Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ArGeeBee: ready to play

If you're keen for something different and rather experimental, I've just finished work on my Game.Dev Comp 24 entry, ArGeeBee. It's basically a mashup of platforming, top-down RPG and match-3 puzzle goodness. Or something like that. You basically need to get three very different little characters to work together to finish a variety of head-scratchy puzzles.

Control three separate avatars in a unicorn-puking array of colour contrasts!

Is it brilliant? I dunno. It was very difficult and maybe a bit awkward for me to develop, but it was stacks of fun too. Give it a shot if you have a few minutes to spare, and maybe (juuuuuust maaaaybe!) you'll have some fun while you're at it. You know, if you're a cool person and all.

In the meantime, I'll probably be returning to my other love in life:

Borderlands. Oh hell yeah. That creepy fat Christmas man has been very kind this year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Foley for people who suck at sound

Oh look, a blog post! Gosh, it's been a while. Must have something to do with me changing this to an Official Dev Blog (TM) and then not doing any significant game creation for a good two months. Holy crap, I've been a naughty boy.

So anyway, I've been working on a little something called ArGeeBee for Game.Dev's comp 24. It's nothing much, but I'm quite proud of the ad-hoc sound effects that I've made for it. Why? Well, because I'm about as amateur as one gets when it comes to working with audio. I've taken a radio course and done my own fiddling about, sure, but aside from knowing how to hold a microphone and pressing the "record" button, I can't exactly say that I'm an experienced sound engineer.

Fortunately, one doesn't need to be a pro to make a delightful range of sound effects for videogames -- I do it all the time using a technique known as foley.

Foley is better known as the art of grabbing everyday objects and banging them near the microphone. It's used by professionals all over the world in a variety of fields, but few people realise that it's pretty easy to do at an amateur level too. Here's a few examples of how I made some pretty exotic sounds with some very rudimentary techniques and household objects. The results aren't studio quality, but they're a damn fine alternative to relying on your "1001 Free Sound Effects" CD.

Don't forget to grab my game if you wanna hear these noises in action. Because hearing them would be half the point, duh. Oh, and I edited most of my sounds using the basic options in Audacity. You should get it and learn to use it. You can still get quite far without knowing any funny sound jargon.

Now, on to some examples:

1) If you want to sound like something, grab that something

Enough ice to choke a polar bear.

One of the characters in my game has the ability to lay mines that can trap enemies in ice. I think the resulting sound is still my favourite effect in the project because, well, it was so damn simple. I needed a crackling-icy-freezy noise, so I looked inside my fridge, found a bag of ice and played about with it near the microphone. Afterwards, I cropped the recording to the bit that I wanted and with no further editing had a sound effect ready to inject into my game. Totally freaking awesome, right?

2) If you don't have something, grab something else

I don't own a Zippo, but I thought it would make for a sexy picture.

In situations where you need to use a jetpack, but don't happen to have one lying around (where do all those jetpacks go, anyway? They're like lost socks in the wash), there's still hope. Instead of going to the bother of borrowing a friend's jetpack for the weekend, I simply consider what else sounds like a small combustion chamber and throw that in instead. And that's how I turned to the jetpack's humble little brother: the humble lighter. A nice one, mind you -- mini-blowtorch style. In what's probably a very irresponsible move (kids, don't try this at home) I used one to light a coal by my (cheap) PC mic and got a pretty acceptable burst of "jet noise". After a bit of editing to make it sound sci-fi (just flanging the hell out of it, really), it was ready for game use.

Of course, I could also have simulated the noise using something else:

3) Blah blah blah ...

DISCLAIMER: Not my mouth.

Pretty much every other sound effect that you'll hear in ArGeeBee emerged as a product of Tongues 'n Teeth Incorporated: home-brewed and packed with lots of love, squirrels and other fluffy things. Those high-pitched voice clips are obvious enough (DISCLAIMER 2: Not my original voice), but everything else I got across just by making an approximation with my mouth and then fiddling with (literally) random filters until I got a sound I liked.

Given all of the above situations, I now ask myself three questions.

How was my expertise? Laughable.
How satisfactory were the results? Passable.
How fun was it making my own sounds compared to picking through a minefield of free sound libraries? Dear reader, it was enough fun to kill a whale.

On a final note: I'm not a professional foley artist. Heck, I'm not a professional when it comes to any form of audio. As a matter of fact, I probably even got the definition for foley wrong. But, you know, doing stuff this way is still pretty damn fun. If you're hopeless with sound like me, give this easier stuff a whirl to whet your appetite, even if you initially make someone's ears bleed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Game update, travel update

Oh man, it's a busy Monday. I've just released a game patch for Onslaught of the Electric Zombies, have tried in vain to pay proper attention to various writing commitments, and am now preparing for an overnight bus trip to the noisy ol' province of Gauteng. While I'm no stranger to such journeys (heck, I got pretty deep about them once), I still can't say that I'm looking forward to it.

