Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bridge To Shuttle Bay One

After being told one of us would be the ancestor of one of the Federations greatest captains[1], we were lead into a turbolift and brought to a different floor to be put on board an escape shuttle.

An easy illusion, using sequenced lights to give the impression we were travelling a great distance within the ship, while only moving a single floor.

Except not quiet. We actually never travelled vertically at all. Another clever illusion to avoid the expense of a purpose built elevator.

Inside the turbolift there were indeed pulsing lights to give the impression of vertical movement, just like in the series. Combined with a slight shaking, it felt very real. When the Enterprise took a few blasts from the Klingon Bird of Prey, the turbolift rocked, again, just like in the show, except we didn't have to fake it, the hydraulics did it for us. The shaking concealed the next slight-of-hand as they slowly and imperceptibly turned the entire lift about 180 degrees so that, when the door reopened we were looking at a new location, without ever knowing that the bridge set was just behind the wall.

After that it was just the simulator ride, which was great, but nothing compared to what we had just experienced. One neat touch was that the footage was projected on a curved, dome-like screen, so not only could we look out the forward windows, but also up through some skylights in the shuttle. That really helped sell the illusion nicely.

[1] It was me, obviously. Riker looked right at me.

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Welcome Aboard
Two To Beam Up

Two To Beam Up

Being teleported was, frankly, a mind blowing experience. Every rational part of my brain told me it was impossible, a clever trick and illusion, while every emotional part of my heart was crying with joy after decades of dreaming about living this moment.

Of course, it was a clever trick, an illusion. But even knowing how they did it doesn't take from the magic.

The first part was obvious. Told to watch a safety video, all our gazes were focused on the TV screens, and so too the strobe flash hidden beside them, blowing out our night vision when the lights went out.

The next five or so seconds was when the real magic happened.

The ceiling above us slid smoothly to one side, leaving a multistory opening above our heads. The four walls, including the one with the TVs and fake doors we were facing, shot upwards 60 feet at incredible speeds, uncovering the transporter panelling around us and the transporter control room with crew members in front. Then, as quietly as the first was removed, a new ceiling slid into place above us, enclosing the transporter bay.

What little noise the mechanisms did make were masked by the transporter sound effects.

At this point, a mere five seconds after we had been plunged into darkness, the lights came back up and all was revealed. The floor we were standing on had a property such that, when lit from above, appeared to have one design and a different one when lit from below. Tricking us into believing we had moved floors was as simple as turning on a light switch.

All of that was breathtaking, but it leaves one, final mystery.

Experiencing the whoosh of air in the darkness was amazing, because it totally contributed to the sensation of being moved by some means. The designer who thought to included that was a genius, right? Not quite.

When the whole mechanism was first being tested with actual people in it, it seemed only right that it would be the engineers themselves to risk life and limb before anyone else. Nothing should go wrong. It had been dry tested dozens of times. The mechanisms were precisely engineered to a ridiculous level and the timing was tuned to perfection.

This is how what happened next was told to me.

Standing in the drab grey false room, the strobe went off, the lights went out and more than one engineer screamed.

You see, when you pull four walls straight up 60 feet at high speed you create a suction effect as air rushes in to fill the space the walls occupied. That suction is experienced by anyone in the room as a whoosh of air, coming from around your feet and flowing upwards.

When the lights came up the engineers, frozen in their spots, silently looked around before one of them spoke up.

"We're keeping that in."

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Welcome Aboard
Bridge To Shuttle Bay One

Welcome Aboard

Claire and I stood in the queue for the Star Trek Experience simulator ride based on the Next Generation era. We were both excited. We hadn't any idea what to expect, having read nothing about it in advance. We'd been on these kinds of rides before, where you and a bunch of others sit into a box on top of an enormous computer controlled hydraulic system and get thrown around in sync with footage to give the illusion of actually being on a rollercoaster, or flying in a helicopter.

But this was Star Trek, we were going to be flying through simulated space, buckled safely into our seats, safely located in a hotel very definitely safely on good old Mother Earth.

We lined up outside the simulator in a nondescript room, and were asked to first observe a safety video on a few screens above the ride access doors. The usual stuff. Claire and I were standing side by side.

Suddenly a bright flash blinded us all, and the room was plunged into darkness for less than five seconds. We heard a strangely familiar sound, felt a rush of air travel from our feet upwards and then the lights came up.

We were standing in an entirely different location than the room we had been in moments before. Let me emphasis that. An entirely different location. An officer in Starfleet uniform stood looking at us behind a console I had seen hundreds of times on TV where the doors we were supposed to go through had been. The ceiling and walls surrounding us, previously grey and drab, were now the familiar futuristic panelling of the transporter bay.

