Thursday, December 13, 2007

Of Worms...

Killing cannot be a sport but "bumping" someone off can be addictive. The fun of blasting the enemy off with a holy hand-grenade or the extremely pleasing prospect of insulting the enemy by merely pushing him off a ledge in the water, allowing him to swim like a brick can give an enslaving high.

Gaming was never an obsession for me until I encountered the worms series. As always, I saw it late enough to say that I wish I had seen it from its very first versions. I first played a demo version of 'Worms: Armageddon' It was unlike anything I had seen so far - starting at its turn-based nature. It was a new concept, a new genre to me. The playable characters - the worms were like typical worms in their movement and jumping (even swimming) abilities, but they were different in other ways - their eyes, clothes and arsenal of weapons were not so worm-like or even humanoid-like. It was that crazy idea from someone in Team 17 that just worked. and how!The first DOS based Worms game brought in that new concept - turn based strategy warfare in a full destructible island map, with an arsenal of weapons - ranging from the usual shotguns, grenades and bazookas to homing missiles, kamikaze worms and even insane exploding sheep. The deal was to bump off all of your enemy's worms and at the same time save yours in your turn time. It was an instant hit and within a year, an expansion pack - worms reinforcements was out, followed by a Director's Cut edition that brought in more bigger/crazier guns and more maps and editors.
The second generation of worms focussed on its inherent comic nature, with a more cartoon look to the entire game, pink cute worms and comment boxes, more crazy weapons, watery graves and explosive (or lung-bursting) results. The graphics were really cool and the voice effects added to the charm. The worms ranged from shy mumblers to full fledged alien motormouths that kept insisting that their kills were personal. Armageddon and World party came out later with more enhancements, sheep and multiplayer support. Added weapons now included prion-infected mad cows, super sheeps (that could fly and even snorkel underwater!) and some most unfortunate old women. As in most games, multiplayer gaming was the real element of worms. The addictive fun of delivering a fire punch to your pals and knocking them into the next world or ushering their early ascension with a bouncy banana bomb pitched it out for Worms.
Worms 3D - the next edition was a blast! It had added new dimensions and not just in graphical display. The gameplay had changed to suit its 3D nature but there were also new weapons. Newer strategies were needed to get the enemy and the weapons had a different catch. A first person shooting ability made it a lot more appealing. But it still felt like a prototype. Some controls were buggy. Land pixels were cubes that showed that the graphics were good but not smooth enough. Worms 4: Mayhem made up for all of that. It had all of 3D's excellence and made additions in the controls and the graphics department. Maps were also a lot bigger than before and drowning the worms wasn't as easy as it was in 3D (there were complaints that the worms seemed to be drowning all the. New, more deranged weapons included the inflatable scouser that did exactly what the name says - it releases a scouser who walks upto your enemy (can be controlled) and inflates into a sort of balloon with the enemy inside and moves with the wind for about 10 seconds. A good wind could see the enemy far out at sea just to drop in for a swim to heaven (though the worms now preferred to just float on the surface and burst their way out of the world instead of glugging their way to the bottom and complaining about how they're supposed to be the superior bunch here).The spinoffs - worms blast and pinball were a fine addition to the games and so was the forts edition which included building forts, factories and science labs in the 3D edition adding to the strategy involved in the games.

Worms has created the genre of comedy in computer games and has still succeeded in making sure that the gamer takes it seriously enough to spend sleepless nights on. The idea of a bunch of soft and cute worms that were serious about killing each other with the same weapons from the typical first person shooter and more, enthralls. Not loving it would be a court-marshal offense soldier!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Weigh it...

The average description of the average libran would start with "balanced". Probably because of the scales, I'm guessing. But most often than not, the average libran does not have a totally balanced way of looking at everything. He/She does not stay in control and equilibrium and is not the person one would want around to solve an issue by balancing matters, or to give a totally unbiased opinion. However he/she'd be the perfect person to ask for a well thought and backed opinion (however skewed it may be).

