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Blu-ray Stendhal this year

Blu-ray

Blue Underground’s web site has been updated to include a release date for the company’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Dario Argento’s splendid The Stendhal Syndrome: November 18th. This and Don Taylor’s The Final Countdown are the only two Blue Underground Blu-ray releases to have release dates, and, while I’m slightly surprised that this will by the first Argento film to be released in high definition (Jenifer doesn’t count), I’m more than happy that it’s on its way. Now hurry up with a release date for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage!

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Web
 

Clinging to the flotsam

Hellgate: London

Recent reports about the closing of Flagship Studios may have been premature… but that’s about as far as it goes. After four days of silence, the company has finally put out an official statement on the matter, claiming that, while the bulk of the staff have been laid off, the studio still exists as an entity and has retained the rights to its games. As per DIII.net:

San Francisco, CA (July 14, 2008) — Flagship Studios has announced today that despite rumors to the contrary, the company is still operating.

“It is with deep regret that I must announce that Flagship Studios has laid off most employees. However, the core management and founding team members are still at Flagship.” said Bill Roper, CEO of Flagship Studios. “The past five years have been an incredible experience for us, but unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain the size of the company any longer.”

Flagship Studios owns the rights to all its technology and IP, including Hellgate: London and Mythos. Due to the current situation, Flagship will not be taking any new subscribers for Hellgate: London, and all current subscriptions will not be billed.

Flagship wishes to extend their heartfelt thanks to those that have supported the company and games over the past five years.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, I don’t think this development can be considered to be particularly good news. It smells suspiciously like a last ditch attempt to hold on to their property, and, although I’m first and foremost in favour of artists being allowed to have control over their own work, whether the results are good or bad, part of me feels that it would be better for the game in the long run for it to be handed over to someone else. With only a skeleton crew left at the studio, I highly doubt that we will be seeing any ongoing content updates (such as the 2.0 patch, currently in beta on the test server) any time soon. In any event, their reputation has been so greatly tarnished, partly because of false information being reported by several major gaming news sites as fact, and partly because of the reality of the situation (bugs, lack of content updates, general lukewarm reaction to the game itself), that, barring divine intervention, which of course is a fantasy, there’s no way they’re going to bounce back.

Really, this is just prolonging the inevitable. I will, however, be holding off on my planned Hellgate/Flagship autopsy until we have more definitive news about what to expect from the game and the company in the future.

 
Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 8:21 PM
Categories: Games | Technology | Web
 

A game everyone can play

A game everyone can play

Source: Spumboard

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 5:22 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | TV | Web
 

The dream is over

Hellgate: London

It looks as if Hellgate: London developers Flagship Studios have finally bitten off more than they can chew. After numerous rumours of employees leaving in droves and customers dissatisfied with the quality of the game and/or the support being provided with it, the final nail has been hammered into the studio’s creaky coffin, with Flagship apparently closing its doors following the laying off of the entire staff. Financial support from Korean distributor and co-owner of the intellectual property HanbitSoft has reportedly dried up, with the implication being that HanbitSoft will, from now on, take full control of the franchise and continue to develop it themselves:

HanbitSoft states that the reason it is pursuing this course of action is because “It is hard for us to accept Flagship Studios’ requests for continued support in capital and funding any longer and because Flagship was being difficult”, and because it co-owns a direct stake in the IP, it therefore “has a say in reviewing and determining any course of action to be taken with Hellgate: London.”

HanbitSoft is expected to take full control over the IP. HanbitSoft goes on to state that in doing so, it will be able to “properly manage and develop Hellgate: London into a good game with proper content”, with its own in-house team of developers.

Ouch.

