A weekend without TV, Xbox 360

My several-month-new Pioneer plasma TV has gone on the fritz, shutting itself off within seconds (up to 5 minutes, if lucky) of being turned on. I believe an internal overload circuit has been activated after the recent storm activity, and needs to be reset. Imagine my horror when the planned weekend of vegging out with the 360 evaporated.

Forced to find alternative pursuits, I played on other consoles.

Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (PSP)
*** (out of 5)
I’ve had this game for awhile now, but never really gave it any love. The camera controls take a little while to get used to – I come from the Japanese school of automatic best-camera POV – but once you know how, you stop falling to your death. Am currently stuck on the first giant boss with a possible bug that prevents the game from telling me when to stick him in the head with my dagger. A charming game. Still, some moments have been nothing but pure wall-jumping pleasure.

Nervous Brickdown (DS)
***1/2 (out of 5)
This game attempts to put a spin on the age-old Arkanoid/Breakout formula, and succeeds, if your definition of spin is ramping up the anxiety. By the way, did you know the paddle in Arkanoid was actually a spaceship? Just one of the many things you learn reading blast! So now while you’re keeping your balls up in the air with the touchscreen, you have to accomplish other tasks such as coloring illustrations, “driving” your paddle left and right down a 3D racetrack, and so on. Essentially your brain will often be playing 2 games at once. Novel.

Crazy Campus (Mobile)
**** (out of 5)
Admittedly, I’ve only just started on this phone game, but it holds a tremendous amount of promise. Like a good old-fashioned Japanese dating/time-management sim (Princess Maker sequels in English, where are you!?), you are a college student in his last semester whose friends have all graduated ahead of him/her. Your task is to put in the study hours, make money at a part-time job, join a clique of stereotypical friends (cheerleaders/jocks/nerds/hippies/hip-hop heads/etc.) and hook up with the hot girl graduation. Oh, the life I never had.

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I also spent Sunday afternoon planning a trip to Japan with some friends. Nobody brought a laptop, so I had to surf with my PSP and free Brewerkz Wi-Fi (they rock). Everything was jotted down on napkins, although I’ve since started a wiki to keep everything together. Hopefully it’ll grow and become a useful resource for other otaku pilgrims planning similar vacations in the future.

You can take a look at the link below. Contributing requires a Wet Paint account as it is powered by their software. Would be appreciated!

japan.sangsara.net

Hell freezing over


I bought an Xbox 360 last week. Like most of the expensive unnecessaries I eventually buy, the desire for one has been building up for months. Disgust and a sense of morality has usually held me back, but in this one instance it’s possible to admit Microsoft has produced something that works extremely well, when it works.

A couple of months ago, I actually tried to buy one but was foiled when the ATM swallowed my card minutes before. I thought that was the end of it, but like all things Microsoft, it doesn’t go away when you want them to (and conversely, they get red rings of death when you don’t).

The big scale-tipper was Guitar Hero II. I’ve missed out on many a videogame fad, and this one is just too good to let go. Videogames generally get very hard to find once they go out of print, and this problem is exacerbated in Singapore by the almost-niche status of original (read: non-pirated) game discs/products. It’s improving this console generation, with the largely hack-resistant 360. But I’m pretty sure once Guitar Hero II is gone, it’ll be gone for good.

Anyway, the experience this past week has been amazing. I’ve consistently come home and played on the console every night, and I spend a lot of time downloading game demos, videos, and trial versions of Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games. The latter are largely casual board games (Catan), puzzle games (Bejeweled 2), and high-res ports of classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Contra, and Bomberman. They cost money, and I’ve gone down that road as well, without regrets. Last night, the first Wing Commander game in years was released on XBLA, which would be very exciting if it weren’t a completely different genre of action shooter.

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft seems to be the only player actively supporting online console purchases here*. I have no access to the Wii’s Virtual Console store without an American credit card. I believe the same goes for Sony’s Playstation Network.

A couple days after getting on Xbox Live, I added my old friend Stuart to my buddy list, and we blasted through 80% of the incredible game, Gears of War, together online over 2 days with the help of the provided VoIP headset. It was an almost completely perfect experience, with clear and lag-free voice chat between me and the UK, and smooth co-op gameplay. I think it was the first time we’d talked in two years, and yet it felt as if we were in the same room. Those two multiplayer sessions alone were convincing enough justification for the high cost of the damned thing. Until it explodes on me, I’m actually very happy with the machine as a 2nd console to my Wii. It might even be the other way around until Super Mario Galaxy comes out.

And suddenly after playing a couple hours of Guitar Hero every night, I’ve developed incredible left-hand finger dexterity and a bulging right bicep. I’m going to be horribly unbalanced if I keep this up.

*Exception: The local XBLA Marketplace differs slightly from the American one, offering about 7 fewer games, including Boom Boom Rocket, one of the reasons I was keen to get an Xbox 360 in the first place. One can buy it with an inconvenient workaround, so I see no reason why they can’t get their act together and synchronize game releases worldwide.

New additions

If you were lucky enough to come by in the last couple of days, you may have noticed a brief appearance of Uniqlo’s fantastic Uniqlock on this page. It’s available as a Flash badge (2 sizes), and a screensaver, but you can test-drive the magic on their main page itself. Simply, it’s a neatly designed Flash clock, with music by the Fantastic Plastic Machine, that plays short clips of fresh-faced Japanese dancing girls every 5 seconds. They do a quirky mix of hand puppetry, ballet, and Jazz dance routines, and it’s simply mesmerizing. At work the other day, a couple of us just watched the damned clock for 10 minutes straight.

But the Uniqlock is gone now, because it was an unwieldy size for a webpage such as this. (RSS readers, do come by now and then!)

It’s a Web 2.0 age (Web 2,0 for the French), and this creaky old design with its non-standard, non-semantic web HTML – 382 validation errors and counting – just doesn’t have what it takes to keep the young kids entertained anymore. Why, just last night I learnt of the existence of tumblelogs! Have you heard of them? I sure as hell hadn’t! Suddenly, I understood how the great unwashed computer-illiterate masses feel, and it was the most unpleasant second of my life.

And so, in the grand tradition we have here of overcompensation by kneejerk reaction towards uncharted waters, I give you:
1) Larger, lovelier type.
2) blast!

Powered by the very nice tumblr system (Kevin Rose and Merlin Mann use it), this new channel/brand/flavor of my sangsara.net service/gift/blessing will deliver all short-form posts from here on out.

It’s simple:
Links, conversations, photos, tweets, YouTube videos, and short grunts – blast!
Long meandering posts, essays, reviews, complaints and grievances – blog.

Bonus: I’ve also added a handy link for visitors on mobile devices. It’s powered by Skweezer and trims all the fat off the blog page. Find it at m.sangsara.net.

I choose to take this as a compliment…

Until I can choose to take legal action, that is.

One of my photos has been cyber-pilfered for use on a recipe site here. The recipe (in Spanish) describes a risotto that must be quite close to the awfully delicious one I ate shortly after taking the photo. If anyone translates and produces anything from the recipe, do let me know how it went.