Review: Papers, Please

August 16, 2013 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, I read in one of the gaming blog about a game that piqued my interest, a game about being an immigration officer. The game is called Papers, Please. At first glance, Papers, Please seems like your standard average and so-so game that doesn’t pack a punch, but I can tell you for sure, this game, though not great in graphics, will make you ponders about what makes you a human being.

Storyline

In Papers, Please, you play as an immigration officer, whose job is to check the required documents and passport to determine whether someone will be granted or denied entry to the country. It is set in the border of the fictitious Eastern Bloc country of Arstotzka during the Cold War. Having just finished a 6-year war with its neighbour Kolechia, Arstotzka finally opens up its border to let people cross over.

Apparently you are lucky enough to have been selected by the lottery, and as a consequence you now have to work as the immigration officer. Over the course of the game, you will find various types of people. There are people who operates a prostitution ring, and also people who will keep bugging you until you let them in (hello, Jorji). Then there are people who simply wants to be reunited with their family, even though they do not have the appropriate documentation.

Of course, as a government officer, you have the responsibility to ensure that each and everyone is verified before you grant them an entry. The problem is, things aren’t always clear cut. You still have your family to be taken care of (your wife, your son, your mother-in-law, and your uncle), you still have bills to pay for, and you still have to buy food to feed your family.

Your salary is based on how many people you processed in a day, with a rate of 5 (five) credits for every person you processed before 6PM.  To put things into perspective, I already finished the game and I can only do a maximum of 12 people in a full day. And sometimes the day ends early due to terrorist attack, or someone suddenly decides to jumps over the border.

papers-please-1

No contraband allowed. Deny.

Suddenly, you’re contemplating of taking a bribe from someone, just because your son is sick, and you need money to buy medicine. At other times, you might feel sorry for the person who has to undergo a surgery for a life-threatening condition that can be treated only in Arstotzka. The government keeps putting more and more work without salary increase, and you’re probably thinking that you’re better off taking bribes.

You see, these are the things that truly make this game shine. This game puts you and your moral compass to the test, and literally opens up your mind to think that the world doesn’t operate in a black-and-white manner, and that things will go against you.

Gameplay

Okay, I’ll be honest with you. The gameplay is boring. It is boring as heck. But oddly enough, the game IS designed to be boring, because that is the point of the whole game. Are you doing your job as a robot, or are you still a human that can empathise to others?

As an immigration officer, you are given a limited space to work with. You have to drag the documents here and there to check whether a person is verified to enter Arstotzka. And as governments always do, they change rules at their will and give you a ton of additional things to check. As you progress in the game, you will have to check more and more documents. At one point in the game you have to check:

  • Valid passport issuance
  • Valid passport expiry date
  • Valid entry permit, this includes checking the official government seal
  • Valid work permit, this includes checking the official government seal
  • Valid vaccination certificate, this includes checking whether the person has the correct vaccination for the virus
  • Valid ID supplement, this includes checking the physical appearance, height and weight

And those are on top of:

  • Cross-referencing each document to the official rule book, and the statement that the person give
  • Checking whether the person is on the wanted list or not
  • Checking whether there are other regulations not listed in the rule book, such as confiscating passport from certain countries
  • Checking whether there are other people asking you favours, such as letting in their significant other
  • And finally stamping the passport with either grant or deny (in which case, you will have to provide reason for denial)

If that sounds overwhelming, it is. A typical process will go along the line: a person come to the booth, handing you the papers. You check the validity of the passport, while taking statement from the person. Then you proceed to check the entry permit that the person has, cross-referencing it with the passport details, person’s statement, as well as the rule book.

You then match the physical description of the person and the ID supplement. If at any point there is a discrepancy, you will have to either ask for fingerprint, x-ray search, or detain the person. And after you’ve made the decision to grant or deny, here comes the next person.

papers-please-4

Wait, did I let him in yesterday?

The game does provide a couple of upgrade option, to simplify the process and making it “easier”. However it is still a hard thing to do. Suddenly your day-to-day job becomes a habit and you can instantly recognise a false document without cross-referencing the rule book. Or suddenly, you find it odd that one person has it all in proper order, hoping that you didn’t get a warning from the ministry.

The game itself provides you with multiple endings. In total there are 20 (yes, twenty) different endings that you can try. It also provides you with a very useful way of “branching” your decisions, as your game is saved at the start of every day, just like most of the Japanese visual novel games. And yes, the game, although boring, is quite addictive.

Graphics

In the graphics department, Papers, Please uses what we call an 8-bit graphics, or pixel-art type graphics. The colours are somewhat washed out and looks grim, and it’s very pixelated. Obviously this goes with the overall theme that the game is set in post-war era (their war with Kolechia), and even the colour palette will instantly reminds you that you’re working for an authoritative and communist government.

Pixelated graphics somehow made a prominent comeback in the last few years, especially in gaming. There are times where you’d think that they’re using these kind of graphics as a sign of lazyness, but there are also games that uses pixel-art graphics and it actually blends well with the game, just like Papers, Please.

And even though the graphics are pixelated, they’ve done a pretty damn good job of pixelating almost everything, yet still making every person that comes into your booth different. There are some characters who are instantly recognisable, and it is useful because at one point in the game you’ll need to check whether that person is on the wanted list or not. There’s also pixel-art nudity and violence involved in the game. You can turn off the nudity, but you can’t turn off the violence.

