I am so hyped up for Jurassic World.

My aunt, Joette, took me to a lot of movies growing up, and there’s a bunch that really stand out to me. Masters of the Universe, BatmanAn American Tail: Fievel Goes WestTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hook, Batman Returns… All of these movies have external memories and feelings attached to them that make those viewings significant to me. Only one movie we went to was the centerpiece of so many more memories: Jurassic Park.

The first time I saw Jurassic Park was opening weekend in 1993, about a week after my 10th birthday. I was a kid fascinated by dinosaurs in elementary school, borrowing the same encyclopedia of dinosaurs from the library so much that they suggested to my parents that they buy me my own copy. I was excited for JP because it was dinosaurs, and my aunt liked Michael Crichton and read the novel. It was the summer movie we were most excited for, and it did not disappoint.

Juarssic Park Dr. Grant and Velociraptor Toys
Some lucky mook’s pictures of Dr. Grant and a Raptor. I still have mine, but they’re not in this good of a condition.

Right after the movie, we took our customary trip to K.B. Toys to pick up a figure related to the film we just saw. After JP, I picked up Dr. Grant and a Velociraptor because, “You can’t have a human and not a dino.” I know now that she was into it as much as I was, but back then I just thought I was getting spoiled as hell.

The next few days, I couldn’t stop talking about the movie. I had Dr. Grant and the Raptor decimate every other toy in my collection. I was obsessed. That next weekend, we went again.

After that trip, there wasn’t a visit to K.B. We went to Border’s instead, where Joette got me my own copy of the book. She kept talking to me about the differences from the book to the movie, and wanted me to experience it the same way. The catch was she didn’t want to give me her copy, because she was revisiting it after she fell in love with the movie.

I read the book in two days, and we saw it again the following weekend. It was the first time we went to the same movie more than once, and after it came out on video, it was on constant rotation on my sleepovers at her house. Hell, 22 years later I still get glued to the screen if I’m looking at the guide and see it on HBO.

I am so excited for Jurassic World tomorrow. It’s a week after my birthday, and I know that Spielberg went through eight different scripts before letting it go to principal shooting. My expectations are high, but deep down I know that 10 year old me won’t let me be disappointed either way.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t “hate” my birthday.

To claim that I despise my birthday is a misnomer; I’m actually quite grateful that my parents had sex, that zygote me was formed and gestated nearly successfully, and that Dr. Jacobs was able to facilitate an emergency c-section at Albany Med to get me out of Ma, and give my heart its first few pumps when my body didn’t get the fucking hint.

I appreciate all of the complications. I understand how fragile life is, even under great conditions. I grasp how the day I tepidly exited the womb was the day that led to fostering relationships with me later on in their lives, and how they’d want to celebrate that. I get it. What I continually fail to grasp is the annual, uncomfortable discussion, about how it’s my birthday, and I can do whatever I want to — so long as the plans coincide with theirs.

“Sooooooo, I’m coming over and we’re spending the night together?”

The body language and tone of voice says that I’m being coy and they’re in on it. They know exactly what I really want. I’m sure the intentions are pure, and I can see how they would supplant my desires with their vision of a perfect birthday. There’s just never any semblance of acceptance that I’m the exact opposite of that. My perfect birthday is a day like any other, without any hullabaloo.

“But we had fun last year!” You’re right, we played a ton of Mario Kart and it was a good time once I got through my unease about it being my birthday. I’m already bad enough at fulfilling your wishes on your special days. I’d like to not have to stress out about another day that’s supposedly mine to begin with.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve gone through an awkward surprise party when every instinct was to run away from it. I’ve done small gatherings, and I’ve made big parties to try them out to see if I had weird hiccups about my family being 1,300 miles away. I’ve done decent-sized dinners at fancy restaurants, and I’ve even (very poorly) tolerated smoke detectors going off when I didn’t want people in the house.

Being alone isn’t a punishment, and asking to be left alone isn’t an affront to our relationship. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate you, or that I don’t love the fact that you care about me.

The way we interact all year long gives me that feeling of love and companionship. I don’t need a culmination of it on one specific day because I was born on it  years ago. What I’m comfortable with is just going through the day like the rest of them. If you want to tack on a “Happy birthday, I love you,” with a text about some random thing we’d talk about anyway, go for it.

I’d welcome that above anything else. At some point I’ll have kids and their birthday will have a more special meaning to me than anything else I’ve experienced. Then you can shift excitement onto their days and continue to leave me alone on mine. :)

Pokémon Shuffle is annoying.

When Pokémon Shuffle was announced I was interested because I love matching  games like Bejeweled, but I had reserved expectations because it was a freemium game. Freemium games were introduced on mobile platforms, where the game is released for free, but there are restrictions to game play that can be bypassed in two ways:

  1. Waiting through a “cooldown” period between actions, or
  2. Purchasing “boosts” that exchange real-world currency for additional play time. (Boosts can also make the game easier, by giving you upgraded stats for short period of time.)

In Shuffle, the trick is you get five hearts to play five stages every two and a half hours. You can also trade in jewels (which are awards after certain key battles, every 100 Streetpasses of other Shuffle players, or purchased through the e-shop) to get more hearts. Additionally, the jewels have the option of becoming coins for power-ups before stages begin, or exchanged for five more moves at the end of a round.

The problem with this type of game is that there is a significant amount of frustration from artificial difficulty. The game is developed to push you into making purchases to facilitate additional play, so you’ll often find yourself in a position where there are no skill-based moves to advance, and you’re doomed to hope for the best.

Case in point, the Mega-Glalie battle:

Here, the enemy boss uses two different disruptions — attacks that hinder your Pokémon from being used effectively — to utterly stifle gameplay. It’s a prime example of what drives me crazy about this game.