I obviously need to train up more and get a taste for travel again. Being lame and nest-ish in Grahamstown has its perks, but I'm steadily losing my vagabond mentality. A pity. Maybe hitting the rAge expo this weekend will do something for me.


For those of you who aren't familiar with rAge: well, it's a bloody big game/tech expo -- at least by South African standards. Fancy overseas buggers may be taking a freaking slice out of the moon to hold their own showfloors, but I don't really care as long as I'm surrounded with bright lights, loud noises and lots of like-minded people. Which kinda describes the average student party except for the fact that people aren't, you know, fall-on-your-face drunk. It's quite novel in that respect.

I'll try write a bit more about rAge if I have the time: it's starting this Friday and lasts for three days, so I'm quite sure that something newsworthy can come out of it. At the very least, I'll have an opportunity to flog my- OH YES, GAME UPDATE BY THE WAY! ONSLAUGHT OF THE ELECTRIC ZOMBIES NOW HAS A GLOBAL LEADERBOARD! Check it out now and upload your scores: if you get to the top of the leaderboard, everybody will think you're totally awesome and stuff.

This guy is riding a freaking dragon, and even he isn't as awesome as you are.

Unfortunately, that's all I can afford to write for now: my remaining time in Grahamstown is ticking down, and I don't really think that I'll be able to get everything done in time if I spend too long on this blog post.

Cheers for now. And try my game if you haven't done so already.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


See this? This is the INTERNET:

Sneaky advertising, free of charge.

The reason why I find this so special is because one of my regular Grahamstown haunts, Cow Moon Theory, has just gotten itself some sexy wireless access, meaning that I don't have to rely on my bloody unreliable cellphone to get basic chores done. Makes a nice change.

Sorry, Mr Cellphone.

No longer do I have to crumple my face when somebody sends me a paltry 5 megabyte file. No longer am I doomed to turning down Gtalk links just because they happen to be made of videofailure. No longer am I forced to wake up horrifically early (read: pre-noon) every single Tuesday just so that I can make sure a tiny article submission gets uploaded to my editors over at NAG Online without the file mysteriously breaking down and flipping me the bird halfway through.

Seriously, that damn process has taken HOURS sometimes.

Of course, there's a flipside: if I screw up from now on, I probably won't be allowed to blame my cellphone connection. A pity, but it's a sacrifice that I'm willing to make in interest of totally sweet Internetlands.

Kinda hoping that this new development sticks. It's pretty novel being allowed to enable browser pictures again ...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Onslaught of the Electric Zombies: RELEASED!

Hey, remember that post I made a few weeks ago before disappearing? It had something to do with zombies and videogames and crap, and I was muttering a bunch of excited things about finishing it off and updating my blog more often and stuff.

Well, hey, I wasn't lying:

My artist pushes this sort of thing pixel by pixel. He's clinically insane.

So yeah. The game's out of the door, and due to certain marketing obligations, I pretty much HAVE to update this blog regularly again. A good excuse to get into writing again: I've been in a bit of a work rut these past few weeks. Cool game project aside, of course.

For those of you not in the loop: Onslaught of the Electric Zombies is a bit of a cross between Roguelikes and Minesweeper. A typical game session consists of a randomly generated 'dungeon' (16 levels deep) which you have to navigate in the same way that one would typically solve a Minesweeper board. The difference here is that you actually have to fight monsters, manage health, pick up items and level up skills in good ol' RPG fashion.

It's really fun. You should try it.

Head on over to this page for the game download. I hope y'all find it fun: I also hope that you decide to go off and show it to all your friends (though not me, because I kinda already know about it and stuff).

Post some high scores if you want: I'm keen to hear what people think of this little bugger!

Also: this is my 100th blog post! This calls for a celebration.


I'm off to find a pizza and eat it. Laters, fellow people!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WIP: Onslaught of the Electric Zombies

Hey all, I'd like to introduce you to something I've been working on recently:

Hey thar!

So after a couple years of designing (hopefully) fun little games and occasionally embarking on more ambitious projects (Variance is still in a sort of long-term development thingie, for those who are wondering), I've decided to finally settle down and actually make something properly. Not something to just show my friends, not a proof of concept, not a 48-hour prototyping proggie: I mean a complete and marketable game from beginning to end, giving myself a dev time of roughly two months.

Meet Onslaught of the Electric Zombies, a work in progress.

Flashier than most of my projects, thanks to actually having an artist on board.

This game means a few things for me. First of all, it's going to serve as proof that I can make a complete and polished product to show to the masses. Goodness knows that I've heard derisive comments about gaming journalists before (usually from those who don't really understand what good journalism actually entails) so I'm kinda keen to show people that I'm more than happy to walk the walk.

