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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crashing Akademi Fantasia (TV Game)

To the truth, I've never watched one of Astro TV's premier shows in the region, Akademi Fantasia, mainly due to my lustful intimacy with my computer rather than my TV (take note however, I am now two-timing my computer with my cellphone, which probably explains why they never want to communicate peacefully via UBS cable anymore).

But last Friday was one of the hectic-est (can I patent this word?) day for the last 2 months and a half I've ever been in MyGO. Reason pertaining was that completing the new AF game was of the utmost priority, so that Astro can make the most standard-telco-rates-apply money while the momentum is running strong.

I can't really show you the full game we were crash testing, mainly because it's not fully completed yet at time of writing. Furthermore, I'm too cheap to hire a lawyer in case Boss Bun turns against me and sue for infringement of privacy, breach of contract, etcetera-etcetera. Now that I think about it, his attention span of two minutes would make court proceedings slightly difficult.

So I can only afford this secret cellphone snappy.

Everybody! Stop working and start playing. That's your boss's order! Now!

If you're an avid TV SMS gamer or just curious to know how game developers do beta-testing, read on at your pleasure. It was something new for me too.

When a system is done, head programmer (Supervisor-Christy) needs all hands on deck to abuse the game to the max. Once in the company's server, the main programmer of the game, in this case is green-jacket-guy Usuff, starts the countdown to tell the system how long it should run.

Meanwhile, anybody who's glued to a PC has to access this dummy site that simulates a cellphone SMS system (but without the standard-telco-rates-apply) which connects directly to the test server. Since it was a dummy site, most staff of MyGO opened two or three of them, since the game system was designed to accommodate a Mongol horde.

Dummy SMS site. This image was blurry on purpose but I'm guessing you get the idea.

The plan was to hit the AF game system with an overload of players, real-time scenario, so we can check for any bugs, failures or even sudden stalling of the whole thing, which Astro company most definitely don't want that (we work hard so you play hard, hehehe). This is what the cyber-universe community calls a crash-test.

Once the countdown started running, it was like provoking a pack of hell-hounds. Everybody had only 20 minutes to get the highest score possible and with no minimum charge, who the hell wants to be skipping out of the Numero Uno battle, even a mock-up was it was?

Not all the participating 8 staffs of building 2A, Jalan Wan Kadir 1, that's for sure. The greatest reward is in the play.

It was a lot of fun, being the very first players of a very brand new game based on a popular reality show. Especially since it was a shooter style game and pretty easy to catch on. Once the 20 minutes was up, I managed a respectable 6th place (but about 200 points behind the 5th, bleh).

Our top game designer Kenny, master gamer as he always have been, gathered 600+ point on the top. If this was a real TV SMS game, he would have spend over RM20 but since it was a mock-up, I'm sure he enjoyed his rich, dark, very sweet, one gula-gula Hacks prize.

Again, the best reward is all in the play (Head programmer Christy was too cheap-lar~...).

As for the AF game system, it survived our abuse and had kept its smooth run. After a bit of tweaking and a list of credits, it'll be ready for Astro TV's Channel @ 15 soon enough.

Later that afternoon, Boss Bun gave a minor party to everybody to celebrate MyGO's stability.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Losing Internet, Now Asking For (Greedy) Broadband

To sum up my week, it was one of those blazing hot Malaysian days where private companies everywhere in Kuala Lumpur put their air-conditioners to minus-bajillion degrees Celsius, making caffeine-powered morning cups form ice cubes by themselves or said drinker becomes an iceberg, whichever freezes first. Indoor plants at the window seat are confused; blooming spring flowers on one branch and growing winter icicles in the other.

But I’m not here to talk about work. As much as I love my neighbour’s router, my conscience is creeping up on me about getting my own internet service provider so I can surf at my own time and discretion (not that I’m planning any online in-discretion anyway, midnight or daylight). After all, there’s only so much waiting and hoping and limited deep-fried crinkle-cut potatoes to keep me company during the waiting and hoping.

