Sunday, 30 October 2016

Witch town was that again?

Although The Crew is very much a social, online game, it doesn't appear to have the same contests or events as Need for Speed World did. However, this could change or it already does and I just haven't found that information yet.

In any case, during an earlier exploration of the map offered ingame, I came across a town on the East Coast that seems to be stuck in Halloween year round. Tonight, I spent some time retracing my steps to present the following video, a self guided tour of Salem (just look for Salem Woods on the map, northeast from New York).

Filmed from late dusk and into the night really was merely a fantastic coincidence.

The Season of Ghosts

Like a lot of popular online MMO's, Need for Speed World was no exception to getting in on the Holiday/Seasonal act. First, I will start with the season of ghosts and goblins.

This will make the second Halloween that Need for Speed World will have been offline, shut down back in July 2015. However, thanks in a huge part to some dedicated people, an offline version can be found, downloaded and played. Although the game still carries on the very spirit (yes, pun intended) of the experience, it is a very lonely place.

Still, it's a chance to get vehicles I never had the time nor real world money to purchase and relive events and places I used to haunt (I can't help myself here). One such vehicle is the McLaren MP4-12C  "Braaaiiiins" Edition. This Zombie themed (complete with sound effects) custom car was only available for real money (SpeedBoost), but came with a M0N5T3R license plate and a pumpkin headed driver!

I never owned it the first time around, but decided, for the sake of the season, to pick it up now and take a little trip down memory lane....

Friday, 28 October 2016

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters is the modern successor to the defunct Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft racing series I used to watch during mid-80's through mid-90's. Back then, there was a lot more participation from European manufacturers, such as Alfa Romeo, Opel and even Rover. Today, only Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW take part.

Just like the old DTM, I cheer for the cars from the Three Pointed Star, although they have certainly changed from the 190E's from back in the day. The newer and more powerful Mercedes-Amg C63 DTM still carry the torch and battle it out on the tracks and the points standings. I have even found a Canadian driver, Robert Wickens to follow and root for. Someday, his Championship will come....

2015 was a good year for Mercedes-Benz, winning the Manufacturer's title and for a young driver from Sigmaringen, Germany named Pascal Wehrlein. At 20 years old, he became the youngest driver to win the DTM title. Sadly, he didn't return for 2016, driving in Formula One instead.

Presented for your viewing pleasure from the channel, is the first race at the Moscow Raceway for the 2015 season. Check out the action, the battles and even some of the controversy that has recaptured my interest....


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Wide open worlds

A while ago now, the Forza Horizon 3 Demo was released on Xbox and I decided to give it a try. It's been a long time since I played any kind of demo, so I was a little surprised just how limited the gameplay and other option choices were. Nevertheless, it did whet my appetite for the full version.

Horizon 3 brings back to the table a style of gaming I haven't experienced since the shut down of Need for Speed World, open worlds. As much as I enjoy racing around on the virtual tracks presented in some games, others can be the "great escape" from being fenced in through directed actions. There is a interesting and rewarding feeling that comes from smashing down game barriers and nobody really gets hurt. 

Seems the full version has a car I might even have a slight interest in....

....maybe, I will wait for a sale.

The Crew was a mistake purchase of sorts. I blame myself for not looking into this game more closely and just assumed when they made the claim of it being Multiplayer, it meant the option of a split screen, two player mode. Nope, Multiplayer means a Singleplayer online MMO.

I did get a email from those nice folks at Ubisoft, a welcome gesture whenever I receive these in my inbox.

And, thanks to their player reward called Uplay, I was able to pick up a bonus/gift car. Seems I had accumulated a few points to cash in from my Silent Hunter 3 days. Anyways, here is what I have in my garage, thus far and an idea of the gameplay from a free-roam perspective....

Still, my son and I are having fun with driving around in the nearly unrestricted, open world environment. The missions on the other hand, don't always allow you to use the cars one has in their garage, given a specifically modified vehicle to complete or attempt a task....

