Kitchener Vacation

I took Friday off this week to go to Kitchener to visit an old university friend for a weekend of fun.  This story has perhaps too much detail about the trip, so you gamesters should skip right to the Playdium section for the interesting stuff.

Friday - Toronto

On Friday, the plan was to take the 9:20 train to Toronto, meet Yoda, and head over to Kitchener in his car.

Train Trip to Toronto

The trip was quite nice, the view of sunny Ontario rolling by the window distracted me so much that I only finished chapter 0 and 1 of the C++ reference book I was studying.  The train got off to a slow start (advancing a few feet and then stopping in the station and then going slowly) due to signal problems.  The steward kept people busy by training them on the emergency equipment - showing one guy how to get the hammer out and break the window.  I got the lesson on opening the interior and exterior powered doors (manual override switches and controls) and getting people out of the train (hint - use the side where there aren't other tracks).  Despite the initial delay, the train got into Toronto on time.

Toronto Tour

As I walked into the main part of Union Station, I spotted Yoda waiting for me.  He had left Windsor earlier in the morning, allowing an extra hour for traffic (which he used up trying to park his car in downtown Toronto), so he arrived just in time.  I dropped off my bags at the Via baggage check desk ($2 for 24 hours for customers) and we decided what to do.

Lunch at Planet Hollywood

Yoda was hungry after driving for several hours so that made the first decision.  We went outdoors to scout around for somewhere to eat.  A bit of walking down Front street lead us towards the CN Tower, which looked like an interesting place to visit, but after lunch Yoda insisted.  While heading towards some other restaurant, I noticed Planet Hollywood, just beside the door to the CN Tower.  Yoda heartily recommended it.

We went in, service was very attentive (the welcoming hostess and the waiters all had radio headsets to communicate between themselves - so we got transfered from hostess to waiter to the ready table upstairs very efficiently).  The decore is Hollywood - various props from old and recent films scattered around, big TV sets showing movie clips and movie theme music.  The dress code was loose, and many of the people there looked touristy like us (jeans and summer shirts).  The food was good, a lot like Lone Star in quality and quantity and price (I had the hamburger - bowl of salad, platter with French Fries and a bun (containing a giant oval patty and its own thick heap of vegetation)).  Even the restroom was well appointed, with a human attendant to turn on the water and hand you paper towels.

Skydome Circumnavigation

After bloating up, we walked the few paces to the CN Tower entrance and had a look at their prices.  Fifteen dollars for an elevator ride?  Plus another ten to look at the entertainments at the top of the tower?  I passed on it, even though it was great weather for a tower trip.  So, we wandered through the ground complex, crossed the walkway over the railway tracks and found the Sky Dome.

Maybe a baseball game that evening?  No games were scheduled that day, as the one ticket guy on duty said (in a bank of dozens of box offices at gate 9).  We continued on, walking around the dome, past various other entrances (spotting some possible players coming out with golf equipment), then we ended up on Front Street again.  So, what to do?  Yoda suggested a dinosaur expedition.

Royal Ontario Museum

We got back to the train station, took the subway ($2 fare, after getting lost underground and stopping for a snack at an underground Harveys - Yoda didn't have enough to drink at Planet Hollywood) and arrived at the easy to remember "Museum" station.  A $10 fee got me a pass into the museum (a plastic clip on tab) and a map.


The first stop was the second floor dinosaur exhibit.  The path through the exhibit seems to be arranged backwards in time, starting with Human evolution and Mammoths vs Mastadons (one eats grass and the other eats leaves from trees - guess which one has longer tusks) and going back to the dinosaurs.  I expected it to be the other way around, showing the passage of time (but then maybe we entered by the exit).  There was a strong emphasis on Alberta fossils, but they also had quite a few others (museums seem to like loaning their things to other museums).  I learnt a bit about anatomy, but wondered if the vertebrae were evolved from worm segments.  I also wondered what the extra free floating rib-like bone grid shielding some of the dinosaur's stomaches was for (probably shields :-).

Insect Evolution

The next exhibit we looked at was the one for insects.  I had spotted it on the map and hoped to find an answer to my question about vertebrae.  We found lots of insects and some insect evolution, but nothing that early.  The live bugs were interesting - including some stick ones that fooled Yoda (he thought the other bugs were crawling up a stick - but it was really a bigger stick bug).  One kind of stick bug is even native to Ontario.  There were also the usual giant cockroaches, and a squirming layer of loam (worms under the surface and bugs on top).


