Nintendo Switch: Please be the current gen console we need you to be.

About a year and a half ago a YouTube link went up in the group chat I have with my friends.

Nintendo was giving us our first look at the Switch. After watching the video we had a brief discussion. One friend was pretty enthusiastic about it. I was not. All I saw was another gimmick.

“Oh, you can pick it up and play it on the move? Thanks, I already have a 3DS.”

I reduced the newly announced console to a footnote in the back of my mind with a couple of sentences.

I didn’t think about it again until almost exactly a year later. While on a trip to the UK, one of my friends over there pulled out her Switch and showed us Breath of the Wild. It blew me away with how vibrant the game looked. The graphical fidelity wasn’t going to blow PS4 or XBox One out of the water, but that wasn’t its intention. As Nintendo has shown in the past, they aren’t here to go toe-to-toe with the other juggernauts in the console space, they want to bring something unique to the game.

With the Switch they managed it. I found myself watching over my friend’s shoulder as she played Mario Kart while we were on our way to Hadrian’s Wall. It was slick and you didn’t feel like you were missing a whole lot going from the television to the handheld.

The Switch has the typical Nintendo line-up, bringing you back to your childhood of racing against your friends, or collecting coins and stars, or exploring the expanse of Hyrule. They also brought some new blood in to the game with titles like Snipperclips and Arms. Snipperclips being a bit of a cutesy co-op puzzle game and Arms feeling like a rock’em sock’em robots arena fighter.

That said, I have to say I feel like Nintendo made a rather large misstep.

Just like their previous generation of consoles, the Wii and the Wii U, Nintendo almost completely forsook the social and online aspect. Sure, you can ask your buddy for their friend code and pop that in to your Switch menu, you can then see what games they’ve played and what they’re currently playing but beyond that you get next to no interaction.

You can’t message your friend, let alone voice chat. You can’t send them a screenshot of something cool you did in game, let alone stream for them. You cannot natively party up with friends, let alone jump in games with them.

Nintendo released an app for Android and iOS called ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ as the toe-in-the-water of their native social-hub-in-the-making of the same name. The Washington Post’s review of the mobile app was less than stellar. The app currently sits at a 3.3 rating on the Android store and 3.1 on iOS. Far from being the worst thing to ever grace the storefronts but reviews on each call out the app for doing something that should be native to the console itself.

From the Nintendo Switch Online app you can start a voice chat with friends. You can also initiate the process for playing online multiplayer with them. In Splatoon 2. Currently the only game supported by the app.

The full release of Nintendo Switch Online to the console itself is scheduled for September 2018, a release that was originally slated for 2017.

I know that Nintendo maneuvered itself in to a on-the-move, play with your friends out in the world type of console but that doesn’t excuse them from making this kind of blunder. If you aren’t out on the roof playing Mario Kart with your friends, if you’re on your couch alone, optionally covered in Dorito dust and surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew, you are completely alone.

Nintendo may blow us away with their new social experience in September and I would be the happiest person in the room to see that. But the fact of the matter is they released a console without the tools that the competition had at launch last generation and actively worked on the generation before.

Nintendo, I want you to do better. Playing Breath of the Wild has put a smile on my face like no other, bringing me back to my early years sitting on the floor in front of our CRT television and beating up chickens until a swarm of them came to hand me my butt. But we’re not back in 1991. We’re in 2018 where you’re not competing with Microsoft and Sony to provide an experience that I can share and enjoy with others unless they’re sat right beside me.

 

Prologue: StrideTheEarth, of the itchy feet.

I’ve always wanted to see new places. Or at least I’ve always said I wanted to see new places. I never actually sought out new places until relatively recently.

Last year at the end of October I took my first overseas trip, I went to England, the United Kingdom, to meet up with some friends and see the sights. I absolutely loved it, from the moment I got out of the car at the airport on my way to England, until I was on my way home.

Just a small aside, I don’t know how to explain the energy I felt while I was waiting for my flight to board. It was a nervous, anxious, giddy, energy that had me smiling from ear to ear and I couldn’t sit in one place. I roamed up and down the hallways of the terminal for a good hour before they started boarding the plane.

