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My Life in Redding: Introduction

Hello, my name is Ken Innes IV, and welcome to The Story of My Life. I've been wanting to document my life for a while now, and in March of 2002 I finally got around to it. Why? So that I will be able to remember what has happened in my life... or at least that was the original reason. Shortly after starting it, I realized that this account may be even more useful to our children (when we have some, and they've grown up).

Yours truly playing some pinball. I am sure that my parents must have had many, many experiences, most of which I know nothing about. And I imagine the same thing about my grandparents, and my great grandparents. Of course there are a few stories that get passed down through the generations, but how many more have been lost forever? So I decided that, along with asking my family for help remembering my childhood, I would also ask if they could tell me about their own lives. Oh yeah, and then I also figured that, since I'm writing this anyway, why not put it up on the web?

So why am I starting my life story at the point where I move to Redding? Well that's simple... because I can remember it! After I am caught up to the present day, I will then go back and talk about my life from when we moved back to Vallejo, Califorina. Then I will head even further back to when we moved to Bartlett, Tennessee. After that, I'll be starting from our move to Aurora, Colorado, the first move that I can actually remember. And then I'll be headed into the land of fuzzy memories at our first house in Vallejo, California. From then on, just about everything will have to be based on the memories of my family. So there ya go. Enjoy!

Oh, and if by some miracle you get to the end of my life story and want to know what's been going on since then, you can head on over to the updates page. This has become a journal of sorts in addition to listing the updates to Absolute Anime™. Hey, if you do end up checking it out then you must be pretty bored. So how about doing something useful instead, like learning a foreign language or washing your car. Yeah! Stop wasting your time reading about my stupid life and go have a stupid life of your own!

My Life in Redding: Career Day Unleashed

I was just out of college (CSUS, aka California State University, Sacramento), and had a new job at Working Designs, located in Redding, California. So off I went with my good friend, Latrice, to start a new era in my life. On our previous visit to Redding, we had picked out a nice little place at the Redding Hilltop Apartments. I believe we started moving on Friday, June 11th, 1999, and the following Monday, June 14th, was my first day on the job.

I arrived at work Monday morning, I'd say about nine-ish, as I was still used to waking up early. The programmer, Tim Trzepacz, had not yet arrived, so Victor had me sort some files and then play the Japanese PlayStation version of Lunar 2. I don't remember what time Tim arrived, but when he did, I headed downstairs and we began to set up an area for me.

My area was to the right of his, but on the same table. It was quite a tight fit, and we would constantly bump into each other. My computer was a new, pre-built system, my monitor was a 17 inch Viewsonic, and my keyboard was a Microsoft Natural. Installing the development boards into my computer was no simple task, and neither was getting them to work. We finally got them to work, after we had both worked on it for awhile. At that time there was only one internal PlayStation emulator and one external PlayStation CD-ROM drive. Tim had the emulator in his computer, so I hooked up the CD-ROM to mine. Even to run a game off of the computer, one of these had to be connected. Having only the CD-ROM meant that I could not test the game when it was built in CD mode. Oh yeah, and the CD-ROM drive itself wasn't all that great, often not recognizing discs very easily.

My first assignment (I should say "task", but at this point it still felt like an assignment) was to extract the voices off of the Japanese Silhouette Mirage game disc, so that they could be translated. This should have taken a few hours, as all that was needed was to discover that they were in a VAB format, and then write a simple C program to split each VAB into VAG files, which could then be converted into WAV files using an existing program. It took three days. Tim Trzepacz

Right around this time, Tim became sick and was absent for a few days. I was given a new assignment to make the analog sticks on the DUALSHOCK controller act like the regular directional-pad. I believe this took a couple days, but not just because of adding the support, but because the analog would turn off after every stage. To fix this, I used a variable to remember if the controller was in analog mode before the next stage began loading so that, if I needed to, I could turn on analog after the stage was finished loading. Much later on I was able to get the analog to stay on throughout the loading of the stage (I believe I did this by "pinging" the controller during the load).

When Tim became sick, he was currently working on getting Vanguard Bandits (then known as Detonator Gauntlet). While he was out, a copy of the latest version was needed, and I was asked to make one. Luckily, the CD-burner was hooked up to his computer, so I didn't have to worry about transferring files, but I still didn't know how to work the CD-burning software. Somehow I was able to figure out how to do this, and although it worked, I learned later about the proper way to update the files, save the CUE (a file that describes the contents of a CD), and start the burn. Soon after that first, or perhaps a second burn, I was asked to make another one. This time, however, it did not go so well. In fact, it did not go at all. After basically freaking out and checking everything I could think of, I had to go ask Victor if he could help. And help he did. As it turns out, it wasn't anything I did, it was just that the CD-burner had died. Thank god! This is when we got the most excellent four-disc external CD-burner, and it has basically worked well ever since.

