The Recruit

Good plot twists you could see from a mile away.

Unfortunately, we had arrived at the theater too late to catch the start of the last showing of Gangs of New York, so we had to settle with the second choice. The Recruit didn’t get as much critical acclaim as Gangs, but what the heck, Al Pacino in a spy thriller? How could I lose?

The story is simple enough. Colin Farell plays James Clayton, a young man just out of MIT, recruited by CIA agent William Burke (Pacino). Clayton is obsessed with finding out what happened to his father, who was lost in an accident some fifteen or so years ago. Pacino taunts him by dropping the occasional hint about his father’s fate, and Clayton throws away the promising career he would have had in Engineering to join the CIA. The third entry to this little affair is Leila, Clayton’s batchmate at the Farm, a
chick who may or may not be a double agent, but definitely has the hots for him. The three of them expectedly get involved a complicated plot involving double agents, unofficial operatives and the standard amount of secret agent sex.

The best parts of the movie involve the CIA training. We get a glimpse into the kind of psychological warfare business they teach the recruits at the training centre affectionately called “The Farm.” Here Al Pacino does what he does, drilling his principles into his students: “Trust no one.”; “Nothing is what is seems.”, and “Everything is a test.”

The weakest part has to be the character of James Clayton himself. The character of Leila puts it best: Why the hell does James feel like doing anything he can to please Burke? James never has any real motivation for following Burke like he was the Messiah. Aside from that mysterious star on the CIA wall at Langley (which may or may not be related to his father), there is nothing stopping James from just calling it quits and heading home. Hell, I wouldn’t have wanted to go through that training,
secret agent or not.

Overall: Enjoyable enough, despite the predictability of the overall plot. Ending is a bit disappointing, but only a bit, as it leaves an important plot point hanging. I hope we see these characters again sometime…

23 Jan 2003: Working Joe

How’s work you ask? It’s going pretty well actually. Everything’s still easy-peasy for me as I’m undergoing some training and stuff. I’m a bit worried about what happens after the training though, from the looks of it people put in a lot of overtime here. 🙁 The best thing about the job is that I’m learning a lot of stuff. In two weeks I learned SQL, PL/SQL and Delphi. Starting tomorrow I’m gonna be training on Oracle Developer. The work itself looks easy enough — nothing I can’t handle. Since most of the coding is done using high-level RAD Tools, I should be fine. On a side note, it’s a weird feeling actually having access to money. It’s like everything looks different because there’s always the possibility of buying stuff. On another side note, I’m paying a lot in taxes. My annual salary is like a couple of ten thousand above the minimum for my bracket. It’s irritating.

19 Jan 2003: I need more screws!

Yes I do. I bought a new hard drive yesterday, a 40Gb 5400RPM Seagate. It took me a while to get the system up and running again after my plugging it in. First I had to wrestle with my PC’s small case, trying to figure out where to place the thing. Then, given how old my PC is, it predictably failed to detect the whole capacity of the drive, insisting it was only 8 Gb. I went down to Seagate’s website and did some Dynamic Drive Overlay thing that let me overcome the BIOS limitations. But the DDO installed a Bootloader that would often hang the PC upon booting! I had to send in an email to Seagate tech support and wait til the next morning before I could get everything fine and dandy. Now I have a nice healthy 36 Gb of space…almost 20 times as much capacity as the old drive. Sw33t. The only problem now is that the hard drive didn’t come with any screws — so I just placed it on top of the old one. And I had to move my floppy so it’s lopsided.

31 Dec 2002: Happy New Year…whatever…

  • Well, trying to make this a weekly format thing obviously fizzled out.
    What with me starting work on Friday, I just give up. I’ll keep this site
    up and put up stuff of interest whenever I feel like it, just like before.
  • So what’s new? As I said, work starts Friday. I went to an orientation
    for the job last Friday and it seems like a tough and demanding job, but
    I rise to the challenge in any case. What I’m worried about is that the
    hour and a half commute might sap my energy too much. Maybe I should carry
    chcocolates to work. 😛
  • We got a PS2…in fact most of my free time these past couple of weeks
    have been sapped by two huge beasts named Suikoden III and Fallout 2.
    Actually, I haven’t touched Fallout 2 in a week or so because of Suiko3.
  • For the New Year I resolve to give up on resolutions, they never work
    anyway.
  • Later.

