NBI: Whoops…

… I missed my goal to write every 1-3 days on the very last day of the Newbie Blogger Initiative.

But you know what?

It served its purpose anyway. All throughout the third day, there was this little alarm bell nagging in my head reminding me that I’m overdue, and I was like, “Yes, yes, but real life, and then need time for current games and sleep. Blog juuust a bit later.”

Goals are guidelines. It’s not the end of the world if you miss ’em, but don’t disregard ’em either and use them as a “I missed it, so I might as well not bother” procrastination excuse.

So here’s your stopgap post at 6.50am on Day 4 to stop the nagging in my head.


This fellow’s the reason I missed blogging for a while.

Yep, Batman: Arkham Origins finally went on 75% sale the other day, and according to my “buy a lot of games” greed principle, that was the time to pick it up.

I remember there were a lot of complaints about it being buggy and glitchy and not very innovative when it first came out, but it seems that time seems to have given the developers a little more opportunity to resolve major issues.

I did still encounter two spots where something a little wonky occurred (a suspect got knocked into a wall and then the right click to interrogate option didn’t come up, a fight with a boss stalled when he appeared too soon and the little minions became invulnerable punching bags,) but revisiting the area later or simply  reloading the encounter solved the problem so it wasn’t game-breaking.

All in all, I was able to ignore the glitches in favor of the storyline, which is utterly riveting to me.

It’s a prologue for the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, so you get to see all the classic hero and villains of Batman at a younger stage of their lives.

You play a Batman that is considerably more reckless and ruthless a vigilante – I was surprised to have the option to beat up cops instead of criminals at first, but later realized that the cops of Gotham were crooked at this point of time, so this younger Batman considered them fair game. James Gordon is still an up and coming influence and again, surprisingly at odds with this younger Batman, a rather pleasant narrative contrast to juxtapose to their later alliance and friendship.

I was thrilled to get a glimpse of Barbara Gordon in her teenage years as well, another nice juxtaposition to her later “eye-in-the-sky” Oracle role for Batman.

And of course, the game’s story tells an origin tale of that classic Batman relationship, him and the Joker. I can’t say more without revealing the plot, but it’s definitely a good ‘un.


I’m still in the last few levels of the storyline, and there’s gliding around the map hitting side quests, solving puzzles and playing a few challenge maps, so expect me back a few days from now.

Dota 2 is still sorta/kinda going strong. Getting an average of a game in every day or so, give or take. Proudly managed to finish the tutorial, at least. More on that when I figure out how to blog about it too.

NBI Writing Prompt: If you’re reading this and a little nagging voice in your head is saying that you really haven’t posted in a while and really should, go ahead and give yourself permission to write a stopgap post.

Post an update paragraph of what you’ve been doing, or take a screenshot of one game and caption it with something. Done.

Sleeping Dogs: Quick Thoughts

Getting arrested is always a great prompt for reconsidering one's choice of career...

I was holding back on getting this game, mostly because I wasn’t sure when I’d ever have the time to play a GtA clone in between all the other games that usually take my attention, and it was always regularly going on 75% off so I could always get it another time, right?

Seeing one of my friends who rarely plays Steam games on a habitual basis pick it up and stick with the game for around 4 days running (a record for this friend, really) suggested there was something fairly captivating about this title.

At 80% off, I was finally moved enough to put down some cash to take it out for a spin.

Turns out… it’s pretty good.


The opening sets the scene for what to expect.

If you’ve watched any Hong Kong action / cop movie, the game hits several bullseyes on flavor and theme. While I don’t know how much is 100% faithful to the actual city, the architecture -feels- like it’s captured some of its essence.

Martial arts, that staple of the genre? Got it in spades. That’s what you’ll be using to beat up thugs most of the time, Batman-style, minus the utility belt.

Sleeping Dogs follows the story of Wei Shen, a cop going deep undercover in the triads, and his struggle to balance both sides of his existence.

That blood... it's not mine. At least, I don't think it is...
That blood… it’s not mine. At least, I don’t think it is…

The morality aspect is, unfortunately, not addressed very well in player-chosen interaction.

I was, at first, pretty thrilled to realize that there were both cop missions and triad missions to do, and that violent actions increased triad score, while doing un-cop-like things subtracted from cop score. But some of the illusion of choice fades away when you realize that it’s a linear story and the chapters won’t progress until you do the compulsory missions on both sides.

And more fades away even further when you accidentally kill your first innocent through vehicular manslaughter via controls that don’t let themselves well to finesse and realize the only ramifications are a small negative number to said cop score, rather than getting yanked out of the undercover mission, charged in court and jailed for being totally off one’s rocker.

