Saturday, October 21

One with the Crowd

Today is the 3rd Philippine Komiks Convention, or the Komikon as we have all taken to calling it. It's that time of the year when Indie Komiks Kreators have their time in the sun (both literally and figuratively) to show off their wares to an audience that has come specifically for that reason. Comics pros, comics amateurs, wannabees, fans and more types of people converge at the Bahay Alumni in UP Diliman, ready to buy ashcans and first issues and debuts galore, plus the odd latest installment of their favorite struggling indie title.

Unfortunately this year, the Kon caught me with nothing. Well, nothing that I am singularly responsible for. No Last Angel Ace Story yet. No second K.I.A. book, no sign yet of Hiniranga or any other title. Nope. All of these projects are as yet under development and unripe for showing. It's just that work has been pretty hectic recently, leaving me all but exhausted on weekends and unable to pick up pen or pencil to draw nary a single page. Technically though, I have actually been more productive in the past few months than in all my years of Indie Komickery before- not everyday that you take part in a full-color, 10-issue comic series that will reach perhaps thousands of people... unfortunately, I can't talk about it much, nor is it really something for the regular comic book reader in Metro Manila. Oh well.

On the upside, I am not totally off anything Komicky at the Kon; I do have a pinup that shows up in Fresh!, a brand new comic anthology from the crew of Jon Zamar, Taga-Ilog and Elmer Damaso, as well as a bunch of other cool creators. It is, in fact, a reunion of sorts for the Culture Crash crew, and fans will no doubt be overjoyed to see PASIG and Cat's Trail back (at least for a little bit) in the pages of Fresh! The art looks great, I am interested to read it and overall, Fresh! is the best-looking local production so far I've seen all year.

So I'll be a the Kon later, to buy stuff- Trese and the new releases from the Alamat Crew in particular, and whatever else catches my eye and tweaks my curiosity. I'll be snapping pics and video clips of the event, and hopefully will get to hang out and meet some old and new friends in the Komiks biz.

But most importatntly, I hope to find inspiration and reignite the komik creator in me that has, unfortunately, been lost in the past few months. I want to find the passion that went away. I need to find a new direction and fresh new ideas for new Komiks Kreations.

So, expect stuff and a report from the Kon floor very soon. It should be pretty fun.

Friday, October 20

NEWSARAMA.COM: Celebrating 120 Years of Komiks in the Philippines

From one of the premier comic book sites online comes this much-appreciated series of articles on Filipino comic book creators, their works and the long tradition of art and komiks history that preceded them. Benjamin Ong interviews the Philippines' grafictionists and visual storytellers to check out Filipino komiks' past, present and future.

Check it all out here. Check back as this series of articles continues- the next installment will be online tomorrow.

Thanks to Benjamin for giving Filipino comics a long-overdue chance to be seen and read.

Thursday, October 19


Today, on a whim, me and a couple of guys from The Salt Mines headed off for lunch at Amici's at Don Bosco. It's this quaint but popular Italian canteen-resto right inside Don Bosco school in Makati. The place at first glance doesn't look too amazing... it kinda reminded me of a more down-to-earth Sbarro's. But one look at the trays of authentic-looking pasta dishes and the lovely, thin pizzas leaving strings of mozzarella as they leave the plate just convinced me that this place was special. It wasn't filled with smiling people for nothing, nor were the many articles and citations framed on the walls or under the glass of the tables for anything but accolades for the wonderful eats.

So we got in line (self-service place) and selected the pasta for the day. I ordered a chunky Montanarra, which was fucilli pasta (the twisty, drill-like pasta) with cheese and white sauce mixed with bell peppers, sausage, pepperoni and olives. It was simply divine, savoury and satisfying... I haven't had Italian food like this before (thanks to my lifetime of Jollibee or McDo spaghetti). We topped it off with a nice sausage pizza, and that was our delicious lunch. Afterwards I had a cup of yummy Gelato as dessert, and it was perfect. I have to love as well the layout of the place- it was a self-service joint, but little things like having ice and big glasses accessible at the side goes a long way to making the dining experience quite enjoyable and comfortable.
Work has been such a storm lately, but thankfully there has been a bit of a pause in the past few days. I look forward to the weekend, but this early it's nice to treat one's self a bit. You can't just run yourself to the core all the time. Little perks go a long way to energize and revitalize your soul. Be it a trip to the spa, a nice swim at the beach or a lovely italian lunch at Amici's. We should do it again sometime. Pronto.
Toe Tagged

My Tagboard's been on the fritz for the past couple of weeks... and so has the boards of other blogs I've checked. Appparently is down, and there's no sign of them getting back up. I'll keep the tagboard on for now in the hopes that it will just 'get better'. If a week or two passes without any signs of life, then I'll just take it down and replace it with something else or just scrap any tagging thing altogether.

