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Monthly Archives: February 2010

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Time to Kill Caprica Already

The one good thing that Caprica has done, is that it’s finally answered the question of whether viewers were drawn to Battlestar Galactica because of all the space explosions and space fighters, or because they wanted to see Ron Moore tackle the moral and ethical questions of what a bunch of confused people think about religion and technology. And if the falling ratings of Battlestar Galactica, as the show shifted from space battles to” muddled soap opera that’s sorta about some issues” didn’t answer that question, Caprica’s ratings have. Caprica’s third episode lost to Discovery Channel’s Swamp Loggers. Yes, people would rather watch swamp loggers than Caprica, despite the photoshopped naked ads and the pretentious episode titles. The SciFi channel took a bad bet by giving Ron Moore a free hand and then giving him his own series to mangle as he saw fit. And the ratings are telling the tale. The SciFi Channel needs to cut its losses and cut Caprica. And then maybe HBO can give Ron Moore a chance to create an apocalyptic series about carny freaks… oh wait.

A Cop Out for Kevin Smith

A Cop Out may help redefine Kevin Smith’s career, from the guy who makes indies about the awkwardness of living in New Jersey while high all the time, to Brett Ratner Jr. And that’s an almost charitable thing to say about a movie that is a poor man’s Rush Hour, and its target audience seems to be people who really wish that the Die Hard guy had been in Paul Blart Mall Cop. At some point in the oughts, Kevin Smith saw the writing on the wall, and realized that his audience just didn’t exist anymore. I mean there are people who willing to pony up for Evening Harder, but the crowds are not going to come to see Bob and Silent Jay make bong jokes. Zack and Miri Make a Porno was Kevin Smith’s attempt to be Judd Apatow, an attempt that failed even with Seth Rogen in the lead. (For context, Seth Rogen’s turn in Observe and Report, a movie which was blasted for promoting date rape actually made more money than Zack and Miri did.). Cop Out is Kevin Smith taking the helm on exactly the kind of cliched buddy cop comedy he would have been making off as Hollywood tripe not that long ago. But right now it’s Hollywood tripe meant to pay the rent and maybe give Smith a chance to decide what movies he actually wants to make.

The Art or the Man

The release of Polanski’s Ghost Writer once again revives the ongoing argument between the cineastes and a more general moviegoing public over whether you can separate the art from the man. This is all the more critical of an argument when it comes to Ghost Writer, a movie that asks us to sneer at Tony Blair’s sins, made by a man who infamously drugged and raped a 13 year old, while she begged him to stop. An act he has since repeatedly made light of. Can you separate the art from the man, when the art made by the man requires moral judgment? This isn’t an entirely new argument either, but if art is a way of looking at the world, then how is it possible to ignore whose eyes we are looking through? The camera is the director’s eye and by watching the movie, are allow its viewpoint to be channeled through us. Leni Riefenstahl is only one of the more famous names that demonstrates the danger of channeling an image as art, while forgetting that even art carries its own implicit ideas and views. In Polanski’s case, it is impossible to separate his life from his fiction, because the two are intertwined.

Smallville Unpersuaded

Smallville Persuasion is not only strikingly the kind of episode that Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have done in its own heyday. You know the kind with a love spell that has wacky consequences, while outside the big bad is plotting to off them all. Worse yet it’s not exactly the first Smallville love spell episode. Maybe not even the first one this season. But more to the point, it’s a giant waste. Smallville caught my attention this season with its apocalyptic future flashback, a struggle against a younger General Zod, who has human weaknesses, both physical and psychological, and a ruthless showdown. But Persuasion dedicates most of the episode to a generic love spell story and only its end shows Clark belatedly destroying Zod’s tower. That scene is dark and cool, but it also highlights just how much time has been wasted here. Ever since Clark walked in on Zod’s army and watched them kneel before him, the show has failed to actually show Clark interacting with Zod’s men, and instead done the usual storylines about the angst that one or another of the characters is going through.

Why Google Should Stay Away from Social Networking

The Buzz implosion, basically a Google branded Twitter integrated directly into Gmail, is more than just another privacy violation, but a reminder of why Google should stay out of the social networking business. The failures of Orkut and Google Video were part of the same larger problem, which is that Google is good at understanding how people use the internet, but not why they use it.

