Banjo-Kazooie: Seventeen Years

(this is an entry in my Backlog Quest series)

Courtesy of Rare.

Courtesy of Rare.

Christmas Eve 1998: I steal a peek at my parents preparing Santa’s gifts at 1:00 a.m. and see my dad fiddling with an alien-looking controller in the playroom. On the television is a pause screen I would see hundreds of times to come. On the floor is a box containing Wave Race 64, which I for some reason am more captivated by than the game my father had been play-testing. Although he had turned the volume down quite low, I can make out the charming banjo melody. My mom notices that I am out of bed, and, seemingly mortified that I have seen my parents defiling Santa’s presents to my brother and me, ushers me back into my room.

My age has tripled since the first time I played Banjo-Kazooie. It was my favorite game on the Nintendo 64, but I never actually managed to beat it. The furthest I got was the “game show” portion near the end, before the final battle with Gruntilda. I remember being frustrated by that portion of the game, and I must have lost interest in finishing it. This did not stop me from playing the first few levels of the game probably a dozen times in the intervening years.

Last night, I finally finished the game at 100% completion. Every jiggy, every honeycomb piece, every damn music note. It took me only about three days of play, maybe seven hours.

This game is so charming. The colors, the level design, the music, in particular. I can see why I loved it so much as a child, and why it is so well-loved even today. While the later levels (I’m looking at you, Rusty Bucket Bay) have some unfairly-challenging quests, the game doesn’t actually require that you finish everything. It’s perfectly acceptable to skip some of the more troublesome parts, which I’m sure I did when I was a kid.

Banjo-Kazooie is a title that has haunted my backlog in the most polite possible way. I’m happy to have finished it, and sad that I will never be able to do so for the first time again. Good thing Banjo-Tooie still looms large above me.

Backlog Quest: The Reboot

Two years ago, I wrote about my intentions to play old video games sitting in my backlog. Although I was initially enthusiastic about this project, I wrote that article at a time when I shockingly little free time. I only managed to eek out one entry, on the Gameboy Color rehash of Dragon Warrior.

A year later, I moved to Taiwan. I still live here and teach English, and I still love it. One of the perks of this phenomenal lifestyle is that I generally only work a few hours a day, all in the late afternoon or evening. With the exception of Saturdays (when I work basically all day), I can basically spend my days doing whatever I want. Initially, I filled this time by watching movies and television shows, hanging out at restaurants and bars, and exploring my new city. In a word: relaxing. I think I needed that time after my years in university and the following year and a half of stressful employment. I managed to lose about 25 pounds, make a lot of friends, and learn a bit of Chinese.

Eventually, I began to buckle down. I have two projects which I now take seriously: writing my novel and learning Chinese, on each of which I spend at least an hour a day. The beautiful thing is that, even though I am spending time with these two large-scale projects, I still have hours and hours a day I can spend doing whatever I want.

And so I return to my backlog.

Inspired by this post on Reddit (which I recommend you read for insight into the psychology of a compulsive collector of games), I have begun playing games a bit more frequently with the intention of “completing” my backlog, which I am defining using the following rules:

  1. I will play every game for at least an hour.
  2. If I like the game, I will continue to play it until it either becomes boring or I finish it. If the game isn’t for me, I will stop playing after an hour.

Unlike the author of that post, many of the games I own are not on Steam. I have physical copies of many DS and 3DS games I want to play, and there are hundreds of emulated classics that I have wanted to try for a long time. I will prioritize games that I have actually spent money on, but there will be times when I particularly want to play an older game on an emulator. As long as I’m making a concerted effort to play previously-unplayed (I hesitate to say “new”) games, I will consider myself to be making progress.

So that’s it, then. I have three daily hours of projects, now: writing fiction, learning Chinese, and playing video games. It’s kind of a dream come true.

Departure: A Retrospective

It was about three months ago that I gave away or sold virtually everything I owned, quit my job, and left my old home in Austin, Texas.

