Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Book Review: Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca

This is a book of so few pages. It is, however, so heavy to carry around. Oh, so heavy.

It is but a simple story, a fable. It is of so few words, but it is of so much thought.

It deals with a history of a people, a people whose identity seems quite vague, but an identity that is carried through a lineage (?) of a chosen few (of the few who chose -- and who seem to dwindle with each generation). It talks about the Filipino.

It also, interestingly enough, deals with sugar and salt, both of which have had their parts in shaping the Filipino consciousness and culture. It's amazing how the stories of old have been summarized here in such an artistic and heartfelt, heart-wrenching way. (While reading this, I felt like I was watching a very artsy movie.)

Special care has been taken to put woman in the middle of it all. As if it's her place? As if it's her place.

I don't think I have the words to explain this. It's too moving, too mysterious for me to convey my feeling about it. (I have let others read this as well, and they too can't seem to define exactly how they felt after reading this - except that it's "wonderful".) As a Filipino, I was most touched. As a reader, I was most astounded. This will stay with me for a long, long time.

Sugar & Salt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review first written June 4, 2012.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Ranked Experience: What I Learned After Playing 600 Ranked Matches On Town of Salem

Enjoy the queue time while it lasts, boys. We're going in.

So lately, I've relapsed into playing too many Town of Salem games again, and quickly bumped my 500 hours to 800 hours. However, I spent very few of the last 300 hours in All Any, where I played my first *few* games. I have instead delved into the wonderful world of Ranked.

A world where BGs refuse to protect revealed Mayors like Erlich here, since they do not wish to die for politics.

To be clear, 600 games isn't actually a lot. I mean, the scoreboard shows that the players with the most Ranked games have around 5,000+ matches under their belt. Still, I'd like to believe that it gave me an adequate look into how the world of Ranked looks like for a newbie.

But first off...

What is Ranked?

The Ranked Game Mode is a mode in the game that is the closest thing to competitive TOS, since it's got an Elo rating system. In case you're not aware,

... an Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in competitor-versus-competitor games such as chess. (from Wikipedia, retrieved 27 April 2017)
In TOS, your Elo will determine the skill level of the players you will face in a Ranked game. Everyone starts off with 1200. Each win adds Elo, while each loss makes you lose Elo. The amount of Elo you win or lose is actually dependent on the players you're with, and the roles that are present for the game.

In a nutshell, Ranked is a place where TOS players can use their role and their wits to make their team win. Unlike other modes, this is a high stakes, high pressure environment, due to the presence of Elo. Ideally, everyone knows how every role works, and you're paired with people who are at the same level as you are.

The players you're with are mere reflections of yourself. 
That, or all the good players are doing productive things with their lives, unlike you.

Now that's the ideal setup, so how does it actually play? 

Prepping For Ranked

Before you can play a Ranked match, you need to play at least 50 games in other modes and 10 games of Ranked Practice. After all, you need to have learned the basics before even stepping into competitive play, which is filled with experienced players who are expecting the best from their (supposed) teammates.

Uh, so, let's get that other guy now.

Personally, I only stepped into Ranked after give or take 900 non-Ranked games, and let me tell you - it was a whirlwind for me. Ranked is nothing like the rest of the game modes, not even Ranked Practice.

I believe that the only real way for you to improve in Ranked is to actually BE in Ranked. This, for me, meant taking blows to my self-esteem with each match, since I felt pressured from the get go to improve. After all, my faction was counting on me to be competent, right? Everyone else's Elo depended on my skill to counter my rivals' claims.

Unless it's the will of God. I can't CC that flummery.

So if you're thinking that playing tons of non-Ranked games will prep you for competitive play, yeah, no. Just grit your teeth and dive in. Trust me.

At this point, I'd like to say it gets better, but...

You'll Get Reported For Stupidity

With Elo on the line, people are itching to win. They don't care if you joined the Ranked queue for the first time and still figuring out how things go. If you're not performing the way you're "supposed" to be performing, expect people to report you for "gamethrowing."

Gamethrowing, you say?

Gamethrowing: Several different definitions exist on the topic of gamethrowing. More often than not, the context of this rule violation relates to intentional gamethrowing. If a player intentionally reveals information that causes their alignment to lose a game, and if there is evidence that the player did it with malicious intent, then that is gamethrowing. (from the TOS Wikia, retrieved 6 June 2017, emphasis supplied)

So if you don't know your way around Ranked and unintentionally revealed information that, well, made your faction lose, then too bad. You probably gamethrew without meaning to, but fast-typing *ahemSALTYahem* players probably filed a report for you already.


Because that's just how Ranked is. A lot of people expect you to have played enough games to know how roles work. Thus, if you don't play the game the ~meta~ way they expect you to, they instantly think that you're probably gamethrowing.

But let me be honest here. I may have played 900+ matches in the other game modes, but I was still surprised by the quirks of each role I got in Ranked. (Like how Lookouts can see people visit themselves or how a Retributionist can check if the Townie they lynched that day is a Disguiser or not.) And that was just how the roles worked. How to use that knowledge to win a game is a totally different matter altogether.

Did you know that, as Werewolf, you could also attack the dead medium that seances your target at night? 
(Also, in this game, just me the WW and Moly the exe-less Jailor were left. Life is good.)

However, these are things you probably only learn after playing (and losing) many, many Ranked matches. Until then, keep your head up, listen to the conversations going on, and queue again.

(By the way, if you leave early, you could be reported too, especially if you left Day 1. It is rumored to be common practice for Elo farmers to leave ASAP if they don't get a Town role, and an absent role usually messes things up for the different alignments. So be wary of that.)

