Archive for October, 2009

Gadgets – The Scarlet and Playing the Long Game

October 31, 2009

Panasonic should write Jim Jannard a nice thank-you letter: they just got a Lumix sale from me due to the Scarlet delays.

I’m still buying a Scarlet, just later than I need a new camera, so…yeah. At least with the Lumix I can collect c-mount glass. But I did want to address some of the criticisms from the Red haters, and explain exactly what Red is up to, because they clearly do not get it.

“The Scarlet is vaporware!” – Leaving aside for a moment that Red’s a company that didn’t exist three years ago, and has managed to release a camera nobody said could possibly exist already, the fact of the matter is: we’ve seen test footage, we’ve seen models, odds are pretty good the higher-end Epic is hitting beta testing before Christmas. Red’s shown they can release the products they say they’re going to. And there are rather compelling reasons they want to get this camera out.

“Red’s not going to take over!” – What, the mainstream semi-pro market? No, probably not. The Scarlet, in the end, is a pro camera. It’s a fairly cheap and accessible pro camera as these things go, but it’s a pro camera. The Scarlet is aimed squarely at indie filmmakers, wedding and corporate videographers, the kind of people who don’t blink at a $4k price tag, hell, the kind of people who welcome one.

But at the same time, it’s worth asking where the rest of the market will go. Canon just does not have its shit together; there’s no excuse for the 5D’s video performance, and recent cameras aren’t much of an improvement. Nikon hasn’t even put out a camera with 1080p or even 1080i yet. The only company that seems to have an eye on the prosumer camcorder market is Panasonic, and they’re in the same space as Red: using an experimental format with not a lot of support at the moment. But they also seem to be the only people genuinely taking Red seriously.

“RED will never deliver. It’s just Jim Jannard’s hobby.” – This, by far, is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Anybody who thinks this basically doesn’t understand business, or how businessmen think.

Sure, Jannard loves cameras. He’s basically said he owns every camera on the planet and uses them regularly. But let’s not forget Jannard became a billionaire selling sports gear out of his trunk. Jannard is first and foremost a businessman, and RED is nothing less than an attempt to corner a huge and profitable chunk of the camera market.

It’s worth understanding what the Red One was and why it was a big hairy deal, and still is. Compared to the other options for professional cinema cameras, the Red One is dirt, dirt cheap at $17,500. Throw in all the goodies Red has to offer and you still have a powerful camera at less than half the price of the rest of the market. There’s a reason the Red One has caught on.

Now consider this: in the pro and prosumer market, for years the story has been: buy the camera. Buy the accessories. Throw them all out when a new camera comes along.

The DSMC system is: buy the camera and accessories, and swap out for upgrades of the individual parts. Meaning instead of shelling out $5000 for a new camera, you shell out $2500 for a new “brain”. New recording format? No need for a new camera, just buy the module.

Combine this with high performance and what you have is something exceptionally powerful in the minds of the consumer. And don’t think, for a second, Jannard ever intended anything else.

The end game of Red isn’t to get you to buy one camera and all the goodies: the goal is to get you to buy a starter kit and then keep buying and upgrading for your entire career. Jannard wants to lock in customers by undercutting the competition up front, and then consistently undercutting them.

In other words, Red is focused, almost entirely, on the long game. They want customer loyalty. And if the Red One is any indication: they’re going to get it.


Movies – “Avatar” Will Be Both a Hit AND a Bomb

October 30, 2009

So I finally got a load of the new trailer for “Avatar”, along with the rest of the Internet.

First things first, the next person who greets complaints about the story with “you need to see it in 3D” gets a punch to the balls. If the script blows, 3D isn’t going to do anything for it. And, as much as it kills me to say this, boy does this trailer make it look like this movie blows.

I have to ask, who really wrote this movie? Ed Zwick? This whole “going among the other culture and being their Jesus” is his usual shtick. No way James Cameron actually wrote this movie, with its cliche plot and cliche dialogue. I’m also wondering how nobody noticed this entire plot is essentially furry porn. Think about it: you go to sleep as a human, wake up as a way more awesome cat-man, meet a cat-chick, and bone. Seriously, hands up everybody who DOESN’T think Sam Worthington stays a cat-man at the end of the movie.