Audio

The theme music for the game is just perfect. First time you play the game, you’re greeted by somewhat grand-yet-dark theme, which by the way, will make you realise this game is going to be set in one of dictatorial countries. There aren’t a lot of music when you’re doing your daily job though, most of the time you’ll hear people muttering and nothing much, just like a real immigration officer.

Final Words

There are games that provide you with a highly-addictive and fun mechanics. There are also games that give you a good memorable experience, just like Journey. Well, Papers, Please seems to mix them both and reinvent them. I think it is safe to say that this is the only boring game that is worth playing. It totally redefines what the term “boring game” is, and it gives you a sad-but-real memorable experience.

That’s the beauty of the game. You don’t instantly realise it, but the moment you stop playing it, sit back, and think of it, it makes you wonder how much our life actually is being played exactly like this very game. Glory to Arstotzka.

papers-please-5

Papers, Please is available for PC and Mac through Steam, GOG, or Humble Store.

 Good Stuffs Bad Things
  • Great concept
  • Branching storyline and multiple endings
  • Boring, yet addictive
  • Impacts you emotionally
  • Simple yet overwhelming mechanics (but that’s kind of the point of the game)
  • Graphics can be improved a bit

jovee~

Images courtesy of Papers, Please Wikia

Review: SteamWorld Dig (3DS eShop)

August 14, 2013 Leave a comment

As a gamer, every once in a while I get to play interesting games. Some are quite bad, others are good. SteamWorld Dig definitely belongs to the good ones, and I’m pretty sure almost all of the other reviews or gamer blogs agree.

SteamWorld Dig is an action-platformer games, only available through 3DS eShop. In some respect, it is quite similar (and even compared to) Metroid, added with mining-themed-storyline. However, it doesn’t require accurately-timed button presses, like Castlevania, or even the meme-filled Guacamelee (which is an awesome game, mind you), putting it’s orientation more to the “casual” side of gaming.

Storyline

SteamWorld Dig doesn’t give a lot of narratives to explain what had happened to the world. As it turns out, you play as Rusty, a robot visiting Tumbletown to inherit his uncle Joe’s mine. As it turns out, Rusty then has to uncover the mysteries surrounding the mine and the bizarre technologies lying underneath it, while at the same time helping Tumbletown to grow. And that’s pretty much the gist of it. The world itself is set in a post-apocalyptic settings, where humans no longer existed (or at the very least, they don’t exist in the game), and it seems that these robots have somehow lost most of the modern technology.

Gameplay

As Rusty, in SteamWorld Dig, you have to explore the mine to uncover it’s secret. As you dig through the mine, the path that you dug previously become a permanent empty space. Essentially, you make your own path of exploration when digging in the mine. You will encounter enemies such as critters, or bomb barrells that will explode if you sits too near, as well as obstacles such as rocks and boulders that can crush you if you accidentally dig underneath it.

You will also find various gemstones that you can take back and sell in Tumbletown, and you can also purchase upgrades with the money you earn by selling the gemstones. Of course, Rusty’s bag is not infinite, so you can only have a limited amount of gemstones before you have to go back and sell them. Most of the common gemstones stack up to 4 (four) stones, while some of the rarer ones such as diamond or ruby will take a space in Rusty’s bag.

Of course, as you dig deeper into the mine, going back and forth from inside the mine back to Tumbletown will consume more of your time, and on top of that, Rusty has a torch/lamp that will lit only for a specified amount of time before it burns out and leaves you in the darkness (you’ll still be able to play in the mine, but it’s quite dark and difficult). The game provides teleporters at certain points, however these are far and few in between. Alternatively, you can also purchase a portable teleporter which you can place anywhere in the mine once, however, this comes at a cost of using a much rarer form of currency, the orbs.

steamworld-dig

Rusty digging through the mines

Early in the game, Rusty will get the ability to use some of his abilities by using steam power. He also gets to upgrade some of his arsenals such as his pickaxe to a much stronger version, which by the way, is required further down the mine, unless you want to spend minutes trying to clear up a single space. The game uses “upgrades” and the mines as a way to provide you with a sense of progress.

The mines are generated randomly at the start of each playthrough (not each time you enter the mine), and the game itself is quite short (I finished it at around 6 hours). However with randomly generated mines for every playthrough (save for several story-wise mines), it provides a high replayability value for SteamWorld Dig.

steamworld-dig-2

We even got zombies in the mines

Audio

As you dig through the mines, SteamWorld Dig plays a very thematic songs. The songs really fit into the settings of the game itself, being set in a somewhat westernised ghost town. The sound effects are also useful and distinguishable from one another, and it’s especially useful since when you’re near an enemy that’s been trapped in a dirt, they’ll try to break free and these sounds can be taken as cues. Apart from that, I would have to say that the music is okay, but not great. Good enough for a casual game, that is.

Graphics

Although SteamWorld Dig has a fairly simple gameplay and can be categorised as a casual game, the graphics are not only good, but great. Granted, they are all in 2D sprites, but coupled with 3DS depth perception, as well as the crisp and colourful palette that fits the story of the game, SteamWorld Dig in my opinion has done a very, very good job in this department. Every environment has a different look and colour combinations to make it distinct from the other environments. The only thing that’s missing is the lack of noticeable upgrades in Rusty’s equipment (my diamond pickaxe still has the same sprite as my old pickaxe).

steamworld-dig-3

One of the in-game upgrades that allows you to efficiently use the steam power

Final Words

Overall, SteamWorld Dig is a good-solid game, and can be addictive as well. It provides you with a unique experience, good replayability value, and it doesn’t require much of backtracking to be able to further the story. It definitely belongs to the casual games, but a very polished at that.

