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By Niloy

Darwinia is different. Forgetting the fact that it comes from a talented independent developer. Forgetting the fact that isn't backed by a multi-million dollar marketing programme designed more to indoctrinate than genuinely promote. Darwinia stands out because it's completely unique; a project whose approach has not only never been done before, but is unlikely to be repeated again.

For a start, Darwinia doesn't even fit into any genre out there. Is it a real-time strategy game? Probably not; you're limited to creating three units at a time at the start, with the ability to expand this through what is arguably more RPG-like; research. Ultimately, it's the Cannon Fodder-style gameplay that defines the game as an action title; surely there's no argument in the action of holding down the right mouse button and blasting away at a collection of virii or throwing grenades (or other weapons you can obtain, again by research) into a collection of spiders or other more dangerous enemies. There's no denying the action element or, indeed, the sheer fun of it; it's amazing how the seemingly simple process is so fulfilling and so very addictive. It's been a while since a game I've reviewed has hooked me in so much that I've had to manage my time around it in order to stop it ruining my life! I simply won't play Darwinia unless I have at least an hour to spare.

So, what is Darwina all about? Well, the story is set in the world of Darwina - the world's first virtual theme park which is run inside a computer network built out of old games consoles that were on sale in the 1980s, but went unsold following the discovery of a minor fault which was overblown by the media. The console's creator, Dr Sepulveda, then used the recalled machine to build a giant network that could run his vision of a digital world, complete with sentient life; the Darwinians. However, Darwinia has been overrun by a red virus (everything you see which is red is associated with this virus, from the basic 'arrow'-type virus to the Soul Destroyers), which has multiplied out of control and is threatening to wipe out the Darwinians. So, naturally, it's your task to save the world.

You begin with the creation of squads; a 3 man hit-team, armed with lasers, and ready to fight the viral infection. But destroying the virus isn't your only job; released from each kill is a digital soul, which is collected by another important unit, the engineer. The engineer then takes the souls to a captured building called an incubator which then converts them into Darwinians - the inhabitants of the land which need Officers to guide them. It's from here that the research that I've already mentioned twice becomes important, because part of the progress you make in the game is through the updated abilities of the units you can create. From the initial three unit squad, you are able to make it grow to six units. You can also improve the range or your weapons, research new ones after obtaining research items, or as mentioned before, even improve the Task Manager to allow the creation of more units.

The Task Manager itself plays such an important role in the game that it deserves a paragraph to itself. The method of controlling the flow of the game relies entirely on your actions in the Task Manager and the Research Panel. In what would seem to be another Introversion move against convention, Darwinia does not feature any buttons to allow you to select what unit will be created or some of the abilities they carry. Instead it contains a gesture-based system where you hold Alt to bring up the Task Manager, and then use your mouse to draw the desired pattern for a certain action.

For example, a simple equilateral triangle from the top creates a squad, while a shield shape (this time from the top-left) creates Armour. It takes some getting used to, but it's there to be different, and an ordinary button-based menu wouldn't provide the extra challenge in the heat of the moment that the gestures do.

The visual style of Darwinia is certainly something that has caught most people's attention. Most games today have been progressing towards ever-more photo-realistic graphics; Gran Turismo 4 being one of the recent examples. Darwinia, on the other hand, takes this approach, kicks it in the teeth, and lets the Darwinians fire their lasers at it repeatedly. That's not to say that the graphics are simplistic, or even in 'child-friendly' cartoonish style. No; Darwinia features a completely unique visual style that not only suits the nature of the game, but was also a way for the limited manpower of the Introversion team to achieve something remarkable. Aside from it's beauty and uniqueness, there's not much more to be said; as they say, a picture says a thousand words.

Of course, there's one part about the game the pictures really can't relay to you, and that's the audio. Darwinia again makes itself stand out from the mainstream crowd by the way it uses the audio not just as a background necessity, but to provide a living, breathing world for the digital creatures. The words of Crhis Delay, lead developer of Darwinia couldn't state it any better; "the ambience of the levels and the "feel" of the world really blows people away". Through my own experience, I would highly recommend playing the game with headphones or with a good surround sound system in order to enjoy it to its full potential; the way the game is able to draw you in and make you feel as much a part of the world as the Darwinians itself owes itself in a huge part to the special audio engine created by Introversion. It simply is as much an audio masterpiece as a visual one.

