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)