Gift Card Redeemed: Once, Liars, and 23

I never had any presents this Christmas except for a $50 gift card for Best Buy...and that is more than enough for me. I was planning to redeem it for a DS or PC game but I don't know what to get since I already bought all the good ones. So I decided to get movies and music that I missed this year instead.

Once is an independent musical film, and the only musical film that makes some sense (too me at least). The characters here just don't burst out and sing without a moment's notice. The main characters (the guy and the girl) sings in appropriate scenes like when writing songs, rehearsing, or if are asked to perform. The songs here also don't tell or advance the story -like in most musicals- but rather tells how the characters feels. The stars in the film did an excellent job too. They didn't had trouble acting as an Irish singer/guitarist and a Czech singer/pianist since that's what they are in reality. As for the on-screen romantic chemistry between the guy and the girl...they didn't had problems with that either since they were actually falling in love while filming (and now they're a couple). This film felt real...is real. I actually don't know if I just watched a movie or a documentary. I highly recommend this movie for people who loves music and movies. One of the best movies this year.

I also got the albums 23 by Blonde Redhead and Liars by Liars. I haven't listened to the Liars yet but I'm really digging Blonde Redhead right now. Their music is really ethereal but is also thick as the same time. A real sonic goodness that reminds me a lot of Sonic Youth.


Demon Barber

I'm off for four straight days, yeah. So I finally got the chance to see, and be captivated by, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I was disappointed by Tim Burton's last three films. But he returned strong this time. Everything in this movie is just stupendous. The cast, especially Depp, who looked like a grown up Edward Scissorhands with a Cruella DeVille streak, the catchy songs, and the dark imagery of the film. This is a must see.


The Gift of Music

This Christmas, I decided to give mp3 players to my parents and sister. So I bought 2 Sansa Clips during the Black Friday Sale and an additional one last Friday. I got all three of them on sale, and it was a good deal too ($25 off). Loading them with music was quite an ordeal though since I have to rip a substantial amount of CDs. I also ripped the CDs into wma files, instead of mp3, in favor of smaller sized files but without sacrificing much of the sound quality. Using wma files, I was able to cram at least 95% of my parents CDs into their players, and the music sounds good too. Now, that I'm done loading the songs. It's time for me to pack these things and put it under the tree.


Two Films

There are plenty of good films out this holiday and its really hard to make a decision on which to see, especially if you're not by yourself. So, today, my indecisiveness lead me to watch two movies, National Treasure: The Book of Secrets and No Country For Old Men.

National Treasure: The Book of Secrets was kind of a...meh but it was a fun adventure movie. The format of the movie somewhat follows the prequel, like hunting for clues in old historical relics and obtaining impossible objects/persons. But the movie seems unfocused because there was just too many historical figures and locations involved. The whole cast from the first movie are all here too, with the addition of Helen Mirren (who plays Cage's Mother), and are charming, especially Diane Kruger.

No Country For Old Men, however, is probably the best movie this year. What I like the most about this film are the different types of characters. Moss, a resourceful hunter and Vietnam veteran, who happen to find a case of $2 million drug money, is on the run. Chigurh (the most badass character ever created), a sociopath hired gunman, armed with an air compressed gun and a silenced shotgun, is on Moss' heels. Bell, a lawman and WWII veteran, is after both Moss (to protect him) and Chigurh (to turn him in). All of these characters are being pitted against each other on a "prey and predator, predator turns prey" chase, a survival of the fittest game, which is highly entertaining to watch.


Indie Albums

Just got two new albums "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga", by Spoon, and "Let's Stay Friends", by Les Savy Fav. They're great and I highly recommend both albums. Especially, if you're into indie rock.


Panchira Teacher

Just bought and watched the DVD, Panchira Teacher (or Panty Flash Teacher). It's about a gullible teacher that does "inappropriate" things, with good intentions, to help her sexually perverted students. It's actually the first adult anime that I liked. Mainly because there's nothing gross in it. Just an interesting plot, sterling art and animation, and good looking characters.


Witcher's Recipe

I got bored at work last night so I made a paper list of the potion/bomb recipes -for The Witcher- that I often use and the ingredients needed for the recipe. It really hastened the process of finding ingredients in my stash and inventory, and helps a lot by knowing of what ingredients to keep.

Recipe List
  • (H) = High Toxicity
  • (M) = Medium Toxicity
  • (L) = Low Toxicity
  • (A) = Albedo
  • (N) = Nigredo
  • (R) = Rubedo
  • Vi) = Vitriol
  • Ve) = Vermillon
  • R) = Rebis
  • A) = Aether
  • H) = Hydragenum
  • Q) = Quberith
  • (2) = Two ingredients needed
You guys are more than welcome to use it.


Old and Indie

I've been playing The Witcher for weeks now and I love it. Although a few days ago I've been itching to play an old 2d isometric game. But I didn't want to replay any of my old games. So I browsed around for a game that I haven't played yet. Hammer & Sickle was the first game to cross my mind but then I remembered Eschalon: Book I, an indie RPG that was released about a month ago. I went to the developer's site, Basilisk Games, read a bit about Eschalon and -boom- I was sold. It's a fun game that has an Ultima-esque feel to it. At of this moment, however, the game is on hold as my itch has been satisfied. But I'll eventually get back to it.


Magorium's Crapporium

Whether it's cheesy or epic, movies always invokes the holiday spirit in me. So I went out to watch Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium because I thought it's a perfect holiday movie. I mean, it's a film about a magical toy store and Natalie Portman is on it. But I was wrong. The movie is pointless and plotless, a bore of a film. Not even Natalie Portman can save it. The worst movie I've seen so far.


Gaming Grows...Again.

I forgot to post this but last month's issue of Playboy featured another set of naked female game characters, entitled "Playing Rough". This is Playboy's fourth offering since 2004 (you can also checkout the post I made in 2005). So I think it's a yearly trend for the magazine, to showcase this kind of set in their holiday issues, in participation to the "Games Rush". But anyways, here are two of the girls the was featured on the set.

