Saturday, November 27, 2004

Looks like I was closer to the end of HL2 than I thought. A couple more brief firefights, a series of jumping puzzles and one final destroy-everything-in-sight mission and its all over, until Part 3 comes along, that is. Everything comes to an abrupt halt and a promise is delivered for the next installment. And Lamarr makes a final appearance at the end of the credit roll. Perhaps Easy mode is too easy, but I finished the story and for me that's what counts. Now to restart on a higher difficulty level for a tougher challenge.

Went shopping for prom outfit, or at least have a look at what's trendy these days. Shirts are looking more colourful and the materials are softer and more textured than the rough 'n ready cotton/synthetic I'm used to. It seems the cross-shoulder bag is also very common as most of the shop-window dummies sport this particular accessory. I'm at a loss as to what to wear. I don't want to wear the same old boring thing, yet getting clothes that might require a further makeover to carry off credibly isn't a viable option either. Time to source for options. So far the guys have kept mum on their prom outfits, so don't be shy any longer. Advise please.

Caught Furthest North Deepest South this evening. A different take on the travels of Admiral Cheng Ho and the problems he might have had with his credibility as a military leader, being only a eunuch to an upstart emperor. The enormous expedition Cheng Ho is said to have led must have drained China of much of its resources and the treasures he brought back simply could not compensate for the staggering financial loss incurred.

The production fused mime movement with puppetry and spoken dialogue. With the creative use of life-sized puppets, 3 performers multiplied themselves into 7 characters that worked together as a chorus of Mandarins (scholar advisors to the Emperor). The use of wheeled benches of different heights and a couple of models of masts with sails could be configured to look like a flotilla of ships, 1 large ship, and a bunch of ships being tossed around and lost in a stormy sea.

Faz, our Drama Club president, was in the cast as an apprentice mime and puppeteer and Artistic Director, Tina, said some very good things about his involvement in the production. YT also commented that he was a good find and that it was good to have him on board. This is encouraging, and this could mean that the other club members will also get opportunities to join in other productions, getting in on the ground floor in the realm of stagecraft and theatre. Look forward to it!
Ok, 1 thing at a time. First, HL2.

Fortune favours the bold. A hole to hide in is fine, but there's no further progress unless you're ready to take some flak and explore the next immediate area. It's an urban war zone, door-to-door fighting. Machine gun chatter is all around and bullets whizz through the air, not necessarily aimed at you, but it all adds up to a chillingly realistic simulation of a war-torn cityscape.

Across the road from the hidey-hole is a path leading to a bombed-out rooftop on which there is an ammo box full of rockets to take out another 2 striders, assuming you survive the barrage of gunfire from their combined assault. The path to take after this is hard to find as it's easy to be disoriented by the surroundings. You frequently revisit old locations thinking they might lead to new paths, but the right path to take is located on the rooftop where the ammo box is located.

I was wrong about the squad-mates not being replaceable. As soon as you lose your whole squad, another 4 chappies run up and ask to join you, occasionally scaring the pants off you as they suddenly pop up from nowhere.

It's a solo mission again when you take on the Citadel, home of the nasty bearded man who has sold out humanity to "our benefactors, " whomever they are. The entrance to the Citadel is a bit annoying as it is badly-lit and even the flashlight doesn't help much distinguishing between surfaces and shadows. I missed turnings because walls were dark and adjoining corridors were equally dark. I fell off ledges and died because I couldn't see where the floor ended. The Citadel is also the place where I lost every weapon in my arsenal except for the "gravity gun" which really came into its own.

The gravity gun is an amusing toy. It works like "force push" and "pull" in Jedi Knight. It grabs objects from a distance, even large, heavy ones, and hurls them with force at approaching enemies. As long as there are objects in the environment, there is always something to use as ammo (or as a shield). It was fun to use occasionally during the zombie level as there were buzz saw blades lying around here and there. Hurling these lethal disks around chopped hapless zombies in half, though if the blades bounced back unexpectedly, they could be suicidal as well. In the Citadel, the gravity gun somehow becomes supercharged and then it really becomes fun to play with. Gravity gun: don't leave home without it!

Kuishin-bo (Suntec City) is the restaurant with the irritating monotonous advertising jingle. They play an audio clip of this ad whenever there is a limited edition special dish to collect from the buffet spread. Yes, the restaurant offers a Japanese buffet -- all-you-can-eat sashimi (salmon, maguro and swordfish), sushi, teppan-yaki, and pretty much everything else on a common Japanese menu. Weekend dinner rate = $38 per head. Weekdays rates cheaper, especially at lunch. Not a bad place to go if you're looking for Japanese food in quantity.

