Friday, December 12, 2008

We could have been neighbours

How come when I was living here, little eateries such as this one did not exist in the neighbourhood? The Char-Grill Bar only showed up after the Big Push North. Well cooked, reasonably priced, restaurant-standard cuisine: I would so have been a regular customer! The staff may be a little new and hesitant, but there's no denying the quality of the food. These following quick shots from my mobile phone cam and the lousy kopitiam lighting do no justice to the dishes, but trust me, they're yummy!
Three pretty, tender lambchops that went well with what tasted like freshly made mint sauce. Sides pictured here are cheese pasta and seasonal veggies. Somehow, this combo worked and made my mouth happy.
This is June's mixed grill. Odd that we were just saying how hard it is these days to find one, and here it is. Pork chop, lamb chop, a big sausage and a sunny-side up. The garden salad with the mayo applied like that reminds me of somebody's rib-cage :p. I'd say the only thing that didn't work for me was the egg which somehow took on the teflon flavour of a new frying pan, which probably was the case.

Hard to find good, cheap food (each dish was $9.80 including choice of two hot and cold sides) so I hope they made the right decision opening up here at 417 Yishun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bolt, the super non-super dog

The huge blockbuster movies of this year are full of big action. They're about individual people who rise up from the crowd and be a hero for the helpless and oppressed. Think Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and the other super-movies that have been raking in the big bucks these recent years: movie-goers love to be transported out of the mundane and experience moments of triumph over injustice even if it is only in fantasy.

Disney's Bolt completely reverses this notion. Super dog, Bolt, has been psychologically screwed with by the producers of his TV action series to believe he has super powers. It makes for stronger realism and heightened drama, his demented producer thinks. Living all his life on a movie set (a super-canine version of The Truman Show) he suddenly encounters the real world when he becomes an accidental stowaway in a packing crate bound for NYC. It takes a while, but what he believes about himself slowly crumbles away and he has to cope, not with new and unexpected super-powers but with new and unexpected normalcy.

This is a parable that we can expect to recur for us many times over, going by the state of our current world economy. Many of us may once have been high-fliers, performing tasks that seemed important, critical even, to saving if not the world, then our families or even our self-esteem. But with mass unemployment as  a Damocles' Sword over our heads many of us are going to have to adapt to a life that isn't defined by our jobs any more. Finding and living with a new identity, that's a tough one.

What keeps Bolt going on his road trip back West to Hollywood and home are his ability to make use of the strengths he already has as an ordinary dog -- courage, smarts, and doggy-eyes. What drives him forward and gives him a purpose and a plan is the one belief that cannot be shaken: the love of his co-star, Penny, for whom he will do anything. What gets him through hard times -- and occasionally into hard times -- are his unlikely friends, Mittens the cat who keeps him grounded on reality, and Rhino the Hamster who's loyalty and indomitable "I can!" spirit makes magic happen.

May we who face dark days ahead likewise find our own way home.

Oh yeah, and I watched Bolt in 3D too! Unglam glasses but the illusion of depth on screen made Bolt all that much more pat-able.

Monday, December 08, 2008

How are things in post-apocalyptia?

Awesome, is how. And that's how you describe a game like Fallout 3 too.

Combining RPG with first (or optional third) person shooter, it's runnin' and gunnin' with a point. Gameplay flexibly accommodates the player's personal style, whether playing as a sickeningly polite do-gooder, a snarly kill-everything-that-moves psycho, or shades of grey in between, the game responds accordingly. Actions have consequences and NPCs and quests open up differently depending on the player's past deeds.

The setting is a nuclear-blasted wasteland, presenting a huge, open play area traversable only on foot, though every checkpoint discovered puts a marker on the automap that the player can instantly jump to as long as there is no enemy activity nearby. Walking to discover new checkpoints could be tedious if not for the many opportunities to encounter enemies, stock up supplies and watch and participate in many set-pieces that add interest to the trudge. For example, there's the opportunity to release a Super Mutant Behemoth to see how it will take revenge on its captors (of course, that means having an enraged Behemoth to deal with after) and here was this bunch of Raiders in the act of punishing one of their own -- I tried to rescue the poor guy but he turned on me and I had to shoot him anyway, the ungrateful wretch.

What's fun is that the game world feels like it's living and breathing. There are enemies to kill but there are lots of other people to interact with. A few actually join as a partner -- including a dog by the stupid name of Dogmeat -- depending on their regard of the player. Dogmeat will join up regardless.

Lots of quests to keep the player occupied. Apart from the main quest, there is a long list of side quests, some of which are quite involving in themselves. And it's fun to hear your exploits being reported on the portable radio you carry as "news" reports that depending on your performance will have you praised, villified or questioned by the rather self-righteous sounding DJ.

But it's 3Dog, the DJ, who is the player's constant companion and conscience. The music he plays is far preferable to the "rival" radio station which pumps out insane propaganda messages and Sousa marches. The music 3Dog plays is oddly from the 1940's by artists like Bing Crosby, The Ink Spots, and Roy Brown. My personal favourite track is "Civilization" by The Andrews Sisters with Danny Kaye, a comical and strangely appropriate song for post-apocalyptia as it is today. For the moment I have a bunch of songs older than me playing in my head. They're catchy and the melodies sound quite simple, but I discovered very difficult to sing along with due to certain intricacies in the music that I just don't... get. Weird.

I could go on to discuss the merits of V.A.T.S. and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (basically an innovative enemy targetting and a character customization system respectively) but they're easier to play with than explain. I will say that I'm a little disappointed that my character is already maxed out at Level 20 and I'm halfway through the main quest only. Yes, there are a ton of rare items to find that can help me increase individual stats and combat survivability but it's a little limiting to think I've reached my maximum potential already when there's so much more left to accomplish. Heh. Sounds like real life.