On your left is Sarah Morisson, of Tabula Rasa, and the other is Morenn, of The Witcher. I didn't like any of the girls that were featured this year. Mainly because I haven't played the games except for The Witcher, and I'm still considering Tabula Rasa. Other girls are from the games The Age of Conan, Jericho, and Kane & Lynch. I wish they could've featured Kaelyn from Mask of the Betrayer or even replaced Morenn, from the Witcher, with Triss, Carmen, or Shani.


Deus Ex 3 Announced!

I just stayed home today and -since something was wrong my internet connection earlier- put up the Christmas tree and the Nativity (which just shows we're half Christian and half pagan). It was almost an uneventful day until I got my internet back during the afternoon. So I browsed around some gaming websites and then boom: Eidos announced the development of Deus Ex 3.

Concept art for Deus Ex 3

Deus Ex probably sits in my top 3 games of all time, and the second in my top 30s. So you couldn't possibly imagine how flabbergasted I am with the announcement. I mainly love the Deus Ex franchise because of its dystopian, cyberpunk atmosphere that has lots of issues. And it looks like the the world of Deus Ex 3 is going to get even more fucked up. Just based on the picture above, post-humanism must be rampant and that they're feared. So they're starting to segregate them.


G.I. Joe's 25th Anniversary

Cobra Commander, Beachhead, and Firefly.

Yeah, I found these 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe toys when I went to Wal-Mart earlier this afternoon. It was very nostalgic to see these re-issued action figures, complete with the original artwork. Hasbro only released a couple of characters, however, and most of them I already have. But I'm so happy to finally own a hooded version of the Cobra Commander. I couldn't find one when I was a kid. I also didn't have Firefly (I only have the horrendous green version of him) and Beachhead. So I got them too since they're my favorite characters. Now, I wish I could go back home in the Philippines and get the rest of my original G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles. There are like 90 of them back home, and all in good condition.


First Impressions: The Witcher

I've been waiting for this game called The Witcher ever since I heard about its development back in 2005. Now that I have it installed, and currently enjoying it, in my PC...all I can say is that I'm very pleased with this game. All that was said about it -during developer interviews and the previews- were all true, no hype at all. It's a gritty and grey world without moral compass but full of choices and consequences. That's real RPG goodness right there.

Geralt, the newest anti-here in town.

As for running the game, I never experimented with the setting since I was in a hurry to play. I only followed the recommended setting for my system, which can be found in the "ReadMe" file, and adjusted everything to medium and set the resolution to 1024 x 768. I also removed the grass effect and pumped the AA and AF into 2x. With this setting I achieved an average of 20 FPS outdoors and 35 FPS indoors. The loading times can be quite long too. Although the wait is not much of a promblem for me since this game is awesome.


Fade to Black Friday

Here's what I got yesterday.

So it was the Black Friday, or after Thanksgiving Sale, yesterday. The very peak of holiday consumerism where stores open as early as 5 a.m. in the morning and give huge discounts on various merchandises. I went to Best Buy a little bit late (6 a.m.), as I intended, to avoid standing on the line, outside the cold, in order to get in to the store. Unfortunately, the line was still a bit long when I got there. So I, nevertheless, stood outside the cold for more than 10 minutes. When I got in, it was chaotic, but I was able to get all of my stuff (see this post for my list) right away and quickly left the store.

I was really glad that I got everything I need (and want)...and then some more. The Orange Box and BioShock I got for half the original price (which was $50), The WD Passport Hard Drive for only $70 (original price was $155), and 2 SanDisk Clip mp3 players for $35 each (original price was $60). Though I bought The Witcher and World in Conflict without discounts but that's fine since I've set some money aside for those games. I also got myself a Columbia jacket, because my current winter jacket is going to fall to pieces, for $145 (original was $230).

All in all, I was able to save more than $200 for everything. Now I have gifts to give and gifts for myself.


Album Review: The Con

Tegan and Sara - The Con
9.0 of 10

I'm not familiar with Tegan and Sara's work prior to this album but I've been listening to The Con, their fifth album, for about a month now...and I'm very impressed. They had melted different music for their latest work, creating a "poppy-electronic-folk" sound. Amidst the sister's sterlingly cute and melancholic dual vocal approach, I really enjoy listening to the acoustic folk guitar being assaulted by electronic synths and beats in all of their songs (especially "The Con"). Their lyrics are angsty and catchy enough that makes you want to sing along with them. The Con is probably one of the best albums I've heard this year, and I highly recommend it.


Black Friday List

It's almost Thanksgiving Day, and that means the Black Friday sale is only a couple days away. Though I promised myself not to spend excessively, and have budgeted $200. Black Friday is also very chaotic and can be very disappointing. You have to wake up really early in the morning, stand outside the cold to wait for the store to open, trudge through the chaos of holiday shopping, only to find out that what you want is not on sale. So I kinda prepared in advance and checked several Black Friday websites (www.bfads.net and www.blackfriday.info) to find out if what I wanted is on sale, and where I could get them.

Here's my Black Friday List: (most of which are from Best Buy)

1. 2.

3. 4.

1. Western Digital 160 GB Portable USB 2.0 Hard Drive - $70 ($85 off!!!)

2. SanDisk Sansa Clip (2 GB) Mp3 player - $35 ($25 off)

3. Half-Life 2: Orange Box - $25 ($25 off)

4. BioShock - $25 ($25 off)
Both the BioShock and the SanDisk Mp3 Players are gifts. I'd probably get 2 SanDisks to close the $200 budget. I also need to get The Witcher and World In Conflict PC games, but I already set some money aside for those two. So they don't include my Black Friday budget.


