Monday, October 17, 2011
Batman: Arkham Asylum came out 2 years ago, and it encapsulated the Batman world extremely well. It was a perfect match to the world of The Animated Series. They had writers from the show, the same voice actors, kept it just as dark and foreboding as any game set in Gotham should be. Nothing was better than walking down the halls of Arkham, occasionally being taunted by Mark Hamill's Joker, never knowing what villain would take a run at you next.
I'll admit, the game wasn't perfect. The story was great, and so were the characters. And I loved the sneaking gameplay, which is exactly what Batman should do (there was little better than watching your antics freak out the enemies). But the gameplay also had a major flaw: the combat system. It was slow and tedious, and as multiple major boss fights were just "fight a lot of enemies at once", this could make it really drag on. I only remember Poison Ivy and Scarecrow being different, but they still weren't anything special. It can make you question continuing to play, when you have to fight 20 enemies using a system that feels unresponsive. Of course, the rest of the game was way too awesome for it's own good, so there was no way I'd stop.
Of course, the other reason why this post is today: the sequel, Arkham City, comes out tomorrow. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't planning on buying it.
What? I don't want to miss out on Harley and Joker's taunting. Or Strange's machinations. Or Two-Face's revenge. Or Catwoman's...well, you get the point.
And to end this on a note of awesomeness, I present to you the Batman: TAS theme over Arkham Asylum/City Gameplay:
Friday, October 14, 2011
When I was a kid, I watched my fair share of after-school cartoons. We had the Disney greats like Duck Tales, Tale Spin, and of course, Darkwing Duck. There were the standard Nick Toons of Doug and Rugrats. And the new Warner Brothers hits like Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.
But none of the others could hold a candle to my favorite: the World's Greatest Detective, the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the Batman.
Batman: The Animated Series was what cemented a lifelong love of Batman. He is simply the coolest hero. Whereas other superheroes have powers reaching even invulnerability (it's easy to win when you can do anything, Superman), Batman has three things: ingenuity to defeat those much more powerful than him, a mission to prevent crimes like the one which took his parents from him, and boatloads of money. Sure that last one is a little out of the blue, but he had to have some way to afford all his cool gadgets, right?
Why is he so great?
He's a standard tragic figure, trapped in fighting the good fight, no matter what path that leads him down. This sets him up to make decisions which he knows are right, but might be costly to him. In other words, he gets to be the courageous one, making the sacrifices to save others. He couldn't do all this without a solid moral compass pointing him.
But to top if off, he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. You try to steal a purse? Black eye. You shoot someone? Maybe a broken bone. You try to kill everyone in the city? That'll land you in the hospital for days, maybe weeks. He'd never kill, but has no issues dishing out justice like a fry-cook dishes out grease-covered plates.
So that's why he will always win: he has the will to do what must be done to save the day, and he'll kick ass to make sure it gets done. Of course, when Batman wins, he also tends to lose...
But the show wasn't great just because of the subject matter, there was also the stellar voice acting.
Kevin Conroy is the only voice I will ever associate as Batman or Bruce Wayne, and he does a stellar job separating the two (without the need of extra computer-generated gruffiness like some current actor playing Batman in movies).
Mark Hamill, the farm boy who took down an empire, takes a turn as the menacing Joker, one who keeps you unsure of if you just sat on a standard whoopee cushion, or somehow just set off a bomb (and that laugh is killer).
And the guest actors, though we didn't know it as kids, were well known to our parents: John Vernon, Michael York, Kenneth Mars, Roddy McDowall, Richard Moll, Melissa Gilbert, Rene Auberjonois, John Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Tim Matheson, Ed Begley Jr., Ron Perlman, Tim Curry, David Warner, and Ed Asner. (look them up, you'll probably recognize more than you'd think)
And then there was the writing.
The show was so good that parts of it worked their way back into the comics. The villainess Harley Quinn, was immediately accepted into canon, and is really the only character that could ever be Joker's second-in-command.
Also, the Emmy award-winning episode "Heart of Ice" retconned the origin of Mr. Freeze, something which has stayed as canon to this day.
The show was even ranked the #2 in two separate top 100 lists for cartoon series (IGN and Wizard Magazine), both times coming in second only to The Simpsons.
And then there was the music.
I can't embed the video (the user disabled embeds), but here's a link to the opening theme. As you can see/hear, they chose a theme close to the standard set by Danny Elfman in Tim Burton's Batman. This dark theme, plus the intro cartoon, set this up as what it was, a dark and "mature" cartoon. Sure, it was still a cartoon, so it couldn't be that mature, but it matched and maintained the tone set by Tim Burton: a horribly corrupt Gotham City with one lone avenger trying to help redeem the people and save the city.
From the tragic lost love of Dr. Freeze to the drug-addict Clayface, this series gave us new characters with real stories, not just a villain-of-the-week superhero cartoon. The music and voice acting were above and beyond what was expected from cartoons at that point. And it was a new approach, to have a series for kids which wasn't always happy, and even if the good guy won it didn't mean everything turned out fine. All in all, this show was, and forever will be, the best animated series, period.
Lastly, because I couldn't resist, this should be everyone's best outfit:
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Devil Went Down to Georgia: I don't know if Troy Davis was guilty (though it's hard for me to believe he wasn't given the amount of times the details were looked back into), but I can tell you that Lawrence Brewer sure was.
Busmageddon: The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Note: if someone does get killed by the falling satellite, I'll fully revoke my sarcasm and apologize. If not, I'll continue to think the media is slightly beyond sensationalist.
What's a Grecian Urn?: You've got a month, so you'd better get your shit together. Seriously, I've always been proud of being Greek, but now I'm almost embarrassed (almost, it's still pretty awesome overall). Also, the answer to the question is: Given their economy, nothing.
c++: CERN announces neutrinos went faster than the speed of light. Either their data is wrong, or the physics we know is wrong. I personally hope for the latter, as we can only learn while we disprove. We've gone through many theories, and this won't be the last one which is proven wrong.