SteamWorld Dig is available as a download-only game through the 3DS eShop.

 Good Stuffs Bad Things
  • Unique gameplay
  • Great graphics
  • Can be played casually
  • Highly addictive
  • Gameplay too short
  • Storyline can be improved

jovee~

Images courtesy of SteamWorld

Categories: Game Reviews Tags: , , ,

The Sad State of Console Gaming and Locking

February 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Over the last couple of weeks (months, you might say) there are a lot of things happening in the gaming ecosystem. Nintendo recently released Wii U, Sony will announce the next PlayStation, and Microsoft will follow suit with the next Xbox soon enough. As a gamer, there’s only one thing in my mind: console wars is about to start again.

Couple of years ago, those three major players in the gaming industry, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, released their then-latest generation consoles, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox, respectively, and the console wars began. Fast forward to now, the same thing could be said again. And although there are some changes in their overall ecosystem, I personally feel that they’re actually messing around with us. Nintendo released Wii U with a very crippled online account capabilities, Sony and Microsoft, at the moment of this writing, are rumored to release consoles that tied the game into the consoles themselves, meaning no used games. That’s not to mention region locking that I believe will be included for your convenience at no cost.

The issue, however, is much more deeper than simply releasing consoles with these kinds of dumb moves. I’m not here to defend them, I still think what they have done (or will do) is extremely stupid, to say the least, however, I am trying to understand the reason why instead of going into nerd rage:

With Nintendo, they released a console with a locked account, meaning your account cannot be transferred to another Wii U in case your console stuff up and you have to buy another or replace it (technically, you can, however it’s a pain in the ass and not working as you would expect).

I believe this is implemented because simply, Nintendo wasn’t (and still not) in the front of online capabilities. They needed a system where people cannot simply login to another Wii U and redownload all titles they have, and then logout. Certainly not a well-thought solution, but it works for them and the publishers.

With the rumor on the next PlayStation Orbis and Xbox Durango, they supposedly will be released with more online sharing capabilities and games locked to their first consoles (they even had a patent for it), not to mention an always-on internet connection (they said for sharing, but piracy and control are more like it). Locking games to the first console they’re played means that you no longer have the ability to resell your games, nor you can simply borrow or lend one to one of your friends or family.

I believe this is implemented because of middleman distributors such as GameStop or EBGames actually sell pre-owned games (and consoles), which I loathe simply because the money will not go towards the publisher of the game, but to their very own pockets. Console game locking is indeed a dick move (GameStop is also against it because of gamers, but we know better), but hey, it works for them and the publishers as well.

The reason I despise their attempt (despite owning a Wii U myself) is that, like what my lecturer once said, it only addresses the symptoms, not the underlying issue on gaming as a whole. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have been working (and I suspect they will always do) with publishers to create games that are less and less about the gamers, and more and more about the publishers (and their money), and I think it’ll get worse year by year. The real issue is not gamers sharing or reselling games, that’s simply a consequence of the actual problem itself: pricing, availability, and replayability.

The price of games are too damn high

Let’s take on the first issue: pricing. Nowadays, new console games usually range from somewhere between $40 for the usual ones and up to more than $100 for the so-called limited or enthusiast editions. Of course over the years the price for said games will go down, but new games will always linger at that price, and that doesn’t include “Australian tax” that somehow makes a $40 game into a $70 game.

Granted, $40 is not that much. It’s roughly 4 to 5 times eating out (at least in Melbourne), and in developed countries, most people will have income far beyond that amount. However when you take into account the quality of the game itself, it becomes stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind paying for a good quality game, however they are very hard to come by these days. And paid reviews on most game sites do not help at all.

Then you realise that you can buy the so-called limited collector’s edition for $100+, where in fact these so-called collector’s edition is actually the same game, but with steroids such as giving you early access to super weapons and whatnot, basically throwing off the balance of the game. And then there’s the so-called DLC, monthly subscriptions on PSN and Xbox, and suddenly your actual cost of actually playing a game shoots up to $150+.

’nuff said

And that’s only for a single gamer playing a single game, not mentioning the quality of the game or replayability values. How do gamers recoup with these? One of the solutions are to resell the game they no longer play, be it for in-store credit, or via eBay. The other solution is to buy used games at a much cheaper price than a new one. Or simply borrow from one of your friend.

The publisher has not made this game available in your country

And we come across the second issue: availability, and the consequence of it, region locking. I believe most of us gamers can relate to this one. Region locking was cool in 2000, was not cool in 2006, and is very stupid in 2013. Seriously, with the world literally all connected through the internet, you still expect us to believe that we’re unable to play a US game simply because we live in UK?

Wii U: Region locked for your convenience

Wii U: Region locked for your convenience

Availability has always been the issue for gaming industry as a whole. There are an awful lot of incredible games released in Japan (Final Fantasy Type-0, Bravely Default, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, Tales of Vesperia PS3, Super Robot Wars, the newest Suikoden side-series, and the list goes on) but never, or will never set foot in the western world, simply because some publishers think that they won’t be profitable. Even big publishers (who definitely have some money to spare) like Square Enix chickened out.

