It is Diablo III – So the Wait is Over?

I seldom blog about video gaming but this one is big.  The Diablo franchise has a new installment, and from one video I have watched, it’s a quantum leap.  The graphic is jaw dropping and we can now realistically interact with the environment such as the collapse of the structures as we battle.  The control for the battle seems engaging.  Check out one boss fight and I bet you have not quit seen something of that scale before.

I always try to seek a balance when I blog, a little something for everybody.  From the business point of view, Blizzard Entertainment – a division of French Vivendi Games – is one gaming company that I admire deeply.  Why?  They don’t have many games and they only have three major franchises – Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo.  They are not inventive but they enhance and implement the genre so well that all that they create are legendary, a huge gap for the rest of the companies to close.  Starcraft is a 10 years old game and it is still played today.  Recently, it is announced that Starcraft II is on its way.  Warcraft has gone through a cycle of 3 installments and the MMORPG spin off (massively multi-player online role playing game) is a worldwide success taking the genre to a height that never has seen before.  10 million worldwide subscribers (Cynthia and I included) and it is a four years old game still going strong.

Another great thing I admire about Blizzard Entertainment is that unlike other gaming companies that are pressurized to release games even when the games are not ready for the shelves, Blizzard has the reputation of non-committing release dates.  They will only release the games when they are ready.  On top of that, they are not hesitate to can a project (like the venturing into the console gaming platform) if it doesn’t turn out right.

There is a pending merge of Vivendi Games (1 billion in revenue) with yet another giant Activision (3 billion in revenue) and the new entity is going to be called Activision Blizzard Inc.  Now, I do want to own some of their shares.

Below is the cinematic teaser and if you like what you see, don’t miss the video that demonstrates the actual game play (click here and then click onto “Play Gameplay Vidoe” on the right).

Gecko in the Sky: One Man’s Pest is Another Man’s Pet

O lovely creatures that roam my home and keep the bad insects in check.  I can’t comprehend why some would smash your species into blood and gore, spilling guts on the walls and on the floors.  I would never do that.  Uh-ah, never crossed my mind.

At times I see some of you in my kitchen, on my bathroom floor.  It is good to have good living creatures in my home because I don’t even keep plants.  I can’t recognize your faces, of course, but I can recognize who are the babies, who are the well fed grown ups that have double, quadruple your infant size.  Because of that translucent skin of yours, it often amuses me to see your dark bulging stomachs, full of flies and ants, spiders and other bad, bad insects perhaps?

From time to time, my shower area is infested by fat and tiny, slow flying creatures.  I would have to smash four or eight of them flat prior to my shower.  What an annoyance!  And they fly onto my face!  Then one of you would arrive, clean the area up.  Now I don’t even see flies in my bathroom no more.

You don’t make me jump.  Except that one time when one of you fell onto my shoulder while I was showering.  I laughed away and really, no harm done.

PS. Picture taken by Cynthia on March 24, 2008.

10 Promises to My Dog – A Sweet Japanese Movie That Has Mass Appeal

Ask ten people who have or had dogs as their companions and you may hear ten unique, at times breathtaking stories.  Without giving out any spoilers, “10 Promises to My Dog” is not one of those typical Hollywood films that involve a dog that saves the world.  There is no adventure of that sort.  Instead, it’s a story of a young 14 years old girl Akari, her parents, her childhood friend, and a dog named Socks.  A simple story that emphasizes on the little events in life that bond companions, difficult choices and sacrifices people make in the name of ‘family’ (and in this case, Socks included of course).  The story is then being fast forwarded to 10 years later when Akari grows older, reunited with her childhood friend, and something in life do change, some don’t.

Within this rather depressing storyline, the magic of the casting (again, Socks included) turns the entire mood of the movie around, like a fireplace in a cold winter night.  The 14 years old young and sweet actress Mayuko Fukuda (福田麻由子) is certainly one of my favorites.  Such a sweet personality and smile she has that matches so well with the puppy (a Golden Retriever?).  It is such a joy to watch the younger version of Akari.  The amazing thing is that the actress who plays the older Akari, Lena Tanaka (田中麗奈), is just as sweet.  If I am to pick one tiny detail to critic, I would say that while the casting of the 28 years old Lena Tanaka is still believable, having the 34 years old actor Ryo Kase to play the supposed to be 24 years old childhood friend of Akari is a bit far off.  My friend TK and I thought that Ryo Kase is selected because he is a professional guitar player in real life as demanded by the plot.  After some research at home, he is actually one of the actors who played in Clint Eastwood’s “Letter from Iwo Jima”.

Anyway, details.