For now though, if you have anything you want to say, just post a comment under the articles. Don't be shy. But please don't spam, either.

Wednesday, October 18

End of Days

The gang's all here.

The Latest... and LAST Mortal Kombat game is here. Mortal Kombat Armageddon is the swan song for the brutal and bloody fighting game... at least, on the current generation of gaming consoles. With MKA, Mortal Kombat guru Ed Boon promises that there will be deaths, there will be changes and a clean slate for the next MK. Well... Ed Boon promises a lot of things.
Mortal Kombat Armageddon certainly looks slick. There's a new opening cinema featuring armies of MK heroes and villains clashing in a savage battle to the death to start off things. The game comes with a massive cast of playables- literally every Mortal Kombat character that has ever appeared is in MKA... from staples like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, to obscure add-ons like Hsu Hsao and Dairou (Who?). Even MK's fearsome boss characters like Shao Khan and Goro are playable right from the start.
Aside from the huge cast, MKA adds in a Kreate-a-Kombatant mode that's easily the most expansive so far in a mainstream fighting game... easily dwarfing the Character Creation mode in Soul Calibur III. With KAK, you can adjust a character's costume, fighting style, special moves and even their ending (text). The options are many and you can surely create a unique fighter to throw into the battle with the regular MK cast or even online.
Also new in MKA is the Kreate-a-Fatality system, a kind of mini-game where you string together little fatality moves in a chain; the more punishment, the bloodier the fatality and the more rewards you get (in the form of Koins you can spend to buy new options in KAK, or unlock extras in the Vault).
Then there's the new Konquest Mode, a beat 'em up adventure where you take the role of a warrior running around the world, beating up cannon fodder and kicking open chests for power-ups and unlockables. It's pretty fun and very similar to MK: Shaolin Monks. Finally, Motor Kombat is a Mario Kart-esque mini driving game with SD Mortal Kombat characters.

All these extras are well and good, and seeing them all on paper makes MKA seem like the total package. Unfortunately, even with all the extras in the world, tons of secrets, a huge cast and the capability to create even more kombatants with the KAK feature, Mortal Kombat Armageddon is shot in the foot by one single thing... the actual fighting system.

It remains a fact that MK's combat is, compared to every other established fighter (from Tekken to DOA to VF to Soul Calibur) is clunky, sluggish and restrictive. It all basically boils down to memorizing specific combinations of buttons and then dialing in these canned combos once you find your opening. There's little room for anything else- you'll just find yourself being pounded by an enemy using the same long combo over and over. Not even the ability to change fighting styles (which is actually reduced in MKA from previous games) or use a weapon improves anything much. The new 'Counter' system (lifted from Dead or Alive) brings to mind the old 'COMBO BREAKER!' moves from the old Killer Instinct games... which hearken back to... the 90s??
All this is exacerbated even more by a general unresponsiveness or lag in the controls. Often you'll press a button just to see your character do nothing but stand there to get flattened or bounced by an enemy combo. Gameplay here is like going through a maze- you can't move as well as you can, restricted as you are by the set paths you are given. If you try, you'll stall and get punished for it. On the bright side, the CPU A.I. has been somewhat tweaked so as not to be obnoxiously frustrating... there is 'balance' now, in a sense. Which is good or we'll probably be seeing lots of MKA discs being thrown out windows.

The clunky fighting takes away a lot from the enjoyment of this game, despite the fun that could be had with the KAK. Which actually makes me realize that in the end, Soul Calibur III and it's Create-a-Character feature is still better than MKA. Perhaps it's knowing that their fighting system sucks is why Midway threw in almost everything AND the kitchen sink into the game, but didn't even bother to include staple fighting modes like Time Attack, Team Battle, Kumite (or an equivalent) along with the regular Story/Arcade mode and VS mode. All the extras in the world can't repair a broken fighting system.

