Monday, January 31, 2005

Ficathon Blues

I've just received my story seeds for the Legend of the Five Rings Ficathon III, and judging from my experience with the last one, it appears that I am truly a sucker for this kind of punishment.

Fortunately, I've got till the end of February to submit a finished work. That means that I'll probably have even more days to goof off before attempting to cram a month's writing into the span of six hours. (Ha, ha. Seriously, though, I've already started on a couple of concepts.)

The bad news is that the others decided to get a lot more creative for this one. My seeds are as follows:

1) A day after a kobune voyage begins, two passengers who have shared intense emotion (good or bad) discover that the other is on board.

2) A monk spends weeks meditating on the nature of Rokugan whilst travelling in the Burning Sands and is dying of hunger and thirst. Does he accept the aid of a strange traveller?

A "kobune", for those who aren't in the know, is the general term for a ship in the Legend of the Five Rings universe. "Rokugan" is the name of the pseudo-medieval Japanese empire that stretches across the peninsula, and the "Burning Sands" is the vast desert that cuts it off from the rest of the world.

There's normally an unspoken prize given to those entrants who manage to meld their two concepts into a single story. Seeing that one of these involves the sea and that the other involves the desert, it's obvious that somebody has it in for me. Unless I decide to come up with a character who has acid flashbacks that place him in both locales, I'm probably going to have to work with only one of these seeds.

I suppose that I decided to dig my own grave when I joined this friendly competition for the second time, so I guess I'll just have to see if it's comfortable when I finally lie in it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Literary Dyslexia




I've noticed that I've had a peculiar habit of switching or substituting letters lately. Sometimes I'll advance one or more letters in a word, and sometimes I'll replace certain random letters with whatever's next to them on the keyboard.




Sometimes, for no reason at all, I'll even fail to punch in certain letters at all. Capitals are favorite.




I wonder if it's stress. I've been through the wringer at work lately, and the wall of upcoming projects for the year doesn't bode well for my circumstances. At worst, my mind could be in some gradual process of degradation, and maybe the basic pattern-and-sequence rules would be the first to go in that case.

Or maybe I just type too fast. Odd, for a man who almost flunked his grade-school Typing class.

I've noticed that it's already affected my writing speed, although in a purely psychological way. Nowadays, I tend to look back every few words or so, just to make sure that I haven't made any 'careless' spelling errors. I most definitely don't remember having that kind of habit from last year.

I've considered shifting to a Dvorak keyboard, but then I'd need some time to learn the new layout first. I can't set it up at home because I've got siblings who use the traditional keysets, and it might not be feasible to set it up at work because wrenching the keys off and putting them back on again will eat up a couple of hours. There's also the question of juggling familiarity between the two keysets - what if I have to use someone else's computer, for example? What if I take up a post in an Internet cafe?

All that, and the notion of switching to Dvorak may be a little presumptuous at this time. I'm not even sure what's causing me to switch all these letters at the moment.

I glad for my proofreading skills. Otherwise my writings would be a mere jumbled mess.

In the back of my mind, I think that maybe I should just chuck the whole technological bit out the window and go back to writing with pencil and paper. I haven't seen a good sample of my handwriting in years. That would certainly be a lot easier.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Digital Pinay: Damage Control

Sat in on a press conference for the Digital Pinay contest today, along with bloggers Clair, Xenia and Ranulf. Representatives from the media were there as well, with Inq7.Net's Joey Alarilla and Erwin Oliva among them. All in all, a nice eight-man audience.

If you haven't heard about the initial controversy surrounding the contest in the eyes of the online public, then my initial post is here. I would highly recommend that you read it first.

Go ahead. I'll wait.



Finished? Good.

The Digital Pinay application form and its contents has touched off a firestorm in the last few days. (Clair terms it a "blogstorm", and I won't argue.) After holding an emergency meeting yesterday, the contest organizers - the Philippine Computer Society (PCS) - gave their side of the story in a small press conference held earlier today.

