Friday, November 05, 2004

Ragnarok Article

Ragnarok: The Beginning of a New Game Revolution

In the last year or so, the Philippine gaming scene has changed considerably. Quite a number of people are into console gaming, with some even owning more than one gaming machine. Most popular game consoles are the personal computer and the Sony PlayStation (One or Two, take your pick). Of course, there’s still the Xbox, the Gam eBoy series, the Game Cube and even the “older” consoles to consider.

PC gaming would probably still come on top. It’s easily accessible, as the machine is more than a tool for work. Games are readily available and offer a wide range in various genres. This does not include the emulators for even older gaming consoles like SNES, Game Boy and even PlayStation! PCs can also be upgraded easily to accommodate the higher system requirements of newer games.

Probably the biggest breakthrough was the arrival of the massively multi- player online role-playing game (MMORPG) Ragnarok to the Philippine shores (as of this writing, the first locally developed PC role playing game Anito has been released). Gamers have taken fancy to it, and it has attracted people who don’t really care much for games except play Solitare.

So what, pray tell, is Ragnarok? Before we delve into the game itself, let’s explore the roots, so to speak, of the game.

Norse mythology

To those inclined to reading classics, Ragnarok is “the ultimate cataclysmic battle between Norse gods and the forces of evil, in which the old gods would perish and a new peace would come” (Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2003). In Norse mythology, the gods and goddesses are divided into two groups: The Aesir and Vanir. This is excluding the Giants who came first. The Vanir gods were considered the “old timers” and were overthrown by the Aesir. It is also believed that the gods and goddesses each had their purpose and work, much like that of the Greek and Roman myths.

The Norse world is a circular disk, the center of which is a concentric circle surrounded by sea. This central portion is Midgard, the home of men. Across the sea is the home of the giants, Jotunheim, also known as Utgard. The gods' home lies above Midgard in Asgard. Hell lies below Midgard in Niflheim.

Unlike the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology, those of the Norse myths are not immortal in the sense that they will live forever. There will come a time when they and the world will die because of the evil actions of the god Loki, who is said to be a god through adoption only. Loki is really a giant, or a Jotnar, one of the said enemies of the Aesir, and it will be the Jotnar who will find the giants at Ragnarok and bring about the end of the world.

Ragnarok through the times

Ragnarok has been used and mentioned over and over in other literary works, either as an adaptation of the Norse myth or just the use of the name.

Marvel Comics has (subject is singular since it’s a company) their own adaptation of the Norse myth. In the August 1962 issue of the Journey into Mystery comics, Dr. Donald Blake made an appearance. He found a walking stick with an inscription that claimed it was the hammer of Thor, thus giving its bearer the same power as that of the god. Blake can transform himself from his frail, weak self and into the powerful Thor. This series was initially written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby. Later, other Norse mythology characters would appear, like Loki, Baldur, Sif and even Odin.

Ragnarok also plays a role in the popular Final Fantasy VIII game as the giant airship used as a major transportation. In Culture Crash Comics, it was used as a name of a giant bird whose appearance was revered by the residents of Featherwoods (Cat’s Trail, Issue 5).

Ragnarok Online

Hitting the Philippine shores shortly after the release of Oz World (a 3D virtual world chat software), Ragnarok Online has rapidly become popular and is probably among the most played PC game in the country nowadays. Through Ragnarok, Filipinos have discovered the joy of online gaming.

Ragnarok Online is based on the best-selling Korean comic book Ragnarok, by Myung Jin Lee. Partly inspired by Norse mythology and Japanese anime, the game is set in a fantasy world called Midgard, where gods, monsters, and humans are locked in an eternal battle. The author himself was involved in the creation of the online game, and has become very popular in other countries especially Taiwan, Thailand, and Japan.

With the mention of “network games,” what usually comes to mind would probably be: Counterstrike, War Craft, and Command and Conquer, and you would usually be limited to the PCs connected to your LAN. Ragnarok has allowed a player with a PC and Internet connection to play with another person located miles away, form groups and make new friends.


