Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Old Scrap Book

A very dear friend of mine was nice enough to send me some pics of my old scrap book that I had given to her before she left Fiji. Looking at these is a trip because it's like looking at a piece of me from 14 years ago. You can click the pics to see them bigger.

A brief history of Me: part 1

Washing dishes with my granddad
In honor of me turning 32 today I decided to reminisce a bit.

Growing up I was told that I talked too much and that I could never sit still. I'd always be running around outside with my Ninja turtles or Transformers; talking to myself and smashing things. I have a very entertaining story involving a cubby house that I'd love to share over drinks.

I used to draw a lot too when I was younger. In class 1 I remember being told to draw something by out-lining shapes. I drew Star Scream from Transformers. By the time I was 9 I used to draw my own comic books. They were mostly just me making up my own Batman and Spiderman stories. Although I did have one original character who I named Radioactive man, and this was before a character with the same name appeared in the Simpsons. I still remember my reasoning behind the name. Characters like Spiderman and The Hulk were all made from radiation, why not have a guy who got his powers from being exposed to radiation and just call him Radioactive man.

I wasn't into just comic books though; I used read a lot of Enid Blyton. Adventure stories were my favorite. My Aunty Benji used to have a massive collection of Hardy Boys books which were fun to read too. Despite all this reading I couldn't spell to save my life. I couldn't even confidently spell my name till I was in class four.

Around the age of 10 I really got into some weird occult / supernatural reading. I had a copy of The Mammoth Book of the Supernatural by Collin Wilson that would I read over and over. This is about the time I started keeping a journal. After watching my first episode of X-files around this time too; I wanted to grow up and be a paranormal investigator.

This was the time "Ghost Writer" would play on TV, so I had formed a group of "investigators" - our password used to be "visum et repertum" which was Latin for "Seen and Discovered"

By now I used to watch a lot of horror movies too. My granddad and I would watch a horror film almost every night. He would fast-forward all the sex stuff but was totally fine with me watching Jason Voorhees stab people in the face. House, Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, the original Hills have eyes; we watched them all. We had some decent movie shops back in the day that stocked a lot of great movies, but my spots were Preet's movie shop up in Tamavua and A1 video in town. Because of them I watched so many films that are considered horror classics now.

Horror seeped into my reading too.

By the time I was 12 I had read all the classic horror novels. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible man; I had made it a point to research and read everything considered a "horror classic".

English and literature were the only things I liked in school. In my later primary school years I started to write plays and I remember my Class 8 teacher Master David Doughty telling me to stick with it cause I wrote good stories. He used to read my short stories in class. As an educator he was probably the most positive influence in my life.

At the end of Class 8 we had a party where we invited parents and friends to come watch us put up items and plays. That's when I wrote a stage adaption of Interview with the Vampire, I have the whole thing on VHS. I need to get that on disk one of these days.

When I turned 14 an uncle of mine (Well more of a family friend) gave me two CDs. Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's 10. That's when I got into music.

All through high school I wanted to start a band. I couldn't play an instrument yet so all I did was write lyrics and pass them off as poetry. Drawing and writing was what I did with most of the my time. Many nights were spent with Nirvana playing late into the night while I stayed up drawing. I used to carry around a file with all my art which I would show off at any opportunity I got. At the end of form 6 I started carrying around a guitar.

It's funny how dreams start small. When I started to play music I thought it would be a big deal if I ever got to play at the Suva Civic center. At the end of form 7 I got to do exactly that thanks to my school hosting a concert night. My buddy Meli and I played a song called "Miss You" which was the first proper song I wrote with music. By this time I was sure that I was going to be a musician. In fact during my external Geography Paper I got inspired and started writing a song.

I didn't finish the paper. It's not a mystery why I had to repeat form 7.

I started writing music reviews for the News Papers during my second year in Form 7. Around this time the band I was in started gigging. We played Traps, ROC markets, the boulevard, Dragons, music festivals. The pay was crap but we enjoyed it.

This is what I did for about a year after form 7, earning about $80 each per show. Eventually I had to get a "Real Job." I started working as a temp Assistant Events and promotion guy at Fiji Broadcasting. This was my first full time job.

After that for about two months I worked as a debt collector. I didn't like the job but the people I worked with were great.

