There aren’t a lot of video games that interest Ling, and certainly not to the point where she’ll give me the evil eye if she catches me playing the game without her! The one game that she likes a lot and has even tried her hand at has been Uncharted on the PS3, as blogged here in Dec 2007.:)

The game is an action-adventure of sorts and features the fictional Nathan Drake, a modern-day Indiana Jones. The first title in the series was a massive hit, given its cast of well-defined heroes and characters, very cinematic film-like visuals, great voice-acting and a film-esque motion picture score, and high production values all-round. Heck – the game was so popular and well-received I even ended up using some of its production features as part of my series of Introduction to Computer Games lectures 2 years ago.

Ling (like me) has been eagerly waiting for its sequel Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and over the last several days, we’ve been putting an hour or so each evening – in usually in between Hannah’s feeds – for the game together. As soon as the game loaded up the first evening and we saw Nathan Drake in the first scene, Ling let out a bit of an exclamation “Wow… so realistic!!” The first game looked really good. The second and new game looks fantastic.

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Among Thieves takes Drake across the globe in a search for the Cintamani Stone from Shambhala, the mythical kingdom in ancient Buddhist and Hindu lore that’s supposedly hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. The journey takes Drake and his friends through quite a few places: including a Turkish museum of antiquity, the jungles of Borneo, Nepalese cities, the Himalayas, and an ancient monastery on top of a mountain. If nothing else, the both of us marvel at how photo realistically is each area created on-screen that a lot of times we’ll just pan the camera around to soak in the sights.

The funniest thing though is that I wonder why Ling likes this game so much, and I’ve think in good part it’s the quirky yet likable hero and that he’s supported by strong female characters that don’t just wait around to be rescued. Women kick butt in these two games, and their interactions with Drake belay a mix of feminine cuteness, slightly flirtatious innuendo, and the sort of old familiarity you’d normally find only in either the oldest of friends or in the minds of some of the smartest dialog and scrip writers in entertainment.

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The game since its launch earlier this week has won heaps of praise from not just game publishing sites but also from general entertainment. We’re nearly done with our first play through for Among Thieves too.

There’s a rumor that Harrison Ford is considering a fifth outing as Indiana Jones if the script that’s in the works is of any good. But that’s not going to be in the theatres – if ever at all – for the next few years. In the mean time, the both of us will be returning again to both of Nathan Drake’s adventures a few more times.

Oh yeah – the trailer below.:)

07. September 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags: ,

blog-batman-01 Looking at what I’ve got on the TV cabinet, I haven’t been playing a lot of PS3 games since February this year, and that was the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 I was on then.

One title whose development I’ve been following though I haven’t been especially interested in before is Batman: Arkham Asylum. Super-hero-based game titles don’t usually do very well critically, and Asylum isn’t the first nor will be the last title to be based off one of DC Comics’s most famous and popular properties.

Asylum has just bucked that trend; it’s pretty much surpassed all expectations of a trite and superficial super-hero game title that’s both faithful to the source material, has great game play, and very high production values.

For those of us unfamiliar with the title hero, Arkham Asylum in the comic book series refers to the institution for the psychopathic criminals of Gotham City, and the place was also included as set scenes in the two recent Chris Nolan Batman movies. The most famous inmate, as the comic book series goes, is The Joker. In this game title, Bats is first seen offloading Joker yet again into the Asylum, but suspects something is amiss as the villain has given himself up too easily this time. Sure enough, a trap is sprung, and Joker and his minions take over the asylum – and you, as Bats, has to take back the mental hospital.

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Truth to tell, the story for this title isn’t anything one hasn’t already seen countless times in the comic books already. The characters, their dispositions, and the general demeanor of the asylum is this sense is faithful to the source material. The Joker is deranged, Oracle is the resource and information locater and communicates with Bats via communication interlink, Commissioner Gordon looks stressed but soldiers on, and Bats is… Bats.

And talking about the caped crusader, Bats never utters an unnecessary word or sentence in the dialog script. But when he does talk, he oozes the familiarity for fans of the character. He displays the usual disgust and condescension towards thugs. At one point after dispatching another four goons, he snorts to the guard he’s rescued “I eat these for breakfast”. The story for the game is written not by a nobody but well-known Batman: Animated Series producer and writer Paul Dini, so it’s no surprise. As a bonus, the key voice actors from the popular animated TV series return to their roles for the game: and they include Kevin Conroy and Mark “use the force, Luke” Hamill as Bats and Joker.

