Wednesday, January 31, 2007
When the day finally comes that I find the perfect solution for indexing and categorising my DVD collection I will surely find that the largest percentage of it is taken up with Sci-Fi. On the occasions that I am looking for something to just throw in the DVD player and enjoy it is Sci-Fi that I turn to most often. Like over the weekend when I had time in the flat to myself, always an opportunity to watch something with the volume cranked right up. What better to enjoy at ear drum splitting volumes than a good old fashioned Sci-Fi romp. Why is it then that I am always disappointed? Why is it that I stand and stare, searching the collection for almost an hour, never satisfied with a choice as my eyes hover on any particular title?
As I scan the spines of my collection, as my sight rests on each box, the whole story of that show or movie flits through my mind. Like a flick book going at a thousand frames a second. In that moment I will decide no and move on through the collection. Arriving at the end I will usually start looking at random points on the self, thinking that there must be something that I have missed, that I have forgotten that I own. Some perfect piece of Sci-Fi that will satisfy my desires.
Those desires are for the two things that I want most from Sci-Fi on screen. I would settle, and mostly do have to, for one of those things done well, but I still burn for something that does both perfectly. What is it that I want? I want space opera, involved and emotional character driven plotting, and I want massive and intricate space battles that go on and on.
There's plenty in Sci-Fi, and my collection, that offer one or the other done well, some offer both to near perfect levels, but none of this satisfies me. Star Trek, in all incarnations, is weak on both points (yet it is of my childhood and wonderful in so many ways that I forgive and love it). Some standout episodes come close, especially in the two-parters (Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast spring instantly to mind).
Star Wars, through all its episodes, would in an early, more innocent age, have provided all that I want. But now it all seems too simple, the operatic story to small and the battles to short and without depth. The opening space battle to Episode 3 would be a winner, but the comic stylings of Obi-Wan and Anakin left me caring little for them by that point in the saga.
Battlestar Galactica shows promise, and is fresh in my mind having just watched the latest season 3 episode, but the space battles are too fast cut, to confined to a single aspect, to small conflicts. Can it ever reach the heights that I would like with such a small fleet on one side or will some maguffin always allow for an out for Adama, Thrace and the others.
The list goes on and on. Babylon 5, high on the operatic scale and moments of battle wonder but not enough. Alien/s/3/resurection, great films (each in their own way) but low on the 2 axis that I required. The Fifth Element, some literal opera but little else for me.
To me space opera should involve stories with galaxy spanning impact, fate of the race stuff played out in the relationships of great characters. Near to pure good versus evil stuff. Characters I truly love, characters I truly hate. Heroism that could end in destruction. I want to care, want to sit on the edge of my seat with worry and then leap up in celebration, or collapse with sadness. That's what I want the story to do for me, I want to feel it in my throat.
While the above could be offered by any genre, and is in wonderful ways, my other requirement can only be provided by Sci-Fi. When I talk about "massive and intricate space battles that go on and on" what I want is a scale that is almost unbelievable. I want a whole hour of a space battle, that we have been brought to through the operatic story that I described before. But I don't just want to see explosion after explosion, lasers flashing all over the place. I want every moment of the battle to have meaning. Each bank of a ship, each impact to have resonance to the story. To see the battle from many perspectives, each one that I have cause to want to see. But not the Bay style flash cutting between them, more standard story based editing, moving from one strand of the battle to another in a directed way.
All I ask is for just one film, one episode of a series to embody the perfection of these two things and I will be happy to watch it again and again and again. Never more to complain that there's nothing to put on during those times I want the experience to flow over me. If I could have only one selfish wish this would be it.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Monday, January 29, 2007
I am very happy with my TV collection, the film side of it needs much more work though. When I first started my DVD collection I always used to buy movies in pairs, one modern and one classic, which is a practice I should return to.
Last year was the big push for the TV side of the collection. I was on a project up in Leeds, in a hotel 5 days a week I would get through a complete season of something each week. In that time I got through;
- X-Files (all 9 seasons)
- Lone Gunmen (1 season)
- Harsh Realm (1 season)
- Dawson's Creek (6 seasons)
- Stargate: Atlantis (1 season)
- Dark Angel (2 seasons)
- The 4400 (2 seasons)
- The Dead Zone (2 seasons)
- Lost (1 season)
- Battlestar Galactica (mini-series and 2 seasons)
That was all on top of the weekly DVDs that were burnt on a Sunday of the previous weeks TV recording from Sky+. Looking back it is scary just how much cash I went through on these things, but they kept me going while I was away from home or on long train journeys. It also got me up to date on a lot of the shows that I wanted to collect, especially back catalogue stuff. Now I am mostly waiting for current shows to be released, the only back catalogue stuff I still have to catch up on is Star Trek (currently only half of DS9, some from the previous release of TOS which need to be replaced and no Voyager or Enterprise).
The next sets due to arrive are Stargate: Atlantis season 2 and Dead Zone season 3 on top of the Tremors 1-4 boxed set. Then it's just waiting for current series to roll around to releasing this years seasons. Perhaps the gap will allow me to catch up on some film buying.
How about you and the wonderful world of TV DVD? What are you in the middle of collecting? What are you happy to have completed? What do you want to start collecting?
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Today the National Commemoration for Holocaust Memorial Day is being held in Newcastle. Please take the few moments required to pause and think about the meaning of this. You could take that time to watch the following video (produced by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust), which is in two parts.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
These things are mostly fun for the audience, they are familiar and as such put a wry smile on your face, even when the lines themselves aren't that good. As a writer what you really wouldn't want is someone splicing together lots of them in sequence, thus highlighting how repetitive and stupid they can be.
My heart goes out to the writers of CSI: Miami. The series isn't that great, but no one deserves this. However big props to stewmurray47 for putting this together, very funny. (this requires sound so maybe wait till you get home after work)
Friday, January 26, 2007
When I write a post it is either directly into Blogger's new post editor, for quick posts where I probably won't want to break from writing till I am done, or using Google Docs, for times when I know that I am going to be writing in sections over sometime. This is one of those times where I am writing straight into Blogger.
There have not been many days so far where I am stuck for something to write about. I am always thinking about articles I could do or even better series of articles (inspiration is easier when it's on an established theme). A couple of lunch times a week I will go and sit in Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road with my notebook blocking out things to write about. Other days I will be stuck with nothing to write about until late in the day, or night, when something will pop into my head.