Square Enix

Anyway, I’ve had a couple of days to think about it, so I’d like to share my thoughts on the matter.

First, the facts:

Enix and Square are merging. Square stock will be bought out for Enix stock at 0.81 Square per 1 Enix. The Square president will be head of Square Enix, the Enix board remains in place, they’ll move into Enix headquarters in Shibuya.

All currently announced releases will go on as scheduled. A FF/DW merger may be in the offing, but no definite plans, and probably only as a side release. No personnel will be let go.

Squaresoft is: Final Fantasy, Chrono, Xeno, SaGa, Mana and assorted other titles.

Enix is: Dragon Quest/Warrior, Soul Blazer series, 7th Saga, Actraiser, Tri-Ace (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile), and a lot of stuff that never made it outside Japan. Enix also has a deal with GameArts on co-developing the Grandia series.

Sony, one of Square’s major stockholders, will have it’s shares diluted to 8% of Square/Enix.

Namco, another game company also has some stock in both Square and Enix, and is the publisher of Xenogears’ prequel, Xenosaga.

Square also has a US publishing deal with EA, set to expire at the end of the year. (This last tidbit may not mean anything…)

Square also recently acquired the Quest team (responsible for Tactics Ogre series) and the rights to the Ogre Battle franchise.

Okay, what can we see?

First off, Enix will be in control, at least at first. Although the Square guy will be Pres, the Pres can always be overridden by the board, and the Enix board will remain in place until they hold a stockholder election thingy, whatever that’s called. You might think this is bad “Oh no, Enix is in control, that means FF is doomed!” Of course not. They’re not stupid. The fact is that Enix being in control of the company’s vision and direction makes more sense in light of Square and Enix’s overlapping powers. Square develops most of it’s products in-house, while Enix publishes a lot of products from other developers like Tri-Ace and Gamearts. Therefore, it makes more sense for Enix to be in control of administrative/business stuff, leaving Square staff to focus on what they do best — game development.

But what does this mean to us as gamers? In the immediate future, nothing really. All the currently announced projects are unaffected: we’ll still get FFXI, FFXII, FF:Crystal Chronicle, FFTA, Unlimited Saga, etc. The only thing I’ve found people to be questioning on message boards is whether FF1-2 (which still doesn’t have a definite announcement of a US release) will have an English version. This is a possible concern, as Enix didn’t even bother to release an English version of their own DW4. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a collection of DW4 and FF1-2? 😛 (Addendum: FF1-2 has been announced for US release.)

But after the immediate future, what then? Square Enix will almost
certainly continue the Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior lines. The future for the Chrono series also seems bright, as the original Chrono Trigger was a collaboration between Square and some of Enix’s creative staff. Stuff from Tri-Ace and GameArts will probably go on as before, seeing as these development studios are mostly independent of Enix anyway. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get another Soul Blazer trilogy.

What I worry about are Square’s “secondary” RPG series: SaGa and Mana. Now that Square Enix will have two “big” series under it’s roof, will they still have time to develop these still-young series?

Although not really related to the merger, things also look bright for fans of FFTactics. Aside from the upcoming FFTA, Square’s acquisition of Quest and the Ogre Battle franchise means we’ll probably see more FFT/TacticsOgre type games coming from them. Combined with the unique gameplay perspective of Tri-Ace, who knows what interesting games will come out?

I’ve been looking around on message boards after the news came out, and it seems a lot of people are worried about how Enix might screw up Final Fantasy, or Square screw up Dragon Warrior or anything like that. To this, again I say: They’re not stupid. FF and DW, although they have the same roots, are completely different series now, and their different styles again reflect how Square and Enix can complement each other’s strengths. Well, I guess DW will benefit the most, as it’s sorely lacking in FFs specialty: really good graphics.

