Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the Recent LJ Fiasco

Right now, I'm still deliberating and pondering on the recent Livejournal fiasco (So who should we really blame? Six Apart? Warriors of Innocence?).

Honestly, it doesn't affect me personally since none of my interests draws the attention of Warriors of Innocence. On the other hand, I don't live in a vacuum, and a lot of people on my friend's list and their communities are protesting. (There's also the question of what they'll delete in the future... Germany during World War II started with the Jews before moving on to everyone else.)

Usually when people are offended, they react with their emotions rather than with logic. And some people don't see this as a bad thing. I'm of the camp, however, that wants cooler heads to prevail. I think Mouseferatu's response is appropriate. You threatened LJ with boycott and they admitted their mistake (yes, yes, we know their motivations for doing so is far from altruistic... there's also "corporate speak" there in the apology). If in the succeeding days they don't make a successful reparation, sure, boycott the damned service. But give them a chance to make amends. I mean why the loud public outcry in the first place instead of simply abandoning the service when you first heard the announcement? They're willing to change so give them a chance to change. If they don't change for the better, then leave. But give them the opportunity to do so.

Of course this post of mine will probably be classified by many as one of the more unpopular posts. But hey, no one ever said having an opinion was easy.

Edit: And before I get hate comments, please read Mouseferatu's actual entry. It doesn't mean that we trust LJ or that we give them an easy way out but rather give them a chance to make amends.

Which Best Defines Your Relationships?

Here's an interesting diagram with regards to relationships at Bokardo:






The first is a diagram by Ben Schneiderman while the second is a diagram by Alex Mather. Both are trying to explain social networks and logic would dictate that the first should be true. In my personal experience, however, I'll probably follow the latter more than the former. But then again, Alex Mather's demographic is those ranging from 18-30 years and I'm still in my twenties.

Perhaps when I have a family of my own, my priorities will shift. It's also interesting to note how "people like us" quickly become assimilated into "friends" while it's probably more difficult for family and colleagues to "cross-over". And at the end of the day, one only needs to look at people's patterns in Livejournal, at who they filter and who they allow access to the "friends-locked" posts. Chances are, they're not just trying to block out strangers, but work associates and family.

Free RPG Day

I forgot to plug the event but then again, it's not like I have people from the US reading my blog (because it won't be happening here in the Philippines).

Anyway, if you happen to be in the US, watch out for Free RPG Day on June 23, 2007. It's kinda like Free Comic Book Day, except pen-and-paper RPGs instead of comics (speaking of which, I forgot Monday was Memorial Day, which means this week's shipment of comics has been delayed).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fiction Writing vs Game Writing

Not that I'm an experienced fiction author or anything, but usually when I craft stories for publication, it seems I'm exercising different writing muscles compared to when I'm writing for a game.

By a game, I really mean pen-and-paper RPGs. I'm not talking about writing published adventures (which poses different problems on its own) but rather creating and weaving a story for my players when I'm the GM.

I mean when preparing a game, I have to consider an immediate, tangible gratification for my players, whether this might mean a battle, a role-playing opportunity, or a chance to simply "level up".

Second is that I need to leave hooks for my players. I mean unlike in fiction where I more or less have "control" over my characters (relatively speaking--I can't make them act "out of character"), players in general can be quite unpredictable and take your game in unexpected directions (sure, I can railroad the story to where I want to go but where's the fun in that?).

Third, which I think is an important differentiation for "serious" writers, is that I leave originality behind when I'm gaming. That's not to say I don't have original ideas, but if there's a time to pull off cliche lines and scenes, this is the time to do it. Gaming, after all, isn't targeted at a mass audience but rather your small gaming group. You want to draw upon shared experiences, shared cultural knowledge, shared ideals of adventure.

Oh, and when I'm running a D&D game, I have to juggle anywhere from four to six different characters, yet giving each one focus but at the same time emphasizing the group identity as well as that of the individual.

I'm not saying anything new here but rather this is all a prologue for an article at Ars Technica on video game writing, an experience I haven't encountered yet: Creating Characters with Susan O'Connor.

Manga Review: Eyeshield 21 Vol. 1 - 12



As I mentioned last week, I managed to acquire a bunch of Viz's Eyeshield 21 manga. Having read it before (through scanlations), I thought it would be quite familiar with it but I was wrong: it exceeded my expectations.

Aside from a unique take on sports (somehow successfully combining seriousness with slapstick--and without the latter interfering with the former), Eyeshield 21 is a solid dramatic story. A lot of familiar elements are there, from rookie players to the inexperienced team to the common goal of winning the championship (in this case, The Christmas Bowl). What caught me by surprise is how much of the later plot hooks were already seeded early on in the manga, such as Deimon High's mysterious third player (the hints were there all along!) or their rivalries with future teams.

A plus in the manga is that incorporated the extras, such as the comic spoofs or the commentary by the mascot Devil Bat. These extra info also adds an interesting layer to the characters but nothing that drastically requires you to know them to get a grasp of the characters. The translations and editing seemed adequate enough although towards the latter volumes I did spot a few typos (but they're just negligible typos and nothing big).

I was never a fan of American Football yet Eyeshield 21 somehow managed to hook me. I like the characterization of the characters as there's a good mix of simple and complex characters. The competitions are exciting and don't worry if you're not a fan of American Football, the terminologies and rules are explained (without seeming forced). Lastly, don't let the slapstick and seemingly-bewildering antics of Hiruma and Cerberus fool you: the story is serious all-throughout so if you want a down-to-earth sports title, Eyeshield 21 is one of those titles to get.

George R. R. Martin at Second Life

Author George R. R. Martin will be making an appearance at Second Life on May 31, 2007 at 9:00 pm Eastern and will last for around an hour. He'll be doing a reading of A Dance of Dragons as well as a Q&A afterwards.

From: George R. R. Martin

Massive Comic in Restaurant

From the Nautilus Mailing List:

"Arnold Arre and Jamie Bautista, the current creative team of Nautilus Comics' Cast, have teamed up with Butter Diner to whip up something special for comic fans and food junkies alike: a 16 x 7 foot long wall comic! This enormous comic, mounted on the wall of Butter Diner, chronicles the history of this unique restaurant and its founder, Julia Mahoney Allen. It's a unique comic about a unique restaurant. Attached are a few sample panels of the story. Check out the comic while feasting on a sumptuous half pound bacon cheeseburger or maybe with a stack of pancakes overflowing with one of the diner's signature flavored butters (30 types like strawberry butter and chocolate butter).

Butter Diner is found at Shopwise Arcade, Gen. Aguinaldo Avenue, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City. For Reservations Please Call (+63) 421 - 0030. Visit their site at http://www.butterdiner.com and see a preview of the whole comic."

More Rain Stories

Reading a few blog entries, several people are bitching about the heavy downpour last night. I guess nothing signals the beginning of the wet season better than getting wet and without an umbrella.

The other day, I was walking home and there was this rain shower. Because of the winds, the tree of one of our neighbors was colliding with some wires (whether it's the eletrical wires or the phone wires, I don't know). Of course the wires seemed to have a strong current and whenever the leaves would touch it (every few seconds or so), I'd see it burn. It's a disconcerting sight until the leaf branch gets severed by too much contact and lands in our neighbor's yard.

So why this side-trek? Anyway, last night a similar thing probably happened except it wasn't the trees that got severed, it was our electrical wiring. So around nine hours ago, I didn't have access to electricity. It's only now, waking up early in the morning, that there's finally light.

There's only so much power outages my PC can take, however...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Zombies Attack on June 13!



Steve at My Elves Are Different has an interesting meme: on June 13, 2007, people blog as if it's the end of the world (Night of the Living Dead in this particular case). Alas, I am not enthusiastic enough to write my post at the stroke of midnight but...

