Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's cold out there

I've never been to a place quite so cold before. This has been, and continues to be, an eye opening experience. I'm currently sitting in my room in Shanghai, overlooking the Huangpu River, typing on the computer which came with the room. The tv is turned on to HBO, I'm dressed in sweats, and it's near time to sleep. I've had a long tiring evening walking about Nanjing Road.

It snowed earlier this afternoon as I stepped out of the airport; I have never seen something so delicate and so annoying at the same time. I've been dressed in 4-5 layers each time I walk outdoors, with gloves on my hands and a beanie on my head. I've felt my nostrils freeze over, and my fingers grow numb from the chill. But it was far far colder back in Beijing.

I had an interesting dinner tonight. My colleague and I walked to Huanghe Road which apparently known as a food street. We ordered a claypot chicken stew, which comes heaped with chicken chunks and veges in a thick sauce. And to accompany the stew, we can pick up all sort of raw veges, noodles and random food bits which you then dump into the stew to cook, like some sort of funny steamboat. It was a good good way to fill the stomach on a cold cold night.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I don't often get excited about a game that's been released for a while. Usually, if a game doesn't grab me from the get-go, it's hard to get me interested again. But AT-43 is an exception, and there's a very very good reason for this:

Gorillas in power armour, with giant laser cannons strapped to their backs. Bloody frickin' genius!

AT-43 is a miniatures strategy game, along the lines of Warhammer 40k, or Warmachine. But I have been fairly ambivalent towards it; I'm generally not a fan of miniatures games. Most games in this genre require assembly and painting which I do not enjoy. But AT-43 comes fully pre-assembled and pre-painted.

Opinions have been positive overall, but I'm still undecided if I should dive into it. Cost is always an issue, and I'm not sure how popular the game is. But the miniatures look super sweet, and I'm having good feelings about it. Good feelings in my special places.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Super Mario Meets Halo

Wow! This is, like, 15 different kinds of awesome. Super Mario and Halo? I'm sold! Sign me up! I've got a fight to finish!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Year Resolutions

1) Watch more movies
I've always enjoyed watching film, and it's one of my most favorite hobbies. Back in Australia, I'd take every opportunity to go to the movies, even if I had to go on my own. Especially if I had to go on my own; I've found that enjoying a good film was a very personal experience. Since I've been back, I haven't seen as many movies as I'd like. And I hope to remedy that in 2008. I saw Dan in Real Life on my own on Sunday morning and it made me remember how much I enjoy going to the movies.

2) Lose weight, and reach my target of 85kg
I've always had a problem with losing weight: Laziness. And to a lesser extent, boredom. I start an activity, and very shortly after I'd become too uninterested to continue. I tried to start Taekwando, but I stopped going after a month. I've been walking, jogging, cycling and swimming but I'd end those fairly shortly. I've been to the gym and that hasn't been effective either. I never see things through to the end because it becomes too tedious, too bothersome and too uninteresting. This is something I need to change.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The State of Gaming

Sony PS3
There are a number of interesting things happening on this platform, and the PS3 will be the console to watch this year. Home seems like a very interesting concept, and I'd like to see if this take off at all. LittleBigPlanet also has some solid buzz around it. A few other key games could really make 2008 the year for PS3 (e.g. Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy XIII).

Nintendo Wii
My initial excitement for the Wii has waned in the past couple months, and due mostly to the slow trickle of games being released for it. In addition, aside from the quality first party games, the third party games have mostly been disappointing. I am still very keen to get some hands-on time with Wii Sports and Wii Fit, as well as put some quality gaming time into Metroid Prime 3, Super Paper Mario, Mario Galaxy and Mario Strikers. I'm also looking forward to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and the eventual Mario Kart.

Microsoft Xbox360
I have to wonder about the lineup that's coming up for the 360. There aren't too many that I'm excited about; definitely not on the same level as 2007. Last year was phenomenal for the 360, and I'm not entirely confident that 2008 would be about to match it. I just hope this console hasn't jumped the shark already. I'm am looking forward toward Too Human though.

DS will still remain my primary portable console. The games still appeal to me, and there's a few that are on my wish list. I anxious to play the new Advance Wars, as well as Professor Layton, and Crystal Chronicles. On the PSP, there's Patapon, but aside from that nothing much really captures my interest.

I've been thinking of seriously playing a MMO, especially The Lord of the Ring Online.