As for the nitty-gritty...

Graphics: Overall, not bad really... the character models are large and detailed. Guys are buff with huge hands and feet and small heads, while women are suitably attractive (if a bit slutty). But this is the same look that MK has had since MK Deadly Alliance, two games ago... and it's pretty dated and old by now. The animation, however, has a stiff feel, particularly with a lot of special moves. The stages and various venues do well to maintain the bleak, scary atmosphere that MK loves.

Sounds: Once again, the MK characters lack any unique voice as many voice samples are used for multiple characters. Unintelligible grunts, cries and yells fill the air. Every male says "UGABAAADDOOO!", while females shriek "YOBADDDOOOBADODEI!" when they do special moves. All of it sounds like chopsocky BS made up by voice actors on the fly... because that's what it is. Music ranges from techno to heavy techno... it's Mortal Kombat.

Gameplay: Well, the extras are nice distractions but would you really buy MKA to play a mini-racing game?

Lasting Appeal: Usually the Story Mode would be a must to play through as you'd want to see the endings of the characters. Unfortunately this is cut down by the fact that each character only has a short text-only ending (with your character doing a kata in the background) that will probably disappoint most gamers expecting a slam bang finale. Plus, most of the endings are cop-outs or just plain crappy. Only the most fanatical will try to unlock all 62 crappy text endings.

The Kreate-a-Kombatant feature has hours and hours of fun in it, and wannabee game designers will spend lots of time unlocking stuff to use for their dream warrior. These hours will surely outlast the actual time they play with their created fighters though... Konquest will be usable only for earning Koins, and once you unlock the good stuff in the Vault, that's it. Motor Kombat will be good for a race or two, and that's it.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon is supposed to signal an end to this series, and I hope they take the chance to kill off everything wrong with it... the fighting system, the aging graphics engine and the far-too-drawn-out story. It's time to throw out everything and start fresh. MK has a lot of ground to cover to catch up to the rest of the fighting game genre... they had better get going.
Final Fantasy XII Preview Redux

I'm about nine hours into Final Fantasy XII, and so far it's been pretty good. Story-wise, it's kinda slow and I haven't yet been blown away by any developments in the plot. I have met most of the game's cast of playables, including Vaan, the ambitious youth who wants to be a Sky Pirate and fight for the freedom of his occupied land of Dalmasca; Balthier is an actual Sky Pirate whom Vaan meets up with a ways into the first real foray, while Fran is his Viera (a rabbit-eared female) companion/sidekick. Finally, there's Basch, the disgraced Dalmascan officer who apparently assassinated the king of Dalmasca near the beginning of the story. A lengthy dungeon romp and then an even lengthier trek through a desert didn't give any big revelations on the story, but it did give me quite a bit of appreciation for the new gameplay mechanics.

Like an MMORPG, FFXII sees you and all your active characters running around in large environments and engaging in combat with foes that are visible right from the start- no more random encounters that pop up out of nowhere, no transitions into 'battle mode'. Since everything happens in pseudo real-time (going into the menu pauses the action, thankfully), the game introduces Gambits into the game so you don't have to micro-manage every action of your party. Basically you can program your characters to do specific things on various situations, ranging from 'Attack nearest foe' to 'Heal any Ally who goes down to less than half of his Health'. It's a pretty efficient system and makes combat quite seamless, so you can literally just sit back and just point your characters in the direction you need to go and little else except pick up the occasional treasure that enemies drop.
On occasion, super-powerful enemies appear, which can KILL your supposedly mighty party if you're not careful. At these points, when regular magic or attacks can't faze the enemy, you can use Mist Quickenings. Similar to Limit Breaks in previous FFs, these spectacular attacks require a full Magic Point bar and some agility with the buttons on your controller. Knowing which button to press and having a bit of timing will allow a character to rack up lots of hits, inflicting TONS of damage on his target. Multiple characters with multiple MQ's working together can chain together humongous amounts of damage. This is of course limited by the need for full magic bars, but if there's a Save Point nearby (touching which replenishes all your HP and MP instantly), you're pretty much invincible. Kinda cheap, but so are the enemies in this game so it's fine. Heh.