It wasn’t nearly as spontaneous as that makes it sound. Two months prior to that, I made the decision to do so and enrolled in a CELTA course at my alma mater. Thankfully, the course confirmed my suspicion that I could enjoy teaching English as a foreign language, although it dispelled any ideas I may have had about the relative ease of teaching compared to my technical job in financial services. A month later, I was a bona fide teacher, complete with a certificate saying that I definitely knew what I was doing in a classroom.

A friend of a friend owned a school in Taiwan, so I applied for a job teaching there. I never would have been considered for this job (it turns it, it’s a pretty prestigious school) if my friend hadn’t sent a glowing letter of recommendation for me. I was very lucky in that regard, and in many others.

I should point out that I had only the faintest idea where Taiwan was. If you had given me an unlabeled map, I would have embarrassed myself trying to point it out. All I knew was that Chinese was spoken in Taiwan, and I knew I wanted to go somewhere as foreign to me as possible. China, baby. Or something like China.

So, the day came when I had to start whittling down my possessions. As they say, you can’t take it with you, and I enjoyed a certain ghost-like status: I was disappearing. Good thing I had written a will. I gave certain cherished items to friends who would particularly enjoy them.

Everything else, I threw to the wind in my Birthday Going-Away Give-Away, for which I invited all my friends over to take things from my apartment. Everything must go: books, framed photographs, electronics, furniture, alcohol. Most of it went. The rest I donated. All that remains, waiting for me to return, is a couple of boxes of rare or cherished books that my mom thankfully agreed to store.

And that was it, then. I had planned a one-week layover/vacation in New York, staying with a friend. I had never seen the city before, which is probably a good thing. If I had ever moved to New York, I wonder if I would have ever left.

This is everything I owned:

I’m great at photography. Those unfocused lines are so artistic.

The blue bag was filled with clothes, a few things I knew would be hard to find in Taiwan, and a few comforts. The green bag, my carry-on, had electronics, notebooks, etc. Those bags, plus a jacket, a hat, and the two boots, were everything.

I arrived in New York later that day and enjoyed my week walking around, vising old friends, and drinking at whatever bars and restaurants I found most intriguing.

One week later I was in Taiwan, starting over.

Failed Hobbies: Why Tobacco Isn’t Right For Me, After All

Failed Hobbies

In the last few months, I’ve had increased time and money on my hands relative to the last few years, when I was a busy university student. I wanted to try things that had previously been financially or socially off-limits to me, such as pipe smoking and marksmanship. I still enjoy shooting my rifle and trying to improve my shots, but I have given up on tobacco in the few months since I first attempted to incorporate it into my cycle of hobbies.

I’ve been interested in pipe smoking forever. My grandfather smoked a pipe. He died when I was 6 or 7, and the overwhelming memory I have of him is the lingering, sweet smell of cherry tobacco. I always associated pipe smoke with relaxation, with the intentional taking of a break. He had heart problems (which ultimately killed him) and his method of combating stress was to take up pipe smoking. According to my father, the real value of the habit was that my grandfather spent more time cleaning and tinkering with his pipe than he did smoking it. It gave him something to fixate on, to occupy his mind in a non-stressful way.

There are a lot of opinions about the health effects of pipe smoking. What does seem to be clear is that it is not nearly as hazardous to your health as smoking cigarettes. Pipe smoke is not meant to be inhaled, so lung cancer is not an issue, and since not as much nicotine is absorbed in the mouth as in the lungs, addiction is much less common with pipe smokers than cigarette smokers. Some studies have shown that moderate pipe smokers have no significantly increased risk of any preventable cancer or other disease, relative to non-smokers. All of this is just to say that I didn’t take up pipe smoking without closely scrutinizing it. I won’t throw away my health on a nostalgic whim.

A friend gave me an old pipe he had sitting around. He’s a light pipe smoker (approximately once a week) and has been for a decade. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to try pipe tobacco, he gave me the first pipe he had ever bought, an unmarked briar. I bought a few pouches of aromatic tobacco from an online retailer along with some pipe cleaners and a pipe tool (a Swiss army-like device with a pick, a spoon, and a tamper). My girlfriend hated the prospect of me smoking, so I did the best I could to mitigate the effects of the tobacco smoke: I only smoked outside, only once or twice a week, and I immediately took a shower, brushed and flossed my teeth, and changed my clothes immediately after smoking. Reluctantly, she agreed to let me try it, I suspect because she feared crushing my nostalgic dreams.

