Don’t Look Back
Mar 25th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I wrote a review (spoilers, sorry) of a game called Don’t Look Back over on Caltrops.

Pinback’s World o’ Subs II
Mar 12th, 2009 by Pinback

ICJ’s note: the year is 2009, and Pinback has taken to finding everything he can on submarine games. Why? I think the idea has always appealed to him because it combines so many things that he enjoys. The open water. Piloting things. Hiding from those who seek to do him harm until such time that it’s possible to sneak up on them and destroy them. These are things which I definitely think define Benjamin ‘Pinback’ Parrish, and why the idea of a sub game had always struck his fancy. 

ICJ’s note II: GOD it’s annoying to hear people talking like they are British all of a sudden. 


NAME: The Ice Diaries 
AUTHOR: William R. Anderson 

This book is the true story of one of, if not the coolest things that have ever happened. In 1958, Captain Anderson took Nautilus, the world’s first NUCLEAR FUCKING SUBMARINE, and sailed THROUGH THE FUCKING ARCTIC OCEAN, right underneath the FUCKING NORTH POLE. Nothing evercould be as cool as that! The coolness factor of that eclipses by far the coolness of everything else that has ever happened! So, I have to give the book a positive review, just for telling this story, and for spelling all the words right and not making any truly offensive grammatical mistakes. 

But what this really is, is a love letter from Anderson, to… well, seemingly to everyone who has ever existed who had anything to do with the Nautilus, submarines, the Navy, water, or anything else consisting of molecules composed of hydrogen and oxygen. His lavish buttkissing knows no bounds, and nobody escapes from its radius in this book, from President Eisenhower all the way down to the lowliest, blackest ship’s cook. A sample passage which I will now make up, but which summarizes perfectly the tone of the book, goes: 


After meeting with the exec in the officer’s mess, we headed aft to check on the periscope repairs. While making our way there, we passed our new torpedoman, Geoffrey J. Blarghsman, who I could tell had something to say to me, but was perhaps too intimidated to voice unprovoked. “What is it, son?” “Sir, you… you have a little bit of mustard right… right there on your cheek, sir.”  

I will never forget his remarkable display of courage and professionalism on that day, and feel proud and honored to have served with Blarghsman, who went on to retire a three-star Admiral.” 


And it’s all very nice, and heartfelt, and I’m sure all the people involved with Nautilus (who according to the book were the bestest, most flawless, wonderful people ever to live) will smile broadly while reading it. 

But the dude sailed a FUCKING SUBMARINE underneath the FUCKING ARCTIC, for fuck’s sake! Let’s get to that! Let’s get to the nitty gritty!! What’s it like to be submerged for days on end, 400 feet below a 100-foot layer of ice!! Let me taste the fear! Let me lick up the sweat of excitement that permeated every second of the voyage! 

Well, there’s some of that, but you have to hunt for it in between hearing about how everything and everyone in the whole Navy is totally the best, most perfect gift from Lord Baby Jesus that has ever been. 

So, you know. Great story. Okay book. It has some good pictures, too. SPOILER: Anderson dies at the end, right before the book is published. 

RATING: Two and Three-Quarters Stars



NAME: Bacalao 
AUTHOR: J.T. McDaniel 

This is a fictional account of the boat “Bacalao”, from its construction before the war started to the end of the war. You can tell this book was written by a sub historian, because more than any of the books I’d read previously, this one is dense with exacting descriptions of the construction and operation of a WW2 sub, down to seemingly every dial, wire, valve, pump, or tank on the thing. If you are looking for a breezy novel you can just zip through, surfing through page after page of non-stop, dumbed-down action, this is not it. If you are a sub junkie, though, and want to get as far down into the nuts and bolts as possible, give it a go. 

The book takes less pains with its human protagonists, though I was pleased to note that this is the first sub novel I’ve read where none of the characters are ridiculously idiotic, obnoxious, 2-dimensional, or irritating. While they’re basically only in the book to move the story about the subs and ships along, they all act like reasonable people and did not detract from the enjoyment of seeing how the sub was really operated. 

One surprise is that, up until the rather anticlimactic finale, Bacalao — unlike boats in lots of other sub books/movies — actually does pretty well, despite page upon page devoted to getting across how much their torpedoes sucked. A novel approach, but one which lessens some of the dramatic tension. You keep waiting for something horrible to happen, or for them to endure an impossible counterattack by Japanese destroyers, but… in general, they just float around kicking ass (when the torpedoes work). I didn’t mind this too much, as the descriptions of how they kicked ass were fascinating, and made me want to fire up SHIV again and try some of those tactics. 

A fine book! 

