Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Geeks Who Drink - Or I'm Finally Into Bar Trivia/Pub Quiz

This journey began a few months ago when I discovered the New Zealand Rom-Com show "Nothing Trivial...About a Broken Heart" on Amazon Prime.  The show started in 2011 and ended in 2014, 3 seasons, 39 episodes and a tv movie wrapping it up.  The basic jist of the show is five strangers meet at a Tuesday night trivia at their local and form a friendship bond that lasts throughout the show.  Auckland seems like a beautiful city, and it's now on my bucket list to visit.  I'd also like to see one of the lead actors sing 'cause you know he has his own band and everything.

After blowing through the entire series in like a week or so, I decided it was HIGH TIME that I ventured out into the world and found a pub quiz of my own.  Little did I know there was a company out there doing pub quiz across the country in various bars five nights a week!  Didn't take long to google them and finally on June 25 I ventured to The Empire Tavern out in Burbank which is a fairly new beer and wine bar kind of off the beaten path.

That first night I played all by myself, and I came in third place with 74 points.  The winning team had 89.  After doing fairly well by myself I was offered a spot on a team next time and I said I'd do my best.  I liked the format and loved the bar, so I knew I'd be back.  BTW, my team name for the first two times was "Space Cowboys" since I was wearing my Father's Day Cowboy Bebop t-shirt.

I really wanted to try again though, so two days later I went over to The Lincoln Beer Company which is also in Burbank close to my apartment.  Again pretty much by myself I came in third place with 74 points.  The top two teams that night were all sitting at one table though, so I sense some collusion.  That said, besides those two full teams of six each, I beat everyone else in the bar, and there were at least 20 other people playing.  So that felt good.

July 2 back at the Empire and my team does much better, we come in second with 83 points, which is still a personal best.  There's usually a total of 96 points available but this one had more points for some reason.  Also the regular quizmaster was out on vacation and we had a sub, though the sub was the same guy as at Lincoln the week before.  Our team name was "So You're Saying There's a Chance" because their previous team name was "Forever Fourth" and I vowed they would never be lower than 3rd ever again.

One week later on July 9 at Empire, same sub QM and by this point I'm kind of getting tired of him.  He's not good.  In fact he's bad.  And I spoke about it with other players not on my team and they concurred, they'd had him before and he sucked.  So I emailed Geeks who Drink and they actually responded in a professional manner and thanked me for my input.  He didn't come back the next week when our regular QM was still gone on her honeymoon.  We were back to third place on the 9th, with 80 points.  For some reason we were back to Space Cowboys that night.

July 16 seemed like a game-changing night.  Our team name, "I Contain Multitudes" - paraphrasing the great Walt Whitman poem "Song of Myself".  We came in 2nd, with 73 points, but only lost by 2, to the Goats, who were on a 3 game winning streak (maybe more, I didn't check the scores from before I started playing.)  Still I'll take that sweet $10 reward off our bill.  Oh and it was finally this night when I figured out the people on my team, the ones who invited me to be on their team, yeah they own the bar.

So at this point I've been playing for 3 weeks, and I've done 5 quizzes.  Come in third 2x, and second 2x now.  I'm itching for a victory.  For some reason last Thursday I was on a quest to not be in the doldrums that I wasn't at Comic-Con in San Diego (despite the fact I was offered tickets, I did not follow up because my kiddo is off in Utah this month visiting her Mother and I don't want to go without her).

  So I ventured Downtown, into enemy territory and found a bar very close to USC called "The Dragon and Meeple".  It's a gaming bar, as in board games and other types of nerdiness.  Much like "The Guild Hall" over near me.  The employees couldn't really figure out why attendance was so low, they'd only done trivia a couple times previously, until I reminded them about SDCC, and they got it.  I was joined by a work colleague halfway through the game who really could have helped me on the music round, but it was no worries, I won handily with 70 points, beating the team in 2nd by 11.  I won a $25 gift certificate to the bar/store I can use next time and I also got a free drink for winning one of the four bonus rounds.  It was a good time.  Oh and my team name: "I Wish I Was At Comic-Con".

Brings us to last night, back at Empire, and our normal team is down to just four people.  Not a problem, because we carried the night.  We led virtually the entire game, and our regular host was back for the festivities.  Our team name was "I Promised My Mother I'd Make Better Choices" which was actually somewhat true, and also the 2nd name I chose, given the first one was kind of poking fun at the host.  But I'm going to use it next week.  Anyway, we won by a whopping 3 points, 80 to 77 over the Goats.  And there was much rejoicing.

