Kiss of a Spectre

So it happened that country with renown visiting places called Ajanta-Ellora and Elephanta caves which were lauded as UN heritage sites; along with Khajuraho Temple, adorned with utmost beautiful depiction of human intimacy and nudity (male/female both) could well be considered as absolutely vulgar by Indian conservative government control bodies such as CBFC. This is just a small example. There is much more places and legacy in Indian culture; say “Kamasutra”, could also well be outright banned if these control body keeps doing the things which they are laughably known for.

License to “proceed”

Why such rage and cry; you may ask. Recently, on the eve of release of the bond movie “Spectre” in India, Central Board of Film Certification, in short CBFC has decided that Bond is smooching too “long” (and without paying any respect to “Indian culture”) on screen. And hence, censored the scenes from movie along with few more “culture-spoiling” cuts. These brought along the painful memory of such incident which I already cried against few years back at release (actually not released) of movie “The Girl with Dragon Tattoo” (Again Daniel Craig, I think there is some debt to pay to Indian government by my all-time favorite Bond).

With already sarcastic and humorous backlash started by intellectual Indian Internet community with hashtag #sanskarijamesbond, there lies a very stark reality that nothing is moving in terms of Indian conservatism and hypocrisy. There must be controlled over such foolish decisions. There must be well-structured model in place against which such bodies has to measure their actions and not do the things on their own whims.

Though movies like “Spectre” has commercial aspect, movie can very well be still considered as art form. Artist must have all the freedom to express it as he/she deems fit. Such governing body must assure that they dole out appropriate rating system so as spectators have their expectations in place while going out for such movies. There is no point in giving a movie “Adult” rating and at the same time cutting out explicit contents (Actually funny thing is I am not sure if passionate and long kiss could be classified as explicit. I need to watch movie, unrated. Of course). Cuts must only be in place if contents have tendency to spark large scale unrest and turmoil due to particular sets of offenses.

Other foolish example:Every time I go for movie here in India, myself and other poor spectators like me are continuously bombarded with “No Smoking” campaigns. I can understand at start but every time one of the character on the screen is about to smoke, these so called control freaks use their “sixth-sense” and flash large “smoking kills” warning all over the place on screen (My mind turned this into little play: as soon as warning flashes on screen, I tried to guess which of the character is “cause” for such torture if there are multiple of them. And sometimes it’s hard to know who actually smoked which caused this warning as some faded out “back-in-the-farthest-corner-of-bar” character might have thought of smoking on screen and these foreteller having “superhuman power” knew and flash the warning before anything happen).

I am pretty much sure now that Smoking is that tenth circle which Dante forgot to mention.

Giving a funny bone a bit rest and considering consequences on serious note, India is nowadays becoming country of bans, censor, denial, protest, rules, laws, prevention and lot more. Necessity is there for rules and laws in formative way and in curing the justice system to reduce “beastly” rape mentalities, but not in such foolish, ridiculous and outright suppressive way. At one point, India churning out most sleazy and vulgar movies with item songs and all, while kisses of Bond not getting away; this itself shows farcical process and sarcastic slap to poor Indian spectators.

Closing with satirical incident: I was hanging out with myself one night in Swiss pub, probably first time such late in evening. Part of my feeble, shackled and conditioned “Indian” brain has blurted out the concern to beautiful bartender: “At what time this closes?”

“9, Sir”

“So early??!!”

“9 in the morning, Sir.” She replied with tender smile.

I still asked the same question here in India whenever I went to pubs and bars on weekends even though I know that it’s going to close at midnight or little after that. But here I earned the “responsible and respected customer” look. Same question. So opposite effects. Welcome to India.


Savour: Don’t rush…


I would like to start with the incident which acted as fertilizer with enough nutrients to sprout the idea of such blog-post.

First of all, I fall in to that rare human species who defined by their avid reading habits. Why rare? As of now, I am able to meet people who read but to meet those individual who read in abundance and to read like “worm-hole”; scrunching everything which comes in the way and nothing escapes once fall within Schwarzschild radius, is rarity. Though reading is the habit which gradually grows with passing time, I have encountered something missing with fresh readers and initiates who are keen to start but restrained by some invisible mental force. So this post is for distributing the key to unlock metal restraints and get going in the wonderful world of books. But before that….

The Incident: so one fine evening one of my family’s acquaints came to visit us and I was taking out books which were on TBR list from long time. I was planning to take up something massive since I finished out with LOTR. I choose Bleak House from Charles Dickens to take the flame from LOTR, intended for marathon reading which would span over months. I can count myself as fast reader but still speed-run is not my cup of tea. Also usually, I chose to have at least 2 books in reading parallel; sometimes more. More than achievement, I would contribute such behavior to compulsion (Yes, you are allowed to say OCD).