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But what’s special about this game is that your role as Bats isn’t merely as some karate and martial arts street fighter who’ll wade through armies of goons with just his fists. Bats here plays as detective to look for clues at crime scenes, lurks in shadows, perches on overarching pillars, and employs and arsenal of gadgets that aren’t all solely centered on improving his fighting prowess. Interestingly, these non-combat portions aren’t all that difficult. In fact, hints helpfully pop-up, and when Bats is killed or fails in some mission, the reloading screen will tell you what you need to do to pass the objective you just failed in. While the challenge level – especially in these non-combat segments – is pretty much reduced, you also never feel stuck or lost as to what you need to do next.

The visuals are top-drawer, though it apparently wasn’t making use of some new-especially created in-house engine but Unreal Engine 3. I didn’t see a lot of fancy lighting tricks, lens flare, smoke or distortion effects (yeah I’m thinking of Killzone 2 for some reason now LOL) – but just amazing art in every aspect of the title’s visuals.

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The accolades from game review sites and magazines have been continuous since the title’s release on 25 August. In fact, Batman: Arkham Asylum now holds the new Guinness World Records for ‘Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever’. The last couple of months of 2009 is going to be good for PS3 gamers, what with Uncharted 2 about to be released too.:)

(Pictures from Gamespot)

03. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags: ,

A couple nights every week this couple of weeks is spent discharging my, well, yearly IPPT obligation. But the remaining free evenings I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09.

Funnily, I have no desire to actually play golf in real-life. In fact, environmental groups routinely target the sport, and claim that golf is environmentally destructive. For starters, just look at the huge land area that’s required for a golf course, and compare it to the few number of contestants or spectators at an event. Then compare it to the same land area and imagine how many soccer stadiums you could build on it. Or, ever wondered how that grass in those fairways look so immaculate? A lot of water is used, along pesticides and chemicals.

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So, I’m really quite happy to keep my exposure to golf limited to just the PS3 representation. It’s a beautiful-looking game, and tailored to meet quite a range of play abilities: from absolutely noobs who have absolutely no clue to what the sport is about (i.e. me), to experts who’re up for the real challenges of professional golf.

In fact, prior to playing TW PGA Tour, I’d no idea that golf was so sophisticated: I’d thought all that’s involved is hitting a small white ball with a iron stick with a club at the end, and trying to get that ball into a little hole in the ground.

But now I know that:

Wind plays a huge factor, but its effect can be limited by the type of clubs you’re using.

There’re many kinds of shots: drives, putts, draws, fades etc.

When to use Woods and Irons.

That a golf course comprises a Teeing area, the fairway, the rough, and hazards.

That each hole is rated on a numeric par, and the number of strokes you take to put the golf ball into that hole in comparison to par determines your score.

In golf, lower scores are better.

The more exotic the bird-sounding name is, the better it is. ‘Birdie’ is erm ok, ‘Eagle’ is pretty good, and ‘Condor‘ makes you a God of Golf.

The game’s huge too. I’ve been playing it for nearly 2 weeks now and have spent maybe around 40 hours in it, and I’m just (maybe) about just a quarter way through game completion. And keep in mind that many games, e.g. first-person shooters, are rated at 10-12 hours of play time before completion.

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In fact, Ling’s actually interested in the game now too. Though when I asked her why, she remarked thoughtfully: “Well, it’s one game that people actually still clap even when you make a crappy shot.”:)

A couple of nights I was having a match on NBA 2K9. I was playing the Boston Celtics against the LA Lakers, but it was fun seeing Ling’s reactions as she watched me. She squealed each time Kobe Bryant dunked the ball into the net… just too bad Bryant wasn’t on my side. I lost the match 80-54 LOL.

Now, there’s another recent game that I’m really interested to get for Ling: it’s a Playstation downloadable game that’s about… hold your breadth now… about flowers and pollination! The game has garnered attention and quite a bit of interest as it’s quite the deviation from the usual blowing stuff up. Reviewers have heaped praise on the game: that’s uplifting, surrealistic, very powerful, and just a joy to play.

Even Matt’s interested in the game.:)

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Of the three boys growing up at Lentor in the 80s, I was the only one who didn’t get into Tennis, which I think was the ‘in’ sport back then. Both my brothers did, but I preferred badminton. Maybe it was because tennis involved way too much running about (badminton required more stretching), games were too long, and were also slower-paced.

Now, fast forward by 20 years: another sports game that I’ve tried – and this time with Ling too – has been Virtua Tennis 3. This was one of the first few PS3 games I picked up, and largely because I’ve always been wanting to make sense of those Grand Slam tournaments broadcast live during the events, and that it was a co-op game so Ling could play too.

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It may be a game genre thing, but there’s consistently a lot of loving care given to the visuals for famous sporting personalities in games of this type, if on occasion at the expense of background audience fillers. The in-game copy of Roger Federer looks just like the real version, but the background audience looks sort of life-less.

