Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Dear Esther: This Game is Artsy

I was originally going to make a post about me baking cupcakes but I ended up forgetting half my supplies in the fridge at work. I can't be the only one who wanted to rush home from work after a shift and forgot some things. So instead we'll be talking about Dear Esther, the remake of the fairly popular mod available on Steam.

Nearly all the games I review are going to be from Steam because I am a Valve fanboy.

The game is hard to describe. It's hard to say if it's even a game. It's an interactive story where your character will provide monologues at random intervals as you walk around. Though, the only interaction that's provided is movement keys.

The story is given through the mentioned dialogues, with each playthrough being different as the monologues are randomized. There are also small events that are randomized in the game though you have to have a careful eye to notice them as they are small and easy to miss. Their significance is also lost if you aren't paying attention to the monologues.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell much of the story without spoiling it. What I can say is that it's about a man on an island, and the monologues he gives are portions of the letters he has written to a woman by the name of Esther. The story is vague and will leave players to their own interpretations of what is going on.

And it is a strange island.

The environment itself is gorgeous. Some of the best and well-designed areas I've had the chance to explore. The atmosphere is well created as well, and gives a sense of loneliness and mystery. This is and the soundtrack are probably the most discussed and enjoyed portions of the game.

The soundtrack is even better. I found it to really help with the atmosphere of the game. A mixture of orchestral and instrumental music.

The caves were easily my favorite part of the game.

Despite all the praise I've heard and given for this game, it does have flaws. For starters, this isn't your conventional game, if it can even be called that. You walk around, a story gets told, and that's it. No shooting, no leveling up, and no cutscenes. Some people will be grateful for the change, others will be left bored and unsatisfied.

The game is also fairly short, it'll take you an hour, maybe two hours at most to complete it. The pacing is also a problem for some. Having a narrator tell your story for you is quite enjoyable as discussed in my Bastion review. And I think Dear Esther could have benefited from that as opposed to the sparse bits of narration.

I think the best way I could put it is that Dear Esther is like an art gallery. You walk around, you look at some pretty things, and sometimes a voice will pop up to say a few words. If you're not the kind of person who enjoys art galleries, you are not going to enjoy Dear Esther.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Last Week before Classes

It's hard to believe 4 months of freedom have gone by so quickly. But with just one more week before classes resume I can't say I feel excited.

Theresa already starts on Monday. She has orientation sessions to go to now that she's in Med school. So it's not like I can spend this week with her. It was unfortunate that she spent so much of her summer working but hey, medical school debts aren't going to pay themselves.


So I have a week left to myself. And I have a fair idea of what I want to accomplish with the last of my time. I have a project or two I need to finish. Such as the hollow book. Yeah, this one has been on the backburner for a long time. It's almost done but I'm picky and trying to get some of part to look a bit nicer.

There is also a little kit that I got in Hong Kong that I found that I want to get around to doing as well. I'm hoping to get started on it and maybe post my progress on that too. Can't exactly outright say what it is though. It's a little something for Theresa.

What's inside? Only I know!

Speaking of Theresa I wanted to bake her something this week as well. She's fond of red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese. So I'm going to try my hand at those hopefully on Tuesday. Pictures of that potential disaster will be posted.

And I also wanted to take her out for dinner as well. Thing is, I'm not sure whether to take her to a restaurant we've been to before. OR I could risk taking her to some really high-end French restaurant. I never really did do something to congratulate her getting into med school. Though, she kind of dislikes high-end dining because she thinks it's overpriced.

She might kill me but it be worth it.

Lastly, I still have a lot of games to finish. Unfortunately most of them are not going to be beaten in a week. Therefore, a review of Dear Esther, the acclaimed Half Life 2 mod, will be up sometime in the near future.

I've also been reading The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. They're great books and I'm contemplating giving them a review. However, they're extremely popular and I'm guessing many people have already read and/or watched the series. And I don't generally enjoy talking about things that people already know about, feels kind of redundent.

I am at a part where lots of people are dropping like flies though.