Facepalm: Facebook, your changes make me want to give you up so bad. But you have the current monopoly on my friends, so I can't (yet). Now that's Google+ is open though, let's see if I can move them over there.
The Muppeteer: We miss you Jim Henson, but at least there's always YouTube for Muppet goodness.
Schweddy Balls: Great sketch, even better ice cream name. Ben and Jerry, you rule.
JUST TAKE MY MONEY ALREADY!: iPhone's on its 5th generation. Shouldn't it assimilate itself into our culture by now, getting fat and lazy like all good Americans. I'd never buy this thing, but on October 5th (or 8th or whenever it is) I'm sure the Apple stores will be packed with fanboys and sycophants (assuming there's a difference). I'll be enjoying a nice day outside, using my Nexus S on a network that never drops my calls...
Bases for your Buck: Moneyball, great movie, and given that I don't follow the sport, none of it was ruined by knowing what actually happened. Also, props to the A's for picking up Justice. I remember when he played for the Braves, and he was awesome.
Tis the Season Premiere: Fall TV has begun, with all new episodes of your favorite sitcoms and dramas. I have high hopes for TV this season in general, based on the couple premieres I've seen so far. (Sorry Steve, but the new Office proved they don't need you to be a good show)
End of the World: Not cool, REM, not cool. Though I guess if you have to quit, it's better to do it before you start fighting each other. I'll just return to rocking out to Orange Crush.
Final Note: "give you my take" is a really weird thing to say.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Meanwhile though, I've been told to return to this, and as peer pressure is the wind to my house of cards, I gave in (for more examples of my lack of self-control, see my beard).
So if you're lucky, I'll be back. I'm thinking weekly at first, unless I come up with enough goodness to share with you more often than that.
Also, any pleas to stop writing will only be met with contempt, forcing me to write more out of spite.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Sure, those first two things happened, but that last part is very questionable.
I'd love to tell you my year was full of drama, with heroes and villains and victories and losses and, of course, loads of gratuitous sex scenes (As Hedonism Bot says, "Let us cavort like the Greeks of old! You know the ones I mean..."). Unfortunately, if any of that occurred, I'm finding the events difficult to remember.
Don't get me wrong, this year was great. New climate, new job, new friends, lots of great things. The downside? Being so far away from everything I grew up around, including my old (read "matured", or "better") friends. However, compared to the two previous years of grad school though, anything would look good.
The issue I find is that the year feels half-missing (or perhaps half-full?). I didn't actually miss anything, and it's not my memory that's failing, it's simply life. I just look back on the year, and find that there were months where nothing major happened. But c'est la vie, the important parts aren't the months I don't remember due to lack of drama; the important parts are the months I do (they must be important if my brain found a place for them). And what do you know, I might even be able to conjure up a few good stories out of those, with the hero Software Engineer solving the puzzle of the code and thus saving millions of users from boredom due to lack of cat videos!
Actually, I don't know why I'm complaining at all (beyond it being second nature to me). It's been a good year, better than I could've imagined. And this next year is looking even better, with trips planned and some good time to spend back in the ol' Hotlanta with nothing to do but relax.
And maybe, if you're lucky, I'll conjure up some of the better memories and share them. Knowing me though, I probably already have.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
The most current case: YouTube Leanback. A new version was just released, this time focusing on helping users find content they want to watch, and then keeping them satisfied with both more videos from a single stream and an easy browse experience to discover related streams. At the moment it's a work in progress, but it meets all the expectations and use cases of the initial version with the added benefit of easier navigation. There are more ideas on the way though, hoping to help surface more common, but simple, actions for the user as well as providing discovery of better videos.
You can check out what's changed, or as always go play around with it yourself.
Might I suggest though: sign up and log in to YouTube. You'll get more things which matter to you personally that way.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
On another note, all my personal data has been lost by Sony. To any identity thieves out there: you can have my identity, I hardly want it myself. If you happen to come across the identity of someone awesome, say who owns an island and has no need for a job, can you send it my way?
What will I be doing tonight? Keeping a watchful eye on my credit card and changing all my passwords...
Monday, April 25, 2011
Personally, this doesn't get in my way much. I don't normally play video games online anyways. But I do still use it for one major thing: Netflix. That's right, these jerks have made me watching Netflix on my TV a bit more difficult, and that shall not stand. After all, what am I without my leisure time.
[caption id="attachment_691" align="alignright" width="191" caption="You may take our lives, but you may never take ... OUR LEISURE!"][/caption]
Now, I'm not saying that Sony isn't stupid for tying Netflix to a PSN account. After all, I can still use the browser. It could be some business deal which ties Netflix's hands though, licensing and such. Really, I'm just getting to the point that I'm not a fan of Sony themselves.
But I simply don't understand this. There's no way to profit from this attack. (Maybe make Sony lose face and try to short-sell some stock?) Revenge doesn't really fit. If anything, it's just an annoyance to the general public. As part of that general public, I take offense.
The attackers of this, just know, I'm putting you on notice. No one attacks my leisure time and gets away scot free. I've given a good 5 minutes towards damning you. So, take that. Yeah, not much you can do about it, is there? How's that feel? Jerks.
Meanwhile, I guess I can go outside and do something in the blinding sunlight...
Friday, April 22, 2011
Part 3 of 3, finally reaching the latest season: The Eleventh Doctor.
David Tennant had a spectacular run, but at The End of Time, he had to go. So series 5 brings a new Doctor, played by Matt Smith, a new Tardis, and a brand new pace to the series.
At first I was skeptical because of the tone-change from series 4 to 5. At first, series 5 feels much much lighter than the others, especially in production design. But as you watch it, you realize that's purely on the surface. The show as a whole still has a solid undercurrent of heavier themes which continue to lend to its credibility. The only part that changed is the light touch they apply, which makes the deep and heavy moments seem even stronger than before.
