Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Incompetent Boobery of a Solar Empire
A few months ago, I picked up Sins of a Solar Empire, and promptly ran several galactic empires right into the grave. I learned a lot during those first few failures, and I finally managed to win a game. It turns out that all I needed to do was set the difficulty to "Easy." Yet, even after that victory, I wasn't able to keep the streak going. After mismanaging another two empires into extinction, I gave up on the game. It was taking an awful lot of time and effort for me to kill these empires, and continually losing doesn't exactly do wonders for motivation.
The game definitely has a high learning curve. At least, for a casual gamer like me, it does. In one of my posts, I wondered what a more active gamer like Shamus would do with the game. And it appears that he's finally picked up the game and given it a try:
I decided to just run through the tutorials. The most important thing that I learned was that under no circumstances should I ever be allowed to run a galactic empire. It’s harder than it sounds, and the consequences for failure are rather dire. During the tutorial I was taught a few short lessons about some buttons. Apparently there are buttons, and they need to be pressed sometimes. There were some other details in there about economies and spaceships, but they eluded me once the tutorial had run its course. I’m still pretty sure about the button thing, though.He's much better at expressing the futility of a first time player than I was (the comic he created that accompanies his post is utterly hilarious), and I'm somewhat reassured by the fact that even a more experienced gamer had similar problems (reading the Sins forums was disheartening - most everyone there seemed to immediately grasp everything necessary for the game and they all sat about debating minutiae). While his post is very humerous and snarky, he does end up recognizing the game's learning curve:
This is not too say the game is too hard or complex. It’s just different, and you can’t really build on what you’ve learned in other games to help you along here. The tutorial teaches you how to use the interface, but figuring out what you should be doing is your job. At the start of the game there are dozens of possible actions to take, without any real hint as to which ones are a good idea or why. I imagine I’m going to lead a couple more doomed empires into history before I get a handle on the thing.This is very true, and Shamus is good enough that I'm sure he'll have the game figured out in a few games. Is the game too hard? It was hard enough that I wasn't having much fun towards the end. That doesn't make it a bad game, it was just too much work for me... though I have to admit, reading Shamus' post made me want to fire it up and slaughter my people.
The last game I played was one of the specific scenarios. It was a small map, with only a handful of planets, and three players. Furthermore, the map was shaped in such a way that you really can't take advantage of choke points (which usually helps in other games, even the ones where I lost). Anyway, the last time I played it, I got lit up by the two enemies. But I was careful to save a bunch of times, so I loaded one of my older saved games where I was still in good shape and gave it a shot. I threw caution to the wind and sent two of my capital vessels and a fleet of support ships to attack one of my enemies. This actually turned out to be a mildly successful tactic... for a while. Eventually, the other enemy caught on and attacked my home planet. I was able to fend them off, but my population was decimated and my economy went into the tank. I had to retreat from my attack for a bit to rebuild my forces too. Eventually, I was able to resume my attack, but my enemy seemed suspiciously fortified. It turns out that my two weenie enemies had joined together and had a ceasfire and trade relationship going. I was basically screwed. I could spend another hour watching my empire die a slow, torturous death, or come here and finish this blog post. Guess what I did. I don't know, maybe I could turn it around. It seems that I need to read up on how to do some of that diplomacy stuff.
Posted by Mark on April 30, 2008 at 09:18 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The recent bout with myTV on DVD addiction necessitated an increase in Netflix usage, which made me curious. How well have I really taken advantage of the Netflix service, and is it worth the monthly expense?
If I were to rent a movie at a local video store like Blockbuster, each rental would cost somewhere around $4 (this is an extremely charitable estimate, as I'm sure it's probably closer to $5 at this point), plus the expense in time and effort (I mean, come on, I'd have to drive about a mile out of my way to go to one of these places!) Netflix costs me $15.99 a month for the 3-disc-at-a-time plan (this plan was $17.99 when I signed up, but decreased in price two times during around two years of membership), so it takes about 4-5 Netflix rentals to recoup my costs and bring the price of an average rental down below $4. I've been a member for one year and ten months... how did I do (click for a larger version)?