Today there is nothing. I have quite a few articles in note form, lots of ideas and a couple of articles part written. But nothing that I could finish tonight. So instead I offer you this post about how I have nothing to write. Too late to re-read so mistakes a-go-go I am sure.
Time to dream ...
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The series has a fantastic premise, the setup and pilot as a whole was brilliant. Well paced, looking amazing, good characters all around and not too shabby dialog. What more could you ask for.
Well I would have liked a bit more warning before someone springs one of the children of the corn on me, or as they are better known, the sisters Fanning. I didn't even know there was another one.
In case you are not following a word I am talking about, I should explain. You will have seen elder sister Dakota (all of 13), and believe me you will have seen her. She has had more of a film and TV career than many a seasoned pro. She always plays the cute and innocent daughter of the family in trouble, unfortunately she has the manner and facial expressions of someone about 4 times her age. This worked wonderfully in the Steven Spielberg produced Taken, where she was part alien and meant to be like that, but in other things it's just a little creepy.
Well I can now report that younger sister Elle Fanning is exactly the same. Consider yourselves warned should you watch The Lost Room, which you should cause it was ace.
So as not to anger the many square telly owners that have still been out there the BBC has taken many steps to ensure that these people can still enjoy the content that is shown. While everything may be shot in widescreen, camera staff and directors are made very aware of what square telly owners will be able to see and therefore frame the action appropriately.
Terrestrial BBC signals have actually been broadcast in a 14:9 compromise ratio as well, to ease the transition, getting people used to black borders.
On the BBC family of channels this transition to widescreen is most obvious on News24. Aggregating content from many news agencies from around the world, black borders can often be seen down the sides of pre-recorded material showing a compromised, not quite full, zoom. Also, and the point of this post, the constant graphics along the bottom of the screen have been very carefully arranged to meet the needs different viewers.
The graphics have long shown a clock, a BBC News24 ident and scrolling headlines. These have, till yesterday, been carefully positioned so that people with square tellies in 4:3 Zoom mode would not miss anything. This compromise has meant the graphics have not used the full width of the screen and have therefore had to take up more vertical space. The industry standard for such things, amongst all the other 4:3 ratio news channels, is to run the headlines straight across the bottom of the screen leaving as much vertical space as possible. In widescreen vertical space is at a premium.
As of yesterday all this has changed and BBC News24 (during a wider technical switch to online graphics provided by Vizrt technology) has changed to a single strip of graphics and headlines all the way across the bottom of the screen.
I think that this shows a general shift to a complete 16:9 ratio widescreen environment across the BBC. This makes total sense. They have managed the transition to I think this signals the beginning of a strong move to a more pure 16:9 widescreenwidescreen very well, but the time has come to look forward to a High Definition future, no matter that that may be many years off, in which widescreen will be the only ratio available.
While it will be some time still to come, I cannot wait for the day when I do not have to obsessively change the way the TV is shaped or sit and stew when someone else does not have it set right. I am sure many people that know me will be equally as glad.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Reading these sites I dreamed of owning a DVD player, starting a collection. At that point my height of home cinema achievement was to have a Nicam Stereo VCR hooked up to my Hi-Fi (all of which actually lived back in England). To keep myself going in Munich I had bought a new Hi-Fi (radio, twin tape and 3 CD changer) which would also handle Dolby Pro-Logic Surround playback, but without a TV, video or DVD player all I could do was listen to some soundtrack CDs that had surround sound encoded in them.
Living in Munich was wonderful. It is an amazing city. Biko came over a couple of times to visit and had a great time, and I keep saying that one day I would love to take She-Ra there and show him the places I would go to. I made many friends from the people I met out there. One really good friend was Simon. He was in his late 30's (I'm guessing, and I am crap at that so apologies if he ever reads this and I am wrong about it), he worked at the same company I was working at. He'd lived in Munich for years, mostly in a fantastic bachelor pad. He lived in a top floor corner flat just on the river near the Museum and Imax cinema. This corner flat enjoyed a bedroom that was in the top of a corner turret with a wood beamed rafters over it. It was a great flat, but Simon was giving it up to move in with his fiance.
Simon and I would meet a couple of times a day for coffee, mid way between our respective offices. I wasn't busy and his project was on hold for a while as the client was running acceptance tests on the most recent deliverable, so we had the time to kill. Our legendary coffee breaks would last almost an hour (remember there were a couple each day). Obviously during these breaks we would chat about many things, but me being me the conversation would often turn to the DVD players I would like to get, or the DVDs I would like to own. We both love comedy films and talked a lot about Austin Powers 2, which was rumoured to be in the works at that time. It was only while I was in Munich that I first saw Austin Powers on a rental video at a fellow students flat.
Before Simon and his fiance could move into their new place it needed some serious painting and decorating, and the good friend that I am I offered to help. I am not the most practical person in the world, but I can paint a wall. So a few weekends of help later the place was ready to go. I also helped with the move, shifting stuff out of old flats and into the new one. All of this was actually a lot of fun, and Simon was a friend so obviously I didn't mind helping in the least.
About a week after the big move Simon and I were meeting for one of our coffee breaks when he gave me a present. It was a thank you for the help. A really wonderful gesture from most people, but Simon has a little bit of an evil streak in him so things were not all that simple. The gift was a Region 1 import of the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery DVD, and I didn't even own a DVD player! ... yet.
He knew what I would do, I swear to you now that he knew what I would do. I am sure that you know what I did. Of course I did, I knocked off of work at 5:30pm, grabbed a friend and went to Saturn (a large electronics chain in Germany) and bought a TV and my first DVD player. The Panasonic DVD A350. By 6:30pm, after a short cab ride home, I was watching my first DVD, hearing it in Pro-Logic surround.
I was up most of the night, watching the film, the film with commentary and all the special features. What a revelation it all was. In one way I was very lucky, as Austin Powers was one of the best of the early DVDs. While Contact will always claim the crown of the first Special Edition DVD, this wasn't far behind. An excellent screen-specific commentary from director Jay Roach and star/writer Mike Meyers as well as 6 deleted scenes. Not much by today's standards but considering the time absolutely brilliant.
