Monday, November 11, 2013

The next next generation of consoles

So, here is the... 8th generation of gaming consoles for the living room.

Or is it?

Let's be honest, consoles stopped being all about the games some time in the last generation. Sure, it's what made them popular but Microsoft in particular wanted the Xbox to be a media hub for the living room, and the fact it played games was a nice-to-have.

Why? Well, digital consumption of film and TV has become huge and Microsoft, to their credit, saw that coming and wanted a piece of that action. Using Kinect to talk and wave your way through the latest episode of The Walking Dead is the way forwards... Well, maybe not but it's certainly a possible future.

With the 8th generation the plan was to talk that up and then mention the games. Microsoft made that mistake, then Sony mopped up afterwards (could have gone either way given what we've learnt the past year or so).
That much hasn't perturbed Microsoft of Sony from making out that, should you give in your crazy gaming ways, the new wave of hardware can also light the way to a better media experience.

Yet gamers want games. Despite the hardcore still preferring PC (well, duh), a console is a "pick up and play" device in a way PCs never will be and do occasionally come along with a game us PC owners will never see (Halo, Uncharted, I'm looking at you!).

And what's generation it will be! With hardware almost identical - and seriously, it's almost embarrassing, with both consoles both using AMD CPU (Jaguar) and GPU technology, alongside DirectX APIs I can see very little between these design studies that will make a lasting difference.

First run games are showing that the PS4 has an easier to write for RAM architecture that means we're seeing lower rendered resolutions in some triple-A games, but that will change in time. Those dedicated to one platform will ultimately make the killer, must own titles whereas everything else will be a little too similar for comfort.

Yes, the shared architecture is good for developers, but for us on the digital street, it's not so interesting. If you were around for the Amiga versus Atari ST days, or SNES versus Mega Drive arguments then you know what I mean. The "our console is the same!" arguement is unlikely to hold water... It'll be about those games again!

Personally, I never bought in to the media hub part. The Xbox couldn't stream what I wanted, and the PS3 interface is ugly. I hope that changes once the dust settles with the new kit so I can continue streaming via uPNP or watching Netflix in either device (yeah, we'll see).

Are you buying in to the next generation? Me... I'll wait until I see a sniff of Halo or Uncharted.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Skyfall - new, or not?

Daniel Craig's arrival as a new James Bond also heralded a new era for Bond in general. Out went Q, the gadgets and to a large extent, the suave and womanising Bond of old.

Here was a new, young and raw Bond. He wasn't experienced. He didn't play by the rules; put well in to context with him breaking in to M's house. Great stuff. Okay, so it wasn't perfect. But Bond isn't perfect either and the troubles of old are certainly no longer the problems the world faces today.

Skyfall, however, leaves me slightly perplexed. I certainly enjoyed the film. It was shot wonderfully and had all the usual and expected ingredients; at least those I'd expect from a film of its type.

However, it almost completely reintegrated the elements dropped in order to make it new and fresh.

I'll elaborate but herein are spoilers. SPOILERS. I'll be talking about the end (in part) and certain characters. Not seen it? Stop reading.

So lets discuss. Bond cops it fairly early on in the movie and is declared dead. Whether M knows this for sure or not is not clear. She writes his obituary but doesn't seem surprised at his reappearance and her line "Where the hell have you been?" fits with her expecting more from his death than him lying down and taking it. His subsequent unraveling and decline in to drink and substance abuse isn't covered much but a three month gap is mentioned before he returns a shadow of his former self.

This part I liked. He's been off the radar and with injury, simply loses his skills. That he's put back in to active service is a stretch but it's down to M and her soft-spot for Bond's character. Okay, I'll let it go... But would it happen? He isn't the only 00 on the books and with the stakes being what they are, I'm not sure anyone in that position could make the call. Perhaps it's desperation; though it doesn't seem as such from M's character.

I won't cover the story though I thought it was pretty solid. Why wouldn't someone in that position want that kind of revenge?

So what else? He's back to womanising and there are three women in this one. I liked that aspect of Bond, but it does take his character back rather than forward. There is an attempt to explain but it's down to him having a crappy childhood and being orphaned. Hmm.

Next up, the classic Aston. No new Aston for him to chase and destroy and this one still gets wrecked. It's horrible to watch a DB5 get cut to ribbons but it fits with the story. It's a real throw back too... See where I'm going with this?

