Things you should see.

Archive for November, 2010

Evil Ryu, Oni Akuma and 6 for Arcade Edition?

Oni Akuma?

The last time we heard from Ono-san was that Yun & Yang were set to appear in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and it was set to come out December 16 in Japanese arcades. The last we heard about DLC options for consoles was that they had been denied by Capcom HQ. This new news throws that into disarray.

Birth of the Oni.  The Awakening.

Eventhubs has now published screenshots of alleged new achievements for the Xbox 360 version of SSF4. Not only do they show Yun & Yang on consoles, apparently confirming that DLC, but also reveal what appear to be boss challenges in the single player mode. One appears to be series veteran Evil Ryu, while the other a new version of Akuma. We already have Shin Akuma in the standard SSF4, so, based on the name of the achievement, people have taken to calling him ‘Oni Akuma’.

Further it has been suggested that the achievements indicate they are playable as below; Achievements

achievement 1: defeat evil ryu on hardest
achievement 2: defeat oni on hardest
achievement 3: beat arcade mode with yun
achievement 4: beat arcade mode with yang
achievement 5: beat arcade mode with evil ryu
achievement 6: beat arcade mode with oni

All Ono has to say about all this is ‘Yipe! What the hell was that? ;O’.

This is all interesting news, especially since with these Yun & Yang, Evil Ryu & Oni Akuma, the often rumoured Alex and Urien would bring the total new characters up to 6, a number heavily bandied around in the past.

December 16 is looking very, very interesting about now.

Artwork of Shin Akuma by Calvin Clyke.


The Problem With Steam Sales

Where did these mascots come from?

When I was brought into the Steam fold proper one year ago, with 2009’s ‘Early Holiday Sale’ at Thanksgiving, I went crazy with the idea of building up a massive, easy to access library of games and on the cheap. However it made me wonder; if I bought everything then, what would be left for subsequent sales?

Since then there was last year’s Christmas sale, 2010’s Easter sales and now the recently concluded ‘Give & Get’ sale. The order of these sales is to have a number of titles on sale each day, for one day only, at enormous discounts of upto 90%. It would be a fun ritual during the summer to wait until 2AM local, or whatever time the day clicked over, just to see what the deals for the next day would be. By this addictive behaviour I know find myself with a 250 game library, most of which I’ll never get to playing due to a sheer lack of time.

Now I’m realising the problem with Steam sales- they want you to buy everything. But if you do, there will be no excitement next time there’s a sale. And you won’t have time to play all you’ve bought. *sigh* I have been checking each day of these current sales to disappointment. Not because the games on sale are rubbish, but because I own them all! So didn’t really have much luck this time but hopefully fortune will shine upon me for the inevitable end of year run. I still haven’t bought Mass Effect 2 yet after all…


Compressing Time with The Tudors

The Tudors also seem bored of this storyline.

The Tudors is that recently-ended show from Showtime known for egregiously miscasting Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the notorious King Henry VIII of England. As noted in the show’s corny intro line (that was wisely cut from the show’s second season onward) we know how the story ends as soon as we hear its premise. It’s true but I was able to lul myself into not caring. I went along for the ride. That was until, midway through season 2, I realised the show was still mired in the king’s first ‘Great Matter’ – the legal validity of his divorce from Catherine and marriage to his mistress Anne. Picking The Tudors up after its conclusion, I know it is to run only four seasons in total. How then will it attempt to resolve this issue and then properly address Henry’s four remaining wives – none of whom have yet appeared on screen – in anything but a rushed and illogical manner? As reviews of later seasons seem to indicate, that is exactly what The Tudors ends up becoming.

Any fool with even a passing interest in this historic period will notice how timelines don’t match up. There are little things like the amalgamation of Henry’s two sisters into a composite and the hastening of that character’s marriages and eventual death. Timing of betrothals, national alliances and declarations of war, particularly regarding the French King are also somewhat curious. Not for a second do I suggest that temporal continuity beyond Henry’s divorce and reformation of the English church is accurate – it isn’t – but those other changes serve the narrative and that’s good enough for me.

And while I don’t intend on picking apart setting and characterisation too much, if I wanted to shoot The Tudors to pieces, factual contradictions abound too. Again though these are not significant diversions on the whole. After all, this period is commonly held to be the most documented in English history and the one told by the most conflicting perspectives. Who can really make a case for what is absolutely true and what isn’t? Henry might not have been as youthful and athletic as Rys-Meyers but, surprisingly enough, he did wrestle Francis I in a paper castle during a diplomatic trip to Calais. As for whether Pope Paul III was the sarcastic, indignant smartass Peter O’Toole portrays him as being, I really can’t say.