Looking back now it is amusing to note the other special features trumpeted on the cover; Star Highlights (clips from other films the stars have been in), Special cameo menu (audio clips from the film over the "full motion" menu!), trailer and cast biographies (thank God these went the way of the dinosaurs as a claimable special feature). Another downside is the horrible Warner specific "Snapper" case, those cardboard cases with the cover art printed directly onto them so if you damage it in any way there's no replacing the case. Finally I was shocked to discover that all of Christian Slater's scenes had been removed from this copy, later discovering that those scenes had never appeared in any US version (theatrical or home release).
So that was the story of my first DVD, something I always think about when I see it on the shelf. To me now the New Line musical stab that they only sometimes use before films will always simply make me think of DVD in general (something ingrained in me partly because my second DVD also had it at the start). Austin Powers is a fun film, it always makes me laugh, and while many would not consider it a stand out film, to me it is a stand out DVD in my collection simply because it was the first. There are many more standouts in my collection, each with their own (personal to me) story behind them and I hope to tell you about some of them soon. In the meantime please tell me about the story, or not, behind your first DVD.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
In between naps I have taken advantage of Sky Box Office and caught up on some films that I missing in the cinema. Yesterday I watched The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (so should have been called Three Fast, Three Furious), which was crap (although that is my favorite genre of films). Great cameo towards the end, and strange to see the creepy kid from American Gothic all growed up. He's still got that annoying drawl though.
Also yesterday finally saw X-Men 3. Enjoyable, but like all the X-Men films I found it left me expecting more. Not a disappointment, but still not quite what I hoped for. Seems to be the way with all of the superhero films of the past few years. I really enjoyed the new Batman, but looking back still felt there was something that stopped it from being a great superhero film. Even more so with Superman Returns and let's not even start talking about Hellboy!
Yesterday I also caught the latest Transformers trailer, as recommended to me by She-Ra and Biko. Looking very good, and so glad to see that they have got the original voice of Optimus Prime back again, who was also the voice of K.A.R.R. (K.I.T.T.'s evil predecessor, see here) obviously of great excitement to me as according to certain friends I look like Michael Knight's evil twin.
Today was much better film watching, with Inside Man. I love a good heist film and this was a very good one. Despite some very heavy handed comments on race-relations, to be expected from Spike Lee, I really enjoyed it. Well worth a watch if you have not had the chance. It was one of those films that really made me wish I had the DVD so I could see more about it.
One of the other things that I did while I wasn't feeling too well was play Sky's CTU Agent online game. A link to the site and a passcode was displayed at the end of a 24 trailer on Sky One. When you get to the site you enter your name and mobile number and the you are logged into the CTU mainframe. On there is the usual fluff (download the ringtone, look at profiles of the bad guys from previous seasons). Then out of the blue you get a phone call, and a scrambled voice tells you to stay alert, expect orders from Jack and watch your back. Cool. Then come a series of text messages sending you to other sites in the web and codes to get into them, until finally you crack into the Chinese Embassy site where you get to watch the 8 minute preview for Day 6.
Okay, it was all a bit hokey, but it held together well and was a very welcome diversion for someone not feeling very well.
Thanks again for putting up with my absence, especially to those who added to the things to watch post.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
- 24 (starts on Sunday on Sky One @ 9pm with a double bill, in fact double bill for 3 weeks)
- Prison Break (Mondays on five @ 10pm)
- Battlestar Galactica (Tuesdays on Sky One @ 9pm)
- e.r. (Thursdays on E4 @ 9pm)
- Greys Anatomy (Thursdays on LivingTV @ 10pm)
- Heroes (starting Saturday 19th Feb on Sci-Fi @ 10pm)
- Ugly Betty (Fridays on Channel 4 @ 9:30pm)
- The OC (final season on Tuesdays on E4 at 9pm)
- Shameless (Tuesdays on Channel 4 @ 10pm)
Tupper's Self-Referential Formula -- from Wolfram MathWorld
Sorry for the lack of updates, but I have been off work (all forms) due to not feeling well, but this link couldn't wait. Will be back as soon as I feel better.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Looking back on that period it was definitely more of a move "from Microsoft" than towards anything specific at first, and I had long held reservations about Apple and their OS, actually OS 9 and before. The ideals of Open Source attracted me, but in the end the pain of managing my computer more than using it just proved too much, and through all my learning of Linux I kept coming across people saying wonderful things about Apple.
In June of 2005 I caved, and on a bit of a whim one evening after work I went to the Apple Store in Regents Street and plunked down the cash. Not too much though, this was an exercise in toe dipping after all. So I went for the most basic, and therefore cheap, model I could. The 12" iBook, with no extras.
In some ways it was the perfect decision. It is still the only laptop I have ever owned (not counting the one my current work make me lug around), and being the 12" model it is suitably tiny. It now sits in the lounge, somewhere near the sofa, in sleep mode so that when I want to get online I simply reach down to grab it and flip open the lid. Immediately it wakes up and connects to the wireless network and is ready to go, something that I still find fascinating coming from the sleep-mode-hobbled Windows world.
The one thing that I would have done differently, given the chance, would have been to add a little more memory when getting it. 256MB is simply not enough for me, too many apps open at any one time. But now it never quite seems worth adding more because this machine should be relegated to simple browsing once I finally get a new iMac.
Ah yes, the iMac. As you can see I am now completely sold on Apple Macs. Toes have been sufficiently dipped and the waters found to be lovely. Much as I would like to own a super-duper Mac Pro with 32" CinemaHD monitors there is no way I could ever afford such a luxury. For a time this was the cause of some dilemma for me as the original Intel iMac just did not seem like enough. Dutifully Apple read my mind and released the wonderful 24" iMac which nicely occupies the middle ground between the base iMacs and the Mac Pro machines. My purchase is now only on hold for bonus time, the inclusion of Leopard and any possible announcements of new hardware in the coming weeks/months.
My conversion is very much complete, I know this because I find myself being a Mac evangelist to everyone who engages me in any form of computer related discussion, much to the annoyance of my co-workers. This did not start as a conscious thing either, I just found myself espousing the wonders of Mac again and again. Not the rabid, foaming at the mouth faithful, sort of rant that some people do, just simply recounting anecdotes of how much easier my dealings are with my Mac above any PC I have ever owned (and there have been quite a few).