Anyway, my next task on Silhouette Mirage was to reduce Shyna's (the main character from the game) magic power every time she used her weapon. I was able to get that done the same day, although tweaking the reduction rate for different weapons spanned several weeks. I was assigned other such tasks on Silhouette Mirage, and was able to complete them in a timely manner. Still, I did not feel anywhere near confident.

Somewhere around this time, Tim and I, along with Don Shirley, headed off to San Francisco for a PlayStation 2 conference. Don and I flew, while Tim drove. The conference was nothing spectacular, and basically just had companies talking about their development tools for the new system. Lunch wasn't anything special either, just sandwiches out on the grass. At night there was a "party" at the Metreon, but that was lame as well. Still, Don won a big screen TV with the tickets they handed out as we entered, and it was a neat experience.

Note: Tim Trzepacz's website is SoftEgg Entertainment. As of this writing (November 2002), he is currently working at Insomniac Games.

My Life in Redding: Running With Scissors

In the same month that I began my new job at Working Designs, "Weird Al" Yankovic released a new album entitled "Running With Scissors". I first learned this when Kelly showed it to Tim and I as she leaving for the day. She thought we'd like "All About the Pentiums", so we put it in the computer and had a listen. It was amazing, and instantly became my favorite out of all his parodies. Needless to say, Latrice and I went out and bought the album right away. But that's not all! We heard on the radio that "Weird Al" would be performing here, in Redding, on July 22! Wow, cool! I hadn't seen a "Weird Al" concert since I was in high school, and Treeses had never been to one.

Weird Al- Running With Scissors We had arrived at the convention center an hour or two early, as we were used to concerts playing at Arco Arena in Sacramento, and didn't quite know what to expect. We were the only car in the entire parking lot. So we just sat there in the car and waited, talking about who knows what. Eventually other cars started to fill in, when it looked like it was getting full we decided to enter the building. Unlike the concerts at Arco Area, this time we had assigned seats. They turned out to be located in the main center area in front of the stage, a couple sections back and towards the left, I believe. The concert started late, as I expected it would, and everybody was getting antsy for Al. Then the opening act came on stage.

Weird Al Concert Ticket Stub Holy crap! The opening act was a woman dressed in some funny, clown-like clothes who put on a performance that was obviously intended for little kids. Whoever scheduled this act obviously didn't know anything about "Weird Al" concerts. Only minutes after she arrived on stage, the booing began... and it was unmerciful. Now I don't know if how long her act was supposed to be, but I can tell you that it didn't last very long at all. I did feel a bit bad for her, but that feeling was soon overwhelmed by the relief that I didn't have to watch her embarrassingly dumb act anymore.

Finally the lights went dark, and the main attraction finally began. The set started off with "Gump", from his "Bad Hair Day" album, and continued on with various songs until the "encore", which consisted of "The Saga Begins" followed by "Yoda". Why do I quote the word "encore"? Well, because it just doesn't feel like it's a real encore, because Al and the band leave the stage and the audience applauds, but then everyone just sits there waiting for them to come back on stage and perform their encore. Sorry, but I don't consider it to be an encore when it's just expected, and no one demands it. Anyway, the concert was wonderful, just as good as I remembered. There were a few problems getting the projector to work right, but it in no way took away from the excitement of the show. I just wish Treeses could have enjoyed it more, as she was pretty sick that night. But hey, he's back in the recording studio now, so we'll be praying that he will once again decide to grace our little town.

My Life in Redding: The Second Story

After about a month at that office, we got the word that it was time to pack up and move into our new building. So we packed up everything in our area, and off we went. Oh, and let me tell you, there was a LOT of stuff. We used Tim's van to haul most of it, and just shoved whatever we could into my car, which wasn't very much. Tim gave me directions to the new place, as I had never been there before. As it turned out, his directions were not very good and I wasn't able to find it the first time out. I had to return to the office, but after obtaining some good directions from someone else, I was able to find it okay.

From the outside, the building was not very impressive. It was a bland, run-down looking two story building with doors that looked like they were about to fall off. They had locks, although they didn't do any good, as a good solid push would open the doors whether they were locked or not. Our space was located on the second floor, so at least the stairs seemed solid. I can't say as much for the handrail, though. So we hauled all our loot upstairs, around the corner, and down the hall and through the door into our new office space. Inside, there were a bunch of desks and a few cubicle walls set up, with more of both being assembled. Almost everyone was there; only Dave, our webmaster at the time, was missing. He had to remain at the old office until we had the web setup over here.

Tim and I got the area in the far right corner of the office. We set up tables and desks around the area to form a square, with one missing section for an entrance. He set up shop next to the window, while I decided to set up diagonally opposite of him. One of the first realizations I had while hooking up my computer is that the monitor cord wouldn't reach the monitor with the computer located under my desk. I casually mentioned this to no one in particular, and unplugged my computer, installing it instead next to my monitor. Only a week or two later, Victor handed me an extended length monitor cable so that I could move my computer back under my desk (and apparently, those cables are very expensive). It also wasn't long before I ended up putting a cubicle divider to the left of my desk to block the window reflection in my monitor. This divider also separated Tim and I from direct vision, putting us into what felt like separate cubicles.

