Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pixel Hunt Issue 10

The latest issue of Pixel Hunt has just been released. It's Christmas, so why not download it and read all the in-depth features and reviews contained within.

I've got an opinion piece, and two reviews in this latest issue, so go check it out!

You can download Issue 10 from here:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas. Here's more lame jokes for you

These are some lame jokes taken out from Christmas crackers (bon-bons).

Q: What do snowmen wear on their heads?
A: Ice caps!

Q: Why does an elephant wear sneakers?
A: So he can sneak up on the mice.

Q: Do you know how to make a bandstand?
A: Take away their chairs.

Q: What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
A: Snowflakes

Q: Why did the apple turnover?
A: Because it saw the cheese roll.

Q: What do you call a sleeping bull?
A: A bulldozer.

Q: What insect is musical?
A: A humbug.

Q: What did the winner of the race lose?
A: His breath.

Q: Why did the scientist install a knocker on his door?
A: He wanted to win the no-bell prize.

Q: What comes up when the rain comes down?
A: An umbrella.

Q: Why is an elephant large, gray and wrinkly?
A: Because if it were small, white and smooth it would be an aspirin.

Q: What travels around the world but never leaves its corner?
A: A stamp.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Buying a house, and lessons learnt

Audrea and I moved into our new home over the weekend. The house is shaping up nicely, and aside from a few other bits of household items, we're mostly settled in.

But the entire process has been extremely trying and exhausting. And I think we're learnt a number of lessons, which will help if we ever move again in the future.

1) Making the offer, and signing the contract
We made an offer on the higher end of the price range, and perhaps that was a novice mistake. We were afraid that someone else would make a more attractive counter-offer. Making an offer of a reasonable amount to yourself is important.

I also made the mistake of not insisting on including "Subject to finance" in the terms of my offer. This would have given us an exit option, should things not work out. This is particularly pertinent when we were buying off the plan, which would take about 6 months till settlement.

Understanding the penalties is also very important. As I'll share later, we had a hard time securing the loan. And had we defaulted on settlement, we would have lost the house, forfeit our down payment, and paid the difference if the vendor was offered less on the re-sale. We didn't ask about the penalties in greater detail because we were so confident that securing a loan wouldn't be a problem, which in hindsight was a poor decision to make.

2) Not keeping an eye on the house
I think we placed too much trust on the real estate agent, the vendor and the builder to look after us. And as such, we didn't keep as close an eye on the building process as we should have. We didn't insist on being consulted with regards to the internal fixings, or even some of the larger aspects of the building (such as ducted cooling). We were lucky that the builder had a good eye, and picked the colours and materials that we otherwise would have. But we did end up with a couple of things we wished were included into the house.

3) Mortgage, brokers and lawyers
Because settlement was so far removed from the contract signing, we had a bit of time to secure a loan. And because of that, I think we both procrastinated a little bit. This was further compounded when advised by the broker in October that we still had plenty of time to secure that loan. Things did not turn out that way exactly.

The whole process took longer than it should have, taking almost one and a half months before we could confirm our loan arrangements. For some reason, the bank kept requesting for additional documents. And given there was a 6-8 day turnaround with each request, this greatly extended the time needed for the loan. And with our initial submission, we were assured by the broker that we had already provided sufficient documentation, so the constant delays caught us off guard. We only got final loan approval less than a week from settlement.

The lawyer we engaged was a great help to us, because his constant reminders to us emphasised the urgency of the situation. But I think we had different expectations on the services provided. His services were to prepare the required documents for settlement, and in a normal situation, this would have been sufficient. But given our particular scenario, I had assumed that he would also represent our interests in dealing with the broker, bank, and vendor. I guess I had slightly different expectations of what engaging a lawyer entails, so there were moments when I felt quite frustrated by a seemingly lack of assistance from all sides.

4) Stamp duty
One of the biggest shocks we received near the end of the whole process was the amount of stamp duty we had to pay. Buying an off-the-plan property often means a much lower stamp duty than buying an established one. And one is always told that the duty is based off the value of the land. This is close, but not exactly true.

What we've found is that the duty is calculated by taking away the value of the construction from the purchase price. So say that the purchase price is $10, the value of the construction is $4, and the land is $3. The duty is not calculated on the value of the land ($3), but rather on the purchase price minus the construction price ($10-$4=$6). As such, we were hit by a higher stamp duty that we previously assumed, which has left us in a undesirable position.