The point to be driven is that a libran is a confused person in a lot of internal turmoil. He(assume the /she from here on please) breaks his head over non-issues and petty matters to achieve a well-balanced opinion on it. He seeks that equilibrium state but most often is in only a trying-to-get-there position. And his growing turmoil spills all around, irritating most around him; the people around do manage to see that he's not normal but they fail to understand his conflicts and associated trauma. A libran is not a calm or composed person by nature. He does of course, feel at some points that he's got the solution to his problem in hand and a well-weighed perspective on the matter - at which time he'd be serene (or so he thinks). He now has enough reason to battle out his policy with the universe. But the rest of the world does not see this as a tranquil state; it is a state of unbearably heavy stubbornness and a stone-like coldness to other opinions - an indifference that is not well-liked.

However, all the above non-positives and positives (as the relative case may be) are supposedly neutralized by what is called the libran charm - which we will not make any ground on.

We will observe some of my personal confusions and conflicts (that be a joy. To me).

I am a person of south Indian origin but my current (and past!) memory starts only from the age of 4, an age where I had already been in Bombay for some years. The cosmopolitan really helped me grew - in awareness of variant lifestyles and cultures, at the same time allowed me retain my south Indian roots; I could at least speak my mother tongue and know of some practices. But, naturally, I was different from the average south Indian. I wasn't aware of south Indian movies (a major culture drive factor in my opinion) nor was I fully aware of how it is to live like one. In strict senses (and some less strict ones as well), I was not south Indian. But at the same time, I was not a total...anything else (there is a lot more outside south India than just the so-called stereotype "north Indian"!). I was not a full Bombay person either. I was unacceptable in most circles - there was always a certain rule that I could never live up to.

I moved to Chennai for my undergrad. Chennai was supposedly my native place - where I had great fun over vacation trips. Naturally I had a great opinion of Chennai when I first arrived. Only, to my dismay, vacation trips and living were two entirely different things. The Chennai I had seen in the past was limited - to my relatives, a few sight-seeing spots and some miscellaneous others. This time it was plain culture shock. I was moving around with people from a different plane, lifestyle, mindset, and other related parameters. It wasn't fun anymore.

But as is every other college experience, this one was...important. I did open my windows to Chennai (to a fair degree at least) and took what I could from it. In other words, I continued (tried), involuntarily, the libran balance-act.

Was this entirely circumstantial? Would anyone else in my shoes feel the same? Probably. But I had conflicts in a lot of other areas too. I was unable to meet the norms back in Bombay as well and that seems to be a life equation (or non-equation!) now. I was not entirely religious but I wasn't a non-believer too. I had my personal practices. I was short-tempered, but not short enough to become THE guy. I like my subjects and have a lot of motivation towards them, but I'm not totally passionate - given a choice, I would probably still read comics for a living (for a sustainable income and medical plan of course). I was(am) not a total good boy, but I am not bad either. I love music and sing and play with a frenetic enthusiasm but I am nowhere near the best one in my house even! I am computer savvy; I use it for a lot of my purposes and can take it apart and put it together, troubleshoot and understand its working. But I cannot write even a print program in any language to save my life! I am not chauvinist and I do respect women, but I do not respect all of their talk and deed just because of the latters' origin. I like a clean house and I do work to keep it that way (at least now!) but it is still not strikingly clean! I do not like to spend a lot of money but I am no thrift worm either! I do not like to get on the wrong side of people and do try to help such situations but I am not a diplomat either! I am not a stereotype person but at the same time I am not driven too much off the average in any direction! I cut the examples here and conclude on them that this brings a lot of confusion and turmoil in my life. But I love living with them.

I will not patronize on how I deal with them (I don't know how I do it myself but I know that I love it like this!) but it probably has something to do with acceptance and subscription to Gandhian thought (but I still like Metallica and rebellious dialogue! - if that can make a striking conflict...sort of...!). And my zodiac persona (I believe in the Zodiac but not entirely!), I guess, helps my take parts of each trait, put them together and make a formative picture - a structure that allows me to rationalize through the chaos. Or is it something else...? I debate...

- A stereotype yet off-center libran

Monday, November 05, 2007

Of Tolkein's realm...

Elen síla lumenn' omentielvo!
(A star shines upon the hour of our meeting!)
Imagination is a talent of which Tolkien had achieved beyond mastery. How would one have thought that a simple tale of a small halfling who had an unexpected tea party would have unfolded (and still unfolding!) into an entire universe of breathtaking detail - with even languages, and lineages and creation and evolution! Tolkien's wizardry (for that indeed it can be called) is still in the process of being understood - as descendants, researchers, purists and fans are doing their best to understand his middle earth and the other realms of that world.