Very infrequently, you’ll get a nice level where there are consistent patterns to help you out. On Flareon’s fight, you’re able to do two moves to clear all of the disruptions from the stage and open up normal play:

I wish there was more of this “learn and clear” mechanic in the game.

Doing a level ten to fifteen times to defeat and capture a Pokémon isn’t terrible, because I’m used to the grind of seeking a specific Pokémon in the regular games. I enjoy that aspect, and wouldn’t change it.

Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.
Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.

I’m just getting frustrated by the stages without patterns, the obstructive disruptions, and blatantly poor suggested moves (that you cannot turn off), which are implemented to hold you back and coerce you into paying.

An example of a poor move, suggested by Pokemon Shuffle
This is not the best move on the board, but it’s the one the game wanted me to make.

I understand game developers are trying to find a way to further monetize their games, like getting you to double-dip on each title, a la DLC, but freemium is a broken paradigm. There’s just enough of an illusion of success that convinces you that patience is a viable strategy. You think that you can play the game just as well as the people spending money, but being stubborn and thinking you’ll outwit the developers pigeonholes your experience. If I wasn’t in a lull between major releases that I’m looking forward to, I’d be very done with this game.

I guess I’m part of the problem, because I’ll just keep playing ten minutes every few hours until something better comes along. To be fair, I’ll probably wind up with about twenty hours of gameplay in this free game. I expect about an hour per dollar I spend on a title, so this is more than I could have hoped for.

PS: I just wanted to point out a rant I published over on Medium two years ago. It’s my complaints about Transformers Legends, a game I was playing on my phone at the time. The issues line up so well with those I have with Pokémon Shuffle.

You, too, can defeat winter doldrums. Embrace baseball!

GtoUHgw
I usually hate Peanuts, but this is an entirely accurate representation of how I woke up.

Last night, Dad and I talked about how the winter slump was in full effect. On our way back to the car after a basketball game, a gust of frigid February wind carried a stinging shot of snow drift into our faces. “Enough is enough, I want this shit over with already,” the Old Man grumbled as we tucked our heads down to deflect as much as we could.

“Yeah, I just want a fuckin’ ballgame to watch, man,” I replied. We both chuckled, smiled a huge smile, and it wasn’t cold anymore. A lighthearted instrumental version of our theme song played, and the credits started to roll on the latest episode of our early 1990’s sitcom.

But no, seriously. Today I woke up to the distinctive sound of dripping water as the snow melted off the roof. I got up to go the bathroom and I was blinded by the powerful sun bouncing off the two feet of snow on the ground outside. I felt warm, so I went and turned down the heater, and cracked a window to get some fresh air into the dry house.

All players have made it to their team’s respective camp in Arizona or Florida, and full-team workouts are scheduled to take place this week. I expect all of this snow to be gone by Wednesday, and to have my office windows open during the day by the weekend.

Winter can kiss my ass, because baseball season is here.

Why do we need to pretend so much?

Lego set 70818, the Double-Decker Couch

I built a cool Lego set last night, and it was sitting on my desk when Dorena came into the room this morning. She opined how cute “Hello Kitty” was, and asked if she could take the minifig to work to place it on her desk. Knowing that she fell asleep during the one attempt we made to watch The Lego Movie together, I didn’t want to let it stand — because I rarely do, and that’s a character flaw for another post — and ragged on her about not being able to take Unikitty because she still hasn’t even sat through the movie yet.

Her defenses fired up immediately. “I’ve seen different parts of it, so I’ve pretty much seen the whole thing. It’s been on HBO!”

Indeed, it has been on HBO, where I’ve sat through it a few times. For some reason, I was feeling extra feisty this morning, and asked which part she liked the best.

“The beginning where he’s following all the instructions.”

“Oh, the one part you watched with me that one time, and then fell asleep?”

“No, you don’t sit in the living room with me and see what I watch. I’ve caught parts of it at different times.”

I liked the attempt to deflect on a perceived deficiency of attention, but I pushed on with my line of questioning instead of engaging.  “So what else happens in the movie?”

“I guess it just doesn’t stick in my mind.”

One of the reasons I love this chick is because she’s into TV and movies like I am, and she’s great at quoting things we’ve watched together. Something doesn’t need to be super special to “stick in her mind,” and I’m not writing this to pick on her — I mean, I am, but it’s not the main point. It got me thinking about how we humans always pretend to know about everything. I’ve been contemplating it for a while, and wanted to flesh out my thoughts.

We’re social beings, and we want to fit in. It’s natural to want to be accepted by those we respect in our circles, and part of that is sharing common ground. “I know as much about this thing you like, so you should like me.” That passes the surface test, but maybe it’s more primal.

Exposing any weakness, no matter how insignificant, deflates our ego and in turn makes us vulnerable. To escape that, we improvise a story that should fit into the discussion. We’re creatures of habit and patterns, so we’re able to surmise what’s an expected response to a situation, and can piece it together on the fly. Being able to read threats and counter them helped our earlier sapiens survive, and damn it, it can still work! Instead of diffusing a battle for territory, we’re using anecdotes to maintain conversational standing.

I think that’s the difference between me and my Little Froggy. I’m a knowledge-seeker, so I’m naturally curious about the “whys” and “hows,” while Dorena just goes with the flow. If she gets the behind-the-scenes info it’s cool, but she doesn’t care as long as it just works. It’s a really nice balance, and it brings me down to Earth at times.

Other times, it makes me ponder the inner-workings of the psyche and the social implications, and I write a bunch of words on a blog that no one reads1. You can tell which one of those happened today.

1. The writer previously discarded multiple readers of the blog as "no one," and has revised the entry after receiving affirmations that they are indeed not "no one."