A few notes on the data:
This has been an interesting exercise, because I feel like I'm a little more consistent than the data actually shows. I'm really surprised that there are several months where my rentals went down to 6... I could have sworn I watched at least 2-3 discs a week, with the occasional exception. Still, an average of 9 movies a month is nothing to sneeze about, I guess. I've heard horror stories of where Netflix will start throttling you and take longer to deliver discs if you go above a certain amount of rentals per month (at a certain point, the cost of processing your rentals becomes more than you're paying, which I guess is what prompts Netflix to start throttling you), but I haven't had a problem yet. If I keep up my recent viewing habits though, this could change...
Posted by Mark on April 27, 2008 at 11:09 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Top 5 Anticipated Summer Movies
The first few months of 2008 has been a real movie wasteland. A couple of interesting releases, but nothing all that great. As summer approaches, things are looking up a little. The guys at Filmspotting will be doing a top 5 anticipated summer movies on Friday, so in an effort to beat them to the punch, here's my top 5:
Posted by Mark on April 23, 2008 at 09:44 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I've been watching a lot of TV on DVD (or Netflix Watch Online) lately. It can be quite an addictive experience, as the shows don't have commercials and many episodes end with something interesting (not necessarily a cliffhanger, but enough to make you want to see what happens next). I usually end up watching a bunch of episodes at once. In the past few months I've watched a bunch of shows in this fashion, including Dexter (seasons 1 and 2), Battlestar Galactica (season 3), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (seasons 1 and 2), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and The Wire (seasons 1 and 2). It helps that all of these shows are pretty good, but I began to wonder about the impact of watching shows on DVD versus broadcast television. I also started to wonder what the ideal length of a TV episode should be and why most Anime series, even dramatic ones, tend to be only a half-hour, while the best American drama series tend to be an hour per episode...
A few weeks ago, I finished up BSG season three and in my post on the subject, I said:
I'll be able to watch season 4 as it happens. This presents an interesting contrast though, as I've watched the first three seasons on DVD. I've been wondering lately what impact this sort of schedule has on the perception of a series. It's certainly fun to watch. Addicting, actually. Will watching only a single episode a week (as opposed to 4 commercial-free episodes at a time) have a positive impact on my perception of the show? It's obviously a highly subjective question, but I guess I'm going to find out.So we're a few episodes into season 4 of BSG, and I have to say that I'm not enjoying it as much as when I was watching it on DVD (though the latest episode was pretty good). It's hard to tell if it's the notion of having to wait a week between episodes, or if it's just that the quality of the episodes is bothering me, and there's no real way to accurately test this, though I suppose if I do it more often (i.e. watch a series on DVD and catch up to the broadcast) I could get a better idea of how this impacts a show. Season 3 of Dexter is supposed to start up sometime this summer, so I guess that's my next chance...
I'm particularly interested in this when it comes to Anime episodes, because most of us Westerners pick up DVD sets and watch multiple episodes at a time. Perhaps it's the typical half-hour duration that Anime uses (more on this later), but I wonder if a series would get frustrating if I had to wait a week between episodes. For GitS:SAC, there are some episodes that fit well into the series when watching it all at once, but that I think i'd find frustrating if I had to wait a week to see the next episode. For instance, the entirety of episode 9 takes place in a chat room where a bunch of people talk about the Laughing Man (a cyber-terrrorist whos is being chased throughout the series). I guess some interesting stuff comes to light in that episode, but if I was watching that series as it aired, I might have been a little more underwhelmed. I love Haibane Renmei, but I have to admit that it's probably not something I'd have stuck with if I had to wait a week between each episode (at least, not until DVD). And so on.
I think part of that is that the duration for the grand majority of Anime seems to be a half-hour (with commercials, OPs, and EDs, it works out to around 22-23 minutes an episode), and I'm not sure that's the ideal length for some of the stories that are being told through Anime. Of course, lumping all Anime together is foolish, as it's extremely broad and some series work fine.
So what is the ideal length of a TV episode? Let's take a look at the typical lengths (emphasis is on American series, as that's what I'm most familiar with, but I'll also go a little into Anime):
These days there are too many long-form TV shows to list. A big part of this is that people have broken away from broadcast television and consume their media in different ways (DVRs, torrents, even waiting for a DVD set), so they don't really have to worry about missing an episode and losing track of what's happening in the story. There's also a notion that television series have gotten much more complex and referential to be more cognitively engaging for the audience (Steven Johnson makes a compelling case for this sort of thing in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You). It's much easier to develop a multi-threaded story comprised of a complex network of relationships in 12-24 hours than it is in one or two hours.