So, prepared to forgive as much as I am, why do I take issue with the prolonged discussion of was-Henry-really-married-to-Catherine? Because, above all else, it is noticeable. I’m along for the ride. I’ll forgive little inaccuracies, slightly fictional characterisations and the occasional chronological hiccup as long as the The Tudors is fun to watch and keeps the ball rolling. The problem with the show’s abject fixation on the ‘Great Matter’ grinds things to a halt. By this point I am sick of seeing the pathetic and downtrodden Catherine continually swear allegiance to God and his majesty. I am similarly tired of seeing the Queen Consort parade around power as though she was entitled to it by divine right. I’m sick of the church disagreeing but doing nothing, and I’m sick of hearing of excommunication and reformation only to have these things materialise a season and a half later. But I’m most of all sick of the King of England acting like a horny impetuous shit who had one too many cans of Monster that morning.

The amount of time spent on this first part of Henry’s life is understandable- surely the beheading of Anne Boleyn and creation of the Anglican Church is what he’s best known for. The fact is though that his life took many twists and turns thereafter. As interesting a hook as those two things may be, time is being squandered on them that would be better purposed to the story of the latter wives. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt now – I’m still watching it – but may be inclined to revisit this topic once I’ve worked out exactly where it jumped the shark.


Alien Anthology and Excessive Box Sets

Alien Anthology: Egg Edition

In 2003 the Alien franchise saw what many, myself included, considered the best DVD compilation in film history in the form of the Alien Quadrilogy set. The behemoth was 9 discs long, had two cuts of each of the four existing films and a wealth of extra content included ‘just in case’. Some question whether the series is worthy of such excessive treatment- they can get fucked for all I care.

Now, with that annoying Blu Ray technology that’s all the rage, the Alien series is getting another excessive collectors’ box, with just as many cuts, 40 hours more footage and 3 less discs. Is this new ‘Alien Anthology’ set worth an upgrade?

You can visit any of those videophile review sites to get the long winded version, but let me cut down the answer for you. Video transfers into 1080P are great. Alien gets the best treatment, followed by Aliens, and who really cares about the last two? Audio mixes are all new and actors were even called in to redo lines that were drowned out in Alien 3. All of the Quadrilogy content is there, plus a whole lot more, with the notable addition of an unedited version of Alien 3’s ‘making of’ which shows David Fincher mouthing off on set and taking the name of Fox in vain.

Are those things worth an upgrade on their own? Maybe. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be buying this and if I’m lucky might just snatch up the limited ‘egg’ edition too. Lucky and bloated with cash, that is.

Oh and the discs are all region free in case anyone down under wanted to save a heap buying off Amazon instead of paying JB HiFi’s inflated local prices. Also to just to clarify what I mean by ‘excessive’, this is what I mean.


Steam Recommendations: Black Ops & New Vegas

Call of Duty: Black Ops and Fallout: New Vegas

Steam, that digital delivery system for games from Valve that I have this curious love / hate relationship with, rolled out a new feature overnight – recommendations. Now you, and the rest of the defenceless internet, are set to be subjected to my unadulterated thoughts on games new & old and potentially in such a barrage that you’d think I was on Valve’s payroll. And hey, wouldn’t that be nice?

What I like about this system is that there is a character limit of about a 1000, which demands brevity. It also allows me to be shit lazy and not bother writing real reviews. If you’re a glutton for more punishment visit My Recommendations Page. I’ve decided to start off with two new games Steam prompted me with

Black Ops is an odd beast in that it takes steps forward and steps back from last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warefare 2, all with the haughty confidence of a title guaranteed to ship 5 million or more without much effort. However when you have half the internet playing something online how can you pass it up?
The campaign still provides a high you just don’t get from other shooters. The story is ambitiously different, but I’m still deciding whether that difference paid off in the end. Technology wise, the game used 2008’s CoD: World at War as a codebase instead of the more recent MW2. Odd choice. It looks good, but not great.
Multiplayer is a winner for one reason: Dedicated Servers. 20-50ms pings instead of 60, 70, 80 upto 200 or so in MW2? Hell yes. So far weapons aren’t memorable like those in WaW and MW2, but we’re still in early days.
Sad that I have to mention this but hardware performance on PC is not fantastic. In fact it was practically unplayable at launch. Black Ops is too CPU intensive and if you’re not packing a Core i5 or i7, expect 2-5 second stutters, and a generally frustrating experience ahead.

 

Not as good as Fallout 3. That out of the way, buy this game. Fallout: New Vegas is probably the world’s most bloated expansion pack – most every asset here is recycled from its predecessor. Not to say it doesn’t excel in any areas- gunplay, writing and party interaction are all done better here. At the same time VATS, Special and general balancing are done worse.
If it weren’t for all the bugs in the game this would be easier to recommend as a follow up to 2008’s masterpiece. As it stands the game is a lot of fun, but a lot of patching is in order.
Of course if you haven’t played FO3 yet, get the GOTY of that before you try New Vegas. More content, less bugs… is there really much of a choice to make?


Experiments With A Dog’s Severed Head

 

This video has been around for ages. Since 1940, actually. Seems I’m late to the party. Apparently real, this clip is taken from a Russian film – possibly pure propaganda – showing various medical experiments, the highlight of which is the post-separation animation of a dog’s head.

