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Monday, July 31, 2006

11:03 PM - Monstrous links

I may have put close to 70 hours into Monster Hunter Freedom but I'm still learning new things about the game's subsystems. The basics of the game are covered well in-game and in the manual but beyond that a lot of the game has to be discovered through experimentation. Fortunately, there are a lot of guides online.

The official site is Flash-powered with no HTML links on the front page but this link will allow you to navigate through the site. The most useful part of the site is the weapons guide which (unlike the one found in the manual) provides suggestions for attack combos.

Brady Games has a few free mini-guides in PDF form covering the controls, item combos and monsters. The controls guide repeats information found on the official site and in the manual but the guides for item combos and monsters are essential. The separate guides weigh in at a hefty 200-plus megabytes but the 5MB single-file version is good enough.

The most useful of the GameFAQs guides would be the Armor Skills guide and the Rathalos guide. The former explains the inscrutable skills in the game while the latter will help a lot of frustrated hunters as they try to make the difficult transition from three-star quests to four-star quests. The Weapons Guide would be a contender if it had included the material requirements for the weapons as well as their attack value.

The Skills, Attributes and Felynes guide mostly covers the same ground as the Armor Skills guide but it goes further in that it also covers Felyne whim skills obtained after eating in the Felyne Kitchen.

Capcom, for whatever reason, opted to omit the Infrastructure Mode connectivity that was available in the Japanese version, Monster Hunter Portable. However, a workaround does exist. It's meant for users of Xlink Kai and Datel WiFi Max but others will find it invaluable.

One final tip for those who haven't got the game yet. The game is available in Malaysia in both Region 1 and Region 3 flavours and I'd recommend getting the Region 3 version since includes a booklet with a lot of semi-useful game data. I say semi-useful because the booklet is in Chinese but it's easy to make out the important data. It may seem redundant since it has the same information as most of the guides above but it's good to have a hard copy close at hand when you're playing.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

11:38 PM - Exigeyser

Transformers Galaxy Force Exigeyser

Transformers Galaxy Force had plenty of style and variety which made for a very strong line-up of toys. I was particularly pleased the designers paid more attention to the robot modes and even strove to improve posability wherever possible.

Exigeyser is one of the better figures of a very good toyline. The vehicle mode is very tight, the transformation simple but it's the robot mode which really sells the figure.

The arms are only moderately posable but it looks really good overall and is sufficiently well-armed to elicit a "Phwoar!" He can cut you, blast you to bits, transform to vehicle mode and crush those bits under his massive wheels.

That'll teach you to make fun of his stupid name and colour scheme.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

2:51 AM - Not a fan, I think

A few matches into the 2006 World Cup, I came to the sad realisation I wasn't much of a football fan. I had thought I was still one but it turns out, no, not much of one at all.

I certainly was one before. In my youth, I spent my evenings and school P.E. sessions enthusiastically kicking a ball about.

We first played with a pink and white plastic football -- a kid's ball -- later graduating to a honest-to-God real Adidas Tango football. The Tango made us feel like real footballers. The downside was it hurt like hell when we kicked it with our bare feet. It also had a remarkable tendency to veer off in the direction of the nearest window pane or fragile expensive keepsake. This would mean it was time to move on to another garden.

I can recall arguing if the goal actually counted when it flew over the slippers that served as our goalposts. In or out? We had no referee so the resolution would depend on whomever was more vociferous in the arguments. Also, who was bigger. My father eventually had goalposts built in our garden and I'm not sure if he was moved to do so by our enthusiasm for the game or our loud arguments.

So yeah, big football fan once.

But over the past two decades I morphed into a Manchester United fan.

Now, Manchester United is a football club, one of many in the world. But United excites my passions like no other. To watch other teams play football is to watch grown men in shorts chasing an inflated bladder. To watch Manchester United play is to watch an action flick, a drama, a horror movie, a comedy, a thriller and if United should lose, a tearjerker.

