We should all have four day work weeks.

At least, that’s what V laughingly suggested earlier. It’d work only if every other country out there did it, otherwise us people in Australia are gonna be just a wee bit too laid back for work to function.

One for rest, one for family, and one for… moping aka dread about the next day being an inevitable work day. She loves the great countdown.

I’m thankful for long weekends though. Way behind on my basketball these days, but the urge to hibernate is just so strong. Cold weather obviously, doesn’t help. Does dribbling the ball at home help? Does throwing stress balls around the office help? Hopefully they do.


It’s fascinating how much time seems to be a crawl for certain topics, but yet absolutely seems to streak like a bolt of lightning in others. For example, the kids seem to have been around forever, but it’s only been a short three years.

It’s hard to summarise how much of a lifechanger they have been, but I guess it’s a make-or-break process: either you make it and you come out the better for it, being a more responsible/mature/patient/rational-at-times human being for it. OR you rage quit and become a really shitty parent. Not much of a choice really, I’m trying hard to be the former.

On the other hand: can’t believe it’s been bloody five years since Andrew first left Melbourne for his stint in Singapore. And here’s the clincher: my brother’s actually hitting 30 in a couple of years. Well, it’s less impressive when my 36th (!) birthday will happen three days before his 30th. It’s a logical thing, but just a little unnerving to imagine him being 30 already.

Un-bloody-believeable.


Things have been up and down on the work side. I survived a rather severe round of retrenchments, and it was rather upsetting, to say the least. Numerous people I’d come to view as part of my life, were just ripped away in the space of a day. Work is work, and I got over it, but it was an experience. We’re still trying to get our footing under us, and I’m trying to help with more things on the side while juggling my usual tasks, but it hasn’t exactly been easy. I suspect I’m gonna be catching up on things for a while.

Less mentioned, is the fact that the bunch of guys I always had lunch with also left within weeks of each other. That also left somewhat of a hole; just miss laughing at all the shit we talked about every day. I’m glad they’re on better gigs, but the past months with the gang truly remains one of my fonder memories at this job.

The PnR side has been rather interesting, to say the least. I was, and still am rather drained by the constant writing. It’s slowly getting easier as I learn to write quicker, but it’s still a tiring process at times, especially when you know you’re racing against the clock to put something out. Game 2 is tomorrow, so full steam ahead – let’s hope it doesn’t degenerate into a lopsided victory.

The good side, is that the weekly newsletter will be rotated among the core moving forward, and I can take a six-week breather in between.

The constant urge to keep innovating on the site however, has taken a backseat for now. I guess I finally ran out of gas; it was bound to happen sooner or later, given the breakneck pace I was driving myself to work at. Things need to be done, but it’s no longer a “never put off what you can do today” mentality; I’m just more mindful when it comes to spending more time with the family and resting myself up these days. It’s a marathon, not a 400m sprint, and finding the right pace is pretty important.

I’m a real stickler for using the right words, so here’s a pet peeve: the use of “we” when the task involves only one person (usually me). Last time I checked, we involves you and me at minimum. Don’t make it sound like teamwork (yay!) when it’s not. Be specific, outline the task and name the participants involved.


More random comments.

  • Fuck it’s getting cold.
  • The first season of The Flash has ended (r/FlashTV has been awesome), I’m bored. It might just be time to check Daredevil out. Introduced V to the series during our last weekend getaway, and she’s slowly binge watching her way through. Slowly.
  • And did I mention Google Inbox is pretty cool? I hate the lack of an archive button though.
  • It’s been a long time since I last read a new book –I do have a list of to-reads though– driving has taken that away from me. I know, audiobooks are an option. Still deciding if I should stop listening to basketball podcasts, but Bill Simmons’ departure from Grantland definitely makes the debate a lot easier.
  • Definitely not a life milestone: stalked so hard on bemusedtots’ blog. Some of the things I read there are really fascinating (like Chinese poems, life thoughts and movie reviews), and some are just fond reads because they talk about people I know. The cheerful, guile-less writing just seems to flow and make it all such an easy read.
  • Was kinda engrossed (I’m 100% in on most things I do, and gaming is sadly one of them) in the Transformers: Rising mobile app for a while, until I realised almost every other MF player was a VIP (aka paid) account, and there was no way I could overtake or even catch up to them, despite spending consistent effort. Not worth my time, NEXT.
  • Re-read the comic version (all 252 issues) of 大唐双龙传 because it’s still a cool story. Funny how re-reading it actually made me cast a more critical eye on the artwork, and notice how shoddy some parts of the series are (it felt like filler arc artwork in an anime series), and how the artist actually changed towards the end – the difference in art was frankly, quite noticeable. Filing this under things you nitpick when you get older.
  • Finally caught up on Dear Boys Act III up till chapter 78 (aka first chapter of vol 19), albeit in raw format. I can’t understand kanji even if my life depended on it, so dialogue aside, all I know is the basketball side of thing’s still progressing really well. Damn foul trouble though.
  • Just read about a pre-2014 Mac backdoor vulnerability that is not going to be fixed, and the only precaution you can take is to disable sleep mode. Good job Apple.
  • Kickstarter addict finally received a few packages recently. Stackerware is pretty cool, I love that all the lids are the same damn size, and I don’t have to ever hunt for those odd-sized lids again. And having plastic containers that are freezer/microwave/dishwasher-proof, are very handy. Also received Growfloats (aka hydroponics), I’ve yet to get started on it (no seeds purchased yet).
  • The biggest epiphany or life lesson I had this week: the virtue of focusing on a task (or staying focused in the moment) cannot be overstated. Immersing yourself fully in the experience makes it all the more richer for yourself and everyone else. Skimming by half-heartedly and with poor comprehension or doing a half-fucked job because you were distracted/multitasking, is a disservice that you should seek to avoid.