I think part of this sense of a need to convert others comes from being in a minority. The innate understanding in the human mind, the animal instinct, that safety comes from numbers and that by converting more people to Macs we will ensure that they continue. That more users means more and better software that again pushes the hardware that again attracts more users. It is exciting to be involved in something near the start of this virtuous circle. At least I hope that is where we are at.
Looking back it is hard to believe that it has only been 18 months. In that time I can say I have only begun to appreciate the change. There are far more changes to come for my relationship with Macs. I am already behind the curve (in fact two curves) by having a G4 powered Mac. The move to an Intel powered iMac will be a major change in power, performance and therefore experience. By the time I do get an iMac it will probably be delivered with, or shortly have loaded on it, OS X Leopard, a change I cannot yet fully comprehend given how little we know about it. All in all I think the next 18 months will be even more exciting and fun. I will, of course, keep you well informed.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
If you have spent anytime in pubs in London you will have heard the above. Sitting there quietly enjoying drinks with friends when all of a sudden someone, mostly a guy, will sidled up to the table, being careful not to be spotted by the landlord, and shove a perfectly fanned set of plastic wrapped, photocopy covered crap in your face.
Yesterday, while on my way to poker night I got off the Central Line at Liverpool Street and went above ground. Not the correct stop for a direct route to Archway, but I required lots of change to make cashing out at the end of the night easier (we're not big spenders). As I rose up on the escalator I spotted in front of me not one, but three of these purveyors of illicit unreleased cinema. This is a most unusual sighting as, like the Olsen Twins of late, you rarely see more than one at once.
I knew who they were, or more importantly what they did, because of two things. Firstly having worked in the area, and therefore drank in the area, for many years I recognised one of them. The other give away was their bags of booty, bursting at the seams.
Right then and there I should have launched into a tirade on the wrongness of their royalty stealing ways, but I couldn't. I was far too distracted by their clothes. Do not fear dear reader, I had not come over all Trinny and Susannah. No, it was the fact that they were in a uniform!
All three of them wore the same hats, same jackets and the same Baurer bags full of illegal DVDs. I would not have been surprised to see a company logo stitched into the back of the Jackets, perhaps a skull and cross-bones with "We ripping you off longtime" underneath it.
Maybe they have a union? Could we one day face the Greater London pirate DVD seller strike? Here's hoping.
p.s. I did quite well at poker coming home £13.50 up on the night. All is well that ends well.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Because of poker night tonight there won't be anymore posts, I just thought I would catch up quickly. As ever if you want something good to read don't forget to checkout the "Latest Good Reads ..." further down the page.
Friday, January 12, 2007
I am having a lot of fun reading through my old website, it's bringing back a lot of things I had forgotten. For example at one point I was getting a couple of thousand hits a day and had moved the site to be part of QuestGate (a family of games related websites). Still more Re-posts to come, but for now enjoy how we once thought 200 players in one game would be amazing!
200 Player Levels..How Close Are We?
"How many Quake players does it take to change a virtual lightbulb...........how many can you get in the room?"
The word went around a few weeks ago that because of the way QuakeWorld is coded it is theoretically possible to have up to and above 200 players on a level. This happens because it is the server that takes the network traffic hit. So to support this you would need a massive SMP server with truck loads or RAM and at least one T1 connection to the internet.
Currently there are many limitations that prevent this from being done, firstly the client graphics engine could never cop with that. We've all seen even GLQuakeWorld chug along at busy times. Secondly the required size of level cannot be supported.
Even though it won't happen soon, this news prompted great debate in the online gaming community. Some thought the idea was great, others thought it was terrible. However, following in the great tradition of previous online debates, the majority realised the current impracticalities and debated the maximum current size and future developments.
Serial-Cable Killers to Serial Killers.
Multiplayer games have evolved very quickly during the 90's. Previous to this home gamers had to use serial cables and play two payer games. The lucky ones had access to LAN technologies, but these could take hours to setup, and then there were few games that supported them.
The first popular LAN enabled games were in the EBS (Electronic Battlefield System) series of Falcon 3/Mig 29/Hornet. The other big proponent of networks, some may say visionary, was Peter Molyneux and his company Bullfrog. Syndicat:American Revolt (the first of the Syndicate series to be networked) was an immediate success. Not because of its expansion of the levels available, these were handled badly, the learning curve being too steep, no it was the addition of network play that sold this pack.
While all this was going on with the hardcore gamers, one company was about to take networks to the masses. Id gave the world Doom in 1993 and immediately offices around the world had their networks besieged by games of Doom. While slow to react, the rest of the industry soon caught on and a slew of LAN games followed, arguably the best being Rise Of The Triad which was designed around the idea of office games, there was even a site license version!
Network games had truly moved from the Saturday serial game to the out of hours office tournaments.
Go 4th and Multiply.
Doom and its impersonators gave the world 4 player games, Syndicate:American Revolt increased this to 8 player games but beyond that there was nothing. This wasn't surprising. The network code in Doom had made even these small games seem as if they were eating bandwidth and you were unlikely to find more than 8 players at once in most buildings.
Then iDoom was released, this allowed Doom to be played over the internet, again it terrible network code meant that the minimum access was ISDN, but it did start the ball rolling.
With the internet as a forum for arranging and playing games it was no problem finding 3 like minded people. The problem now became that of frustration at only being allowed 4 players.
Id came to the rescue again, rumours of 8 player plus games being played with their soon to be release 'Quake' engine were ripe. Then in a surprise move Id released 'Qtest', a demo of just the network code, to test the internet play. Players the world over went mad for it. Not only did it allow up to 16 player but it provided a dedicated server which reduced latency and improved it interaction with other network resources.
Immediately clans were formed, 24 hours a day servers went up and using the innovative QuakeC new styles of play were added, including the now infamous Capture The Flag (CTF). The population of the world of online games "praised be" to John Carmack, he'd shown them the way forward. But many forgot that this was a man for whom a completed game held no interest at all. While gamers enjoyed the freed of 16 player games he worked on the next generation.
the proliferation of internet Quake games again spurred the industry on. Many, at first, forcing their current projects to accept internet play, a mistake that would see many fine games fall at the wayside. other companies promised all and delivered little.