My Life in Redding: Silhouette Mirage

Once we were all set up and settled in, it was back to work. I was still working on Silhouette Mirage, and Tim was still on Vanguard Bandits (called Detonator Gauntlet at this time). Some of the major tasks still before me were changing the font, adding dual memory card support, displaying load screens between levels, putting in the English voices, as well as adding some new sound effects, and of course fixing that god-awful train-stage bug.

Silhouette Mirage Font Attempting to change the font in the game was my introduction to PlayStation graphics. What I was supposed to do was replace the current font with the computer-esque style one now seen in the final game. It sounded simple enough. The new font had a bit depth of one bit per pixel (two colors - black and white), where the old font had a bit depth of four bits per pixel (16 colors - black, white, and shades of grey). I had some slight trouble getting the new font in, as I didn't realize at the time that the PlayStation could only handle image depths of 4, 8, 16, and 24 bits per pixel. Once I discovered that, it was simple to convert the new font to a four bits per pixel image.

Because I had to re-write a lot of the memory card functions to get and display more verbose information about the memory card status, adding dual memory card support to Silhouette Mirage wasn't too bad. This was my first encounter with the PlayStation memory card functions, but the PlayStation Library Reference gave good information and I didn't run into any serious hurdles. I only wish I could have said the same thing about adding new loading screens and fixing the train-stage bug.

Silhouette Mirage Status Screen Originally when Silhouette Mirage was loading the next level from CD, the text "Now Loading..." was displayed in the lower left corner on top of a black screen. How boring. What Victor originally wanted to do to make it a little more interesting was have a little animated character next to the words. After trying to implement this, I discovered that it just really wasn't do-able with the way the code was written. I did believe, however, that it was possible to put up a static, non-changing, full screen picture. So that's what we tried next, and it actually worked pretty good, well, you know, except for the lockups. The main problem here was just trying to find an address in memory where it would not interfere with anything during the load. Unfortunately, I had no memory map, so it was a matter of making calculated guesses along with trial and error.

I ran into a few snags while trying to put the newly recorded English voices and sounds into the game. One of these snags was a popping sound at the end of certain, seemingly random, sound clips. Victor mentioned that Tim encountered this before, and that what he did was to continually reduce the length of the sound sample by something like 1/10 of a second until the popping went away. So that's what I did, and although it was a huge pain, it did work. It wasn't until I was working on Lunar 2 that I encountered the same problem, and then actually researched it to find out what caused it. It turned out that the popping sound happens because there can be extra information stored in WAV files, and when the WAV files are converted into VAG files, the extra WAV information is not converted properly. To fix this, all that has to be done is to strip out this extra information from the WAV file before converting it, and there is at least one program out on the net, called StripWAV, that does this.

The train-stage bug was a bug that happened on the train stage (really?!) dealing with the mini-boss halfway through the level. At this point, it was possible to knock this boss off the back of the train in such a way that he did not die, but also did not return to fight. After this happened, there was nothing anyone could do except reset the PlayStation and try again. One of the things that made this bug so hard to fix was that putting debug statements in the code to find out what was going on would cause the game to slow down dramatically and thus cause the bug to either happen differently or not at all. And because it was not easy to get the bug to happen, it was difficult to tell if fixes worked. We ended up struggling with this bug off and on for several months. The good news is that I was eventually able to create a fix that worked.

Silhouette Mirage As we were reaching the end of the Silhouette Mirage project, I was asked to change the ending credits from a graphic to text-based system using the game's font. As I was doing this, I discovered that all of the enemies in the game were controlled by a "virtual controller". What I mean by this is that all characters were controlled by a PlayStation controller, except that instead of using the real data obtained from a controller, fake controller data was passed in to make the characters do whatever the designers want. I thought that this provided an excellent opportunity... so I ended up putting Zohar floating next to the ending credits as they scrolled, and enabled the player to control this character. I also provided a never-ending supply of Polly Peepers and pumpkin-headed Spectres to provide a release for Zohar's fury.

After adding Zohar to the ending credits, I had another, more fiendish idea. I decided to add a two-player versus mode. Unfortunately, I only had about one night to do this, so I was only able to get one stage, with Shyna and Zohar, operational. I choose to use the Core stage, as it already had a built in timer, which I made smaller and moved to the top of the screen. Thus was born Super Core Fighter 2! A player could only activate this by successfully completing all five paths of the game. I believe we even changed the color of the title screen when this did happen.

Silhouette Mirage Memory Card Icon Another change I decided to make at the very end of the project was to animate the memory card icon. Unfortunately, the only copy of the icon we had was in a C array, compiled directly into the source code. So to get the icon to animate, I simply took the array, and basically just swapped all the red and blue hex codes. Yep, that simple. It was actually more difficult to get the image out and converted into a file so that I could display it here... so you'd better enjoy it!