Secondly, I've recently been snagged by the gnarly roots of the "serious" game development mindset. While it's certainly useful from a professional standpoint, I really don't want to lose touch with the simple hobbyist joy of creating something fun for people to play. It's for this reason that the project is small and will most likely be distributed as freeware.

Because, well, screw it -- I've never really wanted game development to be a job. I've always just wanted to make fun shit for people to play. And this shit is going to be fun. Or maybe just shitty. I don't know which one yet.

Of course, that's where you step in, oh Hero of the Internets. If you like the idea of combining Minesweeper with RPG dungeon-crawly elements and have decided to ignore the recently called-for moratorium on all zombie-themed games for the next two years (seriously, it's about as cliché as you can get), then do me a huge favour: download this itty-bitty bugger, give it some play time and leave me your comments. It's still a work in progress and rather malleable at this point, so feedback is going to be pretty damn useful and I may just reward you all with icecream.


Give it a shot and let me know what you think. I'm already trying to harvest some developer input from the NAG Online/Game.Dev forum and will probably be slapping this in a few other places afterwards. I just think that, being my personal blog, this would be a great place to put up a game that all of my buddies can have a gander at.

Peace out, and don't let the electric zombies eat your brains. Or batteries. What the hell does a creature like that usually go for anyway?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blog reboot

Avid readers may have noticed my lack of activity recently. The reason for this is simple:

I've stopped travelling.

"No, Nandrew! What have you done?" cry the fans.

Yeah, I know. This trip was originally going to be a year long, but various circumstances have urged me to settle down, grow some moss and be more constructive in other avenues. In particular, I need to focus more on my career in journalism and game development (also known as "that crap I write" and "that random shit I code").

This new development DOESN'T mean two things:

(1) This doesn't mean that I want to stop travelling entirely. Oh ho, no. I may be settling in good ol', hippie-infested Grahamstown now, but I still have a trip or two planned this year. And I plan on making them interesting. Even if I have to take a picture of myself running naked through the highveld.

(2) This doesn't mean that the blog is going to die. It's just going to undergo a bit of a refocus, and I'll probably be talking about geeky things in as accessible and appealing a way as I can muster. This will be interspersed with my regular musings about nubile young Germans and the noble Giant Chicken.

So yeah. If you want to stick around, be my guest. In fact, I encourage you to, because most of you are my friends and stuff and I don't get to see you often enough. This blog is still going to be about my life. It's just that work is an important part of said life -- it's tied in with my hopes, dreams and aspirations, after all.

Hold on, maybe not.

I suggest you check on this blog over the next few weeks. I'm going to try get the ball rolling again and resume my noble quest of sending all of my little ramblings to you: the dearly beloved and delightfully insane audience.

Peace out, and let's see where this bugger goes.

Friday, July 24, 2009


So, my cellphone hates me.

Actual photo of my cellphone. With an angry face drawn on it.

I must admit that I've not been terribly vigilant with my Internet activity over the past week, but even when I have logged on (using the cell as a modem, of course), this device has been fighting me every step of the way. No identifiable reason, really: often, it just refuses to co-operate with my computer until I perform a reboot. Sometimes it freezes my system entirely. Invariably, it will try some sort of cleverdickery just to piss me off. And it will do so at a time when I have a gazillionty-one Firefox tabs open that need my attention. And at least three of those tabs will have nothing to do with that ever-present drain of time and productivity, TVTropes.

Its not been all bad, of course. For a start, I got myself Guitar Hero: Metallica.

Actual photo of me looking rather pleased with myself.

This game is, to say the least, pretty damn cool. Not only has it given me access to my ultra sing-song powers (with the help of an Xbox headset), but as far as Guitar Hero games go, this one is actually pretty gosh-darn good. The reviews have been pretty good and judging from the highly-polished gameplay (and my own inherent Metallica bias, of course), I say that this game gets a solid nine out of ten. Could have done with more TVTropes references.

Enhancing the game experience itself is a little something that I like to call the most badass setup ever. Of course, this is a horrific exaggeration, but after spending most of my game time on a standard-definition, CRT television, it's pretty cool to upgrade to HD and throw a hi-fi into the mix.

Actual photo of my current setup. With a smiley face drawn on it.

So basically, I've just spent my week playing hard, working (reasonably) hard and neglecting any duties which require me to show face on the Internet for more than, say, twenty minutes at a time, or however long it takes for my cellphone to realise that I'm being productive and cut my escapades short.

Damn annoying cellphone. I'll figure it out one day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arts Fest over!

