Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shooting with a D40

I've been fooling around with a new Nikon D40 DSLR camera all night long and all I can say is that it is a very nice camera to use. The camera is pretty simple to operate, and despite only venturing to manual focus and some other stuff, I never felt once like an idiot using the camera. Picture quality is impecable and the kit lens is quite adequate for the time being.

So far I managed to dig up two problems, but fortunately these are user related (therefore easier to fix compared to a hardware issue). My shot composition is still pretty poor and I have shaky hands, both of them resulting in pretty lousy shots on my behalf but hey, learning is a life-long process and I am pretty much determined to get the hang of shooting great photos.Here's a sample of what I took, a shot of a gashapon, more specifically Mario in his kart.

On to something else, but not too far off. I've commented unfavourably on people who make noise like empty cans about LCD TVs (but don't own them in the first place) and I'll do the same for those who comment like airheads on DSLRs. You can go on babbling about megapixels, tech specs and all that jazz but I've something for you: size doesn't really matter, it is how you use it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fancy Hot Coffee on Your Lap?

Video game violence and U.S politicians have been pretty cosy bedfellows for quite sometime. It is not uncommon to hear politicians condemn video game violence (and sex); they have been doing this since the 90s when the first wave of violent-themed games arrived, led by id Software's Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.

The backlash from the politicians was even stronger in the days after the Columbine massacre and things came to a boil when Rockstar Games shot themselves in the foot with the Hot Coffee scandal.

Just yesterday, the Pope decided to lend his weight into this issue of video game violence, stating that "Any trend to produce programs and products -- including animated films and video games -- which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion" and that it is repulsive when these "programs" are directed at children.

I tend to agree with his statement and despite having made a mockery of ERSB ratings quite some time ago, I believe that the ratings when combined with parental supervision (and awareness when purchasing games) would actually make a difference on how children are exposed to video games in the area highlighted by the pontiff.

However, video gaming is largely perceived as a community and children, easily impressionable, would like to do things adults do (or play) and thus would naturally want in. Hop in to any cybercafe and you'll see my point; primary school children who are as good or even better in Counterstrike then you and me both and probably are engaging in far worse smack-talk then we had in our day.

The day would come when video game violence will lead to something that would eclipse every single scandal/controversy. Detractors may say that video games are after all video games, but doesn't that also nullify the good points of games (better hand-eye coordination, problem solving)? I would not be suprised at all.

Edit: I found the transcript of the Pope's message yesterday at work (break time surfing) but I couldn't find it last night when I was updating this blog at home. So here you go (link).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Those Plastic Teddy Be@rs

There is something about those plastic teddy bears known as Be@rbricks that appeal to me. I'm not referring to those 400% Be@rbricks or even the rare ones in the latest series but to the common ones. Basically they manage to be unique despite being "plain". It sounds like a paradox but it is this paradox that compelled me to purchase another Be@rbrick to complement the one that I bought earlier.

Another visit to Shioktoys brought about the Series 13 Jellybean-themed Be@rbrick. The little fella is made out of orange coloured transparent plastic (hence looking like a jellybean) and once again the construction is pretty remarkable. The air bubbles inside the transparent plastic are nice touches to a plain but unique Be@rbrick.

Note: A friend of mine once swapped the heads of my Jellybean Be@rbrick and my Flag Be@rbrick. It was an amusing sight and yes, I hear the collective moan of legions of Be@rbrick collectors but what is the fun of not playing with the be@rs anyways? Let the limb swapping begin!

Cables, Smables, Gables...

I was watching Star Wars Episode V on my LCD TV earlier this evening and I realised that even without the much fancied S-video cable, the picture quality using normal AV cables was pretty good. Sure, there were some scenes whereby the dark side...I mean dark portions were simply too dark but there was nothing a display mode change couldn't solve.

Since S-video cables are rather expensive, a sales man quote RM 100 a piece, I might just pull off purchasing the cable for the time being. However, I'm more concerned about the picture quality coming off from my PS2 using the normal AV cables. The visuals are just okay at best and apparently I need to use composite cables with the PS2 and LCD TV.

Gamers Hideout at Cineleisure, Kota Damansara is selling a 3rd party PS2 composite cable for RM 39 but with all due respect to the owners, the cable looks really "cheap". Even though I don't like sound like I'm judging a book by its cover, the appearance was already a turn off (note to person in-charge of marketing for said 3rd party product). It just goes against one of my personal rules on buying only the item that you are comfortable with (in terms of looks, price, etc.).

