Tag Archive: SNES

Berlin & Szczecin

My annual pilgrimage to Berlin was 6-12 December this year.  Xmas markets, Currywurst and Köstritzer were just three of the things I was looking forward to.  And boy was it needed – I was working right down to the wire, there was no early check-out of work and certain other people in the office were turning into basket cases as it dawned that I wasn’t going to be around for a week.

I managed to secure a lunchtime flight this time so didn’t have to worry about getting up early.  It might cost a few more pounds but not rushing to the airport at 6am is totally worth it.  Anyway, checked in fine, passed through security without being dragged aside for looking like Walter Heisenberg and had brunch at Giraffe (Huveos Rancheros & an espresso martini for dessert!) before boarding.  There was a certain amount of whispering going on – eavesdropped harder and realised that Ricky Gervase was on the plane and everyone had noticed.  Probably more exciting celeb spot at Heathrow than Chris Eubank a few years ago.

Flight was ok, had the entire row of seats to myself on row 20, landed as the sun was setting and was able to make a quick getaway from the airport over to Kurfürstendamm as I was staying in Schönberg rather than Friedrichshain.  Naturally I got off the bus at the wrong stop (one too early) and had a longer schlep down the road to the hotel.  Still, I got to walk through my first market – ominously guarded by large black concrete barriers.

The hotel – the Axel – is sited about three minutes away from Wittenbergplatz U Bahn station, next to KaDaWe so for me, it was slap-bang in the centre.  Day 1, I was content just to unpack and head out to the markets looking for dinner and a beer rather than experience the comforts of the hotel – as there is an onsite gym, spa and rooftop Jacuzzi.

I didn’t venture very far, back to Ku’damm in fact.  Just wanted to poke around the stalls, see what was hot, what was not etc.  Crowds were half local, half tourists.  I dunno if it was my imagination but there were more food stands in evidence and fewer ornament/gift-type stalls.  Either way I enjoyed my food and then went out for a couple of drinks and then back to the hotel to pass out.

Slept badly – new bad makes for an uncomfortable Joe although the room temperature was just right.  Fortunately, that issue didn’t bother me for the rest of the stay.  Dragged myself out of bed as I had some planning to do. Y’see, one of the goals of the tip was to have a day trip to Poland, to Szczecin as it’s within easy reach of Berlin.  I had a look at ticket prices on Deutsche Bahn and they seemed to vary wildly.  Tried to book a fixed-train ticket but the site would not let me make a reservation and in the end, I took the U Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof so that I could obtain a ticket from the Reiseburo there.

If you are planning to travel to Szczecin from Berlin, DO NOT TRY AND BOOK A TICKET ONLINE!  I was able to get an open day return from the ticket office at the station for 1/3 the cost of the online stated price at €22.  With that reward in my pocket, I decided to go east to attend to my second goal of my trip, a visit to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (and coincidentally, where I’d need to get the train back from the next day).

The museum was very confusing to find that day because of all the filming going on – some TV or movie.  The Ministerial floor (i.e. head of the Stasi) was totally out of bounds that day so I only got to visit floors 1 & 3.  But what I did get to see (history, rooms etc) was very informative and I found I could read most of the German as well as the English translations (very happy).  It’s worth a visit, doesn’t cost much to enter and a good warning on the dangers of state surveillance.

Post-museum, it was to Galeria Kaufhof for clothes shopping, back to the hotel and then for something to eat at the nearby Mexican place before trying out the hotel spa for a late night sweat and steam.  All in all, a good first full day.

Friday: Poland.  Got up early, headed over to the station early and had a McDonald’s breakfast as the queues were shorter before hopping on the train.  It was a Regio train – double decker.  It was a nice smooth ride with a change at Angemünde which is the other side of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve.  Arrived in Szczecin around 11.  Remembering the advice by novelist Sue Townsend (when in a new city, deliberately get lost so as to take your time and see things properly), I turned right at the station instead of left so that I could sweep the city via the south rather than enter right into the city centre.  I’m glad I did, as I got to see some interesting things.