Some gamers do import games from Japan. But if region locking will be enforced to the console itself, like what Wii or 3DS did, then I reckon we will probably have a set of consoles from Japan, one for US, and one for Europe. Or we simply won’t buy the console at all.

On a side note, kudos to XSEED that vows to bring lesser known titles and hidden gems from Japan to US (and hopefully Europe market as well).

Estimated time to finish this game: 10 hours

There is a reason why people are quite hostile vocal about used games: replayability. If a game has been played and finished, there are no more reason to go back to play the game except for nostalgia. This is why games nowadays have a huge freaking list of in-game collectibles to collect, or a thousand sidequests. I’m not complaining against multiple sidequests, but again, once you are done, 100% done with everything, you don’t have any reason to play the game again. And of course you won’t replay the game from the start simply to do it all over again.

Hence over the last 2 or 3 years, publishers have been adding more and more content to provide a replayability value for their gamers, to entice their gamers to play the game again (and providing more money to them, I guess). Sadly though, they are now realising that this strategy works really well that most of the games nowadays can be finished in under 40 hours of play.

One of the best games of my times, Suikoden 2, took roughly 60 hours to finish the game. There were no post-game content, there were no DLC, graphics were okay, and it’s not a perfect game (bugs and typos). And yet, I found myself replaying that game for 3 or 4 times, and people ARE still searching for it. There are also games such as sports or dance games that doesn’t have any story in it (or even silly story), but has a lot of replayability value without having to have additional content.

You see publishers, you either make a game so good it’s worth replaying for, make a game that focuses on replayability, both of which will benefit you in the long run in terms of marketing, or you can create a so-so games with a lot of useless DLC, and milk the series as much as you can, which will rake you money but smear your name (looking at you Ubisoft and Square Enix).

DLC: A double-edged solution

After all that rant, what is the solution then? Well, one of the solution is right in front of their face, to be completely honest. Downloadable content. As much as I don’t like DLC, I realise that it is actually one of the ways to solve this console-region-game-locking-thing problem.

DLC, when done right will actually made the whole gaming industry better. For starters, the actual pricing of the game can be toned down if the DLC development is actually included during the development of the game itself. DLC is downloadable, making it available will be simpler compared to organising the entire supply chain. And of course DLC will add replayability value.

The issue with the current state of DLC is that, publishers are using it as a way to milk the customer out of their money. DLCs are being made at the intention for limiting the actual game content, and forcing the gamers to spend more money to unlock contents. And don’t get me started on on-disc DLC. Many game publishers are missing out the benefits (not profits, mind you) of having DLC as a way to communicate and provide better experience for their gamers. There are of course DLCs that have been done right (GTA IV comes to mind), but it’s quite rare.

Or they could simply come back to making great games.

jovee~

What Certificates Do You Have?

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Just like many of us do, I sometimes clean up my email inbox. I usually open my spam folder to see which email got designated as spam, and to check whether it is truly a spam or not. This week when I open my spam folder, I got an interesting email: an offer for scrum certification. What got me interested is that they properly use my name in the salutation, and so I open up the email.

For the uninitiated, scrum is one of the methodology framework used in software development. In a simpler terms, it’s the process (workflow, if you will) being followed to be able to develop a software (or an app). It is also categorised as one of the agile methods for developing a software. Bear in mind the term agile does not necessarily mean your project will finish faster than you would have planned.

The email that I got was for a workshop that allows me to learn about scrum and become a Certified Scrum Master. Of course it goes without saying it also listed all of the benefits of using scrum during the development, as well as giving me 14 PDUs (apparently it stands for Professional Development Unit, whatever that means), and finally the pricing (which they obviously put in the last two paragraphs) with early bird offer.

Now personally, I’m not a big fan of certifications, and surely, not a big fan to include titles after my name. Even when I was about to get married, I had an argument with my parents due to them wanting to use my academic degree on my wedding invitation. In my opinion, putting titles and certifications in your name makes you look like you’re desperate for being recognised.

Don’t get me wrong, though, certifications have their own benefits. It proves that you are capable of doing what you claim to be in your respective fields (and apparently have the money to pay for the course and exams). What it doesn’t prove, is whether you have the aptitude to actually finish it or not. I have met one of these so-called “certified” person who didn’t even know what an array is and is actually struggling when I tried to explain to him. Again, for the uninitiated, the concept of array is a very, very basic one in software development.

Now granted, that person might just had the wrong certification in place, but it proves one thing: certification doesn’t tell you will be able to finish the job, it only tells you that you are capable of doing the job. Let me put it in another way (as has been suggested by one of my friends): the capable one won’t necessarily finish the job, it’s the one who finishes the job that is capable.

Certification also doesn’t prove you have the years of experience of actually doing it. There are some certifications that require you to have years of experience in your belt before being allowed to take it, but the others are simply: pay the course fee, study the materials, attend the workshop, pass the examination, and finally get your certification. Rinse and repeat. In fact, the scrum master certification, although recognised by the Scrum Alliance (I didn’t even know there is one, or that we need one), takes roughly 2 – 3 days. That’s all the time you need to become a scrum “master”. Yeah, right.

I myself have a Cisco CCNA 1 certification from a few years ago. Obviously the knowledge I’ve gained during the course (which was incorporated to my college studies) is far more important than the certification itself. But if I had to do a complicated network setup, I would be asking help from one of my friends who is actually good at networking stuffs.

