An Age of Empires 2 LAN Party on the other side of the puddle
How hard is it to get players from 7 nationalities from all across the globe in one room to play a 15 year old computer game together? I wouldn’t know, but it happened last week. After a series of cancelled flights (bloody snow), close calls (passport arriving 3 hours prior to departure) and general confusion (who the hell are you?) we all made it together to Cincinnati, Ohio.
We all joined up at the house of Ryshep, I’ve known him from all the testing he did for UserPatch, AoFE and eventually he took care of the business side of AoF. How he managed to convince his wife to start a LAN party on Valentine’s day will forever remain a mystery though.
When we arrived, the first surprise revealed itself upon choosing a place to sleep. One of the rooms, was subtly nicknamed “the King’s room”, we soon discovered why. At least a dozen of pictures and little trinkets to remind us what we’d we be doing here.
After a royal rest, the first games took place. We were soon joined by a bunch of local guests and the amount of players soon totaled up to a solid 12. Most knew each other from playing online before, but a LAN is a vastly different experience. If you don’t feel like playing a game, you can walk around, watch the games going on, indulge yourself in American candies or just sell some banter. Talking about banter, I think “This noob Scottish” was the most used phrase of the week. Preferably with an angry Japanese accent.
A week of sweets and videogames is of course not the healthiest week. So we occasionally changed pace with some sports and exploring the area. At the gym, the locals introduced us to the game of “Wallyball”. A variation of volleyball played on a racquetball course. The rules are very similar, except that there is an extra player on the field: the walls. At first very confusing, especially when you think the ball is going to bounce of somewhere, but it doesn’t quite as you expected it would. But all in all, great fun. In a way it was probably one of the most fun parts of the trip, realizing that just playing sports with locals can be just as interesting, if not more, than the casual sightseeing trip.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do a slight bit of sightseeing. Ohio “The Buckeye State”, is however no tourist hub. Not saying the state isn’t nice, but if you expect to see famous landmarks in the genre of the Grand Canyon, you won’t find them in this area.
Since we were staying in Cincinnati, it was only normal we would discover the city for a bit. We climbed the Carew tower, with it’s 175m the 2nd tallest building in the city. Easily the best spot to get a view from the rest of the surrounding area. After a little stroll through the city to check out the skyline and some smaller landmarks, we ended up in a lager-house. Here we could get a taste of some of the local beers. Unaware, we all went for the Barbarossa, as if playing AoE2 somehow influenced our decision. No kidding, it certainly did for me.
What else is there to say? Probably too much and I’d rather keep my posts short and snappy. I had a great 10 days and would like to thank Ryshep for organizing the happening and all the others for being enjoyable company. Or as Scot so nicely put it “I expected at least one dickhead in such a large group of people, but there wasn’t a single one”.
Making games, spotting sights and hunting for bears in Vancouver
While production of Age of Empires II: The Forgotten reached its final stages, Ryan, Tom and I set off to Seattle and Vancouver to pay a visit to Microsft Studios and Skybox Labs. It was my first intercontinental flight and although 11 hours of flying is dreadfully boring, it can also be breathtakingly beautiful. The flight from Frankfurt to Seattle took us over Greenland and what a sight to behold. Sadly I didn’t have my camera with me 🙁
After landing in Seattle, we quickly hopped in the car to Vancouver. It’s just a 3 hour drive with a border post in-between. As we’re nearing the Canadian border, cracking stupid jokes and generally having a good time, we notice the mood starts to get a bit more serious the closer we get. While borders have pretty much vanished within Europe, it’s still a big deal elsewhere in the world, even a friendly border such as this one. Our discovery that “tourism” and “terrorism” sound quite alike with a Czech accent didn’t comfort our driver very much either 😀
When we arrived in Vancouver, we split up towards our hotel. There was one place left in the booking from the Microsoft guys, so one of us had the chance to go to the fancy Fairmont hotel. Tom was the lucky one and so Ryan and I set off to to our hotel a few blocks down the road.
Little did we know our hotel had a rooftop restaurant with a splendid view over the city. And even better, it was a rotating rooftop restaurant!
