Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Kick-Ass (volume one graphic novel)

Here at It reads me...
Quite simply, we just can't get enough Kick-Ass.  Short of buying our own green and yellow wetsuits, Wrangler boots, and thick yellow industrial gloves, plus batons, we decided to indulge our mitts with a copy of the graphic novel version of Kick-Ass.  Bringing together all the comics, (originally published by Marvel's imprint Icon), that the film Kick-Ass (currently on cinematic release in the UK) was adapted from, the graphic is a chunky piece of value-for-money.

What's the story?
A punk-ass teen wonders about why no one has never taken up the role of a super hero before to fight the world's ills.  Before he realises what he's doing, he's ordered the wetsuit and gone out and gotten himself into far more trouble than he ever realised possible.

Please note that the film's story does deviate at numerous points and details from the original comics.

How does the graphic and the film compare?
The film's creators took the comics and changed the story in parts, and details of characters, in ways that actually allow the concept to be more believable and sophisticated.  Essentially, even though Mark Millar is an excellent writer, when you read the graphic and then watch the film, or the other way round, you will notice that Matt Vaughn has taken Kick-Ass that extra bit further.

Though there are parts from the comics that I wished they'd put in the film, such as Dave's dad's search for love, or sex.  Also, people say the film is violent, well actually the original comics are a heck of a lot more violent: electrical testicular torture, and a Hit-Girl who uses swords far more often.  Definitely a read for those past the age of fifteen.

John Romita Jr.'s artwork is fricken' awesome, with distinct character designs.  As with pretty much all comic book movies that are adapted from a specific work, it is worth reading what the film is based on.  Even though Vaughn made changes to the comics' story, Millar's original still makes a fine read, with some more intriguing nuisances with particular characters and their back story.

The graphic novel is out now at all good UK booksellers (online and offline).  With an RRP of £9.99 for the regular version.  If you want to collect the original comics, then check out your local comic book store.

Related links
Wiki entry on the comics
Our Kick-Ass film review

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Doctor will see you now...

New series of Doctor Who has begun!
If you haven't already caught it (and are a UK resident) go check it out on BBC iplayer now.  Otherwise, read on as I detail the delights of the new Doctor and his companion (so yes, there may be spoilers)...

Starting out...
Other than the brief yet dramatic transformation scene that occurred during the end of Tennant's final episode of the two-parter The End of Time, which was aired on New Year's Day this year, Saturday's new episode was Matt Smith's proper first outing as the eleventh doctor.  And what an outing it was.

What happened with The Eleventh Hour?
I don't want to go into too much spoiler filled detail, however I really enjoyed what new lead writer, Steven Moffat, did to introduce us to the new characters and a new mystery or two that will obviously plague the Doctor during the rest of the series.  It's Bad Wolf all over again, but potentially even worse news for the universe.

Watching Saturday's episode reassured me that having Moffat take over from Davies was a good idea.  The man that bought us such terrors as The Empty Child in the first series of the reboot of Doctor Who, has cleverly introduced yet another Runaway Bride as the companion of the Doctor, and this is a woman who has an even more interesting background than previous companions.  Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, is a lady to watch.

Matt Smith as the new Doctor
David Tennant had built up a rather large fan base during the previous series, but Smith, though maybe not the cup of tea of die-hard Tennant fans, has made the role this own.  The youngest actor to play the Doctor yet, Smith bought an energy to the role that younger viewers were certainly able to identify with.  I do believe that I genuinely enjoyed watching him in the role, but I won't say outright that he is amazing until I have seen a few more episodes.

Only criticism...
At times, it was difficult to believe what the Doctor was getting up to whilst trying to save the world.  Moffat's uses of technology were perhaps, at times, stretching the realms of disbelief just a little too much.  Hopefully this won't be something that happens with every episode. 

The next episode of Doctor Who - The Best Below can be caught on BBC1 Saturday 10th April at 6:15pm.

Related links
Official BBC Doctor Who website
Wiki entry on Doctor Who

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Kick-Ass is kick ass

(And candy is dandy)
Just an hour back from the cinema and I can't believe the awesomeness that has been unleashed upon British cinema screens before our friends over the pond are able to get their mitts on it.  Based on Mark Millar's comics of the same name (illustrated by John Romita Jr.), comes Kick-Ass directed by British director Matthew Vaughn.

