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Friday, April 17, 2009

National Geographic's Infinite Photograph Fairly Addictive

National Geographic has created a mosiac of user photos which will create new mosiacs as you drill into it. Like eye candy and a kaleidoscope had a bastard child.

Compilation Of Critical Thinking On BioShock

Thanks goes out to the Discount Thoughts blog for this excellent roundup on articles about BioShock, and I say that not just because Cathode has a link in there. It's a pretty impressive summary across several blogs and a great index for discussing the game.

TV Watch: Your Viewing Options (2009 Edition)

We had a Betamax, back in the day. That the format would eventually go the way of the dodo didn't really stop us from hoarding large amounts of content on tape in the off chance we'd watch it again (though as kids, I believe we did quite a lot of that). Time shifting had begun, though, and just because you weren't there for the show - didn't mean you couldn't watch it.

Our VCR didn't even get hooked up at our last place and we had TiVo nearly on day one. Live television took a back seat as the thought of watching commercials became somewhat painful. We'd even watch shows a half hour late just so that we could fast forward if we wanted.

Now, it's 2009, and user owned TV is on a whole new level.

Still probably the king of hill, especially since nearly every cable and satellite provider on the planet offers some form of storing shows on your hard drive. We actually don't have one anyone more - we used to have the Mac hooked up via EyeTV, but our cable company went all digital and EyeTV doesn't know what channel is what anymore. Someday we'll probably cough up the goods for HD, though, unless the following choices continue to pan out...

Hands down the easiest way to catch up on a season of that show you meant to watch, rent a few discs off Netflix and you can avoid that whole annoying need to wait another week. I think we polished off the first season of Veronica Mars in about three weeks. Now that more shows are showing up on Blu-Ray, convenience and quality are cranked up another notch.

The other nice thing about Netflix is stumbling on shows you wouldn't normally have access to watch. Canadian and English spy shows Intelligence and Spooks (MI-5 in places), for instance.

And then there's Roku, of course, for those who really need to watch Quantum Leap without waiting for delivery.

Online Viewing
Hulu is quickly being accepted as the gold standard for watching shows online, although many networks offer a variety of ways to watch content for free from their websites. My experience with them, though, is pretty glass half empty. It's nice that you don't have to wait for anything, but the quality of the show is often marred by the network itself. I tried catching up on recent Dollhouse episodes and the dropped frames alone were a bit of a headache. I know a lot of people who swear by Hulu, but it's rapidly become a last resort for us.

Digital Downloads
iTunes, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live all allow you now to download shows for a price. A recent experiment to download a handful of shows to our PS3 was marred by the fact that the downloads seems to pause if the system menu wasn't all that was running. We do occasionally download from iTunes directly to the Mini, hooked up to the HDTV - but the problem there is that the Mini's PPC processor won't support iTunes new HD content.

Still, at least iTunes allows you to purchase a whole season at a discount. Cost is probably the biggest roadblock here - it doesn't really make much sense to pay $3 for a show in HD you are going to watch once. Plus, I can't speak for Xbox Live - but some of Sony's decisions about format make little sense. How is that one show is only available for SD purchase while another movie title has HD rental?

Until the powers that be come up with a subscription model for shows that make sense, the pay per episode concept is really going to be shelved for an as-we-need-it basis, right in behind Hulu.

It would be pretty dishonest to ignore torrenting as a distribution model. It's the elephant in the room for online distribution - and for good reason. With turnaround times often better than iTunes for availability, users can download decent to high quality shows, without commercials, with a speed that can get the content in often a couple of hours, or less, depending on the seeds out there. Once it's on your hard drive, there's no bandwidth concerns and you can use a variety of software to move the content to mobile devices if needed.

Which is the problem the legitimate outlets have - torrenting is just so convenient. Hulu comes to close to a promise of a free and easy outlet, potentially easier the torrenting (many people don't like to navigate the various BT portals, for instance) - but until compression catches up with the range of bandwidth out there - torrent still has it beat.

Not that I suggest anyone should do anything illegal - but it should be acknowledged that people are downloading this content not just because they're cheap, but because it offers fast quality content.

Now, if you'll forgive me, I need to figure out how to best catch up on this week's Fringe...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TV Watch: Lost, Some Like It Hoth

How can anyone argue with a Miles and Hurley episode? I'm still giggling a little from having Mile explain time travel to Hurley in the previous episode, and the comparison of their "powers" was just a great bit of awesome. That the entire plot ends with a joke about Empire Strikes Back? Golden.

This felt a little more like a first season episode, with an interesting backstory link intrinsically to the island. Although less in general to other Losties, Miles' connections to the island seem pretty obvious, with that "guy from all those movies" and all.

Island-wise, the whole "shadow of the statue" mystery is getting more ground - and its good to see the writers adding mystery without having to add new random nouns to the overall story (we have plenty to get back to you, thank you very much). Bram is, I guess, an Other from some faction - but it seems odd that he and Ben weren't exactly seen conspiring together. That Ilana has teamed up with him is even odder, considering she seemed like a separate agent aimed at Sayid the whole time. Could the whole thing have been a coup Ben set up before getting back to the island?

Great season so far.

Game Play: Killzone 2 Multiplayer

I've finally had a bit of a chance to dig into Killzone 2's online features. To give a quick summary, it's a pretty sound achievement. I've had little problem getting into nearly full servers and the multiple objectives manage to keep the games fresh and interesting (though for the deathmatch fans out there, there's also plenty of servers which are purely deathmatch based).

It's an excellent portion to an already excellent game and impressively visual for an online experience. My real caveats is that some of the maps seem to be hobbled by some crucial choke points. More than a few matches seemed to be mostly about getting out of the spawn area alive than completing goals. And while the squad system adds quite a lot to the game - the matchmaking system doesn't always seem to compensate. When you're getting trampled by guys with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns, the match loses a certain amount of appeal.

That said, as some Tan readers know - I used to do Unreal mods as a hobby. From a modder perspective, the online portion is somewhat interesting.

For one thing, the concept of having multiple objectives on a single map isn't outright new. I knew modders who had been playing around with the concept at least since UT2003, if not earlier. The fact that we're really just seeing the idea come out commercially now is, to me at least, a factor of how much mods became commercialized after Counter-Strike got boxed and how little attention had been served to new gameplay innovations (which is where modding originated).

One of the main issues with placing multiple goals on the same map is that the map layout needs to appease all those goals. Traditionally deathmatch maps are rather blockish with plenty of avenues, capture the flag maps are more or less narrow and mirrored, domination/king of the hill maps are open with specifically designed zones, etc. Choke points aside, the level design handles a lot of requirements extremely well.

I'm moving into moderate addiction mode already, highly recommend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For Sunday: Sales Guy Vs. Web Dude (NSFW)

Thanks, Jason. It's not incredibly NSFW, but I certainly wouldn't play it with the sound up. Or your boss walking by...

Notes From Management: Scarcity of Time

Sorry for the week long draught, peoples, but sadly things are pretty busy over at Cathode HQ, and not with Cathode related stuff. Will probably continue for a bit, too, though I'll get a couple posts up this week.