Thursday, June 28, 2012

Old Who Reviews - Serial 003: "The Edge of Destruction"

"Accuse us!? You ought to get down on your hands and knees and thank us! Gratitude's the last thing you'll ever have, or any sort of common sense either!"
~Barbara Wright

"Doctor Who" was originally picked up for only four episodes, but when it was upgraded to a more robust 13, the team put together the 7-part serial I reviewed yesterday and then was left with two more episodes and almost no remaining budget.

So what did they do? They made a bottle episode.

"The Edge of Destruction" is one of the only Doctor Who stories to take place almost entirely within the confines of the TARDIS.

The plot is ridiculously easy to summarize. The Doctor breaks the TARDIS and everyone starts acting strangely until they fix the problem.

Still, the specifics are worth examining both for novelty and for the sake of acknowledging the first companion the Doctor openly appreciates: Barbara Wright.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Old Who Reviews - Serial 002: "The Daleks"

"I believe the Daleks have discovered a way to exploit... static electricity! Very ingenious..."
~The First Doctor

Alright, here's something a little more substantial. The first ever appearance of the popular Daleks.

"The Daleks", originally known as "The Mutants" or "The Dead Planet", is 7 episodes long and is the second serial in "Doctor Who" history. If I were to be completely honest, I don't think this series would have been as successful as it ended up being if it hadn't been for this serial. Not only did it introduce an alien race that eventually took the nation by storm, but it established the potential for the series.

Terry Nation, who is primarily known as the father of the Daleks and also the creator of the lesser known show "Blake's 7", used the concept of a world broken by nuclear devastation to examine themes of war, peace, and racism.

Whereas "An Unearthly Child" only showed us a very boring glimpse at prehistoric earth, "The Daleks" takes us into a much more imaginative landscape beyond our own galaxy.

That's not to say this serial is perfect. It's not. But it does at the very least show a glimpse at the endless possibilities that the concept turned out to be capable of. And it's also very much entertaining if you don't mind a slower-paced story.

Mass Effect 3 - The Extended Cut

So the ending to BioWare's sci-fi action RPG "Mass Effect 3" was the source of a lot of controversy. While I could probably go on about that for a really really long time, I'm not going to because that's old news.

To sum up, basically the endings to "Mass Effect 3" made a lot of people upset. So upset that the Internet basically exploded in BioWare's face and BioWare decided to put all of its plans on hold to change the endings.

Yesterday, the DLC that changes the endings, dubbed "The Extended Cut", finally came out and we saw the result.

Essentially, while I was never really as upset with the endings to ME3 as some people, I did concede that it made me want to replay the series less, simply because the endings felt very samey no matter who your character is. My Shepard who was a nice guy and did everything he could to keep all of his friends alive and do the right thing got the same choices and results as my Shepard who let all of her loved ones die and hated robots and aliens with a xenophobic distrust. This sapped any desire I had to replay the game.

Now that I have seen the Extended Cut, my desire has returned. While the endings are pretty much the same, the new window dressing and dialogue bits make each slight variation feel unique. My nice Shepard's ending felt appropriately heroic, while my asshole Shepard's ending felt bittersweet and ominous. That's how it should have been and now I'm eager to play through at least one more time.

But I know that a lot of people still aren't happy with the Extended Cut, and while I'm not going to try to convince these people that the ending is good, I'm fairly certain I can articulate why I think the ending THEY want is an ending that I personally would strongly dislike.

To explain it, I'll have to go into SPOILER territory, so proceed with caution if you haven't beaten ME3 or seen the Extended Cut.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Old Who Reviews - Serial 001: "An Unearthly Child"

"I have no matches! I cannot make fire! I CANNOT MAKE FIRE!"
~The First Doctor

So here's the very beginning of "Doctor Who".

We meet the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, who starts out as kind of a dick, and if one thing is going to remain consistent over the decades, I guess that should be it.

This first serial, also known as "100,000 BC", is only partially an origin story. The first episode out of four deals with the very basics of the setup. We meet two school teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, who can't seem to figure out that their student, Susan, is a time traveler, despite how terrible she is at hiding that fact. I'm sorry, but if anyone I knew ever said something peculiar and then followed it up with, "Oh right, that hasn't been invented yet," or something akin to that, I'd probably immediately ask them if they were a time traveler. Maybe that's just because I'm genre-savvy, but still.