On the other hand, Play-Asia sells a composite cable from XCM for RM 70 and the reviews for this product average 5 stars out of 5. Did I mention that the XCM composite cable is multi-console and supports the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii? Now that's what I call value for money and I'll most likely order it in early February.

Interested? Visit Play-Asia (here) for a look at the specs.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Not So Little Black Dress..I mean LCD TV...

Shopping for a LCD TV can be quite a daunting experience. as I've experienced it myself when I bought my Samsung LA32R71B yesterday. Electronic stores tend to stock a variety of sizes but with 40 and 50 inch TVs hogging the shelf space, their sheer presence makes everything else look small.

I'm glad I made the right decision in buying a 32 inch LCD TV though, as it looks rather huge in my living room.

More on the Samsung. Basically it is in black and has rather sexy curves, like a little black dress for the living room, and is bound to turn heads. I'm not a LCD TV maven so instead of talking bout the technical specs, lets just say the picture quality looks nice (but can be better with the proper cables) and the surround sound combined with the Game mode makes this pretty number a rather good LCD TV for gaming.

All it needs now is a handbag.. I mean an Xbox 360, to complete the whole get-up.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tower Defence

Tower Defence games are pretty easy to find on the Web. A number of sites, including Newgrounds .com host these Flash-based games, but the version I like best is David Scott's Flash Element TD, available in this link.

The premise of a Tower Defence game is pretty simple, prevent waves of critters from reaching the end of a maze by building towers that will either slow or destroy the critters. It sounds pretty simple reading off my blog but trust me, it can get pretty challenging.

In terms of graphics, Flash Element TD looks pretty nice, borrowing graphical elements from Warcraft III and has funny sound bites at the beginning of each wave of critters. The sound effects themselves are serviceable, this being a web-based game after all.

As a casual game, Flash Element TD rates highly as it is relatively simple to play and it is a great time-waster, just don't get too engrossed in it until you forget that your boss is watching you!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Visit to the Toy Shop

My current interest with collectible figurines have resulted in several online purchases, the latest being the full set of Animal Crossing figures (USD 1.99 each X 8 = USD 15.92). Yesterday's purchase of a Be@rbrick marked the first time I've bought a collectible figurine from a physical shop.

The shop in question is, located next to Gamers Hideout at Cineleisure, Mutiara Damansara. The shop has a website of the same name as well and like most collectible toy shops, rather cool as well.

Produced by Medicom Toy Corporation, Be@rbricks are collectible figurines in the shape of bears. According to its Wikipedia article, Be@rbricks are release in series with each series consisting of 18 figures in 10 different themes with the themes not differing from series to series. The Be@rbrick that I purchased is from Series 13 and has the flag theme, with the England flag on it. For comparison, the Be@rbrick from Series 11 with the flag theme has the the German flag on it.

The design of a Be@rbrick allows for quite a bit of articulation, even the hips have joints that allow you not only to move the legs front and back but also left and right.

In terms of rarity, each theme has a certain percentage of occuring in a Series and because Be@rbricks are not reprinted, they are pretty much bonafide collectible items. If you were to ask me why would I purchase them, I would say that I've a soft spot for small toys.

Here's a picture of my Be@rbrick standing next to a pirated Be@rbrick (on the right) which I bought at the Chatuchak weekend market while I was on holiday in Bangkok last year.

Aside from the height and flag, the difference is pretty clear between the two. The pirated Be@rbrick is not as articulate in movement as the original one and for the price of only RM 8 (versus RM 14.80 for the smaller, original one), you get what you pay for.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Got to Get 'Em All?

Gashapon (Capsule Toys)...once you buy one, you'll want to continue to collect them all. Previously I made the mistake of purchasing a single gashapon from the Animal Crossing collection only to find out that the collection sold out a couple of days later, preventing me from completing my collection.

So, when word got out last Sunday that gashapons from a new Animal Crossing collection were available for sale, I made an order for all 8 figures. Play-Asia's free shipping option is pretty fast as I received the package this morning.

These figures come in the same size and in the same stackable display cases as those from the previous collection (review available here).
The difference is that the figures from this new collection are a tie-in to the new Animal Crossing movie released in Japan.

Out of the 8 figures, I can only identify several familiar faces, such as Tom Nook, Redd, Blathers and the cab driver. The quality of the gashapon is high and the figurines themselves are well painted, capturing the look and feel from their video game (or perhaps, movie) counterparts. My only gripe is that some of the figurines don't stay stuck to their display case bases. I use a tiny amount of water soluble glue to resolve this problem.