During the conference, PCS stated that the released application form and contest mechanics were a mistake, and that the PCS never meant for the competition to be a "beauty contest" in the first place. PCS apologized for the unfortunate occurrence, thanked the audience for their vigilance, and gave indication that they were amenable to future discussion regarding not only the Digital Pinay issue, but perhaps future endeavors as well.

I am aware that the application forms have since been rectified, with the contest mechanics likely to be amended soon. That would make it fair damage control so far. I have to say that not many people have the guts to admit an error in the face of mounting outrage, and that their handling of the situation impressed me to a certain degree.

With regards to Digital Pinay, it has turned out as a contest that seeks potential IT executive material from the ranks of the females who are currently involved with the industry. The contest thus justifies a search for personality qualities as well as intelligence - after all, a potential CEO should know how to deal with people. The text votes themselves may be seen as indicative of a candidate's ability to raise support for her bid. I figure that the contest sounds relatively logical now, albeit still a little strange.

I have the impression that the contest gave rise to controversy when the Internet audience first noticed the fields for Bust Size, Waist Size, and other physical attributes in the original application form. That elevated certain parts of the contest mechanics to greater attention, most notably a 20% allotment towards a "beauty/presentability" quality and a coronation night that planned the contestants going through such events as a "Business Suit" category and a "Sportswear" category. It was easy for readers to make the comparison to a misogynist "beauty pageant".

At the moment, only the 20% "beauty/presentability" allotment remains, although I'm fairly certain that it'll still be heavily discussed among the public. Personally, I don't like the degree of emphasis that's been given to "beauty/presentability" either, but I'm willing to let this go in favor of seeing how the contest works with it. If the aspect turns out to be too frivolous, then it can always be lessened or removed in favor of the next Digital Pinay competition.

I think that it's good to see that PCS is at least willing to listen to the reactions to the controversy. Frankly, I also think that it's good to see that, despite the knowledge that the contest will forever be marred by this issue, PCS still initiated what damage control they could, and offered sincere apologies for the rest.

More updates to come, I suppose. I'd like to see what the rest of the local blogging community thinks about this. In particular, I'd like to see what Sacha's take on these developments are, once she gets back from her little Kobe excursion.

You're entitled to your own opinion on this issue, everybody. I just try to give you the basic facts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Digital Pinay 2005

If I were to tell you that the Philippine Computer Society is organizing a contest in order to find a woman who best embodies the skills and values of the IT industry, then what would you think?

Interesting idea, right? A copy of the application form's over here, and it deserves a good read whether you're male or female, whether you're planning on joining or not. (The link is a copy hosted on Sacha Chua's site, and it may or may not be the most recent version of the application form.)

Sacha figures significantly into this story, but I'm not about to tell you the whole thing. I'd rather have you read things for yourself and make up your own minds afterwards. Sacha's reaction to the contest announcement and application is here, and it's being echoed by various quarters around the Net. But I'd recommend that you look through the contest application form first and see if you can spot the aspect that's causing the controversy.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Super Ultra Mega Light Battle Bikini Upgrade!

If that title doesn't get you reading this article, then nothing will.

It probably all started when I got my hands on Curse of the Azure Bonds, a rather forgettable Dungeons and Dragons adventure and novel. It was years later when I stumbled on a magazine article interviewing Clyde Caldwell, the artist of the Curse of the Azure Bonds cover. In a sidebar to the interview, Caldwell mentioned that the art for Azure Bonds was notable for him because the writer worked the female character and her depicted armor into the book itself.

That single sidebar got me to look at the cover once again. And the first thought that came to mind was, this is one of the most useless pieces of armor I've ever seen.

Now don't get me wrong. I respect skilled artists. I do a bit of drawing myself, so I know how much effort they put into their works. Heck, I'm familiar with the difficulties with drawing the female figure, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I reserve the most profound respect for artists who can take on the female figure and get fantastic results.

What I don't understand, however, is how such artists can effectively distort the meaning and function of armor. Khan Online, for example, has a set of armor that looks better suited to the Carnaval in Rio than it does to the battlefield. (One wonders how she could possibly move around in that thing.)

