Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Our Adventures With Sport Come To An End

Honestly, this is one of the hardest Mother Gamer posts I've had to write. I actually sat staring at the screen for a good hour not typing anything. I just felt an overwhelming sadness and a tightness in my chest. I cried a bit too. I walked away and distracted my mind with other things and let it sit for a while. I came back when I felt ready to write. I still feel incredibly sad, but I feel that I need and want to do this.

Many of the people who read this blog know me and know our two furry family members; a mackerel tabby cat named Loki and a jack russell terrier named Sport. When I first became friends with my husband Ron I met his dog Sport who was so sweet and friendly. In fact, the first thing that dog did when he met me was promptly shove his head down my shirt and sniff my boobs. We laughed about it and Ron always joked that I was Sport's first ever girlfriend.

Sport was always lovable. 

When Ron and I were dating, Sport was there. He was sweet, loved everyone, and was just happy to be there with us. We got married and Sport was there. Ron's dog became our dog and I loved him. Even when I felt frustrated with him for not listening now and then, it was impossible to be mad at him because he would look at me and have a happy grin. It's hard to be angry with someone who is so happy to see you every time even when you're mad.

Time went on and thanks to our oldest niece, we adopted a 9 week old kitten and named him Loki. At first, Loki was not liking Sport at all and Sport would try to chase him. It was Ron who sat down with them and had them sitting together, working with them to help them get used to each other and explaining patiently that we were a pack so that meant they were family. He kept working with them until eventually they accepted each other. After that, Sport and Loki were always together. They would always sit with each other, go on walks together, and even nap together. They were brothers.

Sport and Loki in 2013

We were a pack, a family, and we had many adventures together whether it was just day to day routine or celebrating holidays together. Sport was always happy to be there for every one. He had a ton of energy and would jump with excitement. It was our oldest daughter who dubbed Sport the happiest dog in the world. It was definitely an appropriate name for him. She would also joke often that the markings around his eyes looked like eyeliner and made him look emo. Sport loved following her around and spending time with her. Our oldest is overseas at college now, but any time she would message me and talk to me about how she was, she would always ask how Sport was and Loki too.

Sport was with me for most of my gaming. In every single one of the games that let you have a pet like a dog (think Dragon Age and Fallout) I named them Sport every time. He was my loyal companion and my friend so of course he would be with me in my video game adventures. Loki would be in there for some as well. 

Ron and Sport - December 2014

The saddest thing of all is that our pets lives are shorter than ours and far too often we have to say goodbye. Sport was 16 years old and our energetic young dog had become an old sedate dog who liked to take many naps with his brother. Gone were his emo markings and there was more gray in his face and he now had to wear dog diapers because of a few accidents in the house. For Sport it started with a trip to the vet a couple of weeks ago because he hadn't been himself and Ron noticed that one of his teeth looked bad. It turned out not only was it his teeth, his back left leg was getting no circulation so the vet arranged surgery for Sport to take care of both things. Then things took a heartbreaking turn for us. The surgery never happened because after they examined him, they found there was a growth in Sport's leg and it had spread to the point where we had to make the most difficult decision for us, but one that was kinder for him.

Ron told me when he got home and we cried and cried, just hugging each other. Sport was not just a dog to us. He was our fur kid, our family, our pack. Ron told me that in the future he saw all of us there together and you know what? I did too. There was no life ahead without Sport in it. He was always there so it was heartbreaking to receive that news. We agreed that even though it was hard, we had to do what was right for Sport to ease his pain. We got to go pick him up at the vet's office and I cried the whole way there. We made the appointment for Sport and I realized we had one week left with our dog. I held him on the ride home and cried some more and I don't know how Ron made that drive home because I know he was upset too. 

Sport and I home after the vet visit.

There was a lot of crying last week and a lot of hugging. I wanted to make sure that we spent all our time with Sport, take lots of pictures, and make sure he got to do all the things we told him no about and let him have all the foods that we usually wouldn't give him. I was grateful to my Aunt Robin for suggesting that we take video of Sport also so we could have those memories of him moving around. I wouldn't have thought of it in my emotional state.

We did things such as letting Sport come upstairs something he wasn't allowed to do before and he explored to his heart's content. He got to take a nap on our bed and he really seemed to love the soft blankets. He got a plain burger for breakfast which he ate happily. He also got to eat some yogurt which he loved. Sport always liked my yogurt and would often beg me for some. This time he got his own while sitting with Ron and he was happy just being with everyone. Loki stayed close to Sport during that week and often I would see Loki curled up with Sport just napping with him. 