So there you go, a super condensed entry with random thoughts on the life of yours truly. Hopefully I’ll be more consistent with writing moving forward.

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What I liked and disliked about The Order: 1886 on PS4

tl;dr – Fell flat of original expectations.

Warning: spoilers ahead.


 

Things I liked

Sniper rifle targeting.

Pretty spot on, didn’t shake too much. Much better than Uncharted’s Dragon Sniper Rifle – that one was more realistic and tended to bob too much.

Character/costume design, dialogue.

Excellently done. Characters didn’t feel shallow, dialogue was authentic, costumes were brilliantly done. I’d grade this game a 10/10 if it was based off this category alone.

Backstory.

You can see a lot of effort has gone into creating this world. Every inch of it looks so polished, both visually and in terms of the story design. Things like the Order’s usage of knightly names from the Arthur-era knights, the use of Blackwater to revive the Knights, cool-looking weapons, cut scenes that looked like they came out of an actual film, to flawless lighting and textures of every map, there’s really not much to nitpick.

There’s likely a reason for all the effort, and I would guess it’s in preparation of a multi-episode series – no surprise if it happens.


 

Things I didn’t really like

Weird plot progression.

It began as a war between the Knights and half-breeds. Half-way through the game, we suddenly had vampires entering the equation. The East India Company is shipping vampires in bloody crates to the rest of the world! Hastings is a vampire! Uh, whatever happened to the Lycans (half-breeds)? But sure.

And Lucan (should’ve guessed from his name, too damn close to Lycan), who’s incidentally the Knight Commander (aka yet another professional half-breed killer) is revealed to be a half-breed himself, and talks about betraying Galahad as protecting his own kind. WTF bro? I’m sure you’ve killed enough half-breeds over the decades/centuries of your life. Unless when you said “protecting”, you meant sending them to the comfort of the afterlife. Lucan’s story was never explored in depth, which felt like a waste. In a single scene, Lucan goes from being the trustworthy compadre, to the archvillain for this episode. Of course, Galahad did him in. And that’s it. The. End.

And yes: how weird is it that Lucan’s father (the effing Lord Chancellor) adopts a half-breed as his son and expects him to kill his own kind without a word of complaint, and is not surprised when his son turns out to be a traitor to the Order? And refuses to kill his own son, but handballs it to Galahad with some vague mumbo jumbo instead? Like mate, are you seriously the leader of The Order or what? Bloody poor example of a role model, that’s what you are.

You know what I would’ve wanted to see? If the game revealed that the Blackwater the Knights took, actually was a variant of what turned humans into half-breeds. That might have been more interesting, and raised some fun questions.

Lack of freedom.

You’re basically just there for the ride, and playing when there’s fighting to be done. Very fixed, linear game that just asks you to tap different buttons to move on, basically. The best part came at the final scene, when you had to hit R2 to fire the gun, and of course Galahad killed Lucan. The game ended right after.

I was like, SERIOUSLY? WHY MAKE ME PRESS A DAMN BUTTON IF IT’S ALREADY BEEN DECIDED FOR ME? Giving the gamers a choice to kill or not kill Lucan (and diversifying the storyline) would’ve been much better. Just saying.

Galahad does not have a reflection when he looks in the mirror.

Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. Is this intentional? If it wasn’t, big blooper.

Button mashing sequences.

Times when you have to get your right thumbstick to that indicated spot, and hit a random button. Annoying as hell.