So far I'm enjoying the gameplay aspects of FFXII- levelling up, hunting down monsters for bounties, MMO-style and upgrading your skills and abilities on the new License Board mechanic (like FFX's Sphere Grid, but simpler). The story... well, it hasn't picked up yet, but it surely will... once I actually try to push it forward. More on my adventures in Ivalice as it happens.

Sunday, October 15

Piping-hot New Anime

Thanks to the internet, I've been able to dispense almost entirely with visiting local anime shops, plus I can sample piping-hot new titles even before the wide world decides they're hits or misses. Two new titles have so far crossed my path and gotten me interested.

Nginiig! Anime-style.

Ghost Hunt is a perfect title for the coming Halloween season. A Japanese high school student named Mai, whose hobby is to swap ghost stories with her two gal pals, meets a mysterious young man named Shibuya during one of their spook sessions. Later, Mai encounters him again when she passes by a supposedly cursed old school building. Because of an accident she has a hand in causing, Mai ends up working as Shibuya's assistant. It turns out that Shibuya is the manager of a quite famous psychic research institute, and he's investigating the building for supernatural phenomenon. Mai also finds out that the handsome Shibuya is a bit of an arse... but a smart arse, at least.
Soon though, more supernaturally-inclined specialists turn up- a sexy miko (priestess) and an unusually liberal monk, a 19-year old exorcist from Australia (ever wanted to find out what an Aussie sounds like in Japan?), a spirit channeler and one of Mai's schoolmates who claims to be able to see spirits. All have gathered in the cursed school building, yet none seem to believe in each others' abilities. Is the building really haunted? Who's real and who's fake among the charaters? Well, I'll just have to keep watching this title to find out.

Ghost Hunt has nice animation and clean character designs, some funny writing and some cool atmosphere... and pretty cool opening music which kinda reminds me of the old Hardy Boys theme (Darn I'm old...). The different characters are interesting and anime seems to do scary stuff quite well. Looks like I'll be going a-hunting a lot in the weeks ahead.

The latest from GONZO.

Pumpkin Scissors is a very odd name for an anime... and an even odder name for a military unit. But here they both are. Set in a European-like world where an Empire and several rival nations have just come out from a devastating war, this new series from GONZO Animation is all about a special unit of the military, The Pumpkin Scissors, that has been assigned to give relief to victims of the war. Relief in this case means protection from renegade elements of the military that are now operating as bandits throughout the land.

The "Pumpkin Scissors" special platoon is led in the field by the headstrong but fearless Alice Martin, a young lieutenant fresh from the academy. During their first mission, Alice encounters a tall, scarred soldier named Roland. When some bandits with a tank show up, the Pumpkin Scissors team up with the scruffy soldier to save the people of an oppressed village. Roland soon shows that he's not an ordinary soldier- he's an elite Anti-tank Trooper, a fearsome one-man killing machine that deals death with his big-arse gun by the spooky light of his blue night lantern.

The first episode of Pumpkin Scissors had me impressed with some nice character designs and animation, plus some cool, bloody action. I still can't figure out WHY the special corps is named as it is... I guess I'll find out in the next episodes.

Violent mecha action.

Innocent Venus is apparently a 12-episode mini-series, but the quality is obvious even from the first installment. Set in an earth devastated by a series of hurricanes, Innocent Venus sees Japan being the one last superpower after 5 billion people are lost in the deluge. Japan's population becomes segregated into the rich 'Logos' and the poor 'Revenues'. The Logos are kept in power by their army, which is armed with powerful mecha.
One day, a mysterious young girl named Sana is being pursued by the Logos military, accompanied only by two young men- the friendly Jin, and the taciturn Jo- both former members of the Logos' elite special forces, the Phantom corps. Who is Sana, and why is she so important to the rebels and the Logos?
This title promises some hard-hitting action, and the violence gets pretty bloody. The setting is intriguing, and the animation quite excellent. Once again, we'll probably find out about the title's meaning once more episodes show up.

Ask for these anime at your favorite anime shops- these just may be future hits in the making.