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Cassandra Khaw's blog

8:39 AM on 12.13.2010

Video Games: Where It's Okay To Commit Suicide.

Hello, my name is Cassandra. I like to die. Be it through immolation or beehive or plasma-engineered eradication, I have this vague attachment to the act of expiring in both hilarious and explosive ways. There's just this something about spontaneously combusting that makes my black little heart all a-flutter.Granted, if it were to happen in real life, that wouldn't be very cool at all. Then again, it's not like I would have had a save point to work with so I suppose the matter is irrelevant anyway.

The sound of my cranium impacting the screen is a fairly common one. Regardless of whether it stems from vexation with work or play (though both of these seem indistinguishable from one another these days), my family and friends have grown pretty acquainted with the tiny 'bonkbonkbonkbonk's that pop up when I'm in front of my laptop. One day, though, my best friend turned to me during a shisha session and asked, 'Why the hell do you play these games?'

I remember pausing. I stared at him, trying to articulate an intelligent response. It was there hovering on the tip of my tongue. It would have been an answer filled with grit, soul and implications of a strong personalit --

Just kidding. The answer was a time-honored 'No clue, dude.'

And really, I have no idea why I do it. My favorite games are those that involve a certain element of risk: i.e, the King's Quest series and pretty much every other adventure game out there that kills you dead in an arbitrary fashion. While I'd rather drink acid before admitting it openly to the other columnists in TK-Nation, I even enjoy roguelikes to a certain extent. But now that I've had the opportunity to actually sit down and ruminate on it, I suppose there are a few factors that influence my suicidal play style.

Asians are a pretty inhibited bunch, you see. The stuff you see in the movies, the kind of behavior you expect from us via exposure from manga - it's all partially true. While I can't say the same for those living within more open-minded communities, a majority of Asians I know do hold true to the belief that restraint is the better part of valor. Nonetheless, underneath the smiling exterior, there exists a certain amount of seething rage. The pursuit for perfection tends to take its toll on the soul.

In a video game, you really don't have to worry too much about your performance. Unless you're dead set on chasing down some impossible achievement, you're welcome to, well, fall over dead as many times as you like. It's refreshing to be able to stumble into ridiculous situations and suffer massively from your encounters, hit replay and do it all over again. When real life cannot afford you such morbid indulgences, the next best thing is a digitized avatar taking the hits for you.

Of course, for some other people, it's more a case of being offered the ideal testing grounds. One of the other columnists at TK-Nation used to play Eve Online with a group of us. When we had graduated to battlecruisers, he was still using his flimsy little frigate. No matter what we said, he refused to surrender his flying pancake of a ship. Again and again, he would beat his tiny little ship against missions that demanded battle cruisers. Surprisingly, after a few hundred defeats, he actually got somewhere. Somehow, he had managed to tweak the ship to contain his suicidal foolhardiness.

Still, there's only so far you can push a vessel. After he was summarily one-shotted one too many times, he grudgingly moved on.

Death is usually the last thing you'd laugh at (for more than one reason, obviously). But video games offer a platform to meet the ultimate foe without much consequences. The same way some people enjoy saving the world, others enjoy testing their boundaries or seeing how bad life can genuinely cat. It's not just a case of being able to move through the looking glass; it's breaking through a cement wall. Besides, if you're genuinely frustrated at someone, you could also envision them as the unfortunate character and have them battered to itsy bitsy bits.   read

11:54 PM on 12.10.2010

Happy Holidays: Christmas is the Time for Monkeying Around

I sort of started writing for this place called Jayisgames less than a month ago. In case you haven't heard of the site, Jayisgames holds what has to be the biggest collection of reviews for quality Flash Games. There's a lot of work that goes into hand picking each and every title that pops up. God, I'd know. Work is seventy percent intense discussion, thirty percent actual writing.

In spite of the fact I'm fresh on the scene, they allowed me to get into their Secret Santa exchange. I've been staring at the Monkey Island bundle for ages now. You know, the official one on Steam; the souped-up version that LucasArts released for elitist kids like me these days? Yeah, that one. I've had my eye on it for ages. But, in spite of how much I wanted it, I couldn't bring myself to pick up the game. I've played the original versions obsessively and I'm enough of a penny-pinching Asian girl to not want to waste cash on something I want rather than something I need.