If the film is to be believed, the poor canine’s head survived 15 minutes after its natural heart stopped supplying bloodflow and the artificial ‘autojecter’ was attached. The question here is, is it real? It’s easy to call ‘fake’ on something like this but you have to wonder…

Thanks to Gizmodo for bringing this well known internet meme to my attention.


Google, Facebook & Apple; Tech Giant News Roundup

Good news, everyone.

The last 48 or so hours in the tech world have been pretty interesting- 3 of the biggest companies have had pretty significant public showings of new products and services. While I pre-emptively wrote about Facebook’s mail announcements yesterday, here’s what Google and Apple had to reveal as well;

 

Facebook – A Modern Mail Service

Zuckerberg talking about Facebook, little else.

So Facebook didn’t quite announce a rival to Gmail and Hotmail as everyone predicted… or did they? You can now still register for a ‘@facebook.com’ address once your account receives an opt-in invitation, but this new service will focus on convergence of SMS, Email, IM and other current messaging platforms rather than going head to head with existing providers. The existing concerns remain about Facebook, privacy and email, but guess we know what FB poached that Google Wave dev for now, huh?

 

Google – The Nexus S, Gingerbread, NFC and Chrome OS

The Nexus S?

Although Facebook’s revelations largely overshadowed what was going on at the Web 2.0 summit, Google’s CEO had a few almost-groundbreaking things to share with the community. Firstly, he demonstrated Android 2.3 AKA Gingerbread on an unannounced phone many summise to be the elusive ‘Nexus S’ from Samsung. We can’t confirm either way since branding was concealed although a special hardware component was explicitly mentioned – a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip. This lead in to what will no doubt be a key feature of the new OS, set to release in the next few weeks, as it enables ‘bump-to-pay’ transactions. Seems like this will be another area where Google and Apple are racing to get a cutting edge technology into consumers’ hands first.

Chrome OS, that bastard topic largely relegated to the background by Google’s more prominent Android, was also given a clear purpose by an offhand comment by Eric Schmidt- it is for low cost keyboard devices. Which rules phones and tablets out.

 

Apple – iTunes News…?

Trendy old shit that no one cares about anymore... just what iTunes needs more of.

Apple threw its hat in the ring this week as well teasing an unforgettable iTunes-related reveal on Tuesday. However this hype sizzled out as soon as it was revealed that the Beatles catalogue would be coming to the popular e-store. The Beatles? Who cares. Everyone who gives a damn will have ripped their CDs, bought their audacious USB collection or pirated the stuff by now.

Luckily this was dispelled with the also predicted and highly anticipated iTunes Cloud, Streaming, iTunes Pass, 90sec previews and a redesigned client.

 

The war for the internet, ad revenue, market share, hearts and minds is very much underway and at this very exciting time in history I dare not call a winner. Especially since likelihood suggests that even if there is one, there won’t be for long. Microsoft is notably absent from this week’s festivities- no doubt working on getting all those missing features into Windows Phone 7.


Games for Windows Marketplace & More Digital Delivery Foolishness

What's wrong with this picture?

Whether it boils down to appeasing retailers or just criminal half-arsedness, a lot of digital storefronts are content to let themselves look stupid. I recently wrote about Steam’s Australia tax and generally clueless pricing. Today, I look at Microsoft’s offering; the newly revamped ‘Games for Windows Marketplace’ and it is no less silly.

Take a look at the above screenshot. That’s right. You can get Batman: Arkham Asylum for $49.99USD, or the Game of the Year Edition, which comes with more stuff, for $39.99. This tells me two things, first of which is that Microsoft doesn’t give enough of a shit to curate what’s chucked onto the store and check for obvious pricing curiosities like this.\

Secondly, it seems Microsoft has no interest in pricing competitively. The GOTY version of Arkham goes for $29 on Steam, arguably this service’s chief competition. It also goes for $29 on retailers like Play-Asia and considering those boxed versions come with 3D specs to boot, it’s not half bad a deal. Other titles like Age of Empires III for $39 and Fallout 3 (without any DLC- they come at the original $9.99 a piece) for $49 are terribly overpriced and handly beaten at retail and most other digital storefronts that sell them.

Speaking of Fallout, Fallout: New Vegas is nowhere to be seen. Nor are last year’s bestseller Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or current record-breaker Black Ops. That’s because these games are tied up with Steam via Steamworks. However Microsoft is cutting off its nose to spite its face here if they exclude games using Steam’s overlay and DRM- Direct2Drive learned this lesson last year and quickly added Modern Warfare 2 to its library after initially refusing to on these same grounds. What makes these notable omissions from the GFW Marketplace even more apparent though is that older instalments in each franchise are not only available, but are present on the store’s ‘Featured’ tab. Oh dear…

So what draws does Marketplace have? Daily deals for a start, but then the prices aren’t that great. Exclusive titles like Gears of War but little else- Halo and Halo 2 are inexplicably absent. Steam has auto-updates, Steamcloud and a vast library, GoG.com has its app compatibility patches and ‘no DRM’ policy and D2D has its no-nonsense approach. What does GFW Marketplace have to set it apart from the crowd? Nothing that I can think of.