5) Final inspection of the house
It's important to do the final inspection of the house as early as possible. Because we hadn't secured our loan until the last week, we weren't confident that we would get the house. We found a number of issues with the house, and because it was so close to settlement, there wasn't much that could be done aside from putting a request to have the builder resolve the issues. However, if we had done this earlier, it would have been possible to have these issues resolved before we get the keys. As it is now, those issues are now up to us to resolve.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PixelCast Episode 8: I'm dreaming of a white pixel

Christmas is upon us, and the Pixel Hunt crew gather once again to chat about games, the many seasons of Christmas, and the wonders of multiplayer. This episode, Alex Walker joins in the discussion with Tim, Dylan and myself.

If you listen to podcasts, and you like videogames, you must listen to the PixelCasts. It's a great show for the whole family! No foul language = kid-friendly.

You can download the episode here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm a Beatles; Rock Banding

It was a difficult trek, making my way to Airport West just to pick up Beatles Rock Band for the PS3: An hour round trip from the office, with the game that was unexpectedly heavy. Getting the thing home was another challenge. But the quest was completed, and at a discounted cost of $150, the game (which came with drums, guitar and microphone) was well worth the effort.

Setting up took a lot longer than expected; there were so many parts in that huge box. The drums had to be fixed onto a stand, along with a foot pedal. There were wires, and dongles and assorted bits and pieces. But again... well worth the effort.

Because the game is bloody excellent. Being the Beatles, it doesn't need to be said how remarkable the music is. And the range was impressive, from their early years to their later, more experimental music. It's amazing how many songs I actually know... and how many that I didn't.

I was already familiar with Guitar Hero, so picking up the guitar again wasn't too difficult. Singing on the microphone wasn't too difficult either; I remained mostly in-key and on time. But the drumming was tough. Even though I can play a normal 4/4 beat on a real set, playing the drums in the game wasn't not an easy feat. It really does test one's coordination and timing.

But when you've got 2-3 people playing together, singing Here Comes the Sun... it was gold.

Friday, December 04, 2009

PixelCast Episode 7: Dylan, Ken and Tim on the mics again.

Tim's laptop has recovered from a serious case of blow-upititis, so the crew is back together again for another episode of the PixelCast. This episode, we've got a special guest joining us: James Pinnell from Gamer Limit.

Listen to us talk about Tropico 3, Wipeout HD, Left 4 Dead 2, Brutal Legend, unconventional uses of videogame consoles and the role of game demos.

You can download the podcast here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Melbourne Stories: Vulture Man

City. Streets.
A trash bin, one of many.
A man sniffs around,
seeking treasures unseen.

He reaches in, pulls it out.
A paper bag in his grasp.
French fries is the prize;
Is the gold that he seeks.

Satisfying his hunger,
He reaches back in.
Finds a refreshing drink,
To complete his meal.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Pearl Jam Live

I'm wearing the tour t-shirt that I bought at Pearl Jam's concert last night. I'm still blown away by the whole experience, and I'm trying to hold on to that feeling for as long as possible.

I've been a Pearl Jam fan for a long time now, even though I was made extremely aware that there are far more dedicated fans than I. I'm only familiar with their more recent albums; I haven't even listened to Ten (their breakout album) yet. And that is something I hope to remedy soon.

But the concert was absolutely fantastic. Eddie Vedder is brilliant as a singer, and so mesmerising on stage. The guitar solos were face melting, the atmosphere exhilarating. People were singing along to all the classics, jumping to the beat and throwing their hands into the air.

Seeing them play live was a huge wish fulfilled for me. And I'm glad I just decided to go, even if it was by myself.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PixelCast Stop Gap Episode

We are unfortunately missing our lead host for this episode. But this latest episode is still packed with gaming goodness. And instead of only talking about games, this time we talk about games while playing games.

Listen to us talk about Dragon Age, Modern Warfare 2, Tekken 6, Gratuitous Space Battles and Borderlands... While we are playing Borderlands simultaneously.

Download the episode here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Progress on the House 4

We visited the new house again a couple of weeks back. The place is looking better and better. Each time we see it, we increasingly see ourselves making a home out of an empty house.

Front of house

Living Room


Bedroom 1

Bedroom 2

Thursday, October 22, 2009

PixelCast 6: Pixel-Haaaaair

We have a new chair this episode, with Michael joining the show for the first time. We talk about games we've been playing, the Pearl Jam concert in November, and the changing release caledar of games.

Listen to us here!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

PixelCast 5: Tickle My Pixel

Dylan, Tim and I made a second attempt to finish the podcast, and we persevered. Listen to us talk about games we've been playing, comment on gaming news and discuss episodic content.

We were fortunate enough to salvage half of the original recording with guest host, Nathan Cocks from PC Powerplay. Listen to our smooth, chocolatey voices and enjoy.

