Passions can’t be explained

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This will be a short piece.

I recently had a conversation with my parents about exotic Italian cars. They ask, “What is the point in owning such an expensive and powerful car in this country? Where can you even drive it?” For context, I live in a typical developing Southeast Asia country. In this region, metropolitan centers like the one I live in have terrible traffic management and infrastructure, meaning traffic jams are a part of our everyday lives.

So why would anyone buy an Italian supercar in a country where you can’t even drive it?

First of all, people don’t buy supercars because they’re practical. Even if we were to disregard how expensive they are, supercars are very difficult to live with day-to-day. They’re impossible to park, they’re petrol guzzlers, they ride incredibly low in traffic (so people won’t see you)… The list goes on. People buy supercars because they can. Owning an exotic car like Ferrari, Aston Martin, or Koenigsegg is a status symbol. Most people with means buy supercars because other people can’t. To hell with the problem of where can you even drive it. Most people who can buy these cars will probably never even take these vehicles out of second gear. Continue reading “Passions can’t be explained”

Emily is Away – videogame review

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Emily is Away is an interactive story created by one guy, Kyle Seeley, available on the Steam Store. It’s a 30 minute free-to-play visual novel that plays through the style of an online chat box. You play an unnamed protagonist as you guide him through his chat box conversations with the titular Emily over the course of 5 years. The story is set over the course of 5 years, from Senior High School to the last year of College.

The game is a short little nostalgia trip through the early 2000’s complete with a Windows XP theme and pop culture references. In-game interaction is limited to chatting with Emily. In-game chat is limited to 3-4 options. It’s quite frustrating actually because a lot of these choices for the character aren’t something you would say in real life, so it takes away a sense of agency from the game.

Throughout your conversations you guide the player in his relationship with Emily. You start out as friends but you can choose if you want more to be more than that. Unfortunately the game has a set ending that the developer had in mind. Your choices, while having some influence to how the ending plays out, don’t change the ultimate ending of the game.

The story has a couple of problems, IMO. For instance, though each of your conversations takes place during a certain year in HS or college, the drama plays out in a linear manner and it sometimes doesn’t make sense why Emily is reacting to a certain event from a year ago as if it happened over the weekend. And, again, the ending is set in stone. You will almost 100% fall in love with Emily. You can’t CHOOSE to be single or date another girl, ala-Catherine style (the PS3 game).

Overall the game is very nostalgic and I found myself reliving some memories from my teenage years which is plus points for the game. But the saltiness was pretty real and I can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone.

Looking back on – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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I had a late start into the world of PC gaming. Growing up, gaming was limited to my parents’ Windows 95 machine and the only games they were willing to get for me were Jumpstart Grade School educational games. I didn’t have a proper gaming machine until I was in High School, with my budget Intel Core 2 Duo and Nvidia 9400 GT graphics card. At the time, though, these specs were already substandard as the first generation of i3’s, i5’s, and i7’s were just introduced and the GeForce GTX was riding high with its introduction of the 200 series. What my machine was good for was playing the hit games from yesteryear, which was how I was introduced to the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

A buddy of mine from High School shared how much he loved The Sands of Time game and how it easily fit into his List of Best Games of All Time. I was always interested in story-driven, single-player games. Despite my parents’ insistence on only getting me “edu-tainment” games growing up, I was able to convince them to buy the occasional Triple-A title once in a while. Games like Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Medal of Honor Allied Assault were among my games library alongside Jumpstart 3rd Grade and Typing. After convincing my dad to indulge my desire for a gaming PC (I did need my own computer for schoolwork anyway) I was ready to try out my friend’s copy of Sands of Time.

The game takes place mostly in an unnamed Middle-Eastern palace set in a Thousand and One Arabian Nights-esque magical time period. It stars the titular Prince, the youngest son of King Sharaman of Persia.When their army invades India they are unwittingly tricked by the treacherous Vizier into unleashing the mystical Sands of Time, a terrible artifact that corrupts and destroys all that it touches. The Prince must team up with Farah, the daughter of the Maharajah of India, to turn back time and prevent the Sands from ever being unleashed.

POP SOT is equal parts puzzle-platformer and action-adventure. The Prince’s excellent parkour skills allow him to run along walls and leap distances in order to solve puzzles. Meanwhile, his agile fighting style lets him fight off multiple attackers. Perhaps the game’s most unique mechanic is its command of Time Powers. With the Dagger of Time, the Prince can utilize captured Sands to manipulate Time, such as reversing it, slowing it down, or freezing time altogether. The Prince must utilize these time powers and his acrobatic skills in order to traverse the palace’s traps and fight enemies.

The game’s story and mechanics meshes seamlessly well in order to create a wonderful final product. The Prince’s early arrogant aristocratic nature is chipped away as time passes and he realizes how it was his hubris that allowed disaster to unfold.The characters complement each other so well. The Prince’s proud and brash nature with Farah’s innocent and eager personality helps develop each other’s character arc. Their interactions were very well written and it helped them feel like real people rather than a series of character tropes videogames would handpick to establish protagonists. There is a scene where the Prince and Farah are trapped in a tomb and the game hints at the Prince’s claustrophobia.

“Are you alright? You’re shivering,” Farah inquires.

“I just don’t like enclosed spaces.That’s all,” the Prince replies.

To me, the Prince’s fear of being trapped just underlined his character so well when you consider his love of parkour and freedom of movement.