So yeah, not so much a football fan these days as much as a Manchester United fan.

I still maintain an interest in football matters unrelated to United and it was for that reason that I picked up The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. It was mid-way through the World Cup, I had trouble staying up late for the live telecasts and hadn't even bothered to watch the repeats. Something clearly was not right here and I bought the book in the the hopes that it would rekindle my enthusiasm.

(Incidentally, Kinokuniya had US and UK versions of the book. I have no idea what the differences [if any] are. I will note that anyone expecting Cockney rhyming slang and excision of "soccer" from the UK version will be left disappointed.)

The guide starts off full of promise with an entertaining preface and introduction by the guide's two editors but the rest of the guide never really lives up to those pieces.

I had to check the cover of the book a few times while I was reading it to make sure the title did actually refer to the World Cup. Reading some of the articles, one might be easily fooled into thinking this was The Thinking Fan's Guide to Portuguese Surfing, The Thinking Fan's Guide to Preparing for a Trip to Iran or The Thinking Fan's Guide to Mexico's Economic Challenges.

I can only imagine the writers were tasked with writing an article about a nation playing in the World Cup Finals, told to mention football once or twice but not to go overboard. We're thinking fans, I imagine the edict went, spending too much ink writing about actual football is beneath us.

This is a sport that turns macho sportsmen into little boys who jump up and down and kiss each other, a sport that turns a talented artist into a petulant little child who headbutts another man for making fun of his mommy, a sport that turns mild-mannered men into maniacs who scream at their televisions. Why is all that passion (mostly) missing from the book?

Oh right, this is The Thinking Fan's Guide. Not The Passionate Fan's Guide. There were times it felt like The Fairly-Uninterested-in-Football Obsever's Guide.

Perhaps the problem was a poor choice of writers. I wish we could have got the Peruvian author, Mario Vargas, who is quoted in the guide likening the football field to a pubic patch, a goal to an orgasm. He would have written one hell of an article, I'm sure. Instead we get an article about a Portuguese surfing spot that's lost to development and we get a write-up from someone who has sat through an entire football match only once.

I'm mystified why the book has received some rave reviews. Perhaps those reviewers went into it with different expectations than I did. I expected some deep insights into the attitudes of the World Cup nations towards the game.

Instead, I have learnt Iranian national footballers have firm buttocks, the US is mostly indifferent to the sport and the impoverished boys of Madueira worship native son Cristiano Ronaldo. These factoids can hardly be great footballing insights suitable for a Thinking Fan.

To be fair, I have learnt something about some countries -- Swedish jails are nice, Serbia and Montenegro have the most tractors per million people -- and even something about the attitudes of some of the writers towards some of the countries.

But main thing I learned from the guide is I'm not the Thinking Fan referred to in the title. This is not the guide for me. If you happen to be someone who doesn't get the whole football thing or the World Cup thing and is seeking some greater insight into it all, I would suggest that this isn't the guide for you either.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

1:32 AM - Take me down to Kokoto

I've put in about 60 hours into Monster Hunter Freedom now and I can easily believe the game has double that amount of gameplay left undiscovered.

This does not take into account the fact the game is replayable ad infinitum. There's no real ending and the game can, if you should choose, be an endless treadmill of hunting, upgrading your armour, weapons and ranking. I'm not sure if I would still want to be playing once I've finished each hunting quest at least once but it's nice to know the game I'm enjoying now still has a lot to offer.

Hunting party

This is one of the few games that makes me really wish there was someone in my neighbourhood with a PSP. Hunting wyverns with a partner would a lot of fun, I'm sure, (not to mention much easier) but more to the point, there are quests in this game that are only accessible to a multiplayer party.

To complicate matters, the US version of the game is somewhat hamstrung since Capcom curiously did away with the Infrastructure Mode support that was present in the Japanese version, Monster Hunter Portable. There is a workaround for those who really want play the game online but it involves jumping through some hoops.