I’m not entirely surprised, but I’m disappointed nonetheless. I would have liked to see Flagship Studios succeed. The games industry is coming ever closer to mirroring the movie business in the sense that all the power these days is in the hands of a small number of megacorporations, and something about the idea of Flagship striking out on their own as an independent developer appealed to me. Theirs was a worthy attempt to deliver a triple-A game as an autonomous company, but ultimately they failed to pull it off. I still like Hellgate: London, in spite of its myriad flaws, and I genuinely hope that HanbitSoft are able to salvage something from the wreckage, but it’s a damn shame that its creators will no longer be involved with the project they poured their heart and soul into, whatever you might think of the end results.

No creator, regardless of the medium in which they work, likes to see their baby dragged away from them, particularly under circumstances such as these (shades of the 1992 Nickelodeon takeover of Ren & Stimpy, methinks), and I can only hope that the Flagship people are able to bounce back from this in some form or other. Hmm, I suspect they’re probably greatly regretting walking out of Blizzard Entertainment back in 2003.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Games | TV | Web
 

The Internet tells you what to think

Diablo III

Something Awful’s humour can be a bit hit or miss at times (though their Photoshop Phriday features rarely fail to put a smile on my face), but they’ve absolutely nailed it with their reaction to the negative buzz surrounding Diablo III in some circles. I particularly like their take-down of the (by now tedious) “it’s too colourful” argument:

My Initial (Wrong) Opinion: Wow, it’s the world from Diablo in 3D, rendered like a painting to retain the 2D flavor of the previous games. The dark and ominous themes are still there, only now we don’t have to use our imaginations to fill in the details suggested by blocky sprites.

The Internet’s (Correct) Opinion: Wow, it’s a shitty cartoon! This is NOT the same world that Diablo I and II took place in. No way.

[…]

Here’s the dark and gritty Diablo II, which Diablo III should look like:

Diablo II

I rest my case.

 
Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008 at 10:20 PM
Categories: Games | Web
 

Transmission interrupted

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

In the unlikely event that you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for my review of Issue 15 of the dreadful Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comic (you know who are, you weird, weird freaks), then I hate to break it to you: it’s not happening. Today, it suddenly occurred to me that the festering thing hadn’t arrived, despite it having been released over a month ago. A quick peek at my TFAW account explained this anomaly: my subscription actually expired with Issue 14.

This means that I won’t be able to tell you which forms of sealife are jumped in the four and final instalment of Drew Goddard’s woeful little tale of Japanese vampires, dead Slayers and laughably predictable plot “twists”, and, to be honest with you, I don’t care. Back when I thought I would also be receiving Issue 15, I contented myself with the knowledge that, although I was abandoning the series, I would at least be jumping off the boat at a semi-logical point. Discovering, today, that I would essentially be left hanging, I realised just how much it doesn’t bother me. And why should it? The comics themselves are risible, and I don’t consider them to be in any way canonical, regardless of what their creator might say. So, while it’s slightly frustrating to be ending on a comma rather than a full stop, as it were, at least this means I can devote less time to writing about crap and more time to stuff I actually like.

 
Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008 at 5:43 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | Web
 

Mondo Vision’s La Femme Publique on Amazon.com

Mondo Vision

I hereby order ye to get thee to ye olde pre-ordering shoppe immediately!

Special Edition
Premium Edition (limited to 2,000 numbered copies)

The expected release date is September 30th, 2008.

Note: A few people seem to be under the impression that this is a UK release. Just to clarify, it’s not: it’s a US release.

 
Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Web
 

Softly, softly

Diablo III

This morning, I blew the dust off my Diablo and Diablo II CDs (remember when games came on CDs?) and went for a spin with both of them. Watching the Diablo III gameplay movie got me thinking about the ways in which the gameplay mechanics have changed since the original Diablo in 1996, and what this might mean for the third instalment.

Diablo

Diablo

The first game in the series is a pretty basic game on the surface. One of the hallmarks of the Diablo series as a whole has been its straightforward gameplay mechanics, stripping away a lot of the daunting complexity of a traditional role-playing game and combining what remains with fun, satisfying action elements, but this first outing is the most simplistic of the lot. The multiple act, multi-dungeon structure of the second and, it would seem, third games is nowhere to be found; nor are the weird and wonderful character classes like the Necromancer and Witch Doctor. Instead, players get to choose from one of three broad fantasy archetypes - a Warrior, a Rogue or a Sorcerer - and do battle in a single, multi-level dungeon, descending gradually deeper into the earth.