Last thing to note, due to schedule changes I no longer have a 5 day weekend but a 4 day one. It's still pretty good, I can't complain.

Leaves me plenty of time to blog during the term.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Chain Reaction of Problems

I return for the final term of my Psychology degree in the fall. Then I can finally get a piece of paper and be about 10 grand in debt. Lots of fun to be had. Especially considering I still have no idea what I want to do once I've gotten said degree.

I registered for my courses way back in June before I left for vacation to China. So, imagine my surprise when I returned home and found out that I had been kicked out of all of my courses.

And my program.

Pretty much my expression.

And a few phone calls later, I finally get my answer and the problem.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a few months will remember the problem I had last year. What happened was I didn't have enough courses to stay within my Psychology program. To solve this, several coordinators managed to shove me into 2 courses halfway through the term.

Why did I not have enough courses? Well, I was over the course limit for an Internship program I was trying to get into again. So I reduced my course load to try and get in. But as some of you may know, I didn't get in, and only put my degree at risk.

The reasoning was that if the person in charge let someone into the program that was over the course limit, it challenged the integrity of the program. Some nonsense like that.

Unrelated note, it's also sort of due to that same person that 1/5th of us didn't get an internship the first time around because she took more students than internships.

I imagine I've confused a lot of you right now.

Anyways, it turns out when they were adding my two extra courses, one of them never actually got added. In other words, I was doing all the work for a course I wasn't even registered in. And without that course, I didn't qualify for my program. They kicked me out and that was that.

Good thing I caught it in time. More phone calls later and things are all good. But seriously, it's ridiculous how many problems have been caused all because I wasn't able to get into that Internship program back in 2010.

Enough is enough.

But there is a silver lining to all of this. Due to me having to recreate my schedule, I now now have a 5 day weekend. That's right, a combination of late afternoon/evening courses on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday gives me a very nice schedule.

And I prefer to be able to sleep in, take courses at night. Everything worked out in my favor. So there's that.

The building that Theresa will be taking classes in has a kitchen. Maybe I can drop down one day and cook her lunch.

Or burn the building down.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Joys of Living in a Basement

I've lived in the basement ever since the router moved there. My old room barely had any WiFi strength for my laptop and that was unacceptable to me. And I like it down there. It's always cold even in the middle of the summer, I have my own bathroom around the corner, and I can move around better at night and am less likely to wake others up.

My only fear is that one day I'll become "that guy" in his parent's basement forever.

Kill me before this happens please.

That being said, I do miss the sound of rain on the roof. I don't see sunrises or sunsets anymore. But the biggest problem I have with living in the basement, is the bugs. No matter how hard you seal up every crack or gap in your home, insects and other creatures will find a way into your basement whether you like it, or not.

I generally don't mind them. They tend to congregate in the bathroom. It's not uncommon for me brush my teeth and watch a spider crawl down beside the mirror. Or watch as a couple woodlice scurry around outside of the shower. I've given up catching and releasing them outside, they'll probably just find a new way back in.

And they aren't that gross, could be worse.

However, it's when these things arrive unexpectedly that really bother me. Somehow, things keep crawling through the vents and into my bedroom. I have a duct directly over my desk and I've had woodlice suddenly drop down into my lap.

Once a moth popped out and started flying around me room until I finally caught it in a cup. It died throughout the night though which kind of surprised me. I thought that the thing could have waited a few hours for morning to come.

That's still not as bad as waking up in the morning, groping in the darkness for your alarm clock only to grab a woodlouse-like object on your pillow instead. Yes there is a vent over my bed. I haven't liked it since. And yes, I did somewhat panic in my groggy state and threw it somewhere.

Replace the table with a bug and that was pretty much me.

But the worst case I've encountered was one day discovering a dead spider in the corner of my bathroom. Being the lazy person I am. I leave it. I mean, who wants to go around touching dead spiders? They don't really bother me but who has "Clean dead spider off bathroom floor" on their to-do list.

A few days later I find a fairly large centipede eating said dead spider.