Another concern that has been raised has been the possibility of a monopoly in RPG games. With this merger, a lot of the big RPG names are now under one roof. Won’t the lesser competition cause more lackluster RPGs to be put out? Maybe, but I doubt it. Square Enix still can’t afford to let up on the quality, as there are still a good number of other good up-and-coming series out there: Suikoden (Konami), Wild Arms (Sony?), Tales (Namco) and Breath of Fire (Capcom) all still have quite some following and good potential. In fact the above titles will probably slug it out for the Number 2 Console RPG Developer slot…

All in all, the opinions I’ve read on the web are mixed: some are good, some are bad. My own personal take is that it’s good; mergers generally mean two companies wanting to capitalize on each other’s strengths, not share each other’s weaknesses. Let’s just wait and see, and hope for the best. 😛

Bourne Identity, Goldmember, Signs

The Bourne Identity

A new action hero is Bourne

I was a bit anxious to see this movie, as I had thoroughly enjoyed the book of the same name a long time ago, and I was hoping the movie would give me the same satisfaction. The Bourne Identity stars Matt Damon as rogue CIA agent/amnesiac Jason Bourne. In his quest to uncover his own identity, Jason travels all around Europe pursued by the CIA’s agents and dragging along an innocent gypsy girl who just happened to be his best shot for a ride to Paris.

Now, I haven’t read the book in ages, so I can’t say for sure how faithfully the story translates to the movie (although as I recall there was a lot more traipsing across Europe — I may be wrong though) so I have to judge the movie on its own merits.

On its own merits, the movie falls short of my expectations. Mainly because I was expecting some fast-paced action, but most of the time it’s just Jason and Marie running and hiding from the CIA. It’s more of an action/thriller than a straight action flick — Jason spends a lot of time trying to uncover the conspiracy behind his pursuers. However, it doesn’t seem to pull off either the thriller part or the action part very well. The thriller part doesn’t fly because we know what’s going on well before Jason does — the movie shows us what’s going on at CIA HQ, how his boss travels to Paris to mete him, et cetera. The action part doesn’t fly because the thriller parts get in the way. DOn’t get me wrong, there are some cool action stunts here — Jason riding a free-falling body down the center of a spiral stairway to gun down one of the CIA agents — but they are few and far between. Also, the director seems to enjoy some sort of shaky, jarring camera work — not really a problem but occasionally
annoying.

Overall: Good enough, I suppose. The director is no Robert Ludlum
but the story is told well enough.


Austin Powers in Goldmember

Do I make you horny baby?

Another Austin Powers movie? Well I knew what to expect — more of the same. I got what I expected, but that isn’t really a bad thing. As usual with Austin Powers movies, some parts tend to drag on, while some parts are simply “laugh-out-loud” funny. This time, Dr. Evil enlists the aid of 70’s criminal mastermind Goldmember in a nefarious plot to extort money from the world leaders (as if you didn’t know.) Austin himself gets some help (aside from the requisite Powers girl Beyonce Knowles as Foxy Cleopatra) — from none other than his dear old dad, legendary secret agent Nigel Powers (played by Michael Caine) This one has a bit more story than the first two — you get to find out more about Austin and Dr. Evil’s history, and some strange plot twists ensue. Expect the return of such characters as MiniMe, Fat Bastard and Dr. Evil’s wayward son Scott. Also a new character on the side of British Intelligence is played by Wonder Years star Fred Savage

The funniest parts are mostly during the opening sequence and towards the end. Expect more gross, insensitive and blatantly offensive humor, more naked bodies, more Fat Bastard crapping, more silhouette jokes, more making fun of MiniMe, hollywood cameos, movie spoofs and the like. This time however, things don’t stay the same. Some changes in the status quo happen towards the end and this will obviously not be the last Austin Powers movie.

Overall: I liked the second one better, but this one’s good too. As is the case with Austin Powers movies, it’s not for the easily offended.


Signs

Crop circles? This isn’t the X-files is it?

Of the three movies I saw this week, “Signs” was the one I was looking forward to the least. The trailer didn’t really give me a good impression — looked like some cheap X-Files ripoff with Mel Gibson as Fox Mulder. As it usually happens, turns out I was wrong about the whole thing – “Signs” is one helluva good movie.

