It’s nearly 40 years since the Rubik's Cube came out. I just learned how to solve one yesterday.
I can’t really take any credit for that. Tutorials and guides have obviously existed for decades. Whatever depths there are to plumb in that plastic toy have been fully plumbed. I think I even had a second hand book on How to Master the Cube, or something like that but I don’t know that I ever got more than a page or two into it. We had a couple of cubes, a pyramid, some 2x2’s from cereal boxes, and, I think, a ball. I don’t remember ever solving any of them. If I had any interest in learning how to solve one I certainly didn’t apply it.
The real reason that I can’t take any credit for learning how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, is because I didn’t. My son did.
There seems to have been a resurgence of the Rubik's Cube speed solving fad. At least among my son and his friends. One day he asked where the Rubik’s Cube was. We had picked one up at a garage sale years ago and left it in the car as a potential distraction during long trips. Like a great majority of the worlds Rubik’s Cubes, it had probably been played with half a dozen times. It had grit and something sticky on it, but it still worked. He used it a few times before taking it apart, cleaning it up, and lubricating the surfaces so that it moved fairly smoothly again.
Over the next week of so, he would sit on the couch for extended spans just watching youtube videos and reading pages about solving the cube while practicing the moves required to jostle its faces into position. It wasn’t long before he could solve it repeatedly and started to work on increasing his speed.
Sometimes you just need implied permission to do something. The Rubik’s Cube is almost as old as I am and, being a curious sort about puzzles and games, I’ve always wanted to know how it worked. Sometime over the past few decades, I did find out that it wasn’t terribly complicated and you only needed to memorize a small set of moves and patterns. Memorizing small sets of moves and patterns pretty much describes any work I have done since my 20s, so I figured how hard could it be. Still, until my son did it, and in turn provided me with implied permission to try, I wasn’t likely to dedicate myself to it for any length of time. Now I had a teacher if something wasn’t making sense and someone who knew the process well enough to ask cube questions in cube terms.
I’ll probably never be as fast at it as he is, but that’s okay. I have zero interest in competing at Rubik’s Cube solving. If he is or isn’t, then that’s okay too. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that if you decide to learn a thing, you probably can. It makes learning all the other things that seem complicated a little less daunting.
Best Games - Forza Motorsport
I'm not really a car guy. A lot of my family are very mechanically inclined. They might even qualify as car guys. I grew up in a car guy town. So much so that a lot of the car guys were girls. Maybe a car folks town. I have paged through the autotrader. I know the difference between a hemi and rotary. I change my own oil and have done minor maintenance on every car I have ever driven. Still, I don’t consider myself a car guy.
From time to time, I can brush up against what it might be like to be a car guy. Almost always because of a video game.
Well before I was old enough to have a licence I played a lot of the game Test Drive on a 286 pc. I played it not because it was a particularly good simulation of driving, but because it included a Ferrari Testarossa in the lineup of exotic sports cars. This was a car feverishly fetishized among my peers. I couldn’t even tell you why, but I wanted to drive that Ferrari, and I wanted to drive it fast.
Unfortunately Test Drive, as a game, really couldn’t live up to the aspiration. You pilot a sports car down a cliffside road and veering to either side will cause you to crash. Traffic on the road is a constant hazzard, but you can only see about 20 meters in front of you so you will probably crash. If you over rev your engine, your windshield inexplicably shatters, and yep, that counts as a crash. Less a driving game and more a waiting for a tow truck game.
For the briefest moments, I was something like a car guy. Just without all the messy interest in actual cars.
By the time the original Gran Turismo came out on the Playstation, I had been driving for a while. I remember searching the car list for my Crown Victoria and mid 80’s Toyota Supra but coming up empty. I had to be content with driving the games version of the Subaru Impreza. While my interest in racing games and car games had definitely increased, my aspirations had been tempered somewhat. Driving pretend cars that I could possibly drive in real life seemed a lot more fun. That was probably because I now had a frame of reference. I knew what driving, even driving fast, felt like and trying to recreate that feeling in a game was exciting.
While Gran Turismo was a fun game, it didn’t really feel like driving. Conveying the feeling of speed and momentum was beyond the capabilities of a game from 1997 (spoilers: it’s still beyond the capabilities of a video game, mostly)
In real life, I drove the Toyota Supra until it finally gave up. I played racing and driving games on the Playstation, the Dreamcast, the Playstation 2, and the XBox. None of them felt like actually driving and none of them made me any more interested in cars. Hovercrafts maybe, but not cars. Until I played Forza Motorsport.
Forza Motorsport was packed full of cars to drive and tracks to drive them on. Still no sign of my Supra but I had gotten used to that. More important though, it included one crucial addition. Forza Motorsport included a driving line.
The driving line in Forza Motorsport is a truly wonderful thing. The option to turn on the driving line is in the assists menu. The developers considered it a cheat. A way to make the game easier. The real beauty of the driving line is that it makes Forza Motorsport feel more like actually driving.
There are no video games that can recreate the feeling of driving a car. The force of acceleration. A hard turn or slamming the brakes. The graphics and sound can attempt to recreate everything in precise glowing detail, and with VR you can even experience all of that from inside the car, but if you are not moving, you won’t feel like you are moving. The driving line in Forza is like braille for your sense of motion. What you can’t feel, it attempts to recreate using a curving line in shades of green and red.
Is it perfect? No, far from it. But the driving line in Forza, after I had gotten used to it, let me experience a closer approximation of driving than I had ever experienced before in a driving game.
I went on to race dozens of hours on those tracks. I raced a Subaru Impreza even in races where it wasn’t the best car to choose. I tuned cars and swapped out parts. I tweaked and adjusted tiny nuances to make the cars drive just as I liked.
For a short while, I was a car guy. Well maybe not really, but I did play as one in a video game.
Forza Motorsport is one of the best games.
A lot of small changes over here while I work on the scenes and changes in other parts of the story. I'll be lifting out entire chunks and rewriting them to make the story flow better. I've been working on this for a while, and only now have I figured out how to use the planning parts of the writing software I'm using. Just been scratching all my plans and ideas down in another document until now. They actually have tools for that sort of thing, and it turns out they work pretty well. Strange?