That minor issue aside, these figurines do look cool stacked together. There are nine in the picture as I included my previous gashapon with the rest of the set:

Get your own set of Animal Crossing Gashapons from Play-Asia (here)

Video Game Hijinks

This post is inspired by a friend of mine, his Winning Eleven DS hijinks never fail to amaze me. Today he managed to utilise the goalkeeper to score a goal and he left my DS in hibernation mode just to show me the replay, which was really very cool.

Come to think of it, there are other games that allow you the opportunity to do some pretty crazy stuff. Animal Crossing Wild World lets you plant pitfall seeds into the ground. Watch and laugh as visitors and townfolk fall into holes when they step over these seeds.

In Mario Kart DS, you'll need to be a little lucky to get two Blue Shells in a row in the time where you hit one power-up followed by hitting the immediate power-up down the track. But if you are lucky, you can torment the race leader with two successive Blue Shells hits; which would probably make him/her pretty pissed at you if you are doing it in a WFC match (but its worth it for a good chuckle).

Worms: Open Warfare is pratically a large sandbox for performing crazy stunts. Take one of the fearless worms of your team on a ninja rope and drop a land mine on top of a previously inaccessible opponent or shoot a rocket against the wind and see where it lands. It's a pity though that the game has sub-par graphics.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Having watched the movie Lords of Dogtown, I realize that the entire skateboarding community probably owes it to the Z-Boys for its existence and subsequent popularity. One of the original members, Stacy Peralta left the team to form his own company and subsequently a skateboarding team known as the Bones Brigade. This team had Tony Hawk as a member at the age of 14.

The rest as people say, is history. Tony Hawk became one of the most successful and influential skateboarders in history. Having said that, without him, there will be no Tony Hawk games. In any case, he makes a cameo appearance in the movie, as an astronaut who tried out Stacy Peralta's skateboard in a photoshoot... and falls flat on his back when he tries to.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Masters of Doom - Book Review

When it comes to video games, the frantic exercise of playing a First Person Shooter is bound to set my pulse racing. I'm sure many other gamers feel the same way too, but have you ever wonder about the history of this particular genre?

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture (339pg.), a book written by David Kushner does a lot to answer questions about the history of First Person Shooters. Focusing on the pioneers of the genre, id Software and its two creators John Carmack and John Romero (hence the two guys in the title), the book is a documentary of sorts.

Starting with their youth, David Kushner gives insight to what made the two guys tick, the point where both personalities met, their resulting success (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Quake), and the resulting split and its aftermath. John Carmack and id Software went on to create hits such as Quake II and Quake III. The book ends with the company working on Doom III.

Splitting with id Software after the development of Quake, John Romero rode his immense popularity and well known prowess as a game designer to create a new company called Ion Storm. This company, which will be later used as reference on what not to do in a games company, was responsible for the flops known as Daikatana and Dominion.

The only good thing that ever came out from it was Deus Ex and even then the game was created by Warren Spector, not John Romero.

This book is an amazing read with a no-holds-barred (and well-researched) look at the pioneers of a genre which I dare say jump-started the entire computer-gaming industry. Hardcore gamers, old-school (retro) gamers and game developers will also notice that the book is chokeful with observations on the game development process for games such as Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Quake, Quake II, Heretic, Hexen and Daikatana.

This book definately belongs on the reading list of any fan of the genre and should be available for purchase on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Raining Down On The Wii Parade

A friend of mine asked me today which next-gen console I would rather get. Most people would expect me to pick the Nintendo Wii given that I'm a proud owner of a DS, but I've something to say that would make Nintendo fanboys cringe. Price point aside, the release of the Wii as Nintendo's next-gen console is in my opinion is a faux pas.

Fanboys will be keen to point out that aside from me being an idiot, the Wii features innovative gameplay due to its unconventional controller which incorporates motion sensing. Fanboys fail to realize that throughout video game history, innovations introduced by Nintendo like this have always been successfully implement by rival consoles.

Examples include the analog stick introduced in the controller for the Nintendo 64 as well as the rumble feature provided by the Rumble Pak. These features were incorporated into the Playstation 2's controller, the Dual Shock 2 as well as the controller for the Microsoft Xbox. With current advances in technology, it is likely that these two companies to introduce these features in their next-gen consoles, the PS3 and the Xbox 360.

As it is, the Xbox 360 is a compelling option. Currently priced just below RM 1500 for the Premium Package, it is cheaper than both the Wii and Playstation 3 on Malaysian shores, both of which are parallel imported into this country. Already a mature platform due to its one year head start on Sony and Nintendo, the Xbox 360 has an impressive library of games (I would like to play Gears of War, Viva Pinata and PGR 3) and has amazing graphics and processing abilities that overwhelm that of the Wii and currently delivers one of the better online experience among the 3 consoles.

