Friday, 15 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: Winter Updates in Games

Around this time of year all the big games start rolling out their Christmas updates. Games will get seasonal facelifts, characters often get Christmas themed outfits, and levels are covered in snow to celebrate the holidays.

Animal Crossing was perhaps the first game I played that really went all out with it's Winter change. Since the Gamecube featured an internal clock, the game's world would change seasons according to the real world, so as England started to get snowy, so too did the little town of Korser. Here's a little gif of what I think of whenever I play Animal Crossing in December.

More recently though, Overwatch got it's second Christmas update and brought back the Winter games. More costume for the characters, more snowball related mini games, and more poses of characters raising a mug of cocoa to unlock. Games are always better with friends though, and I once again strapped in for a few rounds of games with Daniel. It's a great way to stay in touch with him despite the geographical distance between us, and the incentive to play together to unlock our Christmas swag is very tempting.

Last year, I was browsing through an appreciation thread on Reddit discussing the Winter update and there was a faintly heartwarming post by a single parent. They explained that they don't really have the means to celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, their family, and their income were both very limited, as such, Christmas really wasn't a very big deal for them. However, since the parent and the child like to play Overwatch together, they found a means of getting into the Christmas spirit together through their love of games. As cheesey as it sounds, I thought it was a nice story and it made me count my blessings. I'm lucky to have a great family to celebrate Christmas with, but it warmed me to think that even something as simple as a free cosmetic update for Overwatch is enough to instill the Christmas spirit in one family.  

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: The Sandman

Of all the posts, this one will perhaps be the most left of field. By itself there is absolutely nothing Christmassy about Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic series. It's dark, it's moody and it's pretty graphic in places, but it's that contrast between the tone and content of the story with the usual smiles of the outside festive season that pulls me further into the world of The Sandman.

I first read the books around 7 years ago, and I have this distinctive memory of reading the first one while going out to get the Christmas tree one year.

The chapter I associate most with Christmas is also one of the nastiest. A deranged lunatic used an ill-gotten power to slowly drive the customers of a drive-thru diner to madness over the course of 24 hours and eventually they end up murdering each other. I read it just after we put the tree up so I got to experience this fun little juxtaposition wherein the story of the world is so dark, yet I was sat next to something so cheerful.

Reading that chapter now next to the warm glow of our current Christmas tree makes me feel like everything is ok in the world. I pull this book out ever other year or so and just flick through the artwork to get a sense of what I felt like when I first read it many Christmas' ago.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: Short Films

When I was very young, my parents used to tape various Christmas shorts that were on TV. Louis and I watched these two tapes labelled 'Christmas 1996' and 'Christmas 1997' over and over again and they featured shorts like The Gogs, Prince Cinders and Famous Fred. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of most of those, I guess that's just a testament to how personalised those video tapes felt. No one else had tapes exactly like these and those random Christmas Eve movies of '96 and '97 are forever a part of my childhood as a result; they are the ultimate form of Christmas nostalgia for me.

I went back to skim through a handful of those films if I could find them online, and since Rebecca was watching over my shoulder with me, she suggested a few shorts I'd never heard of before. So I decided it would be nice to make some new memories, sit down and watch some Christmas stuff I'd not seen before.

1. Micky's Christmas Carol

First up was Micky's Christmas Carol, a remarkably faithful adaptation of the classic Christmas story with just enough Micky Mouse to make it feel like it's own thing. I was actually surprised just how effectively this one managed to convey the story without falling back on any bad jokes or diluting the 'darker' parts.   

2. Peace on Earth

Next was Peace on Earth, a bit of an alternative one with a good premise. A squirrel grandfather tells his grandchildren about the war that wiped mankind off the face of the earth. It was slightly obvious with its 'man is evil' message, but for 1939, I guess that was pretty original, especially for children's animation.

3. The Little Matchgirl

Do yourself a favour and just go ahead and watch The Little Matchgirl. You can find it online very easily and it's only five minutes long. It's one of the best thing's I've seen all year thanks to some lovely animation and some incredibly focused storytelling.