Centipedes scare me. I wouldn't even touch that thing. I wanted nothing to do with it. I actually had to have someone come into my bathroom, and get rid of that centipede for me. That's how much I hate them.

I'm not even going to go look for a picture of a centipede.

I eventually get around to cleaning the dead spider remains and it was like mush. Was it decomposing? Had the centipede injected something into the spider corpse to make it easier to digest? Are all spider corpses this mushy?

I don't know. But lately, I've been reconsidering moving back into my old room upstairs.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Memories of China: Why Macau Sucked

This will be the last post about my China trip. I think I've used it enough as inspiration as posts and this last story is the only thing I think can be enough to form a complete post. But today, I'm going to tell you why Macau was terrible.

Now Macau is fairly close to Hong Kong, which we were staying in at the time. My cousins went last year and told us they had a fairly good experience, lots of good food but the best food was at this expensive buffet in a hotel. When they went, there was all you can eat seafood and they described the serving tables as 100 meters long.

Oh and things to see, but who cares about sightseeing when there's food to eat?

Hopefully this isn't me in the future...

My Uncle living in Hong Kong wondered why we were going. "There's nothing to see there." he said. But we disregarded his warning and went anyways. There are only two ways you can get to Macau from Hong Kong, by boat (2 hours or 45 minutes) or by helicoptor (15 minutes).

And each time you go to either place you need to pass through customs and declare goods. They consider themselves independent cities or something, I don't know the details. I just know that it's just a large hassle to get there and back.

So that's already one point against Macau. Seriously, just stay in Hong Kong.

Macau: -1/Hong Kong: 0

The instant we leave the customs building it is hot. I have never been in weather this hot and humid before. It is like stepping into a sauna when you walk outside. And I hate it. I cannot stand the weather here, I am constantly hiding in the shade or ducking into shops in hopes of air conditioned salvation. Another point against Macau.

Dad books a half day driver to take us places to see places. EXCEPT, most places are closed on Thursdays. I don't know about you, but having Thursday as your day off doesn't make much sense to me. Friday or Monday makes more sense, to extend weekends or Saturday/Sunday because those are normal days off but Thursday? Really? So our driver ends up dumping us outside some malls/scenic areas we can't go into, and the ones we can enter aren't all that amazing.

Dad really wanted to go inside but it was closed.

Things we could see were uninteresting strip malls, department stores and churches. Macau was taken over by the Portuguese for a while so there was a lot of influence in terms of food and religion. There was this supposedly old famous church that was in a fire which we went to go see.

I didn't think it was anything special. I guess the fact that it was so old and still standing was impressive? The only thing that I cared about was the basement which had old bones of past priests or something.

Coldest area in all of Macau. I loved it.

And these dead guys hogged it all to themselves.

The driver eventually drops us off at some hotels. By this point, we're all really bored but we remain in Macau because of the buffet planned for dinner. The hotels are exactly what you'd see in Las Vegas and having been to Vegas before the buildings look like cheap imitations.

The shops are all high-end, overpriced Western brand name stores. There's nothing to buy, nothing to see, and my sister and I try our hand at some slots and proceed to lose about $10 CAD. What's interesting is that the Hong Kong dollar is equal to the Macau pataka so the machines take either currency. At least people were walking around giving free non-alcoholic drinks. That was a pleasant surprise.

Anyone been to the Venetian in Vegas? They have one in Macau too.

And then finally. It was about time for dinner. Except...

None of us were really hungry.

And who wants to spend several hundred Hong Kong dollars on a meal they'll barley eat. I personally blame the heat for my own lack of appetite. So we were a bit grumpy on the boat ride back because we could have headed back to Hong Kong much sooner to do more interesting things.

I can't remember what we ate for dinner that day. But all I'm confident that it was better than anything we ate in Macau.

Overall, unimpressed.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Memories of China: Dining Adventures with my Brother

In China I tended to prefer going off with my younger brother Brian. It's not that I have anything against my younger sister Bree, it's just that she tends to be a bit more quiet and doesn't share the same humor as Brian and I. It's not as fun doing things with her I find.