I wanted something traditionally Polish for lunch but could I find anything?  Could I hell.  It wasn’t until I ventured into the Galaxy Shopping centre that I found a nice place in the food court and had something that cost me by weight rather than by item; escalop, boiled potatoes, curried beetroot and creamed spinach – very not bad.  And of all coincidences, I sat next to the only other British people in the food court.

Did a little shopping (Xmas t-shirt, Polish version of the board game Incan Gold), saw more sights, bought souvenirs, took the 1730 train home rather than the 1930 and then scrambled around looking for somewhere to eat which ended up being the Vietnamese place round the corner from Nollendorfplatz U Bahn.  Good stuff.

Saturday is when the snow started.  There was a light dusting on the ground when I woke up – but a good chunk of it had already melted.  I didn’t leave the hotel until just before noon as I didn’t get out of bed until really late.  All that walking around Szczecin had taken it out of me.  Kept the day pretty loose with a wander around Alexanderplatz (clothes), Friedrichshain – the Zozoville Gallery as that was another “must do” item on the list of activities.  Then back to the hotel for a couple of hours in the spa where I sat in the rooftop Jacuzzi in the middle of a snow flurry.  It was a surreal and very memorable experience.  Eventually dragged myself out to have a massage from the hotel masseur, a very late dinner in Vapiano and then a night at Woof.

The snow didn’t loiter the next day in Berlin although a number of the Brits in the hotel were annoyed as their Sunday flights home had been cancelled as the UK had its usual panic.  The week before when there was a brief snowfall in the morning, I made the joke of “look, there’s five snowflakes, better cancel public transport in its entirety”.  Clearly someone didn’t get the humorous nature of my comment.  I was half worried but also half praying that the snow would cancel my flight so I’d stay on in Berlin at BA’s expense.

I had to admit being somewhat lost on Sunday for want of something to do.  I’d accomplished everything I’d wanted to do with the sole exception of Monday’s activities.  Something I hadn’t done was to pop over to Potsdamerplatz so went over to see what they had going.  Totally forgot about their Bretzel market stand with all sorts of savory items for sale but in the end plumped for a Knusperwurst; basically Currywurst in a crispy batter as a bowl.  Totally fattening, unhealthy and delicious.  On a whim, I went to the Museum of Espionage just down the road, part of which rehashed the Stasi Museum but there was more from the BDR side of events.  I didn’t participate in the laser web room: the memory of my Crystal Maze experience was too raw still…

Thought I’d try the Schnitzel restaurant around the corner from the hotel for dinner.  An obvious tourist trap but I didn’t care.  Glad I did – had one of the best waiters ever who conversed with me in my broken, incorrect German and the food…the food was exquisite.  First of all, I didn’t expect a piece of Schnitzel the size of a hatbox and secondly, the local brew served was a great accompaniment.  I read my book, watching the snow cover the streets outside.  By the time I was done, I had to go straight to bed, bloated and barely able to stay conscious.

Monday was my last full day and the plan was the Boiler, the Xmas market for those last minute gifts and Zsa Zsa Burger.  As always, the Boiler was a treat and I managed four hours before I had enough.  Rather than going back to the hotel, I went east to Alex yet again because I was toying with the idea of buying a SNES-mini from Mediamarkt.  Although virtually impossible to get a hold of (now) in the UK, they had a stack of them – albeit pricier.  It took twenty minutes of prevaricating before I decided not to buy.  I just couldn’t justify it.

Zsa Zsa once again, was a real treat.  I had the Kentucky Burger (Bourbon marinated burger topped with roasted bellpeppers and Swiss Raclette cheese) and three rather loaded cocktails, rounded off by a piece of cheesecake.  On the off-chance I’d have fallen into the river Spree, I’d have sank like a boulder.  Managed a final drink in Woof before passing out.

Tuesday morning – checked feverishly BA’s flight schedule – only two cancelled flights that day and neither of which were mine.  I was at something of a loss for things to do and on a whim, spent an hour in the spa before I had to leave.  Somehow, I still had about €150 on me and I made myself a half-promise that if I came across an opportunity to buy that damn SNES-mini, I would.  The nearest Mediamarkt was a distance away and I _could_ have gone into Karstadt but saw the bus across the road to the airport so decided on that instead.  KaDaWe didn’t have anything.

