On University, Gaming and Hawaii….Brah

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So the first month of university is almost over. I’ve handed in one assignment fully, done part of enough and I have several more well on the way.  Hopefully I should be getting some marks back in the next week or two which should show if I pass the first module or not. I’m confident that I have but we will see soon enough. Once it is marked, I’ll put it up on my portfolio so it is available to download and try out. I’m also going to go through the exercise of converting it over to C#/XNA  in order to demonstrate the advantages of XNA over developing an engine from scratch. I’m also making an iOS game for another of my modules which I’m rather excited about making.  Finally, I’m still struggling through a making a Java TCP/UDP chat server. I need to do a lot more work on it before its ready but I’ve luckily got a week at home where I’m going to be flat out working 9 to 5 every day on all my various pieces of work. However, I’ve not just been working all the time. Read on to find out what else I’ve been up to…

Continue reading “On University, Gaming and Hawaii….Brah”

05/08/2011 Update–Life, TV and Gaming

So this is a decent sized post. Sorry for not writing something sooner. So last time I wrote I was still waiting for my university results. Well, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve passed my first year at Teesside and I’ll be going back in September for round 2 for another year of coding, airsofting and student life. Aww yeah.

In other news, I’ve almost finished my two weeks off work. It been nice to have two weeks doing bugger all as opposed to the 9 to 5. Had a few drinks with old friends at home, sorted out a bank account for next year’s internet bills and had a good opportunity to sit back and relax.


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I’ve got a load of TV and films to talk about. First up, I’ve now finished off watching The Wire all the way through. It’s been sat on my list of things to watch for a while – my parents watched it when shown way back when and absolutely loved it. It is an amazing achievement in TV – a series that lasted 5 seasons, maintaining the same cast throughout the whole time. The characters also feel like real people – no one is perfect yet no one is completely without some sort of charm.

I’m going to write up a proper thoughts on it soon, where I’ll go into detail on stuff rather than making this 4000 words long.


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Game of Thrones is pretty damn great after watching it all the way through. It another reason to say that HBO (the makers of The Wire, The Pacific, Band of Brothers and Game of Thrones) are in fact the best network in the ‘States in terms of bang for buck. It an epic, realistic and gritty fantasy, worlds away from the high fantasy normally on TV. The cast is great (although seeing actors from The Wire pop up in similar roles were a little disturbing) with a great pace to the dialogue and action. My only issue with it was the point at it finished – the next series can’t turn up fast enough.


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I’ve also just started watching Blue Bloods on the recommendation of my parents. It’s another US series that I’ve managed to get my Nanna to record off of Sky Atlantic. It feels like a half way point between the grittiness of The Wire and the absurdity of the CSI series now. It also has Donnie Wahlberg (Mark’s brother) who played perhaps one of the best character in Band of Brothers, Lipton. I’m looking forward to seeing some more.


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I’ve watched a little bit of Mad Men over these past few weeks which kind of links to the game I’ve been playing – L.A. Noire. I missed it out it first time round as I was up to my neck in university hand ins and exam (and possibly Brink) but still wanted to play. Critical reception is rather up and down – Giant Bomb (a site I love and whose viewpoint I normally agree with) really liked it but many others sound a little down, citing issues such as repetitiveness of the cases. However, I am thoroughly enjoying it. It the perfect game just to sit down and play during a long time off, especially with all the DLC cases added. At the moment, I’m just starting Vice (with slimebag Roy Earle) and looking forward to not having to deal with the Black Dahlia murders. Traffic is a great start, with a varied selection of events during the cases and not just a body being found. Homicide though are gripping cases, written together, stringing you along from murder to murder until the final riddle is solved. Its a shame much of the game part (shooting, driving and such) is not too good.