Many people rested there hopes on the first bastion of network play, Peter Molyneux and on his rumoured tour de force game 'Dungeon Keeper'. Rumours had promised a game that would allow constant play in player created dungeons, a system that would learn your style of play and keep your dungeon for you when you weren't there. First one, then many slips, caused by his decision to leave Bullfrog after the takeover by Electronic Arts, forced this game to be held. When it was released mid 1997 it was acclaimed from all around, even without some of the advance AI functions promised.
While others worked, Lucasarts missing the boat completely with Dark Forces and then producing lackluster play and performance with X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter, John Carmack had a pet project. He called it 'QuakeWorld'.
QuakeWorld changed and added to the original. It was multiplayer only and required a dedicated server, but promised lower latency and improved facilities for arranging games.
When used QuakeWorld allowed automatic downloading of skins, patches and levels. Interfaces were provided to allow game info such as max and current player numbers, levels being played etc to be viewed with out the need to join. This was to be use by 'QuakeSpy', a program that checked against a list of servers and offered a simple graphical way to join games.
However, it was the innovative predictive routines that made QuakeWorld so good. With one command, 'pushlatency', a player could invoke a client side system that predicted what was happening at times when the network information was delayed. With this system 32 players, with decently low latency, could play in one arena.
So back to where we started. Currently the online gaming community waits with baited breath for the release of Quake II. We know that the network code itself is better than the original bit it seemed for a while as though, in the retail version at least, there might not be any of the QuakeWorld predictive routines. Now John Carmack has told us that they fit into the new code nicely.
With new network code, predictive routines, a better rendering engine and larger levels the future for mass online game of Quake looks good.
However, we must not forget what I said about John Carmack earlier. A finished product means little to him, so what's he working on now?
The Holy 'Trinity'.
Id's next game engine is codenamed 'Trinity' and is generations ahead of the Quake II engine in all respects. On the graphics side we will see an engine that can only be played on accelerated systems, but it is the network play that we are interested in. The news about this is sketchy, and untrustworthy. Rumours say that levels will not only span into each other as can be seen to some degree in Quake II (follow the view of the big gun as you progress) but also into other server. This would allow you to look out over levels on other servers from the level you are on. Finally, we will see players running around holding the weapons they're using as opposed to a generic gun, thus allowing you to play different tactics.
Another change to remember will be how all of this is interfaced to the user. We now have GameSpy, which is a version of QuakeSpy that is expandable to deal with all Quake engine games. How will this system work with servers that interact with each other? Data feedback in to live web pages will also enhance tournaments and clan play. How about a Java applet in a web page that provides a lurkers view of a running match before entering.
One thing is for certain, the future of network gaming looks good. Now id only Lucasarts would release a dedicated server for X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter, with a drop in, drop out deathmatch mode!
Week Begining: 29/12/97Thur 1st January:
Charlie Wiederhold on all things deathmatch:
I sent Charlie Wiederhold, games designer at Ritual Entertainment, two e-mails on the 16th and 20th of December, last year now, and tonight I recieved his replies. Ritual are currently working on the Quake II engine game SiN which is set in the year 2097 and at last is a game that features a female lead villan. She is the brillian biochemist that is the source of the drug U4 that the players HARDCORPS law enforcement agency, privatised of course, is trying to stop. Not only is this vile, but probably beautiful, woman releasing this drug but she also plans use it to force evolutionary changes to the human race, why I don't know but she does. Well that's enough plot, onto what Charlie has to say;
I wanted Charlie's opinions on some of the key elements that are/will be shaping deathmatch play in the near future, firstly I wanted to know how he felt about the current trend to have more and more players in one arena.
> I agree that we are some way off having the infrastructure in the community
> for regular 100+ player games, but do you think that moves towards larger
> arenas is a good thing? Would you still prefer to play a select few
> individuals in a confined level?
"I definately think that playing a selected few will always be the
most popular way to play. However, I think there is always a place
for large amounts of people. It's like a bunch of kids going to the
park to play football or baseball. You may have way to many people to
play a real game... but you make two teams and everyone plays and has
a good time. I definately like the idea of eventually watching large
scale *virtual* battles. Like with a complete command structure and
everything. Talk about a simulation that could be a lot of fun.
Unfortunately we are a loooong way of from something like that really
So how will these "large scale *virtual* battles" be acomplished in level designing terms? I asked Charlie about his recent comments on designing these big arenas.
> I read your .plans including the ideas about having large
> vertical maps and shutting off lifts or wide ones and shutting down
> teleporters. These would make 100+ player levels feasible but what do you
> think could make them "great" to play in.?
"Well, it is more of just losing some of the creative aspect. If you
are forced to make sections and then have looong elevators you are
bound to that design concept. I don't like that and don't really like
it as an option. It wouldn't affect play too much except for the fact
that the map would be in definate "chunks"."
> Both the 32 player project and the CTF expansion project created some nice
> 32 player levels but these took a long time to tweak until the played well
> with that many players. How long would it take to create and then tweak a
> 100+ player map?
"I really couldn't say... since there hasn't been one done yet. But
the logical guess is at least a bit longer than the 32 player maps."
Finally a subject which I seem to be fascinated by at the moment, for some unknown reason, and that is Game Logging. I asked Charlie about the recently proposed standard for DeathMatch logging.
> An additional question to the last lot I sent you (sory to bother you
> again), but are you planning to support Fritz's (the author of GibStats)
> Logging Standard Proposal?
I'd like to say thank you to Charlie for taking the time out to reply to my questions, I know what a bad time coming back off holiday and trying to get back to work can be without someone firing questions at you.
"I have no idea, that is something that would most likely have to be
decided when we start pulling all of the deathmatch elements
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Firstly, thanks to Tom and She-Ra for their comments on my recent post Playing with time ... They added a lot to the conversation so please go an check out their thoughts.
Next I just wanted to give you a heads up on what to expect over the next couple of weeks. I am working on some more TV related articles, however I need to make it clear that I will be making very clear any posts that may contain spoilers. Not just saying that the post may contain spoilers, but also trying to quantify that, for example "May contain spoilers relating to seasons 1 through 4".
There are some more re-posts coming, as and when I resurrect them (hint, there's one to be posted right after this). I have also got a series of articles planned about the modern web, designed for the less technical minded of us.