Had a really nice toasted advocado bagel for lunch which I lingered over before heading over to the check-in counter where I anticipated stupidly long queues of people packed onto the flight owing to cancellations.  I was right.  The queues were stupidly long.  This is when the worst part of the trip happened; y’see, it was chaos at the airport, or rather at the BA check in desk.  Obviously frazzled people weren’t thinking straight at all and were behaving like klutzes.  My flight and the next flight to London City were not that far apart and passengers for both were being admitted at more or less the same time so the waiting area was chaotic.  Then when it came time to call us for the plane, they called business class & oneworld members – but for those of us in cattle class were we called?  Were we hell!  And because the lounge was full of LCY passengers too, there was no mass exodus to serve as an example, just dribs of people disappearing but with a critical mass remaining.  Of course I’d checked in so there’d have been an announcement by passenger name but I just thought it was pretty shoddy of BA to have stiffed us over like this.  And there wasn’t any of the usual friendly greetings/farewells.  The only thing I could do was leave them snotty feedback on their inevitable post-flight questionnaire.

As usual, the trip back from the airport to home was the inevitable homicidal rage-inducing event.  I felt compelled to yell at several people behaving in a brain-dead fashion.  I rarely do this in normal circumstances but when I’ve a suitcase in tow, give me a wide berth.  Got home, dumped off bag, headed out for the finale of the Griffin quiz where we won the season prize of afternoon tea at Mr Foggs gin emporium for six.  Very nice.


T’other day, I was reading on TVTropes the comments/page relating to the Sega/Nintendo wars of the early 90s. Of course we in the UK missed out on a lot of it – except perhaps in the pages of the computer media where Sega and Nintendo fan boys (and girls too) would just trash each other, chiefly to no other avail than to prove Freud correct. Did it ultimately matter though in the development of 4th Generation consoles? On paper, it was no-contest. The Megadrive (or Genesis to the rest of the world) was a lousy console compared with the SNES; weaker processes, lousy RAM, poor colour palette and yet it was more than able to hold its own against Nintendo’s offering. Of course, Sega’s winning strategy was superior marketing, particularly in North America. They didn’t so much promote themselves so much as reassure existing owners that their product was the superior one. Nintendo appeared to use the power of momentum to help their cause and when Streetfighter 2 was released…no contest. But those days feel wholly removed from today’s “Console Wars” are more than about the machine and the games but what multimedia experiences are on offer.

It’s still fun to speculate what would have happened had Commodore not run out of money for the CD32 or had the judge in the case not barred the console from being shipped to North America over allegations of infringements. Perhaps it’s more partisan of me but I think it would have kept up with the Playstation as games such as GTA would have had a simultaneous release and Commodore was still backed by many developers – or at least those who hadn’t been gobbled up by Sony (like Psygnosis). Would a three-way war with Sega have helped the Saturn? Not impossible I guess. More competition means more opportunity for software houses. Would it have also kept Commodore in the PC market? Say an “Amiga 10K” powered by Intel or AMD? Who can say?I finally reached the now infamous torture scene in GTA V and having played through it, I admit I was left thoroughly uncomfortable by it all. I should acknowledge the creativity and design of Rockstar for making this scene so realistic and awkward – it’s difficult to invest emotion into a video game character, particularly an NPC. But conversely, it was OTT, even for the world of GTA which is an exercise in hyperbole. All in all, I was pleased when the victim of the torture was helped to escape in a cut scene and I hope that if there is a GTA VI, we learn his character has a better time of it outside of Los Santos.

