Sunday, April 24, 2011

A warm trip to a cool place

Dear readers,

I've been to Cameron Highlands and back for the weekends. Cameron Highlands is a reasonably established tourist attraction in Malaysia, which as the name suggests, is located at slightly higher grounds than most cities in my country. The whole journey spans from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, with a bunch of friends, 3 of them to be exact. We stayed in a quaint little hotel for the night. Cameron Highlands has always been famous for its high altitude and having cooler air than the rest of the major cities in Malaysia.

Allow me to provide a little history for Cameron Highlands. This place started out as a tea plantation at first. When there seems to be more space for crops, vegetable farmers joins the fray, and Cameron Highlands at that time houses tea plantation workers, tea factory workers, and vegetable farmers. With the population growing, the need for the basic necessities grows in accordance and merchants soon flock the agricultural town to provide services to the local community. When people started to have free time and a good life down in the hot cities, some of them had the notion to spend their holidays in one the cooler regions in the country, planned a trip uphill, and decides to like it.

So, the good word spreads to the rest of the people living in the hotter places, and when people started to flood the agricultural site to spend their time and money, hoteliers, wet markets and other opportunists soon flocked there and shaped that place into the Cameron Highlands that we know today. Cameron Highlands is now a hotspot for people who plans to do budget trips, as it is a place to chill out, literally, and let loose the loads of the grisly commercial world that we work in for that few pieces of paper in exchange for the good (and bad) stuffs.

With my brief history of Cameron Highlands out of the way, lets talk about what me and my friends did during the trip. I won't really drill down to the dirty details, but, for most of the part, we had fun hanging out in the room, around town, and enjoying the cool air that we don't get in the cities we live in. As the journey starts, all of us were picked up from our houses by our designated driver. It was a three hours drive, and with us playing around with the music collection of each other's electronic storage devices, and cracking out jokes among ourselves. Racism, sex, life, was the most common topics that us simple human beings can think of, and we were talking about it in what humuorous ways that we can think of. We decided to have brunch at a town called Rawang, because we aren't too keen on being starved for the whole of 3 hours.

When we finally reached Cameron Highlands, we stop by a dessert shop selling strawberry themed desserts for some sugary goodness, before heading to our hotel for the check in process. Once the check in process was out of the way, we took our dinner at two places. At first, it was at a fast food shop, and we extended our appetite to a nearby night market, which have several food stalls in it. We had :"Char Kuey Teow" and "Apam Balik" to fill our tummy to the brim. Heading back to the hotel, we bought some carbonated drinks that was supposed to be used as mixing solutions for the liquor that one of my friends have brought for the trip.

We had two noble intentions for the trip at start: To get pissed drunk on liquor consumption and to have steamboat under the night sky with cold air around us. Both these intentions have not been fulfilled. Instead, we had a different kind of fun playing the Fantasy Flight board games and card games that I have brought. There was a short recess in between the games, where we headed out to a convenience store nearby to get us some supper. Instant noodles, chips and nuts that was to accompany us for the rest of the night where we try to win the board game, which is an action RPG.

Waking up the next day, and after getting ourselves washed up and ready for the remainder of the day, we head down to have our breakfast at the hotel's cafeteria. It was buffet style and I ate up enough to survive for the whole day. Then the rest of the trip can be summed up by the places we visited: The tea plantation and factory, the bee farm, and half way up some god forsaken road that was en route to a hiking site, which wasn't part of the plan. 

One of the deepest impression that I have for the trip is actually that short period of recess that we had in between the games that we had in the room. It was the sky. The new moon was hiding itself from vision, so the night sky is filled with fickle spots of light, emitted by the celestial bodies that covers the darkness of the universe. At the period of me gazing at the stars, me and one of my friends had a brief chat on what is there to life. It's amazing that how different people can have so different views on the same subject.

I believe that in talking to people and trying to understand more of the topics that surrounds us daily, which can lead us to new discoveries, or strengthen old views with newer perspectives. It was a refreshing talk, even if I had differences in views of life with my friend. Inhaling the night air that is cooler and fresher than what we can get from the city, I went away from the balcony and continued the board game until the need for sleep claims the better of me, and the rest of us.

