Monday, March 25, 2013

Just a rant about my education.

I think this is a rant about my education. It's just a few thoughts on my head that I feel it's worth my time to type about. Of course, seeing that my education is in Singapore, it is related to our country's education system. I'm writing this because I am finally going to be entering the workforce and I took a look back at the past 25 years, decided to rant it. I'm not particularly angry or frustrated, just a mixed feeling of being jaded and satisfied.

Where do I start? Chronologically? Listing down the factors and influences involved? There are a ton of factors that came into play. One is, of course, is my parents. My parents are great, seriously, even though I never show it to them (because I'm bad at those stuff). I would consider that I came from a rather well-to-do family by Singaporean standards, and that is because my parents are both hard-working, thrifty, really good with money and of course, a bit lucky. Because of that, money for education is never an issue, even for my sister. Of course, this means they treat me as an investment sometimes, which I can't blame them for because from my perspective, I would think I AM an investment too, and this partly fuels my desire to 'repay them of all they have done to me'.  I mean, it does feel really bad when you are leeching off your parents for 25 years in the name of education.  

My mother is your typical Singaporean Generation X mother when it comes to education, comparing schools, results and grades with her friends', neighbours, neighbours' friends, get the gist. Most Singaporean children should know what it is like. Anyway, let's start chronologically. Primary school felt easy for me, to the point where I started slacking and be satisfied with As and Bs. I was not in the top class, neither was I at the bottom, which is enough to appease my parents. Obviously, this is not enough for me to get into a 'good' secondary school. 'Good' meaning places where top students go. My definition of good is very different at this point.

Secondary school life starts at 12 to 16. At this point, I remembered that I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of subjects. I scored badly for 2 years, that is when for some whatever crazy reason, the school allowed me to take what-seems-to-be easier topics (combined sciences, and accounting) which scoring well for them is equivalent to scoring well for obviously much difficult papers like Additional Maths or the pure sciences. Completely retarded, but it worked in my favor so I did not complain and started topping my classes. 

Let's sidetrack a bit. Education in Singapore is quite stressful. Getting shit grades results in angry parents and probably angry teachers, which results in angry self, which results in being demotivated and everything can theoretically just go to hell. Happy grades leads to the opposite, which is a good life and at best, fame. Fame! I cannot emphasize this enough. How many times have I seen newspaper front page reports of a certain group of students who scored incredible points for 'O' levels (the final paper for secondary schools) from a certain 'good' school. How many times have I heard of incredible primary school students who topped their PSLE results? I have once walked past an award ceremony at a void deck for top scoring students from a certain school. THAT is how important scoring good grades felt. When I was 14, I saw how everything can go to shit if I don't do anything about it soon. So I did. On easier topics. That is, I have an edge in getting better results than anyone. 

Then it came to a decision. The decision that most Express or Normal-stream secondary students make: Junior College or Polytechnic (sorry ITE dudes, no hard feelings but you understand). I was really a typical student when I decided on Polytechnic. The thought of entering a specialized course that teaches what you want, no uniforms, classes are not 8am-2pm and no regimentation feels like heaven. Even better, only the results of 5 subjects (including English) is taken into account (Junior College need 6 including English).

Polytechnic lasted 3 years. I entered the new Digital Entertainment Technology course, which is basically Games Programming (or Technical Direction, depending on your specialization). It was gruesome as hell, nothing like the good life I imagined, BUT I was learning a hell lot of stuff which I enjoyed. Unforunately, even though I worked my ass off the bigger projects in my school, a project is still only a module. Doing badly for classes which had no relevance to my interests just killed my results (classes with exams like memorizing how to create a fire using photoshop). Also, a quick flashback - remember that I said that I chose polytechnic because I was thinking like a typical Singaporean student who wants a good life. There are a bunch of people like that in my course and it doesn't help that when I team with them, I ended up doing almost everything. I remember I kept telling myself that it's all going to be worth it because I am the one learning stuff. 

