Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy 20th Birthday, Megaman!

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Megaman, so here's wishing the blue arm-cannon hero a happy 20th! I hope the years ahead will be kind to you; the last couple games you starred in were pretty rough. has written an article re-collecting your past achievements, so enjoy this trip down memory lane, MegaMan. And here's wishing you a happy 20th birthday once again.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Geeky Game Art

I'm not sure if it's because PC/Video games are becoming more accepted or more mainstream. But it seems as though there is a greater growth in game inspired art being created nowadays. It heartening to see 1) gamers who break the stereotypical mold of a greasy coach potato, and 2) more and more talented people becoming a part of the gamer community.

Atomictoy has a series of geeky art pieces on the website, alongside other items. So do go and check it out, and see what the site offers. I attach here a piece of art from the website, inspired by the game, Beautiful Katamari.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Assassin's Creed

There have been a number of reviews online for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed. And those reviews have been very mixed, ranging from glowing love sonnets to a somewhat more muted response.

There are two main criticisms of the game, which are that 1) the controls are overly simplistic, and that 2) the game is repetitive and gets old real quick.

Simplistic Controls
The criticisms in this area refer largely to the control of movement and combat, which are the primary aspects of the game. For example, the game is designed to be large and open ended, and movement is very free-form. All players need to do is hold down the desired direction and the run button, and Altair (the game's protagonist) will run down streets, scale walls and jump across roofs. Combat, another focus of the game, is also similarly simple, essentially boiling down to timed one button sequences. While Altair has a number of combat options open to him (grabbing an enemy, countering an enemy's attempt at grabbing him), most times the most effective option is to simply hold back, wait for an enemy to strike and only use the counter-blow button.

So while the criticism that controls in the game are simple, I feel that this helps to increase the experience of the game, rather than detract from it. Without having to wrestle with the control, and removing the need to memorise complex button sequences, players spend more time being immersed in the game. For example, when Altair is fleeing from the city guards, I don't spend time thinking, "up, up, down down, left, right, left right, A, B, start". I'm thinking, "I need to get away. I need to be safe. Where can I go?". I spend time surveying the road ahead of me, identifying the most effective escape route, and I just move. Movement becomes much more intuitive. In reality, one does not spend time thinking, "OK, I need to walk. Let's lift up the left leg first, plant it down then the right". One just moves; and this is the feeling in the game.

Similar comparisons can be made for combat. Altair is often faced by multiple enemies, and players can now spend more time being situationally aware, and thinking about position and spotting opportunities to strike.

Repetitive Gameplay
Another criticism is that the game becomes repetitive very quickly, as the number of tasks Altair is required to perform is very small. And in such a large open world, that limited number of tasks stands in even starker contrast. Altair's primary objective is to eliminate nine targets, and finding information needed to locate the afore-mentioned nine. Such information can be sought through eavesdropping, pickpocketing, intimidation, and a small number of random tasks (i.e. chasing down a set number of flags, and assassinating a secondary target). And that is all Altair needs to do... nine times over.

I can understand the repetitive nature of tasks can limit one's enjoyment of the game. There's really not many different things to do. But for me personally, each task does feel different each time I perform it, regardless of how many times I've done it before. And that's for a very simple reason: The city (or cities, to be exact. Three cities, specifically). What Ubisoft has done in this game is to create three extremely detailed cities (Jerusalem, Acre & Damascus). And not only are they very detailed, they feel like living, breathing cities, with crowds of people, markets, beggars, lepers, drunks, and preachers. And as you bring Altair through the city, it really becomes an experience, and one that is distinctively different from each city. And this is what makes each task so different from each other, even though you're doing the same thing. Pickpocketing in Damascus just feels different from pickpocketing in Acre, and therein lies the variety that one seeks.

In closing, I just want to say that I've enjoyed what I've played so far. I'm about halfway into the game, having invested about 7hrs. It's not a long game by any stretch, but the experience has been very immersive and enjoyable.

I leave you now with a retelling of one of my missions: I was off to Acre, seeking to take the life of Garnier de Naplouse, a doctor stationed with the Knights Hospitaliers. From the information that I had gathered, it seemed like the good doctor has been experimenting on a number of people; for what purpose I am unsure of. I make my way to the fortress of the Hospitaliers, where he conducts his monstrous experiments, only to see him ordering guards to break the legs of one of his patients. The poor soul had tried to escape from the doctor, and now his fate seemed sealed. It seems that my mission to take the life of Garnier de Naplouse was a just one. I make my way silently into the fortress, and into the hospital where my prey resides. I stalk him from a distance, making sure my concealed blade was ever ready to strike. I closed in on him, silently, dangerously. But when he was mere inches away from me, one of his blasted patients, no doubt crazed from whatever horrific experiements done on him, shoved me out of the way; I was now discovered! Abandoning all hopes of a swift, silent kill, I made short work of the guards now alerted to my presence, and continued my pursuit of the target. My prey bravely put up a fight, showing he was move than capable with a sword, but his skill was no match for mine and I cut him down like the dog that he was.

Assassin's Creed is available on Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Webster's Word of the Year 2007

We all know Merriam-Webster, right? They occasionally publish dictionaries? Well, they recently had an online poll asking users which one word best describes Year 2007.

We've got a winner, ladies and gentlemen, and the 2007 Word of the Year is:

1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay". (E.g w00t! I won the contest!)

A round of applause to geeks/nerds around the world; more are being subverted to our ways. Now they use our vocablulary, and soon they will all bow down to us.

But honestly... unless you're using "w00t" in the ironic sense, you really shouldn't. And if you think that "l33t" speak is still cool, you probably should be stabbed... multiple times.