And, looking down, Claire and I both came to the same shocking realisation at the same time. The freaking floor was not the same one we were on moments before either, but the glowing discs of light we so knew and loved.

It was all I could do to just hold her hand and not cry. In that moment my heart was beating a thousand beats a minute.

I'm not crazy. I didn't for a moment think I had actually been teleported to a Federation starship, but every sense I had was telling me otherwise. My brain was firing off, trying to explain the sensory imputs my body was sending it that conflicted with all rational thought. Trying, and utterly, completely, failing.

"Are you all okay?" My attention snapped back to the ensign before me. "I'm sorry, but we had to emergency beam you out of there. If you follow this officer, everything will be explained."

We were lead down a familiar corridor, inset with the same familiar lighting, past familiar doors and then through a sliding door with the familiar whoosh sound and my heart went from beating like a drum in my chest to stopping dead.

At that moment I was standing on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-D. Before me, on the big viewscreen, stars drifted past. This was a set, obviously, but once again, my brain was having a hard time explaining that to the rest of my body.

It all felt so real.

One of the two officers on the bridge welcomed us on board and told us she had someone that wanted to talk to us.

The stars on the screen were replaced with the much larger than life face of Commander William Riker, who informed us that the Klingons had found a way to travel back in time to our century. Their plan was to kill the ancestor of Captain Jean Luc Picard, erasing him from history. One of us was the target, but without knowing which one, they rescued us all. Now, he told us, we were to follow the ensign to a shuttle where we would be whisked to safety.

With one last, quick look around the bridge, we were all bundled into a turbolift, which, once the doors closed, started to move, the lights flashing by as we changed floor. The lights flickered and the lift shook as we were hit by the attacking Klingon vessel and alarms started to blare.

The same doors we had entered through opened and we were in a completely new hallway, rushed down to the awaiting shuttle, where we were strapped into our seats and blasted out into open space, high above the earth, as the Enterprise fought off the Bird of Prey. Our shuttle ducked and dodged, avoiding lazer blasts and zooming through the atmosphere. We flew down over the crowded lights of the Vegas Strip at night, banked around and landed on the roof of the Hilton. The seatbelts clicked open and we were lead out into an ordinary looking hallway. On a wall-mounted TV a news anchor was reporting on unusual lights in the skies above Nevada, but a stern looking government official was assuring the viewers that it was just a weather balloon.

And suddenly we were back in the public area, standing in the middle of the shop filled with magnets and posters bearing the likeness of various actors.

We were back on earth, safe and sound from our adventure, and neither Claire nor I had any idea how any of it had happened. We talked about all the theories we had, but when, a few days later, we went on the Behind The Scenes tour, the truth turned out to be far better than either of us dared imagine.

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Two To Beam Up
Bridge To Shuttle Bay One

Beaming From Ear To Ear

In August 2008, Claire and I travelled the West Coast of the US on what we called The Epic Holiday. Along the way we stopped into a small desert town called Las Vegas in Nevada. Mostly this was to get married, but we also bookedd our stay at the Las Vegas Hilton which, at the time, was host to the long running Star Trek Experience.

We were lucky enough to have our holiday when we did too. In September of 2008, one short month after our visit, the Star Trek Experience shut down for good. Remember, this was before the JJ Abrahms 2009 reboot. There was no new series on TV and the last attempt at something was the generally disliked Enterprise. The whole exhibit was torn down and because it had been built in partnership with the Hilton and Paramount, neither could come to an agreement on how the sets would be handled, as they had both paid for the contruction costs. In the end, as far as I'm aware, everything was destroyed, a fact that breaks my heart every time I remember it.

Beware The Rules Of Aquisition

The Experience had a bar modeled after Quark's Bar on board Deep Space 9[1], a gift shop filled with merchandise and memorabilia, a museum packed with screen used props and costumes and, the highlight, two rides to enjoy. The newer of the two was based on Voyager and involved the Borg and some 4D stuff, but the one that had been there since the start was based on The Next Generation, and involved the Klingons. It was much older and didn't have the 4D technology, so of course it would be the lesser of the two.


Nope, nope, nope, nope!!

The Borg attack was a fun ride, and the first time Claire and I experienced "4D", much to both of our terror. It was cool, and hopefully I'll get to describe it some day, but the undeniable magic, the one that took both our breaths away was, without question, the Klingon attack.

I'm going to break what I have to say about the Klingon attack into seperate posts for clarity. One will be a straight description of the ride, which I can still vividly recall nine years later, and linked to that will be posts describing how each amazing element was done, which we learned thanks to going on the behind-the-scenes tour after. If I was posting this back in 2008, or even 2009 I might consider not revealing the magic, but it's been nine years, and how they achieved what they achieved should be documented and applauded.