Geekcraft

I'm psyched up for Starcraft 2, even if I was never any good at the original. Perhaps second only to RPGs, RTS is one of my favorite genres when it comes to video games.

What popularized RTS, interestingly enough, was Dune II, a game based on Frank Herbert's Dune (and what's interesting is that it was a compelling video-game adaptation of a popular franchise). What got me into RTS, however, was the original Warcraft (in fact, my first taste of it was a demo game that came along with PC magazines).

Now as much as I love Warcraft, the problem with it (and a problem many other RTS games faced at the time) is that virtually each side was a carbon copy of the other. In Street Fighter, it's like Ryu fighting Ken. Aesthetics and flavor-wise, they're different but functionality-wise, they're clones of each other. Which is fine as far as game balance is concerned but when it comes to variety, there's so much more that can be explored.

Warcraft 2 was a step in the right direction. There were variations between the units but for the most part, both races worked the same. The clincher, however, was Starcraft. The game introduced three distinct races that vastly differed from its RTS predecessors. I mean you had the Zerg which bred like crazy yet it didn't follow the standard formula of "peasants" building/repairing a building--the Zerg actually transformed into them and was capable of regeneration. The Protoss, on the other hand, could build several structures using the same peasant and had shields as hit points. But most of all, each race had different units: The Terrans had marines (all-around versatile unitst), the Zerg had zerglings (weak but cheap, numerous melee units), and the Protoss had zealots (strong but expensive melee units).

Warcraft 3, in many ways, was simply a copy of Starcraft. That's not to say it didn't have its own innovative features (the Undead faction could "unsummon" buildings, the Night Elf buildings could move and attack units) but a lot of elements was taken from Starcraft and infused with various RPG influences. Of course to me, Warcraft 3 was really the transition from RTS to MMORPG.

Currently, Blizzard owns arguably two of the most popular RTS franchises: Warcraft and Starcraft. I mean the only other franchises that probably comes close is Command & Conquer and Civilization. Yet the one thing Blizzard manages to execute perfectly is that they innovate. Hopefully they'll come out on time. =) (Except this time, they were smart enough not to announce a date.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Friday, May 25, 2007

Profit

It's been more than ten years since I took a vacation outside of the Philippines. Not that I regret if... as a kid, I've been fortunate enough to visit three distinct cultures: America, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Anyway, during my last visit to America, I managed to catch the first few episodes of this show called Profit. It had a short life as it was one of those shows that would be cancelled but personally, I found it to be a great series and ahead of its time. It would later be acquired by one of the local TV stations but there wasn't much buzz about it. Today's TV culture will probably recognize the villainous protagonist of the show, Jim Profit, as Nathan Petrelli in Heroes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sports Drama

I never envisioned myself to be a sports fan but lately, most of my anime viewing and manga reading is centered around sports. Lately my big three are Eyeshield 21 (American football), Hajime no Ippo (boxing), and Major (baseball).

What's interesting is that despite belonging to the same genre, the good titles remain distinctively unique. Eyeshield 21, for example, manages to inject slapstick comedy and surrealism yet remain serious during the times it needs to be serious. Hajime no Ippo certainly has its laughable moments but it's serious and down-to-earth all throughout. Major, on the other hand, has this consistently flawed protagonist and for awhile, was concentrating more on human drama than sports drama.

Which brings me to my point. Most (if not all) stories contain drama. In sports anime/manga however, there's two kinds of drama that predominantly stands out. I call them human drama and sports drama. Human drama is when there's something going on outside of the game (whatever their sport may be) -- it could be an injury that prevents them from playing, peer pressure of family responsibilities that prevents them from participating in a game, or even flat-out social relationships. Sports drama, on the other hand, is excitement that's related to the game during a game -- a missed shot in basketball, the psychological pressure in needing to sink the ball into the goal, the support from your teammates that lends you strength to perform magnificent feats, etc. Some titles will balance out the two while others will use one more predominantly than the other.

Captain Tsubasa, for example, while contains human drama elements, is more of a sports drama title. The focus is on the games and the "special moves" the protagonist performs. Slam Dunk usually shifts back and forth, with a few consecutive episodes focusing on human drama before shifting high gear into sports drama (and you know it's sports drama when several episodes/chapters are devoted to one single game). I caught a few episodes of Dear Boys and it's not my cup of tea simply because I found it had too much human drama and too little sports drama (or rather executed the latter poorly).

To those unfamiliar with those titles, I'll use a Western example: TV wrestling (whether it's TNA or WWE). My media class in high school mentioned TV wrestling as a man's soap opera. And in certain ways, it's true because it has lots of drama (and formulaic drama at that). Human drama occurs when there's conflict outside of a match (usually happens when the wrestlers are talking). It could be taunting an opponent, betraying them while they're in the middle of a speech, an off-screen romance, antagonizing the manager, etc. Sports drama, on the other hand, is the reasons why wrestling matches are long and why the wrestlers have "signature moves". It occurs when wrestlers manage to revive before the three-count, or usually breaking out of a submission when the crowd is cheering them on. To me, the sports drama in TV wrestling is a bit lacking. Sure, the wrestlers are performing dangerous stunts but the problem with live television is that you don't have the benefits of cinema, everything from using slow-motion, flashback, or even a simple good close-up. The tools TV wrestling seems to have is the camera rerun and crowd participation.

Of course the other thing I like about sports anime/manga is the fact that the story arcs are finite and easily identifiable. One game is usually a story arc with a beginning, rising action, climax, and epilogue.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend Updates

I took a leave last Friday to finish a story I needed to re-write and perhaps the most noticeable thing is that I write best in the morning. Of course the problem with working a 9 am - 6 pm job is that you're always in a rush to get to work in the morning (either that or lose some sleep). Not to mention that between 10 pm - 8:30 am, I don't have Internet at home (blame PLDT).

It was also a sale at Robinsons Galleria last Friday and I treated myself by purchasing the entire stock of Eyeshield 21 manga at Comic Odyssey. Good news is that in addition to the 10% discount (because of the mall-wide sale), I also got one volume free. Also managed to acquire Museum of Terror Vol. 1 albeit a day before the sale.

Saturday was spent doing some last-minute downloading for Tin but unfortunately, my Internet conked out before it could finish the job. Of course I also spent the previous three days watching the first two seasons of Major, which made me interested in watching anime again.

Passed by to Robinsons Galleria (again) and I finally found out where National Bookstore Bestseller is located. It fascinates me though that out of the four floors of the mall, three of them are occupied by National Bookstore. It's nothing compared to how a few years ago, there were four Jollibee fastfood chains in the same mall (and two where in the same floor) but still.

Managed to complete the Gollanz SF/Orbitbooks UK of science-fiction novels since Bestsellers apparently was stocking the last three books I was missing in the collection (and was priced at less than P300 thanks to the sale).

Then it was off to a friend's sleepover birthday party where we managed to play Order of the Stick, A Game of Thrones, six hours of DotA, and ogled at Starcraft II.

But as the Peons would say, now it's work work! (Dabu.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Moleskine at Avalon.ph

"Hi all,

Got these Moleskines and will be posting them on the site soon (with pictures). Read on below to find out what a Moleskine is all about or just browse to www.moleskine. com. Let's just say it is the "Mac" of notebooks. Pamper yourself with one now!

BRAND NEW Moleskine Notebooks!

Market/Original Price: P1,200.00 up

Avalon.ph price: P600.00 below (Price subject to change)

NOTE: Due to transit, some portions of the plastic seal is peeled off. I already sorted out the "reject" stocks so you'll get the item 80% to 99.9% sealed. For those who want a "reject" stock please e-mail me. I can give a discount of PhP20.00 to 50.00 or more on these. Since you will be removing the plastic cover and using the notebook anyway I suggest you take advantage of this offer. For reject stocks, all defects if any are FORMULATED into pricing.

