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Monthly Archives: February 2012

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Three Reasons Why Half Life 3 Isn’t Coming

It’s not impossible that Half Life 3 will show up at some point, but despite the fan campaigns it probably won’t. Why not?

1. Valve doesn’t need Half Life 3. The most obvious reason to make Half Life 3 is for the money and between Steam and its other successful franchises, Valve doesn’t need to invest a lot of time and money into making HL3. It can do other things. If it does HL3 it will only be because it chooses to, not because of fan pressure or financial pressure.

It’s been five years since anything Half Life has come out. Before then Valve didn’t have much going on that wasn’t Half Life or one its spinoffs. Since then it has two new franchises and a huge success with Steam.

2. It’s not the kind of game that Valve is interested in making. Half Life 1 and 2 were single player shooters with some puzzle action. Valve has switched to social co-op and multiplayer games with larger puzzle solving elements and more humor. Valve isn’t interested in spending a lot of time on a single player first person shooter. Not when it can do things like Portal or L4D.

3. There’s nowhere else to go. That’s probably something Valve decided around Episode 2. Half Life 2 turned the entire world into Half Life 1. What is Half Life 3 going to do?

Valve isn’t all that interested in pushing graphics to the limit. It’s already done a planet overrun with aliens. It can do more of the same. It isn’t interested in incorporating the RPG elements that gave depth to games like DEHR. It can Portal it up all the way, but that would be redundant.

And here’s a bonus reason. Half Life 2 was released in 2004. That’s eight years ago. Today’s teenagers never played it. Half Life was released in the last century. Fourteen years ago. Sure Valve could still roll out Half Life 3 with a tweaked engine and some more puzzles and co-op. They might have in development right now. But they probably don’t.

The Best Trailers are for Games

The movie trailer is almost a dead art. Look at how clumsy the Green Lantern trailers were. Movie trailers either give away the entire movie or are so generic that you can’t tell one from the other.

And games are stealing the trailer crown. Take a look at the trailers for the new Tomb Raider and Prey 2. Not only are these better than the latest trailer for a 200 million dollar movie, but it’s saddening that these are game trailers. I want to see these movies. Especially the Prey 2 movie.

What’s the secret. Game trailers are outsourced to studios which specialize in them. Your games aren’t made by the same people who make their trailers. Which is why the trailers are so much better. The good news is some of these studios are either on track to doing a movie or thinking about it.

More trailer goodness. The Knights of the Old Republic trailer which is about 50 times better than anything George Lucas has done since the Death Star blew up.

Is Publishing an Author’s Short Stories Collection a Good Idea?

I’ve been reading through some short story collections by major Science Fiction authors and after a few volumes of that, I’m not so sure that these collections are even a good idea.

Why? Authors repeat themselves, reworking the same themes and ideas. The story that looks unique in a copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction or in an anthology about alien dragons or telepathic fantasy worlds or alternate history heroes, looks a lot less unique when it’s sandwiched side by side with a dozen others with the same author’s perspective.

For the “Where do you get your ideas” crowd, it can be interesting to see that Anderson’s Goat Song is a reworking of the same themes and ideas as Queen of Darkness and Air (wielding archetypes to manipulate people, a war between technological order and chaos using myth, etc) but it’s also somehow disappointing.

Magazines and anthologies bring together different approaches on a theme. John Campbell used to hand out the same idea to different writers to see what emerged. But one writer reworking the same ideas can feel stifling after half a dozen stories.

Comics Comedy

With all the outrage over a Smallville Season 11 coming out in comic book form, you would think that there was something really awful happening, like a Doctor Who- Star Trek The Next Generation crossover happening. (Yes that’s happening too.) Is there absolutely no room for a Smallville comic book in a lineup that already features Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Justice League?

The reason for it is a no brainer. Smallville had plenty of fans, especially female fans, who aren’t picking up issues of Superman. Getting them to read a Superman comic by any name is a no brainer. With a good writer, which it has, there’s no reason that Smallville Season 11 can’t be good. Or moderately decent. Or better than Buffy Season 8.