We've got hot British actor Aaron Johnson (previously played as John Lennon in last year's Nowhere Boy) as the title hero and comic book geek Kick-Ass, and upcoming young star (and comedy film favourite) Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Role Models and Superbad) as a "rich boy" and "hero" Red Mist.  Then there's a spunky performance from young actress Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl (previously starred as Kiki George in Dirty Sexy Money), and Nicholas Cage manages to gain forgiveness for involvement in both National Treasure films by becoming Big Daddy.

So Johnson's character Dave Lizewski, a typical American teenager, one day contemplates becoming a super hero.  Now these thoughts kind of stick heavily with him until one day he finally caves in and becomes the phenomenon known as Kick-Ass: New York's "first" super hero.  Of course things are not all dandy and just a simple case of dealing with the odd mugger, as Dave/Kick Ass quickly learns, muggers are not all that's out in the world as there's a lot of organised crime in the Big Apple too.  As Kick-Ass struggles to realise who his true allies are, and Dave falls in love with a girl from school, New York does not know just quite what is about to kick its ass.

What did you like?
There's a lot in this film to like.  Due to the nature of its source material, there are tonnes of comic book and comic book film references, and Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman quickly show just how to make fans of the genre squeal and laugh, with both often happening at the same time.

The film is well-edited, well-acted and stylised in just the right way, producing a humour filled and action packed text that is just bursting at the seams with cinematic goodness.  Admittedly I have yet to read the original comics/graphics that the film is adapted from, so I can't tell you how they compare, but this is definitely the best film of the first quarter of this year (at least if you like plenty of action and super heroes).

Who should watch this?
Quite frankly, anyone aged 15 and over who isn't, as Matthew Vaughn put it on a recent appearance on BBC 1's The One Show, a Daily Mail reader because, quite frankly, Dail Mail readers are just too sad to be capable of handling this awesomeness (and as Vaughn actually said, "this film wasn't made for them.").  Seriously, with the levels of violence in the film, any parents who let their under-age kid watch this film is irresponsible, it has a 15 BBFC handed out certificate for a reason.

By the way...
This film has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a film for a while, and is definitely worth picking up.  There's a healthy dose of Prodigy and some sweet old tunes that will make you smile when you watch the scenes where they're used.

Kick-Ass is out in UK cinemas now.

Related links
Official website
IMDB entry
Wiki entry on the Mark Millar created comic book series

Friday, 26 March 2010

John Hicklenton passes away (1967-2010)

This week
The comic book world mourns the passing of British comic book artist John Hicklenton (aka John Deadstock) one of the many inkers and pencillers to work on 2000 AD's Judge Dredd over the years.  Having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2000, John decided to end his life on 19th March (last Friday) at the Swiss based Dignitas clinic.

John's work spanned from the late 1980s until the time of his death, and was not just on the Judge Dredd comics.  John's agent, Adrian Weston, in an interview with the BBC said that John was a, "clear sighted and visionary person."  He was well known for his horrific and grotesque art style.  And according to reports, completed his final book 100 Months the day before he travelled to the Dignitas clinic.

Outside of comics
John led a strong campaign to raise awareness of MS including starring in a documentary called Here's Johnny in 2008.  The documentary took seven years to make and was screened on More4 in 2009.

Related links
BBC article on Hicklenton's death
Wiki entry on the artist
More4 overview of Here's Johnny
2000 AD's website
Forum thread on 2000 AD forums announcing John's passing

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Hangover (2009)

What a night!
So, four men go to Vegas... You might have seen this poster plastered around last year, because it was well publicized. Despite being a relatively recent film, you may be seeing this going cheaper than you'd expect. Starring quite a cast of newcomers, and Heather Graham, there seems to be very little marketability for the film without only evoking the genre of the film. However, saying that, it doesn't seem too shabby.

Dude, where's my movie?
The theme is fairly similar to Dude Where's My Car (2000), in terms of story layout. So much so in fact that I shall create a new sub-genre of the Road Movie, which is already a sub-genre of the "stoner films", which is a sub-genre of adventure/"buddy movie" type, and this new kind of film will be the "hey, where's my thing". Okay, not a catchy title, you make one up!

Anyway, as I was saying, put another dude in and turn your car into another dude, and you have the basic premise. The characters find themselves in the "hilarious" position of trying to track down what they did the previous night, and as with this new sub-genre (ahem), we don't get to witness it until the characters discover it.