Besides the dog and the girl (or girls counting the young and older ones), I also enjoy watching the acting of Akari’s father – so loving, so sincere.  I would suppose the ten promises Akari has made to the puppy are a good reminder to those who already have pets as their companions as well as those who consider keeping one.  There have been rather sad stories of owners abandoning their pets after realizing that there is a certain responsibility in keeping a companion.  And I personally think that some of these promises are good reminders on how we shall treat our own family and friends too.  If I could take home one theme, that would be the so-called obligations or sacrifices made however restrictive and confining at times don’t necessary make my world smaller but instead, make me a real person (as in not living in my own world I guess).

In the end of the movie when the theme song sang by BoA was played, Cynthia’s eyes were swollen with tears.  I asked when she has started crying and she told me that since the puppy appeared on the screen.  Oh dear, how can one cry for more than an hour in this 117 minutes movie?

Below is a movie trailer without subtitles.

Of Dr. Nanorobot, Human Power Plant, Chip Implant, Eyeset, and More – My First V-blog (Prelude) Episode 4

I can be a futurist.  I see a future that our bodies will be repaired by robots of nano-scale in the comfort of our home, bulky televisions are things of the past and instead, we will have our own Eyeset (think headset).  Walking through the building entrances, office doors, and immigration checkpoints without the need of any physical identities because we will have a chip implanted inside our bodies.  Not a passive chip that tells the whole world who and where you are, but one that you can voluntarily set the privacy level.  Imagine no more forms filling in front of a counter and the customer service officer will be able to address you by name – because your name as broadcasted by your chip implant with your consent is shown up in the Eyeset she’s wearing. 

And I have more of such vision to share.  Just bear with me for a moment.

This was meant to be a nostalgic post, dedicated to the early Xers with a working title as “Of Chamber Music, 80s Computer Magazines, App on Tape, and Flash Today”.  But blogging is like a show biz.  Some titles may work, others may not.  And before I continue with my bizarre vision of the future, I wish to share with you where the idea of this post comes from and how it relates to my upcoming v-blog (that is if I’ve decided to continue writing this mini-series).

How time has changed, how time hasn’t.  Here are four random observations.

  1. Closed to a century ago, the first radio show was aired.  People started to listen to music played on air.  Half a century prior to that, gramophone was made common to play recorded sound.  So what happened before 1870 in the era of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven?  If one wished to listen to the chamber music back then, I guess the only way is to listen to a live performance.  And if you were to come up to Beethoven, hand him a hearing aid, and tell him that you have a recorded copy of his Ninth Symphony with you, how would he have reacted?
  2. Prior to the advent of Internet, no one would have thought that he or she could download a piece of information, rampantly copying and pasting to different places with a few clicks of a button.  Why do I say that?  As briefly mentioned in my upcoming v-blog, one memorable childhood moment that my dad and I did was to type in the programs or codes as printed on a computer magazine into our computer, line by line, character by character.  If we were careful enough with those incomprehensible codes, our computer screen would turn into some pretty evolving symmetric patterns in green pixels.
  3. One decade is really not a long time, in a larger scheme of work.  But it is hard to imagine that DVD was not common back in the nineties, isn’t it?  I was an eager graduate ready to face the corporate world and in my hand, I had this installation tape.  A tape, you may ask?  That’s right.  It was a bulky one indeed.  One time, our clients flew in from France to view a demonstration of our back then state-of-art technology.  Their server in Paris dialed into our Singapore server for a connection and the sound of the dialing tone was so surreal, singing the tune of “From Paris with Love”.  Dial-up connection seems so ancient, looking back.  Anyway, our demo didn’t work initially.  We had to call our French clients back from the taxi stand after one magic touch of mine that made it worked, much like a football goal in the 93rd minute.  What did I do?  Don’t ask.  It’s technology.  When all fails, wash your hand and repeat the exact same step again.  It may work.  And I am not joking.
  4. If you are curious, my upcoming v-blog is created using Flash.  It is a wonderful application that enables me to manipulate my video in a frame-by-frame, layer-by-layer manner.  Except, how time hasn’t changed.  As I spent the entire Sunday morning redoing, recreating an entirely same video from the old one that failed to be published, I felt as though I was transported back in my childhood moment with my dad and our 80s computer magazine, back in my early career days of application on tape.  Things just don’t work, for no apparent reason.  And after a few rounds of doing the same thing again and again, an unexplainable solution would emerge.  That’s technology for you; a bloody time sink; productive tools with unproductive results almost guaranteed.

How these random observations lead to my vision of the future, I shall leave it to you to connect the dots.  I love the Eyeset idea.  Think about a world with no more road signs, road advertisements, but instead, information is streamed onto your Eyeset in your native language real time, as you drive and as you walk.  Upon exercising your brain muscles – literally – detail information is shown.  Yes, turn left to the main street that leads to your destination.  But it will take you 10 minutes.  Alternative routes are shown with estimated time of arrival.  Special advertisements are lit up according to where you go and your profile.  Before you spit on the idea of advertisement, guess what?  They are the ones who are funding this entire world of virtual reality.