Back to the subject at hand, after the trip to England I finally saw that I can do it. I can go where ever I like. I can travel, I can see new things. I’m only held back by my own hang-ups and anxiety.

So over this past winter I’ve been dreaming of the places I want to go. I’m working on a list of the things I want to see and, for the first time, I feel like I’m in a place where I can make it happen.

I meant this post to be about something else but it came out more as a confession of sorts. I actually went back and added ‘Prologue’ to the title because of that. Keep tuned for what I actually meant to write about!

Multiplayer is the new Single-player

Sometimes in the gaming world today I hear people lamenting the demise of the single-player game. When MMOs were rocketing toward their peak, many gamers were crying out that they wanted things to go back to the way they were, to the single-player games they knew and loved.

I feel like I’m crazy since I don’t remember it the way they do.

Gaming has always been a social activity for me and those I know, the new age just brought the circle to a digital space. I remember playing Final Fantasy 7 in my basement when I was a teenager, it was a single-player game but I was never alone. My friends were there watching and cheering me on. My brother was looking up the guide on how to keep Aeris from getting (spoiler) shishkabob’d. Spoiler again, the internet lied and no, you couldn’t save Aeris with an intricate button sequence while simultaneously hopping on one leg and reciting the alphabet backward.

I remember sitting in the dark at a sleepover, watching a friend play through Resident Evil, screaming as those god damned zombie dogs jump through the window in the hallway.

Gaming has always been social. I may not have always had a controller in my hands but I’ve been a part of many ‘single-player’ games. I think that’s why playing a single-player game these days makes me feel so restless. As you get older you don’t have sleepovers anymore, you don’t hang out with your friends a couple nights a week, working on homework together and sneaking in some Turok. You’re sitting at your desk or on your couch alone, exploring a world and story by yourself.

Witcher 3 and Skyrim both came out in my adult life and I know they’re fantastic games. I know they’re extremely engaging. Hell, I’ve put a hundred hours in to each, minimum. But there’s an element missing. There’s no social aspect anymore. I can’t turn to my friend and say “Did you see that?!”

Now it truly is a single-player game, and it’s no fun.

I believe that’s why MMOs became so popular. Every player is playing their own single-player game with their friends again. Sharing those cool moments all over again. They may not be on the couch with you, sitting in the dark as zombies try to eat your face, but they are there for you and you’re there for them.

Your friends now take a much more active role as you play through your hero’s story. They’re no longer reading the strategy guide out to you as Kratos takes his righteous vengeance out on the gods. They’re there beside you in-game, a mutually single-player experience.

With MMOs and, to a lesser extent, the social hubs of XBox Live and Playstation Network the social aspect made a roaring comeback. You get to re-live the glory days of single-player gaming with your friends.

Whitby: The Most English Of English Towns

After a fitful night of sleep (I woke up three hours in to it, refreshed and ready to go. Too bad it was 1:30 am UK time.) we got up and ready to get on the road to Whitby.

Whitby is a relatively small town on the north-east coast of England. I’d told my friends I’d love to see the ocean while I was over here in the UK and they said we may as well kill two birds with one stone as Whitby is supposed to have the best fish and chips in England. Oh yeah, they have a goth festival too.

I haven’t done too much research on it myself but apparently this goth festival started back in the 90s, it started in Whitby due to its mention in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Thousands of people attend it, flooding Whitby in what would normally be very quiet seasons. Nowadays they hold it twice a year. Once in April and once in October. Having been there in October I don’t know how anyone can survive the April date.

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On the road to Whitby. Lots of rolling hills and lovely views.

Whitby was a fantastic town with a ton of charm and holy crap breathtaking views. It was also very windy and very cold. Not to mention a little bit rainy. We didn’t let that dampen our fun though. We spent the entire day in Whitby walking down the streets, checking out a few of the shops, and climbing the stairs up to the Abbey. All while surrounded by people kitted out in spikes and black makeup.

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Just some of the houses in Whitby. The one with the blue door caught my eye.
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It had just finished raining for the time being, across the bay is the abbey up on the hill. The archway to the left is made out of whale bone!
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A closer view.
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One of the streets in Whitby as we were headed toward the Abbey. Shops lined the streets with all kinds of things for sale. There were some fantastic entertainers too.

