All posts by wankongyew

A Game: NWN2 Mask of the Betrayer

If any RPG fan is still wondering whether or not to get this expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2, I have one single irrefutable argument to offer: Chris Avellone. That’s right, the lead designer of the celebrated classic Planescape: Torment is on the design team of Mask of the Betrayer, and, boy, does it show. From some of the craziest, oddest companions you can meet in any RPG since the afore-mentioned PS:T, a story of personal redemption that’s more about saving your own soul rather than the world to the multitude of genuine choices with lasting consequences, this is one of the very few RPGs that actually deserves the moniker “role-playing”.

Mask of the Betrayer picks up directly after the ambiguous ending of Neverwinter Nights 2. Following the player’s climatic battle against the King of Shadows, the entire cavern collapses and buries the player and his whole party. You wake up in a cave, but a different one, far, far away from the Sword Coast, disoriented from the cave-in and with only vague memories of what happened. A female Red Wizard of Thay retrieves you from a binding circle within the cave and as you make your escape, you discover a dark hunger within you that consumes spirits and you must either find a way to end this curse or have it destroy you from within.

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The Golden Age of Comic Book Movies

I realized after watching The Dark Knight last weekend that ever since Iron Man in May, nearly every movie that I paid to watch in a cinema has been a comic book movie. The sole exception was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but Indy’s roots lie in pulp comics anyway, so in a way, that still counts. I suppose that this is partly due to the current state of film-making and CGI technology that allows directors to fully recreate the fantastic visuals of the comic book medium on the big screen and partly due to the successes of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, which opened the eyes of the studio bosses to the commercial lucrativeness of comic book licenses. Not every comic book movie since then has been a success, Spider-Man 3 in particular was a disappointing dud even with Sam Raimi still at the helm, but there have been enough films that “get it” to make this a great time to be alive for a comic book fan. Here’s a quick recap of the comic book movies that I’ve watched so far this year.

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Zimbabwe Inflation Rate Now at 2.2m%

Back in February, I blogged about Zimbabwe’s $10 million note and received a ton of hits when it got stumbled. At that time, Zimbabwe had an official annual inflation rate of over 150,000%. Now that Mugabe has blatantly stole the elections, inflation has again shot up so ridiculously high that it makes the previous rate look like just a milk run.

According to this report in the Guardian, the official, and hence woefully under-reported, inflation rate is now at 2.2m% and the largest bank note is now denominated at $50 billion, with a value of around 18 British pence. The government can’t even print money fast enough, so that ordinary people are now limited to only $100 billion of withdrawals a day.

Just another day in the ongoing trainwreck that is Zimbabwe.

A Game: Bleach Heat the Soul 5 (PSP)

As much as I’ve always liked the concept of fighting games, my reflexes and finger dexterity generally aren’t good enough for me to do well at them beyond beginner-level difficulty. Still, I’m a pretty big fan of Bleach, and I was genuinely curious enough about how the different character powers would work in a fighting game, so I decided to give the newest installment of the Heat the Soul series a try. This is actually easier said than done since this game exists only in a Japanese version, which means there are no English instructions. Since I don’t speak or read Japanese, learning my way through the game was mainly a question of trial and error. Luckily, the menu items are in English, but I had to guess what the instructions wanted me to do.

This latest installment covers the Hueco Mundo storyline in the Bleach series, which means that it features all of the Arrancar from that storyline and de-emphasizes the shinigami characters. Virtually all of the characters who were present in previous games are still here, but some of them can only be unlocked by importing a savegame from a previous version of the game. This is a shame, because those characters include such colorful ones as Kisuke Urahara, Mayuri Kurotschi and Shunsui Kyoraku. The new arrancar includes some genuinely interesting ones like Ulquiorra Schiffer and the fully released form of Grimmjow Jeagerjaques, but unfortunately also the rather silly Privaron Espada.

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My New Gaming Rig

Hey, look at what the postman brought me! As you might guess, I finally have a gaming rig of my own again. It’s a fairly modest Dell XPS 420 with the following key specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
  • 3 GB RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
  • 500 GB SATA Hard Drive

This is nowhere near the current cutting edge of course, but with just a 20-inch LCD monitor to drive, it should be more than enough to meet my gaming needs for a while. The included speakers and subwoofer aren’t anything special, but they constitute probably the best sound system I’ve ever owned.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (June 2008)

Wow, I haven’t done any updates for this in a while, so let’s make up for it by posting about four different articles, starting with the biggest science-related news this month. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Center, the North Pole may be, for a brief period, completely free of ice this summer. This is as alarming a symptom of global warming as anyone can imagine. While the scientists assure us that the melting of the polar ice cap should have no immediate ill effects, jokes about Santa Claus losing his home aside, it’s hard to deny that this should be seen as an extremely loud wake up call.

I have to admit that I was once a global warming skeptic myself but the scientific consensus now is that global warming is a real and human-induced phenomenon. What we should do about it is a different and complex matter of course, and I still reserve the right to mock greens for their conflicting rhetoric over it.

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A Game: Warhammer Battle for Atluma (PSP)

Yep, it’s yet another CCG for the PSP while I’m still waiting for a new gaming rig. This one is based on the War Cry card game by Sabertooth Games that was in turn based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy miniatures game. The license means that existing fans of the table-top wargame will find the factions, characters and units in this direct port of the CCG instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to save it from ultimately being a very mediocre video game.

The CCG mechanics are robust and appropriately enough, borrow significant elements from wargaming. Each player builds two decks. The Army deck holds only characters, troops and weapons while the Action deck holds special strategies and tactics to be played to change the outcome of battles. Each match actually consists of three battles and each battle begins with a muster phase. During this phase every player is assigned a set number of points with which to alternately play cards from his or her Army deck onto the table, drawing a new Army card after each one played until both players have spent all of their resource points.

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