Backstory.

The problem? It’s so underutilised. Nothing to collect. No real interesting trinkets that could fill the gamer in on the world’s history for example. The phonographs were too brief. Random photographs you could’ve picked up, but not much explanation. I had difficulty read the papers I picked up at various spots. Plenty of rooms that had NOTHING of interest. Look at The Last of Us, the contrast is just so evident.

Game length.

Too short, way too short. I completed the game in about 8 hours. Probably could have been less if I hadn’t nosed around, and wasted an hour at least on that last big battle in the catacombs, when about a million company guards jumped me, along with thermite-toting bozos and detonator launchers galore.

Saving the game.

No save points, looked like they were all autosaves. So, no chance of saving and retrying different scenes? Or maybe I’m just an idiot who couldn’t figure out how saving was done – that’s highly possible.


Overall. I thought the game just fell short of what it could’ve been. Be it an attempt to deliver on time with limited resources, or planning issues, it’s just a pity. This game was on my must-play list, and I’m a little bummed it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be.

Review: XCOM on the PS3 could be better.

Just so you know, this entire post is a spoiler.

XCOM [1384]

Well, the ending got me somewhat.

I was waiting to get my Avenger aircraft and go kick some alien butt on the Cydonia base, when a huge mother effing alien flagship (otherwise known as the Temple ship) appeared. That, ladies and gents, was the final stage of the game.

A good thing I’d brought two Hover SHIVs along with four soldiers (none of whom were Heavies). It got tough when I was busting the Sectopods, but I scraped through. The final bit with the Uber Ethereal (not the best name) relied heavily on SHIVs and the Psi Storm, since I had no rockets to hammer those Ethereals with. Kill the Uber Ethereal and that’s it, game over.

What I liked:

  • Intricate dialogue, especially between the various senior XCOM staff. I liked the philosophical doubts raised by the staff too, brings a deeper meaning and potential implication to the alien technology.
  • High quality cutscenes. No explanation needed.
  • Aliens redesigned. Better costumes, less menacing though.
  • Combat mechanics made simpler: removal of TUs, soldier stats, taking away squat, addition of specialist classes which made combat more interesting and yet restricted at the same time. I feel a lot of the game depends on flanking and fire movement though.
  • Snipers: Long range, high crit, double tap, these guys are the shits.
  • Overwatch: Without overwatch, I would’ve been dead several times over. It got kinda slow when I was fighting bigger UFOs like the supply ship though, too much space and too little troop movement.
  • Game mechanics simplified: only one base to take care of.
  • Skill tree for soldiers: Fun abilities for all! I liked Lightning Reflexes the most.
  • Psionics: No need to build Psi devices to use mind control, nice.
  • Gray market: Nice to have another source of income. Sold almost everything I didn’t need on research and manufacturing.

What I did not like:

  • Removal of aircraft designs: where the hell was the Lightning and Avenger?!
  • Gameplay still too short: took me a little over two days to finish the thing, because I had to eat/sleep/the usual.
  • Ending storyline: a chosen psionically talented soldier sacrifices himself/herself to take the alien ship into the stratosphere, where it explodes instead of blackholing the entire Earth into obliteration. What? I much preferred simply blasting the aliens into smithereens on their home base.
  • Random class assignment: rookies were given a random chance to have a class assigned. Can you believe I played an entire game to completion with only one heavy arms guy? Dammit, need my rockets.
  • Removal of combat inventory: I used to disarm aliens the moment I mind controlled them. Now? No longer possible dammit.
  • XCOM base cannot be invaded: So much for defense. Then again, you only have one base. Imagine if you lost the base defense – WOOPS.
  • Lack of replayability. Just like too many other games these days, linear gameplay is a bad thing. Do X, do Y, do Z, game completed.
  • Combat arms reload: Adding reload for every armament took away the benefit laser arms had last time – infinite ammo. While making things simpler, this made the plasma arms a nobrainer. I used to keep laser rifles because I was a scrooge on ammo. It added realism into the game, and made you think harder about shooting. With infinite reloads? Fire first, think later.
  • Alien activity not enough: I liked it in the original, when we would see a frenzy of activity and I’d be able to launch multiple interceptor aircraft to splash them. UFOs heading to their bases, with species going on individual missions, it felt like they had a purpose with a real plan at hand.

With all this being said, I’m still looking forward to a sequel. Hopefully it’s not a TFTD remake, and it’ll make the game system more interesting than this first episode.

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The best PS3 game purchased ever.

No-brainer really. The award goes to Skyrim from Bethesda Studios.