Nearby was the bat cave.  This sounded worth investigating and it was.  We found out that the researchers had recreated their favorite South American bat cave.  It's an old underground river cave full of an assortment of bat species along its length.  The recreation is a long dark twisty passage with dripping noises and bat noises, and models of the bats hanging from the model rocks.  There's a nice section where your motion disturbs the bats and they swarm away (sounds, strobe lights, triggered by a motion sensor).  The bat swarm seemed tame to us, but it really scared the small boy following us.  Fortunately you don't have to smell the bats or swim through the water blocked sections that the real cave has.  A nice motion activated sliding door is at the exit, preventing you from returning the way you came (no need to climb the roots of a tree to get out).


The wetlands exhibit of wildlife is noteable for one really amazing diorama.  You walk up a plank boardwalk to a rough wooden roofed outlook.  From there you can see the nearby ducks and other nests in the swamp grass, and you can see the swamp continuing off into the distance too.  This is a bit odd since the wall is only a metre away.  Whoever the artist is, he or she did a great job.  Even looking at it closely and noticing the brush strokes doesn't destroy the illusion of looking into the distant horizon.  One slight trick is that the ceiling is spherical, but that doesn't account for it all.  Maybe it's the lighting too.  Whatever it is, it works!

That was enough for the second floor, so we attempted to get to the third floor where the Egyption exhibit was.  I managed to find a nice dead end where the space between the old building and a new one is roofed over.  Some more running in circles convinced me we needed to go back through the bat cave.  Unfortunately the motion activated exit door blocked that route.  We were trapped!  Fortunately Yoda is a bit better at navigating and got us back to the insects, where I recognised the trail back to the stairs, which lead up to the third floor.

Ancient Egypt and Nubia

The Egyption exhibition started out with a section on Nubia, a neighbouring country of Egypt.  They had been conquered yet kept some of their own culture.  It was interesting to see how their funeral business had evolved.  Initially they had plain burials with a few personal items (like work tools).  Then they got the fancy coffins and mummies.  The painting in the coffins got more elaborate.  Then they added face masks over the coffins.  Mummies had their organs put into separate jars.  Later they embalmed them and put them back in the body, but kept the useless jars.

I can see the funeral directors coming up with new ideas for the top of the line deluxe funeral over the years.  Getting an important person to endorse the latest frill, and then having that become standard.  After a few thousand years it adds up, doesn't it?

Young Street Shopping

We walked away from the ROM, until we hit Young Street.  The famous street of many weird shops.  Fancy fashion houses right next to sex accessory stores, next to comic book stores.  Plenty of T-shirts for sale.  Lots of people, some quite grungey looking.

Ring Theory

Do you know why street people have rings in their ears and studs in their toungues and all that other ornamentation?  It's because there are hundreds of vendors with black velvet trays of rings and ornamentation, at least one on every block of Young Street.  Eventually the street people give in and buy (or get given) a ring, and then another, and so on.  There must be a few factories somewhere just churning out the stuff.

Alex Buys First

Yoda was looking for old Gameboy cartridges, keeping an eye out for used item exchange stores, while I just wanted to get back to the station.  But before anything was bought or the station reached, we stopped for a snack at a Harvey's.  I had a chocolate sundae (after waiting for the staff to reset their ice cream making hardware - why do I always find the bugs?) while Yoda had something more substantial.

Inspite of mostly ignoring the street, I was the first one to actually buy something - replacement dice for a missing 20 sider.  It was a small hole in the wall (and basement too) freshly painted bright yellow, and crammed full of model kits of all sorts.  In a corner were some dusty dice.

Eaton's Center

We eventually arrived at the Eaton's Center and pondered going to Yoda's car (in a nearby garage) or going to Yoda's favorite game store to examine its inventory in detail.  A short while later, Yoda had discovered some glow in the dark stars in the Mind Games store.  I looked around, and even though Mind Games doesn't carry CD-ROMs, there were a few versions of Jeopardy and Wheel of fortune.  Also about 3 different Monopoly board games!

After shopping for games, we stopped off for a snack and a drink at the food court (Arby's this time - special water and a beef sandwich for Yoda, just 7up for me).  Then it was back to the train station via subway to pick up the luggage and then back by subway to the parking garage and off to Kitchener.


Yoda wanted to stop at the Sega Playdium near Brampton / Mississauga since he had heard good things about it.  I recalled from newsgroup discussions that the Reboot cartoon series had a theme park ride there.  That settled it.  We asked for directions at the gas station and quickly got there in the dark.

