Sunday, August 31, 2008

Celluloid Flatulence

This guys resume reminds of seeing the elephants passing gas at the zoo:
...Max Mokowski is set to direct the upcoming live-action adaptation of Voltron series, which aired in North America from 1984 to 1985. ...[He] was responsible for production of the Today Show for the Asian market. He also worked as a cameraman and writer for CNBC and NBC Asia and directed episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He is currently working on an adaptation of the Japanese movie SHINOBI and is set to direct a movie adaptation the 1970s series Kung Fu, which featured David Carradine.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In the Margins

The big things about Japan are pretty cool, but what's also fascinating is the tendency of some things Japanese to be 'painted in the corners', often in ordinarily meaningless places. I was reminded of that when I saw a toothbrush that's owned by my buddy's Japanese nieces:

Just a little bunny that brightens up a fairly utilitarian device (but not so gaudy as to be kitschy). As well, they had a cup from a show that I had derided before, and I might think less of their mother were it not for the fact that they were all so incredibly nice.

On a semi-related note, I found this amusing picture below from this site while searching for a better picture of the toothbrush (since my camera sucks at close-ups):

Monday, August 25, 2008

Leave Home

From WaPo:
In the United Arab Emirates, which has leveraged comparatively modest oil reserves to become a financial powerhouse, foreigners made up 98 percent of the private workforce last year.

With 4.5 million foreign workers and fewer than 1 million citizens in the Emirates, Emiratis long ago became a minority in their own country. Fearful of worker unrest, the country has resorted to conducting mass deportations and setting up labor camps.
This reminds me of a story I read some time ago that after they signed a free trade deal with the U.S., Jordanians set up sweat shops in their country that they then stocked with foreign nationals. Kind of a reverse colonialism when you think about it, but does one ever leave the 'colony'?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

First off, this game is amazing looking. True to its word when it first came out, this game is amazing just to walk around in and look at. This game is also HUGE, it was many, many hours before I finally made my way to the last city that I hadn't seen. Every door in the game can be entered, all NPCs have dialog and it's also worth mentioning the numerous dungeons, some of which I'll probably never find.

After a certain point though, the game's size and plot progression (the main plot line is boring and thankfully optional) start to work against it, in fact I've come to believe that the lack of focus ("what do I do next?") is directly related to the size. In an effort to create an entire open-ended alternate world, the developers ran into the paradigms that make much of the real world boring and very similar in appearance. After all, how different does your house look from your neighbor's? How many different animals do you see on your way to work? I know from my past vacation that I had the same conversation with three different groups of people, which I didn't mind since I like the sound of my own voice, but there's no such benefit in a video game when carrying on conversations with 'non-player characters'.

So needless to say a few hours into the game I had seen 95% of the monsters that I was going to see in the game, NPC dialog became repetitive, and the hundreds of houses started to look the same. An emphasis is put on dungeon crawling for grinding, but even with what I think was a heroic effort on the part of the developers, a hole in the ground can only be made to be so exciting and different from other holes in the ground.

I'm not trying to take too much away from the impressive size and scope of the project which has a girth that must be seen to be believed, and I've long dreamt of a tolken-esque game of this magnitude, but...

For as much as it excels there's also something very staid with the whole exercise. The game feels more like a checklist for old role play gamers than something new and original. I couldn't put my finger on it until I saw this trailer for the upcoming Final Fantasy. The trailer is amazing looking, and otherworldly. Oblivion on the other hand features content that rehashes ideas and settings that have been around for decades. I'll admit that this is mostly a taste issue as many people find the whole concept of Japanese role playing games unpalatable and that may be a large reason for Oblivion's western oriented, Dungeons & Dragons themed success.

Offensive Gas

Why do the Japanese feel that they have to submit to the fancies of guilty rich white people? Is it some sort of Japanese shame/politeness thing?
Japan is planning to label consumer goods to show their carbon footprints in a bid to raise public awareness about global warming, an official said Tuesday.

Under the plan, a select range of products from beverages to detergent will carry markings on the carbon footprint -- or how much gas responsible for global warming has been emitted through production and delivery.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Clone Wars

It's easy to say this film looks great, because it does. I love the Star Wars 'Future Renaissance' art style and that carries me a long way on this film. The other portion that the film has in its favor is that I cannot remember ever seeing that many laser blasts within such a short viewing. After I got out of the theater and returned to reality I mentally pegged the film as the longest ever trailer for a video game. If that isn't your bag, then too bad for you, it's a plus in my book.

