Cool stuff: a colleague from work recently announced that the game project she has been part of making has been completed, and the game released. The theme is extremely interesting and very Finnish, it’s a short but atmospheric experience and it’s a free download. The best part, of course, is that I’m almost celebrity as well here as I know one person who was involved!
In the last 15 years or so, I haven’t really had the time and will to game as much as I’d like to. Just as is the case with quality TV series nowadays, there are more great games coming out than there is time to actually play them when you also have full time employment to take care of. Maybe I’m just lazy, but for me gaming is also more intensive and time-consuming than watching a movie or an episode of a TV show.
I’m also a bit of a genre player – my preferred games have always been time consuming adventures, and role-playing games. And, maybe you could add a third genre as well: space trading simulator games. One of the first games I saw being played in the mid-80’s on my friend Antti’s dad’s Commodore 64 was Elite. [telegraph.co.uk] The game looked complex and hard, and had a manual longer than most games and required a keyboard map layout as well because there were so many functions. “I’ll never learn to play that”, I thought. Well, a couple of years later Antti and I not only completed Leisure Suit Larry [retrogames.cz] on his dad’s PC, but we also played Elite at my place all night long on my first computer, a Commodore 64 (thanks, mum!).
The freedom of piloting your own starship across a vast galaxy (or several), trading goods, fighting pirates and generally just exploring was just unbeatable. In a way, the game was really simple and repetitive but you kind of made up your own story along the road as you grinded for more money, status and new ships. So, grinding was an addictive formula back then already, Elite might actually be one of the first grinding games.
After Elite, no space simulator really offered the same thrills – there were many attempts like Federation of Free Traders or the actual Elite-sequel Frontier, but they were either too ambitious for the computers of their time or just didn’t work. There were some smaller great space adventures that focused more on the story though in the 80’s-90’s; some of the the ones I loved were Warhead [lemonamiga.com] on the Amiga and Star Control 2 [wikpedia.com] on PC, one of the best space adventure games ever in an semi-open world, which emphasized the importance of great visuals and music as well.
The casual thrills of exploring unknown planets
Fast-forward to 2017, a year after No Man’s Sky was released and had caught my radar. The game had a rocky launch and it seemed like yet another failed “Elite-killer” (as the Finnish gaming press used to title all games seeking to become the next Elite, always in vain), but significant updates had supposedly improved things and it was on sale on Steam, so I thought: “What the hell, looks good, let’s give this a go”.
Turns out the game offers the same thrills as Elite did in the 80’s. The basic idea is the same but there is just more of everything. Also, you can land on planets and explore them; the first time you repair your ship and head out into space and land on the next planet or moon in the solar system is magical.
Besides the freedom of a huge sandbox a lot of the appeal of the game lies in the excellent, colorful graphics and the phenomenal soundtrack by 65daysofstatic. Even people who find the game boring have said good things about the soundtrack, and I bought the soundtrack after short while; the music really is great and adds to the game in so many ways.
Yeah, the game has some adventure in form of a story as well, but it isn’t very deep although there are some good points. Just like the retro-art graphics, the story is more Star Trek or 70’s psychedelic sci-fi than some Star Wars-style epic space opera. This is fitting, and anyhow, the story is mostly just an extended tutorial; exploring and grinding for money and new ships and building your own bases on several worlds is the core of the game. No Man’s Sky is also pleasingly non-violent; you can pretty much avoid combat if you want to, and gaining money by scanning flora and fauna instead of killing them pleases my former biologist self.
So, another grinding & building game at heart, I still find No Man’s Sky addictive after 200+ hours because you can simply play it a bit at a time, casually. Come home from work, drop into the cockpit of your spaceship, explore an unknown world, go to the next solar system, send your frigates on missions to collect money and stop playing after an hour in order to make dinner. It does become repetitive during the endgame when you can see the patterns of how everything goes, despite being a huge sandbox there is not enough real variation on the worlds in order to surprise you very much. That, and the lackluster trading aspect still leave lots of room for improvement.
Currently I’m just searching for the perfect planet to build my final base on, as I already have pretty much everything the game offers in terms of spaceships etc. But just spending an hour listening to the soundtrack and enjoying the scenery after warping to the next solar system is a soothing experience.