Album Review: In Defense of the Genre

Say Anything - In Defense of the Genre
8.3 of 10

I know nothing of Say Anything, and their music, before. But when I saw their new album at FYE, yesterday, I got curious. It's only because I've never heard of an emo band releasing a double disc CD. To my surprise, this album is fun. While the title of the album says In Defense of the Genre (I'm assuming emo or pop punk) it has done nothing to defend it but rather elevate it to new heights. The band has slightly incorporated other genre, such as electronica and even show tunes, into their music. "No Soul" (my favorite track), in particular, is your regular poppy punk song but with drops of synths and beats that makes it so interesting. I'd recommend this to everyone who loves emo.


DVD Spree

Damn, I haven't seen any movie for more than two months now (the last one I think was 3:10 to Yuma back in September). Not only that, I've also missed a lot of good films that came out this year. So, before heading home from work this morning, I stopped by F.Y.E. and bought a couple DVDs.

"A cooking rat? Now that's a gonna be a magical summer film to watch". That's what I thought when I first saw the preview. While I missed it in the theaters the DVD proved I was right. It is a magical film...and more. The movie also relays a message that we should appreciate a person for what he does, regardless of his/her ethnic, cultural, or social background.

This Is England, set in 1983 England, is about a young boy who found friendship amongst a group of skinheads after his father died in the Falklands War. This is a really good film that touches a lot of topics (both personal and political). It also presents the skinhead subculture, their fashion, music, and lifestyle. But, best of all, it informs us that not all skinheads are racists.


The Witcher Censored

You won't find any naked Dryads in the US Version of The Witcher.

I've been wanting to get a copy of The Witcher ever since its release weeks ago. Although time have been my enemy as of late, with my schedule and all barricading my way to the nearest game retailer. However, I found out that the US version of The Witcher is censored. The nudity and violence were removed, and even the dialogue had also been cut short. Here's an example of that:


Elf Bandit: What do you seek here, witcher?
Geralt: Murderers.
Elf Bandit: Then visit the city. It’s inhabited by a criminal race. We fight to survive. Humans only comprehend force and thus will we talk to them.
Geralt: I doubt you’ll live long.
Elf Bandit: You threaten us, dh’oine, but know six ape-people, including women and children, remain inside the crypt… with the ghouls…

(published English version)

Elf Bandit: What do you want?
Geralt: Murderers.
Elf Bandit: Visit the city. It’s inhabited by a criminal race. We fight to survive.
Geralt: I doubt you’ll live long.
Elf Bandit: You threaten us, but six ape-people remain inside the crypt… with the ghouls…

So now, I'm thinking of getting the European Uncut version of the game. I don't mind the missing nudity and violence, I can get those two using other mediums. But if they removed the strong language, then that makes The Witcher less grittier. Censorship sucks. I guess this is a marketing move to earn an "M" rating instead of an "A", raking a bit more consumers.


Loss and Deprivation

I stepped onto the scale to weigh myself, earlier this morning. I was surprised when I saw that I dropped 3 lbs. While it sounds like a good thing it's actually not. I know what I've been eating, and it's the stuff that'll choke your arteries. I think the reason I'm losing weight is sleep deprivation. I've been working nights and afternoons, and getting a lot of overtimes these past months, that my sleeping schedule is messed up. Sometimes, I can't even sleep because I'm just too tired. Like the other day, for example, I had to go back to work without sleep and I was awake for 26 hours straight. Eating bad and sleep deprived...this has got to stop. While I'm not a health nut I still love to save money and enjoy my time.


No World for the Avenged

I haven't heard any new music for... a month, maybe. It has been a while and I didn't even realize it. I guess I got caught by the "games rush", saving and spending for it. But I just got the new album of Coheed and Cambria and Avenged Sevenfold. I've been listening to them and its great. I'll probably write a short review sometime soon.

Anyways, I remember that, two years ago, around this time, these two bands also released their albums. Those two albums were the staple music in my CD player (my pre-Mp3 player days) during my early, cold morning train commute from my home to my clinical site in north side Chicago. Quite nostalgic, really.


First Impressions: Mask of the Betyrayer

I finally got some quality time to play, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, the whole day today. Though I must admit that, at first, the game didn't start that well with me. It left me with too many questions of how, and why, my character came to be in the expansion. But as I kept playing, answers started coming, and the story and role of my character became more clear.

All out rumble, in black in white color.

As for the gameplay, there are few notable additions to it but not much have changed. 2 new base classes and an impressive line of new prestige classes. My favorite would probably be the Sacred Fist prestige class. But none of my exported characters from the original campaign meets the requirement to become a Sacred Fist. But I was quite happy that the Invisible Blade class would immensely improve my oldest RPG character, Xaeon (from the inception of D&D 3rd edition and Neverwinter Nights days).


PinoyPC Review

My latest game review, BioShock, is now featured at PinoyPC. It's been almost a year since the last time I wrote a game review for them (which was Dark Messiah of Might and Magic). So it's quite nice to finally contribute something to that site and get my mediocre writing published to a wider audience. I wish I can make a time allowance -to play more games- to write more game reviews for them and this blog. Anyways, you can read my review here (PinoyPC website) or here (on this blog).


Software Binge

I got these softwares earlier this morning, Norton Internet Security 2008 and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. I like the NIS 2008. It has a lot of cool and easy to use features, and it's less of a resource hog compared to my Norton Anti-Virus 2007. Although, it kinda sucks because I could have gotten a Norton 360, also an internet security but with more features, for $40 (I paid $50 for my NIS 2008, which is not a bad price) if I knew that Best Buy had it on sale. As for the NWN 2: Mask of the Betrayer, I've installed it but haven't played it yet. I still have to go to work and catch up with my sleep...sometime.


Six String Samurai

Haven't been online for quite a while (since Tuesday, Oct. 24th) because my internet security has expired. Currently, I have no firewall or any kind of online protection. So I have to write this at work -where it can get dangerous if some people find out. Anyways, I really didn't miss going online. Not that much, at least. I picked up a lot of hours at the hospital this week so I have to work. Besides, I have my books and guitar to keep me busy anyways.