I read a few articles (including this hilarious one) about how to pack and light the pipe, and finally set out to try it. The damn thing wouldn’t light despite my research, and once it did, I had to relight it every few minutes. While the different tobaccos smelled wonderful in the pouch, each with a distinct potpourri-like aroma, they all tasted basically the same when lit: smoke. Sure, some tasted more like campfire smoke, or vanilla-processing-plant-on-fire smoke, but basically they tasted the same, and not great. Not terrible, either, I should point out, but not good enough to excite me. Blowing the smoke out of my mouth like a dragon never got old.

A bowl would last half an hour, if I was careful. I had the tendency to smoke too fast, giving me “tongue bite,” a painful semi-cooking of the tongue from smoke that is too hot and too frequently drawn. Of course, if I slowed down smoking, I had to relight my pipe more frequently. I learned later that my packing technique had been poor, and once I corrected this error, I had to relight much less frequently. At the end of a bowl, I emptied the ashes and, before beginning my elaborate post-smoke cleansing ritual, asked myself, “How do I feel about that? Was it worth the trouble? Did I enjoy it more than something else I could have done in the same frame of time?”

Typically, the answers to these questions were only moderately positive. It isn’t that I dislike pipe smoking; I like it as well as many other things I occasionally do. I like it about as well as I like eating fried catfish, which is to say, I like it somewhat. But if the only restaurant that served fried catfish was an hour away, made me smell like catfish for the next twelve hours, and made it such that I could not smell or taste anything other than fried catfish for the same length of time, I probably would just not eat much fried catfish.

That brings me to my biggest complaint about tobacco smoking: No matter how aggressively I brushed my teeth, how faithfully I flossed and fluoride rinsed, I could not get the taste out of my mouth. I even bought a tongue scraper in the attempt to solve this problem. I could get the smell to about ten percent of its original pungency, but never further. Like a ghost, whiffs of tobacco would startle me throughout the rest of the evening and into the morning. Phantom smoky tastes would crop up on the rawer parts of my tongue hours after smoking.

This is my only real qualm about smoking. I don’t hate (nor do I love) the taste while smoking, I don’t mind the ritual of packing and lighting (and lighting and lighting and lighting) the pipe, and I like the historical and nostalgic qualities of pipe smoking as an idea. But I absolutely hate the lingering taste.

I tried smoking again and again over a six-week period. I tried cigars (which are smoked in essentially the same way as pipes and not inhaled) and found the experience much the same as pipe smoking, with similar lukewarm pleasures and prominent drawbacks. Ultimately, I decided to not buy any more pipe tobacco. I gave some of it away to the friend that had given me his pipe in the first place, and I have retained some of it. I still have a bag of Lane 1-Q and half a pouch of my grandfather’s beloved cherry Cavendish, along with my pipe in a case with some cleaners. I might eventually get through the leftovers that I have, or I might not. I’ll likely smoke cigars in a strictly celebratory fashion (at birthdays, bachelor parties, New Year’s, etc.) moving forward.

I really wanted to like pipe smoking, perhaps because I have pretensions to old-fashioned masculinity. I certainly love the idea of pipe smoking, the image of it: the weathered man, pipe in mouth, contemplating the days to come. I love things that offer varied experiences and opportunities to tinker, so the availability of different tobaccos to try and pipes to clean and break in should have been perfect for me.

But it wasn’t perfect for me. It’s hard to admit that I missed the mark on this hobby, especially after sinking money and emotional capital (I had looked forward to eventually smoking a pipe on my patio, like my grandfather, since childhood) into the project. Ultimately, I decided to try the next thing.

Maybe I can’t love everything, and I hope that’s okay.

Backlog Quest: Dragon Warrior I

This is the first entry to my Backlog Quest series.

GMC Dragon Warrior I and II

Courtesy of Square Enix.

