Wednesday, November 28, 2007



Did you know that Beowulf is an animated film? Meaning a cartoon? I sure didn't. Imagine my surprise as I sat there looking upon a screen full of animated characters. I honestly searched for my ticket stub to make sure I was sitting in the right cinema.

But I think it works, using animation to tell a fairly mature theme. This is not one for the kiddies, I can tell you that. By freeing the film from real-world physical limitations, this film is able to accomplish much more in portraying a fantastical world. And it helps the audience to effectively suspend disbelief, which in turn would draw oneself further into the story.

Another uncanny thing about the movie is how realistic everything looks. Aside from a few tell-tale signs of animated movement, one could almost swear that one was watching a live-action film. Each frame is shot beautifully, and the quality of the scenes and characters must be seen to be believed. Look upon the face of any character, and you'd be fooled into thinking it was the real actor. Hrothgar, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, looks frighteningly real.

The film also has a good story in it, and one can draw immense pleasure in the way it is told. I can't say for sure how closely the movie mirrors the myth of Beowulf; I've read the myth once before, but I can't remember much aside from some character names. And I think there are holes in the plot, but this may be inherent in to myth proper.

There are a number of things that leave me scratching my head, such as why Grendel would suddenly and viciously and continously attack the great hall of the king after years of peace. And why does the hearth fire turn blue when he appears? And whether Beowulf's illegitimate son was really a dragon, I can't say.

But all in all, this film was very enjoyable. The music is done very well, and match the tempo of the film excellently. Some scenes were truly exhilarating, and especially so in the final action sequence. The well-portrayed characters, which were also ably voice-acted, make it easy to identify with them. And scenes are carefully created, and there aren't any throwaway scenes; everything moves the plot forward. I also thought that the film is very well-paced. And I would heartily recommend this film.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mass Effect

Mass Effect, an upcoming game for the Xbox360, was initially banned, and then subsequently unbanned by the Media Development Authority of Singapore. I was quite angered by the news, when the ban was announced on 12 November 2007. I am not the best person to gauge the reactions of the local gaming community, but I think a good portion of people were similarly enraged. However, the ban was lifted a few days later and the game was given a rating of MA18 instead.

The initial ban was based off a singular scene containing sex between yourself, as the main protagonist, and a non-player character. I guess that after some re-evaluation, MDA has decided that this particular scene was not sufficient to uphold the ban; that scene is a very small part of the game, not entirely central to the main theme, and more importantly, is not presented in a gratuitous manner.

There are a number of things that we need to consider when we consider the issue. Firstly, we have to recognise that video games is only a medium, and the content that is available on this medium is not always targeted at minors. Secondly, video games are not always for children. This may seem like a re-iteration of my first point, but I want to stress on the video gaming demographic; gaming is done mostly be adults, aged 18-36, most are degree holders, hold professional/executive occupations, and a fairly significant proportion are female (35-45%). This is important when we consider the type of content delivered through video games, and the intended audience.

I do think that we should prevent undesirable content, espeically those with mature themes, from being accessed and consumed by minors. And as video games are not always designed for minors, we do have to monitor and control the type of video games that they consume. On the other hand, I've always believe that intended audiences should be able to access the types of media that was meant for them. If a film/book/video game was intended for adult audiences, and I am an adult, I should be able to consume it. However, therein lies the challenge: How do we, on one hand control access to media content to minors, while on the other hand ensure that intended audiences can access it freely, especially in the field of video games? And an unintended challenge is the popular opinion that video games are still for children, and either no action is taken to control their access to it, or conversely, reactions have been overly heavy-handed?

This leads to, in my opinion, 3 possible responses: Industry self regulation, Government Regulation, or outright Government Restriction.

Government Restriction is difficult to justify. Yes, there should be some controls on undesirable media. But who gets to decide on what is undesirable or not? And if there is a reasonable response to that question, who then decides on the appropriate response? Should the government be the sole decision makers on the prevention of products being consumed? And if so, should adults be subjected to those same restrictions?