I suppose it wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto type of game if you couldn’t get away with vast quantities of crime and carnage.

As much as I wanted to pretend to be a good cop at heart and immerse into the setting at face value, roleplaying for all it was worth, small little niggling details do tend to induce shortcut taking – like being stuck in a traffic jam of three cars while waiting for the traffic light to turn green (always takes forever when you’re waiting for it to) and having some dumb AI of a bus ram you from behind while you were STATIONARY and curse you in Cantonese for being a m—-f—ker that doesn’t know how to drive properly.

That’s exactly the time you decide to hit the accelerator and swerve into the perpetually empty lane meant for oncoming traffic, ramming the idiotic bus for good measure during the maneuver, and speed through the red traffic light to be on your dang way to the next mission checkpoint, driving on the left side of the road be damned.

(Nice as it feels for someone in a historically British colonized country to be able to drive in a game on the ‘correct’ side, for once.)

The story and cutscenes question lifetaking by an officer of the law, even while undercover – as in, they’re not supposed to, but the game itself throws you into scenarios where you have a gun and a dozen people shooting at you, and doesn’t give you any achievement or indeed, seem to have any expectations at all that you’ll try to do it the hard way by kung-fu disarming and beating down every one of them down with your fists, instead proffering tutorials on how to slow motion vault over tables and shoot multiple enemies in that same breath action movie style.

Very soon, I found myself deciding to treat the game less like a simulation of real life, and more with movie morality. Ie. Cops get to shoot at bad guys and the extras will just fall down out of scene and there will be no repercussions from this excessive slaughter.

That said, if you treat Sleeping Dogs like a movie, it’s a pretty fun one. With a decent amount of authenticity.

At least he doesn't grab the gun like how many movie actors would do it - with their fingers on the trigger.
At least he doesn’t grab the gun like how many movie actors would do it – with their fingers on the trigger.

I was especially impressed to find a not-insignificant amount of voice acting in actual Cantonese.

Yes, Cantonese. Not Mandarin.

The differences may not be entirely obvious to those unfamiliar with the region and speak neither language, but Cantonese is a dialect used in a region of China (the Guangdong Province, historically Canton) and historically, as migrants from this southern region of China spread further south into Hongkong and Malaysia/Singapore, they brought their language with them.

(Southeast Asia also picked up other chinese dialects from migrants from other regions of China, resulting in some rather colorful amalgamations of cursewords and slang from various languages like Hokkien and Teochew, mixed with the local Malay, but that’s another story.)

Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, on the other hand, originated in yet another region of China (Beijing and the northern regions), and has been used as a lingua franca and ‘official language’ by which people from one region could make themselves understood to people from another – especially regarding issues of governance.

Bottom line. They’re not the same. People in Hongkong speak Cantonese. People in China speak Mandarin. (More or less.)

As someone who can understand both tongues, even if one struggles to express non-babytalk sentences in either, it adds a great touch of authenticity to Sleeping Dogs to even hear some phrases in the right language. (They are subtitled in English, so you won’t miss any meanings.)

There have been some debates on exactly -how- authentic the Cantonese used is, and yeah, while I don’t doubt that true Hong Kong residents using their variant of Cantonese will find distinctly strange accents on some of the voice actors, I’m of the opinion that it remains understandably Cantonese.

Language, after all, is notorious for evolving over regions.

Take for example, this spin on English by a native Singaporean English speaker, Ruby Pan, as she takes us on a whirlwind tour of American English, British English, two kinds of Singaporean English and Filipino English. How authentic is her English?

I’m sure her American English will still sound accented to some American English speakers. Hell, people in two regions of America may still have an accent to each other. Ditto people from Britain or Australia.

But it’s more or less all understandably English until we really get to the more significant dialects – I probably would struggle to understand Yorkshire English as much as some would struggle to understand Singlish or Filipino English, for example, due to loan words from other languages, but the main part of it is still -mostly- English.

Some voice actors in Sleeping Dogs have distinctly better grasp of the intonation and timings of Cantonese (Mrs Chu, Winston’s Chu mother sounds particularly authentically fearsome, channeling every Asian mum and mother-in-law there is) and others, usually the younger ones, struggle a little more.

Others complain that there’s a heck of a lot of English used for something supposedly set in Hong Kong, and that it sounds weird to have sprinklings of Cantonese mixed into English phrases as if it sounds cool, or we were in some Firefly universe where people pepper in Mandarin oddly into every other English sentence (Trust me, Firefly speakers sound distinctly odd, probably because they are mangling each Chinese word they’re struggling to pronounce.)