Speaking of books and guitar, I've been reading The Book of Five Rings and I'm surprised at how Samurai philosophy can improve your guitar playing -or life, in general. This line probably got me and motivated me to push forward:

"If one thinks one can wield a long sword rapidly like a folding fan or a shorter sword, he is mistaking the way of the long sword and the long sword becomes difficult to handle. This is called the "short sword cut". One cannot cut a man with this style of using the long sword." -On The Way of the Long Sword, The Book of Waters, The Book of Five Rings.
There's no short cuts in playing a guitar, or anything else for that matter. The only way to play guitar is to play the guitar like it is. I was like that before, using the "short sword cut", when I started playing. In the end, I only made it harder for myself because I picked up a lot of bad habits. Even now, following John Petrucci's instructional video, I'm starting to skip some exercises because I don't think they were that important. Well, I guess I'll just have to start doing them even if it's hard.


Game Review: BioShock

9.0 of 10

Platform: Windows XP/Vista (also on XBOX 360)
Publisher: 2k Games
Developer: Irrational Games

I was quite dispirited when I learned that BioShock is not going to be a sequel for System Shock 2, but rather a spiritual successor. Nevertheless, I kept a keen eye on the game's progress. Always, the previews (and now the reviews) say nothing but sing high praises for BioShock. The game is often tagged with words such as "revolutionary" or "innovative". While I'm a bit skeptical about BioShock's promise of gaming revolution and innovation, I still couldn't let this game pass. After all, it's a spiritual successor to System Shock with a dystopian setting...and I have penchant for dystopian fiction.

The player fills the shoes of a protagonist, known as Jack, who accidentally discovers a passage to Rapture, an underwater utopia built, during the mid 1940s, by Andrew Ryan, an industrialist and a radical objectivist, and his elite cohorts in order to escape from -according to Ryan's viewpoint- the world's oppressive collectivism. However, as soon as you step into the halls of Rapture, you'll immediately realize that the city lies in chaos and it is not the utopia it once was anymore.

Rapture welcomes you with a ball...too bad, you missed it.

The grand narrative of BioShock is like piecing a puzzle back together. The only thing is you need find the missing pieces first. Often times, it left me to interpret what little information I have and jump into conclusions, only to be astonished by a sudden twist. For the most part, the main story is told via shortwave radio communications between you and the non-playable characters. Voice recordings of Rapture's inhabitants can also be found throughout Rapture. While it does not really tell the main story the recordings will provide you hindsight on how the utopian city fell into its current nightmarish state.

Graphics and Sound
The moment I entered Rapture I knew that my eyes will happily glut on the visual wonders BioShock has to offer. But I'm not talking about how the shadows dance as they react to a flickering light, or how the shiny puddle of water ripples when you step on it. No, I'm talking about the artistic direction of the game where both macabre and wondrous elements are displayed in juxtaposition to create an eerily sublime atmosphere. Bloodstains on colorful pin-up posters, grotesque human plaster sculpture amidst bright neon signs, and carcasses littered on the beautiful art deco halls are just the few examples of the contrasting imagery in Rapture, making it a perfect dystopian horror setting.

Dr. Steinman's ghoulish art gallery.

The sound in BioShock is nothing short of impressive. The voice acting, especially, is stupendously done. The voices are filled with emotional depth and varying accents, raging from Irish to Chinese, which will more than make up for the loss of NPC's facial expressions. The ambient sound is masterfully recorded too, from the dripping and sloshing of water to the banging of pipes. Though there are times when blazing guns, cursing enemies, and NPC conversations will discordantly play altogether and turn the aural nirvana into a cacophonic nightmare.

The thing I love the most about BioShock is your ability to silence opponents in different ways with a wide array of arsenal. Plasmids, spell-like abilities which can be obtained through genetic modification, are very fun to use. They vary from offensive types that sends electricity from your hands, traps that hurl enemies to the ceiling, and decoys that will confuse your enemies. Tonics also modify your genes but, unlike Plasmids, they have passive effects. Mostly, Tonics improve skills such as hacking, increases armor, or grants stealth. Weapons are pretty much self-explanatory. The camera, however, which is under the weapons category, makes the gameplay a bit more interesting by allowing you to research your enemies. Researching your enemies will increase your damage against them and, sometimes, also yields additional Tonics.

The freeze and carve -with a machine gun- strategy.

The environment can be used against your enemies as well. Rapture is a dangerous place littered with gasoline spills, flammable gas tanks, and a hackable security system. There were instances in the game where I grabbed my enemy's fireball, using telekinesis, and redirected it to a gasoline spill he was standing at. Then as he jumped into a pool of water, I simply fired my Electro Bolt into the pool and watched him die, twice-fried. Sometimes, I also hack the turrets and cameras in heavily guarded areas. Then lure my enemies to the place, go stealth, and watch the massacre as security bots and turrets cut them into ribbons.

The opponents in BioShock, however, can be very generic since there are only a few of them. The main one would be the Splicers. There are five types of Splicers, mostly indistinguishable by appearance since all of them wear masks and are horrid looking. You can only determine them through their type of attacks. The grunts will normally chase you with a lead pipe while an advance Splicer will teleport around you and fry you with a fireball. There's also the Big Daddy, hulking beasts in a diving suit, who are probably the superstars in the game. While they are neutral by default, attacking them or a Little Sister will turn these abominations hostile towards you.

To kill or not to kill, these are the options.

The Little Sisters are the main source of ADAM, an important resource in the game. ADAM is what allows you, and the citizens of Rapture, to genetically modify yourselves. It, somewhat, functions like a currency that allows you to purchase Plasmids and Tonics. However, ADAM can only be acquired from a Little Sister once you have eliminated her Big Daddy companion. There are two ways of extracting ADAM from a Little Sister. The first is to harvest which kills the Little Sister but yields more ADAM. The second method is to exorcise them from their zombified state which yields less ADAM. However, if you manage to rescue a number of Little Girls, through exorcism, you'll receive a juicy reward. The methods you use to extract ADAM also acts as a moral compass in the game, and also determines the game's ending. Although there's only a black and white option presented, there's no middle way, which is a bit disappointing.