Meet the dudes!
The characters themselves are all unique. We have the chilled out cool guy, that basically wants to get wasted and relive his glory days, the uptight hen-pecked husband (to be) who finds his wild side is more crazy than anyone else, the not-quite-there guy who is basically a big kid and the soon-to-be groom and reason for the characters who wouldn't otherwise stick together to make it through the entire film together. What could possibly go wrong?...

Well as you guessed it, one of these people will be the car (metaphorically) that they need to find. Why? Well, that's because they cannot remember through the amount of alcohol and other substances that they take (another generic convention of this type of film, wink, wink) where the groom is. Oh, there is another thing with this type of film about the ending, but I won't spoil it for you.

Spoilers? No thanks! But can you tell me more about the plot please?!
I sure can my little friend (or big, depending on who's reading this). The plot is often incredible. No, I don't mean awesome, I mean not-credible, as in I don't believe it. This breaks the illusion that what I'm watching is possible (verisimilitude for the media savvy), and while it's fine to say "Well light speed isn't possible, you can't like Star Trek then", you must understand that this shattering of illusion is only applicable to each film universe's logic. In the universe that we live in (and presumably the universe of The Hangover), there are things that throw the film off balance somewhat, such as...

...Well, I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say that I was entertained but not really "into" it if you know what I mean. I was essentially amused by the antics, but not believing in them, knowing that there was never any risk to the characters, because it's a comedy film, and because I was aware constantly that I was only watching a film (yes, you can get so wrapped up in films that you forget that they are just films - just ask anyone who's hidden behind the sofa or a pillow while watching a horror film).

Don't get me wrong, it's part of the genre for incredible (and un-credible) things to happen, such as learning Japanese while stoned and still remembering it in the morning, and speaking it fluently after just one lesson (Dude Where's My Car?). And somewhat bizarrely, that wasn't the most, well, bizarre thing to happen in Dude either!

Overall, I think I was more laughing at the bizarre scenarios they had got themselves into, rather than empathizing with characters, and thus didn't care if the characters got what they wanted.

Should I buy or rent or skip out on it?
It's worth a rent, just to say that you have seen it, and it's my policy that everything should be watched at least once. Well, maybe not some things, but theatrical films, yes. Overall though, the people that are likely to like this film the most are people who enjoyed Dude Where's My Car? as well as other stoner films. Not a bad film, just not a particularly good one either.

Johnny Storm to play Captain America!

Kind of...
Variety has just reported that actor Chris Evans, is going to star as Captain America in The First Avenger: Captain America, which Marvel is hoping to release during the summer of next year.  He'll also play Cap in several other Avenger themed movies.  Obviously Evans doesn't have much in the way of plans to reprise his role as Johnny Storm/Human Torch of the Fantastic Four... (I assume.)

Further examination of the Variety article points to Hugo Weaving taking up the role as Captain America's arch-nemesis the Red Skull.  An Australian playing a German, this should be interesting.

Marvel news...
I like Marvel, but I'm not just a fan of their comics, I like other publishers' works too.  Just, they have a lot of news going for them at the moment.

Am I the only one who can foresee some level of confusion when the film comes out? Oh, I am, well okay.  "Flame on!... sorry I mean..."

Related links
Variety article on the matter
IMDB profile on Chris Evans
Marvel's website

Monday, 22 March 2010

Legal fights not over with Marvel

Oh copyright, let me compare thee...
Okay, so Disney didn't seem too phased when purchasing Marvel last year that they could be facing some legal fights over the copyright pertaining to characters that Jack Kirby worked on for Marvel during 1958-1963.  Kirby's heirs are now definitely fighting for his piece of royalty pie.

The big guys don't seem troubled by any of this at the moment.  If you want to read the full story, and get confused over America's version of copyright laws, check out The New York Times link below.

Related links
The New York Times article on the lawsuits
Wiki entry on Jack Kirby
Marvel's Official site

Saturday, 20 March 2010

And the winner pitifully is...

Maybe, I'm a little bitter...
So Batman arkham Asylum was not the people's choice for the GAME Award last night at the BAFTA Video Game Awards, no it was Modern Warfare 2 that came out top dog.  If this is the kind of game that the British public thinks is the best out of all of the games released last year, well maybe they just don't deserve to be sold decent games any more....