While The Crew gives a player an abridged version of the United States to explore (which could take days, if not weeks to even come close to completing), Horizon 3 takes place in Australia (who doesn't want to check out the "Land Down Under"?).

Both could be good games to take a break from....a break with.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

On the road and from my couch

In these modern times of technology for which I live in, I can enjoy the best of both worlds when it comes to cars. This past while, I have been talking about how I recently acquired a 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3. It maybe a high mileage and needing-some-love example of the breed, but it's mine.

However, I haven't been able to put my finger on just why there has been this sudden awaking of feelings from inside me, when I look at or even sit in this car. However, I found my answer....

During the late 80's through the early 90's, the was a racing series in Europe called DTM or Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (also known as German Touring Car Championships). I can remember catching glimpses of these races on TV and reading about some of the action in popular car magazines of the times.

The ontrack rivalry, mostly between Mercedes-Benz and BMW produced some of the best edge-of-the-seat action that has come close to being replicated in later years. However, it opened my eyes against the popular and accepted opinion (among my peers in my part of the world at the time) that four doors could just as fast, if not faster than two doors.

The 190E was also a very capable car off the track too, holding it's own against other marques of the time. I remember seeing some of this as well, but my interest was more focused with the track action and performances.

Which brings me back to the here and now. While I have a real 190E sitting outside, requiring some attention to bring it back closer to a level I would feel a lot more comfortable with, I also have two virtual examples to have some fun with.

First, Forza Motorsport 6 on Xbox One....

....and from Need for Speed Shift 2 on my PC....

Let me be clear about something, I don't think I am some kind of real life race car driver. I am very grounded in the reality of the limitations of the in-metal car sitting outside, the lack of proper safety equipment and the use of a controlled track. Even after all that, despite my many years of driving, racing is a whole different skill level in the real world, one that I am not even close to being proficient.

Now, after that downer of a self disclaimer, back to a happier note. Like I said before, I get to enjoy the best of both worlds now. I can sit back and relax on the old couch or very comfortable and live out a few fantasies. When I get tired of that, I could always walk outside and slip, behind the wheel and drive my reality.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Deal, part 3

Continuing from here The Deal, part 2

During my walk back to the dealer to pick up the Mercedes, I had to make what I had hoped to be a quick stop at an insurance agent, to register the car and get a temporary operation permit to bring it home. I considered just getting new plates and a policy, but decided to hold off after I got the car home and gave it a through once over.

The insurance agent was very efficient at their job and less than 15 minutes later, I was back on the sidewalk and on my way. Too bad all my insurance experiences weren't that fast. Arriving at the dealer, I walked right into the main building and straight back to the young lady who processed the transaction and paperwork on the 190E. I asked her for some tape, since the permits to be displayed in the car weren't the self adhesive type.

Armed with both sets of keys, okay, two keys on separate rings, I hung the papers in the windows and started the car. First try, it fired up. I backed down the berm and aimed the front end towards the open road. Even with the light traffic, it was still about a 3 minute drive from the dealer to home. However, I decided on a slight detour to experience the car just a little more.

Much like my abridged test drive on the dealer's lot, I put the Mercedes through it's paces, as much as one can do on populated public roads. I swerved back in forth in my lane, getting a better feel for the steering and front end responses. I tried a few late braking stops, the sensations and results didn't disappoint me. Then, I turned right down a country-road-within-municpal-limits that had two very nasty speed bumps. 

The sign recommended a 50 km/h approach, I took them both at 70. Other than the slight feeling of being lifted up and down, the bumps had no impact on the car's suspension or steering. I remembered the ride quality of my old 220D and was happy to see this model, 15 years newer, kept that distinctive feature. 

As much as I didn't want my little joyride to end, I had to get back home. There was one last piece of unfinished business to take care of, the LeBaron. Part of the deal to get the Mercedes was the dealer accepting the LeBaron as a trade in. I didn't have the time to make a classified ad and wait around for any interested parties to make contact, thus starting the "let's make a deal" process. With having a job where I am working at night, then trying to sleep, squeeze in family and leisure time during the limited daytime hours, this solution made the most sense to me.