MMO lite

In play, Monster Hunter Freedom resembles a MMO. There are upgrade treadmills for weapons and armour and like most MMOs, upgrading requires crafting which in turns requires drops in the form of materials carved from monster kills. The grind in this game comes from randomness of these drops. Upgrading a sword or a piece of armour might require multiple runs of the same quest.

Instead of accumulating XP to level up, players will need actual experience in order to tackle the more difficult beasts at higher levels of difficulty. The difficulty ramps up at a decent pace but there are a couple of quests which might frustrate players.

The first Yian Kut-Ku hunt might prove troublesome and once hunting the bird-dragon becomes a piece of cake, players will be taken aback to find the Gypceros a much tougher opponent.

And then you will know the pain that is Yian Garuga.

It may look like a Kut-Ku but the Yian Garuga is a right bastard with a variety of different offensive abilities at its disposal to put you in a world of hurt. The real problem with the Rage of the Yian Garuga quest, however, is its 20-minute time limit. The journeyman hunter will find it difficult to down the beast fast enough.

The key thing to remember is the quest is not necessary despite its Urgent Quest status. Skip this optional "Urgent Quest" until much, much later.

I actually think "Urgent Quest" was a translation error. What the developers probably meant was "Pain-Inducing Quest That Will Leave Ignorant Foreign Barbarians Hitting Their Heads On Hard Flat Surfaces In Frustration."

Language, language

There are a few other translation oddities here and there. Getting a good meal (Cubesteak plus Spicy Sausage) in the Felyne Kitchen saw my avatar receive a boost to his Vitality which is referred to elsewhere as Health. If the avatar's Health/Vitality dwindles down to zero in a quest, he's said to be knocked unconscious but the tally at the end of the quest lists it as a death.

KOs (be it Knocked Out or Killed Off) are part and parcel of a hunter's life but the thing I really dig about the game is that if you're careful, thoughtful and patient, victory is possible no matter how dire the beast.

That doesn't make the Yian Garuga any less of a bastard, however.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

12:31 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Takara Action Hero-Pro Ryukendo.
Toy reviewer D-Max is impressed by the posability. I wonder if Takara Tomy will use this design for a new Henshin Cyborg-style series of licensed characters.

The customiser.
"... he can pay the bills ... by 'taking an $8 action figure, painting it purple and selling it for $100 on eBay.'"

Clueless at SDCC.
"... are these 2 any characters?", "I don't know the exact term...", "I am not sure where this character is...", "Who the heck is this guy supposed to be?", "If you all know who she is supposed to be..", "Didnt this guys fly the X Wing fighters?", "No idea who she was supposed to be", "... no idea what it is or where it is from", "... can anyone ID it?" and finally, the punchline: "I am all set for next year."

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

11:44 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Mag-Warriors Beast Riders.

Kabaya's Buki-Borg.
Fan-modes: 1, 2, 3.

San Diego Comic Con pix.
Faves: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

12:20 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Garada K7: the USD15,000 Holy Grail.
"... serious toy collectors will only seek out the ultra-rare toys." A toy fan, on the other hand, will judge a figure's worth based on aesthetics and playability rather than rarity, reputation or secondary market value.

Guild Wars Nightfall.
Nightfall? As in "Very Dark Areas"? Ah, hell.

Sucks to be blue.

A Royal City and a sound effect.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

8:02 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Transformers with a twist.
I once believed cootie-powered Transformers were an embarassing mistake that would signal the end of Transformers in the Japanese market but I had forgotten some Japanese Transformers fans look at their Transformers differently.

Monster Hunter Portable 2nd. [via]
"Mmm, looks tasty!"

Best line about the incident.
Guardian Unlimited's Football Fiver: "With Peter Crouch still crossing his legs in agony at the thought of Zinedine Zidane's chestbutt ..."