The people behind the actual BAFTAs, the ones who decided on the other categories that were not voted for by the public, pretty much snubbed Modern Warfare 2.  Obviously the "industry" knows a foolish public opinion when it sees it.  The big winner of last night was Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which scooped Best Action Game, Best Original Score, Best Story and Best Use of Audio.

And you know what? Batman Arkham Asylum didn't do too bad either, achieving Best Game (yeah, I know) and Best Gameplay.  So, I'm happy.  Also, Left 4 Dead 2 claimed Best Multiplayer Game of the year, again another title people may have thought Modern Warfare 2 would get.

Both Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed 2 were ignored by the academy voters.  They didn't pick up a single award.  And maybe I am a little smug about this.

On one final note
Mr Shigeru Miyamoto received an Academy Fellowship.  And I have to say that he's definitely earned that one.  In case you don't know who he is, let's just say he is one of the top people at Nintendo and responsible for such gaming classics as Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda.

Related links
List of all the winners and losers at the 2010 awards
Official Modern Warfare 2 site
Official Uncharted website
Official Batman Arkham Asylum site
Official Left 4 Dead 2 site

Friday, 19 March 2010

BAFTA Video Game Awards 2010 (tonight)

You're one of the few people who took the time to vote in the GAME BAFTA Award 2009, then tonight you'll learn whether the public is truly a bunch of uninspired idiots that either voted Assassin's Creed 2 to the top or Modern Warfare 2.  Ideally that won't be the result (I pray).

Why the bashing?
MOD 2 had an even less comprehensible storyline than the first game, and didn't exactly improve much on what its predecessor got up to.  Same goes for Assassin's Creed 2.

Now if there is a game in the list that should win...
Well, obviously Batman Arkham Asylum is the superior game on the list.  And with the 3D Game of the Year version soon to be released, obviously the most awesome game of last year.  It has everything going for it: fabulous story, fantastic voice acting, intriguing game play, ingenious gadgets, and luxurious graphics.
Either way
You can catch the ceremony live online at 8:45pm tonight.  Just check out the links below to see where.

Related links
Official BAFTA Awards site gaming section, with live video stream available of ceremony on 19-03-2010 8:45pm
Previously the home of where to vote for the GAME game, tonight it will have a stream available at the same time as the BAFTA site

Different memory units to be supported in spring update

Heads up Xbox 360 owners
Joystiq have reported in the last 24 hours (I am not figuring what time in GMT the American report came through), that they have confirmed that an update for the 360 in the spring will lead to the system being able to use non-Microsoft produced storage devices for saved games, DLC and profiles.  But wait...

You'll still need a 360 hard drive
Well, you will do if you feel that the 16 GB and 512 MB aren't going to be enough for your gaming needs, and in a lot of cases that paltry size certainly will be unsatisfactory.  Essentially the update, according to Joystiq, will mean that any external hard drive you use will be formatted by your 360, and cause the 360 to only use up to 16 GB and 512 MB of the external drive's memory.  That's less than the 20 GB hard drive that used to come with the Premium system.

This does mean that you'll no longer need to buy those annoying 512 MB 360 memory units.  Instead you could carry your gamertag and save files around on a 1 GB (has to be that size, minimum) USB device.

Microsoft have yet to officially announce all this mind.

Related links
Joystiq article on the matter

Thursday, 18 March 2010

For those interested in such things...

There was an interesting article on the Times Online website
Yesterday something happened... for some this was just another reflection on the declining quality of our reality, for others another piece to add to their over zealous tribute to fandom...

That's right
Atom released the first Twilight graphic novel.  Under Meyer's supervision, and drawn by South Korean artist Young Kim, yesterday saw the release of Twilight Volume One: The Graphic Novel.

So please, if your reality begins to blur due to fandom or loathing, don't come too close.  Your condition may be catching.

Related links
Times Online story on the graphic's release
Stephenie Meyer's website
Review of Twilight original novel
Review of New Moon original novel
Review of Eclipse original novel
Review of Breaking Dawn original novel

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Oooohing and arrrrring...
Let's face it, Tim Burton's latest offering has been getting some rather mixed reviews since its release earlier this month.  In the UK, we've had to contend with Disney's little spat with Odeon Cinemas over the length of time Disney would wait until releasing the film on DVD and Blu-Ray.  And if you're a resident of Cornwall, then there's been the local media pouring over a National Trust property in North Cornwall, Antony House, where the beginning and ending of the movie was filmed.