I like the layout of the Games for Windows Marketplace, but entering the market now, it is essentially asking me to convert over from Steam and I think that’s how most people in a position to buy and download games online will see it too. That said, it doesn’t seem very interested in competing on price, on the strength of its library or bringing anything else to the table. I see little reason to buy into this store and Microsoft needs to step things up right quick if it doesn’t want to see this venture dift into obscurity.

 

Visit the [Games for Windows Marketplace] if you dare…


The Tragedy of Zahra Baker

Murdered: Zahra Baker

I’m not often moved by other peoples’ misfortunes, nor do I intend to make a habit of non-tech-related posts, but it’s hard not to feel something for Zahra Baker. The Sydney Morning Herald chronicled her life by saying;

Rejected at birth by her mother, she battled bone cancer as a toddler, had a leg amputated aged five, lost her hearing during chemotherapy and at eight was uprooted from her home in Queensland to North Carolina so her father could be with a woman he met on the internet.

As if that wasn’t tragic enough, she was then murdered, dismembered and buried in early October (although in what order we don’t yet know) most likely by her mentally-unstable stepmother. Elisa Baker’s currently the police’s prime suspect due to a bogus ransom she penned allegedly to throw off the investigation.

The general concensus over at Websleuths is that she was murdered probably to cover up neglect, which in her case could easily have developed into something life-threating, and to avoid conviction for it. If so I’d like to personally spit on her despicable parents before they get the chair. Have a read of their observational investigation here- we won’t know for sure what happened until detectives release a formal statement.

To top it off, today would have been her eleventh birthday. Celebrations were still held, planned before the grisly discovery of her remains a few days ago.


Facebook Mail: Get Your Social Out of My Inbox

Facebook Mail

Internet giant Facebook seems set to unveil it’s own email service to essentially compete with Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail in the next 24 hours. However, given the ubiquity of those established services, and Facebook’s poor track record with privacy, would you sign up for a @facebook.com?

This discussion reminds me of my switch to Gmail from Hotmail a few years ago. Gmail at that time fofered a better service- more storage space, a better web client, free POP access – and the fact that it never deaciivated your account, deleting your mail in the process, as Hotmail was known to do. Service-wise, Google’s offering was compelling enough for me to up and transfer over, migrate what mail I could and tell everyone my new address.

I faced a similar conundrum at that time- do I trust Google with my mail? Their privacy policy was notoriously sketchy but eventually I caved with the mentality of ‘what’s the worst they can do’ with all my private data. That said, I shouldn’t be criticising Facebook’s potential mail service on the grounds of privacy, should I? Both Google and FB have a vested interest in personal data that drives their respective targeted advertising businesses. Neither in that way is more ‘evil’ that the other.

However as Google learned earlier this year with the failed ‘Buzz’ experiment, people don’t want social in their inbox, especially if they have little control over it. And what is Facebook all about if not the removal of individuals’ control over their information? The only obvious trump card FB has over other webmail services is potentially tight integration with it’s main social network; one that 500 million people are already tied up in. As to whether that’s something people actually want, I’m not so sure.

Given its massive user base, any Facebook Mail project has its foot in peoples’ doors already. If it wants a whole bunch of people to switch from their existing mail providers, it will have to offer something those competitors do not while also dodging the backlash that’s sure to arise from any privacy-related missteps. Whatever Mark Z and friends reveal today, it looks set to upset the existing webmail equilibrium but to what extent remains to be seen.


Samsung Galaxy Tab Impressions

Samsung's Galaxy Tab.

I had a chance to play with Samsung’s flagship tablet, the Galaxy Tab, today. These are my preliminary impressions, but on the whole was not impressed. Although I’m generally a fan of Samsung I don’t like their Galaxy line a whole lot and this device didn’t do much to change that.

First off it runs Android 2.2, stretched to the machine’s 1000×600 resolution. You can see the result above. While not awful, it’s obvious why Android phones are capped at WVGA. Things look off center and although the display is very impressive, the OS never seems a good fit for it.

Performance, however, is what really lets down the Galaxy Tabr. As the above video shows, the browser is not that responsive and locked up in my few minutes of testing. Things are generally sluggish and, combined with the OS design issues regarding tablets, doesn’t offer as polished an experience as the iPad does.

 

 

If I were to praise the Galaxy Tab for something it would be the build quality. The thing feels solid and while the display doesn’t pack as many pixels as its Apple cousin, it does cram them into a smaller display. Pixel density is tight and makes the device look gorgeous. However it feels too heavy. The actual weight is less than the iPad’s, but for the size, feels a tad excessive.

