The price for free… lancing

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The deadline draws near. But you’re assured. Everything is according to schedule. You checked, and double-checked your calendar, your watch, your phone. Perfect, everything is going smoothly.

A text comes in. A potential client. You negotiate for a price. They lowered. You stayed strong, offering them additional bonuses for the price. Still high. You offer a package deal. They agreed, but can only pay you in instalments. You agree, but it’s only after the payment is done is when they can get the final product. They argued, ‘It’s urgent.’ You ask for a downpayment, and they gave a small fraction of what the actual fee is. Since it’s urgent, you told them about the expedited rate. Another argument. ‘Another freelancer was doing this for so and so price.’ It’s bait and you know it. But you can’t risk it. After all, you’ve already went back and forth with them for the past few hours. Hours that could’ve been used to work on your given assignment. Hours that you couldn’t get back.

You agreed with the normal price and you continued working. The phone rings. The usual client. You’ve been waiting for this one to call but you’re kinda nervous of what to hear from the other line. You picked up. Payment’s in. From last month? ‘No,’ they said. ‘From last year.’ But what about the series of big projects you did from 2 months ago? ‘Not yet, sorry. But we will update you.’ Hangs up. Back to work. Time has gone by. Less than focused than when you started. You looked at the clock. Shit. Time has already passed by from talking to others. And yet you push yourself. Another text. A different client. You were bombarded with profanities, saying that your final product isn’t the one like they wanted. You protested, after all, you did ask if they wanted anything changed from the draft before you finalise and send it to them. But they had not said anything. Deadline was approaching. No answer. You enclosed the attachment to the e-mail you submitted while making sure that you said: “Please inform me if you require any more changes before so and so date.” But they blamed you for not giving them quality work and refused to pay full price for the product that you sent out.

Demotivated. Demoralised. Abused. Underpaid. You look at the clock again. Your schedule’s fucked up too. Great. Just great.

“I’ll be Here”: A Tribute to Final Fantasy VIII

Final Fantasy VIII

Video games have been growing rapidly in the past couple of decades. We’ve shifted from the flat 8-bit platformers to the photo-realistic action-packed open-world RPGs in a relatively short amount of time. The expansion and growth of this medium is only limited to the advancements of technology and the exhibition of creativity, which can be summed up as the marriage between artistic expression in graphics and a strong narrative that accompanies and, more often than not, complement a game’s core mechanics as well as obscuring its limitations.

But enough about the anecdotal front of making video games the next canvas for artists. We are here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable entries of a much beloved RPG franchise: Final Fantasy VIII.

Released on February 11th, 1999 in Japan and September 9th, 1999 in the States, Final Fantasy VIII (or also known as FFVIII by fans) received critical acclaim from gamers all over the world. From its improved graphics, intriguing storyline, battle system (love or hate that junction system, yo!), FFVIII was considered as an RPG classic throughout the years and many a gamer can look back fondly and recall the endearing love story, or love stories if you will.

Since I can’t discuss further about this game without mentioning some important key elements, i.e. spoilers, I am going to put in an obligatory spoiler warning so that I won’t get screamed at for spoiling the story for you. So be warned: Spoilers ahead!

The game follows a Squall Leonhart, although I don’t think his last name was ever mentioned in the game itself, I even checked the game script by Shotgunnova and found no entry for ‘Leonhart’. In fact, I don’t think his last name was mentioned on the box either. Perhaps it was because of his mysterious past as he was an orphan and was later brought to one of the three Gardens, which are educational and military institutions where they train youths to become members of SeeD (the mercenary force in the FFVIII universe).

The Play Station back cover
The main SeeD gang in your party

In Squall’s journey to become a member of SeeD and later on as a member of SeeD, he meets with several other characters. Some will be a permanent addition to your party, while others are only there for narrative purposes, which is a shame because Seifer’s Limit Breaks are awesome, but we only get to experience one of them while he’s in our party. Among the collective are other SeeD members: (anti-clockwise from top right) Selphie Tilmitt, Irvine Kinneas, Quistis Trepe, and Zell Dincht. Coincidentally, they too were all orphans and grew up at the same orphanage.

Seifer Almasy and his posse, Fujin and Raijin

Later on in the story, we also learnt that Seifer Almasy, who is Squall’s rival in more ways than one, is also an orphan. You might be wondering now: Why is everyone an orphan here? Well, there was a war about 17 years ago and there were casualties, just like in all wars. So many of these kids who lost their families were sent off to an orphanage to be raised before they were adopted, or become old enough to be qualified to enter one of the three prestigious Gardens throughout the world.