However, we were there to work, so the next day we set off for the offices of Skybox Labs in the outskirts of Vancouver. We made great progress on the performance issues of the game while we were there but also looked forward to the weekend. Not because the job was tedious, on the contrary, but because I was itching to see the area as well. The guys from Skybox advised us to go and do the “Grouse Grind”. So that was turning out to become or Saturday’s activity.
Activity is maybe not the best word to describe the Grouse Grind though, workout is better. The Grouse Grind is a trail leading to Grouse mountain, a little under 3km long, but you climb 853 meters in that short span! I don’t know exactly how long it took us, but let’s say 1-2 hours, not even close to the official record of 25 minutes. Once we arrived at the top we were met with pride. Or at least, Canadian pride. In the shape of a statue of a growling bear next to a Canadian flag. Canadian pride at its finest.
Little did we know that at this point, bears would become the main ingredient for the rest of our trip. We saw quite a few animals on top of Grouse mountain, including bears, owls, eagles and vultures.
However, the coolest bear had yet to come. In the tourist shop they had a few fake bears. They were meant for decoration but for Tom it was love at first sight. After half an hour of circling around the shop, wondering if he should buy the bear, we eventually left without one. A big mistake in hindsight. For the next few days Tom’s quest for a bear was the leading thread through our visit to the city. We hopped from tourist shop to tourist shop to find fake bears (not teddy bears, but rather the ones you could take for a ride) and even did the Grouse Grind again to go and retrieve his first love. Once again, not the best idea as Ryan had to throw up halfway because the pace was killing him 😀
So all in all, I’m not sure if I should be mad at Tom for dragging us along the city hunting for fake bears or admire him because he actually convinced us to do so. Anyways, we had a great time, hopefully we can go again another day!
An extended weekend in "The city of the world's desire"
It’s been ages since I updated this place! 18 months to be precisely. But a good amount of travelling and Age of Empires’ing has been done in the past one and a half year, so it’s worth scribbling about it. I’ll probably catch up in a random fashion, writing about whichever trip comes in mind first. Let’s go back to February 2013, the first trip of 2013. Me and a friend decided to visit Istanbul, the ancient capital of -oh so many empires-.
Where to start, Istanbul is a huge city, with 14 million inhabitants it’s one of the world’s most populous cities and even more populous than my whole country. Not only is the city filled with a lot of people, but also with a lot of interesting bits and bobs of history. Istanbul has been a crossroad of cultures for centuries. In 330 the city, then known as Byzantium became the capital of the Eastern Roman empire. It was quickly renamed to Constantinople but remained the capital of the Byzantine empire for over 1000 years. The biggest landmark they left in the city is the Hagia Sophia, a church, later turned mosque sitting right in the city center.
Crossroad of cultures is not an exaggeration in this case, just turning around at that exact same spot will make you stare in awe at the Blue Mosque. For those wondering about its namesake: the blue part comes from the blue tiles adorning the interior of the Mosque.
For Age of Empires II players: those are indeed two wonders in the game, the Byzantine and Turkish wonder. The place essentially looked a bit like this:
Istanbul is one of those rare cities with actual underground attractions. One could call it a flooded basement or you could call it the Basilica Cistern, an ancient water reservoir that could hold up to 100 million liters of water. That’s plenty of cups of Turkish tea.
Talking about tea! Turks love their tea, every day around noon you see young men running around from shop to shop with a tray of tea, giving all the vendors a tasty shot before they carry on their daily routine of getting flocks of tourists to buy their goods. I have to hand it to them though: they’re good at it and a Turkish market, or bazaar has a unique atmosphere.
Don’t let this picture fool you though: it was insanely crowded at that place and I’m still not entirely sure how there weren’t any more people in the frame. Or at least, a bunch of arms waving around. Matter of fact, the city is very crowded, but with 14 million people, what can you expect. Time to flee away from the crowded parts then, so me and my friend hopped on the boat to the more quiet, Asian side of the City. Istanbul is quite literally the bridge between the two continents and I’ve never been to Asia before. Even though the Asian side is mostly a residential area, I considered it a chance not to be missed! We only stayed there for a few hours and the only notable landmark seemed to be the Maiden’s Tower, which served as the decor for the overly dramatic final scene in the James Bond picture “The World is not Enough”. Then again, if you like some James Bond, you’ll see a lot more scenery from the films downtown as already 3 Bond films had substantial parts in Istanbul.