After signing up for an account (users get 3 free days of game play after sign up), new gamers (or newbies) can immediately go out to Midgard and get their levels up, beat up monsters, and make new friends. However, it would be advisable for newbies to go through the “training” course in order to familiarize themselves with the controls and such, as well as getting an idea of what job they want to get.

There are six first jobs to choose from. New gamers are initially “jobless” at the beginning of the game. They would need to reach a certain level of experience, gain some skills and collect certain items in order to get their first job. These first jobs are Swordsman (close combat specialist and usually the front liners in battle), Thief (specializing in pinpoint attacks and stealth), Archer (good with ranged weapons), Mage (magic wielder with the ability to cast a variety of spells), Merchant (dealers and traders), and Acolyte (spellcaster who uses the powers of the divine).

Upon reaching level 40 (or higher, depending on the job), characters will now level up to its corresponding second job level. Swordsman into Knight, Thief to Assassin, Archer to Hunter, Mage to Wizard, Merchant to Blacksmith, and Acolyte to Priest. Each job, of course has its own requirement and method on how to get it.

Me and the Ragnarok Experience

Ragnarok Online (RO) pretty much has no storyline to follow compared to other RPGs you might be familiar with. Here, your main goal is to increase your level, get the cool stuff to increase your power, have fun with the hack and slash part and increase your level some more. My brother (and my RO mentor) said that most (if not all) MMORPGs have no storylines, it’s the gameplay that makes the game attractive.

Another factor for RO’s popularity is its availability. Installer CDs are given out for free, and sign up is pretty easy. Unlike most MMORPGs abroad, where one must have a credit card and a broadband connection in order to play, Ragnarok here is offered as a prepaid, so gamers don’t have to worry about racking their bills. Game cards are sold in affordable rates, with P50 as the lowest denomination offering 8 hours of gameplay. Plus, it works well with narrowband connections, though players of this connection type may experience lag every now and then.

Graphics wise, RO is very, to put it bluntly, “cute”, which probably is another factor that attracts gamers. Characters are 2D in a 3D environment, and you can switch camera angles. It’s fun to roam and explore the various places even though you have no exact mission to do in Midgard. No blood and gore for this game, where even the monsters can be cute Jello-like creatures called “Porings”. Monsters can even become your pets, so long as you feed them the correct food to capture them. Pokemon on another level? Your call.

For a beginner the game can be quite confusing. There are not much guides that lets you know where to go or what to do unless you go through the training guide. My brother was nice enough to guide me through the first part, or “tanked” me and helped me get my first job. He also gave me cool stuff so as a novice I had slightly higher stats compared to the others.

As a gamer, what probably annoys me the most are the players who get into the game just to chat. It’s kind of hard to chat while trying to kill that monster for more experience points (XP), and then they get mad at you for not replying. Although the chat is one of the attractive functions of RO it does get distracting. Another peeve (and probably everyone else’s) is the “saw saw.” This is when you’re doing your best to kill that tough monster when somebody comes in and delivers the deadly last blow, and to your frustration, he gets the XP. All your hard work for naught.

Then again there are nice players out there who heal you (to restore your health) for free and some others who help you get around. And there are those who would join you for one “quest” be silly during the game, doing nothing but having fun as well. Add that to the thrill of getting your next job level, the game is a cool experience.

Overall, RO has brought a new definition to the word “gaming” here in the Philippines. It has over 4,000 registered gamers, and has quite a huge number of female players compared to that of other network games. And they’re not ashamed to let everyone know that they play the game.