Personally, right this second I am writing this post while re-watching the first episode of Stargate Atlantis on DVD, season 2 due out soon. Most of the work on Scorched Tortoise was done infront of the complete Battlestar Galactica in preparation for last Tuesday's opening to season 3 on Sky One.
This weekend She-Ra, myself and the rest of the guys are getting together for our occasionally monthly poker game. So expect tales of how I lost my shirt, early next week. Till tomorrow ...
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
When I first restarted blogging over the holidays I said that I wanted to re-post some articles from my previous online lives. Unfortunately a lot of that material had disappeared into the ether that is the net. However, thanks to some wonderfully simple technology some of it is back from the dead.
The following article is a first impression of a beta of Windows 98. It was written sometime in late 1997 for a website I used to run called Network Gaming Site (or NGS for short). Most of you will not bother to read it, but if you do you should particularly enjoy reminiscing about a much easier period in our technology history, where even the most simple innovations were enough to be exited about.
Morden and Co V's Win98 build 4.10.1666
Written by Matt Large (sometime in 1997)
"NOTE: After Microsoft Windows 98 is released, users will be able to purchase new PCs with Windows 98
already installed and will most likely never need to run the Setup program"
extract from Introducing Windows98 by Russell Borland
I know what I thought when this build on Windows 98 landed on my desk, and it went along the lines of "any Microsoft Beta which has "666" in the title isn't going anywhere near my computer!". My worries were not alleviated any when Richter did a fresh install of it and found that Quake II and many other games refused to play. The problem was never tracked down but he believes that it was something to do with an incompatible DirectX 5.0, interesting as I'm quite happily running Quake II and all my other games.....Oh I've gone and given away the surprise, okay I did give it ago in the end.
It was a Setup!
Here is the first, and one of the biggest shocks about Windows 98, a major feature enhancement that Microsoft are not throwing in our faces with their marketing for the product. It has a GOOD, nay GREAT Setup program. I thought Win95 was good when it managed to leverage a graphical interface on to the system in the first minute but this, wow. I've now had the joy of sitting though a Win98 install three times, well not exactly sitting through it as this is truly hands free. Once you've created the Emergency Disk and hit the "Okay to start installing Windows98" button you can safely go away. If you come back 40-50 minutes later, and all has gone well you will be looking at the Windows 98 desktop, all ready to work with. Setup will now do all the rebooting required, it was quite a shock to have my back turned and hear my PC reboot itself in the middle of an OS install! Not only this but it also give you quite a good estimate of the time remaining in minutes, however for old times sake someone has ensured that the last block of the status bar takes 20 minutes but at least you now know.
Taking in to account what had happened to Richter after attempting to do fresh installs on both of his computers I decided to try installing over the top of an existing copy. The first machine I tried it on was my server, currently a Cyrix P133+ with 16Mb and 420Mb and 540Mb drives in it. The OS I was installing over was one of the many and unfathomably different versions of Win95 OSR2 (apparently there are something like 5 different versions a-e). During this first attempt everything went well until the final reboot that should have finished the install, when Win98 finished loading (including the desktop) a little dialogue came up informing me that I had a corrupted registry and that I should reboot so that registry checker could remedy the situation. 5 reboots later I came to the conclusion that registry checker was making no attempt at all to remedy anything! So that machine came down to a fresh install which went without a hitch, and so it should with very little in the way of hardware and nothing fancy in the graphics department (I need all the speed I can get out of it for the Quake I/II server!). To be totally fair this wasn't really Win98's fault, it wasn't until I was discussing it the next day with QuakeGod that I realised how many OS's and hardware changes that computer had been through without a fresh install. I bought the computer in late 1994, when it was a 486DX2 66 with 8Mb RAM and a 420 Mb hard disk, since then the C: drive hasn't changed but it is now the spec I mentioned earlier, also the OS has gone from MS DOS 6.22/Win 3.1 to Win 3.11, then through 3 different Beta builds of Win95 to the final release and then OSR2 without a fresh install. That;s 7 OS's, no wonder it had a corrupted registry!
With that machine up and running fine, including the games that had given Richter problems I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind and update my main machine as well.
One small step for a man...
Again I tried to install over the top of Win95 OSR2, this time the hardware spec was a K6 200 (running at 210MHz and I don't know why) with 64Mb RAM and 1.2Gb and 3.2 Gb Quantum Fireball hard drives. Also installed on this machine are a Matrox Millenium II (only the 4Mb version), an Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card, it also has an HP DeskJet 310 and a U.S. Robotics Sportster Voice 33.6 FaxModem hanging off of it. The install went fine, I didn't touch it after starting the final phase, it required one extra reboot while working through the PnP detection of all my hardware but after that it was fine. All of my previous settings were picked up, even those from IE4 which I had inadvertently left on even though Microsoft's instruction plainly say to take it off before installing so it'll probably fall over irrecoverably in the next few weeks complaining of the wrong Explorer version.
The first thing that is done after the install is complete is a window that pops up and informs you that Windows98 is now attempting to speed up the launch times of your applications. This is one of those features that sounds so good and says it has done its job only for you to not actually notice any difference in performance, however this time I did...but only to my Microsoft apps. All the Office 97 components now load faster, and I'm almost sure Frontpage98 loads faster but aside from that it all seems pretty much the same.
Yay or Nay...Votes please.
So why should you get Win98? Well aside from that fact that it's the latest version of Microsoft's flagship OS, and you know how much support the give, or rather don't give, to none current OS's, a lot of work has been done since Win95 came on the scene back in August of 1995. If you ask most home users they will state that as the date of the dawning of the 32-bit age, however most power users will happily point out that Window NT has been around for a lot longer, and some very strange people will point out the 32-bit OS's that out date even that, some will even go on to say that we can't forget OS/2 (much as we may try!). The Win32 system has therefore been developing at an increasingly fast rate for many many years, the launch of Win95 added the push of general comsumerisation of Win32. The need to move to 32-bit computing is not only that of the consumers but also that of the soft/hardware companies who need that extra functionality to continue to improve products.