The music is still top-notch: new title music made of the standard theme, but opening with a somewhat darker fanfare. Some more outstanding themes for monsters like the vampires of Venice and the Silurians*. And then there's the new Doctor theme itself, "I am the Doctor", predominately featured right at the end of the series premiere.
And the writing still maintains the good Doctor Who pace and fare. Entertaining and light most of the time, powerful and deep when it needs to be. This series, the Doctor gives multiple unforgettable speeches. I can think of three off-hand (not only thought of, but linked/embedded in this post! You're welcome!)
If you still don't believe me, check this out. A great scene showing off the writing, music, and grandness of the show:
Interesting side-note: the track in that video is called "Words Win Wars", how apropos for the Doctor.
If you liked that, I suggest you check out this as well.
If you're not sold on Doctor Who, then I am convinced something has broken your ability to listen to reason. Because no one should be able to deny how awesome this show truly is (at least among those who've seen it).
And wait, what's this? That's right, I waited till today to post this, because Doctor Who is back! Series 6 premieres tonight on BBC America!
* Haha! I just realized I'd put "Salarians". No, Doctor Who and Mass Effect are not the same thing. Have to keep reminding myself of that.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
But Valve didn't stop there. The game was already new and fresh, but they decided to sprinkle in an interesting story, one which fits our mute hero well. It's very difficult to create a story which requires next-to-zero interaction from the protagonist rather than just moving forward, but they managed it. The whole time in the "testing environment", a disembodied voice gives hints, help, and provides comic relief. Only to pull the twist once you reach the end: the cake is a lie.
That disembodied voice isn't so disembodied as you thought, and it turns out she's a passive-aggressive machine bent on testing subjects for her own amusement (when she's not releasing deadly neurotoxin).
All in all, the puzzles stay fresh, and then applying them outside of the standard environment makes the final areas memorable. I recently re-played the game and still enjoyed it thoroughly.
Of course, the real reason for this post: now there's a Portal 2! So much science to do, so little time.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
For the past seven years I've taken part in an (unaffiliated) Georgia Tech Band tradition: Get A Clue.
What is Get A Clue (or GAC, as we in the know call it)? Well, it's a day filled with reckless driving, possible trespassing, and some intellectual pursuits thrown in for the hell of it. I believe the proper term is that it's a "Treasure Hunt" game: Get Clue, Solve, Find Location, Lather, Rinse, Repeat. The trick is that the locations can be anywhere within a 40 mile radius of Georgia Tech campus. Also, it starts at about 9 AM on a Saturday, and you'll be lucky to be done by midnight (this year, we didn't finish till 3 AM).
What do you win? First place gets...
To run the game next year!
Second place is "The Real Winners"; they're team smart enough to beat everyone else and also ensure they don't have to run next year's game! It's a coveted position, the running for which causes the accidental first place (no one wants to come in last, even if it is for nothing).
Why do it? It's just great fun. Spend a day with friends driving around the city solving clues. Sure, those friends rarely do it a second year in a row (and those who do forget how long of a Saturday it really is). But once you get going, you wonder why you don't do this everyday? And then once you pass around 11 PM, you remember just how tired you get when you've been solving clues all day and have who-knows-how-many left to go.
The other part of the fun are the yearly themes. I've played it with themes ranging from "Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse" to "Where in Atlanta is Carmen Sandiego?" to even "Corporate Espionage". I stole the image at the top of this post from this year's theme: "CSI: Atlanta", complete with tracking down the notorious "cereal killer". Yes, that's right, all victims were dressed up as cereal mascots, including the hooker ("When they're dead, they're just hookers") in Las Vegas dressed up as a bunny while turning tricks (get it?).
Was returning to Atlanta for a weekend to do this worth my time? Probably not, given how busy I was. Did I enjoy it anyways? Hell yes. And made sure I got to see all my friends and family while there as well. Good trip, will have to do it again next year.
P.S. Talk about Scheduler keeping me on my toes, it keeps reposting this even though I never wrote it...
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Last week, a coworker pointed out that WonderCon was that weekend and that we should all go. I could come up with all sorts of excuses to try and save face, such as "he had a gun to my head" or "he threatened to punt a puppy" or "he would make a baby cry", but those would all be lies. I went along out of sheer curiosity.
For those not in the know (also, myself before I went), WonderCon is run by the same group as ComicCon, and it's basically the same. It's just smaller and not quite as many people dress up. I of course went in my standard button down shirt and shorts (a Vasili classic). I now think I should've worn my "Vasili Says No" shirt, but I haven't even tested that on my coworkers yet. (btw, since I know you're reading this, we need to update it)
So, it was a fun day filled with amazement at all the awesome costumes (and some not so awesome), the hilarious booths, searching for good book deals, and stumbling across interesting art. I found some really interesting cheap stuff, like cells from Pink Panther which'd make a good wall decoration. Other not so cheap knock-offs, and some authentic items which were out of my price range.
Of course, the best part of the day: getting my picture with Richard Kiel. The other actors don't matter, Richard Kiel was the only one worth it. The only person who would've been better would be, unquestionably, Bruce Campbell.
Did I have fun? Yes. Was it a great day? Yes. Did I spend way too much money? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Have I embraced my inner nerd? Definitely.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I promised you another post, and I'm nothing if not a man of my word.
If Christopher Eccleston gave the show a five o'clock shadow, then David Tennant's appearance gave it a big bushy beard. Not that Eccleston was a poor doctor in any way, but his approach left you with a doctor who was just gruff, angry, and lonely. Tennant on the other hand was somewhat more manic and lent a lot more to the explorer-vibe. Really though, Tennant's doctor ended up having a lot more to say for himself than Eccleston's, if only due to him having a lot more episodes to do it in.