The Playdium occupies a new building, a step up from the conventional video game arcade, more like a movie multiplex in size (the Ottawa Coliseum is very similar).  The price is also a step up.  After eyeing the price lists and asking an attendant about how it worked, we stepped up and each traded 20 dollars (we figured it was on the generous side) for a plastic card with a unique bar code and an associated database entry.

Walking up the brightly lit tunnel to the main room (floor was lit too I think, in pink and blue luminous stone) we opened the doors to a large space.  The noise was tremendous.  The floor was filled with Sega games, most of them driving games.  Yoda likes driving games.  He headed off in one direction while I looked for something tamer.  I found a martial arts game, based on Marvel comics charcters, and figured out the payment system.

There is a bar code reader in a disc of light gray plastic (2cm thick, 7cm diameter, tapered additions on top for two buttons and a slash through the lower third for the card), with a bright red digital LED display in the middle.  It displays a number - how much it costs to play the game.  When you swipe your card through, it shows you how much money you have left.  If you hit one of the buttons, it deducts the game fee and tells the game that you have dropped in a virtual credit.

IMAX RideFilm

Some entertainments were more expensive than others, the IMAX RideFilm being $3.95.  I noted the time of the next ride and went to find Yoda.  He wasn't too hard to find - I saw his grinning face on a few big colour monitors on top of a bank of 8 linked Daytona racers (with motion feedback seats).  The strobe lights on the corners of his console were easy to notice too - as he was in first place.

We got into the ride's waiting room after swiping the cards at a turnstile.  There was an introductory video with safety warnings, including one about motion sickness that I decided to ignore.  The virtual host of the ride also set the scene - showing him pushing a grand piano up a Los Angles steep road.  His rival (taking credit for his work) was down below, in a limousine, starting a concert.  The mad pianist attached a big hay wagon with assorted rickety chairs to his piano with a long rope.  The ride attendants then let us in.  The actual ride is a small room with an IMAX dome screen in front and overhead, and a box with about a dozen bucket seats (with seatbelts).  Between the box and the thick steel beams bolted to the concrete floor is a hydraulic system capable of great power and fine precision.

After a few more warnings from the attendant, the ride started.  We were in the box behind the piano.  The pianist accidentally bumped into his piano and it started rolling down the hill.  We followed, as he jumped onto his seat.  Yes, followed.  A little lurch and the vibration of wheels on pavement (that precision motion simulation - right down to vibrations) along with the surrounding motion field of the IMAX film were as convincing as the real thing.  After that, things got a bit extreme, and silly (like the wagon bouncing to 20 foot heights off musical drums in a drum warehouse).  Fortunately, the impact of hitting objects wasn't reproduced accurately (the objects usually broke and the camera cut to the next scene with a minor lurch).  A police car was crushed.  Hills were jumped.  We almost went over a cliff as the piano went down a cliff-side road while we swung along on the long rope behind the piano.

I thought it was really neat.  Unfortunately I got motion sick from the rapid camera movement, not the bumps.  Closing my eyes helped with that, particularly before going through walls.  Pity that they won't be able to do a subtle film rather than a thrill ride.  The technology has potential and could add a lot to movies.  But the Playdium is for thrill seekers by definition (otherwise they wouldn't seek out the Playdium), so that's that for now.

Driving Games

After the interesting yet nauseating RideFilm, we wandered around a bit and had a look at the Indy Car game.  This one is also expensive, and features 8 linked stationary yet moving cars (next best thing to RideFilm, similar technology).  Yoda talked me into playing, and I managed to come in 7th of 7, partly from it being a hard course, partly from always taking the wrong turn and ending up in the pit stop.  The ride attendant / announcer had a few cryptic comments about car 7.  Anyway, I managed to stay in the race by being unexpectedly run into by the other cars after they finished their lap and were passing the pit stop.

Yoda also tried to get me to try the virtual roller coaster ride, but that looked worse than the RideFilm; I wouldn't be up to trying that until after a good night's sleep to reset my inertial guidance system.

We also tried the Daytona racers (not as convincing movement as Indy, yet cheaper) and the motorcycle ride (tilting bikes, though not so fast until I found that bikes have a brake pedal but no gas pedal - it's on the right steering handle).  Naturally, Yoda won all of those.  I managed to get revenge with a pinball game called Junkyard.