RATING: Three and a Quarter Stars


NAME: Real Fleet Boat 
TYPE: Silent Hunter IV mod
TIME SPENT WITH: A few hours 

So once you really get into SHIV, you’re introduced to the Modding Community. Apparently there are many many SHIV mods, done mostly by people who had earlier versions and wanted the damn thing to work right. But another group of hardcore historians set out to make mods which would make the simulation as perfectly realistic as possible, given the limits of the gaming engine. 

One of the most popular “supermods” is called Reel Fleet Boat, and is a compilation of seemingly hundreds of individual mods, all coming together to transform SHIV into a completely new, and terribly realistic WWII sub simulator. 

Mainly what I noticed at first was that the sun graphic was nicer. But I had two weeks of otherwise uneventful Pacific transit before anything interesting happened, so I had a lot of time to stare at the sun graphic, which is not nearly as painful — in my experience, anyway — as staring into the real one. 

Other noticeable nods to realism were that the sounds are upgraded, the voices say things more in line with what I’ve read in books (see rest of thread), and other nice little touches like additional key commands and restructuring of the toolbar menus to make the game easier to operate. 

I completed my mission and then set about patrolling the area, to give the new combat system a workout — a system which was more closely supposed to reflect the actual conditions on an American WWII sub off the coast of Japan in late 1941, including raising torpedo unreliability to a realistic level. And if I’ve learned anything by reading books about the period, I’ve learned that until about 1943, the torpedoes completely blew chunks. 

Anyway, in the dark of night, I get a sound reading — a lone merchant (rare sight in these waters), bearing 290, about 4500 yards ahead. It’s the middle of the night, and he has no escorts, so there’s really no reason to submerge. I put engines full ahead and maneuver around for an ideal targeting situation. 

SHIV offers manual targeting, which is the only “real” way to play — figuring out firing solutions and angles is much of the bulk of the challenge of the game, and letting the computer do it all for you turns it into little more than a very slowly paced arcade game. I admit I am not the best at it yet. My first salvo of three torpedoes, set for a 10-degree spread, missed wildly ahead of the target. I had underestimated the target’s height, and overestimated its speed. 

With one more torpedo left in the forward hatch, I line up again, set the values to more accurate levels, and let the fish go. I switch into external viewing mode, just for the joy of seeing the torpedo draw it’s perfectly angled wake through the water, right abeam the target’s bridge. As it ran directly into the target’s port fairwater, I braced for the joyous cacaphony of impact. And then… nothing. “Torpedo is a dud, sir!” 

Alright, I guess that’s realistic. 

I swing about quickly to bring my two stern tubes to bear on the lucky-ass merch. A quick bearing reading and angle-on-bow estimate, and off they went! 

And off they went, right past the ship. I must learn how to do that better. Nuts! 

The fore torpedo tubes are still reloading, so I while away the time pummelling the ship with my deck gun. I have no real hope that the artillery will sink her, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. 

With tubes 1 and 2 reloaded, I swing around and prepare for another run. I won’t be so careless this time. 

I let the first fish go from tube 1 and switch to external mode again. This is a work of art. It streamed directly on course to hit at the exact midpoint of the ship on its starboard side. Once again I braced… 

And once again… “The torpedo is a dud, sir!” 

Now this is getting a little too realistic. Pissed off, I snap off #2. I’m only 300 yards from the target now, so when this one fails to explode, I’m not as pissed, since even in the stock game, you have to give the torpedoes about 500 yards to run before they arm themselves. I was desperate, though. 

More artillery, while I wait for the stern tubes to reload for one last, desperate try. 

They load, and I swing around, putting the Luckiest Man Alive directly astern. Now he’s zigging and zagging, about 1500 yards away, so with one last burst of hate, I try to anticipate his next zig, and snap off the two stern fish, manually setting them to turn about 10 degrees left of where they were aimed, assuming he was going to turn into them. 

The second fish was going to miss wildly to port, but the first one was destined for greatness. If everything held up, it was going to smack right into the port-side bow of the retreating vessel, surely enough to put down the artillery-ridden hulk. 

I once again went to external view to savor the torpedo’s last couple hundred yards. It was going to hit. The merch’s luck couldn’t hold out any longer. There it goes… 

“Torpedo is a dud, sir!” 




The Edinburgh Files: Loch Ness & Buses
Mar 11th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I couldn’t hear anything in Scotland, and certainly not on a bus. I had an operation on one ear when I was like eight, but no records exist from that era in time, so who knows what was performed. Mengele could have implanted twins in the canal; I’d have no documentation either way. I think I might have had otosclerosis, but the treatment for it mentions the possibility that you might just get FACIAL PALSY as a side effect. A “side effect”! It would have turned me into a hideous monster, yeah, that’s a goddamn side effect. With that in mind, here are some other fun and famous “side effects” from history: DYING. 