Then comes Q and the Walther PPK. Both great historical elements that have been brought back and add to the story (well, Q does at least). I'm, again, not sure why the addition - there are no gadgets and it's heavily played on that there won't be any. So why Q? It would seem it is for light relief over content. He's bloody good mind and eventually becomes pivotal in the story; however, I was just expecting him to be there for laughs after his initial introduction.

Finally, there is a new M and Miss Moneypenny. No reason to explore the details of why or how, but they're there and with all the above, the film takes Bond back to the days of Moore and Connery very quickly and if I'm honest, I saw no reason to do so.

The fact James Bond was reduced to a mere human; albeit a ruthless one was one I'd enjoyed. The new film is, as I've said, fantastic and I look forward to the next one - but I'd have like the writers and creators to have gone with the new direction and stuck with it rather than set the franchise up to be nothing more than it was 50 years ago.

I'm probably being harsh. It's not a review; there are plenty of those out there and if I were reviewing it for what it is, I'd have to compliment it. I'm just a bit miffed it's not brave enough to stand out a bit more.

A good friend of mine said the end is a "reboot" for the franchise. He was right in part - it does indeed reboot things. There is a definite end to the film and the current set of stories. It'll be interesting to see where it goes next.

Should you go and see it? Yes. Just don't expect anything new (beyond the cinematography).

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Avengers... again
The Avengers became Avengers Assemble. 
Trailers and spots flooded the web.
My excitement levels rose; then, finally it arrived.
I won't waste your time with spoilers, plot points or general fuss. That much is all very easily obtained by your favourite search engine. Short of a full script, it's all out there... actually a quick search will find you that as well.

As a "fan" of Iron Man I came to the Avengers.. (ignoring the extra word, it's useless and only to avoid copyright issues with a British film and show).. purely as a fan of Mr Stark and his wonderful toys.
I certain enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the other Marvel films. Thor and Captain America are great films and get the ball rolling on their emergence and such like - but only Iron Man has past so far. Iron Man kick-started this franchise (if you'll endulge me) after failed attempts from 2008's "The Hulk" and to a lesser extent, Spiderman (Marvel, yes - same universe.. no... and it's already been rebooted).

Quick note here - Sony do Spidey, Disney do shellhead and co.

So, what did I think? Do you care? Go see the film and I very much doubt you will.

It's very much a Joss Whedon picture. If you aren't a fan of his, or do not know the likes of Buffy, Angel or, say, Firefly, then you'll be forgiven - but the characterisations are there; the one-liners - the "Scooby Gang" feel certainly makes an appearance. It's no Michael Bay film. Films such as Transformers would have you think that - from trailers - we'd see a similar kind of movie. I still shudder at the final hour of the 3rd movie from that franchise - epic it might be, but it's just so over the top that it actually gets boring.
No such.. luck(?) here.

But I digress. Tony gets his fair share of screen time (probably moreso than the others) and so as an Iron Man fan, I was a happy camper.
I've been twice; once in 3D and once in 2D - go see it in your preference, it won't matter. However, for me, 2D was a clear winner (in clarity if nothing else). 

Great soundtrack too. :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Avengers

First, please go here:

The Avengers – See the trailer

Now, you've seen it - go back and watch it again.



Good wasn't it?

Yeah, I know.. watch it again. It's okay. I did.


Oh go on then, one more time... I'll wait.

So, if you haven't seen Iron Man, then why are you still here? If you have, then that trailer just excited you - and - hopefully - you've also seen Thor and Captain America (both awesome for very different reasons) but seeing them all together, and knowing it's just the beginning.. well, that's something else!

Does this give RDJ a reason to keep wearing the suit? Probably not, and that's a HUGE shame - but I know there are at least 7 more Avenger-based films coming (either individually based, or sequels) and for me, that's just the best news I've heard all year.

Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

PC versus Console gaming. Or, PC Gaming: "Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggurated"

I can, these days, call myself a "wannabe gamer". I have the consoles and a decent PC and have a bunch of old retro machines as well. I love gaming.

However, life being what it is, and being in my thirties, I find it extremely hard to find the time - or worse - justify the time to play these days. So, I find it fairly easy to see it all from "outside the box".. so to speak.