That’s about all I’m going to say about the trailer, aside from the fact that it feels the need to remind everybody of every hit James Cameron has ever made. Now let’s talk about its box office.

$600 million worldwide, at minimum. Probably more like $800 million. At the very least, this has the visual goods to be popular eye candy, and Cameron waited until “Titanic” was out of everybody’s mind, so people are rooting for him again. And $800 million is great in absolute terms.

Unfortunately, this movie cost anywhere between $250 million to $315 million to make. In fact, there are rumors going around that it cost $400 million, and that’s before advertising, prints, and all those other expenses. In fact, add those in and I’m not sure Fox is escaping with a price tag of less than $400 million all told.

In other words, “Avatar” is going to have to do “Dark Knight” level business to make money in theaters. My estimate means that if they’re REALLY lucky, they’ll break even. Yeah, yeah, Cameron made “Titanic”, but this isn’t “Titanic.” “Titanic” largely made its money on teenage girls going to see it forty times, and basically being a cheesy old-movie romance with a James Cameron disaster movie stapled on. Who’s going to show up and see “Avatar” forty times, aside from furries?

OK, one more bit about the trailer: the characters are cartoons, the dialogue is terrible, and the movie looks like furry porn crossed with “Ferngully”.

But that shot of the Snidely Whiplash bad guy casually drinking coffee as they fire missiles into a village is pretty damn cool.

Games – “Loom”: A Great Idea Abandoned Too Soon

October 29, 2009

You might remember, in my previous post about adventure games, how I complained about the inventory and the verb interface. This was before I downloaded “Loom” and discovered the perfect interface for adventure games.

This is probably the perfect fit between genre and game design. Instead of toting around items, you learn actions and type them in as musical notes. The spells are perfectly straightforward, which makes the puzzles more interesting (hint: if you’re playing “Loom”? Double click EVERYTHING.) In short, this interface is absolutely perfect for adventure games.

Plus, the game itself has a fascinating story and a dry sense of humor (plus a taste for horrible puns). The voice work is rock-solid. In fact “Loom” is damn near perfect except for one minor problem.

It ends on a fucking cliffhanger. And there’s no (official) sequel, not because of lack of sales, but because the lead designer lost interest.

Seriously? Why did this potential franchise die? “Loom” is more than just a great game: “Loom” is a great idea. Maybe now that it’s on Steam some interest in a sequel will happen: I’d pay five bucks an episode for a sequel to this, screw Monkey Island.

Public Transit – Behind the Yellow Line, Goddamnit!

October 29, 2009

I have the fortune/misfortune to live in the Boston area, which is served by one of the oldest and most extensive public transit systems in America. I was also born in Washington D.C., and lived there for ten years, so I’m intimately familiar with bus etiquette, handling train times, and things like that. But there’s one thing that I will never get over, no matter what it is, no matter who does it.

And that’s the motherfucker who blocks the door.

This asshole comes in a thousand and one varieties, but there are two in particular on the MBTA: the guy who stands in front of the door on the train during rush hour, and the guy who stands at the front of the bus.

The first guy is not a nitpick: anybody who does this, and it’s invariably some fat fuck or a gangly teenager, is an asshole, period, no exceptions. My personal favorite is the guy who is on an empty train, stands in the door, and then puts his back to the door. He’s not just blocking your way: he’s actively ignoring you. He’s consciously choosing to make everybody’s life harder. Why, thank you for presenting me your kidneys! I believe I will jab you in them and let the rush hour commuters trample you. How considerate!

The worst part is this assholes have the nerve to look disgruntled. “Why the fuck do I have to move? What’s your problem?” My problem is that two pieces of matter can’t occupy the same space at the same time, asshole, because they’d probably explode. And in your case, the train delay would be worth it.