I arrived in time to see the deck truck pull in. 10 minutes later, the LeBaron was loaded up, chained down and rolling away. The Mercedes seemed to watch this event from across the lane. After the disappointing convertible departed, I backed the 190E into it's spot and waited for the family to come home.

My son's reaction to the car was difficult to properly gauge, my wife was much easier. Unlike the first time she laid eyes on the LeBaron, there wasn't any of the same shock value as before. Perhaps she knew I have been wanting another Mercedes for such a long time and allowed me to have the moment. 

Since the purchase, I have put almost a whole 17 kilometers on the car, slowly putting a list together of issues that need to be addressed sooner than later and those that can wait, since they don't affect the car in any serious manner.

However, it was that very first problem which was one I had never experienced before.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Deal, part 2

Continuing from here The Deal, part 1

After a decent night's sleep, I woke up determined to make the 190E I found on the internet mine and on my terms. However, I got a bit of a bad feeling, since the car was being sold through a dealer and I have had two previous experiences with purchasing a pre-owned vehicle from other ones, neither were too good.

I left my house and used Google Maps on my Android phone, just to be sure I was going at least in the right direction. Sure enough, after a mere ten minute drive, I had arrived and spotted the car in question without any difficulty. Somebody had parked it on top of a berm, located on the west side of the lot, alongside a few other used treasures.

It was late morning, just before noon and the lot was fairly quiet. Finding a parking spot was easy, since there was hardly anyone around and I strolled over to the Mercedes. To my surprise, I found it unlocked.

The interior met my expectations for a car of this age, almost better than I first hoped, since the picture posted online matched what I was looking at. The big surprise came from seeing the factory Becker Grand Prix AM/FM/Cassette still in the dash! I wondered if it even still worked.

As I slipped behind the wheel and grasped it in my hands, the very feeling of being in there was having an effect I hadn't felt in a very long time. I had to break the moment and take in the rest of this experience with a clearer head.

The exterior had two major....blemishes that caused a little concern, besides the obviously missing front bumper cover. First, this odd paint distortion/deterioration spot on the hood. Looking under neath at the engine, the spot is directly above the exhaust manifold. A fire or severe overheating?

The driver's side rear lower quarters was the other. By far, this is the most corroded area of the car, but it is still just on the surface. A missing plastic clip that couldn't be found, but the trim piece was laying on the back dash, between the speakers.  

As I knew it would, the motions I was making while examining the car drew the attention of a salesman. He approached me with a leisurely saunter and asked "Want to hear it running?" I was almost tempted to give a flippant remark in return, but decided against it and just nodded. He turned on one heel and wandered back to the main building.

After a few minutes, he came back with a portable booster and one set of keys. Actually, just a single key on a ring that he gave me. I slipped behind the wheel again and tried to start it. Nothing, not even a click, rrrrrr or a buzz. Popped the hood and he hooked the cables up to the battery and we both waited about a minute. I tired again and the car started just like that. The salesman unhooked the portable booster and asked if I wanted to test drive it. I replied with "Splendid idea." Splendid, where did that come from?

As he happened to have a few other sets of keys on him, the salesman started up and moved other cars that just happened to be parked behind the Mercedes. Coincidence? I highly doubt it. While he was doing that, I was watching the gauges as the ticking four cylinder was warming up. Sounded more like a diesel than a gas powered engine, part of that comes with old age and perhaps even that hood paint issue I noted earlier.

I slipped the transmission out of park and into reverse, backing down the berm. I managed to turn the car around and just stepped down on the gas. It lurched forward and built up speed in the small lot, very quickly. Yeah, the old girl still had a lot of life left in her. The brakes didn't disappoint either, with my hands of the wheel, it slowed straight and true without any lockup or pulling to either side. I did that a few more times and returned the Mercedes back to it's former spot on the berm. I wish I had brought somebody along to film me using the lot as a test track of sorts.