All that really remains from the operation is this garish scar that runs down the back of my left ear. The only people who see it are hairdressers, and as a result, I’ve become a wandering, aimless drifter when it comes to getting haircuts – the ‘Bill Bixby-as-David Banner-from-the-Incredible-Hulk-TV-Show’ of people getting haircuts: always moving on, never staying in one place, always staring down an unfamiliar cannister of blue comb fluid, unable and unwilling to form lasting relationships with women…. who, er, cut hair. 

Not being able to hear anything on the left side isn’t a problem in a culture where everyone drives, and everyone’s passengers are on the right side. Most conversations in my car tend to proceed as follows:

PASSENGER: “This band is terrible. Why is the teenager’s singing so shrill? What band is this?”
ROBB: (minutes of silence as I wrestle with the thing I hate most in life, which is stating the name of fucking pop punk bands)
PASSENGER:  ”… Hoooookay, changing the subject: are you lost, or are y–”
ROBB: “It was (Danger Radio / New Found Glory / Saves The Day / Death Cab for Cutie / The Cab).”
PASSENGER:  ”Okay, this car ride is over.”

Seriously, between the richly unsatisfying conversations, and shame of a grown man listening to pop punk, the doctors would have done me a favor if they spontaneously gave me a two-for-one on the ear surgery and deafied me. All of this came to fruition when I hopped on a bus with Lex, towards the end of the trip. Lex will hop on a double decker bus just for the view! I did love that about him. As someone who loves being on TV, I also loved the fact that there was closed-circuit television on the buses. I was a star!

Lex, like Barack Obama and Jack the Ripper, is left-handed. Nik, my other frequent companion on public transport, is right-handed.  I noted that Lex picked the right side of the aisle every single time, and Nik picked the left-hand side virtually every time. (I never picked a side, because my pedestrian upbringing demanded that I was always the last person in my party to board a bus.) 

Lex explained that evolution has trained us to desire to “defend” ourselves with our dominant hand. A lot of people think that evolution is a process that takes millions of years. Not the case in Scotland! It took one generation of people boarding the bus before this was sorted out: you simply wouldn’t survive long enough to reproduce if you messed that up. Buses… can be brutal! Case in point: at one point, I was on a bus with Nik headed to a town where we would meet and have dinner with her friend, Jonny. I had just sampled something called “Irn-Bru,” and was instantly addicted. The thought of a half-hour bus ride without it was too much. I chugged the can on the bus and was planning on just chucking the can in the bus’s front-mounted trash bin. I wanted to look smooth doing so, and failed miserably: I ended up smacking my forehead on a mirror I never even saw. 

We left the bus and walked down the street. Nik noted that I had hit the mirror so hard, it detached from the bus completely. She said the bus driver was out of the bus, trying to re-install the thing. The entire time, I’m just walking forward, unable to force myself to look back, lest I turn into a pillar salt, or even worse, get yelled at by the driver to go back and help. Anyway, I had fairly nice trench carved out of my forehead, which gave me, Nik and Jonny something to talk about that evening. I give Jonny full credit for being pleasant and charming, and not simply lighting an oil-soaked rag in an attempt to drive back from whence I came.

Getting to Loch Ness required a bus, but not till the end. The first thing we had to do is catch a train to Inverness. And, well – I had to go. You can’t spend four years on a game about cryptozoology and be three hours away from where Nessie is and not go. It even involved taking a train! Nik and I found a section of the train with a table – ah crap, here comes Q and A and — !!

Q: A, you look particularly fetching these evening – have you lost a little weight?

A: Oh, Q. You always know just what to say. (/swoons!)

Q: … Let’s get started! Do text games pay anything, A?

A: Nossiree. If making text games paid anything, Robb’d have deducted the trip to Loch Ness as a business expense. The advancing state of computer graphics didn’t just ruin all the scenes with computers in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it — and not to selfishly internalize a sea change in entertainment that cost a lot of people we respect their jobs — forced Robb to spend money on buses and trains to see the monster, without making the expenses involved in the trip the government’s problem.

Q: Deduct things!!?? 

A: All right, let’s not get crazy here with all the tough-guy talk, none of us knows how to “deduct” anything.  


Q: That it?

A: Yeah. 


… All right, I’m back. Loch Ness, at least the part we went to, is in the town of Drumnadrochit. There’s, um, a loch… and a post office… and an exhibit, where you can get the real scoop on the legend. 

Yeah, all right. The exhibit rocked. There’s two of them, and honestly, we didn’t have enough time to see both of them… well, I gotta fix that someday.