Why? Seriously, which other game promises a minimum of 300 gaming hours? I bought this damn game in March, it’s December now and I’m about 40% on completion. Maybe less. The map is incredibly vast, there are bloody side quests everywhere, and I’m still having fun trudging around the world, completing quests and slaughtering bandits/monsters/villains left and right. The escapist in me just loves RPG.

Even though I had a long non-gaming break in between, the average lifespan of a PS3 game is approximately 48 hours (excluding meals, poop and sleep).

I’m just taking my time enjoying the game, since there is no real hurry in finishing it up. The longer I wait, the cheaper the new (old) games will be. At the same time, I’m sticking to one of the promises I made to myself. I am still a gamer even after fatherhood, and I’ll do what it takes to keep my entertainment dammit. I sure as hell would prefer to sleep, but NO: THOU SHALT GAME ON.

Enough of self-ranting for now, time to head back into the game and continue the mindless questing violence in a virtual world.

Wrapping up the third month of full-time daddyhood.

So, third month of the SAHD era.

The one thing I have learnt so far, is to stay vigilant. Things might look like they settle into a pattern at times, but the routine constantly evolves with time. Sleeping patterns, feeding habits, nothing stays exactly the same. The trick is to know how things are, and to adapt.

Outside of this iron rule, it has been decidedly easier after the bathroom fiasco ended. I find that each day allows limited pockets of uninterrupted time — involving tasks that are best accomplished without a baby clinging to my legs — with which I need to get things done. Things like writing posts, making my lunch (and actually having it), taking a nap or having a shower. More often than not, it ends up being a choice between doing half of the options available.

A small bonus has been the purchase of the playpen coupled with the power of Mickey Mouse on TV. I know TV isn’t exactly the best form of entertainment for babies of this age, and it’s a weapon that I use sparingly once a day. With Mickey Mouse, I’m free to take a quick shower while she’s blissfully unaware of her imprisonment for a while. Time is of the essence over here, because that euphoria instantly evaporates the moment the episode ends.

I have to remind myself to be thankful for this change of environment, and to be able to watch my little girl gurgle happily and take those uneven, stumbling, yet valiant steps towards independence. She hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet, although it’s not out of a lack of trying. She’ll get there.

In the meantime, she’s resigned to crawling around the house with every intention of examining anything and everything she can get her hands on. That of course, includes the preliminary ritual of making a mess first. Restacking my DVD collection has become an activity I have to perform three or four times a day.

These days are a reminder of how parenthood is never easy, especially full-time parenting. I count myself fortunate to be able to experience this, in a day and age when the idea of two working parents are the societal norm, and outsourced child care is a common solution.

Amazing how it’s only been three months, and it feels like six already.

Between writing, parenting, ball and rest, it’s been hard to get gaming time in. I need to get that into my list of things to do sometime soon, especially when Assassin’s Creed III is here – yum.

Game time, Ouya time!

So.

It’s been a new a habit of mine to browse Kickstarter every now and then for interesting projects.

How Kickstarter works
For those who have not heard of the site before, Kickstarter allows people to pitch an idea and raise funds towards realising the idea. If the required funding is not met, the idea falls through and no one pays.

Freebies are given to people who pledge money to the idea, usually in the form of limited edition or early releases of the actual product. Smaller pledges get credits or thanks in some form of official recognition on the project. This of course depends on the amount being pledged, but I think of it as a cool way to contribute towards really great ideas in the making, and get a cool product in return, the pledged amount being lower than the actual market price being part of the draw. You could also think of it as chipping a few bucks into the tin for a good cause.

What, Ouya?
Ouya came up on the radar. Ouya basically is an open-source (Android) gaming console, built on the concept of having free games available to everyone, and optional premium features available for purchase.

  1. Built to open up game development and make things cheaper, way cheaper than current big game titles cost
  2. Massive integration potential with Android, think about the massive amount of apps the Android Market holds, and the amount of developers that already exist.
  3. Readily messed with: easy to open screws, and the fact that Android allows rooting gives developers a chance to mess around with the innards however they want.
  4. Really beautiful. Look at the how sleek the controller is

It’s really exciting to see how Ouya has taken off on Kickstarter; according to the Kickstarter blog, Ouya became the fastest campaign on record to raise a million dollars, doing it in just 8 hours 22 minutes. And the total has gone beyond 3.5 million dollars at this point, the support for Ouya is just overwhelming.

If you haven’t checked Ouya out, be sure to have a look at it on Kickstarter, or perhaps even pledge a few dollars to the cause! I’m just doing my part as a fellow gamer by spreading the word on a great idea.