Granted, these are fantasy universes. And I'll agree that it's possible for a story to have female characters who are willing to wear such things. And, as a red-blooded male, I'll have to admit that it isn't all that bad to have a little fanservice every now and then. But taking what amounts to a mere chainmail bikini and touting it as effective armor just shatters all logical thought.

In other words, you can call it armor all you want, but if I can drive a sword right through that spot of cleavage or punch through that bare midriff, then it ain't armor.

I like to think that female characters can usually be written well beyond how much (how little?) armor they wear. To be more exact, I prefer strong female characters, which usually means that they'd be more than willing to strap on the same full plate that the males wear should the situation demand it. It would, at least, be a lot more intelligent than those female characters who think that a metal bustier is the ultimate in defensive technology.

Female characters are usually practical enough to realize that when they mean armor, they mean armor, not these skimpy bits that are the stuff of dreams. These artists can keep their visions to themselves; I prefer to write from a more realistic standpoint, thank you very much.




Oh, and the first guy to mention Conan's costume gets a whack on the side of the head.

(All images presented here are the property of their respective owners.)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Antaria: Knives

Sometimes Rhias couldn’t sleep. Sometimes the memories wouldn’t let her.

Behind her, safe in his own personal quarters, Gallos slept comfortably. Rhias, like many other people, wondered how a man who controlled the lives of half of Lorendheim’s population could possibly rest well at night. Rhias, unlike many other people, didn’t let such innate curiosity cloud her judgment.

Gallos was just a man, she knew. Deep inside his imperious demeanor, within his seeming heart of stone, behind the polished masks, she knew that he was just a man.

She reached inside one of the hidden pockets of her robes and found one of the knives there. Carefully, she tested the edge of the blade with her fingers. The magic of the Masquers would not only ensure that no one would ever notice the knives, but would also ensure that she wouldn’t be cut by her own weapons.

She remembered Haron, but it was just his name this time. And the sound of his voice, all raw and scratched.

Try as she might, she could not remember his face. For these small mercies, she was grateful.

She left the knife alone and leaned against the doors to Gallos’s chambers. There was a stillness in the air, and Rhias was the kind of woman who knew all too well when a stillness in the air would be perfectly out of the question.

She burst into the room, drawing two knives at the same time. The lone black-clad man climbing in through the window froze at her entrance, allowing Rhias a single moment to attack.

* * *

“What’z your name?” the tall man asked.

The girl looked up at him. “Rhia,” she said, doubtfully.

“Rhiazz?” the man asked.

“Rhia,” the girl said.

“Rhiaz,” the man decided. “Why you out here, Rhiaz?”

Rhia squinted in the falling snow. “Because,” she said.

The man smiled. “Becauze what?”

“Because,” Rhia said, and couldn’t get any further than that.

“Becauze you don’tz have a home,” the man concluded. “Why don’tz you have a home, Rhiaz?”

“Rhia,” Rhia corrected. “I ran away.”

“Oh?” the man said, feigning surprise.

“I don’t like the other kids. I don’t like the food. I don’t like Sister Ilihn. And Miseth doesn’t stop making fun of me.”

“Mizeth must be a very bad boy,” the man observed.

“I knocked out two of his teeth,” Rhia said, “and I pushed his face into the coal.” Then, in a much smaller voice, she added, “But Sister Ilihn saw me and locked me in my room. She said I had to stop acting like a child.”

“That’z why you ran away,” the man said.

“The window was open,” Rhia said, as though this was a logical excuse.

“Ah,” the man said, in an understanding tone.

Rhia shivered in the cold.

“You cold?” the man asked.

Rhia shook her head. “N-no,” she said.

The man looked at her, thinking very carefully as he did so.

“Would you like to come with me, Rhiaz?”

“Where are you going?” Rhia asked.

“Nowherez,” the man said. “Everywherez. I zee the world. I go wherez the money takez me.”

Rhia hesitated.