However, people who grow up with two languages are known to code-switch, forming a linguistic blend that is sometimes only understandable by people of that community.

So in a sense, while it may not be fully authentically Hong Kong, the setting turns into an interesting fictional amalgam of Hong Kong triad mixed with American-Born-Chinese style Western gangsterism (thank you, Grand Theft Auto roots.)

H-Klub Radio, from the in-game radio soundtracks in cars, features songs from 24Herbs that evoke the setting really well – Hip Hop… in Cantonese…

Yeah, you kinda have to laugh, while enjoying it.

Some bits of Sleeping Dogs are more reminiscent of a cheesy Hong Kong comedy movie, but that’s ALSO part of the whole atmosphere being recreated, y’know?

I escorted a bride-to-be around as a chauffeur, and a simple errand to get a wedding cake somehow turned into a death-defying pursuit sequence where in a similar movie, stuntmen would be employed to fly on wires out of one car onto the hood of another.

I was laughing through most of it as the initially cautious and slightly freaked out bride screaming about damage to her car when I scraped it against a parking meter turned out pretty darned ruthless when she realized it was -her- wedding cake on the line. “What? FASTER. GO FASTER!”

Right after we (ok, I) rescued the cake by tossing the driver out of the van and taking over the wheel, we (ok, I) ended up “volunteered” to steal the perfect flower for her wedding. from a group of monks – which involved disguising as one and fast talk about balance and the cosmos, kung fu’ing one’s way out of the temple and shaking off the cops at speed post-heist.

The car wasn't too worse for wear at the end of the day, all things considering...
The car wasn’t too worse for wear at the end of the day, all things considering…

Controls and bugs-wise, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.

I was really impressed to find that the game auto-swapped between keyboard controls and gamepad controls without much of a hitch. This means the tutorial prompts for keys actually stay pretty relevant, rather than the usual case scenario of trying to figure out exactly which keyboard key was mapped to button X or Y on a gamepad.

For a PC port, standard keyboard and mouse controls functioned fairly well and felt quite similar to a slightly clunkier Batman game for 95% of the time… with maybe just a tinge of unpredictable lag when pressing left or right mouse buttons to punch or counter… right up to the point I got a gun and was asked to shoot something.

This is where it broke.

Left click refused to shoot. With any semblance of consistency. It would beep repeatedly rather than shoot.

I’m not sure if this was because I did have a gamepad plugged in also and was thus on auto-swap, possibly causing some conflicts, instead of switching permanently to mouse-keyboard in the options, but after some struggle, I defaulted back to the gamepad to get through the sequence.

This is rather annoying, since the one place mouse aiming would have really come in handy would be aiming a gun, but well, that’s why I own a USB gamepad, for dealing with the vagaries of PC ports.


Then there were the repeating cases of the accidentally hijacked taxi, due to the same button being used for Hiring a Taxi (press and hold) and Hijack a Vehicle (just press.)

Moral of the story: Try not to stand near the front doors of a taxi, and make sure the conversation option is available, before hitting the button. Else you will end up chauffeuring yourself instead of getting someone else to do all the work.

Taxis, when they work though, are a pretty handy waypoint system for a negligible cost – useful for when one is too lazy to drive through Hong Kong traffic with highly dubious AI to get to the next waypoint.

I had a couple of audio skipping issues or the game tries to switch between fullscreen and windowed mode by itself, usually occurring after playing the game for a while – which could be due to my toaster’s poor specs as usual. Restarting the game or hitting Alt+Enter to switch back usually fixes it. Your mileage and luck on Sleeping Dogs playing nice with your hardware may vary.


But when all is said and done, despite the little niggles that would prevent me from paying full price for this game, I find myself wanting to know how the story is going to end.

Which ultimately reflects pretty well on Sleeping Dogs.

The Very Long Night of Bruce Wayne

I want to climb and glide off a tall skyscraper, dammit

I’m a year late and a couple months short. I know, I know.

But I guess with the constant discounts, pretty much any gamer these days has an unplayed Steam games list, courtesy of their estimation of available time being somewhat greedier than reality.

Having -just- bought LEGO Lord of the Rings and played it up to the Balrog, for whatever twisted reason my mind decided that -now- would be a great time to finally get around to playing Batman: Arkham City.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of days while taking an extended break from Guild Wars 2.