At the drive home, my friend shared a song from an artist that I love, which I never really got to know. I'll end this article with that same song.

Have a great week ahead, and if you have ANY inquiries, I'd be happy to oblige.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Steampunk awesomeness

Dear readers,

How many of you know Steampunk? No, it ain't a rock band. Neither is it a genre of music. You can click on the link I provided you for very detailed information. My definition for it, is just a type of science fiction where technology evolved in a way where steam engines, clockworks and the rest of the scientific advancement during the industrial age is exaggerated to a proportion where it becomes ridiculously fantastical.

I love things that are ridiculous. I love fantasy. Therefore, I love Steampunk. :D

How was I introduced to Steampunk? During the period where Diablo 2 reigned king, there's this company called Troika Games who came out with a game that is based on the Steampunk genre. A game that I thoroughly enjoyed, and remembered up to this date - Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

It contributed to the love of RPGs in me. This game may not beat Baldur's Gate at that moment, but it has an excellent setting, IMHO, where technology and magic exists together in the same world, albeit in a contrasting manner. Technological items react badly to magical items, and vice versa.

The game begins with you as a passenger aboard an airship that was later shot down by ogres on flying contraptions. How many games have ogres flying little flying machines? Well, as you crawl out from the wreckage, you begin your quest to search for the truth behind the matter, as in the game, your character assumes no previous attachments that was from before you board that blasted airship. No pun intended.

As every standard RPGs, you get to create your character. There are 8 races to choose from, for playing male characters. Female characters get to choose from only 4 races. It kind of simulates the female oppression during the industrial age, but that's not the reason the remaining 4 weren't there. There's actually explanation for the missing female counterpart for some of the races, which contributed of part of the Arcanum universe, but for the rest, it's  just because it's not normal to have a female counterpart. You don't often find female dwarves being referred to much in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. The same reason might apply to Arcanum, but it's just my opinion.

Each race and gender have their strengths and weaknesses, and depending on what kind of character you would like to play, you can make the best out of the racial bonuses, as well and the gender bonuses. For example, Half-Ogres have more strength, but stunted Intelligence, while Gnomes have more Willpower but relatively less Strength than most races. Then you get 8 attributes that contributes to your character's development. Strength, Beauty, Dexterity, Charisma, Intelligence, Willpower, Constitution, and Perception. Each attribute will affect the effectiveness of some skills that your character might develop.

Then the main focus of Arcanum come into play when it comes to skill selection. You have magical spells to learn, technological schematics to learn, and abilities to obtain that contributes to the gameplay experience (combat, etc.) in the game. Every new spell that you learn will heighten your magical aptitude, while every new schematic you learn will heighten your technological aptitude. Both magical and technological aptitude will bring you away from the the other, so when your mage tries to wield a gun, the gun may critically fail on usage and damaging your character, while if your gunsmith tries to cast heal on himself/herself, the heal spell will fizzle all the time.

There is also a moral meter, which changes according to the decisions you make in the game, but it has no significant weight to gameplay, as it act as only a prerequisite for recruiting certain followers, and only to wield a certain powerful two handed sword that you can use in the game. No big deal, but it helps with the character development in your head.

What I love about Arcanum at that time is that you can build your character any way you want. You can make a gun totting ogre, or a magic wielding dwarf, or even an elf medic, in contrast to an elf healer. Arcanum may not have really good combat mechanics, when compared to Fallout and Baldur's Gate, which was godlike during that time. What Arcanum manages to do is that the game created a premise in my mind where I can be what I want in a world where it is bound by technological advances and also magical prowess. 

Once you are done with creating a character that you want to throw into Arcanum, you begin the journey of uncovering the truth behind the attack on the airship your boarded, and becoming stronger in the process. I was always the technological adept that can create marvelous items from junk. Killing foes from a distance with guns and grenades, while my followers charge in with technologically enhanced melee weapons of my creation.