What about the film?
I have not read the first novel since I was about ten, so my knowledge of the story is a little hazy, and strangely mis-mashed with Disney's previous version of the novels in its 1951 cell animated venture and what Square-Enix did with it all in the Kingdom Hearts games.  This sadly means that I cannot tell you how the film works as an adaptation, though this is perhaps for the best for Tim Burton's mark is all over this incarnation.

Despite the marketing of the film as yet another collaboration between Burton, Depp and Carter, the script was written by recurring Disney scriptwriter Linda Woolverton (previous work includes The Lion King, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Beauty and the Beast).  So we know that we are in true Disney territory with this film.  Beyond the Disneyfication there is a large amount of British actors behind the voices of many of the characters.

Without spoiling too much:set in the mid-1800s, Alice, nineteen years of age, is none too happy with how her life is going.  From a well-to-do family, Alice in no way looks forward to what adulthood and being a Victorian lady will bring her.  As if her wishes for an alternative are granted, Alice (classically) tumbles down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, where she soon finds that even the fantastical is not as cut and dry as her boring old life.

Burton's mark...
In all too familiar a move Burton has waved his hand over the imagery of Carroll's/Dodgson's original novel and the Disney incarnation that came before this film, and plastered all over this translation his bland vision of the Gothic.  As if the crazy yet grubby outfits were not enough, Burton overly uses the transition between night and day to add atmosphere to the film.  The problem with the constant switching between night and day? It messes up the audience's appreciation of the passage of time within the film.

Don't start saying that Burton did it so as to further reflect the intriguing logic of the original novels as it only happens when it would better serve the mood and feeling of a scene.  In the dark very bad things happen, and in the light there is a chance of hope.  This switching happens so much that it can actually detract from appreciation of the film.

Don't forget that it's in 3D
That's right, it's another film that Disney have produced in "3D".  Sure, if you don't have photosensitivity issues that may be affected by the use of such technology it's fine, but the use of 3D didn't seem to add much to the film.  It certainly didn't help convey anything, and didn't add a sense of excitement and suspense that a horror film such as The Final Destination managed to use 3D technology for.

Issues with the ending
I don't want to say specifically what happens, but that the ending is not believable.  Seriously, there's no way that would have happened and it breaks away far too much with the film's verisimilitude that was established earlier.  There are also further issues with the film's handling of destiny and personal choice, and you don't witness Alice's character changing and developing enough for her actions to seem like her own; it's as if she's forced straight through the hero's journey without any thought as to how she develops as a person and matures.

This all seems rather harsh
I'm not exactly a fan of Burton, I don't just go and see his films because he's directed them, but I genuinely tried to give the film a chance.  In the end though, there was too much that just grated against my nerves to make it truly enjoyable.  In a way, Burton's directorial vision has trampled over the film too much, and Depp's portrayal of the Mad Hatter seemed greatly like a return to his role as Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films.  Though I will say that Carter makes a pretty damn good Red Queen.

Is it worth watching?
It's all right to pass the time with, but this is a mediocre film at best.  If you want to see it in 3D then it's best to catch it at the cinema anyway.  This is perhaps only for Burton and/or Depp fans.  Overall I would suggest reading the novels instead.

Related links
Official UK website
IMDB entry
Wiki entry on the novel that inspired it
Details on Antony House

Friday, 12 March 2010

Tackling Final Fantasy XIII

The lack of stuff this week has been in part due to Paul and mine's journey through Final Fantasy XIII.  It's a big game and deserves to be properly played through before we give our verdict on it.

Stuff will appear
We will be posting stuff, and have been, but if a day or so goes by and there's nothing new it's because we're lost on Cocoon.

In the mean time, check out these related links:

Related links
Official website
Wiki entry

Role Models (2008)

Looking for a bargain DVD?
For my first review here, I suggesting that you try this comedy starring a group of people familiar with modern American Comedies: Sean William Scott (from American Pie, Road Trip and soon to be in the new Cop Out), Paul Rudd (from Friends, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and 40 Year Old Virgin) and a few others, (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad, Elizabeth Banks Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Scrubs and Jane Lynch, 40 Year Old Virgin and Glee). You might have several moments of pointing at the television saying "Ah! It's that dude!"

So what is it actually about?
So two guys walk into a... Well, school. You see from the start, the two main characters are teaching kids not to do drugs, whilst selling dubious energy drinks. They have a bad day (not giving too much of the plot away) and face either jail time or being placed into a special programme. This special programme sees them becoming the role models that the title implies.