Google’s strong point has been providing applications that make things simpler for users. Want a detailed map of the world complete with roads, directions, local businesses and street cams? Google can do that. Want easy to use emails. Yes, Google can do that too. Want no frills search, see you there. But social networking isn’t an application, it’s more of a game. For all the articles written about the importance of social networking, people don’t Facebook or Myspace or Twitter for very serious reasons. Mostly it’s frivolous and Google doesn’t do frivolous well.

For all the attempts at whimsy, from its name to the scribbly theme logos to the Lucky button, Google is not actually any good at being whimsical or frivolous. Its applications look like a pocket protector and work that way. White, no frills and very practical. From an engineering and strategic standpoint, Google Buzz made sense. But from a personal standpoint, it made no sense at all. Google Buzz, like Google Wave and Google Video, failed because it didn’t take into account why people do the things they do, not just the how. And until Google gets as good at the why as at the how, it should just stay out of the social networking business.

Ubisoft Announces that PC Releases of their Games Will No Longer Work Unless there is a Ubisoft Employee Sitting in Your Living Room

Citing the spiraling costs of piracy and the need to create a more interactive gaming experience, Ubisoft has announced that PC releases of its games such as Assassin’s Creed 3, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3 Rainbow Six 4 and The Settlers 24 will no longer work without the supervision of a Ubisoft employee sitting in your living room.

“We’ve tried DRM. We’ve tried making our games online only. And we tried lining the inside of the CD cases with plastic explosives that detonate automatically if they fail to recognize the user’s fingerprints, but none of it is enough,” said Ubisoft spokesman Pierre Larouge. “So now to improve the user experience, to play a Ubisoft game you will have to have an employee of Ubisoft there in your living room. At random times in the game, it will prompt him to enter a secret code which only he knows, if he does not enter it, the game will format your hard drive.”

Supposedly based on the code from Lost which had to be entered every hour, the so-called Ubisoft “Hatch” DRM has elicited protests from gaming sites which argue that Ubisoft will not have enough employees to allow people to play at their own convenience. “What if I want to play Quest for the Repackaged Brand 2 at 3 AM?” demanded portly GamersBuzz editor Wink Nartley. “Will a Ubisoft employee be there to enter the code for me?”

In response, Ubisoft has assured players that they are recruiting a small army of homeless people to be available in their living room around the clock, and announced a new PC Gamer outreach campaign in concert with Microsoft that they’re calling “Just Buy an XBox Already”.

When Will Canada Stop Oppressing Russia?

Pravda, once a source for Soviet propaganda, still a source for raving barking lunacy, is accusing Canada of having it out for Russia because of the ice and America and other stuff. Anyway Vancouver, Pravda, declares is not worthy to hold the Olympic games. (Only Mother Russia is.) Like everything else on Pravda, which is 30 percent porn, 30 percent tabloid and 30 percent crazy Russian nationalistic propaganda, the article by Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY (yes he spells his last name in ALL CAPS) is unintentionally funny and makes no sense. Also it reads like it was badly translated from another language, which makes me think the real author’s name was probably something like Ivan IVANOV-MINCHEY.

We all knew it weeks before the game started, with accusations about doping being levelled at Russian athletes, and we all saw it on day one of the games, with the death of a Georgian athlete on a corner which miraculously was elevated the following day. Vancouver is not fit to hold the Winter Olympics.

But doesn’t Russia hate Georgia? So if those duplicitous Canadians conspired to kill a Georgian athlete, aren’t they pro-Russian? Unless it was a feint to throw everyone off the track for their secret anti-Russianism! Also we all know Russian athletes don’t dope or send men dressed as women to the Olympics.

We all know Canada has problems with the future lines drawn on Arctic maps and we all know Canada lives in the shadow of its larger neighbour to the south. The abject cruelty shown by Canadian soldiers in international conflicts is scantily referred to, as indeed is the utter incapacity of this county to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex, born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom, whose Queen smiles happily from Canadian postage stamps.

This paragraph probably made more sense in Russian. But to sum up, Canada hates the arctic, lives in America’s shadow and its soldiers commit horrible atrocities in some kind of imaginary international conflicts. (Unlike Russian soldiers who haven’t killed a few hundred thousand civilians in their former occupied countries.) Also Canada is a colony of the UK, which it’s not, which tells me whoever writes these crazy screeds hasn’t read anything about Canada in the 20th century, eh. I don’t know what any of this has to do with the Olympics. Also I don’t know who is making scanty references to Canadian international atrocities or what trauma Canada was born out of.

