A New Kind of Haven

Yes, I am back!

Bergsonian Critique

A Night With Bush And A Reading With Al Aswany

Earlier tonight, I was able to catch the premier of Oliver Stone‘s controversial biopic film W., which stars Josh Brolin as the current president of the United States, George W. Bush. The theater was generously packed (almost full) but what was most interesting to me was the reception I perceived from the audience, especially since I live in a predominately democratic, liberal county in the state of Colorado. Some of the attendants were waiting for the right, “comedic” opportunity to laugh at Bush, and others were deceitfully sympathetic regarding his character and actions in the film. I’m going to save the details for the review (which I’m going to postpone it for tomorrow since I’m quite tired right now) but the thing is, I really had a nice time watching the movie, and it actually made me think and reflect regarding the real George Bush.

My next surprise is when I found out Alaa Al Aswany‘s famous novel, Chicago, being both translated and published in English. I heard great things regarding the novel from many of my friends who read the Arabic version, which eventually¬† led me to buy the book when I went to Dubai last summer, but unfortunately never had the chance to read it. In fact, it is still probably nicely sealed and carefully placed in my bookshelf back home. If The Yacoubian Building is any indication (since my mom gave it her seal of approval), I think I’m going to enjoy reading this one. Thankfully, I just finished Charles Bukowski’s Post Office so the book wouldn’t have come at a right time than this.

Blog Readability Test: Yours And Mine

Recently, my friend who happens to lurk around my blog sent me the results of an application that measures the level of education that is required to read a blog or a website (Phew! That was a mouthful). Apparently, all you have to do is input the URL of that specific blog or website, and then it gives you the results instantly. My friend took the test for me, and the result was shocking at first. It seems in order to understand my blog you must have a high school level of reading education or up.

I was bumped!

However, my friend eased my worries by pointing out the fact that having a lower level means more accessibility to a wider range of audience, and that made me quite happy to be honest.

So, I took the initiative and did the test for several of my favorite blogs. Now, if you feel that I have crossed the line in exposing your blog with such kind of information, please feel free to notify me and I’ll remove it as fast as possible. And please note that the credibility of this application is still undetermined; so don’t take the results too seriously. Otherwise, take a look at what I got so far:

So congratulations to 3baid, I guess, for having a Genius level that outmatches most blogs I can think of. It seems he is deeper than I originally thought, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since he comes up with his own quotes and personal sayings that are brimming with wisdom and intellectuality.

But still, that doesn’t hide the fact that the application is a little iffy…

New Blog: Gamer Quest

I finally did it!

I always wanted to have my own gaming blog but I always thought it’s a quite hassle to manage two blogs at the same time. But I finally got the urge and the guts to do it. You can say I was motivated by my fellow friend and blogger, Mohammed who has his own gaming blog, which I find it very interesting and nicely focused (not to mention his other game-related responsibilities). I know it’s going to be hard but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be exciting as well. Of course, I will not abandon Final Haven. I’m still going to update it as I always do, but if you crave for more gaming-centric posts, then Gamer Quest is your destination; although, I’ll still keep posting reviews about videogames in this blog as well. So, don’t worry, nothing will be changed in terms of format.

I hope you have a wonderful time there.

SFW Porn Ad [Or Is It?]

This is has got to be one of the funniest viral videos I’ve ever seen. The video claims to be SFW, but it is so NOT in my opinion. Watch it only if you are over 18 and/or have an incredible sense of humor. Otherwise, avert your eyes and go read something else. Hey, there’s always Archive.

Oh Snap! I Have Been Paparazzied!

Last night, the guys and I decided to go for a movie after dinner. As usual, I picked to watch a different movie than theirs; while they made a decision to watch Body of Lies, I was more eager to watch the movie adaptation of a fantasy novel I just read and reviewed, The City of Ember. After an hour and a half, sitting through what I affirm the worst movie adaptation in the history of cinema, I found out that I had at least 40 minutes to spare before Body of Lies finishes its run. So, I resolved to head to the nearby Borders store and have some coffee at Seattle’s Best upstairs, and maybe enjoy reading a book.