So this person who was not much into reading had chance to observe the tome whose covers were elegantly flashing “Bleak House” in large Gothic black font (A lovely new edition which never looked as old classics generally looked). He took the book in one hand and surprised that there are species in this world who read such 700-page behemoth (may be surprised that you need to have proper forehand and biceps exercise to handle its weight during reading). And he raised the probable question which had acted as spark to ignite this blog.

“How could you able to read it? When will you complete? I can never do that in my lifetime.”

Let’s not consider the not-so-happening later events and tackle the question head on.

I believe that reading and in some other sense all other such luxurious habits have one common trait. Don’t rush them. They meant to be tackled with slow pace. Exactly like savoring the exquisite and rare wine which could never be mistreated with “rushed on” approach. Books, especially the large ones tend to be savored “sip-by-sip” chapter or few pages a day than think about finishing them. It’s this thought of “to complete something”, itself makes one put off the idea of getting into start and much worse persevere.

If the book is going to be good (or in other sense, you are good enough fitting reader for the book) than you don’t want book to end, vis-à-vis if you are not into much than however short the book is, you can only trudge and complain later. Don’t you think this same rule apply to lot other aspects of the life and sometimes the life itself ?

Now that I realized this write-up is getting into paradoxical state where I am divulging reading habits for not-so-avid-reader in “reading format” (If they are not reader why they bother to read your blog, Villpower. Rather they should right away start with some book). So I assume all those who going to read this are themselves avid readers which will bring the importance of the whole blog down to nil. So just take the humorous take-away and savor your reading.


Basel Fastnach 2014


Only justification I can think of about delaying a blog of most prolific and exuberant event I experienced during my stay in Basel, Switzerland last year is that I felt outwitted and too small to capture the essence in mere words. Even pictures presented here in blog is tip of the iceberg; not in terms of size but in terms of joyous mood it represents in massive ways. Anyhow it’s always difficult to capture the event whose soul is music.

Fasnacht is the spring carnival of music, oranges, flowers, bands and lots and lots of confetti. More than that, it’s event of year-long practice and preparations of various processions and bands. You will be amazed by witnessing the hand-crafted mask and costumes representing underlying theme. This theme is called Sujet. It could be based on current events, political or renounced figures or some global event presented in sarcastic manner.

Fastnach2014 Basel, Switzerland
Fastnach2014 Basel, Switzerland
Music bands processions, costumes, masks, confetti and lots of fun
Music bands processions, costumes, masks, confetti and lots of fun
Sujet based on current events

Various bands can be classified based on their instruments and play style and also their routes. Cliques play piccolo and Basler drums. Another brass band formation is called Gugge. Then there are Schnitzelbank singers with bard-like quality of singing away verses in satirical manner based on current events of Basel in Basel German. This three day celebration starts with 4:00 am Morgestraich; lantern procession showing various Sujet colorfully illuminated lanterns accompanied by Clique music play. With whole of old Basel drowned in darkness with lights turned off for Morgestraich, its sight to behold ( Though I lost opportunity to be present at Morgestraich due to night long excursions to nearby town of Liestal for fire parade followed by costume party and drank the hell out of myself )




Apart from the city-wide fun and frolic mood intermingled with processions and bands, some of the typical European celebration rules makes Fastnach one of the unique celebration to attend to.

    • During Fastnach everyone will be addressed on first-name terms irrespective of class, age or race to alleviate the ambience of getting acquainted and making new friends.
    • Theme of the most of the Sujet represents political figure and events in satirical light which itself points towards tradition of freedom of speech. Though any foul or offensive language and compromising behavior cannot be tolerated and regulated well by authority.
    • Most of the mask wore by groups are crafted carefully by groups using papier mâché These head-mask are called Larve.
    • As the cost of costumes, band and music instruments bear by participants themselves, there is a tradition of supporting them financially through buying Fastnach badges. Every year a competition   held for artists to come up with badge designs. Winning design will be chosen for Fastnach badge by committee of Fastnach. Pinning a badge visibly has one more advantage of not becoming victim of confetti-shower from passing processions as being rude not to support the celebration in right mood.




Though there is lot more still left to know about this one of a kind carnival, it’s best to experience and explore which is, I think, common rule to every carnival, celebration and place.


In such tribute sections, I will try to pay homage to those transformative and impactful games, books, movies and other forms of media and/or events which has carved out special permanent niche in my life. As I lamented previously also that this doesn’t mean I am seeing myself standing at the gate of heaven (or hell, as per perspective); contemplating “happy” days of my life. But I think I had backed up by good more than 30 years shaping my life and I could clearly identify such homages which had influential impact to swerve it in positive or negative way. So in this write-up of influential homages I will take up Charles Dickens’s The Great Expectations. I refrain myself to praise it with adjectives as whatever majestic I conjure up, it always falls short in gauging the true literary span of Charles Dickens and his Great Expectations.