(I see the end of Jan patch has hit, so that’s a good reason to jump back in the next few days to check things out. More thoughts on that later once I get the lay of the land again.)

I really liked how they depicted most of the iconic Batman universe characters. Ra's al Ghul's character design just screams 'demon' throughout.
I really liked how they depicted most of the iconic Batman universe characters. Ra’s al Ghul’s character design just screams ‘demon’ throughout.

I don’t want to write a review of Arkham City here – the metacritic scores don’t lie in that it’s generally agreed by most to be a very good, solid game.

I’ve spent around 26 hours in game, finished up the main storyline and most side missions but 3-4 and am currently methodically cleaning up the riddler puzzles left all over the place.

A couple are quite difficult and have been left for a later time, possibly to be looked up with a guide for a suggested strategy/optimal path, though how much help that’s going to be when muscular coordination is probably the main issue is still unknown.

I understand there’s a hard mode, as well as a New Game Plus mode for both normal and hard difficulties, but frankly, having seen it once before, it’s unlikely I’ll sit through it again. I already found normal difficulty quite challenging, a bit of a surprise since I recall having an easier time of it playing through Arkham Asylum. Either they jacked difficulty up across the board for the sequel, or I’ve lost the rhythm and timing of how to fight like Batman.

What struck me as the most surprising, and inspired this post, was how I kept thinking: maybe ‘sandbox’ ain’t that great, after all.

Let me try to explain. The thought requires some careful dissection.

It’s natural that I would end up comparing the first game, Arkham Asylum, with its sequel, Arkham City, while playing through it.

One of the things that captivated me MOST about Arkham Asylum was how phenomenally immersed I was in Batman’s world. I was Batman. Prowling around the asylum. In stealth mode smashing up thugs before they saw me. In straight beat ’em up fights when I felt like it.

And the story never let up. It was a linear storytelling sort of game.

It’s the Spec Ops: The Line or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare type of deal. You have a map level or two – everywhere else is sneakily blocked off until later, you’ve got to go to those areas and trigger the next bit of story and have the next plot twist arrive, all the way to the end, pretty much. After which, you get to play achievement clean up if you so wish by going over all the maps with a fine tooth comb and all your gadgets to collect whatever trophy bruhaha you desire.

When the villains start monologuing, the story's pretty good. It's the supposed "open world" that gets to me.
When the villains start monologuing, the story’s pretty good. It’s the supposed “open world” that gets to me.

In Arkham City, that feeling is somewhat… dispersed.

It’s not that there isn’t a main storyline filled with plot twists and interesting developments. There is. And it’s a good one.

It’s just… that I end up as distracted as a gerbil with ADD while running about the purported ‘sandbox’ of Arkham City (in the vein of sandboxes like GtA and its ilk.)

Instead of being focused on being Batman and singlemindedly following my goal of pursuing the heinous villain pulling the strings behind it all, I end up as Batman juggling phone calls from people as diverse as the Joker, Zsasz and Oracle, while stopping any street crimes I see, and those damn thugs just hit me so I’ll hit them back, and ooh, detective vision just showed me a camera so I better batarang it, and that shiny tripet of joker balloons, and there’s a Riddler trophy over there so let me stop to solve it because that’s one less to be back for later, and I’m really close to this TITAN barrel so I may as well make a short detour, dammit, that fucker SHOT me! Glide off, sneak back, silent takedown and take that, two bit thug. Some other guy is calling for help now – hang on, where was I again in the main storyline?

I mean, I understand that it’s nice to have that sort of freeform play experience where you get to make your own choices of what to do.

But in Arkham City, I don’t know if it’s just not that well done a sandbox, or if we’re just trying to kid ourselves because narratively, Batman is going to do it all anyway, right?

There’s no real choice per se, only the choice of what order to do it in. Batman doesn’t fail and have to live with the consequences. He doesn’t kill, the end. Or wind up with a hostage accidentally killed. He succeeds, full stop, or it’s game over, replay or quit the game. Ie. a more evolved form of the manual save/reload.

At most, you have the choice of incompletion. Perhaps I won’t be arsed to keep gliding about the city looking for assaults in progress to progress the little side mission bar until it’s done.

Yet, we as gamers can’t really seem to handle choices with consequences either. In other games, like Witcher and Mass Effect or what not, when faced with what seems to be an indelible choice that’s going to affect the storyline one way or the other, what’s the thing we most often do? Google it. Check the guide that tells you exactly what happens down either path, and pick the one whose plot you like best, or whose shiny reward is the most optimal (depending on your player personality and how important the game makes the reward.)