For orders, e-mail macs01@avalon. ph.

Moleskine: Ruled Notebook - P600.00

240 Lined Pages
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
Attached Page Marker Ribbon
Elastic Secure Closure Cord

-------

Moleskine: Sketchbook - P600.00

100 Plain Pages
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Top Quality, Heavy Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
Attached Page Marker Ribbon
Elastic Secure Closure Cord

---

Moleskine: Plain Reporter Notebook - P500.00

240 Plain Pages, last 24 sheets detachable
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
Attached Page Marker Ribbon
Elastic Secure Closure Cord

---

Moleskine: Ruled Reporter Notebook - P500.00

240 Lined Pages, last 24 sheets detachable
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
Attached Page Marker Ribbon
Elastic Secure Closure Cord

---

Moleskine: Squared Notebook - P450.00

240 Squared Pages
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
Attached Page Marker Ribbon
Elastic Secure Closure Cord

---

Moleskine: Blank Cahier Ruled Kraft Set of 3 - P400.00

Set of 3 Ruled Journals (Kraft)
Brand New & Sealed in Original Plastic
80 Ruled pages, last 16 sheets detachable
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
LIMITED STOCKS!

---

Moleskine: Blank Cahier Ruled Black Set of 3 - P400.00

Set of 3 Ruled Journals (Black)
Brand New & Sealed in Original Plastic
80 Ruled pages, last 16 sheets detachable
5 x 8 1/4" (13x21cm)
Acid Free Paper
Expandable Inner Pocket
LIMITED STOCKS!

--- "

The Textbook Dilemma

A serious problem plaguing the Philippine education system is the lack of books and textbooks. Most students simply can't afford to purchase them or are unwilling to devote funds to legally obtain them. I mention the latter part because one of the more serious violators of copyright infringement is happening in the Philippines: the photocopying of books. In the Philippines where the quality of life isn't as "convenient" or "luxurious" as the West, the more prevalent mode of book piracy aren't eBooks and illegally downloaded documents but the photocopying of books and textbooks.

There are, of course, a lot of factors contributing to this phenomena. One is the fact that a lot of Filipinos aren't rich--most of them are suffering from poverty. Photocopying is a simple and cheap means to replicate a book. In a way, the local textbook industry has somehow adjusted to this. I mean in my seventeen years of education, I've seen science books in black and white printed on newsprint. This isn't necessarily bad if done correctly but the problem is that they're simply reproductions of more expensive, colored science books. The charts become unreadable, references to color that's simply cannot be distinguished, etc.

The other fact is that it wasn't always illegal to photocopy a book for "educational" purposes. Back during the Marcos regime, it was legal to do so. And I'm not condemning the government back then for instituting such a policy--in the short term, it seemed like the best solution to solve the poverty and illiteracy dilemma of the nation. Were foreign publishers happy? Probably not. But the political climate has changed and the present government has to appease a lot of external (and I really mean international) forces.

I'm not directly condemning photocopying--it is a cheap and effective method of distributing media. The problem is it's a short term solution--disregarding laws (and in this case, copyright laws) is disruptive in the long run. And if I have any complaints against the Philippines, it's that we always turn to short-term solutions instead of long term ones. So now we've made a long term decision to enforce copyright law but enforcing it is another problem. And the problem with humans (and not just Filipinos) is that it's harder to give up something we're used to or feel is a "right" even when that's not necessarily the case.

Perhaps what's shocking is that while the textbook photocopying is a solution for the impoverished, it's not only who take advantage of it. I'm not by any means impoverished. If I gave my family an honest assessment, we're in the upper middle-class or lower upper-class income bracket. I went to Ateneo de Manila University for my college degree and it's not exactly an impoverished university (and while you might argue we have scholars and working students, for the most part, a lot of the university's students are well-to-do). Yet textbook photocopying is still rampant here. In fact, it is in universities that these micro-photocopying industry thrives. I mean one can only photocopy so many hand-outs and notebooks--a good chunk of what's being photocopied are books, especially in the university library.

Of course looking back, purchasing books legally instead of photocopying them might have easily cost as much as my tuition. I mean I took this one literature class over the summer and it cost me half of what I'm earning right now to acquire all the necessary books I need (the class was "Ten Books of the Century"). The other problem I faced, aside from the acquiring the funds to purchase all those books, was finding the books themselves. I think the local bookstore landscape has changed in the past few years for the better but four years ago, it wasn't so easy to find Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Castle by Franz Kafka. And that was just one class. How much more for a student who has multiple classes?

Again, this might not be so much of a big issue in the West but it is a dilemma with no immediate viable solutions. We're a third-world country buying first-world books. What probably caught me off-guard was my friend asking for a Demonoid account, not to download porn (which I expect from him) but to acquire medical books (for one reason or another, whether it's out of his budget or out of circulation locally).

The one solution I see that will make books and textbooks accessible to the masses are eBooks, but that must be quantified. Right now the biggest barrier to eBooks is the fact that you need an expensive device to read them and the industry is doing little to remedy this. What does one need to read an eBook? A computer, a PDA, an eBook reader--all of which are expensive, even if the eBooks themselves might be sold cheap (or even free in the case of illegal downloads). It's simply not a viable alternative as it is.

What hurts the most is probably the fact that this shouldn't be the case. The industry can follow the loss-leader business model. Or simply create a functional but featureless eBook reader that will cost under $20.00. It doesn't even need to run Mac OS X, I'd be happy with Dos. But it seems that people are dazzled by things like the iPod and PDAs and the like. What irks me about Filipinos is that they'll somehow manage to scrounge up enough money to buy a mobile phone but not food for their family for the day and such.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Neutral Grounds Sale (and some interesting RPG info on the Philippines)

Neutral Grounds Robinsons Galleria is currently on a moving sale (don't fret, they're simply moving to the next week). RPG books are like 50% off while the cash-cow items (i.e. miniatures) are going for 10% off.

Just talked with the owner and I confirmed my suspicions: RPG supplements aren't selling (or rather certain supplements do sell... it's simply hard to predict which will and which won't). The Core D&D books have been doing well but they've essentially stopped importing supplements. D&D Miniatures, on the other hand, are a different matter. So it's come to the point where they've stopped importing D&D books but keep on acquiring D&D Miniatures. Which isn't really a surprise to me. What is, however, is the fact that they haven't been cashing in on WotC's other cash cow: Dungeon Tiles (at least according to my theory). Have no fear however as Neutral Grounds will be giving the product a shot.

eBooks Redux

Wattpad recently made a comment to my post on Reading: Interface and Design. To sum up what Wattpad is offering, they're enabling users to read eBooks from their mobile phone via SMS. Of course their solution has two problems, one of which they're ready to admit: the fact that you're reading a novel from a tiny screen. Of course to me, this "problem" is less noticeable in a non-Romanized language such as Chinese or Japanese, which takes up less space per character (and is one of the reasons why certain Famicom games worked but lost a lot when translating it to the NES). The second problem is that your phone probably needs a lot of memory to store the eBook. I mean while mobile phones are prevalent here in the Philippines (to the point that crooks rob you of your cellphone but not your wallet), a lot rely on the Sim card for memory, and phone memory isn't a lot except on the high-end models. Barring those two flaws, the product seems to work (haven't tested it yet though since my phone needs to have an Internet connection--another limitation--in order for me to download it), especially in light of its biggest advantage: it's free and works with commonplace technology.

