Saturday, December 27, 2014

The yearly reflection: 2014-style!

While the end of 2014 isn't quite what I'd hoped for, the year itself has been quite a doozy! On a large scale, this year had a few themes, from police brutality to large-scale hack attacks. In my smaller realm, there was a little traveling, more investing, and a ton of gaming.

The summer weather report in Japan

TRAVEL: Spring Break 2014 was off the hook! I went to Italy and took a surprise venture to Munich, Germany.

 On the Japan side of things, I survived the summer without completely dying, thanks to my schedule of taking a shower at work before the day started. Classes have been excellent: ONLY teenage girl students, who are easily impressed and generally enjoy taking my lessons. I watched Death Note, a hugely popular anime,
Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人), and some of Bleach. I also took levels 2 and 3 of the
Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

During the summer, I traveled to the East Coast to see my friend Will, my mother and 4 cities! You could pretty much call that trip a scout mission because now I know I want to spend more time in NYC, DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

INVESTMENT: I got rocked by last overconfidence in 3D stocks. Last year, my initial investments almost doubled, and this year they...well...fell back to earth, and into Hell. Other investments, however, like GoPro, Apple and real estate have put me way ahead of the game, so it's all good. Also, this year my spending habits have become that much tighter, so I have that going for me.

BT...probably doesn't have any problem getting ladies.
The beginning of this video will make you jump, apologies ahead, but the track is sick. Korean singer Bada does the lyrics.

MUSIC: (trance DJ) BT's 2014 album Song Across Wires came out, and now I'm hot on Armin van Buren, another trance DJ. I also discovered Hall and Oates (30 years isn't too late, stop hatin'), which works perfectly for karaoke!

GAMES: For single-player experiences, Okami was probably the best quest I did this year. In terms of multiplayer madness, Mario Kart 8 with my dearest buddies in Seattle and in Japan; Titanfall, Destiny and Halo with my buddy Zack. One Destiny moment was joining a raid - a large mission with a team of 6 - with a bunch of teenagers and exchanging antics. Zack and I probably have 15 years on these kids...we still laughed at the same shit.

Lastly, this year has been very productive for my website, Grammar Pimps which is designed for ESL teachers in mind. It's been especially fun creating the site through Wordpress.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Final Fantasy X

Right to left: Kimahri, Rikku, Yuna, Auron, Tidus, Lulu and Wakka.

 Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster - PS3 is the first PS2 FF game, and leans towards futuristic fantasy (as opposed to medieval.) Here goes the story: So,  you start off as a star athlete whose futuristic city gets gobbled up by Sin. A mysterious warrior Auron who seems to be your link to past and present hops into the engulfing mass of Sin while saying this is your story.  You meet a summoner-in-training Yuna,  who's accompanied by Wakka - another athlete who lost his brother to Sin.  The catch is that you're either in a different universe or 1000 year in the future, so your hero is clueless. 

His dense character is strengthened by the idiotic parroting of easy-to-guess concepts that players can guess with almost no context. A summoner calls magic beings- aeons - to fight for her. Well if you know what the word 'summon'  means,  you can pretty much do without Tidus' "... a summoner?" after a character explains Yuna's rule. Standing in front of a yellow bird-horse that gets referred to as a chocobo and your lead still has the gall to ask what one is. Lulu: People marry for other reasons than love? Tidus: what does that mean? Me: it means you're 8 years old,  you jackass!

Maester Seymour summoning Anima
Anyway,  Wakka and Yuna both like you, so the plan is to take you to a larger city so you may see someone that knows you. The city gets attacked,  and thats when a badass maester comes in and summons his granddaddy aeon that zaps the shit out of the fiends that attack the city. Well,  after following this maester, we learn that he's going against the religion and pairing up with another ethnicity of humans that use machines,  which are strictly forbidden in the game's major religion. Sin attacks again,  and the technology proves no match.

Another thing summoners do is perform dances to send off souls of the dead so that they don't linger and become the enemies you fight for EXP,  GIL and items. The story makes a lot of allusions to death, now that I think u about it.

One thing that irks me is that Rikku,  an Al-Bhed girl, joins your party after trying to kidnap the summoner (though to her credit,  she saves your character near the beginning of the story). So,  Tidus had to prove himself and fight enemies to get on Yuna's good side, but this girl gets her ass beat for trying to kidnap the summoner,  and it's all good?