Speaking of what I assume is Buffy Season 9, which I avoided because there’s only so much crap that even I can take, that has a storyline where Buffy gets pregnant and has an abortion, which is already being praised as groundbreaking by some of the fanboys who hate the idea of Smallville Season 11, sight unseen. I’m sure this will be just as well thought out and groundbreaking as Buffy’s lesbian tryst and not at all a publicity stunt by people who have already shown that they shouldn’t be allowed to crochet samplers.

Why not just turn over Buffy to David E. Kelley and get it over with? I don’t really see much difference in concept between his Wonder Woman TV show and Buffy anyway. All the fanboys who want to claim that Buffy was a strong female character might want to consider how much she really had in common with Ally McBeal. And how much of the differences came down to the actresses, not the writing.

Success and Failure at the Box Office

As we all know Mission Impossible 4 or MI Ghost Protocol or MIGP was a huge hit. Sherlock Holmes 2 or SHGOS was a bomb. Fast forward a bit and MI4 has just barely cleared 200 million dollars domestic and Sherlock Holmes 2 made 20 million less than it. Since Holmes 2 or SH2GOS had a 20 million dollar budget, the performance is close enough to say that both movies performed sub par, with MI4 or MI4GP getting the worst of it since it had the bigger star and the bigger splashdown. But the US take doesn’t really matter anymore. Over 60 percent of the revenues for both movies came from the foreign box office. 287 mil for Holmes, 369 mil for MI. Internationally MI4 is the decisive winner, but Holmes pulled in enough that it was worth it.

That brings us to Underworld Awakening, the fourth unwanted movie in a series which only took off because its commercials featured a woman shooting her way through a floor in the first movie, that managed to score 50 million and another 40 million overseas, making this crap that Americans like better than people outside the country. It also means Len Wiseman is still in the game. Who besides us wanted to see a fourth movie of this? The Russians where Underworld picked up a quarter of its foreign take.

Red Tails, Lucas’ vanity project, has slipped badly, but when was the last time an aircraft movie, especially a retro one did well? Can anyone remember Flyboys? Or Stealth? Or Wing Commander? I’m not too sure it’s been done since Top Gun. That’s too bad because I wouldn’t mind an American version of Les Chevaliers du ciel, but even Lucas’ own Star Wars prequels took it light on the fighter action.

Endless Blue by Wen Spencer book review

I would like to say that Endless Blue isn’t furry porn, but I don’t really believe it myself. What looks like another post-Ringworld space opera sludges down into character studies that read like bad fanfic with all the emotional drama involving sex between humans and a variant genetically engineered type of human that for some unknown reason has fur and a tail and catlike behavior.

Endless Blue might have been passable as an average enough space opera with different races all ending up in a strange place when their warp engines malfunction. This kind of Ringworld meets Riverworld concept had possibilities, especially since the place they land is mostly water with flying continents up above. But Wen Spencer doesn’t really bother building the world or the realworld problems, except on the side in between the furry fanfic. Which means that if you’re not into that sort of thing, there’s not that much to read here. Halfway in I was skipping every other page and just reading for the story, and around the furry sections, but then Endless Blue tumbles into some ridiculous business about the whole thing being a mission from god who left a box on one of the continents that can end the war. This wouldn’t have been too terrible if it had been a little more consistent with the earlier material.

I don’t know what Baen was thinking, but then I don’t know what their ads are thinking. The back ads offer a James P Hogan collection on science to anyone who likes to read about science. I guess if you’re interested in science then you’re an excellent target demographic for someone whose idea of rationalism is Holocaust denial. Back to Endless Blue, there’s room for all sorts of people to write what they want and if there’s a bestselling fantasy epic built increasingly around the author’s fetishes (and no I don’t mean Gor) then maybe Endless Blue isn’t illegitimate. But maybe it should also be marketed as what it is. You could read the first books of Wheel of Time and maybe even the later ones without being on board, but Endless Blue focuses on one thing alone and sets up the universe so that it revolves around that topic.