She's also not as adventurous. Brian and I have the mentality of doing things simply because we can do it, it be funny or it would make a good photo. Bree holds back, doesn't want to make a scene or even look foolish for a moment. I guess she has too much pride.

Whereas Brian and I don't really care if we have people staring at us while we fumble at a restaurant because our Mandarin sucks. We'll laugh it off whereas Bree will get all grumpy.

Something my sister needs to do.

This story takes place in a mall that had multiple restaurants on the top floor. Everyone else wanted to go eat Chinese food for dinner. I certainly didn't want to, we'd be getting tons of that on with the tour starting on the next day. Brian agreed. So, the two of us headed off on our own to find something more suitable to eat.

We were in the mood for Japanese and there so happened to be a rather nice looking Japanese restaurant. We found it odd that there were no prices on the menu outside but we thought nothing of it and got a table.

And then promptly left when we realized we didn't have enough money.

It was an all-you-can-eat restaurant and for about 230RMB (~$30 CAD) to get unlimited foie gras, sea urchin and other delicacies it was a pretty good deal. But we didn't want to spend that much money on one meal. We had only brought so much RMB with us and didn't want to go through the hassle of converting additional cash while in china.

The idea of so much foie gras makes me hungry just thinking about it...

So we agreed on going to a Korean BBQ restaurant. I had never gone to one before so I thought it be nice to try it for once. Plus, Brian's girlfriend was Korean, she must have taken him to one of these before. He'll know what to do.

Nope, it's his first time too. His girlfriend hates Korean BBQs. Makes her clothing smell like meat afterwards or something.

And so, for the second time that evening. He and I try and communicate that our Mandarin is pretty bad and that we need help trying to figure out what's going on and what to do.


Eventually we order a ton of meat and end up getting one of the hostesses to cook everything for us. I remember both of us feeling really sweaty and we couldn't tell if it was due to the heat of the BBQ, if we were getting meat sweats from eating so much meat, or it could have been because we were embarrassed.

The food was good, I rather enjoyed my first Korean BBQ meal. I'd go again if possible because I actually know how to do things now. And maybe it was a good thing we got a staff member to cook the food for us, that way we wouldn't end up with charred meat or food poisoning.

Mmmm... Delicious meat...

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Binding of Isaac: This Game is Horrifying

Theresa gifted me many things from the Steam Summer Sale while I was away in China. Now my backlog of games grows even larger and I have no idea how I'm going to get through all of these. In the meantime, I seem to have a preference for games by independent developers so today let's talk about The Binding of Isaac.

And while it is an excellent game, it is also easily one of the most disturbing games out there as well. Created by the same man who made Super Meatboy, some readers may be offended by this game's religious content. Anyone who may be offended can just scroll to the bottom and talk about their pet cat or something.

Yep, nothing out of the ordinary here.

The game is about a young boy named Isaac who lives with his Mother. However, his Mother begins to hear the voice of "God" and is ordered to sacrifice Isaac to prove her devotion. Yes, this mimics the Biblical story of the same name.

Isaac attempts to flee from his Mother by escaping through a trapdoor found in his bedroom. From there he must try and survive mazes filled with monstrous creatures and eventually face his Mother. The game has 11 different possible endings (13 with the Wrath of the Lamb expansion pack) each shedding light on Isaac's fate.

You play the game as Isaac, a small boy who is depicted as constantly crying. And that's actually how he fights the monsters in the mazes, by firing his tears at enemies. It is also possible to unlock other characters sharing the names of other Biblical characters such as Samson and Magdalene who have their own attributes. For example, Judas starts the game with very low health but the highest attack, whereas Cain has a much greater chance of finding better items.

 Again, the Wrath of the Lamb expansion gives additional characters.

The game differentiates itself from other dungeon crawlers in two ways, the maze creations and the items. Each playthrough is completely different in terms of mazes explored, monsters encountered, and items obtained. There are no saves and each time you play, you're either going to die or beat it. Dying involves you starting all over. As you progress and beat the game, additional items, bosses and even levels unlock giving another layer of depth to the game.