Download from here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Podcast Attempt Failed

It's a real shame that the podcast we were recording yesterday afternoon was lost. It's probably a technical hiccup, and not anyone's fault really. When coordinating a recording with four people in separate cities (and different countries for one), there's many things that could go wrong; Sound quality, bandwidth and overtaxing the computers are all possible fault-lines.

We had some really good content in there, and good banter all around. So it's a real shame it's all gone now. We're trying to salvage something, but it looks like re-recording is the only real solution here. I hope we can recapture some of that magic.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

I picked up Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 because I wanted a game that I could play together with Audrea. I wanted something wasn't too complex yet with enough depth not to be vacuous. And so far, we've been having fun.

As with the previous Ultimate Alliance game, players take control of various Marvel characters stopping a string of villains from dastardly deeds. Over the course of the game, players can upgrade their characters with skills and abilities with experience points gained from trouncing various minions and underlings.

One reason why I'm liking this game so much is that many RPG elements have been removed from the game. And that to me is a good thing. Apparently, this is not a commonly shared opinion. One major problem I've always had with the first Ultimate Alliance was the infinite minute increments that didn't have significant impact on the game. +3% damage for every level increase in the relevant skill? -2.4secs cool-down time? I don't want to deal with that level of tedium. I just want to get into the action as quickly as I can.

Which is why I also appreciate the new in-game levelling system. Instead of having to continuously wait for other players to upgrade their characters, you can now do it on the fly whilst others continue playing. Your character is taken over by the AI while you upgrade.

Visually, I'm finding it much easier to differentiate characters, enemies and background. I had a hard time with UA1, when there were too many clashing colours. But it's easier to follow the action in UA2. The in-game camera does need a little work though; there are multiple times when the camera ends up in the oddest angles, obscuring the vision of the players.

Audrea and I haven't gotten too deep into the game yet. We finished about 3 missions yesterday. But I reckon that we'll be playing this often over the course of the next couple of weeks. I'm finding the improvements in the sequel make for a better playing experience. And the removal of tedious elements helps to condense the fun factor.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Enlisted into the Twit Army

Like so many before, succumbing was the inevitable result. Should I have resisted for so long, knowing it was ultimately futile? Can I pride myself on the fortitude shown? Or do I hang my head low for my failing resolve?

Follow me at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Progress on the House 3

It's been just over a month since we last saw the house. And the progress that has transpired is quite astonishing. The floors are done, the kitchen is in, and the upstairs rooms are almost completed.

To be perfectly honest, we weren't quite as excited about the house when we saw it last. There was still a lot to be done then, and we couldn't visualise the space. But having seen it again in a near complete stage, we've had our faith renewed.

Things to do done still include wiring, plumbing, toilets, showers, carpets, garage and floor polishing.

Living Room


Bedroom 1

Bedroom 2/Study

Monday, September 21, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Royal Melbourne Show 2009

Audrea and I have always been fans of the Royal Shows. We went when we were students in Brisbane. And we continue to go now that we're in Melbourne. Showbags, carnival games, rides, fairy floss and animals. What's not to like?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pixel Hunt Issue 9

The latest issue of Pixel Hunt is out now. It's really a good magazine, with loads of great videogame content. If you're a fan of videogames, you would be remiss to not check it out. And the price of entry? Absolutely free.

My contributions this issue include:
Op-Ed (Pg 6-7)
The Sims 3 Review (Pg 40-43)
UFC 2009 Review (Pg 47-49)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

PixelCast 4: My next episode

The crew at PixelHunt have put together another podcast. Dylan, Tim and I share the games we've been playing, and discuss the use of dialogue in games.

Podcast available here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stories: Weakness must hurt

The train chugs along, filled with people on their journey home. A young girl sits, prim and proper in her uniform. She reads from a book, open and resting upon her lap. In the surrounding buzz, she appears calm and serene.

Her skirt hem rests just above her knee, revealing scars etched into her thigh. Among the scars is a word carved into her leg: Weak.

I wonder if she has cut herself. I wonder why.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

PixelCast 3: My first Podcast

I just recorded my first podcast with members from the Pixel Hunt crew. I had loads of fun recording it. You should go check it out, and I hope you'll enjoy listening to it.

We talked about Batman, games we've been playing and things we're looking forward to.

Listen to it here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Progress on the House 2

Since we last saw our home about 7 weeks ago, there has been some progress made. We're still months away from completion, but it's all shaping up. We even got to pick kitchen colours! How terribly exciting yet mundane at the same time.