VFR, start with RB'd TP'd RT TK CC 

One of the first things I observed about Ranked games was that the chat can go by pretty fast - and you will have no idea what's happening. Even Day chat can be unreadable, thanks to all the abbreviations seasoned Ranked players use.

I spent a lot of time in All Any before, and while people tend to be chatty there, they're usually just random chats about random things. (Latest GoT trailer, anyone? Hey, I like Doctor Who too! Pirate theme FTW, make all non-pirates walk the plank!) In Ranked, however, each and every word you say (and don't say) will be scrutinized. If you try to ask a question about the game or even what certain terminologies mean, you'll be automatically labeled as scum and find yourself hung, executed, or shot by a vigilante that night.

Or killed by a Werewolf that doesn't like you.

Even your voting pattern will be analyzed. Why did you not vote the obvious Godfather up for trial? Why did you choose to vote innocent on the Werewolf? Why did you start the vote on the Jailor claim?

Oh, and don't get me started on the tactic that most TOS players love to hate: voting for roles or VFR. For no reason at all, you can be voted up, just so the Town can figure out who's who based on your claim. If you're not ready with a role and will when you are, chances are high that you will be lynched ASAP. (For the record, I hate VFR because it just kills the fun for me. Give me bad clues and deception or give me death.)

Passive towns always lose, so might as well go aggro.

The Ranked environment takes some getting used to, but just keep playing, read the Wikia from time to time, and check out a guide or two or three. You'll be eased into it after a few hundred games or so, don't worry.
Don't forget to practice your speed voting skills, too. They may save your life someday.

"GG Town scrubs. I'm jester"

If there's something I really, really enjoy about Ranked, it's the fact that you'll never know what people will claim or how people will play the game.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at deception at this game, and I dread getting an evil role (unless it's Neutral Evil/NE). Nevertheless, I do enjoy seeing people make really weird claims and end up being a role that the Town did not expect them to be.

As so, it's great to see different players stretch their words, their claims, and their wills to get someone killed, lynched, or executed. I am constantly in awe of clever Townies and Mafia members, especially those who are great at scumreading - and at manipulating good scumreaders to create havoc.

Or just confusing Survivor claims named Strawberry, the poor dear.

This, for me, is what Ranked's all about. Ranked is populated by a somewhat more intelligent player pool, and I appreciate that. I can battle wits with smarter players and, best of all, learn from them as I attempt to git gud at this text-based roleplaying game.

Competitive? Experienced? Join the queue for Ranked today!

These are just a few of my first impressions of Ranked, and definitely do not cover the entire Ranked experience. There are more than a few intricacies to Ranked mode that I have not tackled here, but may discuss in another article. (Perhaps with some insights into The Coven update, yes?)

Ranked may sound daunting, and I'll admit: I was really nervous for the first 50 or so Ranked games I played. As I said in that other TF2 article, I am a rather phlegmatic person, so I have a tendency to care a lot about my fellow Townies and/or conspirators. As so, I felt pressured to do my best.

Happily enough, sometimes the Mafia has a tendency to care about Spies, too.

However, it's a really fun mode that sharpens your wits and introduces you to like-minded players. It's a fun way to play Town of Salem, and a way to really get into the lore of the game and discover the different nuances of all 33 roles they currently have out.

So come along and queue up. We've got Elo farming to do.

What were your perceptions of TOS's Ranked mode? If you haven't played it, why haven't you? If you do, what have I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: Most of the stuff I have written here were based on my experiences in Legacy Ranked, which is more or less the state of things before The Coven update. There have been (and will be) changes to the roles and the actual gameplay, so take a few of things I've said here with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: Fall Like Rain by Ana Tejano

I have always loved rain. There's just something in its pitter-patter on the sidewalk, the petrichor it leaves, the wistfulness it brings about.

As so, it surprised me to know that someone named Rain would hate days when her namesake falls from the sky.

And fall she does. In Fall Like Rain, a book by Ana Tejano, Rain encounters deep, brown pools she would love to drown in over and over again - in her best friend's eyes.

Unfortunately, she isn't quite sure if he, Mark, feels the same way about her. So she clings to him as they dance, shifting their toes in and out of the friend zone, unknowing whether to stay in line or take that dangerous step into love.

Add to that the fact that her cousin Lissa is moving in next week, and she may just have taken an interest in Mark too.

Fall Like Rain is a whirlwind of a tale, centering around a busy career woman caught between a family she doesn't know and a good friend she knows too well.

It's a simple enough story, but one woven in the lives of the millennials of Metro Manila. A story wherein, despite the ease of communication technology brings today, people still find it hard to share their true emotions with one another - even if they see them every day.

Peppered with the opinions of good friends, a surprisingly nice ex, and the usual flash floods, this book is a look into the relationships we have with the people around us, the food we share with our loved ones, and the uncertainties we are faced with when it comes to relationships.

Read this book to reminisce the could-bes and the what-ifs. Read this book to remember the electricity of a touch and the crush of disappointment. Read this book to recall fond memories of your family and the scent of your lola's good cooking.

Read this book to fall like Rain.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Sunday, March 19, 2017

[Video Game] 3 Things I Love About Badwater Basin

I take in a deep breath and look over the land with great fondness.

Ahh, Badwater Basin. Nope, not that real life basin of "bad water" over at Death Valley. I'm talking about one of the oldest maps in the Team Fortress 2 universe, the second Payload map added to the game. Yep, good ol' pl_badwater.

That's right, the little basin in the shape of Australia, you bloody fruit shop owners.

Badwater Basin has always been one of my favorite maps in Team Fortress 2. I believe I started falling in love it when I was a wee lad with only 100 or so hours in the game. You know, back when Quick Play existed and we didn't have that new game mode people can't get enough of.