Level-up! Games, the Philippine publisher of Ragnarok online, plans to expand Ragnarok. They recently launched a new server to accommodate the growing number of players. The website also accepts artwork from players to feature and include as transition screens for the game. Toys, figurines, and collectibles are being eyed for release in the near future, as well as the release of the English translation of the comic Ragnarok. #

(Article written for office newletter, The Link)

Oekaki article

Oodles of Doodles

Do you want to show your drawing talent online but have limited resources like scanners, graphics tablet and such? Have no worry; you can do so without too much difficulty, not with Oekaki BBS and Paint BBS around.

"Oekaki" is the Japanese word for "doodle," and the Oekaki BBS/ Paint BBS gives you the freedom to do just that. Both program are online painting applets where artists can draw and post their work online. Others can view these works and post comments. Think of a marriage between MSPaint and online message board... hence the name.

These two programs are said to be created by two different groups of Japanese programmers, but as to who they are exactly, my research has been unable to locate them. The programs were then translated from the original language and became immensely popular among the English speaking Internet community.

In the original Oekaki, anybody could simply start drawing and posting, which can cause problems if there are spammers because of the lack of security. Thanks to Theo Chakkapark and Marcello, Oekaki BBS was developed and updated to a more secure program, known as OekakiPoteto. Here, users would register with a specific board, then doodle to their heart’s content without worry that their work will be hacked, plagiarized or vandalized. Theo is the main coder for OekakiPoteto, while Marcello has written the parsing code for the OekakiBBS and PaintBBS applets, as well as the PaintBBS "hack" to allow users to edit their work. Updates include ban script used in OekakiPoteto to keep the spammers away, as well as development space and bug reports to those who host OekakiPoteto on their sites.

Oekaki is a server-based program so you can't use it on your home PC. It makes use of SQL (means Standard Query Language which is used to request information from a database) and PHP (an HTML scripting language used to create dynamic webpages) since OekakiBBS is constantly changing and updating, images, text and otherwise.

OekakiPoteto is quite popular among the anime community online. I came across several sites that showcase artwork of all kinds using this medium. I was able to make some of my own art with Oekaki, and it's no easy feat especially when I'm using a mouse and not a graphics tablet or a light pen. But it's a pretty nifty way to improve your skills on digital imaging, and since it's an online message board, you can get criticisms about your work (constructive or otherwise, depending how you take it).

There are several variations of the program available. For both the Oekaki and Paint BBS there’s the Animation function where each action done is automatically “recorded” for playback. You can then view a picture as it was created in animation style. For PaintBBS, there’s a “Palette” function where you can choose colors based on pre-created palettes. Personally, I prefer Paint BBS because it has more colors available on hand the controls are easier to get the hang of. With Oekaki however, it allows you to create multiple layers like in Photoshop.

Oekaki and Paint BBS is a fun way to explore your artistic talent. Downside is that it takes some time to load the work area, and changes take a few seconds to refresh on the screen. For users with no graphics tablets or light pen, it gets tiring to use the mouse to draw especially if one would like to work on detailed art. However, if you’re looking for good fun online and are in the mood for viewing art, this is for you.

Oekaki tutorial:
Paint tutorial:

(Article sample for Culture Crash)

Maroon 5 album review

Album/Band Info
Title: “Songs about Jane”
Tracks: 12
Label: Octane Records, J Records
Producer: Matt Wallace
Maroon5 is:
Adam Levine - Vocals, Guitar
James Valentine - Guitar
Jesse Carmichael - Keyboards
Mickey Madden - Bass
Ryan Dusick - Drums

Formerly known as Kara's Flowers, Maroon5 reinvented their sound with the release of their debut album "Songs about Jane." Combining their influences of soul, rock, funk and Stevie Wonder, they come up with a sound that's new and captivating. The first single, "Harder to Breathe," is a gritty rock piece with an angst-ridden theme. Then there's the track "This Love" which is a rather upbeat tune about letting go of a relationship that has turned sour. Both songs have been playing for quite some time on local radio and have gained a huge following. However, despite the edgy first tracks, the album also boasts of laid-back tunes that are perfect for an afternoon of lazing around. Tracks include "She will be loved," "The Sun," "Sunday Morning," (with the intro sounding like Jamiraquai's "Virtual Insanity" on a slower tempo), and “Secret.”