Living/Dining Area

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2009: A Big Year So Far

Only half the year has gone, and it has been extremely eventful. I can't remember a time when things were as crazy.
  • My older sister got married in February
  • I got married in June
  • I got laid-off in July
  • Got a new job in August
  • Audrea and I bought a house
  • And I just found out that my older sister is pregnant, and I'm gonna be an uncle soon
Everything is just happening all at once. It's pretty exciting, really.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Skiing at Mt Buller

We went skiing for the very first times in our lives today, and we loved it. For Audrea, it was her first time seeing snow as well.

It was hard going at the start, as always when learning new things. But we both picked it up fairly promptly. We could move a distance without falling over, and we could do a simple stop and turn. Not bad for first-timers.

Of course, we didn't escape completely unharmed. I'm sure we'll be sore all over when we wake in the morning. And I've got blisters around my ankles where the ski boots dug too deep. But it well worth the battle scars.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ken & Audrea's Wedding Photos

Photos from our wedding on 14 June 2009.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Busy weeks, an injured hand and The Ghostbusters

It's been a very hectic couple of weeks. There's a mountain of work to be done, and there's more coming on. The events calendar is pretty light for the next two weeks, but there's more to do about work systems and new projects. I'm in the midst of writing a proposal for a new project, as well as having to do an intensive cleanup of our contacts database. In addition, I've got my annual review coming up. I'm hoping that not only will I continue to have my job, I'll get a pay raise too.

I injured my hand recently, so that's a bummer. It's been hurting for over a month now. The doctor says that the tendons in my left wrist is probably inflammed, so rest and pain medication are the best things for it. It also means I have to reduce my playtime with videogames. Grasping the gamepad, and manuvering the thumbstick seems to be exacebating the problem.

I did have time to give Ghostbusters: The Videogame a good play through. And I've got to say that the game is living up to expectations in some respects, and disappointing in others. It's very much the Peter Venkman character in the movies. Eminently charming but ultimately lacking in some substance. The writing is very funny, making me laugh out loud on multiple occasions. And seeing the original cast reprise their roles elicits a strong feeling of nostalgia. And catching ghosts are quite a blast. The primary problems I have with it are that some parts of the game are terribly frustrating. Especially so when facing the swarms of tiny ghosts that overwhelm you. With the movement and controls feeling a little sluggish, facing those swarms gets really old really fast. The overall story of the game stretches the Gozer theme from the first movie a little too thinly as well. I'll get back to it soon, as I'm wanting to play with the multiplayer mode.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mechwarrior 5? Hells yeah!

I've just got another reason to be excited. By all accounts, this will be a series re-boot. It'll bring the game back into the gritty, more simulation-like gameplay that characterised the earlier games in the series.

I wasn't a fan when the game took a turn for a more arcde-like style with Mechwarrior 4, and the Mech Assault games on the Xbox. So I'm really excited.

In the clip, you'll see the Warhammer, Jenner and Atlas (my most favorite mech). I'm not sure if the video is from actual gameplay though I doubt it very much.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Life in Melbourne: WWE Raw Live Tour

I am so excited. I managed to snag myself a ticket to the WWE Raw Live Tour here in Melbourne. It's happening next Tuesday, 7 July 09 and I just can't wait.

It's been so long since I've watched a pro-wrestling show. The last time I went to one was in 2007 with my cousins. And I think that was a disappointing show overall. The shows in Singapore are always a sideline, and not part of the canon.

I've got much higher hopes for this one. I think it one of those massive ones, where the storylines are actually impacted. And I'm expecting loads of fireworks, the massive screens, all sorts of placards, the works.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Progress on the House 1

A couple of months back, I took a photo of the plot of land that would become our home. Construction has since begun, and we were extremely excited to see the progress that has been achieved.

Take a look!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blood Bowl available on PC

Ooh... Blood Bowl for the PC has just been released, and I'm very tempted to go get it. It's available as a download, for the price of €42.89.

I've never played the old Blood Bowl tabletop game, but it is a premise that I think I'd enjoy very much: Fantasy characters (elves, orcs) playing a brutal form of American-styled football. It has always been well-received, and there's still remains a loyal following.

This new PC iteration seems to offer the same type of experience. In fact, it seems to offer two kinds of experiences: A turn-based system, more akin to the original boardgame, and a real-time mode which would appeal to more twitch players.

Either way, it's only a small download (3gb) and it seems to be worth my while. I'm thinking that I'll need to rustle up a few players and get a league going.

Blood Bowl is available here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Pixel Hunt Issue 8 - Read more of my work

Pixel Hunt Issue 8 is now out, with even more fantastic content by yours truly. Go and check it out, read the work done by myself and my fellow writers. There's plenty of reviews, op-eds, and a host of other feature stories all about videogames.

