Oh Witcher 3! Oh Witcher 3!

How lovely are thy (side/main) quests?

And warning: Here Be Spoilers!

At about the 186 hour mark–tracked with Steam–I finished The Witcher 3 including its two main DLCs. I’m a bit disappointed that it did not manage to beat Skyrim‘s 189 hours on record but considering that I started two games in Skyrim with one game getting like 20-30 hours, maybe I shouldn’t be so disappointed after all. Besides, I made a couple savepoints at times where The Witcher 3‘s story diverges so I could check out alternative story lines. We could still beat that record comfortably.

Honestly, I was not very sold into The Witcher 3 when I first started it a year ago. This is my first foray into the world of Geralt and I came there expecting to experience the ultimate male power fantasy but instead the intro gave me a bunch of cinematic cutscenes. What a way to be a wet blanket. It was nice the first few times but it wore its welcome fast. Please, I started thinking, more of those spinning sword sweeps and less talk! But, like many before me, I started to care. I found myself enamored with a faux-medieval world where the Conjunction of the Spheres happened and there are people with various stories all around.

And that on top of the fact that my computer could just barely run The Witcher 3. The experience isn’t horrible but the frame rate leaves much to be desired. Kinda leaves Geralt with a brooding stride especially when there are a lot of objects (wood splinters, people, etc.) to render in a scene. Also leaves most of the cutscenes with the sound going faster than the visuals. Gives it an almost pensive cinematic effect, like sometimes the characters take their time reflecting on what was just said rather than going for a quick retort. And at times when the scene calls for a bit more nonverbal language (like an impassioned movement of the arms during an argument) than a mutated witcher would typically be comfortable with, the delay makes it play out like a flashback, slowed down just enough so you can appreciate the details and featuring voiceless stretches of action. Times like this, the beautiful background music really saves the mood.

That is not to say that the brooding stride, the pensive mood, or the flashback feel is not at home with Geralt’s world. I like to think that this makes my Witcher 3 experience unique in a way.

The software engineer side of me, on the other hand, can’t help but marvel at how CD Projekt Red managed to make this game degrade gracefully. Even with a computer such as mine, the bugs I encountered are few and far between. Oh well there’s Roach…

Roach, you horse-demon, horses don't do that.

…but I’d like to think that CDPR left that on purpose as some kind of joke. Also, there’s the fact that Geralt’s hair remains model-worthy despite spending hours on end outdoors, exposed to the sun, with an occasional dose of water hag spit, drowner blood, and all sorts of unsavory things. And have I told you I’m using an AMD GPU so there’s no Nvidia HairWorks to help Geralt’s case?

My co-workers’ endorsement aside, what made me buy The Witcher 3 during a Steam sale is the fact that it is labeled as choices matter, and in how this aspect of the game is told to be a great factor into The Witcher 3‘s emotional impact. Now, something that I haven’t talked about much, if at all, is in how Bioshock Infinite‘s ending left me in such an emotionally-tattered state. This deserves another blog post of its own but, suffice it to say, if what elevates creative output into the hallowed realm of being art is in how it can elicit emotions you would not otherwise feel, then Bioshock Infinite gave me an overwhelming conviction that games can be art.

And, like an addict looking for his next fix, against reason, against logic, I’ve been looking for another game that could trigger the same reaction I had with Bioshock Infinite. And I try to keep my mind open but such is my conviction that games can be art that I am pretty sure only a game, or generally an interactive medium, can achieve the same.

I’ve tried a few, constrained by my free time. Would it bother you to hear that I felt delight when, in the title screen of Life is Strange, there is a link to help you find support groups should you feel you need it so after playing the game? I have, unfortunately, not found another game to rival Bioshock Infinite, The Witcher 3 included. I have begun to fear that Bioshock Infinite is a one-time braingasm you could never feel for a second time.

But that is not to take away anything from The Witcher 3. While it did not give me the mindfuck fix I bought it for, it gave me something else. Against odds, a video game with obviously fictitious characters, made me feel empathy. As the best of fiction should do.

“Do I have to know her to feel sorry for her? Can’t you just help her?”

~ The titular character of Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord

I would like to put it here on the record, before I rework through the choices I did not pick in my first playthrough. I got the good ending with Ciri, though I’ve had a few missteps along the way. I went with her to meet the sorceresses, not because I had no confidence in her but because I had no confidence our erstwhile allies against the Wild Hunt would play fair with her. Ciri’s fate had been pretty much sealed in my playthrough when I accidentally learned of my misstep and yet it bothered me. It bothered me that Ciri might think I had no confidence in her, that I did not recognize the strong spirit she undoubtedly has. I did not want her to think that she was just another damsel in distress I had to save. From what I heard, she is far stronger than that. I merely wanted to lend assistance because, by Lebioda, this is the fucking Wild Hunt we are up against. No one has a good chance against them, Elder Blood or no Elder Blood.

