Sunday, May 30, 2010
Someone sent me a note about a post I wrote on the 4th Kingdom boards in 2005 (August 3, 2005, to be more precise). It was in a response to a thread about technology and consumer electronics trends, and the original poster gave two examples that were exploding at the times: "camera phones and iPods." This is what I wrote in response:
Heh, I think the next big thing will be the iPod camera phone. Or, on a more general level, mp3 player phones. There are already some nifty looking mp3 phones, most notably the Sony/Ericsson "Walkman" branded phones (most of which are not available here just yet). Current models are all based on flash memory, but it can't be long before someone releases something with a small hard drive (a la the iPod). I suspect that, in about a year, I'll be able to hit 3 birds with one stone and buy a new cell phone with an mp3 player and digital camera.For an off-the-cuff informal response, I think I did pretty well. Of course, I still got a lot of the specifics wrong. For instance, I'm pretty clearly talking about the iPhone, though that would have to wait about 2 years before it became a reality. I also didn't anticipate the expansion of flash memory to more usable sizes and prices. Though I was clearly talking about a convergence device, I didn't really say anything about what we now call "apps".
In terms of game consoles, I didn't really say much. My first thought upon reading this post was that I had completely missed the boat on the Wii, however, it appears that the Wii's new controller scheme wasn't shown until September 2005 (about a month after my post). I did manage to predict a winner in the HD video war though, even if I framed the prediction as a "high capacity DVD war" and spelled blu-ray wrong.
I'm not generally good at making predictions about this sort of thing, but it's nice to see when I do get things right. Of course, you could make the argument that I was just stating the obvious (which is basically what I did with my 2008 predictions). Then again, everything seems obvious in hindsight, so perhaps it is still a worthwhile exercise for me. If nothing else, it gets me to think in ways I'm not really used to... so here are a few predictions for the rest of this year:
Posted by Mark on May 30, 2010 at 09:00 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Nanoha A's Ends
I finished Nanoha A's about a month ago, but have neglected to post about it until now. I don't have much to add to my previous posts on the subject, but I do want to comment on one thing that I wrote a while back:
Ultimately, I'm glad I'm watching this series, but I think I've discovered a strain of Anime that I know I want to avoid in the future. The whole lolicon business is frustrating, especially since you can go a few episodes without it and just when I'm getting used to a normal story, I get slapped in the face with a creepy transformation deck or something. I don't really have that much of a problem while watching the show, but I can already tell that this is the sort of series where my opinion will degrade over time because the most memorable part of it is something I find annoying and creepy.A month after finishing the series, and I have to say that my opinion has indeed degraded over time for the reasons described above. Much of what I remember about the show are the creepy lolicon overtones and a bunch of nitpicky complaints.
The overall stories of both series are reasonably well done, and I do like the way stakes were raised in the second series. For a quasi-inanimate object, the Book of Darkness makes for a good villain, and I like how it meets its match in a young, crippled girl who has seemingly endless reserves of good will and optimism. The way the protectors bond with that girl is touching and further reinforces the "empathetic villain" motif of the series.
There's a twist later in the series which is reasonably satisfying, though not entirely unexpected. As soon as a second masked mystery man showed up, it was almost immediately obvious who they were and why they were helping the Book of Darkness.
The battles in the series are certainly bigger and our heroes' power certainly seems to be growing, but this does represent something of an issue with Magic. I had mentioned before that the series doesn't get too carried away with the Magic, but in hindsight, I think it might suffer from the typical magic trap of ever-escalating power. There don't appear to be much in the way of limitations to magic in the universe of this show, and that does begin to sap the show of some tension.