Objectively, I can say that BioShock is an almost perfect with only a mote of flaw. But revolutionary or innovative, I can not call it. In fact, it's far from it. There's nothing new in BioShock. Much of the features in the game we've seen already, even the camera (which was probably inspired by Beyond Good & Evil). There's even less options when it comes to gameplay approaches, like multiply pathways and the use of stealth, unlike in Deus Ex. Nevertheless, BioShock should be commended for its exemplary story, high production value, and polished presentation. It's a tight contender for the "Game of the Year" award.


Musashi's Winning Strategy

I bought a book written by Miyamoto Musashi, entitled The Book of Five Rings, yesterday. Musashi is probably one of the greatest Samurai in the 16th-17th century Japan. He developed the two-swords style of fighting and have never lost a duel. I knew about to him when I read the book Musashi, a historical fiction about his life, by Eiji Yoshikawa. I was quickly enamored with him. Of how he handles life's challenges and his eagerness to learn from everything. I was really glad that Musashi wrote this book in order share his wisdom to all of us.

I started reading Musashi's book but it seems I can't get past of the first page, especially when I read the 9th line of his winning strategy: "Do not engage in useless activity". I've been contemplating about this line and I think I've wasted a lot of time doing unproductive things. Like browsing profiles in Friendster or MySpace, watching a TV show that I don't even like, or sleeping too much. I better stop doing these things and instead start applying the 3rd line: "Cultivate a wide range of interest in the arts".

Playing the guitar and writing are the only productive things I'm doing right now. Well, playing PC games can be productive. But that's a rare occurrence with the kind of games on the market. I'll probably develop my cooking skills since I love doing it. If I manage to save some money, I'll buy a digital SLR camera and get into photography as well. As of late, I haven't done a lot of reading too . I think I've only read three books this year. So I'll also get back into it.


Frugal Muse

We drove to Darien, this afternoon, to celebrate my sister's birthday at a nice Chinese buffet restaurant. After we finished eating (a lot, I might add, because I'm still stuffed to the neck), I walked around the nearby strip mall and saw an austerely looking bookstore named Frugal Muse. With nothing else to do, I entered the store and boy I was surprised.

Frugal Muse -colloquially known as "thrifty source of inspiration"- is an apt name for the gaudy bookstore. Because there was just piles and piles of cheap books inside. I was overwhelmed by the amount and variety of their stock and their low prices. Unfortunately, I didn't had much time to stick and browse around. Nevertheless, I was there long enough to get two books, Guitar For Dummies and The Book of Five Rings.

I got the Guitar For Dummies for only $18 and The Book of Five Rings for $2. I would've spent an extra $14 for the books if I bought it at Borders or Barnes & Nobles. Anyways, Guitar for Dummies is a book with a wide range of guitar topics. Hopefully, this will help me improve my guitar playing. The Book of Five Rings is philosophical book about strategy written by Miyamoto Musashi. I've read the book about Musashi before, and I liked it, so I thought I'd read his writings too.


Hellgate: London Demo

Welcome to London, a post-biblical apocalyptic world.

Hellgate: London have been on my IGN wishlist ever since it was announced. So I was very excited when its demo finally went live today. After playing the demo, however, I don't feel that excited anymore. The game plays a lot like Diablo (there are demons, portals, boring NPCs, and a similar looking skill-tree) except that it utilizes a different setting. The graphics doesn't look too good in my PC as well. There's much evidence in here that the boys in Flagship still haven't shaken off their roots from Blizzard. I might have to pass this game until it's on sale.

Don't take my word, however. Go download the demo and see for yourself.


Games as art?

I remember a few years back when movie critique, Roger Ebert, said that games will never be as artistically worthy as movies and literature. Now, here comes Peter Molyneaux, legendary game developer, stating in his latest interview with gamesindustry.biz that games are art.

Rogert Ebert stated that:

"I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art[...] That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic."
While Peter Molyneaux said:
"...If art is described as something which promotes a reaction in you and lets you glimpse something that's more than reality - then yes, of course they're an art form[...] I'm absolutely sure that computer games are part of our culture now, so they are art. I don't think there's much of a debate there really."
What do I have to say about this. Well, yes, I consider games to be art. Not because they can be "visually wonderful". But because of some games, the ones with great stories, such as Planescape: Torment and The Longest Journey, I started reading books and appreciated literature even more. I don't know about Roger Ebert, and his definition of what art is, but I learned that reading his movie reviews made me lose all those precious hours I had to make myself more cultured, civilized and empathetic.


EA Games buys BioWare :(

I consider it an ill omen whenever I see an Electronic Arts (EA) logo on an intro of a game. Because I know I'll only be disappointed. But seeing an EA logo before a BioWare logo on a game is a nightmare. That nightmare is now real since, according to IGN.com, "...it [EA] has purchased the holding company that owns BioWare and Pandemic Studios".

EA is notoriously known for buying development studios, and then watering down the franchises of those studios. Origin System and its Ultima series (one of the most beloved RPG franchise) would be the best example of that. After EA acquired Origin, not only did they released a poorly and hastily developed Ultima VIII and IX but they also cancelled most of Origin's projects.

As a computer role-play gamer, I don't see a lot of good CRPGs anymore. But it's a comfort that developers such as Obsidian and BioWare are still around. Because, I know, I can count on them and their games. But now this: BioWare, one of the best RPG developers, being phagocyted by a bad publisher like EA...unspeakable horror. I won't be surprised if BioWare cancels Dragon Age and stops making RPGs for the PC.