Is it actually any good?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: Indeed it is. The characters themselves, although flawed in equal and opposite ways, are fairly likable, the situations are often humorous and the moral of the story is well established. It's kind of like a buddy movie - with kids.

Going with the genre comes a certain level of expectations, including some slightly unrealistic and usual ones, such as a general sense of catharsis and character mirroring.

Character Mirroring? You've just made that up!
Yes I have, but allow me to explain. In real life, the ups and downs that make peoples lives are usually independent and not in synchronisation. In this film, they are very much in synchronisation - when one is character is down, so is the other. When they both screw up, they both, independently come to their own epiphanies and try to fix things, despite often not being in contact with ea
ch other for a while.

So why would it appeal to me?
If you're looking for a heart-warming comedy, something cheap to buy or rent on a Friday night, then this could be for you. It has likable characters, and a general feel good factor, without the need to stereotype or vilify a specific group of people. Overall, it's a comedy that won't go too far wrong, and although there a few cringe-worthy moments, overall you won't be bored or even worse, hating the characters and not caring about them.

Related links
Official Role Models American website, but does have a trailer
IMDB entry

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Cop Out is out! (US so far, UK soon)

What's he been up to?
If, like me, you're a bit of a Kevin Smith fan and yet still fail to listen to SModcast on a regular basis, then like me you may not have realised that the man's latest directorial piece is screening in the US already.  That's right. Kevin Smith is the director of the new comedy Cop Out.

Written by Robb and Mark Cullen, starring Bruce Willis (not the first time he's appeared in a Kevin Smith film) and Tracy Morgan, it is currently out in the US where the usual mix reviews from critics are taking place.  Of course, like any Kevin Smith fan knows, the critics just don't like Smith and haven't done so since Mallrats, (them liking Dogma was just a blip).

What's it about?
The film revolves around two cops tracking down a rare baseball card, whilst dealing with a damsel in distress and gangsters. 

Release date for UK
It should be out in the UK Friday 16th April, according to Screenrush.  However, if you happen to live in Cornwall, then goodness knows when the film will be screened, because in my past experience the cinemas down here never seemed keen enough to show films that have been made by Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri is a prime example of this). 

Anyway, check out the Related links for an interview with Kevin Smith over at LA Times, where he talks about Cop Out and the now infamous air travel incident.

Related links
Kevin Smith interview with 24 Frames at LA Times
Official Cop Out website
IMDB Cop Out entry
Screenrush entry on Cop Out 
Kevin Smith's own View Askew Productions 

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Valve goodness on your Mac?

Word is...
Valve are bringing Half Life 2 games, Left 4 Dead series, Team Fortress 2, Portal (and its upcoming sequel), plus a host of other games and Steam to Apple's Mac computers next month.  Finally the Freeman will be swinging his crowbar from on high across the highly aesthetic screens of Apple's larger hardware.

Benefits for Mac users
Turns out that if someone has previously bought a Windows copy of a game via Steam, then they will be able to re-download the game for their Mac free of charge.  And servers for Windows and Mac users will be fully-integrated.

A whole new level of fanboyism awaits...
I thought it was bad enough listening to, and reading about, console owners attacking each other over their hardware choices.  Now I foresee a future where taunts will revolve around Windows and Mac users insulting each other to new levels, and it was already bad enough now.

This is definitely good news for Mac users, and while I cannot support their choice of operating system, I do believe in decent gaming access for all.  Now would someone please explain to me how a Mac user is meant to cope without having easy access to a mouse's right click, (shift on the keyboard and click mouse = naff), whilst running around on Team Fortress 2, hmmmm?

Related links
Valve's announcement
Left 4 Dead review
Portal review
Half-Life 2 review
Half Life 2: Episode 1 review
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 review

Monday, 8 March 2010

What's Random House up to?

The publishing giants...
Random House, in the US at least, has set its sights on going into the video games biz.  Well, actually they already own the Prima strategy guides imprint, so it's not like the company as a whole is new to games.

Wall Street Journal
Let the story out originally, last week, with some quick words from the people responsible for this addition to the Random House portfolio.  So far RH has teamed up with Stardock Corp, a US game development company.  In the future RH are hoping to put together a horror thriller title and a fantasy title.