That was Arcanum. That was the game that let my imagination have lots of fun, as I plan my character's development, and searching through garbage dumps and stores for items that I can use to create technological marvels. Arcanum is the game that proves to me when you love something, or someone, and when the impact is strong enough for your mind to keep the item fresh, no matter the flaws, you will continue your loving of the same object, or person, even when time claims whatever remains of the glory that was used to be.

To put the whole Arcanum story in a few sentences, you are mistook for a reincarnate of a powerful being, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and meeting the right individual at the right time. As you progress through the story with your mistaken identity, you'll find that Arcanum is a harsh world, almost reflecting the current state of affairs that our world has. Discrimination, oppression, struggle, hope. You will also find out that you're just the coincidental hero that is somehow manages to stop that sinister force that tries to alter the balance in the world of Arcanum.

In the end, you changed a few lives, changed the growth of a few cities, and blasted a few shotgun rounds in the face of an abomination,  yet in the end, easily forgotten as any wanderer that crosses the lands few dare to tread, as the people of Arcanum continues their struggles with daily life. You weren't a deity reborn. You weren't a business tycoon. You weren't a gang leader, and you definitely weren't a monarch that was exiled due to political warfare. But the best part is, you played a part in bringing these important people into making those important change in the world.

Arcanum had a good premise. It's unfortunate that Troika Games have to had it's business operations stopped, when they had the sequel in the making. I would love that someday, the sequel may come from the hands of a good production team, and you get a blockbuster game that will last for a while in the heads of people like me.

I will continue my dream of steampunk awesomeness, as I present to you the opening theme of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. See you next week!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Black & White

Dear readers,

This blog has been on a 3 weeks hiatus. Been out to clear off some doubts, so, I glad to be back. Firstly, I want to say sorry to a friend, because I broke a promise: At least one article a week. I've been two weeks out, so, this is my article on the third week. Hope he doesn't mind. :D

Lets pick a small part of my gaming history and turn it into an article, shall we?

I once read a preview of a game. The ability to play as the invisible hand, the almighty one who guides his/her fellow followers to salvation or to doom. When you can choose to answer the prayers of someone in despair, or to put the same person to more agony by sacrificing him/her for added benefits. The correct term that the preview used is something like: Imagine yourself looking at an ant's mound. You watch them trying to carry a dead insect back into their nest. Do you choose to help them by moving the dead insect closer to their nest or do you choose to pour water over the ants and destroy everything that's scurrying all over their little home?

I liked that idea. The ability to change the lives of people. Even on the smallest account. Concept sounds familiar? Of course it does. You're practically playing God. Where your invisible hand pushes humanity to a life of wonders or a life of turmoil. It was the first game that piqued my interest enough to wait for it to come out. When it finally did, I had one of the best times on gaming on my aged machine. Black and White was gorgeous. It was new. It introduced what other games have not during that period. It was from playing Black & White that I went and research on the studio that made it, and also the person behind it.

I know that he was also in charge of the Dungeon Keeper series and also the Populous series. Having played Black & White, I have also went and locate Dungeon Keeper 2 for more invisible hand awesomeness, but lets save Dungeon Keeper 2 for a new article.

Generally, throughout my playthrough of Black and White, I was always the good deed doer. I was sometimes being mean, but most of the time, I'm helping. Black & White is a game that's really keen on the idea of the whole world being reflected in how you play the game. The world will look dark and gloomy if you're evil, and if you're the goodie-two-shoes, the world will look bright and happy. There are only two things you can do to your hand in the game. Left click and right click. One is the move button, and the other is the action button, where the action may vary according to the item in focus of your hand.

You can have a creature that acts as your avatar in the game, which is like a Tamagotchi in built into the game. Your creature's appearance will also reflect your aptitude in the game as you perform good or evil deeds, even when its behaviour doesn't appear so. In Black & White, you are provided the option to teach your avatar what's right and what's wrong, by the simple gestures of stroking it to encourage, and slapping it to discourage. You can teach your creature to poop on villagers or teach it to carry food from the field to the storehouse. All these are within your control.