My Life in Redding: You Go, Girlfriend!

Work, work, work... is that all I can talk about? I know, but there wasn't a whole lot going on elsewhere. Back in our apartment, we had discovered the wonders of digital cable. Now this was neat, or at least it was compared to normal cable. No longer would we have to watch the TV guide channel slowly scroll through every imaginable channel. Now we could just bring up a list of everything that was one, and select what we wanted. Boom! Now we were on that channel. Awesome!

I also often talked online with my girlfriend for a couple hours each night. Now, at this point, Treeses was not my girlfriend, Lisa was... or at least that's what I thought. Treeses and I had a lot of fun together, and had a lot in common. For instance, we both liked the same types of movies, TV shows, toys, videogames, music, food, colors, and we even had remarkably similar tastes in decorating styles. The perfect girlfriend, wouldn't you say? But I didn't see that. I mean, how could I, when I wasn't even looking? Lisa was my girlfriend, so I didn't need to look for another. But my relationship with Lisa is one that wouldn't last, that couldn't last.

I don't remember exactly when, but Lisa visited once for about a week. Although we had been talking online for years, this is the first time we met. It was nice to finally meet her. This is also when I learned that she smoked. She knew I hated it, but instead of quitting, she just never told me. I told her that she would have to quit if we were to continue, and she said she would... but she never did. Before the week was over I began to get a slightly odd feeling about this relationship, but I really wasn't sure what it was. It wasn't until her next visit that I discovered what it was.

She wanted to be a free, strong, independent woman who worked for a living. Hey, that was fine with me. She also wanted to be a housewife, to cook dinner and do laundry. Okay, well, it would seem kind of difficult to do both, but I'm not one to keep somebody from following their dreams. Finally, she wanted me to control her, to lay down the rules, to tell her what to do and what she could not do. What... why... huh? This seriously confused me... until I thought it over a bit. You see, she wanted us to be like her mother and father. Her mother and father who don't get along, because he wants his wife to be a loyal subservient housewife, and she wants her freedom and independence. It all made sense... in a psychotic sort of way. I knew then that I had to break up with her. It was hard, very hard, but it had to be done.

Her month long visit ended shortly after New Year's, and this was the last time I would ever see her. She did not take the breakup very well at all, which made it all the more harder on me as well. I felt very sad and alone. But I was not alone, as Treeses was there. And she HAD been there. This is when I made the connection that it was Treeses and I that should have been together all along. I'm sure everyone around me knew this, just like it always happens in the movies: "Those two are obviously meant for each other. Why can't he see that?"

My Life in Redding: Panty Bandits!

All right, that's enough soap opera. Let's get back to work. Around December, Silhouette Mirage was finished and I took over Vanguard Bandits while Tim got started on Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete. Originally, Vanguard Bandits was called Detonator Gauntlet, but was changed because Midway had a problem with the word "Gauntlet". The name Vanguard Bandits came about when a few of us, including Victor, Justin, and myself, were in my area trying to think up a new name. So far all we really had was "Detonator Gear", when Justin cracked out a joke-name, I think it was something like "Panty Bandits", and Victor mis-heard it as "Vanguard Bandits".

Vanguard Bandits When I got handed the project, it was running in English but not much else had been changed. The first thing I noticed was that the battle animations became very annoying, and had to go, so I added the option to turn them off. Just removing them wasn't good enough, though, because without them it wasn't clear what had happened during the clash. So when the animations were turned off, we replaced them with status windows for each character, showing what had happened. This went through a few minor variations. I think that in the final version I even had the characters' faces' shake if they got hit.

One of the changes in the game that no one will even notice had to do with the text windows. It took several days, and required both Zach Meston (the writer) and myself. What we did was to close any text windows that weren't going to be used for the next three messages. We did this because there would constantly be two text windows on the screen, one at the top of the screen and one at the bottom, and both would contain text, but one would contain text from over three messages ago. Making this change really helped the readability throughout the game, but was a lot more annoying to implement than might be expected. Think about it... if we close unused windows, then we will have to open them again once they are needed. That was fine, except they don't just open, they actually open from somebody. This meant the animation of the window opening would start from the speaking character's location on the screen. Thus, we had to go through each and every event in the game, find when we needed to open a window, find who we were supposed to open it to, and then give the command to open it. What a pain!

Vanguard Bandits Memory Card Icon Many other changes were made, but I'm not going to go into detail about them. We changed the memory card icon to that of a shield. Before it was a picture of that stupid little platypus-like creature one girl has in the game. We also changed the colors of the experience bars from red and blue to blue and white, because having the red and blue right next to each other caused the colors to bleed over on some monitors. We added an "assistance condition" which would help you if you were surrounded by friends, or would be bad news if you were surrounded by foes. The menus were made nicer and easier to use, and we put a little help display at the bottom of the screen to tell the user what the buttons on the controller would do in the current menu.