And if you want more proof of just how different Darwinia is from every other game out there, just see how big the install directory is. Doom 3 - simply installed and patched - takes up 1.5 GB. Darwinia? After install its using up a mere 27.4MB of my disk; sort of sitting there huddled up amongst the big players, ready to make a huge impact on both my PC and PC gaming in general. In fact, without the sound file this game would have fitted on a 1.44MB floppy disk; quite fitting for a title which is both inspired by and celebrates retro games.

Kingdom of heaven

By Iftekharul Haque

Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott, is a complete success in handling what most would deem a difficult topic. In the pseudo-civilized modern world of inequity and terror, in an age in which Muslims are at the forefront of religious extremism and have become the very representation of religious disharmony, Sir Ridley Scott dodges bullets in dealing with the highly sensitive topic of the Crusades. The spine of the film's story is provided by its main character, the historical Balian of Ibelin, portrayed by Orlando Bloom.

An amalgamation of the real Balian and his father, Barisan, the character in the film kills a man who desecrates his wife's corpse, and goes to Jerusalem seeking forgiveness and purpose. Orlando Bloom's Elvish charm has taken him a long way from Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings, and has actually done some for his acting talent.

Consistently stiff, uninspiring and utterly hatable by the male demographic for the feminine good-looks that have taken him further than his talent ever could, Mr. Bloom turns in a half-decent performance in this great epic. But his performance barely stands up to the monolithic presence of the ensemble supporting cast of Jeremy Irons as the cynical Tiberias, Brendan Gleeson as the bloodthirsty Reynald de Chatillon, Marton Csokas as the epitome of the loathsome French nobleman and Ghassan Massoud as the revered

Muslim hero Salahuddin Ayyubi. Hats off to the summer blockbuster rabble for making the breakthrough of actually casting Arabs to play Arab roles. Veteran Arab thespian Ghassan Massoud's portrayal of Salahuddin Ayyubi lives up to the reverence his character is offered in the screenplay. A Syrian, the casting of Mr. Massoud as this great Muslim hero was both tasteful and appropriate. His facial and bodily build is of what one perceives as a classical Yemenite Arab, (not dissimilar to Osama bin Laden, who is in fact of Yemeni heritage): wiry, a long, thin face, a complete lack of cheek tissue, a very Semitic, aquiline nose, intense dark eyes, and a beard greying majestically at the edges. Hollywood's record in portraying Muslims and their prayer has not been a good one.

From Antonio Banderas's awkward genuflections in The Thirteenth Warrior, to the fleeting view of debasing, repetitive earth-kissing in the Animatrix, it has consistently been done by people who find the entire concept alien to the very core, clumsily bolted on as a token to an ethnic minority than anything else. Although the editing of the film dictated the most "dramatic" portions of the Muslim prayer were shown (the prostration and bowing), it was done well.

There was no reason for it not to be, since Moroccan soldiers were recruited as extras for the film. Momentarily entertaining the urge to nitpick, it is noted that in one scene Muslims were praying in congregation during the Adhaan, or the call to prayer, an oddity to most Muslims. One forgives wholeheartedly, however, because the Adhaan and prostration are both very "dramatic," and the post-production team probably couldn't help but couple them. Despite how carefully we may look at the film to see how a predominantly Christian world sees the Muslims, in the end, the story is not about Muslims. In fact, it's not about Christians either, although the lead character happens to be one.

That is the strength of the film. It does not delve into the irresolvable dialectics and polemics posed by inter-faith dialogue, but rather focuses on commonalities of humanity and moderation, that is, inter-faith harmony. It forces the audience to sympathize with characters from both ends of the conflict.

It does not take sides, and it unabashedly pokes at the extremist elements among the Knights Templar and the Muslims. At 145 minutes, it is an excellent balance between storytelling and exposition. Rich in art design, it seeks to immortalize the atmosphere and spirit of 12th century Levant in all its dirty and grimy glory. It does well to distance itself from other sieges (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and Troy), and no scene from this film harkens back to images of Legolas the elf firing from the sheer ramparts of Helms Deep.

