Saturday, September 19, 2009

We be travellin'

Yarr tharr, me hearties, an' welcome aboard! Here be ye bucket an' mop; I want me deck swabbed spotless by the time I be done entertainin' ye with me salty sea story. Ok, it be not much, really, but it'll take ye mind off ye sore back and knees fer a wee bit.

We be plannin' a little voyage, the woman and I. Right 'round the Christmas season, ay? We set course as we've always done. Covered up me good eye with me eyepatch an' put a dagger through the old sea chart. Arr... Chiang Mai. Exotic enough for ye, lad? Shut yer hole an' keep swabbin'.

So today we gathers up the last of our doubloons, to pay off our creditors (blood-suckin' scallywags, every last one of them, they be) an' spent -- nay -- invested the remainder on a seaworthy bark an' crew. We be hoistin' the Jolly Roger at the next high tide.

I'm done tellin' me tale, but what's this? Ye missed a spot, lad, ye missed a spot! Lily-livered landlubber, walkin' the plank's too good fer the likes of ye! Be off me deck before Davey Jones hisself comes a'callin' for ye scurvy rum-soaked soul!

In case you haven't figured it out, happy Talk Like a Pirate Day 2009!

Friday, September 18, 2009


This post is late because I done something I don't want to talk about just yet. Let's see how it actually works first before I review whether it sucks or blows. Whichever, all I'm gonna say right now is that perhaps I paid a bit more than was wise. So what else is new?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BFC ventures afield

This is to record the first off-campus meeting of the BFC. This was quite an accomplishment, to get representatives from most of our departments to meet at the local McD's for breakfast before the start of the school day.

Amazed how organized and committed we were about it, with Wayne sending out an SMS reminder the night before, and even President Tommy making a special effort to wake up early and grace our table with his pre-caffeinated presence.

The only item on our agenda was to eat. AOB was about enjoying each other's company and cracking jokes at Tommy's expense while his brain was still in reboot mode.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

MUA2: first impressions

When superheroes split apart, forming opposing factions to fight for the cause they feel is right; when hero battles hero with no quarter given even if they had been the closest of allies before, we have a Civil War on our hands and literally so with "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" for the Wii.

Gameplay is in a similar format from the original MUA, a 4-hero team of which the player controls one hero, teaming up with the other three to fight waves of enemies. There are basic melee punches and kicks, custom superpowers (special attacks and buffs) for each hero, and the latest addition to the game: "fusion powers" by which team members combine their special abilities in a devastating attack against enemy hoardes. Fusion powers have limited usage, so there's a strategic element in choosing when to use them, and with whom.

The tone of MUA2 seems slightly more serious too. The opening sequences set New York amidst a massive terrorist attack, the perpetrator and her army spouting clearly anti-American sentiments. However, her attack is not unprovoked and this revelation begins unravelling the seam that ties the heroes to a common cause, and sows deep-rooted mistrust against each other.

The player has to choose which side to fight on, Iron-Man's pro-government side or Captain America's personal freedom side. Two sides to choose from allows for two separate story threads with separate missions, and great potential for replayability after playing one story through. Other replayability factors are the vast array of superhero team combinations and their resulting fusion power effects, the strategic use of item buffs (so many items, what's the best combination to use for which situation?) and alternate costumes among the many other unlockables including more heroes to use in the team roster.

Wii controls between MUA and MUA2 are a little different from each other and I have to get used to the new controls. My fingers have to be retrained to use them properly. Less shake for example, and more thumbs-on button mashing.

In MUA2, the isometric perspective brings us a little closer to the action so it's easier to observe character animations, though it's still easy to lose your character in the onscreen chaos. Also for the Wii, activating fusion powers involves pointing the wiimote at the hero you want to "fusion" with and finding the cursor to match with your desired hero can sometimes be a challenge because of the short time limit to "fusion", and sometimes because the hero is out of position for the most effective use of that power. Kids are more likely than grumpy old me to be able to keep track of everything going on at once and make the best of the fusion effect. Me, I'll just do it for the pretty colours.

In between the fighting are cinematic cutscenes that stitch the story together and sets up the next mission. There is decent voice acting, but what I like about the cutscenes, oddly enough, is the superheroes' costumes. The heroes look like they are really wearing clothes and not just having painted-over nude bodies because the artist can't be bothered with such details. The cutscenes make an interesting contrast with the results screens that appear at the end of each mission. The results stats appear on stylized renderings as 2-D artwork which is reminiscent of the comic book medium that inspired the game. Nice touch, I think.

As it is, I've only had time to play through the Prologue. Even then at 'Easy' setting the Boss battle was quite a trial and error -- until I figured out the rules of the game I was supposed to be playing. It was a matter of matching verbal instructions with the automap with the onscreen action, which took my brain a bit more time than usual to process. Duh, slow. But I think I've got the hang of it now.

MUA2 promises to be a fun romp through a dark period in the Marvel archives. I've only scratched the surface of what feels like a ripping story, and there's the other side yet to be explored. That's gonna keep me occupied for a while. 'Arkham Asylum' (released on the same day) will have to wait.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The sky's the limit -- even for student projects

A bit of old news here, but one I stumbled upon only today. It's something to remind me about being open to possibilities rather than pre-conceiving impossibilities when and if I get to supervise another bunch of project groups next year.

What usually holds us back from great projects that work is that we constrain them tightly within the parameters of the exam question, and there we have the edges of the box, clearly defined for us -- the lines we are not supposed to colour outside of. The question then has to be, "how big is your box?" Well, as far as the students involved in the story (above) were concerned, the box was as big as the stratosphere.

Projects don't have to be microscopic for the sake of 'manageability' and 'feasibility'. The beauty of the subject of Project Work is that if the size of the project overflows the box, the project can still take on a life of its own. The important thing is that it's meaningful, it's real, and it's done. And by the time the examination comes around, we'll find that the box is in fact infinitely enlargeable.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Historical interlude

Not much to add for today. Everyone's back at work, including Mel who's finally back from her Dreamtime. Busy, grading prelim papers, and everything else. So I'll let the vid below entertain you for a change. So nostalgic, these scenes of pre-WW2 S'pore. For historical interest only.