Then comes the main focus of the game. Followers. All Black & White maps are islands, and on these islands, you'll find villages with people in it. These are the people who will be your followers. To gain followers, you need to influence these people in their villages to accept your presence. Most actions that you perform will increase this influence and when the target influence is fulfilled, you gain access to the whole village and its denizens.

Different villages will provide you access to different miracles. Miracles are like spells that you can cast to affect the world that you're in. Water, fire, healing, and the rest of the lot. Black & White have a whole lot of miracles that are offered. I'll leave it up to you to find out more. In order for these miracles to be casted, you'll need prayer power. There are two ways for you to gain prayer power. Your followers will need to pray at your altar for a gradual increase of prayer power, or you can drop them in the altar to sacrifice a soul for a lot of prayer power. It's all up to you.

Then you have the ability to make disciples as well, by placing them near resources and turning them into dedicated souls whose life is to perform that single task that you have dictate them to do. Foresters, farmers, fishermen and *ahem* breeders, for the long line of followers that are to come into your world.

The single player campaign of Black & White provides you with quests, most are with corny humour (which I enjoy), and the rewards varies from a beach ball to a new skin for your avatar. They are a fresh distraction to this already amazing game, and as your influence grows, the end game can become stale. This is where you can play skirmish maps with AI controlled opponents, and the cycle begins anew.

Black & White was a lot of fun. When I reminisce, the memories can still put a smile on my face. I've played the sequel as well, Black & White 2. They were some changes to it's mechanics, some good, some missing, especially those that I wished they retain. Both are equally good games, but, my best memories are with the first game. The one that sucked up hours of my life in exchange of awesome fun.

When you can play God, why not? ;)

See you next week, and enjoy the opening of one of my favourite games of all time!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The feeling that lingers...

Dear readers,

I've been absent for a week now, having my leisure time mainly occupied by Dragon Age 2. It wasn't the charmer as the first game was, but, it's an amazing game in its own right. It's always tough having to follow the footsteps of a great predecessor. I have not completed the game yet. Still listening/reading all the dialogs I can have with with my crew of party members. It's always nice to see that plenty of effort have been placed into the building of the characters, and how some of the characters from the first game are loosely linked to the second game.

It's really easy to have attachments to a lot of things, and detaching from some in favor of others. So many things we love to do, so many people you would love to spend your time with, but we all have choices to make. Would you spend 4 hours accompanying your family to shopping than to play the amazing game called Dragon Age 2? I know I chose the former, most of the time. Hence my slow progress of the game. I don't regret it, but sometimes I wish my sister can spend less time in the women's section so I can see what I want to see in the mall, and not just seeing her trying on the multitude of clothes that never seem to end in supply.

I'm currently not in any sort relationship, and I'm not sure whether to be thankful that I can still spend time leisurely on games or to dwell in the felling of wanting someone to hold when all I have in mind, is that special someone? Some attachments are harder to remove than others, so what do you do? You attach yourself to things that keeps your mind flowing with different ideas. Coinciding with the supermoon event, which happens today, I'm going to relate my affection to that special someone to the moon then.

I love the moon, love it in so many ways. Love it when it's a crescent, and especially loving it when it's full. I fell heads over toes for a girl, a high maintenance girl, the same way I pour my affection to the moon. Who doesn't love high maintenance girls? They make you heart pump. Or maybe someplace else, I wouldn't emphasize where. They can fill your mind with a lot of sweet thoughts. Some thoughts that I am too readily believe to be true. I tell myself so many things when in truth, nothing ever hits the right spot, or hit her right spot, in this matter.

I ain't a party boy, fail to have a great body, and is most of the time an average Joe. No tycoon's money, no movie star's look, no genius' smarts, and no model's physique. Oh, the reasons that I keep giving myself when I fail to win her heart over. Then I realize, the moon is only beautiful when it's something that you cannot readily grasp with your bare hands. In reality, the moon is a desert of rock and sand. In reality, I'm already standing on Paradise. And what is more beautiful that the world around us? The same mentality that I would use on her. She's still a friend, someone that I can talk to readily, a little too readily at moments. She has her flaws, and I'm not blind to it, but who doesn't have their flaws? In fact, I much prefer for her to have a life that she chooses, even when I'm not part of it.

