Now that I've had my Wii for almost two months and the shock of the new has worn off, I think it's time to step back and take a good, hard look at the system and see what needs to change before it can become... ahem... "the most successful console of all time."
"Hey, what's your friend code?"
True story: I was listening to someone I know on the radio today talking about the Vista launch - the presenter mentioned that he was crazy about the Xbox 360 and said that they should swap gamer tags. "Sure," my friend said, "I'm $foo." Now, I can guarantee he'll have a few extra friends on Xbox 360 tonight. People he could play games with in the space of a few minutes. Leaving aside all other parts of their latest console offering, Microsoft nailed the online aspect. They made it ridiculously simple for people to find each other and play online.
Nintendo's online strategy has been built around the idea of protecting children from sexual predators. The idea being that if you make the system ridiculously cumbersome, the sexual predator will lose interest and go back to stalking teenage girls on myspace. So we're left with the following: If I want to add you as a friend, I have to give you my 16-digit code, you put this into your Wii, and then you have to give me your 16-digit code and I have to put this into my Wii. Except we can't actually exchange codes over the Wii, so we have to find some other way of getting our friends codes to each other. But once we have independently added each other, that's when the fun begins! We will be able to... well, we can't play any games together yet, because there aren't any games to play online yet. We can send each other messages, I guess. And send each other Miis (those cute characters that are popping up everywhere). Apart from that, uh...
The exchange (and entry) of these 16-digit codes is so awkward that I have actually traded Wii friends codes using Xbox Live. If that doesn't set alarm bells ringing in Nintendo HQ, there's something very wrong here.
And to top this all off, Pokemon Battle Revolution -- the first online-enabled Wii game -- will require an entirely new, completely separate code for friends to play with each other. I mean, good grief! Iwata-san, protecting children from online predators is commendable and all, but surely the rest of us shouldn't be punished as well?
Zelda aside, there hasn't been a single truly compelling purchase for the Wii since it launched. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves is a fun diversion, but the system already has a bunch of games based around mini-games, so it's hard to get excited about a bunch more. The upcoming release pipeline is pretty bleak, with no real excitement until Mario Galaxy in June. Until then, we get a bunch of lackluster third-party titles and ports from other systems (Price of Persia being a port of the PSP version(!) of the game).
Come on Nintendo, people knew there was going to be a bit of a drought while you found your feet. People still went and bought the system on the promise of something remarkable. How's about you live up to that with more than just mini-games?
But the games that you play on the Virtual Console will be pixel-perfect versions of the games you played on your NES, SNES, N64, Megadrive or PC Engine. As the man says: Nothing added, nothing taken away.
Wireless out of the box! Always-on technology! Why can't these two things come together and give me an experience where my Wii doesn't have to do a 15-second connection test each time I connect to the Wii shop?
We're no longer dealing with bricks-and-mortar distributors and export laws, so why can't I buy games from the US Virtual Console shop? Why are Nintendo only going to allow me to buy games that were originally released in Europe? Playing games that were never released here is half the reason I love emulators so much.
Advertising in videogames isn't necessarily a bad thing. In games set in a 'realistic' universe, it can add an extra element of realism. Except when there's just one product being advertised. For example, Rainbow Six Vegas - are you trying to tell me that only ads on the main strip in Las Vegas are for Axe Deoderant?
Well, that's what it's like in Dublin this morning. Overnight, virtually every advertising space seems to have been taken over by ads for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, which 'launched' last night.
There's a complete list of the movies on their website. Here's the ones I'd be interested in seeing:
Y'know... I might take some shit for this, but I really enjoyed The Notebook. It was cheesy and soppy but it had James Garner bawling his eyes out, so I figure it's okay. And Ryan Gosling was pretty good as the lead. And with an oscar nod for his performance in this, I'd say it's worth checking out.
My girlfriend is amazing. Despite the fact that she can barely tolerate videogames, she still whisked me away to London last weekend, just to bring me to the Game On exhibition in the Science Museum, where I could play virtually every game ever made, on every system ever made. Just think about this for a second: this is like someone who is lactose intolerant having a milkshake with you, just because it's your birthday.
They were running a demo of the racing game, Motorstorm. When I took the controller, I noticed that the controller wasn't set up to use the motion control. So I went to quit the current race and turn it on. Except, on this pre-release hardware, running this pre-release demo, clicking "quit" causes the machine to freeze. Hard. The PlayStation 3 itself was enclosed in a plastic box, so they started by trying to squeeze a bent metal coathanger through one of the ventilation holes to hit the 'reset' button. When this didn't work, they had to get a drill to remove the plastic box.