I got an e-mail the other day from Steam. It told me that one of my fellow columnists down at Jayisgames had purchased me both games as a gift. Horowitz, thank you. You nearly me cry in happiness. Although I haven't had the chance to sleep properly in weeks, I want to shuffle downstairs to where the wifi is faster and download my presents. It's a beautiful Saturday day with overcast skies. I can hear kids laughing and playing outside. The place I live in is beautiful; it costs me a fortune to stay here and makes me eat ramen a lot but I won't exchange it for the world. There's a pool I want to sit next to when the day finally melts to evening. I'd like to relive my childhood memories by the setting sun.

Being agnostic from a Buddhist background, Christmas isn't something I've had proper experiences with. But, you know, there's something about gift-giving that's universal. While a lot of people might see games as a cheap alternative to hand-wrapped presents and home-made cookies, I don't. For many working professionals, games are often this guilty pleasure we seldom have time for. Expensive, irrelevant to our budget, they're nonetheless a doorway into worlds we've forgotten in this bland, sterile enviroment that is adulthood.

I'm still deliberating about how and what I'd like to do for the recipient of my Secret Santa assignment. He's got games on Steam I'd love to pick up for him but, you know, I'd like something that really rocks. I'm tempted to blow my budget on it but I'm still working on that. On the bright side, I'm still glowing till today because I might have inadvertently made someone's day. Having excess codes is sometimes beneficial. I apparently had one that coincided with something on someone else's wish list.

There's no snow here in Malaysia but I wonder if there is snow where he lives. Is he going to kick back this season once everything has drawn to the close, once the eggnog is drunk and the food is eaten? Is he going to sit there, install the game and forget everything but saving the world as Christmas carols play on the television? I wonder.

But wait, you cry, is the little miser actually giving away two gifts for the price of one? Something is wrong with the picture! Maybe, maybe not. I consider that karmic repayment for the fact that I somewhat inadvertently got what I wished for earlier this month too. There's a game I've wanted to both play and review for ages now. To my surprise, I'll be the one doing it. While it might be work, it's something I do enjoy doing. I actually want to tell people about the games I like and why I like it. It isn't just for the money, people. Some of us still do it for the love of it.

But ahem, I disgress.

Games make me happy. Gift-giving makes me happy too. This year, I've come to realize that there's nothing better than the marriage of both. What better way to tell a person to enjoy the holidays than to hand them the gift of adventure and imagination? Books might have been last season, a relic of by-gone days when computers didn't dominate the world, but what they stood for remain. They were a doorway to the fantastic back in the past. Today, games are our portal there.

I'm going to go grab a cup of coffee, work through my e-mail then go down to play my games. I don't know about you but Christmas is definitely the time for monkeying around for me.

Happy holidays, y'all.   read

3:46 PM on 12.10.2010

Dinner Date: Food For Afterthought

Crossposted from TK-Nation. TK-Nation's a South-East Asian gaming site that plays home to news about quality underdogs from the gaming world, indie cosplay and video game collectibles.

Fair warning. This post-mortem is long, windy, slightly pensive and speckled with the occasional hint of spoilers. Read at your own discretion. Probably be quite irrelevant if you don't follow the indie scene either.

I don't normally write about what I think. Most of the time, that usually degenerates into a stream of vitrolic drivel, occasional cursing and reminiscing about the good old days. But sometimes, it's hard not to want to do so.

There's this guy that keeps flitting to my thoughts. I only met him once. We had dinner. I wasn't particularly impressed with his views of the opposite gender nor was I particularly entranced by his neurotic behavior. I haven't thought about him in a month but commentary over at Gamasutra made me ponder things again. And no, he's not a real person, the chap in question is one Julian Luxemburg; he's the protoganist of Dinner Date in case you didn't know that.

Or the antagonist, depending on how you look at him.