I must confess that initial start-up read of Dickens’s literary classic, Great Expectations was not engaging enough for me. I had never attempted Victorian story before, especially language. Being born and brought up in India, Victorian world was that unknown territory which was difficult to tread and explore. Though aware of the Dickens writing prowess, I was adamant to start but not sure from where and how. Due to this dilemma, Great expectation was subjected to such cruel mishandling like no other and put down time immemorial with few finished starting chapter. Though exhilarating, I had my fill from this cult classic within mere 80 to 100 pages of Pip’s journey.

Time was ripe when my life spiraled down and hit the lowest point. Career moving in positive direction and everything else in extreme opposite direction like two same charged particles reined free of strong force. Happy stories had no power left to amuse me and I was in dire need of something psychologically supportive. Dark and crime-fictions were too gloomy for me; dragging me more into the depth of gloominess. At last I picked up Great Expectations again as I thought it would be quite better to know the future of Pip. And I may find solace in his fictional happy life. Alas that was not the case.

I am really not sure how other readers have perceived Great Expectations but for me it was never story with soothing effect in right terms. Not doubting the flawless and extremely fledged out characterization specifically adapted for such story, Dickens strike exact cord in lot many places while expressing emotions; those little urges and desires which I had never believed till then could be expressed in mere words. It was soothing for me at least. Pip’s story became story of someone close whom I knew since childhood. All other characters are not mere portraits in the story but real characters full of various traits with which I could relate to. Though never I met such persons in reality, which itself proves exceptional writing prowess of Charles Dickens as author and how good he was at developing fictional character.

In short, Great Expectations is coming-of-age story of the boy called Pip towards becoming gentleman and hence in search of better life. Deep down, it’s tale of contradiction; hope and despair, amalgamation of relationships and lose, love and revenge, heartfelt and at the same time heart-broken, tragic and heart-warming. Its journey of having expectations and price you need to pay for achieving the same (Though Expectations in title taken in Victorian sense which means incurring large sum of money). And that’s where the core attraction of the book for me lies. Invaluable and priceless. I could go on forever but must restrict myself on treading into spoiler-zone for those unlucky ones who still had not developed taste of reading the classics.

I was so hooked by the end of the book to Dickens’s story-telling that I could only do justice by completing all of his work (still going on). Immediately Great expectations was placed to my “must-read” shelf. I still believe that book has power to reflect on reader’s emotional condition. Whatever be the state; exuberant or in turmoil, one can find what he wished for from Great Expectation while reading.

It also helped me hone my skill in reading Victorian literary classics. I had already laid my hand on Wilkie Collins and moving further. Victorian era has transformed writing in a way renaissance had done to art in Europe.

This might not be considered as review as it would be utterly improbable to review Mona Lisa when only skill you possess while drawing is to produce plain brush strokes. Nope. This is a love letter to Great expectations for mere being exists.

Great Expectations will forever be on my most influential list.


Celebrate Feminism

First point: This is not a review. As now everyone knows that movie is absolute awesomeness on its own. It is grand opera or should I say waltzing of vehicular mayhem and breath stealing action sequences. Already internet is exploding with very positive reviews and hence there is no need for one more.

I am here to discuss second more profound but less concentrated aspect of the movie; underlying message, clues and wonderfully distributed social message in the name of post-apocalyptic brutality. There may be possibilities of minor spoilers. And anyhow if you are reading this blog before watching the most fun-filled summer blockbuster than first thing is to get yourself booked for conveniently timed show and save yourself from embarrassment for the lifetime.

There is a split over movie likings which was assumed as Mad Max series was definitely not meant for all. But I believe that even in this split where people criticizing with less involvement of Mad Max (brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hardy), movie has won the battle. George Miller, that veteran old experienced mind who had invented Mad Max could not make such mistake of prioritizing down the main character. Nope. He had played brilliantly with audience and have them use the dirty looking-glass he is going to offer to observe the world which he always wanted them to look at. Movie was never meant for Max. It was just beautiful, grand and opulent celebration of feminism. Not in the traditional way, tipping towards extremism but in rightful way of gender equality and some more.

Let me clear the debris from the path. How many post-apocalyptic media has given rightful position to female? Very few in my knowledge. So when Charlize Theron had such brilliant character, carrying the whole movie on her shoulders, it was the irony and the slap for those expectant who wants to see all men spectacle. For true fans, Mad Max movie was defined by world building and characterization. They least bother with otherwise. In such case Fury Road is a triumph. Miller played with audiences’ idea of portrayal of sexism’ in movies, especially men dominant movies and turned it upside down with brilliant stroke as making Max playing supporting hand to Furiosa played by Charlize Theron.