During this time, the salesman had wandered back to the main building, no doubt waiting for me to make an appearance with the lone key he loaned me. I found him sitting behind a desk in a little glass front cubicle. I walked in and just sat down. "So, what did you think?" he asked. "Not bad, needs a lot of work," I replied, curious to see how this game would be played out. However, I was sticking to my guns on a decision I made during my tear around the lot.

I was prepared to pay as close to the price advertised on the window tag and seriously not much more. Yes, I was impressed with how the car performed in the lot, but knew that owning a Mercedes long term can get quite expensive, especially trying to bring back up to par and regular maintenance. I had no idea if this guy knew that or not, but right now, the vibe I was getting was this was nothing more than another sale.

I opened the discussion with, "How much with everything, price and taxes?" He started to tap keys on a calculator and writing some figures down on a Post-It Note pad. "Looks to be about $2200, all in." I tried to suppress my feeling with disappointment at that answer. He picked up on that and countered with, "What would it take to move it of the lot?" Okay, time for my move and see how serious he is to close this sale. "The price hanging in the window," I answered, "All in."

My to my surprise, he didn't even flinch. I knew that figure would leave him with a much lower commission, over than what was already built in to the asking price. "I know that car has been here awhile." I said. "Only ten days," he replied. We both knew that wasn't true, a dead battery on a car that nobody has been looking at (both the exterior and interior showed very little signs of any other interested parties, something I was keen to keep a careful eye out for) is possible, but not in this case.

"Sticker is my final offer," I was prepared to leave empty handed, that was that. "Let me see what my manager will say to this," came his reply. This is the part of the game I always hate. I know that sometimes, the salesman will actually talk with the manager to see if the profit loss on a deal is worth closing a sale. Other times, they just have a quick chit-chat about something not even related to the sale, just to create that appearance that comes with the deal.

A timed seven minutes later, he came back with an extended hand, "It's a deal." I shock his hand, feeling very little surprise in how fast this all happened. Then, I was guided over to the finance department, a much bigger glass front cubical and had a more pleasant conversation with the young woman there. We talked about the weather, the car I bought and exchanged Christmas ideas for our spouses. With the paperwork all in order and signatures in all the right spots, I owned the car.

I found the car I originally arrived in and drove home. After an hour long break there, I started the trek back to collect on the new purchase, on foot. It was a mere 6 kilometer walk and without the aid of my at-work-wife or any friends, it was a good chance to get any buyer's remorse out of my system. Oddly, none came.

In fact, during my little jaunt, I saw what I believe to be a good sign that I made the right move.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Deal, part 1

I have been wanting another Mercedes-Benz since I bought, owned briefly then sold my last one, back in 1996 (which will make a very interesting future story). Over the years, I have kept an eye out for another, but poor timing, financial circumstances and real life events have detoured me from realizing that goal.

Nearly two weeks have past since I corrected that oversight in life and this is how it all went down.
I was browsing through one of the local online classified sites when I came across this ad. Something about it piqued my interest and I start to search my own memories as to why it would have such an effect. Instantly, I thought back to the only other Mercedes I owned, a 1970 220D. Other then a few design features, the two cars shared nothing much else in common.

Further back in my mind, I traveled to the doctor's office I went to as a kid, reading through donated issues of Car and Driver, Road and Track and other car magazine in the waiting room. I do recall seeing an ad very much like the one I recently found on the internet, but there was something more to seeing this particular car that I just couldn't put my finger on.

I studied the pictures that were submitted by the dealer who was selling it. From what I could make out, it was in below average condition for a car of this vintage, in my opinion. The front bumper cover was missing and the paint was showing signs of being left out to the elements unprotected.

The interior appeared to be in a fair and very serviceable state, but I know first hand, pictures don't even come close to telling half the story.