In many ways, though, simplicity is its greatest strength. This is a game that knows exactly what it’s meant to do, and more importantly, so does the player. Right from the beginning, you know that your mission is to make your way deeper and deeper underground until you ultimately face and defeat the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. The tone is remarkably consistent: everything is dank and murky, swathed in shadow, and the atmosphere is incredibly foreboding. This feeling of dread is achieved in many ways, and it’s not just the gloomy visuals and highly evocative sound design. Movement in Diablo is rather slow-paced, meaning that, should you be overwhelmed by insurmountable odds, running away is rarely an option. And it’s easy to be overwhelmed, particularly if you play the rather frail Rogue and Sorcerer classes. If you aren’t looking where you’re going, chances are you’ll find yourself slap bang in the middle of a pack of angry monsters, in which case it’s often game over. This ensures that you’re constantly on your toes, gingerly creeping down each corridor and round each bend, mindful of the fact that you could, at any moment, be signing your own death warrant.

Diablo II

Diablo II

Superficially, Diablo II is a direct continuation in every way. It retains the same basic premise and gameplay mechanics as its predecessor, but I can’t help feeling that the developers changed the tone in a subtle way. With the first Diablo, it quickly became clear that people liked doing two things: killing monsters and collecting loot. So, thought the designers, let’s give the players more of what they want. Let’s throw in more monsters and more loot, and let’s have people get to the monsters and loot quicker. To lessen the wait between dispatching one group of enemies and the next, players were given the ability to run, which had the immediate result of doubling (at least) the speed at which the game was played.

Unfortunately, this had the effect of stripping away a lot of the tension. The ability to run made it possible to stage a hasty retreat should you stumble into the middle of a gaggle of bloodthirsty monsters. In other words, you could afford to be more reckless, which in turn made the game more of a clickfest than ever before. Add to this a reduced emphasis on dungeon crawling with the addition of wide open outdoor maps, and the game not only lost a lot of its tension, it more or less completely removed the feeling of claustrophobia. Likewise, much of the atmosphere created by the first game’s moody locales and limited colour palette fell by the wayside thanks to the sun-scorched deserts and lush green jungles which players found themselves exploring. Put simply, Diablo II was a lighter, brisker, less tactically-oriented game than its predecessor.

Now, I love Diablo II. I consider it one of the greatest games ever created, and despite being eight years old, it remains permanently installed on my hard drive, and I continue to sink countless hours into frying skeletons to a crisp and beating zombies to a bloody pulp. When I want to whittle away a few minutes, or indeed a few hours, without having to tax my brain too much, chances are I’ll be reaching for the Diablo II CD. But, if I want a deeper, more immersive, more mentally taxing experience, it’s the original Diablo for me.

Diablo III

Diablo III

Flash forward to the present day, and Diablo III has just been announced. Now, without any hands-on experience with the game, and with numerous changes no doubt due to take place between now and the release date, it’s impossible to be sure of anything, but, with the help of the screenshots and particularly the gameplay trailer that have been released, it’s possible to speculate as to how Diablo III will compare to its predecessors in terms of atmosphere and gameplay style.

While watching the gameplay trailer, it’s abundantly clear, right from the get go, that the designers are intent on stressing the quantity factor, throwing massive hordes of monsters at the player, to be dispatched in a highly visceral show of splattering blood and squelching sound effects. So far, so Diablo II, and it’s also clear that we’re once again going to find ourselves playing in a combination of tight indoor and crowded outdoor environments. The official list of features states that players will explore the world of Sanctuary (with an emphasis on world) “in gorgeous 3D”, which suggests another globe-trotting yarn. No tightly-controlled Diablo I-style focus this time round, then.