We can see the underlying social commentary of men-dominating world getting destroyed by female characters once they choose to fight back. You can feel the agony of feminist community in the name of “Breeders”. Pain emanating from such “Breeders” in escaping to distant green land. And then those small but significant visual cues such as snapping out of slave chains, old grandma passing on their legacies, mixed race of “Breeders” to represent larger demographic spread and lot more.

Movie has brilliantly conveyed the idea that however crumbled society is, women are absolute necessity to survive as all things precious possible only by them. Whether it’s advancement of generation through “Breeders” or most valuable “Mother’s milk” in terms of Mad Max world. Also there is node towards upbringing of them through unity and compassion toward each other and not from some savior belonging to male community. All along, it was story of Furiosa who led and took initiative to change the course, bunch of scared girls finding courage to fight back and party of grandma’s using their rare wisdom to noble cause. Of course there will be helping like Mad Max but he was moot spectator to rise of new dominion. More than that Max is wiser. Knew where his place is and how he should act. As part of male community do we also have same courage?

PS: Consider the climax scene where Furiosa was raising higher as prominent leader by War-boys children on platform when she gratuitously eyeing Max who was about to get lost in mass of other people. He is commoner meant to do unexpected. This is true definition of heroism.

PPS: One more allegorical signature move of Miller’s cynicism is where Max decides to take on bullet farmer leader on his own with rising audience expectation for one more action sequence. Cut to the next scene he was returning after completing his task with no on-screen action. Why would Miller betray the audience with such sequence when he already shown how spectacular action this movie can have? My interpretation: one more allegorical node to audience that movie is not about men’s expectations. Max is not important here. His actions are in background with all the action is centered around lead female character Imperator Furiosa.


Liebster Award Nomination

liebster-awardEven though I am much more reluctant person to show my social personal side to the cyber or any other social community, Liebster Award is different in a way that you have opportunity to answer creatively to those special questions carefully picked by bloggers who already liked/loved your writing/blogging. So many thanks to nowgenerationcr ( to nominate me and give me chance to contemplate about myself for finding answers.

I found out once I nominated by nowgenerationcr that Liebster Award is for fresh bloggers, giving them exposure to get noticed. It’s really good initiative by blogging community. Love to see fellow blogger helping out each other in every possible way and encouraging them to move forward.

So let me answer the questions now

1. What is your favorite word, and why?

It has to be Science. I can not imagine myself checking out the surrounding and everything else out of context of science. Like every other childhood, I also had lot of curiosity and as I grew up I learned that every curious question can be tackled magically through Science. So my favorite word is Science. It covers and explains everything.

2. Favorite music, and why?

Not much into music at all. It all depends on the mood and ambience. So if I am partying hard at night club than any hard rock is pleasant enough and on next sobering day I would like to listen to any soft tune. Still not musical person at all.

3. What is the one thing you could not live without?

I can live without oxygen, water and food but not without “The Vortex” and “The Storm”. Vortex is my high-end gaming laptop tagged along with me all the time. And Storm is my carefully crafted gaming desktop built with all the care and love. It is realization of my childhood dream. One more thing without which I can not live are Books. If I am not spending time with my mean machines than it has to be books.

4. Why did you name your blog like that?

It’s straight forward choice for me as “Villpower” is my cyber identity. Though there is one small incident in choosing this name as cyber-id. I was in Hamburg, Germany at that time. We had this fun outing one day for go-karting and everyone had to choose alternative name for display. This was the word I spontaneously came up without any deep thought and it stuck up with me so well that everyone chose to call me by that name by the time I returned. Hence I picked up the same for my cyber identity.

5. What do you think is your secret superpower?

I think my superpower is restlessness of my brain. If I’m not sleeping than I need to keep feeding my brain all the time. I have to keep it involved with something. I also noticed one peculiar ability of my mind to coming out tough as much pressure/tension applied to it. It works in direct proportion to stress. Though it takes some toll in process but always gives me boost to work when odds are not in my favor.

6. Morning person: yes or no?

Absolutely not. A person having heavy reading and gaming passion could only be morning person if he already stretched through whole night. I do that many times.

7. Favorite memory of childhood

It can not be singular but I really loved those days of early childhood when I was eagerly waiting for my father to arrive home from office just to explore that office bag of his for special surprises. Mostly it was monthly knowledgeable magazines and books but that was pure fun of anticipation.

8. What is one thing you really hate to do?

Attending the social gathering due to no other alternative, getting the most unusual stare from distant relatives and at the same time bombarded with most illogical questions of all time whose answers are known to everyone. No, I hate most is I have to answer those. Family and close friends gatherings are different though as they know me well and don’t bother. :)

9. Tea or coffee?

Nothing can beat the strong aroma of grinded coffee beans and mug full of coffee to start the day.

