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Thursday, February 04, 2010

For Sunday: Fallout New Vegas Trailer

Note: completely devoid of gameplay. But as long as they don't trash the main game with DLC again, I'm certainly in.

Wow. Haven't put up a For Sunday in ages.

Do We Want Mainstream Oscars?

Over the last few years, the Oscars have tried to do more and more to appeal to the average moviegoer - who is generally the kind of person who has seen every Martin Lawrence but doesn't understand why the show spends all this time showing dead people they've never heard about.

The slow compromise has been more attention given to animations, special effects and sound effects. Then, the appeal of blockbusters started to take over - and we had what could be called "The Peter Jackson Effect". Make a movie big enough, make it pretty - and pack the audiences ... and the Oscars may just love you.

Don't get me wrong, I thought Lord of the Rings was pretty impressive movie-making, by nearly any measure. Not just special effects, but directing, screenplay and acting as well.

But this latest crop?

OK, it pushes the envelope in a lot of ways technically and the industry is putting hopes and dreams that it will bring in avenues of sweet 3D cash. And it was a lot of fun to watch. It was also derivative, cliche, predictable and about thirty minutes too long (if it wasn't for the effects - the length would have been very unwelcome). It was an interesting movie and a good movie, but not a great one.

Kinda like Inglourious Basterds. I haven't written a full review yet, but short version is that Tarantino may be finally hitting a stride, but that doesn't make a bombastic epic like Basterds much more than a shock film with really great sets. Again, this movie was fun - and certainly better drama than say, Kill BIll, but we're not really talking about a superior film in general. I can make similar hay out of District 9 and Up. I haven't seen The Blind Side, but ... it's a Sandra Bullock feel good movie. I'm not really planning on rushing out to do so.

The Hurt Locker is probably the one that deserves it the most that I've seen (which sadly does not include Up in the Air. Again, full review pending - but I found Hurt Locker fascinating. It had an almost horror genre mentality to war, with some really pretty great acting and impressive directing.

Usually, Oscar buzz gives rise to movies which truly deserve some attention but wouldn't normally have gotten it. I doubt Slumdog Millionaire would have been on my fast track if it hadn't gotten so much nomination hype. I think the slow degradation of that just got a massive kick in the pants. Then again, I don't have to pay for the Oscar Night extravaganza - which has seen lagging ratings year after year - but I do want to know what the industry are truly great movies ... not just truly popular ones.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

TV Watch: Lost, LA X

I've had my ups and downs with Lost as seasons have gone on - but I'm really looking for to this finale season after seeing the premiere episodes. I was really worried that the bomb was going to force a repeat of the "get back to the island" concept - but what we have is far better. With the "sidebacks" looking into the alternate reality where the island is just a watery grave, we can see a great distinction between plots for how the characters have and could have developed.

The on-island reality looks like it will continue to mine the current mythology pretty well, and the writers have conveniently made an excuse for any continuity weirdness (for both realities, I suppose) by having set off a bomb literally in the past. Most importantly, though, the on-island stuff plays to the shows strengths - some mystery, some danger, some complete weirdness. I think we can safely make it to end of the show without any pitiful cabana boy story lines.

The big question, of course, is - will they explain everything? We're closing in on The Smoke Monster, but we're still pretty confused about the whispers, the lists, the misplaced items (like ... planes), etc. I assume the writers don't have a checklist of things they need to cover, which will be interesting in some points (will they explain the Adam & Eve corpses from Season 1) and not so relevant in others (OK, so they're mutant polar bears ... we can move on). I'm assuming there will be a big reveal towards the end of the show which covers at the very least the origin of the island, it's ability to heal and teleport around. What was with all the stuff about kids?

How it controls fate, though, that will be a good one. But we did get one big clue this episode, I think. Smokey Locke wants to go "home". He is bullet proof. He can read minds (or perhaps, just the memories of the deceased). He can transform into the evil smoke beast. He knows Richard when Richard was "in chains". He really has it out for Jacob, and to a certain extent - Jacob's followers. Smokey Locke and Jacob have been on the island for a long, long time. Jacob, Smokey Locke and Richard all seem to know each other - and live a long time without changes in appearance (probably because they can all change their appearance).

So my crazy theory for this week is: Jacob, Smokey Locke and Richard are all the same kind of animal. They're all Smoke Monsters. And they might well be aliens. I'd say they're just some primordial creature from out past, but Smokey Locke wants to go home - which seems rather E.T. to me.

This would be mean that any sighting of Old Smokey may or may not be Smokey Locke. Which could also explain why the creature is sometimes a big killing machine, and other times takes the kinder, gentler route.

What I don't quite get is the boundaries. Both Jacob and Richard have been seen off island. Old Smokey mostly stuck to one section of the island (possibly cordoned off by ash), and travels through the odd, mechanical sounding, vent system. But - we don't know which "monster" was which (i.e. those could be the chains of which Locke speaks).

In summary - great start to what I'm hoping will be the strongest season since the first.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Game Play: MAG

In a very singular way, MAG is fairly innovative. The schtick here, if you haven't heard, is that MAG can pit up to 256 players in large scale tactical matches with an impressive library of matchmaking and lag management. MAG is online only, except for a handful of training missions, so these tools are good because it means players can pop in the disc, pick a gametype and become part of a squad within a very large battle.

In terms of the overall gameplay, Zipper has clearly done its homework. In the main gametype, Domination, you'll find a series of objectives which directly effect gameplay. For instance, destroying the defending team's anti-aircraft guns may mean that you can send in a helicopter to use as a spawn point. There's not an overwhelming use of vehicles, which I actually find pretty refreshing, and they're generally mobile spawn points with large guns.

These objectives can be called out by your squad leader as a "fraggo", which means it will get special treatment on your HUD and also XP bonuses for getting kills, healing people and repairing things in the general vicinity. Once you get used to this - you'll realize how valuable the squad leader role really is - MAG forces tactics on you by being on such a scale that simply wandering around searching for enemies will surely be a loss for your team.

In many, many other ways - MAG is by the numbers military shooter. In fact, this is where it suffers the most ... by repeating many things from other games which really could use a tweak or three. For instance, wannabe snipers might actually look at a weapon setup other than, well, a sniper rifle. I first realized this when I kept getting out-sniped by assault rifles. You can spend XP on upgrades, and it doesn't take long to equip a decent rifle with stability and a scope that fires many more than one bullet at a time.

Another one - and this is also a pet peeve of mine, is the versatility and utter lethal nature of the combat knife. I get that it is a very cheap and easy way to determine the outcome of melee battles - first twitch wins. And perhaps sneaking up behind someone with a knife who isn't moving - I could see where a trained soldier could bring that to a quick conclusion. But simply running real fast into another player running real fast swinging a knife around randomly ... I saw a guy clean out a whole room this way. We're playing soldier here, not ninjas.

Still - these are just overall crimes of the genre, not really Zipper's personal creation. There are lots and lots of small tweaks which could be useful - better demotion of squad leaders, a HUD which more accurately describes your squad's situation rather than the large scale battle - but my only technical ding is really the occasional lag I ran into one night. Which, all things considered - the game performs pretty well even under lag and considering all the objects the server tracks, a game this early out of the game is pretty damn stable.

Comparatively, I can only hold Killzone 2 in the same general rank as MAG - with Modern Warfare 2 bumping around somewhere. But the bottom line is that MAG's trick works, and succeeds where those don't - and manages to bring decent squad mechanics to a console shooter.