Luckily though FBC had decided to relaunch their old 104 station and since the man running it, my good friend Russel Fong, knew that I was really into music he asked if I wanted to be a part of it. So I went in for an audition and on one particularly bad day as a debt collector my buddy Dave Lavaki, who had also auditioned, ran into me in front of my office and told me I had gotten the job.

Thus began my love affair with FBC, the place that would take all the things that I love doing and let me make a career out of them. be continued.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Playing it Old School

I am an old school gamer. I was reflecting on games, trying to see what stood out for me last year and it dawned on me that I am an old school gamer.

Thinking about it some more I realized all my favorite current gen titles are old school.

Like Dead Space, that's pretty much Doom with fancy weapons. The core gameplay is the same as Doom. You find switches, open doors and kill everything in the way.Yes you fix things here and there and solve puzzles but at the heart of it Dead Space is Doom.

Dark Souls has to be the most old school current gen game ever. It's entire principle is based on the old "risk/reward" philosophy which governed early game design. And in true old school fashion the game trains you through clever level design and enemy placement then tests to see if you were paying attention by throwing a boss at you. Dark Souls is the bastard child of titles like Castlevania and Ghosts n Gouls. It prides itself on being hard and that's what the allure is for a lot of old school games. Beating that challenge.

Lets do one more.

Borderlands one and two. They are Diablo with guns. You kill hordes and hordes of enemies and then rejoice in that sweet sweet loot.

Old school.

Do you know what these games have in common? They are all fun to play and they have absolutely fuck all story. Yes Dead Space has an interesting back story, but in the narrative of the game it takes a back seat to the shooting and bodily dismemberment.

But this is ok because these games aren't about stories. They are about the gameplay. I love these games because of how they work and play.

Now why does this make me old school? Well because in this day and age these kinds of games are very few. Aside from indie titles the majority of the gaming scene is dominated by "new school" games.

The Last if us, Bioshock Infinite. Uncharted, Assassins Creed. Mass Effect

What do these games have in common? Well most fans will tell you that they have a great story.

"I love the story!" "I played it for the story!" " o the story!"

Too bad that these games have the worst fucking game play.

No... stop. Really... think about it. What do you do in Uncharted that's so fucking amazing? Explore? There's barely any exploration as you progress through a mostly linear  path. Platforming? You climb and jump off highlighted areas.

What do you do in Assassins Creed? The combat? I played Black Flag half way killing every guard in sight because all I had to do was push two buttons. Counter and attack. Is it the platforming? You hold down one button and move... the rest happens for you. Mass Effect? Aside from the speech wheel that lets you fuck everything what is the draw in that gameplay wise?

What about Bioshock infinite and The last of us. Hailed as the greatest games of 2013. Hell Last of us has been hailed one of the greatest games of all time.

What do you do in them? What is the innovative gameplay feature in The Last of us? And don't get me started on the shitty gun play in Bioshock. I think if Bioshock deserves any award it should be for being the most over rated game of all time. And I'm not the only one who feels this way. While most gaming sites have been taking it up the ass for this game there are some game devs that have come out to say: WTF?

But it's ok... because these games have a great story.

Since when is the story the main draw for a video game? Since when does gameplay and function take a back seat to story telling? You think up every single game that was popular before and you will find that the awesome story was usually a bonus. Old school games were built on gameplay and the story complimented that. Now days it's the other way around.

I know that in this day and age the video game medium has come a long way from what it used to be. It's not just something that performs and functions for kid, it's a major market that caterers to all walks of gamers. And that's why I'm an "Old school" gamer... because I can not for the life of understand the appeal for these "new school" games.

It's not all games mind you.

I'm very thankful for Indie developers that are making a killing with their brand of retro "throw back" games. Titles made popular through game play not just story like Mark of the ninja, Super meatboy and Spelunky to name a few.

There are big titles that have not forgotten what it means to be a video game. Games like Farcry 3, Crysis, Battlefield, Halo (most shooters in fact), Skyrim, Fallout 3, Splinter Cell conviction, Dishonored, God of War, Devil may cry, Portal. All of these titles have awesome gameplay features that are expanded by the story. These games also have "so so" stories which can be forgiven because of the gaemplay... that's how it should be.

 But that's how things are these days. "Play it for the story" one of my buddies will say. I've got one friend who will cheat through through some games because he hates the gameplay but wants to know the story. Hell I'm guilty of it to some extent myself with games like Allan Wake. 