Finally, I went there, picked Post Office, had my coffee, and sat at one of those leather chairs you see at similar coffeehouses. Not long after that, a guy came in from the top floor entrance of the store along with a bag of McDonald’s Dollar Menu. He was a tall man, warning some sort of a fedora hat that covered most of his brownish hair expect for his ponytail, and a backpack that is generally used for hiking. I didn’t want to occupy my time with him; we have our fair share of weirdos in our area and I’m kinda used to it. So, he sat in the chair across of me, munching from whatever came out of his McDonald’s bag – which I’m pretty sure it’s not permitted inside the store – while reading a newspaper he placed on the small coffee table.

The man finished his meal, tossed his McDonald’s bag aside, wiped his hands using a napkin, and then grabbed a small digital camera from his backpack. Even though I was reading, I couldn’t help but to notice the unsettled movement across of me. He started to take some pictures without using a flash. I thought he was just taking some pictures of the interior of the store. And he was, for a while before I felt that his lens was aiming at me.

*Snap*

He took a picture of me. I thought maybe he’s taking a picture of whatever was or were behind me, so I didn’t react.

*Snap*

OK, this one was definitely aiming at me. The guy is nuts, I thought. And just before he took a third one, I lowered my book from my face, and looked at him.

“Excuse me, are you taking pictures of me?”

He freaked out.

“Oh man, you ruined it, that was supposed to be the perfect shot”

Now, the rest of the people who sat next to us were started to stare at us. I frowned.

“Of what?”

“Of you of course. You had a gripping look while you were engrossing in reading that book of yours. I couldn’t help but not to take some pictures.”

“Gripping” “engrossing”

His choice in vocabulary isn’t as bad I thought it would be, coming from a hippy-looking person, but still, I was pissed.

“And who the hell gave you the authority to do that?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I wanted to take a natural looking picture”.

“Still, that doesn’t give you the permission to go around and take people pictures as you please. There’s something called privacy, I suggest you look it up while you are in a bookstore”.

“But you looked so good”.

That’s it. Either he had a sick crush on me or he was just plain idiot with a fedora hat. Few seconds and the young woman who was handling the music section of the store came just in time before I kicked his ass. I thought, “Where the hell have you been from the moment that guy entered the store with his McDonald’s bag”.

“Is there a problem, sir?”

“Yes, there’s a problem. My problem is that gentleman over there is taking pictures of me without permission”.

Then she quickly swirled her whole body to his direction, in one single motion. I thought she was a robot or a cyborg.

“Sir, you cannot take pictures inside the store. It’s forbidden”.

“Forbidden?”

“Yes, it’s the store’s policy”.

“Screw your policies. I am a man of free will”.

I shouted.

“I am a man of free will myself, but you don’t see me taking pictures of people without them knowing”.

He quickly packed his stuff and looked at the young woman.

“That’s the last time I’ll ever come to one of your stores. It’s the last time!”

And then, just a like a broken record, he repeatedly mumbled his last sentence, and even started to talk to the people nearby regarding his unfair treatment. Thankfully, no one gave him a damn attention to him until he finally got out of the store. I was pissed and just wanted to get the hell out of here. As I was heading downstairs, my phone beeped and it was my friend Jay. You guys remember him, right?

“Hey, we are done with the movie. Where are you?”

“At Borders”

“Good. Stay right there while I go to the Apple store nearby to pick a Nano. You finally convinced me to buy one after you showed me yours today”.

“I don’t care. I just want to get the f*** out of here right now”.

“Why? What happened?”

“I have been paparazzied!”

Book Review: The City of Ember

  • Author: Jeanne DuPrau
  • Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy
  • Demographic: 9+

Even though I don’t quite fall into the appropriate age demographic for many fantasy novels that are intended for young adults readers, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them one bit. Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and His Dark Materials trilogy are among my favorite books in my bookshelf. They are powerful and perhaps deeper than some literature books I’ve read in my entire life. The City of Ember (part of Book of Ember series) is one of my latest findings in the young adult section; when I read the synopsis, the book resonated with me as a deep fantasy adventure with ambitious themes that might strike as a “younger version” of George Orwell’s 1984. Unfortunately, what I got at the end was different from what I perceived, but the book definitely kept me entertained and intrigued until the very end.