10. Best advice you have ever receive?

It was from my father when I was child but I still remember and follow it. He said that Never give too much important to type of work. What is important is how you do it. Whatever it could be, try to give 100% of you. It will always pay off.


Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you. – Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too. – Nominate ten other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you. – Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make ten questions of your own for your nominees. – Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.

My ten questions are:

  1. If choice given, which fantasy land you want to live in ?
  2. What 5 words others find fitting to you ?
  3. What superhero/fictional character you want to be ? Why ?
  4. What is your favorite supper villain ?
  5. Which place on earth you want to visit once in a lifetime ? Why ?
  6. Sports: indoor or outdoor ?
  7. Food that you always want to test and never had chance.
  8. Tequila or wine or scotch ? What’s your favorite poison ?
  9. Advice you always want to give to your grandchildren or next generation.
  10. Who’s your favorite author and book ?

Following are my nominations

ladeonline :




Comic book girl:


Whoever already nominated before can break the cycle. Consider my nominations as appreciation :)

Thanks nowgenerationcr as I used almost same template as yours for the post. Thanks again for nomination.

Apollo Fountain

Versailles: Grand goodbye to Paris

“Let them eat cake.”

Once very famous (though without evidence) quote from the mouth of majestic kingdom queen would be appropriate paradoxical start to this blog. You may not understand the serious gravity of such ignorance from Queen Marie Antoinette and hence of French Monarchy when one of the most violent revolution brimming to burst out until you witness true majestic grandeur of French empire at Palace of Versailles.

Last day of my Paris visit had a clash between Versailles and Notre Dame. I had to choose only one as either of them having charm of eating away whole of your day in an instant. There was no particular reason I remember in opting Palace of Versailles apart from very eye-catching glimpses special created to get the attention of travelers of Palace of Versailles; all bathed in golden glory and royal interiors spilling out with grandeur (Specially Hall of Mirror). By the way, Palace of Versailles is huge sprawling mansion not only containing main king palace but entire area covered to the brim with absolutely breathtaking gardens, fountains, sculptures, mazes, lakes, ponds and also Queen’s expensive and carefully crafted Petit Hameau, a utopian hamlet. Big, massive, sprawling, stupendous all these words had to feel shame on their meaning in not justifying the real size and nature of palace of Versailles. So pathetic the feeling was to capture all in still images of limited size, but still I tried my best to express the grandeur of one of the most iconic place in history. Enjoy following tiny slice of the what I captured; be the royal guest of having tiny slice of the “Cake”.

Gold encrusted royal entrance to palace
Gold encrusted royal entrance to palace
Amalgamation of grandeur and art : Hall of Mirror
Amalgamation of grandeur and art : Hall of Mirror
Hall of Mirror is cramped with artistic arches, large vaulted windows, chandeliers, gilded sculptures and impressionistic art covered ceiling through entire 240 ft. length
Hall of Mirror is cramped with artistic arches, large vaulted windows, chandeliers, gilded sculptures and impressionistic art covered ceiling through entire 240 ft. length
Palace's garden facing part is adorned with large fountain area with sculptures situated around it.
Palace’s garden facing part is adorned with large fountain area with sculptures situated around it.
One of the small beautiful design aesthetic of large maze.
One of the small beautiful design aesthetic of large maze.
Versailles Palace from front
Versailles Palace from front
This is just the glimpse of sprawling walk you need to take from Queen's chalet to the Palace with cramped gardens and fountains and statues sprinkled in most artistic way for you to find out through massive four quadrant garden maze.
This is just the glimpse of sprawling walk you need to take from Queen’s hemlet to the Palace with cramped gardens and fountains and statues sprinkled in most artistic way for you to find out through massive four quadrant garden maze.
Sprawling walk view once reached to palace from queen chalet.
Sprawling walk view once reached to palace from queen hamlet.
Art oozing  out of every nook and cranny. One of the statue in massive courtyard of palace.
Art oozing out of every nook and cranny. One of the statue in massive courtyard of palace.

Kickstarting the Old engine

Pillars of Eternity

I am very much obliged and indebted to Kickstarters; a way of crowdfunding the project with support of zealot fans. And if you are fan of old school RPGs than you must also feel the same. With the release of Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian has proved their mettle on crafting massive yet engaging RPG. This proves that what can very very talented crew can do once they were given free rein. Even though lot many failures in mind, few Kikstarter gems like Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original sin, Dreamfall chapters, Pillars of eternity and many more has just created torrents of wind in the sail of crowdfunding. Anyhow it’s happy-happy situation for both parties as creators getting their hard work rewarded in monetary aspect as well as getting the recognition on larger scale; and consumers can spent money on what they want to play and in turn take part in building good-quality product through feedback and beta testing. Kickstarter is also great way of treading waters before plunging right away into risky Gaming Ocean.