As for the rest of the trip?

Like I said when I started doing these, it was the two best weeks of my life. There’s nothing I can do to crystalize the emotions of meeting two people who have become so important to me over the months and years – believe me, I’ve been trying. But I guess, if I had to sum it up – I absolutely loved Edinburgh. I meandered about all sorts of different monsters in this blog post, and the thing with monsters is that the really good ones always keep coming back. Edinburgh? Edinburgh! You haven’t heard the last!

Of meee!!

The Edinburgh Files: In The Style Of Dr. Manhattan From Watchmen
Mar 9th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’m at an Internet cafe with Lex, we have been informed that the price will be seventy pence for an hour’s access to their computers. It’s a much better deal than the rates at the hotel, which are practically criminal. Lex beams and says, “Well, two of your finest Internets, then.” I laughed, the girl behind the counter laughed, we hopped on and I held down the keys that let me make the € character. It will end with you crying over something unrelated. 

I’m walking south from the street that is north of Princes, which no longer works because of the construction for the tram. I’m waiting at a crosswalk.  There’s a cement-colored jumper under my coat, snug against my chest, and I’ve been entrusted with returning it back home. I remember to stop staring at the buildings that have been here in some form before my country even formally existed, but waiting for the green man to appear at the crosswalk is a dead giveaway that I’m not from around here and will never truly belong. 

The waitress hands me four little mints, the bill and a clear plastic box. Without any idea of how the natives settle their tabs when a box is involved, I put my card into it. She eventually arrives and carefully takes the card out before sliding it across the portable register she’s armed with. Nobody notices that I put the card in the box, or at least, nobody cares. Everyone has one eye on the grumpy Japanese chef a few meters away that is throwing egg at people.

We’re playing Death Tank for the Xbox 360. Six days previous, I’m forgetting to pack my controller, so there is some swapping of the gamepads. Everyone gets a turn, everyone gets to play, everyone is preposterously polite. I’m trading passports with Liam and Lex, and the one for the United Kingdom is the same color as the front page of Caltrops. Liam notes that the passport’s Unicorn — which represents Scotland — is in chains, which rather explains a lot, and I dissolve into laughter. The night before I’ll leave my passport at his apartment, taking it out to better pantomime twirling a hula hoop for a Nintendo game.

It’s 1980. I’m six years old. My parents are visiting some neighbors, and I have been brought. I hear a television in the den. I walk down each stair and then turn the corner – a man in a red shirt with black hair is talking in a weird voice about something called engines. I’ve never heard anyone speak that way before. I sit on the (shag) carpeted floor and watch the rest of the episode, which amuses all the adults when they descend. I ask my father what the  show was.

There’s a soft knock on my door. My heart stops beating, then follows that by beating very quickly. I’ve Pavlovianly adopted a goofy grin just on hearing it. In twenty seconds there will be a hug. Her coat is still chilly from the snarling cold outside. 

We’ve come to a sturdy, wooden bridge within the zoo. There are to be animals, animals we haven’t yet seen, in the rain-slagged, sloppy field beyond. None of them are working today, so we retreat. In two weeks, two days and fifty seconds, I’ll silently scream obscenities at myself. Hanging out by the very beginning of the bridge – unseen until we decided to head back – is a lone zebra. I try to turn the tables on our running joke regarding the fact that I pronounce everything incorrectly, and call it a zedbra. She laughs, and we’re teasing the way each other speaks in the rain, and I’m trying desperately to remember every detail, because I know that this will be the one point in my life I’ll want to return to for the decades I have left to plod through. I’m writing out this section in Colorado, knowing that if I were actually any fucking good at this sort of thing, I’d be doing it for a goddamn living, and be quite able to situate myself anywhere on Earth. That’d make treasuring such moments unnecessary, but at the same time, makes much more likely to be. But I’m sure as hell not good enough – the “zedbra” appears only a scant 36 million times on the Internet — and I know it, and I’m here, writing this here, instead.


… I’m at work, rushing to finish my first game for the proper text game comp. I’m late for my fantasy hockey draft. I couldn’t really think of anything to make a text game about, so I picked grave robbing and clubbing and tried to bridge them. I believe I have all the glitches sorted out, so I submit it to Stephen Granade. The game is terrible enough, with the effect that I receive little feedback, but that means that I treasure each bit I get. 11 years later, the game will be indirectly responsible for two of the most important people in my life.

I link to a sad meme about a cat because I wasn’t good enough in this (/waves hands, explodes a bunch of Viet Cong from the inside out), any of this, to bring tears to anyone, in the end. (“Nothing ever ends!”) Oof, right, right.