As a game maker isn't that kinda shitty? That someone glances over your gameplay for the story? What the fuck are you making a video game or a movie? Don't ask Quantic Dream that, their head will explode.

But I guess the rebutle here could be that for some people loving the story is a very important part of video games.

Remember how people would justify shitty graphics by complimenting on the solid gameplay? Now days people push the story to make up for shitty gameplay.

And most gamers seem to be ok with this.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Steam Sale Nightmare.

So another year comes to an end and as a gamer this occasion is marked for me by the annual Steam Winter sale.

I love and hate any Steam sale because it means I'm going to be agonizing over the sheer number of games that I suddenly want in my game library. Even titles I normally wouldn't give a shit about become "must haves" just because they have suddenly become cheaper.

One thing that sort of throttles my impulsiveness is the fact that I don't own a credit card. So I have to email sales and wanted games to my friends who then buy it for and I either pay them later or more often then not pay them up front.

For the current Steam sale however I managed to put $50 USD into my Steam Wallet so I could buy the games I want without being a pain the ass to my friends. Other wise I'm calling people up early in the morning begging them to buy me something before the timer runs out. Regardless of it being an eight hour timer or twenty four hours, if a game I want goes on sales my fingers burn till I own it. But with the $50 USD limitation I have to be very careful about how I spend my money as my friends had allocated their own credit funds for the games they wanted.

So I had two rules which governed my buying decisions.

1. Only buy games that I would actually download and play. Not to buy anything just for "keep sake"

2. If I had to watch a review to convince myself of a purchase then I was better off not buying it.

This generally worked alright for me though there is still about five days left on the sale and I have about $16USD left in my wallet. Those five days of sales mean that there are about 45 daily deals, 45 flash sales and 15 community choice sales left. Now some of these will be repeats but still that is a lot of games.

I have 40 game son my wishlist. I use this list to determine if the purchase of a particular game is going to set me back any. For example if if see a game I want; I can ask myself "What would I rather spend on?" Then going through my wishlist I can see what else might be a potential buy worth holding out for. There are some games on the list like Injustice: Gods among us and Batman: Arkham Origins that will not be a reasonable Steam buy. Even at a fair reduction these games will still cost me about $40 to $60 Fijian. This would be sweet if these were the only games I bought but doing so stops me from buy more games at a cheaper price. One might argue that it could be quantity over quality that I'm striving for but a lot of the games that I have bought for less than $5 USD have already given me hours of enjoyment.

The first thing I bought was "Risk of Rain." This was a title that I had wanted for a while but paying full price for it in Fijian dollars just seemed a little bit much for me. I got it for $6.69 USD which was relatively the same price same as paying the normal price in USD ... kinda. Know what I mean?

The purchases that followed were also mostly indie titles. Super house of Dead Ninjas, Spelunky, La-Mulana. I also upgraded my Farcry 3 to the special edition for extra content whcih seemed reasonable and the only AAA title I bought was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate edition. While most of these buys were done because they seemed like good games at a good price, Risk of Rain and Castlevania were two titles that I really REALLY wanted.

Last night though I did my first impulsive buy. I got the expansion for Titan Quest; a game that I've had in my library for god knows how long without ever playing it. But last night I also started playing Diablo 3 again and I was hungry for a dungeon crawler. Upon research I found that Titan Quest was very highly regarded and I figured if I was going to get into it... I was going to get into all the way. I broke my second rule.

I'm thankful that I didn't regret my decision but I have to be careful not to do something like that again. I got lucky with Titan Quest, I played it for the first time this morning and what started with just a "quick look" before work ended up with me playing for an hour and being late for work.

So now I have about $16 left.

I have no idea what to do with it. Now even the games I really want are being nit-picked on because I don't want to risk spending the money only to have something really awesome pop up on the final few days. But I also risk missing out on a great deal only to have nothing I want later on. Plus there is a cut off point to the minimum money I should hold onto. I'm sure anything less than $10 USD won't be much of a buy now since I've already bought all the good "Cheap" games.

I'd love to buy things like Hitman Absolution or Dungeons of the Endless. But that would reduce my Steam Wallet to nothing. If anything I tell myself that I'll pick these games up on the last day of the sale as the prices are valid till the 3rd of January.

But then there's things that I would love to own for the sake of the sale. Like the Bioshock collection or even the Legacy of Kain collection. I would actually download those Legacy of Kain games and play them. There's even Shinobi 3 which is a dollar something but I'm afraid to buy it because it might just put me under a game I wanna buy later.