The special effects blend seamlessly into the scenes, and so the illusion enhances the reality rather than isolating the film from it. Deep in symbolism, rich in storytelling and insightful on the inherent human disposition for extremism and moderation, Kingdom of Heaven gets all five stars from me.

And Then, There was Manga

By Lancer

"Oh, so they're comic books, aren't they?"
Well... after a fashion, yes. But Japanese manga is worlds apart from the traditional average comic books that we're used to reading. And it's not just the right-to-left layout of panels, or even the signature anime "Bambi-eyes" Japanese way of drawing that sets manga in general on a different footing as compared to, for example, the average DC/Marvel comic book.
For one, manga isn't aimed at children alone; indeed, while most manga is written for teens, the sheer breadth of genres that manga covers means that you might just as easily see material written for pre-schoolers as you might come across adult material. Initially, the few manga that were translated into English were action-oriented, set very solidly for the teen audience, but with time more genres have begun to be translated. The range today goes from a darker, gorier version of the Matrix (Blame!) to romances and comedic series such as the incomparable Ranma 1/2, or the absolutely side-splitting Lupin III series (which has been around for a good thirty years and is going as strong as ever).
A major difference that manga has, when compared to the vast majority of western comic books, is the presence of a story where you can never be sure what the ending will be. It is not unusual for a major character in an anime or manga to die, to lose the one they love to another, or fail at what they are trying to do. Manga is also generally far more creative than, say, Archie; for example, you do not generally come across people transforming into pandas upon a dousing with cold water. Another thing is that the characters are more complex, villains can be understandable and even change their ways, heroes can show bad traits and even commit horrid acts. And, of course, for the younger Pokèmon audience, there are cool robots, transformations, spells, and you-name-it.
Manga also differs from the traditional comic book (that we all know about) in the very nature of publication: most manga are published in serialized weekly or monthly magazines, and a paperback edition may only follow depending on how popular the series is. Of course, if a manga is really popular the franchise can expand into anime or even live-action shows (such as GTO and You're Under Arrest, right now). This also leads to manga being longer, and hence often more complex in terms of genre overlap (you might start out with a samurai warrior action manga and be bowled over by the romance or sheer comic relief that creeps in - Rurouni Kenshin is a particularly good example of this). Another thing about manga that also ensues from this serialized form is that the target readers are generally Japanese, and quite a lot of native Japanese culture comes into play as such. Once one gets past the initial culture shock of such things, they offer very interesting "slices" of insight into the Japanese way of life. For example, there's the almost inevitable "Ramen Shop" (Noodle Shop) in almost everything you read; and manga is so addictive, that even if you start out with a given genre, you soon start reading other genres too. Every chapter then leads into something new, and you gradually notice more and more things with time. Titles such as I"s (romance, comedy), Love Hina (comedy, romance), GTO (drama, comedy, everything) are set in contemporary Japan and deal with very ordinary people. The beauty of a manga is that it's just long enough for you to get to know these characters, as people, from their own perspectives, and to identify with them. Even in manga set in other, more fantastic scenarios (Akira, for example, is set in a future post third-world-war version of Japan; Rurouni Kenshin is set in post-revolution Japan, Skyhigh is set between heaven and hell) a good mangaka is able to weave the plot in such a manner as to get the reader to understand and identify with the characters.
So, where's a bloke in Bangladesh to find some manga? Given that our local bookstores aren't very keen on comic books, it would be rather ludicrous to expect manga at said places. The sole resort, then, is the Internet; and the work of various fan-subbing groups around the world who take the trouble to scan and translate manga and put it online means there's no dearth of sources. Sites like stoptazmo.com (for Bleach, GTO, and a whole lot of other good titles), or narutochuushin.com (for Naruto, currently one of the biggest things ever), and various web forums that can be easily Googled down provide the average fellow with access, in quantized doses, to the good stuff. Good titles to start with, though they are older and harder to find, include Rurouni Kenshin, GTO, Love Hina, Flame of Recca, and other teen-oriented material; for darker, more serious fare, there are more mature titles such as Akira, Gantz, Berserk, Blame!, Blade of the Immortal, Skyhigh, etc. Readers of DC, Marvel or Image titles will find it easier to take to these later titles, as they are far more violent and explicit than the more toned down and accessible than the others. Of the newer material, Bleach, Naruto and Prince of Tennis are immensely popular nowadays.