Certifications are good in the sense that the knowledge that you gained will be helpful for you in the long run, and it is true. But the reality is, most people want the certificate and the ability to put the title in their name, not the knowledge gained through it. That’s the bitter, sad truth.

jovee~

The Brokenness of myki

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Over the past two or three years, I have been using Victoria’s “new” ticketing card, myki. I knew it is broken from the first time I used it, but I had not realise how fundamentally broken it is until I came back from my trip to Gold Coast.

As most of Melbournians knew, myki was designed to replace the previous ticketing card, Metcard. Metcard was a paper-based ticketing system, which I believe most of us would have an experience using some form of paper-based tickets. Myki (stylised in all lowercase “myki”, pronounced “my key”) is a smartcard ticketing system, which uses a contactless (I believe it is using RFID) chip, essentially storing your balance in the form of digital money in the card.

Granted, I was one of the early adopters of myki, simply because of its convenience. The Victorian ticketing system uses a fairly simple-yet-complex time-based fare structure, which I will try to explain in these points:

  • Fares are time-based and zone-based. When I came to Melbourne, Victoria has 2 effective zones for public transport. My friend said that for buses, they have more zones, but for the pricing schemes, it is still counted as 2 effective zones (hence I put the word “effective“).
  • Tickets are valid for trains, trams and buses, with the exception of regional trains (VLine). Therefore you can hop on a train, then catch a tram, and then jump in the bus using the same ticket as long as your ticket is valid.
  • A single ticket validation will last for 2 hours (rounded to the next hour) irrespective of zones, unless you buy a daily ticket. As usual, single-use ticket is usually more expensive than multiple-use ticket.
    • For example, if you validate a single-use ticket at 03.05PM or 03.40PM, it will expire on 06.00PM (05.xxPM rounded to the next hour). A lot of people (myself included) use this fact as an advantage, since validating at 03.01PM essentially makes your ticket last for roughly 3 hours.
  • If you have multiple-use tickets, when you validate the second time after the initial 2 hours expired, your ticket will then be considered as a daily ticket, and is valid until 03.00AM the next day.
  • If you validate after 06.00PM, your ticket will expire at 03.00AM the next day, irrespective whether it is a single-use or multiple-use.
  • Zone fares are different. Zone 1-only tickets are slightly more expensive than zone 2-only tickets. There is also a Zone 1 + 2 tickets, which allow you to travel to both zones, and more expensive than single zone ticket, but is cheaper than buying a zone 1 AND zone 2 tickets.
    • For example, assume a zone 1 single 2-hour ticket is $3.00, and a zone 2 single 2-hour ticket is $2.00, then a zone 1 + 2 single 2-hour ticket will be $4.00 (instead of $5.00).
Metcards in various themes

Metcards in various themes

Conceptually speaking, myki is a great replacement for the Metcard system due to the alleged benefits that it brings. What the higher-ups don’t seem to see is, the hidden cost and flaw lingering in the myki system itself, which undermines the benefits.

Alleged Benefits What Actually Happens
It is more environmentally friendly. Something that will ALWAYS be a hype in developed countries.

The reason for this is that Metcards that have expired or used will be considered as paper wastes, while myki can be reused (topped up) over and over.

  • Myki cards are set to expire in 4 years. Currently there is no way to extend its life, meaning the first batch of myki holders have to replace their card due to expiration. Once replaced, the old myki card cannot be used in any form, and will go to the bin.
  • That is not to mention how many of the first batch of myki cards were found defective and had to be replaced.
  • Currently, about roughly 300 myki cards are being replaced each day. Did someone say environmentally friendly?
It offers an automatic fare calculation, giving the users the lowest fare on a trip, provided the users touch on and off during their journey.

The previous Metcards require the users to decide which Metcard is the most suitable for them, with a single-use Metcard priced more expensive than multiple-use Metcards.

  • The overhead cost of getting a myki card with empty balance, which currently sits at $6.00 for full fare (previously $10.00, I know since I’m an early adopter), and $3.00 for concession, compared to ZERO when using Metcards practically trumps this reason.
  • That is not to mention if your myki is defective, although you can replace it, you still NEED another myki to be able to travel, which you will HAVE to buy. The replacement process takes roughly 10 business days.
  • This also puts travelers at a loss, forcing them to buy a myki that they obviously won’t need when they went back home, as there is no way to refund the cost of purchasing the card.
  • And also, the fare calculation is not that smart either. It still gives a faulty calculation, especially in overlapping zones and zone boundaries.
It is faster than the Metcards at the gates, due to the contactless system.
  • It’s definitely faster than getting an authorised public transport officer opening the gates for you when your myki didn’t work, or waiting in line to touch off your travel.
  • Every Melbournians know that myki is considerably slower to the previous Metcards. A touch on/off will take you roughly 2 or 3 seconds, provided the machine successfully touched on/off your myki.
  • This is THE major drawback of myki, which I will try to elaborate later on.
It offers an online system where you can top up your myki and view your previous journeys. Registered myki can be replaced with the balance intact if missing or lost.
  • The online top up is not instantaneous. The last time I used it, I had to wait for 2 business day for the transaction to be cleared, making the point of online top up moot. Besides, you can only top up using myki machines, or at the retailers selling myki, meaning you have to know your myki balance BEFORE going into the bus/trams, as they do not sell a single-use ticket anymore.
  • And I cannot think any single reason for me to view my previous journeys unless I’m trying to sue them for overcharging my journeys.
  • Keeping the balance intact on replacement cards is nice, except for the fact that you have to buy a new card (which I mentioned above) while waiting for your replacement, and as far as I know, you cannot transfer your balance from your “temporary” myki to your new replacement card.