This is again where you begin to see a real boost in production values as well (and even moreso in Series 3, 4, and 5). Sure some of the character design is a bit random if not downright hokey, but the writing is still there to pull it off. For example, "Love and Monsters" is one of the best episodes of the show so far, but the enemy is basically Fat Bastard.
Also, it maintains the, dare I say, epic-pace. Each series builds on the remnants of the last, not forgetting anything. Though each series also tends to be very centric to itself, as most occurrences build only to that series' finale. Each time they come up with a new enemy as well, or at least an old with a twist. Series 1 simply reintroduced the Daleks, who don't return purely as a "series big bad" till 3 series later. No more Bad Wolf though (wait, did that really end?). Instead now you'll learn of Torchwood, Mr. Saxon, the Medusa Cascade, and "He will knock four times". And just because each series holds it's own, it doesn't mean there won't be references to older characters. Just wait for Series 4's finale, where everyone who's anyone gets brought back, and all with their own roles to play.
The companions switch out fast in these as well, but they're all vastly different. First, there's Rose, the one true love-interest. Then Martha, the strong-willed one who's love is unrequited. Then Donna, a completely different, almost purely comical companion. Each of them complement each other and bring out a different aspect of the Doctor, from the romantic to the responsible. This is seen in the music too, Rose's theme is slightly more emotional, Martha's is more forward-looking and enthusiastic, and Donna's tramples on both by being flighty and incidental. The rest of the themes remain spot-on as well, prevalent mostly in Series 2 and 3 with "Doomsday", "All the Strange, Strange Creatures", and "YANA".
I really don't want to give much more away, but Series 2, 3, and 4 are beyond great. The 4 serials after series 4 are ok (though the end of Series 4 would've been a better ending for Tennant's Doctor IMO). But they still don't detract from the Doctor's appeal as a hero for the masses, and Tennant pulls it off: not only is the Doctor great at flying by the seat of his pants, but can also show true empathy when dealing with others suffering.
And then comes Series 5, which changes the tune dramatically...
Monday, April 4, 2011
Obviously, you're not surprised it exists (nor am I). What does this really mean? You're reading a post that was written weeks ago! Yes, weeks! And yet somehow it's like I just published it now! See, it's like how I can mention <INSERT CURRENT NEWS> or <INSERT CURRENT CELEBRITY GOSSIP> even though this was written weeks ago. Without scheduling, those would be old news, but now it's like this whole thing was written just yesterday! (note to self: develop topic-insertion plugin, then retroactively apply it to this post, something you can do with the power of scheduling!)
Thanks to this though, I can prep a few posts each time I sit down instead of trying to work towards a deadline for each. Then the deadline is for me to look back over the posts and reomve any glairing tyops I might have msised. A much better way to do this.
I've assumed up to this point that whenever I've said "You" I'm actually only talking to myself. I don't just mean in this post, I mean the entire blog. However, I'm going to break from that concept for one short moment: If you, the reader, are not me, then I'd like to apologize for wasting precious moments of your life. Surely there are better ways to spend your time then reading my semi-coherent ramblings. I can only hope you get some sort of schadenfreude-ish joy from this.
Now that I've fed my delusions, back to standard operating procedure. You are me; other "possibilities" are pure fantasy.
And you/me can expect to continue seeing quality like this thanks to the magic of WordPress!
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Most films can be given this treatment: including sepia-ed out colors, film-scratches, uneven lighting, and even caption cards. Oh, and don't forget that piano player working his heart out to bring you the sound you deserve. I wonder who's playing? Keyboard Cat?
Check out the little extras too: the top viral videos of 1911, a new (or old) way to upload your video, or the Retro ads you might find.
It's great fun, all around. Enjoy it today, because unfortunately these things rarely last.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Initially, I was unsure about this game. Yes it was made by TellTale, who seem to have the art of Adventure Game down to a science (after Sam and Max and Monkey Island). But still, it was a game based on a movie franchise, and those rarely live up to the source material.
Though this one was helped that it didn't try to recreate the movie (aside from a few great beginning scenes). It's not based off of any one movie (that'd been done to death), instead it was a new story taking place after the events of the films.
Two time periods are visited: 1986 and 1931. Same characters still, you have to deal with the bully Biff in 1986, and then his incarnation in 1931. Similar plot lines: Marty discovers something is wrong in 1986, and gets pulled into another adventure to find Doc Brown. Same Hill Valley even; part of the charm of the original films was only slightly changing the town to fit the timeline. Here, nothing changed from the Clocktower down to the local haunt on the corner, only 1931 that "local haunt' is now a soup kitchen. This is how Back to the Future gets you: things are different yet eerily similar. It's the same feeling of nostalgia one gets when they visit somewhere from their past only to realize all the small ways it changed.
Next, they managed to reach that good level of fan service seen in the sequels, while maintaining new story. So you're not surprised to first meet Arthur McFly (1931's George) in the soup kitchen, or to see Kid Tannen (1931's Biff) kick him out with the standard "I thought I told you never to come in here" line. This time though, Kid Tannen is Hill Valley's Al Capone, and Arthur is his accountant. And 1931 isn't far enough away to escape from the standard characters: Doc Brown is there twice, as himself from 1986 and a teenager version from 1931. Now you've got a story set up for standard Back to the Future mayhem.
Overall, this game was great. A new story, with the same feel and same characters as the movies. The voice acting is superb: Christopher Lloyd returns, and A.J. Locascio manages to sound exactly like a young Michael J. Fox, enough so to fool anyone who didn't know better. The only downside was some control issues and framerate drops. The latter was survivable, but the former becomes a major pain when running back and forth through areas, adjusting to the camera only to find out apparently the controls didn't want you to (if you play it you'll know what I mean). These are small hiccups though in the overall game, and the story and fun of it will most likely keep you going (it did for me).