The venerable Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series has seen, at the time of writing, ten main series entries. It’s one of those franchises that has always been more popular in Japan than the United States, and has been a staple of otaku condescension for as long as I remember. Until recently, I only understood Dragon Quest as the more colorful, less brooding, and more Japanese-y counterpart to the Final Fantasy series (which is, of course, also from Japan).

A note on the name: In the US, these games were originally titled Dragon Warrior, in order to avoid conflict with the TRS-owned trademark DragonQuest. In 2005, Square Enix finally saw fit to refer to the franchise as Dragon Quest, even in English. Purists apparently regard this as the correct name for the franchise. In my case, I’ll stick with the name of Dragon Warrior, since that’s what my cartridge says.

In 2000, a compilation cartridge of the first two Dragon Warrior games was released for the Game Boy. I picked my copy up used some years later and, like many games I purchased in the last ten years, I immediately tossed it into a bag with other Game Boy games, not to be touched again until now. While I understand that there are some cosmetic changes to the game from the NES original, for my backlog quest I chose to play the GB version because, as far as I can tell, the changes make the game infinitely more playable, even if the name “Erdrick” was changed to the much-less-cool-souding “Loto.”

I wanted to do some videogame archaeology, so I popped this cartridge into my GBA and played the first game in the series. Eventually, I’ll get around to the second.

Playing the game, I was most excited about the art. Here’s the thing about sprite art: I love it. I love it more than I love almost anything. The primitive, blocky, colorful graphics remind me of fruit snacks, of everything I loved about the games of my childhood. 8-bit MIDI scoring makes me nostalgic for a time before my birth, for games I never actually played, experiences that exist in the collective subconscious of gamers. Participating in the shared assumption of these cultural memories is among the delicious burdens of someone that grew up with games such as I did. The Akira Toriyama-style art drew me in the way a warm blanket would do in winter.

Dragon Warrior is, in many ways, the grandfather of all JRPGs. Playing the game, I could see the conventions that would become complex components of the genre: the turn-based battles, the ever-improving selection of armor and spells, the reuse of enemy designs, with cosmetic changes made to them to indicate a greater or lesser threat.

The game was, I suppose, fun to play, in a grind-y way. Only a few times a year do I crave that sort of experience, when the parts of my brain that call out for cheap rewards desire the bright chemicals accompanying a level-up. The plot was laughable, of course: DracoLord (real name) is doing evil stuff (ooo!) to the world, and only I (the hero!) can stop him. This game was made before people seemed to care about videogame plots, when the very idea of story in games was a novelty only on the precipice of importance.

As I said, playing this game was an exercise in archaeology. I’m glad that I can scratch it off my list, say that I’ve played it, and move on. I don’t expect to ever play it again, but that’s okay. Sometimes, these old games exist more as an idea, a memory, than they do as contemporary experiences in their original right. Much as no one reads Greek myths looking for religious enlightenment, I enjoyed Dragon Warrior not as a thrilling experience of exploration but as a method of filling out the canon of videogames.

These motives will have to do.

Backlog Quest: An Introduction

To begin, some context: I have hundreds of videogames. I collect them, partly out of an an anthropological fascination with the medium, and partly as a result of my hoarding tendencies. Videogames have always been an important part of my life, and in my adulthood I choose to honor their continued influence on my personality by establishing a sizable and well-maintained collection of old and new games. I do this even despite my increasingly-limited free time.

As such, I have now only played a portion of my collection, and have only finished a tiny fraction. This problem is compounded by the fact that, when I do have some time to play games, I tend to default to games that I already know I enjoy, games I have beaten repeatedly. During these times, my countless unplayed games stand, judgmental, on my shelf and stare at me, and in these moments I am ashamed.

But no more. This is my quest: I shall play through these games which have, for so long, gone untouched. As I do so, I shall write about them here on this blog. These entries won’t be reviews, because I am entirely unqualified to review art of any sort. Rather, these posts will be my musings on why the games in question have become important, on why people enjoy them, or on why they have been abandoned. I don’t expect to like every game, but I do hope I can appreciate them all.