The Edinburgh Files: German Society Night
Mar 7th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The cold I had is going around work right now, and people are going to doctors (responsibly), taking some time away from work (responsibly) and getting prescribed medicine (responsibly). I didn’t do any of those things, so I was on over-the-counter cold medicine for almost my entire trip. 

(Actually, does “over the counter” mean that the “doctor” at the Safeway pharmacy gave it to you over that counter? I always thought it refered to the useless stuff you got in the aisle and then you handed it over the counter to the clerk who rang it up, and you can tell how long they’ve been at the job by whether they wince at the possibility of catching customer rabies, or whether they were already dead inside and no longer cared.) 

There are two things that you’re not supposed to take with cold medicine – the first is any shit from your co-workers, because if they give you a hard time, you just slobber all over their telephone when they get up to be smug in their 18 constitution, and the other is alcohol.

But I wanted to have a few beers with Lex, so I went off the discount Tussin TM and flushed out my system with more wasabi than I ever had in my life.

I usually don’t partake in spicy food, because it makes me hiccup, and that’s fine when it’s just me slobbing around the house in a football jersey with the cats, dinner and the Mr. Do! machine. Do you know why Mr. Do! is so popular? He doesn’t judge, that’s why. He’s got unicorns in his garden, even mine hasn’t become that unkept: Do!’s in no position to judge anybody, and certainly not for hiccuping. But, hey, if I’m on a date, I don’t need my system desperately sucking down molecules of oxygen, with my eyes bugging out like I was in the last five minutes of Total Recall because I ordered the korma “hot.”

Nik had no such hang-ups.

She was basically throwing more wasabi onto each bite of sushi than I had ever consumed, combined, in my entire life. This had the short-term effect of disintegrating her septum, and I thought that was fantastic, so when we went for more sushi, we got an obscene amount of… well, let me link the photo of Mount Wasabi.


(If I had to guess, between trying wasabi for the first time, and public transportation for the first time, that it was the green stuff that was gonna give me the nose bleed, I woulda been surprised. Seriously, we later went for tea that day, and blood randomly burst out of my nose. I’m no scientist, and if I were, I’d certainly not be a nose, ear and throat guy, but when two people eat copious amounts of wasabi and then start bleeding out of every pore in their head, I’m willing to think there’s a link.)

So, properly flushed out, I was able to go to the German Society Meeting on Thursday with Lex.

The bar we went to was a “German” establishment, and a real, live Germaness was tending bar. She was nice and sweet in the way Germans are (these days, anyway) but she had to go downstairs no matter what you ordered. Lex and I started off with a fairly esoteric beer (a chocolate-derived one) and it was a ten-minute trip into the seedy underbelly of the Edinburgh Underground to retrieve it. I mean, I didn’t care, I was on vacation, but I sort of felt bad when every time we tried a new drink it meant nobody getting their whistles wet for a while.

But this was the thing: it was still relaxing. Everybody was having a good time, and because the place wasn’t a meat market, there wasn’t this silent cloud of desperation floating about, where god dammit, if dudes don’t get back with the drinks right away, the chicks they’ve been hitting on will be getting hit upon by other guys who were more demonstrably fit to procure drinks from the bar. Instead, everyone was casual and beaming, and I think the world can exhale when its collective of Germans are chill.

Lex and I had a pretty good time, although no actual Germans from the German Society showed up, and I was essentially chatting with a group of Americans the entire night. This went on for a few hours, and as we got up to leave, I was introduced to something called the “chippy.”

Full disclosure: I had no idea that a “kebab” was particularly terrible for your system before this trip, because to me, the shish-kebab is an array of vegetables and meat on a skewer, then grilled. I listen to a Scottish DJ Friday afternoons, who had declared that he was being slightly decadent by having a kebab once, and my reaction was along the lines of, “What, do they deep fry them in paraffin blubber or something over there?” Well, the kebabs are different, and it was just better if I didn’t have one with the group, since the last thing I needed was to get addicted to them when I didn’t have access to a gym.

(Of course, there was a Fish and Chip place that Lex recommended around the corner, and I DID give into that. Lex bought me what was either dinner or breakfast depending on the time, and oh Christ was that the LARGEST piece of fish I’d ever seen in my life. I couldn’t get through it, and the entire time I was thinking how rotten I’d feel if I left some fish on the table in Scotland, since it’s tough to get amazing and fresh fish in Colorado. Well, I did ‘leave some on the table’ and, yeah, weeks later I feel terrible about it. On the flip side, not that Lex’s flat was a bit of a mess or anything, but I’m fairly certain it’d still be there if I wanted to fly back and finish it, ha ha just kidding, Alex.)