Despite this and more, I found myself wanting to experience the car, in person and the best way to make that happen is to have a good night's sleep over that decision.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Dusting off a Classic

For whatever reason and after exhaustive searching on the internet, including talking with some online friends, it seems GRID Autosport just doesn't want to work on my system anymore. It's a very frustrating, hit and miss affair. Sometimes, I can complete a whole session, be it on Single or Multiplayer, other times, crash hard to desktop. Well, I am not going to spend on more time on that, for the foreseeable future.

Which brings me back to an old game that is slowly becoming a new favorite. Despite the fact that it was first released over five years ago, Need for Speed Shift 2 is holding up quite well in the graphics department. Since we only have one TV and when the wife and son want to play on the Xbox One, I have to find something else for me to do. I have either spent that time playing Real Racing 3 on my Android phone, or rediscovering some games from my past.

I am not going to bother with Multiplayer portion of Shift 2, I still have some not-so-nice memories of playing an EA game vs other real people, so I will just settle for the Singleplayer career mode.

I have noticed a pattern with these racing game, seems I start playing them in a Volkswagen....

Thanks in part to keeping my virtual skills up to date through other games, like Real Racing 3, Forza 6 (both on PC and Xbox) and GRID Autosport (before the crashing issues), I have already found a short term goal to achieve....

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Parting of Ways

After a lot of serious consideration, research and starring at it in the parking lot, the conclusion I have come to is my 1994 Chrysler LeBaron GTC convertible is not the project I was looking for.

In June, when I found the classified ad, visited to previous owner and laid eyes on the car for the first time, it was merely the thrill of the deal and the belief I was fulfilling a dream. It wasn't until the cash had changed hands that "buyers remorse" started to set in. That passed, but was replaced with something else when I went to the airport to collect my wife and son, after a family event from up north. Her look created another feeling in me that I couldn't quite shake for sometime.

My son took an instant liking to the car, marveling mostly at the major moving part; the retractable roof. Even when this video was shot, back in August, the novelty was wearing off, although you really can't tell in my voice. I was already thinking along the lines that a two door coupe and/or convertible is a good car to have when you are single or a childless couple (granted, other families have one or the other and are doing just fine, talking more about my small family).

Thanks in part to the management of the building we were residing in at the time, the LeBaron was put into paid storage. For the next couple of months, my son and I would stop by for a "visit," start it up and even take brief drives around the yard. Any thrill of having it was fading fast, for both of us.

After we moved from the one place to the other, the wife and I went to retrieve the LeBaron out of storage. On the drive over, I tried to take in any and all the positives of the experience. The car ran fine, drove satisfactorily and the interior was a very pleasant place to be in. I wrote about this in more detail here

I am very much a person of feelings, especially with emotional attachments to people, places, things and memories. The childhood dream of owning a convertible was fully realized, the adult reality of actually having the thing was a numb and if I chose to keep it, very expensive with poor returns experience. I wanted to become attached to this car, I really did. Sadly, it just didn't happen.

I felt nothing as I watched the LeBaron being loading on the back of the deck truck, towards some unknown destiny. Okay, I did feel some disappointment that a connection between man and machine never really happened. However, it's departure would serve a purpose, helping to recover some of it's value towards this....

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The longest runner....part 3

The final chapter and continuing from here

The company house was requiring a few "last minute" touches before occupancy, so the family and I settled into a brief period of hotel living. I don't know, having somebody make your bed everyday and a hot breakfast that you don't have to cook yourself? I almost got used to it!

My wife was able to get a mechanic at the shop she was managing to have a look and if possible, replace the failing water pump on the Impala. He told her it was an easy task. In fact, it took longer for the part to arrive then it did to have it put into the car!

After about a month of living in the hotel, we finally moved into the house and I was already looking ahead to winter and not with any happy anticipation either.

Stowed away in the truck, from the time I purchased it, were the complete set of winter tires. Thanks in a huge part to the mild Okanagan cold season, I never had to install them on the previous 4 years. However, with the northern winter driving season about to start, I was a bit concerned this might have to finally happen here.

When that first snowfall day came, it wasn't so bad, the Michelin all season radials held the road in the light compact snow and slippery sections.