There are over 100 items that can randomly appear in the game, with an additional hundred items with the Wrath of the Lamb expansion. You have items ranging from basic health upgrades, attack upgrades to items that grant you wings, change your tears into lazers or give Isaac bad gas.

Oh on top of that, most items will cause your character to change his appearance. A tub of lard makes you fat, coat hangers will go through your head, diseases make you appear infected and sick, chemicals will burn off half your face.

A guy on Deviantart has drawn depictions of his character after each game, and remember that each playthrough is going to give you different items resulting in completely unique experiences:

You can view the rest of his gallery here.

Despite its cartoony appearance, The Binding of Isaac is NOT a game I'd would recommend for younger children. The monsters range from bizarre to disturbing and there is an exceptional amount of blood and gore in the game. The game is also quite difficult and often unforgiving. You are not required to explore the entire map and in fact can just go and fight bosses as soon as you find them. 

HOWEVER, by doing so you risk missing items that will make the rest of your playthrough easier. Or maybe you won't find anything at all and you'll end up fighting a boss half crippled. That constant threat of risk vs. reward is another well done feature of the game. Any mistakes are done because you decided to do them and you have no one else to blame.

For only $5 and an additional $3 for the expansion pack on Steam, this game is well worth its cost. Lots of content, plenty of replay value, and a unique experience and different challenge each time you play, I highly recommend this game.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Memories of China: Gift Hunting

Nearly everything is cheaper in China. Unless you're into paying for overpriced western brand name items. Then in that case you're an idiot. I mean, why would you go all the way to Asia to buy something from Gucci or Prada? It doesn't make sense.

Oh and Häagen-Dazs is more expensive there too.

I'm not paying $8+ CAD for a tiny container...

There are also things only available in China and it was my goal to buy as many gifts as possible for Theresa. If you recall, she did a miserable job of buying gifts for herself. If you want something done right, you need to do it yourself.

My personal preference for giving gifts is getting a big gift, and then compliment it with a bunch of smaller gifts. It's always seemed to be the best way to do things. And so I ran around China easily grabbing tons of smaller gifts such as food, cute things or t-shirts from my favorite clothing store Metersbonwe.

But I couldn't find the one BIG gift to put it all together. Theresa is the kind of person that'll go "Oh, it's nice. Thank you very much." when you give her something. She's that kind of a person. So it's extremely difficult to find a gift that she actually wants, that'll make her smile and become giddy with excitement. And then you overwhelm her with all the other little gifts.

Meanwhile, Steam decided to have it's annual Summer Sale and she proceeded to buy me nearly a dozen games. I'm not sure who was supposed to be giving who gifts while I was in China.


But then, I saw something. Something in Chengdu.

It was after another disastrous dinner. You can read my description of Sichuan cuisine here. But I didn't want to eat anymore of that greasy food and left the table. Next to the restaurant was an arcade and I stepped inside and found the perfect gift for my girlfriend.

A massive, plush turtle.

Theresa loves plush toys, she also loves turtles, and if she can use it as a pillow or a blanket, all the better. I could feel it mocking me with its pink blush and stupid little bow. I had to win it.

My goal is to do this one day, except with turtle plushies.

How this arcade game worked was there were multiple prizes and if a prize received a set number of points, you won it. After selecting a prize, a wheel spun and when you stopped it, depending on what you stopped on, number of points were added or deducted.

I don't know why, I know these things are rigged, but I had to try. I felt like I could win. I mean, $10 CAD would have gotten me enough tokens to try nearly 3 dozen times. And I was willing to keep playing until I won or ran out of money.

But then, after handful of attempts everyone else had finished dinner and we had to leave. I never won the turtle, and in the end, I found a similar, smaller version in Hong Kong. Theresa still loved it but it's not the same.

I'm still very bitter about not winning that turtle. and I know it's still mocking me with its stupid smile.

I hate you...