Edwin’s Song


So, my first project for my Edwin’s Bridge resolution was to write and record a song about Edwin himself. I was about ninety percent successful. I didn’t have any equipment for recording that first week, and so I had to settle with writing out the lyrics and chords to prove I had finished it within the week. This week, I managed to get my hands on some 1/4″ to 1/8″ cables to use with my keyboard to record the piano part.

My original intent was to then record the vocals over the piano track. As scared as I am of performing in public, I am infinitely more terrified by the idea of singing and being heard. Half the reason I am doing this ridiculous project (one creative product a week) is to get over my fears of being ridiculed, of being ashamed of things that aren’t shameful, like not having much of a singing voice. The other half is, of course, to get into the habit of finishing things.

And, to a degree, I failed. Granted, part of this failure was technical: my mic wasn’t properly working. I could have sang into my computer’s native mic, but that would have sounded distant and weird against the hard-recorded piano track. But the point was never to have the most polished production ever, or even a particularly good one. The point was just to do it, and I didn’t find a way.

Still, I recorded the piano part, and then the “vocal” part on a flute voice. I have embedded this mp3, if you so care to listen. It’s rough, both in the sense that I really know nothing about editing audio, and in the sense that I missed quite a few notes, rushed places, etc.

But, it’s a first effort. I have infinitely more experience recording music than I did a week ago. I put my finishing stamp on the manuscript and, at least, I’m letting people listen to my blunders and read my silly childish lyrics. It’s enough of a step.

Edwin song (better)

Lyrics (just pretend the flute is singing)

Over toast one day, Edwin saw
A turtle saunter by.
Feeling friendly, he decided
To stand up and say “hi.”
(she said) “Quel type de tortue êtes-vous?
Et où êtes-vous né?”
And Edwin realized sadly
He had no way to say
That he didn’t speak French,
But he was willing to learn,
As a hard-working turtle
With some time to burn.

He’s Edwin! Going on adventures,
He’s a turtle, and he’s a bit afraid of heights,
But that’s okay, ’cause he’s more excited than afraid.
This is awesome.
Edwin! Going on adventures,
He’s a turtle, and he’s a bit afraid of heights,
But that’s okay, ’cause he’s more excited than afraid.
He’ll be okay.

Walking along amongst some potted trees,
He sees one proud and tall,
And it says “Hello, I am a topiary,
And a bit of a know-it-all.
So I have some advice for you:
I know a happy tree.
He lives on a cliff that-a-way,
Pay him a visit for me.”


Down to the spikes, he turns his gaze,
And they fill him with dread
Because he knows, if there he goes,
He surely will be dead.
He looks up to the other ledge
And sees the happy tree.
The spikes seem duller, the have pillow points
In his fantasy.

[Chorus twice, fade on “He’ll be okay.”]

Edwin’s Bridge

Edwin's Bridge

Edwin’s Bridge- He says “halp! bridge, please?”


Happy 2013.

I have undertaken a project for the coming year. It is, I suppose, a resolution, the goal of which is to get more stuff done.

Context: I recently graduated college, and as such, I no longer must spend 25 hours a week at a part-time job and another 40-60 hours studying. Instead, I have only a 40-hour workweek. My nights and weekends are, for the first time in my adult life, my own.

Which is awesome. I’m excited.

For the past few years, I have carried around notebooks in which I kept ideas for poems, short stories, sketches, comics, songs, and other creative projects. Most of them were never intended to be some magnum opus, but these ideas very much clog up my head, and I would often find myself going back over my notebooks and admiring all the good ideas I’ve had.

This is not a healthy practice. In 2006, Ze Frank made a video referring to this phenomenon as “brain crack.”

So this year, I am going to expunge the brain crack from my skull. Using a variation of Stefan Bucher’s whimsical technique for sticking to a routine (illustrated at the end of this video), I have drawn the above picture of Edwin the turtle, who desperately wants to cross the chasm of poisoned spikes to reach the happy tree on the other ledge.

