Friday, September 15, 2006

Bark: Great timing

Why do they have to relax the hand baggage rules on flights to the US just *after* I come back from there? Typical.

I suppose I should tell you about my trip to Seattle. I'm not going to talk about the game (Supreme Commander), given that there's an embargo on news about it until next month, but I can give you an insight into the mind of Chris Taylor (the creator of Supreme Commander and also of Total Annihilation and the Dungeon Siege games). He's undoubtedly one of the most charmingly bonkers men I've ever met. I was lucky enough to interview him for the best part of half an hour on Monday, and he's got a real passion about his games, with the clearly insane edge of someone who works far too hard. I kid you not, he almost ate my dictaphone at one point during the interview. It won't be an encounter I'm going to forget in a hurry, let me tell you. (Note to self: Just don't mention the hookers, midgets or cocaine... oh shit, too late.)

This was my first trip to America, and pretty much everything I'd been told about America turned out to be true. Firstly, it's just like the UK, only everything is about three times bigger - the cars, the roads, the hotel rooms, the food portions...

I also had a particularly fearsome Immigration Officer, who I'm sure was within a hair's breadth of having me red-carded and deported for claiming to be on holiday, yet seemingly having no idea of what I was on holiday to do. However, I guess I was deemed harmless enough to not be considered a threat. Despite the hair. Still, next time (if there *is* a next time) I'm going to take Tim Edwards' advice and get myself a Journalist's Visa to smooth relations...

The first night (on Saturday) we went to an Italian restaurant across the road from our hotel, where I was made aware of just how extreme the portion sizes in American restaurants are. The "half" portion of angel hair spaghetti with "shrimp" (i.e. King Prawns) and arrabbiata sauce could have resolved several famines in continental Africa. There must have been half a pack of spaghetti in that bowl. I barely made a dent in it before I had to admit defeat. Though at least I did eat all the shrimp...

Sunday we had the whole day to explore Seattle, do a bit of shopping (whereupon I bought myself a nice new 6 megapixel camera), before going to an improv theatre in the evening - the theatre itself being more infamous for its Gum Wall than the shows it puts on.

[Edit: One thing I forgot to mention about the improv club - the audience shouts out ideas to "inspire" the performers, and there were a couple of moments when the group I was in were shouting out suggestions that were funnier than the sketches themselves. Tim Edwards' revolutionary title for 'a novel that's never been written' - "Jesus Loves Beer" - set the tone for the night, and eventually won the prize for the best suggestion of the night. His reward was a supremely distasteful plastic bag full of plastic cockroaches and, bizarrely, miniature rubber chickens. Also memorable was when we were asked to come up with suggestions for an animal, which elicited a frenzied cry of "BADGER!" (Tim again), immediately (and seamlessly) followed by a very loudly hollered "MONKEY!"]

Seattle itself seemed like a nice enough city, but I'm not sure I'd want to do anything other than visit there. At least the tramps have style: one guy had "My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons." written on his begging box.

Monday we spent pretty much the entire day at Gas Powered Games, engaging in a little multiplayer tournament and some skirmishing with the AI. The funniest moment of the day was when Andy (from PC Zone) accidentally trod on his Supreme Commander ACU with a Spiderbot in the final 4 way match of the press tournament. It was a very British defeat - humourous and humiliating in equal measure.

Tuesday and Wednesday pretty much melded into the same day, given that we were having an overnight flight back to the UK. We spent Tuesday morning in the Bellevue Mall, and it was just like the Westpoint Mall in Vice City - that hideously twee tinkling jingle music echoing in the background. I visited the LEGO store to take a look at all the Star Wars LEGO kits. They had just about everything, from A-Wings, B-Wings, and Jabba's sail barge to the Death Star itself, which comes in a box about as big as a house. I would have liked trying to explain that one away to customs... "No, I've nothing to declare!" In the end I came away with a couple of LEGO keyrings: the obligatory Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper, who's just the cutest. I also picked up Star Fox Command on DS for less than £20, which was a bit of a bargain. Especially since it's not going to be out in the UK for another couple of months. I also picked up another game on DS called Freedom Wings, which looks like a cross between Crimson Skies and the original MechWarrior, as it's got some kind of RPG and aircraft upgrade system. I haven't played it so much yet, so it's probably complete rubbish, but for $20 at an exchange rate of nearly 2 to 1, you can't complain, really.

Tuesday afternoon we visited the Seattle Museum of Flight, where I went a little mad with my new camera, taking all manner of photos of the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-14A Tomcat they had there. We also had a walk through President Kennedy's Air Force One (a converted Boeing 707) and the Concorde that they had there. Concorde is undoubtedly the pokiest aeroplane I've ever been in. But it used to fly at twice the speed of sound, so you can forgive it being cramped and just a little bit dingy.

I spent most of the flight back either trying to sleep or playing Star Fox, because BA had rolled out the worst selection of in-flight films ever, in the history of ever. The only thing marginally watchable was Mission Impossible III, which was utterly predictable and shit. The rest were just too dire to even bother trying to remember, let alone waste your life telling you about.

Getting back in the UK was simultaneously a relief and an aggravation: a relief to be back in my comfort zone, but an aggravation that we had to wait 20 minutes for a tow to our stand position, because our 747 ran out of momentum ten metres short. Also because I had to wait an Ice Age for my bag (though at least they didn't lose it, like they did with poor Tim's) and also because the council had dug up the entire centre of Woking since I left, making it impossible for me to find my bus back home (I ended up taking a taxi). Still, it's nice to be back...
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