Anyway, having nothing better to do, the two teachers follow Susan home and end up finding the famous TARDIS, where the Doctor emerges, insults their intelligence, and tries in vain to drive them off. However, they discover the truth about the Doctor and his granddaughter -- that they're aliens, exiled from their home world and bouncing along the fourth dimension until they can one day return home. Shenanigans ensue and the Doctor accidentally takes the two school teachers hostage and they travel into the year 100,000 BC, or thereabouts.

This first episode is probably the only part of this first serial worth watching, and not just as a fan of the new stuff, but in its own right. It's cool to see the origin point of the series.

The rest of this serial is downright excruciating.

Old Who Reviews - Introduction

As a fan of the new "Doctor Who" series, I've always wanted to watch the old series. I also know that a lot of the new fans, like myself, just haven't seen much of it. And since it's almost the 50th anniversary of the franchise, now seems as good a time as any to do something about that. So I'm going to watch as much of it as I can, beginning to end (save for what simply doesn't exist) and review each serial I watch here. I'm going to try to watch a serial every day if I can, but we'll see.

The Future Soon

I work in technology, so part of my job is to be aware of the almost constant new developments in computer software and hardware. It also tends to affect my hobbies as well since I'm a big fan of TV, movies, video games, and comics, which all are being affected by advancements with technology.

The real question, though, is where things will end up in the long run. Where will we be in a few years? Where will we be next decade? This sort of thing is fun to imagine, but it also raises serious questions about the current state of the industry and whether or not the changes we face will be better or worse.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Brave" Review - Take a Bow

I'm going to give my general feelings on the movie before delving into spoiler territory.

First let me start by saying that the movie is definitely VERY GOOD. You should go see it. ESPECIALLY go see it if you are a mother or a mother's daughter. While I enjoyed the movie wholeheartedly, every woman I know had a much more thorough experience than I as they connected with the mother/daughter relationship in the film very strongly, and I can understand why. It's definitely the movie's greatest asset and is rightly the centerpiece of the film. Even if you are a dude, you should still go see this movie because it's a damn good movie and it may still move you to tears even if you can't relate to Merida and her mother in quite the same way (though perhaps you'll feel something similar while watching the short "La Luna" before the movie).

Second, let me just say that you ought to stay until after the credits for a little bonus scene. No, Nick Fury doesn't show up to invite Merida to be the new Hawkeye... though maybe he should. Still, it's a good little payoff that's worth waiting for and for the love of god, these people worked hard to bring you entertainment and all they ask in return is that you memorize their names! Yes I stole that from the Simpsons. Sue me.

OK, now for the review proper. Some spoilers will happen beyond this point.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Book Was Better

I have a small confession to make, although many who know me probably already know this about me.

I'm a terrible reader.

Growing up through most of my life, I had a tendency to skim my reading assignments and find ways to make it seem like I had done the reading. I was clever enough to find holes in the system that allowed me to get out of doing the reading while still doing well enough on tests and papers to skate by with B's and C's. That's not to say I NEVER did the reading. Occasionally books would just click with me and I would actually be able to devour them passionately. But more often than not, I bullshitted my way through English and Lit.

I am not proud of this, but it's true. I WISH that I had forced myself to read the things I didn't enjoy because I still can't get myself to read the things I DO enjoy, simply because I'm just not good at sitting down and reading.

I have ADD and I also grew up mostly watching TV and movies. That's not to say I had trouble learning how to read. Actually, I learned how to read faster than a lot of the kids I knew. I just never really cared much for it.

There's a line in the film version of "Matilda" that was spoken by one of the EVIL PARENTS that, as a kid, I secretly identified with: "There's nothin' you can get from a book that you can't get from a television faster."

It's really the main reason I never became a good reader. Deep in my mind I wonder, "Why should I bother spending all of my free time for an entire week reading a story that I could watch in a couple hours?"