I was, but a boy of eleven, when I first read The Hobbit. It was a simple tale of a short, stocky and content fellow - who suddenly found a bunch of dwarves walk into his house under the instruction of a troublesome, tall, Grey-cloaked old man with a tall staff - and then ended up in an adventurous trip from home to far west and back again. It was surprising - how a small little "thief" like him could evade goblins and curious mountain creatures, slay spiders and even muster a straight conversation with the dreaded Smaug (the Magnificent). He returned rich - not just with experience, tales, songs and friends but also with gifts from the dwarves - gold and more, a mail of moria silver and a helm to go with it, a fine blade of elvish make and a number of other small items....including a simple round ring of invisibility that he found on an encounter of riddles with a curious creature that called itself "my precious" and make a horrible swallowing noise that gave it its name. He made a rich account of his travel - There and back again - and the settled down and lived happily ever after. I shut the book with a smile and went on with life...a nice read it was...I liked it...

But there was more to it than met the eye...

In my early teen years, I stumbled upon a book - The Lord of the Rings. Catchy title, I thought. What was more - it was a Tolkien story. Hoping to relive the simple pleasure of that adventure from the eyes of a small hobbit (There And Back Again), I started reading it. The first page surprised me. This book was starting again, where the Hobbit had stopped - I was taken... The first chapter came with elements that relived the joy of meeting old friends, the content of an adventure far behind and the sarcastic and dry humour that I was so familiar with from 'There and Back Again'. But then it shifted...

The world was bigger, more cruel than before, there were orcs - not simple goblins - and more fell beasts. Evil was afoot and the dark tower was stretching its evil hand over the world. The race of men had failed and the world as we knew it was coming to an end. The elves were leaving Middle Earth for the undying lands. All old alliances were lost and the fate of the world hung in the hands of young Frodo Baggins of Bag End and the ring in his possession...

This book was like a travelogue, similar to The Hobbit on that, and yet it was different. A lot of people I knew then and I know now, still are unable to get past the initial chapters of the book - not because it was complicated or difficult to read - but just because it was a travelogue that could get tiresome after a certain point. But then, I was familiar with Tolkien's narration and sustained that patience; I slowly got lost in the book. When I finally finished the book, appendices and all, I had seen the book for what it was - a sacred monumental saga of more sorts than one. It had become my Bible and Geeta.

I read it thrice more in the subsequent weeks; I had to know everything. It was but a peephole into middle earth and a lot more trespassed in Tolkien's world than it spoke about. I had to learn the languages of the high elves (and men and dwarves and orcs and the black speech!); to speak a fairer speech in fell days. I had to know the history of middle earth and all its unspoken and unfinished tales. I had to live it.

I picked up more of his work and devoured them wholly. 'Tales of the Perilous Realm', 'The Silmarillion', 'Lost tales of Middle Earth'. Tolkien's world was exploding in my head like a brilliant fiery sun. I finally was satiated to a good extent by Peter Jackson's epic (I use a poor word here) work. I would laugh at every movie and I cried for these. Subbu still recollects the day I walked into class after watching The Return Of The King in a maniacal stupor. I was way beyond 'in love'... It was not the cinematography or the effects and graphics or the stunts that were the achievement. It was Jackson's ability to understand Tolkien's world and also the minds of the purists that made him produce a heavenly vision of the trials of the second and third age.

Jackson had shown Tolkien's mind and its elements -

It was the sadness of the end of the third age and the final establishment of mortality in middle earth, yet the joy of the end of darkness; the fear of the ever consuming evil, yet the courage of the weak who stood against it; the sorrows of the evils that had eroded and scarred the past, yet the inspiring memories of alliances and courage and songs and purity of heart and spirit; of planning, hard battle, strategy and survival, yet of innocence and simple needs and humor. There were tales of malice and hatred and yet of a friendship and a love that survived it.

I still quiver and tremble when I hear lines from Tolkien's works and verses from his songs. Tolkien's narration, to me, has become the voice of Eru. I have felt god many times over...

NamaarieAa' menle nauva calen ar' ta hwesta e' ale'quenleLissenen ar' maska'lalaith tenna' lye omentuva!