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

12:27 AM - Mag-Warriors Hawkblade

Mag-Warriors Hawkblade

I had been eyeing the figures from Mega Bloks Mag-Warriors line ever since I read about them on one of the Microman sites. I'm a big fan of Takara's Magnemo system so the Mag-Warriors line looked intriguing.

The line finally showed up in local stores recently and I grabbed Hawkblade (set 9013) and Battle Scorch (set 9012) to see if they were as good as I thought they would be.

Bloks' Box

I generally don't bother talking about packaging. As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of the packaging is to keep the toys in pristine condition. However, Mega Bloks has been doing some creative things with its packaging for its Pyrates and Dragons lines that make them stand out on shelves.

The Mag-Warriors packaging isn't as cool as those, though, being relatively simple. On the plus side, the figures are clearly visible in the packaging and they're easily repacked and stored away.

Silver hawk

It takes a minute or two to construct Hawkblade from the 16 separate pieces included in the package and creating custom knights with parts from other Mag-Warriors figures will be very easy. I have no concerns about the figure's durability as it has already survived one of my accidental drops without any harm.

Once constructed, Hawkblade stands 11.5cm tall. This knight isn't realistic in proportions due to the truncated trunk but neither is it superdeformed like construction block mini-figures.

Details abound on the figure though it might be difficult to make them out due to Hawkblade's paint scheme. Speaking of the paint job, it's clear my Hawkblade was painted by someone in a hurry. I don't mind the sloppiness that much -- I initially mistook it for a deliberate attempt to depict a battle-worn suit of armour -- but those who are particular about these things should check the figure in the package before purchase. The other Mag-Warrior I got, Battle Scorch, seems to have a perfect paint job.

There are pegs compatible with Mega Bloks and Lego construction blocks on the figure's back and forearms but the interchangeability is mainly based on magnets.

Mag-Lock

There are magnets in the upper legs, upper arms, bottom of feet, bottom of head and pauldrons. Magnemo fans will no doubt be taken aback to find the magnets on the limbs rather than the torso but there's no difference functionally. It is possible to create fan-combos using parts from both Magnemo figures and Mag-Warriors but coming up with something cool might be tricky due to the different scales. Mag-Warriors are larger than the recent Microman Magneforce figures and smaller than the classic Jeeg-style Magnemo figures.

Some have complained the magnets on their figures were rather weak but the magnets on mine are strong enough. I can hold the figure by a limb and shake it vigorously without parts falling off.

Strike a pose

As can be expected, the magnetic joints make the figure very posable. The shoulders and hips have articulation roughly equivalent to a combination of ball joints and swivel joints. Additionally, there are hinged joints at the knees and elbows, a swivel joint at the waist and limited ball joints for the wrists and feet.

The pauldrons' magnet joints allow them to be moved out of the way to accommodate different poses for the arms.

The head would have been more posable if the metal stud it attaches to was raised higher. It's slightly hindered by the collar but it is sufficiently posable. The figure is otherwise well-articulated and should delight action figure fans.

Accessories

Hawkblade comes with three accessories: a shield, a 10cm-long sword and a collector card.

The figure grips both the sword and shield well and looks really good with them. Action figure swords sometimes use soft pliable plastic but Hawkblade's sword is made of tough plastic that won't bend and droop.

In a thoughtful touch, the card is made of metal so it doubles as a figure stand. The back of the card provides attack and defense ratings for individual parts of the entire figure as well as ratings for the figure as a whole. This probably ties into the interchangeability aspect of the line as it would encourage kids to take parts from other figures to create a more powerful figure.

The figure does have a character profile but oddly, it's nowhere to be found in the package. The package includes a double-sided poster but there's little on it to fire up a kid's imagination. There's a glam shot of Hawkblade along with tiny photos of other figures in the same assortment, a photo showing how the figure ought to be assembled and one line of flavour text: "Legendary rivals Mag-Lock with magic armor to fuel their battlefield fury." The reverse side of the poster is filled with product warnings. There's little to inspire creativity and plenty to frighten.