Lex and I got back to the flat. I sat round the television at the end of the night with Lex, Lex’s roommate Liam and Liam’s little brother Ryan. We watched an episode of my favorite show (it was the “Backwards” episode of Red Dwarf), gobbling our late night chippy food. I was taking in the ambience of how awesome it was to be with the British. 

I went back to my hotel and avoided getting dragged into any spontaneous 2:00 AM drinking songs. I was going to need all my energy to keep it together the next night when the new Punisher movie started off with McNulty from “The Wire” putting together the worst performance of his life while the Punisher hangs upside-down from a chandelier, just massacring as many mobsters as humanl– inhumanly possible.

The Edinburgh Files: Kaylee
Mar 6th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The Encyclopedia Sherwinia defines a ceilidh as:

“From what I understand, Scottish people – look, Lex said this – they need, like, help in getting together and pairing off and having the ice broken so they can make more Scots. Right? So the ceilidh (which is pronounced, “kaylee”) helps them with all that: it’s sort of like square dancing, but the music is better if you’re not from the south. … OK, I, ah – I’m just telling you what I’ve heard.”

They are also a lot of fun. 

I went to one on the first Tuesday of my trip with Lex and Nik. The idea is, people start pairing off, and you have the dances, at first, called out for you. Everyone gets the basic idea of how to do them. There is a three-piece band up front: a guitarist, a violinist, and a dude on… er… kongas, I think. The caller (who played guitar) will introduce the dance, and familiarize everyone with it. He then turns it over to the mass of Scots and foreigners in attendance: invariably, we all mess it up and laugh and laugh and laugh and reset it. 

The place that held the ceilidh was a church, which meant that they were serving wine there, because it’s Europe and not this twisted and sick Fundielandia. There are very few things that aren’t slightly better if you’re buzzed on wine – the best thing in the world is to play the arcade version of Spy Hunter, because when inhibitions are lowered, I feel all right about shooting the pedestrians cars and motorcycles, along with the eponymous spies. If that’s at the top of the list, and I think it is, then let me submit that dancing for three hours is clearly at the bottom. The bartender dispensed gallons and gallons of water… wholesome, delicious water, and I was knocking them back whenever I could. GOD I DRANK SO MUCH THAT NITE

In retrospect, the dances were pretty easy to do, and you sort of had to be a social gremlin, foreign or stupid to not get them after the third or fourth time the caller/guitarist slowly explained them. I’m not saying I wasn’t some or all of those things on the trip, but the ceilidh we attended was mostly populated by a bunch of Swiss, and look… they’re just not joiners.

The Swiss kids left during the intermission, leaving a small group of us to do the remaining dances. This meant that nobody got a break, but that was okay, it ended up being a fairly pleasant work-out. 

At the end, the final song the band performed was the Scottish song that everyone in America only hears when it’s New Year’s Eve. You know the one! It’s the one that nobody truly understands, because it has that lyric regarding whether or not old acquaintances should be forgot - Auld Lang Syne. The performance of this song came out of nowhere, too, I mean — okay:

I’ve never had any sense in my life that I was actually far away from where I grew up. With e-mail, and bulletin boards and web forums, there isn’t a lot of difference between living several states away from most of your friends (as I do) and the weather simply being so rotten that you don’t want to go out. I’d physically see most of my Rochester friends, what, twice a month, ideally, if I lived back home? So, the difference between “Colorado” and “having mono” or “unreliable transportation in an endless east coast winter” is fairly low. The same mentality picked right up with this Scotland trip: I got on a plane, watched some movies, had better cooking than I’ve ever made (I tried cooking tonight, March 5th, for the first time in a month, and failed to set auto defrost for some hamburger on my microwave, meaning it just cooked it until I smelled what was happening, so I am not really exaggerating here) … and then got off the plane and found myself in a new place. But seriously, the weight of travel didn’t hit me.

Until the band played Auld Lang Syne.

Until the band played Auld Lang Syne and a roomful of Scots formed a circle and took each other’s hands and all started signing the song. Till it struck me that I was the only person there in the room that didn’t know the words to the song, and here I am, an outsider, an interloper in a real, actual, foreign culture, and in and among people who were born on this island, and who went to school at this island and who may travel and visit exotic locales… but are nevertheless of a different nationality, and happy (but not smug!) to be so.

It struck me. I wasn’t home or anywhere near it. I was in a beautiful place with history and its own customs and I got a small sense of what being part of “the world” meant. I think it’s time for an interlude.


“I’ve just got to go to the ATM and get some more p.”

Don’t say that. Yes, you grew up on graphical text games, and 23 years after you played Tass Times in Tonetown, you understand why the currency of the game (guitar picks) was referred to as p. Mike Berlyn, the designer, knew what pence was. OK, cool – this does not mean that two decades later, you can refer to the pound note as p. Even though you so desperately would like to. 