For over two hundred years, the citizens of Ember have lived in darkness, save for the great lamps and flood lights that illuminate the city by day. But now, the lights are flickering, and blackouts are occurring more often. The buildings are crumbling, and the stockpiles of food and supplies are scarce. Enter the twelve-year-old Lina who discovers the remains of an ancient message that was feared lost long ago. The message, left by the Builders of Ember, contains the instructions on how to escape the city. With the threat of eternal darkness looming, Lina and her friend Doon work together to decipher the message. In doing so, they discover the secrets of why and how Ember was built, and many others that are darker than the city itself.

First and foremost, it is important to disclose that The City of Ember has all the elements of a great young-adult novel. The book is fast-paced and there is such life-threatening urgency in the plot that readers will be engrossed from beginning to end. Thus, The adult nature of the setting, combined with the young, resourceful protagonists, makes this book appeal to a wide age range of readers. However, when it comes to style of the writing, and the elegance of the story, the book somewhat falls short. Respectively, it seems DuPrau purposely dumbs down her own script to appeal to a much younger audience; despite the mature plot, the book doesn’t read like one. Furthermore, despite the rich context of the City of Ember, DuPrau was incredibly vague in her descriptions but she does manage to gradually unfold the realm of the city in an intelligent way that doesn’t distract us from the main plot. Other minor criticisms would be the simplicity of the mechanics of the city and its inhabitants; you will stumble to many aspects that you will question if it is possible for people (specifically adults) to behave in the manner they were shown. For example, DuPau does not provide any type of religious dogma or laws that prevent the inhabitants from experimenting and questioning the authority of the city and its illogical built; certainly humans are constantly curious creatures and always investigating their life as they live it.

~Parting Words~

Nevertheless, despite the criticisms, The City of Ember managed to become one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read recently. The plot ends with an enchanting cliffhanger that would leave most of it readers in a desperate need for a sequel. As a matter of fact, as soon I finished the book, I couldn’t help but not to pick the sequel (The People of The Sparks) in order to find what happens next. Thus, The City of Ember is definitely an engaging tale of mystery and exploration, just don’t try to explore deeper in its realm too much, because all you will find is a dark abyss with no “movable light” to guide your way out.

~Rating~

I Lol’ed

Review: Silent Hill: Homecoming

  • Genre: Survival Horror
  • Developer: Double Helix Games
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Platform: Xbox 360 (Version Tested) – Playstation 3
  • Rating: M (For Mature)

Visiting the foggy town of Silent Hill, despite being the epitome of a living Hell, has always been a gaming pilgrimage that survival horror enthusiasts adore to the heart. For them (me included), Silent Hill games aren’t just games that aim to scare the hell out of people; it’s more than that. Each installment explores the darkest abyss of human emotions such as guilt, redemption, and atonement. Thus, we can easily marvel the varied topics that Silent Hill fans tend to share and contribute in gaming forums about the different symbolism and manifestations within the game. With the new inexperienced, American-based developer Double Helix taking charge of the 5th console installment, it is expected to report that there’s fear among Silent Hill fans as they are expecting a different formula that might ruin the series for them. After finishing the game yesterday and unlocking all the endings, I can confirm that the atmosphere remains true to the world Silent Hill, but the gaming mechanics, unfortunately, are far from perfection.

Silent Hill: Homecoming follows Alex Shepherd, a war veteran returning home from an overseas tour of duty to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, Joshua. His travels lead him through the small, insular community of Shepherd’s Glen and eventually through the hauntingly empty streets of Silent Hill. Building upon the series’ trademark foundations of atmosphere, adventure and storytelling, Silent Hill: Homecoming introduces players to a frightening new experience introducing new monsters and weapons with a returning favorite of Pyramid Head (dubbed as Bogyman in this installment).

