01 April 2006

Early Impressions of Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO)

I solved a few quests and I am now into Stormreach proper. The first of six districts in the city. Like many other Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPGs), the world of DDO is spread over servers.

DDO is a game of instances with the shared world experience being limited to the six parts of the city of Stormreach. As such, I think DDO with its single player faction and lack of PvP (Player Versus Player) elements will lose out to other MMORPGs such as the World of Warcraft (WOW), Guild Wars (GW) and so forth. From my early impressions, the lack of a shared world feeling like in WOW will not foster a shared community loyalty and this will not lend itself to loyal players.

Another notable direction is the focus on dungeons (public or private instances). This game is a vast dungeon hack with one dungeon after another. Puzzles, traps and monsters. There seem to be little focus on the favour of the world, everything is there for gameplay, everything is functional. What is the city of Stormreach but just another large area with class-trainers and vendors? Thus, DDO feels vanilla.

With the focus on dungeons and puzzle-solving, there appears little room for what many will describe as grinding, the killing of monsters for rewards and power. You don't get xp for killing monsters in some areas. This will rile players as this has been the basis of so-called 'power-gamers' and will be for a long time to come.

The level cap for the game is level 10. I think it is far too little for hardcore MMORPG players. I suspect the level cap will be raised in future.

On the interface, it is unpolished. It feels clumsy. From the player perspective, one has to make a lot of adjustments during combat just to get a decent view of the affair. That is not a good sign. In desperate situations, I can imagine problems.

DDO is a game for single-minded people, it is for people who like dungeon-crawls. Unlike WOW which has dungeons for people who enjoy dungeon-crawls (raids), PvP for people who like fighting, grinding for power-gamers, a world full of flavour for people who enjoy fantasy, DDO is just a game with a single facet. As such, I doubt if this MMORPG has much staying power for me. A month? Two months? I don't know. It will still take a while to attain the maximum level and new modules will also be released.

All in all, it is a fairly enjoyable and decent game.

31 March 2006

The Machinist

A clever psychological drama with symbols throughout. The books. The paths taken. The choices.

Loners may find a lot to identify with. Not the paranoia but the existence.

Malaysian Sea Skua ASM falls into the sea

According to a NewKerala report, one of the Sea Skua ASM (Air-to-Surface Missiles) that Malaysia bought four years ago "fell into the Straits of Malacca during a contractual test firing when its rocket booster failed to ignite."

In an earlier report, it was stated that:

"However, Laksamana Ilyas declined to disclose the exact location of the test launch and the number of missiles acquired by the navy. "We have a large enough number," he told reporters here Monday after pinning honorary wings on four navy trainees who qualified for flight duty. The test target will be a barge at sea. Laksamana Ilyas urged all fishermen and tourist boats to stay away from a radius of 16 nautical miles from Kuala Beruas in the Straits of Malacca."

This missile is likely launched from the Sea Lynx helicopters of the Malaysian armed forces. Those four navy trainees who qualified probably launched the Sea Skua ASM.

After the missile fell into the sea, the report has the Malaysian navy chief saying:

"We will not accept the missiles unless they are proven to work," Royal Malaysian Navy Chief Ilayas Din was quoted by the 'New Straits Times' newspaper as saying about yesterday's incident. He said a second contractual firing test would be held on March 23.""

It is also noted that:

"Nine ships and four helicopters were involved in supporting the firing and was estimated to have cost around 68,000 US dollars. "

A later report has assured fishermen that the missile will not pose a danger to them on the seabed.
Heating in Shanghai

A few weeks ago, I visited Shanghai during a cold spell. The temperatures which were about 15 degrees Celsius suddenly plunged to 2 degrees. The gusts of wind were strong, cutting into my skin. The place was freezing. It was unexpected.

Strangely, as I observed, most of Shanghai did not appear to be heated except for the hotels and high-end department stores. Most of the shops in buildings were open to the elements. Thus, they were all bitterly cold inside. My hands and feet were numb. I saw that some of the Shanghainese would wear fluffy, shapeless and colourful jackets while others wore wool-lined leather coats.

It was an unexpected development to find one of the fastest developing cities in the world in this state of a distribution of thermal comforts. What on earth?

This has left me puzzled for a week or two until I read an article in the 15th March issue of the Wall Street Journal about the heating policy in China. I was astounded.

This is unbelievable but true. Apparently, there is a line drawn north of Nanjing and Shanghai that cuts China in half. This line demarcates where there will be central heating from the government boilers. From December to March, heating will be available for those cities north of that line, for instance, Beijing, Harbin and others. So, if there is a weather anomaly, for instance, it gets hot in February, the people living north of the line will keep their windows open!