… OK, I’m back. There’s just one last story to tell about ceilidh night.

After Nik and I got out of the church, we had a short walk back. Downtown Edinburgh smells like a fry cooker, and sure enough, we happened upon one of those places where they will fry anything. They had something called “white pudding” there: I had a bite and it was totally evil, I would have eaten it every single night of my life if I had grown up in the UK. (I’d also be on my second heart, like Jean-Luc Picard, and on my second heart because of terrible choices as a young adult.) It was Nik’s idea to get a Mars bar fried, and the guy just nodded and did so. The guy would fry anything: while we were waiting, Han Solo showed up and got pushed behind the counter and went OH HELL NOT AGAIN and etc.

I had one bite of the fried Mars bar, after hours of dancing, and one bite was enough. Dancing kills my appetite, so I felt like I was going to vomit out my actual brain. I think I successfully kept this thought to myself, because there were more adventures that week to be had, and I was able to have them in the company of, like others.

The Edinburgh Files: Part One
Mar 3rd, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

In 1999, I wrote a computer game called Chicks Dig Jerks. It was poorly received due to its subject matter and bugs, and it deserved to be poorly received for such things. I had no idea a small piece of software could be so bug-ridden. I messed up, I learned my lessons, I got better.

MEANWHILE! In Scotland, in 2000, a 15 year old kid named Lex played it and wrote me an e-mail. The note Lex wrote was really one of the first not sending me links to where I could pick up a hangman’s noose and some SlippyChairs. I wrote Lex back and I’ve been friends with him for 10 years now, though we’d never actually met.

I’ve been making text games for all of the time in between, and introduced into my games pictures to help illustrate the nonsense within. Because of this, I always need actors and actressess. Asking my own friends seem to result in one of the following responses:

1) No

2) Not just no, but fuck no

3) Can’t you ask your brother to do it?

4) Robb, I’m your brother. Why are you asking me to do this?

5) (delete without reply)


This hasn’t stopped me! I bleed for my art. I asked Lex if he knew any women to play a very small part in the game I am working on now. He suggested his friend Nik – I asked him to ask her, her reply was, “Why doesn’t he ask me himself?” I did (she accepted!) and then neither one of us were actually able to shut up for the last several months.

That made two people that I knew that were going to live in Edinburgh, so it seemed right to plan a vacation there. Add the Loch Ness Monster, who I am sure I’d get along with, and it seemed perfect.

I was picked up at the airport by Nik, but before I discuss that – Christ, is air travel totally different when you are on one of those giant, modern planes with video on demand. Most of the time, I fly from Denver to Rochester, NY and I get stuck in the middle seat. That doesn’t stop me from using Expedia’s nice Java app to “choose my seats”: invariably, I select a window or aisle seat each time. Let me write the pseudocode for the Seat-Selection app:

while (1) { = MIDDLE;
  ventilation = OFF;

My flight from Denver to Houston was okay, except for the fact that I was in the middle. But! When I boarded for my flight from Houston to London (yes, I was too stupid to get the more-direct Newark to Edinburgh flight) I saw a guy sleeping in my seat! And taking the entire row!

It was quickly explained to me by the staff that the plane had like zero people on it, and everyone got their own row! Hell yeah! I had NINE seats to myself. Completely changed my attitude when it came to flying; it’s great. The video unit was amazing (the Lord of the Rings movies at like 3 or 4 hours a pop need to be standard issue on international flights) and hell, even the food was delicious. Oh My Gawd! I know, right? But it was, this chicken and rice thing with green beans and carrots. Look, it’s better than anything I could have cooked for myself, and there is 35 pounds of basmati rice in my fridge.

Because of all the movies and all the space, I completely failed to get any sleep. I arrived in London, went crazy with anxiety because I thought I missed the very small “bmi” flight to Edinburgh, realized I was fine, got into Edinburgh, and was greeted with a “Hello, gaybo” from Nik. She was just as funny, sweet and charming in real life as she had been over the Internet, with the added bonus that in real-life I can pretend she uses capital letters. Her dad dropped me off at my hotel, and there were only a few hours left for me to figure out the bus system and get ready for seeing her later that day.

T’hell with figuring out the bus system! I was in the same city as Lex, so meeting him for the first time was a priority. I knew he would be awesome and fun (and he was) and even if he wasn’t, I love him like a little brother thanks to knowing him for a decade, so he would have had to have done something like beat me a hundred straight times whilst playing Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe for me to want to fling a controller at him.

Anyway, Lex and I went for tea.