Pushing aside my inner-Jiminy Cricket, two factors against me were the more obvious reasons to get an ISP, pronto. Motherly gossip from the Surau Aunties speaks that my neighbour’s son is having major exams this year so there’s no more mindless surfing in the late nights anymore (thus ends one similarity between us, kiddo). So his unsecured router is off on most days of the week and as a result, I’m having Internet withdrawal symptoms.

Internet withdrawal: A pathetic state of mind which an Internet addict goes through when he/she is deprived of all the virtual conveniences of online gaming, surfing, googling/wiki-ing, etc. Symptoms vary from addict to addict but common signs include pacing mindlessly, excessive consumption of unhealthy beverages, blogging, drooling while sleeping, annoying little nephews, blogging, counting ticks in an hour, memorizing the entire works of Tennyson’s, excessive hot showers, blogging…

In between scarping my face off the bedroom carpet and text-messaging CASH to triple-three-double-nine (when the Fly.FM radio says cue to call), my dear, beloved older brother Abang Arsenal called me by my cellphone for the first time in an eternity to ask how’s my internship. The out-of-the-blue “Hello Liza!” was quickly explained when he requested than he wanted his laptop back by the end of April.

What da f---??!!

My baby toy who I have come to depend on during neighbor’s router and McDonald’s food trips turns out to have been misunderstood about the terms after the adoption and now original parent wants it back. I thought it was a gift. Abang Arsenal thought it was a loan. Since that he’s the man who bought the Acer notebook, I have to concise it as a loan.

To concise it further, this means my internet capability will be reduced to utter null after my internship (I had hoped to make regular trips to school before convocation to enjoy school’s wireless). That’s hell on my not-so-new online mmorpg, Celestial Destroyer. I’ve already joined an in-game family and an elite guild, with the emphasis on nighttime play.

They’re all really nice but most of the active players are Singaporeans. Gamers, go figure... (hehehehehehe!)

So! Leaving me with my long-time friend, HP Pavilion PC in the house, I sing to the tune of the primary school kid’s musical team-picking song; “Which-broadband-is-the-greedy-broadband~? Please-go-out-and-buy-your-greedy-broadband~... So-greeddiiiiiiiiie~... Sent-for-OUT! (The song is which-shoe-is-the-dirty-shoe, in case my generation gap is at fault to your confusion).

Said greedy broadbands in question on my mind are big-shots Maxis, Digi and Celcom. In case you’re wondering, Telekom’s Streamyx can’t afford me because I’m too cool to reconstruct my faulty previous home renovation blunder to install a fixed line.

Current name on cellphone chip.

Been considering for a while.

Familial recommendation.

I’m looking for an unlimited broadband on a monthly basis, particularly downloading the upgrades on various softwares I use for work and play, maximum under RM1000 installation fee and hopefully not-so-big penalty fee after I decide to hate the service. After I do more research on these three, I’ll post an update. In the meantime, I do appreciate if you could throw all your ISP frustrations at me so I know what kind of trouble I’m asking for.


Games Review: World of Goo (Like Playing With Old Aunties)

Blogging, like the facts of life, is an attribute of a person that grows with the person as the person grows up, though facts of life are much less embarrassing to discover as your interviewee did more research on your background on the internet. Especially after your promising interview with said company.

Not that I have any horror interview stories to share (an interesting blog topic nonetheless) but a fact of my life that I’ve discovered while -trying to- growing up is being acquainted with a gaggle of old geese (to put it lightly) which I have mentioned around the blog messages as the Surau Aunties.

For multicultural readers, a surau is a religious Muslim building too small to be a registered centre, too exclusive to include large memberships and too unofficial to pay taxes to the government. Kind of like private banks in United States, only without the current economic recession and the CEOs don’t disappear in private jets (surau members fly AirAsia, which is far easier to track them down as AirAsia’s flights aren’t that timely anyway).