There are 52 spaces in that bridge. Each week, on Sunday, I will fill in one of the spaces, as long as I create some work of art that I had (or, if it is a new idea, would have) relegated to “some later time.” These will not include parts of the larger projects that I am always working on, such as finishing a novel or writing an awesome webapp. No, the Edwin projects must be standalone pieces, completed during the previous week. By the end of the year, I will have a bridge.

I must have something tangible to show for my efforts at the end of each week. The goal of this project is not knowledge or deliberation or consideration or enlightenment.

The goal is completion.

My first project is a song about Edwin’s life and how he came to be in this predicament.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review

(Note: This was originally posted here on my Destructoid blog, Level 3 Blues)

Last Spring, Roger Ebert famously stated that video games could never be art. Of course, his post was immediately inundated with comments from gamers and non-gamers alike, some foaming at the mouth in retaliation, some agreeing, and some (like me) who felt that he was, despite his status as a critic, no judge of something he didn’t understand. I could write pages upon pages about the status of video games as cultural products, or about why Ebert is insufficiently prepared to arrive at any conclusion regarding art in general.

But this is a video game site.

So instead of launching into a self-important rant about the meaning of art, or the philosophical and moral implications of choosing a definition that excludes what may be my favorite form of media, I’ll just talk about the fantastic Amnesia: The Dark Descent, from Frictional Games.

First, I want to put out that what almost every review of this game has agreed upon: It’s scary. At times, it is startling (a la jump-out-and-yell-boo) and at times it is disturbing (vicious scenes of torture percolate throughout the last quarter of the game) but the underlying chill of the game is the real draw, and what makes it so brilliant.

But let’s start with the story. You play as Daniel, who apparently lives at Mayfair and is being hunted by something. And that’s all you know at the beginning of the game. He has Amnesia (get it?) and it’s up to you- the player- to figure out what you’re doing and how to get out of wherever you are.

Throughout the game, you find scraps of Daniel’s diary and other notes, which serve to reveal more of the story. You are in Castle Brennenburg, and for whatever reason, you’re supposed to kill a man named Alexander.

Soon, however, a new element of the story begins to emerge: You are being hunted by something supernatural, which manifests itself in the form of a fleshy growth on the walls and ground of the castle. Whatever it is, you know it is dangerous and you continue to flee further into the castle to avoid it.

Along the way, you learn of the horrors of Castle Brennenburg, and of your place in them. Also, aside from the “Nightmare” that is chasing you, the castle hosts a variety of creatures willing to tear you to shreds. And there’s the clincher, because you have absolutely no way to defend yourself.

The only items you carry are tinderboxes (for lighting candles) and a lamp (which can and will run out of oil), plus whatever tools you find in your adventure. But nothing can be used for defense. If you see a monster, run and hide, because you stand no chance.

That helplessness lends immensely to atmosphere, which is by far the most magnificent aspect of this game. You see, especially in the early game, there are very few monsters. You won’t see any for quite a while. But the threat is always there, and every sound or shadow will send you running for the nearest hiding place, extinguishing your lamp and trying to breathe quietly. Okay, maybe only I did that.

Of course, having Daniel crouch in the dark for too long is a terrible idea, because in addition to the various horrors awaiting Daniel ahead and chasing him from behind, Daniel also is going insane.

Witnessing disturbing events, seeing monsters, or just being in the dark too much all contribute the the sometimes-rapid degeneration of Daniel’s mental health. The more insane he goes, the odder things you begin to perceive: doors slamming on their own, paintings changing to more gruesome ones, and so on.

This presents an interesting meta-resource-management aspect to the game. Do you carry your lamp, burning your rare oil, attracting whatever monsters may be around, but preserving your sanity? Or do you run across the castle from candle to candle, hoping to not trip over something monstrous in the meantime?

To return to the topic of atmosphere, I want to say that Frictional has created one of the most beautiful, engrossing environments in memory. Castle Brennenburg is gorgeous itself, in a Lovecraftian, fantasy-inspired ancient castle kind of way that geeks love. The scarcity of light lends to the beauty of the occasional window, the luminous stream pouring through a reminder that there is a reason to try to escape. The soundtrack is also astonishing. At times, it highlights the broodiness of the castle- dark, slow, and subtle. Sometimes, you stumble across a pleasant scene, and the music changes to a bittersweet, seemingly-reminiscent piano theme.