Which sometimes makes me think that linear story games have an elegant finality about them. I -finish- a lot more linear story games, and feel good about clearly finishing them. Bioshock, Portal, Heavy Rain, World in Conflict, whatever.

I’m still not ‘done’ with Assassin’s Creed (I’m way backward, I know), Prototype, a number of GtA variants, Saints Row 2, Red Dead Redemption and stuff like that. I haven’t picked them up in years, so I probably won’t get back to them any time soon either.

Mind you, this is already somewhat cleaned up. I'm on the third hostage of Riddler by now.
Mind you, this is already somewhat cleaned up. I’m on the third hostage of Riddler by now. There were a lot more question marks before.

Perhaps it’s just the Achiever part of me conflicting with everything else, I see a shiny icon on the minimap or the radar and I may as well check it out, or pick it up, or do whatever it is to pick up the shiny because it is there. And there are usually 404 or 606 of these tiny tasks to do.

Ironically, I never complete all of them either because the Explorer part of me is howling in fury by the 264th shiny and will sneakily divert my attention to the next shiny new game I haven’t played yet. The Achiever, who is somewhat simpleminded as these things go, promptly gets distracted by the next game’s 2 of 99 shinies.

Still, it’s a small nitpick in what is ultimately a good game – that I’m not as immersed in the Batman role, thanks to my metagame mind always counting and planning the next ‘task’ to hit.

A part of it could very well be the level design. I can’t walk six feet without stumbling across a green question mark. And that fact is even pointed out in some of the thug dialogue.

The city itself is not as varied as it could be. Or maybe one just spends too much time in the air above it.

Or it's the fault of Detective Mode again. Late game, I spent more time in it than out. Practically every thug has a sniper rifle, assault rifle or shotgun, so you've -got- to see them before they see you.
Or it’s the fault of Detective Mode again. Late game, I spent more time in it than out. Practically every thug has a sniper rifle, assault rifle or shotgun, so you’ve -got- to see them before they see you.

It’s a dark, dismal, depressing, gothic prison with leaning buildings and lots of convenient gargoyles for Batman to grapple on to. I would have loved some really tall commercial skyscrapers like we see in the background but never get to ascend.

There are no pedestrians, no innocent passerbys to avoid, just thug after thug of one sort of another, and the harmless innocent NPC labeled ‘political prisoner.’

What is the point of immersion if it doesn’t even feel like a city to begin with? Just a concentration camp full of criminals to beat up?

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with "S." Still more thugs.
I spy with my little eye, something beginning with “S.” Still more thugs.

Immersion is easier in Bethesda games like Skyrim, Morrowind, or even Fallout 3. There’s more of a sense of world, and it’s your own character you created so choices feel more meaningfully significant.

I did like the Catwoman ‘choice’ at the ending of her section though. I stood for a long time at the door to purported freedom and riches, feeling Catwoman’s conflict and eventually thought, well, what would Selina Kyle really do? And sighed, sashayed over to the ‘save Batman’ door, mourning the soon-to-be lost shiny stuff and headed out.

I hear the game will actually end there and show the dismal consequences of the other choice, before giving you a chance to retry and pick the ‘correct’ one. Which, of course, sounds a bit cheap on first hearing, but if you think of it as a automated save/load feature, then it’s not so bad. You could, of course, end the game there, but if you want to see the end of the Batman story then yeah, restart away.

Every time I play Catwoman, I feel the urge to go "Meow." Surprisingly more immersed by her this time around. Maybe it's just new and novel.
Every time I play Catwoman, I feel the urge to go “Meow.” Surprisingly more immersed by her this time around. Maybe it’s just the ‘new and novel’ effect.

I almost thought we’d get to make THE ultimate choice of Batman at the ending of Arkham City. (I’m speaking in a roundabout fashion to avoid too many spoilers for those who are even further behind on their games than me. Probably not that many.)

The cutscene that took away that choice was somewhat disappointing. Narratively just, perhaps. But rather convenient.

I honestly wonder what difference it would have made if we did get to make the choice. If we chose to let Batman cross over that single line, ‘don’t kill’ and do it, why not? It’ll taint him into villainhood, sure, but what a fantastic thing to think and talk about, and the ending cutscene would still be the same.

And if we chose to offer mercy and spare the villain’s life in the end, ie. what true Batman would do, THEN show us the cutscene that takes the choice out of our hands.

That would have been fantastically poignant, methinks.

I can only guess that future sequels might have been hard to plan for if Batman made that kind of irrevocable decision at the end of only game 2.