Got greedy and stuffed myself with sashimi and sushi. Fresh raw fish, lots of wasabe, how could I resist? June and I had to share a seafood soup which was served in a paper bowl atop a flaming burner to keep it hot. I thought the teppan-yaki was drowned in too much gravy which made it heavy. Tip: don't be greedy with the beef even though it is a prime ribeye cut.

The 4 of us -- me, June, Adrian and Mary -- waddled out after dinner and headed to the cinema to catch The Polar Express which I think was charming, though there isn't much meat to the story. It is a beautifully rendered animation with some exciting runaway train sequences. Lovely landscapes.

Characters are the usual crowd, 4 main kids: our protagonist who represents rationality and doubt, the black girl who represents decision and hope, the nerdy kid who represents knowledge/information and hubris, and the poor kid who represents pessimism and in the end, redemption. Working together when they get lost at the North Pole the kids learn from each other and grow with the experience.

One thing bugs me: what is the purpose of the Polar Express (the train, not the story)? All it seems to do is to bring kids to Santa's realm where they stay for a grand total of 5 minutes (by Singaporean rubber-time) and then they all go home again. The journey to the destination is far longer than the stay at the destination, so what's up with that? How do kids get chosen to ride the Polar Express? None of the kids have any traits in common, they seem to be picked up at random, but anyway there is no compulsion to come on board or even to see Santa when they arrive. Too many questions. I feel like the protagonist kid.
This entry is a couple of hours late, but congratulations to the Seniors '04, you are now officially Alumnii '05. I can only imagine the elation and the euphoria you must be feeling. 2 years have gone already, so enjoy the transitional limbo you are in. No worries, no responsibilities for the immediate future, no one to nag you to go study, or do homework, not even your conscience since there is none to be done anyway. People use this period to go "find themselves." It really is best to get to know yourselves better before you settle into Uni life or a career or NS because real life begins here. Good fortune, Alumnii '05! Come back and see us sometime!

Spent the morning playing HL2 (yes, I'm still far from finishing the game), celebrating Mary's birthday at Kuishin-bo then watching The Polar Express at Eng Wah Suntec City. More on all this later 'cos I'm too tired to continue writing...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Last invig this morning, which means I'm officially on vacation! Well, apart from some personal administration to take care of, that is. Still, I'm on my own time now and let next year bring what it will bring.

Boring ol' me spent the day with HL2 again. The current challenge is to defeat a whole bunch of 'striders,' immensely tall, spindly-legged mobile gun platforms. My 3 surviving squad mates are armed with 2 rocket launchers and a machine gun. My own rocket launcher is out of ammo, so I haven't a prayer of taking down a strider that's now blocking my path. The 2 idiots with rocket launchers refuse to engage the strider on grounds that their life expectancy would be significantly reduced if they did. So I'm a bit stuck. Maybe I should run out of the hole I'm hiding in and see if there are any spare rockets conveniently lying around just begging to be used. Not today, though. Gotta save some action for tomorrow too.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Finished duty early, about 10:45 am, so I went into Orchard Road for an early lunch before meeting Sham. It's been a long while since I went into Orchard by myself. These days, I hardly have a reason to go there at all.

Lunched at Pastamania, Scotts. Ordered prawns n 'shrooms on penne in a white wine sauce. Though the pasta was slightly underdone, on the whole it didn't disappoint. Prawns firm and fresh, 'shrooms, flavourful. The dish could use a handful of finely sliced raw button mushrooms for added texture and taste, but not many people would accept raw mushrooms on their plate.

Met Sham over a macchiato. It's good to discuss our ideas with an experienced scriptwriter. She kept us focused on the important details, avoiding distractions and complications, and in the end we created a workable storyline. Jane and Arron will learn a lot from working with her. I feel a lot more confident now about Drama Night '05.

Got home and it was back to HL2. The stages of driving vehicles is over. Squad-play is the next thing. There's nothing like having an ever-respawning group of alien monsters you can use as cannon-fodder to take flak on your behalf. They're loyal and mindless and they take out lots of enemy with ruthless efficiency. Having a squad of human beings is a little different. You want to take care of your human buddies 'cos you know they're not replaceable. So far, I've experienced both styles of squad mates. Doom 3 is such a lonely experience in comparison.

HL2 is already affecting my dreams. Last night I dreamt that the Earth was being invaded by alien spiders. I fought the invasion valiantly but it was a lost cause. Spider venom turned people into green-skinned, happy, zombie-like beings with no other thought in their minds than picking fruit from trees. At the end, I didn't make it. I was murdered by a fellow human being who thought I was burgling his house. I shouldn't have bothered.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Oh my! Wednesday already? Spent the whole day with Half-Life 2, immediately after invigilation, that is. Awesome game! Such detailed graphics, brightly lit outdoor spaces making the dark corners even more creepy by contrast. Clever puzzles to find pathways through the story, though tough, so far I've been able to figure them out through observation of the environment and occasionally blind trial and error.

The tension in the zombie chapter was way high, with an unending swarm of respawning zombies and rapidly depleting ammo adding pressure to finding the way out to the next checkpoint that much more terrifying. We get to drive vehicles too, and fire unlimited rounds at all and sundry from the mounted weapons. Steering is a little odd, using keys that I'm not used to 'cos I use a different set playing NFS:UG2. The buggy tends to get hung up a lot and even overturns if you aren't careful driving it. Here's a tip: use your gravity gun to get it upright again fast.

How absorbing and atmospheric is HL2? Well, Momo was sleeping in the beanbag behind my chair last night while I was killing um... things. I was concentrating so hard, I didn't hear June coming in to surprise Momo. All of a sudden, I noticed a long haired shoulder-height head appearing from behind my left shoulder. I screamed. She screamed. We clutched our own hearts for a moment then burst into relieved laughter. Momo slept right through it all.

The right key on Watson's keyboard has lost a corner. I must have rubbed it smooth through years of continuous use. Just noticed it.

I hate head crabs!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Looks like another mad week including the coming weekend. Only day to rest up might be tomorrow, Tuesday, and I intend to make the most of it.

Today I was working out the Drama Club's Action Plan for 2005, discussing the club's budget with the new Arts Coordinator, and being briefed about my role in this year's LTC (though I never wanted to ever participate in one of these things -- the Great Outdoors holds little promise for a city-boy like me).

The Action Plan is an annual administrative exercise to justify the activities we intend to carry out in the coming year. It also needs to factor in facilities and logistics needed, working backwards from the club's main event, Drama Night. Much of this practical planning is heavily dependent on our script which, as I speak, is still being mulled over by our budding student scriptwriters who may be in over their heads with this task.

It's time to call in the professionals, and this morning, I was lucky enough to contact an old friend, Sham, who is willing to give us a hand. Depending on the amount and scope of work required, her rates range from a coffee to, "um... haven't thought about it yet." At this point in time, my estimate is that what she can do for us will be worth at least a plantation or two. If she's helping, it's a load off my mind. Phew.

My replacement credit card arrived a couple of days ago with the instruction to use it within a fortnight, presumably to see if it is working. I tested it out at Swenson's over dinner. Their special this month is a mixed grill comprising a small steak, chicken, catfish and a couple of sausages. I like my steaks (bloody) rare, so a steak grilled to charcoal perfection isn't my idea of good meat. Also a lack of lamb chops takes a certain something away from the concept. Nevertheless, I was feeling carnivorous and a platter of sizzling animal matter, whatever the condition, made me happy and I wasn't about to complain.

Oh yeah. The credit card works!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Viewed Please Teach Me English on DVD. Forced to choose an English nickname for her English class, our heroine comes up with "Candy" in an effort to break away from the plain Jane image that the class, and everyone else around her attribute to her. Candy is hyperimaginative, like Ally McBeal, and she lives in a fantasy world of romance and where real-life conflicts present themselves to her as impossible-to-beat video games or as overblown action dramas.

In class, Candy finally meets the boy she's "been waiting for." Elvis flirts with every woman he encounters; hence much of the story is about Candy's different efforts to get him interested in her exclusively. Sometimes she tries too hard, like when she commandeers a public bus to tail him when she suspects he is going to have a secret rendezvous with pretty blonde Cathy, their English teacher.

The movie pokes fun at the Korean's absurdly high regard for "public officials," and considers the need and value of learning English, a foreign language, in one's own native country -- which sounds better and more sincere to a Korean, "I love you," or "sarang he?" There is emphasis on strong family bonds, and it is also quite clear that learning the English language is not a result of Western cultural imperialism, but rather a reflection of the reality of the times; and that native English speakers (i.e., Europeans) are equally keen to master the Korean language as well.

Quite a fun movie with laughs and some melodrama, perhaps cliched in places, but it helped pass an afternoon easily.