Anybody who dabbles in my hobbies knows that I love to play EDH, also known as Elder Dragon Highlander, also known as Commander, also known as a multiplayer nerd-fest. For those of you who don’t, EDH is a 100-card format of Magic the Gathering. You select a legendary creature who is your “general” and build your deck around him or her. But before I go in too deep, I’m going to veer off into the main topic of today’s posting: swagger. More than any other format (well, maybe not more than Vintage), EDH is a prime place for making your decks look pretty. This means you’ll see tons of foiling and tons of alterations. Beyond that, you’ll see a select few people that have gone beyond just the magical cards and begun to delve into beautifying the peripherals – mats, dice, and dice bags.

Most people settle for a standard d20 or perhaps a notepad and a pen. But for us vain people, check it out:

The Elder Dragon Vault. This baby cost me a pretty hefty $15, considering it's basically just cardboard will a nice finish. However, it is perfectly sized, allows you to carry three decks, and also has a holster for dice! The colors are very vibrant and the text is in gold foil. Overall, it's very class and convenient. I'd say it's worth it!

Take a peek inside! Impressive space, die cuts so you can easily grab your decks, and decorations instead of the plain brown cardboard innards that you usually see.

This has got to be the best dice bag on earth. It's durable, great choice of fabrics, reversible, and stands with a flat bottom! If you want to buy one dice bag in your lifetime, I recommend buying one from here, cause it'll last you a long time. It's slightly more expensive than your average bag, but I guarantee that you'll be pleased to have one.

To order one of these, look up marsbarn on Etsy.com!

Lastly, I want to talk about these magnificent dice. You can buy them on Amazon or eBay, but they originate from Q-Workshop. There's tons of different themed dice; pictured above are Elven (Red/Black) and Earthdawn (Beige). They're very classy if you're looking for an upgrade from Chessex (which are fine too).

So yea, this post was just some silly stuff about my hobbies. I haven’t had much extra time as it’s my final quarter. I promise to do an entire post on my graduation process though. Until then!

>> Graduating in a month! Forever!

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I was excited to play this game, honest. I never delved into Awakening because of poor peer reviews, so I basically went an entire year without my Dragon Age fix. This past Tuesday, I ended the streak by bringing my sword swinging heroine to glory through the turmoil of Kirkwall. It was a great but not flawless experience; while gameplay greatly evolved, the motivation and story was slightly hollow.

Please note that possible spoilers are involved, so read at your own discretion!

The Good

The game has been polished. The interface is much easier to follow and the general flow of the talent trees just makes more sense. Combat has been streamlined a bit, but it is definitely a welcome change from the fact that you don’t have access to your core abilities early on in Origins. In this game, you can reach your more important abilities early-mid game so that you can become accustomed to how your party works. Speaking of parties, the tactics book has become much more advanced and your teammates are much more responsible this time around! Cross-class combos allow for some interesting team compositions, instead of just mashing mages together and spamming overpowered spells (though mages are still the top class right now, ironically). Movement is more fluid, allowing AoE dodging and trap evading to be a less cumbersome task; kiting is highly encouraged! While people may argue that this detracts from the “difficulty” of the original, I must say that I don’t mind the changes as much as other people are complaining about it. If you turn the game on Hard or Nightmare, it’s still as challenging as it was before.

Story-wise, we’re tossed back into a Mage/Templar battle. The choices this time, however, are extremely gray. What I mean is that there’s really no right or wrong choice, and it becomes extremely apparent by the time you finish the game. When it came down to it, I actually had a few tough decisions to make, and the gravity of the situation was much more grand and would affect the game in a more profound way than in Origins.