Going back to the subject of eBooks, another hurdle eBooks has to overcome is its history. What I mean by that is that eBooks would probably have been more acceptable if books didn't come before it. I mean rising from the primordial soup, if humans suddenly discovered electronics and skipped the stone age and the metal age, eBooks would probably be widely accepted as the medium for reading. But that's clearly not the case. Whenever you're grasping an eBook (or rather the device containing the eBook), one can't help but compare it to a similar product: the book. In fact, regular books are probably the biggest competition eBooks face. If we eliminate conventional books from the face of the earth, more people would probably consider learning how to use/read eBook more. But that's simply not the scenario here and probably won't be in the near future (but the distant future is another matter), making the point moot.

An important question few dare to ask is whether the current direction of eBooks is where we want to go. I mean the medium of paper is clearly different from the medium of a computer screen. There are things one can do that the other can't. Take for example Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine books. That's simply one book that will never make a complete transition to the eBook format. Sure, you can have the images, and even have certain things "pop out", but you can never capture the feeling of opening an envelope and smelling the stamps for example. Having said that, there are also things that an eBook can do better than your ordinary book. Take the Choose Your Own Adventure line of books. It's something that feels like it was designed for a video game, and perhaps the best method to capture it would be through eBooks. No more sifting through pages and "accidentally" reading through the other possibilities or paths. What you read--and what you choose--dictates the story. Sure, you can cheat, in the same way people can cheat memes, but at least doing so would be intentional rather than forgetting to track where you are or a misturned page. eBooks can give readers a level of interactivity that conventional books can't (although I'd argue that Nick Bantock's books are quite interactive, but that's the exception) but it's not heading in that direction. The question is, should it or should it not? I mean just because you can pack a lot of features into a DVD doesn't mean the companies do so. But whereas it's perhaps more clear-cut in the movie industry (yes to additional features!), it's perhaps an unexplored topic in the eBook field. People are merely converting printed books into a digital format when it is capable of doing more. Should we unearth this latent potential, or let tradition rule over this technology?

Presently, the current mentality is that books are more valuable than eBooks, whether it's in cost of production or the price consumers are willing to pay for them. I mean the first argument that comes to mind is that publishers pay to have a book printed while that's not the case with eBooks: the latter remain as softcopies. I think publishers should take note of that mentality: present readers are unwilling to pay the price of a book for an eBook. It doesn't make much sense to them, especially in light of DRM, the fact that hard drives can be more fragile than books (although that's not necessarily the case), and the fact that they're used to reading books but not eBooks.

Of course in the far flung future, that mentality needn't be true. In fact, I envision the reverse. A thousand years from now, people will be willing to pay more for eBooks than books. This assumes of course that computers and technology become more prevalent than what it is right now.

  1. eBooks are easy and cheap to reproduce. All I have to do is "print" it. Books, on the other hand, are difficult to replicate. One needs to access a photocopier in addition to the labor needed to copy each and every page.
  2. eBooks is a portable medium. I can store it in my flash drive, in my computer (especially when computers become smaller and smaller), in my mobile phone, in my PDA, or whatever digital accessory that becomes developed. Suffice to say, I can make lots of back-ups (and is one reason why DRM is currently hindering the growth of eBooks). With a book, once it gets wet, burned, torn, it's gone. eBooks are for the long term while paper books are for the short term.
  3. eBooks are easier to loan to other people. Whether it's sending it via email, a web server, WiFi, an SMS message, etc., it's probably more convenient and cheaper to pass around an eBook (much like #2) than it is for a book (especially due to shipping costs).
  4. It's easier to maintain a digital library than a physical library. It works for music and it should work for eBooks too should the idea be embraced. I mean right now, just look at people and their iPods. People don't carry their entire CD collection with them, they just carry one or two music devices. For eBooks, archiving even becomes easier. Interested in looking for a certain passage but don't know where to look? Forget the Dewey Decimal System, just use the search function!
  5. Instant delivery. Just download the book and there you have it. No more waiting for shipping dates or taking the time to go out of your house and visit your local bookstore.
  6. I can read eBooks with nearly any device instead of simply relying on paper.
Of course in order for this to be all true, sufficient technology is needed and it takes time for people to undergo a paradigm shift. I mean presently, #5 and #6 are perceived as assets of books (taking the time to browse through a bookshelf, the fact that paper is more convenient than an electronic screen) but those same advantages might appear as liabilities in the far flung future.

What I mentioned, however, is simply a possibility, and it bears watching how long the "paper revolution" will resist the technological one.

Monday, May 14, 2007

More Dreams

I'm probably a biological aberration in the sense that I could be dreaming (not daydreaming!) and at the same time aware of the surroundings of my sleeping body. I don't really know how that's possible. It was doubly weird a few days ago when I was quite tired and sleepy, and in my dream, I was still sleepy. I'm already sleeping... what more does my dream-self want, to sleep in my dreams too?

Of course just now, I awoke from a dream that revolves around a motif that recurs over the year. I don't get it often yet the theme is always the same. It's not exactly a nightmare but neither is it a pleasant experience. My bad dream? Learning Chinese, complete with answering exams you're bound to fail because you leave too many blanks.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quark's Looking for "Actors"

Taken from Quark's Livejournal:

"so diego and i wrote this movie about a rock band called Rakenrol two years ago and it's in development hell mostly because the Philippine movie industry is still stuck in the 1950s with the goddamn studio system and big studios won't lend us their talent and so i wake up this morning and think to myself, "motherfucker. i don't need artistas, dammit! i can get actors!"

hehehe. so. we have decided to hold auditions. if you love cinema and music do spread the word. tell all your friends! or audition yourself!

we are looking for people to play the
following--

ODIE
male. someone who looks 18 years old. college student, thin-ish build. shy, reserved guy into rock music. quiet genius type. knows how to play guitar.

MO
male. someone who looks 24-26. thin build. barista and former punk, but doesn't look it anymore because he has to make a living. knows how to play guitar.

JUNFOUR
male. someone who looks 18. a bit more heavily built -- bully looking. is a drummer who doesn't know anything about music but just needs to vent his anger to the world.

IRENE
female. 18 year old looking. thin to medium build. spunky, pretty, funny and quirky. must know how to sing (preferrably rock music or any of its sub-genres)



auditions will be held at Furball Inc., #70 18th Ave. Cubao Quezon City on Saturday, May 19. for scheduling purposes and inquiries you can contact Sab TaƱedo at 0917-5380435 or e-mail her your resumes at republic_of_mindanao@yahoo.com"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Philippine Geek Primer part 1

Of course when I say "The Philippines", I really mean "just Metro Manila", the product of over-crowding the country's urban cities. So while we may be bigger than say, Hong Kong, to an urbanite geek like me, it doesn't feel that way.

Comics

When I speak of comics, all I'm really talking about are comics shipped from the US. Occasionally, a store might pick up a Japanese product or -gasp- a European title but the norm is stuff you get from the US.

So here's the deal. In the US, the latest comics gets released on Wednesdays. Unfortunately (but fortunate when it comes to movie premieres), we're ahead of the US by half a day so we don't get our comics on Wednesdays... usually. Shops like Comic Quest and Comic Odyssey are usually the exception. I mean Comic Quest usually has the latest stocks by Wednesday evening assuming nothing goes wrong or realistically by Thursday in most of their shops. I don't have insider information on Comic Odyssey but as far as I'm concerned, when I drop by on Thursdays, they have the latest stocks. In the past, mainstream comic shops like Filbars usually get their stocks by Friday so that should be the day you should pass by. Back when CCHQ was still in business, they got their stocks on Friday mornings. I've never been to Druid's Keep but I expect they'll have the latest stock no later than Friday.

The secret to knowing how much a title will cost is knowing the exchange rate the store is using. Usually it's P60.00 = $1.00 (for various reasons, everything from shipping, taxes, and you know, profit) but there are exceptions (and from what I hear, Druid's Keep operates on a lower exchange rate--only time will tell whether this is sustainable or if their business plan works).