The streets were exceptionally crowded I thought, but my friends told me that if it hadn’t been so cold and rainy that it would have been like a cattle-car.

I did get my fish and chips from a place called Magpie Café. Apparently they are a full service restaurant but we got it from a little take-out offshoot. I have to say that these were probably the best fish and chips I’ve had in a long time, if not ever. We sat in a pavilion down the street and ate out of our takeaway boxes while chatting and watching the ocean roar in off the wharf.

After lunch we went to an arcade along the main road and played a few holes of minigolf, tried our luck at a couple 2p machines, and generally got ourselves out of the cold for a little while.

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Looking back across the inlet from the bluffs at the abbey.

We’ve had a full day at this point, the sun was beginning to go down, so we decided to say goodbye to Whitby and head home to rest and recuperate for the next day.

York!

 

Hell Is An Out Of Order Bathroom At 37,000 Feet.

(Author’s Note: I was supposed to get this posted the night I flew in, apologies for any confusion on the dates!)

So Friday, last night, was the night. I was a bundle of nerves, having those niggling doubts like “What if my passport gets rejected?” or “What if, for some reason, my boarding pass is invalid?”. Not to mention that Minnesota chose Friday to have its first snow of the year.

Luckily for me the snow wasn’t much of an obstacle. It took just about the same amount of time to get to the airport as usual. Check-in, baggage drop-off and TSA was surprising smooth too! I got through all three within the space of 15 minutes. When I was dropped off at 6 PM.. for a 10 PM flight. Suffice to say I had some free time on my hands.

I spent the majority of it just walking around the terminals and concourse. I did a lap of Terminal G, checking out a few stores and getting coffee from a surly barista at the Caribou coffee. I got some walking around money from the currency exchange (Spoiler: Highway frickin’ robbery) and then sat to wait for my flight to board.

Let me tell you. There is something about the hustle and bustle of airports that I just love. Everyone is walking somewhere with a purpose. Some going it alone while others are traveling in groups. Some lost in thought, others smiling and laughing.

I like to play a little game where I assign a story to some of the people I see. I usually do it with the solo flyers because their stories can be more interesting to me. A lot of times I just imagine they’re on a flight on the way to their loved ones way off somewhere, coming home from a long trip. Or even going to meet them for the first time. I like the thought of someone taking a chance, going to meet someone they know by voice and mind but not by touch.

While I was walking around the airport, earphones in and making up stories of those I passed I couldn’t help but smile. The earlier nerves were gone and I was at this zen-like happiness.

Unfortunately that didn’t last long beyond boarding.

I get on the plane in Zone 3, the last group to board the plane, so I figure I’ll have to wait the least time before we takeoff. While technically true it just meant I had to sit in my seat and wait one hour for take-off instead of one hour and twenty minutes. The plane had to go through de-icing and apparently another plane managed to sneak in ahead of us so we sat and waited while they did their thing then we had to get the go-ahead for ours.

In the meantime I was getting to know my rowmate, Vaigo (Not quite sure if that’s how you spell the name, or even close), a congenial ginger Norwegian. I felt a kinship with him from the start.

I managed a selfie before takeoff, because why not, and my friends from home pressed me for more information on the woman in the background behind me. It was decided that her name is Grendel, she grew up on the mean streets of Germany and the reason why she wears ill-fitting clothes is because she had very little growing up. She decided she would rather wear clothes with history than ones tailor-fit. She’s doing well now, she is actually an executive VP of finance at a Fortune 500 company. Her husband Jan is inordinately proud of her and doesn’t let the thought that she is more successful than he is get to him. He knows that she worked for it all of her life.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Vaigo and I chatted a little bit. He’s on his way home from a business trip in Vegas and he learned I was going on vacation to England. I didn’t tell him it was my first trip across the ocean but I’m sure it was painfully obvious. Smalltalk was had until we actually started moving. It was at this point that I felt that twinge, where you’re made aware that at some point in the future you’re going to need to pee.