Note: Zach Meston's website is Zach Meston's Bold (But Not Brash) Website v2.0. As of this writing, he is currently freelancing.

My Life in Redding: A Brand New Car!

2000 Toyota Corolla (silver) Around the time I started work on Vanguard Bandits, I decided that it was time for a new car. My current car, a battered-looking dark-red Mazda, had an broken A/C, a passenger's side window that wouldn't roll down, made a god-awful high-pitched squealing sound whenever it was started, and was just unreliable overall. So we went shopping for cars. What I had in mind was a Toyota Corolla, as I had one before and really liked it.

Looking around at Lithia Toyota on Saturday, December 5, I found the Corolla that I wanted. It was a year 2000 model. Originally opting for black, I decided to go with silver at the last minute because of how hot it gets in Redding. The paperwork was boring and took seemingly forever, but once the final document was signed I had my new car... at least on paper. They didn't have the one I wanted, so they had to have it brought up from Vacaville.

This was the first new car that I had ever bought. I didn't get cruise control or a CD player, but I did get power windows, power locks, a radio with tape player, air conditioning, exterior paint sealant, an interior protectant for spills and stains, and an alarm system. I also went for Lithia's lifetime oil change deal, which is provide for only a one time charge. It all sounded so great, but I'd have to wait until returning from my upcoming trip to Japan before I'd actually get to see my new car.

My Life in Redding: My First Passport

Just before the weekend that I picked out my new car, the date for our trip to Japan was announced... December 10. Today was December 3, and I still didn't have a passport. Victor had me go online to find out how I could get my passport within the next couple days. From what I could find, the only way was to head directly to the passport office... in San Francisco. The next available flight was on Tuesday, December 7; talk about cutting it close. So we got that booked, then went out and got a passport photo taken. That evening I called my parents to tell them about it, and my Mother said that we could make a day of it. She would drive down and meet me at the airport. That sounded good to me, as I hate traveling alone.

San Francisco Airport I arrived in San Francisco with no problems, except that I realized that I had given my Mom the wrong airline. The one I told her was all the way at the other end of the airport, and if you know the San Francisco airport then you know the only way from one end to the other is to go completely around. So I did. When I got to the other end I sat and waited, but there was no sign of my Mom. So then I thought that maybe she looked up my flight time and realized that I gave her the wrong airline, so I decided to walk all the way back where I originally disembarked. She was not there either. Okay, so I walked all the back to the other end of the airport once again to wait for her, except that now time is running out. I had a set appointment at the Passport office, and couldn't afford to wait much longer. Soon after, I went outside and got a cab, still wondering what happened to her.

When we arrived at the building, I noticed that I would not have enough cash for a cab ride back, so I asked if he took credit or ATM. He didn't. So I paid cash, and went inside, upstairs, though the little security check, off to get my passport. I had to fill out some paperwork (of course), and took a seat as I waited for my turn. It looked fairly crowded. As I was waiting, my Mom came in. She told me that she had been driving around one level below, where people are supposed to go to get picked up. I didn't see any signs that said that during my wait in the airport, and believe me, I had plenty of time to read every sign posted up there. She told me that she eventually ran inside and had them page me, saying that I should take a cab and that she'd meet me there. Well anyway, it was good to see her.

By the time it was my turn to go up to the counter, I was ready. I laid out everything that I needed to have with me, and was told that my photo would not work. Why? Because I had my hat on. Great... so we finished up everything else and then went out, got a new photo, and hurried back. That was it, now they just had to make it. We were told that it would be done before they closed for the day, so we went out to get some lunch and have our day on the town.

I don't remember where we got lunch, but remember that we ate outside because it was a beautiful, sunny day. After lunch we decided to head on over to the Metreon. Inside, we walked around, looking at everything it had to offer. This was her first time here, and my second, although I didn't really look around when I was here for Sony's party. Neither of us were impressed. They had an IMAX movie theater, a bunch of stores, and a few exhibits that I don't remember. Some stores sold the standard Sony stuff, some sold high-tech extremely expensive junk, and some just sold various knickknacks.

By this time, my feet were just killing me. They had already started hurting from walking across the entire airport several times, and now all this new walking was really taking its toll. So we decided to head back to the passport office, plus it was getting near to closing time for them anyway. Once there, we find that my passport was still not done, and neither were several other people's. We waited as it grew closer and closer to the cutoff. Now people were starting to get worried. Only minutes before the building was to be locked down, they finally had all of the passports finished. Everyone gathered around as the office personnel would call out names, and I believe that you had to sign something when receiving it. This was going just too slow, though, so a couple people in the crowd decided to help the tellers pass them out. Luckily, everyone was able to get their passport and make it out of the building right before it closed. And I had mine, so I was happy.

What a day. My Mom drove me back to the airport so that I could catch my return flight, and then she took off for home. If was a exciting day, but I was tired and my feet were aching, so I couldn't wait to get home. The flight home lasted about an hour, and Treeses picked me up when I arrived. I showed her my passport and told her all about the day. I can't remember a single thing that happened after that. Anyway, now I was ready for my trip to Japan, which would begin the day after next.

