t completely immersed myself.  Wandering through London in the summer, we both remarked at how it was odd that the Swiss Centre was no longer there and how it had become such a landmark for Leicester Square over the years that it’d never really be the same.  The outlook would be changed forever and so our garnered memories would now seem as though something was wrong, that perhaps there was a glitch.  At that moment, I looked towards the construction site that was being steadily nurtured and immediately had the thought “wonder if there’s a superjump up there”.  Yes, my first thought at seeing a construction site was whether or not we’d be able to take our fictional vehicles, achieve a decent amount of drift on our trip to the top, possibly find a couple of smashes on the way… and take to the skies on a superjump which may actually have us tearing through a Burnout billboard.

As I explained all this to Lorna, she was smiling knowingly and told me of how she’d be walking across the platform at the station to get to the other side and think “there must be an easier way to do this” as she put herself in the mindset of Faith from Mirror’s Edge, using her Parkour skills to bounce from one sheer face to another and scale impossible heights without breaking a nail.  I knew then that I wasn’t alone, that it must be the curse of the gamer to find little strands of our most played games worming their way through our subconscious and into real life.

Is this an attempt by our minds to corrode the mundanity of reality and bring a little spice into our life, spark our imagination and relieve us somewhat from the harshness of the real world… or are we just spending too much time playing?  Either way, it can be a blessing in some cases and a curse in others.  Breaking up the mundanity is something I welcome with open arms, but I would still like to have a deeper sleep without worrying about these repetitive images interrupting my rest.  One day my salvation will come.  I just hope that, when it does, I’m not sleeping.

If you find any bottle caps on your travels, you know where to send them.

David Belle... a guy who understands that, with a little Faith, and the balls to live your life on the Mirror's Edge... travel time becomes unimportant!

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What price love?

Victor tries his very best to get Fred to laugh, by telling him a joke about the "24 Hour Lover Brother" but Fred remains forever silent.

I’ve never been the kind of person to shop around looking for a bargain.  For me, everything has its own value – “however much I’m willing to pay for it”, regardless of the cost.  If I see something that I really want and it costs £100 from one place with a week long delivery time or £120 from somewhere else that will deliver tomorrow then THAT is where I’ll buy from.  Similarly, if something costs £100 and I’m only willing to pay £60 for it then it doesn’t matter if the person haggles with me down to £70… I still won’t buy it, because it’s beyond what it’s worth to me.

I haven’t collected anything in several years, since around the time that the movie studios started to concentrate on remastering everything to HD DVD and BluRay rather than focusing their efforts on the tradition of overpriced and oversized DVD box sets.  I used to look forward to birthdays when, for the most part, my presents would be all manner of wonderfully designed sets with matt laminating here and spot varnishing there and maybe even the occasional touch of foiling such as the Hammer DVD collection.  Since the HD revolution though, for whatever reason, the number of impressive DVD box sets has fallen dramatically and so I no longer had a collection to feed.

In stepped my love for Fallout 3.  It’s quite a rarity as far as gaming is concerned, in that the merchandising doesn’t really exist in the same way that it does for other games franchises.  There are no figures to collect, no graphic novel spin offs, no posters or artwork to proudly hang on the wall and certainly nothing in the way of trinkets.

What Fallout 3 does have, on the other hand, is an abundance of fantastic promotional marketing material.  At this point in time I am, I think, fully aware of all the promotional merchandising that was released and I am steadily wading my way through the various online sources to pick up as much as I possibly can for my future “Fallout Area” within the gaming room.

My first acquisition was Fred, an 8ft 6in (or thereabouts) Brotherhood of Steel Paladin made from what would appear to be fibreglass resin and painted to look as realistic as possible.  He stands on a very heavy elliptical wooden plinth with a Fallout 3 numberplate-style plaque at the front and proudly holds his Laser Rifle aloft as he takes in his surroundings.  I first saw these promotional beasts during a visit to the Saturn store in Berlin.  There was one standing at the top of the escalator as you enter the games floor and one couldn’t help but be blown away by both the level of detail and the brutishness of such a commanding presence.  I joked with Lorna that I wanted to ask someone in the store if I could have him but not being able to speak German was probably going to prevent that from happening and he wouldn’t fit in the suitcase back home.

What happened though, was that the image of this beast became ingrained in my memory and my quest to have my own Brotherhood of Steel Paladin had begun.  Almost a year later I found one on eBay.  The seller hadn’t used the standard keywords in his listing title, instead having it listed as “Fall Out Promotional Soldier” rather than something obvious such as “Fallout Brotherhood of Steel Statue” or “Fallout Promotional Statue” at the very least.  Thankfully, I found him straight away and contacted the seller asking if they would give me a price to sell it outright rather than going through auction as I really didn’t want to let this slip away from me.  The seller explained how they had worked in a TV studio and had been given “Fred” at the time when Fallout was being heavily marketed and was about to be thrown out into a skip when the seller asked if he could take him home instead.  The seller kept him in his house until he ended up moving to a barge and so there was no room for Fred anymore who lived above deck chained to the top of the barge.  The seller and I agreed to a price of £550 or £600 (can’t remember now, sorry) and one of our clients was good enough to transport him up from Surrey to Glasgow at no cost.