All in all, the twelve-track album deserves to be listened to and savored. The songs, with their catchy rhythms and soulful rock melodies, are refreshing to listen to despite being mostly about an ex-girlfriend. Three guesses as to what her name is.

Published: Culture Crash Issue 15, October 2004

Animax article

Animax is Here!
In partnership with Philippine Ragnarok Online, SkyCable, Home Cable and Ayala Center, Sony Entertainment brings to Manila the Animax Carnival held last January 4 at the Glorietta Activity Center.

Animax is the first 24-hour all anime cable channel in Asia and is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment. It had its first broadcast in Southeast Asia last January and currently has more than twenty anime programs on air, including Get Backers, Clamp School Detectives, Ghost in the Shell, Chobits and .hack//Sign. Filipinos would be familiar with their other titles like Cyborg Kurochan, Princess Sarah and Nobody’s Girl, which have been shown in local channels a couple of years back.

Even before the mall opened there was already a queue at the entrances, and a mad dash to the Activity Center ensued when the guards finally opened the mall’s doors. It was approximately around 10:30 when the event started with hosts Vivian Tan and Apollo Abrahim welcoming all guests, visitors and participants.

The Carnival started off with the first of the five Meet and Greet sessions with Astroboy. People lined up to have their pictures taken with him, who was also celebrating his first birthday this month (though Astroboy was created in the 50s, his character was “born” on April 7, 2003). This would be the first time that Astroboy would visit the Philippines, and there was even a birthday cake for him!

.hack// director, Koji Sawai
Gracing the Animax Carnival was the director of the series .hack// Legend of the Twilight, Koji Sawai. Mr. Sawai also did work with .hack//Sign (TV), Irresponsible Captain Tyler (OAV) and Ranma 1/2 (Season 2-5). (Source:

He gave away autographed copies of Legend of the Twilight posters during the two autograph signing sessions and gamely answered questions from the audience. With the help of his interpreter, Mr. Sawai gave a synopsis about his latest work, and how it is related to the earlier .hack. When asked who is his favorite character, he smiled shyly and said, “Everyone.”

Cosplay Galore!
Probably one of the most anticipated activities in any anime event is the cosplay and with the Animax Carnival, it was no exception. Though there were only 100 slots available for the contest itself, there were more people milling around Glorietta wearing costumes. A lot of shoppers were surprised and amused while kids excitedly pointed at the participants as they recognized the characters from Animax programs.

The 100 contestants were then trimmed to 30 semi finalists. Judges were .hack// director Koji Sawai, veteran cosplayer JM Chua, Igor Cabbab of Questor and ______ of Animax. These 30 finalists were then trimmed down to ten participants, which included a huge blue Tachicoma of Ghost in the Shell, a very impressive Astroboy mascot, Rogue and Crusader from Ragnarok, Dita from Chobits, Gundam Girl, Yuna, and Shaider. Each contestant paraded in front of the judges, doing their best to impress them. Some of them even went through impromptu battle scenes to score points. However, the winner was determined by a poll wherein the audience can cast their votes for their favorite cosplayer. And the winner is… Krizelle Yuchingco as Gundam Girl!

Ragnarok also had a separate cosplay for people who wore costumes of their favorite characters from the game. There were three categories: Best Female, Best Male and Best Monster. Emerging as winners were Hideto Matsumoto as Crusader for Best Female, Glenn Padua for Best Male and Choi Elegado as Best Monster for his Raydrick costume. Winners received cash prizes, gift packs from Animax and Level-Up as well as an autographed Ragnarok art book from Myung Jin Lee.