Dr Do(o)m and I played a game of Eldritch Horror on Saturday, chiefly as I wanted to relearn the rules ahead of Thursday. I was Chun-Li and he was the Shaman (as opposed to Ebenezeer Goode’s Shamen). We lasted one hour and a giant spider consumed the world. So sorry folks. Still, I think the nuances are sorted out so bring on the challenge. It’s been what – four months but I finally broke out the Talisman Woodlands expansion pack with Dr Do(o)m and Brendan and we just didn’t finish the game. It plays a little differently compared with the other three board-adding expansion packs as the use of fate has been overhauled whilst the new characters have special abilities involving the use of tokens (I was the ancient oak and I could get stronger as the game progressed). Also, as one progressed through the woodlands, there were game-changing effects in play with a different goal for each player. That said, progress seemed to be slow and measured. It’s not a region in Talisman you can just blindly enter and expect to progress through like the Highlands or the Dungeon for example but you need to build up a little before wandering around blithely. I also feel that this expansion needs to be played with one of the other boards – no other reason than a gut instinct. Using the card-only expansions wasn’t enough.

I also downloaded a copy of Picross 6 for the 3DS, I think the first major purchase (major???) for that console in six months. I was also pleased at the number of free puzzles unlocked as I own titles 1-5 (they give freebies). It’ll keep me busy for a while at least. My oft-repeated rant to Nintendo still stands however – release more damn games through the Virtual Console Service! I don’t care about independent titles being squeezed out third party developers, I want to play the games of yesteryear either for the first time or on a nostalgia trip. And if they can put some Master System games on there too…perfect.

Seven Karts of Mario

I find it difficult to believe there are only two weekends before the “big day” – whatever that means. But clearly the panic is beginning to set in given how crowded Oxford Street was yesterday and Saturday as the road was closed off at the main junction. Not that I was there mind, I didn’t even leave the house yesterday.

Having spoken with a few people I’m fairly convinced that this Xmas is going to be duller and less eventful than previous years. A quick look in the shops at the usual Tree/Decoration tat combo appears lacklustre compared with the past. Advertisements are fewer and less exciting; the most noteworthy at the moment is the Argos one with the aliens which are as Christmassy as…um…the Aswan Dam.

Normally I’d have constructed an elaborate Xmas card and gift list with who gets what in terms of quality and price but the impetus to deliver simply isn’t there. Again, I’m somewhat in mind of the Chairman Yang from SMAC quote…”if our society seems more nihilistic than previous eras, perhaps this is a sign of our maturity as a sentient species…” And perhaps we are – casting off the cloak of unbridled capitalistic greed and turning toward something different.

But comparisons between Winterval/Saturnalia and the Human Hive aside, it’s the beginning of another week here in cold yet sunny London. I’ve nominated this week as busy week what with stuff happening tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday whilst next week is crazy week. It’s always the same in December with people rushing around to fit in as many activities in their calendars as possible.

Ceajay’s…party (if that’s actually the right word) wasn’t a bad affair though I drank too much beer and suffered for it the next day. And the nightbus home (25) was somewhat odious though playing Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS enabled me to block out some of the noise in the background on the bus. Speaking of which, I’ve unlocked all cups and completed all the 50cc races – all bar one are 3* rated cups. Slowly working my way through 100cc and yes, my avatar is the subject of many item-rapes.

Overall, I think that Mario Kart 7 is a worthy addition to the Mario Kart family but I’m hesitant to say it’s the best entry in the series though the more specific customisation is very welcome and the flight/underwater sections are also a nice touch. However, if you were to ask which game in the series was the best, I’m drawing a complete blank. The original was good, a real challenge but heavily dependent on items in 150cc mode. N64 had great multiplayer but the main tracks and races weren’t exactly a challenge. Never played the GBA version (except the tracks that are in other modes; and we’re still waiting on Nintendo to release it on the VC – hint hint), the GC was tough and a worthy addition, particularly the large driver roster. The original DS game was excellent and I lost many hours to it and the Wii version took a while to get into but it does punish drivers who want to use the wheel as opposed to other control methods.

I’d lean towards the DS version as the best though if MK 7 continues to shine and impress then we might have a new winner. Of course Diddy Kong Racing still ranks highly in the Kart genre and I still miss Jaguar XJ220 for the Miggy – and Supercars 2.

Most of the rest of the weekend was lost to RTW – started a new Scipii game as I had a new strategy planned but things went belly up so I scrapped it and tried a Carthage game – did really well but then had another change of heart and restarted my Egypt game. Currently control the entire eastern half of the map up to Armenia and gathering armies in western Anatolia for the inevitable push on Greece/Brutii territories.