Of course, all of this is only about the first episode "It's About Time", as TellTale likes to release episodically. The second, "Get Tannen!", releases tomorrow on the PS3. If they can maintain the quality, or even improve it control-wise, then this game will go on to be one of my favorites.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Now I happen to be someone who's seen more than my fair share of science fiction shows. While I'd have to go with Star Trek over most others, it's never stopped me from watching and enjoying loads of other series. Add to that my high tolerance for crap, and I've seen lots more than I'd care to admit. But still there are some shows though that, try as I might, I never thought I'd be able to sit and watch, much less enjoy. These tend to be shows which feel so hokey that the idea of them alone causes my brain to scream in agony.
Doctor Who used to be one of those shows.
I never had anything against it really, other than it just looked bad. I simply couldn't understand why people would watch it (mind you, I bet this is how many feel about Star Trek and other staples of the genre). In the end though, boredom caused me to stoop to what I initially thought was a new low (boredom's a bastard like that).
And now I find I must thank boredom for its persistence in the matter. Also, Netflix for making it so easy to watch.
I should note that I haven't seen anything previous to the relaunch in 2005 though. Someday, maybe, but I fear the levels of boredom that would require.
What is it that makes this show great? I can't even decide on any one thing, it ends up being a multitude of parts working together.
First, the writing tends to be top-notch. I can think of few other shows where I actually care what the characters are doing. In fact, it seems like nowadays I spend more time thinking a character's being a complete idiot rather than rooting for them. The writers for Doctor Who however are capable of entertaining and witty dialogue with unexpected depth. Every character has facets which work to generate a feeling of realism seen far too rarely in television shows.
Next, the music is beyond great. From the character's personal motifs to the situational themes, they all manage to interplay and hit the mark. And it rarely stays the same, just about every series has had it's own themes to go with each villain and story.
Also, the plot lines weave together amazingly well. Recurring characters and themes occur regularly, allowing to build to the central calamity each series (there always will be one). I was surprised how quickly some of the characters would return, but they always had a part to play and it was rarely simply for fan service.
Lastly, somehow, the pure camp of the "alien" design tends to work out. I don't know a better word for it. It's beyond overdone and actually ends up making the show simply more fun. I'd even go as far to say it lends credibility to the feeling that you're viewing something wholly foreign, if only because it's always so far out of left field.
The first series took a bit more for me to get into, but it was partly because the show hadn't fully settled yet. It was never bad, just the timing wasn't right. Also, admittedly at that point they just didn't seem much production value at all.
However, this is one of the first shows in a while to grow the beard in their first season. All the early episodes had felt like something was missing, and then came along "Father's Day". It was a simple enough episode, premise-wise. In fact, it was even somewhat predictable. Yet somehow it pulled off a depth well beyond the written words. Something simply clicked. I don't want to say too much about the plot, just know that it's how television should be.
After that it was nearly time for the end of the series. They managed something I hadn't thought was possible anymore; they successfully weaved together the threads from the series into a set of final climatic episodes. This cemented the show for me. Not only had it proven it was capable of stellar episodes, but also that it could actually maintain plot-points and successfully resolve them! Fantastic!
While that was all there was of Christopher Eccleston (a real shame), Series 2 managed just to improve on the formula: better production value, a new and intriguing Doctor, and the continuing adventures of Rose. More on that later though ;)
Monday, March 21, 2011
Don't get me wrong, no one would ever argue this is a bad movie (except for possibly Libyan terrorists). But this time I began to click on all the small things which make it just that great.
A great place to start would be the music. There's the one overpowering motif that everyone knows, and yet it's so very simple that you could whistle it without a problem. And the first three chords even work as a built-in cue! Plus what I'll call the Biff motif, most prevalent at the moments where he has the upper hand on our plucky heroes (the skateboard chase, the final car scene, countless times in the sequels). It's a fast-paced tension-builder piece, capable of resolving into the main motif powerfully. Then add in a couple of upbeat Huey Lewis songs, and you've got a soundtrack. Did you know Huey Lewis is the judge who tells Marty his band is "just too darn loud"?
Next, the plot is so well wrapped up that it feels like they thought of everything. Off-hand, it'd be difficult to come up with a real plot hole (I dare you to find one). Meanwhile the plot gracefully dances around what could be very dangerous territory: the reverse-Oedipus. Yet somehow it treats it lightly enough to be hilarious, all the way up to "it's like I'm kissing my brother".
Also, all the small consistencies make the movie great. Partly the little changes over time: Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pine Mall, the section of the clock tower that Doc Brown broke. Partly the well wrapped themes: Biff treating George the same in the original present as in the past, nearly word for word; Marty too afraid of rejection to send in a demo tape, like his father and his writing; Marty dealing with Lorraine's prudishness, only to find out she was quite different as a teenager; and the ever present "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything". Then the multiple anachronistic jokes: Tab, Ronald Reagan, Calvin Klein, JFK, and don't forget Darth Vader. Meanwhile, I'd never fully realized just how "adult" this movie is. The peeping tom, the "reefer addicts" (band), and the final scene with Biff at the car. Every part of the movie has a point, and together they add up to create characters you actually want to see win.
From Marty, who finds everything heavy; to Lorraine, the pretty girl who everyone wants to go out with; to George, the well-meaning geek; to Doc Brown, the scatterbrained scientist with a penchant for making jokes. Actually, believe it or not, "Jigowatts" was the preferred pronunciation of gigawatts back then. Thanks to this movie, it will forever be my preferred pronunciation. And I didn't forget about Biff, who strikes that perfect amount of sadism expected in a bully.
