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Friday, May 08, 2009

The Case For An Apple Console

BNet details a pretty sound argument that Apple is cooking up something new, and recent rumors of an EA purchase help fuel the idea that the something new is at least some kind of a gaming console. Check out TUAW's take on it as well.

Something to factor in here: Gaming has been enormously profitable on the iPhone/iPod Touch - for Apple, big companies like EA and even some indie developers. Super Monkey Ball, a high visibility launch title, was a quick financial success for Sega.

Tan readers will remember we have discussed this before, although much of my argument was more on the basis that the Mac Mini could be a living room front for Apple (that was before the AppleTV was launched).

Many of the arguments remain the same, however. Nintendo more or less rules the living room right now and Sony and Microsoft are slugging it out like the juggernauts they are. As when it was rumored Sega would re-enter the hardware market, it is a very tight space to fit into.

At the same time, I don't think many people would have thought the iPhone to be such a DS competitor when it launched either. BNet's findings swarm around the combination of media and games. Apple has loved media for some time now, and now they also have a healthy appetite for games as well.

Also, it's been mumbled for some time that the Mac Mini was never a favorite of Steve Jobs and it exists mostly to fulfill the need for a low-end market. If Apple releases a netbook, that would also replace that need. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mac Mini to death - but if there's any truth to this rumor, I wouldn't expect the Mini, the AppleTV and a console to all share the same shelf space.

Let's remember - Apple is sneaky. They fight the battles they want to fight and it doesn't seem very Apple-like to replicate the Xbox strategy and take the gaming industry head on. Apple is very, very good at leveraging their existing assets. Looking it at that way, the path of least resistance is probably the AppleTV itself (which might, hopefully, spare the Mini). Apple will want a device which accesses iTunes for media, as the AppleTV does now - but potentially can also get games in the same style of the App Store.

It's a pretty short path. Add some decent GPU hardware to the AppleTV, design a controller that meets Apple standards, and open a new category to the App Store. AppleTV gaming - in your living room. They wouldn't necessarily being going after Nintendo's turf ... they can rely on the Cult of Mac to get things started.

It's not a huge risk for Apple. It adds a new platform for developers to sell games on, and hence another stream of App Store based revenue. If Apple bought EA, they would be insured a flock of quality first party titles. Even if they didn't, they already have good relationships with studios from the iPhone.

The case is looking pretty strong. This could be a very interesting E3.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

For Sunday: Teach Your Kids About Zombies

Because it is never too early for them to learn. One of these kids totally kicks ass, I would completely trust him to have my back

Or at least be a brief distraction....

Via Chicagoist.

TV Watch: Lost, Follow The Leader

I didn't have a lot of high hopes for this episode since early previews made it appear to be a Jack heavy plot, and honestly Jack is just annoying the hell out of me right now.

So yeah, the bad - is it just me or does Jack get more idiotic as this season goes on? Any plan that includes detonating a hydrogen bomb probably needs to go through some more vetting than "that brainy guy said it was a good idea". Sayid's "this will either work or put us all out of our misery" wasn't exactly productive input either.

And was Sayid just waiting behind that tree for the last few episodes?

In general, I was kinda hoping the Smoke Monster would appear from the temple and devour that particular subplot whole. Maybe next episode.

The good - pretty much everything else. Hurley failing to answer Candle's questions was pure gold. Locke was brilliant, all the way up to that wonderful cliffhanger statement. I had a brief happy thought when it seemed like they might be setting up a Richard back story, but no such luck. Locke's whole angle seems like we'll finally get some juicy bits on Richard, Jacob and the island in general.

All in all a good episode.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Movie Watch: Timecrimes

Timecrimes is a Spanish time-travelling thriller. It takes some interesting twists on the normal time jaunt concept, with doses of nudity and surrealism tossed into the mix. It never quite escapes the geek scrutiny of time related plot issues, but if you can push those into the back of your head the movie is really quite enjoyable. What feels predictable about half way through the plot gets regularly challenged during the last half of the movie.

As a side note, we watched this off the Roku and it was inflicted with the dread audio problems that occur with some of Netflix's material (The Girl has a working theory that they don't test their foriegn stuff nearly as much as the domestic). Thankfully the plot was quite easy to follow using the subtitles, so we managed to make it through the end even if we were hearing music and dialogue from ten minutes prior. We love the Roku so far, but this inability of Netflix to encode correctly or at least fix it promptly is certainly a bit of a hitch.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wired Asks For Sarah Connor Chronicles Salvation

The show came to life in Season 2, which concluded last month. A tapestry of heartbreak, dread, looming violence and black humor, it resembled nothing so much as a sci-fi Sopranos. The familiar conventions of hour-long dramas were routinely shattered, while the writers meticulously enriched the Terminator mythos beyond all expectations. Unlike the blatant make-it-up-as-you-go-along ethos that powered Battlestar Galactica, the Sarah Connor writers really do have a plan.

Meanwhile, the performers have given life to a host of memorable characters, from Lena Headey’s grim title character to Summer Glau’s terminatrix Cameron, the most inscrutable, yet intriguing, sci-fi character since Spock.

Which brings us to your mission: Save Sarah. Over at sci-fi enemy-blog io9, they’ve started a Flickr group featuring viewers posing with products advertised on the show, giving sponsors and executives important proof that Chronicles fans — unlike those deadbeats watching Ghost Whisperer — are willing to put their money where their eyeballs are.
-- Urgent: Save Sarah Connor Chronicles From Termination

I suck and need to catch up on the last couple of episodes, Fridays have been a bit of a mess for me lately. Still, agree with the article - the show has had its ups and downs, but seems to can only go up from here.

Actually, what I would love is to see the show renewed with an enhanced budget. I know that's probably far from reality, but the writers have done very well will few dollars, and I'd love to see what they could do with more.

