Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles

First developed and published by Sega for the PlayStation 3 in 2008, Valkyria Chronicles made the jump to the PC last year (Nov 2014 to be exact) and after playing it, I have to say it is every bit as good as critics says. Valkyria Chronicles is a turn-based strategy game that’s set in an alternate-reality World War II. However calling it just a turn-based strategy game is to do it a disservice. Valkyria Chronicles also incorporate JRPG and third-person real-time shooter in it.

The campaign is presented in a book format with each new chapter showing a significant moment of the war, and each chapter (bar one) has at least one battle you need to fight through. At the start of the battle, you see a top-down map and you need to deploy your forces. After the deployment phase, the game starts and you are given a fixed number of command points per turn from the perspective of the map. You use a command point to select a unit, and the camera will zoom you in over the shoulder of the unit you selected. You move the unit and there’s a bar at the bottom of the scene showing your movement points. You can’t move once the bar reached zero and enemies will also shoot at you if you get too close. When you aim, enemies stop attacking and you are shown a circle cross-hair to line up. Once the shot is done, you can move if the unit still has some movement points left. Then you use another command point to select another unit. Once out of command points the enemy takes their turn.

If this sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is. It took me awhile to get used to it but once I did, I found the gameplay to have a lot of depth. The unique combat system forces me to learn strategies on a few different levels. The map view makes me a commander, having to constantly think of the movement and positioning of my units. Zooming into a soldier offered a different perspective, a more personal one that shows the danger the unit is it.

The gameplay does not only involve the battles. Outside the battles, you can train and equip your squad members at your Headquarters. You will also need to select the members of your squad. There are about 50 to choose from and each member has his/her personality, including which characters they prefer to work along. Each of them also has a full page of back story that is only revealed as they fight.

However what made the squad system works is the threat of permadeath. If a downed character can’t be evacuated in three turns, they are gone for good. So as the battles piled up, the thoughts of keeping the members of your squad alive becomes paramount. You become attached to them. The developers obviously know this because one of the achievements available is for the permadeath of one of your experienced squad member. Those bastards!

The game is also pretty long (coming in at around 40 hours) and difficult. More than a few of the battles require smart deployment of your squad and smooth movement of them. It is challenging and very satisfying when you beat it.

The story is also very good. The entire game is contained within a fictitious book entitled "On the Gallian Front" by Irene Koller and revolves around Welkin Gunther, son of a war hero. Upon returning to his home town of Bruhl, Welkin's life was soon swept away by the invasion of Gallia from its’ eastern neighbor. Gallia has a policy of Universal Conscription and partly due to his father’s past war heroics, Welkin was drafted and given command of Squad 7 of the Gallian Militia. Serving as a tank commander, Welkin and Squad 7 began their campaign to fight the Imperial advance into Gallia.

It’s a story of war and all the heroics and ugliness that comes with it. You see story characters die in the midst of war, fighting the good fight. Characters who comprised their principals in the name of the greater good. Characters who managed to find love and become better people in the ugliness that surrounds them. I will admit the story is melodramatic and heavy-handed at times, but it does works.

Of course no game is perfect but I can only think of one for Valkyria Chronicles. The control for tanks can be a little twitchy at times.  Moving the camera around sometimes means the tank would turn as well and I could never understand why. However outside that, I can’t really think of anything to complain about.

So don’t wait and get this game. With its’ unique gameplay, strong story and good art, Valkyria Chronicles is a game you need to try. Who knows? If sales are good, then maybe Sega will port Valkyria Chronicles II & III to the PC as well. Buy it! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stupid But Nothing Illegal About It

By now, almost anyone with an internet connection in Singapore will know of Ms. Meng Jiang and her 3 dogs. Animal lovers and welfare groups have condemned the woman for dyeing her three pet dogs to look like baby pandas. 

The dogs are Chow Chow pups and are usually brow in color. Not anymore! Despite the complains, the dog owner don't think she has done anything wrong as the dogs are well taken care of and the dyes used are safe. She's so proud of them she even rent the dogs out for photoshoots!  

As adorable as the pups are, many Singaporeans are against this practice with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) criticizing the practice of dying fur. In a statement, they state that the SPCA is strongly against the practice and advised pet owners to refrain from altering their pet’s appearance in an unnatural and unnecessary way.

What does that tells you? It tell me there's no law against what is being done here! Yes, people may complain and I totally get it, it is very stupid to dye dogs to look like pandas. However no laws has been broken so Ms. Meng Jiang had done nothing wrong. Which also means she can continue keeping the dogs looking like pandas! 

Is it stupid? Yes. Is it wrong? Arguably, yes! Is it illegal? No. So Singaporeans better get used to it. Who knows what we're going to see dogs dyed as next?  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Funny 1MDB Case

Welcome to the party, Hong Kong!

That's my immediate thought when I read that the Hong Kong police are the latest to publicly say that they are investigating transactions linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. This comes soon after similar statements from Switzerland and Singapore.  