Surau Aunties don’t exist back in the pre-2008 Aidilfitri mainly because the said Surau (capital-S) I’m affiliated with wasn’t big enough to contain all their hot air, risking explosion. Now that the Surau had installed air-conditioning, every lady with pre- or pretend-menopause within a 30 kilometer radius flocked into the crescent-topped white cube to enjoy its climate control and exchange recipes, gossip and recipes for gossip.

So before we deviate from the blog title, what does Surau Aunties have anything to do with the game I’m writing about? A lot of similarities.

Oh God (pun intended), a whole lot of similarities.

World of Goo.

This simulation game was a smash hit when it came out sometime ago due to its simplicity of interface and yet the complexity of the gameplay, both adding up to a funny storyline into a whole lot of fun. Now if you know me, as I’ve yet to figure that out who is myself yet, I’m more of an rpg-fantasy-reader with dungeons and dragons around every corner, the 3D the better, especially when you beat a monster to crap.

Naturally, I didn’t thought of reviewing said game, especially since I couldn’t find the *ahem* full version to download. But LM, the youngest intern in where I work, took a short break from his Devil May Cry 4 to play something less devil, more squeaking than crying and a whole lot of numbers multiplied by 4.

So when the screams of death were suddenly replaced by sounds effects that can only be defined as ‘cute’, I had to check and see if LM had fallen sick and was playing a girly game. Far from the truth, World of Goo is a very tasking operation.

Playing with their balls.

Launch them gooey balls.

Designers from 2D Boy games had come up with a unique and refreshing game that brings in a lot of physics into play. The goal is straight-forward enough; link a chain of balls from a limited number of goo to become a stable structure and get close enough to the suction pipe for the rest of the goo balls to disappear to.

Infected with its cuteness, I downloaded a demo version to give it a try. Soon enough, I was building massive structures of web-linked goos, all trying to go against gravity in pursuing the elusive suction pipe on the other end.

All goos are naturally attracted to the tunnel at the end of the light.

If your structure is weak, it’ll collapse into pieces.

Here are no fight quests or boss monsters; your greatest enemy is gravity and wayward goos. There’s more to it than just building towers. There are also bridges across ravines and getting out of tight spots inside tumbling boxes and chambers. Every goo counts as most of the goos can’t be detached once they become the structure, only that good calculating (and occasionally, good timing!) can get the rest of the goos up toward the suction pipe.

And just like designing a building, the taller you get, the stronger the winds, making your goo tower sway and rock, ever risking massive deconstruction damage. I often had to click Retry or use up a lot of Time-Bugs (to reverse a move) even after only 3 minutes into the game due to bad calculations.

Why some goo balls are detachable.

Extra goo balls receive new benefits.

Hilarious. It is important that every goo ball’s mission is to serve the World of Goo Corporation for the advancements of goo balls everywhere. So innuendos and expressions and even references to real world irony are present in every chapter, like offshore resources, cosmetic surgery, politics and caffeinated beverages (in no particular order).

Again, reminds us all how very cute human nature can be as lumps of goo. (hehehehehehe!).

Which brings us back to how much playing World of Goo drew similarities between me being with my Surau Aunties and playing with an ever-moving force of miniature proportions poking fun in the form of jumping, squeaky, squiggly, yipping goo, that in all heart, each trying to fit itself into a purpose for something bigger and sturdier.

Like a mass of goo, all my Surau Aunties look alike and I can never tell then apart.
Like a mass of goo, all my Surau Aunties squeak in high-pitched sound effects that I don’t understand but smile anyway.
Like a mass of goo, all my Surau Aunties think they’re more delicious than the other.
Like a mass of goo, all my Surau Aunties are hard to detach once they stick to you or got stuck to another Surau Auntie.
And like a mass of goo I’ve been playing with, all my Surau Aunties are best at picking up when you’re down.

During festive holidays, Surau Aunties come in storms.

PS: Downloads for this demo can be found at 2D Boy's World of Goo Site.
PPS: Coincidently, if you can’t enjoy the full version of the game, you can still enjoy the play-by-play YouTube commentary by Gamer Shini1984 about the full version of the World of Goo (warning, use of excessive language. I mean, duuuuuh~...).