Apart from quality products major influence of such kickstarting projects are revival of old titles, especially old school RPG has gained a lot. Never was I so excited to play old Fallout series along with classic old Wasteland until Wasteland 2 got released. Due credit to these creators on never wavering away from producing old school RPG nostalgia for their true fans. Just when I thought that Gaming is getting drifted towards more pixel crunching, high definition, high resolution, graphics intensive scale; titles like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of eternity has kicked the scale in other direction in the year 2014-15. It also proved that excellent writing is old horse but experience one and you can safely bat on it without losing the money. It’s so good to visualize the atmosphere through pixel produced text rather than pixel crunching GPU rendered atmosphere. (There are two most appealing aspects to me in the life; Gaming and Reading. So anything which can combine the both in most innovative and brilliant manner is must for me. I loved those DA:O lore. I loved to read Skyrim books. I absolutely adored so many text dialogues in Planscape: Torment. Alas for that you need to have highly intelligent character and that’s what I have done.)

RPGs have come a long way since its inception. D&D pen and paper RPGs were purely text based and still lot more fun. Even though 90’s were dominated by FPS gaming, RPGs managed to hang on with help of classics like System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter nights, WoW etc. But there were less and less of party based RPGs. Bioware has somehow managed the light from extinguishing with release of Dragon Age: Origins having party based strategic combat at core (It’s altogether sad that they lost track with series to put emphasis on mass appeal). Bethesda has started different kind of RPG strand with Elders Scroll series which was deep and complex and at the same time approachable by many. With Fallout3 and New Vegas, RPG has completely donned new “Avatar” which was entirely different from old school text-heavy predecessors. Mind you, all these modern RPG titles has retained the flavor of RPG for sure. Still there was XP to be earned, points to be allocated, quests to be solved, character to be developed, alternate solution to be found and all the tropes of RPG; but I feel that somehow in introducing and hence using the new graphics hardware those nostalgic text-based adventures were replaced. Heavy tactical combat was compromised. (BTW I am big fan of Elders scrolls and Fallout of Bethesda as they had pulled me into RPG black hole at that time and still time froze than onwards). Titles like Deus Ex:HR and Borderlands have combined few more game types resulting in movie like quality of non-stop fun and action. And those turn based strategic old school RPG were left alone for resurrection which was possible through new god; Kickstarter.

With the release of successive attention grabbing cRPG titles, can we say that computer gaming is getting back to the old route? I prefer to say Gaming has just found new route running parallel to the current expressway of AAA titles. Love to see these old school RPGs getting appreciated and played well by gaming community. This in turn going to result in many more Kickstarter projects resurrecting and/or creating new cRPG games in old school way. And if you are new to RPG than what are you waiting for, gather your party and move…………………

Half-Life – A tribute

No. It’s not that I am having self-realization of lived through whole of my life with ever-approaching old age and now getting into that “past tense” mode where you always want to compare current events against old beautiful and majestic moments; Keep cussing the present and wallowing in “those beautiful days”. This is not my trait though. Daily 2 to 3 hours commuting via ever increasing dominant traffic provides that time leverage in which my subconscious could breed ideas for blogging. I was always looking forward to pay tributes to active agents which had drastically changed the “chemical equation and interactions” of my life; converting, transforming and in some way attributing something utterly different to final result what could have been straight forward “simple life”. Like lead to gold conversion, these agents had power to imbue my life substance with forever gloving, unique and never to be forgotten memories which needs a bit of spit and polish and there they shine again like a gem in the gold.

Half-life is one of the many gems. If there was no Half-life, I would have never became gamer (I can hear people passing the sneer as that would have been quite better :). Half-life has injected me with the gaming-drug whose effects were never going to be receded over time. What was so good about it? I can rant memoir justified via book and not via single article as answer, but I would like to restrict this blog particularly to my own views and perceptions which made Half-life special to me. You can find a lot about Half-life on the web as lot has been written and bragged about it, proving how great leap it was in terms of computer gaming.

Introductory text crawling in and out of the screen along with moving metro-coach like contraption; slowly sliding along the rails, giving glimpses of claustrophobic dim-lit underground lab facility to vast open and altogether bizarre experiments. My cut-scene conditioned mind was never ready to grasp the in-game carefully crafted game-engine driven story telling. I still remember the surprise when by mistake I pressed movement keys to check if something was going on and my all-time favorite FPS protagonist: Gordon Freeman was moved in coach’s confined space without any resistance from game-design. And that was the most prolific point of Half-life in that era. You were never out of the game. All those story driven cut-scenes were played out in front of you without making you a mock spectator; everything in first person perspective. Even after so many years million CoD games had not able to create such easy control. It was never forced.