I mean seriously, I've never flipped it 3 times in a row yet. [Source]

There may be plenty of maps available now, but I still find myself drawn to the Basin today. Its charm has never quite dulled for me yet, and probably never will. As so, here are three things I just love about Badwater Basin.

An all-class map

I've played in many maps in TF2, but Badwater Basin is among the maps I find to be balanced enough for me to enjoy playing as any class I choose. There's just something about its pathing and choke points that allows me to be flexible with characters I want to play with... Until some pubstomping tyrant angrily points out having 5 spies in his team.

Roof Sentries - Badwater
 But we need the combined power of our 5 spies to beat the 5 sentries of the other team! [Source]

Whether you're a market gardening Soldier or a Lime Scout, Badwater's got enough space and corners to let you do your own thing. Just remember to push the payload - to extend the time for mischief and other hijinks.

Teamwork in TF2?!

I've always been a casual player, which means that I am used to being called a tryhard if I want to, you know, work on the actual objective of the game. However, for some reason, 90% of the time I'm on a Valve Badwater map, I notice that I tend to actually try for the objective, and that many of my other teammates do, too. Sure, you get the Strange Farmer here and there, but it's not uncommon for me to see communication for coordinated pushes or tactical brainstorming happen.


While I sometimes laugh at how serious some are over a casual game, I honestly relish the teamwork that is fostered for at least 20 minutes in this particular map. I'm guessing this is in part because of how Badwater is among the maps used for competitive TF2, but it's more likely because of the hypnotic serum Valve has incorporated to the map to awaken the competitive beast in their players.

That is, unless your team is full of players who just installed the game 10 minutes ago, then scrap that and enjoy the spawncamping.

The PTSD Nostalgia

Okay, it's true. Badwater Basin was one of the maps that I spent hours upon hours on when I was working towards my first hundred hours in Team Fortress 2. That being said, I probably know this map like the back of my hand, and each little nook and cranny gives me a hint of nostalgia over the memories of when I was an inept bumbling merc (especially now that I'm a not-so-bad-but-still-kinda-inept bumbling merc).

I also have plenty of memories of those trollgineers that found (and exploited) each nook and cranny. [Source]

Yep, this was where this young Padawan trained to be fit for the battlefield - and ended up miserably dying over and over again. But hey, thanks to Badwater's eternal sunny skies and cheerful industrial buildings, it always pushed me to get up, try again, and frankly stop being a crybaby. (Oh wait, that was thanks to the unending abuse I got while training as a young Medic. My bad. Still, Badwater's pretty great.)

Good Ol' Badwater

As you probably have guessed, I really, really love pl_badwater - almost as much as aabicus loves orange chicken. As so, even today, I tend to be among the ranks of mercenaries who fight in the gravel wars of the Basin. Oh, I know it's not a perfect map*, by all means. But it's one close to my heart, and no new Payload map will ever change that (though I do enjoy a good match on Borneo).

What about you? What do you think of Badwater? Do let me know in the comments below!

So yeah, I guess you know where to find me when I say I'll hop on TF2 now. (No, it's not in my parents' basement.) See you in the Badlands, friend. Gesundheit!

*I mean, I really wish Blu's spawn moved up sooner, and that the second spawn actually had more entrances. (If only pl_badwater_pro were in circulation!) But I believe that Medic here nitpicks about it in an anti-Badwater article, so watch out for that. Don't forget to also check out the rest of the entries for A Week of Love and Hate 3!

This article also appeared on The Daily SPUF.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

[Writing] Bubbles the Survivor

In the game Town of Salem, you can leave random notes on your "will" that everyone in Town can view once you die. Ideally, you would write things in it that would help the players (especially those in your faction) figure out who has which role. I usually leave helpful (and not-so-helpful) notes on mine, but sometimes, I get struck by inspiration and end up writing a story instead.

This particular will story came about when I ended up as a Survivor named Bubbles.

I always liked looking at the sea. The ripples and waves are just beautiful. The sparkle of the sun, the glitter of the ocean spray, the little rainbows over the sea.

The bubbles, in particular, are spectacular. Especially when coming from a drowning man's mouth.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

[Music] Rediscovering Filipino Music, Thanks To Spotify

Pare Ko / Ipagpatawad Mo / Dahil Ikaw / Ikaw Lamang / Ang Aking Awitin.
And no, this is not a sponsored post, hah.

Spotify is one of my favorite mobile apps. Since I always need to have music on the go, I almost always have Spotify on too, playing just the right soundtrack for whatever my current mood might be. It's definitely an added bonus that this particular app helped me rediscover original Pinoy music (OPM) all over again.

OPM Love

I've always loved listening to Filipino music. I guess there's just something about it being homegrown that touches me, plus it's always nice to have a good OPM song echo in your head for hours. Siguro'y malapit ka na ring sumali sa Supermodel of the Whole Wide Universe!

The OPM treasure trove that today's music stores don't carry like they used to. Leave me alone to my Third World devices, kids. Image from earthings!.

That being said, I remember how difficult it was for me to actually listen to OPM back in the day. I'd constantly switch radio stations in hopes of hearing Rivermaya or Sandwich. I'd rejoice if I saw the music video of Ang Huling El Bimbo on MYX. I'd longingly gaze over the rows of Filipino albums in record bars, hoping to someday be able to afford them all. I didn't have much of an Internet connection either, so I'd feel bitter towards friends who used Napster or Limewire to get their music fix. #Batang90s

Enter Spotify Philippines
Fast forward to 2014. When Spotify was officially launched in the Philippines, I was excited to discover an app that can stream music through my phone. Since I was (and still am) a Globe subscriber, it helped that the telco added Spotify access to its mobile surfing bundles, but what really pushed me to downloading it was learning that the app would have a collection of OPM hits in a very robust OPM catalog.