A Thoughts On will be coming before the end of the Summer once I finish all the cases. But remember folks…

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So this weekend is Quakecon and as part of it Brink is free to play (get it now! Shoot fools! Parkour!). However, there is also a big old id/Bethesda pack for £50. Its well worth it, featuring both of the current Elder Scrolls games, Brink (if you don’t own it), all the Doom games, all the Quake games and some piles of shit (like Rogue Warrior or The Hunted). There are also a load of TF2 items included, my favourite being the one for the Sniper which is earned from Brink.

I have a big gapping hole in my games collection in terms of landmark games in the form of the Quake and Doom games. Having only now just got round to owning and playing them, I’m quite enjoying them. There are also some other gems such as the Cthulhu game which are tempting to play at some point. But first I have to shoot hell beasts from hell in the face with a shotgun.


And that’s it for now. I’m writing some more articles straight after this that should be up soon, so keep your eyes on this. In terms of what I’m up to, I’ll be camping on the 19th, away for the Ground Zero Weekender from the 25th until the 30th and then finishing off work in early September. I’ll be back in Middlesbrough on the 17th of September, ready and raring for Year 2.

Thoughts On… Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (The Movie)

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So before I start, you should know I really like Edgar Wright, video games, Scott Pilgrim and video games. This means I am effectively the target audience for this film and so I’m destined to like this film even if it was only slightly good. And it is good. Oh so good.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a new film from Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and based on a 6 issue set of comics by Bryan O’Malley. It follows the eponymous Scott Pilgrim, a twenty something slacker living in Toronto. One night while dreaming he sees Ramona Flowers, Amazon.CA delivery girl, and decides that this is the girl for him. However in order to date her, he must fight her 7 evil exes. The comics span are a really good read (translated: go buy them) with a great plot. Unfortunately, the film has taken one or two liberties with this story (partly due to the fact the final part wasn’t released during filming) which is slightly annoying especially as some of the cool scenes from the comics aren’t included. However these changes do help to make the film flow much much better even if it throws all down time out the window as it careens towards its epic finale.

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It is also pretty funny. Part of this is the referential humour with defeated enemies turning to coins but more comes from just how terrible Scott is. His constant evasion of having to do difficult things is hilarious at some point, perhaps the best being his response to an old girlfriend turning up at his door unexpectedly. There are some other great lines (“You punched me in the boob”) of which only a few actually turned up in the trailer, always the sign of a good movie.

Scott Pilgrim has style coming out of the kazoo. From the graphic effects linked to many of the sounds to blacking out of certain characters dirty swearing mouth, it is obvious that the after effects guy had a a pretty big job finishing this film off. It also works perfectly (good job after effect guys!) and makes it look just like the comic in motion. Part of this look comes from the editing – snappy shots make parts of it feel like the panels of a graphic novel while it also has many shots that mirror the books themselves almost exactly, often with a split screen effect. But layered over the top of many of the scenes are the links to various games. At the start of most of the fights, “VS” signs pop up with Scott and the bad guy facing off as if this was Street Fighter. There are other references, such as Scott’s “Pee bar” or the ever present enemies exploding into a shower of coins as if this was a beat-em-up (you mean like the game?). One particular reference I liked was the fact that Scott spends most of the first half wearing a Plumtree shirt, as a song by the band inspired the main characters name. There are quite a few of these little references scattered throughout that will pull out a laugh when you notice them.

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Part of this lrvrl style is also visible in the music. The various bands are all pretty good and the tunes are pretty catchy. By far the best is Scott’s Sex Bob-Omb, with its tunes being composed by Beck. I’m not normally a fan, but I picked up the soundtrack and love it. There is also a collection of other songs used but Brie Larson’s cover of Metric’s Black Sheep is an amazing and also the best in the film but unfortunately not on the soundtrack. There is also a pretty good use of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”.