Let’s get it out first: “Signs” is about an alien invasion. We’re talking spaceships and green men. However, unlike movies like Independence Day which tell the story of how the world comes together to defeat an alien menace, “Signs” tells the story of how a family comes together to survive fear, paranoia and green men knocking on their door. All of the Independence Day stuff happens, but never at the forefront of the story — the giant spaceships are there, somewhere in the background, shown on
TV.

The story is about a farmer and his family in a small rural town. Overnight, mysterious crop circles appear in his fields. Later on, more signs appear — prowlers around their house, strange radio noises. As a former minister, Mel Gibson faces what he fears the most — the idea that there is no God, and that he and his family are left to fend for themselves against whatever threat is there lurking in the shadows.

The movie is extremely well-written, with all the characters playing their parts well, and all the elements coming together towards the end to make a whole lot of sense.

Overall: Go see it. Now. Unless you’re like my kid brother who would probably get nightmares just thinking about an alien invasion.

Birthday #24

I turned 24 yesterday.

Generally uneventful birthday, as usual. I’m glad I got the whining done in the last post. Spent the night before at David’s (whose birthday is a couple of days before mine). Dave, Mon and I played approximately seven hours of CvS2, watched a Jet Li flick then played around eight hours of Warcraft III. WC3 is the bomb! (And it further highlights my craving for a new computer) Anyway, went home the next morning, got some sleep. Then the usual birthday food in the evening, and some new pants.

I had forgotten to go to Church that morning (curse you Warcraft III!!!) so I decided to go to Church this morning. Before going I was stiull a bit down about being a 24-year old bum, but somehow going to Church gave me back a bit of hope. Funny how although I’m not a very good practicing Catholic, a few quiet moments with God are enough to change my perspective on things.

In any case, this is the start of a new year, hopefully one better than the last. I don’t know where fate will take me this year, but I will face life with open arms, overcome all challenges and spit in the face of destiny. All things happen for a purpose, hopefully soon i will know mine.

They Don't Know What They're Missing

I’m pissed off.

Today I went to Ortigas for a job interview with a nameless IT company where my cousin Rachel works. I was quite optimistic too — the position was for a “Java Trainee.” I was more than willing to be trained, and a trainee position meant you didn’t have to be proficient in Java right? Turns out I was wrong. =( Apparently they needed someone with some experience in Java, preferably with a project or two under his belt. I tried to convince the interviewer that I had a lot of raw talent and learn pretty fast anyway, but I haven’t got any high hopes. That pissed me off.

Even worse, I had gone to Ortigas with just enough cash to make the trip back and forth. I had left a good two hundred bucks at home ‘coz I forgot to pick ’em up and put ’em in my wallet. I was thinking of trying out the arcade version of Capcom vs SNK 2, maybe buying a CD or two. But no! Now I couldn’t even grab a bite on the way home. That pissed me off.

Later that night, my mother was watching “While You Were Sleeping”, and I was feeling so depressed I was wondering what would happen if I ended up like Sandra Bullock at the start of the movie — alone, and working a dead end job as a ticket seller. Sigh

It’s not just the fact that I’m still unemployed — it’s been a good nine months now and I’ve kinda gotten used to that. It’s the realization that despite whatever work I’ve done in school, I can’t get a job. It’s as if everything I learned in college was useless.

When I was finishing up in UP, everything seemed simple — I’d graduate and all my troubles would be over. I’d get a job at maybe Canon or Intel, save a bit, buy a new computer and a PS2, et cetera. To tell the truth I was probably spoiled by those teachers that kept telling us that simply being graduates of the State University was good enough to land a job. I ought to sue those teachers for mental anguish or something. I graduated from one of the hardest course at one of the best universities in the country, and I can’t land a job. Gosh darn it all.