But all of that is beside the point. In the end, I simply can't deal with the creepy lolicon stuff. There isn't that much of it in the series, but it's about evenly spread throughout, so that every time I felt myself getting comfortable with the story, they'd throw a creepy transformation deck at me and I'd be right back where I started. It's a good series, but I find it hard to overcome the things I don't like about it. As I mentioned above, it's only really gotten worse over time, to the point where things I didn't mind much now feel like negatives. I'm glad I watched it, because I now know to steer clear of anything with even a whiff of lolicon, but that's a bit of a shame because I did enjoy some aspects of the series quite a bit. I'm a little comforted by the fact that the folks who recommended this series to me don't seem to like the whole lolicon business either, but while they were able to tune it out, I just wasn't able to do so... I'm told that the sequel to this series takes place when Nanoha and friends are in their late teens (something we get a glimpse of at the very end of this series... and I wish that's how the series had started), which sounds promising, but at the same time, I'm not exactly in the mood to chase down the series (which hasn't been released yet in the US).
Up next in the Anime queue are a pair of movies - Banner of the Stars III (technically an OAV) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (which I apparently had in my Netflix queue, probably added due to Otaku Kun and the rest of the Otakusphere).
Posted by Mark on May 26, 2010 at 07:34 PM .: link :.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The Murnau Stare
One of the films I forgot to include in my Greatest Movies I've Never Seen list was Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It's a 1927 silent film and it features a number of iconic shots - most notably a scene where a woman and man pass through a bustling street (see this clip, about 3:36 in). One of the things I always find interesting about the silent film era is how much of modern cinema is represented, even back then. While technology and budgets have certainly improved, much of the visual language of cinema was coined during the silent era. In particular, Sunrise has a number of impressive tracking shots and the composite special effects are much more effective than expected.
The shot that struck me the most, though, was this one:
In the film, a city girl vacations in the country and tempts a farm man into an affair. She suggests he drown his wife so that he could be free to run away to the city. It's a rather simple premise, but the man is conflicted, and when he takes his wife out for a boat ride, he stops and favors her with the above stare. Does it look familiar?
Maybe it's just me, but it bears a striking resemblance to what's called the Kubrick Stare. Head tilted downward, eyes tilted upward. It was a favorite shot of Kubrick, and he often employed it in his movies, perhaps most famously in the opening shot of A Clockwork Orange:
A Clockwork Orange
It turns out that the phrase "Kubrick Stare" was coined by cinematographer Doug Milsome, a frequent collaborator with Kubrick. It seems that Kubrick liked to use the look himself when he was feeling angry or mischievous, and it's rumored that his stare was more intense than anything in his films. This shot from a Playboy interview in 1969 captures it reasonably well:
Again, Kubrick is famous for using this shot, and you can see it in most of his films, often multiple times (see the extended entry for more shots from The Shining and Full Metal Jacket) and being a big Kubrick fan, I was kinda surprised to see it, full formed, in Sunrise.
Of course, neither Murnau or Kubrick have trademarked that stare. In fact, it's a rather common human expression (indeed, my nieces frequently make that face whenever their crazy uncle Marky does something silly). Filmmakers of the stature of Kubrick or Murnau just managed to capture well enough that it stands out. Kubrick's consistent use of that image made it iconic enough that he sorta made it his own. Now, whenever someone uses a shot like that, it's considered an homage to Kubrick... but watching Sunrise is interesting in that light (seeing as though that film was made a solid 30 years before Kubrick even started making movies). More screenshots below the fold... Jack Nicholson flashes the expression numerous times throughout The Shining:
Vincent D'Onofrio seems to be using the Kubrick Stare by way of the Thousand Yard Stare (or vice versa?) in Full Metal Jacket:
Full Metal Jacket
There are lots of other examples I could use, but I'll leave it at that for now...
Posted by Mark on May 23, 2010 at 08:06 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Yet Another Link Dump
Sorry for all the link dumps, but I've not been feeling especially inspired as of late. Anyway, some interesting stuff I've seen recently:
Posted by Mark on May 19, 2010 at 09:48 PM .: link :.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Top 5 Most Anticipated Summer Movies
Playing along with Filmspotting's latest podcast, here's a list of my top 5 most anticipated summer movies. Like the Filmspotting hosts, I'm going to avoid the big name blockbusters and try to find some smaller films that I'm interested in... Movies like Inception, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Last Airbender are all well and good, but we've all heard about them... What are the surprise hits, the genre pics, and the just plain weird movies we can look forward to?