Obviously, there are plenty of things that keep the novel relevant when compared to visual media. The fact that you can enjoy it at your own pace, the idea that every reader experiences it differently, and the very personal nature of it. But I'm not one who likes to go at my own pace... I like to be led rather than lead. I don't want to have "my own" version of a story... I want the version the author has. And I don't always want to experience a story on a personal level... I like to share narrative experiences with friends (I often hate watching movies alone).

The biggest problem of all, however, is just that it's hard for me to stay engrossed in a book. Because my mind tends to wander, I might read entire pages of material and not actually take any of it in. A book is something I can't enjoy passively, so unless something about it just sucks me right in, my apathy will eventually take over and I'll put the book down indefinitely.

That's not to say I don't enjoy reading. I can't say I've ever had a case where I've read a book -- even when I had to force myself to do so -- and absolutely hated the experience. OK, well, maybe with "My Antonia". With that exception, every time I've actually finished a book, no matter how painful or time-consuming it was, I always felt proud of the accomplishment. Of all forms of media, reading is (to me at least) the most rewarding.

Sadly, however, I'm not easily motivated by long-term rewards gained by short-term suffering. I'm a procrastinator and that's something I'll likely never change.

The ironic thing is that I love to write. I love words and language. It's just that reading a book is so damn hard for me to do.

There are always exceptions, however. For whatever reason, the "Harry Potter" books were always easy for me to read. With the exception of a great deal of the first book, I always felt really invested in the story. I credit this to two things: 1) The characters often felt either very genuine and relatable, or just seemed like cool people. 2) The over-emphasis of dialogue.

A lot of people criticize J.K. Rowling for her dependence on dialogue and her overall weak prose. She put more information about the plot and the situation in the dialogue than she did in the rest of it. Honestly, a lot of the time she might as well have been writing a screenplay.

But for me, this was perfect. It gave me an anchor. It carried me through the story. It kept me interested. I always wanted to know how each character reacted to each situation and how their reaction would influence other reactions. Or I would want to see how a certain thing played out so that I could see how a certain character would react. It plays out more like a TV show or a movie.

Many writers spend more time carefully choosing their words to craft a particular image in the reader's mind and requires a great deal of patience and presence of mind. It's like painting. The "Harry Potter" books typically don't, and that's probably one reason I had a much easier time reading them, and it's also probably one reason they were so popular.

I'm not a completely lost cause, though. I've found that I can manage to digest a book through audio-books, since I can enjoy that passively. Last year, I listened to audio-books and podcasts every time I was in the car. Unfortunately, lately I've been back on a music kick and spend more time listening to the radio these days, so I'm back to basically never enjoying a book, but hopefully I'll move back to audio-books at some point.

It kinda sucks, but I don't really mind. I really enjoy TV, movies, comic books, and video games and I barely have enough time for all those things.

Still, whenever I enjoy something like "Game of Thrones" and my friends tell me I should read the books rather than wait for the next season to come out, I pretty much know I never will. I'm sure they're amazing books and I know I would love to read them, and I genuinely WANT to read them. But I know I never would. I know that trying would be a futile effort and I also know that the next season is just a few months away. It's the same thing when I know that there's a movie adaptation of a book coming out. Even if the adaptation is terrible, I'll be more likely to see it than read the original source material. Maybe if I get back into audio-books I'll listen to the "Game of Thrones" novels, but honestly, I kind of like going into the TV show blind.

I won't argue with the fact that more often than not, the book is better. But that's just who I am. I'm lazy and impatient. I'll microwave some Easy-Mac before boiling proper mac 'n cheese in a pot. I'll go to fast food rather than go to a restaurant. I'll watch the DVD rather than read the vastly superior book.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I'm Actually Kind of Excited to See "The Dark Knight Rises"

Like many comic book fans, the more I learned about "The Dark Knight Rises", the more skeptical I became. Bane looked wrong, Catwoman looked wrong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was showing up as a character that never existed in any Batman story ever, and it just kept feeling... wrong.

But now I've sort of come to terms with it to the point where I'm actually kind of excited to see the movie again. How did I manage this? I'm basically going to go into the movie accepting that it's not going to be a Batman movie.