That said, much of what has been stated and demonstrated in the gameplay trailer suggests that the developers are intent on pushing for a return to tactics rather than simply wading in and popping potions while spamming one or two spells. There appears to be a commendable emphasis on enemies working together to bring the player down, using their skills in conjunction and therefore requiring the player to use all the abilities at his or her disposal in order to survive. That gets my heartfelt approval, given the extent to which Diablo II is populated by cookie cutter builds relying on only a couple of overpowered abilities.

Likewise, I commented yesterday that the new game seemed to herald a return to the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere of the first Diablo. This is a particularly impressive achievement given that the colour palette is more saturated then ever before (something which has, rather predictably, already drawn its fair share of professional whiners who hate the notion of the game coming in colours other than black, grey and brown). Perhaps not surprisingly, this is only really evident in the interior levels, with the outdoor areas seeming lighter and breezier, but, provided there is plenty of dungeon crawling, I have no complaints about that. Particularly impressive is the sense of scale: at any given time, it’s hard not to be impressed by the high walls and expansive nature of the maps. This is especially evident when traversing higher ground, given that the truly 3D nature of the new engine allows the player do look down at areas below him or her, shrouded in fog and shadow. Sound design will, I suspect, once again play a key role in maintaining a dark mood, and I’m crossing my fingers that Blizzard are able to get Matt Uelmen, composer for the first two games, to once again provide the music.

 
Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 11:30 PM
Categories: Games | Music | Technology | Web
 

And the heavens shall tremble

Diablo III

Who was right? ;)

During my lunch break today, a booking on one of the library’s computers and several incessant clicks on the Refresh button told me that Blizzard Entertainment, as predicted, did indeed unveil Diablo III at the WWI in Paris.

And good golly, does this game look impressive or what? I was very worried during the run-up to the announcement that either the game wouldn’t live up to its predecessors, or else it would be something else entirely, like a World of Warcraft style MMO. Rest assured, however, Diablo III retains the series’ trademark top-down perspective and emphasis on action/role-playing hybrid gameplay. Best of all, we have confirmation that it will be playable in single player mode, jettisoning any concerns that this was the “next-gen MMO” that has been mentioned several times on the company’s Employment Opportunities page in the last couple of years.

Diablo III

For me, it was watching the 20-minute gameplay trailer when I got home that hammered home how amazing this game is going to be. The trailer, complete with commentary by lead designer Jay Wilson (who, MobyGames informs me, previously worked on Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, among others), shows the amazingly fluid gameplay mechanics, beautiful graphics and, of course, the tried and tested formula of mowing down thousands of monsters in a row. It’s not rocket science, but it’s what made the first two games so much fun. What impresses me most is that, at least in the interior areas, some of the foreboding atmosphere from the original Diablo, somewhat absent in the second game, has made a welcome return, while at the same time making the most of the 3D engine to deliver environments which are more than just a flat plain.

Diablo III

There is, of course, a slight caveat in all of this, and that is that virtually none of the developers of the first two Diablo games are still at Blizzard (many of them, including the key designers and project leads, went on to dubious acclaim with Flagship Studios and Hellgate: London). Not that this necessarily spells doom and gloom - Blizzard employee turnover has been constant for years, and the one thing that has remained more or less consistent has been the quality of the company’s output - but it does suggest that we may get a dramatically different Diablo. This is the first game in the series to be developed solely under the Blizzard Entertainment label (Blizzard North having been disbanded in 2005), and aesthetically, things look to be rather different. The familiar logo is gone, and the screenshots and gameplay movie that have been released hint towards a subtly different art style, one with richer hues, a grander scale and, at least in the demo build shown at the WWI, a tendency towards a rather self-deprecating sense of humour that seems out of place in the series (I hope what they’ve done with the character of Cain is not representative of the final product). It might seem a little mean to say this, but given the completely new talent behind the scenes, this will in some ways be more of a Diablo clone (à la Dungeon Siege or Titan Quest) than a true continuation.