So I abandoned playing music via YouTube and started streaming exclusively with Spotify. I would later also discover that forking over money to Spotify monthly meant having the option to download the tracks I loved on my phone (plus no ads and unlimited skips!), so after a month, I upgraded my account to Premium, an arrangement I have loved ever since.

Its acceptance into Philippine society grew pretty quickly, making the Philippines become Spotify's 2nd fastest growing market in the world for 2015. I guess it helped that they brought Hale back, too. Image from ABS-CBN news, data as of 2014.

 All-Tagalog Playlists, Please

Spotify would soon be my music partner wherever I would go. Nevertheless, while I enjoyed the OPM playlists Spotify curated, I soon felt that what they had wasn't enough to satisfy my craving for Filipino music. (Besides, I had grown weary of the bubblegum hits by Jadine and Kathniel that I would constantly find in their playlists.) So I started creating my own lists, particularly ones that had nothing but Filipino/Tagalog hits in them.

A few of them would include my chill OPM playlist, my lakbay playlist (for tunes that my friends and I love to jam to while on the road), and my OPM alternative rock playlist. I would later go on to make a few more, always with the thought of keeping them full of only Filipino/Tagalog songs.

One of the playlists I am most proud of is my OPM Karaoke Playlist, which is full of Tagalog hits for all those birit moments. 'Di makatulog sa gabi sa kaiisip...

Discovery and Rediscovery

The fun thing was that, while I was able to curate a few playlists and add a couple of tracks that I really enjoyed, I was soon discovering lots of songs that I totally forgot about. I was reminded not only of Tootsie Guevarra, 17:28, or Aegis, but also of Smokey Mountain, DJ Alvaro (Ang Tipo Kong Lalaki), and Richard Reynoso (the original Ale).

In this regard, one particular highlight for me was when I started compiling hits for an all-Filipino bossa nova playlist. (And by all-Filipino, I mean all-Filipino language tracks.) Sure, there was Sitti and that bossa nova album by The Company, but that was about the extent of the OPM bossa nova I knew of.

With luck, research, and Spotify's related artists feature, I soon compiled 25+ hits of bossa nova tracks in the Filipino language, including a bossa nova cover of popular Visayan track Usahay and a song or two by Bong Peñera (which, up to now, I'm hesitant to keep there, since they sound more like samba than bossa nova).

(By the way, if you didn't know, Bong Peñera, with his band Batucada, was known as a major proponent in the Filipino samba and bossa nova music scene. His influence dates all the way back to the 1970s, too. Here are my sources.)

To be honest, I had a hard time compiling more than 20 tracks for this bossa nova playlist. Here's to hoping for more Filipino bossa nova in the future!

Thank You For The (Pinoy) Music, Spotify

Besides this, I am happy to continuously discover new singles and albums from different Filipino artists through Spotify. Thanks to the app, I discovered Jerika Teodorico's Labyu Langga, enjoyed PhilPop albums, and found that Miss Kita Pag Tuesday song that used to be the cause of my LSS way back when.

The Visayan pop music industry is thriving, especially with the VisPop Music Festival! Image from MetroCebu News.

Needless to say, I am thankful for Spotify and how it helps me connect with OPM in this little way, especially since I'm frequently on the go and need a reliable source of music for my needs. Also, thanks to this app, I find myself thirsting for more OPM news, getting excited over live concerts nearby, and having fun with V81 Radio, a Filipino-owned company I've been freelancing for that broadcasts "All Hits All Pinoy" over the Internet.

Yes, I know there are other music platforms out there. I just happen to enjoy Spotify among them. So what about you? What's your preferred music app of choice? How do you listen to OPM? Let me know in the comments below!

In the meantime, I'll probably be adding a few more tracks to my playlists, like my Abangers one or the one I titled Mahal Pa Rin Kita. (You will really find a common thread in Pinoy music the more you listen to it.) You can check out my Spotify profile here, or tweet me a good OPM song at @geekyDC. Happy listening!

With my many OPM playlists on Spotify, I do welcome suggestions! Sige na, [please] na, [please] na please, pambayad ko sa jeepney kulang pa ng diyes.

PS: I really wish this were a sponsored post, but it isn't. I just truly enjoy using Spotify, and highly recommend it to my friends and family. :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

[Story] The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. Image from Mental Floss.

So, one day, instead of going through my usual Spotify haunts, I decided instead to check out the Word section, just to satisfy the craving for something new. What caught my eye was The H.P. Lovecraft Compendium, a 23-hour playlist of Lovecraftian tales read by great narrators. Since I hadn't really read much of H.P. Lovecraft yet, I decided to take the plunge and check out one of his most famous works to date: The Call of Cthulhu.

The Call of Cthulhu is a classic Lovecraftian story, but, even today, its horror and detail still manage to elicit chills, despite Cthulhu's wild popularity (and consequent bastardization) in popular culture.

Published in 1928, The Call of Cthulhu is among the many stories written on the Cthulhu mythos, a collection of writings set within the Lovecraftian universe by Lovecraft and his author friends. This story, in particular, gives plenty of detail on Cthulhu, a creature whose "pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings."

The story is told through Francis Wayland Thurston, a man who discovers intriguing notes and a very curious bas-relief among the papers of his deceased granduncle, Professor George Gammell Angell. Out of curiosity (and in hopes of recognition), Thurston decides to pick up where his granduncle left off and piece together the mystery of the frightening image. What he first believed to be a simple quest into an unknown culture will soon become a voyage into madness, cult worshippers, and the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh.