Part of the reason I wanted to write this post is that I stumbled upon news of IFC Films' VOD program and their plans to brand a genre label, IFC Midnight. It turns out that their lineup for the summer is pretty interesting, and unlike a lot of small, independent films, you can view these in the comfort of your own home (assuming you have access to their VOD service through Comcast and the like) right around the time they come out in theaters (theaters which usually aren't near you, etc...). Not all the films below are going to be available this way, but some is better than none! Anyway, without further ado (and in no particular order):
Posted by Mark on May 16, 2010 at 08:03 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Stuff I've found interesting lately:
Posted by Mark on May 12, 2010 at 07:00 PM .: link :.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
When I first got my PS3 it seemed like every game I played was a gritty shooter (i.e. the Resistance games, Call of Duty 4, and so on). I tend to enjoy shooters, so that wasn't necessarily a terrible thing, but I did get burnt out on them for a while... so when the PS3 exclusive Killzone 2 came out, I passed on it while moving on to other types of games. Sony recently added it to it's list of Greatest Hits, which means it was now pretty cheap, so I figured I'd check it out. It's a decent game, but I'm glad that I didn't pay full price when it came out.
Killzone 2 is basically a competent FPS game with high production values and no real innovation. Depending on your temperament, this could be a good thing. There's something to be said for a game that does what it does really well, even if there's nothing really new there. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Killzone 2 really reached that level for me. It's got a lot of components of successful games, some of which I like, some of which I don't. For instance, they've adopted the 2 weapon limitation (which is something that I dislike more and more in FPS games - yeah, it's more realistic, but it's also less fun), the lack of a health bar (which is a convention I actually do like a lot), a cover mechanic (which can be good, but which kinda sucks in this game), and so on.
The single player campaign has lots of splashy sequences and the cutscenes are filled with stereotypical tough-guy bravado, cliched dialogue, and the typical brown/grey/blue color scheme of these types of games. But then, you don't play games like this for their story (which makes me wonder why they bother even having one). What you end up with is a series of killboxes, and the progression through them is more difficult than I'm accustomed to with FPS games. One thing I didn't like was the infinitely respawning enemies, which basically forces you to always be moving forward. This makes for a more chaotic game and I found myself dying often. This is something COD games sometimes do, but those games seem to be much better balanced than this one. Maybe it's just because I stink, but during a few standout sequences, I found myself dying so often that the game ceased being any fun at all.
Part of the trouble I had was that I never really had a good feel for my surroundings or where incoming fire was coming from. I would be progressing through an area and suddenly find myself dead because an enemy started shooting at me and I couldn't figure out where they were. This isn't something I had trouble with in any other PS3 shooters, so I'm not exactly sure what the issue was. The blurred vision effect when you're hurt may have something to do with it, as sometimes I could tell where the damage was coming from, other times I couldn't.
The controls of the game are also a bit unusual, especially given they way it plunders other games for various concepts. In particular, the way they use the R3 button to bring up the targeting mode seems awkward (and the fact that it snaps to that mode seems kinda strange). Also, the melee attacks seem ridiculously overpowered (in single player, a single melee attack with the butt of your gun or with the knife will kill most enemies - or you, if you get to close), but this is a common enough feature in FPS games. I think the best illustration of the wonky and unpolished control scheme is this hilarious photo-tutorial on how to use the sniper rifle.
Speaking of the weaponry, what we get here is mostly a series of machine guns. There isn't really a ton of differentiation between them, but they do feel good when you're using them. There are some nice other weapons, like the shotgun or the grenade launcher, but the limitation of only being able to carry 1 main weapon at a time usually discourages playing around with some of those other weapons (though I think the shotgun works pretty well). The one notable exception to all this is the Electricity Gun, which is incredibly fun to play with and imparts an amazing sense of power to the player (unfortunately, that weapon is only available to be used during one relatively short sequence in the game).