Those are the actual real-world on what is actually happening when you use myki on a daily basis. For some time, myki coexisted with Metcards, meaning those who despise myki can actually use Metcards. Nevertheless, I still use myki for the convenience, and the fear that Metcards would be phased out (which came into effect on 29 December 2012). As a software developer, I know that there is no such thing as a bug-free or completely perfect product, and silently hoping as more people use it, the system will stabilise and improve itself.

myki card

However it all changed when I went to Gold Coast. They have a smartcard ticketing system as well, named go card. And compared to myki, using go card is like having a supercharged on-drugs myki. Throughout the week I use the go card system, it became apparent that myki is not only broken, but beyond salvation.

myki go card
Automatically gives the lowest fare, provided you touch on and off Same
Available to use on different public transport Same
Time-based fare Single-usage fare
Zone-based fare Same
Long-term/commuter options available

Note:
Long-term options, labeled as myki pass, available in 7 days, and any number of days above 28 days.

Only single-use option

Note:
go card has different incentives like if you travel 9 times then your 10th will be free, peak and off-peak hours with different rates.

2 effective zones 23 effective zones (yes, that is a freaking twenty-three effective zones)
$6.00 for full fare card $5.00 for full fare card
Partially refundable (and it’s a pain to do it)

Note:
Only the balance is refundable as either balance transfer to another myki, or a cheque refund. It takes roughly 10 to 21 working days.

Refundable

Note:
Both card purchase price as well as the balance is refundable straightaway in cash at their official outlets.

Replacing Metcards/single-use tickets Coexists with single-use tickets
Cannot top up on the tram/bus, you have to have a positive balance before entering the bus You can top up on the bus
2-3 seconds to touch on/off Less than 1 second to touch on/off
Online features available Online features available

Note:
I have not tested or tried their online features

Like I’ve said in previously, the main drawbacks of the myki system was its slowness when touching on/off. The official statement (or at least, what I’ve been hearing) was that it was slow due to coexistence with the Metcard validation system. However, as more and more Metcard gates being replaced by myki gates, and myki machines are separate with Metcard machines on trams and buses, I suspect the problem was not the gates, but the system itself.

The go card, which touched on/off in less than 1 second confirms my suspicion on the myki system. Every time I touch on/off, my myki will “phone home” to check the and verify the available balance before validating the card. In other words, my myki (and the machine) will try to “sync” my balance, even if I’m not registered on the myki website. This is the fundamental problem of the myki system, and as such, unless a major overhaul is taken to rewrite or refactor the entire system, the myki will still be slow as hell.

Adding insult to injury, the earlier myki campaign that focused on “touch on, touch off” actually backfired. While the campaign is a success, the result of this campaign is that people actually touch on and off every single time, even when they don’t need to. A lot of people still touched off on trams, even though it’s not required (unless traveling entirely in zone 2). If people have a myki pass, the equivalent of long-term tickets, you are not required to touch off unless you’re outside the zone recorded in the card, and yet I still see a lot of people touching off, and people still giving me that look whenever I didn’t touch off. This also contributes to the mess myki has made.

People queuing to validate their myki at Southern Cross station

Up to this day, I still don’t understand the decision to make the ticketing system from scratch, whereas there are a lot of places in the world that has successfully implement a good ticketing system. Obviously, one cannot simply buy a system from another state or country and use as-is, there are few adjustments to make to fit the existing ticketing system, but it will generally be cheaper compared to building everything from scratch.

The state government seems to try to cover the fact that myki is a failed project (or handicapped, at best), forcing more people to use myki by phasing out Metcards and turning deaf to any issues concerning it. The alleged benefits of myki being cheaper for commuter, while true initially, is currently diminishing due to the recent price increase. As it stands today, a single zone 1 + 2 ticket is literally the same as if you’re buying a zone 1 and zone 2 tickets separately.

Whenever I think about myki, it seems that during its development, the project didn’t have a competent system analyst and risk mitigation strategies, despite costing the state a hell lot of money. And now we’re living with the consequence of replacing a ticketing system that did not need to be replaced in the first place. It occurs to me on what one of my lecturer had said before: “business people making technical decisions“. It is as simple as that.

jovee~

Review: Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

October 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Hey there! As usual, it’s been a long time (half a year, actually) since my last post. Over these six months I have been up to various things, moving workplaces, setting up a new blog, getting married, moving in together, settling in, as well as the usual playing games. In this post, I would like to give a review on the newly released game Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 for Nintendo DS.

I apologise for the delay on updating the review. This review is now finished.

Storyline

Instead of having an enhanced third version like they always had, Game Freak (that is, the developer of Pokémon games) decided to go for a sequel this time with Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, and try to incorporate the enhancements found in the so-called third versions in the sequel. This is an interesting take on a matured and already established franchise, and not to mention that it is a bit risky.

