San Francisco

“Enjoying ‘walks’ is sort of a cliche. I consider myself an avid pedestrian, but while technically relaxing I also see walking an act of impatience. I like bloody-minded trudges from point A to point B when other means of transport would require waiting. So to experience the famous Golden Gate, I figured the most appropriate way was to walk from one end to the other.

Photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge from the San Francisco side. The bridge takes up about half of the frame, the right side is all bay. SF Viaduct visible in the foreground.

The bridge itself was massive. Better writers than I have described its grandeur. It’s probably the biggest single thing I’ve encountered. It felt as solid as stone gazing at its cable stays, the tension invisible, but you could feel the legendary elasticity of the steel structure underfoot when vibrations from traffic rippled across its surface.

Photo: Golden gate bridge tower and main cables, from the bridge.
Photo: San Fransisco skyline and bay, from the bridge

Do I recommend crossing it on foot? Well, it’s a bit loud. The views of the city, bay, and mountains are very nice. The constant reminders that people jump off the thing were a bit spooky. The traffic tended to stay below 80db but a bit louder as vehicles hit rough patches (joints?) in the road. I wouldn’t recommend earplugs, because you’re going to need your situational awareness to avoid blocking bikes.

Photo: Presidio from Golden Gate Bridge

About halfway across, I spied a lookout on a mountain high above the roadway. ‘I am gonna climb that‘ I said to myself. As I got further, my resolve strengthened; the view was bound to be amazing.

Photo: Hill with battery spencer from bridge

I didn’t spend much time at vista point-I was eager to get to whatever path lead up that hill, which turns out to be the former home of Battery Spencer. There was a nice shortcut to avoid the road and see some wildflowers.

Battery Spencer had some great views of the bridge and the headlands, but I couldn’t help but once again gaze up! Roads cut into the sides of these mountains invited me to climb higher. Once again, I elected to press on.

The views of the mountains sweeping down into Kirby Cove were breathtaking. I really lucked out on the weather. There was a rough path beside the road. The grade was merciful, but you couldn’t escape the feeling of being at the top of a very long fall. The roadcut had changed the erosion timeline for these hills, and every inch seemed to threaten imminent rockslide. Thrilling, to be sure.

I’d told myself ‘ah, I can make it to the observation deck’ but once I got there, again, I saw a higher peak: there was a great lookout (and more treacherous road) at what turned out to be Hawk Hill.

I was starting to feel the climb then; I regretted not taking any water with me, that would have been smart. But as unplanned hikes go, at least this one was done on a full stomach. I salute the bikers who were passing me on the way up-this must have been a tough climb. The reward on the way down, I imagine, is probably worth it.

Hawk Hill turns out to be not just one observation deck with views of the city, but also an unfinished battery ‘129’ with tunnels you can enter – fans of STALKER or Fallout will enjoy the ruins here.

The very top was only a short climb away, and the view was well worth the hike. Walking the headlands was a much more pleasant experience than the bridge with its noise. Somehow the actual danger of those sheer cliffs was more tolerable than the much safer bridge plastered with memento mori.

I will admit, dear reader, that when I reached the summit of Hawk Hill I felt ready to call it quits and take a Lyft back to civilization. It was not to be, however, so I descended back to Vista Point once again on my own steam.

After recovering in Sausalito and taking the ferry back (a trip I highly recommend even if you skip the hiking) and enjoying the ferry terminal, I took a slow (recovery?) stroll through the city (go to City Lights if you can) before one more time being seized by the desire to walk up a hill.

Telegraph hill turned out to be the toughest climb of the day. I went up Filbert Street, which attacks the hill head on. After a day of lazily winding roadcuts, it was brusque to say the least.

You’ll just have to take my word on the last bit, I’d burned out my phone battery so no pictures exist!

PAX East 2020

On the eve of the Covid-19 Pandemic, with the stock market tumbling, hundreds (thousands?) of game fans breezed into a convention center to try some new stuff, purchase apparel, and frequently use hand sanitizer. It was everywhere.

There’s something sinister about the rise of Discord, but I can’t explain why yet

Thursday was far better than Saturday, so definitely go then if you can. I was able to play far more games, and the boardgame tables where much easier to navigate.

Exciting New Games

While speaking to the creator of BlazeSky, I name-checked Escape Velocity and he knew what I was talking about. But the more I look at it, the more it looks like Empty Epsilon/Artemis. The different styles of play (rescuing people, combat, exploration, etc) are represented by different characters who give you quests, which is a neat approach to writing storylines. I found the banking camera made it difficult to reason about where my shots where going, and I hope that at launch there’s an option to keep the camera steady while the ship turns, but even if there isn’t I’ll probably play the hell out of it.

Another game that was physically demanding just due to its camera was Sludge Life. After you fight through its extremely elaborate recreation of a 90s desktop interface you’re dropped in a colorful, heavily distorted 3d environment. Very Getter: Headsplitter. The distortion (I think the vertical FOV was unusually high or low or whatever) was jarring and slightly dizzying. I predict that this game will be a stoner-hit of Rez proportions. Devolver is playing in the same space as Adult Swim here.

Watched some people play Dunk Lords. The world is ready for strawberry-headed athletes. You could dismiss it as Space Jam: The Videogame but stripped of its bizzare branding, the concept of cartoony basketball feels pretty novel. Sports games that attempt to simulate a sport (like EA’s catalog) or Be a sport (like Rocket League) aren’t my jam, but using the basic rules of a sport to do something unique or new definitely is.

Watched some Panzer Paladin play. There was an enormous reproduction of the cover art, standing out against the crowd. Makes me wonder what the differentiator is. It looks like a Gameboy Advance game (specifically, it looked like Metroid) to me, and though the mechanics where cool and smooth, I wonder who’s buying enough copies of this to justify an enormous booth at PAX. What’s the differentiator. Are they just striking at the right moment? Is it the great Anime art? Am I not enough of a sidescroller fan to understand what the difference between it and AVGN Adventure (which we also demo’d) is.

A radically different sidescroller with very clear differentiation was Carrion, a game where the avatar resembles the blob monster from The Thing. I’m not sure what the gameplay is besides sliding and swinging around an industrial environment and eating (?) the little NPCs that run from you.

If you’re itching to play Star Citizen but don’t like social interaction or having to hire an entire clan to operate your large spaceship or pass flight training to join an org, and also want a game that’s finished, I unfortunately can’t recommend Everspace II yet, because it isn’t finished either. But what I did play compared favorably to Star Citizen, and I venture to say that it’ll be done far sooner. The vision of space was colorful and dense with things to explore and tractor beam into your ship.

I also got a chance to demo Brigador Killers. In addition to the stompy robots seen in Brigador, you get to play as an infantry suit or a giant floating wrecking ball. The controls are also slightly different – rather than absolute direction, your WASD controls are now relative to the mouse. It took some getting used to, especially with the wrecking ball.

Parting Thoughts

Check out the screen attached to this expensive of a gaming PC. I’m not sure words will do it justice, but if you’ve been here, you know.

The dreaded launcher update.

I also demo’d a Cookie Clicker clone which I won’t name to protect the guilty. It pitched itself as being about the development of life from molecules to technological singularity. However, in reality it is a cookie clicker clone, the meta of a game (buy stuff on a tech tree to augment your abilities) without the actual gameplay (you score by just tapping the screen. Anywhere on the screen. I wondered again what the filter was between successful games and trivial games. Was presence at PAX a marker of success or a desperate gambit? I told myself I was done with the game, but then I reached down to the tablet and tapped it a few more times.

Unrelated image of a book that was on sale at the convention