Fortunately, my amazing girlfriend was on-hand to document the faces I made as people scrambled about with power tools trying to fix the obscenely expensive piece of consumer electronics I just broke.
If Full Spectrum Warrior can be used to train soldiers in the US Army, I don't understand why crisis negotiators and bomb disposal teams aren't using Elite Beat Agents to train their new recruits. No other game comes close to teaching you the importance of staying calm under pressure like EBA.
Elite Beat Agents is the English-language version of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, a cheerleading game which appeared on the DS in Japan a while ago. It's basically a rhythm-action game, requiring you to tap the screen in the right place, in time with the music (the unbearably cute J-Pop of the original replaced with unbearably cute western pop in EBA). Simple, right?
The whole time you're playing, your "Elite Meter" is trickling down. Tapping the screen at the right time will top this up slightly (How well you tap the screen in time with the music affects the amount that this gets 'topped up'). Miss a note and your Elite Meter drops slightly. If your Elite Meter drops to nothing, it's game over.
There's a point, roughly halfway along your Elite Meter where it turns from yellow (fine) into red (danger!). Once you cross into the red, your on-screen cheerleaders stop cheering. They stand there, panting, until you manage to bring the Elite Meter out of the red. With all its liveliness and constant movement, the sight of your cheerleaders standing completely motionless, is the most distracting thing in the game.
If you get into the red, it's very easy to drag yourself back out: all you need to do is score some perfect hits and boost your Elite Meter. But when you realise your cheerleaders aren't dancing, you panic. You start keeping one eye on your Elite Meter. Then all sense of rhythm goes out the window and it's virtually impossible to get the perfect hits you need. In other words, if you panic and lose focus, it's game over. It took me a long time to learn this. Frustration almost drove me to shove the stylus through my DS while trying to crack "Jumpin' Jack Flash", but I got there in the end.
So if you ever see a guy defusing a bomb and humming 'Sk8r Boi', don't worry. You're in good hands.
So far, Elite Beat Agents hasn't been given a UK release, but DS games aren't region-locked, so buy a copy from eBay and enjoy.
Apple did the expectedly-unexpected and announced the iPhone.
It's a widescreen iPod mixed with a mobile phone mixed with a teeny-tiny Mac for Safari and Mail. Put simply, this is the most awesome piece of consumer electronics I have ever seen, so far. And I've seen a lot.
$599 for 8GB version.
$499 for 4GB version.
So, some questions:
Released in June in the US, but Q4 2007 IN EUROPE?! WHYYY? Oh the humanity.
5 hour talk/video battery life, 16 hour audio battery life... but what's the standby life?
Who will be the carrier partner in Ireland? I'm guessing this will be O2, since they've got a lot of ties with Apple, but...
Why partner with Google for the maps and search, but partner with Yahoo for the mail?
How does it know where you are for the location-aware maps stuff? Cellular towers? Or is this a feature of 3G?
Update: Answered in the actual keynote - there doesn't seem to be any location-awareness in the phone. Steve had manually entered "Moscone West" as as 'saved location' in the maps application
Are there any other differences between the two versions? Because I can't imagine anyone not springing the extra $100 for the larger capacity one.
What kind of graphics chip is powering this beast?
In a long-awaited announcement, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg revealed today that the fourth installment of Indiana Jones will begin production in June 2007. Harrison Ford returns in his role as the daring Dr. Jones for the new adventure. The film will be produced by Lucasfilm Ltd., directed by Steven Spielberg and released by Paramount Pictures throughout the world in May 2008.
So let me get this straight... it's shaped like R2D2. It's radio controlled. It's got a DVD Player. It's got a Projector. It's got an iPod dock. It's got a radio. It's got USB inputs. It will play MP4 files. And its remote control is shaped like the Millenium Falcon?
And now I don't know what to do. With enough effort, I could probably crack this open and sellotape all this back together. But is there more than EUR10,000 worth of effort involved? Either way, it's still one of the most unique and depressing birthday presents anyone has given me.
Pixar make some stunning movies. You could complain that their stories are pretty basic but from a visual standpoint, there's no disputing their beauty.
One thing I love about these movies is the amount of effort that goes into choosing the colour palette for the movie. Yet, because of the speed of the action, this work barely even get noticed.
So what would it look like if we strip out the 'image' from these images, and leave only the colour information?