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 takes place approximately 2 (two) years after the events of the original Pokémon Black and White. Within this 2 years gap, a lot has changed in the Unova region, allowing more Pokémon from other regions (in case you forgot: Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh) to exist alongside the native Pokémon of the Unova region. As a result from this change, the Unova regional Pokédex is updated with up to 300 Pokémon data. In my opinion, it would be interesting to see the effect of this migration on the Unova region Pokémon ecosystem (since they were closed off from other regions in the first games), however I have yet to see anything except from a comment from Bianca regarding the addition of Pokémon.

One of the nice feature of the game, story-wise is the ability to perform memory link to the original games. Depending on your progress in the original games, you will get flashbacks regarding the events in Pokémon Black and White from different perspective. However, if you do not play the original games, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 did a good job of filling the details in on what happened two years before the story.

Instead of having the antagonists say upfront what they wanted to do, like in the original games, the new Team Plasma now operates in secrecy, at least for the most part. Team Plasma itself is now separated into two factions, one who supported N and trying to atone for their crimes, and the other is the one who still carrying their plans to try to take over the world. There are probably few events where they clashed, but it is good and adds depth to the story. Finally a Pokémon game with some substance to the story.

However, there are also some bad points and shortfalls on the story when I finally finished the main campaign. Without giving too much detail (in respect of being spoiler-free), there are certain points in the game that you feel that the story could have been better, and suddenly it just doesn’t make sense at all, or very shallow. It’s quite annoying to see these story points (although only few of them) that could have been a good climax, but then it’s not actually a climax.

Because of the actually-could-have-been-better approach that the game has actually taken, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.  Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is pretty good in the first couple of hours playing the game, but the further you get into the game, that’s when the story fell short.

Gameplay

Aside from the change in the number of Pokémon available (and the version exclusives, of course), the game also brings new protagonists, as well new rivals. The new protagonists are not as silent as the first games’ protagonists (at the very least, they don’t look that silent and serious), and the new rival is a great addition, because finally you get a rival that helps you to become a better Pokémon trainer by actually supporting you instead of mocking you in a I-know-what-I’m-doing-and-you-don’t and I’m-so-much-better-than-you type of personality. I can’t comment on the antagonists part as I have yet to see them. The game also starts at a different city from the first games, allowing a change in the storyline, as well as introducing new cities, characters, landscape and the opportunity to explore!

The other change is that the game now starts in an entirely different city compared to the original games. This allows a separate, yet interconnected story with the original games, as well as new gyms instead of repurposing the old one with newer newer (like Juan taking Wallace’s gym). The existence of gyms other than the original 8 in a region has existed long in the anime, but it has only been confirmed, as far as I know, with this entry. Some of the cities accessible again in the games received an upgrade to show the progress that had been made during the two-year gap, although the “more natural” theme of White 2 and “more technological” theme of Black 2 can be seen, such as in Route 4.

Not much has changed in terms of the game mechanic, it is still the same-old Pokémon game mechanics, bringing the improvements from the original Black and White versions, while adding a couple of new features. One of the new features are the PokéStar Studios, an alternative to Musicals (which I don’t quite enjoy), in which you can play as an actor for the silver screen. You can go with either your own Pokémon, or a rented one. Using a rented one will automatically pairs you with the most suitable Pokémon, along with the most suitable moveset. Each movies has their own good, bad, and strange endings, depending on what lines and moves that you use, or whether you follow the script or not. The script itself gets trickier over time, since it’ll only give vague hints (such as “Swap items with your enemy”) later in the movie series. Of course, there will be fans rooting for you (and giving you items!).

Aside from PokéStar, there is also the Pokémon World Tournament, taking place in Driftveil City as a replacement for the Cold Storage. This tournament will feature trainers from all over the world, literally. You can download real-world trainers and teams used in real-world Pokémon tournaments. As of this writing, I believe you can get the winner of 2012 tournaments via Nintendo WFC. You can also battle previous gym leaders from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, on top of Unova’s in the tournament. Be warned though, they are quite tough. This is a really nice addition, and will enable the game to keep the challenge fresh with every downloadable content.

Speaking of battles, there is a new area called Black Tower or Whitetree Hollow (in their respective games), which features a climb-to-the-top similar like Battle Tower, albeit with a slight twist of dungeon maze thrown in it.

Then there is also Join Avenue, in which you can recruit people to open shops. And these shops are quite useful, some featured Pokémon training, such as raising base stats (useful for EV training), or raising a level (I’ve tried to use this to evolve a Pokémon, sadly it didn’t work), other shops provide berries and mulches, or even raise the happiness of a Pokémon. As usual, these kind of shops only works once a day. You can also recruit any nearby players who is currently opening their C-Gear, provided you also open yours.

Black 2 and White 2 also bring a lot of post-game goodies into the mix. There is now a system called Unova Link, in which you can activate “keys” to alter the game experience. The Memory Link mentioned before is part of this Unova Link (and is probably the only one that can be activated before post-game).

There is also what is called as Key Link mode. One of the keys are the “Challenge Mode” key (available in Black 2) and “Easy Mode” key (available in White 2), which if activated, will alter the trainers in the game to have a higher level, or a lower level Pokémon, respectively (not too sure about the AI, but I’m going to assume that it is also altered slightly). Aside from Key Link, there is also Area Keys, which change Black City to White Forest and vice-versa, Ruins Key which made Regirock, Regice, and Registeel available, as well as 3DS Link to link to Dream Radar. You can transfer these keys to another gaming system, if you so desire (thus enabling White Forest in Black 2, for example).