The Clone Wars does, however, bring up issues that are inherit in the animated form: it get's breaks that live action doesn't, but it has to struggle to be viewed as a serious endeavor. The main issue with The Clone Wars is that the people who did the art direction and animation seemed to be shooting for the stars while the people who did the scripting seemed to dig the story out of a stack of leftover Saturday morning cartoon scripts. If one was to watch it without the dialog, one can see a film that pushes a slick, artistic style; but if one only listened to the dialog, one would envision a film pooped out by Korean animators after a weekend of work.

Overall the film did bring a little redemption for me for the Attack of Clones movie which I've long felt is one of the worst movies in terms of dollars per celluloid. It looks great, but it's a shame it didn't have something more to say.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Importing Disease

From the Drudge link on the new law which allows those with AIDS to immigrate:
But that change didn't fully lift the entry ban on visitors with HIV or AIDS, which applies whether they're on tourist jaunts or seeking longer stays. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services still needs to delete HIV from the agency's list of “communicable diseases of public health significance,” which includes tuberculosis, gonorrhea and leprosy.

An HHS spokeswoman declined to comment, noting administrators are still reviewing the new law. An April report from the Congressional Budget Office said that, based on information from HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV will be dropped from the list and new regulations will be in place in two years.
I guess since AIDS isn't such a big deal, then it doesn't need all that cash for developing treatments, right?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Techs Sells

Now that my traffic is back to normal, I figured I'd point out to my regular readers (both of you) that the Thursday post isn't the post that has generated the most mail for me, despite the fact that thousands took the time to check it out. Nope, my most popular post that as far as my inbox is concerned is this post right here. Controversial, I know!

Of course that page isn't on the blog. If I had to guess at my most popular blog post, I'd guess it was this one. I guess it isn't saying much as it's more than four years old at this point.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Anime Scope

The game I'm currently playing illustrates why some anime has trouble reining in it's scope and thus turning their stories into mush. I paraphrase the following somewhat:
Mystery Voice: What do you want?
Lead Character: I want to know who you are.
Mystery Voice: I am The Will of the Universe
Me: Hmm, I wonder if that's a full time job or if he has to deliver pizzas at night...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The First Angry Sandmich

This story linked by Drudge is first class depressing. It concerns Mexican soldiers banditos crossing the border and holding a U.S. border guard at gunpoint. It turns out that there have been more than 200 confirmed instances of the Mexican army crossing the border since 1996, but that's probably an extreme low-ball since our U.S. State Department is all too willing to buy into the Mexican government line that a fair portion of incursions were well equipped smugglers and not Mexican army (as if it makes a lick of difference).

Add to this the leadership in places like San Francisco subjecting their population to whims of foreign criminals, some idiots in Washington thinking that it's a good it's a good idea to import Somalis*, an expansion of the visa program that brought the 9/11 highjackers in and the complete abdication of our leaders to greedy industries that seek to water down the wages of all working Americans, and you have a real soup of discontent.

It's against that backdrop that John Derbyshire did his RadioDerb webcast on 7-25-08. One small portion of the program stuck out at me so I decided to 'score' it to some pictures:

As usual, the YouTube variation is somewhat lacking, I have it posted elsewhere though in its original Director format.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link off The Corner by none other than John Derbyshire himself. I'm flattered by the attention, although I'm more accustomed to my rants flying under the radar!

*Of course Somalis are persecuted, they persecute themselves. There could be only two Somalis left on the entire planet and they'll be 'persecuted'. I recall the Frontline episode about the Black Hawk Down incident wherein a black U.S. soldier (the only person who could do this) called them "savages". There apparently is no benchmark for letting the debris of the planet into our country.

Monday, August 04, 2008

MGS, a Series in Review

A little while ago coworker stopped by my office and related a tale of his son telling him how to use a Wii. He stated his aggravation and then bluntly stated that he 'hated video games'.

Of course I thought it odd that someone would hate the whole idea. The way I see it, electronic entertainment is the one genre where art in a real, creative sense happens. No one walks around stating 'I hate paintings' though one would be more justified now than at any point in mankind’s existence for thinking such a thing.

It's much the same with the rest of contemporary art:

Apart from a handful of unknown musicians mostly of the European club music variety, 'poppie' type stuff is a stale photocopy of the stuff put out twenty years ago.