She still makes me smile, whenever she puts on hers. At the moment I typed that phrase, I realize that it has been three years, liking the same girl, but not having the right tools in the shed to win her over. I have been giving myself the wrong ideas, having too much of hope and falling too hard when what I thought to be true, is just something my mind came up with. She has been strongly against the fact that there can be nothing more than friends, I just failed at accepting what was not meant to be.

I'm not trying to be a drama king here. I'm typing all these words with a smile on my face, believe it or not. It's just that the feeling still lingers, and I love strengthening it, and typing it out. I may be secretly wanting the wrong ideas to be right in the end, but I know that all of the wrong ideas are reasonably wrong for the right reasons. I know where I stand, and I know the moon is always there to shine, even when she doesn't look upon the same moon as I do.

I know damn well that I'll meet somebody else that can give me the same feelings in the future, hopefully somewhere in the near future. There's always someone out there for you now, ain't there? At least that's something I still believe in.

Have a great night, readers. Enjoy the full moon at its glorious state, especially tonight.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life, is all about choices

Dear readers,

I won't be talking about games today (Not directly anyway). Why don't we talk about life instead.
Lets relate life to my obsession of RPG games. One of the reasons I fell in love with games is that games are a reflection of your choices. One of the more obvious reflections, and also one with the fastest outcomes, IMHO.

"How so?" you asked.

Well, it's simple actually. Lets have a look at my play-through of Baldur's Gate 2. I was playing as a Kensai / Thief. Took 12 levels of Kensai at first to max out my proficiency at one-handed blades and dual-wielding, then moved on to being a Thief to utilize the perks of being able to make sneak attacks from the shadows. I was a damage dealing machine, dual wielding katanas and killing most Mages of equal levels in one hit. (x5 damage bonus from sneak attacks).

"So how does it relate to choices in life?" you asked again.

Then, I'll compare myself with how one of my friends (Lets call him Ken) plays Baldur's Gate 2. He was playing as a Mage. At that time (When I was playing a Kensai / Thief), my opinion on Mages is that Mages are squishy meat bags that will die in just a few hits. Ken had a totally different outlook on Mages though. Once Mages reach high levels, they are the real deal killing machine, and my Kensai / Thief was just a "damage dealing" machine. Ken's Mage can kill things faster than my Kensai / Thief ever will, even when I relish on the thought of gibbing Mage NPCs with my sneaky character.

It's not that I regretted playing a Kensai / Thief. It's more of the revelation that never occur to me at the point where I was creating my character and playing the game. Mages have a whole lot more tools in their arsenal, when compared to my Kensai / Thief. It was my choice to play a sneaky character, with dual wielding being the "cool" factor, and also my tendency of sinking my feet into the character shoes. I like to think of myself being the assassin that would shroud himself in shadows and dealing the killing blow without the targets knowing what hit them.

Ken however, he reap the rewards in the end where he can have a whole army of his Mage's simulacrum dealing death to every mob that came close to his character. He enjoyed the satisfaction of overwhelming the enemies in every way possible. The choice of picking what character you want to play determines how the game will play out in the end.

This is really similar to life. Any choice you make now will yield results in the future, near or far. One of the reasons of me loving games is that they are like an indirect simulation of life, where your choice dictates on how the game will be played out in the end (I've said this, I know). There is one difference though. You can keep replaying the same game in different manners, making different choices on the same branching point in the game again and again to see different outcomes. But in life, what's done is done, and moving on is always the more sensible choice.

Being mediocre is a choice.
Being awesome is a choice.
Being good is a choice.
Being evil is a choice.

All of these choices, they can only be made by you. How you want your life to be, how you want the game to be played out in the end (again, I know, hehe...), you will need to make the first step in making THAT choice. That choice which you will live and breath through and through. I'm a contented average Joe (John, in this case) that enjoy playing games and typing my thoughts out. It's a choice that I've never really regretted. Mainly because it's a choice I've made.