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Pretty Face of Berita Harian... Sort-of.

A few weeks ago, sometime before Tour de Langkawi caused a massive traffic jam between LDP and Taman Tun Dr. Ismail's residential roads, a couple of nosy reporters armed with a camera invaded the space where I'm undergoing my internship. Predictably, they were interviewing the said company, a games development with a contract with Astro TV and Blue Hyppo for as long as cellphone TV-games had been around Malaysia.

Well, I'm not too big on reporters, even though I had aspired to join their club back when my Bahasa Melayu was better than my English (and reporting job was less dirty back then too). But when Berita Harian finally printed the centerfold story (coloured too~!), the interns' picture had more or less reminded me the nature of my position in this shoe box.

I know I hardly put the full picture of my face in this blog for reasons of security, but in the one area I would have been happy to smile for the camera was *ahem*ahem* blocked by Bun's arm. Awww damn-it, I'm the intern programmer in between the 3 graphics guys. I'm the REAL game builder!
... ...

Picture I 'borrowed' from Berita Harian: Ekonomi.

The picture is dated Monday, second of Match 2009 (today!). Haha, but for the laughs, that's the nature of many work environments. The joy is better in the job itself than the distraction that follows it, which in this case, a photographer who could have shown that girls can be game developers too.

Anyways, let me introduce you to my fellow interns. The boss in the coffee-chocolate shirt is Boss Bun himself. Bun is not his real name, naturally, but it was a nickname way back in university in United Kingdom. So everyone in the company calls him Bun. And yes, he's as big a gamer as the rest of us (occasionally helps with the music score on his guitar, so I've heard, hehehehe...).

Intern in far right is 3D artist no. 1, Zubs. Zubs is part of his real name but most folks around here call him Zubs (again, my secretive blogging nature, *squeak!*). Picture in his computer monitor is the texturing he's working, on a 3D model of a pot/vase/barrel/some other object, depending on his range of attention. He's one of the two older interns, fellows from the previous batch who came in the company a month early than me and Dinnie.

The Chinese guy in the red shirt squirming under Boss Bun's hovering presence is LM, another 3D artist. He's the youngest intern and most inexperienced. But oh-my-God he plays Devil May Cry 4 like it had been designed for him. Everyday, not a noon-hour goes by without a hacking-and-slashing hell-monsters with great sound effects.

See the pretty blue laptop, half-closed? Probably to hide his Dante-inaction (hehehehe!). LM's the only non-university intern. He's only here for a short job while wating for his SPM results.

Then there's me, sitting next to LM, just behind Boos Bun's arm/ You can't see my face but yes, I'm the girl with white headscarf and red shirt, covered by a coffee-chocolate sleeved arm. There's no pretty graphics on my monitor, even if you could have seen it. As programmer, I command piles of codes and written in a sequential order. And according to a chart my Supervisor-Nizam had on his cubicle (wow, a freaking dreaded box!), programmers are at the bottom of the developers' chain.

Nice... as an intern programmer, no wonder I'm invisible.

For the short of the blog message, the other 2 interns are another 3D artist, Dinnie, and a games designer, Nadia. Dinnie is the guy sitting on my right (you can see his head in a profile in the photo) and he came in at the same time I did. Dinnie is the 3rd 3D artist and is buddies with Zubs, coming from the same university and all.

The lady-not-in-the-picture is the only other female intern than myself, named Nadia. She's also from the previous batch as Zubs, specialty in game designing. Her table is somewhat on the wall facing the cameraman so she's completely covered by Boss Bun (Boss Bun was never a small guy or liked sitting small, I noticed). Like LM, she brings her own laptop to work, a powerful Acer which I totally envied.

There you go, the people of my station who I work with. The environment is great, as long as you understand that pizza and fizzy drinks are the main source of fuel in the company. Maybe if I stay a little longer than my internship, I'll finally get a real photo capture someday *winks*.

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