After thinking about this, I thought I’d evaluate my own skills to see what could be done. Lemme see, I can do:

  • Embedded software. Since I did two thesis-level projects involving embedded software, I reckon I’m fairly good at this. The problem is that I’ve only come across one job opportunity where this skill would be useful, and I never got a callback (and
    I thought it was a pretty good job for me too.)
  • Programming. This would be great, until I acknowledge that while I’m a programming genius, I don’t actually have any application-level programming experience under my belt. I’m good a coding, optimizing programs, finding solutions to tough problems, but I’ve never been part of a large-scale software project, even though I could probably do it all myself, in theory.
  • Web Development. I know HTML and various scripting languages, can use Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash, what can’t I do? The problem comes up again: I know it all in theory, but lack the experience. It’s not like I’m churning out webpages at a dime a
    dozen, and most places looking for web developers ask for some level of experience. Curses.
  • Write. Or at least I like to think I can. But it doesn’t sound very profitable to be writing for a living…

Sigh, that’s it. Pretty sad, huh? The main problem seems to be most of what I can do is self-taught and relies on my raw talent instead of actual experience. What is it with the world? Why can’t they just recognize my genius and overlook my lack of experience? I learn impossibly fast anyway, anything I don’t know I can pick up quickly. Argh.

Oh well, at least now I feel better, having put my thoughts into words. This journal thing is probably really healthy for me. I get to whine without burdening anyone with my problems.

There’s still some hope, at least. Sir Louie, the ECE guy Tito Ferry set me up with, said he’d ask around, although he did recommend I learn a few more skills by taking some short courses at APC, an IT school near SM North. I’m a bit hesistant about that though — short courses will undoubtedly cost money, and I don’t want to bother my parents about cash any more than I have to. It’s bad enough I can’t help them make ends meet…

Anything else? Lately we’ve been watching Excel Saga (ridiculosuly funny! Pedro!!!) and Scryed. AXN is showing two new anime series: Ayashi no Ceres and Gensomaden Saiyuki. And they brought back Monday night anime, so more anime all around. Oh yeah, the A/V cable for our PSX is apparently busted. Which probably explains why I got rather pissed off today. Just when I was gonna get adult Rei back into the party! Without the PSX to distract me, I had no choice but to face my real-world problems

=(

In any case, I guess I have no choice but to keep going and hope for the best. I got a nice quote today from Castaway, from Tom Hanks of all people:


“I know now I have to keep on breathing. Because the sun will rise tomorrow, and you never know what the tide will bring.”

rant.07.12.2002: personal websites

I originally wasn’t going to have a rant today, but while surfing the web I thought about one of the things I like about it: personal websites.

That’s right, personal pages. Some people might argue that personal pages are like the dregs of the internet. And they’re probably right. Given that any random joe-on-the-street can get on Geocities and build his own website, (like royness.vze.com for instance) we’re certainly bound to see all sorts of stuff (and accordingly, all sorts of crap) on the internet.

See, that’s the thing: “All sorts of stuff.” It’s pretty much the same way Forrest Gump describes a box of choc’lates: You never know what you’re going to get. And occasionally, you get some good stuff. And for people like me, who are obsessed with the trivial, stuff is good. The same way that people browse through bargain bins looking for good deals, I like to browse through personal pages looking for something read-worthy (or even better, download-worthy.)

The problem with most personal pages on the ‘net however, is that they are crap. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good ones out there. (Try Toastyfrog or maybe Seanbaby) But the fact is that a whole lot of websites are done by people just learning to do HTML or trying it out. Not that being a newbie is a bad thing; the bad thing is when you make a website just for the sake of having one, just so you can say you know how. Websites built in this manner typically end up the sort that’s filled with all sorts of tricks like animated GIFs, scrolling marquees or a ton of Javascript. Lots of flash but not much content really.

Here are some tips for people who want to make their own website:

Have something to offer. Many people build personal sites with the attitude of “It’s my website, what do you care what I put on it, anyway!” Yeah well, if you don’t care what people think about it, why are you putting it up on the net? Leave it on your computer if that’s your attitude. Websites are put up for public consumption, so there has to be something there for people to consume. If you’re going to put up a website, make sure you have something to offer the public other than an “under construction” page. Otherwise, you’re just wasting people’s bandwidths aren’t ya? When you’re just starting out with the idea of “I want to have my own webpage”, it might be hard to think of what your webpage can offer the world. It doesn’t have to be anything big or extra popular, you can start small. I originally put this website up just to host some fanfiction. (And then I put up more and more stuff…) You can put up your writings, reviews of things you like, links to interesting places, info about yourself, announcements about events you’re involved with, etc.