90s was era of FPS gaming where such take on story was absent. You start the game and start killing whatever moves. Another surprise (And Half-life was packed with such surprises) was that you start the game with nothing. In those days, few of my friends along with me were utterly confused with what to do once we finished off with that “long driving sequence”. My mind was also conditioned not to listen to babble of NPCs in FPS as it didn’t mean anything in terms of playing and also I was not much into English at that time due to study in regional language and having English as minor language (Remember, it was era without commercial internet and almost 10 years more to start the economical smartphone uprising). All those tumbles acted as fuel to curiosity towards playing Half-life and also raised awareness to great Gaming world.

“Freeman, we don’t know how much time this will take…..”  How could I forget these lines!!!!?? It could have been eternity, If Freeman would have not chosen to drag that trolley and perform the experiment. And that’s where Half-Life shines like sun, I spent almost 20-30 minutes jumping, observing, falling (from ladder) and listening to continuous babble of scientific talk till my curiosity ran out. At last I dragged the trolley to desired destination causing the rift (Resonance Cascade in Half-Life terms) which was going to result in more than half of my life’s commitment towards Gaming. Pure chaos, ducking through bone-cutting lasers, first headcrab appearance without any weapon and of course the crowbar. These were the defining moments which had haunted the nights of many at that time (And still doing it).

Talking about haunted memories, Half-life must be the only game which has succeeded to shit my pants in broad daylight (even current lot of survival horror titles are not up to this mark). Ok, I accept that I was not grown enough at that time as compared to now but still fear instilled by half-life was potent enough to anyone who is just foraging their way through digital entertainment to make them paralyze and cower away from computer terminal in sheer horror. Among couple of moments I can think of, first was definitely The Tentacle Beast. I was so afraid of it that at first I tried to finish it off within off-limits to the beast, expending all my ammunition even though I knew it was never going to work out and there had to be different way. I was so stressed out not to twitch my mouse while silently skulking around that beast so that it would accidently not turn Freeman to see the beast. And ladders, I was never ever afraid these much while climbing up and down the ladders during presence of the beast. With the beast breathing at your neck (yes, you can feel dampness and hotness caressing your neck), missing single rung on the ladder would be instant death. Even with multiple deaths and handy quick save, fear was relentless. I will always be afraid of Tentacle Beast.

Other most paralyzing and brutal on my nerves encounter was Gonarch’s Lair. As if surrounding was not gross enough to scare me, mere glimpse of that mother of all headcrab had literally covered me all over with Goosebumps size of a chickenpox. I still remember putting down keyboard and mouse with dread and fear not to face that abysmal and most grotesque creation I have ever encountered. I really would have chosen Gonarch over Nihilanth as last boss battle. (There is one Half-life mode where developers/modders just gone extreme level sick by putting Gonarch to confined, darkness shrouded space in some crazy spaceship. It literally took few days for me to gather courage and check out the source of guttural sound coming from deep, pitch darkness.). Moments like the frightening fish-thing in the pond and the cage dangling above it with most powerful weapon. Half-life has this peculiar vision of making you afraid with unknown and then to empower you to face it. Make you learn that only way to overcome something frightful is to face it and fight it head on.

Brilliant fusion of level design along with meaningful puzzles, all out firefights, layered storytelling, loyal mod support, countless popular spin-offs such as Counter-strike and opposing force and that mysterious G-man; all these things make me so devote fan of Half-life that I took up challenge to playing anything which has Half-life in the title or based on half-life universe (I tried to finish as many modes based on half-life as possible along with current brilliant tribute Black mesa which is Half-life revised on Half-life 2 engine).  Even considering the fact that Half-life follow up by Valve i.e. Half-life 2 and episodes 1 & 2 are improved and brilliant experience on themselves, playing Half-life is by far unique experience which is impossible to replicate.

PS : Today Half-life developer Valve is known for its extensive QA testing for immerse user experience conducted with various player and non-player game-play events held in close observation of QA executives to know the first-hand player experience. Even Half-life was their first brain child, they didn’t cut any loose in terms of QA department. Very well-known finite state machine based dumbed-down AI has played its part in terms of immersion like none other. Very simple idea consists of command matrix or states with number or weight attached to them. Commands consists of something like Attack-Reload-take cover-asking for backup and so on. At any moment, simple AI logic will control that not more than attached threshold value to particular state should be crossed in terms of number of opponents. So let’s say threshold value of Attack is 2 than, if more than 2 commandos start attacking player, one will transition to next state of reload. Also each state has time limit so that all opponents keep themselves transitioned regularly to different states. Best part of it was that AI was easy to implement without any brutal difficulty curve for player along with believable state transition which will never result in breaking the immersion. (Anyhow Half-life was going to impress me in terms of AI with release of HL2 where they came up with one of the best companion AI ever to grace gaming community in the name of Alyx Vance. Elizabeth of Bioshock Infinite was also notable mention but Alyx was my first love :).