Triss, Ciri, Geralt, and Yen. All not smiling.
A family picture I managed to catch. Shame they can’t smile for it.

As Riley MacLeod quotes in his article about his Witcher 3 ending: “It’s bullshit arbitrary video game psychology”. I agree.

And yet…I find myself agreeing with CDPR at how this mechanic in their game actually reflects real life. No matter how contrived it may seem, The Witcher 3 asks you to empathize with its people. Actually treat them like people, not as NPCs that give off experience points. As with real life, it’s not your mere intentions which determine how people feel towards you. You put yourself in their shoes.

Another remarkable instance of this in The Witcher 3 is a very short interaction I had at Novigrad. It was so short, it did not even trigger a quest: So there I was, riding on Roach to complete the myriad of things required by the game’s derided Dandelion arc, when in my minimap I see that exclamation mark that is the game’s way of telling you, it’s Geralt-Jesus time! So I unmount from Roach in a manner just a little more impressive than Orlando Bloom doing Legolas fanservice and what do I find? A bunch of witch hunters harassing an Aen Seidhe woman because they are intolerant pricks. In Geralt’s rough tone, I manage to drive them away without a fight. I turn to the elven woman as a courtesy. It’s all fine now, I drove them away, I don’t like them either, you don’t have to pay me–when she cuts me off and berates me for stepping in uninvited. Tomorrow you won’t be here, she tells me, but they’ll be back, even harsher because of what you did today. I’d rather you didn’t make my problems worse as I can deal with them myself, thank you very much.

Short. Poignant. Powerful. Economy of storytelling right there from CDPR.

All these expressed and I feel I need to remind you that this is my very first foray into the world of Geralt. I had no idea who Ciri is until I got bored by the opening cinematics of The Witcher 3. And yet I cared about her, cared about how my choices affected her. And that elven woman? Game didn’t even give her a name and yet she did a damn good job making me feel sorry about my messiah complex.

I could maybe write a short book about everything I felt while playing The Witcher 3. Maybe in some other blog post I get to tell you about how enraged I was when Priscilla–yet another character I only knew recently–got attacked. So enraged I resolved not to sleep until I got to the bottom of it and solved it the witcher way. Or about the eerie beauty of Iris von Everec’s inner world. Or how I got the bittersweet ending for Blood and Wine because, despite having the hots for Syanna, I gave up on her at the last moment and called her a petty little viper. Or maybe, I like her precisely because she is a petty little viper and that clouded my better judgment.

In contrast, I do not like her sister Anarietta that much. Something about her accent and how she’s an uptight state ruler. And yet…that ending…she did not deserve that. I intend to make amends with the power of savepoints. Just wait for me, duquesa.

At this point, this blogpost has gone longer than I intended it to. It even kinda took the form of the usual review I do here. I just wanted to collect my thoughts (of which there are surprisingly many, and more!) before I wield the power of savepoints. All I want to say now is…

ciri

Damn it Witcher 3. Your quests have no business being that deep and good!

Thanks For Keeping Blogs Relevant

Alternatively titled, Blogging Like It’s Ten Years Ago.

Sherlock is back, and Sherlock is great again! After a largely fan-servicing third season, Sherlock season four is nothing short of amazing.

Um, okay, I’m speaking too soon. At this point I’ve only watched up to episode two.

Before I continue writing what I find so great about season four (or what I’ve watched of it so far), let me note something that breaks the show’s immersion for me. It’s there in episode two, repeated with irritating frequency for a span of…umm…ten minutes I guess? I think it was repeated thrice, the first two just within a few lines of dialogue of each other. And then again, just when the suspense was building up and the immersion is kicking back in for me.

People read (and like!) Sherlock’s blog. Blog, seriously, in this day and age of social media. For crying out loud, Sherlock’s got a Twitter feed!

Okay, I’m guessing there’s an out-of-universe explanation why that is so. Like, maybe, they didn’t get longform-compatible social networks to agree to a sponsorship deal to get mentioned. The product placements in the show aren’t lost to me, you know. But do you really need product placement deals to mention a website? Granted, websites/domains are brands now. I don’t know. Whatever.

In the spirit of open-source software, let me rewrite one of those irritating scenes.

Faith Smith: Oh my God, Sherlock Holmes! I loove your blog.

stillreadblogs

Or, more in-character, “Hah! I haven’t updated my blog in ages. That makes all other possibilities impossible, convincing me, beyond any shadow of doubt, improbable as it may be, that you, Faith Smith—and not your father—are the serial killer.”

Quit cooking meth, Sherlock.