Diablo III

One thing’s for sure, the new team will have their work cut out living up to the legacy left by their predecessors. I wish them the very best of luck and have considerable faith in them, but am aware that I should probably expect something subtly different… which is not necessarily a problem, since Diablo and Diablo II, which have resided on my hard drive for twelve and eight years respectively, aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Seriously, Starcraft II and Diablo III in the pipeline? It’s every PC gamer’s dream come true.

 
Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2008 at 10:19 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Games | Web
 

Not long to go now

Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard Entertainment’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational begins tomorrow in Paris, and all signs point to them announcing a new game. With Starcraft II in the pipeline and World of Warcraft’s second expansion set, Wrath of the Lich King, already common knowledge, that essentially leaves two viable options: either they’re about to announce an entirely new franchise, their first since 1998, or Diablo III is on the way.

Over at DiabloII.net, which was essentially the Diablo II news site back in the day, one of the editors, Rushster, has made the bold claim that, as per “reliable inside industry sources”, Diablo III will be announced on Saturday. Of course, every man and his dog can trot out the “I’ve been told by an insider” line, but something about the guy’s certainty, along with DiabloII.net’s long-standing reputation as one of the most reliable and accurate fan sites out there, makes me think that this could well be for real. Put it this way: it’s an awful lot of credibility to lay on the line if you’re not reasonably certain of your claims.

One thing’s for sure, Blizzard’s ever-cryptic splash page isn’t shedding any light on the subject. Over the last few days, they have continually updated their rather baffling piece of art, the most latest image showing two demonic-looking eyes superimposed against a night sky. These could well be Diablo’s eyes… but, as others have pointed out, they could just as well belong to the Protoss from Starcraft, or Arthas from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. All well and good, but, as I already stated, both Starcraft II and Wrath of the Lich King have been announced, and it would strike me as very strange for Blizzard to create this amount of hoopla over something that is already common knowledge. Needless to say, they’re not making this at all easy to guess, and you just have to do a quick Google search to see some of the weird and wonderful theories that people are coming up with.

One things for sure, I’m going to have ants in my pants at work tomorrow.

 
Posted: Friday, June 27, 2008 at 8:40 PM
Categories: Games | Web
 

Something is a-coming

Blizzard Entertainment

A mysterious image has appeared on Blizzard Entertainment’s web site, presumably serving as a teaser for the next new game they announce. The image itself offers no clues as to what that game will be, but what we do know is that the company’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational event kicks off in Paris in Saturday June 28th, so the chances are that it will be used as the venue for the announcement, much as the currently in development Starcraft II was announced at the Worldwide Invitational in Seoul in 2007.

It’s a fairly safe bet that, with World of Warcraft continuing to rake in billions of dollars and Starcraft II still in the oven, the new title will not take place in either of those game worlds. This leaves us with two alternatives: a new Diablo game, or an entirely new franchise. Given that the fact that Blizzard was, at one point, working on a Diablo III (postponed or cancelled outright due to the departure of the original creators from Blizzard North and the eventual shuttering of that satellite studio) is one of the company’s worst-kept secrets, I’d hazard a guess that this is most likely what will end up being announced, but, if that was the case, I’d have expected a more “hellfire and brimstone” image than the rather cold, icy one currently on display.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be an agonising five days waiting for the secret to be revealed.

 
Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 at 9:48 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Games | Web
 

Pointless study wastes money; common sense loses out

Unreal

Gamespot reports that a team of scientists have conducted a study of the PC game Unreal Tournament 2004 and have come to the conclusion that, in team games, players who end up in the Red team are more likely to win than those on the Blue team.

Um, excuse me? People actually sanction the funding of “studies” like this? I could have saved them a whole lot of time and money by pointing out to them that, in the Unreal Tournament series, in multiplayer games with an even number of players, new players who join mid-game will default to the Red team, thereby weighting the game in its favour. That’s why Red is more likely to win than Blue. Not because

the reason behind this was that the colour red acts as a “psychological distractor” to men.