My brief toying with the device also raises an interesting question- when would someone use a Galaxy Tab? It’s smaller and more easily portable than an iPad but still doesn’t fit in a pocket. On the other hand though it packs the same Android build as you’d find on a phone. If you’re thinking of buying this trinket you probably already have a phone and so why you’d double up I don’t know.

The tablet.            The box.

I’d welcome a chance to further probe this device but as it stands the Galaxy Tab doesn’t impress. Its Android OS seems tacked on and the performance felt far from polished – perhaps as a result. Also while it’s still hard to define what the iPad is actually for, that is a more difficult question for Samsung to answer as the overlap between tablet and phone is even greater here. Ultimately you get a smaller, more buggy device than Apple’s offering, and, for $999AUD outright, it just doesn’t compare favourably to its only other real competition in the market (iPads start at $649AUD). My argument for a full OS on tablets still stands, by the way.

Based on today’s experience alone, I’d recommend passing on this one. When the kinks are ironed out and a more suitable version of Android is available this could be an exciting proposition but sadly that’s not what’s currently on offer with the Galaxy Tab.


A Full OS for Tablets, Please

Windows 7 on Tablets.

The guys over at PC World published an article a few months ago outlining why Windows 7 shouldn’t go on tablets. I paid little mind to that, considering Steve Ballmer confirmed tablets with Microsoft’s desktop OS would be releasing before Christmas. However it seems like the software giant has since decided to cede to this curious contingent of the tech-o-sphere and release Windows Embedded 7 Compact as MS’s de facto tablet OS. Umm… can I say no thanks?

What’s really wrong with the iPad and the Android based tablets coming out now is that they aren’t fully fledged OS’s. iOS’ hidden filesystem takes the cake but there are a million more little things that hamper productivity and make basic tasks beyond looking at web pages more of a pain than they should be. Grabbing an image, cropping it, throwing it in a blog post like this and then publishing the thing is a trial. Then there’s the issue of file type compatibility, needing separate native apps to make the web usable.. etc etc.

Then there’s actual application compatibility. Think of the suites of programs; full versions of CS5 and Office, libraries of games and so forth that can run on Windows. They could all run on a tablet with Windows 7. They currently cannot on iOS or Android, and, from the sounds of things, won’t on WE7C either. A cut down OS is even more limiting when you start to think of the situation in these terms.


E. Honda, the Tier-Jumping Street Fighter

Honda has big hands.

I main E. Honda in Street Fighter IV and he’s always been able to deliver wins, although it hasn’t always been easy. There was always a certain pride in winning, and an excuse to use when losing as Honda – he was a low tier character. Times have changed though and over the last year he’s jumped from near the bottom to currently the number one spot on the ever-debatable tier list! Move over Sagat, it looks like there’s a new God Tier in town and I have no idea how it happened.

The thing people never consider when talking about tiers is that they are determined by considering various matchups at the top level of play. When you’re talking about lower levels, even just one notch down from pro, things change a lot. Honda has never been able to compete that well at the top- almost none of his moves are safe, his command throw is the worst in the game and all his normals have huge recovery. Add to that an uncomboable ultra and inability to get through fireballs and you have one solid low to mid character. In theory. In actuality Honda deals damage and takes it like no one else. That makes him scary. Most lesser players will either not know how to respond to his weaknesses or, more likely, panic in executing them through plain fear of the life they’ll be losing if they mess up.

Honda laying down the Hundred-Hand-Slap. Hyakuretsu Harite, or HHS to the OGs amongst us.

Apparently that’s changed and Honda can now compete at the top. The fact that his EX Headbutt has more invincibility, and that all of them go over low Tiger Shots throws out the matchups a lot. Beyond that though I really don’t know what makes him that much stronger and would have to guess it’s mostly to do with how the metagame has changed. Other characters generally saw nerfs with the move into Super SF4, but Honda was left mostly unchanged and I have to guess that made all the difference. Since I’m out of touch with the scene now I can shrug and feign ignorance on that one.

Funnily, I remember another Honda player here in Sydney – then using Guile exclusively – saying that Honda was ‘trash tier’. This was back in 2008, before the console versions of SF4. And it was true. He wouldn’t stand up in very high play but at the same time his brute force made it easy to dominate the vast bulk of players out there. Now he is considered to be a lot stronger, and since I can’t tell all that much of a difference with him, I don’t know if that knowledge makes me happy or not. Maybe I just need to relearn all the matchups.

It will be interesting to see how things change with SSF4 Arcade Edition and if Honda retains his spot atop the wormpile then. The devs plan on detailing changes to everyone’s favourite sumo next week. Until then, have a gander at current tiers circa October 2010, compared to when the game first came out. Both are thanks to Eventhubs.

Super Street Fighter IV Tier List – October 2010

October 2010

Street Fighter IV Tier List – 2008

Honda's Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix sprite.


No Android Retina Display? Blame Google.