He is, without a doubt, impressive and damned breathtaking to a Fallout 3 fan.  He stands in the corner of the gaming room, watching over me as I tear through the streets of Paradise City or wander through the battered and bruised landscapes of the Capital Wasteland.

A bumper bundle of Fallout 3 marketing goodies, and all for almost HALF of what I'd normally bid on the Vault Dweller's Guide alone. Score!

The next item in my Fallout 3 collection was The Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide which was given out by Bethesda at their launch party to all who attended.  It’s a small fifty page booklet, written in a very tongue in cheek manner with illustrations that epitomise the absurdity and naivety of the people of the Capital.  From the first page to the last, every word has been carefully selected to exemplify the underlying, and somewhat hidden, sense of humour of the Fallout series.  I had been outbid on this item several times on eBay and, thankfully, managed to find someone who was selling this along with a number of other great promotional items with a BuyItNow price rather than an auction listing.  The package contained the Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide, some full A4 Vault Boy decals, smaller Vault Boy decals, a Vault Boy keyring, Vault Boy pin badge and a Nuka Cola bottle opener.

Only last week I saw one of the two most obscure Fallout 3 marketing items on eBay… the Vault Boy “Penny Arcade” hand puppet modelled on the comic strip, which was given away at the PAX 2008 expo.  Now, it IS sexy for two reasons.  Reason one is that it’s clearly a very nice piece of Fallout 3 promotional merchandising… but it’s also part of the whole Penny Arcade history too.  Double score.  The problem is that the seller is asking for $700 USD which, to my mind, is far too much.  As part of their bundle they’re also offering other “great” items such as a piece of cardboard with the FatMan launcher on it, a leaflet telling people where the Fallout 3 stand was in the expo, and a generic map of the expo.  While that may be a bumper bag of goodies for someone, to me it’s just a load of expo bumff pulled together to make the auction look more worthy of the $700 price tag.

The Vault Boy hand puppet... over 2500 made and given away at the PAX 2008 expo... yet a $700 price tag!

I used the “Make Offer” option and sent the seller what I thought was a reasonable offer at $200.  It wasn’t even close to their $700 asking price but it was, to be fair, all that it was worth to me.  I would be willing to pay $200 for an official Vault Boy glove puppet that maybe 3000 or 4000 people were given as they visited the Bethsoft stand at the expo.  Anything over that just couldn’t be justified.

The seller responded that they were quite insulted, and that they had purchased the items from someone else with the intent to sell them on for a much greater profit… so they would only accept my offer if I countered it with one closer to $700 and one which was “within $50 of the asking price” which basically meant that the “Make Offer” option was just there to encourage communications.  Smart move.  I did explain that I wouldn’t pay that much money for something which, in my mind, wasn’t worth it.  There were thousands made, it’s not THAT impressive looking, and it doesn’t have any history attached to it other than being given away free at an expo.  The seller responded again saying that I’d never see one again, that they’d guarantee that fact, and that only 2500 were made… I’m not sure where they got their information from but it certainly didn’t prompt me to make that acceptable offer of $650 for a glove puppet.

The Sword of The Hessian from Sleepy Hollow.. designed in conjunction with Christopher Walken and the weaponsmaster in the props department, but replaced when Tim Burton saw the final piece, worring that Walken may be injured. One of a kind.

When I explained to them that I will only pay for something what I believe it to be worth, they wouldn’t understand.  I explained how there were only 144 of the Brotherhood of Steel statues made and they had been selling at upwards of $7000 on eBay before therefore I could easily justify spending the £550 or £600 that I did on Fred.  I explained how I own the Sword Of The Hessian from Sleepy Hollow which was designed from ideas by Christopher Walken and how there was only one ever made, and that didn’t even cost £1000 (although I got mine for free from a client who deals in props), but that would have been worth the money because of the history behind it.  The seller wouldn’t accept that, still saying that $700 was a fair price for this mass produced freebie glove puppet.

That prompted my question, “How much is too much?”.  When we love something, and we want to take pride in a collection or obtain that final missing piece that makes a collection complete… how much is an acceptable spend?  What actually makes something worth the cost… is it the scarcity, the history, the materials and craftsmanship, or simply our desire?  If there were only 144 glove puppets made I still wouldn’t have paid $700 for it and yet I paid something like $900 or $1000 for the Brotherhood of Steel statue.  It’s over 8ft tall though, weighs 120lb and is a force to be reckoned with.  The glove puppet would be around 8 inches or thereabouts, probably weighing 250g in total and doesn’t have a high degree of workmanship.  Yet I still find myself looking at the relisted auction every day wondering if I SHOULD just offer a higher price to see if it would be accepted.  If it is, then I’m contractually bound to go ahead with it even if I can neither justify or afford it.

All for the sake of a collection but, I ask again, how much is too much?

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