Government regulation also shares these same challenges. If I wish to consume a particular form of media, as a legal and consenting adult, should the government act as a barrier to that? My personal opinion is that this should not be the case, but this opinion could be coloured by my desire to play my anticipated games. I would be angered by a prevention/restriction on video games, but I could easily say I wouldn't be troubled much if the same actions were taken against music or film. If there is to be government regulation, it needs to be fairly balanced across all media forms, and our responses to it has to be similarly balanced. One media form is never better, or more important that another. My personal opinion is that government regulation and restriction should be minimal in all forms of consumer media, and I would not want government controls over the music, film or video games that I, as a legal and consenting adult, choose to consume.

This leaves the option of industry self-regulation for video games, as it should be for all forms of media. But there lies other challenges for such self regulation. I refer specifically to the retail side of the industry, where consumers accesses the content. I believe that the retail side of the video games industry is key to self regulation, and helping to prevent undesirable content from being consumed by minors. However, this is difficult to implement and to enforce, especially in Singapore. Most video games here are sold through small retailers, where competition is high and profit margins are minimal. If a game is rated at MA18 (like Mass Effect, for example), there is no guarantee that the local retail shops would uphold that ruling, and only sell to the permissible audience. If only one retailer fails to uphold the ruling, other retailers stand only to lose their sales and business. There is no essentially no gain for any retailer to abide by these restrictions, and sales of mature games to minors will continue. And as I mentioned previously, the video game retail industry is highly competitive, so this only exacerbates the problem for the local gaming community; the retail side essentially cannot be counted on to uphold rulings, and makes self regulation almost impossible.

The local film industry is vastly different, as the major cinema operators have shown that they are effective gatekeepers, and preventing minors from consuming film of an undesirable nature. And self-regulation is easily in reach for this industry. One more thing we have to keep in mind is that films are largely rated by themselves. In other words, deciding whether a film is PG, MA18 or R, is mostly determined by the film industry themselves, and they have done a fairly good job at being critical about their own products. Combined with efforts from cinema operators, the film industry in general (from production to box office) has been very effective in self-regulation.

What is needed, in Singapore in particular, is for the video games industry to galvanise in the same manner. The development and publishing side of the industry has done a good job in providing information regarding each game's content, as well as a fairly well-balanced ratings system in the ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board). In addition, new initiatives such as What They Play, a website designed to explain game ratings and suitable games to parents, should be continually and strongly supported by the industry, government and all gamers. But more work needs to be done on the retail side of the industry, to ensure that retailers are not losing business by their compliance with regulations, and that there would be repercussions for retailers who do.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Obolo: Gourmet Cheesecakes - Patisseries - Desserts

Obolo: Gourmet Cheesecakes - Patisseries - Desserts

Audrea and I were walking along Joo Chiat Road just a few evenings ago, on our way to Parkway Parade. We were just strolling along, taking in the sights of the old town when we stumbled upon Obolo. It looked real nice from the outside, and wanting to take a break, decided to enter and sample their delights.

Anyone who knows me know I like a good cake, and I've been on a cake kick recently. I've tried a few places, like Canele, and Nectarie. And I always buy a few slices to share with the family. I'm a firm believer that you ought to get what you pay for, and good quality food comes at a price. And if an item is particularly well-made, then the cost is well deserved.

With that in mind, we decided to give Obolo a try, to see if their offerings justified their price, and if their products were up to par. And in this regard, I can give them a very well deserved, very firm "Meh".

Audrea and I settled down to a slice of their dark chocolate cake and were not overwhelmed at all. The cake had a very nice texture to it: crispy base, walnuts, dark chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sauce. But the flavour was a little bland, and far too milky and creamy, even for me; And God knows I like my cream. For a dark chocolate cake, there really wasn't much dark chocolate in it. Too sweet, too creamy, too milky, no bittersweet taste of a fine dark chocolate.