Android Phones- nothing over WVGA.

Android-equipped phones are trickling out all the time. I’ve had my eye on the Droid X and the Desire HD for some time too, desperately wanting to jump from the iOS camp as I am. One thing that I’ve noticed and is constantly disappointing is the resolution. Why does the Desire HD, with its glorious 4.3″ screen still only have a 800×480 res? Turns out that’s Google’s fault.

Only in reading the hype surrounding the pending release of Gingerbread / 2.3 did I notice that Android caps its resolution at WVGA (800×480). Wtf Google? Why in the world would anyone want to impose a software resolution cap on an ‘open source’ OS? I’m taking a purely topline, superficial look at this. It must make technical or business sense to someone but as I see it this bizarre, deliberate choice is having two important consequences;

1) There is nothing with Android to answer iPhone 4’s ‘Retina Display’. The Desire HD is a good phone but there’s nothing HD about it. In fact, it has the exact same number of pixels as the original Desire, the Droid X and just about any other semi-recent Android phone. That this was mandated by software available is sad enough. However the greater tragedy, I think, is that the cocky PR bastards at Apple get to keep parading around their incremental screen improvement, beauiful as it may be, as the best thing since 256 colours.

2) Android needs a new version for tablets. 3.0, whatever it’s called, is billed as the ‘tablet version’. Why is this necessary? Vendors are steering clear of Google’s OS for their tablet offerings in the short term since it’s just not up to snuff. Of course this is in part due to the less-than-great multitouch implementation currently built in, but it also has to do with the res. WVGA tablets just don’t work- Telstra T-Tab or Optus My Tab anyone? I laugh knowing that in those cases resolution is the least of the abismal devices’ problems but they still serve to illustrate the point.

All I can say is I hope Gingerbread comes out this week and I hope it removes this cap. It’s an inexcusable oversight – Google, get it fixed. It’s still a shame that even if we get so lucky we will have to wait for the next generation of ‘droids before we get something rivalling Apple’s overhyped, pretentiously named but ultimately breathtaking iPhone 4 screen. A tremendous shame, actually.


Black Ops Beta Blues

Call of Duty: Black Ops

The tech press has been preoccupied with Call of Duty: Black Ops over the last 24 hours and yet the proportion of articles addressing the release’s disgraceful PC optimisation, given the volume of coverage overall, is not as great as I think the issue warrants. The game runs awfully- worse than it should on my GTX 470-equipped desktop machine and unplayably slow on my M11x. Neither World at War nor Modern Warfare 2 gave either of these systems any problems. Wouldn’t this game have benefitted from an open beta test? I get the feeling more and more that day-1 PC releases are beta tests these days…

After Fallout: New Vegas, Black Ops is the second game in the last month to ship in a terribly optimised state for the PC. I’ll join the legion of other ponderers in wondering if this isn’t a multiplatform consequence- get the 360 version running ok and all will be right as rain. And try as I might, looking at statistics on what % of Modern Warfare 2 sales were for PC, I guess I can understand where the developers priorities were in getting this out on time…

Still what happened to the good old days of things working at release? Patches are not a new concept in the PC gaming world but have never been the crutch that they are today in ages past. I could rattle off a list of games that have shipped in an utterly crippled state and then fixed up to good working order down the track, but that is sidestepping the issue. Why should anyone buy a game on launch day at full RRP if they’re going to have to wait weeks or months for a stable patching? Not to mention DLC support that will only come later (or, in those perverse, business-minded circumstances, deliberately withheld from the beginning). This is the treatment I’m coming to expect as a primarily PC gamer and I deserve better.


So the critics hate Sonic 4…

Sonic 4. Doing his Sonic 2 thing. I saw the leaked vids of Sonic the Hedghehog 4: Episode 1 earlier this year. Every zone and every boss was spoilt for me. Yet when I finally managed to get my XBL copy downloaded yesterday, I was still taken by its charm. Its graphics were sharp, its setting familiar and the giddy thrills of battling Robotnik / Eggman were still there. By all accounts, most critics disagree.

The first argument people make, and the one I wholeheartedly disagree with, concerns the graphics. Apparently the game is ugly. Wait, what? How is this gorgeous 1080p, 60fps smooth as silk platformer ugly? It’s art direction is spot on in homage to classic Sonics and is executed without a hitch technically. A comment to the contrary is always backed up by a reference to Sonic Fan Remix- while I have nothing but praise for that game I have to say a few things about the visuals. It was cluttered, effects were excessive and the mix between too much detail and too little robbed it of any visual cohesion. Sonic 4 doesn’t fall into these traps and I bet if the timing of SFR was even a little different this point wouldn’t have come up at all. Didn’t help that the mainstream blogosphere caught onto the story like a rash.