Ron sitting with sport while he enjoys some yogurt.

We did the best we could making sure Loki got to say goodbye to his brother and preparing ourselves to say goodbye. It was not easy and I found myself suddenly bursting into tears a lot. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I have for years since I was a kid. On what I call my gray days, Sport would always be there just for hugs and pets until I felt better. Later on it was Sport and Loki together who helped me so often as well as Ron. Needless to say my depression and anxiety were through the roof last week as I tried to get ready to say a final farewell to Sport. I know Ron was feeling awful as well and we shared a lot of tears and hugs.

I sat with Sport on his last night because he was in pain and pacing a lot. He paced so much he got himself a little confused and got stuck behind a shelf in our living room. I had to get him out and I sat with him afterwards stroking his ears the way he liked. I told him that he would get to go to Doggy Heaven and run and play with other dogs and make new friends. He gave me a look and I told him, "Yes, you'll make kitty friends there too." He settled in his bed listening to my voice and drifted off to sleep.

I know that Ron loved Sport. He had watched him being born and he chose Sport out of all the other puppies. They were together from then on. Then I came along, then Loki, and we were happy to be together, to be a family. I told Ron that I feel that he and Sport made my life better. Ron hugged me and told me that I made my life better and that he and Sport were simply happy to be there with me every step of the way.

Sport and Loki spending some time together.

On Saturday April 22, 2017 we took one last ride with Sport. I held Sport on my lap just hugging him and petting him right up until we got there. He seemed content to just look out the window and I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. Everyone at the vet's office was incredibly kind and understanding about all of it. Sport seemed calmer as we got to the little room and he sat on a fluffy blanket and towel. I don't know if it's true, but to me he seemed quite serene and like he was ready. Ron and I promised him we'd stay with him until the end. I stated that he had always been there for me so I would not break my promise to him and I would be there for him. 

I was relieved that they had plenty of tissues in that room because we cried a lot. I know I cried so much to the point that I removed my glasses deciding that I would put them on when we left because there was no way they'd survive all my crying. One thing that stood out to me even now is that when I started crying again and I laid my head on Sport's side sobbing, Ron gently placed his hand on it and just petted my head. It was comforting. I knew his heart was breaking as much as mine, but he took the time to do that for me.

One last ride with Sport.

We did stay until the end. Sport laid his head down and we kept petting and hugging him, telling him we loved him and that he would always be our sweet boy. Eventually he closed his eyes and he went peacefully with his characteristic lovable smile. Ron and I knew it was the right thing to do, but we were so sad and the drive home was heartbreaking.

Loki has stuck close to us the past few days, happy to cuddle and offering comforting purrs. As strange as it sounds, our house feels somewhat bigger and emptier without Sport in it. I stop myself as I realize I think I have to feed him or let him out. I find myself looking for him too when I look at his dog bed. Ron said he does the same thing sometimes and it does feel strange that Sport isn't with us. We will adjust eventually, but right now we are sad and missing him. I said that it hurts and wondered why it hurts so much. Ron in all his patient and kind wisdom said, "Because it makes us appreciate the love we had that much more." How true that is. 

I will try to remember him the way he was, happy to be there and always loving to run after his ball. I will remember him always greeting us at the door when we came home or walking into the kitchen each morning happy to see us. I will remember how much he loved being with his cat brother Loki taking naps together or sitting at the window watching everything outside. I'm sad that our adventures with Sport came to an end, but I am grateful that he thought we were worth sticking around for 16 years. 16 years for Ron and 9 years for me of unconditional love from the world's happiest dog. I just know he's running around up there making new friends and happily having new adventures. That thought makes me smile through the tears. 

We love you, Sport.
September 8, 2001-April 22, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda, A Fun Adventure In Space

I like the Mass Effect series a lot and I was excited for Mass Effect: Andromeda. Set between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3, this was a whole new space adventure with new heroes and villains set in a different galaxy. Once the game arrived I was raring to get started. The character customization offers a lot of variety and diversity which is great. I tinkered around until I got my female Ryder to where I wanted. I also thought it was great that you could customize how your twin looks (You can play as the male Ryder twin or the female one) and I was thrilled that Ryder's dad Alec looks like his kids depending on your customization. You can select the difficulty to what you want and if the game is proving to be too challenging, you can lower the difficulty quite easily in the game settings.

