May 28, 2016

Sink or Swim When The Sunset Comes

By the end of the year, I'm not entirely sure where I'd be - as would anyone in the world. What I have right now is a daily routine with comfortable seat in a ship. A routine that got me everything I ever wanted from baubles to technology. It's a good day as long as my head's straight.

I've been on this ship for quite a while now and I'm pondering a lingering question:  Should I stay or should I go? Darling, I've got to let me know.

The season's slowly changing and the days are about to be different. The ship is going down. The days will be longer and more agonizing with little to no regard for anyone. The shadows won't be the same.

In the words of the Tenth Doctor, I don't want to go.

"Stay then," says my conscience.

But I don't want to be more miserable than I already am. So I can't stay. Staying in familiar water would mean I'll just be driving myself loony all over again.

People make me miserable. People who come by the ship and demand outrageous things. I remember having an episode 6 hours before the year was stricken from the record. There's only so much stupidity a man could take in a regular day. It made me realize that the degenerates don't care about your well-being as long as they get what they want. "I know your day is over but what about me?!" What about you? What about me?

Maybe I'm just rocking the boat. The boat however is still sinking as each day passes and there's nothing I can do to change the situation. The choices I have in my head bother me. Stay where I am and wait for the new ship to arrive with more lunacy in the same dirty ocean, or go somewhere else that takes me to new places. Tough but fair.

Sun's setting, Shamrock. Make a choice. And live.

May 15, 2016

2am 4 years later

A friend told me to find my happy place. My only happy place is somewhere I've never been to.

You know those lyrics? "Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend. Somewhere along in the bitterness." Those lyrics that are always familiar to anyone who listens to them?

Maybe, just maybe, in an alternate universe, that was the song played in room 116 on Valentine's Day. And things went right. And things didn't go the way that reality played. And everything about you and I wouldn't be terrible. Ha. Too good to be true. Stuck in that moment again whenever things go wrong.

Strangely, I only wanna see you again as a phantom. Because phantoms can't hurt me. A blink of an eye and they're gone. That's as close as I'll get to seeing you again, I know.

No use thinking about phantoms but that's the best I can do nowadays. And it kills me that you're not in my reality. And it kills me that I can't replace you, no matter how long it's been.

Whatever. Whatever. At least that's what you told me.

March 11, 2016

Video Game Review - Pokemon Crystal Version

Crystallized Memories


It's coming right for us! *gunshot* (Photo from Amazon.com)

When it comes to RPGs, Pokemon might be my favorite. Maybe I’m looking at it through rose colored glasses.

I remember playing my first Pokemon game - Pokemon Red. I bought the cartridge from my friend when we were in third grade for less than 3 dollars Canadian and I had that cartridge till 2013 when I left it in the Philippines. It was great that I spent more than 100 hours and more than 60 pairs of batteries just to play the game. Mr Bing still hasn’t forgiven me for taking his smoke detectors’ batteries for my Gameboy but I needed to get out of Rock Tunnel, goddamn it. To this day, I never actually finished Pokemon Red. I was too busy exploring the game. That is, until I played Pokemon Blue and got lucky by freezing the final boss’s last Pokemon. Take that, Blue Oak! Damn right I killed your Raticate, bitch! Smell YOU later!

Pokemon Red made me experience the Pokemon games but Pokemon Crystal made me love them for what they are - a grand adventure to become the Pokemon League Champion. If Pokemon Red was the main course, Pokemon Crystal is the full course meal with shrimp cocktail on the side. As it was on the previous games, you are a 10-year old who’s set on a journey. Boy or girl? Doesn’t matter, it’s all aesthetic. Lord knows why you can’t just go to school but hey, that’d be no fun. Going to school with all sorts of creatures at your disposal? Sounds like a Persona game. Scratch that, I’d love to see trainers in high school with their Pokemon. Anyway, fun ideas aside, you’re tasked to get a Pokemon from the professor next door and go on a journey for science, which means filling up the Pokedex and beating the League champion.

So what’s good about this game anyway? The newly animated sprites, of course! Finally, I can experience a Pidgey flap its wings! Kidding aside, Pokemon Crystal a really solid game with new mechanics on top of the familiar gameplay of the previous generation.