Gimmicks

This is a kid's line so Hawkblade naturally has a gimmick to amuse an easily-amused kid. Press a concealed button on the figure's head and the eyes light up. Batteries are included so this works right out of the package. I'm not a big fan of such gimmickry but I appreciate the fact it doesn't hurt the figure in any way.

VFM

At RM39.90, Hawkblade is a fun figure that provides very good value for money and it gets my heartiest recommendation. I'm looking forward to picking up a few more figures from the line to build my army of knights but I'd love to see Mega Bloks expand the line to include Mag-Lock-based creatures and machines. Diverse parts means greater interchangeability.

(A note for those looking for information about the line through search engines: Mega Bloks doesn't seem quite sure about the name of the line. Hawkblade's product page uses both "Mag-Warriors" and "Mag Warriors." I suppose we should expect that from a company that has trouble spelling "blocks." Try using "Mag-Warriors", "Mag Warriors" and "Magwarriors" as search terms.)

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Monday, July 10, 2006

10:54 PM - Hunting monsters

I've only played Monster Hunter Freedom for about eleven hours but the PSP game has already provided me with one of my most memorable gaming moments.

I'm in a mighty wyvern's lair with the intention of stealing one of its eggs. I was frightened away by the beast once and was thrashed by it on another occasion but this time I'm lucky. The beast is in its lair close to its nest but asleep. I move cautiously towards its nest mindful of any changes in its snoring. The snoring is loud but it's hard to make it out with my heart pounding away.

Oh yeah, mama dragon is bi-i-i-ig.

I make it to the nest and grab one of the eggs. Arms full of wyvern egg, I wadle slowly towards the cave entrance. I have to be really careful now. Crouch and the egg breaks. Fall from too great a distance and the egg breaks.

A few anxious moments later, I finally make it out of the cave with the egg still intact. I avoid the large insect that stalks the entrance of the cave, carefully jump down to the ground and move towards the exit of the area.

Then I hear an awful roar behind me ...

I'm now comically scarpering, burdened with a large wyvern egg, stopping frequently to catch my breath. I make it to the next area and pause.

I hear another roar behind me.

It's following me?

Another roar.

It's following me!

Oh[badword]oh[badword]oh[badword]!

I did make it back to my camp with the egg but it's heart-in-mouth moments like those that make this PSP game a real blast.

Job: Hunting

The game's title tells you what you need to know about the game. There are monsters and you are free to hunt them in the manner you choose. There's a primal thrill in stalking a huge beast in a jungle, knowing it only takes one mistake to go from hunter to hunted.

Hunting may be the main draw of Monster Hunter Freedom but I was surprised by how engrossing the other aspects of the game were. Who would've thought gathering herbs, mining, farming, crafting, fishing and cooking could be satisfying?

There's a lot of game here but it's delivered in small chunks. The quests I've taken thus far have had fifty-minute time limits but I was able to complete most of them within 20 or so minutes, making this an ideal gaming-on-the-go experience.

Don't let the game's rating on Metacritic influence you. It's better than that. Take a look at the trailer and see if it's up your alley.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

11:59 PM - Like a bolt of silver

Beast Machines Jetstorm

A photo of Jetstorm, one of two great Transformers to come from the Beast Machines line.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

10:13 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Takara Tomy's Micromachine. [via]
The robot is 15cm tall, weighs 300g and is expected to be sold next March for 30000 yen (about USD260).

Powell's digirama.
Phenomenal photoshopping of playthings.

A disturbing incident on XBox Live.

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12:06 AM - Dragon Festival

The Guild Wars Dragon Festival is over and the Dragon Mask is mine.

It took very little effort to earn the 250 Jade Orbs needed for the mask. My Mesmer managed to solo the four quests that award 240 orbs and obtained the rest from random drops. I had some difficulty doing the last (and most difficult) of those four quests with my low-level Assassin but managed to complete it with the help of a PUG.

