Wednesday, 29 September 2010

These Conservatives are Crazy

It’s pretty unbelievable. Even for a guy who sees extremes of corruption and craziness in his country’s politics.

James O’Keefe, ACORNPimp attempted to punk CNN. Why? Because CNN uses beautiful women to seduce Republicans into compromising and scandalous positions (!).

CNN, the most spineless, contentless, meaningless network, EVER?

They have to have slipped in from Bizzaro world at some point in the last 30 years.

Here’s the plan outline. Crazy.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 is amazing.  It helps that you are playing a believable badass and you have the flexibility of the conversation wheel and the behaviour interrupts. The story is nice and tight, with unexpected tie ins from the first game – the email from Chorban about his research into the keepers was a nice touch as is the message from the Rachni queen, delivered by the Asari on Ilium.

Gameplay wise, scanning planets from the Normandy is way better than lumbering around in the Mako for minerals, but the advantage to that was you could end up fighting thresher maws. Here the only maw I’ve come across is the one you deal with when you participate in Grunt’s rite.

A couple of quibbles though. The loading screens are way more painful than the elevators in the first game. The system of highlighting interactables just plain sucks. And I prefer the old overheating mechanics to the new heat sink approach in the weapon systems.

Still only partway through the game. Acquired all the team members apart from Tali and Kasumi and have about four loyalty missions pending.

Good stuff.

The Thangapadhakkam twist. Cop mother fights criminal daughter to the death and you can save only one.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Baldur’s Gate

Good Old Games are reissuing the original saga of Baldur’s Gate series. It’s long overdue, I think. The game was issued in 1999 and it’s probably not an understatement to say it revolutionized cRPGs. It was one of those games that implemented a pitch perfect rendition of the ADD rules, so much so that the game manual is more or less the ruleset in print form

So how does the game hold up, ten years on? How does it compare to the Oblivions or the Dragon Ages of the noughts?

It holds up pretty damn well. Sure, the interface is clunky. The pause doesn’t work on the inventory screen, rest until healed hasn’t been implemented yet, the choice of portraits is limited and inventory management can be a nightmare.

On the other hand, you have


A story that knocks your socks off, starting with the prologue. A Nietzsche quote – probably THE Nietzsche quote, a murder, an armoured guy with glowing yellow eyes of doom, a cryptic statement - “I will be the last and you, you go first”

You then create your character – the usual ADD way – roll for stats – and its known for players to stay several hours rolling and rerolling stats until they get to the best set for the character they create. You choose a race and a class – and if you are a magic user, you choose spells and you’re off.

The game begins with a tutorial that unfortunately cannot be skipped. It’s invaluable the first time around but gets painful on subsequent playthroughs. Once you’ve killed the rats and given the cow her medicine and delivered scrolls to the scholars, you meet up with Gorion, the player character’s (referred to as CHARNAME because that’s the name of the variable representing the PC ) foster father who tells you that he has to take you away from the majestic library that has been your home for all your seventeen years.

Gorion and you set off, you don’t really know where he’s taking you, except that he keeps hinting at some grave danger you are in. He is proved right as you are ambushed by the armoured figure from the prologue.

Gorion is killed while holding the attackers off and you escape. The game begins at this point – and it proceeds on multiple levels – as murder mystery, political conspiracy, an investigation into your past – as you try to find out why the armoured figure is trying to kill you, what your connection is with him and why someone is fanning flames of war between the city state of Baldur’s Gate and its wealthy neighbour Amn.


It’s the first infinity engine game – 2d backgrounds with character sprites. The artwork is gorgeous – there’s no other word for it  - especially in the coastal areas. The cutscenes look primitive and patchy, but the art hasn’t dated.

image Locations

Faerun is a well documented place – and the Sword Coast is one of the better documented areas of Faerun. Bioware just used the locations covered in the “Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast”. The PDF is available here. The names of the inns, the key people in the key towns – its all taken from this book.

This adds to immersiveness of the experience. You deal with Telthoril and Ulruant in Candlekeep – and with Elminster in Beregost and Baldurs Gate and Volo himself  in Nashkel.


The number of NPCs you come across is staggering. You start off with Imoen – the ensemble darkhorse for this version. Imoen was an afterthought of a character, created to provide thieving skills to good player character classes.