To be fair, this post, neither the mere 4 days we stayed in Istanbul don’t do the city justice. I think you could easily spend a full week in the city going full-on touristy. Additional things not to be missed: a hammam (you’ll never feel so clean), getting some food from the street, Turkish deserts, lots of museums going from Ancient to Ottoman Imperial history and boatloads of tea!
If you could go wherever you want for a weekend... Why not go to Liechtenstein?
So, last week I went to Budapest, by train, using an InterRail pass. Quite an ingenious system to encourage youngsters to hike around Europe. However, my pass was still valid for one more weekend. So that means I could go anywhere I wanted this weekend! Now, I remember standing in front of the map of Europe, covering the white wall above my desk, wondering where to go in the tiny time span of 48 hours. I looked up crazy destinations like Sarajevo, but they would take me a 24 train ride. Single direction. You can do the maths for yourself and come with the solution of 24+24=”weekend not well spent”. So I decided that 5 hours should be the strict maximum for the transporting part of my weekend. I drew an imaginary circle around Frankfurt, covering most neighbouring countries but I didn’t feel a lot for most of them. After which my eye fell upon Liechtenstein. A small nation I’ve never visited before and fuelled by the thought “why else would I visit Liechtenstein”, I was standing at the platform, waiting for the train to Liechtenstein the next morning.
The evening before I rushed towards the book store, looking for information on the small country, but safe to say, I didn’t find any specialized travelling guide. I only found a book of Switzerland, with 3 pages dedicated to Liechtenstein, 2 of them dedicated to a detailed map of the whole country.
Anyways, after a sunny railride passing some Swiss lakes in the Zürich region, I finally crossed the border of Liechtenstein. I decided to stay at a camping spot where I found a tourist guide of Liechtenstein at the reception. I must say, it was a real good read. They literally managed to cover all highlights of their country in the guide. It even had a sports section. Did you know that Liechtenstein is the most successful Olympic nation ever? They scored a total of 9 Olympic medals. Compared to their population (a mere 30 000), that makes the highest average in the world. It must be noted that all those medals were achieved in the Winter Olympics. It’s also quite interesting that they’re the only nation to have medals at the Winter Olympics, but none at the summer event. All of their medals are won in the Alpine Skiing as well. Which stresses their Alpine character.
Liechtenstein can be summed up like this: a valley and mountains. The valley of the Rhine, which separates them from Switzerland, and a mountain ridge on the other side, separating them from Austria. At the smallest point of the country, you only need 5km to walk through it. In fact, taking a picture of the country is very hard if you don’t want the big brothers on the picture.
Anyhow, Liechtenstein is a small, charming country. Nice to check out and inarguably an interesting history as well. But if you’re used to city tripping. Then Vaduz the “capital/main village” comes out as an oddity. It’s a nice little town, no doubt about that, but if the capital of a country is about the size of the village you live in, it strikes you.
Needless to say, we didn’t have an AoE2 LAN party there. It would have been interesting for sure, but I still have to meet the first AoC fan from Liechtenstein. And goodness gracious, I would die to do so.
Showcasing the Magyars in the land of the Magyars
The next big trip in my quest to bring Age of Empires II: Forgotten Empires around the world. This time it was the wonderful Hungary, also known as Magyarország in their local language. Or as you might have guessed: the Magyars. Indeed, the Magyars could finally lay their hand on one of the new civs in AoFE, representing their own glorious nation in the Middle Ages. Needless to say the pressure was on, since I still have some doubts on some of the features of the Magyar civ. A lot of the guys in the beta team really love the Magyars, while I’m still convinced that they miss something. Even though it’s hard to tell what exactly. However, the feedback was mostly, if not unanimously positive!