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Memories of China: Food Poisoning

I ate a lot in China. A ridiculous amount of food, things that I would never normally eat but I simply had to just for the spectacle, to say that I've tried it. Other times I grabbed something from a street vendor so I could take a picture of it.

I never claimed to be a smart man, my motto often times is "Do it, just because you can do it".

This leads to me eating things like this deep fried bird thing. I have no idea what it is, some kind of chick? For all I know they grabbed a bunch of chickadees. I hoped that the oil was enough to burn away any bacteria.

Seasoning salt kills bacteria too right?

But that didn't give me food poisoning. No. So I guess that if you deep fry something enough, it makes it safe to eat. Good knowledge for any traveller.

Now for anyone who remembers, one of the tours I was in a city called Chengdu. For anyone who cares, it's in the province of Sichaun. Now why this is important is because the people in this province are known for cooking in a particular way.

And I hate it.

It's overly spiced and/or spicy with food that ends up being especially oily/fatty/greasy. They even have their own type of "spiciness" which is characterized by your mouth going numb. That's right. Having your mouth numb = Spicy. It's caused by these special peppercorns that they use. And I can't say I care for them. Most of the meals provided by the tour group were unappetizing to me.

But one meal stuck out. And that was the Sichaun hotpot. Hotpot is basically where you have a pot of boiling broth or water at a table, and everyone cooks food in the pot at the same time. What made the Sichaun hotpot different was that the broth was Sichaun style. Lovely.

And there was one meat that I had to try.

Yes those are brains.

Maybe if I ate it in a different environment I would have enjoyed it more? But the brain was very gritty and yet, mushy. There wasn't much taste but I couldn't bring myself to eat the whole portion.

But, the brain didn't give me food poisoning either.

Later in Taiwan when we were in the night market I would find more interesting things to eat. My friends told me to find a dish which literally translates into "Small intestine in large intestine". In reality it's just small and large intestine sausages. I did find a stall selling it and it was extremely greasy and oily.

I tried giving some to a wandering stray dog and he ignored me.

I don't really blame him.

But no, this greasy mess didn't give me food poisoning. Neither did the offal that I got from a street vendor in Hong Kong, or the chicken cartilage from Macau, or the questionable peanuts on the boat ride in Guilin, or the riceballs from 7-11.

None of the things I ate in China gave me food poisoning.

So you ask, what did? What did I eat that caused me to puke for the first time in probably a decade? That made half my family sick and gave my Dad intestinal problems for half a week?

Airline food from these guys.

I hate these guys.

I apologize in advance if anyone reading this works at United or has loved ones working at United but I cannot stand this airline. Fairly poor service, barely mediocre flights, and seriously, when your food is worse than everything I ate in a country with questionable (if any) hygiene standards, something is wrong.

I hope to never fly with them again. I was lucky to be bedridden for only one day, my Dad was still vomiting and have diarrhea over half a week later.

Probably not a good idea to eat the vegetarian option either.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

One Year Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my blog. To be honest, I wasn't sure I'd last this long, or have that much material to talk about. Most blogs have a tendency to die after a few months, especially personal blogs.

But I guess I have an interesting enough life to continue making posts. Or maybe I can make mundane events seem more interesting.

I'm hoping my posts don't put people to sleep.

I originally started this blog to chronicle the events of me trying to figure out what to do with my life, what I was going to do after University. I truly was hoping that by this point in time I'd have a clearer idea of what to do and expect.

I don't.

And that's kind of scary, at least to me it is. Especially since most of my peers know exactly where they're headed to.

At least I'm special?

Ok, that's not entirely true. I have some sort of idea of what I want to do, it's just not as set in stone as everyone else. I have half a term left until I can get my degree and I guess we'll go from there.

I'm cutting this post short in celebration of my little anniversary, and upon further inspection it turns out I'm a day late with this post. Oops.

But yes, over the year I have had many followers but few have remained with me for a majority of the ride. And I appreciate everyone who stops by to leave a kind message. So come with me as I go through another year of uncertainty. And let's hope by my second anniversary, I'll be somewhere more secure.