Another aspect of the 360 that interests me is the ease in writing software for it. Sure, aspiring developers will have to pay an annual subscription fee but not many console makers are willing to do that and instead make developers pay for expensive licenses and development kits.

I'm looking forward to getting one this year, and a HDTV to go along with it, bar any problems.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What Came Karting Through the Mail?

I like Mario Kart DS just as the next Nintendo DS owner does. I may not race as well as WFC regulars but I sure love the game for its amazing racing experience and replayability. So when I bumped into Mario Kart gashapon on sale at Play-Asia, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to own the whole set.

The "Nintendo BOX Figure Collection Part 6: Mario Kart DS Racing Collection", as it is called, is produced by Yujin and consists of 4 different characters which are Bowser, Peach, Mario and Luigi. I managed to get the complete set and having seen the figurines up close, I must say I am pretty impressed with the attention to detail with Bowser and his thorny shell being an excellent testament to their quality.

These figurines come on wind-up karts with rubber wheels; push them backwards to make them go forward.

Each figurine costs USD 2.90 and it tooked a week to arrive at my place via free shipment. Ordering four figures does not gurantee a full set, unlike my case, as figurines are random. Get your very own set at (here)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

XNA Development

Now is pretty much a good time for aspiring game developers to jump on the game development bandwagon using Microsoft's XNA Game Studio Express. Version 1.0 was finally released after two beta releases.

I actually recommend the Game Studio Express on two grounds, firstly it uses the C# programming language which is pretty much accessible and secondly, it costs nothing if you are developing games for the PC. The IDE used by the Game Studio Express is Microsoft Visual C# 2005 Express Edition which can be downloaded at no cost from the Microsoft website.

The Game Studio Express is rather interesting as it allows developers to code and compile games that can be run on both the PC and the XBOX 360. However, developers will have to sign up for an XNA Creators Club subscription in order to develop and run games made for the XBOX 360.

For more information, head over to the MSDN site, over here.

Don't Go Calling..

You may have friends or family members that are not into video games (this includes those who are ignorant as well), often chide you for your video gaming habits or are just simply not as good as you when it comes to playing video games. These are the people that you label as "noobs" in forums but have you ever considered that these people have not found a game/console that they actually liked yet?

So rather than call them noobs and develop an elitist mentality with your own clique (and then have more people to call your friends noobs with), why not try reaching out to them? Sharing is a pretty good way to have your friends and family check out games that you have. It is not necessary for them to be drawn in the first time but at least they would know what your console has to offer.

Speaking from experience, I've seen people who are not accustomed to playing games on a handheld console take to Mario Kart DS, Winning Eleven DS and even Brain Age like ducks to water and they are got pretty good at those games. There's another point here as well, never trash talk someone who hasn't played a game which you claim you are good at. If you assume as such that the person will suck, you stand a chance (however slim it maybe) to make a fool of yourself when that person beats you at your own game.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Game Previews Overdose

For more video game reviews, head over to the brand new

I had the opportunity to test out several Nintendo DS games last night, courtesy of a friend. First up was Metroid Prime Hunters, a first-person-shooter set in the Metroid franchise. Having started up a new game, it was rather confusing and there really wasn't any tutorial on what to do and more importantly how to move.

Some initial guess work was needed and I realized that the control scheme was similar to that of Super Mario 64 DS (stylus and buttons simultaneously). Despite this, the game does have some pretty graphics, like a grainier version of Quake 3 Arena. On a side note, first timers on the DS should really give the DS a break and not compare its graphics capabilities to that of a PSP, which has alot more horsepower.

Second up was Trauma Center. A five minute session with this game pratically banished my preconception of "being a gimmick", this game is really quite challenging. The developers have manage to subtly merge addictive gameplay (e.g. stitching people up) and an interesting premise (you are a doctor in the game).

I had a fun time pulling out glass shards and stiching up and making incisions on a patient but heaven forbid I would actually do that in real life.

I know though that my mum would be suprised that this kind of game is available and would want to play it, she works in the medical industry after all.

Thirdly, I got brief looks at Bomberman Land Touch and Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Spirit Summoner. Bomberman Land Touch didn't look like a typical Bomberman game and I pratically got lost in Yu-Gi-Oh. Yu-Gi-Oh is abit like Magic: The Gathering and apparently the Japanese version of the game is dual language and does include English language support!

Club House Games was up next and despite the so-so presentation, casual players should have a blast with it as it is chokeful with mini games such as Solitaire, Chess, Bowling, Biliiards, Texas Hold' Em and many more.