One new feature I love is the day/night feature that changes depending on what time of day it is in the real world. So if you’re playing at 8pm after dinner, the game time would also be night. If you’re playing at 9am at school, the game time would also be at 9am while your teacher is wondering why you’re playing a Gameboy in the middle of class, you lazy geek. The time actually affects the events in game. The day and night cycle means that days go by, which feels like you’re actually progressing through time compared to Pokemon Red’s solitary sunny weather. Bug Catching Contests happen every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday so at least you have something to keep coming back to. Depending on the time of day, the Pokemon you can encounter on tall grass would differ so that means you’ll encounter the owl pokemon at night instead of the typical pidgeon.

A new addition is the PokeGear feature which is like having an Android phone in 2001. You can access the radio and the town map so it’s Google Maps and Google Play Music before those were popular. I personally love the cellphone feature because it shows you that these trainers you encounter aren’t just people looking for a dogfight. They’re all human and they give you a little glimpse of their lives. The Youngster calls you to talk about his Rattata while the Lass calls you for a rematch. One fisherman named Ralph (I know, I love him too!) told me to call my mom and I was so touched and amused that I actually did.

Pokemon Crystal even has you go to the Kanto region. You know? That region from Pokemon Red, albeit a reduced version of Kanto because Gameboy cartridges back then lacked space. So not only do you face new gym leaders in Johto, you can even face the previous generation’s gym leaders in Kanto and see if they hold up or if they’re just washed up drunks. As a player, it’s revisiting your first Pokemon game, which is really awesome because as a player, I felt like I was showing my Pokemon a tour of where I started my Pokemon journey.

All of these considered, the big question is: Does it hold up the test of time? Is it still a good game compared to the newer Pokemon games? The answer is yes with with a huge asterisk on the side. The game is great as long as you make considerations, as with any retro game. Perhaps I’m just looking at these through rose-colored glasses - glasses that would probably make the game look better.

Visually, it looks okay. The game sometimes looks like it was painted with MS Paint. Your character is forever a walking tangerine that stands out regardless of the time of day so you look you suffer from Minute Maid radiation poisoning. The 3-second animation of Pokemon during the start of a battle is a breath of fresh air but some Pokemon still look like they’re colored weirdly like Ampharos, Jigglypuff, and Mareep, among others. This could be excused because they were dealing with a limited amount of space and were just starting to utilize colors on the Gameboy Color.

And just because Kanto is in the same cartridge as Johto doesn’t mean that it’s a full experience from the last game. In Pokemon Crystal, the Safari Zone in Fuschia City was closed until the remake so that meant I couldn’t catch any good Pokemon for 500 bucks. Seafoam Islands was reduced to a small bunch of rocks with Blaine in one of the caves (Poor guy). Cinnabar Island was destroyed by a volcano, leaving a Pokemon Center behind and the corpses of scientists have sunken below the sea. Victory Road and Viridian Forest were drastically reduced to mere paths and hallways. Worst of all, Cerulean Cave and Mewtwo are gone. I blame pollution. Damn Silph Co and their damage to the environment. Suffice to say, Kanto had an invasion of ravage landscapers so don’t expect the perfect Pokemon Red experience.

In terms of gameplay, it’s Pokemon at its basic form. Now there are new types introduced to balance battles out. Steel beats rock as dark beats psychic. There could be more but I’m more of a brute force kind of guy who’s stubborn enough to think that a strong flamethrower attack could beat rock-type Pokemon.

If you have either Pokemon Silver or Gold, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to buy this game then. Unless you just want animated sprites during the start of battles. Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver already dealt with a lot of issues with Crystal so you might want to consider those games if you want the full intended experience. However, for a retro experience, to relive your childhood once again, get Pokemon Crystal. If I could find a copy and a working Gameboy Color, I definitely would. Otherwise, I can just play it on my phone.

March 3, 2016

Video Game Review - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

What a Thrill

I'M STILL IN A DREAM! SNAKE EATER(Photo from GiantBomb.com)

I don’t like playing stealth games, I’ll just say it outright. I just don’t have the patience for it. I hate waiting for enemies to move slowly and dumbly while my bullets are strangely not in their heads yet. It feels like they don’t WANT to get shot in the head. This is why I haven’t played games like Splinter Cell or Hitman that much because if things go awry, you’ll be in a huge disadvantage because you’re outgunned, outmanned, and outmaneuvered. These games weren’t really meant to be played as third-person run-and-gun shooters after all.