You can meet up with Xzar and Montaron, two psycho Zhentarim investigating the iron crisis. You can add Kivan, a laconic ranger who is out to kill the game’s dragon for revenge. There is Kagain – who provides tanking for evil parties and the not very useful Garrick the bard. You can turn a statue human if you want a good human healer.  There are spoilt brat rich kid daughters running away with ineligible young men, there are gnome thieves, there’s the kick ass daughter of one of the baddies and there are Jaheira and Khalid, a half elf couple whom Elminster recommends meeting when you encounter him for the first time.

There are drow priestesses, dwarf fighters, whiny elf mages, mad gnome priests and many many humans you can recruit to your cause.

And you have Minsc.

Minsc is one of the most popular characters in gaming. He’s one of the reasons to love PC gaming – according to this article, he’s 77 out of 200, ranking ahead of Half Life’s gravity gun. He has multiple websites devoted to him and pages of quotes. He is the T-Shirt, his hamminess and his relationship with his miniature giant hamster – Boo is one for the ages.

“Go for the eyes” is a meme, as is “Butt-kicking for goodness”.  There have been bruisers in other RPGs, but no one comes close to Minsc.

And finally, you have Charname, your avatar. And you cant help but feel affection for a character who is given the opportunity to say this

"OK, I've just about had my FILL of riddle asking, quest assigning, insult throwing, pun hurling, hostage taking, iron mongering, smart arsed fools, freaks, and felons that continually test my will, mettle, strength, intelligence, and most of all, patience! If you've got a straight answer ANYWHERE in that bent little head of yours, I want to hear it pretty damn quick or I'm going to take a large blunt object roughly the size of Elminster AND his hat, and stuff it lengthwise into a crevice of your being so seldom seen that even the denizens of the nine hells themselves wouldn't touch it with a twenty-foot rusty halberd! Have I MADE myself perfectly CLEAR?!"


Its a big game. Its beyond big, its huge. Easily around a hundred hours of gameplay. Today, a forty hour game experience is uncommon.  It’s sequel was twice as long, but that’s another tale.

It would, I assume, be possible to speedrun the game in about 8 hours? You have to do the Nashkel Mines, the Bandit Camp, Cloakwood, Cloakwood mines, Wyrms Crossing and a couple of Baldur’s gate quests, Candlekeep return, Undercellar, Palace, Thieves Warrens and Undercity.  But it’s the sidequests that make this game up, cleverly designed and integrated with the main plot – there are few  fetch of token collection quests.

The Ending

The best sequel hook of all time.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Horsa, Keep Your Tail Up

TNC promotes Emily Hauser’s blog. In the process, he gives the best kind of encouragement to people who write blogs without readers.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Hawks Heaven

One thing that’s good about liking old films is that there are some very good ones out of copyright

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Odds and Ends

Its disgusting. Its disturbing. Its shocking. Its shaming. Its also completely ridiculous.

CWG, naturally.

Its beyond tragedy now, into the boundless empyrean of true farce. What with Kalmadi telling us that the village is better than the one in Beijing or Sheila Dikshit scolding the press for only highlighting the issues and not complimenting the CWG committee for the sterling work they have done – it would make an excellent blackly comic musical.

Can’t you see Kalmadi and his cronies singing “Be Prepared”? Or Sheila Dikshit singing “Everythings alright” at a press conference.

One thing that’s good about liking old films is that there are some very good ones out of copyright