My Life in Redding: Welcome To Japan

I met Tim at the Redding airport early in the morning. Traving light, I had only one carry-on size bag. Tim had his bag, which was much larger than mine, and a giant, special case that housed his computer. This computer had Sony PlayStation development boards mounted inside it, and I believe Tim was bringing it to Japan to get a complete working development version of Lunar 2 installed on it. Anyway, we hopped on the hour-long flight to San Francisco (whoa, déjà vu) and arrived without any problems.

Airline reservations for flight to Narita At the San Francisco airport, we had an hour or two (I believe) before our flight to Japan would start boarding. There wasn't much to do, so we basically just sat around near where our flight would be. Besides, my feet were still really sore from all that walking in San Francisco just a couple days ago. While we were waiting, we saw several classes of Japanese students, all dressed in the standard Japanese school uniforms. They looked like high-school students, and seemed to be boarding a flight back to Japan.

When the tickets were purchased, they tried to get seats with Tim and I near each other so that I would have someone to talk to. According to the seat numbers on our tickets, it looked as if this would happen, but this did not turn out to be the case. Tim got the section of seats that was on the left side of the plane, then there was an aisle and a middle section of seats, and then another aisle and finally my section on the right side of the plane. I think I had the aisle seat. Oh well, guess I'll just have to depend on the in-flight movies to keep me entertained. Yeah, right. They showed that one movie with the bride who would always run away from her wedding. Oh no, the excitement! They showed one other movie too, but it can't think of what it was.

Now I don't want to say that the eleven hour flight to Japan was boring, but IT WAS!! Oh god was it boring! AND I MEAN BORING!! It was like attending church ten times in a row, except that you didn't even get to do the occasional sitting and standing. It was like being too sick to get out of bed and having your TV stuck on the Lifetime network, except that you couldn't even lie down. It was like being held hostage, chained to a chair, and forced to continually listen to Zamfir, master of the pan flute, except that there was no chance of it ending for at least several more hours. Simply put, it sucked.

Map of Narita Airport And then we landed. Local time is... uh... late afternoon, I think. I'm not sure exactly where in the airport we went after we disembarked, as I was just following wherever Tim went. I remember we wound up in some area where there were people, and I waited there with the luggage as Tim went off to do some currency exchange. He apparently had some problems, as it took him a while to return. When he did, we were off to find our hotel.

We headed down into the depths of the airport, until we came upon the subway boarding area. There was a little shop right near the entrance, which had all sorts of Japanese snacks, comics, and other such tidbits. I followed Tim onto one of the trains, and I believe we departed the train before it departed the station when Tim realized it was the wrong one. I don't quite remember if that is how it happened, so I will be trying to contact Tim and confirm this. Anyway, we did get on a train, and it did leave the station with us on it, although it did not drop us off at the hotel. We may have even switched trains at some point.

Once we finished our transit by means of train, we had to walk to the hotel... carrying all our baggage and hauling that humongous computer case behind us. Tim had the idea to strap one of his bags onto the humongous computer case and tie his other bag (which had wheels) behind the computer case. Man, that was a funny sight, but it did work, at least partially. The bag tied onto the case would occasionally fall off, and the wheels of the computer case really got beat up, which made it even harder to pull. Oh yeah, and it seemed like we were constantly running into steps along the way. It was a long walk which mostly took place underground, but we finally made it to the hotel, took the elevator upstairs, and got ourselves checked in.

Washington Hotel We were staying at the Washington Hotel, which was located right above the underground mall. This was nice for convenience. Both of our rooms were on the same floor, but were several rooms apart from each other. Stepping into the room, I first noticed that it was very small even compared to Motel 6 style rooms. Directly to the right was the bathroom, and taking a few steps past that was the main room. There was a dresser against the left wall, with a small TV set atop it. On the right wall was the bed, which was easily within reaching distance of the TV. The window was on the far wall directly in front of me. It offered a wonderful view of the city (of course, I doubt I would have considered it "wonderful" if it hadn't been JAPAN!). Unfortunately, the window didn't really open so I wasn't able to get a better view. So it was small, but that's the way I like it, because it takes very little movement to get to where I want to go.

My Life in Redding: The Japanese Experience

It must have been getting late by the time Tim and I got settled into our hotel, but we were both still wide awake and thus decided to go out on the town. So out we went. There were shops all over the place, and the streets were still bustling with people. I was in awe, and my eyes darted around in an attempt to see everything at once. I'm not sure exactly where we walked; I just followed wherever Tim went. The first shop we went in was a laser disc shop, and was on the second floor of a building. As we climbed the stairs, I noticed that all of the posters on the wall right next to us were of half-naked Japanese women. This was the first shop we were going to? Wow, I've never seen that side of Tim before, and I was impressed... uh... not that I like porn or anything... yeah... um... it's just that it made me feel like we were regular guys and not just two computer geeks out to find the lost episodes of Dr. Who on laser disc or whatever.