My articles:
Magic, Chocolate Ice-cream and Videogames (page 6)
Bridging the Gap: A Chat with Peter Barlow (pages 16-18)
Guitar Heros On Tour Decades Review (pages 32-34)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Made a Podcast

We stepped into a recording studio today to make our very first podcast. And it was terribly exciting. I've been wanting to do something like this for a while now, and I finally got a chance to.

My colleague and I chatted with a guest author who was doing his book tour for about 20 minutes, talking about his latest book, his approaches to writing and general outlook on everything else.

While it was work related, it is really exciting because it a whole new project that I've been trying to get going for a while now. Perhaps learning my craft here will be able to help me when I try to make a podcast of my own some time down the line.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

UFC 2009: Undisputed Demo First Impressions

Last Friday, I downloaded the demo of the upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship game: UFC 2009: Undisputed. And I was completely hooked for the entire weekend. There have been a number of games created from the UFC franchise, but I’ve never had any experience with them. So I can’t say if this is a better or worse depiction of the sport than previous games. But from what I’ve seen at various UFC competitions, UFC 2009 seems to be a good portrayal.

Fighting System: The fighting system so far seems to be quite detailed, and suggests a good level of depth. There are a variety of punches, grapples, throws and submissions, and they all seem well developed. Even though the demo only features two fighters, I have been able to approach each fight differently, and employ different tactics to win.

Instant KO: There is always a possibility for a one-hit KO, and I like that very much. It means I’ve got to watch my opponent carefully, anticipate his movements and defend effectively. It also encourages me to go all in when the opportunity presents itself.

Speed: The pacing in the demo has a methodical feel to it, which takes away some of the speed and ferocity you’d seen in a real UFC match. Perhaps this is only due to the fighting styles of the fighters in the demo.

My initial impression is quite a positive one. I kept hitting the rematch button just so I can try out different fight strategies. Like I said earlier, there seems to be quite a lot of depth, but its been presented in a way that is engaging and isn’t hard to grasp.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek & Bioshock

Saw Star Trek last night, and I really quite enjoyed it. It established a good balancce between introducing the show to a new audience, paying homage to the old classics, being an action flick whilst still maintaining a sense of drama and camaraderie between the crew members. The special effects were good without being overwrought. So overall, in terms of narrative, pacing, casting & production values, it was really a good movie.

But I just don't get the overlapping timelines. It seems like that's a common theme in Star Trek storylines, with alternate realities and something about the space-time continuum. So Kirk and Spock know that they are going to be friends because Spock from the future came back and told them about that? And then that ties back into the original series when Shatner and Nimoy portrayed those characters back in the 70s? Gahh...

I also finished Bioshock. It's was a really enjoyable experience, though the ending left a little to be desired. The city of Rapture was absolutely captivating. The stylings, the music, the lived-in feel... The whole atmosphere was unforgettable. But two things troubled me... the premise of the story and the way the ending is decided.

1) So Fontaine, posing as Atlas, manipulates my character, a person he had originally brainwashed and sent to the surface world. And some 20 years later, my character is involved in an airplane accident, falls into the sea and lands directly onto the entrance into Rapture. I am then tasked by Atlas to elimiate Andrew Ryan who is a rival to Fontaine. I find Andrew Ryan, who despite knowing the keyphrase to exert control over me, allows himself to get killed, thereby relinquishing control over Rapture, a lost, burnt-out, abandoned city, populated only by mutants to Fontaine. Sounds a little ridiculous? I think so...

2) I got the bad ending. Because I harvested one of the Little Sisters. And I get the "evil person" ending for that. My problem with that is the absolute nature of the choice... you're either a saint or a devil. Any decision can only have one of two possible outcomes. It attempts to elicite a moral response, but morality in Bioshock deals only in absolutes, black and white, yes or no, right or wrong. And in doing so, loses much of the impact that the games presents: That there is no right or wong, but only the will to do.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Life in Melbourne: Triple By-Pass Breakfast

There's a place called Greasy Joe's down at St Kilda where you can get what they call a "Triple By-Pass" breakfast. That's 3 eggs, 3 sausages, 3 rashers of bacon, 3 hash browns, grilled onions, french fries and a porterhouse steak.

Get ready for the heart attacks, people.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I've been playing

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Aside from work, I'm still working on those things I talked about a while back. But I did manage to get some gaming in.