The game was pretty fun too with easily-manageable controls. The campaign for world-title is anything but. Punishing in fact. The computer controlled opponents you play against don’t make mistakes and there’s no room for any from you too. Run in the wrong direction, heck, even a few steps too far to return a shot, and expect your opponent to send his return immediately on the far side.

Ling played the game too, though after I beat her a few times when we played as opponents, she wanted only to play in the Doubles team LOL.

I think I won about 90% of the tournaments in the campaign before finally giving up. But that was a good several weeks, and the best part of it: I can finally make sense of the TV broadcasts now.:)

12. February 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment, Toys & Technology · Tags: ,

My dad loves watching the NBA. It must be something about those tall black American players with their 3 point shooting and slam dunk moves.

Myself; I remembered following the stunning debut of the American ‘Dream Team’ basketballers at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Thereafter, there was always the resurgence of my interest in basketball every 4 years at the Olympics, though their performance at the 2004 Athens games was terrible and fortunately picked up again in the recent 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Now Matt is a big fan and player of basketball. In fact, when he was here in Singapore, he had this idea of hitting the public basketball courts in Hougang to show the neighbor players there a thing or two LOL. I supposed some of his interest rubbed off on me, and also that I loved watching those NBA players do their thing in the Olympics. I didn’t know much of the game of course, aside from differentiating between 2 and 3 pointer shots.

So, another sports games type I was trying my hand at recently is basketball. Here’s a picture from NBA 2K9:

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One has to hand it to those game creators. The visuals are amazing life-like, as are the little background and ambient animations like spectators cheering, walking about, waving, team managers shouting instructions from the sidelines.

I’m not especially good at the games yet though. I get royally trashed by 2 digit margins in NBA 2K9, and only recently have I fared better in the somewhat more forgiving NBA Live 09, winning by a 4 points margin.

Both are game demos still at this point, but I’m gonna have to ask Matt (he’s the expert in this genre) whether it’s possible to dumb down opposing teams in NBA 2K9: just so low skilled players have a chance of actually winning any given match LOL.

I’m not a sporty person. In the last 10 years, my exposure to physical training and activity has been limited to jogging, swimming, and all those training sessions in the IPT program in order to fulfill my yearly NS IPPT obligation LOL.

But there’s been a couple of sports games I’ve taken to on the PS3, so here’s the first in the series of ‘virtual’ sports I’ve been getting into. Starting off with, well, golf.:)

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The above is from Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09. No, I haven’t got a clue what golfing is about prior to my getting introduced via these games, nor Tiger Woods is apart from that he keeps showing up in those expensive watch commercials. But after getting inducted, I now have an inkling what words like double and triple bogeys, ‘par’, and ‘birdie’ mean. And I finally know what’s the difference between irons and putters!

And the other golfing game I tried my hand on was Everybody’s Golf 5:

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No kidding… the entire thing is very Japanese cute-anime character-esque! Think, girly voices as though they’re sucking helium. Ling saw me having a go at this game the other night and she remarked “Wah darling. This game is so… Gina..!”

And she’s right on that. No way I’m ever gonna be caught dead outside home playing this LOL. The visuals are beautiful, colorfully vibrant if in a cartoony sort of way, and from what I’ve gathered, the golf physics and mechanisms are pretty in-depth. Heck, Matt says that Everybody’s Golf is the game he plays a lot of LOL.

That said, I’ve only been playing the short demo versions, but fortunately both games are available on retail here in Singapore at pretty attractive price-points. So who knows: once I’m tired of shooting terrorists in Rainbow Six Vegas, I’ll pick either one of these up for the full experience.:)

Continued from the previous post!

blog-addiction-01 I don’t think time spent is the direct indicator of addiction. At one point in 1999 when I was forming a guild, I was in-game for 37 straight hours – the longest I have ever been. And while I was doing my doctoral research, I was spending perhaps between 60 to 90 hours a week in-game. OK, so I was researching, but still… there’s a lot of time.

No… the better indicator by far is to determine if the need to keep playing games supersedes everything else, including time to eat, drink, sleep and tend to other bodily functions, and your studies and work.

Now, the effects on social relationships is a lot trickier. There’s one line of thought that if your your social circle and activity stops only at /gsay and /tell messages, then you’re neglecting human relationships in favor of virtual ones. But evidence elsewhere points to that virtual relationships are every bit as realistic as the earthly ones. I mean, I met our great Missouri friend Matt in EverQuest after all, and if he ever gets round to it, he’ll relate this story of our first encounter 11 years ago on a sandy beach while running from crocodiles and stomping sand giants.