Once we got upstairs, Tim started flipping through laser discs while I just walked around looking at everything in general. Soon I heard Tim exclaim with realization that he knew what kind shop this was, and so we headed out. Damn... uh... not that I like porn or anything... yeah... um... it's just that I was a little disappointed that our "coolness" lasted about sixty seconds. Oh well, back to reality. I don't remember where we went after that, I just know that I enjoyed it all. The only negative... my feet were absolutely killing me. Although I never wanted to stop looking around, we knew that we had to get some sleep so we made our way back to the hotel. I had no trouble at all getting to sleep that night.

That first morning we met up and went to have the complimentary breakfast from the hotel. There were two different breakfasts, so we just picked one and went. It wasn't too bad, but the other breakfast turned out to be much better when we went the next morning. I think it was a buffet style, but anyway, that's the one we continued going to for the rest of our stay. It was high up, and I think I tried getting a picture of the street below, but the glare on the window had other ideas. After breakfast, we went out on the town once again.

Akihabara I believe we had the next two days off before our meetings about Arc the Lad, and basically all we ended up doing was shopping, which was fine by me. We visited a lot of laser disc shops, and although I don't have a laser disc, it was still fun to look around. We also found a shop that had comics and toys, which was heaven. I bought two action figures here, one I didn't recognize and the other from Ghost in the Shell.

There was at least one day when we went to Akihabara. This place was great! There are stores and shops everywhere, filled with every type of electronic device imaginable, as well as computer software, video games, video tapes, laser discs, and much more. One thing I noticed was that, in a several of the stores, the adult material was not kept hidden. In fact, it wasn't even separated from the normal material. If this was done in the U.S., there would a lot of parents freaking out.

Another thing I noticed about the stores in Tokyo is that they are all multiple stories. Sometimes there are even different stores on each floor. The bigger stores had elevators and/or escalators, but I only saw elevators in a couple of the smaller ones (and no escalators, of course). We only used elevators once or twice; most of the time we just took the stairs. One store had a floor containing a small restaurant where the waitress were dressed in anime-style uniforms. That was almost surreal.

We ate lunch and dinner at various places, but never did we eat anything that couldn't be easily had back in the States. We had a snack at a donut place, we had McDonald's in the underground mall, we had steak dinner in a small restaurant also located in the underground mall, we ate ramen from an authentic ramen shop, and I'm sure there was more that I don't remember. The ramen we had was served in a huge bowl, and neither of could finish the whole thing. I felt better, though, seeing that no one else sitting around the rectangular wooden table could finish the entire bowl either.

My Life in Redding: Visiting Sony of Japan

The Monday after we arrived was the first of the two (or three?) meetings we were to have with Sony of Japan. We were met in the hotel by a two-person camera crew who was going to film our adventure for The Making of Arc the Lad Collection. Actually, it was a good thing they were there, because we would have gone to the wrong building had they not pointed us in the right direction. They filmed us walking down the street, and gave instructions to point at buildings and look like we were talking about them. It was quite weird. They also told us not to look at the camera, which was extremely difficult when the camera guy was dodging around in front of us like someone was shooting at him.

Vib Ribbon At the Sony building, we took the elevator upstairs and checked in. We had a short wait while our host was on the way to greet us, so while we were waiting we looked around at the video game posters they had up along the wall. One of the more interesting ones was Vib Ribbon. When our host arrived, she saw Tim looking at the poster and... okay, wait... this is a bit too much detail here and why should you even care... well, basically the point I'm getting at here is that later on she ended up giving Tim several games, including Vib Ribbon, to take back with us. All right, so then we were led through their offices into a big meeting room, where we all took seats and were offered some tea before we began. I don't remember what the teas offered were, just that one was American style and the other was Japanese (I didn't see any visible difference whatsoever). Tim had the American tea, while I tried the Japanese. It was quite good, and I even had seconds (and perhaps even thirds... I don't recall).

Tim asked all of the questions during the meeting, as I had never started a project before, and thus had no idea what needed to be asked. He inquired about such things as the format and location of the game font, whether or not there was Japanese writing in any of the game's full motion video sequences, and information about any Japanese speech in the game. The questions were all kind of general, as up to this point neither of us had played any of the Arc games.

After the meeting, we went out to the programmers' cubicles to actually see the games running, and the procedure for building them. Day one of the meetings was all about Arc the Lad III, so that's what we were showed. The camera crew was still there, and filmed us watching the opening of Arc III. They kept asking us to make comments about it and answer questions as to how we liked the game. Once again, we were in a very weird feeling situation, as neither of us had ever played any of the Arc games. We never even had a copy to look through the manual or to boot it up and watch the intro. I don't remember what we said, but you can bet it was total bull-crap.