So now I'm sitting in that precarious position that most of us encounter at some point in our lives: that moment just after an awesome arts festival finishes and just before that promised shipping of Guitar Hero: Metallica arrives. It is with a heavy heart that I am thus forced to sit down and do something useful for a change.

The festival was grand. No, really, it was. For a start, I managed to snag myself an epic creamy-white jacket thing at the Village Green market.

I do modelling part-time.

I've also been watching a bunch of performances, and am very happy to say that each one has been very impressive in its own right. This is not to say that I'll be starry-eyed and suggest that everything at the fest was awesome forever: it's just that if there were crap elements, they were doing their gosh-darn best to hide themselves from me.

Flee from my divine countenance, crappy performances!

So, what can I take away from this? My top three performances of the fest:

- "Laugh" with David Newton. This was a straightforward stand-up comedy routine. Nothing terribly artsy or thought-provoking, you may say. Well, screw you. The guy's damn funny anyway.

- Alchemy of the Heart. I believe I mentioned it over here already. It was the first performance I watched, but it still sticks with me anyway. Or maybe because.

- Monkey Nuts. Matthew Ribnick is a legendary actor, and Geraldine Naidoo is presumably a legendary producer. Like their other hits, Chilli Boy and Hoot, Monkey Nuts has Ribnick standing on stage with a collection of hats, acting out a full-blown story cast allllllllll by his lonesome. And boy, can that guy act! The sheer number of body builds, cultures, personality types and accents that he can emulate and switch between on the fly is a great demonstration of what "good acting" actually means. That, and I've always loved the bittersweet comedies that this duo choose to perform: there's nothing quite like feeling "mirthful empathy" when you're watching a performance.

Picture of me enjoying Ribnick's performance. In my white jacket.

As a bonus shout-out, I have to point to the one act that really made the festival what it was. And that was the festival audience. Unfortunately, I don't mean this in a warm and fuzzy way. Even in this hub of culture, enlightment and high-quality performing arts, the audiences at some of the performances I've been to still behaved like a bunch of cave-dwelling troglodytes. Cthulhu help me, if I find one more inconsiderate little shit who wanders into a performance twenty minutes late, yapping away with their friends and blocking my view of a show that I paid upward of sixty rand to watch (and then adding insult to injury by laughing at all the wrong parts for the rest of the act), I'm going to take a mental note of where they sit, force-feed myself a ton of concrete and do a bellyflop dive right on their heads.

Theatre etiquette, folks. Use it.

This is my disapproval face.

Final note: the picture used in this blog was, in fact, that of a professional Dolce & Gabbana model. Confused readers should note that in reality my jacket is a lot cooler.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Arts fest status report 1

So here I am, about halfway through the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and it is absolutely lovely. So nice, in fact, that I am almost loathe to take the time out to blog about it instead of, like, actually DOING more stuff.

I've been reasonably cultural and reasonably outdoors-ish, though I must admit that it's really nice to hang out at one of my favourite chill spots instead and see the flood of interesting people arrive. There's a high population of travellers and performers in Grahamstown at the moment: and lo, a few of them are even interesting to talk to! It's like being at a backpacker lodge all over again. Hell, I actually met one of the guys who was running the Amapondo hostel back in Port St Johns.

So yeah, cool and colourful people.

A friend's kitten. This blog is now about kittens.

With regards to the performances so far: I've seen a few, and I've not been disappointed. In fact, if anybody is knocking around in Grahamstown right now and hasn't yet seen Alchemy of the Heart, try get seating for one of the shows. I enjoyed it quite a bit: maybe because it was the first show I saw. Either that, or I just have a thing for freaky masks.

So, with all the awesome stuff going on (and there is a LOT of awesome stuff), what should I choose to write about? Well, considering that my camera isn't allowed into most of the performance venues, I suppose it's safe to have a gander at town itself, as well as the Village Green market that occupies centre stage every year (haha, geddit?).

Unconfirmed Egg Hat Guy sighting.

I'm not sure why I like the Village Green market. Maybe it's just the thought of being able to go outdoors and have access to food and glittery stuff. Perhaps it's just amusing to catch people that I usually see elsewhere, such as the famous Egg Hat Guy and El Rondo the stick juggler.

The market itself extends (somewhat less officially) to Grahamstown's streets -- a nirvana of beanies, cheap sunglasses and plastic toys are on sale for anybody who gets up in the morning and thinks, "Well, gee whiz, I REALLY need some beanies, cheap sunglasses and plastic thingums today!"

Like this guy, har har. Also, in-joke warning.

I suppose it's also important to note that during festival, you get apprehended by all sorts of random people who are NOT beggars. For example, troops of orange-clad, head-shaven individuals chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and playing drums at you. Then there's those esoteric sellers of smelly burny stuff (incense, I think it's called) who shove their hands into your face to prove that their product smells of lilies and lavender instead of, say, Strange Person's Hand.