More Copyright Wars

From a book review of an industry friendly copyright book in the New York Times

That’s what happened with the music industry, which, spooked by the proliferation of pirated file sharing on Napster, struck a bad deal with iTunes that allowed Apple to replace the sale of $15 albums with 99-cent songs. “Even if they continue to grow,” Levine writes, “those 99-cent-song sales won’t come close to making up for the corresponding decline in CD sales.”

The average album had 10-15 songs on it, which comes to about the same thing to 99 cents a song. How much did the industry really want people to pay per song? And if you eliminate the cost of actually packaging and manufacturing the albums, then 99 cents a song may even be a better deal. Apple takes its chunk, but does it really take more than Wal-Mart and K-Mart?

The real deal is that the industry didn’t want to change its business model of packaging whole albums that people had to buy to get a few songs they wanted. That business model helped encourage piracy. Sure manufactures would make more money if they forced people to buy printers with every computer or floor mats with every car. But that business model was killed by the internet.

Similarly, the best TV shows, like “Mad Men,” are produced by cable channels like AMC that hold back their content from Hulu, a network-owned platform for distributing TV over the Internet. The Hulu model has succeeded on the premise that “if someone was going to make their product available online for nothing, it might as well be them,” as Levine says of the networks.

I don’t know that Mad Men qualifies as one of the best shows on TV, but Cable has been sinking more money into developing shows that appeal to a more upscale audience. Hulu distributes shows that are mostly free to watch on TV already.

Levine says, is an open Internet model of free video that, by denying the networks any revenue to invest in shows like “Mad Men,” would instead produce the likes of the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger.”

I’m not so sure one is that much worse than the other, but networks get revenue from advertising, cable networks get revenue from advertising and from their gated community. But free to watch networks spend money on shows, and can pay for it with advertising too.

Recently, France has begun to revive a business model that thrived in the 19th century: a collective or blanket license that, by adding a fee to Internet connections, would allow the convenient downloading of copyrighted music and divide the money to compensate producers and artists.

The fee based internet thrived in the 19th century? Wow. That is some revisionist Steampunk history right there. Must have been that Babbage based internet.

Anyone praising a media internet tax is a shameless shill for the entertainment industry. It’s completely indefensible, not least because it asks paying consumers to pay twice, once for what they buy and once as a confiscatory tax for the industry.

Let’s say we have a universal internet tax/fine, who should get it? Anyone who makes content that is distributed on the internet? Yeah right. Sorry we’re not going back to taxing cassette tapes for the music industry.

Germany has laws forbidding the aggressive discounting of books in chain stores, which has preserved independent booksellers while making it harder for Amazon to introduce the Kindle.

While keeping books more expensive. I like independent bookstores, but does this law do anything to promote reading or help writers?

But regardless of your position in the business-of-culture wars, it’s hard to resist Levine’s conclusion that the status quo is much better for tech companies and distributors than for cultural creators and producers. That status quo may benefit consumers in the short term. But if it continues, Levine argues, the Internet will increasingly become an artistic wasteland dominated by amateurs — a world where music, TV and journalism are virtually free, and where all of us get what we pay for.

My own position is skeptical toward both sides, which means I am skeptical that industry advocates care about creators. Creators are collateral damage for both sides. I am even more skeptical of the idea that the industry will stop making professional music, books and movies because of internet piracy. They had plenty of time to stop in the last ten years.

What the review and probably the book does not mention is that piracy encourages the industry to target the dumbest consumers even harder because they are less likely to have the know how to pirate. The industry has dumbed down its own product, but that is only one of the reasons.

The specter of amateurs is not all that horrifying, what is horrifying is that the future will belong to Cory Doctorow and Lana Del Rey, people who have nothing of worth to offer but strike a convenient pose that connects with a demographic. Creators who are much better self-promoters than they are artists.

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