We kicked off the night with some AoC games, after which I gave a short presentation on AoFE. I think I made it a bit too short, forgetting to explain many of the new features in the game, but okay, lesson learned for next party. It was also nice to see that they could appreciate my lame jokes:
After my ramblings, there was a gala match between the 2 best Hungarian players present. Projected on the big screen we could all witness a quite thrilling Magyar vs Inca war. Stacked with many comebacks and the joy of seeing the best players slowly discover the bonuses of the new civs. If it might be of any concern, in the end, the Incas won 😉
The rest of the night was filled with nice matches of AoFE, good drinks and fun chats with the other people around. Also loads of bug reports, but that’s only for the better of the game ofcourse. Here’s a picture of my neighbour TLW_WOodoo, playing in a 4v4 with Incas, trying to push back an Italian empire out of the Arabic plains.
Oh, and a cool picture with some of the guys to end my resume! Thanks again to the Hungarian community for taking the effort to organize this!
After this I went with Richard, who had a spare bed in his dormitory, here I could spend the night and I would have a starting point to discover the city in my remaining days in Budapest. It was the second time I visited the city, but still a little tired of the night before and knocked down by the big hard sun, I decided to go for a comfy, lazy, touristy tour of the city, instead of exploring the odds and ends I didn’t manage to cover last time.
I started off with the obligatory parliament, the largest in its kind and also the most famous landmark of the city.
I think I took about 20 shots of the building, from many different angles. Even if I didn’t want to focus on it, it would still appear many times in many different pictures.
From here I crossed the Chain bridge, another landmark, to the other side of the Danube (Duna in Hungarian), for the Buda Castle. A complex that stretches out over the whole hill of Buda, containing palaces, churches, castles and generally important buildins. The highlights are the super tourist Fishermen’s quarter and the Mattias Church. The latter was being renovated, so I decided not to go inside to see a bunch of sweaty construction workers.
Last but not least, I ran across a bunch of Magyar characteristics that can be found in Age of Empires II: Forgotten Empires. First of all, the Magyar wonder! The original Magyar wonder is Hunyad castle, located in nowadays Romania. But the Hungarians built their own copy of the castle in Budapest. I simply had to go check it out. And indeed, although the setting and the surroundings are different, the original and the copy bear a strong resemblance. You can also see the good work done by 1302, a Belgian AoC fan and occasional graphic artist who made the Magyar wonder for AoFE.
On the end of my journey, which surprisingly ended around the parliament again, I ran into an exhibition of the Hungarian defense forces. It included a Magyar Huszar and recurve bows, both of which will be present in AoFE. Needless to say, the guy with the recurve bow shot it while sitting on a tank. Completly defeating the purpose of the machine.
Happy times in Hungary!
A lot of fancy castles on the shores of the Rhine
A trip that I came up with in the spur of the moment. A day off in the midst of the week, the sun is shining outside and I decided to just take my bike and check out how far the Rhine actually was from Frankfurt. The Rhine between Mainz and Köln is UNESCO world heritage and righteous so. The river slices through a valley stacked with castles from various ages. Each castle trying to outwit the other with some kind of special feature. I especially fancied the castle in the middle of the river. Not because it was particularly beautiful, but just because it sat there, in the middle of the river. As if the lord of the castle had a mad passion for fishing when he decided to plug a castle down there in the middle of a running river. Crazy Germans!
The first castle I stopped by to investigate a little closer was the Burg Rheinstein, well preserved castle that looked over the Rhine (like every other castle in the valley). There wasn’t much to note, except that it was just a lovely venue. Even though I wonder if the name Rheinstein has anything to do with Rhinestones, those little fake diamonds that are used frequently in jewelry.
My final goal of the day was the Loreley, a rock, sticking out 120 meters above one of the narrowest places of the Rhine. Needless to say it is a place for many accidents and legends. According to the legends, the accidents are caused by a siren, sitting on top of the Loreley. Her singing would distract the shipmen who then steered their vessels into the treachery rocks that lurk under the shallow waterline. But I was too tired (and on the wrong side of the river) to go check out if she was really there. Besides, I have no interest in romantic encounters with such fatalistic figures.