The game isn’t without faults. For every step towards perfection, it also manages to take one step backwards. Perhaps the one foible of the game is its combat. Simple and repetitive would be a generousway to describe it. Though it makes sense story-wise that the Prince is not a peerless swordsman/warrior (he remarks early in the game that he “will bring honor and glory, not through battle, but by being first to reach the Maharajah’s treasure hold,”) it drags the game down when you fight nearly all enemies with the same one or two combos. The final boss fight is incredibly unrewarding. /Spoiler alert/ When you reach the Sands and turn back time to before the start of the game, you have a final confrontation with the Vizier. But it’s hardly a challenge because you are at the height of your powers, having unlocked all the time powers of your Dagger and the Vizier isjust a frail old man with tuberculosis even if he is endowed with mystical powers of his own /End of Spoiler/.

Despite its weaknesses POP SOT is still a great game and I would say it still holds up well compared to modern games of today. The environments are still beautiful and the level design ensures that platforming is clever and very intuitive. I would go so far as to say as it is the best Ubisoft game from the PS2 generation. If there were any IP’s from Ubisoft’s library that could use a revival, Prince of Persia would definitely be the one.

The Grand Tour – review in progress

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Author’s note: I’m only just catching up on episodes now and this review was written in advance when I’ve only seen the first three episodes. Once the season is complete, I’ll write an update on my full thoughts and opinions on the series.

Last November the long awaited “The Grand Tour” debuted much to the delight of fans around the world. Featuring the trio of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, the Grand Tour is Amazon’s take on the Top Gear formula. That means lots of races, explosions, and hijinks.

Right off the bat, the show starts off big. The opening scene for episode 1 is a huge driving sequence across the California high desert featuring dozens of cars ala Mad Max remake. At the end of the sequence is a huge sound stage where Clarkson, May, and Hammond announce their return to their massive audience.

It’s an incredibly strong statement coming from the trio. Coming from a low of Clarkson being let go by the BBC, they return with an even bigger show on Amazon. This point is even more poignant considering the lukewarm reception of audiences to BBC’s rebooted Top Gear series.

Top Gear VS Grand Tour?

Clarkson shared in several interviews leading up to the series premiere that audiences can expect more of the old Top Gear in the Grand Tour. In many aspects that statement is true. The show is only 3 episodes in and has managed to feature several exotic cars and hyper cars. The first episode even featured a race between the hyper car holy trinity (the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder), something that the BBC couldn’t arrange when Clarkson and co. were with them. Episode 3 featured the trio on a grand tour of Italy in true Top Gear fashion: Clarkson in an Aston Martin DB11, May in a Rolls Royce Dawn, and Hammond in a Ford Mustang.

However the show is also different in a number of ways.The program is no longer based in Britain; instead the trio has a Grand Tour tent that travels around world from which the show is hosted. The iconic Top Gear test track was replaced by a new track Clarkson jokingly calls the Ebola-dome, because the track is similar in shape to the Ebola virus and the dangerous corners it has.

Unlike the BBC run Top Gear, the Grand Tour is produced by Amazon, an American company. Their influence can be seen a number of ways. Their take on the “tame racing driver” is American NASCAR driver, (driver name). Rather than the silent, enigmatic Stig in test drives we’re treated to his boorish manner and heavy Southern drawl as he bemoans having to drive cars that aren’t muscle cars or pickups.

There are subtle differences as well. Clarkson’s Top Gear has always been big on exaggerating the eccentricities of each presenter (Jeremy is bombastic, Richard is annoying, and James is old fashioned). But American television is known for over-exaggerating drama for ratings and audience impact. Take Gordon Ramsay, for example. Hell’s Kitchen America always shows Gordon getting into confrontations and shouting expletives to shock the audience. In UK television, while Gordon is still known for swearing and the occasional row, his shows don’t lean so heavily on these scenes quite like American television does. The Grand Tour does something similar. In episode 3’s grand tour, Richard Hammond plays very heavily on his annoying and uncouth mannerisms by driving a loud and obnoxious Ford Mustang across Italy in contrast to the other two’s refined choices, an Aston Martin and a Rolls Royce. This is nothing new for Richard Hammond, who is known to be the “American” among the trio. But his delivery feels more exaggerated this time around than in previous outings. He deliberately makes noises and misbehaves with his Mustang. He even has two trucks carrying spare tyres for when he burns through his set doing doughnuts. Their “Celebrity Brain Crash”segment (GT’s answer to TG’s “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car”) features a running gag wherein all invited guests never make it onto the show and die en route to the studio. It’s all very ham-handed and the joke grows stale very quick.

I suppose the question to ask is, “Is this show better than the new Top Gear?” The answer, I believe, depends on who is watching. For fans of the old Top Gear, nothing will ever beat out the chemistry of the old trio. Despite their antics, Clarkson and co. really work well together and you can see it in every episode. 10 years of working together have really built a rapport between the three and it’s hard to replicate that kind of chemistry where they can feed off of each other’s energy the way they do.

The show is certainly not perfect, as I’ve already mentioned above. It’s worth noting that a single series of Top Gear runs only 7 or 8 episodes. GT is set to run for 13 episodes. How much “car antics” can you actually squeeze out in a single year of production before you run out of ideas and motoring news? At least Top Gear goes on break for a few months before coming out with a new series, even if they do come out in the same year. That way, things are kept fresh and fans are left wanting for more.

Hit or Miss?

(Check ratings). So far the show is very entertaining and it’s really great to see Clarkson and co. back. It definitely has room for improvement but that can be attributed to growing pains under Amazon. In fact, the show has all the potential to be even better than TG ever was. Amazon seems to really believe in the show. They gave GT a monumental budget and they’re making Amazon TV available to over 200 countries just for this show (currently, Amazon TV is only available in 4 countries). We’ll just have to wait and see where they take the program.