What this means
Well, a huge advantage of having one of the largest publishing houses in the world working on games is that they have access to huge amount of already published material from which games could be based on.  Not only that, but the number of authors that specialise in the genres that video games tend to draw on are many as well.  This potentially means that RH could be leading the way with heavily story driven games, with well plotted stories and believable characters.

Story is not everything though
There are plenty of mainstream video gaming titles released each year that could always do with a story/plot clean up, so masters of story creation getting involved in the industry is a good thing.  However, RH will have to remember that there will always be some stories that are far suited to one medium than another.

Related links
Wall Street Journal Article
Random House, US website 

Little Big Planet PSP

The return of Sack Boy
Yes, Sack Boy is back, (even more portable and smaller than before).  A year since the release of the PS3 platformer, SCE Cambridge and Media Molecule have brought forth Sack Boy’s latest adventures, this time on the PSP, with more insanely designed levels and create-and-share-your-own customisation.  So join me, as we delve into what is meant to be the world’s collective imagination.

Stephen Fry
The English language version of the game sees the return of Stephen Fry as the narrator.  Fry guides you through the game, along with a couple of helpful characters on the levels, helping you to learn all that you could possibly want to know about the world of Little Big Planet.  At times you will be very thankful for this guidance, especially the characters that talk to you on the levels, as often they will give you clues that are essential for figuring out how to progress through a level.

Little Big Planet on the PSP does not have the same basic story as its big brother on the PS3.  Instead of the world created from the imaginations of the Creator Curators in peril, the PSP game sees the Creator Curators eager to get to a carnival that is being held in their honour.  Once Sack Boy has proven himself in the Story levels, he is finally invited to the carnival where he has a float along with all the other Creator Curators.  Not that Little Big Planet games are really about the story, no, do not expect anything close to a Shakespearean tragedy here.

Game play
As with the first game, the PSP game sees a great deal of emphasis on players becoming Creator Curators themselves and spending time not just customising Sack Boy, but masterminding and building their own levels based off of the main game’s content.  Level creation may seem like a fun idea when you first hear about it, however when you start up the level creator you are greeted with a mode that is not at as simple to use as you would have hoped.  Even Mr Fry cannot make things easier for you.  It can take longer than a play through of the Story levels to create a single level that is suitable for playing.

There is not much refuge to be found in the Story levels either.  Though the PSP game has vastly improved on issues from the controls and game play of the PS3 game, this being the different paths that you can move Sack Boy onto during levels, the controls still leave a lot to be desired.  Often you’ll find yourself cursing the game, as your best efforts to grab and jump between parts of level environments do not work due to the controls still being quite unresponsive.  Also, just plain old jumping never seems to want to work in the way you want it to, high jumps are often elusive beasts during the course of the game.  Annoyingly the game would even glitch at times, leaving your Sack person stuck on the side of a ledge unable to jump or move left or right, with a reset back to a progress point the only option left to you.

Game length
Controls aside, Little Big Planet on the PSP, is an incredibly short platformer.  It takes less than a day to complete the Story levels, and there is no multiplayer.  This indicates that SCE Cambridge and Media Molecule were hoping that the create-and-share element of the game would keep people going.  In fact, after struggling through the Story levels, the end carnival seems greatly lack lustre due to how much effort is needed to get to the end.

Perhaps the main thing that I find difficult to understand about this game is not the whole create-and-share aspect, but the stereotyping done of different nationalities in the Story levels.  People from the Alps into lederhosen and clocks, people from the Middle East whose interests are only magic carpets and magic lamps, dragons and fireworks in China… it’s as if it was cooked up from a less raunchy version of Jim Davidson’s imagination.
Little Big Planet for the PSP, though maintaining many aspects of the first game, seems rushed and heavily relies on the create-and-share part of the game but this makes the replayability weak.  The only people who will get a great deal from this game are those who can handle the obsessive amount of hours needed to devise and create levels in the level creator.  Those looking for an enjoyable platform should look to the original or elsewhere entirely.

Colourful and interesting graphics
Partly improved controls
Stephen Fry
Helpful in-level characters
Create your own levels…

… Create your own levels
The jump control
Ledge glitching
Short Story

Over all score: 70%
Related links

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Drawn To Life: The Next Chapter DS

Cute but sinister
5th Cell returns to the world of the first Drawn to Life with this sequel.  The original game was well received when it was released in 2007.  Whilst not straying far, if at all, from the game play of the first Drawn to Life, Next Chapter sees the addition of new villages to explore, a new plot and the true identity of a minor character in the first game, and this one, is finally revealed.