At this point I decided it was time to return home again. Even though I had a little hybris coming up, which made me visit the Schönburg castle in Oberwesel on the way back. The steep hill absolutly ruined my moral to do the whole trip back home by bike, even though I was cheered by some Germans who looked a bit strange at the lone tourist trying to get up the hill by bike. However, I made it and got a nice outlook over the Rhine as a reward. After this I cruised down the hill, in about 1/10th of the time it took me to get up. And I set off to home again 🙂
Ze German LAN Party
So, my first month in Germany and I already met the German AoE2 community! nC, DEAD, alC and RED, the big German clans were all present. I must say the LAN Part exceeded my expectations by a landslide. The party lasted for 5 days, but the majority of our time was filled by just having fun outside AoC. Sure we had our portion of beating up each other on the screens, but with plenty of darts, table football, ping pong, real football and enough beer to make Oktoberfest look like a feast for possies. Not to forget the barbeque+bonfire combo, quite an out-of-the-ordinary LAN 😀
In this picture you can see Tsu_Nilpferd and nC_ps3udo_ beating me and my teammate up in a game of table football. Under the watching eye of Blawas. Needless to say which team won the AoC match we had afterwards 😛
Oh and ofcourse they had the chance to playtest Age of Empires II: Forgotten Empires. The reactions were unanimously positive, some guys even skipped the night playing AoFE. Giving a good load of bug reports too, a bit embarrasing but also very constructive.
Last but not least I would like to thank nC_$kittle/F_aLc_enSchrei for organizing the happening and inviting me over. And of course all the other Germans for making it just a bloody fun weekend.
Klippekort to Roskilde
While in Copenhagen, we figured it was time to check out some Viking culture as well. We charged our “klippekort” and took a 20 minute train ride to the old capital of Denmark: Roskilde. Located next to the Roskilde Fjord, it was quite the ideal spot for a Viking settlement. Even though few of it is left today, they have a nice Vikingeskibsmuseet, or Viking ship museum. With real longboats that have been salvaged from the bottom of the Fjord.
You might probably think they landed up there after an epic Viking battle in the Middle Ages, but the only truth in this is that they landed up there in the Middle Ages. The boats were sank by the inhabitants of Roskilde itself, in order to protect the town better for possible attacks from the North. But such an assault never took place. In the museum they made a nice exhibition on “what if the Viking attack took place anyways?”, explaining their whole defense mechanism with beacons in true Lord of the Rings style.
Next to the museum they also erected a shipyard, to reconstruct longboats. Modeled after the ancient drakkars that once raided our coasts.
Oh, I also bought myself a souvenir: “Historical Atlas of the Vikings”
Great inspiration for future campaigns in AoFE 😉
A long weekend in Cool Copenhagen
Living in Belgium, and never been more northwards than the Netherlands, I never came across true Viking culture. So it was time for a change! Me and a friend booked a trip to Copenhagen and even though the city itself has no remarkable Viking heritage, it took us only a 20 minute train ride to find the old capital of Denmark: Roskilde, but that’s for another post. Copenhagen is a cool city by itself!
Copenhagen, or København in the local lingo was founded in the 10th century by Viking fishermen. However, the city gained more prominence in the 17th and 18th century, marked by the relatively new architecture in the city center. From our hostel (Copenhagen Downtown) we started our trip around the city center, from the Rathus to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, around the Tivoli gardens (closed during the cold Scandinavian winter) and ending up in Nyhavn for lunch.
Nyhavn is definitely the top attraction of the city. Not only does it adorn the cover of every possible tourist guide, but it’s just a damn nice place. We sat down for some Smørrebrød and an Elefantenøl (or øleføntenøl for the lesser linguistic wonders among us) and carried onwards to the more ceremonial places of the city.
After walking around for a few hours, we started to notice a little plate with the letters “Ensrettet” on it. It appeared in almost every other street but we couldn’t figure where it would lead us to. So we tried to follow the arrows for a while, only to be confused even more when the arrows started to point in completely opposite directions. We gave up for a while but when did a Canal tour we started to notice these signs even on the water! This had to be one of the biggest attractions in Copenhagen and our tourist guide mentioned nothing about it. After a while it became clear what it meant. Ensrettet just means “One way”, to tell vehicles the road is a single direction road.