I was very excited to get a copy of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer today. But Best Buy disappointed me, again, since the game was out of stock. However, Half-Life 2: The Orange Box literally filled the store's shelves. I remember this also happened to me 3 years ago, when I went to the same Best Buy store to get Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. But it was out of stock and, instead, copies of Half-Life 2 littered on the shelves. Speaking of Half-Life 2, I have nothing against the game. In fact, The Orange Box is quite tempting since it's a budget pack, 5 games in 1 box. Plus, that puzzle game Portal, which is included in the package, looks very interesting.


Prestige Classes

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer expansion is just around the bend. Hopefully, Best Buy would be able to stock up on the release date this Tuesday, so I can use my 10% discount coupon to purchase a copy.

Anyways, I've been snooping around Obsidian's Blog and checking out the new Prestige Classes for the expansion. Most of the interesting ones, however, are designed for caster classes. The Red Wizard and the Arcane Scholar, especially, would greatly improve mage characters. But my favorite would probably be the Sacred Fist, a prestige class that marries the Monk and a divine caster.

"Sacred Fists are independent organizations found within many temples. Their ascetic members have turned their divine magic inward, bringing their bodies and wills into harmony. Sacred Fists have forsworn the use of weapons and heavy armor. They consider their bodies and minds gifts from their deity, and they believe that not developing those gifts to their fullest potential is a sin. Spellcasting does not dishonor them or their deity. Sacred Fists are strong in faith, will and body.

Clerics are excellent candidates for Sacred Fist orders. Paladins may also choose to join them, but are seldom comfortable surrendering the trappings of their calling. Fighters, rogues, bards and even ex-monks may make good candidates, provided they have enough levels in a class that grants divine spells. Druids occasionally find the class's combat skills useful, but sorcerers and wizards find little to interest them.

  • Base Attack Bonus: +4
  • Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist, Combat Casting.
  • Skills: Lore 8 ranks
  • Spellcasting: Ability to cast 1st level divine spells.
Class Features:
  • Hit Die: d8
  • Base Attack Bonus: High.
  • High Saves: Fortitude and Reflex.
  • Proficiencies: Sacred Fists gain no proficiency with any weapons, armor or shields.
  • Skill Points: 4 + Int Modifier.
  • Class Skills: Concentration, Heal, Lore, Spellcraft and Tumble.
  • Spells per Day/Spells Known: When a new Sacred Fist level is gained (except levels 4 and 8 ), the character gains new spells per day as though he had gained a level in whatever divine spellcasting class gave him access to 1st-level divine spells. If the caster had more than one applicable divine spellcasting class, he must pick one to improve.
  • AC Bonus: When unencumbered and wearing light or no armor, a 1st level Sacred Fist gains a +1 AC bonus. This bonus increases to +2 at 5th level, and +3 at 10th level.
  • Unarmed Damage: A Sacred Fist deals unarmed combat as a monk of equal level. A Sacred Fist's monk level (if any) stacks with his class level for the purposes of determining unarmed damage.
  • Fast Movement: If the Sacred Fist has levels of Monk, his Sacred Fist level stacks with his monk level for purposes of determining Monk Speed. Otherwise he gets the equivalent of Monk Speed at 3rd level, and it progresses identically to the 3rd level monk ability Monk Speed.
  • Sacred Flames: At 4th level the Sacred Fist can invoke sacred flames around his fists. These flames add to the Sacred Fist's unarmed damage. The additional damage is equal to the Sacred Fist's class level plus Wisdom modifier. This lasts 10 combat rounds. This ability initially can only be used once per day, increasing to twice per day at 8th level.
  • Uncanny Dodge: At 6th level, the Sacred Fist retains any Dexterity bonus to AC when flat-footed or when struck by an invisible attacker.
  • Inner Armor: At 10th level, the Sacred Fist can protect himself from harm once per day. He gets a +4 sacred bonus to AC, a +4 sacred bonus on all saves, and a spell resistance equal to 25 for a number of rounds equal to his Wisdom modifier."
Now, that got me excited and conceptualizing for my next NWN 2 character. Maybe a Paladin/Monk/Sacred Fist with a high Charisma and Divine Might/Shield feats would make a great character. I think I'll try this concept when the game comes out.


My Goddess, Jenni

Jenni A. from Met-Art

I actually subscribed at Met-Art today, a decision that I relish at this moment but will probably regret later. Met-Art is a nude art website that showcases fine photography of beautiful and natural women. If you've been reading this blog for sometime now, then you already know that I'm displeased with Playboy. Their models, while still attractive, lack the natural beauty I'm looking for. Perfect 10 models are, well, perfect but the magazine only comes out quarterly. Met-Art, however, is in a different league when it comes to nude photography. Their models are in a much higher tier. Take Jenni A. (pictured above) for example. I haven't seen any nude model like her. She has a very pure face but not innocent. She's just the epitome of natural beauty.

If you want to see more of Jenni, so you'll understand what I'm talking about, go here. (not safe in work)


Crowded and Choked

My hard disk is currently crowded and choked with files. Mostly video files because all I do these days is just download anime episodes and "other" video files. I even removed all of my ripped mp3s from my computer to free up some space. Speaking of mp3 files, my mp3 player is almost full as well. I knew that 30 GB won't be enough for me. Hopefully, I can save some money by November for a portable external hard drive, and for a new mp3 player next year.


Comics -To- Animation

I've been zealously practicing with some guitar exercises (courtesy of John Petrucci's Guitar Discipline video) for almost a week now. However, the exercises involves a lot of finger stretching. It's quite tiring and can be a little bit too much for a rusty guitarist like me. So, when the cramping and aching starts, I take breaks and watch episodes of the Justice League instead.

