Thursday, March 31, 2011


The same folks who brought you front-page RickRolls and TEXTp have a new trick up their sleeve. Going with the idea of "Our 100 Year Anniversary", the folks at YouTube bring you a new way of watching online videos: party like it's 1911!

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

It's About Time

Back to the Future: The GameIn case you were wondering what prompted my latest rewatching of Back to the Future, it was my having bought the new Back to the Future: The Game on the PS3.

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

The Doctor is In.

Doctor Who

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

Hello McFly!

I recently sat down and watched Back to the Future again. While no doubt being a great movie, I had never realized just how great it was.

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

Nothing New Under the Golden Sun

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

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

The Most Powerful Thing on Earth

On Monday, the recent earthquake in Japan was recalculated to be a 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale. This is not the Richter scale, which is based off of the horizontal shaking amplitude of an earthquake. Instead, the moment magnitude scale is based off of the sheer amount of energy released. As it turns out, this scales to about 3/2 the horizontal amplitude, and as such is calibrated to match closely to the Richter scale.

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

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

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

Extra Day!

On that note: It's time we got rid of this "Spring Forward" thing.  No one likes it, but it's just something we've all agreed to do so we can get that extra hour in the Fall.  I know, you'll talk about Daylight Savings and how it saves power or is good for farmers or whatever other nonsense.  I honestly have never read any studies for or against it and doubt I ever will, so save your breath.  Instead, let me use this time to suggest we drop a day from the calendar, say from August (that month doesn't deserve 31 days and we all know it), and instead of "Spring Forward" we have a new 23-hour day which exists on some weekend in March.  Just some extra 23 hours which exists between one Saturday and Sunday.  We'll call it "Extra Day" (you don't like it? watch me not care) and there'll be parades and celebrations and everyone'll get laid.

Side note: check out my timestamps, these two posts shouldn't exist. I AM MASTER OF TIME AND SPACE! NONE CAN ESCAPE MY WRATH!

Spring Forward or Fall Back?

I write this on the evening of DST "Spring Forward".  That horrible time where we all decide to get one less hour of sleep, and the clocks magically go from 1:59 AM to 3:00 AM.

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...