You can be a PC gamer. You can be a Console gamer. Within that, you can be a 'fanboi' for either the Xbox 360 or PS3 on the console side (we'll ignore the Wii for a minute) and on the PC side you can be an Intel or AMD fan - or argue the merits over AMD or NVidia's implementation of 3D. But that's your lot these days - unless you pretend that iOS is the best thing to game on, in which case, go away. Now. (Yeah it has it's place, especially casually - but a 12-way LAN party will never happen on a 10inch touch screen).

But, before PC gaming there was the argument over whether your Amiga was better than the Atari ST - and, hell, even PC gamers tried to get stuck in with their fancy "256 Colour VGA graphics".. heh, yeah, if you could afford the £1000 price tag and put up with Adlib sounds.

So, I'm a gamer. I don't really care what I play on as long as the game works for me.

But things have changed hugely over the past 10 years. Prior to the PlayStation in the late(ish) 1990s, consoles were the place to be for cutting edge gaming for the masses, in front of the TV. You loved SEGA or Nintendo - and that was that. Amigas and PCs were usually relegated to the bedrooms and back rooms of the house, but in the living room, it was a console world - and that's pretty much why I never bothered with them. Too limited. Too.. casual.

Once Sony got in on the action, things changed. I very much remember my Bro and I buying a PlayStation between us and marvelling at those 3D graphics (remember that dinosaur?). That was the first time I really got interested - but even then, no matter how clever, I was a computer gamer.

When the XBox hit the scene - when Microsoft (you know, they make Windows and Office) decided they could make a console (fools! it'll never work! it's Microsoft!) - well, that was when things changed. Whether you agree or not, that's a fact of gaming. SEGA were already bowing out of the console market at the time. Nintendo had started to fail. Sony was on a roll and the PS2 was close - but a bitch to code for - and Microsoft came along with this DirectX sporting box that could. Perhaps they were lucky, perhaps they picked the right time - perhaps... who cares? It happened.

That was when I really got interested. I bought one on release day in the states (as did the Bro) and we're both now long-time owners of the XBox franchise.


We never gave up on the PC - and I have to say, that in those days we were very much in to the early days of MMOs (Massively Multi player Online games) such as Neocron and Star Wars Galaxies.

In 2005 we got the Xbox 360 and soon after, the PS3. I've only recently gotten a PS3 - and it's a great Bluray player. It's also a so-so game machine with few exclusives worth buying (and due to it also being a bitch to code for, it gets the short straw when it comes to ports, too). The 360, though, despite it's tendency to eat it's graphics core, still sells well after over 5 years on the shelf, and can just about produce some gob smacking games and graphics.


We never gave up on the PC. During those years I've picked up a fair few games - mostly exclusives like Gears of War, Halo (see previous blog) or Forza - and very much enjoyed them. However, the likes of WoW kept me PC gaming and the pure flexibility of the PC kept me coming back (it can, after all, provide pure FPS gaming with the well known WASD and mouse combo - and use a 360 controller for anything else).

And now, as the current console generation starts to wane, and we're being told not to expect the next-gen for years (another 5.. I don't believe it), I am moving back to PC gaming - using such systems as Steam and Origin to digitally purchase and download the game I want. I can choose the resolution. I can choose the control method (mention Kinect.. it's coming to the PC as well!), I can have triple-screen gaming support (available if you have three Xboxes) and to add, because Windows and DirectX are evolving, I can have higher-resolution textures and frame-rates too.

So I'm in the "But.. I never gave up on the PC" stage - as I await the "Next BIG thing" in console gaming.

PC gaming, or Console gaming?

Well, both are valid. Both have their Pros and Cons (price, availability, accessibility and so on) and the mass wide-spread adoption of the console has meant that games now have a much higher budget (and, with it, longer development times) that mean even "my" PC games are better than ever.

So. There is no one winner. I chose both - and within that, every variant.

Would I tell others to do the same? No. I'd say, pick a franchise and buy the console that fits it... except the Wii. Nintendo have bailed on us so-called hardcore gamers. But don't discount the PC as the rewards for a little bit more money and time invested are far better in the long run.

Oh, and if you don't believe me - wait until the juggernaut that is Star Wars: The Old Republic hits - and then tell me PC gaming is dead ;)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Films - Convince me

Films are an interesting medium for telling a story. Whereas a book can be more descriptive, allowing the reader to interpret and imagine as they see fit, film must do all of that for the viewer and hopefully capture the feeling that the story is trying to portray.