Denmark is of course also known for one of the most famous toys in the world. Lego! Although Billund is the world Lego capital, Copenhagen has more than enough stores to remind you of their national pride.
On our last afternoon in Copenhagen, which was marked by miserable weather, we decided to visit one of the world’s biggest tourist traps. The little mermaid! The little statue sits on a rock on the shores of Copenhagen a few km from the city center. It certainly lives up to its name. Busses with confused tourists are dropped off every hour, you can see them wondering if this is the reason they traveled so far. Which makes it all the more awesome. Speaking of tourist traps, it can compete with Manneken Pis in Brussels. The little statue of a peeing boy is constantly flocked with tourists as well. Maybe the Little Mermaid and Manneken Pis should have a lovechild, resulting in the biggest tourist disappointment in the world 🙂
Anywyas, long story short, it’s a very nice city to visit, just a bit cold and expensive, but definitely worth it!
Quick trip on the way to a job interview!
So, I have been invited to a job interview for a game tester position at Nintendo in Germany. Brussels-Frankfurt is the itinerary, so that means a stop in Aachen! I only had a few hours, which was ideal to check out downtown Aachen. It’s a small city, close to the Belgian-Dutch-German border and an incredibly rich early Medieval history. I’m quite sure Charlemagne rings a bell. Well, this is pretty much his city.
As I only had a few hours, I immediately went to the old town square, a nice picture, but it was merely hiding the marvelous cathedral in the back. And indeed, the Cathedral was well worth the stop, especially if you know your AoC history a bit. The cathedral in Age of Empires II is indeed modeled after the Aachen Cathedral.
Quite a quick stop, as I had to head for my job interview in Frankfurt, but I had the chance to see first hand that the Age of Empires graphics guys did their job well at picking the right buildings for their wonders and cathedrals. And hey, why not a Charlemagne scenario/campaign in AoFE?
PS: I got the job, starting from 10th of April, I’ll be a Nintendo Game Tester 🙂
All fun & games (with a hint of abduction) in Prague
In February 2012, the Czech Age of Empires II Community organized an AoC Tournament. The AoFE project was at a quite advanced stage by then, so they were cool with a guy from Belgium flying over to present AoFE to them! My arrival at Prague was colored by the closure of my destined youth hostel, which was solved in only 10 minutes because I actually kept my eyes open for alternatives on my way to the place. (I learned my lesson after landing up on a cemetery in a small Spanish village at midnight). After settling down, I hurried to meet Tom and Mirek, more known in the AoC community as The_Prophet and Bublifuk. Being in a foreign country, we went to a Chinese restaurant and wisely avoided the “Strange Taste Chicken” on the menu.
Now it was time to head over to the Battle Zone, which had an entry that reminded me of a 30’s gangster movie. For a split second the feeling of being abducted by a bunch of crazy Czechs hung in the air. But the feeling evaporated quickly again, in the same thin air. The tournament itself and the whole party were a lot of fun. We kicked off with a presentation of AoFE on the big screen and then we went onto playing the tournament. Which lasted till about 6am. After that, people still found the courage to come over and playtest some games of AoFE, to check out the new units, buildings and features.
The full picture gallery of the LAN Party can be found here.
I hit the hay at about 8am and spent my remaining days in Prague on discovering the city. It was my third time in Prague, but surprisingly, I still could fill 3 full days of entertainment and sight-seeing. One of the highlights was of course Hradcany, or the Prague Castle.
Did you also know that the St Vitus Cathedral in Hradcany bears an enormous resemblance with the Frankish wonder in AoC?
Sadly I couldn’t get into the place though because the Archbishop and the Cardinal of the Czech Republic decided to come along and reserve the whole damn place. Anyways, I just carried on my trip through Prague, also highlighting the National Gallery and the “Golden Lane” if you’re interested in Medieval history.
I closed off my endeavors with Tom (The_Prophet), over a nice drink and a so called typical Czech meal (dumplings and some kind of cake, both of which I sadly forgot the Czech names).
If there’s one thing Prague taught me then it must be this: it’s an amazingly beautiful city and it also convinced me to inspire the Slavic civilization in AoFE more on good old Bohemia 🙂
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips
Age of Empires, Trips