But then again, my interest in MMORPGs like EverQuest and WoW have always been more social than game-centric. Achiever-centric accomplishments (e.g. leveling up and getting new skills and toys), a core game design mechanic which sustains many game subscriptions, means very little to me as a gamer. I get the most kick out of chatting and yakking with people online.:)

All that said, the doctoral studies was the high-point of the time I spent in games. It’s ironic: now that I teach and lecture in game design and development, I spend far less time now playing games for leisure than anywhere in the last 10 years. Perhaps an hour some nights, usually less.

What’s changed? That I’m married now, and that gaming tends to be (but not always) an exclusive sort of hobby when it comes to spouses. I’ve blogged here before that I’m trying to make sure we get plenty of couple time doing things together. So the games I pick up these days, where possible, are the sort of titles that I think there’s a chance Ling will be interested in, or if not, at least don’t mind watching. Like Prince of Persia, Hakuna Matata, and Aquanaut’s Holiday. Not that there’re many games like this on the PS3 though, and no, I’m absolutely not going down the Wii route LOL.

All that said, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is due out later this year. Ling enjoyed the first installment, so when the title gets released, it’ll be something for her to get into again.:)

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One of the photographic assignments that came up in Hakuna Matata the other day was to find and take pictures of this lizard called Jackson’s Chameleon. These critters grow up to just 30 cm, and these go, can remain pretty much stationary and well camouflaged when they’re perched up somewhere.

So, there I was looking for the damn thing, and I just could find it after peering my eyes out for 10 minutes! Ling took a look around the area, asked me to pan my viewpoint a bit, and in about 5 seconds, said casually: “There – see it?”

Just to show you what I mean, the critter is this picture:

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I went: “Where??? !@#%#@$#$@#$”

She was amused: “Aiyoh darling. It’s right there in the middle. I’ve spent years looking at these plants and animals it’s easy to tell which is which, and what’s out of place.”

And you see, this is the kind of wife that’s worth her weight in gold when it comes to spotting lizards up on trees. The more so as her husband is cock-eyed!

Here’s the actual critter zoomed in.:)

26. January 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags: , ,

I blogged about my routinely abysmal abilities in first-person shooters recently here. But one game I’ve been having loads of fun in is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 on the PS3.

One thing to get right out of the way though: the game hasn’t really got anything much to do with Tom Clancy, the famed author of bestseller thriller novels aside apart from that one of this books concerns the exploits of the similar elite counter-terrorist unit Rainbow Six featured in the game.

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Now Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a little different from your typical first-person shooter game types. Specifically, this one’s a tactical shooter. In other words, if you were to run n’ gun your way through like some of the admittedly as enjoyable shooter games, you’ll get perforated into Swiss cheese pretty quick. No, stealth is key here, and you always try to take down ‘tangos’, or the codeword for terrorists, silently, quietly, and without them noticing if at all possible. At the hardest and ‘realistic’ difficulty levels, all it takes is one bullet with your name on it for you to go under too.

The story too is worthy of a movie feature, though while actually in the game itself I was too busy sneaking around or dodging bullets to actually let any of the dialog register.

blog-rainbow6-snakecamThe array of equipment at your disposal in fact underlines the fact that you really shouldn’t be running into corridors and rooms with guns blazing. Like say for instance: the room on the floor below you is occupied with bad guys. So you and your team rappel down, do a 180 degree inversion, then take out the baddies with pistols in a breach-room action.

Or if you’re behind a door and you hear voices coming from behind it of bored terrorists yakking away to bide their time. Need to know how many of them are in the room? Use a snake cam to peer inside the room, then mark out to your team which one of those fools are priority targets to take out first upon breach. Then situate your team right outside the door, while you sneak to the other side door for you to come in from another side of the room. Then issue an entry order, and you and your team come in on different sides.

blog-rainbow6-thermal And my favorite: thermal imaging! The terrorists are holed up inside a room with their guns pointing at a couple of hapless hostages. Get your team to the door, note the relative positions of the bad guys and where the hostages are. Then engage thermal vision goggles, then send your team in with a breach order with smoke grenades. The bad guys can’t see you but you can see them just fine.

Ok the last tactic only really works well when there aren’t too many other heat-emitting sources in the room, but it’s just loads of fun to head shot the bad guy emitting yellow, then as he collapses into a heap watch the heat emission dissipate as he expires.

The locations are pretty varied too, and include Píc des Pyreneés, Las Vegas Convention Center and Las Vegas Hilton hotel.

And the best part: you have two minions in your team to command and order around LOL.

“Hustle!” (i.e. follow me)

“On your six.” (i.e. right behind you)

All very therapeutic.:)