The Justice League

Justice League is one of my favorite comics-to-animation. Even though the creators of the series didn't actually play it as close to the books, the changes they made were welcomed. One change that I like is having Hawkgirl as part of the team instead of Aquaman. While the king of Atlantis is a real bad ass, he's still a fish that can't hang in a base that's orbiting in space. Plus, Hawkgirl adds gender diversity to the team. Another change, and the most interesting one, is the flirtations between Batman and Wonder Woman. I never thought it's possible that Wonder Woman, an amazon princess who thinks less of men, and Batman, a lone warrior who considers women as distractions, could actually have a "thing" for each other. I guess opposites do attract.

Anyways, here are some of my other favorite comics-to-animations:
  • Batman: The Animated Series - I can't afford any comics back then, so I don't know Batman that much. This cartoon, however, introduced me to Batman and made me realize that he is best fictional character of all time.
  • Spawn - This was on HBO when I was still in college. This is one serious animation and, plus, it's Spawn. Need I say more?
  • X-Men - This was a very cool cartoon series. It showcased a lot of important events from the comics, such as the Phoenix Saga. It even showcased an ending where the X-Men actually graduated from Xavier's School.
  • X-Men Evolution - Another X-Men cartoon in the early 2000, that is loosely based on the Ultimate X-Men (I think). Most of the X-Men are still in their teens and Wolverine is actually one of the teachers in the mansion.


Shaking off the Rust

I woke up early today and tried the new amp. I was blown away by what the little thing can do. It's packed with some nifty features. It comes with 4 channels (1 clean and 3 distorted) and 6 effects (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, echo, and reverb). Each channel comes with a preset sound but I didn't like any of them. So I tried to fiddle around with the knobs to find my own sound. Although I wasn't able to find a fat and round distortion, that I used to with my Marshall Valvestate 8020, in any of the distorted channels. The clean channel, however, produces this thick and warm sound that I really love.

Plugged and Played.

Anyways, I think I'm getting comfortable with the sound of this amp. So I started downloading some basic instructional videos, that I found in the internet, to get me started again. Hopefully, going back to the basics will shake the rust off of me and will eliminate some bad habits. I also want to learn the song "Rusty Cage" by Soundgarden just to get into the whole theme.
"I'm gonna break my rusty cage and run." --Rusty Cage, Soundgarden



I was thinking of getting a new hobby these past months, and for some reason I decided to delve into the magic of photography. My mind was so set on it that I started conceptualizing themes, subjects that I can photograph, even without a Digital SLR camera. But, last Wednesday, when I was finally holding a box of Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT I asked myself: "why buy a $600 camera?" and "why photography?". I couldn't answer it. So I gave the box back to the store's clerk, before reaching the checkout counter, and just went home.

Back at home, I watched TV, unconsciously flipping through channels, while I pondered on why I should take photography as a hobby. I tried to answer it but, somehow, my answers just brought in more questions. So, I finally resigned and dismissed the idea of getting into photography. I was about to do same with my search for a new hobby when a TV ad for Guitar Center went up on the screen. Suddenly, serendipity came knockin' on my noggin. I need a guitar amp.

It was always at the back of my mind, the guitar amp. So I figured out that I should get one for my birthday instead of a camera. Of course, I asked myself the question again: "why?". But only a resounding "why not?" came in response. Yes, why not? Albeit my skills had already atrophied for years of stagnancy, and my guitar is all dusty and its strings are all rusted, I still know guitars more than a camera. Besides, a guitar amp is much cheaper than a Digital SLR camera. So I hastily went online and started browsing for, and reading reviews of, several guitar amps. An hour later, I was done looking. I wanted a Line 6 Spider III Modeling Amplifier.

Amp Sweet Amp.

So today, after my birthday dinner party, me and a couple of friends headed right to the nearest Guitar Center to pick up my guitar amp (a $200 damage to my wallet). I didn't had a chance to fiddle with it at the store since they were already closing. Afterwards, we went to another bar to celebrate more of my birthday. It was almost 1:00 AM by the time I got home. I didn't try the amp because I know the neighbors won't be too happy. So, unfortunately, as of now, I only took out the amp from its box and turned the power on to see if it's working (and it is). Anyways, I'm really glad that I got it. I'll try it out tomorrow and maybe write a review about it sometime soon.


Album Review: Way of the Fist

Five Finger Death Punch - Way of the Fist
(8.0 of 10)

I'm currently listening to this new band, that was put together by former U.P.O. guitarist, Zoltan Bathory, Five Finger Death Punch. I must say that the band's name and the title of their debut album, Way of the Fist, really speaks for their music: no flairs and colors, just a ferocious iron fist blow in your face. The album is dense with heavy riffs, pounding rhythms, and an angry vocal assault. However, the songs are also infused with melodic and smooth verses to give the listeners are brief respite from the aural onslaught. If you're looking for a raw and straight up metal record, I highly suggest Way of the Fist.


Upcoming Players

My sister's birthday is fast approaching. So I started browsing around for a gift. I was thinking of giving her a small mp3 player with a voice recorder (either a SanDisk Rhapsody or a Creative Zen V) so she can use it in school. But since holiday is just beyond the horizon, tech companies are already announcing their new line of toys. That includes mp3 players from Creative Labs and Apple.

The newest, sexiest, mp3 player from Creative.

Apple's line up are pretty much impressive. The iPod Classic's storage capacity is now pushed to a whopping 160GB, the 80GB version had its price cut down to $250, and the iPod Nano is now shorter, squatter, and can play videos. Creative's new player, however, is flash based (which comes in 4, 8, and 16 GB). So it really looks sexy, much sexier than the iPod and less chunkier than the Zen Vision:M. While it can't store files as much as the Vision:M, Creative added one nifty feature:
"...Creative is tacking on one surprising extra that we haven't ever seen in the Zen line: an SD card slot for adding more memory."
Pretty nice, pretty nice. Although I'm quite disappointed at Creative for going flash-based. Now, who's going to compete with the 160GB iPod. Anyways, these players are still too expensive (except for the 80GB iPod). But I'm considering the new Zen (4GB) for my sister.


Laptop or Desktop?