It would be foolish to say that certain films, or indeed TV shows, are "easy" to film - nothing is "easy", but certain types of film are going to be easier overall.
For instance - a film about relationships, set in the now is going to be far easier to film than, say, something set in the far future, or a period piece. This isn't just because we have to invent technology that doesn't yet exist, or try to source clothes and vehicles from times past, but because these things have to be convincing.

The last word there - convincing - is probably the most key. Go back and watch a good (in your eyes) Sci-Fi film from your past. Lets say, if you're a little older, 2001. That still stands up in most respects because it shuns most technology to tell a very much human story. Now lets look at something a little more recent, like the Matrix. That was filmed in 1997/98 and is still a fantastic movie (some would say, the perfect Sci-Fi movie) but how convincing are the effects; the technology? Pretty good?

Okay, lets move on. Both of the movies I've mentioned fit a certain aesthetic. 2001 goes clean and white to show us, perhaps, not a real future, but an ideal. The Matrix, a complete opposite. In this case, there is technology we don't have (the hovering ships, and the Matrix itself) but the rest is more in line with what we have, or have lost.
If we think of something purely fantasy, then perhaps Star Wars - or Star Trek (both compete for fans affections). Now, Star Wars is based on technology invented thousands of years prior to the story line we're told through film - and for reasons not explained, it plateaued. The big bad has new tech and it's very shiny and dark and very "futuristic".
Star Trek on the other hand is set in our future and there is almost nothing in it that we have today (let's be honest here, we're talking the movies, not the series and we don't have phasers (posh lasers), transporters or warp capable vessels).

Do either of those age well when it comes to being "convincing"? No. Not really.

Case in point is the up coming Star Wars Blu-ray trilogy release. I don't need to go in to details here but Star Wars has had more lifts and tucks than any aging Hollywood star (and, honestly, it doesn't need it - it looks it's age and is better for it).

Star Trek on the other hand is far harder to forgive.

The first films were made in the 1970s and early 1980s and it shows. The model making for the ship sequences was hugely involving (not to say Star Wars was not, by the way) and expensive and meant that some shots were reused - perhaps "mirrored" or coloured to change the focus - but reused none the less.
The hair styling, costumes and sets screamed their age and the technology was a look forward 300 years that, in some cases, we've already surpassed. Bad Star Trek!
Now, some would say I've missed the point - Star Trek was about us - as people. The Enterprise was a metaphor for the planet Earth and it's crew, the United States. So, okay, I'll concede - but it still had people fighting on lava planets and ships throwing plasma at each other (okay, not plasma... photon torpedoes).

Leaving Trek behind - this has been a problem for a long time. Computers now replace models, and actors now have to stand in empty, green rooms or, worse, become avatars instead. Our obsession with making these other worlds look real has meant that whilst they do on the day of release, they age very quickly and the gap between reality and the uncanny valley is narrowing all the time (google the uncanny - it's interesting - if you want an example; Neo fighting the masses of Smiths in the Matrix Reloaded. One second it's actor Keanu Reeves, the next it's a PlayStation animation).

So, to my point. (Yes, I was getting to it).


We probably relate comics to comic books and comic books to super heroes. Originally, and most prominently, they are indeed about super heroes, but more recently, films and TV have gone the other way (think Buffy or Firefly). Comics very rarely make a good transfer to film... mind you, neither do Computer games (perhaps a topic for another day).

The last 10 years has seen a very real resurgence of comic book movies. They didn't exactly go away - the likes of Superman and Batman have always been there (and with almost no exception, they've been terrible) but with the 2002 version of Spider man we finally got a good (for the time, great) interpretation of a comic book. Were the sequels as good? Well, the second was actually really good - probably better than the first, but the third was panned for good reason.

You may be thinking "Oi, Willis, what about X-Men? That came out in 2000!". Yeah well that sucked too. So did it's sequels. And Wolverine. Sorry - I love them too - but come on, they sucked.

So, Spidey probably had the limelight in most cases (opinion being what it is, you may disagree.. hell, you might have like Ghost Rider or Daredevil)... until 2008.

In my humble opinion, John Favreau's Iron Man was a turning point in comic book movies. Not only did it establish a character that wasn't quite so mainstream, but it also made it believable. Big difference.