Check out the scheduled for Geeks Who Drink and come join me would ya?  I've got at least 3 more weeks at Empire for sure.  I'm also itching to go to Scum and Villainy Cantina where I hear the prize is over $100!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Secrets of the Empire: A VR Experience Review

Yesterday was my birthday and as a treat I decided that my daughter and I were going to try out the latest VR Game, "Star Wars Secrets of the Empire" which is located at The Void in the Glendale Galleria.  A couple of months ago I got my first real taste of what's going on in VR when I took Kaylee to a VR Art Exhibit in Pasadena, and while there were some of the same technologies featured at that event, this new VR Game is so cutting edge that we're entering "Ready Player One" territory.  We're not there QUITE yet, but it's getting very very close.

The experience starts when you go in and buy tickets.  You have to sign a waiver, and be sure to accept the part about video and achievement tracking, that way you'll get a score emailed to you later on.  

After being checked in by the staff you get suited up.  First you step into a haptic vest that's hanging on the wall, there's a reason for that.  After getting all strapped in and snug (and they have adapters for bigger folks) you put on your headset. Now this is no mere retail level headset, it's fully immersive and much more powerful than the previous headsets I've tried. 

Next you're ushered into the briefing room where Cassian Andor from Rogue One gives you a mission to break into the Imperial Facility on Mustafar (you know where Vader lives) disguised as Stormtroopers and steal back a precious Jedi artifact.  You're accompanied by the droid K2S0 and a pilot.  You get into a shuttle and you're whisked away to your destination.  I'll be damned if I didn't feel like I was really flying in space INSIDE of Star Wars, it's that immersive.

Upon landing you exit the vehicle and you're freaking on Mustafar.  There's heat, there's smells, there's wind, and as you cross a platform that's over a huge bed of lava, you actually feel everything.  I got a touch of vertigo at one point, and my legs weren't steady because it all felt real.  There's several moments like that in the game and well, you just kind of have to experience it to fully understand.  

You infiltrate the facility, grabs some guns and as soon as you do alarms go off and you're immediately attacked by legions of Imperial Stormtroopers who you have to fight off.  You can get hit by lasers and you feel it, but you can't really die and there's no real adverse affects other than it throws you off for a second or two, so let yourself get hit, it's fun!  Now I don't know about you, but growing up all I ever really wanted to do was run around the Death Star blasting Stormtroopers ala Han Solo.  Well, here you really get that opportunity.  Also they can take a few hits before they're down, so aim for the head.  Just like modern FPS games, headshots rule.  

I won't spoil the rest of the game, suffice to say you shoot a bunch of troopers and some lava creatures, have to solve a simple puzzle (or not, the game continues even if you're a doofus like us and can't solve the puzzle) and are confronted by the Dark Lord of the Sith himself.  I'd say the only negative is that you don't ever get to wield a Lightsaber, but hey I guess that they have to save something for the sequel game.

Apparently this game is canon too, or at least the story is.  The relic that you are searching for should show up again in some ancillary media or other.  

After successfully completing your mission you take a picture and doff your gear.  The picture was overpriced as these things tend to be, but given they don't let you take any photos in the facility itself, it's a nice keepsake.  The next day you're sent your score.  I had a higher percentage accuracy than my kiddo, but she killed more Stormtroopers than I did.

Here's some things to know: 

1) On very busy weekends I'd buy tickets ahead of time.  They also don't necessarily run the Star Wars game every day, so check ahead.  The other game is an original property, and while it looks fun, it ain't Star Wars. 

2) While they don't want you running or jumping around, the game is quite active.  You do walk from one room to another, and the complex feels very large.  We both worked up quite a sweat killing bucketheads. 

3) It's totally immersive, in that there are lighting, wind, atmosphere and aroma effects.  When you look down at lava you feel like you could fall right in, it's pretty darn cool.

4) There's some glitchiness which I suppose is to be expected.  It's not 100% smooth, there's some parts where you can't see your hands, etc.  But it's real enough.  There are also real world props that are interactive.  If you take off your visor you can see them.  For example, K2S0 when he appears close to you is a maquette and you can touch him. 

5) The haptic suit and helmet are quite heavy, so just be prepared.  They're not uncomfortable, but if you're not ready for them it can take some getting used to.

6) It will seem a lot shorter than you want it to be.  You're going to want to do it again almost immediately.  I don't see it as having a LOT of replay value, but twice or three times should still be fun.