Books

If comics are shipped every week, bookstores operate on a less-frequent shipping schedule. As far as I could ascertain, bookstores like Fully Booked and A Different Bookstore gets new stocks every two weeks, with new stocks on display by the weekend (as early as late Friday). Booktopia also gets new stocks twice every month if I remember correctly (but they've cut back on book orders, which ships once every month). National Bookstore and Powerbooks operate more on a monthly schedule and usually takes twice as long to order books.

Here's what you need to know: the mainstream bookstores (Fully Booked and National Bookstore/Powerbooks), because they're these huge companies who ships large quantities of books (that's not the only variable in the formula though), they can afford to give a lower peso value against the dollar. Last I computed it was something like P40.00 = $1.00 (you can grab a random book and do the math yourself). The independent bookstores, however, can't offer to sell their books at those prices. It's somewhere more along the lines of P50.00 = $1.00. That changes, however, when it comes to ordering books. The last time I ordered a book from National Bookstore, it was something like P55.00 = $1.00 (but back then, the peso to dollar exchange rate was around that high).

Another tidbit you need to know is that the annual book fair occurs on either the last week of August or first week of September (August 29 - September 2 in 2007) in which participating concessionaires sell their books at a discount (and this includes the University Presses, in addition to their own Academic Book Fair). The month before the Manila International Book Fair, it's a common tactic that bookstores go on sale.

Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures, RPGs

If I lumped them into one category, it's because the industry here isn't that big.

The most popular (and I assume most profitable) are Collectible Card Games (CCGs). You don't have to be a hobby store to carry them. I frequently see comic stores carrying them as well. Unlike the US, we don't get every CCG imaginable. We get the popular ones though. Here's a quick rundown of CCGs that managed to land here in at least one point in time (I might miss a few):

  • Magic: The Gathering
  • Legend of the Five Rings
  • Wildstorm
  • Ani-Mayhem
  • Marvel Overpower
  • C-23
  • Netrunner
  • BattleTech
  • Star Wars
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Rage
  • Vampire: The Eternal Struggle
  • Initial D
  • Pokemon
  • Yu-Gi-Oh
  • Warlord
  • World of Warcraft
  • A Game of Thrones
  • Naruto
  • VS
  • WWE Raw Deal
Of course over the years, a lot were fads (i.e. Ani-Mayhem) while others developed into small cult followings (i.e. V:TES). A few made it mainstream (you can probably guess which ones those are).

Right now the distributor of all things Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is Neutral Grounds. They also have a virtual monopoly in the related-hobby save board games: they're the distributor of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K, HeroClix, and a bunch of the CCGs I mentioned above (including the non-WotC ones).

Honestly, if you want miniatures, it's not really an option -- you go to Neutral Grounds. They also have paints and brushes as well as various Games Workshop items (including White Dwarf magazine).

Re-stocks at Neutral Grounds are usually once every month (but I could be wrong) but they're usually on time for pre-releases and such. Exchange rate is at P60.00 = $1.00 last I checked.

For RPG products, you either went to Neutral Grounds, Comic Quest, or crossed your fingers and hopefully found them at bookstores like Fully Booked and A Different Bookstore. The bookstores and Neutral Grounds seemed to have given up on RPG products however and there hasn't been any new products on their shelf since 4th quarter of 2006. The last non-WotC product at Neutral Grounds was World's Largest Dungeon for example. Comic Quest continues to get RPG products when it can. Their latest inventory includes Tome of Artifacts, various White Wolf books, and your monthly dose of Dragon and Dungeon magazine. The only thing it has trouble picking up are WotC books thanks to a new retailer policy from WotC.

Board games is dominated by board game shop Hobbes/Landes. It's mostly mainstream products and kid-friendly games (so no ultra-violent board games here) and is a reliable source for games like Settlers of Catan and Carcasonne. The other place to get board games is Neutral Grounds, which has the other, more exotic stuff such as A Game of Thrones and Warcraft board games. Between the two, they're your source of card games and board games barring independent merchants (I know someone who's side business is to import board games for example but he has no physical shop) and the occasional turn-out at Comic Quest.

Note that big toy store chains and department stores also get various products, such as HeroClix miniatures, Magic: The Gathering booster boxes, and even the occasional board game. But it's still the same price at what Neutral Grounds sells them, minus the diversity of products.

An Experimental Post... and Board Games to Boot!

First off, I'm trying to publish a blog entry via email so if this doesn't get through, you'll never see this post anyway.

Second, media coverage really helps entice people to buy a product, even if it's a "soft-sell" or not directly telling you to "go buy it". For example, visits to Newsarama almost makes me purchase comics I never intended on buying. Lately, the criminal in question is listening to a podcast interview with Joshua Frost (from Paizo Publishing) by Pulp Gamer.

Paizo's new product is Stonehenge: An Anthology Board Game. What that basically means is that you get a board game that can be played several ways, in the same way that a deck of playing cards can be used to play solitaire, poker, or bridge, or the way Half-Life served as an engine for various games (the most notable is Counterstrike). It's an innovative concept that makes you wonder why someone hasn't done it in the first place.

Anyway, you get five great game designers working on Stonehenge, and there's other equally-talented game designers working on the expansion (and the next anthology board game after that). My problem with the product page of Stonehenge is that while it gives the credits of one of the designers, Mike Selinker, it doesn't give the rest. Here's a quick run-down of the various designers and the games they've designed:

  • Mike Selinker (Pirates of the Spanish Main, Axis & Allies, and Risk: Godstorm)
  • James Ernest (founded Cheapass Games which gave us the likes of Kill Doctor Lucky, Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond, Give Me the Brain, and Diceland) [Of the four, I've only played Kill Doctor Lucky.]
  • Richard Borg ( Battle Cry and BattleLore)
  • Bruno Faidutti (Knightmare Chess, Mystery of the Abbey , and Citadels)
  • Richard Garfield (Magic: The Gathering, RoboRally) [I didn't even have to use wikipedia!
Of course my question will is...will it be available here in the Philippines, or will I have to trade an arm and a leg for it?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dreams for May

Yesterday's nightmare was relaxing in a hot bathtub... full of cockroaches.

This morning's horror consisted of body-possessing creatures that controlled people by latching onto people's heads (think of facehuggers except with mindflayer characteristics).

Hmmm...

Putting Things Into Perspective

While there are arguably objective truths in the world, for the most part the human experience is full of relative experiences. One man's trash is another man's treasure, so to speak. Or perhaps an individual might appear to be a villain to some people, and a hero to another. When it comes to problems (and don't we have our share of problems), I'd like to follow what my former pastor told me about them: there are two kinds of problems, good problems and bad problems. Here's an example:

Good Problem: You spot two coveted items in the mall yet you only have enough money to pick one.
Bad Problem: You have no money.

Good Problem: You have too many players for your RPG game.
Bad Problem: You have too little players for your RPG game.

Good Problem: You're busy with work.
Bad Problem: You don't have work.

Make no mistakes, both instances are legitimate dilemmas. It's just that one stems from "success" of a sort while the other takes a keen eye to spot the silver lining, if any.

Slipping Through the Cracks

Occasionally, Comic Quest manages to get an RPG-related t-shirt in addition to its staple of superhero shirts. One of the black tees that arrived last week was one that said "Do you want to check your hit points... before or after I slap you?"

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reading: Interface and Design

Good design, good interface, you can call it whatever you want. I think one of the biggest hurdles of eBooks and its acceptance (even as I’m struggling myself with the idea that a “book” doesn’t need to be one in print) lies with how we interact and utilize it.