Another part of me has sort of decided to just buy a bunch of DLC stuff and a few old titles on the final day if nothing else pops.

I'm not sure if you can tell from reading this but the Steam sale has been very agonizing for me. While some people wish for world peace and not to be sold as a child solider, I wish I could put in more money into my Steam wallet before the sale ends.

Am I just a greedy video game pig? I think I might be ...

But his is the Steam Sale... and this is my nightmare.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tiny Barbarian DX - For the Gamer in you

"I have zero interest in this game"

That is what one of friends said when he saw the gameplay videos for Tiny Barbarian DX. Which is totally cool because as a gamer I have come to terms with the idea that not every game is for everybody. Some people just don't like awesome things.

So who is Tiny Barbarian DX for?

Let  me take you back a bit. Growing up I never played Zelda and I wasn't crazy about Mario. I had "zero interest" in things like Finally Fantasy or Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger and the likes of. I played a shit load of Double Dragon and Castlevania. I had a cousin who owned a Sega and I spent hours at his place playing Splatterhouse. That game was a treat for me and it was even more special because I couldn't play it at home. And I played  a lot of Golden Axe and Argus no Senshi (published as Rygar in the west). Now those two games in particular, Tiny Barbarian is for people who loved those two games.

No complex story, no leveling up, nothing but jump and attack with movement. Just raw gameplay, but it was the gameplay that made them shine. So many hours of "just one more try, damn it just one more" as you slice your blade through skull and guts leaving a bloody trail of destruction on your quest. If Zelda is the Lord of the Rings of Video games then Golden Axe was the Chronicles of Conan. And that is the idea of Tiny Barbarian DX.

In fact before the DX version Tiny Barbarian was a free downloadable game loosely based on Robert Howard's classic Conan story "The Frost Giants Daughter"

The new game is an even bigger love letter to Conan. Before you even press start you find yourself at the top of what appears to be a massive tower surrounded by dark clouds and fire. Waves of enemies climb the towers steep walls to get their claws on you as you frantically swing your sword to survive.  Such imagery is iconic of everyone's favorite Cimmerian.

Eventually you are over come...

Then the "Start" menu fades in. This happens every time you load up the game and every time you last a little bit longer. This is the glimpse of the trial by fire that awaits you through out Tiny Barbarian DX. There is no tutorial, no direction; just instinct.

You know this game because you have played it before. Back during the dawn of the NES and SEGA systems when game design made you figure things out by playing for yourself.

This same thought and theory is tested when you fight the games bosses. I read some where once that a true game boss tests you on everything that you have learned up to that point and Tiny Barbarian DX never misses a beat to test whither you've been paying attention or not.

"Was that move you pulled to avoid that trap a fluke? Well lets see if you can do it again just to make sure"

As mentioned the game does nothing to hide it's inspiration not just from old school games but from the adventures of Conan as well. The opening scene sees our Tiny hero tied to a massive tree with vultures ready to pick him dry. This of course is a massive homage to one of the most memorable "Conan moments" as seen in the classic tale "A which shall be born" in which a beaten Conan is  nailed to a tree and left for dead. The whole scene plays out pretty much as it does in the story.

Nods to the character can be found all over the game. And the style of the enemies and locations have a very distinct "pulp fantasy" feel to them. It might all be obvious pixels but the art style made up of these pixels is awesome, but like the games of old they leave enough space for your imagination to bring them to life even more.

The animations are a treat to watch, with our hero in particular being a charm to play. Every jump and swing feels responsive and tight with death being a result of miss timing and not bad luck. The music is also a treat as your time on screen is scored as a grand adventure tightly packed into 8bit musical glory. You feel like a warrior as you smash your way through the game.

The gameplay itself is a mix of beat em up and platforming with minor environmental puzzles thrown in for good measure and you will find yourself dying a few times before "getting the hang" of a particular enemy pr area.

Michael Stearns who is the genius behind Tiny Barbarian DX plans to release episodic installments of the game with the first one already available. You do not have to pay for each episode though, they will become available upon release if you own the game. 

For fans of old school action and platforming (and Conan) Tiny Barbarian DX is a must have treat that will stir so much nostalgia in you that you'll feel like a kid again as you play through it.

Here's a video of me fighting the first boss :)

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