Perhaps the image of Cthulhu has now become too familiar that its origin story may seem unimpressive and dull, but the words of Lovecraft are still haunting and utterly provocative despite the beast's omnipresence in popular media. So, while The Call of Cthulhu may be styled as a supernatural mystery story, you can't help but experience a tingling sense of dread as Thurston slowly stitches together the blood-tainted tale about the High Priest of the Great Old Ones.

"They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the Earth might once more be ready for Them." Image by jbrown67.

The imagery in the story itself is troubling, as it is beset with out-of-this-world monstrosity, constant death, and horrible cult practices. It may be difficult for the human mind to comprehend the depth of the beast that is Cthulhu, but the fanaticism he incites, the sacrifices his worshippers offer, and the slither, stench, and sliminess that permeates his being give a taste of what horror The Great Dreamer may bring upon this world.

(But there is something disturbing about the men in The Call of Cthulhu that have founded secret societies to honor Cthulhu and protect his secrets. With odd carvings on otherworldly materials, ancient rites in unpronounceable words, and a probable hand in the timely demise of the people involved in Thurston's narrative, the cultists themselves are a force to be reckoned with, and a reminder that humans may just be the true monsters in this world of flesh.) Ph'nglui mglw'nafh C'thulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

Overall, The Call of Cthulhu may be centered around a vile winged god, but, in its heart, it is about a man who wants to discover the facts behind a supposed myth. Lovecraft painstakingly takes his time here when giving out each progressing detail, but the slow walk towards the truth concerning Cthulhu may be akin to the trudge of a man towards his own noose, and with the same unavoidable and spine-tingling dread.

Read this story to invoke images of an eldritch monster that has lain asleep for many years (though there are those who whisper that it is soon to wake in a future to come). Beware, as many a man have gone mad in worship - and in his presence. So tread lightly now. C'thulhu fhtagn.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

Get The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft via Amazon now.
Check out the complete audiobook version of The Call of Cthulhu on Audible.

- Peterson, Britt. "101 Masterpieces: 'The Call of Cthulhu'". Mental Floss, 20 Aug 2014. Retrieved 22 Sep 2016. [Link]
- "The Call of Cthulhu"., Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Sep 2016. Retrieved 22 Sep 2016. [Link]
- Strickland, Jonathan. "How Cthulhu Works". Retrieved 22 Sep 2016. [Link]
- "Cthulhu Mythos". Retrieved 22 Sep 2016. [Link]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

[Video Game] DC and the F2P: The Combo (TF2 Pub Tales)

We go together, doctor.

These are more excerpts found within the diaries of DC's sister, among spent bullets and a broken butterfly knife.  

Part 1
Part 2

Fun fact: This was written before the great Meet Your Match update, when a lot of players populated Valve's pubs. You can still relive the horror fun today in vanilla community public servers.

The Combo

Well, there wasn't really much to say about me playing Pyro after we got out of the gates. DC would lead me to some unpeopled paths on the map, and we'd set panicking players ablaze. It was fun running around and setting things on fire, and we soon racked up a couple of kills (and deaths) together. I was later tickled pink to see a medal next to my name too. I was an MVP in such a short time! I was so proud.

Beware of my sparkles!

"I honestly forgot how much fun this game is", I excitedly told my buddy after kamikaze-ing into a level 3 Sentry Gun. (I wasn't able to destroy it, of course. Nevertheless, it was hilarious.) "But I want to try something different. Any ideas?"

I watched her on the Death Cam as she somehow made a rocket fly back to an enemy Soldier. It looked awesome, but I think it was a lucky shot, since I heard her click away like crazy before it happened. "God, deflecting projectiles feels SO GOOD", she cried, beaming at me. "But hey, if you want something new, let's do a Heavy-Medic combo. I'll be Medic. Stay there; I'll come to you."

As she ran back to spawn, I selected the big guy in the Choose Class screen. "Don't forget to wear the stuff, OK", I reminded her, as I wore what she called the 'Gibusvision combo'. She laughed as she replied, "Oh, I almost always have them on my Medic, so no problem."

Dressed up and ready to go. Don't I look sexy?

As soon as her Medic was ready, we ran out the gates. Well, as fast as I could run as a Heavy, anyway. "Don't worry, OK. I'll be your dedicated doctor. I'll heal you and only you, and try to keep you safe." She gave me a thumb's up in real life as she said this.

I frowned. "Don't be one of those people, please. Heal everybody", said I, as we finally reached our other teammates, who were already screaming out for a Medic. She smiled. "All right, all right. Just don't forget to turn around every so often. Like RIGHT NOW." Before I could ask her what she meant by that, a Spy had apparently backstabbed me while I was trying to mow down an annoying yet brightly colored Scout that kept jumping around.

We even had the same hat! How could he?

"Should I run back to meet you at spawn? I almost have Uber, by the way." I watched her move about like a little mosquito around our teammates. (She sure liked to skitter about as a Medic.) "Nah, it's OK. There's a teleporter here, so I should be there in no time. And what the heck is an Uber?" Thanks to the tele, I was soon right next to DC again. "Oh you're her-- I'M FULLY CHARGED!", she screamed. "Run into the enemies, NOW!"

A little distraught by the sudden command, I rushed towards the RED team, guns blazing. Everyone, of course, started shooting at me immediately. About to curse my sister for her suicidal tactics, I suddenly found myself all covered in shiny blue, and stopped taking damage immediately. What the heck? "Don't just stand around there, get the Sentry Gun to the right! Go go go!"

I immediately complied, still a little perturbed by the change of colors in my screen. We got a couple of buildings by the RED team down though, and my other teammates came in after to help us deal with the enemy team that scattered about.