Miscellaneous Videogames
On games with multi-platform launches, I'm looking forward to Fallout 3, TNA Wrestling, and Burnout Paradise.

My time spent on boardgames has reduced by quite drastic amount, despite my deep love for it. I think this is due to buyer fatigue; For a while, I was buying games which never ended up on the table. I also felt that 2007 didn't have many games that interested me, especially on the Euro side. I am becoming increasingly interested by wargames, and I think 2008 will be the year where I move further down this path of gaming. I'm currently waiting on FAB: The Bulge, as well as A Victory Lost. I'm also interested in Silent War, Hannibal: Rome Vs Carthage, and Rommel in the Desert.

Beyond Games
I have been thinking of pursing a Master's Degree for the longest time. Up until recently, there was no doubt that I wanted to continue pursuing my research interest in International Relations. But recently I have been contemplating doing my Master's in media and culture, and particularly focusing on video games. I would very much like to be critically thinking about video games, its existence as an art form, and its impact on popular culture. I have been reading books on this subject (Game On, Gamer Theory, Trigger Happy).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mass Effect II

About 3 minutes ago, I completed Mass Effect, clocking in around 27 hours on the game. It was an arduous task, but it was one that I enjoyed and relished. The game does have some flaws, and some areas lack the polish I would expect of a game with such a high profile. But I am quite satisfied by the game, and I feel that overall, I would recommend it.

The premise of the game, and the story it tell are both very engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. The game world is very well realised, with a high level of detail in almost every aspect. With so much back story, and background material, it really helps players to immerse themselves into the game. Additionally, the narrative of the game is very well paced, and each new twist surprises you as much as it does the protagonist as it is revealed.

However, there are several things that get on my nerves:

1) Elevators
The game uses elevators to transition players from one level to the next, and essentially masking the time spent waiting for the new levels to load. But depending on the size of the level being loaded, this can take a while. It's not as bad as some others have described, but it makes me wish the developers had just stuck with a generic game loading screen, rather than being stuck in an elevator.

2) Inventory
Again, the inventory is not as disastrous as some may have described, but it could be a whole lot better. As you pick up items (weapons and upgrades only), there is no discernible order in which these items are arranged. Items are divided into simple groups (i.e. shotguns are placed together, as are assault rifles, pistols, and sniper rifles). But within those groups, they are almost placed randomly. And everything is displayed in a list format, so players would have to scroll up and down looking for the suitable item. Upgrades are arranged in an even worse format.

3) Enemy AI
The enemies in the game either a) run straight up to you, and stick to you, making it far too difficult to shoot, or b) stand in the same spot whilst I pick them off with a sniper rifle. It makes for fairly unexciting game play; Midway into the game, I figured out their patterns of behavior, and the game difficulty went exponentially downwards from there.

4) General Game play
It doesn't help that as a shooter, it is not as well refined as others on the market (Call of Duty 4, Halo, etc). There is a lack of polish in the shooting aspects of the game. While one can make the argument that Mass Effect is not really a shooter, and should not be treated as such, but the core game play really still needs just a little bit more work. I wish that the game play could have been designed to be more methodical and strategic; Maybe less of a shooter, and more turn-based, for example.

5) Textures
There is where the game really shows its lack of refinement: On many occasions, you can see textures loading onto the screen and characters, even as you are interacting with them. This really breaks the immersion that the narrative helps to create. Even in the midst of a critical in-game conversation, one can see the texture mapping onto character models, as is the background textures. It's really quite distracting.

6) Dialogue options
The dialogue system is vaunted to be revolutionary, cutting edge, and give players the option to manipulate the way a conversation between character progresses. While this system works on most levels, I've found it really annoying that at certain junctures, no matter which dialogue option I pick for my character, the response elicited remains the same. I felt that this cuts down on the open-endedness that was key to the Mass Effect experience. I understand the need to direct players in a certain direction, for the sake of the narrative. But this sort of trickery doesn't sit well with me.

Despite my gripes, Mass Effect is by no means a terrible game. In fact, I think that it is a very good game, and one that needs to be played to be experienced. The main storyline clocks in about 20 hours, so as RPGs go, it's not really that long. And what I've played through, I've really enjoyed. Interaction with the non-player characters is very enjoyable, as is exploring the farthest reaches of the galaxy. One really gets a feel of being in an epic saga. And one would be remiss if one did not get a chance to experience Mass Effect.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rising - Yoshida Brothers

A heck of a way to revolutionize a traditional music instrument. Enjoy.