When I wrote my review on Dinner Date, I was somewhat caustic about Julian's personality. Don't get me wrong, I found the game itself pretty brilliant. It was Julian I didn't like.After I was done with the article, I chatted a fair bit with the creator. Jeroen wanted to know why I didn't like his character and I told him. There was a whole mess of issues: gender, culture, past experiences and simple prejudice. In the beginning, I was more than prepared to write off Julian as one of my most despised protoganists yet. Now that I've had time to think about it, I don't know. He might actually be my favorite.
Julian feels real.

My biggest complaint with his behavior was the fact he was a little too stupid to call his missing date. For all we knew, she could have been raped, murdered, diced up into little pieces and fed to a cat somewhere. Wasn't he concerned? But then again, we've all been there. You're suddenly going out with someone beyond your league. You know you don't deserve their time of day. If you get stood up, do you immediately march up to them and trumpet your disapproval or do you still there in wallow?

While it might be wild conjecture on my part, I can see the logic. Julian's twenty-seven and completely uncertain about his position in life. He's had a bit of a dry spell and his penchant for poetry implies that he probably doesn't get along with the alpha males that surround him. Let's face it, nice guys tend to get stomped on a lot. On the other hand, the girl he's waiting for is purportedly seven years his junior, long-legged and an exotic Japanese creature. Realistically speaking, I don't see a guy like Julian being terribly gung-ho about his situation. Do you?

Were she Caucasian, I imagine things might have been a little less panic-inducing for Julian but she isn't. It isn't an unknown phenomenon. Down here in South-East Asia, things happen in reverse. There was droves of women here who find themselves hopelessly attracted to foreigners. Though a few claim that it is purely coincidental that all the men they like are white, most are quick to admit that the unfamiliar is a seductive thing. With all the anime and the Japanese gravure idols around, I don't see how it couldn't work the other way around.

Again, though, I'd like to stress that Julian is a bit of a fish out of water. There is a sweetness to him that is out of place in the brutal corporate world. He seems shy, hesitant. Those are qualities that do not belong in the break-neck society we live in. Seeing as how he's not the denizen of a fantasy world, I imagine he adheres to the same rules. There are going to be problems. There'd be problems for anyone. Mix those qualities with years of exposure to more dominant people and you'd get neuroses. Self-doubt. All the things that I didn't like in Julian, all the things that made me hate him.

I still hate him. I doubt I'd stop. But that, really, is the beauty of Dinner Date. Whatever time someone else might have spent crafting sweeping plotlines and complicated puzzles, Jeroen apparently invested into the development of Julian Luxemburg. Many have shown disdain for the fact that Julian's a bit of a whiner but hey, why can't he be? There are only so many heroes in the world. Someone has to play the bit role.

During my conversation with Jeroen Stout, he told me that a lot of Julian's problems lie within the emptiness that sits at his core. I can see that now. Strength is dependant on one's foundation. If that is missing, you can only do so much. Regardless of how I see his character's disposition, I have to applaud Jeroen for choosing to make someone so flawed. It's easy to make a hero. Good looks, melodramatic stance, troubled past, possible ties to the mob - those form the backbone of a successful lead these days.

It's not quite as easy to make someone that might be a little bit too much like you.   read

9:18 PM on 12.09.2010

Backstab: Would you kill your friends?

I've been staring at the trailer for Backstab for a while now and the only thing I have to say about it is, 'EEESH.'

It's a bit too realistic for my liking.

We play video games as a means of escape. Regardless of whether you're jumping onto a saddle or gallivanting away in space, it all involves us moving away from the confines of our life into something different. I'm not even talking about diabetes-inducing 'haha!' games. Even the melodramatic drivel we sometimes find ourselves immersed in is .. different.

Backstab isn't.

All living creatures have been biologically conditioned to survive. We manifest that instinct for self-preservation in different ways but at the end of the day, the lizard brain is always in command and we're always out for number one. Be honest with me, what would you do if you were suddenly the subject of endless waves of enemies? They're coming at you, one after another, snarling and hissing and really looking forward to making an aquaintence with the contents of your rib cage. There's one tank and one seat. You've got three friends.

What are you going to do?

Realistically speaking, you're probably going to gun down your comrades whenever it's convenient in order to make good your getaway. Sorry fellas, I'll tell your parents. We'll remember you. Purple hearts. Trite words, empty phrases - I wonder if all those people who allegedly sacrificed themselves to save others heard the same words.