Guitar Heroes: On Tour: Decades
I've been playing this heavily for the past week. I'm putting together a review for Pixel Hunt, so I've been hitting it pretty hard. You'll be able to see my opinions regarding it in a month or so.

Crysis: Warhead
I picked this up along with another game from the EB Games "2 for $50" sale. I've surprisingly been able to play this on my laptop, albeit with reduced graphical quality. Still, it's running fairly well. There haven't been any standout moments as yet, but the overall experience has been enjoyable. That I can approach it from multiple angles, given it's open world nature is a big plus in my book.

Company of Heroes
This was the other game I picked up as part of the EB Games sale. I can see why it has been so highly regarded since it's launch. Each unit seems to display a level of intelligence, plus there's a lot of tactical considerations for the player. I've only played a couple of missions so far, so I'm keen to see how it goes.

Left 4 Dead
Played a good co-op game last weekend, after being cussed out of a Versus game. I'm just not that good and I'm often a burden on my team-mates in Versus mode. Co-op is my best choice, and even then I'm only any good on Normal difficulty. Advanced mode just makes a fool out of me.

Civilization 4
There's so much meat on this bone, I'm not sure if I can take it all in. I've won one campaign but I'm sure I wasn't playing at an optimal level. I did get everyone to vote me as leader of the world though.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Place to Call My Own

If things go as planned over the next 6-7 months, this empty plot of land will contain my new home. It'll be one of three proposed units, and facing the street.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pixel Hunt Issue 7

The latest issue of Pixel Hunt has just been published. Go and check it out! I didn't contribute to this issue, but I still think it's definitely worth a good read.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Things to do

My... It's been a particularly busy month. Work has been crazy, and I've got a bunch of side projects I've gotta be working on.

Pixel Hunt
I'm writing an article on independent games development in Australia, and I've got to finish questionnaires for three interviewees. There's a few other leads I have to follow up on as well. I've also got to finish a game review and an op-ed for publication within the next 3 weeks.

I've received responses from friends on their availability to attend our wedding, and we've got to arrange for invitation cards to be mailed out. There's still details to be worked out, such as seating plans, wedding gifts to Audrea's family, wedding cars and videography.

We've gotten our finances in place, and are seriously looking around for homes now. It's really quite taxing driving from property to property, examining the homes and talking with the real estate agents. We haven't really found one that we love that's within our price point just yet though, so that means more searching. And once we do find a place, we'll have to organise movers as well as shop for new furniture.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Battlefield Heroes: First Impressions

I finally got my activation key to the closed beta of Battlefield Heroes yesterday. Having waited for more than 2 months, I was extremely excited to get started. I just wanted to share some of my first impressions with you.

The Game
If you're familiar with the Battlefield series, you'll know what you're in for. Vehicles, huge maps and all sorts of mayhem. The Battlefield series is known for its wackiness, with players pulling off all sorts of stunts, and this is one of the key elements in this newest game. Played entirely through a web browser, the game has adopted a very stylized cartoon-inspired art style; I guess this is to reduce taxing on your computer or internet connection.

Setting Up
This game requires players to first install a plugin for the web browser at about 4gb, and an EA account. Beta-testers also need a authentification key, which I assume won't be necessary once it goes fully live. Players then get to create a number of characters for use in the game, which includes facial features, clothes, even types of emotes. Players also choose which team these characters would be playing for: 1) Royal Army (inspired by WWII poms and yanks) and Nationals (equivalent to Third Reich Germans). I'll explain why this team selection becomes a pertinent point. Players also select their character class at this point, so they can take up roles as a soldier (standard grunt), gunner (heavy weapons) or commando (sneaky stuff).

Playing the game
Unfortunately, I didn't really get to play a real game last night. I had created a Nationals character and jumped into a game, only to discover the other person inside was on the same team. So we spent a long time waiting for someone from the other team to join. Everyone else who came in subsequently also turned out to be Nationals. At one point, we had 4 Nationals waiting on some Royal Army players to join. There didn't seem to be an easy way to change teams, not unless you had already created a character for the other side.

So instead of having a proper game, we all decided the muck around instead. The highlight of the evening was when 3 of us piled into a jeep and chased a tank across some wheat fields whilst honking on the horn crazily. Crashing a plane while another sat on the wing, and driving off a cliff came a close second and third.

The Looks
I wanted to talk about the way the game looks last, because I felt the art style really supplements the gameplay. You're inspired to do the silly stuff. You feel as if you're in one of those old Warner Bros. cartoons with the Road Runner and the Coyote. Absurdity was always one of the mainstays of the Battlefield series. The art style leverages this, and makes what would otherwise have been ridiculous into a big goofball. And in a good way.