Visually the game is gorgeous, and despite the typical color scheme of this type of game, the production design is very well done. The Helghast have these great helmets with glowing red eyes, which I found to be a pleasing design (and it kinda helped in picking them out of the landscapes - evidence that no military in their right mind would ever use such a thing). And I have to admit that the orchestral music is really fantastic for this game. The single player campaign is something that grew on me once I got used to the controls. I managed to have fun with it, even though I occasionally got stuck at a section where I kept dying. Again, I'm not sure if that's just because I'm bad at this kind of shooter or if it's really a balance issue, but I don't find that sort of difficulty to be fun.
Interestingly, I've found myself much more impressed with the multiplayer mode than the single player campaign. This is unusual, since I generally dislike online multiplayer games and never really got into COD4 or Resistance, etc... (though I did enjoy Resistance 2's online co-op) Of course, I've only played a few hours, but there are a bunch of things I really like about the way it works.
From what I can tell, the multiplayer mode is extremely deep and customizable. There are several character classes and the weaponry seems better suited to this type of play too. But what I think is really interesting is that for the first time ever in a multiplayer shooter, I've found myself doing reasonably well right from the start. There are a few big reasons for this, all of which have to do with the way the game is structured. When you start the multiplayer, you only have one character class to choose from: infantryman. As you score points, you move up in military rank and get more choices for weaponry and some additional abilites. Since the game's default matchmaking pits you against other players of similar rank, you end up with a reasonably well balanced match.
Then there's the way the various multiplayer modes are packaged together into matches. There are several types of multiplayer game: there's a free-for-all type mode, a capture the flag type mode, a defend the base mode, an attack the base mode, and there's the assassination mode. Whenever you play multiplayer, you play a match that consists of 4-7 of these modes and whichever team wins the most wins the match. The thing I like about this is that I can actually get comfortable with the level designs. In COD4, for example, I found myself constantly being thrown from one map to another and I never got too familiar with any one map. With Killzone 2, by the end of a match, I found myself in pretty good shape. I knew the important locations and the alternate routes to get there, etc...
Now, this isn't to say that the multiplayer mode is perfect, just that I was able to get up to speed reasonably quickly and am actually looking forward to playing the game some more (which, again, is somewhat unprecedented for me). I'm only at Sergeant First Class, so it's quite possible the game will fall apart later, but I'm having fun. Of course, it does seem like the various upgrades and whatnot will come pretty slow. I'll probably have to play another 3-5 hours to even get the ability to play as another class (the medic). This is one thing I think COD does better, which is to impart the feeling that you're constantly achieving something new. I guess we'll see, but I feel like being slowly introduced to the new character classes will allow me to play the game without being overwhelmed (which I sometimes got when playing COD4 online).
In the end, I have some mixed feelings about this game. There are a bunch of things I don't like about it, but it did grow on me a bit as I played it, and I'm rather surprised at my response to the multiplayer. I will probably continue to play the multiplayer and will hopefully not be overwhelmed by the progression of complexity.
Posted by Mark on May 09, 2010 at 04:33 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The Book Queue
I recently mentioned that I'm working my way through a backlog of book purchases. This is actually somewhat unusual for me. I've always had a long list of books I wanted to read, but I usually only had a few unread books waiting on my shelf. But lately, I've been building up a large library of books I haven't read. Sitting on my shelf right now:
Posted by Mark on May 05, 2010 at 08:08 PM .: link :.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
SF Book Review, Part 4
It's been a while since I posted one of these. Some of the below aren't quite SF, but they're close enough. For more SF, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Posted by Mark on May 02, 2010 at 10:37 AM .: link :.
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This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in May 2010.
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