Lex explained that the place we went was supposed to create imagery in Scots, who love their goddamn tea! The place was designed to look like grandma’s place. And as everyone’s gramma has died off, the Scots now need cafes that perform the same function. And that is exactly what it looked like. We got “cream tea,” which, ah, sounds gayer than it really is. I also got some kind of cookie that was like a blop of batter thrown into an oven and allowed to bake nicely. The entire time this is going on, I am losing my shit because I am in a foreign country, with foreigners, and one of which is Lex! 

Keeping in mind that:

– Lex played McCormick, one of the antagonists in Fallacy of Dawn.

– Lex played the main character of Necrotic Drift.

– Lex is playing one of the main characters in the game I’m making now.

So I have stared at his visage in Photoshop for literally hours as I cobbled together the scenes for each game. And there he was! As we finished our tea, I asked how people settle bills in Scotland. Lex said, “Well, we just wink at the waitress and tell them we’d like the bill” and then he immediately, without pause, without delay, without any sort of break in patter, winked at the waitress and said, “ah, the bill, thanks.” While you absolutely had to “be there” to appreciate it, I was there, and I appreciated it. Seriously, it was like the biggest win in the Internet’s history of people meeting each other. 

I had to go back to my hotel and get ready, so Lex and I parted ways. I had flowers en route to getting the bus to get to Nik’s place, and — okay, look, it was Valentine’s Day, so me carrying flowers on the street wasn’t even distinct. Nevertheless, as I was walking on North Bridge to get the bus, some kid spotted the flowers and shouted out, “AW, FER ME? YA SHOULDN’T ‘AVE! HAW HAW HAHAHAHA!” 

The city itself charmed me!

I’ve got like 13 more of these updates to do, so let me just state that I had an amazing time over sushi with Nik, finally getting a chance to talk to her in person, but the waiter utterly failed to bring us extra wasabi. This was to be an important plot point in the trip later on.

Edinburgh – Prelude
Mar 2nd, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The greatest trip of my life started with a virus. I can’t even be mad at them: it’s pretty awesome in here. Did you know that each morning I get my Star Trek’s Mr. Scott (topical, finally, that mug!) and pour myself a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee? Filled with both Coffee-Mate and sugar? A glucose-fueled fun ride is how my day starts, that’s what I do to myself, how can I be upset if germs want to get in me and be a party to all that?

No, I’m just kidding: most of my friends have adoring wives and husbands, and I suspect they begin their days in the screaming throes of ecstasy. Me carpet bombing my bloodstream with stuff that’s going to reduce my working vocabulary to BOOK, MOVIE, INSULIN and MOVIE in a couple years is a depressing pantomime of happiness, and trying to prop it up because the fucking whooping cough, or whatever I ended up with, lives there is pretty sad.

The Monday before I left, I went running, and at the end, went sprinting. It was a cold evening, and I felt my lungs get a little fiery. It’s not possible to get a cold just because it was cold out, but nevertheless, I felt the slightest bit unwell when I returned.

The Wednesday before I left, I went to work and felt terrible. That night, I was delirious – Delirium was explained to me to be what you get when your temperature reaches 105 F. That’s fair: the last time it happened, I was living in Fort Collins, and called out to my brother for an entire hour, begging him to get some juice from the store. This would have been perfectly rational if not for the fact that my brother was 45 miles away, at work, and a vicious anti-Semite with homonym issues.

I was finally snapped out of my delirium by mentally getting yelled at to focus by a woman I hadn’t met yet, but would in three days. That’s how pumped I was for this trip. I was getting told to shape up by the people I was so psyched to finally meet, after months and years.

I went to work the next day, a Thursday. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near the building, but I felt that it looks bad to take a Sickie right before leaving on a two-week trip to Europe. I was right! I shouldn’t have been anywhere near the building. You know how men are such babies when they get sick? I’m writing a blog post over two weeks later because of how sick I was: that’s how much of a goddamn baby this man is when he gets sick.

I finished my work, and went home. Pinback picked me up at noon the next day. I was going to fly all day. I had never been to Europe. Hell, I had never been out of the United States, except for several Blue Jays games. I was going to do a bunch of stuff I’d never done before, and I think I recovered from the fever so quickly because I just couldn’t imagine a reality otherwise. Being sick for this trip was simply not an option.

(OK, I have no photograph for me going berserk at home, so dig this as I skip ahead: we shall later meet a man named Lex, who played the main character in my 2004 text game, Necrotic Drift. The character he played was named Jarret Duffy. The place where Lex lived was an apartment next to the Buffalo Grill, in Edinburgh Scotland, and the correct apartme– sorry, flat – was listed under a DUFFY. You can’t make this up. Here’s a photo.)

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