“Better than freezing to deathz out here,” the man said.

Rhia stared at the man’s outstretched hand for a few moments, and then took it with her own, shaking as she did so. The man pulled her up.

“My name is Haron,” the man said. “Good to meet you, Rhiaz.”

* * *

The black-clad man raised one hand, feeling the two knives buried in his chest, and the wet, sticky blood that oozed from the wounds. He dropped to one knee, still reaching for his sword with his other hand. Rhias buried a third knife in the man’s sternum, causing him to twitch and finally lie still.

On the bed in the far corner of the room, Gallos still slept. Rhias wondered whether Gallos was truly slumbering, or if he merely wanted her to handle everything in this situation.

She heard a rustling sound from the window, just in time to see a single black-clad leg step down onto the windowsill. She grabbed the second man’s ankle – earning a startled cry from its owner – and then twisted it forward, throwing the man off his precarious perch and onto the hard snow-covered pavement three stories below. The man screamed as he fell.

Rhias peered out the window, looking up towards the roof of the manor house and into the covered face of a third black-clad assassin. The man’s dark blue eyes radiated fear and surprise; Rhias’s eyes were nothing but dead pools of blackness.

The third man scrambled to his feet, fleeing across the roof.

Rhias reached up, grasping the rough wood lining the window and flipping herself onto the roof in a display that would have impressed the greatest circus acrobat. The assassin turned in surprise, and then desperately began his flight along the city’s rooftops.

* * *

“No,” Haron said, holding her arm carefully, “don’tz look at the target.”

Rhia squirmed in his grasp. She didn’t like it whenever Haron touched her. “How can I hit it if I can’t look at the target?” she said, frustrated.

“Not right if you look at the target,” Haron said. “Too many thingz to keep track of bezidez the target.”

“What’z… what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Thiz,” Haron said, pulling the knife from her fingers and throwing it – almost effortlessly – towards the tree stump. The knife thunked into the center of the crude circle Haron had drawn.

Rhia stopped squirming and simply stared.

“You pick a zpot,” Haron said. “Any zpot withzin your line of zight. You don’tz look at the target. You know wherez the target is compared to the zpot you chose.”

“But you’re not aiming!” Rhia said, confused.

“You don’tz have to aim mozt of the time,” Haron said. “Thzrowing knives iz hard. You think it waz eazy? But when zomebody throw a knife at you, you get zcared. You afraid the knife hit you. That’z all zomebody need.”

“But you hit the target!”

“Lucky zhot. You juzt pick a zpot and know where your targetz are, Rhiaz. You try to hit anythzing you want. But you let the godz handle everything elze.”

Rhia stared at him. He arm reached out in a random direction and found one of her practice knives. Still staring at Haron, she slowly brought her hand back and threw, all in one smooth motion.

Haron glanced at the target. Rhia’s knife was embedded in the stump beside his own knife. He scratched his head.

“Bonez of the moon,” he swore, “how’d you do that?”

“Lucky shot,” Rhia said, staring at the target.

* * *

The man screamed in panic as Rhias’s knife went flying overhead, and in his haste he stumbled on a pair of loose shingles. As Rhias watched, the man desperately grabbed onto the slippery roof, slowing what might have been a fatal descent.

Rhias didn’t miss; that’s what everyone said. Rhias didn’t miss unless she fully intended to do so.

She stood at the edge of the roof, watching the man regain his balance in midst of the gathering snowfall.

The would-be assassin drew his sword. Rhias drew a single knife. She only needed one.

The man lunged at her, his footsteps muffled by the drifts of snow. His sword silently cut through the night air.

Rhias bent backwards as though a reed in the wind, as the blade whistled mere inches from her face. And all the while, her expression did not change.

She sprung at the man, catching a glimpse of his startled face the moment before she drove the knife into his neck.

* * *

She was aware of Haron’s breath, bitter and fetid at the same time.

“No!” she screamed, trying to find the strength to push him off. He was too heavy for her.

Haron didn’t speak, but merely sought her face with glazed eyes. He kissed her more than once there; To Rhia, they felt like little bites.