Obviously, it IS a Batman movie, but at a certain point I realized that Nolan was less interested in making another Batman movie and more interested in making a film that happens to have a few characters that share names with characters from the Batman mythos.

After "The Dark Knight", everyone was clamoring for Nolan to make another, but Nolan initially resisted. He told us that he would only come back if he felt like he had something that would live up to its legacy, and even then he would only come back after he had a chance to do something else.

So he goes off and does "Inception", which cements him in the public consciousness, and then he jumps into "The Dark Knight Rises", immediately starting a speculation thunderstorm about what got Nolan to come back.

More than likely, money and public expectations probably acted as a primary motivator, but what I think really got Nolan excited was the idea of ending the series.

After the jump contains possible SPOILERS.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

E3 2012: The Future of Gaming Hinges on the WiiU

So not a lot out of E3 this year, but that's kind of what we've come to expect. E3 has been pretty much underwhelming since the Wii caused enough of a kerfuffle to make them turn it into a press-only event so people wouldn't have to wait in 12-hour lines.

Even so, the big story is that Nintendo is going full steam ahead into the next generation and Microsoft and Sony aren't quite there yet.

People were surprised that neither Sony nor Microsoft unveiled a new platform, but I'm not. Doing that at this point would be a bad idea for both of them.

The thing that a lot of people tend to forget about video games is that most of the money is in the games themselves. The systems actually lose the companies money, particularly at launch. The most notable exception to this is the Wii, which sold at a profit, mostly because the system was so underpowered that they could sell it at less than all of the competition and still make a profit.

The Xbox 360 was a pretty substantial success for Microsoft, but not because of the hardware sales. In fact, given how many machines they had to replace due to the dreaded Red Ring of Death, I'd wager that Microsoft lost a TON of money on the systems themselves. However, Microsoft succeeded big time with its licensed games and with Xbox Live Gold, which essentially set the standard for online gaming this generation.

Then Microsoft decided to do a little experiment. Rather than create an entirely new system, what if they created add-on hardware and sold that instead? That would allow them to have a big hardware launch without all of the risks involved.

Microsoft wasn't the first company to try something like this. You may remember Sega tried to keep the Genesis alive by inventing the 32X. Sadly, this tactic doesn't usually work, but in Microsoft's case, the Kinect  was not only a huge success but it also increased sales for the Xbox 360, allowing it to significantly surpass the Wii in the casual gaming market.

Microsoft has no interest in launching an entirely new system when it currently has the most widely-played system in the world. That doesn't mean they aren't WORKING on a new system, but they aren't going to go full-steam ahead on production until they have a reason to. More on that later.

Similarly, Sony had a really rough time this generation, but the PS3 has finally been accepted. Partially due to the price drop and partially due to the more widespread acceptance of Blu-ray. They don't intend to repeat the same mistakes next generation, so they too are biding their time, though they are probably working on a new system as well.

So what are they waiting for?

My guess is that they're waiting to see how the WiiU pans out.

In other words, the shape that the next generation will take largely depends on the WiiU.

Allow me to explain. The WiiU represents a bold gambit on Nintendo's part. They had a lot of success with the Wii in terms of hardware sales, but due to lackluster third party support, the Wii isn't selling any games and thus isn't making them money anymore.

The main reason the Wii has no decent games outside of its first party titles (and a few notable exceptions) is because the machine simply isn't powerful enough to play the same games as the PS3 and the 360. Developers have to put in a lot of work to port a game to the Wii and the resulting game is often significantly inferior in quality. On top of that, developers don't really seem to know quite what to do with motion controls yet, so developing exclusively for the Wii never really pans out for them.

So everything basically hinges on just how powerful the WiiU is.

We know for a fact at this point that the WiiU is AT LEAST as powerful as the 360 and the PS3 based on the fact that it's getting a lot of ports for games that came out this year. With that in mind, there are two ways this can shake out:

1) The WiiU is just as powerful as the 360 and PS3. In this case, the ball is entirely in Microsoft and Sony's court. They could theoretically just sit around for as long as they want to since basically every game that could come out for the WiiU could come out on their systems. If an additional screen was essential for play, the 360 port could use SmartGlass and the PS3 could use Vita. They would have no reason to force a new system into development right away. Then they could take their time and develop a new machine that would be far superior to the WiiU and be able to sell it at a profit without worrying about early-adopter reliability issues. Then the WiiU would once again be unable to keep up in the next generation and ultimately lose third party support.