May your paths be green and the breeze on your backSweet water and light laughter till next we meet!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Good Music

Taste, in music and probably anything else for the matter, has to be one of the most personal things that one would have. So personal that it would be easy to ruin your mood by just saying that THAT thing you like sucks, and I would be no exception to that rule. Music is my best friend - the one that selflessly yet perfectly turns me right up when I am down and amplifies my good mood to euphoric levels. Just like everyone's next door neighbor's tomcat, my taste in music also happens to be unique (forehead-wrinkling-unique to quote an old classmate of mine). Though I do really enjoy heavy metal (a very strict sense heavy metal that would NOT include death metal but would include thrash, grunge and their related variants), my first love is Indian light music and classical music - both Hindustani and Carnatic.

My passion for Indian light music, probably, has developed over 18 years of a nothing-but-bollywood childhood. However, my liking for classical music has taken form quite late and evolved a lot over the years. Same for metal - I discovered Metallica (who dragged me into metal heaven) very late (not until mission impossible 2 came out) and until then I could see only Jatin-Lalit, Anu Malik, Ismail Durbar, Uttam Singh, Nadeem-Shrawan, a fair host of indipop people, Strings, Euphoria (though I had not yet fallen for them entirely) and of course, A.R. Rahman (probably all the tamil music I had heard until my undergrad started were of his creation).

Carnatic music, however, was on a parallel track because of my formal education in it - though it was barely anything more than a subject. But, somewhere in 1999, I started treating it with a little more of respect and started actually listening to it properly. I think my mom (she liked carnatic more than heavy metal then... and it has pretty much stayed that way) was responsible for it - every morning, as I used to leave for school at 6 a.m., she'd be watching a performance on TV and would often make me guess the raga. I always went wrong at the start but I picked up in a while and actually managed to atleast hum the right swaras of the raga and sometimes an aalap even if I could not remember or place the name.

That slight bit of seriousness grew on me. I heard more and more and liked it more and more. It was finally topped by the realization of a whole host of unlikely Indian movie songs that subscribed to ragas. Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy seemed to top that list of music makers with a lot of classical effects and seamless fusion. The fusion did a lot to me, but I loved pure carnatic too!

A few months down the line I finally realized my ideal music store:
shelves of metal gods - metallica, AC/DC, Nirvana, Black Sabbath
others - U2, Nickelback, Black Lab, Seal, John Williams, R.E.M., Oasis
Indirock - Euphoria, Strings, Fuzon, Kailasa
fusion - Rahman, Durbar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Prasanna
Carnatic - Kunnakodi, Santhanam, Mandolin Srinivas

There were some generally loved music pieces and artists in all of these genres that I could not bring myself to appreciate but that did not concern me either. I had found enough and more to relate every emotion to. Sometimes lyrics did something but it generally was the music that entered and electrified every nerve of the body. Each form had its own unique effect and relation.

I am sure that most of those effects are known to all of us, so I'll mention just two of my favorites.

The first one is the effect of the reethi gowla raga. A very simple yet powerful raga it is, with a lot of unique notes. It had a sense of deep confidence and conviction and positive thought in it - an effect that would make me take its notes and meaning very seriously. It was the Aahadaha - the contentment factor, that spoke of a deep belief, a love, a heritage in its extremely convincing Gandharams, Madhyamams and Nishadhams. It was the raga that would open me up, and draw me to express the insides of the blue. The effect I needed when I was bottling up or when I felt shut to the rest of the world. An effect that would bring a smile; a smile that would read - equilibrium, peace and fulfillment. An example of this raga is this beautiful piece on the guitar. Another, very popular example of this amazing raga is a scarecrow song from the movie Mudhalvan. The music of the Rohirrim from the Lord of the Rings movies overlaps heavily with this raga.

The second effect is quite different but yet powerful. The desh raga is what I would use to relate to home and a lot of its associated elements. Desh was the music of patriotism, of a magical sense of belonging, of national integration, of inspiration, of peace, of past sacrifice and yet, of promise, of hope. This raga hosts, what is probably THE most popular song in India and still, all people may not know its name. It is the raga of the 'Vande Mataram' (the original classical one; not the versions from Rahman's album, or Lata Mangeshkar's or Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum or Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani ) - a raga that transcends all lines of classical, folk and regional music. It was the music of purity - a highly concentrated form of the effect that touching ethanol has, i would call it. It was the music of rejuvenation and spirit. My favorite bhajan is my favorite probably because it is in this raga. Rahman's work on it in 'The Legend of Bhagat Singh' was beyond genius. In one form, it was energetic, with a power infusing beat, and spirit and courage. In the other form, joined by a host of other ragas including Suddha Bangala, Abhogi and Arabhi, it was of hope at a time of despair, of sadness, yet of an assurance for the future. Here is a titular example.