My female Ryder rocking the purple hair.
Customized my twin with awesome red hair. 

The introduction to Ryder and the story is interesting with the idea of exploration and looking for golden worlds which are locations that are strong candidates for settlement or would provide resources for survival. This being Mass Effect, of course things don't go as planned and that's where Andromeda begins. There really isn't much of a tutorial when you start, but the game does give you tips here and there for how to do certain things and where you can find things in your items menu. 

The environments for Andromeda are beautiful and there's lots of exploration. I had the most fun just exploring and scanning planets which looked amazing. The Tempest looks a lot like the Normandy ship with a few differences such as it's a bit smaller and sleeker meant to be a scout ship. You also spend a lot more time on the Tempest as you explore this new world. 

Ryder exploring a new planet.

The story for Andromeda is interesting although it feels like a familiar one especially when it comes to the enemy aliens, the Kett. Their attitudes and ideas feel very much like the Borg from Star Trek. I still found the Kett interesting and I found myself wondering if it was possible that their society was influenced by the Reapers in some ways.  

The introduction of the new alien race the Angara I loved because their society was intriguing and to me they seemed like a beautiful alien jungle cat race. I really liked the character Jaal because he was a great character with an inquisitive spirit, but he was also brave and kind. I genuinely liked him the moment he was introduced. 

Jaal and a fellow Angara. 

There are opportunities for character romance also and they aren't just limited to your ship mates. There are a few romance options on a couple of different planets. You can also do loyalty missions for your friends which will make your relationships with them stronger. One of my favorites was a mission for my Krogan friend Drack. Drack was another favorite character for me because he was gruff, but underneath it all he actually cared about others a great deal. I also just love the Krogan. They're a pretty badass race and Drack reminded me a lot of two other Krogans I really liked, Wrex and Grunt. 

Drack is cool without even trying.

Combat in the game is fairly standard. There are cool down timers for some of your abilities which can be a bit frustrating, but it's not a deal breaker. I did have fun with the combat and some of the fights I had the most fun with were fighting giant AI robots known as Architects. You can direct where your squad goes if you want to, but it's a little clunky. Generally I just let them handle themselves and they were fine. 
I do wish the user menu was a little more streamlined, but it wasn't such a big deal that I couldn't figure out where things were. Leveling is pretty easy and you can upgrade your skills depending on your fighting style and those of your squad. There are strike team missions also where you can send a team out while you're adventuring or you can team up with your friends and play together on multiplayer. There isn't much of a tutorial for it, but they are fun to play. 

Architect fights are fun! 

There are a ton of side missions. I like side quests and they're fun for exploring, but with Andromeda this was a mixed bag for me.  Many of the side missions are fun to do and some of them not so much. There are also side quests known as additional tasks. Unfortunately, a lot of these are tedious and far too many are glitched. On one task it would not complete at all so I could never finish it which was frustrating. 

These were not the only things that weren't great in the game. No, it wasn't the animation. Honestly, I didn't think the animation was that bad. I noticed maybe one or two characters not emoting enough, but that's about it. They have since fixed that with a recent patch. Anyway, other things that bothered me were that every now and then the game would lag horribly to the point that I could not interact with anything or it would just freeze completely. That is incredibly irritating when I'm trying to play a game and then I have to reboot because of something like that. Sometimes the map marker was inaccurate and I would have to run around trying to figure out where to go because it would either be next to the location or it didn't properly identify that the location was a cave.

The other thing that was frustrating were all the damn sudoku style glyph puzzles; Remnant puzzles. I seriously hated the Remnant puzzles. Yes they were inherently part of the main story, but they were time consuming and terribly repetitive. I was grateful when I had completed my last Remnant puzzle. They detracted from the fun of the game. 

I hated these puzzles.

In spite of those flaws in Mass Effect: Andromeda I still had fun playing the game and liked it a lot. I feel that perhaps Bioware should have waited a little longer to release the game to address those issues, but it's still a good game for what it is. My favorite part of all the Mass Effect games has always been the exploration and there was plenty in this game for me. I also loved the beautiful views of all the planets I visited. Mass Effect: Andromeda isn't a completely perfect game, but it is a fun adventure in space. 

You can't beat the view!

*Mass Effect: Andromeda is playable on the following platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows