Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cracked open the Orange Box at last. For $79.90, it packs in 5 games, though 2 are reprises (more on them later). The new games are Half Life 2: Episode 2; the innovative 1st person puzzle game, Portal; and the multiplayer Team Fortress 2 that offers a higher level of complexity in the mix of character classes than ET:QW. TF2 I didn't load, since I'm NOT going online with it.

Ep. 2's strength is in cooperative gameplay partnering the player's character, Gordon Freeman, with a highly competent NPC who isn't just a great shot, but also offers contextualized, scripted "conversation" that moves the plot along, and gives the player a sense of companionship unparalleled in any other FPS. It's great having Alex Alyx watch your back with a sniper rifle as you plough through a radioactive swamp crawling with zombies. Though she never misses, the area is so target rich that the shotgun Gordon's totting doesn't have a chance to be idle.

Apart from the runnin' and gunnin', Ep. 2 is also a bit of a puzzle game involving environmental obstacles as well as figuring out how to get crucial bits of machinery functioning. Tense drama, blazin' guns, head-scratchin' moments, Ep. 2's got a little something for everyone.

Portal's a bit strange as a puzzler. The player carries a portal gun that opens holes in walls, floors and ceilings, but the point of entry into a portal leads to an exit point somewhere else on the map. This miracle of technology allows the player to manoeuvre around obstacles to reach objectives that are otherwise physically inaccessible. Amidst this rather disorienting experience is an adventure game that maintains a consistent narrative, driving the player from one puzzle to the next.

Warning: While beautiful and realistic in rendering graphics, the Source engine powering these games makes me sick to the core after a while. Motion sickness makes me play in bite-sized chunks, or alternatively, blow chunks. I prefer the former.

The older games in this package are HL2 and Ep. 1 all over again, for the benefit of first-time buyers who might want to complete the backstory leading to Ep. 2. And this is my cue to announce that publisher, Valve, having recognized me as a legal purchaser of these previous 2 games, allows me to legally GIVE away 1 copy of each to anyone I choose. I'm not exactly sure how the download process is going to work exactly, but the recipient, I suppose, needs to create an account with Valve first. Sooo... any takers? Email me at; 1st come, 1st served!
There was no intention to be mysterious about my "decision" in the previous entry, although I suppose that might have overdramatized things a little. All I did was to apply for an MA programme, which means I'll be working and studying at the same time, so Taily was right on the money.

However, the chances of my application being successful are slim, given the limited number of places available. I don't like to talk about my "chances" because I have this irrational notion that the more is said, the less likely it's going to happen.

I'll keep y'all posted about it when I know more.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I realized that life for me has become too comfortably stagnant. Like I've got everything I wanted, and there's this blissful contentment that I've been wallowing in for a while already. As ideal as it sounds, it's also made me lazy and complacent, and the world is starting to pass me by. I'm glad that's starting to disturb me, 'cos I'm still too young to ossify, too young to think like a retiree, and I have too many bills to pay.

As I said before, maybe in not so many words, it's better to be slightly hungry than torpid, languid and overfed. I need a new challenge to rise above, and a new milestone to aim my efforts at. So I made a decision this morning that will push me out of my comfort zone, and will probably add a hitherto unknown level of stress on my life, though at the end, it isn't likely to change my life very much other than perhaps grant me a few more bragging rights than I have now.

It's a decision that is more likely not to pan out, so I won't actually say what it is until I hear more positive results, but even if the outcome is negative it won't matter because I'm hungry and on the hunt again.

Pain and hunger. There's no better way to reassure ourselves that we're still alive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where D NY EL went was the mystery of the afternoon. The entire department had upped and left to bid Boss Lady goodbye as she leaves for um... more intellectual pastures than hanging around us nutters.

Josh, B-lo and I were at China Square collecting 8 Don's Pies, and a chocolate banana cake at Awfully Chocolate in Republic Plaza to feed the hungry masses.

It was a great afternoon to be out and about. It was bright and sunny -- the kind of lighting that makes the whole world look lined in sharp, clear edges -- warm, with a light breeze, like summer in TO, which I miss.

This was no formal event, just D NY EL meeting over food and teh tarik at someone's house. We haven't done anything like this for a long time. Years, in fact. So I'm glad that we could overcome our usual inertia to do this, even if the occasion had to be a farewell for someone who was most excellent to work with.

She was calm and steady, understanding, patient and gave good advice. She rose up from among us, to lead us and to be responsible for us. In the few years as our boss, she's since become a seasoned veteran of the HOD trenches. We're gonna miss her.

Fortunately, new Boss Lady is also from among us, and she has our confidence and support. We'll be good and try not to give her too much trouble. Promise.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Oh, what a time to be a gamer! There are so many much anticipated new games that finally hit the shelves in the last couple of weeks.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars kicked off the flurry with its wide-open spaces, and teamplay comprising a mix of specialists who support one another in combat. It really does feel like being immersed in a war, with attacks coming in from more than just the opposing grunt team but also from artillery, armoured vehicles, water and air craft, all vehicles piloted by the players themselves. ETQW is really meant as an online game, so there's hardly any plot, except to distinguish one side from the other. There are several maps with objectives to accomplish on both sides; whichever team completes all its primary objectives on the map wins the round.

I dunno why I bought the game, though. I'm never going online with it. I'm already getting myself murdered by the off-line mode bots. Besides, after getting myself player-killed by my own teammate in CS (I was shot in the back even before the game started so the berk could pick up my weapon which was presumably more expensive than his) I've never trusted the online gaming community ever again. There, I said it. You guys officially suck.

But ETQW is no fun playing alone, so I'm amusing myself with Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. It plays more like a side scroller than the other games in the SM franchise. No free-roaming in a city, looking for trouble, SM:FoF puts the player on a pre-defined path lined with obstacles, rewards and boss-battles. Like a pretty NES Mario in albeit gorgeous 3D landscapes and a whole lot more beat-'em-up violence. The artwork is more cartoony (probably as a tie-in to the new Spider-Man animated series being released next year) than its previous movie merchandise incarnations, but the humour between NPCs Nick Fury and the SHIELD computer is priceless. The attraction to this game is in the mixing and matching of SM and a cooperative teammate who could be either another Marvel hero, or an enemy with whom SM has formed a temporary alliance in order to fight a bigger threat. Think of the Marvel Team-Up comic series of the 70s-80s and you get the idea.

And still pristine in its shrink-wrap is The Orange Box... I don't have time to play everything, you know? The gamer in me is in heaven, but I'm also a daily-rated salaryman. How else to finance the gaming habit? It's a vicious circle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

According to the NSDUH survey, the education industry ranks pretty high in employee depression. Above us are people involved in the social and health care type services (not surprising), and immediately above us are the artists, entertainment and sports people (also not surprising because depression makes for great spectacle).

But every other type of occupation appears happier than us. Even the janitors, the construction workers, and the maintenance personnel sport bigger smiles on their faces, while the engineers and architects are the least depressed, laughing all the way to the bank. Could our mothers who so insisted on us getting an engineering degree have been right all along? They were a bit off about the doctor thing, though.

So there. Your teachers are a depressed lot, many of whom are probably borderline psychotics on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The stats say so. Kids, what can you do to cheer us up?