Though, it is around this time when the story really gets going. That scene where Sherlock’s case built on a “foundation of miscalculation” comes crashing down on him heavily is one hell of a visual ride. Interspersed with John’s interview with Lestrade, and flash backs from the time when Sherlock started his “miscalculations”, it is the perfect visual realization of the unreliable narrator. Mind. Blown. Add Toby Jones’ acting where, one moment you want to punch his horrible teeth in if only you weren’t afraid those saws for teeth would deal your fist permanent damage. Next moment he is a startled goodie two-shoes schoolboy, a dog surprised at his owner’s sudden madness. Masterful.

I also like the development of the characters. I don’t get people who are disappointed because Sherlock is not about solving crimes anymore—a fair criticism, but if they had their way, Sherlock would’ve been stagnant. Other than the contemporary setting and the medium, this rendition will have nothing to set it apart from Doyle’s canon. Owing to its serial nature (and maybe even of Doyle’s disdain on the whole thing), the self-contained stories and novels have no sense of continuity; in one instance, it even contradicts itself on a matter regarding Moriarty.

If there’s anything the third season gave us, other than Amanda Abbington’s portrayal of Mary Watson, it’s that it provided a period of transition for Sherlock. It started showing his humanity, started showing him failing, miscalculating, fatally imperfect as the people he deems lesser.

And now we get him talking to John Watson about grief. Goodness, your fangirls are right. Just kiss already.

And when that happens, I have no doubt Mary’s projection would be in the scene, watching, a surrogate for the whole interwebs.

While the ladies are busy fainting from delight— “Johnlock! I knew it! Johnlock. John. Lock.” —allow me a moment of nostalgia for an age of the interwebs long past. Back then, blogs were personal, a sort of diary except you obviously hid just enough to keep your crush intrigued, in the slight chance they followed your online thoughts. The designs ranged from garish, like Molly Hooper’s, or very simple to the point of sterility, like John Watson’s.

But that was because blogs then were a form of self-expression. And if self-expression means #FF0000 Monotype Corsiva font on a black background complete with animated 256-pallet GIFs, then so be it. Back then, blogs weren’t a corporate thing—heck corporations did not do something as low as a “blog”—written to advertise


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(This is the part where I apologize that all those words I wrote is just one hell of a build-up for that shameless plug. I assure you my manager did not put me up for this.)

But really, thanks Sherlock for keeping blogs relevant, in a good way, if only for ten minutes in one episode.

How to Read a Woman

Hold her gently, like the rare and precious book she is. Don’t let her cover mislead you; it may look plain but don’t lose sight of the tapestry it hides. Take your time getting past her cover, the initial extra leaves, and when you finally set your eyes on the first words of her first chapter, take some more time to appreciate what that means. There aren’t a lot of people whom she has allowed this far. Not that there are a lot of people who would take the time to read past her cover anyway.

As her plot unravels note how different she is from all the other stories you’ve known. Hellos and goodbyes are scattered everywhere. Feel her die a little bit with every farewell. Have more faith in her happy ending with every smile.

Feel the weight of the story she lays down before you. Take in every word but concede to the fact that you may never even finish half. Know her universe and reach out. Know her fears, her dreams, her hopes, the things that make her go. Don’t laugh at them no matter how petty they may seem to be. You would not want to anger a universe.

Pay attention to her details: the passers-by who would later deliver the plot twists, the unnoticed allies who would be crucial to the denouement. Delight that her chapters are long, her words abstruse. It is not so because she wants to intimidate but because she has her complexities and this is what describes her best. Know that this complexity demands your full attention. Do not read her casually.

Let her blow your mind away through the thick of her drama, the thrill of her adventures, even in the lull of ennui. Immerse yourself in her metaphors and her contradictions. Allow her the awkward transitory scenes, the occasional plot holes. Remember that this is not a fairy tale. Understand that this is her story, just as fucked up as yours or anyone else’s.

Like all good books do, her story will tire you. You’d need your time to put her down and regroup yourself. Take this time to decide, very carefully, if there is anywhere you can help her with in writing her story. Ask for her permission and, as you ask, remember to respect her space. Do not forget that she has already given you so much by letting you read her. That your words mingle with hers is an entirely different matter.

You wouldn’t know how she’d react until it comes. She may laugh. She may cry. Heck, she may even put up a pretense of indifference. This is where you find out how tired she is of her complexities, just like everyone else. Maybe, she does not want to be a universe, just a star in someone’s sky. You should know how tired she feels. You’ve read her haven’t you?

Remind her that plain happy characters do not make a good story. Remind her of those parts of her story you found most beautiful. Remind her of her strength. Tell her that her story is just warming up, that the plot is still about to thicken, and that the climax is still way ahead. She may not know how to continue, how to handle the thickening plot or navigate the climax way ahead but that is why you’re here. You are offering her your words for those times ahead where she may find herself speechless.