I mentioned in my earlier posts that my current PC needs to be replaced, and that I might head back to college again. So, last night, I started looking at some computers (laptops and desktops) just to get an idea of how much money will I need to save. Here are some rigs that I might consider:

College Boy Set-up

Home Boy Set-up
I'm definitely going with the first option (College Boy) once my application at school is accepted. The Asus laptop seems to be packing some power. So, I'll be able to work and play with it. The second option is very cool too. Especially if you're a serious gamer. I'll get it if somehow I won't make it to college next year, or if I have enough extra money (which is unlikely).

But anyways, it seems that I need to save, more or less than, $2,500 by next year for either set up. I can also get everything at Best Buy (with the exception of the Sennheiser Headphones) which is good because I like their financing options.


Back to School?

6 more months until my education benefit, from the hospital I work at, kicks in. So I'm going to take advantage of that and go back to school. That way, If I fall in love with a beautiful doctor in the near future, I'll have my education and prestige to hold my self-esteem together. I'm not sure what to take though. But it's either Medical Technology or Pharmacy (a lot of people are suggesting that I should take Pharmacy) since I like working in a hospital but don't like to deal with too many people.

But going to a good university will cost a lot of money and time -with, or without, any education aid. I'll still have to work at least 3 days a week to maintain my benefits and, of course, for allowances. I may have to lessen, or even stop, my gaming activities in order to save time and money. But I can't live without a hobby, it'll make me a dull boy. I guess I'll just pick a new hobby that doesn't consume much time like gaming. Maybe I'll go back to playing guitar, or delve into the art of photography.


Dying Machine

My current PC just turned 5 years old this month, and that's old in computer standards. I've upgraded its video card once and put additional memory. So it still has enough push to run today's games. However, running S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and BioShock, graphic whoring games that they are, makes my machine cough blood. It's quite apparent that I won't be able to run games on my PC soon enough, most probably by next year. Besides the graphics, my hard drive is also getting choked up by music, anime, and pr0n files.

The hard drive problem has a simple solution: cheap external hard drive. But my gaming needs, however, won't come easy. I'm still using AGP cards and I really need to experience PCI express. So I may have to upgrade my motherboard, and other components, as well. I could still do a component by component upgrade but it'll be harder and more expensive for me since I don't know how to do it myself. So I've decided that my PC, unfortunately, needs to retire and step down from its "main gaming rig" pedestal.

I don't have any idea on what to get right now though. I guess I'll just save first (maybe around $2,000) and then decide later.


Butterflies and Hurricanes

The storm last Thursday disrupted Comcast's operations and left me without internet access at home (same goes for cable and phone). The storm was really strong and caused a lot of damages in the Chicagoland area. Although I didn't felt the storm's full intensity since I was at work, safe inside a huge hospital building. I only knew it was really raining hard and that the lightning kept splitting the dark skies that night.

While the storm was really whipping up some chaos outside the hospital, there's some good that came out of it -at least for me. People who were supposed to go home didn't leave the hospital because they were scared of being caught in maelstrom outside, my crush included. She's a medical student and she's very beautiful. Probably the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. She's has a crappy brown hair (dry and full split ends) and dresses badly sometimes, which just shows that she don't care, but she'd still look like a million bucks. With her hovering around me, anxious to leave the hospital, I just felt butterflies in my stomach (yeah, I know, it's cheesy).


First Impressions: BioShock

I was able to spend two hours playing BioShock, and all I can say is wow! The game setting, a 1950's-60's dystopia, is probably the best I've seen since Arcanum. It's also evident that game's atmosphere was largely inspired by the works of the author Ayn Rand. Even the founder of Rapture, the undersea dystopia, Andrew Ryan, shares the same initial with Ayn Rand (A.R.).

Shock and wrench combo.

As for the gameplay, BioShock is really the spiritual successor of System Shock. It's a First-Person Shooter with RPG customization. Both plays almost the same way except that the body upgrades in System Shock has cyberpunk elements while BioShock uses biopunk elements. Anyways, this game turns out to be more than what I expected, and it has kicked me back into my dystopian mood again.


Shock to the System

After two years of waiting, BioShock is finally released. So, right after work, I immediately rushed to the nearest Best Buy store and secured a copy. Although, I must say, I'm a bit disappointed since I only got the regular box. I was really gunning for a Collector's Edition (which includes a "Big Daddy" figurine, "Making of" DVD, and a soundtrack) but there wasn't any on the shelves. But that's ok, I can let that pass.

My copy of BioShock.

As of the game itself. It's too bad that I'm really tired from work. So I haven't had the time to play it...yet. I already installed the game though and had some problems with the SecuROM. But that's fixed now. I was also curious of my system's performance. I tried to start game at high setting, 1024 x 768 resolution, with no AA or AF, and it seems to run at a playable frame rate. It's too early to say though since I only played the intro. Well, I really need to get some power sleep now so I can play the game tomorrow night.



I'm pretty much addicted to The Lord of the Rings Online (curse MMORPGs!), and I've been playing it ever since its release back in April. I also joined a role-playing Kinship (or guild), called Ashes of Rhudaur, in the Nimrodel server, shortly after I started the game. But, a couple weeks ago, I re-rolled a new character in Landroval, which is the unofficial role-playing server of the game. I like it a lot in Landroval. The people are much friendlier, more mature and a lot of them are actually role-playing.

Ghorim (Guardian/Armorer) and Ioreleth (Hunter/Woodsman)

The only setback in moving to a new server is that I'm starting out again and, since I'm unguilded, I'm not supported craft-wise and quest-wise. Finding a Kinship in Landroval will be quite difficult. It's not because there's only a few guilds in there. But it's because there's a lot of good ones to choose from. So I just can't decide. For the meantime, to support my main character, I started two alternate characters. A Dwarven Guardian/Armorer and an Elven Hunter/Woodsman. That way, I can make tools, armors, cloaks, and spears for my main character until I find a Kinship.