The second one just bugs me, and it’s bugged me for years. Partially it is, again, they’re being an inconsiderate asshole holding everybody up because they just have to lean there, but for me it’s got another layer.

Who the fuck stands, especially in an empty bus, at the front of the bus? What’s the point? It’s not comfortable. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) talk to the driver. You’re in everyone’s way. You’re not even, especially on the MBTA, going to be the first one off the bus: that honor goes to whoever’s standing at the back door.

For me, standing at the front of the bus when you don’t have to is a symbol of the futility of self-centeredness. Or the focus of my rage whenever that motherfucker does that during rush hour, adding about eight minutes to my commute as everybody steps around his hoodie-and-British-Knights wearing ass. Mother FUCKER!

Gadgets – So what IS the deal with Windows 7?

October 28, 2009

“Jesus was a carpenter. Windows 95 turns perfectly good computers into furniture” — An old, old, OLD Windows joke.

It tells you how much Vista is hated that Windows 7 is being greeted with hosannahs. And it’s been getting so many good reviews that I’m sure it’s a solid OS.

Not that I’m actually going to buy it: who the fuck buys a Microsoft OS when you’ll just get the same thing when you inevitably have to cave into the one-two punch of Moore’s and Murphy’s Law and get a new computer with the OS loaded on it? Granted, I hang onto computers a lot longer than most people: I still have an eMac from 2003, which was my primary computer until I bought a netbook. And it still runs OSX 10.4. Yes, really. What was I going to upgrade for? The chance to still suck at Chess? My point still stands, though; why upgrade unless you have to?

Still, I have to admit I’m skeptical if for no other reason than Microsoft defines “beta tester” as “people who buy our products.” It’s kind of humiliating that they still have to support Windows XP years after said product’s release, because the followup was such a disaster. And now we’re seeing stuff like this:

Sure, it’s just one guy, but he makes some pretty compelling arguments about ease of use. I haven’t seen Windows 7 in action, but just from the screenshots, it’s kind of like a Mac, except…well…inelegant. And I’m starting to wonder what we’ll hear once the system actually hits real-life computers that maybe aren’t up to date.

All I know is my Asus is staying on XP. Fuck that Windows 7 noise, if I can access the Web and play “Loom”, I’m happy.

Games – The SCUMM of the Universe

October 27, 2009

Recently, I discovered Steam had both “The Curse of Monkey Island” and “The Dig”, two games I’d forgotten I wanted to play so badly back in the ’90s, when my mom got me a LucasArts multipack featuring three of their adventure games. Now, thanks to Valve, I got to download them, play them…and realize why point-and-click adventure games died off in the first place.

To be fair, “Monkey Island” remains pretty wackily funny, and “The Dig” is a genuinely compelling science fiction story, with dialogue written by a pre-crazy-and-egotistical Orson Scott Card. The story is really what drives these games…

…Which is really, as much as it kills me to admit this, kind of the problem. Part of the reason adventure gaming died off in the first place was the problem of running around with a massive inventory, and when you got stuck, using everything in the inventory against whatever hot spot was highlighted. It was puzzle solving not by using your brain, but rather by brute force, and the “wacky” games were by far the worst offenders. People kept playing because they wanted to laugh or find out what happens next (I beat “The Dig” in a day because of a massive marathon session).

“Monkey Island”, as funny as it is, is a great example. Very, very often in the game you’ll find yourself completely stuck, usually because you have to run back and forth between various locations to do ONE task and then return. It’s boring and the only reason you don’t quit the game is you want to know what happens next. But it’s irritating, and often you’ll find yourself checking the guide only to find you’ve essentially solved the puzzle, you’re just not clicking on the right hotspot. Or even worse, that the puzzle either is completely illogical for the sake of a bad pun, or it’s totally logical and there’s no way, outside the hint system, that you’re ever going to know there’s even a puzzle for you to solve in the first place. I like puns, but I also like brain-teasers I have a chance of solving.