It bears the question: if I'm interrupted and harassed by really interesting people, does that actually still count? It's like the culture in this town is so overwhelming that it actually presses itself upon your senses. Which is, oddly enough, actually kinda cool.

And how do I maximise my daily doing-ness? Why, with the help of Monster energy drinks, of course!


Seriously, look out for these orange-on-black cans. They are, without a doubt, the most delicious energy drinks I have ever come across. In fact, it's quite likely that they could invoke a relapse of the Great Caffeine Overdose of Autumn 2009. And taste awesome while they're doing it.

Anyway, I'm off to say and do more pretentious stuff. Catch y'all again after I next tear myself away from all the cool stuff to try and actually write about it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's Gtown!

Gentlemen ...

Helloooooooooo Grahamstown! Wet, cold and miserable by the way.

So, the last time you heard from me, I was in Port St Johns. A little bit has happened since then, and it's a rather long story that's filled with all sorts of juicy details such as me falling sick again, shuttle services being a little unreliable, temporary alliances forming, banks being robbed, helicopters being blown up and a lot of cuddly and adorable kittens being rescued from the smoldering wreckage of inconveniently-situated orphanages.

Suffice it to say, I wound up back in Grahamstown. Somehow. Which is pretty cool, it makes a nice change.

Oh. Wait. Poker again.

I'm also still adjusting to the lack of ADSL Internet. Very poorly. Port St Johns was great, but it didn't have much in the way of plug access. The only way for me to hook up my laptop was to sit down at the bar and ask the good old 'keep for a power point. This arrangement allowed me to do the bare bones stuff like checking my e-mail, updating the Dev.Mag news stuff and looking at LOLcats. Still, it made me a little uneasy, not least because I was permanently paranoid about some drunkard spilling beer onto my baby.

The laptop, I mean, not an actual baby.

Cor blimey, it's pretty.

Still, I shall have fond memories of Port St Johns. The hikes were glorious, the people were awesome and now I shall be tormenting friends for months to come by constantly referring to the awesomeness of dear ol' PSJ in whatever conversation happens to crop up at the time. Man, that place is just too cool.

Anyway, so now I'm in Grahamstown. And guess what? It's just one day before the National Arts Festival is due to start. Well, actually it starts TODAY, given the time I was finally able to post this. Still, the anticipation throughout town is palpable. More stuff on stuff when I start doing stuff.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Port St Johns ... and love

Status report: Port St Johns is still awesome. And the love of which I speak is, of course, the love which I hold for this dear, dear paradise of the Wild Coast. If the oft-hyped Coffee Bay is at least half as cool as this place, then it's ... well, really really cool. And stuff.

Even the cows are cool. Caught this bugger on the way to town.

Yesterday, I decided to take the liberty to walk to the CBD of Port St Johns. And by CBD, I mean the one patch of road which has more than two buildings strung together. People may joke around when it comes to Grahamstown's own diminutive size, but it has NOTHING on this baby.

Standing on one side of town. Looking at the other side. No kidding.

Walking to the main settlement takes about 45 minutes (starting from the Amapondo lodge), and the road winds through hills of township housing and lush terrain. It's a really nice walk, but a little bit of a bitch when you're carrying loads of shopping.

But the killer view makes it all worth it. I do believe I've mentioned the view. Have I? This is the sort of stuff I see from my outdoor shower:

Lovely view for scrubbing yourself to.

And yeah, I said outdoor shower. Thoroughly charming, though unfortunately it seems that the insidious Shower of Doom from Drakensberg has snuck up on me once more. So now, I've got a bit of a cold water problem. Not cool when you're outside in winter. Secondly, the shower curtain is less than brilliant: Port St Johns is insanely windy, and you basically have to pin it down with rocks to have any hopes of preserving your modesty.

Still, it's an experience.


Did I mention that there's nothing more adorable than two cats simultaneously trying to lick each other's faces? Man, Port St Johns is awesome.

I'd chat more, but the more time I spend diarising this place, the less time I'm actually spending enjoying it. Forgive me, dear reader, as I rush off for another day!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jewel of the Wild Coast

Truth be told, I've never been complete enamoured by the Transkei and Wild Coast. "Ohhh, but it's so gloriously African!" many cry. It sure is African, which is great if you're into this sort of stuff:


For jaded individuals like me, however, it's basically scrub and dirt. Regardless, I was quite overwhelmed with recommendations for spots like Coffee Bay and Port St Johns, and since I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to see what all the hooplah was about.

Oh. My. Word.

I didn't realise that the Transkei had discovered "green".

Port St Johns is like an island of paradise inside one of South Africa's poorest and most rural provinces. It's a tiny coastal town in pretty much the middle of nowhere, and from the hammocks and bedrooms of the Amapondo lodge, travellers are offered one of the most amazing vistas in South Africa, easily rivalling anything that I've seen on the Garden Route.