The Thin Man - William Powell and Myrna Loy

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dinesh D'Souza

Reading Dinesh D’Souza’s take on Obama in Forbes is embarrassing. It’s not just a question of the way the argument is made or the axioms underlying the disapprobation of Obama. It’s not just the fact that Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck, media coprophiles par excellence have given screen time to this article. Ultimately, on a personal level it has to do with his Indianness. I would probably classify him with the Coulters and Pamela Gellers and the other crackpots in the US with a microphone – if I thought of him at all - if he was not born in Bombay.
The first time I encountered D’Souza was a mention in the Hindu about the reaction to his book “The End of Racism”. What I took away from the article was that he had written a book saying that all racial problems had ended in the US –and filed him away as a flash in the pan kook. I was wrong – about what he had written and about his tenacity.
D’Souza popped up again a few years back – when I was watching back episodes of the
Colbert Report
. He was on his book pimp tour – the book in question being “The
Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
”. He contended that "The cultural left in this country (such people as Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, George Soros, Michael Moore, Bill Moyers, and Noam Chomsky) is responsible for causing 9/11". The argument was - Osama hated American culture with its gay marrying abortion having hippies - and it was to punish the Americans for bringing sin to the world. Support for Israel, troops in Saudi Arabia, propping up oppressive Middle East regimes had very little to do with it.
Yep. You got that right.
Osama got planes to fly into buildings because of Rock Hudson and the Village People.
After the first reaction of "Huh", I got curious. Here was a guy from India, a Bombayite of Goan extraction, obviously upper middle class and well educated - who had been in the US since college. So why was he behaving like a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson?
Why was he blaming liberals - of all people for America being targeted by Al Q?
It gets dirtier. D'Souza was a Dartmouth alumnus. Dartmouth, has been one of the few Ivy League institutions that have dedicated programs to work with Native American tribes - and is also famous for the amount of beer consumed by its student populace. Sounds quite laid back, doesn't it?
Not exactly. Dartmouth has a conservative newspaper - the Dartmouth Review, established
in 1980, that became infamous for it's positions on minorities- gays, native americans, jews etc. Our man was one of those who worked for the Review - others include Laura Ingraham. So, why would a dark skinned alien participate whole heartedly in an enterprise that seemed created by and for rich whites?  The only thing I can think of was that he wanted to be one of them.  But join them he
did, and among the things he did for the Review was the publication of a list of gays on campus, including names of those still closeted.  How choothish can you get.

Learning To Write

Its always tough when you have to come to a conclusion that you are not very good at something that you thought you were. For me, it’s writing. The trouble is, a lot of well meaning people complimented my writing abilities during my school days. That gave me the idea that I could write well. May be I actually could, once upon a time.

Writing is like talking. Its hard to do. To paraphrase Gutman, “... Talking's something you can't do judiciously, unless you keep in practice…”. That goes double for writing, as you have to write and read to keep in practice.

And I’ve been trying to keep in practice. It hasn’t been easy. There is always a tension as two opposing tendencies- purple prose and clean simplicity vie for supremacy. You then get a horrible hodgepodge of tortured prose that doesn’t stand up to the lightest scrutiny.

Made a few attempts to write fan fiction. Yes, I know. I’m not sure if I should be ashamed, though. It was Dragon Age based, and was neither suee-ey nor slashy.  Obsessive RPG playing can do that to you sometimes, and some of the fan fic that gets generated can be quite good.

And, isn’t fan fiction just a toolkit – a kind of write by numbers activity where you can work with readily available characters, plots and settings?

Some kinds of writing are easier than others. The catch seems to be identifying what kind of writing is easy for you, and whether you want to do that kind of writing. I want to write opinion pieces. I want to write cogent arguments about the importance of certain values and attitudes. There are things I want to say, but the trouble is I don’t have a clue what they are and how I should say them.

Pretty f*cked up, isn’t it?

The only consolation is that writing can be a craft as well as art. And the good thing about craft is that a certain degree of proficiency is possible by practice.

OK. Whinge over

Friday, 10 September 2010

Retail Therapy

The Hindu Aviva Wall of Books was reasonably successful, in terms of numbers – from what I gather, around 2 lakh books were donated.

My contribution was around 20 odd books – mostly computing along with a chance to get rid of a Paul Johnson I had bought by accident.

Unfortunately, the book donation place was between two pen shops – the first William Penn in India and a World Pen Store

I tried to resist and I tried, honest.

I lasted about 11 seconds

Then I went to William Penn’s

The store was the usual glass display cases with brands taking individual shelves. The staff were nice, but not particularly knowledgeable. No broad nibs, no fine nibs either. Main brands were the usual Sheaffers, Waterman etc. But they also had Retros – roller balls only. Cartiers, Porsche, Sailor and Fishers.

Gave in and bought a Pelikan. Their Pelikan collection was decent. This was the model I got.


The other store, the Editions store was way more upmarket. Several Duponts, Deltas, Cartiers, Krone and even David Oscarsons. The store clerk was quite knowledgeable and helpful. Saw my first Curtis fountain pens here. Bought myself a Titanium Stipula.