The most significant change comes in the character movement and combat controls; playing as Alex Sheperd (a veteran solider) you’re given abilities far outshining those of previous SH protagonists. This may be a sticking point for fans of the series’ previous, more helpless heroes, but putting a more combat capable character at the forefront feels like a positive evolutionary step for the series. Unfortunately however, that doesn’t seem the case. The game suffers from an atrocious low frame rate and unpolished combat mechanics that might entirely put you off and never touch the game once again. Other than that, the so called revolutionary “combat mechanics” will get old very quick as you will only dodge, attack, defend, and attack until the end of the game; you will certainly grow tried quickly. Thankfully, the camera, now far more in the player’s control, doesn’t aggravate these situations.

Puzzle solving, fortunately, is well implemented but less challenging. Most of them will require you to do simple puzzle mini-games such as sliding panels and rearranging wires and so forth. There are some obstacles that require you to decipher some messages collected in your journal, but in all honestly, there were quite easy and uninspired. Later half of the game will see you navigating a series of symbols and it is up to you to understand their meaning; it is appealing but slightly feels outdated.

When it comes to story and characters development, the game falls into a mixed ground. The premise of the story feels like a Silent Hill game with a mind-melting tale that will leave you hanging in there through the murky moments. In fact, for the first time ever with a Silent Hill title, I completed the campaign with a full understanding of what just transpired in the cursed town. And that’s my main problem with the story: Silent Hill games are deep and usually don’t follow Hollywood’s presentation of horror and thriller movies; there’s always some aspect that lingers afterward, and it is up to the gamer’s imagination and understating to fill that void with creative solutions. The good news is that the game gradually uncovers the twists and turns with each progression of the game’s twelve chapters, which thankfully will leave you coming back for more even if it means struggling with the game’s horrendous mechanics. However, since you will probably come to a full understanding of the story before the end of the game, the endings (all five of them) feel less rewarding and somewhat silly.

The presentation and the atmosphere is present in full blossom, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel the HD Silent Hill we have been asking for, and the reason is that the previous offerings of Silent Hill are considered technical marvels that pushed the PSX and PS2 to the fullest. For example, the characters design in Silent Hill 2 and 3 are much polished and detailed than Homecoming, but thankfully, the monsters and bosses remain as horrifying as ever, with few memorable ones that are bound to chase you in your dreams. The audio and the soundtrack still one of the most pivotal aspects of the game, with Akira Yamaoka returns as the main composer. The themes are memorable and daunting, which compliments the fear-inducing sound effects. In short, the music is a manifestation of dark magic and horror, which should gain the thumb-ups of Silent Hill fans even if they were a little shaky regarding the overall experience.

If you can cope with the atrocious and the slightly broken game mechanics, Homecoming will certainly provide you the fearful tour of Silent Hill that you have been asking for the last three years or so. The story is polished but forgetful, the presentation is beautiful but incomplete, and the overall experience will always leave you wanting for more, for good or for worse. The new developer Double Helix has stayed true to the series’ foundation while also taking steps in a brave new direction, but unfortunately, they failed to implement their vision perfectly. Regardless, the game deserves at least a single playthrough for those who are craving for a High-Def survival horror, because the game doesn’t disappoint from that aspect.

Overall Score

8.0 out of 10

United States of Obesity Map (2008)

Woot! Congratulations to Colorado (my State) for having the lowest percentage of obesity in all of the States in America, and thus becoming the leanest State comparing to the others. I can substantiate with the provided map and with CalorieLabs findings that a huge percentage of people in Colorado are health freaks, especially in Boulder and Colorado Springs. The students in my university are certainly in top shape, and attending the gym is almost a required schedule in their academic life. I won’t deny the fact that witnessing those athletic youths (whether they were men or women) had certainly motivated me to get into shape and I’m glad to confess that I actually lost tons of weight comparing to the late years of high school in Kuwait. The determination is certainly awe-inspiring.

Good job Coloradoans! Keep up the good work-out!