Sega Light Harp Returns

We then split a few games of Rampage as our credit dribbled down to zero.  Near the Rampage machines was a small area with a light gray floor and rear lit blue frosted glass walls.  On it two people were kicking at the air and feinting.  If you looked at a nearby monitor, you could see them playing a virtual martial arts game.  On closer inspection, I spotted two small circles of sensors embedded in the floor, could this be the old Sega Light Harp project?  Artech worked on software for it (the Sega Activator - virtual drum set, Simon Says game and a few other small demo activities), but it failed commercially (production version hardware was cost reduced to a useless update rate and sensitivity).

An hour and a half had passed.  We headed out to Kitchener, with a desire to come back later on my part, to stay there until 4am on Yoda's part (unlmited play for $25 from midnight to 4am on Friday night).  I later found out that Yoda did a successful return visit shortly after I left Kitchener.

Trip to Kitchener

The drive to Kitchener was more interesting that I expected - with a big slowdown on the highway.  Looking ahead I thought I saw a smoke cloud, Yoda said it was lights on the trees, I thought he may be right.  But then why would it move upwards like that?  A trailer truck had rolled over on the other side of the highway and was billowing smoke from the cab.  Police and fire vehicles were on the scene.  The traffic on the other side was backed up 1km, to the previous intersection where traffic was being redirected.  Fortunately our side was flowing, though through only one lane.  You could tell that the truckers use CB radio - the waiting trucks had their headlights off.  Or maybe they can just see over the traffic?

After getting to Yoda's place, we cleaned off his sofa-bed and I was able to get to sleep by 1am, surrounded by giant Pac-man monsters (pillows) and a fan running with uncounted revolutions (electronic fan counter decommissioned a few years ago).


We got up early on Saturday morning, about 8am.  Too early.  After a shower, I fired up the 3DO FZ-10 console I had brought and showed off some 3DO games.  Naturally Yoda liked the Need for Speed driving game.  Around 11 we went out for breakfast at Jolene's excellent diner and then came back for some more 3DO games and to decide what to do on such a nice warm sunny day.

Miniputt Golf

We went to the Kitchener Sportsworld, a kind of permanent carnival site (small Ferris wheel, kid's rides (Merry-go-round, toddler's fire trucks in a circle, tilt-a-whirl), go-carts, miniputt golf, a mini-Playdium franchise games arcade (coins not bar codes), a bar, and other things).  The scouting mission (wandering randomly around the park) terminated when we reached the end of the path at the go-cart track at the top of the hills (I didn't really want to do more driving so we skipped it).  On the way back, we passed the miniputt courses.

The Difficult Course and Lucky Rabbit

Yoda remembered the last time when we had played miniputt and I won the bet by playing really well on the last few holes.  Apparently I need some incentive to concentrate well enough.  Last time it was his Mazda Miata against a bag of potato chips (I later traded his car for a can of Coke).  This time, after playing a few holes, he decided to give me a Gameboy if I was five shots or less worse than him (he was surprised that I had never seen the Nintendo Gameboy before).

Initially I was hitting the ball into the sides and not getting much power.  But then I figured out that these putters were extra thin and you had to raise them a centimeter off the ground to hit the ball squarely.  After that I was doing OK but not great (as in Yoda was beating me) along the scenic yet difficult holes.

Quite scenic with great landscaping (mature trees, bushes, nice mix of sun and shade and rocks and water), a solid concrete hole border and walkways, and lots of people.  The only defect was in the green carpets.  Besides the mysterious round carpet patches there was one main annoyance (discovered after trying to find the lay of the land the hard way).  Some of the carpets were squishy soaking wet (the ones in the shade).  Not that carpet wetness would be the most important wetness by the end of this course.

Anyway, I was doing OK but not great - remembering to have patience and to not hit the ball too hard.  When about half way through, a small rabbit scampered over the course, from a bush, diagonally past us on the lawn beside the hole, to another bush.  The bunch of small kids nearby jumped up and down and pointed and shouted "Look at the rabbit".  I was putting a ball at the time, which hit the back wall made of big square rough rocks, bounced off a couple of them at oddly convenient angles and headed back towards the hole, and slowed down.  The wind kept on blowing nicely and the ball kept on moving, slightly downhill, in a spiral, until it went in the hole.  Obviously the kids didn't have it quite right, they should have said "Look at the lucky rabbit".  Rabbit's feet are traditionally lucky, maybe they work best when attached to a live rabbit?