Be original. This is hard to do in today’s web. Most of the things people put up on their websites can undoubtedly be found elsewhere on the web. What can you do to set yourself apart from the crowd? Use more original content, or if you’re lacking in that department, look for different ways to present your content. An example would be when I was first learning HTML, I tried to make a Rurouni Kenshin web site. At first I was going to put in info about the characters, story etc. But after looking around a bit, I saw that there were already many websites around for this popular anime series. So instead, I put up info about the fighting styles and techniques of the RK characters, something that I couldn’t find at that time. (Don’t try looking for this so-called RK site of mine, I took it down a long time ago. I still have the files and may revive it someday though.)

Know what contrast is. Look at this site and you’ll know what I mean.

Don’t try to do everything at once There are people who make websites with the idea that their site will be “next big thing” of the internet. It won’t, trust me. Not anytime soon at least. Although there are a lot of crap sites, there are also a lot of good sites, and the best ones have developed from small sites with a limited following to being read by millions. You, with your meager resources and staff of (probably) one can’t hope to achieve that overnight. Start small, focus on what your site can provide to your viewers right now instead of trying to be a really big thing. See that site I linked to above? The front page says “Your number one sorce for your anime needs.” Not only is that misspelled, but it’s so far from the truth.

Know how to spell and know how to write proper English (or whatever language is your choice). I’ll cite the above link as an example again. How do you expect your readers to take your website seriously if you can’t even spell “sorce” properly? Go back to school first, then make a website. Additionally, you may want to leave the l33t sp33k for mIRC, unless that’s what your audience expects.

Write for your audience That way, they can come back later. Don’t do things like writing in l33t when your viewers will probably hate it. For a personal site, your initial audience is probably going to be mostly you, and maybe some friends and family. When you want to start attracting more people to your site, you may also consider writing for people who think like you. This are the best kind of viewers, as they will like what they see and will usually come back for more.

Know how to take criticism Actually, this is advice for being on the internet in general. Remember that the internet is a public medium, and anything you offer on the internet can be criticized by anyone. A lot of stupidity on the internet comes from people not knowing how to take criticism. Study the criticism and correct your mistakes. Accordingly, I want to apologize in advance to the owner of the site I’ve been using as a bad example — I have nothing against you, yours was just the website I had open at the time of this writing.

Have links. Links are always good because if the rest of the website is bad, at least there’s a chance of finding something better to read. If your website could have only one thing, have links.

Dang, this turned out longer than I thought it would. I have a lot more to say on this topic, I’ll say them next week. Later!

Cheap Rushing

[Posted on the GameFAQs message board
in response to endless whining about rushes.

Last I heard, Battle.net had a competitive ladder system,
meaning if you want to go up on the ladder, you have to win. If
rushing is the means for that win, you should go for it.

What does this mean? If you don’t want to be rushed, don’t
play on Battle.net, because on Battle.net people play primarily
to win and secondarily for fun.

Get a bunch of friends together and hook up a LAN and play
amongst yourselves, where you can have your own rules like “No
rushing!” or “Announce before attacking!” or “No building fifty
million towers!”

If you insist on playing on Battle.net, don’t play 3v3 or 4v4;
it’s in these formats that rushing is a very viable strategy. I
find that 2v2 is best, as there is little human interaction in
1v1.

If you think that rushing makes the game “no fun”, then maybe
you should be playing another game. Warcraft III is a *strategy
game*, the “fun” is in finding strategies to beat your opponent.
Rushing is a strategy, just like any other, and it can be
defeated just like any other strategy (otherwise 100% of people
would be rushing, which isn’t true)

Do you always get beaten by rushes? Maybe you should look at
your build order to see how you could improve speed-wise or get
more defense early on. Look at replays to see how people beat off
rushes. Scout ahead to know they are coming. Practice against two
or more computer opponents to test yourself. The key to improving
is not to whine about things that are “cheap” or “no fun” but to
study ways to beat those things.

As a note, I am not a rusher. Not often anyways. I will rush
every so often, but only for variation. I attack when I can,
creep when I can, and tech as fast as possible.