Other folks like to harp on about how this is nostalgic exploitation without substance. Yet others shoot to pieces the physics and platforming system claiming they’re not authentic enough. That the commenting public is at odds over this suggests its not legitimate criticism but rather a matter of taste. Which is fine. Personally I love how the game plays. The homing attack is a little unnecessary, but you’re free to play without it. In fact, the rebounding from the attack heavily encourages using the normal jump in many situations- the last boss being a good example. I’m not even going to get into whether the game is too fast or too slow- it’s no Chemical Plant Zone, but it aint Spring Yard either.

On the topic of the final boss, this is the only point of contention where I agree with the game’s detractors. Why try and copy perhaps the most terrifying boss of all time and then butcher it so? Firstly, you give the player rings. That makes it infinitely easier. Then, you go and make the final phase so ambiguous that, after such a long an repetitive fight as is, seems overly sadistic.

To close, I feel this was a worthy first foray for the team and a promising effort overall. That said, it wasn’t Sonic’s finest outing but hardly his worst either. Let’s all just cross our fingers and hope Episode 2 doesn’t disappoint.


The Strange & Depressing Social Network

Social Networking at work.

What an absurd concept: a big budget film chronicling the inception and creation of a website. Facebook is an empire built on arrogance and blind luck. To make it’s transition to film, claiming to be the social network is fittingly arrogant and a filmic retelling of its creation is unwarranted. Fairly, the writer knows this and points out the folly of this supposed social marvel at every turn. They also fearlessly goes on to overturn ever stone and dredge up every detail that could potentially cast Facebook.com in a poor light. Bravo for that.

There is a good reason why posters for The Social Network credit both director and screenwriter, and also why other do not. The tight writing is really what carried the film. The tight editing and tight scoring both come in secondary, and it shows. That is what people will recall after a first watching- witty dialogue and a bloated, unweildly narrative cut down its palatable essentials. If I wanted to be uncharitable, though, I could describe this as wrapping dogshit in tinfoil and selling them as earrings.

Ultimately this story could have been The Operating System and dealt with the founding of Microsoft or, just as easily, The Personal Computer and been about Apple. See what I did there? The actual events at the heart of the Social Network form a typical and thoroughly predictable tale that I’d go so far as to say could describe most businesses, let alone every dotcom startup dreamed up by drunken college freshmen in some preppy fraternity dormroom. Betrayal, good timing and a little intuition, it seems, is enough to make America’s youngest billionaire. And that is sad. Yet I still have pity for the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world who had all those things, but still had to work a hell of a lot harder than that cockly little asshole Mark Z for their fortunes. And as much as I hate Steve Jobs, after watching this, he seems like tech’s greatest saint by comparison.

In all, given its rewards showered on such disreputable behaviour, this is one mighty troubling film. Doubly so since it’s all true. But you won’t notice. Or care. You’ll walk out of The Social Network remembering how swish a retelling it was, even if the story told was a tremendously depressing one. So who’s going to go delete their Facebook account after seeing this? No? I didn’t think so.


The Encyclopedia of Lost

The Lost Encyclopedia

From its first announcement to the point where this highly anticipated volume was in my hands, there’s been setback after setback. First it was delayed. Then again. Then once more. Then it shipped, but was delayed. Then the courier missed the plane. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing to say that this comprehensive Lost Encyclopedia is an ambitious effort that unfortunate misses its mark. Trying to catalogue all of the obscure references, idealogy and symbolism, not to mention the show’s events or its cast of thousands, is an impossible undertaking; a fact that the writers have proven here. What we have is a book that is overproduced with seemingly no expense spared. Yet despite that, it fails to capture everything important and even fails to address significant topics in much depth. While this is no doubt falls short of what a definitive text on Lost should have been, I feel it was a fair crack at it. The real tragedy is that this book was an opportunity to prove that the show worked with some internal logic and was not haphazard, turn-by-turn storytelling as many had accused it of being. However it looks like that opportunity was sorely missed.

‘Overproduced’ has a negative connotation that doesn’t give the Lost Encyclopedia its due credit. The text is quite beautiful and a tip of the hat should go out to its producers. Imagery is frequent and vibrant. Pages are laid out neatly and the whole thing just looks good. Not great, mind you, but certainly good enough to, at first glance, conceal the fact that there are glaring factual errors and content holes everywhere.

I do appreciate that the entire Lost Encyclopedia  is written in-world – that is to say episodes, actors’ names and the like are not mentioned – as it adds a rich flavour to the text. Downside is I never shake the feeling that writers use this as a get-out-of-jail-free token. No episodes are referenced, nor is anything revealed off camera, in a commentary, or in a cut scene. Lost was a story told through multiple channels with the vast majority being considered ‘canon’. Thus viewers often know a great deal more than what is explicitly revealed on screen. This volume ignores all of that and it plays the ignorant card once too many. Lostpedia (the much better ‘Lost Encyclopedia’) taken the time to list a bunch of these inaccuracies.