Movie Watch: Let The Right One In

Let The Right One In is a Swedish vampire movie based on the novel of the same name. Think of Twilight, only with some serious literary punch to it. The story follows Oskar, a young bullied boy, and his relationship with Eli - who is quickly apparent to be none of those things.

It's a slow and gripping movie. There are scenes full of nothing but subtext and you get a grounded look into Oskar's life before the action really takes hold - and the payoff in the end is excellent.

We'd recommend watching the subtitles, we were warned against the dubs and mistakenly watched the first ten minutes with them - and the voice acting is just not up to par and doesn't pace well with the movie as a whole.

An American version is due out in a couple of years, but I'd recommend getting the original on your plate before it hits. I can't imagine that the plot will remain unscathed for mainstream American culture. Considering the vast amount of time we spend on the love between a 12 year old boy and a rather androgynous vampire, I can only hope the remake doesn't end up being Twilight Lite.

Highly recommend.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Why Wii Motion Plus Annoys Me

Come June, Nintendo will release their latest hardware accessory - the Wii Motion Plus. As most of you know, it aims to increase the sensitivity on the wiimote to handle finer tuned movements and make it better equipped for lightsaber duels, frisbee tossing and practicing golf swings.

And I'm rather annoyed by the whole thing.

Look, we haven't turned on the Wii for a while. If we did, I guarantee you it would be for either Wii Fit or bowling. Possibly Rayman Rabbids TV, which feels like the last decent Wii title we got. We played the heck out of Animal Crossing for a while, but honestly there wasn't much new to the game to sustain us for long.

Which feels like a bit of a trend for the old big N. Most of the titles I've enjoyed on the console are old franchise hits warmed to Wii standards. And many have been good, but the fact that I'm mostly on the PS3 right now has nothing to do with the fact that it can push better graphics so much as there are better games to play. If it weren't for Wii Fit and Wii Mario Kart, the Wii would have virtually no software sales of which to speak.

So why am I annoyed at the Motion Plus? Because it's just another piece of hardware to support Nintendo's bad habits. Instead of engaging developers to build something other than yet-another-light-gun game, we have the same exact trick the Wii started with, only better. So you'll get exactly the same kind of games we've been getting, except some will be re-released and you'll need to buy yet-another-bit-of-white-plastic in order to play it.

I think of all the lost opportunities so far - a Wii Civ with proper multiplayer. A decent Wii RPG with proper multiplayer. An indie title like Flower with wiimote capabilities. Anyone up for some Wii X-Com? Or how about a decent Wii Sims with coop.

The potential is there. And I don't see the lack of real HD or high end graphics being the problem, I see Nintendo constantly worried about the next bit of hardware to release as the problem. I look at the release schedule for Wii in May, and it's pretty bleak.

Nintendo, of course, is trotting out Punch-Out! warmed up to Wii standards. Gah.

Game Play: FEAR 2 Early Play

I was supposed to get something out on FEAR 2 earlier, but I only had a 360 copy on hand and my PS3 copy arrived just around the time of Killzone 2.

Which may be something of an analogy, because I think Monolith's latest is a bit of a sleeper. There is a lot of good packed into this title, including some of the most impressive use of in-game set pieces this side of Valve. The team mines the Japanese horror angle for a great deal of material and certainly pulls no punches when it comes to the plot.

This is not your average shooter by any means. I'm maybe half way through the single player (if that) and the game manages to keep a nice even balance of challenge to the play. There's a bit of monotony to the enemies, but often not to the varied tactics they'll use to try to kill you.

If you are a FPS on a console type person, FEAR 2 needs to be on your list somewhere, even if it is a must have rental. I'll be finishing out the single player and getting into the multiplayer later this week.

Game Play: The Force Unleashed

I was actually pretty unprepared for how bad this game turned out. I had thought the demo was pretty fun, all in all, and had read the mixed reviews that hit the net.

The takeaway I should have had from the demo, and certainly have from the game, is what a blatant God of War clone the game really is and how I really wish that if people are going to rip off that format - that they do something different and interesting with it. The Force Unleashed never comes close to this concept.

The good? Production values are pretty high and there are some truly pretty moments in the game. Being a Jedi is always at least a little badass, even when the mechanics get in the way.

But oh, the mechanics. My shelf moment in this game, probably not even half way through, was when the Rancor beast attacks in the middle of the uberswampforest planet. Firstly, I have no idea why the annoying enemies with their odd ability to be invulnerable on a sneeze need to be here when there is, you know, a freaking Rancor beast to worry about. Nor do I know why they seemed to love the idea of getting stomped by said beast. Some kind of cult, maybe? No idea.

I was curious as to why no attack of mine seemed to result in much of anything until I happened to stand in just the right place and saw the Quick Time Event button come up.

Seriously? I'm supposed to be this mutant powerful Jedi who can pull Vader's saber out of his hand and yet I'm completely useless unless I set up the right cut scene? Way too much of this game vacillates in between being monotonously easy (all of said cult soldiers were cut down by the same annoying combo, reports said) and inexplicably annoying because the player doesn't know they're supposed to be waiting to be told what button to push. This is QTE done horribly wrong - intrusive and user unfriendly.

And before I got into more of them, I just shelved the game.

There was a lot of potential to this game that seems to have been lost. Even the story was saddled by occasional poor voice acting and bizarre inconsistencies (for someone who isn't supposed to know anything about Starkiller's missions, the pilot knows a lot about Starkiller's missions). I think I can safely say I enjoyed The Apprentice's involvement in Soul Caliber more than this game.

Probably late in the game here, but if you haven't played this game - might keep it that way. If you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably already played it. If you must, keep it a rental.