I would not classify Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a survival horror game in the traditional vein. This is an adventure game, one of the best I’ve ever played, though one with distinctly horror themes. The gameplay revolves around exploration and interacting with the environment. The puzzles are never difficult, but they actually help to pace the game. You should never be “lost” in Castle Brennenburg, because the game takes place in fairly closed environments, meaning that you should never have to go far to solve whatever puzzle is impeding your progress.

Finally, I’ll return to the story. I won’t give much away, but know that the narrative of Amnesia is superbly written, and the way in which the game drops small chunks of Daniel’s past into your lap, without any way to correlate them until the end, is brilliant. All you ever really know is that something is terribly wrong, and you have to fix it.

So, to return to my issue with Roger Ebert. Personally, I define art as any creation purposely made to impart an emotional experience unto another human being. By the end of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I was gripped by a deep sadness for Daniel, who (very very slight spoiler) learns some awful things about himself. By the time the credits rolled, I had experienced more emotion as this character than I have in most books I’ve read, or movies I’ve watched, or paintings I’ve seen.

Roger Ebert, go play Amnesia. You’ll thank me for it.

Simple Things, Reviewed: Inka Pen

Occasionally, we humans find solutions that seem to satisfy some need that we weren’t fully aware of having. When I got my first cell phone, this crazy new thing called text messaging was becoming popular. People were sending short messages to each other using truncated language from a device that was designed almost specifically to allow people to talk, using their voices, over long distances. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to send a text message?

Of course, I now send upwards of 50 text messages in a day to various people. When (older) people ask me why I don’t just call, I have an entire rant lined up: calling someone is inconvenient, it requires their time and energy at just that moment, text messaging is more discreet, and so on. But I never would have thought of all that ten years ago.

The Inka Pen is one such product that satisfies a dormant need. It is a small pen that clips onto a key chain. In the typical “space” pen fashion, it touts itself as being able to write upside down, underwater, and in space, as if I ever need to write in any of these situations.

The real value of the device is that it lends itself to ubiquity. It is on my key chain. I never leave home without my key chain. Ergo, I never leave home without a pen.

Now, being the geek that I am, I never left home without a pen anyway, right? You know, I say that, and I think that, but then I also remember the frequency of the times when I did not, in fact, have a pen on me.

Enter the Inka Pen.

It’s easier to draw it out of its little “sheath” than to fish a pen out of my bag, especially if I just need to write down something very small, such as a phone number. If you’ll be writing for longer than that, it is recommended that you perform the Transformers-like operation of unscrewing the sheath, removing both twist-off ends, and reconfiguring the miraculous utensil into a full-size pen.

It’s a lot quicker to do than it sounds, trust me.

And how comfortable is the actual writing with the pen? I’m a bit of a pen snob, so perhaps my opinion isn’t quite fair. Writing with the Inka Pen is not unpleasant, by any means. It has a  BIC pen-like quality, which is much lower than my standard Pilot G2 gel pens. But, it isn’t bad, and if I really want to write with something else, I’ll do just that.

The value of the Inka Pen isn’t how fantastic a pen it is, but rather, how convenient an embarrassment-preventer it is. Example: Someone quickly hands you a sign-up sheet and everyone in the room wants you to hurry up and pass it on. You dig around for a pen, which seems to take much longer than it should. You feel people staring.

Unless you know exactly where one pen is. It’s on your key chain.

So maybe most people aren’t as self-conscious as that. But some are, surely.

There are a few other points to note. The Inka Pen has an incorporated stylus, which seems like an odd last-minute addition, but whatever. I’ll never use it. The pen body is made of a polished stainless steel, and it has a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer. For pretty cheap, you can get replacement ink cartridges.

The Inka Pen is available from the manufacturer’s own parent company, Nite Ize or, interesting, from the fantastic Thinkgeek, which is where I got mine for free as a Geek Point premium.

It is now the pen I use most frequently.

(image copyright Inka Corporation 2005-2007)