2) The WiiU is MORE powerful than the 360 and the PS3. Then the big question is "how much more powerful?" Ultimately, it would just need to be able to handle Unreal Engine 4. If it could do that, it would basically be set for the next generation of games. If that were the case, the pressure would be on for Microsoft and Sony to rush out their new systems for 2013, resulting in them probably losing a lot of money. Even if their new systems were technically superior to the WiiU, so long as the major development tools used could work about as well on the WiiU as it could on Sony and Microsoft's new systems, it wouldn't matter. For example, even though the PS3 is technically superior to the 360, they both share largely the same third party library because they both can support the same general development tools. So in this case, the WiiU would actually have a head start in the hardcore market and probably would actually be able to retain its third party support down the line.

So if the WiiU sells well this Winter (which depends largely on what the price is) and it is more powerful than the current generation of consoles, it is very likely that Nintendo will recapture the hardcore demographic as soon as third party developers release the first console game using Unreal Engine 4 as a WiiU exclusive simply because Microsoft and Sony aren't ready for it yet. But if the WiiU is only just as powerful as the 360 and the PS3, then Nintendo is poised to repeat history.

Oh, and regarding the WiiU Controller (which is known by some unofficially as the WiiPad), I don't honestly think it will make or break the system. It may attract the casual market and provoke the initial sales this Holiday season, but I don't think that it will be the albatross that the WiiMote turned out to be. It won't fundamentally alter the control schemes for most titles, it's easy to ignore or use in a limited capacity, and it seems to actually have potential that developers can explore without having to learn an entirely new control scheme. Developers for the DS already have a head start. That being said, even if it is used well, I doubt it will be enough to save the system if the WiiU can't handle the next generation of games. The casual gaming market is great if you just want to sell hardware, but you need the hardcore market to sell software, and the hardcore gamers these days have more loyalty to the games rather than the systems. If the WiiU loses third party support, it won't matter how cool the WiiPad turns out the be. Still, the WiiPad DOES look like it could be pretty cool.

So when we eventually get some solid idea of the technical specs on the WiiU, I can probably tell you exactly what Microsoft and Sony's next moves are.

If the WiiU is announced to be conservative in terms of performance, Microsoft and Sony will probably wait until E3 2014 to announce their new system. They may go as early as E3 2013, but unless the WiiU takes the world by storm, they won't be under a lot of pressure to rush things. Even if the WiiU is popular, they won't lose their third party support anytime soon. When they are ready, their new systems will be technically superior, sold at the same price (or even lower), they'll probably implement some sort of cloud gaming infrastructure, and they will quickly dethrone with WiiU.

But if the WiiU is announced to be a technical wonder, Microsoft and Sony will probably announce their next generation plans later this year. They probably won't wait for the next E3. They'll want to give gamers pause before purchasing the WiiU this Christmas. They'll want gamers to hold off for the promise of a new system that will probably cost too much, attempt to implement a second screen (probably at the expense of rumble or something), and won't actually be good enough to take away WiiU's third party support. They MIGHT hold off until E3 2013 just to make sure the WiiU doesn't flop before they throw their chips in, but I wouldn't bet on it.

All in all, Nintendo could have done the smartest possible thing they could have done, or they could have just dug their own grave again.

"Prometheus" Didn't Exactly Set the World on Fire (UPDATED)

Since I mentioned "Prometheus" once or twice during my last post, I thought it would be fair to explain my overall feelings on the movie and also my theories regarding some of the parts that were left somewhat open-ended.

First of all, I didn't hate the movie. I actually enjoyed it. Don't think I would go see it again in theaters, but I might buy the Blu-ray or at least watch it on Netflix at some point. I kind of put it in the same overall category I would put the Matrix sequels and the Star Wars prequels: I enjoy watching it, and I can get lost in some of the bigger ideas that the movie touches on, but as a film it is definitely more than a little problematic.