In the end, my GPA was bad. It wasn't really super bad. It's like 3 out of 4.  The fact that Singapore local universities are bitches at accepting polytechnic students started to hit me really hard at this point. It was general knowledge that getting into a local university requires 3.5 or more, unless you have a really really kickass portfolio. I had neither. I have a good portfolio, not a kickass one. After getting out of polytechnic, with nearly zero hope of entering a good university, I was really jaded. Then NS happened. 

National Service lasted 2 years. I came out 23. Normally, I would complain that NS stole 2 years of my life and also gave me a back problem that's potentially going to be troublesome when I get older, but it gave me time to think about what I want to do. Local universities rejected me, Digipen (my dream school at that point) was incredibly expensive and I do not want my parents to spend that much on me anymore. On top of that, it was a 4-year course, which means I would be 27-28 by the time I'm done. Twenty-freaking-eight. That's 2 years away from being considered middle aged. It's nuts from my point of view.

Then a miracle by the name of Singapore Institute of Technology appeared. The rest the pretty much smooth sailing. They subsidized my enrollment to Digipen and turned it into a hellish 2.5 year course from 4 years. It was a win-win situation from my perspective. And after going through all that crap in polytechnic, I felt Digipen shouldn't be any hard. Thankfully it wasn't in my opinion. I had good sleeps before presentations thanks to my hardworking teammates (even when we crunched and I had 3-4 hours of sleep), compared to polytechnic which I literally had none for like 90% of my projects, so it's much more bearable. Even better, most of the modules and projects I find were relevant, interesting, and worth doing. Probably the best 2.5 years of my life thus far. 

And here ends my rant. I'm not really angry about what happened so far. I am just glad it's finally all over and I'm going to work the work of my dreams, which is a really happy ending to a really long 25 year chapter. I can rant a hell lot more and make a long article out of it, but for now this is good enough.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Icewind Dale 2 - Revisited (Part 3 - Temple of Gimmicks)

When you are travelling in an RPG, I feel that there is some sort of gauge that can tell you if something is going to happen or not. Like the more foreign the technology your characters are travelling on, the higher chances of accidents happen. So the party crash landed into some random mountain because some Auril guys thought it was a good idea to bring the airship down. My metagaming instincts tells me to prepare for constructs because, well, Auril is some angry snow goddess and this means frost the possibility of frost golems (at the worst case).

So here we are, out to complete an annoying errand for a crazy gnome. The crash site was pretty unspectacular as my party waded through a bunch of yetis, beetles and spiders. I ran into this Illium guy who is apparently related to the guys who took down my airship. He's this ranger guy that screams "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" so I took my diplomat to talk to him. Luckily my intimidate is good enough to scare him into opening the gates (thanks to our amazing and ridiculous feat of wiping an entire horde), but the half-dragon Sherincal swoops down, scolds Illium, kills his pet cougar and knocked my diplomat off the cliff. Poor Illium.

It so happened that it was night time and I fell into a bunch of what seems to be werewolves. Huh. My party met up with my diplomat and kills them. That's when I ran into Beodaewyn, who seems to be this suspicious merchant in the front of a wolves' den. It is pretty obvious to me who he really is so I attacked him and killed him since I'm feeling selfish and I don't like werewolves in general. I returned to Illium and surprisingly he didn't stop me after what I did to his poor pet. That's nice, I did not feel like killing an army of villagers who simply want nothing more than peace of quiet from slaughters like my guys.


Somehow, I'm in the exterior of some Ice Temple. I don't really know why do I need to be here other than that there is nowhere else to proceed and I really need to find diamonds and some extract from some creature.  Evil temple means two things, clerics and weird shit, and where there's clerics, there should be diamonds (normally Resurrection spell costs diamonds). 

The Ice Temple content seems pretty okay that this point. Here I encountered Ice Golems as expected and there was this weird creature (Remorhaz) which I didn't trust to the point that I fully buff my tank character to a whooping 33+ AC with my sorcerer's newly acquired Ghost Armor spell. With this spell, really nothing can hit my tank, especially when he has Mirror Image up.  The fights were annoying at best, except for Sherincal's.