Extra Extra (Contests, Yo Yo Exhibit, Guest buffet)
There were several booths set up around the Activity Center by the event’s sponsors such as Sky and Home Cable, Gamesmaster and K-Zone magazine and of course, Culture Crash. Freebies such as wrist straps, posters, t-shirts, mouse pads and magazines were given away to lucky guests, contest participants and those who were patient enough to stay in line for an hour or so. There was even a buffet courtesy of Zen Japanese Restaurant for the VIPs, crew and guests.

The audience was also treated to a spectacular display of yo-yo tricks courtesy of Bankee Trading. Different styles were introduced and tricks that one might not think possible where presented. There were even tricks that could be done without the yoyo tied to a string. It was pretty amazing to see all those tricks and it just makes you want to go and buy your own yoyo.

There was also an area where you can doodle to your heart’s content called the “Mega Drawing Wall.” There were several drawings that the artist painstakingly worked on, while there were some which had humorous messages and sayings. Some did sketches of their favorite anime characters while some did their own original work.

Ragnarok: War of Emperium
Though the game has been around since late March, Level-Up games teamed up with Animax to officially launch “Ragnarok: War of Emperium” to the public (those who weren’t into Ragnarok, anyway). The fourth “episode” in the Philippine Ragnarok Online world, War of Emperium (also known as Guild Wars) allows guilds from all five servers to get a guild fortress (known as Agits) and protect them against other guilds that want to take over. War of Emperium also includes Turtle Island, where players can encounter newer, bigger and fiercer monsters.

The launch started with a dance number by the “Theives of Morroc.” Gamers would recognize the music they danced to as the remixed version of the game’s background themes. Hosts Vivian and Apollo wore spiffy new Ragnarok shirts courtesy of Penshoppe and gave away Drops and Poring plush toys to the eager crowd.

Then Ben Colayco, pRO head, stepped onstage to tell the audience about WoE, but instead of cheers, the crowd went wild with catcalls and jeers. Ben gamely accepted all these and said, “Bring ‘em on. I know I deserve it.” Players were not happy with the fact that the servers have been down for the last few weeks, and have been losing their items every now and then. Taking all this in stride, Ben assured the players that the server will be up and running soon. He also urged the guilds to participate on the “Road to Seoul” tournament as the winner will get to compete against Japan, Taiwan and Korea in an all out Ragnaork tournament. No details were given yet, but Ben did say that the tourney will take place in July.

7 Shots then came onstage and performed the theme for War of Emperium “Step Inside the Game.” They revved up the crowd with upbeat songs from their new album as well as renditions on popular songs like “Where is the Love” and “Officially Missing You,” while giving away Ragnarok maps. They also gave away a Ragnarok jersey (which was the only one in existence) to a lucky group of guys who sang out loud to 7 Shots’ performance.

Being one of the major sponsors, Philippine Ragnarok Online also had several contests aside from the cosplay that day. First there’s the On The Spot drawing contest. Divided into the Junior and Senior categories, the theme for the contest was "The War of Emperium: Teamwork inside and outside Ragnarok Online.” However, those who joined the contest may not have been given the theme (I asked the girl in charge if there was a theme but she told me that I can draw anything related to Ragnarok). Winning the Junior divison was Alodia Gosiengfiao (whom many would recognize as Rikku at last year’s C3Con).

Then there’s the pRO Guild Meet contest, which obviously, only those with guilds can join. Guilds with the most number of players present wins the contest, and the award goes to Alarius Eversoar with 21 members.

In the end…
The event was definitely jam-packed that security had to work double to ensure the safety of everyone. There were moments when you can hardly move from one location to another and would sometimes have to resort going out of the Activity Center and looking for another entrance. But it was well worth it for all the activities and interesting things to see. Though the event ended a few mintes before 8 pm, everyone was satisfied, albeit a bit tired. The event was definitely a success and I would say that another Animax Carnival would definitely be welcome in the future.

Published: Culture Crash Issue 15, October 2004
Note: This version is slightly different from the one that was published