You mean crap like this that is based off of thirty year old pop tunes? And that's the good stuff!

With a few exceptions, movie houses have it particularly hard since the stuff either seems to be art house type bilge that pushes the limit on self absorption or stock footage of explosions.

Hopefully it can be seen why, due to the overall lack of art in our culture today, it grieves me when someone throws the whole video game genre out.

Along those lines one of the best examples of art in video games in the Medal Gear Solid series. This is a series of games that, despite it's flaws, makes me feel sad that the games' niche appeal mean that comparatively few will be able to take in their artistic flair.

Metal Gear Solid 2

I picked this game up on a whim for $7 from Gamestop. I was vaguely familiar with the series, that it had this guy named Snake Plissken who is tasked with stopping a nuclear armed super tank that goes by the moniker Metal Gear. I was hesitant about buying the game in the past since I HATE sneaking games. Every other stealth game I had played (Ghost Recon comes to mind), have been about 'move character around level, if spotted repeat'; and if 'if spotted' is even in the last .5 seconds of the level, then sorry about your luck. However I had found MGS 2 to be quite enjoyable in terms of game play right off the bat. The radar tells where enemies are and what they see, and even getting spotted doesn't mean the end of the world to those who are quick of feet or packing a pile of ammo.

I've yet to decide if not playing any previous Metal Gear games robbed the story of some of its impact. I wouldn't think so since so few characters from the past games (including to some extent the lead) are brought forward into this game; it's essentially a remake of sorts. Unfortunately that gives a bloated story very little to stand on and the game makes VERY generous use of expository dialog, something I found out that MGS games are notorious for. If the dialog led anywhere it might be bearable, but plot points are flushed on a whim in a story that felt like it was written as the game was being made. For example, I had to hear the main antagonist repeatedly say "everything is going exactly as planned", even after I had wiped out his strike team and uncovered his secret base. "Well" I thought "I guess I shouldn't have shown up all!". Add into that mix some unfair fights toward the end that were divorced from all sense and the game left some room for improvement. However, where it has failings in game play, it has some decent success as a cinematic feat for an early PS2 title with several blocks where the game are watched (in well rendered cut scenes) as much as it is played (if that).

Metal Gear Solid 3

Unlike myself, Kid Sandmich was a big fan of MGS2. He loved the open ended game play and variety of weapons (two of the games great strengths). Wanting to see what was behind the hype I picked up MGS3 for him and watched him play through it several times (that's right, I didn't actually 'play' it).

This was an amazing game: a gritty cold war tale with a little bit of 60s era James Bond spice thrown in for good measure. Set as a prequel to all other MGS games, it's unburdened from convoluted plots from the other games and can put together a story that actually makes sense in one of the finest looking games put out for the PS2.

The final fights are much more fair than MGS2, though a trip to Gamefaqs was in the offing for a few. Two minor quibbles I had with the game is that it's retro health repair process was perhaps a little over ambitious and the lead character's relationship with the final boss was, without giving too much away, odd. Much of the oddity was explained in the dynamite closing minutes, but I don't think anyone but the game's creator would try to pull that off.

I also want to point out that although MGS2 had some beautiful moments itself, the cinematic qualities of MGS3 made me genuinely sad that it's artistic brilliance wouldn't be seen beyond a small subset gamers, to say nothing of the soundtrack which features one of the best video game tracks of all time.

Metal Gear Solid 4

It's difficult to say enough good things about this game, though I will say that it doesn't stand on its own very well. Being the last in the series, every character from the previous games is either brought in or referenced in the story line. I was familiar enough with the story to kind'a know some of the references, but I still felt like I should have played through everything from the old Nintendo games up to Metal Gear Solid 1.

The game play is solid and the artwork fantastic, definitely an instance where the developer was given enough time to 'paint in the corners'. For instance, one of the little things I noticed late in the game was a cable run in the ceiling of a battle ship. The 'run' plays no part in the game play (it's in a cutscene*) and the game wouldn't have been any weaker without it; but it was still there, meaning that someone put a bit of time into putting something into the game that 99% of people wouldn't have noticed if it was missing**.

Like the other MGS games, the game is realistic enough to be involving, but seems to know right where to let up in order to keep in fun. For example, the game allows for a wide array of realistic weapon customizations, but still allows Snake to walk around with enough armament to take down a third world country. There are so many ways to take down and not take down enemies that every encounter feels fresh, even after playing through it a few times.