After that, things didn't turn around.  Yoda kept on playing well.  I finally lost my cool at the covered bridge hole - where you shoot through a covered bridge with a narrow passage in the middle (20cm wide) into the green at the other side, and walk through the bridge to finish it off.  Naturally, when I hit it the first time, it bounced off the narrowing borders and came back to me.  It always bounces off narrowed borders, or the side of the windmill with the hole in the center, or any other similar obstacle, and usually ends up rolling back to the tee.  I hate that.  I retook the shot and whacked it hard.  It came out of the bridge, hit the green and bounced over the border into the landscaped stream on the other side, and settled under a small bridge.  Fortunately it was a yellow ball and easy to spot.  I got a bit wet retrieving it, but it was a warm sunny day so that didn't matter much.  We continued on and finished the course, with Yoda leading by 4 strokes at the end.  He owes me a Gameboy!  Yeah!

The Peanut Gallery

We returned the clubs and balls (mine was freshly washed :-) and looked for something to drink.  Yoda remembered that the bar had a great atmosphere, so we went there and ordered some drinks.  It was nice and cool, shady, full of rustic items (a skidoo was one of many things suspended from the ceiling) not too crowded, and best of all, you could drop garbage on the floor!  Well, Yoda liked that part - in particular they had bowls of peanuts free for the taking.  We went through most of a bowl, left behind a pile of peanut shells, and a couple of empty beer glasses (I had some Pepsi).  It was time for a rematch.

The Easy Course

Back into the sun, we took on the easy course.  Most of the holes were par 2, and fairly simple.  Except for the water-wheel which ate my ball (and lots of others visible in the hole underneath it), and then spat it out after I had headed off to buy another ball.  The only other moving obstacle was the traditional log on a chain suspended directly over the hole.  I was shooting straight, and with the right power levels.  I even went straight over the ridge with sloping sides.  While there weren't any holes in 1, many of my shots got near the hole on the first hit and then were easy to tap in.  In fact, I did the first half of the course in 22 shots, par is 21!  Yoda didn't fare so well, getting 27, and a worse score than me on 5 of the holes.

However, on the second half I was back to normal and Yoda beat my score on four of the holes (I beat his on only 2).  It could have been worse - there was a Dr. Pepper machine at the middle hole, which I managed to resist.  In the end, I got a score of 47, Yoda got 51, while par is 39.  That's pretty good for me, I'm usually 20 over par.


There was still time for some more shopping, so we went to Toys 'R Us after Sportsworld.  Lots of interesting items, including Gameboy cartridges.  Yoda bought a pocket Gameboy and gave it to me - settling his bet.  Guess he wants me to get addicted to it too.  I noticed that Star Wars Monopoly (a project I worked on at Artech) was being sold for $35 (not just a Christmas phenomena) while the regular version was $30.


We then went cruising around for supper.  After a bit of mobile discussion we settled on Harveys.  We ended up at Swiss Chalet and had a nice chicken & ribs dinner, running through about 3 waiters.

After that we headed back to his place for a bit more 3DO gaming, and looking at his other toys.  Things like the Lego table, the binary digital clock (a programmable microcontroller chip Yoda had set up as a clock), his big power supply for the fan counter (with battery backup).  Then it was time to sleep.


Just before leaving, I set up Yoda's e-mail account and found that he had 38 messages waiting since January (mostly junk mail for an unused mail account!  Your web browser's e-mail answerback string does get used).  An early morning drive (too early - 8am) took me to the Kitchener train station where I caught the train to Toronto (only 20 seconds late).  The rest of the trip to Ottawa was uneventful, I even avoided the rain clouds congregating around Ottawa that afternoon and got home in time to mow the thick parts of the lawn.

Monday - Back to Work?

Unfortunately my mother had broken her arm in her European vacation (slippery cobblestones and a visit to an ex-Russian hospital ($83 including ambulance) and then a reset at the Ottawa Civic), and had been at home for a week with her arm in a cast.

On Monday she had to go in to have the cast checked on, and found out that the bones weren't properly aligned (the wrist bone wasn't connected to the arm bone, and the arm bone was in many little pieces).  After another failed reset attempt, they booked her in for an operation to graft a bit of hip bone into the arm, and pins to hold it all together.  I didn't get much work done that day, ferrying items back and forth to the hospital.  It takes about as much time to find a place to park as it does to walk over there from work!

The rest of the week was spent in much the same way.  I handed out her bedside phone number to family and friends, and was pleasantly surprised at the number of callers and surprise flower arrangements arriving at the hospital.  The operation was a success, and she went back home on Friday (home care nurse visits daily to change bandages).  Now we have to wait 3 months to see if it works (hope there's no infection), then another 3 for a regular cast.

Next Week

Coming up soon is the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and I have a pass.  So, I'll be out of contact and short on sleep next week.

- Alex

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander G.  M.  Smith.