Another downside is that the very topics people will buy this book for are regarded with the least detail. Jacob? The Lost Encyclopedia recounts quite literally what we see him do on screen, with little insight and half the important details left out. The Island? It is ‘special’ and left at that. There is not even a map - not a handdrawn one, not Ben’s map marking the Temple, not the blast door map – nothing. Candidate profiles are also missing many crucial factoids. There isn’t a comprehensive dossier on Jack Shepard beyond some vague nonsense about why he needs to protect the island and some very top-line observations about him and other characters. Ommissions like this point to the project being rushed out the door. Only I know it wasn’t; if not for much-needed polish in areas like this, why was the damned thing delayed three times?

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Lost Encyclopedia is that it obviously didn’t have access to anything behind the scenes. We were promised, vaguely, that while it wouldn’t contain any new information, clarifications presented would be so poignant that they might be mistaken for it. That’s not what I found though; the text is riddled with statements and conclusions that don’t quite match up. There is a vertiable plague of these, but Lostpedia catalogues the indisputable ones. That’s not to mention factual inconsistencies as inaccurate references. It begs not why the information wasn’t available to writers, but whether that info even exists. If there was ever a time to draw every obscure detail together, this was it. And allowing that doubt of a grand agenda to persist is the project’s real failure.

The Lost Encyclopedia falls short of all it set out to achieve. However its primary failure is its inability to silence the quinessential Lost question- is there a logic behind any of this? Was it all just thrown out there to see what stuck? While I agree a lot of the Lost mythos should remain ambiguous, key things needed tieing together, confusing motives needed clarification and the plot, which across 6 seasons never seemed never to look more than one step ahead, desperately needed some posthumous ordering. The very first article in this sizable volume is a foreword by the producers dissauding fears that this mess of a show was made up as it went along. Unfortunately, on considering the contents of this official encyclopedia, I’m left sadly unconvinced.


Urien in SSF4AE?

Urien circa Street Fighter III.

Urien defined the whole Street Fighter III era for me.  Realise that’s pretty sad given he’s a practically naked buff man in a thong whose name both is an anagram of ‘urine’ and probably intended to Romanise into ‘Julian’. Regardless, I’ve always wanted him to transition into Street Fighter IV, even though his broken Aegis tricks will probably be gone and even though he’s already present in spirit in the form of Seth.

Anyway, Mr. Yoshinori Ono tweeted the cryptic image below. He likes to do this kind of thing quite a lot. In fact he indirectly announced M. Bison, Seth, T.Hawk, most recently Yun & Yang as well as a bunch of others with this mostly-obscured teasing iPhone shots. The Blanka toy’s always there, in case you were wondering.

Ono's Tweet image.

Question is, is this Urien? Could also be Alex- the two of them have both been rumoured for ages and are long overdue. I’d much prefer the former and however this turns out it only makes me clamour more for that Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition DLC that Capcom is so reluctant to greenlit. I don’t have an arcade near my work anymore so I’m in a kind of bind if they decide to keep it coin op.


Dexter should rethink this sidekick business

Dexter, what are you doing?

I wrote previously that the current season of Dexter was looking good. Now, I’m not so sure. Here’s why not.

My favourite part of Dexter is the villains. Season two had that crazy English chick, season three had Jimmy Smits and last season we had that annoyingly lovable teddy bear killer. Each one of those was intro’d in the season’s pilot ep. What of season five? No villian / rival / homicidal love interest to be seen. It wasn’t much later that we meet ‘Lumen’. I hate her. A really pathetic rape victim Dexter liberates from one of his early bungled kills, she reeks of pain in the arse. Her thing is she was raped and now wants to kill everyone she thinks raped her. Apparently there were a few. But she doesn’t know who. Comes off just looking like she hates all men. Uh-oh. This is getting into dangerously lame territory already, and then Dexter decides to go and help her cover up her crimes as some sort of proxy revenge against the already dead man, that he killed, that murdered his wife.

So let me predict what is going to happen here. I may be very, very wrong, but being wrong at this point would make me happy. Dexter helps her out a few times, she turns a bit too crazy with all the killing and then needs to be put down. Either he does it himself and moves on, or she gets caught in some tragic crossfire and there is a vague hint of emotion in some overrought scene where she dies in his arms. Please, please let me be wrong.

Why is a sidekick a bad idea? The same idea Batman and Robin was a bad idea. You have someone otherwise cool, being dragged down by someone lame. It’s debatable whether Dexter was ever ‘cool’ but certainly his many crises of character and conscience have not benefitted from the best writing on TV lately. Bringing this quasi-sentimentality in now takes my least favourite part of the show, shoves it into the spotlight, and the result is truly cringworthy.

My advice to ol’ Dex? Ditch the broad, get your shit together and get back to the killing. Hopefully season six will mark a return to form for this otherwise stellar series. I’m hoping and praying it gets back on the rails but right now it looks headed to meet up with Prison Break and Dollhouse at that heavenly place once-good TV shows go to die. Hell, even Mr Chris ‘Last Season Kiss of Death’ Vance is set to make an apperance.


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