The people here are almost as awesome as the view, and about half an hour after I touched down at my new home base I made myself comfortable with the locals in a Wednesday night tradition: a full-blown poker evening at the bar.

Moody lighting, yeah?

I still vouch for poker as a remarkable social tool. After all, it gives you an excuse to sit around a small table with about a dozen strangers and instantly be part of something cool for a few hours. I don't tend to do terribly well at the game itself: even though I spend most of my time playing with hardcore -- and sometimes world-class -- players, it seems that absolutely none of their skill ever rubs off on me. But it's still a nice game, anyway.

The poker session, of course, was only the kick-off to an absolutely fantastic evening. Shortly after getting knocked out of the game, I consoled myself with an awesome curried beef dish (no noodles!) and sat down to chat with some of the other backpackers. Amongst the ranks of rovers and vagabonds, I came across something that I thought I'd never see: not one, but TWO fellow South African travellers! That's right, folks, it turns out that I'm not the only domestic tourist in existence after all.

If these guys are anything to go by, then I can safely say that South African travellers are amongst the most interesting and awesome people in existence. If you ever come across one, be nice -- the divine powers will smile upon you for your courtesy, and reward you with some of the most interesting conversation and stories that you're ever likely to stumble across. Throw in a roaring campfire and some drum-playing, and you've got yourself a pretty epic lineup for the evening.

The bedrooms are soooo coooool!

I can't possibly describe all the totally neat stuff that I've encountered in just my first night at Port St Johns, so I'm going to spend the next few days gushing about it instead. A really, really fantastic place.

The dorm room that you see above is just an example of a really ornate and extremely Africanised abode. Murals and reed curtains clog up the joint like hairs and peas in a blocked drain, except that this particular blocked drain is something that everybody feels really, really awesome about. The beds are welcome and comfortable: though I may be biased, since I only staggered back to my room at about 2am. A far cry from my resolution to be asleep by ten.

8/10. It gets some bonus points for lookin so gosh-darn cool.

I'm going to try take some more pictures for further blog posts that will actually do this place some justice. I keep feeling like I'm falling short in that department.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Port Shepstone ... sorta

Funny story: I thought I was in Port Shepstone for the past two days. Turns out I wasn't. But I was damn close enough for it to count, so let's pretend that I was. I stayed at a cool little place called The Spot: pretty small, not terribly remarkable, but oh BOY does it have a nice location.

Two steps out the door, and BAM!

I had an awesome stroll or two on this beach to break up the monotony of sitting in front of my computer (the 3G connectivity is awesome in this place, so that couldn't go to waste). Not quite remarkable enough to take pictures of, but since I'm still suffering from "inland fever", I decided that getting sand and water between my toes would be a refreshing change.

I'm already feeling good about being on the road again. Sure, my first day at the Port was horribly overcast, noodles still taste like freaking noodles and I kept having to walk past a picture of what looked like a baby chowing a human heart, but I really feel happy doing this sort of stuff. There's a certain unease that builds up when I allow myself to get too comfortable in a place like Durban.

RRRRARGH! Human heart. Seriously.

I didn't do much aside from the standard relax/work thing while staying at The Spot -- things are pretty quiet here in the off-season, and my only companion at the lodge was a Scottish bloke by the name of John. The staff were very friendly though, and we had a good time doing arb stuff like playing pool and watching TV. I don't mind terribly much: I felt like I was actually on holiday, as opposed to running about madly in an effort to "do lotsa stuff". I'll have plenty of time for throwing my money away when I'm at Port St Johns.

Beds. Bleh.

To be honest, I wasn't terribly impressed by the dorms. I mean, they seemed alright, they were okay on the comfortability scale but ... they seemed a little scummy too. Holes in the mattress and stuff. I mean, come now, I'm a connoisseur! I demand class! Bad dog. Bad, bad dog. 4.9/10 for you.

The water cooler god judges your poor bedding.

The above picture doesn't really have anything to do with anything: I just spotted it in the local Spar and thought that it was freaking awesome. And useful, too: you're actually allowed to bring your own bottles and refill for a rather low price. Since I use bottled water as a memetic reinforcer for drinking healthily (and because tapwater in the more remote parts of the country can be somewhat dodgy), I decided to fill up one or two bottles of my own. Great success.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Warner Beach

This is Warner Beach:


Quite possibly the shortest stay out of any that I've had this year, too -- a grand total of about 12 hours, most of those spent sleeping. I managed to get around an itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny little bit, which includded a quick stroll on the beach itself. Not too bad. I mean, it had sandy stuff and watery stuff, so that covers all the bases for a start. Then there's the fact that it's a KZN beach. This means that if you wake up at 7:00 on a winter morning, make a beeline for the shore and dip your toes into the sea, it's pretty much guaranteed to be warmer than any of the water on the west coast.