I’m also surprised by the cast. I’m not much of a Michael Cera fan, but as Scott Pilgrim he is perfect –  a whiny git who is a little bit of a dick. Ramona is also a rather good match, being both distant from Scott yet also very protective, and is played by a rather attractive and talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead . The other members of Sex Bob-Omb are a great laugh, especially Kim Pine whose actress plays the role spot on, with just about the correct level of contempt for Scott’s character. However, the stars of the show have to be the main bad guy Gideon (played by a Jason Schwartzman who is the ideal slimy record producer) and Scott’s roommate (as played by Kieran Culkin). Both seemed to have had a lot of fun making this film. In fact there isn’t a single person I thought didn’t look like they were having a whale of a time. Look out for a pretty good cameo about half way through the film.

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You can gauge a film from the response of the audience and the crowd at the showing I saw loved every minute. Rather than sitting in silence, they laughed at most of the jokes and cheered at some of the references, such as the various game sound effects. Even my Dad, who has never read the comics or really watched the other Edgar Wright films, loved it.

As other reviewers have said, Scott Pilgrim is the best video game movie ever, despite not actually being based on one. And even if you don’t like games that much (and can keep up with the break neck pace), you will probably still enjoy just the crazy special effects and the great story. I’m going to pick this up on DVD/Blu-Ray day of release.

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If you’re wanting some more Scott Pilgrim, than there is the game currently out on PSN and XBLA. I’ll be reviewing it for TIMJ some point soon.

Thoughts on… Oscar Nominated Films

(This has been sat in my drafts for a while and so has lost some of its relevance. Like many internet memes)

So the Oscars have been and gone and Hurt Locker won Best Picture (spoilers). However, I made it my mission late last week to watch as many of the nominations as possible. I missed out one or two (mainly the romantic comedies) but the rest I grabbed and watched (most over a single night). So here’s my thoughts from someone who doesn’t normally review movies, revealing as little plot as possible;

Avatar

I saw this in the cinema in 3D late last year and really enjoyed. Just after I got out of the film, I admit I was caught up in it. James Cameron did an excellent job in creating the world of Avatar to a point where it was encapsulating. In fact, the film created a kind of depression in several people which was interesting. The visuals are stunning making it hard to distinguish which bits are CGI and which are the actual actors. Another part of this is the design – the creatures, equipment and settings all make sense, a commodity that can be hard to find in most sci-fi.

However, the film does have its limitations. The plotline is very similar to Dancing with Wolves and Pocahontas but this point has been made a few too many times. Just because it’s similar doesn’t make it bad, its just predictable. The film is also a bit too long with a large section in the middle that could be condensed down.

The film won three awards in Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects which shows what Avatar is – an excellent technical achievement but not a top of the range film overall.

District 9

This film is one I enjoyed so much I picked up on DVD on release. Its the project that Peter Jackson and Neil Blankomp worked on instead of the promised Halo film and thank go they did. Instead of a film pandering to the masses, we got a smart intelligent science fiction film about a rare situation where its the humans who are in charge of the alien refugees. The film has a grittiness in style and tone most films wouldn’t show, complete with gore, swearing and casual interspecies racism which at times can be a bit jarring.

I was quite annoyed that Sharlton Copey (the main character) wasn’t nominated for best actor as his performance was amazing. He plays a character that as the film goes on, changes from being a weak willed geeky idiot who it is hard to like to some one who your shouting for at the end and is to all intents and purposes, a super hero. The film also does well in the aliens -  they look otherworldly yet at the same time are very expressive. Its a common thing amongst those who watch it to find its the aliens who are the better humans as opposed the the collection of gangsters, mercs and corrupt officials who are weak, corrupt, evil or just plain stupid.

Its a real shame it didn’t win anything but against its competition its not surprising. But its many people personal choices and although it might not have the awards to back it up, District 9 is a film I really enjoyed.