Backstab is a game being developed by a group of ISART Digital Students from France. It walked off with the Best Game Award at ISART Digital's PLAY 2010 event and according to the entry, it's already beginning to turn heads. Played from a top-down perspective, I'm not really big about the presentation but I love the idea. It's going to rewrite how people play, it's going to force confrontations amongst the most zealous.

I live in a country where cybercafes are common and people spend hours upon hours engaging in a million co-op games in those stuffy shop lots. Quite naturally, with so much trapped testosterone, fights break out on a seemingly daily basis at these establishments. I'm going to get such a kick out of the real-life skirmishes that break out because of Backstab.

Yeah, I'm a sick, sadistic little kitten. Got a problem with that?

Source: Indie Games Channel - There's a trailer here too.   read

8:08 AM on 12.09.2010

Too Much Fleck About Social Gaming?

Social gaming is a bit of a mixed bag.

On one hand, we have the people who are so addicted to these Facebook applications that they're willing to bludgeon their children tod eath, sacrifice their careers and inunduate friends with a million requests for more vegetables.

On the other, there are people so completely tramautised by the endless parade of releases from Zynga that they immediately and instinctively take arms against anything remotely related to the tyrannical mega-corporation.

Somehow, I don't think Self Aware Games was particularly aware of how prevalent this distaste for social gaming was when they first announced Fleck on Neogaf. Don't get wrong. I can't stand social games. I'm one of those people who will run screaming in the opposite direction if you try coercing me into a session with those infernal things. But still, I gave Fleck a few curious pokes - it's rather rough-looking but it might just go somewhere in the future.

The developers called Fleck a 'ridiculously ambitious MMO Flash experiment'. With its console-flavored artwork and whimsical environments, it looks and plays like one of those things you'd fiddle with for a few minutes each day. Fleck is one part botanical pursuits, one part zombies, a little bit of Google mapping and a whole lot of user interaction. While not quite the most inspired formula in the world, it has too many of the right ingredients to go too wrong.

And heck, just to sweeten the deal, Facebook isn't used for anything but the login functions. You wouldn't have to worry about burying your friends in spam ever. At least, not unless you wanted to.

However, the very idea that Facebook would appear in any facet of the game apparently rubbed people the wrong way. Responses ranged the entire spectrum. Some people provided relatively constructive criticism. Others told the developers flat-out that no, there was no way they'd give the game a chance. It didn't matter if Fleck had solid potential lurking under the surface. It had the word 'Facebook' associated with it. That's all that matters.

I think I'm beginning to see how witch hunts happened a few hundred years ago.

In retrospect, I guess this wouldn't have mattered as much to me had it been a genuine article Facebook application. If it was, it could have taken all the hits the world could throw at it and I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. However, it seems like the only mistake that the progenitors made here was to tell the world it was a social game and that you had to use Facebook to login. It's kind of like saying that black cats and warts meant you brewed evil concoctions in a cauldron.

We want new games. Everyone wants new games. We want something to blow us away, to sweep us off our feet and make us swoon over its well-oiled pixels. But at the same time, some of the gaming community as a whole has fallen into the habit of making unneccessary comparisions. TK-Nation was recently privileged enough to participate in the closed beta for an upcoming MMO. There was a huge argument on the channels this one day about the game. People were continuously beating down on it, claiming it was either too different or too similar to World of Warcraft. At one point, a brave soul glibly commented on how he missed the days a game could be taken for what it is.

I agree.

At the end of the day, developers make games not only to bring an idea they've envisioned to life but also to make money. When the people who buy their products imply that only certain ideas will work, they will inevitably make more of the same. It's a vicious, self-prepetrating cycle that will only make people progressively more despondent about the current state of affairs.

While this might make me sound like Mary Poppins or a religious evangelist, I really only have this to say: there needs to be a little more faith. So what, if something uses Facebook as a login method; does it change its playability? No. Hate a game because it's terrible not because you don't like its peripherals.

I mean, after all, would you like it if someone wouldn't give you the time of day just because they thought your immediate family looked weird?

I didn't think so.

Link to the source of all my frustration (there's a link to Fleck too! Go try it!) :   read

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