By the time we actually took off I was 30 minutes in to watching The Big Sick (Thanks for the recommendation Sophia!) and the pressure was slowly building. I figured I would be good to wait until after the movie was over. I mean I’m a healthy young guy, I can hold it.

The flight attendants came around with bottled water not long after takeoff. Despite having to pee I was also pretty thirsty so I grabbed one and started drinking. Then dinner came around and when they asked what I wanted to drink I, some might say stupidly, said coffee. I needed the boost to keep me going throughout the flight.

At this point I was about an hour and 15 minutes through a 2 hour movie and I was feeling it. To top it off, the moment I asked for and got my coffee we hit a little turbulence and the captain flipped on the seatbelt sign. So now I had to sit and wait while also juggling my coffee to make sure I didn’t wear it.

At an hour and 30 minutes in to the movie I was donezo, I NEEDED TO PEE. I got up and went back to the bathrooms behind me. I was sitting in the second to last row at the back of the plane so easy access! Except they were both occupied. The flight attendant gave me this exasperated look and pointed out the seatbelt light was on. She told me to go sit down and wait until the bathrooms were free and come back.

I figured that would be fine. One problem. I was inconveniencing poor Vaigo every time I stood up, he was in the aisle seat. Bless this guy’s heart, he didn’t complain once during the entire flight.

I sat down and started up the movie again, hunched over against the feeling of the seatbelt pressing against my bladder. Every time I heard the bathroom flush I perked up and went to stand up and let Vaigo know I needed to go.. only to see someone else pass down the aisle to the bathroom.

This shit wasn’t going to work. I tap Vaigo on the shoulder and gesture toward the bathroom again. Waddling back to the bathrooms I give the flight attendant my most plaintive look while trying not to show off my “Good god I have to pee dance.” and asked if I could just stand there until they opened up. She cracked a smile and took pity on me, telling me to go ahead but not to get hurt.

Now.. Have you ever seen a cartoon where there’s a couple of lines at the DMV or at the bank or something and someone gets in the shorter line, but the longer line starts moving faster? So then they move over there and then the shorter line starts moving!

Buckle up.

I was the only person waiting for this bathroom here, both were occupied. I hear both bathrooms flush and I do a little tippy tappy in anticipation. The bathroom across the way opens up and then the person waiting over there heads in. I’m staring a hole in the bathroom door but.. bupkis. After a minute I hear the bathroom across the way flush again and the person pops out. I make to move across the aisle to get in but a flight attendant pops up from the galley in the back and opens the door. I shrug, I can’t complain about that.

Now I hear the bathroom in front of me flush again. Fuck yeah! I’ve got a death grip on the handle bolted to the bulkhead next to me just concentrating on that and keeping my mind off my urgent need to pee. The door still doesn’t open..

I hear the bathroom across the way flush. At this point I just hate everything. The flight attendant comes out of the bathroom and I just about lunge across the aisle to get to it and she stops me with a look. “I have to lock down this bathroom.”. I just bewilderedly repeat “Lock down the bathroom?” She nods and flips up the ‘Occupied’ sign and manually locks it from the outside.

What. The. Fuck.

Three minutes later the door opens up for the bathroom in front of me. This little waif of a girl comes out, trying not to make eye contact. All told I waited for 10 minutes and had my heart broken at least three times.

After that, the flight was fairly uneventful. I ended up watching two movies, listening to some music, and nudging Vaigo every couple of hours ago so I could pee. I do have to mention that I was watching the flight tracker on my screen and I was fairly well annoyed when we flew directly over top of Leeds, my end destination, on our way to Schiphol.

We finally land in Schiphol after about 8 and a half hours total on the plane. Because of our late takeoff from Minneapolis I have a shorter layover in Schiphol, which isn’t bad. I did a bit of shopping and picked up some stroopwaffel for my hosts. Waiting out the layover was pretty uneventful.

The leg to Leeds from Schiphol wasn’t all too interesting but I have to say I was expecting more out of an international airport in Leeds. We landed and as we taxied down the runway toward the terminal I looked out my window and saw cows out in a field.

It gets interesting here again.