Hurt Locker

The big winner of the evening with 6 awards was a film I missed out at the cinema. However, when I was watching it it was hard to look away. This is a truly intense film. I don’t know how realistic it is, but if some sections are true my respect for anyone out there has gone up by a lot. And I still thinking EODs are lunatics. The film does have a message about how soldiers are becoming addicted to the adrenaline fix that war provides, but apart from the start and the last few scenes it isn’t forced in your face

The film itself actually feels slightly disjointed – each of the incidents is almost self contained and formulaic. That said, the scene are brilliant. One that stands out is when the bomb disposal team is outside of the city and they encounter a unit of British mercs under Lord Voldermort himself (an excellent Ralph Fiennes). After a misunderstanding, the two teams get to talking. Its just showing two groups of guys chatting. Yet the audience just knows something is about to happen. It leads into another tense sequence that is just one of many from beginning to end. A similar sequence is on Jeremy Renner’s character’s first day which has one of the best “Ohhh shiiiii…” moments I’ve seen for a while. It doesn’t have the shaky cam of Saving Private Ryan yet even so the camera work feels realistic. It also isn’t just about guys shooting each other – there are very few sequences that have any combat in. Instead most of it is just the fear that any second now hell will come rolling out from behind every tiny piece of trash.

The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor,  Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing which is pretty good for a film made for $11 Million, some of which came from the director Kathryn Bigalow. This is a film that has to be seen.

Inglorious Basterds

Ah yes, Mr Tarantino. We liked your work and you promised us a pulp World War 2 action film about killing Nazis, scalping and movies while at the same time people being killed in the characteristic Quentin Tarantino way. And its a great film. But compared to some of his older films such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs its not quite so good.

The plot line is hilarious and it has some of the ‘70’s styling that Grindhouse used to great effect. In fact it feels like one of those boys own adventures film filled with tales of daring do and Nazis going “Aiiiieee!!!”. But it contains several subplots featuring an escaped Jew gaining revenge, a British spy and the Basterds themselves. The spy is a bit of a throw away character though which is a real shame as the scenes he is featured in are among the best. However the best actor in the film has to be Christoph Waltz, who plays Hans Landa. Landa is the usual evil Nazi, but plays him to be charming and intelligent. Yet behind his mask of nicety there is a core of cunning. Its hard to describe just what makes him good so seriously, go and watch it.

Waltz won Best Supporting Actor which was well deserved. And good thing to as otherwise I would have to eat my hat.

Up

Ah yes the Pixar film. I dismissed this at the cinema based primarily on the trailer which revealed precisely bugger all. I found it hard to get excited about a trailer that features a grumpy old man and an annoying boy scout.

However when I read twitter and saw every raving about it and then with the Oscars coming up I gave it a watch. And it is really good, easily one of Pixar’s best film. Yet its also one of their most mature. The opening ten minutes or so has very little dialogue but is simultaneously the happiest and the most depressing intro to a film I’ve ever seen. It also seems to be a film that know that in reality most of it audience aren’t kids but in fact their parents. And Russell the kid isn’t really annoying! The talking dog they find it pretty good as well. In fact the plot is just a bundle of laughs and a good adventure film. I only watched it in 2D and nothing seemed like I was missing out by not having the 3rd dimension (don’t you dare be pedantic about that statement – i know full well that Up in 2D would be a bunch of dots) though some of the early sequences with the balloons would be spectacular.

Up is only the second animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award as well as a bundle of other award on the technical side. It won both Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Score both of which are well deserved.

Up In The Air

 

Originally I had no plan to see this film. It looks like a romantic comedy featuring George Clooney, a film setup very close on my hate list to Sprouts and Gok Wan.

However when you watch it, its a bit harder to work out what it is. There is some comedy, but its not laugh out loud hilarity. There is some romance, but not much at all. Instead its a film about people, with George Clooney playing a man whose job it is to fly round the States helping companies to lay people off. He extols his life which is free of relationships with people and things. He is in fact a bit of a prat. The film is more about how he changes as a person when his lifestyle is threatened by an upstart idea and when he meets someone he cares about.

Its a really good film. I actually really enjoyed it – its a film where you know it will end happily in a way. I do recommend watching it as I find it a bit hard to really get any opinion of detail on it.

Some more articles like this should be coming soon alongside money making articles