Interestingly, television used to be the domain of the short form narrative, where a story was crammed into a 23 or 46 minute timeframe. Movies told more of a long form story that took 90 minutes to 3 or even 4 hours to develop. However, as time goes on and our ability to time-shift television programming gets better, television and film have become inverted. Television now tells the long form stories, and because they have even more time than movies, their stories can be that much richer and more complex. Of course, this all depends on how well done the television show is. The Wire would certainly hold its own with most movies, but it's also a bit of an outlier. Most shows are not done at the same quality level as The Wire.
Given the above, I have to wonder why there aren't more Anime series that have a one hour format. I think hour long episodes tend to be better for telling a complete narrative (or contributing a more meaningful chunk of an overall story arc) than a half hour episode, so I think it would be interesting to see an Anime series take on that sort of format. For instance, I think GitS:SAC would benefit greatly from a little more time to flesh out the characters and their universe (which, as I've noted before, can sometimes be a little confusing - though I should note that SAC is better at this than the feature films, which have even less time to spare). Instead, I get a rushed feeling from some episodes (and I had a similar reaction to some episodes of of Vandread and Cowboy Bebop too). In many cases, Anime series are already telling a long form story, so it would be interesting to see if an hour long format would make that long form story better (or worse?)
Posted by Mark on April 20, 2008 at 03:53 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Link to Someone New: Philly Film Fest Edition
You know the drill. Blog reading often becomes a closed loop where you find yourself constantly reading and linking to the same group of blogs. I'm as guilty as anyone (plus, I have a tendency to not link other blogs at all), so in an effort to combat the blogging equivalent of inbreeding, here are links to several blogs I've never linked before, all of whom have also been blogging about the Philadelphia Film Festival (for reference, see my posts):
Posted by Mark on April 16, 2008 at 06:29 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Recap
I had meant to write reviews as I went, but things didn't work out that way, so here's a recap of all the films I've seen this week. Star ratings are out of 4 stars.
Update: Made some edits, specifically to the Storm review... Also removed the The Last House in the Woods entry, as I didn't end up seeing that film...
Posted by Mark on April 13, 2008 at 04:08 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Confession of Pain
One of the more successful Hong Kong films of recent years is Infernal Affairs, a story of an undercover cop and a police department mole. It was remade in the U.S. as The Departed and it netted Scorcese's first oscars (among others). The symmetrical plot of Infernal Affairs is cliever and complex, but the real strength of the film is the psychological struggle of people who've been undercover for so long they're not sure who they are anymore. Confession of Pain is from the same writers and directors as Infernal Affairs. The plot doesn't feature the clever symmetry of Infernal Affairs and the psychological aspects aren't as deep, but the stakes are still high and the story is still complex and interesting.
After his girlfriend commits suicide, Detective Yau Kin Bong quits the force and becomes a private investigator. He also becomes an alcoholic. His former partner and friend Lau Ching Hei keeps tabs on him, and when someone murders Hei's father-in-law, Hei's wife hires Bong to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the murder. It sounds like a pretty standard plot, but the filmmakers manage to wring a lot of complexity out of it by employing a lot of noir story elements and maybe some of the Infernal Affairs-like symmetry. It ends up being a story of betrayal and revenge, and there are numerous surprises along the way.
The lead performances by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro are great, and the visuals are sleeker and more cinematic than Infernal Affairs. It moves a little slowly and there are some confusing hiccups along the way (perhaps a lost in translation sorta thing), but in the end, it's a very well executed noir-like mysery/thriller. Apparently, a U.S. remake of this film is also in the works, though I'm not sure this one will go over as well... *** (out of 4 stars)
Posted by Mark on April 09, 2008 at 03:24 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Pistoleros
The first film I saw at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival was Pistoleros. Chilean born Dutch filmmaker Shaky González makes a modern-day spaghetti western, complete with a heist-gone-wrong, hidden loot, a trail of clues, betrayals, gunfights and mexican standoffs galore, with a little martial arts thrown in for good measure. An interesting and entertaining mix, though a little uneven in its execution.