Speaking of 17 years ago, one of the major narrative elements of this game is that it takes place in two timelines: one is in the present where you play as Squall, and another timeline that takes place about 20 years in the past where you play as Laguna Loire. Ever read a book, watch a TV series, or play a video game with a sub-plot that is either not relevant or just invading the main plot overall? Well, this one actually works. In fact, reading the two timelines are like putting a puzzle together. In the present timeline, you hear (or read) about people referring to something happening in the past and when you play as Laguna, it’s happening right then and there. This is especially so if you’re a completionist and you’ve collected all of the Timber Maniacs magazines. With these, you can find out about Laguna’s story and experiences from the articles that he wrote. To access the collected Timber Maniacs volumes, go to your classroom in Balamb Garden and read it from Selphie’s site. She will update it when you find a new volume. It’s kinda tedious when you want to access it, but they have already established why both wired and wireless communications are almost completely impossible to manage. So no Wi-Fi for you Squall. It’s the intranet all the way.

Laguna (middle), Kiros (left), and Ward (right) were soldiers back in the day

I won’t say that this game is utter perfection. My experience with Final Fantasy VIII would make me far too biased to give a phenomenal rating. In fact, when I played this game again for the first time in more than 10 years, I noticed a lot of gaps in the narrative, flaws in the battle system (but I figured it out eventually, thanks to Mike Bettencourt on YouTube), but truth be told, I’m not really bummed out when Square Enix did not say anything about an FFVIII remake. Well, I was upset that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that it’s the 20th anniversary of the game, but based on what’s happening in the video game industry as of late, I’m in no rush for a remake.

We can all see that all forms of media, not just video games, are trying to be as relevant as they can. It’s basic marketing: the more people you attract, the larger your audience. However, that doesn’t come without a price. To want to have a wide audience, the studio needs to be careful. Treading on eggshells careful. So what we get or may get as the final product is this bland thing that looks pretty, but has little to no substance. Currently while Final Fantasy VII Remake is in the works, I worry that a lot of changes will be made to cater to a wider audience. Some changes might be acceptable to the audience as the game will naturally be different from then to now, but not all gamers would agree if a change is good or otherwise. It’s like the studio is in this situation whereby no matter what they do, there will always be people who are unhappy with the final product and so they keep trying to fix it again and again, till finally when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, you’ll end up with a kitsch that only echoes the glory of what it once was, or just merely a medium of references.

Or maybe they’ll do a good job. I mean, hey, Capcom did a bang-up job with Resident Evil 2 Remake. Maybe Square will do the same. Hopefully.

Although I said that I’m in no rush for an FFVIII remake, I really hope that if they take their time for it, they will give this game the love and care that it truly deserves. I want to see Square teasing us with the connection between FFVIII and Final Fantasy XV. Come on, the Solomon ring and the ring of Lucii? They’re both powerful objects and according to the Occult Fan Magazine, the owner of the Solomon ring was royalty, and who was Noctis again? Oh yeah, a prince. I’m not the only one who pointed this theory out, by the way. Someone already beat me to it.

A comparison between the ring of Lucii from Final Fantasy XV (top) and the Solomon ring from Final Fantasy VIII (bottom)

From Final Fantasy VIII
Occult Fan Magazine (Vol III): Magic World Exclusive
Summoning Legend Revealed!
Look at this picture. This is a confidential photo of what is assumed to be a ring that summons a GF. Legend goes that it was a ring that belonged to a royal family.
Its name and whereabouts are unknown. The legend says you must have 666 items to summon a GF.

Then there’s the fact that Seifer was a fan of Laguna. This was only implied in the Final Fantasy VIII Ultimania book, however the more recently released game Dissidia Final Fantasy Omnia confirms this. I just hope that they would let us take a glimpse of what would happen if they meet in the original game, or the remake. I’m a big fan of showing and not telling, so I don’t think we need a full conversation between them. Besides, I think they actually have met in the game. After all, Seifer immediately shifted from being Adel’s knight (surrendering Rinoa to her and all) to going fishing with his posse in the epilogue. I’d like to think that Laguna gave him a talking to. They had to both be there in the Lunatic Pandora at some point because after the battle with Adel, Laguna immediately appeared with Ellone to remove Ultimecia from Rinoa.