That’s just me though. I’m not saying they’re bad or wrong. I don’t hate stealth games; I just don’t play them because I suck at them. I hate indie 8-bit platformers that are unfairly difficult just because they’re “retro”. There’s a huge difference. To each their own, I guess. But as someone who doesn’t like to play stealth games, I wanted to try Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to see if I’m old enough to play it. Yes, that was my reasoning. When I was a dumb 8-year old kiddo and still lived in The Philippines, I remember watching an uncle play Metal Gear Solid on the original gray PlayStation and I couldn’t understand anything. All I saw was “guy in bandana is sneaking in an evil military base while big marshmallow enemies search for him.” Oddly enough, I remembered that memory 10 years later when I first bought Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

I finished this game twice on the PS2 and the ending always makes me feel depressed as hell. I loved the whole game so much that I bought Metal Gear Solid HD Collection the day after I finished the game just so I can play it again on the PS3. The HD edition has, of course, upgraded graphics, trophy support, and ran at a smooth 60 frames per second, which was a huge bonus. Then Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection was released on my birthday and I didn’t really love the series that much to buy the games a third time. Maybe in the future when the price goes down.

Full disclosure: this was my first Metal Gear Solid game and I played it with Action Replay codes because I didn’t know what to expect in a damn stealth game. So I was basically a Terminator who used stealth as a discarded suggestion, instead of a required skill. Of course, that’s not how the game was meant to be played but having the option to go guns blazing into a Russian base is a welcome and wonderful option. It doesn’t punish the player for deviating from the intention of the developer and it gives a fun, alternative way to play the game. I brought fear into the hearts of soldiers because their enemy was an unflinching soldier with a license to kill.

When I first played the game years ago, I didn’t expect to have to listen to a lot of dialogue. Not that it’s a bad thing since most of the lengthy dialogue sequences are really interesting to listen to. The codec conversations have always been a treat to listen to. I’ve spent hours listening to Sigint’s trivia about weaponry and Para-Medic’s trivia about the wildlife (followed by Snake asking “How does it taste?”). The codec calls actually give Snake’s intel team a lot of personality. Major Zero has a great voice to listen to while still having that stern presence, even if he’s just a voice.

You play as Naked Snake, talented spy who’s sent out by the CIA to rescue a weapons scientist in Russia. Easy enough for a super talented spy like Snake, of course, but he witnesses the USA’s greatest war hero - The Boss - defect to the Russians. Naked Snake gets his ass kicked by The Boss and witnesses a nuclear warhead being fired. Would’ve been a short game had Snake died but thankfully he doesn’t but he’s sent back after a while to assassinate The Boss. Might’ve been an easy task if The Boss wasn’t Naked Snake’s mentor and taught him everything he knows. Now it’s up Snake to decide whether he should follow government orders or go with his morals and go home, as The Boss says. The story is a bit straightforward if you ignore the exposition or don’t understand it at all. Basically, sneak past or kill everyone who stands in your way. Either way, your choice, super talented spy.

One new feature the game has is the dynamic camouflage system. Basically, if it reaches 100 percent, the enemy is less likely to see your stumbling ass in the jungle. It changes depending on the location so you can’t effectively use jungle camo inside a building nor can you use a tuxedo in the middle of the woods. You can find face paint and camouflage as you explore while progressing through the game. It gives you a bit more incentive to explore the otherwise linear maps. Not as linear as a damn hallway like Final Fantasy XIII but still a bit linear. At least there isn’t much required backtracking. But as someone who loves open world games to death, I can admit it’s wrong to consider a game’s linear map as a flaw if it gives you some sort of incentive for exploring such as extra camo or weapons.

Encounters with soldiers usually end up as a firefight if you fuck up and get spotted. And you will fuck up sooner or later unless you have a ton of patience and aren’t shit in stealth games like me. Once you get discovered, the iconic exclamation point appears and it’s now or never in a sense where you shoot now or you’ll never get your face back after a guard blew it off with a pump action shotgun. But what makes it great is that stealth isn’t actually required in this stealth game. That’s weird in theory but MGS3 actually makes firefights legitimately fun. Headshots are sweet as with any game. Disposing of bodies makes you feel like a teenage boy who was told by his mom to clean up his room every afternoon after school. It gets tedious after the first few times but it does give you the thought of where to creatively put these unconscious soldiers or corpses who thankfully have not shit themselves.