The story follows Frank Lowies, the toughest, meanest gangster in Copenhagen. He catches wind of a plan to transport a large sum of money by train, and recruits two other gangsters to help pull it off: a Pakistani named Shameer and an Argentinian named Ramirez. Naturally, things don't go as planned, and the three end up in jail. As urban legend has it, Frank hid a large portion of the money before getting nabbed by the police and hid it. The only clues to the whereabouts of the loot are a series of tatoos spread out amongst Frank's friends. A few years later the folks involved in the heist get out of jail and start looking for the hidden loot.
Pretty standard stuff, really, but the manner in which it's told is... interesting. The film employs a very unusual structure, and to be honest, I'm not sure it entirely works. On the other hand, without this structure, it probably wouldn't work as well. The story is told mostly in flashbacks. A documentary filmmaker named Martin and his producer Camilla meet up with a washed-up gangster named Crazy Uffe, who is supposedly very knowledgeable on Frank Lowies and the story of the hidden money. The story doesn't come out directly, though. Instead, we get a flashback withinin a flashback. Crazy Uffe tells the story of how he told Frank Lowies' story to another gangster named Yugo Ivan. Uffe owed Ivan money, so he told the story in the hopes of paying off his debts with Lowies' hidden stash. In the middle of telling his story, he gets interrupted by someone else at the bar, who tells the story of how the heist was conceived and how it went wrong, at which point we return to Uffe's story. Finally, someone else joins in and says they're all wrong, and that the money is still out there.
So we've got all kinds of flashbacks within flashbacks and unreliable narration, and it's tempting to attribute a Rashômon-like signifigance to it all, but I think that's probably giving this film too much credit. As you can probably tell from the descriptions above, it's a bit confusing and the structure is awkward to say the least. There is definitely some ambiguity left at the end, especially considering the sequence shown during the credits of the film (don't stop watching once the credits start rolling!), but really, the whole story and structure is just an excuse to partake in some action-packed fun.
The atmosphere is wonderful, though I think the film could have done more with it's intriguing mixture of spaghetti western tropes and modern-day imagery. The music deserves some mention, as it's evocative of Ennio Morricone's brilliant scores from Sergio Leone's classic films. There are a couple of great scenes where we see our heroes driving their motorcycles (in place of horses) throughout Copenhagen (in place of the old West) with the spaghetti western score blaring in the background. It struck me that this sort of thing hasn't been done much (if ever), and that I'd love to see more modern-day spaghetti westerns. There are references galore. Obviously, the spaghetti westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (the plot of Pistoleros is most reminiscent of this film, and someone even refers to a character as "blondie") and Once Upon a Time in the West get many homages, but there's more than just that. Robert Rodriguez is definitely an influence on this film, and you can see lots of other references to gangster films. Oddly, there's also a bit of martial arts thrown in for good measure, but that works better than I thought it would. The action sequences are energetic and well staged, and while the editing and pace of the film is quick, you don't lose track of what's going on.
Ultimately, it's a decent film that could have used a tighter story or perhaps a structure that wasn't so haphazard. I'm guessing that we're going to see more from writer/director Shaky González, and while this film isn't perfect, it's definitely an interesting effort and I'd love to see what he comes up with next... **1/2 (out of 4 stars)
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2008 at 01:51 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Via Haibane.info, I stumbled across this:
It's pretty funny and I got a little curious about the history of this thing. Apparently a sketch comedy troupe in Wisconsin called the Dead Alewives put together an album featuring a parody of Dungeons & Dragons. The audio skit is pretty funny by itself, and it's been making the rounds on radio and the internet ever since the mid 1990s. In 2000, a bunch of developers at a video game company, Volition (they made Descent, Red Faction, and of course, Summoner), made an animated version, and distrubuted it along with their games (it's in some promotional material and if you win the game, you see it there as well). So it went from an improvisational comedy group, to a CD they made, to the radio, to the internet, got mashed up with visuals from other video games, and has now finally made its way to me (about 12 years later).
Posted by Mark on April 02, 2008 at 10:42 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in April 2008.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
2012 Movie Awards
2013 Movie Awards
2014 Movie Awards
2015 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.