Sites Unseen

By Niloy

The E3 just started and ended. And it was disappointing.
It was supposed to be the biggest E3 yet! More than a thousand new "products" were to be introduced. The next-gen consoles would be unveiled and the new age of gaming would start. More than 70,000 industry professionals from 79 countries attended. 5000 games was shown. And still it was disappointing. Why though?
There was simply too much BULLS… [obvious fallacy].
Quoting Tycho from Penny-arcade.com [doiop.com/inception] "The truth typically doesn't emerge until later, and most of the time it never does, but if you think of E3 a billion dollar puppet show it will help you contextualize the spectacle. Tightly scripted scenes prop up a sprawling technological void - the "game of show" stretched tight over thin hints about the way such a game might actually operate. What often gets shown isn't just what they want you to see, but also what they wish were true about their game and perhaps games in general.
I don't believe there is any such thing as a "Playstation 3" yet, and I don't believe in the Killzone video. What I do believe is that Sony harnessed the media and then rode it from place to place, one hand on the bridle while the other waved madly in the air. [doiop.com/inception-comic]
The only console-exclusive I saw running and playable that really struck me as a next-generation experience was Epic's Gears of War [doiop.com/guilds]. I'm not "putting my weight" behind the 360, I'm saying that at this particular show, it's the only system that I consider to have been truly "launched." Nintendo's system has been introduced, in the vaguest sense, but without seeing what they intend to accomplish with their controllers we don't actually know why it would hail a Revolution. Sony showed some movie trailers in HD, said that their console could create "artificial life" and expected us to swear fealty to their system's now dynastic lineage. They even showed the intro from Final Fantasy VII in "Real Time(!!!!)," but I can't possibly be the only person who remembers they trotted out a "Real Time" dance scene from VIII when they launched the PS2 - can I? You ever see shit like that on your Playstation 2?"
The links are available in my site [niloywrites.blogspot.com] so that you don't need type them.
Created by a designer who considers typing words from left to right "not interesting and sometimes boring," this [very good] application practically compels you to draw with words. Choose the letters, words, or phrases you want to paint with and trace a pattern. After it's saved and uploaded, watch the image recreate itself slowly, in the exact way you sketched it, but composed of your writing instead of lines. Released in January, the application has had just enough time to build up a plentiful "best of" list. So go ahead, make a beautiful typedrawing.
Pep Bonet
Spanish photojournalist Pep Bonet has traveled to ravaged regions around the globe and captured harrowing, beautiful images suffused with light. Although his poignant pictures speak for themselves, many of the photos on the site include a scroll-over "story" at the bottom of the page for those looking for a little more context. Together, he and his subjects create something universal and timeless.
Maddox hates Cameroon Diaz
"Just when you thought MTV couldn't get more annoying, they give Cameron Diaz her own show called Trippin'." "The theme song states "YOU GOT THE POWER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE... YOU GOT THE POWER TO MAKE A CHANGE." Wow, thank you MTV, for making me feel empowered and independent, like only a multinational media conglomerate can."
"Of course, having a show in which the hosts prattle on and on about conservation and environmental causes, it makes you wonder how they're able to do it without sounding like giant hypocrites as they fly around on helicopters and jets, all while using enough electricity to power a small city. Simply put: they can't, but that doesn't stop them from trying."
Super Bad
I really can't describe it. Just keep clicking the pictures.
Civilization Anonymous
A mildly amusing advertising website for the upcoming Civilization 4 game, in the form of support group for people who want to quit playing it, because, gosh darn it, it's just so damn addictive that it ruins lives. Be sure to catch the video [www.civanon.org/movies/trailer.mov].



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