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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Game Play: Flashback (iPhone)

I remember the original Flashback on the Amiga, and I remember it fondly.

I don't remember it so fondly when the game has horrible touch controls tossed on top of it. Honestly, by the time I had a) fallen to spot and b) spent ten minutes struggling to get to the right place to handle the flashy cube thing ... I was ready to delete app from the phone.

Total fail for me.

Game Play: MadWorld

As the Wii's substantial user base becomes even more substantial, publishers and developers are trying to figure out how to best get their games on the system. Many seems to making fairly generic franchise decisions (in other words, can we make a light gun game out of this). So hat goes off to Sega and Platinum Games for making a fresh title with a unique look and feel.

MadWorld is rendered in sharply contrasted black and white with splashes of red (for the large amounts of blood) and a few other choice colors. You play Jack, an ultraviolent kind of guy with a fancy chainsaw in his arm, in an ultraviolent part of town where such fancy chainsaw really comes in handy. The gameplay is a mix of Smash TV (Jack's grim cityview is the backdrop for such a television program) and God of War, where combos earn you cash and eventually you'll get a boss fight with a pretty decent handle of how quick time events should work (i.e. I didn't want to throw the controller).

I've made it through a few bosses now and the only real complaint I have is that the game can get repetitive despite many attempts by the developers to avoid it. I'm not sure if it is because once the visual style settles in, there's less eye candy about on a level by level or what - but the distractions made out of mini games (such as man darts - toss enemies into a massive dartboard), cutscenes and boss fights only marginally makes up for the fact that 90% of the residents in the game seem to just be waiting to be chopped to bits.

Recommended, but probably only as a rental.

Peter Asaro And The Terminator

H+ sat down with robot genius philosopher Peter Asaro:

I think we are now starting to see robots that are capable of taking morally significant actions, and we're beginning to see the design of systems that choose these actions based on moral reasoning. In this sense, they are moral, but not really autonomous because they are not coming up with the morality themselves... or for themselves.

They are a long way from being Kantian moral agents –- like some humans –- who are asserting and engaging their moral autonomy through their moral deliberations and choices. [Philosopher Immanuel Kant's “categorical imperative” is the standard of rationality from which moral requirements are derived.]

We might be able to design robotic soldiers that could be more ethical than human soldiers.

Robots might be better at distinguishing civilians from combatants; or at choosing targets with lower risk of collateral damage, or understanding the implications of their actions. Or they might even be programmed with cultural or linguistic knowledge that is impractical to train every human soldier to understand.
-- Can "Terminators" Actually be our Salvation?

Peter is my pledgefather and just one of the most insanely smartest people I've ever known. Last I saw him he was secretly wondering how to apply military AI software to video games, but I'm pretty certain he's contractually obligated to try and rule the world with giant robots now. Congrats Pete, great article.

Movie Watch: Seven Pounds

I would best call this movie a "Will Smith Oscar attempt". Seven Pounds follows an IRS agent who is not actually an IRS agent trying to help the lives of others he finds mildly attractive or good, preferrably with some kind of failing organ. The premise is a bit half baked, but worse is that it broadcasts itself so clearly at the beginning of the movie. You just know Smith isn't really who says he is, but worse you can quickly guess who he actually is, which makes a lot of scenes later in movie lose its strength. Especially since some of the moments the movie builds up towards seem to get very little attention towards the end.

The movie was advertised as something of a mystery, but the structure provides little mystery except to the completely obvlivious viewer. What's left is a kind of awkward romance plot whose only saving grace is Rosario Dawson as an attractive woman with a failing heart.

And rest assured, the movie mines that metaphor for much, much more than it is worth.

Not recommended, unless you're just a serious Will Smith fan.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Watch: The Spirit

The Spirit is a completely ridiculous comic movie, shot in a similar vein as Sin City. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. Where Sin City forces you into a cruel and harsh landscape, The Spirit feels downright cartoonish at times.

I can only imagine what moviegoers thought when they saw this film, which was heavily advertised as a Sin City follow up, complete with Frank "Dark Knight" Miller on board. It's easy to write the film off as simply bad, with the hackey and often forced dialogue, but I think any movie that goes out of its way to point out that hitting someone with a toilet is funny knew it wasn't hitting from the same ball park.

Instead, the film is one of those destined to be cult offerings - too campy for its own good and too buried in its own campiness to do anything else with it. But when a guy gets hit with a kitchen sink, you're supposed to laugh. The movie is easily more comedy than action.

Miller's directing works well on a visual level, but it does feel like he was struggling with his actors at times (who may have been having a similar cognitive dissonance as the audience). Even at a cult level, the movie stumbles from time to time.

I can't say I recommend it, but The Girl and I laughed through most of it. If you watch it, just know what you're getting into.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

TV Watch: Dollhouse, Season 1 Finale

We finally got all caught up on Dollhouse - and for the watchful eyes we did it by forking over $3 per episode, so don't blame any financial issues on us (though, more on that to the bottom).

What follows is spoiler free, but comments may contain them.

Dollhouse has been pretty great, riding a line for me in between early Angel and Firefly (as in better than, but not as good as...). As I've said before, Whedon's team is mining the premise early and well, better perhaps than in previous shows. They waste no time getting to core questions and issues posed by the Dollhouse - what makes us who we are and what if we could easily be something else?

One of the things that is odd, in a likeable way, is that I'm actually that fond of Caroline, our erstwhile college econut - but I do like Echo ... who isn't really a character in the classic sense. This is in part, I think, because Echo is what was done to Caroline, not Caroline - and there lies the more interesting story.

I don't know if Whedon fans could have asked for much more out of the finale, except perhaps if Hannigan had somehow been "Wendy" (seriously, though, my brain might have exploded). It sounds like rumors of the show's death were previously exaggerated, though, as it appears season two is a go with 13 episodes contracted. This is the same number of episodes this season, but it sounds like Fox is holding the 13th from this season, 'Epiteth', for the DVD release.

Movie Watch: S. Darko, A Donnie Darko Tale

Beware of a movie that so wants you to realize it is a sequel that it practically repeats the title.

So, obviously, S. Darko is the direct to video sequel to Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko - without Richard Kelly's involvement. The film did manage to have Daveigh Chase reprise her role as Samantha, and you'll see Elizabeth Berkely pop in as a minor character as well.

While visually interesting at times, the film is more or less a poor study of the first film and overburdened by that movie's themes and imagery. You'll get quite tired of the forcibly induced bunny scenes by the end and the apocalyptic time travel plot has a stitched together from crib notes kind of feel.

It's not that the movie is bad - the writing itself is competent, the acting is solid and the scenes generally look fairly good. The problem is that there is little here to satisfy Darko fans. The movie's big steps to expand any explanation of the first movie's events feel awkward and disconnected. There's no development of known characters outside of Samantha, and mostly she simply plays up the sullen teen routine. As the sign in the movie goes, this film is Frank's Echo.

So not bad outright, but very hard to recommend - even to the desired audience of Darko viewers.