Lastly, the film excelled in it's finale. It didn't just have to get Marty back to 1985, it had multiple other lines to tie up: George v. Biff, Marty v. the Kiss, Marty v. the DeLorean, Doc v. the Clock Tower, and Doc v. the Libyans. And it checked them off, one (or two) at a time. It's somewhat amazing because for the most part the enemy was really time itself: Marty making sure they kiss before he disappears, and then getting the DeLorean started so he can be make it to the wire. Doc fighting the Clock Tower to beat the lighting strike, and then deciding to learn the future to save himself from the Libyans. The only real villain: Biff, and what a villain he was! In fact, I think I'll leave off with the George and Biff confrontation just so you can enjoy watching Biff get his comeuppance while George saves the day.
Friday, March 18, 2011
The first Golden Sun game was released just under a decade ago, and last year it got threequel treatment with Dark Dawn on the DS. So how could I, someone who remembers the original and it's sequel with great fondness, not give this new one a try? (the answer: I couldn't)
Let me preface this with: in the end, I enjoyed this game.
Overall the game is much the same: turn-based fighting, djinn unleashes and summons, a djinn-based customizable class system, different magic spel-*ahem* I mean forms of Psynergy, and takes place in the "flat" world of Weyard. You're on of the few in the world who can use these powers, and you go around saving people who are so lame they can't save themselves (seriously, I'd think one vicious sneeze could wipe out half of Weyard's population).
Its new weapon system was intriguing: instead of a single always-possible unleash, each weapon had a multiple unleashes which you slowly learned via killing enemies. As such, as you stuck with a weapon it'd get more and more powerful, up to where it would nearly always unleash.
Also, there were more types of weapons (bows, e.g.), and which type you had on a character could make a difference. If you stuck with one type, you'd find later weapons had already unlocked unleashes on them for those characters only, which was a big help as to deciding who gets what. I'm not clear on the determining factors with this, but it's possible once a character unlocked an unleash on a type of weapon, it was unlocked on all weapons of that type (some were shared, such as Critical Hits). Either way, this added an interesting twist on equipment, though all the other items were your standard Golden Sun fare.
Also, Psynergy was much less limited in range in this one. Instead of having to stand at most one-away from something, you had a much larger area to target (yes, area, not just up-down-left-right). This allowed for slightly more room in puzzle design, and was a good idea in the long run.
Now, with the opening to this, you'd expect this to be a very critical review. And you'd be right.
So, to the guts of it: What went wrong?
First off, it was way too easy. The other two weren't necessarily tough, but this one was a cakewalk. The hardest part of this game was the fact that I once absentmindedly shut it off without saving. That's right, it wasn't I died somewhere and had to try again. No bosses got in my way. No, I got in my own way. I haven't given the end-game dungeons a shot yet though, but at that point it's too little, too late.
Something that made it easier: In this one, you don't lose a turn if the enemy you targeted died before your attack. That's right! No more lost turns! Awesome! Except, no. I know, everyone just gasped that I'd call this a bad thing, but hear me out. While I admit this annoyed me in the earlier games, I didn't want to see it go. Many things annoy me, but this was an annoyance which forced me to be more strategic with what I did. Others will claim it was a bug in the other games, should've never been there. I think this argument is like saying it's a bug that a Bishop can only move diagonally in Chess. In other words, it's not a bug, it's a rule you have to play by. Overall, every time I was annoyed it was only because it made me pay attention. How dare they?! Obviously, I didn't want to play, I just wanted to run around! Well good, because this time they removed it and all I had to do was attack-attack-attack, win, occasionally heal all, and then go again. Oh wait, that's right, that's called boring gameplay.
What's more, this game felt like it was missing out on fights in general. I remember the others feeling like a fight every few steps. This one you could run through whole dungeons and get fought once. WTF is up with that? This is an RPG, the purpose is to fight.
While on dungeons, they were freaking short. I know The Lost Age greatly lengthened them, and some were just awesome in both size and enjoyment. But this one seemed to regress to even smaller dungeons than were in Golden Sun. Maybe it was because of my next point?
Rehashed puzzles, if you can call them puzzles at all, occurred way too often. It seemed odd to come across unique puzzles in this game. When you did, such as in the Watchtower and Yamata, it was great. When you didn't, such as the very end of the game, it was less than stellar. And by that I mean it just plain sucked.
About Psynergy, why didn't they take advantage of using the same names from previous game? Why "Sense" instead of "Mind Read"? Or "Search" instead of "Reveal"? Or "Crush" instead of "Pound"? Not to mention many of these took more time to do then wanted: "Reveal" was instant; "Search" took 5-10 secs to finish, which is a lifetime when you're doing nothing. Then, such as the The Lost Age somewhat suffered, there were some which were horribly underused: "Track", "Sense", "Whirlwind" (what happened to blowing away leaves?). In fact, giving a "solve this puzzle for me" Psynergy ("Insight") was just lazy. They did add some new interesting ones, like "Grip". But at the cost of losing "Hover" and "Sand"? Lame.
Also, where were the bosses? By the numbers, there were more in this game (in-story and extra) then there were in each of the last two, but in that case why did it feel like there were none? I think it has to do with the short dungeons. Most didn't have a boss; I wanted to kill the golem in Yamata, but it didn't get up to fight me. That alone could've made the game feel longer and more full.
Note that now I go into some story details. Not much, but if you don't want to know of it go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs.
So, here goes. As for the story, I'm still somewhat confused. As we know, in the original "Golden Sun" the baddies are just after power. Not necessarily purposefully hurting people, but apathetic to everyone else. Of course, we learn that they weren't after power (other than Alex), but happened to be trying to save their village. But it's ok you killed them, because they were assholes (and there was much rejoicing). Although, such as in the The Lost Age where Felix "plays" into Alex's hands by doing the right thing, this whole game you play into the baddies' hands and you aren't doing it for any necessarily noble reasons. The difference is that these guys apparently just want to kill everyone. It's not even really like you have to save the world: you let who-knows-how-many die just to save two prisoners. Then, in the end, the baddies try and stop you from ending the calamity, only to admit they were going to end it after you deliver your final blow. I'm trying to understand the point of it, but from what I can tell you release a catastrophe and then destroy it, for no real reason beyond someone "forced" you to. That same someone who was going to stop you from ending it, just so they could end it. But there's nothing to be gained by a specific person ending the calamity other than the end of the calamity itself, so what does it matter who ends it? If you think about it even more, the plan was around for a couple decades too, as one of the heroes wouldn't even exist if not for this "master plan"! Man, it'd suck to find out you were only born so your father could use you twenty years later.