You don’t expect time changes everything, do you?

You think, characters will appear on the screen.  Say goodbye to computer keyboards.  And one last wild idea of mine to share with you.  I was used to walk pass a gym every working day when I headed home.  I saw athletes exercising on treadmills, on cycling machines.  Maybe like that famous sci-fi movie, humans are like batteries.  Gyms in the future will connect all these sport equipments into a power generator.  I mean, why waste the energy away?

PS. I change the timetable because the original plan was a bit too ambition.  Also, I have no sensing what the reception of this mini-series is so far.  Perhaps the theme is a bit too heaving for a twice a week rhythm.

My 1st v-Blog Mini-Series:

Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu – Mozart Violin Sonatas

It is of great pleasure that I finally get down to writing a blog entry on classical music.  When there is something that timeless, it’s easy to put the idea off to another day, and another day.  Most of you may not know that deep inside of this metal head, rocker wannabe of mine is a passionate lover for the classical genre.  I used to play clarinet for the Hong Kong Youth Orchestra, saxophone for my school band, and I used to be able to hum the melody of famous classical pieces from beginning to end, with my favorite being the five Mozart’s violin concertos.  While boys were used to play games during school recess, my best friend and I would race to the piano and I got to hear him playing his grade 8 and subsequently diploma pieces, day after day, month after month, year after year.  Before finally yielded to the temptation of pop music – thanks to Madonna’s album “Like a Virgin” – I listened to nothing but classical for all my life up to late teens.

Classical players interpret classical music.  Of those whom I am familiar with, I enjoy listening to Hilary Hahn’s recording the most.  One day, I may complete collecting all her albums.  To be honest, if you were to line up two world class violinists side by side and ask me to opine on which one is better, I probably wouldn’t be able to do that.  Having said that, I do believe that Hilary Hahn has great technique and such a versatile violinist she is, she has recorded the works of Bach, Beethoven, Barber, Meyer, Brahms, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Elgar, Paganini, and Schoenberg since 1997.  It is because each album comes with a personal note from Hilary Hahn herself, as well as a commendatory write-up on the history and the technique involved in the recorded piece of work, it is much easier to appreciate what goes into each album.

And I immensely enjoy reading Hilary Hahn’s journal at her website as well.  If you are not into classical music or do not have the time and patience, you may not enjoy reading her rather long entries.  It’s not all about rehearsals, live performances, and technical details.  You get to read the different cultures she encountered during her International touring, the bizarre things that the crowd did, the dress that shrank after sent for dry cleanning right before the performance, and her thoughts on a huge crowd versus a small crowd that passionately loves her music.  I used to think it is OK to film live performances using my own phone or camcorder.  One time, Hilary Hahn actually stopped the performance halfway and gently requested one audience to switch off the recording device.  To her, performing live is to be able to be librated from the recording environment and be spontaneous.  In that sense, the artist doesn’t have to be conscious over recording and instead, plays for the moment.  Now I understood.

“Mozart: Violin Sonatas” was released in 2005, coincided with the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.  Hilary Hahn plays the violin while Natalie Zhu plays the piano.  There are many good things to go for in this album.  I love Mozart’s work, and I love hearing the sound of the violin and piano.

Mozart’s violin sonatas flavor melody over counterpoint giving each instrument an equal role.  “Sonata in G major K. 301” was composed when Mozart was 22, full of joy he was, and it could well be inspired by his growing relationship with the Weber’s family’s daughter Aloysia whom he fell madly in love with.  In the same year, his mother died in Paris with him by her side.  An extremely painful period of his life and it shows in “Sonata in E minor K. 304” – the only violin sonata that is composed in a minor key.  The second movement “Tempo di Menuetto” is my favorite Mozart violin sonata composition.  It starts with a memorable melancholic melody by the piano, and then the violin takes over the lead role with piano as the accompaniment.  The roles then reverse and two melodies emerge from each instrument as the movement continues.  Familiar melancholic melody appears from time to time till the movement comes to an abrupt ending.

While both the K. 301 and K. 304 only has two movements, “Sonata in F minor K. 376” composed at the age of 25 comes with three.  This sonata is a dedication to his pupil Josepha Auernhammer whom Mozart deeply admired as a pianist.  Because of its graciously beautiful theme, I guess that is the reason why K. 376 has become the opening sonata for this album.

The last sonata of the album, “Sonata in A major K. 526”, signified the time when his father, his only teacher, died when Mozart was 31 years old, married with one child.  It was not as sad as K.304 – the one that was composed when his mother passed away.  Some say that it is a libration from paternal authority.  I personally feel that it is an emotional piece that honors his father in one glorious gesture.

“Mozart: Violin Sonatas” is a collection of five violin sonatas composed in key moments of Mozart’s life.  It is certainly one worth examining if you are into Mozart.

Related website: Hilary Hahn’s Official Site