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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bogost On Heavy Rain's Interactvity

This is pretty brilliant:

Narratively speaking, the scene is abysmal. It is forced and obvious and unbelievable, and questions abound.

What ten year old begs for a balloon? How can such a slow-moving car fatally injure a child? Is Jason really so stupid as not to know how to cross the street? Why does Jason feel so compelled to leave his father in the first place?

But we don't really need narrative success to appreciate how truly frenzied the scene feels. In a film, that frenzy would be best carried out through a series of quick cuts: Ethan looking in different directions; a fast pan of the crowd, left and right; Ethan's movement through the mall concourse; a handheld first-person view down the escalators; more visually confused panning; a glimpse of a balloon; and then a cut to a different boy grasping it.
-- Persuasive Games: The Picnic Spoils the Rain

I've never managed to get the "spoiler heavy" review of Rain together - but this article is in line with how I feel about the game in general. The narrative, by itself, is certainly not without fault - though I would stand by my argument that it gives breadth and depth that it can at least be critiqued as an actual story, which is untrue of 90% of games. However, the implementation of the QTE in Rain combined with the storytelling is a fine accomplishment for games in general.

Bogost argues that the game, because of how it differs from cinematic editing, is not really an "interactive movie" - and while I think that term works mostly for marketing purposes anyway is as good as a place as any to try and define what it actually is in the long run. It is certainly interactive fiction, and I still think anyone with an interest in IF needs to put the game on their must-play list.

I did play The Taxidermist recently, (short) review to follow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

TV Watch: Lost, The Candidate

Verrrry mixed feelings about this episode.

The Good
SmokeLocke's strategy was pretty brilliant - when Jack mentioned that they wouldn't die unless they killed themselves I think a lightbulb physically manifested above my head. I'm a little curious as to why SmokeLocke didn't just allow them to try and escape in the plane and blow themselves up, but I suppose that might have been harder to trap Jack.

Most the sidestory in LA X was pretty solid too - we have more creepy intrusions from the Lost world, and a pretty solid Locke story to boot (which has always been one of the show's strong points). This was the first time that it really occurred to me that a very potential ending to the show is to have the LA X world be the "real" one and have the island disappear. Or perhaps they can continue to co-exist, and the LA X can stand as the "happy" ending, even if they keep killing off characters.

Sayid's fate was certainly better than some suspected it might be - essentially that he was not a zombie assassin for the AntiJacob all the way to the end. Sayid was still Sayid, just a little sickly. That said, he got very little room to breathe before getting to that point. We had his coming to Jesus, I mean Desmond, moment ... and then boom. So I'm willing to put it in the plus column, but considering the amount of time we've spent in the last few episodes having characters largely just walk around ... it feels like he could have been given a little more space to evolve.

The Bad
Speaking of room to breathe ... while I found the end of the Kwons touching and romantic, it seemed to top off a very odd handling of their relationship in general this season. Having spent a good deal of time trying to find each other, Sun's bizarre aphasia, the emphasis on their child - this seemed like a very abbreviated cap to otherwise well developed characters. Sayid's death was at least heroic.

I'm also feeling a bit for Claire right now. As a character, she's turning into a bit of ping pong ball.

The writers are clearly raising the temperature slowly, maybe a little too slowly, but I'm still very optimistic for the final episodes.

Monday, May 03, 2010

For No Particular Reason: Pro Thunderball

Flash Against The World: Everyone needs to calm down

Job's open letter seems to succeeded in at least one task: it has kicked off a flurry of conversation which isn't entirely about Apple shutting out a major form of web development. Microsoft just found itself explaining an earlier post about HTML5 video support which people mistook for "dropping" Flash, where in reality plug-ins will work in IE9 as one would normally expect (and really, why wouldn't it? Microsoft still delivers Silverlight via plugin). Anyone who thought Microsoft was going to "ban" Flash needs to take a few steps back: Microsoft isn't deploying a closed box consumer product where they control all the software that goes on it - they're developing a web browser. It's like comparing apples and bromide, and there's no logical reason why IE9 shouldn't be running all the Flash apps out there. Doing otherwise would be browser suicide.