Interestingly enough, the game is still being developed and this summer a new major update comes along adding multiplayer and Virtual Reality (VR) -headset support, so the game is certainly one of the best supported games ever considering all the updates are free.
Finally, just listen to two of the achingly beautiful pieces found in the game and you’ll perhaps get something interesting out of the game even if you never play it yourself…
In recent years there has been some backlash against the growing number of tourists, and Barcelona is one of those places [The Guardian]. Partly it has to do with new game-changing services like Airbnb that provide authentic housing opportunities for visitors but also cause surprising negative effects like raising the rent in cities for the locals, and I can sort of understand that if your neighbourhood turns into a party place where you can scarcely afford to live, you might feel just a bit pissed off… But, traveling seems to be mandatory nowadays as flights are still cheap and people tend to flock to the same destinations.
Especially women seem to love traveling (an observation based on my scientifically sound method of er… browsing Tinder profiles). Myself, I don’t like “unnecessary” travelling – I can travel inside my head and enjoy the local beach just fine and be satisfied with that. But if there is an opportunity to go someplace exotic and share the experience with friends – like with this trip – I’ll bite.
We experienced no tourist rage as people were very friendly and the mid-May vibe in Barcelona city was lush and relaxed. We made only this one day trip to the city, so of course this was only scraping the surface but my personal to-do list was fittingly very simple: 1) see the La Sagrada Familia, 2) enjoy tapas and red wine at some nice place and 3) get a feeling for the pulse of the city.
As you can see, I set the bar for life goals quite low.
First stop: Camp Nou
Barcelona is of course home to the world-famous football club FC Barcelona (the name is a clue) with some of the world’s greatest soccer stars. As many of my friends’ kids play football, we started our visit to the city with a stop at the home stadium of Barca: Camp Nou.
Lots of people, esp. children, noise, FCB-merchandise to buy, a tour of the facilities for 25€… a small-scale Disneyland for soccer-players, that is. Initially we were going to take the tour so we could see the stadium itself, but ended up just hanging around and my friends got some gear for their kids.
Seeing a real game of football at this kind of venue would be great, but we have to leave something for the future…
Second stop: La Sagrada Familia
It’s famous. It’s big. It’s a church. And it is still partly unfinished. Architect Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece is a must-see, of course, The new and old textures don’t mesh that well (yet, needs some air pollution) and I can’t decide if it’s ugly or beautiful but La Sagrada Familia didn’t fail to invoke emotion. I got the feeling that this definitely is some pop-culture version of classical cathedral architecture, the Ed Hardy or Desigual version of religious symbolism. Brash and playful, with a breathtaking number of details, this is no ordinary building. It is a money making machine for Barcelona, no doubt.
Military police were hanging around nearby streets blocking access to the tourist-filled site with concrete blocks, no doubt as a preventive measure against lorries and trucks manned by crazy (or life-depraved and brainwashed more likely) terrorists. We didn’t go inside the LSF, but walked around and admired the building from all sides. Even the unfinished side.
Third Stop: Vantage point
Waiting for the restaurants to open (about 19 –>), we visited a nearby park on top of a hill. There are several and yeah, I can’t be sure of the name now or bother to check Google Maps more closely, but it’s the place were the cable cars go from the seaside, so maybe near Montjuic? We didn’t go all the way to the top, there was this vantage point with a small kiosk that we strolled around and took photos.
The view over the city was good, and certainly whetted our appetites for the next – muy importante! – stop.
Fourth stop: The Restaurant
The most important thing to do when visiting a new place, country or galactic civilization is enjoying the local food. Checking TripAdvisor for places that had good reviews, our car passed close to a small place called La Tasqueta de Blai that fit the bill. It had just opened its doors, so it was just as well we were early as seats for seven people would otherwise have been hard to find.
The service was friendly and the tapas selection looked incredible – there were too many varieties to try them all in one setting. Even the 100+ kg buffet gorillas among us couldn’t manage that. The drill was simple: the small pinchos cost either 1 € or 1,80 € and you just went to the counter and filled your plate with whatever selection you wanted. Then you ate those and just kept the sticks that held the small culinary artworks in place initially. Then you went for more. And ate. And refilled your plate with some more choices. And ate. You know the drill by now…
Finally, when you couldn’t eat any more, you counted your sticks and paid according to those (the more expensive options had red-tipped sticks). Very smart and casual system. Barcelona is of course full of places like this, but we were very satisfied with the one we visited. Once again, eating was one of the highlights of the trip and after the Formula One meal disaster we didn’t take any chances this time.