The Final Product
There's a lot more to explore in this game even in beta, especially with character customizations. Connection seems stable enough, and there weren't many visible glitches in the 40mins that I played. Overall it looks quite refined already, and it'll only become more polished once the game goes live.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who says games aren't educational?

A periodic table of videogame characters? This would have been a huge assist when I was studying chemistry.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Sneak Peek at Out Wedding Photos (Just one!)

Here's one of our photos that we took when we went back to Singapore in early Feb 2009. You'll have to wait for the rest.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Empire: Total War or Dawn of War II?

Hmm... It's a difficult choice that I have to make right now. I only have a limited amount of disposable cash to spend. And even then, I shouldn't be blowing all my money on games. And when there are multiple excellent games on the market simultaneously, it makes the game buying process that much harder.

Empire: Total War
Large scale tactical battles, rich historical backdrop with a robust strategic play, players take on the role of both king and general. And with the new added feature of naval battles, this game is bursting at it seams with good bits. A big, chunky meaty game, the kind that you can really sink your teeth into.

Dawn of War II
This game apparently creates a whole new way of real-time strategy game that thinking of it as a mere sequel would do it a great dis-service. The mundane task of building a functional economy is removed. Crafting a specialised squad of combatants, and wielding them as you would a surgical knife becomes the focus of the game. And that sounds terribly exciting.

So I've got a big meaty chunky pie on the one hand, and a palette cleansing aperitif on the other. Which one should it be?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm On A Boat, Motherf*****

In the absence of more interesting news, here's a music video. I'm on a boat, bitch!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More articles published at Pixel Hunt

Issue 6 of Pixel Hunt was released a couple of days ago, and I've got more of my work published within. Please do go and check it out. It's a good magazine with plenty of fantastic material. Especially mine (no points for false modesty).

My works:
  1. Empire Total War Q&A with The Creative Assembly, pages 17-18
  2. My Top 5 Games of 2008, page 21
  3. Overcoming Challenges: Combat and Progression in Videogames, pages 27-29 (I'm most proud of this one)

Just another day on the Werribee train

The 8.09am express train from Werribee to the City forgot to make a stop at one of its primary stations this morning. Instead, we drove straight on through.

Take your pick on which was the funniest:
1) The look on the faces of passengers waiting at the station as we sped past.
2) The 3 minutes we stopped after while the driver contemplated reversing the train back.
3) His embarrassed apology as he realised it would be far too difficult to go back. "Yea... That was my bad," he said.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Getting an arcade stick

I'm totally pumped for the Street Fighter IV launch, and I want to complete the experience by procuring an arcade stick. Having one is quintessential to the Street Fighter experience, and it's just not right I don't have one yet. It's just not right.

There's a pretty sweet new line of arcade sticks coming from Mad Catz. This baby here, for example, costs US$150:

But finding the damn thing has been frustrating. The shops I've contacted and visited either have no idea, or do not plan on bringing it at all. I've been to EB Games and all other retailers in the city, but I've been drawing blanks the whole way. It's disappointing to be sure. I'm hoping I'll be able to pick one up while I'm back in Singapore. Hopefully.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Secret Santa Gift: Warriors of God

I've taken part in BoardgameGeek's Secret Santa program for a few years now, and it's always a great deal of fun. I surprise someone with an awesome gift and I receive one in return. This year was no exception though I had to be extra patient. My Secret Santa gift just arrived two days ago having traveled many miles from the far north.

And inside was Warriors of God.

Warriors of God focuses primarily on the Hundred Years' War from 1337 - 1453. The game is beautifully produced with excellent components. The rulebook read very easily, and suggests that while the rules are simple, there is a great deal of depth in the game play. I'm looking forward to getting this on the table soon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

I love Street Fighter. I am a huge fan. I love the game, the mythos, the characters. But I'm not very good at the game.

I played the single-player campaign, and several online multi-player matches last night. I still have a long way to go before I am even close to competition level. I lose way more than I win against other players. Even my track record against the computer is horrendous.

Ken is my primary character, because I like that we share a name; we share little else in common though. And through the brief play session yesterday, I've noticed many gaps in my game.

Jumping Around
I have difficulty closing distance with the opponent, and unable to use ground movement effectively. As such I resort to jumping in and out far more than I need to. This has led to predictable movement for my opponent who can counter easily with a upward attack.

Blocking has always been a weakness of mine, especially when it comes in a combination of high and low attacks. I'll need to learn to read the opponent's movement better

Reliance on the Same Moves
I'm always using the Hurricane Kick, because it's easy to pull off, closes distance with the opponent and fairly damaging if it connects. But this plays into my weakness of predictability again.