So were does this leave us today? Frankly we're in a strange situation, according to Microsoft's predictions back in 1995/96 by now we should all be sitting back in front of Cairo, or even its successor, having gone through the Windows96 patch and with Windows97 having been the last in the Win9x family. Cairo, for those that don't know should have been the successor to Windows NT 3.51, it was to have included the Directory Service, new User Interface and many of the enhancements that have since been released with the stop gap NT 4.0 or as Beta trials in their own right. Development on Cairo went seriously wrong somewhere along the way and Microsoft was forced to change tack. A large part of the problem was that all their original prediction were born out of the idea of a world that wanted to be connected, just not through the outdated medium of the Internet, when they realise that the Internet was the way forward Microsoft also found that they had lost any advantage they had in the lucrative server and high end workstation market that NT was aimed at. They needed to corner this market and did so through NT 4.0. With this product, that was stable by their usual standards, due to the fact that the base product wasn't that far from NT 3.51, came many Internet technologies, it wasn't the expected Cairo launch but it did allow Microsoft some breathing space while they reevaluated their plans. The new, and still current plan is to unify the Win95/WinNT products after the next generation, i.e. Win98 and WinNT 5.0. NT then is the future of computing, so why not go today? Well going to NT 4.0 is not the best plan, you can't upgrade directly to it and it lacks two very important components. Plug And Play for the desktop users and Power Management for the laptop users, this is why this product was never aimed at anything but the corporate desktop environment, but NT 5.0 is a different matter entirely.
I will undoubtedly go to Win98 just so I know it well from a professional point of view, I am planning to stick with the Beta versions from now on, but it will only stay for as long as I have to wait for NT 5.0. As for others going to Win98 I'd say yes to the casual home user/games player, they should hold on to the Win9x platform until the stable WDM (Win98/NT5.0 compatible) drivers are available for all their hardware as well as a stable version of DirectX 5.0/6.0 on NT. For those of you who, like myself, tend to live on the Bleeding Edge of computing just for the sake of having a kick ass computer, be it for games or Excel recalculations, then I'd say no, hold of until the release of NT 5.0.
What's in the box.
For a quick list of the new features of Windows98 I'll hand over to the Introducing Windows98 book (available from who else but the Microsoft Press!).
- Win 32 Driver Model Not too useful now but new hardware is bound to need it by early 1999.
- FAT32 support Get OSR2.
- FAT32 Conversion Utility One way only, better option is to get Partition Magic 3.0.
- Power Management Improvements Only if you have a TX or better motherboard.
- Multiple Display Support Fun but not too useful.
- Support for a New Generation of Hardware How many USB or Firewire hardware do you have, wait for NT 5.0.
- Integrated Internet Shell (baring the federal courts!) Get IE4.
- Windows Scripting Host Nice if you can program scripting languages such as VBScript and JScript.
- Display Setting Enhancements Nothing great, you can dynamically change colour depth, supported in OSR2 (I think!).
- Setup Enhancements Read the main article for news on the excellent Setup.
- Start Menu Organizer Wizard Not tried it yet, can't see it being to great though.
- Internet Connection Wizard Get through download, OSR2 or Plus!.
- Built-In Support for Microsoft Intellimouse There are many Share/Freeware programs to do this.
- Dial-Up Networking Improvements (including Multilink Channel Aggregation) If you've not got, or getting ISDN don't worry.
- Disk Defragmenter Optimization Wizard Get Norton Utilities 3.0, much better (but don't install with the patch!).
- Windows Tune Up Wizard
- Built-In Support for Infrared Data Association 3.0 Get through download.
- Online Services Folder If your reading this you're probably settled on one ISP so don't worry.
- Client Support for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol In OSR2.
- Remote Access Server
- PCMCIA Enhancements All PCMCIA support extras are well worth it for anyone with a laptop.
- Support for PC Card32 (CardBus)
- Support for PC Cards that operate at 3.3 volts
- Support for Multifunction PC Cards
- ActiveMovie Get OSR2.
- Support for Intel MMX Processors
- Distributed Component Object Model
- Client Support for NetWare Directory Services Get through download.
- 32-bit Data Link Control
- Internet System Update Wouldn't let this do its stuff on my PC anyway!
- System File Checker Useful, but I expect it will be downloadable soon.
- Microsoft System Information Utility Been around for years, not too sure I'd label it a feature?
- New Dr. Watson Utility Annoying but useful.
- New Backup Utility If you backup anyway you'll have found a better solution by now.
- Automatic ScanDisk After Improper Shutdown Get OSR2, although this goes right through and continues loading rather than pausing before or after.
- Advanced Internet Browsing Functionality Get IE4.
- Suit of Tools for Internet Communication Get IE4.
- Personalized Internet Information Delivery Get IE4.
Life with Win98.
So far, three weeks, life has been fine. I've had a few unexpected crashes, but then this is Beta code. Not only has this coped with many games but also my continued University work. The programs I tend to write for University bring down computers at the best of times, Win98 seems to be coping. All the following software has worked fine:
- Office 97 (all the modules in the Professional edition).
- FrontPage 98.
- Borland C++ 5.02.
- Visual Basic 4.0.
- Smalltalk Express.
- Paint Shop Pro 4.14.
- Quake II.
- Age Of Empires.
- Atomic Bomberman.
- Dark Reign.
- Grand Theft Auto (3DFX version).
- Jedi Knight.
- Red Alert.
- Shadows Of The Empire.
- Moto Racer (Polygons Version).
- Tomb Raider 2.
- Plane Crazy Demo.
I've not been able to test X-Wing V's Tie Fighter as it crashes, but then it was doing that before I installed Win98! Note where applicable games tested with Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
In my recent thinking about TV I have been looking forward to the upcoming new seasons of my favorite shows (mostly US dramas, they will only be starting the new seasons in the UK in Jan/Feb). While people that know me will be the first to say that I have eclectic tastes (or no taste at times) the shows I enjoy mostly do tend to be the big hits; Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 24 etc, so these are the shows I have been thinking about.
I began wondering why these show are hits? What makes a hit in this age? What do these shows, if anything, have in common? Granted that hits will differ, and be created, in part because of the audience that they are aimed at, but is there something else that we can see. I came up with one thing that many of the current (in the last 5 years) hit shows have in common. They break the previously held TV conventions of time.