As with any Metal Gear Solid game, there are a few quirky bosses who’d want to tear your limbs from your bloody carcass when they catch their eyes on you. The big bad in this game is Volgin, a guy who can use electricity from his body to electrocute anyone who stands in his way. Even he doesn’t hold a candle to the badass Boss. With him is the Cobra Unit - a group of weird villains with different abilities that may or may not make sense. Remembering to beat these bosses non-lethally will get you some special camouflage you can’t find anywhere else in the game.

The biggest momentum killer of the game, however, is the new Cure system. If you get hit, you might suffer an injury which means you’ll have to pause the game, go to the cure menu, and heal your injuries with the medical supplies you find around the game. It gets tedious in every boss battle where Snake has to heal himself while the enemy just stands around letting it happen.

Is the game fun all in all? Definitely. Are the HD Collection and Legacy Collection worth buying? Well, only one of them are worth buying. If you’re only looking forward to playing Snake Eater, get the HD Collection. If you want to binge on the Metal Gear series, get the Legacy Collection. If you want to give your hand a lot of cramps, play the 3DS version. Yes, there’s a 3DS version and it’s a great port of the game.

Does it hold up on the PS2 though? Well, compared to the first Metal Gear Solid, it doesn’t show its age as much in terms of graphics. The graphics in the jungle are a bit murky, depending on the TV settings. Maybe that’s to emphasize on the “lost in the woods” feeling that Snake has. The cinematics are great to watch, even to this day. Some of the character models look odd. The Boss looks like someone smeared Vaseline on her entire face and Revolver Ocelot looks like a department store mannequin. But these are just minor gripes in an otherwise solid game (pun intended, HA HA!). Compared to Sons of Liberty, the story doesn’t go postmodern and insane. It’s a callback to 60’s spy films. Hell, the theme song, “Snake Eater” is a great homage to James Bond movies. So is it good? Definitely. The HD remasters of this game for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PS Vita are wonderful and make this game feel like it’s never forgotten. Even the 3DS port is fun to play even though it gives my wrist more cramps than a cement PSP on steroids. So yeah, buy this game if you can. With the amount of fun it provides and the amount of action in this game, it makes it a totally fun game through the ages.

February 5, 2016

Garbage Phones

In my line of work, I deal with a lot of phones that go from great to garbage. Great phones make me think "Oh god, I wish I had the money to buy that! I'm so jealous!". These are your typical flagship phone that goes from 300-700 dollars like the Samsung S6 Edge or the Nexus 6P. These are the phones I love to deal with because they're easy to use, they run smoothly, and they work perfectly with every network with little to no hiccups whatsoever.

Phones that are 5 years old, though, are what I consider garbage phones. It's not a classism thing where I discriminate people who can't afford good phones. It's just that these are the phones that aren't expected to work well anymore with networks that cater to phones that are 3-years old at most. They run slowly, they didn't age well, and they're pretty much useless nowadays unless you want a Samsung-branded paperweight. These are the kinds of phones that shouldn't really be repaired anymore because the cost of repairs would cost more than the actual phone.

There are always those horrible phones that sticks out because customers bring them to me and they expect it to work perfectly. Well, newsflash, buddy! It's not 2010 anymore when that phone would've been relevant. And when these phones don't work properly - which they won't, of course, because they're old - guess who the customers blame? The company! Bloody hell.

Let's talk about the garbage phones then.

Horrible shape for a horrible phone
(Photo from GSMArena.com)

The Motorola Spice is a horrible phone. It didn't age well. It's not something you'd want to use to be "retro" or "counterculture" or however you call it. Anyone who uses it is either very cheap or doesn't know anything about phones because they'll say "This phone is just as good as any phone" (WRONG!). The screen size is terrible for daily use even though it's bigger than Blackberry 9220's screen.