I took a number of other pieces home to sample: Tiramisu, Dome Exotique, Valencia, New York Cheesecake, and Strawberry Cream Cheesecake.

The Tiramisu, Valencia (chocolate mousse cake layered with orange creme), and the Strawberry Cream also weren't overwhelming, and not what I would expect at this price. And if I may say so, I felt that the cakes were fairly pedestrian, not outstanding at all.

But I did like the New York Cheesecake and Dome Exotique very much though. The New York Cheesecake was very rich, creamy and flavorful without being overly cloying. And the Dome Exotique was very very nice indeed. Consisting of a mango mousse, with a slight crisp outer shell, and a mango gelatine inside and dashed with rum on a biscuit base, the Exotique was an excellent balance of flavour and texture and flavour once again. The cake even just looks delicious.

So would I recommend this place? In a manner of speaking, yes. The cakes aren't terrible by any measure, and you could do far worse than Obolo. There are a couple of gems on their menu, and there are a number of things that are I'm tempted to try. They have another Dome cake which looks very good, as does a few of their other desserts (eg. their fruit tarts, and the Summer Berry Tiramisu). So I would probably give it a second shot. But if I'm not impressed on the second try, then I would say there's no real loss to you if you gave it a miss.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Tesla Coils Playing the Theme Music of Super Mario Bros.

This is some highly entertaining stuff. Two Tesla coils are assigned midi channels via a fiber optic link from a laptop, with the coils interpreting the signals with frickin' lighting bolts! There were no speakers involved, and the sounds are entirely from the coils themselves. Crazy stuff!

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Orange Box

I picked up a copy of The Orange Box for the Xbox360 about a week ago, and I've been playing the heck out of that thing. And I've really only touched 2/5 of that game, having only played Portal and Team Fortress 2. I haven't even begun Half-Life 2, and the two subsequent episodic expansions (unimaginatively named Episode 1 & 2). But that 2/5 of the package is well worth the full retail price of the game. I've been having such a blast, and staying up real late every night. For me, that's the best way to spend a day. Some would understand, but not many would.

Portal. Man, I've got only 2 things to say about that: 1) Portal is a Goddamn mind-bender and 2) THE CAKE IS A FUCKING LIE!! So if you ever get a chance to get your hands on Portal, give it a shot. It's well-worth it, even if you aren't a gamer.

The other thing I've been playing, like I just said, is Team Fortress 2. I was a huge fan of Team Fortress Classic, back when it was merely a mod for Half-Life in 1998. The sequel was supposed to been released since before 2000, but it has been in development for almost 7 years now. And I've got to say, those years have been put into good use. Check out some of these photos! Just the art direction would astound you.

And I have to say that I'm pretty good at the game, constantly getting decent scores each round. It's a team-based game, which I like. I find myself taking up mostly supporting roles, like the Medic. And even if I were to take an assault class like the Soldier or the Pyro, I'm mostly running defense and escort for my other team-mates whilst they grab the glory. It's my preferred role in games, and I guess, in life generally. But damned if I'm not having a ball . God, TF2 is so awesome.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

I saw this movie yesterday, and it was a most excellent film. I strongly recommend all to catch it, and enjoy the sheer joy that is Lars.

I wrote a few words about it on my Facebook, but I feel compelled to elaborate on it.

The movie is excellent on two fronts; both the technical and artistic aspects are both very well done. The scenes are very well composed, and evocative, and the music compliments the film very well.

But more than that, the story is absolutely heart-warming, in a quirky, off the wall way. The story will simultaneously make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings. The simplicity of the story, of a man trying to come to terms with the inability to communicate, and the growth that he makes, draws you in and never lets go. It makes you an intrinsic part of his personal journey, his personal struggle. And as you delve deeper into the film, you start to identify with his inadequacies, and you're constantly hoping that he'll be able to dig himself out, re-discover himself, and find the qualities that were inside of him in the first place.

The fortitude that he shows, and the care and patience shown to him by those around him, will re-energise you, and make you feel great hope in all things. Go watch this show.