Anyhow, after this girl joins up with you,  you reach a city of Guado - another humanoid race with giant ass hands. The aforementioned badass maester is half human,  half Guado. He shows the party Zanarkand,  the city that Tidus came from. You also meet Yunalesca,  the summoner who defeated Sin ohh-so-many years ago. Her secret was love, which also gave the citizens something to be hopeful for. That explanation prompts the maester to want to put a ring on Yuna's finger. Maester Seymore mentions something about Auron smelling like the Farplane -  the place where dead go. Yuna decides that they need to go to the Farplane, Auron and Rikku stay behind.
Tidus has daddy issues, and thinking about his mother makes him realize his hate comes from Jecht stealing his mom's attention from Tidus. We learn this from the Farplane. Then, the party heads off to another temple for Yuna to tell Seymore she's gonna marry him. Dude jumps the gun and abducts Yuna, after she catches him being unfaithful to the religion.

Enter the Al Bhed -  Rikku's race and Yuna's father's race and it's revealed that these heathens who go against Yevon teachings and use technology over magic. Turns out they tried to protect Yuna from Seymore's goons, because her 6 awesome guardians aren't so awesome after all. Tidus gets a bomb dropped on him to learn that all summoners die at the end of their pilgrimage. The Al Bhed look like the voice of reason all of a sudden. Tidus throws a tantrum. By the way, this all takes place inside of Home,  the Al Bhed base that's in ruins. They set a bomb and escape on... the airship!
Head over to Bevelle to break up Yuna's wedding. She's also trying to send a dead-ass Seymore, but the captured guardians are used as a bargaining chip. She gets caught and put on trial and finds out that the higher ups in the church are unsent dead souls, too. Apparently, summoner sacrifice is all in vain. Well, I guess it gives people hope in the symbolism.

Tidus even asks the question why everything seems to be linked to death, and gives a shocked "Huh?" with Auron's reply about a spiral. Auron then provides totally unnecessary exposition on the link between Spira and spiral of death to the moron. If you can't connect the two by this point, you should go eat some ice cream and think about life.

With the final confrontation, Tidus tells his calm father that he hates him. Then, after rocking his boss form, Tidus is suddenly happy that Jecht is his father. After your aeons sacrifice themselves for you, Yuna performs the final Sending for both Auron and Tidus. The last scene between Tidus and Yuna is done well enough to be very touching.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movies that are chawesome.

Not sure what the smoke is, but I'm already pumped for this movie
Sometime around middle school, my chums and I were into declaring puns and stupid jokes as cheap. 17 years later, "awesome" is my most-used vocabulary word to date. This brings up the not-that-hard-to-connect-the-dots portmanteau of chawesome. As the group morphed during high school into my current family of best friends, we passed the time watching cheap films.

There were a few summers where we may have watched 10 movies a week...and drank a few cases of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper to wash down the tooth-rotting candy, cinnamon buns, and popcorn. I walked away from those years having a way higher appreciation for films like Star Wars I and The Matrix 2 and 3. Everything people griped about PALES in comparison to some of the drivel out there. Yeah, you didn't like a certain actor's performance, or how a producer has too much of their fingers in the film? Tough tits. Wait until you see Street Zombies (AKA Ozone) or Dragonball Evolution or the most recent live-action Street Fighter movie, then gripe about something like Keanu Reeve's performance in Reloaded.

Lots of complaints...still a badass movie.

All that aside, there are a few dirt-covered gems that have a special place in my group's hearts:

"Yurr all ahhnndur-arrest!" Street Fighter The Movie is about as chawesome as it gets. Watch Jean Claude Van Damme struggle with pronunciation as the most American of Americans in the pantheon of Capcom caricatures of national/racial stereotypes as he delivers rad one-liners. One-liners remind us that we're watching movies and not sappy reality-clones. The buck doesn't stop there, though. There are at least 3 key moments. Guile recruits soldiers for the last hurrah, but not before claiming that he would keek det son-f-a-beetch-Bison's ess so hwort that the next "Bison wannabe" would feel it. The main villain, M(ajor) Bison, who plays his role like his life depended on it, doesn't go out like no chump. In one scene, he captured one of the fighters who loathes him, talking about how he came to her village and killer her peaceful father and enslaved the locals. Bison: "For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday." Referring to himself in the third person, like a boss. 