Favreau had said on numerous occasions that he wanted the technology of Iron Man to be ahead of ours by "a couple of generations". He was talking about the computers, and general day to day stuff. The suit itself is doable, but the Arc Reactor is complete fiction. That's another story though.

I'd very much enjoyed Spider man and even X-Men to a degree - but Iron Man, well, I loved Iron Man. There are few films I'll buy more than once (DVD, Blu Ray etc) but other than Back to the Future - it's only Iron Man (and perhaps Serenity).

Iron Man was such a big hit that our subtly anti-hero Tony Stark appeared in "The Hulk" and his universe was expanded with "Thor" and "Captain America". Next year we'll get "The Avengers" that heavily features our favourite Avenger and, most likely, the Mk VII suit. 2013 will even follow with "Iron Man 3" if the rumours are to be believed, albeit without John Favreau - most likely because 'America, Thor and The Avengers leave the tech behind and go almost totally in to the realms of fantasy (it works mostly but makes things seem less believable).

Will we see more Iron Man beyond 2013? Most likely given the audience reaction - perhaps with more Avengers if Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, FireFly, to name but a few) can pull it off. It is less likely we'll see Robert Downey Jr continue the roll as he's likely to want to move on after four appearances (and with Iron Man having relaunched his career he now enjoys rolls such as Sherlock Holmes).

So I'm happy that these films are making the fantasy, believable once more. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Halo Anniversary

If you haven't heard of the title, or have heard of it and think nothing of it - stop reading. It's fairly pointless an endeavour to continue.


If, on the other hand you call yourself "geek" or enjoy games - then Halo fill feature somewhere in your past - or indeed, future.

This year marks the 10th (yes, tenth) anniversary of Halo. More so in the US of A and related areas of the planet as they got the US spec PAL XBox before us UK'ers - but my brother and I, well, we were front of the line. Actually, I was in Canada and was at the midnight launch in November ;)

To say that Halo had some impact on myself and my lil' bro is probably an understatement. He, and he reminds me of this fairly frequently, completed it - twice - in black and white (before we could get the correct NTSC/PAL adapters of the then-new Microsoft toy), so I think it's fairly safe to say he liked it.

Halo did something no game had ever done previously. It brought PC-style FPS shooters to the console. Yeah, sure, we'd seen them on consoles, but they sucked (and largely, still can). Halo managed to bring that to a wired, but analogue controller that felt right. It's no secret that the reason I still have that Xbox, it's sequel (and another), a PS3 and several other consoles, comes directly and solely down to those few months with the Xbox and Halo.
All this from Microsoft.. who would have thought it?

Anyway, I digress.

Halo comes full circle in a few weeks with Halo CE. The anniversary.
This is the original, 2001 game, built by Bungie (yes, we love Bungie) but brought up to "HD" standards (I hate the term, as it's not even that high a resolution), with wide screen support and.. and.. the best bit.. a button to revert the graphics back to 2001 (very much like the Monkey Island games of recent years). I love this.

Halo - or "Halo: Combat Evolved" as Bungie hate to call it (and old story surrounding Microsoft not liking "Halo" on it's own.. so they subtitled it.. not Bungie) was the best game in the series - it was the first.

It wasn't the best because it brought the universe to my attention - no, it was the best because.. well, it was simple. It worked. It dragged me in and told me a story almost over - and had me gagging for more. I wanted to know about the forerunners, the reclaimer, these covenant and even Guilty Spark 343 couldn't put me off (the sidekick.. think Jar Jar but not as bad). Ah Halo.

Of course, Halo 2 and 3 were good - 2 in many ways the strongest game in the series except for the end and ODST has become my favourite soundtrack and most real of the games since it has you being human over super-soldier. Reach is the most recent and well, it is a fantastic, hugely emotional game that has more holes in it's plot than an early James Bond movie (but, I love those too).

So if you don't know Halo. Go find out. The fan fiction is superb - and with Karen Travis on board - it's about to get really technical and it's nice to know John wasn't always 117. If that doesn't work for you go to one of these sites:

Halo Waypoint
or even the recent Halofest site (yeah it even has it's own shows now!)

In closing - it's been a hell of a 10 years. Here's to 10 more!

Note: Despite me saying the original game was built by Bungie (and it was), the update is 343 Studios and nothing (publicly) to do with Bungie now that they've moved on to new and, hopefully, bright things.