Even with the worsening road conditions, the front-wheel drive never let me down. Nevertheless, I had both local tire shops programed into my phone, including a few tow truck companies, just in case.

Turns out, I never needed either. I was able to perform daily tasks of taking my son to school and picking him up afterwards, doing grocery runs and just driving around town doing other things. Occasionally, I would put a little more power into an icy turn to get a reaction from my son. He loved those stunts.

However, other things were starting to go wrong. First, the oil leak had been getting progressively worse, to the point if the car was idling stationary for too long, I could catch whiffs of the burnt scent coming into the interior via the air vents. This problem was exacerbated by the few times I got the car started, without having it plugged in, during extremely cold days (like -40, doesn't matter if that's Celsius or Fahrenheit, they both meet there on the thermometer).

Another new issue was the wiper arms, ending their cycle in the up position. Turn the knob on the stalk, the wipers worked fine. Turn them off and they just won't stay down. After some internet research, I found other who had the same problem, discovered the part needed and price. Then, the daunting task of taking apart all the was needed to fix the problem. I put that task on permanent hold.

After a few short years of that, the decision was made to move slightly south, since I just landed a job at a major construction project. The house was packed up and back down the road we went, five hours away. Once again, the Impala never failed to start up in the morning, taking me to my shifts and bringing me home. Repeating the cycle of taking my son to and from his new school and so on, another problem made an appearance.

In it's former life as a police car, the mechanisms that allowed the rear doors to open from the inside were either disconnected or never installed. Somewhere along the way, this function was corrected and now, failed. I had to resort to getting out to release my son from the back seat of the car, much like freeing a prisoner on good behavior. He liked this idea and never was fond of riding in the front seat. For me, it was an inconvenient pain in the rear.

It was this latest issue that brought about the reality of the situation. As much as I liked the Impala, the repairs required were starting to add up. Although some of the work I could do myself, if I had the time, others would need the attention experienced mechanic and shop.

My wife's solution was to purchase our other current vehicle, a brand new Honda HRV. However, that left me with the difficult choice of either convincing her the Impala was worth fixing or face the bitter truth it was time to let it go. I drove the car less and less, the HRV was slowly replacing it for daily needs.

Winter came and went and the Impala hadn't moved in months. I made the odd, halfhearted attempt to remember to start it up to keep the battery from going dead, but I never stuck to any schedule. When Spring came and the snow melted enough to get inside, the twist of the key produced the sounds I was expecting, rrrrrrr click, click, click, dead.

My time with the construction project came to an end, less than a year from moving down from up north. Now, the family and I were very serious on returning to the Okanagan and the more favorable weather that we had grown to miss. I had doubts that even if I could resurrect the Impala that it would make the journey. Plus, I was convinced I had already got enough value from the car. My wife took a few pictures and created a brief description for the online classified ad for the car.

A few days later, a young man, about mid twenties, made contact. We met in the parking lot of the apartment we were moving out from and started the "hey, want to buy my car" process. Through a set of booster cables, the Impala roared back to life and second thoughts about letting it go started to creep in. The young man told me about how much he had wanted another Impala, after growing very attached to his first one and losing it in an accident.

Since I have always been a sucker for a good story, or allow others to play on my emotions towards the needs of a vehicle, I gave him a fantastic deal. I informed him of all the problems and issues that I was aware of. He nodded at every word. Then, I knocked off $200 off the asking price.

After six years of ownership, $1300 was spent to purchase the Impala, about $1500 for parts and repairs, not including gas, oil changes and insurance. The odometer climbed from 199-something-something-something to 238-something-something-something and it never left me on the side of the road. A rough guess at the repairs it needed for everything to function as it should would have been around double of everything spent so far. I took a loss at selling it for $300, or did I?

For the second time in my life, I cried selling a car, watching it drive away with it's new owner and sporting a new set of license plates. Even now, over a year later, whenever I see a white Chevrolet Impala of the same era in traffic or a parking lot, my heart sinks briefly.

Then, I move on....