Suit-up sequences, oh-so-much neon, Nicole Kidman being as hot as humanly able, Val Kilmer's lisp as Bruce Wayne, and Jim Carrey as Jim Carrey-with-and-without-green-suit for 90 minutes. Ohh yeah, these are all chawesome chunks of Batman Forever, one of the more complained-about movies from the 90s. Too cartoony for the average Joe, and not nerdy enough for the average fan, this movie is too-often unappreciated in it's heaping levels of chawesomeness. On one hand, you've got an ironically one-dimensional Two Face who gets to open the movie by terrorizing an idiot cop ('s glasses) with BOILING ACID while he tries to lift a heavy safe through a styrofoam wall via helicopter. On the other hand, you've got not only a statuesque Batman who gets to seduce the insanely gorgeous Dr Chase Meridian on top of a roof, but he gets a moving hero shot (I can't find this shot outside of the music video, sorry) that's actually well-lit (I'm looking at you, Dark Knight Trilogy!). Unfortunately, that jump ends in our hero getting punked.

It's worth mentioning that Batman and Robin is another gem, with occasional moments of chawesomeness. 

Straight-shot, suit-wearing supercop Ray Tango pairs with jeans-and-mullet horndog streetsmart Gabriel Cash (who gets to bang Teri Hatcher!)  in Django Uncashed Tango & Cash . Lethal Weapon-style banter chock-full of one-liners, TWO psychotic antagonists, obligatory prison scene, and even gratuitous nudity! I...tear up when I think about 90s action movies. The opening scene has the classic cop-dips-pinky-into-cocaine-and-licks-finger-to-confirm action, and the movie ends with an explosion.

55 seconds into this-here clip, you can see one of my favorite uber henchmen in all his stereotypical glory, along with some clever lines of dialogue.

To sum up; most movies are far from perfect, but if you're reading this, next time you're about to quip that a director ruined his entire saga by adding a few seconds of graphics to it, remember the truly terrible movies you've seen, and then feel better because I guarantee some of those are chawesome and worth a second look!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Games of 2014 - July - December

July-August: Spec Ops: The Line. Average FPS on the surface: white male lead, tons of military jargon, enemy AI aren't particularly bright, 'action movie music,' and so-on. However, the story is what draws praise, but I wasn't really following. I have to go through again on hard mode, so I'll be able to shed more light in the coming weeks. The game goes along a moral path, but they give you some really shitty choices: choose if a comrade or an innocent dies, use chemical warfare to easily win a battle or fight more fairly. Your character isn't happy to do the things he does, and the context of everything is pretty dark.

Bravely Default is a game that I've been waiting for for a while. It plays like a final fantasy, complete with job classes that determine how much effort your battle takes. There are a million features to make the game easier--you can step and slow down battle speed, set your characters to auto-battle, even decide how often you want random encounters to happen!

The backgrounds in cities remind me of the layered paper art, and it definitely pops in the 3D mode. The music is quite awesome, and is the same composer of Attack on Titan. The developers left the Japanese audio in the game!! With all of the region-and-language locking that games from Japan still do, this is a nice treat!

Mario Golf: World Tour was almost free for me, and I can't say I expected much. No complaints, but it's definitely going to be a resell.

This summer, my closes friends and I gathered around a 60-inch tv and cursed each other out while playing Mario Kart 8 . This game RULES! My favorite thing about the game is the music, which you'll hear through all of your octane-burning, shell-throwing and opponent-cursing.

Red Pikmin are fire-resistant, and carry things quickly. Black pebble Pikmin break glass and do more damage when thrown.
Mario Kart 8 came with a promotion to download Pikmin 3 for free and I've been very happy with this. You are three captains that crash on a planet and have to solve puzzles, build, and collect resources during the day to survive at night. You have to make progress through sections of the levels within a certain time limit, unlocking more and more of each area.

September: Titanfall, Need for Speed: Rivals, Venetica, Destiny.

High-speed "pilots" running around shooting each other for a few minutes and then you hear a pop as a vehicle breaks the sound barrier. After a crash and some shaking, there it is: a giant customizable mech. You can either mount it, or have the AI do your dirty work. Titanfall is almost a perfect game. The graphics kick ass, the gameplay is fast, responsive, and lag is very minimized. This game is a rarity in that it is purely played online, in multiplayer mode. There is a campaign which is poorly narrated, which is 9 maps that play in constant rotation. As far as I know, the story was never promoted. It's a half-assed attempt anyway.