Then you get the other side of crazy, like this post on Beatweek about why we should bash Flash - which is just as much flame bait as it sounds like, describing Flash as "outdated junk from the Geocities era" and calling for it to be summarily executed. Which is patently ridiculous - Flash holds a position on the web which cannot currently be replaced.

Let me say that again, as it may keep people from freaking out prematurely: Flash holds a position on the web which cannot currently be replaced.

Here is reality:

  • About 95% of all web browsers currently surfing the web have some form of Flash installed. For delivering video, audio and RIA (Rich Internet Application) content for the majority of the web, it is not only the de facto solution - there is essentially no real competition for it. Microsoft is making inroads with Silverlight, but Flash is still king.

  • And for the record, 95% is probably a conservative number.

  • HTML5 isn't even finished yet, and even the latest builds of browsers only have partial implementations. HTML5 is not a product being released by a single company, but a standard being developed over time by a large group of people.

  • A subset of browsers have access to a subset of HTML5 - but not the same subset. The canvas and video tag is relatively well adopted, and support for offline application (offline cache and databases) is growing. Support for the audio tag is growing as well.

  • Like every other introduction of new web standards, every browser has slightly different implementations of the features they support.

  • In the near term, the video tag will offer a non-plugin route for specific video formats for some browsers, most notably mobile browsers or browsers released for recent hardware platforms (i.e. tablets or netbooks). HTML5 is not currently ready to replace Flash for other uses, like sharing audio (Pandora) or Rich Internet Applications.

  • As of March 2010, Internet Explorer 6 - which isn't even a completely HTML4 standard browsers, still represents 20% of worldwide Internet traffic.

    Short, short version: when you pull the focus back to the Internet at large: Flash is still a necessity for delivering rich content. A recent video highlights the distinctions quite well. You can also read a recent Gartner post reaching much the same conclusion.

    Apple doesn't really care much about the Internet at large, they are far more concerned with the Internet at the very small: on the iPhone and iPad. Jobs has a set this up as a "past versus future" argument - but that is far too myopic to be useful. This is a PC versus mobile argument - and even more of a "PC versus PC-like mobile devices" argument. And this evolution is real, as others are noting:

    Anyway, here's Steve Jobs' strategic dilemma in a nutshell: the PC industry as we have known it for a third of a century is beginning to die.

    PCs are becoming commodity items. The price of PCs and laptops is falling by about 50% per decade in real terms, despite performance simultaneously rising in real terms. The profit margin on a typical netbook or desktop PC is under 10%. Apple has so far survived this collapse in profitability by aiming at the premium end of the market — if they were an auto manufacturer, they'd be Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar rolled into one. But nevertheless, the underlying prices are dropping. Moreover, the PC revolution has saturated the market at any accessible price point. That is, anyone who needs and can afford a PC has now got one. Elsewhere, in the developing world, the market is still growing — but it's at the bottom end of the price pyramid, with margins squeezed down to nothing.
    -- The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash

    Don't be mistaken: I think HTML5 holds a lot of promise for the web, especially for allowing the Internet to behave more like native applications in general. I think over the next couple years the overlap of HTML5, Flex, and other RIA tech like Silverlight will be quite interesting. Right now if you have an audience you can hook into Chrome or Safari, HTML5 holds some interesting possibilities. I actually think HTML5 is pretty awesome and am quite happy to be taking it out for a ride, professionally speaking, lately.

    That doesn't mean Flash is teetering on an edge, however. Let us also note that Jobs' solution to a lack of Flash on the iPhone and iPad was not, by any means HTML5. If you thought that, you didn't read closely enough. Jobs is clearly saying: anything you can do in Flash, you can code in Cocoa.

    So everyone relax: the majority of piano playing cats will be delivered tomorrow much in the way the way they were yesterday, and that will continue for some time to come.