The second day went pretty much the same as the first. We we went out to the programmers' area again, they couldn't get Arc the Lad (or Arc II?) to build, and when they tried just running it, a black and white playback is the best they could get. Needless to say, this did not look promising for us... or actually me, since I was going to be working on the Arc project. We left with only a hard drive dedicated to Arc the Lad III, and were told that they would fix the other games and send us the hard drives. Oh yeah, and they couldn't give us the source to the voices used in the game, because it was "top secret", or some stupid excuse like that. Whatever.

After our meetings, we would once again take to looking around Tokyo, but I've already told you a lot about all the shopping. I'll just say that on the last night, I bought two wall scrolls (a Card Captor Sakura and a Magic Knight Rayearth), an anime schoolgirl figure posed to sit over an edge, and a suitcase to help bring back all the new stuff. The suitcase we found in one of the very last stores we looked in, right when it was just about to close, so that was quite lucky. The excitement of being out on the town, at night, in Tokyo, soon began to mix with disappointment, however, for as we headed back to the hotel for the last time, I could feel that our adventure was winding down to its end.

My Life in Redding: There's No Place Like Home

The day finally came when it was time leave. Tim had to head over to Vanguard to do something with Lunar 2, and I had to head home. I packed up everything I had and went to Tim's room where we divided up everything that could be taken back with me. We then checked out of the hotel and headed to the subway station. Actually, we most likely had breakfast first, but I don't recall for sure. At the station, Tim showed me which train I had to take to get to the airport, and helped me get a ticket for it. He then took off on a different route, dragging the giant computer case behind him.

I still had a long time before my flight left, but I decided to go to the airport anyway. Why? I mean you'd think that I'd want to go look around some more, especially since my flight didn't leave until 7:15 in the evening! Well, I'll tell you. There are a couple reasons, the first being that MY FEET HURT! Oh, how they hurt. Once, while we were exploring the town, we stopped into a shop and bought some aspirin-like drugs in an attempt to ease the pain. It worked a little then, but not enough, as they never stopped hurting completely. The second reason is that I have a lousy sense of direction and tend to get lost very easily. If I tried going off on my own, who knows where I would have ended up.

My train wasn't due for awhile, and it was quite cold outside, so I went into the little shop they had out there to warm up. While in there, I ended up buying two comics to read on the plane ride back. The comics were those exceptionally thick kind that are commonly found in Japan. They are cheaply made, and tend to be read once and then discarded. I heard that it is a common practice for people to reach in the trash and pull one out to read while they're on the subway. And guess what? Yep, I actually saw this happen.

I made it to the airport without any problem, and got through all the checkpoint quite easily. I had to remove the hard drive from my suitcase when they put it through the x-ray machine, but that wasn't really a problem. I exchanged all my yen back to U.S. currency, looked around the airport shops, and then took a seat nearby where my plane would be docking. There I waited several more hours until it was time to depart. The plane ride back, although supposedly a couple hours shorter than the flight over here, still seemed just as bad. Again, there were a couple movies... Notting Hill was one, and I can't remember the other. Or perhaps I just don't want to remember...

Once we arrived in San Francisco, I wasted no time in heading over to the departure area for Redding. By this time I was exhausted, as I had been up for what must have been about twenty-four hours. There was still a couple hours before my flight would leave, but unfortunately I couldn't get any rest due to the uncomfortable seats they had in the waiting area. Once aboard the plane, I settled in nicely. That flight, from San Franciso to Redding, was quickest flight I ever had. At only five minutes long, it was just awesome. I sat down and closed my eyes, we took off, and then we were landing. Simply wonderful.

When I arrived, Treeses was there to pick me up... in my new car! Cool! Unfortunately, my suitcase wasn't there. Big surprise. They told me at the counter that they would have someone bring it by when it arrived, so we went ahead and left. Guess what? No one did. Big surprise. After a good sleep, we went back down there that evening and picked it up. The suitcase had the Arc III hard drive in it, so we kind of had to have it. I don't remember if I went into work the next day, or if I just slept the entire time, but I think I just slept. What I do know is that re-adjusting to California was really difficult.

Shortly after I returned home, Lisa arrived for what would be her final visit. As I mentioned earlier, things would not work out between us, but that is not to say we did not have some nice times. We went to the park, we went out to see some movies (Magnolia, Bringing Out the Dead, Bicentenial Man), we stayed at home and rented some movies, we went out to dinner, and other such activities, but it's what we did on New Year's Eve that I'll never forget. I'll give ya a hint... I was hot, sweaty, out of breath, and in bed yet didn't get much sleep.

That's right, I was sick as a dog. We both were, but I definitely got the worst of it. I had a very high fever, I couldn't eat, felt dehydrated, and was even delusional at times. Oh man, did that suck. Yes, it was even worse than my flights over the Pacific. And I was still quite sick even after the fever broke and I could start eating again. At one point, Lisa got so annoying that I actually tried going in to work just to get away from her. Don't worry, everyone else was on a vacation at the time, so there was no worry of infecting others.

Continuation: My Life in Redding, California From 1999 to 2001

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