To quote Krishna - "Hail good Music...!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Electric Blue!

One fine morning, Clark woke up and headed into the bathroom for a shave. Suddenly it happened - crackling blue streaks or electricity burst out of his eyes. Lois was stunned, as was the man of steel. After a series of further intensifying unfortunate events, he transformed - into a being of pure energy - a vast energy, that could not be contained. Cadmus and Lexcorp then came up with a containment suit in white and blue, with a new 'S' emblazoned on the the chest and thus was born a new avatar - Superman blue.

Though it was said that this condition was, but a natural evolution of his powers, it came with new powers that were totally unrelated to his classical ones, the biggest change being that he could no longer have powers as Clark Kent. As superman he was apparently dissipating out of the real plane of existence. When he concentrated hard enough, he returned to the real plane of existence as Clark, but minus his powers. To use his powers he had to transform into superman. However, if he were to get injured as Clark, he could transform into superman, dissipate and reform - and this would completely heal him.

The classic lowering of the glasses to see through could no longer be done. In fact, supes no longer had his x-ray or telescopic vision. Instead, he could now see all wavelengths and spectra. He quickly adjusted to this though and still used his super-vision to generate something like a heat impression that he could see.

He was now like a energy absorbing coil with sparks flying all around. Instead of bouncing bullets off his body, he now let them pass through his body - as if he held no form. However the bullets did melt off as they passed through him and he could still protect those who were fired at.

Could he still fly? Apparently not. In his initial transformation, he was losing his ability to fly. Now instead, he could change his physical form and transform into a bolt of lightning and travel at the speed of light (and maybe more). He could reach the supervillain by just making a call and traveling through the phone - like electricity. In some situations, he was actually able to teleport at will. Much faster than a speeding bullet yes.

He got a lot more creative with the electrical side of his powers. He could now scan through computer records by just passing sparks through them. He could become intangible and phase through objects. He could generate high-energy beams, tractor beams and electron beams - not just from his eyes but at times from his palms too. He was able to even change his form, just like spiderman's symbiote costume. He could manipulate magnetic fields, even generate them at will and he used that a lot to his advantage. It seemed that he had the ability to manipulate matter at a sub-atomic level, and the scope of his electrical powers was limited only by his imagination. A big change was that he could now absorb not just solar energy but any kind of energy - it fact it could overload him at times. Excess energy could also cause him a lot of pain. He did have his super-strength and maybe even his super-breath, but the former was not used much and the later, not at all. He preferred to zap his villains instead of punching them out.

His hairstyle and appearance changed dramatically. He no longer had that trademark curl careening over his temple. And he was thinner than ever before - a build that would make him resemble nightwing more than superman. The upper part of his costume bore a fair resemblance to Jor-El and the the other Kryptonians' shiny white outfits. The cape, the leggings and all of his traditional gear were all gone. The 'S' was bigger and had a more futuristic look.

He was still vulnerable to kryptonite and magic though. He was once beaten into unconsciousness by the 'Shahganowahna' - a magical form taken by a native indian fellow using a special rock that granted him the power.

These drastic changes were too much for many a fan and there was a lot of protest about it. But Seigel and Shuster chuckled those away and gave superman blue a lot of room to showcase his talent. In a lot of ways, they allowed the man of steel to use his energy-based abilities to best his villains - sometimes a lot more easily than his previous encounters. A good number of blue's critics converted and blue gained some respect. After decades of complex and convoluted storylines that described his every detail and explored every possibility with him - including death, he finally faced evolution, a new horizon - atleast thats how I took it, since there was no other choice.

And then Hank Henshaw and the Toyman came along...and gave us a devil-may-care Superman red to join the serious and somber Superman blue..And after some 'philosophical discussions' and 'deliberations' the classical supes returned...

Superman blue was lost I thought... A big event like this would not be repeated I thought... But DC cared. Strange visitor was created two years later - making blue a more permanent figure! Brilliant!!!