It is also noted that in recent years, people have purchased private heaters. In addition, new apartments and dwellings are built with heaters.

Recently, according to the Shanghainese, the seasons has been unusual. A few of them have told me that spring and autumn have vanished. After winter, it will be summer and then followed by winter again. The weather has been somewhat extreme in recent years.

This reminded me of what a taxi driver in Leeds once told me a decade ago. He recalled snow that was up to his knees in his childhood. In the three years I spent in Yorkshire, the snow did not reach up to me ankles. Apparently, the weather has been changing.

30 March 2006

"An original and interesting mind was Philip Dick, however he also had some difficulty in making a name for himself. Initially he had been more popular in France and later his fame spread to the US. Also, his works were of "uneven quality". "

Quote from an interview with Shargh, a daily newspaper, Stanislaw Lem
"The works of the Derrida and Lacana schools do not seem particularly clear to me: they resembles ideology presented in a talmudic way combined with splitting hairs."

Quote from an interview with Shargh, a daily newspaper, Stanislaw Lem

Witch Finder

I finished C.L. Werner's 'Witch Hunter' tonight. It's a decent read. I am reading the sequel 'Witch Finder' now.

Last night, I finished Nicholas Ostler's 'Empire of the Word: A Language History of the World'. I will speak a little on that later. The propagation and transmission of languages. The evolution and death of languages...

And then, it's back to finishing Jared Diamond's volume on mankind's propensity to destroy the environment that sustains his society in 'Collapse'.

This is a 4cm x 4cm ink drawing of Cthulhu, a Great Old One, from the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, a prominent American horror writer of the 1930s.

I used a 2B pencil to draw the outline and I used Artline and Faber-Castell pigment ink pens after.

Cthulhu is not technically a monster. It is an old alien God which is beyond the comprehension of humans. Yet, insane cultists worship it.

Illustration Friday theme: Monster

29 March 2006

Books I'm reading

I'm currently embarking on C.L.Werner's 'Witch Hunter' and Ronald McNair Scott's 'Robert the Bruce'. The former is fun pulp fiction featuring a witch hunter on the trail of the taint of Chaos in the dark world of Warhammer while the latter is a straight forward narrative on the life of the great Scottish King, Robert the Bruce, who successfully fought off the English.

I'm still in the midst of Jared Diamond's 'Collapse', a book on the M16, something on the Chinese army today.

"About what am I now employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask myself this question, and inquire, what have I now in this part of me which they call the ruling principle? And whose soul have I now? That of a child, or of a young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a domestic animal, or of a wild beast?"

'The Meditations' Marcus Aurelius, 167 A.D.

28 March 2006

VNV Nation News

Surprisingly, VNV Nation is going to be doing the soundtrack for 'Gene Generation' (The Underworld of Gene Hacking? Err...), a low budget SF film with Singaporean direction, I think. I am not sure if the film is worth watching. I will probably give it a miss. I don't know. However, I will definitely be interested in the soundtrack.

The director is one Pearry Reginald Teo. And from his mySpace entry, he likes Covenant, VNV Nation, Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, Wolfsheim, The Cruxshadows and so forth. This can't be bad. And his taste in films is excellent. 'City of Lost Children', 'Brazil', 'Fight Club', 'Blade Runner'. This bodes well. Maybe, I will bother with 'Gene Generation' after all...

On another note, there are two releases slated from VNV Nation, 'Homeward' and 'Reformation'. That is great news!

Stanislaw Lem is dead!

I learned from Mr.Nizz and a BBC report that Stanislaw Lem, the greatest SF writer in the Eastern Bloc besides Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, is dead. I am saddened. For me, Stanislaw Lem has been the science fiction writer as well as a writer for all humanity. A literary giant has died.

Lem is not concerned merely with rocketships and robots, rather, his concerns, in the form of parables and novels are often ontological, universal and philosophical with the New York Times once describing him as 'a polymath and a virtuoso storyteller and stylist'. In some ways, Lem's playful timeless parables can be compared to Jorge Luis Borges.

I recall browsing at a small independent bookstore in Stockton in California one cold, late evening in the mid-eighties and discovering the books of Lem. 'The Cyberiad'*, 'Tales of Pirx the Pilot', 'His Master's Voice', 'The Star Diaries', 'Memoirs of a Space Traveller' and more. They were intriguing books, very much unlike the formulaic trash I was reading then (ie Asimov's Foundation trilogy, Frank Herbert's Dune series...)

This piece of news will take some time to sink in despite the fact that Lem has not produced any work for a decade or so.