I used the Incredibles for this experiment because it's my favourite Pixar movie so far. Incidentally, there's an "Art of the Incredibles"-sized space on my bookshelf, in case anyone feels like filling it for me.
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I know it's Star Wars, but... oh look, I just had to, okay?
With movies laid flat like this, it's very easy to see how movies are structured. Much easier than actually watching them as movies. Now, this lead to a question: how are different versions of the same movie constructed? For example, how is Apocalypse Now structured compared to Apocalypse Now Redux? How does the American release of The Shining compare to the European version? Or, better still, just exactly how "shot for shot" was Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho?
Let's start on an easy one: Star Wars.
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Strangely, for all his fucking about, Lucas has kept the structure remarkably intact. For most of the run-time, the two movies track each other pretty well, being only a few seconds out of sync. It's not until the second half when they really start to diverge. But even still, the Special Edition is only a couple of minutes longer than the original version. Which is odd, because the Special Edition felt like it was a lot longer.
I also like the colours in the special edition. The faded pastel colours of the original are nice and all, but are definitely improved with a bit of spit and polish.
Not sure about the change of colour in the scene with Luke looking at the two suns though.
When movies are torn apart and stitched back together like this, it lets you see the movie with a completely different perspective. Presenting them as one flat image, rather than a fast-moving sequence of images essentially allows one to, uh... 'see through time', so to speak. The editing is torn apart and the pacing of the movie is laid bare, for all to see.
Koyaanisqatsi (an old favourite here at lowbrowculture) is a movie stripped to its fewest components. It is a movie that is all about the image and the editing. So that's probably a pretty good place to start.
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What I love about this movie and this set of images is just how perfect each shot is - each frame above could easily exist outside of the movie, like a perfectly-composed photograph.
Using processing (a powerful programming language with a lot of media capabilities), I'm ripping apart some of my favourite movies and putting them back together again. By taking screenshots at every second of the movie and laying them out flat - one image per second, sixty images per row - you get a completely different view of the movie.
I have been itching to do a screenwriting course for ages now. I've got a bunch of movie ideas that I don't really... I don't know, I don't necessarily expect to do anything with them, but I want to get them out of my head, just so my brain isn't cluttered with half-started/half-finished projects. The problem with the way I write, as you probably noticed, is that I find it hard to stay on one track for any length of time. Whenever I would start a screenplay, I would write the ideas I had in a half-assed way and then just hit a wall. I guess this stems from the way I come up with ideas for movies. For example, I want to write something called "JOHN STEELE DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO DIE", but where the fuck do I begin?
So, after putting it off for months, I finally signed up for the filmbase course - "Screenwriting for Beginners", which finished a couple of weeks ago.
I found the whole thing very useful. I learned all the sorts of useful 'cheats' to get you past the various stumbling blocks you're likely to run into. Like how to flesh out your characters before you ever put pen to paper (or uh... fingers to keyboard) - useful because you know exactly how your characters will react in any situation you put them in. Or the other cheat of buying a book of baby names for when you find yourself struggling to find a decent name for your characters. (Which led to an interesting moment when I went into Waterstones to buy a book of baby names and got served by a friend of mine - so that's what gobsmacked looks like).
And the tutor, Lindsay Sedgewick was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Whenever I gave her ideas for her to look over, she seemed to know exactly which bits I was unhappy with and always gave me useful suggestions for how to improve them. Although she did poo-poo one of my favourite ideas (involving a lost commune of hippies who have to re-join society after their crop of weed fails), but never mind.
So after finishing it, I started reading a few books on the subject: Joseph Campbell, Robert McKee, etc. So far, doing a good job of avoiding Syd Field. One of the books has really stood out for me: Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat". This one stands out because it doesn't shy away from the 'high concept' side of screenwriting. In fact, for this book, the higher the concept, the better, as long as it sells. Which is just fine by us here on lowbrowculture.com. Unfortunately, his IMDB credits make it a little hard to take the whole thing seriously... would you take advice from the guy who wrote "Blank Check" and uh... "Stop, or my Mom will Shoot!"?
But seriously, any other potential would-be-but-not-really screenwriters out there on the interpod could do a lot worse than to check it out. Especially if you would rather be the next Shane Black than the next Wes Anderson.
Oh, and while you're at it, you should check out Celtx, a free (as in 'speech') screenplay editor that is replacing Final Draft for a lot of people.
Sweet! I'm going to automate the procedure on my phone so I can send in an application while I'm arguing with the people in the shop. "Hang on a second... wait... that's it, I've got your fucking number, pal."