In other words, the game story is a blast, but the gameplay itself is terrible. “The Dig” is less frustrating for any number of reasons, the most obvious being six years of experience building these games taught the designers a few lessons about how to design these games to keep the flow going, but it’s still got its share of “Wait, what the hell?” moments. It’s also got a certain charm; like many adventure games, you’re lost in an alien world with no aliens around to help you, so you have to figure out their technology for yourself. Anybody who’s played “Myst” remembers how fun/frustrating THAT can be.

This isn’t to say I don’t think the point-and-click adventure game is a dead genre, or deserves to be. I’ll probably download “Loom” and the early Indy adventure games in the near future simply because I love games that ask you to explore. My point is simply that a lot less work went into the puzzle design than into the story. Solving a puzzle really shouldn’t be trial and error.

I want more point-and-click adventure games. I just want them to be a LOT more intuitive.

Gadgets – PS3 Now Has Netflix

October 26, 2009

Just a quick follow-up to my PS3 post, about how it’s substantially improved: now, it’s going to have Netflix on top of everything else. Boy, the 360 crew can NOT be happy about that!

Politics – Memo To Teabaggers

October 23, 2009

OK, guys, let’s just clear something up here, once and for all:

1) I respect that you have political disagreements with Obama.

2) You, of course, should exercise your Constitutional rights as you see fit.

3) I understand that you disagree with the direction this country is taking.

All that said, whenever I see you try to pair a black man with a symbol of racism and genocide, especially since most of you are pasty honky motherfuckers like me, it makes me want to haul off and give you a good shot in the nuts.

More than that, let me just emphasize that to any thinking person, the comparison makes no sense and therefore makes you look like a fucking clown. Why should I respect somebody who lacks the basic arguing skill to do anymore than say “Well…well…well, he’s LIKE HITLER!”

No he isn’t. Leaving out the whole gassing-Jews thing, nowhere close. Not even Bush was anywhere close to Hitler and he wanted a police state. Even with Rick Santorum, who believes there is no Constitutional right to privacy, in the GOP (thankfully not holding elected office; there’s pure nightmare fuel), I’m not willing to compare them to fascists. We’re just talking about a whole other level here.

The real irony is that there’s been a lot of fulminating about how Obama is, pretty successfully, marginalizing his opponents. Well, Jesus Christ, the self-appointed face of the opposition almost makes it impossible for him not to just by existing. If anything, the best way to do it is just by trying to work with them; when they throw hissies and act like children, it makes the decision, for most Americans square in the middle, all too easy.

So I guess what I’m really saying is, thanks, teabaggers. I like Obama, and the way you’re protesting, you’re going to keep make him looking good for a long, long time.

Gadgets – In Praise of the Dumbphone

October 22, 2009

We’ll talk a bit about how Verizon’s attempt to not have to accept the iPhone is going to fail miserably, but first I wanted to talk about the problems of smartphones in general. The dick-measuring contest can’t obscure the fact that for most people the smartphone is actually a shitty deal.

1) They cost. A lot. Want an unlocked Blackberry? That’ll be $600. You know what I can buy for $600? Two netbooks.

2) The network. True, you can, in theory, access the Internet everywhere. But how long, especially in urban areas, is this truly going to be an advantage? To amuse myself, I grabbed a bus from downtown Cambridge, MA, to my home in another Boston suburb, basically a poor man’s war-drive, and I found no less than fifty unlocked networks in about two miles. Going through what amounted to somewhat poor neighborhoods, no less; Boston isn’t exactly rife with slums compared to other cities. And this is even before the drive to make wi-fi as plentiful as water.

More to the point, is there really any difference in speed from stolen wi-fi? Or any less risk you’ll get disconnected? Why am I giving a company more than a thousand dollars a year for a service that even in the best of times isn’t even entirely reliable for phone calls? Do I really want these clowns handling my banking? Or anything else if I can avoid it?