The Bad

Where do I start? I’ll begin with some peeves. They reused levels over and over again, and since you stay in Kirkwall for the entire duration of all three acts, it’s easy to grow tired of traversing the exact same tunnels for virtually unrelated quests. Your party is now less customizable, meaning you can’t give them body armor, only accessories and a weapon. I see this is both good and bad – they didn’t want your companions looking like clowns, so they would upgrade their armor for you. It bugged me at first, but towards the end I really didn’t care all that much anymore. I guess it was silly to put Morrigan in plate anyways. Quests are very hollow, meaning that they’re often treadmill, leading you to random killings for coin. In fact, the entire first act is you raising enough money to enter the Deep Roads, so you end up taking a bunch of odd jobs just to get that done. Lame. Less character interactions now – you can’t just talk your way into friendships, you have to complete their friendship quest lines.

The story felt hollow. Events unfold and are tied together rather loosely by the end. Unlike Origins, I found myself not really caring most of the time, especially for the characters. I admit there were one or two very shocking moments, but for the most part the pieces of the story felt disconnected and irrelevant. While we get a few familiar faces, like Anders, Isabela, and even Zevren, the newer cast is far less lovable and deprived of any wit. I loved listening to Morrigan, Alistair, Ogrehn, and Wynne banter as I strode through town – the atmosphere just isn’t the same this time around. The ending was epic, but disappointing in a way once you realize that whichever path you took would lead to the same final result. It was also very abrupt and on a “cliffhanger”, so you can bet on DLC in the next few months to cover some plotholes. Doh.

Overall

The honest truth is that Dragon Age II is still a very good game. It’s polished, neat, and while slightly hollow, will deliver the DA fix. If it wasn’t so constantly compared to the original, I’m sure most people would love this game.  I’d say definitely buy it when it goes on sale. Might not be worth the $60 if you’re not dying to play Dragon Age again, or were turned off by the demo, but I certainly think it was well worth my time.

Other Thoughts – An Advertising Perspective

One thing that I will commend BioWare on is their rather smart approach to social media advertisement. Because BioWare accounts are linked to your e-mail address, they’ve managed to turn Facebook “likes” and registering for news sites promoting Dragon Age II into in-game rewards! This not only encourages more people to hop on the wagon, but constantly feeds news to potential customers. While I personally still think that this isn’t even close to tapping into the full potential of social media, it is definitely a very, very strong start. Kudos, BioWare marketing team.

Lastly, I’m going to close this out with some screenshots. I love me some DA pausing action 😀

 

My sword-slinging heroine - Champion Augusta Hawke.

A closer look.

Dragon slaying redux!

The grand city of Kirkwall.

Fighting Darth Meredith.

Insane!

 

>> Finals week coming soon. Been busting my ass trying to figure this stuff out!


The third installment of  the childhood fighting game series that my entire generation grew up with came out on Tuesday. I was lucky enough to find a store that broke the street date, so I had mine since Saturday, allowing me to experiment a tad early. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted my team to look like,  a traditional keep away composition revolving around Dormammu and assists that would help keep my opponents either pinned or off of me. However, the more I played and the more I watched, I quickly realized that keep away is not the dominant strategy of the game. Thanks to high stamina, high damage rushdown characters (some with teleports) and the increased damage intake modifier on assists, meant that the old days of traditional full-screen zoning would be much harder to apply in practice. This isn’t to say that full-screen keep away strategies are invalid, but they’re much more difficult to perform and fairly easy to punish now because beam specials (ie. Magneto’s EM Disruptor assist) can often times absorb or trade with weaker projectiles and now cause knockdown, giving your point character a much more viable way to approach these types of team setups. This isn’t even pointing out popular teleport characters, like Wesker and Dante, that can easily punish any special with recovery. The lack of strong invincible AA assists does not help the cause, and thus zoning becomes a difficult task. But before I go off talking about how I think a pure keep away team is a lost art, this post is to mainly comment on how many bad team compositions I see people have, characters thrown together with terrible reasonings, such as “to provide a bit more offense”. What does that even mean? Tell me, in specific, how this character is going to do exactly that! And if you mean by utilizing the character alone, I’m afraid that character isn’t going to make the cut. This iteration of the Marvel vs Capcom series, and arguably the second as well, has a great emphasis on team choice over individual character choice. This said, it is extremely important to keep the capabilities, composition, and order of your MvC3 team in mind, cause frankly, some people just don’t quite get it.