We looked like this, only way cooler. DC says she doesn't have photos of our Uber moments because she's "too busy Ubering" to commemorate our moments of glory. Sure, whatever.

"Woah, what was that? Was that Uber--", I started asking her, but she screeched, "SPY! TURN AROUND!" Before I could do so, I was killed by a Spy, yet again. "Aww, but I just destroyed so much stuff!", I cried, a little upset to know that it was the same Spy that killed me earlier. She patted my arm. "You did good, but you have to keep moving, dear. The round's not over until it's over."

"OK, fine. Just hang about there. I'll be there in a bit." I watched as the BLU team pushed the cart to the last point. Just a little more, and we'd win! I respawned soon enough, but something seemed weird about the resupply room. It had more orange and red hues, when spawn looked a little more blue earlier. Then I read in the chat that I was moved to RED team for team balance. What just happened? "Hey, what is this? Am I on RED now?"

What is auto-balance?

Just then, I heard the lady on the microphone say that the round was ended, and that BLU team won. A BLU Medic with the Gibusvision combo ran towards me, and started to dance in front of me. "Press G, you can dance with the enemy team, too. And sorry, sis. That's what you call auto-balance. It happens, and sometimes at the oddest moments."

"But I worked so hard! I got most of the stuff down too!", I cried, while dancing with her in the room. Just then, a BLU Soldier came in and started pelting me with rockets. As soon as I died, I watched as the Soldier started to drink coffee in front of me, as if taunting me in my helplessness. It was too much.

"DC, that was so unfair. I don't want to play this game anymore." I just couldn't. How could such a mechanic exist? I was doing so well, too, and BLU team was so close to victory. I sighed as I clicked on the new item I apparently got. It looked pretty cool, like a big bright sign. "That was just so disheartening."

She took at a look at my screen, and placed an arm around my shoulder. "I know just the thing that's going to make you feel better. Join me in 2Fort."

How can a place like this possible make me feel better?!

Disclaimer: The entries may or may not have been written by DC's sister, who may or may not still be mourning over auto-balance. (Though she's probably not even thinking about it anymore, thanks to the MYM update.) Read Part 1 of this series here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

[Video Game] 4 Things I Learned After Lying for 400 Hours in Town of Salem

This game taught me how to lie.

While I've always had a fascination with words (what with my love of books and writing random rambles like these), using them to spin tales of deception has never been part of my agenda.

That is, until I started playing the game Town of Salem.

And I don't mean just once either. I mean spending 400 glorious hours of manipulating words in order to get myself killed (on purpose) or to convince the other 14 people I'm playing with that I'm actually NOT out to kill them.

It has been a pretty interesting journey for me, trekking through those stories and figuring out the truth behind all the lies. While I am, by no means, the best player out there, I have learned a few things in my 400-hour Town of Salem game mark that have helped me last long enough to see victory several times. Here are 4 of them.

The Fine Art of Deception

Town of Salem (TOS) finds its origins in the party game Mafia, the StarCraft II Mafia mod, and the card game Werewolf, all of which are about getting a role and using that role's abilities to make your team win. As you never quite know who's who (unless you're part of the Mafia or in the coven of vampires), it becomes the ultimate guessing game in finding out who to kill and who to save.

When I started out, I had no idea at all what I was getting into. My little sister (yes, that sister) just told me to join her in the game then quickly gave me some tips, but I was hopelessly lost on what I had to do. Why was that guy saying I'm part of the Mafia when I'm not? Why do I always get killed on the first night? That guy asked for my role, and now he's trying to get me lynched! What?

And why do people say the weirdest things on D1?

The more I played TOS, the more I discovered the undeniably simple truth: 100% of the players I'm with are lying. If I wanted to actually win, I needed to get with the program and start lying, too.

And that's just what I did. I listened to others as they spun their tales, and tried to emulate their techniques. I wasn't always successful with my stories, but I'd like to think that I can lie a tad more convincingly now, as compared to when I first started 400 hours ago.

Undeniably, that's just part of the game. Love it or hate it, you are going to have to use some form of deception in order to carry out your role, whether you're a Mafia man or a Townie. If you want to win the game for you and your team, you're going to need to get creative and manipulate some facts, pronto. Just remember to do it with finesse and style.

Plus you can get achievements for some cool, deceptive shindigs too, like one of my proudest achievements to date: being acquitted without revealing to the Town as Mayor!

Knowledge is Power

One of the most powerful things you can have in this game isn't exactly a Serial Killer's knife or a Werewolf's rampage. It's actually the capability of using your wits to bend the truth and survive long enough to be among the last ones standing.

That being said, yes, knowledge is power. Mix this knowledge with the fine art of deception, and you've got a powerful combination. Based on my 400-hour gameplay, I firmly believe that there are two kinds of knowledge necessary to my victories.

The first one lies in having in-depth knowledge of class roles and responsibilities. I say in-depth, because to properly play out a role in Town of Salem requires more than just the information in the little text box on the right-hand side of the screen.

Knowing what the other roles can do will not only help you do your role better (after all, that little box doesn't tell you how to jail people as Jailor or how to do a seance as a Medium), but it will also help you figure out which player has which role, especially if you're playing in Classic mode.

Pro-tip: Unless you really want to get executed, don't claim to be the second Jailor when you're jailed, ffs.

One way to improve your knowledge in this department is to read through the TOS Wikia. Not only does it tell you about the hidden things you can do for a class (I'm surprised that many people don't know that you could clean gas off yourself as an Arsonist), but it also has lots of helpful tips and pointers you can use to improve your gameplay, no matter what role you get.

For the other kind of knowledge...