3) The data plan in the first place. We don’t accept broadband caps in our homes: what the hell are they doing on cell phones? Why are we paying $100 a month for the privilege of being bugged with emails before you even get into the office and watching YouTube Poop on the bus? I refuse to believe data plans aren’t exceptionally overpriced, especially considering the service you get. This is the industry that charges you a dime to send a text message, which is grossly overinflated next to the actual cost of sending the thing.

Sure, there are some manufacturers, it’s pretty clear what they’re up to. All Apple’s really done with the iPhone is recruit AT&T to sell what amounts to a fancy new iPod. And RIM is trying to position themselves as the mature, intelligent mobile phone for business, which is why they still make a phone that makes you look like a fucking dork. I know they don’t want to look too much like the iPhone, but Christ, a tiny-ass keyboard? Still? Even Palm was smart enough to realize how shameful a keypad is in a day of touchscreens and hid it behind one.

But the rest it just seems like mindless trend-hopping that doesn’t consider what the consumer could actually use. Sure, Apple made a fortune with the iPhone, but does anybody really give a shit about Nokia’s version? Or Motorola’s version? Or any of the other knock-offs? Not if the sales are anything to go by.

It’s not like the dumbphone is dying off: as long as there are cheap pricks like me who just want to make phone calls, they’ll keep making them. I’m fairly sure my next dumbphone will actually come in a cereal box and I’ll mistake it for a credit card. But I’m also fairly sure that unless manufacturers start making their phones more than just “an iPhone except…”, that it’s going to be made by Apple or RIM.

Now, as for Verizon’s heavy push for “Droid”, one question:

You’ve seen the ads, right? Can you tell me who they’re aimed at?

TV – Nerds Vs. Jocks: Who…Is…”Deadliest?”

October 21, 2009

I, like everybody with a penis, am a sucker for reality shows where shit blows up real good. Yes, even the gayest of gay men love explosions. It’s just genetic.

“Man Vs. Cartoon”, “Mythbusters”, “Time Warp”, “Destroyed In Seconds”, I’ll watch ’em all and come back for more. But none are quite as beloved to me as “The Deadliest Warrior”, which airs on Spike TV (which, full disclosure, is one of my writing gigs, although I don’t work with anybody associated with “Warrior” or TV at all, actually).

The concept is pretty simple: oversimplify two types of warriors, put them in a jar, shake it, and watch ’em fight. But the overarching “versus” is, well, didja read the title?

First, let’s not split hairs here: this show is a forum thread turned into televised entertainment, with the arguments settled not with flamewars, but with a role-playing game. If you pay attention, it quickly becomes clear that the “battle software” is, at root, a scientifically accurate D&D game.

But, since the show airs on Spike, which is the Man Channel (that came out wrong), it has to have a macho chest-pounding attitude that’s pretty much totally at odds with what the show really is. Hence, the test subjects providing the data brag about how tough and powerful their respective cultures are, even when it’s pretty obvious to the viewer who’s going to hand who their head. Sorry, Maori warriors, but it was clear from the get-go the Shaolin were going to kick your ass. Not that I’d want to get in a bar-fight with either, but still.

What’s especially fun is the fact that the show tends to confirm the idea that people who fight intelligently will dominate over people who go for sheer power. The IRA vs. Taliban episode, in addition to being a display of willful and thus absolutely hilarious bad taste, shows one IRA soldier bumping off three Taliban. The samurai kicks the viking’s ass so hard it leaves a dent in Norway. And so on. Basically, the people who spend lots of time strategizing and practicing over and over again win. Sound like anybody you know?

But, of course, the scientific testing porn can be appreciated by anyone who likes awesomeness. These guys love the shit out of high explosives, ballistics gel, and high-speed footage of grown men abusing the living hell out of both. I still think the Shaolin episode, wherein a wushu champion stabs the gel dummy in the face about fourteen times, opening with two kill-shots before ripping out both eyes and then stabbing him so much the top of his skull can peel back, or the slo-mo of the mere wielded by a Maori warrior smashing through three bricks and then destroying another two on the backstroke, is some of the awesomest stuff I’ve seen.

Still, that said…I think, in this case, the show proves that it’s the nerds who are truly deadliest.