So what then, constitutes a strong MvC3 team? There are tons of factors, and the ones with the most or the ones that are brutally good at the factors they excel in, are often the ones that do the best. You should think about these key elements in characters when building your MvC3 team:

DHC-ability: Can your characters easily transition between each others’ supers? Often times, a single BnB leading into back-to-back supers can easily kill a character, especially if X-Factor is involved. Since this game has a very great emphasis on BnBs that lead into high-damaging supers, chaining those supers, and incorporating X-Factor into those supers, I would rate DHC-ability fairly high. Also note that this affects the order of your characters. It might also be important to note the ability to DHC into extended chip damage to finish characters off – but I’ll talk about that a bit further down.

Assist Options: Probably the most obvious, but also much more important than ever. Note that assists aren’t just there to cover your rushdown or zoning, they often have a very important purpose to your team. For example, last night Justin Wong used Wolverine with Akuma’s hurricane kick assists, allowing him to OTG his opponents into extended combos or resets. Not only does this increase your meterless combo damage and meter building, you can opt to not OTG and use the blockstun from Akuma’s kicks to go for mixups. Keep in mind all the possibilities of your team: does character A only work with character B? Or does character A worth with both B and C? Does character B do the same? While it may not always be possible to have the perfect combination, it’s worth noting the possibilities instead of mindlessly picking the “AA” assist. If your team has the ability to take advantage of OTGs or unblockables with a low assist, make sure to incorporate it as part of your game! Also, stop thinking about MvC2! Beam specials are now amazing!

Dealing with Pushblock: This is a bit early, I think, but Wong proved to us last night the power of closing space with wave dashing. Characters that can wave dash have a huge advantage over those that don’t, especially when you’re trying to encroach on a character that you know has worse normals than your current one. If you have a team that’s very rushdown oriented, be sure to keep this in mind. Utilizing lockdown assists, like Chun-Li, allow for an even greater advantage, as your opponents will be unable to pushblock while under assist blockstun.

Supers that Deal Chip: I personally think that chip will become much more relevant once we reach a higher level of play. In the current state of things, people aren’t used to the strength of each character and will often misjudge (or just straight up not block) their attacks. The best supers for chipping are the ones that hit from full screen and have good startup, ie. Storm’s Hail Storm or Trish’s Round Harvest.

Anchor / Comeback Ability: X-Factor is the name of the game. We have all been witnesses to single character comebacks against two, or sometimes even three, opposing characters! Often times, you want a character that has strong meter usage, as you’ll need to take out opposing characters with needing as few connects as possible. Sentinel has been the greatest asset (or terror) thus far, and is notorious for his ability to turn the tables. Level 3 XFC Sentinel can easily kill characters with one combo, making him one of the most dangerous characters in the game. On the other hand, there are characters like Phoenix, who has been explored by some but not yet fully developed, who thrives on her ability to be the ultimate anchor character. It’ll be interesting to see which other characters end up falling into this category (I think I see Morrigan possibly ending up here) in the coming months.

These are what I think, players should be focusing on building right now and seeing where the strongest ties between characters are (especially in the first two points) instead of just focusing on individual strengths or tier lists. As Wong said in his interview last night (and I’m paraphrasing this), be creative. The game is young, stop shackling yourselves into what people overhype as “good”, and come up with “good” yourself. There are untapped characters that I think have great potential, so I hope we’ll see some more experimentation. For those curious, I think I’ve already broken the law of “playing the most generic teams ever”, but I honestly like the comps I have now and they’ve met several of the requirements I talk about above.

Dead (C) / Dante (A) / Sent (A) - contrary to what I said before, I have a strong setup that builds on top of Deadpool. The reason why I think Deadpool might stick around as a zoning character is that he has mobility on his side with some great hitbox properties on things like his ground dash. This team has great DHC-ability and can switch modes between hyper-aggressive and hyper-defensive fairly quickly, with both Deadpool AND Dante.