Since better writers than I have already explained the overall failings of "Prometheus" far more adequately than I, I'll be as brief as I can be with this part. I'll also keep things spoiler free before the jump.

With a couple exceptions, none of the characters made a lot of sense. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a horror movie (or any movie really, but horror is where it can be a serious deal-breaker) is when a character does something a reasonable person would never do. The best moments in horror movies are when you know a character is about to do something stupid, but you also know that the only reason you know it's stupid is because you're looking at it from the outside. If you were in the character's position, you would probably make the same stupid mistake. But when a character does something you would never do even if you were in that exact same position, it's not scary, it's just annoying. You WANT the character to die. That happens more than a few times in "Prometheus".

Another big problem is that the film doesn't have very good structure. I talked a lot about the Hollywood Formula last time, and to apply it here, you run into a lot of problems. The protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw, has a clear goal at the beginning of the film, one that she shares with a few other characters: To meet the Engineers (AKA the Space Jockeys). The movie has many deuteragonists for Elizabeth to play off of, but the most notable one would be David, though he isn't very effective in this role because he's kind of doing his own thing for most of the movie. Aside from David, the cast is full of people who either also want to meet the Engineers (and their desire to do so doesn't really conflict with Elizabeth's goal), so the movie doesn't really have an antagonist. Nothing is really keeping Elizabeth from meeting the Engineers other than the fact that she has to go looking for them. So the central conflicts of the movie are very loosely defined and not very interesting. We don't really care who lives or dies or whether or not Elizabeth gets to meet the Engineers.

Where the movie largely succeeds is in presentation. Quite a few aspects of the story are told brilliantly and visually without needing to info-dump, which is rare in science-fiction. However, doing it this way is a bit of a double-edged sword because you end up leaving a lot open to interpretation.

This is where one of the writers, Damon Lindelof comes into play. You might know him better as one of the major creative writing forces on the TV series "Lost". Similar to "Lost", "Prometheus" leaves as many doors open as possible and whenever if closes a door, it opens three others. Anyone familiar with "Lost" knows that this can become frustrating very quickly, and "Prometheus" is no exception. Speculation is a lot of fun, but there's a difference between leaving a story point vague in order to ask a fundamental question with two very different answers that can change the entire meaning of the story in order to provoke a deep philosophical discussion, and leaving a story point vague because you wanted to be mysterious. Lindelof has a serious problem with doing the latter more than the former.

That being said, there are a lot of little things that I really enjoyed and the bad parts weren't bad enough to sour the experience for me. From here on out, I'll go into more specific detail, but this will require a SPOILER WARNING. Proceed after the jump.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why "Wreck-It Ralph" Will Probably Be Awesome

So if you haven't seen it already, here's a trailer for the upcoming Disney movie, "Wreck-It Ralph":

Looks awesome, right? But the problem with a lot of trailers is that they can sometimes be significantly better or worse than the actual film they are marketing. For example, I'd say that the trailer for "Prometheus" was way better than the actual film, and I'd say the trailer for "Shrek" was way worse than the actual film. Just because this trailer is great doesn't mean the actual film will be.

However, I am reasonably confident that this movie will be awesome. I will discuss why I feel this way after the jump, but be warned, this may be construed as SPOILERS to the sort of people who like to go see movies knowing as little as possible, and if I turn out to be correct, I'll more or less have outlined the entire plot of the story.


So I decided to start a blog. Because why not?

I find that generally I have a lot to say but don't have a lot of places to say it. Social media tends to be more about 140 characters and less about long-form essay-style stuff that I like to write from time to time.

What will I write about?

Probably mostly nerd things. Reviews, theories, speculation, and opinions on movies, TV, video games, comic books, and anything else I feel like bringing up.

Where does the title come from?

It's a reference to a line in "Avatar: The Last Airbender". If you don't get the reference, just go watch (or re-watch) the entire series. It's worth it.

Who am I?

Pat. I'm a 24-year-old nerd from upstate New York.

OK, I think that about covers the introductions. Here we go!