Need for Speed Rivals is a shame in that it's made by the same developers that did Burnout Revenge, which is the best game featuring cars ever made. Need for Speed, however, is boring. You play either the racer-criminals who....race, or the police who catch the racers and do all this cool shit with destructive car modifications. The story sucks, but dem graphics is tight! Too bad the studio doesn't make Burnout anymore.

Venetica is a buggy, bland, poorly-made game. You're the daughter of death, and the story starts with your love getting killed. You learn you have to go to Venice to catch the murderers. On your way there, you realize that there's a circle of villains who do their best to screw up your progress. Uhh...eventually you kill them. This game has repetitive combat, and some cool spell ideas, but between poor graphics, loading and saving errors, and bland voice acting, this game was simply an easy platinum trophy.

I didn't read a whole lot about Destiny before it came out. I was never a huge fan of Halo, so I didn't have my expectations higher than normal. After playing this game pretty much nonstop, my problem is that it's very repetitive, but the structure is amazing. The fps part of the gameplay is addicting, and the missions and bounties have been great for the month that I've been playing. The next major update is coming in December, and I'll be finding other games so that I'm ready again to spend countless hours playing at the end of this year.
dat draw distance...

October, November: Final Fantasy X HD, more Titanfall and Destiny,

Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Wow wow wow! I was never an Xbox gamer. I had enough to keep up with PS2, Gamecube and the occasional Blizzard game. I missed the Halo franchise almost completely. I played the first 2 games' multiplayer for enough hours to learn my favorite weapons and the changes they made between games. I always thought the lack of music during multiplayer made the game way more boring than it should be. I guess the idea was to play your own music, but I respect game studios that consider music when they make games.

Sgt. Johnson is one of the best parts of all of these games. Ohh, and the graphics.

During November, my friend Zack and I played through Halo on Legendary mode, and Halo 2 on normal, after finding out that the hardest difficulty in the second game was harder than hell. I'm not a fan of 60hz in games, or that shitty 120hz refresh rate gimmick that all of the new tvs come with, but otherwise, the games are pretty. The only issues I have are the same with all of the Xbox One titles I've played: bugs bugs bugs bugs!

December: Sonic Generations.

casin' da scene...clearly some shit went down.
Murdered Soul Suspect . Published by Square Enix, this short story is about a detective who is killed trying to find out his murderer. You play the game as a ghost, and are able to walk through and manipulate a limited number of objects. The gameplay is rather slow and easy, and you could complete the game in one 7 hour sitting. However, the story and side stories are very engaging. The game is like the Last of Us in having a teenage girl who is well written enough and nuanced to make you care about as a partner.

The atmosphere is very well done, and I would heartily recommend this game for both casual gamers and trophy/achievement fiends. It's also a good girlfriend/boyfriend/younger brother game, because watching it is almost as fun as playing, despite it being a single player adventure.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One of my favorite gaming experiences of 2014: Okami HD (PS3)

100 years ago, the white wolf Shiranui died defeating the evil 8-headed serpent lord to save the village of Kamiki and all of Nippon...Here comes Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess who was resurrected as a white wolf to do the very same thing. Okami is a Japanese homophone that could be understood as "wolf" or "great/big god," and the title's cleverness is not the only pun in the 30+ hour epic story.

Freeze battle to use your Celestial Brush Slash - cut the enemy in half!

There is a lot of comedy, voiced by your flea-sized companion, Issun, who handles all of the brush-work and incorrectly voices your mute hero's decisions. Issun constantly chides Okami Amaterasu and makes greasy comments about the game's various attractive women, but he's not the only hilarious character. The other heroes, based on Japanese legends often make asses of themselves, and the game is mostly light-hearted, until it's really time to kick ass. You are a wolf, after all.

A bull-oni

This game drips with Japanese mythology and Ainu folklore that exposed me to more content than my confusing semester in East Asian studies, which I dropped as a major. The enemies you fight are different kinds of oni, Japanese devils, and you randomly collect cultural products (vases, traditional dishes) and artifacts (like Zodiac animal statues) to sell to buy other things for your quest.

Graphically, the game looks like the ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) painted on shoji (paper scrolls).