Let’s start with what we know—the printed book. Now books in general are hard to classify under one design philosophy. The problem is that they come in various sizes: a book can be as bulky as an encyclopedia, or as tiny (and unreadable) as a keychain. Layout-wise, the content will similarly be different. A children’s book will have lots of illustrations and minimal text while your “regular” novel will be on the opposite side of the spectrum: little to no illustration and lots of text.

Yet for some strange reason, we’ve managed to classify these printed products under one name: books. And what comes to mind when I hear the word “book” is “reading”. In a certain sense, books as a reading tool works. I mean I don’t usually associate anything else with books aside from reading. It’s totally unexpected for people to say “I smell books”, “I taste books”, etc. Of course part of it, I think, is due to the fact that the idea of reading books was forced upon us by society. Schools, for example, reinforce the idea that if we want to read, we should read books. We adapted to the medium rather than vice versa. I mean reading books isn’t the only way to read after all—we can read from signs, from a screen (be it a television or a computer monitor), or even magazines.

Books aren’t necessarily the perfect medium for reading but I’ll admit, it sure beats reading from a scroll or worse, stone. Of course having said that, books are a partial failure when it comes to enticing people to read. I mean I’m a bookworm and even I am intimidated when I see certain thick and heavy books. Imagine what the common man feels when he sees a thick paperback book. Do you think it motivates him to read? Compare that to say, a magazine or a comic. Now those are things people read (even if they’re not necessarily willing to pay for them). In fact, those are the material of “bathroom reading”. And bathroom reading I think is special—it’s when we’re most vulnerable, when our pants are literally down. Yes, I know people who read books when they’re in the bathroom (unfortunately I’m not one of them… I don’t want to accidentally drop the book I’m reading into the toilet). However, they pale in comparison to the people I know who read magazines and comics in the toilet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not critizing the format of books. All I’m stating is that there’s room for improvement. Just as scrolls evolved into books, hopefully something else will prove to be a worthy successor.

The eBook format appeared to be just that. Much like any new technology, it’s being met with resistance. And that’s understandable. People need change yet they don’t always welcome them. I’m not saying that eBooks is the perfect successor to the book but it is an alternative that’s being touted.

So why doesn’t it work? I attribute it to two things: interface and money. The latter is the easiest to explain yet problem isn’t the biggest issue. A book costs a few dollars. In order to read an eBook, I’d need to invest in a few hundred, whether it’s purchasing a desktop, a laptop, a PDA, an eBook reader, or if you’re in Japan, a mobile phone. So far, cheap, disposable eBooks haven’t been invented yet. Maybe if an eBook and an eBook reader would be sold for under ten dollars, we’ll solve the money issue. But even then, that doesn’t address what I think is the heart of the problem: interface.

A book, despite the fact that it may come in various sizes, is read in two ways: either left to right and top to bottom, or right to left and top to bottom. You can hand a person any book and they will know how to utilize it. Whether they actually will is a different matter entirely but you get the point. Reading books is almost intuitive—that’s the mark of good design. eBooks, on the other hand, has been inconvenient to say the least.

The first problem is the format—there’s tons of them. And unlike music which has various formats, the output isn’t the same. When you play a music file, no matter what format it is, it comes out in an aural medium that can be heard and appreciated. Not the case with eBooks. I mean depending on the file format, the screen resolution, and the device I’m using, an eBook appears different. I could be seeing an entire “page” on my computer screen, or a single paragraph in my PDA. The interface is simply inconsistent and doesn’t always motivate me to read.

Of course inconsistency is the least of our problems. Even if all eBooks came out in the same format and appeared identically no matter what device you’re using, the problem would be determining what the optimum appearance will be. And that’s the second problem: what’s the best way to deliver text via a digital screen?

I mean people are used to reading from their computer screen but using different applications. They might be comfortable reading from their favorite word processor but word processors have a zoom in/zoom out function so determining what the perfect scale is impossible. I’m used to reading web pages but I’ve also attempted to read a novel in one huge web page and it simply doesn’t work. One of the issues I had was finding chapter breaks and continuing where I left off. Perhaps we can settle for a PDF but the problem with PDF’s is that you’re essentially making a carbon copy of a printed book and transporting it into your computer screen, instead of maximizing the medium on its own. The Japanese make do with mobile phones but then again, Japanese language is comprised of Kanji characters—characters which take up little space compared to words formed from the Roman alphabet (in other words, it won’t work with English).

The perfect solution for me was PDA’s and eBook readers which could display several sentences at once. But using such a device is not without its learning curve and technology still has a long way to go to make it more efficient (i.e. being able to read it without the light reflecting off the screen) and affordable. And just because I’m used to it doesn’t necessarily mean other people will.

That’s not to say there is no solution the eBook interface problem. There probably is, we either just haven’t found it yet or can’t make up our minds which one to settle for.

The third hurdle lies with the social consciousness. As kids, we learned to adapt to books. As adults, on the other hand, we’re resisting eBooks. We grew up with books and the simplest conclusion to make is to stick to the one we know. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is an aphorism that supports that line of thought. But just because someone isn’t broken doesn’t mean we should stop innovating. There’s always a better, more efficient way to do things. That’s the logical side of things but we’re only human and we’re prone to be swayed by our emotions (especially us bibliophiles who often get nostalgic when it comes to books). And that’s the problem now with eBook design: growing pains on both the creator and consumer side of things. Perhaps in a couple of decades, people won’t distinguish between a book and an eBook: it’ll be part of the same package (i.e. homework!). But before that time, eBooks needs to work on its PR as well.

Anti-Anonymity

Charles Tan is a pseudonym that couldn't be more plain. But the reason I keep this up is because I dislike anonymity. But let me qualify anonymity. Fortunately, Gerry Alanguilan already talked about it in his blog. Banzai Cat (a pseudonym, trust me), for example, isn't anonymous even if I didn't met him in real life. If he went Stalker001 one day though and then Guest004002 the next day repeating the same comment, yes, that's anonymous.

So why the anti-anonymity? Bokardo says it best in 3 Necessary Conditions for Human Cooperation.

Who Hates Robotech and Transformers?

Last month when our new graphic artist came in (he's a few years older than me), we found we had lots of things in common. Eventually the situation drifted to The Transformers movie and he went "Did you like Transformers?" and I'm like "Who didn't?". I think the same goes for Robotech. Unless, of course, I'm missing something.

Library Stories Part 1

I was recently reading some entries from The Filipino Librarian and it got me thinking, what were my experiences with libraries?

I think I already discussed before (How old was that entry? One year, two years ago?) about the myth of libraries -- TV and teachers will tell us that if we need a book, we should visit our local library. But the fact is, it's physically impossible for any library (barring "digital libraries") to stock every single book in the world, much less every single book a person might be interested in reading.

As a kid, I wasn't your conventional reader. That is, I spent most of my growing years reading magazines instead of books (and I'm not regretting that fact). That's not to say I wasn't in the school library often--I was, but it's not because of the books. And neither was I alone in the library. In fact, it was frequently populated. But again, it's not because of the books. Of course when I entered college, the state of the university library wasn't any different. And I'll be brutally honest, here's the reasons why people were in the library (whether I was in grade school, high school, or college):

  1. The place has an air-conditioner. It's cool. It might not seem much to foreigners, but bear in mind that the Philippines is a tropical country that has been influenced by Western colonial mentality (we have skating rinks in our malls!).
  2. It's a good place to sleep, everything from sofas to tables. Oh, and air-conditioning too!
  3. It's a good place to chat, where bullies won't bother you and there's table and chairs which you can use.
What fascinates me is that those 3 motivations have been true for the past fifteen years. Well, lately, I'd add in #4 as free Internet usage. Of course for me, the library only worked in a school environment (i.e. back when I was still studying, and applies to teachers/professors as well). I mean when was the last time you visited the library outside of schoolwork?