Maybe it is this which makes the Canadians so…retentive, or cowardly. So it is not exactly a huge surprise to have international skating experts from the four corners of the Earth criticising the decision to award the Men’s figure skating Gold medal to the US athlete Evan Lysacekv over the reigning Olympic Champion Evgeny Plushenko, whose superior performance was inexplicably ignored.

And his performance was so superior that Plushenko awarded himself a Platinum medal at the Olympics, after trying to get up on the first place spot. Because when you don’t get the award you wanted, you

A. Try to get the award anyway

B. Make up an even better award and give it to yourself

C. Blame all of Canada for being biased against you because they have the queen on their postage stamps

Everybody who knows anything about Olympic skating, Winter Olympic sports and international politics will infer from the pitiful and dangerous conditions provided by the Canadian authorities, which already caused one death, that Vancouver is mutton dressed as lamb. Take off the outer veneer and the stench is horrific. It is a surprise that any Russian athlete would wish to remain in that sort of environment for a second longer.

And guess what. Vancouver is nothing against the might of Mother Russia! Take that capitalist Canadian appeasers who commit scantily clad atrocities with the queen smiling upon them from the postage stamps from which she smiles. Ha!

File This One Under the Rather Ironic

The Future of PC Gaming

Right now the biggest threat to PC gaming is none other than Microsoft. After managing to rebrand PC games as “Games for Windows” (a somewhat meaningless distinction in practice as PC games were always meant to run on Windows, but in branding terms meant putting a property stamp on them and trying to route them through their XBox for PC Live accounts thingie), Microsoft is increasingly bent on marginalizing PC gaming. The XBox 360 only release intended for Alan Wake is another wake up call that Microsoft views PC games as competing with its XBox monopoly.

Apple may have taken the lead into trying to lure customers into its own walled off and tightly controlled device ghettos, but Microsoft, sensing the instability of the Windows monopoly in the face of a burgeoning open source movement is trying to do the same thing. And the XBox is their dream come true, a closed platform that they control and can resell a hundred different ways, while all controlling all transactions that pass through it. No wonder Microsoft is busy cannibalizing the PC gaming market in order to build up its XBox monopoly.

Meanwhile the gaming market is divided between a handful of giant publishers like EA or Vivendi that continue buying up everything in sight, and a gaggle of smaller developers whose big dream is to get big enough so they can get bought up too. If you don’t believe that look at Bioware or even Blizzard, which you would think didn’t need the buyout. And as their control tightens, so does their aggressive DRM which all but aims to turn the PC into a platform as closed as the XBox. We’re a hop and skip away from games being saved only in the cloud. Just take a look at Ubisoft’s online only ongoing game authorization for Assassin’s Creed 2 or EA using constant online DLC authorization for Mass Effect 2 content, that is if you want access to your own saved games.

The technology is there. The players are there. But the companies remain uncomfortable with the open nature of the PC environment. And that’s the biggest challenge for the future of PC gaming.

Why Bioware Fails at Game Design

Yes I know that right now Bioware is being praised everywhere for Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2. Just like it was being praised for Mass Effect 1 until people got some distance and realized that it actually wasn’t a very good game. The problem with Bioware is that they basically make interactive movies, and if you remember the “golden age” when all you needed to do that was a few Quicktime movies and Christopher Walken you probably remember why that’s a bad idea.

Bioware doesn’t make games, they make movies you walk through. It’s Choose Your Own Adventure with some occasional combat along the way. Mass Effect 2 is probably the worst offender in this regard, with more cutscenes than gameplay. And they always culminate in the same twist that Bioware always comes up with, which is that you get betrayed by the people you work for and have to strike out on your own. It’s the same twist they’ve been working since the original Neverwinter Nights.

In 2009, Rockstar could make an entire city without any loading screens. In Mass Effect 2 you need a loading screen to move between one deck and another on your own ship, and one of those decks is just your own cabin with only one room and a hallway. How is this not the definition of failing at game design? Meanwhile if Bioware had diverted some of the resources they put toward giving every one of a dozen characters who can join your team their own backstory and half hour of dialogue, and instead whipped up a dozen basic ports so that every system actually has a place to land and maybe a few cliffs to explore, Mass Effect 2 would feel more open and less like its only purpose is to hurry you through from one cutscene to another.

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