The phone is sluggish because of its pathetic 256 megabytes of RAM, which is garbage then and it's still garbage now when you consider that the Nexus S is just as old as this phone but has 512 megabytes of RAM, has a better camera, and runs Android 4.1 which is better than what this phone has. This is the phone that you chuck at raccoons who rummage through your garbage bins at night. It's heavy and isn't worth keeping.

The slide-out keyboard isn't really better as well. It feels like a small Blackberry keypad. I love Blackberry keypads because they're great for typing but the keyboard on this phone made it smaller and flatter so it's even harder to type. The slide-out keyboard reminds me of a Blackberry Priv though. Maybe this phone is the Blackberry Priv's crack-addicted grandfather who he doesn't talk about (I know Blackberry and Motorola aren't really connected in terms of lineage so shut up).

Just because there's a well-known brand name doesn't mean it's actually good
(Photo from GSMArena.com)

The Samsung Galaxy Mini is something that people bring to me and think that it'll work just as good as any phone (WRONG!). It's also known as the Samsung Galaxy Pop, which is an absolutely dumb name that makes the brands Verykool and Coolpad sound classy. 384 megabytes of RAM sounds like it's better than the Motorola Spice but no, it's still slow as a snail on sandpaper.

The 3.14-inch screen would've been good in 2010 but Android 2.2 is old and slow so that screen basically emphasizes a shitty version of a great operating system.

Of course, because of the phone's age, it's not gonna work on every phone company. Again, a lot of people say "It's still a phone". A crashed car underwater is still a car but that doesn't mean it works. Loading emails is basically playing a slot machine - you'll be lucky if it works. Every time someone brings this phone to me and asks if it'll work, I just turn them away because no, it won't work and if it does by any chance, it'll still have issues that you'll probably blame the company for.

BLOATED
(Photo from GSMArena.com)

Alcatel Onetouch Evolve is the worst. First of all, it has the T-Mobile tramp stamp on the back, which means it has a ton of unnecessary bloatware that you can't get rid off. With 512MB of RAM. It makes the phone sluggishly slow and hard to use. It's a basic smartphone but there are a lot of other alternatives to this horrible garbage phone. The ZTE Martin II has 1GB of ram but less bloatware so it runs a bit better.

Basically anything with the T-Mobile logo is bogged down a ton of bloatware that kills the phone's storage and RAM to a sluggish space. Instead of giving you stock Android where you have at least a reasonable amount of RAM and internal storage, T-Mobile gives you unnecessary apps that take away needed resources that you'll never use in your daily life.

Please consider getting an alternative to these phones. The alternatives won't give you or me any headaches. Basically, we're helping each other. You get a new phone, I'll help you get that phone started. There are always alternatives to these garbage phones that cost a little more but maybe a little less. I'm not saying you should spend 500 dollars on a new phone - even I didn't spend close to that when I bought my phone and it's a great phone. Nowadays, smartphones can cost less than 300 dollars. They could even go for less than 200 if you're lucky. Don't settle for garbage phones that don't work properly anymore.

Hell, I'll even quickly suggest some good phones that are under 200 dollars!

The Reliable
(Photo from GSMArena.com)

Motorola Moto E 2015. 130 dollars. Has 1 gigabyte of RAM but still runs smoothly. Stock Android at its finest. I bought one of these as a backup phone because Motorola is a brand you can trust.

The Undying
(Photo from Amazon.ca)

BLU Energy X Plus. Has 4000mAh battery that could last you 2 days on one full charge! Even comes with a free case and screen protector like other BLU phones.

The Premium
(Photo from Amazon.ca)

Umi Hammer S. A phone from China but still reliable. Has a 5.5-inch screen that is beautiful to look at. 3200mAh battery that can last you 8 to 12 hours a day. And all of this is under a 200-dollar price tag.

The Classic
(Photo from GSMArena.com)

Nexus 4. 2 gigabytes of RAM on stock Android is always welcome. Costs under 200 dollars refurbished and it still holds up as a great phone even compared to new mid-range phones released today.

There, I threw 4 options for you that are under 200 dollars that will definitely won't hurt your wallet and would still run like a modern smartphone. These will have less issues than these 5-year old phones that give nothing but headaches to anyone involved. Sticking with an old phone isn't "easier". It's a hassle. You either adapt or perish. That's evolution. Don't stay stuck in the technology's past because it won't ever wait for you.