*As you can tell, my email address for the last decade is named in honour of this book.
Assault Rifles of the Malaysian Armed Forces and Paramilitary Groups

The Malaysian armed forces has been steadily acquiring armaments of various types over the years. In terms of assault rifles, it has procured a variety of types. Here are the known types:

M16 (Model 613) - 200 000
M16 (Model 653) - 5000

Beretta AR-70 - Likely to be in low numbers. 5000?

Steyr AUG A1 - This replacement for the M16 was first adopted 15 years ago. The numbers bought then were unlikely to be a one is to one replacement, however there is a possibility that over 200 000 were indeed licence-manufactured. The assault rifles adopted were licence-manufactured by SME Ordnance Sdn Bhd and SME Aerospace Sdn Bhd which are subsidiaries of Nadi. The rifles were manufactured in a 113ha plant in Batu Arang. Recently, Steyr has indicated that it will manufacture all their AUG A1, A2 and A3 rifles in Malaysia.

It is not unlikely that some other assault rifle types were bought in small numbers for trials and for use by various specialists groups or paramilitary types.

The Steyr AUG has definitely seen action in Malaysian hands However, it is with bank robbers who are sometimes ex-military or have access to the arsenals.

According to a 17th March 2006 New Straits Times report, the Malaysian Armed Forces is currently searching for a replacement:

"New assault rifles may be in the offing for the army. It is now looking into the possibility of replacing its Steyr AUG rifles, introduced 15 years ago. Army chief Jen Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Zainal said soldiers would be equipped with a more modern rifle."The Steyr has served us for 15 years now. Whatever has been in use for a long time perhaps needs to be changed." Abdul Aziz was speaking at a Press conference at the Sungai Besi army camp after a shooting competition for the media, organised in conjunction with the 73rd Army Day on March 1."

It is not unlikely that it will adopt the AUG A3 for both economic and strategic reasons. Time will tell...

The Malaysian army chief also made an additional statement that is of interest:

"On whether the Steyr was being replaced because of weaknesses, he said: "There are no weaknesses (in the weapon)."If there are weaknesses, it is because of the person handling the weapon," he said."

Why was the question been floated? It was likely to be floated due to negative reports arising from the grapevine. If not, why would he have made this additional statement? Unless...

On a related but different note, the Malaysia government website has an interesting statistic. Can it possibly be true? It is supposedly an adapted article from the Star:

"The Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr, or Army Universal Rifle) was first produced in 1978, and is now said to be the most widely sold modern assault rifle, next to the AK-47 series. "

Note that statement and claim. One wonders about the accuracy of this article. Is the article suggesting that 10 million Steyr AUG or more has been sold?
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach

Ooooh, Wilson dropped this at my place at 11:30 pm last night. Woo.

I can't wait.

The reviews on Amazon don't appear to be great and the level cap is 10. However, who can resist this? It should be at least a month or two of good fun. Then, I can terminate my subscription. Heheh.

C'mon guys, let's start a party for old times' sake. Life's too short!

27 March 2006

Oliver Stone's Alexander

Oliver Stone's 2004 attempt at a re-telling of the life of Alexander the Great was sorely lacking. With Alexander (Colin Farrell) sporting an Irish accent and Olympia (Angelina Jolie), a strange Hollywood Russian accent, 'Alexander' appeared to be a mish-mash of mis-castings and bad accents. Farrell was unconvincing as Alexander. He plainly did not have the ability to handle such a role and he would have been better suited for a cop show of some sort.

Colin Farrell's wig and heavy mascara were hilarious. The heavy mascara on some of Alexander companion were laughable as well. What gives?

It got worse. Besides the mis-casting, the narrative did not flow from scene to scene, it was more than episodic, the narrative stuttered. The choice of important scenes appear strange as some important episodes of Alexander's life was omitted while others incidental ones were included. Simplifcation? Perhaps. However, the choices did not lend itself to narrative continuity, thus, the narrative suffered.

Then, there was the bad childhood and blame the bad parenting bit. Abusive father. Manipulative mother. Urm....

Is this film meant to be an indictment of Bush and Bush Senior's direction of Pax Americana in Iraq with the emphasis on the conquests in Alexander being a failure? If it is, the film is simply not effective. The message is submerged somewhere.

I saw the DVD last night and I wished I hadn't wasted three hours of my life on this. I had wanted a visualisation of Alexander the Great but this was simply a failure in every sense of the word.

Ink sketch using Faber-Castell and Artline pens.

26 March 2006

"Our nation lived in freedom and quietness until Edward, King of England, under colour of friendship and alliance, attacked us, all unsuspecting, when we had neither King nor Head and our people were unacquainted with wars and invasions."

Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, 1320