Oh wait, but then there's a cliffhanger! Good, because all that stuff they talk about for the first third of the game gets dropped as soon as the baddies show, only to reemerge right at the end of the game with the ever annoying "The End?" (no one likes that question mark, it's just obnoxious, do they think you really care at this point?)
The rest of the issues were small recurring annoyances: same weapons from the old game, with only a few new ones; removed shortcuts on menus such as djinn "set/standby all"; why were there even touch controls?; annoying inventory (one of the few poor uses of the dual screen); permanently-missable items and djinn; no minigames or real sidequests (not till the game is over, at least); forgettable music; tiny world (I thought the map was getting bigger, not smaller); having to leave Champa while forging (why not immediate? a.k.a. BORING); so much not available till right at the end of the game.
But I digress.
I know I ragged on it a lot, but as I mentioned when you started this article so very long ago: I enjoyed this game. I don't know if it was out of nostalgia, or because it really was fun, or even possibly from a tiny bit of masochism, but I enjoyed it all the same. And that's with still zero clue what they were thinking with the end of the story.
All in all, this game almost lived up to the original two, but not quite. It tried to fix unnecessary things while leaving those needing the improvement stagnant (or worse), but it was still enough to enjoy. It's still worth playing, if you have some time to kill. And if you liked the others, you'll like this one as well.
As for a rating, I'd give it a solid 7 out of 10: good but with flaws. Only it was half a game, so it gets a 3.5 out of 10. We'll see if its certain-to-be sequel will raise that a bit.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
What does the recalculation from 8.9 to 9.0 mean? Well, the Richter scale itself is a logarithmic scale on base 10; a step of 1 relates to 10x the displacement. However, the moment magnitude scale, while logarithmic as well, is calibrated so that a step of 1 means about 32 times the energy was released. A magnitude 2 points higher had a whopping 1,000 times the energy. As such, this lowly adjustment of .1 on the scale actually denotes around 40 percent more energy.
This got me thinking, what does this actually mean? Well according to the USGS, the earthquake released 39 zettajoules. What's a zettajoule? You've heard of the prefix mega-? giga-? tera-? peta-? exa-? This is bigger than all of those, zetta- is reserved for 1021.
Well, that's a big number, but it's probably meaningless, right? Here's why that's insane.
First off, the world's largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a 50 megaton yield. That means it had the equivalent force of detonating 50 megatons of TNT. How much energy is that? One megaton of TNT would produce 4.184 petajoules when detonated, so this comes out to 209.2 petajoules. It'd take 186,000 of them to match the energy of the earthquake. Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, was a paltry 20 kilotons in comparison, 2,500 times smaller. Even the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, which was heard 3,000 miles away, had an estimated force the equivalent of only 200 megatons of TNT.
In comparison to our current capabilities, according to World Nuclear News there were 2,558 terawatt-hours of energy produced by the world's nuclear reactors in 2009. That comes out to 9.2 exajoules. That means every nuclear reactor in the world would take four and a quarter millennia to match the earthquake's output.
In fact though, nuclear reactors provide only a small portion of the world's energy: we consumed 484 exajoules overall in 2008. At that rate, if we could have harnessed all the energy from Japan earthquake, we could last on it for 82 years. And yet the earthquake only took 5 minutes to release it.
The even more amazing part: this number is nothing compared to the Sun. The Sun outputs 384.6 yottajoules every second. What's a yottajoule? It's 1,000 zettajoules. So in a single second the Sun outputs nearly 10,000 times the energy produced by the earthquake. Though, to be fair, the Earth only receives a small portion of that output, 174 petajoules a second. And at that rate, it'd still take 2 months to match the earthquake's raw power.
The moral of the story? Never doubt the power of mother nature. To think this is just one of six to break 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale in the past 100 years, not including the 8.8 in Chile last year and the 8.5 in Sumatra in 2005. After all, this planet is both breathtakingly awesome and entirely terrifying in the forces it can unleash.
Monday, March 14, 2011
As I promised, a Dexter post.
After always being told how good a show it was, I recently decided to sit down and watch Dexter. Once I did this, I found it difficult to stop.
An interesting premise, where the protagonist is a serial killer who kills other killers. The show does an exceptional job with it's treatment of the subject matter. It has to walk the thin line of maintaining Dexter as a tolerable sociopath-with-homicidal-tendencies; a vigilante who doesn't do it for justice but instead to satisfy his own urges. The show has an undercurrent of internal dialogue from Dexter, providing his motivations along with plenty of black humor to maintain interest. Without it, the show would slip into even darker territory though, as it allows for humanizing this decidedly inhumane being. Overall, especially the first season, the interactions of this wolf-in-sheep's clothing with the rest of the characters continually provides interesting developments.
In the later seasons, however, the show falters some. It has to create reasons for him to change without changing, otherwise they've already hashed over everything there is to the character. Apparently they handle this by also making all the other characters extremely annoying, from Lila to Miguel Prado to all the cops in season 4. It's unfortunate that without the main storyline providing enough incentive, they introduce drama from other angles through general-asshole behavior.
That being said, I felt that season 5 definitely brought back some of the charm, paralleling him with another broken-soul. It also was one of the first times that he almost seemed normal, which is a card they can only play once, but would be interesting to see out.