I experienced something I never dreamed would be possible in my life up to that point, and have never experienced again in almost a decade since.

I'll finish this by saying that The Next Generation is the era Claire and I both loved and grew up with. It heavily influenced the person I am today, and the experience in the posts that follow will be treasured memories for as long as I live and prosper.

[1] Claire and I got married in Vegas, and wihle we didn't get married on the bridge of the Enterprise, we did have our wedding day meal in Quark's Bar. It was delicious.

Related Posts:
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Two To Beam Up
Bridge To Shuttle Bay One

Friday, November 10, 2017

Summer Fun Into Autumn News

I knew I hadn't posted in a while, but looking now, I didn't think it had been as far back as April! In fact, I completely missed my annual 5th of November post, breaking a long, but pointless, streak!

I learned to scuba dive over the summer and absolutely love it! It's an incredible experience, and one I've always been interested in trying, but while my brother was here, we learned together. The training dives were a bit of a challenge, obviously, as you had to demonstrate so terrifying skills, like removing your facemask underwater and putting it back on again, but we got through it. Since then, we did two fun dives in September that were a lot of fun and we got so see some amazing things, like a jellyfish completely failing to sneak up on Stephen during the rest stop, or an octopus home that had its own flipping balcony! Posh or what?!?

Stephen left to return to Ireland at the start of October, and we were all sad to see him go. Ada didn't really understand he was going, and so wasn't upset, but still asks about him regularly. Just today as I was putting her down for a nap, she interupted the story I was reading to ask where he was.

But when he left, Ada got her own bedroom. I expected a transition period, but instead, on the very first night, she brought Bear in, went to bed and went right to sleep. Since then, in the last ten weeks or so, there have only been three nights that she's come into our room, and one was Halloween on account of the fireworks.

It's nice having our own bedroom back to just ourselves again, but it's not going to last. We're expecting another baby, codenamed Podling, in early December, and are pretty much prepared for his arrival. This time we do know the sex in advance, so Claire is delighted to have the complete set, one of each. I'm just excited to have another baby in the house, but I'm sure the first week of sleepless nights will beat that out of me.

I have much to post about, so expect a few in the coming days, if not hours.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Love Makes The Rules From Fools To Kings

It's 1999 and the first week into my second year in university. I'm hanging out with my tabletop society friends, catching up on what I missed while I was home over the summer. I'm also playing around with my new GameBoy camera. A friend brings over a new girl, a first year who was interested in joining the society, sits her down with us all, says "Be nice" and leaves. I fall instantly for her, but I'm super shy, so I just act like my usual, idiotic, 19 year old self. Somehow, I get talking about the GameBoy camera, and I show her a feature, hoping to make her smile. I snap a pic of her face and then mine and show her our two faces combined.

She is, to put it mildly, slightly horrified.

Two weeks later one of the other gamers, a year older than me, has made his move and they're the new couple in the group. I'm upset, but resigned. Besides, by now I know she is too good for me. Smart, funny and cute; way outside my league.

Over the next college year we hang out together and have lots of fun as friends. I never say or do anything because a) I'm too shy and b) I wouldn' t do that to a friend. Regardless, it's a good year and I get to know her better and like her more. We get up to some fun, but completely platonic stuff, like swapping jeans for a whole evening while hanging out together.

The following summer a bunch of us gamer friends all move into a house together, including her and her boyfriend. And then, just before their first anniversary, they break up.

So, I'm there to comfort her and tell her she's going to be alright and be that great friend who she realises she loves, like in the movies, right? That's how the story plays out, right? Nope. I am, on that exact weekend while all the drama is unfolding, at home, about three hours away, gettting updates via text and being assured that her other friends are looking after her. Meanwhile, I'm cursing all the gods for my luck.

By the time I get back, she has pretty much gotten over it and is doing okay. That week we hang out and I'm her great friend she can talk to. All the time I want to tell her I like her, a lot, but part of me is reminding me that she's just broken up with this other guy, and needs me to just be a friend right now, so I should wait a bit. Besides, she's still too good for me.

Sunday morning, she knocks on my bedroom door and asks to come in. She sits on my bed and we talk about the movie we had gone to see in the cinema the night before. We talk about other random stuff and then she goes and breaks my heart.

"There's this guy I like, have liked for a while, but I don't know if he likes me. What should I do?"

I hold back the immediate reaction to scream and cry, and instead tell her she should tell him. I tell her that I've waited before and I always regretted it, but I'm so shy I let it happen anyway. She tells me that she met this guy before she even started dating her recent ex, but she had just started university in a new city with new friends, so when ex made a move, she went with him, even though she kinda liked this other guy too.

