NYC: Culture, Games and Chinese Food

I can never get enough time hanging out in New York City. Growing up in northern New Jersey, trips across the river to the Big Apple were quite common for us back in the day. When I graduated grammar school, we moved from Northern NJ and for a period of time, we stopped going to the city. After high school, a buddy of mine and I used to play Magic the Gathering. As we got deeper into the game, we discovered that NYC had a shop that held Magic tournaments called Neutral Grounds. We used to hit this place up on the weekends and check out the collection of rare cards that they sold. Considering how competitive we were, it was fun times. However, I started to phase out of MTG the minute I started realizing that for the money I was spending on cards, I could have been collecting video games instead. It was at this point that once again,video games were becoming the most prominent hobby in my life.

When I was twenty two, I used to work for the local community center. While I was there, I started donating games, consoles and prizes and I ran my own tournaments for the kids. So one day, my cousin called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to Chinatown to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Having not been in the city for quite some time, I emphatically said sure. When we went back to the city, at that moment, I was introduced games I never had the opportunity to play. At this moment in time, I started playing import games. Till this day, its one of the main reasons why I still come back to NYC.

This semester, I started taking Art History to round out my academics for my Video Game Design Major. I felt that this class would help round out my ideas for source material when creating games in the future. When I found out that it was required for us to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art History, once again, the excitement to go visit the city immediately came to mind. At this point, I planned out the day and called up my friend who I used to play Magic the Gathering with. From that day, I waited with great anticipation while thinking about all of the discoveries I would find in the museum, the pilgrimage we would make to the PlayStation Lounge, the trek to Nintendo World and then once again, back to China Town where my love for imports started. This was going to be a great day.

Three days ago, I picked up my friend and his girl and we got on the bus towards our destination. I prepped my drawing pad (to sketch out a piece from the museum for my term paper), pencils, PlayStation Vita, iPad and messenger bag. When we got to the Port Authority building, we walked down to Fifth Avenue and started our forty block journey towards the museum. As we walked up Fifth Avenue, it was hard not to notice the grand, Gothic architecture of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the shops, Rockefeller Center and of course, Central Park. We passed by all of this amazing art and we haven’t even reached the museum yet. Some people may think of life purely in terms of what they accomplished and how much wealth they accumulated during their time on this Earth. Walking through the city, its quite true that you will always discover something new. Simply walking down a few blocks and paying careful attention to the details, you will be hard pressed not to find something that catches your eye. The very simplicity of visiting somewhere and discovering things that are new to you can be quite liberating. This is life at its finest my friends.

Once we passed Central Park, there was Eighty Second Street and the Metropolitan Museum of Art History in all of is glory. We crossed the street and made our way up the large, stone stairway. The main entrance was huge and you could see architecture, sculptures and art from just about all walks of life as well as the descendants of the great races the built these fine treasures. As my friend Jay mentioned on the walk to the museum “Where else but the US can you find all of these cultures under one roof?”.

I had to meet up with my professor so first we went to the GreekoRoman wing. On the way in, I managed to catch him and we discussed my term paper. I wanted to work on a comparison contrast between an ancient Greek dagger and a Japanese katana that I would eventually find in the Arms and Armor wing. He approved the project and we advanced towards a room filled with marble statues, jewelry, armor and various other artifacts. One piece that caught our eyes was this Cycladic statue of a lion poised to strike. It was rather unique for that time period because normally, Cycladic art is very triangular but this specific piece was very realistic.

Greek armor was quite interesting to look at. One peek at their helms and you begin to realize just how small these people actually were. When moving from the Greek gallery to the Arms and Armor gallery, you could see a vast transition in the size of people through the evolution of time. In comparison to the Greek armor, Medieval Armor (Especially German) suits were huge. Also, it was apparent when looking at the swords in this wing how the transition from Bronze to Steel weaponry has had an impact on warfare.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a practitioner of the Japanese sword style, Iaido as well as a collector of various Katana and other types of swords. So when I seen the Japanese section of Arms and Armor, it was quite amazing to see that a katana blade from the fourteenth century was in the same flawless condition as another piece that was just recently created in 2004. The piece from 2004 had a dragon etched into the blade, a natural hamon and the mei was signed on the left, middle and right portions of the tang. This was quite unique since the middle portion is a lot thinner, therefore it’s rare to see signatures there. Also, this sword’s dull edge was much thicker than most katanas which would give it an advantage in weight transfer when attacking from an overhead stance like jodan no kame. However, when compared to the fourteenth century piece, it was shocking to see that there wasn’t an ounce of rust on the blade. This is simply a testament to the strength and quality of the legendary sword.

While I was in Arms and Armor, I also had the opportunity to see many fine Medieval European pieces. Viking Swords, Two Handers, Hand and a Half and even a GunSword were all present in the shiny, glass cases. The armor I seen, especially the German pieces were of the highest quality and quite ornate. Walking through this museum, it was easy to see where the inspiration for games like Demon’s Souls, World of Warcraft and Skyrim came from. The only way to describe what I seen there is “awe inspiring”.

After looking through the entire wing, I went back to the Feudal Japan section and chose a katana blade from the 17th Century to sketch for my term paper. The interesting thing that caught my eye was the slight imperfection in the creation process of the hamon and the fact that the tang had three mekugi holes instead of one or two. Surely, this would give the blade extra stability when fastened to the handle. Taking these details into consideration, I carefully sketched out the blade starting with the tang and working my way towards the kissaki. Two hours later, I finished up my shading and my friends and I left the museum.