Until these recent changes most television shows held to the following formula;
Show -> Show = ~1 week
While flexibility was enjoyed, especially in season breaks where cliff hangers would bring people back for more the next season, the rule mostly held. A season in the real world was a year in telly world. Look back to Star Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyager etc), e.r., Buffy, NYPD Blue etc. These shows followed the natural procession of time. A useful by-product of this was the ability to time seasonal episodes, for example the once ubiquitous Christmas show.
The modern hits that we are now watching tend to forgo such a strict chronological strategy. Instead they see telly time as something much more pliable which is giving them different ways of telling stories. I suppose that it is slightly ironic that the genres this is most experienced in are action/sci-fi, ironic because this change allows for far more character study something not traditionally associated to these genres (although that's a very debatable point).
Let's look at the shows where this is most obvious;
The show that started it all, the one that once successful allowed many more shows to break the rules (or imitate depending on your perspective). The main structure of the show is the obvious break with convention, each show representing 1 hour in a single day in Jack Bauer's life, but more interesting is the variable gap between seasons. There was much debate around what would happen at the start of season 2, would it be the next day, week, month or year? In fact 18 months had past, 3 years in the next season break, then 18 months again, 18 months and now 20 months.
These large gaps between seasons have been essential to the continued success of the show, they allow the character's lives to move on, to give enough new back-story, that the audience is unaware, of that can be filtered in throughout the next season.
A story of the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island, only 73 days of telly time had past by the time the show had reached episode 6 of season 3! Standard rules of chronology have also been thrown out of the window by each episode showing both the story on the island in current time and also flashbacks to a specific characters back story. These flashbacks move around the time-line of the characters lives, sometimes never giving a definitive point in time as a reference.
By spreading out the show chronology and the massive use of flashbacks the writers have been able to delve in-depth into all of their characters which provides one of the main draws to the show for the audience. This structure is also a nice way of confusing the viewer, drawing them into the show and getting around the problem of Hurley's lack of weight loss.
Like Lost, but without the flashbacks, Battlestar Galactica spent the miniseries beginning and first two seasons focused in on the attempted destruction of mankind and the immediate aftermath, only reaching 9 months of story time before the end of season 2. Then jumping a year into the future this show has proved that it knows how to leverage the time-line where appropriate. No where is this performed more wonderfully than the opening to season 1, "33", where you almost feel the crew's exhaustion.
One of the newest shows on the block (no pun intended, honestly) Prison Break's first season covers only 2 months of show time, season 2 starting only 8 hours later. Again this break with convention, or by now adherence to the new convention, allows the show to delve deeper into the characters and show situations in more detail. In Prison Break the format, because the show moves on quite slowly, adds to the feeling of incarceration thus drawing the viewer into the lives the characters even further.
So why has this shift occurred? It became more prevalent in the movies long before 24 first aired, for example Pulp Fiction, Memento, Ground Hog Day. These films amongst others showed that non-linear story telling could open doors for writers that were not there before, freeing them from constraints that may have been placed on them using more traditional story telling techniques. More importantly these films showed that audiences would follow and appreciate these stories.
This lack of convention for time is not required for a show to be successful, many hit shows still follow the show=week, season=year format. In fact for some shows it is essential. The West Wing would not have been anywhere near as compelling if it had not followed a term and a half of one president in almost real-time. School/college related shows almost religiously follow this format (Buffy, Dawson's Creek, Smallville, Veronica Mars), this is an output of the audience they are targeting who's lives are currently following the same format.
Does changing the conventions of time in TV shows draw the viewer into the show more than the previously thought season=year, show=week format would? If anything, when a show is broadcast on a week by week basis such a change could frustrate viewers more than anything else. So what has changed? DVD.
More and more people are experiencing TV shows only on DVD, and if they are watching them on TV first they have in the back of their mind the decision over whether or not they will be buying it on DVD later. A compressed time-line is something that DVD viewers appreciate, and it does certainly draw people in on such a format.
Just a few weeks ago my friends and I completed our 5th annual 24x24, watching a whole season of 24 in real-time. Out of the 5 of us I was the only person to have seen the show on TV. While this extreme experience may be in the minority, watching whole seasons, or shows, for the first time on DVD certainly is not. Viewing habits are changing and most importantly people are hungry to experience shows on their own terms.
Is this all an example of the format of the times dictating the structure of the shows? If so what could we expect from the formats of the future?
Monday, January 08, 2007
Saturday night was spent in the company of good friends, eating in a restaurant specialising in Georgian food, celebrating a birthday.
I did spend a lot of yesterday working on Scorched Tortoise but didn't quite get to where I need to be. More work Monday night.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Over the past couple of years I've not had a focus. Life has been seemingly going well so I have become a little lazy on this front. But life being life things did change anyway. I left my previous job, an act that was way bigger than even I fully appreciated. I loved that job, even with it's frustrations. My new job is good in many ways, but it's just a job. I don't have a passion for it like I did for the last one.
This job is only the second one I have had since leaving University, which means that I have not had a job that I am not passionate about before. The first year has been interesting in many ways, moving from a small tight-knit company to a large, geographically spread one. Learning new skills, meeting new people has kept me interested. But now I find that one year in it's all become a little regular.
So what am I to do? Many people work in jobs that they are not passionate about. They find their passions elsewhere, they "work to live, not live to work". That's a very sensible way to look at things, getting the work/life balance right. Maybe I'm just not sensible, but I want to be passionate about the work that I do, I enjoyed life that way. So I say again, what am I to do? Both in the immediate future and beyond.
That brings us neatly back to 2007. To be able to decide on a focus for the year, I would need to know what I want to change, where I want to go from here and I just don't have those answers. Yet.
But then perhaps that's the focus I should take. Work out what I want to do and how I'm going to get there. Could be quite a challenge.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Still, the whole day was made considerably better by rolling a 159 (one of my highest scores) and winning a game just a few hours ago. My friends and I have been going bowling regularly for several years, which as you can see from my proud score has not had a "practice makes perfect" effect on my skills.
Speaking of my friends I should make a mention of She-Ra who has started blogging again after a break. He's a man on a mission, check out his blog for more details.
I have a long post almost ready to go, just have some behind the scenes work to do on the site before I can get it out there for you to read. Should be sometime tomorrow night. In the mean time don't forget to check out the "Latest Good Reads ..." link on the right. It's a constantly updated list of links to interesting articles I have found online.
Time for some sleep now in preparation for work day number 2 of 2007 ... it has to get better soon.