What choices have you made? I've shared mine, and I hope in time, you'll share yours too.

Love your choices, and have fun while you're at it! ;)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dungeons are the floors; Dragons are the ceilings

Dear readers,

When I was a kid, things that are surreal fascinates me. I was addicted to Sword and Sorcery when I laid my hands on my first game book, then the addiction went on to Sword and Sorcery themed novels. When computers were introduced into my life, it went on to Dungeons & Dragons themed games, or any form or Role Playing Games (RPGs) that I can find on the PC.

Addiction never felt better.

I was sometimes a warrior, most of the time a rogue, and very rarely, a mage. I enjoyed placing myself in the shoes of a different character. Having able to perform amazing feats (in my mind) to an awesome extent keeps that smile across my cheeks. The turning points of my gaming life starts from the Lone Wolf series, to the Sword and Sorcery themed novels. I cannot remember the title of the books, but I remember a certain story about a God in the form of a little girl, then a guy and his lovely companion that is a queen, and also another story about a bastard his royal family.

Then from the novels, it evolved to PC RPGs. The one with the most impact is Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, and the amazing expansion, Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. It brought me to the light of Dungeons and Dragons, even if my experience with Pen and Paper RPGs are only limited to Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series. I would love to elaborate a little more on the games that I have played, but I will save them for future blogs, where I will talk about them with more details.

What I am about to elaborate in slightly more detail here is the fact that Dragon Age 2 is officially launching tomorrow night, and I'm exhilarated to have pre-purchased it. RPGs have an evolution of its own, and I'm proud to say that I enjoyed every bit of RPG goodness that came along with it. With the very brief summary of my RPG addiction evolution explained in words, I hope that you enjoy the little trailer of Dragon Age 2 I "borrowed" from YouTube. I'll be waiting for the time to come where I can become a different character with some dragon slaying capabilities (in my head again). Blogging about it should come naturally, but probably only after I enjoyed every ooze of RPG awesomeness that I can get from the game that the amazing people from BioWare has developed.

See you soon!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Building awesomeness brick by brick.

Dear readers,

How many of you remember LEGOtm?
Building everything that is from your imagination, block by block.

I have fond memories of those little blocks. It's one of the toys that I remembered me playing as a kid. Being lucky enough to actually own toys, I enjoyed playing LEGOtm very much, even if my fondness for them has declined over time, the notion of being able to create items from scratch to reflect whatever I had in my head when I was young is still a burning passion deep within.

Being one of the individuals who has laid my feet on this world that is brimming with possibilities;
Being one of the individuals who would spend a good amount of effort and time to materialize what is vaguely imprinted in my brain;
Being one of the individuals who enjoys the idea that you're literally playing using your imagination;
I love anything that provides me the means to form, to adapt, to build, and most importantly:

To play!

LEGOtm was just one of them. The evolution of digital entertainment makes possibilities a lot more imaginary, if you get what I mean. In better words, imagination is now made possible with access to a common resource, the two digits that would be the basis to the digital world. '1's and '0's are now the basic building blocks for digital awesomeness.

In more layman's terms, computers are now an affordable commodity that can be own by average joe's like me, and with the computer, I can have more means to build my imagination. More means to have good fun.

Now, I enjoy games as much as I enjoy playing LEGOtm when I was a kid. Then, I bumped into something that is a little bit of the best of both worlds:

Minecraft is a sandbox game, where you can practically destroy and create blocks from all around a world of blocks. Each block having its own properties, and having bound to those rules, you can create your own world the way you want it to be. I have played it for 3 weeks now, and will probably post some of my adventures on the blog. maybe even start a whole new adventure when my buddies finally decided to join me as well. The people from Minecraft development are kind enough to create a server program and distribute it, so, when I have more players, blogging about it will be a whole lot more fun!

Expect to see more of my Minecraft mis-adventures on this blog, that is when I can get them to play, and please visit the wiki page of Minecraft to understand what the world of Minecraft has to offer, or visit their main page to get a whole load of old school fun!

P.S. You can search YouTube for Minecraft videos. Some are hilarious! Some are informative.