Highly recommended place!
Fifth stop: The Beach
(some music to get in the mood first below)
Before leaving the city, we hit the beach and enjoyed the passing evening breeze. Just like in the town, it was pretty relaxed and quiet but there were people of course playing beach volley, lying on the sand and even swimming although it was probably a cold day for them as it was +20. For us Finns, it was perfect summer weather.
Looking at the sea and dipping the feet in the Mediterranean felt great, there is magic in the oceans.
Then it was back to Argentona and our villa for the rest of the trip, and eventually home where new adventures awaited. I could tell you about the embarrassing hangover I had on the trip back, when for once I was seated next to a single, Brazilian hot woman but better skip that story for another time…
Food: Excellent – and surprisingly cheap compared to Helsinki.
Things to do: All of the things above and more. Yep, I do get it why Barcelona is so popular already from this brief encounter. But running around the city trying to see everything at once is always a chore, so just relax and enjoy the vibe – and drop in for some tapas and wine to get the real feeling for the place.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Formula One, but just as with Rally Finland it is something legendary that has always loomed on the cultural horizon of Finland – therefore arguably worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime, just as I argued with the rally previously. There being two Finns driving (Valtteri Bottas & Kimi Räikkönen) for the two top stables makes this evil sport promoting reckless driving and environmental destruction especially worth visiting this season.
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
The race track is located north of Barcelona, almost at a halfway point between our base in Argentona and the city. You can check out the layout and basic facts on Wikipedia. We arrived there by car, which is not advisable – but completely manageable, if you come early and leave early before the race is finished. Most people don’t, and get stuck in the traffic jam. After all, the track has a spectator capacity of 140.000 people – and was supposedly sold out when we where there – so there are quite a few number of cars there…
The security checks were quite lax, but alcohol is totally forbidden so we didn’t even try to smuggle that with us. The track area exceeded my low expectations in how well it was managed – the crowds were surprisingly manageable, and we navigated on paved roads through the overpriced merchandise stores, fan areas and boringly similar hot dog stands towards the first vantage point. Like a walk in the park.
After enjoying the GP3-start (the starts are the best, see at least one close to the starting line) we decided to search for the main spot at the lawn on some part of the track with good visibility. And then eat something, although we had read online that this GP supposedly had the “worst food in all of Europe”.
Boy, was that statement right – I was cautious and just ordered a pretty average sandwich and drinkable coffee but those of us who ordered the “mixed grill plates” were thoroughly disappointed. In 2018 it should not be possible to con people anymore with pictures that depicted something completely different than what you got (all the menus were just conveniently in spanish). What looked like a huge platter of sausages, beef and tomatoes on a picture turned out to be an incredibly sinewy piece of meat and half a fried potato. Oh, and if you’re really thirsty for a beer, for some inexplicable reason a pint of non-alcoholic Heineken could be had for a mere 11 (!) euros. Non-alcoholic beer! For 11 €! Does not compute…
So, “bring your own food” is definitely a key ingredient of a successful Spanish GP track day.
We only had the cheapest tickets for the race day (Sunday) bought in advance for approx. 90€ , but with those you can roam around the track and see different parts of it. The crowds weren’t too large and sitting on the lawn at corners of the eastern end of the track turned out to be a surprisingly good vantage point. Rain had been pouring heavily during the night and there was still some drizzle and rain clouds in the morning but somehow, the sun broke out during the day and it turned out to be just a nice, sunny spectating experience after all.
Also, in Spain the race day contains not only the F1 Grand Prix; this included the F3, F2 and Porsche Cup classes as well. So coming in the morning to see all the events not only lets you skip the worst traffic, you get to enjoy the day more too.
And the Formula One Grad Prix itself? Well, it didn’t feel quite as surreal seeing it in real life as I had thought it would be even if it was a bit strange seeing Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Räikkönen and the guys driving for real just a few metres away… As is the case with motorsports, you get a better view of the race on TV than in real life because you only see a small part of the track at once so you cannot really compare live F1 with televised F1.