The cinematics, which have augmented or replaced the typical MGS expository dialog, are lush and easily rival any big screen presentation. However with a game that has hours (and hours) of dialog, it's begging for something that doesn't yet really exist in the video game world: an editor. There are several awkward scenes that were begging to be cut and blocks of dialog waiting to be truncated.

That in and of itself is only a slight blemish on an otherwise solid game, but the game does have a peculiar technical issue that aggravated me quite a bit. Both myself and Kid Sandmich have logins on the PS3 where we can save our own save games. If we were both in the same area, which was rare, there wasn't a problem, but most of the time getting into the game required a two minute load that probably involved cached artwork for the active level. I kind of wish the game had some options around this (like load on demand or allow for dumping it all on the hard drive); but I guess since the game rings in at like 40GB*** (not coming to your 8GB Xbox360 anytime soon) they didn't want to burden the PS3 hard drive anymore than they had to.

*Like Dynasty Warriors 6, all the cutscenes are 'in-engine'
**The obsession with the realistic weapon models and the battleship in particular might also be a reflection of the apparent sometime Japanese artistic obsession with (comparatively) modern military equipment.

***When starting a new MGS4 game it drops you into the middle of a TV show that's essentially a setup for a futuristic ad. It's all HD so the quality will never come off right over the web, but the best of these shows is Bomb Shelter Buffet, which I cannot resist mentioning:

Bandwidth Hoggy

Mr. Kendal writes me about a story on Overlawyered:
Class action lawyers have sued Comcast for throttling users of the bandwidth-intensive P2P application BitTorrent, and the Federal Communications Commission by a 3-2 vote has declared the cable provider’s practice unlawful.
This was big news in tech circles and the kooks at SlashDot are always sure to run for cover under the idea that they won't be able to download their latest Linux distro if The Man is throttling their bandwidth. While true (bittorrent IS the best way to get the latest Linux distros) let's be honest, we all know what this about.

Is the case in question a money grubbing case brought about by leaching lawyers, a case that will be of no benefit to the consumers it seeks to protect? Undoubtedly. However, while I can see what Comcast's motivation was in throttling bittorrent traffic, I don't feel sorry for them.

The core issue here is that a consumer purchases a certain threshold of bandwidth from their ISP. Now if I purchase a plan that allows for 1500bps down and 500bps up, I may have the expectation that I have a 1500/500 personal connection to the internet. Unfortunately consumer level Internet simply isn't packaged this way; an ISP wouldn't have 100% Internet coverage for all their customers at once any more than a local government would build roads large enough to accommodate 100% of the residents vehicles all at once. Where Comcast got into trouble is that they discovered they didn't have nearly enough 'roads' so they arbitrarily started blocking people's 'driveways' without telling them. It was less of a bandwidth throttling and more of a sanctioned Internet attack.

Of course Comcast attacked bittorrent because hardly anything eats bandwidth like that peer-to-peer application and it's primarily used for illegal file distribution. It's really easy for ISP customers to have Azureus and whatnot run in the background while acquiring their ill gotten goodies, and since the customers pay for a 'buffet' style bandwidth package, they have little incentive to turn it off. John Dvorak has advocated a pay-per-bit model where a consumer pays for what traffic they use; but such systems have a myriad of technical issues that will probably never be solved. That leaves ISPs with the choice of either drastically expanding their costly infrastructure (which probably won't matter much since bittorrent will eat all it can take), or throttling the traffic, a process wherein bittorrent traffic is moved to the back of line. Given my choice, either one is preferable to Comcast's choice of "screw with traffic we don't like without telling anyone so that people will give up using it on our network".


From here:
Four men were attacked by a group of about 40 people on Saturday night outside a West 25th Street liquor store. One of the men was stabbed several times in the back.

Michael Talkington, 23, of Cleveland, was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he is in good condition. Three others were attacked with other weapons but were not hospitalized, according to police reports.

Lt. Thomas Stacho said Talkington and the others were attacked around 11 p.m. by a group of 30 to 40 Hispanic men and women in front of Sun Valley Liquor Store near the intersection of West 25th and the I-90 onramp in Cleveland. The group had fled by the time police arrived. It is unknown what prompted the attack, and no one has been arrested.