Trish (A) / Dante (A) / Sent (A) - I haven't played this team much yet, and I'm not even sure if Trish is the right fit, but she does have some decent zoning capabilities, a great chipping super, and a projectile assist that comes out very quickly to put people in blockstun for Dante. She's a great battery on point and her Round Harvest super allows for some interesting setups with Devil Trigger. Sentinel finds its way onto both teams because he provides an invaluable cover assist and serves as, currently, still the most reliable anchor character.

So that’s that. Of course, I have to put a disclaimer here stating that I’m not some guru of the game. I would however, take some of these observations into consideration, especially about how Wong was talking about being creative. Just look at how he uses Wolverine and Akuma, or Spiderman and Wesker (for unblockables). I think he was out to show everyone that Sentinel is NOT the only option.

>> Been sick all week. Sucks.


I had this discussion with my sister a little while back, but the topic just dawned upon me again earlier today.

How big of a difference did higher education make on my life?

While it would be hard for me not to make a fool out of myself by saying this, I want to admit that I walked out of high school thinking pretty highly about my abilities at the design craft. But the actuality was that I hadn’t seen enough and hadn’t known enough. I was, quite frankly, blind. Ignorant. Dumb, even. I still remember the first few “portfolios” I sent out to internship opportunities towards the end of high school – what a joke! Not only was I bad, but I had no knowledge of the rules or even the game itself. I hadn’t even the very fundamental necessities of the Principles of Design, taught to me during my very first college term. With this in mind, I asked my sister, who currently attends the same art high school that I did, if she had ever gone over these principles in any of her classes. The answer was no. I thought so. To me, it is almost sin not to reinforce these ideals very early on in an artist’s career. The lack of nurturing in this category left a huge blind spot in my design sensibilities. I get that my old high school had a great focus on the fine arts, but the design principles are largely universal and can be applied to anything, from fashion all the way to architecture. Sure there are exceptions, like artists with natural-born talent or “the eye”; but the bottom line is that even they, subconsciously, follow a latent formula that can be, and has been, broken down to a mathematical science. Last week, Michael Hanson, the infamous bad ass teacher of our school, gave us two short lectures, one on the principles of color theory and another on the Fibonacci spiral, during our Graphic Design History class. My mind was blown for a bit – all the formulas made complete and absolute sense. Furthermore, he went back through the lecture and pointed these out, case by case; all of the mentioned principles had been applied to age-old (and famous) art work. The one quote that Hanson gave to me and has adhered to my subconscious all these years is as follows:

“You can’t break the rules if you don’t know them.”

The honest truth of great art is that it breaks rules. However, I will oftentimes see artists try and go for the easy route by choosing a style that is more convenient to execute or less intensive, resulting in a half-assed product that manages not to appropriate, but transmogrify instead. If you don’t understand the roots of the style you appropriate, then your work becomes nothing but a mockery. Only through knowledge can you take what you see and apply it thoughtfully. This is what college has taught me: knowledge really is king. And thus I’ve found myself, more recently, hungry for knowledge, culture, and a deeper understanding to give my work a level of depth previously unexplored. Know the fundamentals, apply the fundamentals, then break them. Follow them and let them guide you, but do not be bound by them. So yes, college taught me tons of things. Get learnt.

Now, for some completely off-topic pictures !

Jay Chou

Jay Chou in Hip-Hop Stewardess (嘻哈空姐) - I've been back on a Jay Chou thing recently. His music is honestly just so-so, but I like a lot of his slow songs. It's funny that Chinese artists often take the successful formulas of America (including auto tuning lol) and bring them to the more conservative eastern culture. I'm really waiting for the day that the Chinese come up with their own style, especially in graphic design. It'll be groundbreaking, I hope.