The artistic buck doesn't stop there; a massive feature of the game is that you can pause at almost any time, and use your Celestial Brush to paint missing or broken things into existence, slice enemies, and call various weather patterns and attacks as you acquire them. Each time you meet one of the gods, they are introduced in some kind of comical fashion, and half the time they'll try to kill you, or Amaterasu gets pissed off and tries to kill them. The game's score has lots of use of flutes, taiko drums and koto leaving no doubt that this game is 200% Japanese.

I was 8 years late to play this game, but I really understand why Clover Studios pushed this game through 2 rebuilds on 2 more consoles. It is badass, fun, culturally rich, hilarious, and incredibly gorgeous to both look at and listen to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Voice acting

    I just started a game with a decent story, fun battle mechanics, and a good sense of progression. However, this three-year-old game (Tales of Xilia) still suffers from bad voice acting. I know it isn't as easy as it looks. I feel like good dialogue scenes have a couple components that can cause you to skip through the scenes or watch them: translation, lip-syncing, and context. The translation these days is quite amazing, but at times, I miss text-only dialogue because the other two aspects just aren't met.

I never understood why programmers can't write an algorithm for dynamic lip-synching. This would shape the characters' mouths to their words as they say them, instead of just flapping like games quite often do. A lot of newer games motion-cap the faces, and the voice actor is also the basic model for the character. This method produces cutscenes like this:

started at the 2:00 mark. No, it's not a sex scene!

This Californian game studio, Naughty Dog, has the absolute highest quality of games I've ever played. Every cutscene drives the story, is incredibly well-done, and is flawlessly animated. The characters point to the spots on maps that they're talking about. It's almost like they wrote a long movie, kept half of it in scenes, and drew the rest out of climbing, shooting, and artifact-collecting goodness. Very few studios make games like this, but that's not the standard I'm asking for, either.

For some reason, it's always decided that Japanese games need to be translated and voiced in English. We're often left with these bland scenes, done by actors who probably don't even play the game. Not only that, but a voice actor's talent has a chance of being thwarted by poor lip-syncing, or otherwise poor timing, like the characters giving WAY TOO MUCH room between lines of dialogue, or characters standing almost completely still while talking.

These dudes are a bit over-the top, but it fits the context of the game. Regardless, the timing is much better, though the lips still move to the original language. The characters are animated to do stuff, and sometimes the voice relfects that (like the straining of voice for the wounded guy at ~50sec).

Sometimes, it's quite obvious that the new voice talents don't understand the context of their lines and it really bothers me that this is still a persistent problem in video games. In a story-driven game that's over 30 hours long, the main character better be tolerable. Finally, there are also terrible scenes in general (I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy 10 [2min in for the climax])

Staying with an immigrant host family? No Problem!

I've heard it a billion times, usually with a sigh or huff of disappointment, My host family is from the Philippines*. I want a "real" American family. My host mother's English is hard to understand! I can understand the initial confusion when someone arrives to their host who doesn't look like the people we see in most movies from Hollywood. The popular stuff that makes it overseas can really distort the reality of how diverse the US is, and international students expecting a white (or black, I'll dole out the benefit of the doubt) American family are in for a surprise, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

*Over the 4 years at my school that found host families, the most common immigrant hosts were families from the Philippines. I'm not trying to disrespect our friends from the Philippines, just reporting the comments I actually heard.

I think these students are missing out on the fact that these host families who immigrated have experience similar to the students themselves. This is extremely valuable! If you find yourself paired up with an immigrant host family, you can ask questions like, "What made you decide to stay?" or "How difficult is it to get into the workforce (after university) as a foreigner?" and very relevant questions that the "real" American probably can't help you with.

Of course, students who are visiting for their first time may not be considered with making a long-term life in the US. Some people write off parts of their town as 'touristy' and will use their intimate knowledge of the city happenings as substitute. I took a 'Ride the Ducks' tour of Seattle after living there for more than 20 years and still learned stuff about my city! My family did this to welcome our newest member, who's from Cameroon.

Your native hosts will know routes and restaurant recommendations, but might not know about how to get around without a car. Some of my friends wrinkle their noses at the mention of taking the bus somewhere! How many foreign students enter the US with a car?

Ultimately, a good host family will be ready to give personal tours and explanations whatever generation of American they are. This is part of the agreement of hosting. However, an immigrant family's empathy can go a long way.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...