She may refuse you, in which case say thank you, leave quietly, and make sure that you keep her secrets well. To do so otherwise would be unfair, childish even.

And yes, she may accept your company, in which case look at her straight in the eyes, say thank you, and assure her that you will keep her secrets well. Complicated as she is, you do not know how far into her story will you get to help write. You are probably not the first she has allowed in this role, nor will you be the last. This is an enormous responsibility but, whatever happens, do your best to make your part the episodes she’d love to relive with fondness.

The Last One, Hopefully

Second semesters. You’ve always held a special place in my heart for being more enjoyable and memorable. For some reason, despite having managed my time better, I felt so tired and exhausted after last semester that all-break long I didn’t do anything as originally planned. I had to recharge by doing nothing and watching my first concert ever, starred by the Jason Mraz.

An amusing aspect of this second semester is how I encounter my past teachers. Imagine casually meeting your first math teacher in college ever, remembering that his subject was your baptism by fire, and wondering if he remembers you or if you should maybe greet or wave or something. Even after Math 17 I didn’t really become that awesome in math. But, if anything, Math 17 gave me the tenacity I’d use during those countless times I went on the brink of failure. I still have to encounter a non-theoretical application of the complex plane, numeric progressions, and root finding but Math 17 was most worthwhile taking even if just for the mindset I gained.

It’s only been four years and yet it all seems so long. Maybe it’s because I’ve actually had eight sets of subjects just for the past four years? And that’s not counting my summer semesters.

Another amusement: my candidate last semester is host to a number of firsts in my life. It is my first underloaded semester, being that all those summers spent in school has finally paid off and I’m only 13 units away from my diploma (15 to around 21 is the range of normal load, variable depending on whether you have laboratory units). But wait, no, it is also my first semester taking a Master’s class. Out of curiousity and a desire not to slack off/underload, I added a further three units to the missing 13 units of my undergraduate curriculum.

I’m closer than ever to closing this volume of my life, but it’s not a clear coast yet. I still have an obstacle course and a thesis to finish. But hey I’m already here. So just you wait.

See you!

P.S. Greet the blog a happy birthday! It’s been five years!

Photograph of the Month: Reach Up to Paradise

Reach Up to Paradise

Why am I a photoblog all of a sudden? Read about it here.

Ah Paradise…I shall be with you soon. Just give me time to kick the hell out of the coming hell weeks…

There is one productivity trick that I’ve learned from my internship which I’ve continued to apply even well after I’m out of it: plan ahead not what you want to do but what you want to achieve. This has been largely responsible why the past midterm season went by me without much hassle on my part. Ever since my internship, I’ve started my weeks planning ahead what I want to achieve and then tallying myself. I try to achieve at least 70% of the goals I set weekly and I’m pretty good at it; I usually get my 70% done, until recently, that is.

But before I proceed telling you about what’s been keeping me busy this past few weeks, allow me to backtrack a little and relate an interesting event I forgot to relate and that happened all because of my birthday last month. In an age where Facebook has kindly been reminding everyone of everyone else’s birthday, I pusposedly set my account to tell no one when my birthday is. As I expected, I didn’t get much greetings on my birthday. I had maybe around 3, all coming in at the last minute of August 8, two through Facebook and one via text message. And then the next few days became quite amusing, as people learned that I celebrated my birthday on the 8th. People wrote me uber-interesting greetings, starkly personal, if I may say, even if not by Facebook standards, going well up to a week after my actual birthday. True enough, I didn’t get as much greetings than if I allowed my birthday alarm to ring but I’m pretty sure that I got the better deal by receiving messages that is not the generic “Happy Birthday Chad! <maybe insert smiley here>”.

Anyway…so, what I’ve been up to. These past few weeks, my 70%-goal-achievement productivity saw a sharp drop as I found myself alternating only between two interesting projects: my thesis and my EEE8 project. This is my second take on EEE8; I don’t think I was able to tell the blog that I failed it last year largely because it was eclipsed by more personal failures, which took center stage in my posts. Back then, I never thought I’d ever even be remotely interested in breadboards, integrated circuits, and wires. But well, here I am, thinking of how can I build a robot to automate the cleaning process of my room.

As for my thesis, I must admit that one of the many reasons I wanted to join UPD’s Computer Vision and Machine Intelligence Group (CVMIG) was because I knew that I’d probably be working on image processing, which was, back in high school my idea of the pinnacle of programming. Well I got my wish, but that is not to say that I am not having a hard time in the task set to us. For some weeks now, I’ve been contemplating over the Gabor filter and I must say that I’m still pretty far from what I hope I’ve achieved with it already.

Well, that’s all for now. Wish me luck and see you soon in Paradise, wherever or whatever that is…~Your Skymeister.

heaven