Now it was time to make a pilgrimage to the holy land of PlayStation. Jay, Jen and I hailed a cab and off we went to 550 Madison Avenue AKA the PlayStation Lounge. For those of you that have never been to the lounge, it’s a large section of the Sony Style Store dedicated to the PlayStation brand and designed by the same guy who designed Sony’s E3 booth. The lounge is always themed for Sony’s latest and most popular titles. Currently, it has a few open areas for the PlayStation Move, a section with driving simulators for GranTursimo 5, a glass room with wooden crate seats that is themed for Uncharted 3 and another room completely themed and decked out to showcase the PlayStation Vita. The store is also well stocked with various games including an ample supply of Collector’s Edition versions of Killzone 3, Little Big Planet 2, Uncharted 3, Soul Calibur 5 and StreetFighter X Tekken. If you like anything remotely to do with PlayStation, this is certainly the place to be.

Because of how high profile the PlayStation Lounge and the Sony Style Stores are, most people are lead to believe that all they sell are expensive games. I want to honestly tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. While I was at the lounge, I was able to pick up a brand new copy of Warhammer 40K Space Marine for a mere $14.99 and tax. I also found Dragon Age II, Red Dead Redemption, Dark Souls and Duke Nuke Em Forever going for $9.99 – $14.99. Note that all of these games are brand new and factory sealed. Finding these games at these prices is certainly a nice treasure trove. If your looking for a sale and you have a Sony Style Store in your area, definitely go check it out.

While we were at the lounge, Jen got in some rounds with the Move while my friend Jay got to try out WipEout 2048 for the first time on PlayStation Vita. They also had a nice setup for StreetFighter X Tekken and Starhawk. While they were getting their game on, I was like a kid in a candy store just looking at all of the games and taking things in. The PlayStation Lounge in essence feels like a mini E3 because of the sheer amount of interactives in the store. It’s like an arcade where you can actually bring the games home with you and every time I step into this place, I completely dig the vibe.

After we left the lounge, it was off to 48th street to see another Mecca of gaming in NYC. That place is affectionately known as the Nintendo World Store. Nintendo World functions as both a store and mini museum completely furnished to market and explain the rich history of Nintendo. It’s two floors of pure gaming goodness. Any type of Nintendo SWAG can be found here. Games, T-Shirts, Mario Kart Track Sets and even Nintendo World exclusive items are sold from this location. Also, featuring interactives on both floors, this is the premiere spot on the east coast to try the latest and greatest that Nintendo has to offer.

My favorite part of Nintendo World is its mini museum. It has cases dedicated to some it’s greatest franchises such as Metroid, Zelda and Fire Emblem. Also, the center case features every Nintendo system released including Japan’s Famicom and Famicom Disk System. Of all the pieces displayed here, the most fascinating is an original Game Boy that survived a bunker bombing during Operation Desert Storm back in the 1990s. The charred system is plugged in and even though the buttons are melted and the screen is a little faded, it still proudly demos of Tetris. When seeing this, there is no denying the quality and expertise of Nintendo’s engineers when it comes to the durability of its hardware.

At this point all of us were getting hungry so we walked over to the subway and caught the Q train to Chinatown. As we got on, we heard some loud music blasting out of a boom box coming from inside the train. When we got on, a small troop of dubstep dancers were back flipping, monkey barring and performing tricks all while the train was moving. We gave them a small tip for putting on a good show. Afterwards, our train pulled into our stop at Canal Street.

Jay, Jen and I quickly made our way towards our favorite restaurant on Elizabeth Street. We then ordered some food. Before my General Tso’s Chicken arrived at the table, I let my friends rest up a bit while I went to go pay a visit down the block to my favorite import shop, J & L Game Trading. J & L has been around for quite some time and I have been shopping there since 2002. It was this shop that single handedly got me into collecting and playing Japanese Import Games. Every time I come here, there is always something new to see. First, I was checking out the Japanese PlayStation Vita games. Currently since the system is new, there weren’t many games out with the exception of Tales of Innocence and Ragnarok Oddessy. I wanted to get Ragnarok Oddessy but they were sold out. So I decided to take a look at the PS3 games. Luckily, I found a copy of Mobile Suit Gundam U.C. 0083, an Anime based Mecha title I have been waiting to purchase for a while now. Satisfied with my find, I snagged a copy and went back to the restaurant.

As Jay, Jen and I caught up on old times, we enjoyed a feast of dumplings, soup, tea and of course, General Tso’s Chicken. Once we were finished with our meal, we hopped on the subway and headed back to Times Square. For a Saturday night and considering the unusually gorgeous weather we were having, Times Square was surprisingly quiet. However, it was quite pleasant for a change to enjoy the lights without the constant hustle and bustle. After killing some time at places like Toys R Us, It was time to head home back to Jersey. As I sat on the bus departing from the Port Authority Building amongst good company, I could not help but to think about the many similar experiences I had coming to the city with my relatives and friends in the past and how it has driven me to finally major in Video Game Design. Perhaps one day, these experiences will be shared will be shared with the world when I translate them into a digital art form. Until then, I’ll continue to strive towards making these thought and dreams a virtual reality. A visit to NYC is always an adventure and I know there are many more to come. To be continued my good friends.

Note: (Reviews for Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and Mobile Suit Gundam U.C. 0083 are coming soon 🙂


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