Warner Beach is also what I'd describe as a very ... salty place. Sea breeze aside, there's something about Warner Beach that's very "yo-ho-ho". Maybe it's the extreme prevalence of sea-side taverns and live music bars. Perhaps it's the presence of loads of dodgy buildings, like the worn-out house which had "BEWARE" scribbled all over it (literally) or the structure called "The Ice Cream Shack" that lit up at night with Christmas tree lights (people love night-time ice cream!). Maybe it's just the fact that I saw loads of people with eye-patches and shoulder-perched parrots hobbling along on their peg-legs while snarling curses at passers-by.

My perception of this little settlement just south of Durban comes from a rather limited set of experiences, but all in all I think that the place holds some character.

The bar at my lodge. Also full of character.

I set up camp at the Blue Sky Mining lodge for a night. And by that, of course, I mean that I decided camping could go to hell for a little while and booked myself into a dorm instead. I have loads of excuses under my belt for not taking the more financially responsible route, but I think that my greatest justification was that my parents gave me a bit of money specifically so that I would not throw myself into a tent, so I decided to honour that wish. That, and arriving in the evening really isn't conducive to tent-setuppery. I was also ridiculously tired for some reason: I hid myself behind a magazine for most of the evening simply because I didn't have the energy to expend on ridiculous notions like socialising and being friendly.

It wasn't long before I collapsed into a deep slumberish thing. I didn't even take the time to photograph my bunk bed beforehand -- suffice it to say, it was a dead average 5/10. Very basic bedding.

Aside from all the regular facilities and a rather funky-looking bar, Blue Sky Mining also came with a bonus extra: a kitty cat on a pool table.

Kitty cat! On a pool table!! Yay!!!

Everything is better with cats, right?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Still alive ... and hurrying out of Durban

Okay, so. I haven't blogged in absolutely aaaaaages. Obviously I need to rethink something here, or learn to procrastinate less. In fact, I'm going to blame my misery squarely on the fact that I have high-speed Internet once more.

In the previous episode of my strange and twisted adventures, I explained how my horrible procrastination was due to implode the universe. Said procrastination continued for a little bit after my birthday, at which point I decided to settle down and do some working and adventuring.

Then I got horribly sick.

And thus, I was bedridden for days, valiantly fighting my battle against death's dark embrace with all the willpower and teeth-grit determination that I could muster. The battle raged on and threatened to implode the universe, were it not for my heroic constitution kicking in at the last moment and pushing me along that final stretch that allowed me to recover from The Common Cold.

This is a picture of my cat!

Emerging from my sickness, I realised that work had thrown me one or two curveballs. Some events weren't too serious – an abrupt article deadline here and there, some once-off work opportunities emerging – others had me slightly peeved (oh, the life of a journalist!) and still others were fully enthusing, but a hazard on my time nonetheless.

The latter case was Dev.Mag – I wrote a feature article on indie marketing which caught on rather quickly throughout the greater Interwebs, meaning that we've been receiving quite a few extra page hits these past few days. Of course, that really just means two things: (1) we had to start churning out extra content at the last minute to keep our new readers hooked and (2) we suddenly started receiving review packages and offers from hopeful game studios interested in media exposure. Which is great, of course – I love helping indies get exposure, especially when I get free games out of it – but it didn't really settle down with my current procrastination-sickination-just-gave-yourself-more-work-to-do situation. So, for the first time in goodness knows how long, I actually set my Gtalk status to “busy” for a few days.

And then proceeded to waste even more time reading weird Wikipedia stuff. The only place I know where you can move from “Bounty Hunter” to “Heat Death of the Universe” in under an hour.

So, summary of the whole thing: yeah, I've been inexcusably tardy. And my updates have been less than regular recently. And my life has been less than interesting (computer-bound, whooo!). I'm going to try make up for that by backpacking as of ... well, right now. So while you may not have found out much about Durban (summary: sharks, sand and the Burn nightclub) I hope to make up for that by giving you tales of my adventures along the Natal coastline and Transkei.

What I slept in. Aww yeah.

Here's one smidgeon of the family home: my bedroom. Or rather, my brother's bedroom, because he's not around and my own childhood living quarters have been swallowed by my mother's retail stock.

My brother's bed is freaking awesome. Which is in stark contrast to my own home bed, mind you: for a while now, it's been nothing more than a mattress on the floor, and I'm still not sure exactly when my brother decided to lay dibs on the Sleeping Place of Awesomeness, but I only now realise what I've been missing out on. Sure, I don't mind spartan sleeping spots, but this thing is absolutely glorious.