Yi Yi

Yi Yi (一一) - Since I've recently been on a Chinese culture spree, I watched this movie and was pleasantly surprised. It definitely made my top 5 movies of all time. Yi Yi finds the profoundness of human experiences through a very captivating narrative. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Venom Action!

Venom (GGXXAC) - As drawn by my good friend Cory Tran (and colored by me). If you guys want to check out his web comic, head over to planet-land.com and check out Chaos Sword!

Bryant-Melo

Last but not least, LA enters the talks of the Carmelo Anthony trade. Will it even be a possibility? And even if it was, is it a good idea? Many questions, though John Ireland believes it'll all be answered before the week is over. Strike while the iron is hot!


dreams inspire

07Feb11

So since I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying to figure out WordPress and beautifying my blog template, I figured I’d celebrate with another post. I guess I just wanted to say why I felt so suddenly compelled to create a blog after six months sober from writing. Every once in a while I am treated to a dream that’s inspiring or heartwarming. These kinds of dreams are the ones that oftentimes reveal latent feelings of love, or bring me a pleasant vision from the past. Well, last night I had a pleasant dream about falling in love with an old acquaintance. I won’t mention the name cause that would be retarded, but it was really sweet and I almost got laid. I actually woke up before we got down and dirty because I was waiting in line to buy a pack of condoms and it was taking forever. Sigh. Either way, I love telling these stupid stories to anyone willing to listen, and often wrote the same kind of stuff in my old blog. TLDR: What I am saying is that I can basically attribute the birth of this site to a dream about me almost getting laid. Here’s some awesome Mirrodin Besieged art to celebrate:

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas - Our good friend Aleksi always manages to bring out the best in Magic the Gathering artwork. His style really has become one of the defining leaders of the entire fantasy genre industry.

Corrupted Conscience

Corrupted Conscience - It's worthy to note a few other artists that have risen to fame in more recent years, thanks to MTG. Jason Chan (above) is one of these artists and has created a plethora of famous work, including Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Spiraling Duelist

Spiraling Duelist - It makes me sad to know that this card will never be constructed worthy but has such awesome art. Hats off to Karl Kopinski for this beautiful piece.

Mirrodin Besieged

I couldn't resist - Aleksi you break my heart.

That’s about it for today. I’ll probably be posting in this blog semi-frequently, as in twice a week or as many times as I see things that interest me. For those of you who are new to my blogging, you can expect to see just about anything and everything pertaining to me, oftentimes stained by dark humor and an attempt at wit. I should also probably do a little random tidbit stuff at the end of all my posts to keep people up to date, so I’ll start that tradition with this post!

>> Mid terms are this week, including Hanson’s infamous Graphic Design History class. Whatevers – I got it in the bag. > I managed to beat my good friend Chris Tolar (mutedequilibrium) in the MTGS EDH tournament. Good shit! > Marvel versus Capcom 3 should be coming out next week I believe – get hype. > I really want to eat loco moco right now. >>


new beginnings

06Feb11

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything in my old blog, Vanilla Salt. I had originally halted the verbal vomit because I had a difficult school quarter, one that caused me to stop writing entirely in favor of sleep-depriving projects. Nearly six months later I find myself missing the chance to express my inner voice, so I decided to come back again. This time, more insight, more mature, and the same amount of profanity. And to honor my first post, would what be more fitting than a Guts bust from Winter Festival? Check out the sculpting on this sucker – I think the likeness is superb, better than most that I’ve seen!

Guts_Bust

Guts (Berserk), Winter Festival 2011, Japan

It’s going to be a crazy five months coming up. I’m excited and scared at the same time – a sure sign of great changes and amazing experiences ahead. I plan to document all of this right here in my new and refreshed blog. For those of you interested in seeing my old stuff, you can still see the archived posts at banirasoruto.blogspot.com. Also, I do realize that a lot of people looked forward to my updated banners, but I won’t be doing that anymore. This blog is going to be content-centric; that and I like the simplicity.

Ok maybe I’m just lazy.