All in all, if they do decide to develop a remake of this game, I hope that they take their time with it. Go over the things that us fans love about the game: the characters, the secrets, the adventures, but at the same time, don’t worry too much about making everyone happy. Because us loyal fans will still be waiting here.

And that’s a promise.

Our Dissociative Associates

There is a saying that goes

If you do something for 40 days straight

And it will become a habit

To which we add another zero to that figure and turn the days into years

And we get a representation of the development of a collective consciousness

Something that inhibits our mind, like it or not

Shaping the way we think, stereotypes and all

And it loops itself over and over

In a perpetual cycle

Because we believed it

Because why not?

After all, it’s what we’re told

Repeatedly too

If you were told something repeatedly, then it has got to be true

Perhaps it is time to enunciate

Break the cycle of this state

Hold off the stirring chaos of the innate

And let us think of how we’ve changed to date

Cultures change as our forefathers sighed

Behold, a sinner of the linguistic kind am I?

But what of the tomes that we are offered?

Of stories we’ve read from which we suffered

High are they held upon a pedestal

Words with meanings that have yet to settle

We are constantly in a conflicting unanimous

Some fight for reason, others ignoramus

Case in point

What is the point?

If we keep pointing fingers

Just let the mind linger

A little longer

A traitor?

Our visions began to split

Are we real or just a hypocrite?

Denying the existence of anything we hate most

Watch the world with our eyes widely closed

Drudging in the grudge that cannot be budged

Cease this madness and be still dear mind of mine

There is much to learn

Much to read

Much to say

Much to see

The knowledge of chaotic storms

Yet brings peace in me

Just consider the knowledge in the name of everything

Gloriously beautiful and virtuously wonderful

Metaphysically mental, and physically philosophical

Is the spiritually essential

The subtle shades of grief

Nomada Studio is kind enough to provide full resolution wallpapers for PC and mobile on their Twitter page. Do check them out @nomadastudiobcn on Twitter and Instagram.

It can almost be certain that in every adult life, there is grief. To an extent, we can all relate to losing someone or something in our lives that brought us to our knees, and that is what players can experience in the 2018 released video game Gris.

This is a gorgeous game. I like the way that it didn’t shoehorn its message like a lot of video games, films, and other forms of contemporary media are doing, as they are racing to be the most relevant (#woke), but rather Gris brings a subtle feel to it. There is no dialogue in the game, and yet no words were needed to simulate the feelings of despair, anger, and release via the stunning graphics and heart-wrenching music.

I have to admit that I cried upon my second playthrough (because I was too distracted by the pretty surroundings during the first), not because of a gripping narrative, but rather because of what is experienced. Like a lot of master storytellers would say: “Show, don’t tell.” And Gris has totally nailed it.

The game begins with a girl waking up in the palm of the hand of… something. A huge statue perhaps. And this scene reminded me of an old animated film called Dyuymovochka (1964), or Thumbelina that was animated by the Russian animation studio Soyuzmultfilm. The proportion of the girl to the hand was uncanny to the fairy tale, but as soon as she was literally dropped into the world of Gris, everything is in normal size, i.e. proportional to her. From then on, we discover the different parts of the world and we observe how it evolves along with our main character, also referred to as Gris.

Another thing about Gris that reminded me of the Russian Thumbelina film is her animation. They are both dainty characters and an ocean’s breeze would likely blow them off the ground, quite literally. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed her design. And I’m sure a lot of other people do too, after all Gris did win at the Annie Awards for Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in a Video Game.

Although both Gris (2018) and Dyuymovochka (1964) have dainty designs, the former is more on the minimalistic side with her body being mostly covered by her magical dress, black lines for her arms and legs, and her signature blue hair.

The duration needed to complete this game from the beginning wouldn’t take long. I’ve read from some reviews that players are able to complete it within 2 hours. So, with a fairly short game, players surely would not want to miss out on all of the achievements, and in my opinion, they shouldn’t. Part of understanding what Gris’ story is all about is in the achievements.

Spoilers ahead!

Five of the unlockable achievements are the five stages of grief. This game talks about loss. And while players wouldn’t know who it is that Gris had lost until they’ve found all of the mementos (orbs of light suspended in the air located in different places) and go to a secret room before the ending, players can experience these stages via the colors that were released upon each level.