She kicked and screamed, driving her fists into him before he slapped her hard across the face and left her stunned. Then he pushed his face against her neck, and she screamed again.

“No one hear us,” Haron said, his voice muffled by her clothes. “No one hear us, Rhiaz. Pleaze, I…”

Rhia screamed again. The names blurred in the corner of her mind. Rhia, Rhias, Rhiaz. Haron. Haron. Haron.

There was the sound of cloth tearing. Rhia closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears from coming.

Her right hand reached for something, anything, and found Haron’s old leather belt. She felt the buckle, worn and rusted under her fingers.

Something hurt. She bit her lip, trying to concentrate. Trying to choose a spot.

Her eyes were still closed tightly. She stared into the darkness there.

She felt her hand grip something… familiar. Something all too familiar.

Haron screamed as she drove the knife into his neck.

She stabbed, trying to make the screaming stop. On the fourth blow, Haron’s scream finally trailed off into an obscene gurgle, and he pitched forward. Rhia crawled out from underneath him.

She pulled her clothes tighter around herself, marking them with her red hands. And there, she watched as Haron’s blood coursed into the snow around them.

* * *

When she finally stepped back through the window, she found Gallos seated at the side of his bed, looking at her. Rhias bowed low before him.

“So formal tonight,” Gallos said, the mask expressionless upon his face.

Rhias straightened. She had only seen her lord without his mask once, and the event was of no consequence.

“How many were they?” Gallos asked.

Rhias paused. “Three, my lord.” she said.


“No,” Rhias said, almost automatically. “Amateurs. Experienced with burglary, it seems, but not with the killing.”

“I see,” Gallos said. “Remind me to call on Lady Tersianne tomorrow morning at first light. I am sure that this has been particularly inconvenient for you.”

Rhias knew her lord well enough not to ask how he knew of the Lady Tersianne’s involvement. “No, my lord.”

“Are you sure?” Gallos asked with uncharacteristic concern. “Surely you were asleep when they first arrived.”

“No, my lord.”

Gallos paused, considering the matter. He looked into Rhias’s eyes.

“Do you remember when we first met, Rhias?” he asked.

“Yes,” Rhias said. “You said that you were very impressed with my skills.”

“No,” Gallos said. “That was not the first thing I said.”

Rhias gave him a confused look. “I… do not follow, my lord.”

“I asked you what your name was,” Gallos said, looking at her eyes. “Do you remember?”

Rhias stared at him, wondering what he was expecting from her.

“I asked you what your name was, and you said…”

“Rhias,” Rhias said.

“Rhias,” Gallos said at the same time.

Rhias returned Gallos’s gaze for the longest time, and then turned away. Her face remained expressionless, yet her memory told a different story. Her eyes told a different story.

“You may take your leave of me, Rhias,” Gallos said. “Hopefully your services shall no longer be required for the rest of this evening.”

“You honor me, my lord,” Rhias said, bowing low once again, and moving towards the doors to his chamber. “Sleep well,” she said.

“Sleep well, my Rhias,” Gallos said quietly.

Behind his mask, he watched until the door finally closed behind her.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Anito Wins Gametunnel Award

'Independent Game of the Year 2004'. There's a nice ring to that, even if it's number 6 on the countdown.

Gametunnel loved the game a lot, it seems. It's praised the two-perspective storyline above everything else, which means that Niel Dagondon must be ecstatic at the moment. (Yes, he thought of the idea, and I must say that it turned out better than I originally thought.)

I'm proud to have played a part in the game, and I'd do it again if given the chance.

As I've said before, though, I'd make sure to approach it from a more organized fashion. Even the best storylines can still be improved further, after all.

Another MMORPG?

Page C-5 of yesterday's Philippine Star contains a notice for the Pristontale MMORPG: It's a large, obnoxious, and badly-worded ad that makes you wonder how much the company's paying an editor to look over their press releases.