Hell Is Other People

Among the many modes available, my favorite has to be Chaos-All Any. Classic for me can feel like a lot of work sometimes, and I usually feel pressured to do my best, especially in Ranked. In All Any, I don't really feel that pressure, and can just fool around with people while having silly fun.

After all, there's nothing better than complaining about how All Any is just aids.

That being said, whatever mode you prefer, you will find something common in all of them: you cannot always trust in other players, even your teammates. "Hell is other people", declared Jean-Paul Sartre, and the phrase could definitely apply to the deceitful players of Town of Salem.

So that other kind of knowledge I was talking about? It's something I mentioned earlier: know that every person out there is lying, and you better have a knack for scumreading. Else, particularly deceitful players will take advantage of the fact that you're not as experienced as they are, and will manipulate you for their own gain.

(After all, everyone, including the newbies, can access most of the modes at once, so it isn't unheard of to see a 1200 Elo newbie be pit against players with 2000 to 3000 significantly higher Elo in a Ranked game.)

Sometimes they even pretend to love you, sleep with you, and pull on your shorts, but inevitably end up lynching your Werewolf pillion in the end.

Oh, and yes, beware of your teammates, too. If you're not careful, they might just end up revealing your own role and hurting your faction as a whole. It sometimes breaks my heart being in the Mafia and seeing the Framer target the confirmed Veteran, but that's the truth behind the randomness of the spins.

So, in summary: You won't win because long-time players will take advantage of you, and you won't win because your faction members are totally unreliable. So stop playing today and get guaranteed peace of mind!

Or get good, peasant.

Just kidding, don't close that window just yet. After all...

TOS is Really Fun 

I had quite a rocky start in Team of Salem, but I've learned enough to keep my head cool and continue weaving my lies for 400 hours. Sure, I still have a lot to learn, but I know enough to be challenged by other players and have lots of fun regardless.
I also like that I can trade some clever jokes about Schrodinger's cat with the Town every so often.

After all, TOS is essentially a text-based game, and winning relies on the magic you make with your keyboard, and not in your deftness with M1+W or how many quests you've completed. You're essentially talking with other people, and working to convince them that your own story is better than those of the others. It may sound easy enough, but your role can only make you do so much, plus the others (looking at you, damn Transporters) will disrupt you and mess up your supposedly flawless defense.

In addition, you get to meet really interesting people who have different ways of playing the game, too. I mean, just look at the Strategy portion in the Wikia's Jester page! There are tons of methods listed there on how to get yourself successfully lynched, and I'm sure that many others have their own styles that aren't listed there at all. You have so many courses to take just to complete a single objective, and you can always change your playstyle to match the conditions of the game you're in, too.

Adaptation is very important in TOS. Even if it means lynching the Veteran and claiming Survivor, do it -- if only to reveal as Mayor on the very last day and claim the win for Town.

And that's one more reason I really enjoy Town of Salem. Each game you play will always have a different flavor to it, even if you only play Classic, which has a set role list and only 2 random roles. You never quite know what the others will say, and you never quite know what role you'll get (even if you have dozens of scrolls for Consigliere). With so many strategies, so many roles, and so many minds working at the same time, each TOS game is a different experience, even if you play with people in a party.

Speaking of parties, I also enjoy the social element of this game. When I play All Any, in particular, I'm usually out to have a casual game and just interact with the 14 other people in Town. Sure, I've died more than once because I protected the friends in my party (instead of those in my faction), but I've had many good laughs, nevertheless.

Yes, even if it means sacrificing my own personal goals to protect my fam.

I also occasionally enjoy themes, and have had fun lynching others who weren't part of the theme (and who usually end up being Neutral Evil roles, like Arsonist or Serial Killer). I like making friends in TOS, and there are more than a few (from all around the globe) that I've traded real-life stories with and who have become my regular party-mates.

A Game of Murder, Deception, Lying, and Mob Hysteria

400 hours is a lot of hours spent in a single game, and I'm proud to still be standing amongst the great storyweavers and charismatic liars that I meet with each game I play on Town of Salem. Sure, I bump into godlike Jesters or gamethrowing Godfathers who write all the Mafia members in their will then leave, but all in all, it has been a pretty positive experience for me, and I can't wait to spend even more time on TOS to be called a child born out of wedlock, a bumfuzzle, and a zounderkite.

Just don't be cancer please. Be love.

What about you? Have you tried your hand in Town of Salem, the ultimate multi-player game of murder, deception, lying, and mob hysteria? I personally recommend this game, and it's completely free to play on the browser and just $5 on Steam. (I play it on Steam myself. It just loads better for me there.)

So try it out, and dip into TOS's bloody waters. There are many good Townies to kill, and not enough lies to cover up the stains. Just remember: don't get caught.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

[Writing] Quiet the Werewolf

I crave the quiet. Image by Viergacht.

In the game Town of Salem, you can leave random notes on your "will" that everyone in Town can view once you die. Ideally, you would write things in it that would help the players (especially those in your faction) figure out who has which role. I usually leave helpful (and not-so-helpful) notes on mine, but sometimes, I get struck by inspiration and end up writing a story instead.

This particular will story came about when I ended up as a Werewolf named Quiet.

I like the quiet. I enjoy it. I thrive in it. I crave it.

I've forgotten what it sounds like though. A voice keeps on telling me that I'm a monster, and every other night, I see that monster in the mirror. Dripping spit, dark red eyes, dirty gray fur.

Long ago, I was angry. Why me? I didn't choose to be like this. I just wanted to be a regular guy. Maybe have a family.

I miss the quiet.

Monday, August 8, 2016

[Event] 4 Memorable Things About The What Things Mean Manila Book Launch

Celebrating award-winning Filipino stories. Image from here.