On the whole, I'd recommend it to others. Not my favorite show out there, but definitely worth watching.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Side note: check out my timestamps, these two posts shouldn't exist. I AM MASTER OF TIME AND SPACE! NONE CAN ESCAPE MY WRATH!
But as much as I hate "Spring Forward", I should instead embrace it as a philosophy. I've begun falling back into my old habits, ones which were never any good for me (see: lack of posts the past two months). Always have plans though, unfortunately my habit is to never follow through on any of them. For example, right now my plan is to sleep. As you can see (read?), I'm currently not following through with that plan. Must have plans though, don't know what I'd do without them (probably same as always, just minus some regret).
So, I say, if they're gonna take an hour away from my night tonight, I might as well act like something happened in that hour. Let's say that for once, in that hour we'll all never remember, I actually did something productive towards one of my many plans. Maybe then I'll stop feeling like a slacker. Nah, that's a bad idea.
What I need to do is stop resting on my haunches (literally: I need to get out of this chair) and DO SOMETHING. Anything, doesn't matter, so long as it's taking a risk. Something I don't normally do. Escape this holding pattern which is my life (sleep, work, eat, vegetate, repeat). That's how you really Spring Forward: the only right way to do it is into the unknown.
So I'm going to bed tonight and going to wake up an hour ahead, stop living in the present, and start living in the future.
At least until November, then I might Fall Back again...
Friday, January 28, 2011
This thought expanded into multiple others, as they're apt to do, all falling under the apropos title: "Titles". Suddenly, the Dexter post could wait.
The question is, why is that title sequence so good?
I'm sure someone with an art degree could answer that question. But I'll take a shot: it's because it merges the slightly disgusting/demented with everyday life and tops it off with a dark, but quirky theme. In the end, it creates an air of unease, and yet there was nothing even remotely unnatural about what occurred. In the end, it gives you the right idea of what the show will be, drama with more than it's share of very dark humor.
Here are some of the other great title sequences, all which superbly set the mood for their respective contents.
Catch Me If You Can
This one stands out in how well it preemptively tells the story of the film. The entire titles simply show a G-man chasing an impostor through clever animation tricks. Reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau chasing the Pink Panther, except the darker music and lack of pratfalls sets it in a much different light. There is no other way this could fit the movie better.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Very similar to Catch Me If You Can's title sequence, except without a unifying theme. Fun fact though: watch them after having seen the movie, and you'll realize how many callbacks they employ, from the thief, to the party, to even the constant books. Also, if you read the text when it appears, you'll notice it's more relevant than first thought. Great titles, and a horribly underrated movie.
For a break from the storyboards, here's a simple and short one. This show is the new X-Files, and just as good. The titles are very to the point, and the best part is the apprehensive buildup to nothing at the end. Nothing to jangle the nerves like lacking a musical climax, which might not seem a good thing but it fits overly well with the show which loves to leave people on edge as much as possible. Bonus: Check out the retro titles from one of the best episodes of the series, "Peter".
At the end of the 90's this short lived show appeared on UPN, a.k.a. the network of death (while FOX might cancel things at random, UPN ensures no one will ever see it). A great show bringing the strip to life, with Daniel Stern as Dilbert (what happened to that guy?) and Larry Miller as the Pointy-Haired Boss (a.k.a. perfect casting). The titles put it all in perspective: all of evolution was simply so we could lose ourselves to technology and eventually be trashed by our bosses.
Thank You For Smoking
Another non-story sequence, but playful and exquisitely themed. Sets the mood for the movie perfectly. But there's not much else to say.
Band of Brothers/The Pacific
Included as, in my opinion, they set the somber mood well. Nothing extravagant, just simple and dramatic. Also, two great miniseries I highly recommend.
Quantum of Solace
This one might be stretching it, and some might say Casino Royal had better titles (definitely a better song), but this marked the return to normalcy with Bond: themed abstraction with plenty of female tossed in. Also, I think in general it's well put together.
As for comparison, look how far it's come in just 15 years:
I make no apologies for embedding that, after all it's actually a good movie. Even if the titles do suck.
Season 1's titles. Actually took a bit to grow on me, but they fit well, especially that theme. Too bad Season 2 saw them change to a new composer who couldn't write his way out of a...place where writing music would help him escape...
In order to point out the real unifier to all of this: for me, it's all in the music.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
There's no doubt that 2010 will be one of the best remembered years for me. Had you asked me this time last year where I'd be now, I'd have no answer. The only thing at that moment which was certain was finishing my degree. I was still looking for job, with no prospects at that point. No vacation plans either, just looking forward to being free from Tech.
Don't get me wrong, Georgia Tech is a great school, and I had some great years there. But 6 years is a long time to spend in school, and it's left me with enough debt that I won't be forgetting about it anytime soon.
As for a job, it seemed to be wait a while, then a big rush. Things trickled in, a phone interview here, an extra application there. Finally a big break, an on-site interview with National Instruments out in Austin, TX. At that time that was the furthest west I'd been (but that would soon be remedied). It was a good trip, good experience, unfortunately though nothing came of it beyond a messenger bag.
Then the rush occurred, multiple callbacks, on-sites with YouTube and PNNL. I was psyched for both, and got to see both San Francisco, CA and Richland, WA. Two cities which couldn't be more different from each other. One a metropolis, the other a small town in the desert. In the end, I found myself in San Francisco with YouTube. I'll forever wonder how I got that lucky.
During all this, suddenly I was going to Greece over the summer too. Even better.
This left little time however to pack and move, so once school was out it felt all too quick. Sure it took 3 months for me to reach the west coast after graduating, but it felt like a lot less.
Now it's already been 6 months of me living out here. Been back home more times than I thought I would, not that I mind. But things are settling in, and I'm getting used to life again. A routine is nice, one you love is even better.
I just wonder what 2011 will bring. I again couldn't tell you where I'll be in a year, or where I'll find myself between now and then, but I can say I that for once I have a place I plan to be: the Bay.