We disembarked from the plane and, once again, I really had to pee. I don’t know what it is about flying that causes me to have a little bird’s bladder but there you have it. The problem is for some reason they have NO restrooms before customs and border entry. So I’m sitting here at a tiny table that’s maybe big enough for two, max, filling out my border entry sheet and miserably failing at it. I’m going to say it was a combination of the 12 hour overall flight time and my needing to go to the bathroom but it took me four or five tries overall to fill out this form correctly.

The first go around I didn’t read the instructions well enough and I didn’t write out my information in capital block letters. The second time I forgot that same instruction halfway through filling it out. The third time I missed an entry completely and filled in the answer for the line below it on that line throwing off every single line thereafter. That mistake I didn’t notice until I was actually almost at the border agent’s desk. So I’m pretty sure I was already pretty suspicious to them.

I went up to the border agent’s desk with the correctly filled form in hand and she asked me a few questions. Why was I there, how long was I staying, where was I staying, was I traveling alone, was I meeting people here? Apparently saying you’re there to meet people you know from the internet is a pretty big red flag. After that answer she pretty much started grilling me on who I was meeting, what they did for a living, and their dog’s mother’s maiden name.

They actually had me sit down on a bench across the way and handed me a sheet saying they were doing further investigation. The sheet noted they were holding on to my passport for the time while they continued looking in to my story. The sheet actually had entries for denying entry to the UK and essentially returning me to sender so this whole ordeal woke me up. I was nervous and worried that they’d send me home.

Luckily enough they ran a background check on the people I’m staying with and found out that they are, in fact, not axe murderers. They sort of grudgingly let me through the border check and tell me to be safe.

I went down to baggage claim and it’s a damn ghost town. I must have looked lost because one of the workers came up and took me over to the unclaimed luggage counter to see if any of it was mine. Fortunately my suitcase was there.

Now I’m sure this next bit comes out of a Wes Anderson movie. I was on my last legs, looking for a bathroom and the exit out of this place. I first go left but all I see is unmarked doors and the women’s bathroom. I look around but don’t see the men’s. I turned around and went past the unclaimed luggage counter again but saw a sign saying that the bathroom is behind me. After standing there staring blankly behind me for about ten seconds I finally see the sign for the men’s bathroom over a non-descript door and I run over and push it open. A hallway barely large enough for one person, let alone the suitcase I brought with, greeted me and I hurried down. What kind of heathen country doesn’t have partitions on their urinals?!

After that business was taken care of I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I followed the exit signs and finally get out in to the main mezzanine area to see my friends all waiting there for me. Sort of awkward greetings all around with handshakes. I can see Richard is itching a bit so I say “Fine, let’s get it over with.” and give him a hug.

Journey to the UK complete.

Pre-storm, not so calm.

I was going to do a calm before the storm blog in the hours leading up to my flight but I realized I can’t. I’m feeling everything but calm at the moment. Nervous excitement, adrenaline, and a little bit of anxiety in there too.

This is my first flight across the ocean. A flight I’ll be doing alone. To go meet people I’ve known for a while over the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not worried about how they’ll turn out to be, I’ve known them for years. I’ve laughed and cried with them. It’s just one of those moments of “What if I’m not who they expect?” along with just the tension of everything else.

That said, I have not been able to keep a smile off my face for the past week with the thought of this trip ahead.

The beginning

This is the beginning of what will probably be a pretty inactive blog! My lovely friend Sophia suggested I start one of these for when I embark on my travels. I only have two destinations in mind right now. The U.K. and Japan so not exactly a world traveler yet but who knows what the future will hold?

I’ll be leaving for the U.K. in a little under two weeks, on the 27th of October to be exact, and I’m a bit nervous about it to tell the truth. This will be my first big international travel. I’ve been outside my home U.S.A. a few times but all to Canada so this will be the first long-haul flight I’ve got.

I’ll be staying with a few good friends when I go over and look forward to a week of exploring the northern U.K. including around the Leeds and York areas and a jaunt up to Hadrian’s Wall!

To tide all of my avid readers over for the intervening time between now and my trip I have some photos of a daytrip I took up to Duluth and Tettegouche State Park in northern Minnesota! Enjoy the waters of Lake Superior and the fall colors.