Also, a welcome but not-so-useful addition is the game’s take on achievements, which is achieved (pun intended) through the medal collection. I personally don’t fancy easy achievements (“Starting a New Adventure”, really?), but I guess with all games basically just incorporating it, I don’t have much choice, do I?

For bringing new features, and making easy of some of the previous features (Black City and White Tree, I’m looking at you), I’d give an 8 out of 10.

Audio

GameFreak has done some pretty good job doing the remixes of the battle theme, particularly against gym leaders and Elite Four. One that stuck in my head was Elesa’s theme, Roxie’s band theme, and the new Champion’s theme. They’re cute, while prepping you up to battle them. You can try to YouTube them (apparently there are lots of them over there) and hear them out if you wish. However, just hearing the themes without actually seeing the setting (i.e. the gyms themselves) would just deter the experience, as the songs, I assume, were actually made to complement the gym.

Good job on this one, I’m giving it 8 out of 10.

Graphics

There is much to be ranted about the graphics on the original games, namely the pixelated look. Sadly, although the Pokémon animation is smoother (due to having more frames), it is still sporting the same pixelated look as the original games. Although I fully understand that this might be partially due to the resolution of the Nintendo DS (or 3DS, for that matter), I believe they can improve on this one.

On the positive side, though, there are moments (Elesa’s gym comes to mind, that gym experience is simply… unique, to say the least) that this game truly try to get your attention by showing good graphics, such as during the opening sequence view from Aspertia City. Can’t really blame them for trying. For this I would give 7 out of 10 (in respect of DS’s pixel and hardware limitation).

Final Words

Adding all the points up, it’ll be roughly 30 out of 40. In their own Black 2 and White 2 made for arguably the most complete Pokémon game experience that you will ever get in a handheld system. There are shortfalls, namely in graphics and disappointment tied to the storyline, but overall, it is a pretty good game, and good for killing time as well.

jovee~

EF 4.1 Code-first: Executing Stored Procedure

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Since I worked in my company, I was required to learn a lot of stuffs. One of the basic things to learn was to adapt from my mostly used Java programming language to C#, along with the proper MVC platform.

Of course, .NET MVC, being a platform (for vocabulary nazis, I use the term architecture and platform interchangeably), it is obviously tightly integrated. This was the thing that I dislike the most with the .NET framework, you can’t have full control (to some extent) as to what you do. And then my opinion suddenly changed when I was introduced to entity framework, namely, their code-first approach. Code-first approach gives you that flexibility to meld the code behind as you like, it gives you full control (again, to some extent) of what you can do.

My post today will show you how to simply execute a stored procedure and retrieve the results back. This is supposed to be simple if you were using database-first or model-first approach. Otherwise, Entity Framework 4.1 does not support a complex type mapping for stored procedure in code-first approach (at least for now). See this post for more information on that fact.

/// <summary>
/// Function to call the stored procedure in the database.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="param1">A string containing the username.</param>
/// <param name="param2">A string containing the password.</param>
public Guid CallProc(string param1, string param2)
{
    // Creating SqlParameters
    // Note that although SqlParameterCollection class exists,
    // it cannot be instantiated since it is an abstract class
    var userName = new SqlParameter
    {
        DbType = DbType.String,
        ParameterName = "UserName",
        Value = param1
    };

    var password = new SqlParameter
    {
        DbType = DbType.String,
        ParameterName = "Password",
        Value = param2
    };

    // This is the "correct" query that will return an entity object.
    // However since EF4.1 does not support a complex type mapping FOR
    // stored procedures, this is rendered unusable (for now).
    // return DbContext.Database.SqlQuery("FindUser @UserName, @Password",
    // parameters).ToList();

    // Returning the user ID (as Guid)
    Guid userId = DbContext.Database.SqlQuery("EXEC FindUser @UserName, @Password",
                  param1, param2).SingleOrDefault();

    return userId;
}

I have highlighted some of the important points in the code. Now, let’s start dissecting the code.

On line 6, this is your usual standard function in C#. Nothing special here, just a function taking two parameters and returning a Guid result. Please note that the function name does not have to be the same as the stored procedure name.

On line 13-15, we need to create SqlParameter, in order for the framework to translate the call to the correct data types. This also prevents SQL injection, and is actually a good practice. Like I have stated in the code, we can actually create SqlParameterCollection if we want to. For simplicity sake (and greater flexibility), we’ll just use the SqlParameter class.

The SqlParameter can take any supported data type. In the example, we used string, but we can also use Guid and other primitive data types. I have yet to use objects, however, I would have to assume that it is not supported.

On line 28-29, I have put the proper way to call and execute the stored procedure from within Entity Framework. However, it is not yet supported. In this commented code, I actually used SqlParameterCollection variable, parameters.

On line 32-33, is the actual call made by the framework to the database. This will call a stored procedure called FindUser, passes on two parameters (UserName and Password, respectively), and will return a Guid as the ID of the user.

Of course, it goes without saying that the database must have a stored procedure called FindUser which accepts two parameters, UserName, and Password as string or varchar. The stored procedure must also return Guid as a result. I have yet to use another data type, but in this case (using Guid as a return type) works.

So there you go. I admit this solution might not be the best solution, however it works for now. At least it solves the limitation of the EF 4.1 using the code-first approach. See you next post!