The Wikipedia Contradiction

Make no mistake, I use Wikipedia (and a bit too often at that). And as much praise as I have for it, I think it's fair that I warn people: do your research. What I mean by that is that while using Wikipedia as a resource is a good start, it shouldn't end there.

The strength and weakness of Wikipedia is that nearly everyone can contribute. Unlike encyclopedias which have "professionals" writing those articles, that's not the case with Wikipedia. Of course that's not to say that all the information in Wikipedia is erroneous (or that all the information in an encyclopedia, any encyclopedia, even say The Britannica, is all factual). The problem I think is that there's a mix of facts and not-quite-facts in there--identifying which is which can be troublesome to say the least. But the advantage of a web-based resource is that unlike in print, once an error is spotted, corrections can immediately be made. That's not the case with your 1977 encyclopedia however, which has information three decades outdated.

But I think the problem of Wikipedia stems from the fact that it's written by people--many people. Let's face it, people are biased. History isn't irrefutable. Magellan discovered the Philippines one day, and he didn't decades later (and who knows, he might be attributed to "discovering" a new place or item in the future). Encyclopedias have editorial direction--that is, they focus on one "truth" and stick to it. The same goes with history books. That's simply not the case with a Wikipedia entry. While it's possible that people settle matters amicably, it's also likely that each party will fight for what they believe is "the truth". And I think that's human nature. In the end, there will be various interpretations of events, ideas, and people.

Of course the past three paragraphs is nothing but build-up for the "Wikipedia Contradiction". That is while actual history is disputable, Wikipedia tends to be accurate when it comes to "fictional history" when the topic is covered. What do I mean by fictional history? Well, basically anything from your favorite TV series to your favorite fantasy/science-fiction world to your favorite comic. And perhaps what I'd like to add is that these entries are "accurate" mainly because there's only one source (the text, be it the TV episode, a specific comic issue, etc.) in contrast to reality where there are multiple viewpoints. That's not to say there hasn't been arguments in such entries (and there have been attempts to "vandalize" an entry and skewing it towards a certain fan perspective, such as the pairing of certain characters or whether a person "kicks ass" or "sucks") but rather the "fictional historical events" are undisputed.

What does this all mean? If you're a geek like me, Wikipedia is your best friend. If you're a researcher/scholar, I'd check my sources.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thoughts on WotC's Digital Initiative

Taken from my D&D blog:

My initial thoughts on the end of Dragon and Dungeon's print run can be found here. It's only now however that I've extensively thought about Wizards of the Coast's (WotC) Digital Initiative and what could possibly be done with it (pretty much like any disclaimer you've seen in most blogs, this is a musing rather than a "things-that-will-be" or "insider information"). And if WotC has been silent about the matter and appear to be uncertain at what their final product will be, I think that's a good thing as they can still make some changes (and hopefully read this blog) -- that's one of the benefits of going digital: I work for a magazine and I know how much lead time it takes to work on printed material. (And in a way, that's the same problem D&D Miniatures faces -- it adjusts to the metagame two expansions in advance rather than in the succeeding set.)

Interface

A big chunk of the complaints and rants stems down to interface. A lot of fans want a printed product. The Digital Initiative simply isn't that, at least not at first glance. Personally, I think it boils down to people's ability to adapt. eBooks for example haven't caught on but that's not to say the medium is completely hopeless. And a lot of RPG products out there are being distributed as PDFs including one of my favorites, Malhavoc Press. As I previously stated, it boils down to whether you're wiling to adapt or not. iPod screens aren't optimum for watching videos but hey, people do so. I'm not comfortable reading eBooks on the computer but I find reading it on a PDA not much of a problem (unfortunately I don't own a PDA).

Yes, the Digital Initiative ain't Paizo's Dragon or Dungeon any more than Pathfinder is an exact equivalent: they're new products in different mediums, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Of course it's starting to be a pet peeve when people complain on an online message board that they have difficulty reading something online. I mean you're posting on a message board! Doesn't that necessitate the use of a computer and a monitor? If you've adapted to posting on message boards, you'll adapt to online delivery (in whatever form it may be). And if you're somehow handicapped (nearly blind, color blind, etc.), there's a better chance that you'll find a solution thanks to the fact that the document is online. I mean I don't see Paizo releasing a Dragon Magazine: Braille Edition anytime soon, but programs that reads out text out loud or magnify text size isn't unreasonable.

Lastly, unless there's some nifty electronic protection involved, you can print it (even if it involves using the Print Screen button for PC users or Command + Shift + 3 for Mac users). Better yet, you don't need to print everything. I mean if people hate ads or what they consider "unnecessary material" in magazines, this is the perfect solution: you get to print only what you need.

Format

There's several ways to go with online delivery, each with its pros and cons. Right now what springs to mind is either they go web-based (using html, dhtml, xml--whatever as long as it can be viewed with a regular web browser) or PDF-based. Irregardless of what method they'll use, however, it'll have the benefit of coming out on time. Irregardless if I'm residing in the US, in Australia, in Germany, or in the Philippines, the publication will come out on time, simultaneously. I'll never need to worry about shipping, whether that means waiting for the package to be delivered to my door step or going through the hassle of picking it up at the post office.

1) Some people complain that they can't "collect" something that's not in print. Not true--if the Digital Initiative is released as a PDF, they're just as collectible. It's simply a different medium: they're called files. I mean I collect the web enhancements that's currently availble now. I save it in my hard drive and in my flash drive. I can port it over to another computer. It still counts as collecting. If it goes web-based, however, the complaint is understandable. I'll need online access and it'll appear as "one huge package" instead of the "monthlies" we're used to. That's not to say collecting "issues" will be impossible, it's just more difficult. I can only click "save us" so many times. If you want "collectability" PDF is the way to go and it's easily transportable to other machines/devices. If you want to print the product, PDF also seems like the likely answer. Lastly, if you want something that you can use once your subscription expires, again, PDF is a good answer. But PDF is not by any means the perfect solution as you'll see in my next points.

2) By going web-based, I don't have the restrictions of a paper medium. What I mean by constraints is that an article only needs to be long as it needs to be (or as short as it needs to be). There's less need for unnecessary material just to make it appear that the page is "filled up". Normally in a magazine, this takes the form of ads, additional illustrations, or simply statements in the article that is repeated and has a bigger size for emphasis. The problem with going PDF is you're essentially still reproducing a printed product without the printing costs. Eventually you'll need to layout the product as if it were a printed magazine which again means empty spaces and/or fillers. And because it's web-based, there's little need to cut out "necessary" material because of page limitations. Of course going web-based isn't without its disadvantages. Anyone who's done web design and layout knows how mutable the format is. What might look good on my computer might look horrible on someone else's computer. A lot of variables are involved, everything from web browser to resolution size to the OS you're using. If you're using a computer that's old enough, the web page might not even load at all. But this mutability could be a good thing as well -- one could easily design a product so that depending on which country I'm from, I could get a product that's in Japanese if I'm a Japanese-speaker, in English if I'm an English-speaker (or braille if I'm blind).

3) I think the biggest valaue for the format is instant errata. Will there be mistakes in the product? We're only human. But the good thing about going web-based is that corrections can be made once it's spotted or mentioned. As a web-based product, this is an optimal advantage. As a PDF, it's trickier. If this is to be implemented, we'll be having issues like Digital Initiative #100 version 1.0, followed with a release the next day with Digital Initiative #100 version 1.1 and so forth.