Last but not least, I had a blast playing Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. A downhill skateboarding game in the lines of SSX3, I was hooked. The graphics are cel-shaded clean and the sense of speed delivered by the game is nothing short of amazing. This game is really fast and the ability to challenge other players on the WFC makes a very attractive acquisition.

Some of the games that I demo-ed feature WFC connectivity and most, if not all of them feature some form of local WiFi play. The replayability value for these titles can be described as good to high and even though some of them are no longer available as new copies, potential buyers should be able to find them in the second market by scouring forums and auction sites. Click on the pictures above to purchase the games in Play-Asia, should they be available.

GAMEplan's Game.Machines

Having been on vacation and an enforced break from games for the past 2 days has allowed me to catch up on my reading. The books in question are "Common Sense in Project Management" and "The Encyclopedia of Game.Machines :Consoles, Handhelds & Home Computers 1972-2005"

Since I don't want to bore you dear reader, this book review is about the latter. Published by Gameplan, the original writers, translators, editors and photographers have created a labour of love with articles on some 500 machines and 600 pictures.

The hardware described in this encyclopedia covers almost everything from 1972 to 2005. This ranges from the earliest consoles such as the Magnavox Odyssey to those introduced in the renaissance of the video games industry in the 80s such as the Famicom and Sega Master System and then on to the advent of high tech machines such as the PS2. Also included are current generation handheld consoles such as the Nintendo DS and PSP.

Each article comes with a detailed profile with a box containing nice tid bits such as the year the console was introduced, the media type, number of titles developed and the year software support for the console ended. A couple of mistakes aside, this book has been an eye-opening experience on consoles of yester-years with many of them I've not seen before. A useful comparison chart at the end of the book helps put the consoles into perspective in terms of hardware capabilities.

The entire book is in full colour (224 pages) and in my opinion deserves to be in any video game aficionado's or historian's reading list/bookshelf.

This book is available for purchase at Play-Asia (here) or you can try looking at other online bookstores or shops. The ISBN for this book is: 3-00-015359-4

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

RPGs...You either love 'em or don't really love 'em

After spending a considerable amount of time (some 20+ hours) playing Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, some of with during my vacation, I've come to a conclusion that RPGs are not meant for me. I guess the tedium of fighting battles after battles in order to level up (in order words, grinding) did it for me despite my initial impressions of the game.

Hats off to RPG fans everywhere though, you guys go through alot of stuff to finish a game.

Monday, January 01, 2007

It's a me...Mario, baby-flattener!

If you were to ask me a couple years ago what does RPG stands for in relation to video games, I would have answered "Sure, it means Rocket Propelled Grenada, a weapon most often used in id Software's Quake series". An odd answer as the most common definition would be "Role Playing Games", a genre that I hated, until recently.

The game that changed my mind is Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (PIT for short). An RPG for the Nintendo DS, PIT features the usual cast of characters, Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser and as a twist, the younger (read: baby) versions of themselves. The story line is features the adult Mario Bros. going back in time to save the Mushroom Kingdom from an alien invasion and to save the adult Princess Peach as well. Piggybagging with them are the baby versions of the Mario Bros.

Gameplay takes place in a 2D top-down view, with the action mainly taking place in the touchscreen while a simple map usually occupies the second screen. Occasionally the babies can be split from the Mario. Bros and both screen will be used to show both parties. Moving around the game may involve creative uses of the characters, and some of these moves are bordering on having to be reported to Child Support in real life. Hehe.

For example, the baby Mario Bros. can be thrown, spun and flatten (the horror of it all!) to reach places unaccessible to the adults.

Unlike walking around the map in real-time, combat is turn-based. Characters take turns to attack and defend. Attacking options are pretty diverse, players can be jumping on enemies or use Bros. Items such as green shells, trampolines, ice and fire flowers and many more. The babies have in addition hammers that can be used for both attack and defence.

How does PIT appeal to me? I would say the game has a certain comedic quality to it. The script is funny, the characters are over the top and the uneasy pause indicated by them during the game (indicated by "...") had me at hello.

It helps as well that the game has excellent gameplay and great graphics and animation (albeit in 2D) and for a non-RPG fan, a nice introduction to the genre. Did I mention that this game supports the Rumble Pak as well?

Since this is a pretty old title, dated 2005, you might face some difficulty in looking for a new copy of the game.Try scouring Ebay or forums for a good secondhand bargain and hours of enjoyment!

If you don't mind Japanese text, you can get the Japanese version at Play-Asia (here)