"Things mean different things to different people."

This is the focal point of Sophia N. Lee's book "What Things Mean". (My review here!) This was also the one of main messages of its book launch last August 6, 2016 at National Bookstore in Glorietta 1, Makati.

The event was indeed a celebration of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award winner, but there was more to the program that just the announcement that What Things Mean is now readily available to the Filipino public. As so, here are some of the meaningful and memorable things about Sophie's What Things Mean book launch.

Award-Winning Writing By Pinoys

I was pleased to know that this was not only an occasion to celebrate What Things Mean, since the book launch also highlighted Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres. After all, both books were the top winners in the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award.

(Notably, the Scholastic Asian Book Award is a biennial competition hosted by Scholastic and the National Book Development Council of Singapore. It aims to promote Asian experiences of "life, spirit, and thinking with the rest of the world". Entries must also be geared towards children six to eighteen years old. For more criteria, check out this page.)

With prestige and one of the biggest prizes for unpublished works of children's fiction (SGD 10,000) at stake, why not submit an entry today? Image from NBDCS.

Yes, among the many entries from different indie authors in different countries, these two books came out on top for that year's competition. As a fellow Filipina myself, I have to say that I am very proud of these two indeed.

Add to this the fact that they have managed to provide a fresh perspective and more pages for Filipino young adults to read. After all, while both books featured a female protagonist trying to figure out who they are, they were also both set in the Philippine shores, and therefore paint a very real picture of what it's like growing up in the archipelago. I saw myself in these words, and I'm glad to know that Filipino-written stories CAN be deemed award-winning and world-class.

They're also out now in most National Bookstore branches!

The Origin Story

I always find it interesting when creators themselves present their own work, because it's always a treat for me to hear the story behind their stories. As so, I was very happy to hear Sophie herself talk about What Things Mean, and to learn of her own journey into developing Olive and her own little world.

She said the book wasn't exactly autobiographical (her father was almost always present in her life!), but that she did add many of her own traits to her protagonist. Image from

One particular story she told that struck me was the one about what first brought Olive to life, that story about the jar of pasta sauce. Sophie related how, one day, she was craving for pasta as comfort food, and luckily found an unopened jar of pasta sauce in the kitchen. However, after using up all the tips and tricks to open them, she admitted to breaking down over how she couldn't open that one jar.

"Someone later came into the kitchen and opened it for me", she related. "It made me realize that I cannot live alone... I would always need someone to open jars for me. That made me think of how jars could be a profound symbol for independence. If you could open jars, you could also conquer bigger things."

And thus, the story of a young girl who can open jars on her own was born.

Music, Stories, Celebration

While the book launch was a celebration of the books by Sophie and Catherine, I also enjoyed the fact that it was a celebration of talents of people besides the authors mentioned. After all, it was more than just a talk by Sophie; it was a program that involved live reading, lovely music, and, of course, Filipino food.

Although Catherine wasn't around that day to talk about her book (she is based in Berlin, after all), she did prepare a short video, and invited the audience to listen to a live reading of the first chapter of Sula's Voyage. Also, there was a short but sweet intermission by Reneé Dominique, a Filipina ukelele player (just like Sula) who serenaded the crowd with beautiful old-school songs. (The audience was so moved that when there was a sudden power interruption, we all sang along to help Reneé finish singing Can't Help Falling In Love.)

Apparently, as one can guess from her tweet, Renee was moved by the audience as well.
(By the way, she has an awesome YouTube channel!)

Sophie also had some people read a few chapters from her book, and I was surprised to know that they were more than just good friends of hers. "I chose these people to read these chapters because they have redefined life for me and many others", she explained after the live readings by the following lovely folks: her Creative Writing professor and Gintong Aklat Award winner, Heidi Abad; her good friend and Flying Ipis vocalist, Deng Garcia (who also sang some songs during the book-signing); and her bestie and Human Nature co-founder, Anna Meloto-Wilk.

It also wouldn't have been a celebration of the Filipino tradition without food, so there was a spread of delicious goodies like turon, bibingka, and chocolate chip cookies (which reminded me of Stella, a character in the book).

There were also these lovely book cakes by Kink Cakes, which were gorgeous and delectable.

Messages of Inspiration

Perhaps what I loved best about the event was that, after celebrating award-winning books, it ended on an inspirational note.

In particular, during the question and answer portion, it was nice to hear Sophie's message for other Filipino writers. "Start by writing, just tell your story," she said."Write it, and don't be afraid to tell your story."

She also talked about her struggles while writing, and how she moved to write a Filipino-centric young adult novel. "I wondered why no one was telling stories about us... I realized that there aren't many Filipino YA books because no one was writing them."

So why not write about the things that define your life? Image from Sophie's website.

She then pointed out that Filipino writers shouldn't be afraid that no one will read their work, since there's a big pool of readers in the Philippines. "Just look at the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch," she noted with a smile. "Book lovers do exist in the Philippines."

Final Thoughts

The book launch, while simple, was a nice celebration of the two 2014 SABA winners. It was lovely to see everyone gather around to support Sophie and Catherine for their books, and to officially declare to the world that their books are now available all over the country.

Both books cost around P200 or so each, too, so get your copy today!

I, for one, can highly recommend Sophie's book, which is a very personal look into a young teen's journey to find herself (and perhaps even her long-lost father). You can read my review for the book right here.

So why not support our fellow Filipino authors and get their books today? Not only will they touch on the nostalgia of youth, but also remind you of the stories and culture that make our country truly unique. Cheers for Sophia Lee's What Things Mean and Catherine Torres's Sula's Voyage!

(Check out Sophie's website & Facebook page, as well as Catherine's official Sula's Voyage website.)