PS. I liked "Blamestorm" myself. It means, amongst other things: a meeting in which mistakes are aired, fingers are pointed and much discomfort is had by all

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Kharma Kettle & Rhapsody

Located at the corner of Cluny Court sits a brand new cafe named Kharma Kettle and Rhapsody. The spot was previously occupied by a quiet French restaurant which has since given way to this upstart. I've been here on 2 occasions now, and I have to say it is definitely worth another visit soon again.

The cafe is fairly small, but I think they've done well in maximizing the available space for customers, with a seating capacity of about 25 persons. Two large tables occupy the centre, and a number of smaller tables line the wall. The furniture is a simple mix of marble tables, and old-style kitchen dining tables, which lends a very nice, homely feel to the cafe. The walls are decorated with simple wall paintings and caricatures, and a number of framed pictures. The cafe makes you feel like you're stepping into someone's country home kitchen.

Service here was excellent, responsive and attentive. But I felt that whoever was in charge should try to maintain a stronger control and awareness of happenings. While each individual staff was excellent, I got the sense that they didn't communicate enough. Each staff constantly had to check with each other regarding any sort of enquiries I had, and I saw that other tables had a couple of mix ups in the orders. Overall, the service was still quite good, and just needs a little bit more tightening up.

The menu selection is fairly simple and small, but I think that helps in keeping the quality up. Aside from a selection of sandwiches and salads, there are around 6-7 mains to choose from. These mains include baked salmon, pork vindaloo, a mushroom dish, sausages and Shepard's pie. I've tried the sausages and shepard's pie during my visits there, and those were very satisfying.

The sausages were a good portion of three large cuts, served with potato mash and sauerkraut. While this is a fairly common and basic, this dish was quite tasty; I would have preferred a different kind of sausage though. The Shepard's pie was even better, with generous servings of potato mash, minced beef, and baked in an excellent sauce as a base to the dish. The sandwiches served here are also excellent, with a good selection of breads and grilled perfectly.

Desserts here are quite interesting. They've got cakes and the like, different each day. But there's this thing called the Eton Mess, which is made of cream, strawberries, meringue pieces and marmalade. Yes... Marmalade. An odd concoction, to be sure, but apparently this is a traditional dessert served in Eton College on 4 June every year. And it is quite a tasty concoction, despite my initial hesitation.

Prices range around $10 for sandwiches, $13-$18 for mains, and $4-$6 for desserts. Coffees here are quite good too, and the hot chocolate is very rich, thick and satisfying. Incidentally, they also offer breakfast on weekends. Set menus are also available.

Overall, I think this cafe is well worth the price, and definitely worth a visit. The food is quite good, and there are a number of other things I could recommend from the menu. It is an excellent place for a quiet, satisfying lunch, and for some good quality comfort food.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


One particular event has been setting the gaming community (particularly in the US) aflame for the past weekend. It was revealed on Friday, 30 November 2007, that long time editor of Gamespot, Mr Jeff Gerstmann was released from the company. It was alleged that his employment was terminated due to pressure from Eidos, which was currently advertising heavily in Gamespot to promote a new game called Kane & Lynch. Jeff Gerstmann had given the game a score of 6.0, and said that the game wasn't very good. Apparently Eidos was very unhappy with Gamespot, and Jeff, and pressured the company into letting him go. The rumour also goes that Jeff was only notified of his termination of employment when he turned up to work and found his office locked.

The problem here is twofold: 1) Gamespot is a financial entity and a business. Which means they have to maintain their revenue sources, of which advertising counts for a lot. It would be naive to assume that they do not have to manage relations with game publishers, where most of this advertising revenue comes from. 2) As a creator of content, Gamespot is in a position whereby credibility to readers is also of utmost importance. Editorial independence is key to maintaining a high readership, which would in turn make them even more attractive to advertisers. The problem for Gamespot is balancing one against another.

If the rumours are to be believed, then it would seem that Gamespot favoured one over the other in this instance, and capitulated to their funders. They have also since pulled the video review that Jeff Gerstmann made, although the print version is still available. They have also disabled the user submitted reviews after an initial backlash where users were submitting extremely low scores to the game as retaliation. Gamespot has also released a statement denying any wrong-doing on their part.

Having their credibiliy damaged is a hard blow to them. One problem with games journalism is the low revenue sources, or at least, the limited number of sources. As I have said before, their sources of funding comes either from readers (and by extension, subscriptions) and from advertisers. And as I also said before, it would be naive to think they do not court the game publishers for more and more advertising dollars.

As such, it is important for Gamespot to be able to deliver a large audience, and demonstrate that they have more clout than any other online or print magazine. And to be able to attract readers, who have such a wide selection of alternative sources, their credibility is paramount. To be percieved by the gaming public as a unbiased, independent source of reliable news is the cornerstone of their business. And as a journalistic enterprise, readers expect that level of professionalism, and this is what attracts more readers. However, this situation with Jeff Gerstmann, if to be believed, has just shown that Gamespot doesn't have that independence, will capitulate to external pressure, and will take measures against their own people who defy them and their investors. The fallout from this situation would be reduced numbers of readers, low confidence from external and internal parties, low morale amonst their staff, which would in turn translate to them becoming less attractive to future advertisers.

Mainstream news networks depend on the veracity and timeliness of their reports, and this applies doubly so to game journalism; it is such a small niche area with a large multitude of alternative sources. And I think that even if the rumours are untruthful, and that there was no wrong-doing on the part of Gamespot, their reputation has already been tainted, and it would take a long while before they can build back up the confidence that audiences have lost.