PS3: Alas, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

I have to say, the latest release of the Assassin’s Creed franchise looked pretty good in the trailers. As good as the Brotherhood at least. The reality however, failed to deliver somewhat.

List of rants:

  • Den defense (or contested den): Imagine Tower Defense in an Assassin’s Creed theme. Singularly pointless, insufficient fights to practice on, and so dang difficult. Getting swarmed by a horde of Templars (a la Zerg rush style) was no walk in the park, I simply could not multitask quickly enough to use up my morale for reinforcements. For anyone who’s landed on this post looking for a answer to that battering ram/flamethrower thing in the contested den fight? Sorry guys I got my ass whooped too, badly at that. That nasty mofo simply mowed me down and proceeded to flame the den until I lost. As far as I know, you have three cannon shots to get that bugger killed and that’s it.
    Also, losing a den means you get the dubious honour of slaying the local Templar captain yet again, read section on Coward Templar Captains.

    Solution: Having all your districts patrolled by Master Assassins will neutralise the possibility of den defense. Unfortunately.. that takes a lot of time, training and Master Assassin missions. The idea is to keep your Templar alert status clean – read section on Templar alert.

  • Coward Templar Captains: Slaying captains who are Cowards (with a capital C at that) proved to be a real PITA because those sneaky buggers are quite good at running off at the first whiff of danger. And once they’re gone, you have to wait another day to try your luck on them.

    Solution: Pass your time while waiting for the Captain to return by clearing the area of all other annoying Templars. Familiarise yourself with the layout of the den; once you get a feel of where he is going to run, get him right between the eyes with a crossbow the next time he tries to escape. Or summon an apprentice to take him down.
    Tip: Eagle Sense helps to reveal the route the Templar Captain usually takes.

  • Templar Alert Status: used to be known as Notoriety in Brotherhood, and there were always plenty of posters to tear off. I could go on and on about this subject. The annoying thing? Once it hits 100% it stays red until you clear it to 0%, returning you to the welcome veil of anonymity. If you decide to do something unlawful while holding a full red alert status, congratulation! Here comes a den fight (refer to earlier section).

    Now, almost anything fun triggers an increase in that funky red bar:

    • Renovate buildings? 25%. This, is ridiculous because there are a lot of buildings!
    • Using Arrow Storm? 25%. OK, Ubisoft doesn’t like you to show off too much.
    • Killing a tax collector? 25%. The satisfaction from a kill just went down somewhat.
    • Taking over a Templar den? 100%, which extinguishes that victorious feeling you get upon stabbing that captain in multiple undesirable spots and leaving him in his dying throes. Now you have to worry about getting your ass safe.

    Ways to reduce Alert status? Two ways, bribing a herald (25%) and killing an official (50%).

    Solution: I was constantly running around bribing heralds just so I could carry on renovating the bloody buildings, colossal waste of time IMO.

  • Desmond’s Journey: It feels like an FPS a la Wolfenstein 3D without the gun, while desperately navigating around the area with Tetris blocks and trying to jump without quite knowing how far you are going to land. I am quite sure I would have started screaming with frustration if there were more than five memories for this part; this mini-game has no relation to main plot other than Desmond’s rambling monologue; immensely annoying.

    Solution: Gritted my teeth and bore it out.

Ubisoft should really take a page from Naughty Dog and look at the way they paced Uncharted 3; now that is a well-made game with nothing to gripe on about, an excellent 11/10 and definitely the best in the franchise to date. Excellent dialogue, great actors and a rollercoaster of a game, as is the tradition with all Uncharted releases.

I’m not saying I hated Revelations, it’s just so frustrating that some parts of the game slowed the entire experience down so much. The graphics were awesome as always. Fighting against multiple enemies is much more challenging (especially against Janissaries) and requires more skill which is good. I thoroughly enjoyed myself playing Altair once again, many years after the first AC. I didn’t really like grinding (aka renovating the buildings) but it’s tolerable. I really disliked the “guard towers” (riflemen in closed chambers near Templar dens, only present in PS3 and PC it seems, checked with a friend on XBox 360 and they seem to be non-existent) but having a crossbow and gun gives you a good edge on reloading time so it was a minor annoyance at best. The ending could’ve covered more loose ends, but I appreciated the way they closed Altair and Ezio out of the story.

A 7/10 for this, I’ll look forward to the next release in the Assassin’s Creed series! Always will be an AC supporter for the captivating story if nothing else. And the AC:R encyclopedia looks really good, I’m quite keen on getting a copy when it’s out.

For now, I’ll have to catch up on my sleep for a bit; I was really burning the candle at both ends with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and exhaustion is catching up fast. Skyrim to come next, but not soon.