Sherincal's fight is really annoying. She stands at the top of some flight of 'flat' stairs, calls limited number of annoying creatures (including a Ice Golem, god why is that piece of junk immune to most of my spells), foolishly casts Chromatic Orbs at my Mirror Imaged tank and randomly shoots Lightning Bolt hoping to catch more than one character. The flat stairs 'pushes' my characters to the bottom every time I tried to get up, so getting to her caused me some trouble. Supposedly I need to exert enough force at the levers on top of the stairs to activate the stairs back to normal, meaning I supposedly need ranged attacks. However, it seems that Fireball does the trick just as well. 

After ridding of all the clerics, necromancers, Golems and maybe some other stuff, all there's left is the half dragon herself. She has lots of difficulty hitting my tank even without mirror image but boy does she hurt when she hits. I was nearly out of healing resources and my frontliners aren't exactly in good condition (after getting hit by random Unholy Blights, Lightning Bolts, lucky hits), I just threw everything my sorcerer has left at her (my Magic Missiles were 4d4+4), which took her down pretty fast. Huh, I really should've Magic Missiled her to death from the start I think. She does not seem to resist them that much. Oh right, being half dragon, she has a fear aura I think, which caused my Stormlord cleric to flee every now and then. Thank goodness for the item that prevents my tank from being panicked or feared. 

Before I entered the temple, I realized that I already have all the required ingredients for Oswald's repairs, so I headed back, though it feels strange since I have not entered the Ice Temple. Oswald was happy to see the ingredients and casted the incantation...and...nothing happened. Oswald started saying that it's gonna take a long time and asked my party to 'go ahead and find another way, I'll catch up'. What. So I got all the ingredients for nothing? Gah, stupid gnome wasted my time and money.

Off to the Ice Temple, then.


Finally, a dungeon. Honestly though, the Ice Temple felt more like a playground of gimmicks more than an actual temple. There are some weird contraptions around the room like the Mirror of Life Tapping, an Arena game which somehow combined with tic-tac-toe mechanics (with its level of difficulty decided by levers), some machine that shoots lightning that open doors...they all just don't seem to fit that much.

Fighting clerics is rather relaxing since you simply have to be more buffed up than they are, which my team obviously is. I don't have to worry about annoying to heartbreaking spells like Fireball or lucky Chromatic Orbs throughout the 2 levels of the temple.

Notable encounters are the NPCs themselves. The rooms and strange devices are weird and all but they seem to be more gimmicky than interesting, like the whole temple could do without those stuff. My party ran into the 3 sisters: Lysara, Cathin and Oria. They weren't particularly hard fights since they are...well...clerics. I do like the scripts given to them and their voice acting though. Oria pulled an interesting stunt where she broke her staff of power that does maybe 1 damage, died and reappeared as a ghost to kill us, in which my party have to pull some lever in the Arena room that switches the whole damn level between Material and Ethereal Plane. Incredibly gimmicky.

The other thing I found interesting was Caged Fury, some spirit of a tempest which is pretending to be Auril. At this point, I don't really understand the relationship between Caged Fury, the 3 sisters and the temple. It seemed that Caged Fury is behind all the ice wall that is obstructing my path towards Neverwinter. How he got there...I'm not sure, I hope one of the sister's diary state why. I'm assuming someone summoned it to erect the ice wall. How nice, I spent a paragraph ranting about something I'm not even sure about.

Then we met Nickademus, the idiot behind all the contraption. I don't think it's fair to create all these content that has nothing to do with an 'Ice Temple' and slap a very experienced wizard who doesn't care about his lover's death into the whole scene. Feels like a really bad excuse to me.

I might as well talk a bit about the arena. It basically works like this: choose a character, and he will solo monsters that will come out of one of the square of a 3x3 grid he choose. Picking a square will spawn a monster. Winning will net you a cross on the square, losing will net a 'shield' or in tic-tac-toe terms, a circle. Match 3 crosses diagonally, vertically or horizontally to win, vice versa to lose.

I didn't get very far unfortunately because there is a time limit involved in each fight. Most of the harder enemies' Damage Reduction so retarded I don't know how is it possible to even deal damage with the weapons I have so far AND STILL survive their hits.  Maybe I can return later?

With the ice path out of the way, I wonder what's next?