Next Chapter revolves around a quest to restore the world to rights when colour disappears from the Raposa village of the first game, many characters disappear into thin air, and as the inhabitants go on to discover colour has left the entire world as well.  Soon the Creator (you) is called upon to send a hero (you) in which to help the Raposa with this most alarming of situations.  Before long, however, the Raposa begin to realise that the threat to their existence is not just as simple as colour disappearing from the world.

Game play
As with the first game, you are given the opportunity to design a character from scratch, or use a complete guide so that you don’t design your own character or use the guide to help you design your own.  Designing aspects of the game is one of the more important aspects to gameplay and happens throughout the game, with parts of the environment given over to you for their design to be finalised.  Unlike in the Wii version that goes by the same name, but is not the same game, the DS version of Next Chapter will have some instances where you have no guide on which to base or use instead of your own imagination when drawing.

Due to the DS and its stylus being nowhere near as unwieldy as using the Wii-mote in the Wii game, designing the hero and other items in the environment is not an endurance exercise.  It is a great deal easier to spend time drawing your own creations, but it may take a great deal of effort to be sure things look as good as you want them to, because you are editing images on nearly a pixel by pixel basis.  Yet the DS version is certainly superior when it comes to designing the hero, as it is simpler to use than the Wii game.  Also, if there is any designs of yours that you are particularly proud of you are able to trade them with others using multi-card play.

Next Chapter is easier to play than similar and recent platformers.  The levels have been designed in such ways that it is extremely difficult to become lost, and routes for progression and how to get there are logical.   There are times, however that the more experienced platform player will find the levels far too easy to complete.  During the course of the game the hero gains access to two morphing abilities that make the navigation of later levels in the game interesting and puzzling in a way that is enjoyable.

The DS version of Next Chapter is almost a completely different experience to the Wii version of the game.  The aesthetics of the game design and the story are far more developed and sophisticated than what Planet Moon Studios did with their Wii based sequel.  Next Chapter on the DS retains the charming style of the original game, but also adds on a level of story that is far more mature than can be found in the offerings of most Mario games and Little Big Planet.  Though at first glance the story to Next Chapter on the DS can seem simple, the ending is far from it and has a level of depth not normally seen in a game marketed towards children.  It is a credit to 5th Cell that though the game is short, it does not feel like this when played, and feels just about the right length, even if you don’t go back to different villages and try to complete them 100%.

Story with depth
Charming design
Is not too long
Follows on logically from the first game
Accessible game play…

… Accessible game play
Dealing with pixels whilst designing

Over all score: 80%

Related links
Official website

Saturday, 6 March 2010


Hopefully, at a cinema near you this weekend
Doing my usual Orange Wednesday thing this week, involved seeing this delightful little gem.  Now for just one moment, ignore that Disney have had a hand in distributing this in the West, okay and getting it dubbed too, and realise that this is a Studio Ghibli film.  You know, that awesome Japanese animation studio that has brought the world such delights as Spirited Away and The Cat Returns.

What's it about?
Set in a small coastal town in Japan, a little boy named Sōsuke finds a goldfish one day whilst out playing near his home.  Sōsuke decides to take care of the goldfish, whom he names Ponyo.  However, Ponyo is not quite what she seems, and soon the very balance of nature itself is thrown out of whack and five year old Sōsuke has to make some very tough decisions.

Who's going to watch this?
Well, any Studio Ghibli fan is probably going to, if they haven't already.  As to joe public, if you want to watch a film that has a storyline that's like the Little Mermaid only way better, because it's the fantastical bought into our mundane world, the you and your kids will probably like it.

Look out...
Okay, I'll admit for those not used to watching Studio Ghibli films that the story can get a little confusing at times, but stay put and hopefully during the course of this film you'll laugh and cry or maybe do both at the same time.  If the story is too much for you, then just admire the spectacularly high quality animation.

Where's it showing?
Well, people who live in my home county can catch it at the Truro Plaza at 12:45pm Saturday 6th March and Sunday 7th March, and it's on over at the Phoenix Cinema in Falmouth daily at 5pm, and 12:30pm and 2:45pm on Saturday and Sunday.

As to all of you outside of Cornwall, I suspect it will be on at your nearest multiplex or indy cinema.

Related links
Official Disney website, with trailer
Wiki Entry