All that's left is for me to hunt down a handful of the other short films that were on those old tapes. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of this animation about the nativity and the story of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. I can remember the art style, and that's about it. Really want to see it again, but even going through old TV listings from the Christmas periods of '96 and '97 I'm no wiser to the film's name.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: Christmas Markets

You can't go through mid December without going to a Christmas Market. Great memories of heading out to the markets when I was living in Bournemouth, sitting out in the cold and enjoying a nice warm drink with a few friends while your all wrapped up, just love that. Rebecca and I wanted to explore Bath's Christmas market because its meant to be one of the best and most popular ones in the region.

I was ready to engorge myself on overpriced mulled wine and German sausages, but alas, Bath Christmas market was over. We missed it by a day. Feel a little bad for Rebecca since she took the day off work so we could go see it.

That is the face of defeat. The shacks were still there, as were dregs of fake snow on the pavement. It was all half there, taunting us. Guess we'll have to make do with Bristol's market for the time being.

Quest for Christmas: Chicken Warmer

Now, on this Quest for Christmas thing, I have tried to be open minded and willing to try new things in order to get me closer to that holiday spirit. And it turns out, you can find a little glimpse of that in some places where you would least expect it: McDonald's.

At least I thought I could. The Christmas Chicken warmer is a limited time offer meal at McDonald's, and since I am currently a soft-hearted sucker for all things Christmassy, I took the dive and ordered up.

'Christmas is here' the packaging promised, but I wasn't so sure. What's the first flavour that comes to mind when you think Christmas? Probably cranberry sauce, turkey or gravy. Certainly not whatever sauce they smothered my chicken in. I can only describe it as a curried sweet and sour sauce, very odd.

Chicken pieces were also just too big for the burger, and since they were lubricated by the sauce, they slid out of that oh-so-beautiful bun the moment you grip your burger.

It all made for some experimental meal that felt a bit under baked and about as Christmassy as a tea bag. It was like opening up the big present under the tree, hoping it's that big Lego kit you've always wanted, but instead it's just a collection of soap. Disappointing and just goes to show you can't hope to find Christmas cheer in a small, warm box at Victoria Train Station. You have to earn it.   


Friday, 8 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: Wrapping Up

Stepping outside today made me realise just how chilly the Winter period can be... and I love it! Ok, perhaps I won't in the weeks after Christmas, but for now at least, the temperature has dropped to a point that I associate with Christmas time. And with cold weather comes warm clothes, and more importantly, and excuse to wear them again!

I love the sensation of putting on multiple layers before braving the cold. Feeling bulky due to the extra padding is lovely and it just makes you feel prepared. Then coming into a warm house after a long time outside is just so satisfying.

I'm heading down to London tonight on a late Megabus, so I'll be wrapping up tight to leave the house. I was outside earlier and it's definitely hit that point where your eyeballs start feeling a bit frozen, so I'll be needing as many layers as I can get my hands on.

 A walk in the cold at night does seem fairly romantic, but I know I'll be cursing it the moment I grow weary of it.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Quest for Christmas: The Tree

As if we didn't have enough Christmas trees this week. Rebecca and I decided to make our flat a bit more festive and commit to putting up the tree.We put on some Christmas music as is tradition, and laid out all the bits and pieces for decorating.

Still feels a bit funny to put up a fake tree, it was hugely entertaining to unfold all the metal hooks and pieces as it all fell into place in a very satisfying way. Our family goes all out for real trees typically, while more authentic, they do have a habit of dragging in bucketloads of needles. At least with this one there is minimal mess.

Rebecca was seriously into the composition of the tree and the ornaments, I managed to get this cheeky shot of her deliberating where to put the worlds smallest bauble - extremely dedicated.

Just as I started to run out of good Christmas songs, we were all done, the final thing looking like this:

Really brightens up that corner of the room now, and we even got the little robin I bought in first year perched on top once again. Usually he's stuck on our bookshelf, but every Christmas he sits on high.

Now the tree is up I feel like Christmas is really starting to get into full swing. I'm already looking forward to watching more films and read some books under it's branches. Christmas has officially entered our flat!