Anyway. 10/10. First stop isn't too far – Warner Beach, sayeth the breeze. Or something like that. Keen to get going again and get away from the damn computer screen a little.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy birthday to me, et cetera

Okay, so this one's going to be a quickie. Today (or yesterday, depending on which side of midnight this gets posted on) is my birthday, which means that I get cake, gifts and a pat on the back for surviving yet another rotation around the sun. Why nobody else views the celebration of this fact as holding an oddly cynical message is rather beyond me.

All I know is that when it's your birthday, you should never, ever be connected to the Internet. And having a Facebook account is WAY out.

Holy crap, it's a flood of cybernetic doom.

Fact: if you're online when your birthday strikes, you'll spend more time fending off well-wishers and concerted “fagstrikes” (don't ask) than actually celebrating said birthday. If you're the celebratory type, that is. And while it's no secret that I have remarkably little patience for ceremony, I will still latch onto any excuse to screw around. So that's what I've basically spent the past 24 hours doing.

Stop screwing around. You screw around too much.

Of course, my lack of blog updates recently is testament to the fact that I've probably been screwing around a lot more than that since I've been in Durban. I saw a friend playing something called Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space the other day and – long story short – I'm now playing it myself. A lot. Work, writing and personal hygiene have been pushed to the side. I can't remember when I last ate, either.

Aside from that ... well, birthday's mainly consisted of banking and admin rubbish. How terrifically inappropriate!

I'm probably going to try do something more exciting tomorrow, after I get together enough willpower to uninstall Weird Worlds. Because, like, seriously, that game. I dunno.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Drakensberg wrap-up

So! Here I am, sitting in balmy ol' Durban for the first time since I've started this here blog. But wait, what's happened to our intrepid hero since we last heard from him?

The Drakensberg, in summary:

It's frikkin' freezing, Mr Bigglesworth.

Heh, naww, just kidding. The 'berg was great. The sun was shining, the weather was glorious and aside from those typical 5am-wake-up-in-your-tent-because-your-beanie-has-fallen-off-and-your-ears-are-cold moments, I dare say that I generally felt warmer than most of my friends around the country.

That's right, folks: I was in the freakin' mountains and was still shivering far less than you poor sods. In fact, I often took my shirt off to sunbathe while tapping away on my laptop. Hell yeah.

Being on a rather strict budget (Ironically, I later discovered that I'd spent about R100 less than I originally thought), I didn't go on any more of the major tours, but instead spent my days relaxing, being on holiday and creating really freaky games (more on that later). I did, however, decide to talk one or two walks in the land surrounding the lodge.

Hiking instructions: (1) Start walking in any direction. (2) Keep going.

The area that I strolled in is apparently known as the “Little Drakensberg” because of all the itty bitty foothills that dot the area. Something that the brochures don't mention, however, is the ominous presence of dead animals and the poops of something really, really big (and probably vicious) that litter the hiking path. Seriously: moving away from base camp, I progressively caught sight of:

a dead insect

a dead mouse

a dead duck

bones from some larger creature (which, I assume, was dead as well)

All accompanied by ominous poops, indicating that large animals were roaming about. I trekked on, nonetheless: after all, an adventure is always enhanced by that mild sense of danger and that general “what the hell killed all those things” vibe. Good walks, overall.

I must say, though, that none of the experiences I had in the 'berg presented quite as frightening a challenge as the camper's shower:


I mentioned earlier that there was a rather unfortunate crack in the shower doors. That was back when I was still planning on staying in the dorm. Since camping, I've had to contend with another beast entirely: a shower which not only has a similar ever-exposing crack in the door, but also happens to be possessed by demons.

That's correct. Demons. Demons who hate hot water, and who hate me. Most of us have had to deal with uncooperative and finicky showers from time to time, but this one must take the cake. After switching on the water flow, one gets about 7.5 seconds of hot water before it turns to something quite frigid. There's a sign just outside the shower that says “Hot water doesn't just 'run out', so don't worry!” Rubbish. Hot water runs for precisely 7.5 seconds, then disappears for 30 seconds, then comes back for another 7.5 seconds before tormenting you once again. I've calculated this carefully between alternating sessions of being frozen and scalded because I've had to keep the hot tap fully opened to get any hope of warmth.

This has brought about a bold new technique of 'burst showering': the idea that you quickly soak up some warm water, hop out of the shower THE VERY MOMENT it gets cold again, then apply soap, shampoo or whatever weird stuff you use while counting out half a minute in your head. Then it's time to spring back into the shower, grit your teeth and use those precious 7.5 seconds to rinse everything off before you're cast into an icy purgatory again. By the end of my stay, I was getting pretty good at it.

Right. So. Geeky stuff and Durban tales when I next blog. Cheerio, Drakensberg.