PS 2: One more reason why I love half-life so much and hence Gordon Freeman is that Freeman never projected as some bad-ass killer machine. He is material physics scientist. Never meant to be hero saving the world. Even after two excursions of saving the world, I always feel like he is not fighting but surviving, saving only his skin and as a result winning the whole world and also millions of hearts of gaming community.

Istanbul – Where east meets west

“The best way to appreciate your life is to examine it from others point of view“.

I realized truthfulness of above statement during my stay in Basel, having lunch with one of my colleague in very beautiful courtyard of Europe’s top Pharmacy Company’s campus in cold march of Switzerland. He just wanted to know whether that was my first visit outside India. Reply to that question has worked for me as self-realization which was never been considered with such attention before by me.

“No. I have been to Hamburg long time back and then to Istanbul for a month just a while back before coming to Switzerland”. That was my self-awaking answer which was positively opinion-ed by my colleague saying “Wow…… You have been to some great places in the world”.

From long time I tried to pen down my travel assays-cum-logs-cum-ramblings to something proper without getting good start each of the time. My Istanbul visit got its start with above incident. Even though I was only for a month in one of the most happening tourist city of world, I stole few weekends to visit well-known historical places and get the feel of this unique, one-of-the-kind city of Turkey.

In a psychological word game where you have to come up instantly with word, “City of minarets and domes dominating the skyline with rich tapestry of history imbued in each nooks and cranny” could be my answer to “Istanbul” (I know this is long answer which is not suitable for psychological mind mapping. I prefer Rorschach test instead :). Istanbul has unique blending of east and west. It is by no means considered as conservative which could be the first impression on anybody considering Ottoman’s dominion and influence over the history. You can see swarm of people following the east and west tradition (of mind as well as also in terms of clothes) seamlessly without any conflict or struggle.

Bosphorus Bay
Bosphorus Bay

Though city is divided by Bosphorus bay with old town separated with new high-rise clad Europe influenced side of the city, all the tourist attractions are cramped up in Old part of the city. Getting to this part, especially to Sultanahmet where all the historical attractions milling together, reachable via short walks, is itself comprises wonderful journey across Bosphorus with the help of the ferry. On a tourist-heavy day Sultanahmet could compete with Indian “Bazaars”, full of people with rows and rows of shops flagging their biggest attractive products along with small eatery stalls littered around. Opposing to this, there is a wide area decorated as park with fountains and all greenery between and around famous Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.

Dividing Old and New

That leads us to major attractions of Istanbul. You need to have historical affinity to appreciate the importance of Istanbul as visiting attraction. All these attractions carry the abundant amount of historical importance and events on their massively built structural beauty. Hagia Sophia with breathtaking massive dome inscribed with variety artistic depiction of two major religions of world; gigantic interior space adorned with mosaic and symbolism will draw you to utterly time-less experience.

Blue Mosque

Blue mosque with its six impressive and dominating minarets will leave lasting impression on your mind. Topkapi Palace, Basilica cistern, Taksim Square, Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower and lot other attractions force to have ample planning and time to do proper justice to Istanbul as a tourist place.

Hagia Sophia

Apart from the obvious, just roaming in the old gullies of Istanbul is once-in-a-lifetime experience itself. Aroma of various Turkish çay (Turkish Tea) mingling with various spice and sweet shops smells, sweet shops with large variety of sweets; covering large shades of green and yellow will have instant mouth-watering effect to passersby , display of antiquities and rugs and kilims, Turkish Döner shops providing economical eating options, small corn stalls wafting sweet, sour trails of smoke, these all tends to create a picture which can only be framed with label as Istanbul.

A special mention to Turkish coffee (Only for caffeine aficionados) is required before wrapping up the article. Before tasting Turkish coffee, I was having impressions that nothing can beat strong black coffee in fighting drowsiness (double shot espresso),but so wrong I was. Turkish coffee came in small cup (like you are going to take tequila shot). The thick tar competent sluggish liquid never lose battle against multiple levels of sugar sachet (I suggest not have sugar at all). It is pure caffeine shot, like injecting caffeine through IV tube. Pure bless for coffee lovers. Great instant slap-in-the-face wake up call. Another famous eating “souvenirs” are sweets like Turkish delights and Baklava.

WP_20130929_034Each city has its own travelling importance, own culture, habits, history, architectures, sometimes unique skylines, natural influence and many more. From travelers point of view no place in this world is less visit able than other. But still some city gain much popularity than others due to sheer number of attractions and experiences to have. Istanbul is such city, never-failing to amuse or surpass the Tourist expectations.

Mysterious Medusa pillars in “Sunken Palace”