According to the spokesman of the Hong Kong police, their investigations are on a report lodged on August 30 last year on deposits of more than US$250 million (RM1.03 billion), allegedly owned by businessman Low Taek Jho. This follows the Swiss attorney-general's office revelations last month that they are investigating some US$4 billion (RM16.8 billion) that were misappropriated from Malaysian state companies and the Singapore's Monetary Authority (MAS) publicly admitting that they were cooperating with authorities in Malaysia, Switzerland and the United States on the investigations into 1MDB.

So now you have Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States investigating into 1MDB...but not Malaysia because according to the Malaysian attorney-general (A-G) Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, there's no case! Now that's funny. Try as they might, it's seems that foreign governments are not going to allow Malaysian Prime Minister Najib to sweep the case to the back burner.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Standard & Wild

I have been playing Hearthstone for awhile now and have been having fun doing it. If you don't know what's Hearthstone, it's an online card game from gaming company "Blizzard" (creator of World of Warcraft).

The latest news from Blizzard is that Hearthstone will soon be spilt into get two format; Standard and Wild. The first will only allow players to use cards "released in the current and previous calendar year," as well as Basic and Classic cards which will never rotate out over time. Wild, on the other hand, can include every card ever virtually printed.

The idea for Standard is not new. Magic: The Gathering does the same thing. Banning older cards so that newer cards will see more playtime and to prevent power creep in the game. However I foresee a problem for Blizzard, and it's the same problem faced by Magic: The Gathering. How to keep players playing and buying when the cards they have will no longer be playable in one year? It's what took me away from Magic and now I have to ask myself the same question in Hearthstone. Why should I make the investment to buy cards that I can only play for 1 cycle/year? It just make no financial sense.

Already Blizzard is facing that problem as their website now state they are just "re-evaluating" and "making adjustments" on the older cards. Make all the "adjustments" you want but it still make me ask the same question; why should I buy any card from your online store if I can't use them in a year?

In case anyone is still wondering; yes, I think this is a bad bad idea.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Color of Voices

Currently, it seems all the news coming out of Malaysia has been bad. However with Chinese New Year is just around the corner, a capella group from Kuala Lumpur has gave Malaysian some good festive cheer with a capella medley that had captured the imagination.

The group is call "Color of Voices" and their Chinese New Year medley features a mix of popular Chinese New Year tunes, such as, chun dao ren jian (the arrival of spring), xi qing xin nian le (celebrate the new year bliss), gong xi fa cai (wishing you prosperity) and he xin nian (new year blessings). Not only did they get Malaysians in the festive mood, the group has captured the imagination with their diverse background.

Just a week after the upload, the video has garnered more than 18,000 views on Youtube and more than 13,000 views on Facebook. So what are you waiting for? See it here at ColorofVoices.

Friday, January 29, 2016

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

What's the difference between a donation and corruption? In Malaysia, there's none. At least according to a Malaysian lawyer who is defending a client on charges of corruption.

Mohd Yahya Mat Sahri, a special officer to former Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, faced charges for accepting a RM50,000 political donation. Acting for Yahya is lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon who say the case should be thrown out because "political donations" are not against the law in Malaysia.

Yahya has already been sentenced to two years jail and two strokes of the rota for the case but on appeal, Mr. Manjeet say the case should be thrown out. To no one's surprise, Mr. Manjeet cited Malaysian Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali's refusal to frame charges against the Malaysian Prime Minister for accepting RM2.6 billion in political donation from the Saudi royal family. 

Manjeet then produced the Dewan Rakyat hansard on December 2 last year where Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi told the house that there was no law to stop anyone from accepting donations for political purposes. To Mr. Manjeet, if both the AG and the Deputy Prime Minister say that political donations are legal, then his client has no case to answer. 

Sadly, he is right. If the Malaysian Prime Minister gets a free pass for RM2.6 BILLION, what the hell is RM50,000? It's not even 1%! In all fairness, Mohd Yahya Mat Sahri need to be set free. After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

NCMP Voting

As everyone expected, the ruling People's Action Action (PAP) has announced constitutional amendments to the Singapore Parliament including more Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) who will now have full voting rights.

As widely expected, the Singapore opposition are up in hands on the matter. In their view, Elected MPs (Member of Parliament) vote on behalf of the people they serve because they were elected by them. NCMP represents no one because they are appointed by the Singapore government. Thus, they should not have voting rights on policies in the parliament. 

I am fully on the side of the opposition on this one. Why in the world should NCMP, appointed to Parliament by the government, have full voting rights when they are never elected by no one? The PAP's argument about greater diversity cut no ice when they are trying to change the Elected President to become a figurehead. Honestly, a president without the power to do anything (or worse; controlled by a panel of advisers) is a total waste of public money but that's an argument for another day. 

I know most Singaporeans think the PAP won big in the election last year but I disagree. The opposition Worker's Party (WP) won 6 seats which is the same amount they won in 2011. The only thing that changed was the percentage of votes they won. The number of seats won/loss was the same.

So I don't see the need to give NCMP full voting rights. They are not elected. They are appointed by the government. Thus they have no business voting in a democratic country.