Of course while this is all possible, it only matters if the guys and gals at WotC makes use of it. Just because a DVD can have this and that feature doesn't mean all DVDs have additional features in them. Having said that, what I mentioned is merely the top of the iceberg. Here's some suggestions for maximizing the medium:

Things I'd Like to See in Digital Initiative:

1) An online product and not simply a printed product placed on the web -- there's a lot of things that can be done with online products and we've barely scratched the surface. It's not just about interactive programs such as a tile mapper or a character generator, there's simply more that can be done with an online magazine than with a printed one. For example, interviews don't need to be simply read (although a transcript is always helpful): it could be presented via mp3 (a Podcast) or video. I mean there'll be nuances and body language that can never be captured in a transcript. There could even be some animation going on in the "ecology" articles. Or simply an image gallery where it was limited to one or two pictures of each NPC/monster/magic item.

2) Maps -- I loved Dungeon magazine and if it's going online, I think a point for improvement are the maps. WotC can give me maps in various resolutions (hi-res and lo-res, the former if I'm printing them, the second if I'm viewing/projecting them from the computer) and in various sizes (either to fit the screen/printed paper or on a 1:1 scale). I can also get maps with various information on them: in player friendly format (without revealing where the secret doors, traps, and monsters are) and in DM-only format (where all the details are included). They can even do something creative and give it to me from a different angle, such as a first-person perspective. And since they don't have to print it, they can give it to me in a lot of formats that would have otherwise taken up valuable page space. I mean that's my complaint about Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: the maps are great for the GM, but it's not as good when running an actual game for the players. I can't use the maps as visuals because a) they're too small and b) they give too much away. With this online format, I get the best of both worlds, especially if the Digital Initiative is going to give me adventures and adventure paths.

3) Updates on Monsters -- I'm currently playing 3.5 and a lot of 3.0 monsters (or even AD&D ones) haven't been converted. This is the perfect place to update them. And even if they were already updated to 3.5, it's a good place to use the new stat block (which I find to be easier to utilize) and include the results for their respective Knowledge checks. I mean some people were complaining about rehashing old monsters in Monster Manual IV and slapping class levels on them -- this is the perfect place to feature them. Better yet, it's the perfect partner to the "Ecology of..." articles Dragon was publishing. Throw in NPCs as well for that matter.

So far, those are the "general" things I want. I mean fans will most likely want to include their favorite campaign setting into the mix, etc. The great thing about online content is that it's actually viable now without having to worry about page count (although WotC still needs to worry about paying freelancers).

But like all things, it's a wait-and-see. Just because "it can be done" doesn't mean "it will be done".

If I Were To Make a D&D Home Video...

As I mentioned in my D&D blog, a shop near where I live was selling old D&D modules and boxed sets. Because some people wanted them, I managed to purchase a lot of them and they're just lying in my room gathering dust (don't worry, they're shrink-wrapped). While I'm waiting for money to come in so that I can ship them, I'm occasionally tempted to make a home video using those modules.

I'm not particularly attached to 1st Ed. D&D or AD&D. There's some videos circulating around of people wrecking new-fangled devices, everything from iPods to PS3's. I'm tempted to create a D&D horror video with me opening up a module and then tearing them page by page... and then feeding them slowly to a shredding machine (alas, we don't have one at home). Or maybe drowning those modules in water or something. Or feed them to a dog. Or use them as fodder for a camp fire.

To non-D&D fans, what would be the most horrifying way of "killing" a book?

Zsa Zsa and Avenue Q

Plugging for a friend:

"Friends,

We're selling tickets to the June 22 performance of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah starring Eula Valdez. Tickets are priced at 800, 700, and 500 pesos. All reserved seating. All performances will be held at the RCBC Theatre in Makati.

If a gay superheroine parading in skimpy costumes isn't your thing, then buy a ticket to the August 18 performance of the Broadway hit Avenue Q at the Meralco Theatre instead. Tickets are priced at 1000, 900, 800, 700, 500, and 400 pesos. All reserved seating.

For reservations, contact:
Carlo - 0917-8322756
Email:
Lara - lara_tarranco19@yahoo.co.uk

Thanks!"

Comic-Related Post

There's two things I want to blog about, namely Spider-Man 3 and DC's weekly 52.

First, on Spider-Man 3. For the most part, in general, I liked the film. It's not as good as Spider-Man 2 in my opinion but for a film that has three villains, it did okay. Did it have plot holes? Sure. Did it have unnecessary scenes. A few. But overall, it was a good film. Is it worth a repeat viewing? No, but that's just me as the movie has a lot of build-up that will seem boring watching a second time. The biggest weakness of the film is probably Eddie Brock and Venom, both in terms of acting and their role in the film but that was a decision forced on Sam Raimi. Comic geeky-wise, it's just strange to see Spider-Man wholly accepted by New York, but it works in the context of the movie. And if Peter Parker was a jerk during the whole movie, that was intentional. I'm just surprised that people could sit through two hours of a jerky Peter Parker and only a few minutes of "redeemed" Peter Parker.

Now on to DC's 52. A weekly comic, by US standards, is a tall feat. But 52 wasn't just a weekly comic, it was an exciting weekly comic. The run just ended this week and did I like it? Yes. It's far from a ten out of ten but it was definitely above mediocre. One of the weaknesses of the series was that a fourth of it (roughly the equivalent of three months) was used for build-up and you could lose readers by that time. The biggest flaw, however, was in meeting reader's expectations. Don't get me wrong, I liked the series, but it didn't deliver in what it promised to do: fill in the gaps of the missing "year" in the DC universe. It's a compelling read mind you for B and C-lister super-heroes but it didn't really explain the current status quo of the DC universe, which was what fans were expecting from the comic. As long as you can live with that, it's a good series.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Sale!!!

It's book sale season again and both Fully Booked and Powerbooks are currently on sale.

Of course if I were you, I'd start saving my money too... book fair season is three months away and if my predictions are right, the second wave of book sales.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Loosing my Groove

I just came from a three-day weekend, which was preceded by a six-and-a-half-day work week. The problem with each transition is that it takes me quite a while to get back to the work atmosphere. I mean I should be working, working, working instead of blogging, blogging, blogging.

Yesterday was labor day and a welcome holiday. Unfortunately, it was also the premiere of Spider-Man 3 so tons of people were in theaters, myself included. While yesterday was technically a "vacation" for me, I was quite active the whole day.

Here's the background info: my house is in the middle of Mega Mall and V-Mall. It takes me 10 minutes to walk from my house to V-Mall and 15 minutes from my house to Mega Mall. Here's what yesterday was like:

10:30 am - Walk from my house to V-Mall, only to find out that the next Spider-Man 3 screening is at 1:20 pm.

11:00 am - Got tickets to Spider-Man 3.

11:05 am - I decided to go home instead of wait it out for two and a half hours.

11:15 am - Grabbed my bag from the house which had a package I needed to get a quote from Fed-Ex in Mega Mall.

11:30 am - Arrived at Mega Mall. Package is quite heavy. Got the quote from Fed-Ex. Shipping to Singapore isn't as expensive as I thought it would be.

12:00 pm - Home. Grabbed a glass of water and headed for V-Mall.

12:10 pm - Strolling around V-Mall.

1:20 pm - Waited in line for Spider-Man 3

3:50 pm - Got out of theater, headed for home.

4:00 pm - Glass of water, 1-hour break.

5:00 pm - Went back to V-Mall to check email because I had no Internet access at home.

5:30 pm - I'm back home, ate dinner.

5:45 pm - Headed for Mega Mall again, got confirmation from my email to send the package to Singapore.

6:10 pm - At Mega Mall, Fed-Exing the package.

So basically I've been going back and forth between those three places and might I remind you it's the middle of summer (thankfully I am unaffected by the heat). And people wonder why I'm a 95-pound weakling.

Philippine Genre Stories Vol 2

Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 2 came out last Friday but work and Internet mishaps (i.e. PLDT) prevented me from plugging it sooner.

The cover price was P100.00 and should be available at select bookstores around the metro but I got my copy at Comic Quest (so when in doubt for copies, go there).