I'm imagining all the ways I could disappear this new guy, and who it could be given the little information I have on him, but all the while I'm telling her to go for it, to not be like me and let him slip away.

And then she asks what I'd say if she said it was me. I tell her I can't answer that, and she asks why and I tell her because I've never had anyone tell me that before. What I don't tell her is that if I told her the truth, that I really like her, I could lose her as a friend too because she clearly likes someone else now, so, I think to myself, it's best to say nothing.

The conversation drifts on, but honestly, I'm not registering what it's about. At this point I'm still just wallowing in my own self pity at being this close to someone this amazing, but not having her feel the same about me. Eventually I have to get up to get dressed for work. But before she gets up from the bed, she stops, looks me in the eyes and says "It's you. I like you. I'm asking you if you like me too?"

At which point my brain completely. Shuts. Down. I babble something back, get dressed, go downstairs and head out to work without really stopping to talk to anyone.

Along the way I get a text from her saying "Was that a yes?"

We'll be together 17 years this October 21st, married 9 years this August 8th, and have an amazing two year old daughter.

And yeah, she's still too good for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Captain Sonar

Captain Sonar is, ideally, an 8-player realtime board game where two teams of four take command of a submarine each and try to blow the other team out of the water. The four crew of each submarine are:

The Captain, who calls out directional orders for her boat and watches in dispair as her and her crew spiral into an inescapable, crushing darkness.

The Radio Operator, who listens to the increasingly uncertain commands of the enemy captain and attempts to discover the location of the opposing vessel, mostly through a haze of frustrated head-scratching and sudden clarity, akin to solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

The First Mate, who is tasked with making ready the various systems on the submersible, and then politely informing the captain she can't use them because everything is broken and/or on fire.

The Engineer, who breaks things constantly, much like some sort of traitorous gremlin.

By working as a team, or at least a horribly faded facsimile of one, you hope to inflict four points of damage to the enemy first, crushing them within their steel sarcophagus under tonnes of seawater.

Played in realtime with a full player count, Captain Sonar, by Matagot, runs at about 30 minutes, the first 25 of which see both teams travelling the frigid depths, oblivious to their opponents true location, before ending in a burst of adrenaline and excitement as everything suddenly clicks into place on both sides of the table. It is crazy, chaotic, frustrating and utterly, absolutely, insanely genius.

The first time I played Captain Sonar was with six players, one of whom was probably too young for the game. This resulted in a 3 versus 2.5[1] player game. It ran longer than hoped, mostly because I was teaching and learning how best to teach it along the way. The second and third had eight players, but also ran well over 30 minutes each, for a few reasons, none of which were the games fault[2].

Games four through nine however were much more how I imagined the game would play from reviews I had seen. Games four, five and six were all fast, frantic and unbelievably hilarious, with everyone howling with laugher whether they were on the winning boat or not. This, despite those games being played in a noisy convention hall among 200-odd other gamers. Games seven, eight and nine were equally fast, in a room with just the eight players present, but ended with some tension, not due to the game, but to the mix of personalities present.

Captain Sonar is a fun party game and should absolutely be treated like that. Don't over-think actions, or get annoyed when someone on the other team makes a mistake. Laugh and congratulate your opponents, win or lose, and then challenge them to a rematch. Don't worry if you're feeling lost in your first game at the start. You're supposed to feel like that. Trust me, the other team feels the same way.

If there is a fatal flaw to Captain Sonar it is the player count. Dispite the box proclaiming it to be for 2-8 players, you really do need eight players to have the most fun[3], which is fine as long as you treat it like a party game, only played when you have lots of people around. And play it in realtime. There is a turn-based varient, but use that to run through a few sample rounds before pushing into realtime as soon as possible.

The artwork is beautiful where there is artwork, the roles are hilarious, the player interaction is chaotic and the game has become a huge favourite in my collection, after a short rocky start almost beached it. I've only owned it since Christmas, and with nine games played already, I don't have any other game that I've played that much in that short a time since, probably BattleStar Galactica The Board Game was released. And if that isn't a huge endosement, I don't know what is!!

Amazing YouTube board game review (mostly) channel No Time For Games has a wonderful short on Captain Sonar. Watch it below, then go and watch everything he's made (there's not that many and they're all short[4]) and then subscribe, because this guy deserves more fans.

[1] Maybe even 3vrs2, because one of the players on that team was splitting his time between his own station and watching and correcting her station, diminishing his role effectiveness in the process too.
[2] Missed rules and language barriers mostly, though also hard-core gamers over thinking things a bit.
[3] I weep at the thought of playing it as a 2-player game.
[4] I highly recommend his Inis video.

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