Dragon Punch
And because the Dragon Punch is harder to pull off, I don't use it as often or as effectively. This is a great counter move against jumping attacks and can be extremely damaging if used as such.

Medium Punch and Kicks
Medium attacks are excellent tools in a Street Fighter's arsenal. It balances damage, range and recovery time excellently. It is also a good start to begin combos with. I rely too much on the heavy attacks, which leaves me open to counter attacks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Xbox Live Points are Region Specific

At least, they are if they were bought through a retail store. Imagine my surprise when I picked up a Xbox Live Points card from EB Games yesterday and wasn't able to redeem the points through my Xbox Live account.

Apparently Xbox Live accounts are region-locked, and my account was set-up when I still lived in Singapore. Which means I can only access the Singaporean Xbox Live Marketplace, and points bought through a retail store here are not valid. Points bought here are only usable on the Australian marketplace using an Australian Live account.

This is annoying on two fronts. Firstly, I now have a Points card at home which I cannot redeem. I can't return it to the store because I've already opened the package and scratched off to reveal the redemption code. Which probably means I also won't be able to sell it off second-hand, at least not at a comparable value at which I bought it.

Secondly, if I do want to use the points, I could set up an Australian Live account and gamertag. This would give me access to the Australian marketplace, but this would mean I'd have to start everything from scratch again. My gamer points, in-game achievements... even my Xbox Live Gold membership, which is tied to my original account.

The absolute worst thing is that I can't really blame anyone but me. I should have clarified with the store clerk before I bought the redemption card. I should have read the small print on the back of the package. I should have consulted the FAQ on the Xbox website.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sins of a Solar Empire

Building a space empire sure is a tough task. One must concurrently maintain an efficient economy, develop industries and living standards, build a awe-inspiring space fleet whilst fending off enemies and pirates. The resources on each planet system are barely sufficient and offers only a small amount of developmental space. So venturing forward and the need for expansion quickly becomes a prerogative. Scouting for fertile colonies is often a challenge because the enemy will also be seeking the same interests. But conflict often occurs in this struggle for new colonies and new and more powerful fleets of spaceships are needed to fend them off. This brings the conundrum back full circle as new technologies cannot be developed without first expanding. This is the mainstay of any 4x game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit & eXterminate), and Sins of a Solar Empire packages it together very nicely, offering an accessible entry into the genre.

What I did like about the game is its accessibility. The developmental cap on your home planet quickly points you in the direction you need to go; to expand and develop colonies to support an ever-growing economic and military machine. Exploration, colonising and developing has been simplified/abstracted to enable the player to manage to multi-frontal expansion. Building new planetary and orbital structures, and new military units is also a simple process as each item will highlight which resources and technologies are needed. And researching upgrades and new technology is also a simplified/abstracted process. Combat has also been simplified, as it only occurs on a 2D plane; one assumes that maneuvering and tactics have already been taken into account in the game engine.

As many of the game's mechanics have been abstracted, it offers a high level of automation. Automatic placement of new structures can be turned on. Planetary defenses operate by themselves. Military units engage enemy fleets automatically as well, based on parameters set by the player. Individual units join the most suitable fleets and use their special abilities on the optimal targets without prompting.

There were a couple of things that I did find frustrating. Firstly, the research and logistical requirements for units can be very convoluted. For example, building a Hoshiko Robotics Cruiser requires research in the Hoshiko Prototype, which in turn requires research in Superior Repair Bots, which requires research in the Repair Platform, which requires a Military Lab to be built first. And the ship is only a mid-level unit, and does not include any other general upgrades such as hull reinforcements (which can again be further upgraded).

Secondly, the pirate element in the game is extremely annoying. Pirates will attack periodically, which begin as small annoyances but quickly become credible threats. Repelling them either requires a commitment of troops or offering escalating bounties on enemies. Either way, it's a drain on precious resources.

What I haven't seen is the ability to win the game peacefully through diplomatic or cultural means. It seems that the game has a predilection towards military victory, and I can't yet tell if any other means of victory is possible. There are structures in the game that increases cultural imprints, but I'm not sure exactly what this does. It will become apparent as I explore the game further.

While I do have my gripes, I believe I can overcome them as I become more familiar with the game. Knowledge of the research tree is a key to mastering the game, and it's knowledge that I haven't yet acquired. The other problem I have just requires careful management of time and resources. Overall, I like the game very much. It offers a lot of depth in a very accessible manner. Coupled together with an intriguing storyline and an easy to use interface, Sins of a Solar Empire easily gets a recommendation from me.