The start is usually the most eventful part, and so it was here too with a dramatic crash in the bend just before us taking out three cars. After that it became a bit boring since Lewis Hamilton was so much faster than everyone else. Kimi’s car failed him at some point but Valtteri Bottas made it to 2nd place so an OK result for the Finns even though we had hoped for a 1-2 victory!
So, would I visit Formula One again? I mean, I don’t follow it or any other sports on TV. But, yes I would totally do it again *if* the following criteria are met: I get to see the race from the VIP area, visit the pits and hang out with the mechanics, eat caviar and drink champagne from the navels of supermodels and party at a luxury yacht on the sea afterwards. Then I’ll go again.
But hey – I will actually take you there now: here’s some exclusive video I shot so you can see and listen to what it was like!
Food: Shit catering – avoid at all costs, at least the expensive “menus” with misleading pictures of what you’ll get. Bring your own snacks and drinks. Alcohol is banned on the track area, but that’s OK since you’re not here for the drinking. Yes, even my fellow countrymen, please try to attend a sporting event without drinking sometime, it may actually improve the experience 😉
Things to do: Watch all the races (GP3, GP2 and the Porsche Cup). Imbibe the atmosphere. Enjoy the sun lying on the grass. Listen to engines roaring. Leave early from the main race when the result looks clear.
Verdict: If you want to experience a Formula One GP, then yes, this is a good place since the track is easy to access and the facilities work to the standards of western civilization – plus you’ll get to enjoy Barcelona as well. The engine sounds of the F1 cars are currently just not very good, so that might disappoint you.
The end of 2017 was an exciting time in Catalonia, with cries for independence and turmoil on the streets of Barcelona. So of course I went there in the spring of 2018 with the Real Motorsport Men of Finland to see what all the fuzz was about – and check out the Formula One GP while we were at it.
Argentona – in the shadow of the crime lord
As we were seven grown men and no Snow White in sight, renting a villa outside the city of Barcelona was the most cost-effective and comfortable option. Our villa was situated in the clean and quiet small town of Argentona. Not the cheapest place to live in as the houses were in the 400.000-500.000 € region, we noticed when walking by a real estate firm.
The villa was quite cheap to rent for a few days, had its own swimming pool and a great view over the town… in fact, the view made us feel like some important person had lived here, someone with plenty of money but not very good taste. The balcony had those same flower pots on it that got shot to pieces when Eddie Murphy ducked gunfire in the climax of Beverly Hills Cop.
Thick bushes and trees firmly obstructed the view to neighboring properties and on the way to the iron front gate there was a red field of poppies. This field of red was the deciding clue – poppies, probably of the variety that yields opium (I have taken some courses in botany, you know).
Of *course*, we all realized in a facepalm moment – this simply had to be the residence of some local drug selling crime lord who had been convicted and currently served his sentence in some infamous Spanish prison!
Drinking a cold, shitty dry martini (I can’t make ’em right) on the balcony really got a new “Tony Montana”-dimension after that – the only thing missing was a fine Italian suit, a submachine gun and a mountain of coke.
Living in the cursed villa of a condemned crimeboss did, however, in the end save our collective asses. As we noticed the Catalonian flag was hanging from windows and balconies everywhere we went, we thought it was the local custom to whip out your insignia so we decided to hang our Finnish flag from the balcony for everyone to see as well. And since our villa overlooked the city on a premium spot well… our flag was sort of pretty visible.
This almost resulted in an international dispute and the local townsfolk were already lighting their torches and brandishing their agricultural pointy tools but as they saw what villa the flag was hanging from they thought the better of it.
We were under protection of the Drug Lord himself. True story…
Anyway, Argentona was pretty nice and sweet, and has everything you need from a town including a water jug museum, so it is indeed a good, quiet spot to live in if you rent a car and drive to Barcelona (or a train/metro stop nearby). At our advanced age, drinking cold Estrella beer and having a poolside barbecue is more tempting than the nightlife of the big city…
Food: We cooked our own & bought local delicacies from the small supermarket – the restaurant we visited on the last night was pretty average