Snide comments aside, MMORPGs seem to be mushrooming around here. The popularity of Ragnarok Online apparently took everybody by surprise, and more than a few of the local entrepreneurs have decided to throw their lot in with the online gaming crowd. In a country of growing IT awareness, Counterstrike addiction, and rampant bandwagoneering, this does not come as a surprise.

Still, it's hard not to do a double-take when one sees all of their ads posted on the display windows of the local (computer) hardware stores, or in the various pop-culture magazines: Ragnarok. MU. Tantra. Khan. And now Pristontale (which has the strangest-sounding name among all of them yet).

At the moment, I'm wondering how far we can go without saturating the market. I fear that, given the sheer number of new MMORPGs released within a short time, we may have saturated the market already. Most likely the local audience will end up providing two or three games with significant audiences (at the moment, Ragnarok and Tantra appear to be the most likely candidates), while the others will either get along with lower subscriber numbers, or fold up eventually. I'm inclined to dismiss any future MMORPG endeavors as potential failures unless they've got "Everquest" or "Warcraft" somewhere in their names.

So there's the question that the entrepreneurs really should be asking now: How to tap into a growing market of MMORPG players. There are a lot of internet cafes around, so there's no shortage of places to play. Getting into game merchandise might be lucrative, but the rights are probably being controlled by the distributors already. I'm not sure how to go about this part, so I'll leave my nose out of it for the moment. But if there's anything that I'm sure we don't need, it's investors taking a chance on a few more dubious-looking MMORPGs for a saturated market.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Eulogy: Will Eisner

Will Eisner has just passed away at 87, due to complications from heart surgery.

Non-comics readers will probably not recognize the name, but followers of the medium will immediately recognize the loss of a great man.

Eisner, in a sense, is credited with steering comics away from the direction of run-of-the-mill funnybooks, and more into the direction of a storytelling medium. He wrote and drew The Spirit, a comic mature enough for adults yet readable by kids, for twelve years. His efforts spurred the creation of 'graphic novels', proper character creation techniques, story pacing and other aspects of the modern comic.

Even at 87, he was still active in the community of writers and artists that he had himself inspired. For years he was the presenter for the Eisner Awards - the industry honors of quality, creativity and excellence that had been appropriately named after him. At the time of this writing, his latest work, "The Plot", should be landing in stores within the month.

The comics field has just lost one of its pioneers, a man well-respected by millions of writers, artists and readers across the world. He will be remembered in the many creations he inspired. His legacy lives on.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A Distant Death

I'm sure that everyone's aware of the tsunami that swept across South Asia recently. The first identified Filipino fatality of the disaster has turned out to be Sharleen May Ang Tan, a sophomore from Ateneo de Manila University, my alma mater.

Googling for her name hasn't been of much help - I keep getting redundant newspaper reports and casualty lists. It seems that Marcelle Fabie has mentioned a Sharleen Tan in his blog a few times, however, and although I still have to confirm whether they're the same person or not, I'm getting the impression that she was somewhat active in school events.

I offer her family my most sincere condolences for their loss, just as I reflect on the many others affected by the disaster. Life moves on, and eventually, so must we.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Disclaimer: January 2005

Out with the old and in with the new. Auld Lang Syne.

That's not to say that some things will change, though. I will continue to ensure that everything posted on this blog is entirely original in its writing, and that any items culled from external sources will be given proper reference. I wouldn't count myself among the legions of writers in the world if I wouldn't actually write.

Neither should you, for that matter. If you steal any of my writings from me, then I will come to your house, smoke in your bathroom, drink your beer, and kick your dog.

Then again, maybe not. I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I happen to like dogs.

But if you use any of the items on my site without my prior permission, or add your name to one of the writings that was definitely not one of our collaborations, then the lawyers are going to come in. There is nothing in this world that is scarier than a lawyer (although insurance salesmen tend to come pretty close). I currently make no profit on these writings so far, but if you're willing to provide me with my fortune, then I'm not going to complain. :)

You're welcome to try and hide, by the way. It makes the chase more interesting.

Happy new year, everybody.