The game is fairly straightforward and the puzzles are simple enough to understand without a guide, and from interviews I found out that it was intended to be like that. This isn’t a Silent Hill game that you have to break out your knowledge on Shakespeare or a Souls game with huge OP bosses. This is a game that focuses on your senses. The visuals, the music, the pacing: they all can make you feel things that you wouldn’t need words to explain. It’s like poetry where metaphors come into play. Perhaps you wouldn’t get it straight right off the bat, but you will feel it. Definitely.

If I would describe this game in one word, I would say ‘colorful’. Quite a contradiction for a game entitled ‘Gris’ (meaning ‘gray’ in Spanish), but a lovely one of that.

A Musical Journey: Thoughts on “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words” by Jay Rubin

music of words

The first book by Haruki Murakami that I ever picked up was “After Dark”. I was 18 and I was in a transitional phase. Little did I know, this was one of many. I will not elaborate more on those to bore you, so I will keep this discussion within the context of my choices in literature.

I’m a huge fan of Murakami and I’ve read most of his books; both fiction and nonfiction. However, despite being a fan, I admit that there are some of his works that I read just because I bought the book and are currently collecting dust in my small private library. The ones that I do love, however, would occasionally be found on my bedside table or in my messenger bag while I’m out. My copies of “After Dark” and “Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” are worn out from repeated reading. I think my copy of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” had seen better days too, but I gave it away to someone because I knew how much she loved to run. And lastly, the reasons my copy of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” still looks good are one, it’s fairly new compared to the others, and two, I got the hardcover edition because I love how it was designed.

As a writer and a self-proclaimed avid reader, there are times when I find myself trying to decipher how the writers’ minds work. I go on Wikipedia to read about them and their experiences and try to consume as much of my favourite authors’ works as I can. Learning-wise, this is not a smart move because this is not effective learning, and this was more to feeding my curiosity, which oftentimes borderlines on obsession.

When I saw Jay Rubin’s “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words”, I nearly mistook it for another Murakami novel called “Dance, Dance, Dance” because the covers published by Vintage had a similar motif: they both had an LP record on the cover. I am fully aware that they do not look the same, but it just occurred to me that it was the same book or a different variety of the same book, and hence I looked away from it for the first few times I saw it. “Dance, Dance, Dance” is one of my least favourite ones so perhaps that’s why I did that.

But eventually I realized that I was an idiot for not reading the title carefully and not noticing that the book was arranged under R and not M, so I bought it.

As a freelance translator myself, I’ve found that the translation process is a very intimate one. Because when you translate a text by a certain person/writer/author, you have to understand what they mean and what their intentions are when they write something. Every passage is like a symphony and every word has the power to either highlight or dim down a certain situation in the original text. A translator cannot pick words individually, transform them into a different language, and put it back into the text and call it a translation. One needs to understand the nuances, the flow, the tone, and how this idea was embodied by the writer to a certain extent. So if there is anyone qualified enough to write a biography on Haruki Murakami, it would be Jay Rubin.

Rubin’s biography on Murakami is a compilation of essays on the works that are written by Murakami. I got the edition published in 2012, so it encompasses Murakami’s work from Pinball, 1973 to 1Q84. The essays Rubin wrote offer an interesting and personal perspective of the writer’s life and growth in writing literature.

Being an academic at Harvard University, Rubin addressed that his objectivity may be called into question. This is due to his friendship with the writer and in the Readme section of the biography, Rubin wrote:

“I knew I would like the man himself when I read his work, and I’ve written this book for other fans who feel a similar kinship with him and would like to know more about his life and art, but who are prevented from doing so by the barriers of the Japanese language.”

Touchy situation, isn’t it; when something personal collides with scholarly accounts?

When academic objectivity sets the boundaries for the sort of information included in a certain work or text, it is bound to spark a debate. But then again, in academe, what doesn’t? Especially in the topic of literary translations when interpretations are fluid and mutable. The final translated product of one person is likely to be different from the other.

From my personal point of view, I could not find a reason to dismiss this book for not being “scholarly” because it was written by someone who had a close relationship with the author. To me, this just provides more insight; probably more than, for instance, a person who never met Murakami.

However, I’m not saying that we should give up on academic objectivity altogether. But in this case, this book is not only a series of accounts. It’s a tribute from a friend and a fan.