The main problem I had getting the mask was waiting for the Emperor. The orbs in each player's inventory were automatically redeemed for the Dragon Mask but players had to sit around and twiddle their thumbs until the Emperor arrived at the Shing Jea Monastery and gave a speech.

(What did he say? "Blah blah blah." I'm paraphrasing, of course.)

The waiting was tedious primarily because I had to wait in the company of other players. Guild Wars players, like other MMORPG players, can be thoroughly annoying. There were the usual annoyances: loudmouthed jerks, the impatient ("Is the Emperor here?" "Where do I get my mask?" "Where is the Emperor?", "Is he here yet?") and the criminally exuberant ("Conga line!").

I enjoyed the mini-game that followed the awarding of masks but thought the gift-giving that followed could have been done better. The Festival Prizes (which contain Jade Orbs, Rice Wice, Bean Cakes or very rarely, cash) spawned in certain spots in town. Players naturally camped these spots and things got heated at times as players accused each other of stealing their prizes.

The festival's prizes and gifts weren't especially useful, however. The Dragon Mask is hardly a functional item; it has zero armour and is thus useless in combat. The Bean Cakes were useful during the mini-game in town but otherwise as frivolous as Rice Wine. Disappointingly, the cash prizes were relatively rare. My characters are almost always broke and the gold would have been welcome.

I'd like to see functional armour or weapons offered for future events. These needn't be superior to existing items; the event items just need to be functional in some way and different enough in looks to provide incentive for players to acquire them.

All in all, I was a little underwhelmed by the festival but events like these showcase ArenaNet's strength: its streaming technology. It's a great way to maintain player interest by making quick changes.

The ability to make changes quickly is not without its shortcomings, however. There were some major bugs during the Dragon Festival with the most notable (1, 2, 3) affecting Rangers for some reason.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

8:01 PM - Micro knight

Mega Bloks Mag-Warriors Hawkblade

Another photo of Hawkblade from Mega Bloks' Mag-Warriors line.

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4:00 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Yah, and monkeys will fly ...
A Stikfas Cuboyds custom.

Predaking Lego custom.
950-plus pieces, weighing 1.5kg and it separates into the component Predacons.

Guild Wars Factions Dragon Festival FAQ.
It's quite easy to procure the 250 Jade Wind Orbs required for each Dragon Mask although low-level characters might need some help. The mask is a novelty item which confers no benefits unless you consider looking like a Nintendo game baddie to be a benefit.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

3:05 AM - Better safe

Mega Bloks Mag-Warriors Hawkblade

A photo of Hawkblade from Mega Bloks' Mag-Warriors line.

The line has finally made its local debut. I've seen the figures in Jusco and Toys 'R' Us stores for a very agreeable RM39.90 each.

I hope to put together a review but in the meantime, I'd like to share the warnings I found on the packaging:

Warning: Choking Hazard. - Small parts. Not for children under 3 years.

Caution: Batteries are to be charged by an adult. Do not leave batteries within reach of children.

Caution: Do not leave this toy close to a source of heat or in direct sunlight.

Caution: To avoid battery leakage:

1. See the diagram to know how to remove and insert batteries.
2. Non-rechargeable batteries must never be recharged.
3. Rechargeable batteries must be removed from toy before being charged and rechargeable batteries should be charged under adult supervision.
4. Do not mix alkaline, standard (carbon zinc) or rechargeable (nickel cadmium) batteries. Do not mix old and new batteries together.
5. Only batteries of the recommended type or of a similar type should be used.
6. Batteries must be inserted according to the correct polarity (see diagram).
7. Remove batteries from toy when storing for an extended period of time or if batteries are exhausted.
8. The supply terminals must not be short-circuited.

Plastic bags can be dangerous. To avoid the danger of suffocation, keep this bag away from babies and children.

After reading all those warnings, one gets the impression this is less a fun plaything and more of an Instant Death Kit.

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