Good grief!

 
Posted: Friday, June 13, 2008 at 6:05 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Games | General | Web
 

To Hellgate and back

Hellgate: London

Blogger Shamus Young has written an interesting series of posts about Hellgate: London, putting together what he describes as an “autopsy” of a game that has seriously disappointed many people (to the extent that an entire site exists devoted to tearing both it and its developer, Flagship Studios, a new one at every possible opportunity). It’s often said that an in-depth analysis of why a game fails is far more revealing than one of why a game succeeds, and, so far, Shamus’ investigation has proved to be quite fascinating, providing not only an in-depth account by a first time player into what has gone wrong, but also suggesting ways in which these problems could be fixed.

My own personal opinion is that the negative press directed towards Hellgate: London is completely disproportionate to its actual flaws, which are considerably less numerous and severe than has been claimed. I also have a feeling that the bulk of the bad buzz comes from a small number of overly obsessive individuals who, for one reason or another, have had a particularly painful experience with the game and have therefore launched some sort of personal vendetta against its developers. I’m currently testing the 2.0 content patch on the beta server, and will be putting together a full review of my own at some point in the future.

For the time being, though, I’ll just say that the game is in better shape than it was when it launched, and that, while it has significant problems, they don’t prevent it from being rather enjoyable. The biggest problem, I suspect, is that it launched a good six months before it was ready, and the majority of the negative reactions are from people who played it when it first came out and quickly gave up on it, thereby not having an opportunity to experience the improvements that have been made since its release.

 
Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 2:45 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Games | Web
 

How to make a DVD on the cheap

DVD DVD

My copies of the new Anchor Bay US releases of Tenebre and Phenomena arrived this morning. Unfortunately, as you will know if you’ve been following discussions of these new editions, you’ll already know that both are less than stellar.

If you were expecting gorgeous new high definition-sourced transfers, you can think again: to my eyes, both appear to be “fake” 16x9 upconverts of the old non-anamorphic masters. The new Phenomena appears to suffer from some overzealous noise reduction, which causes smearing. This is particularly noticeable during the second shot in Chapter 2, where, if you look at the grass at the bottom left hand side of the frame, you can clearly see it smudging and smearing as the camera sways slightly. And, given that they are derived from the same masters that were used for the previous releases, both are still missing material - a few seconds in the case of Tenebre, around six minutes in the case of Phenomena.

Audio (and lack of subtitle) options are identical to the previous releases. In other words, this means that the original mono (for Tenebre) and stereo (for Phenomena) mixes are nowhere to be found. Both discs include 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks, but these are both down-conversions from the 5.1 remixes created by Chase Digital.

The bottom line is that, from an AV standpoint, I really don’t see there being much point in picking up these new DVDs provided you already own either the old AB disc or another version. These are by no means awful discs, but the sad fact, for AB, is that, since they released their original DVDs of these films, other companies have come along and done considerably better, so to recycle these old masters in 2008 really is a bit much. The new featurettes that have been provided for both films are very good, and I really enjoyed hearing from the various participants (including finally putting a face to a name with the first on-screen appearance I’ve seen of Franco Ferrini on the Phenomena featurette), but it’s really a question of whether these two short documentaries justify the price of the new discs.

Regarding the issue of the ongoing debate about which version is the best, there is no doubt in my mind that the best all-round version of Tenebre is the Dutch release from A-Film, entitled Shadows. While this release is bare-bones, and it’s true that it does suffer from some colour timing issues in its second half, they are considerably less severe than on the Japanese DVD (which is admittedly the sharpest-looking of the bunch). It is also completely uncut (as is the Japanese release) and features by far the cleanest English audio track I’ve ever heard for the film, especially in comparison to the one used by AB, which sounds pretty noisy and scratchy.

Things get a bit trickier for Phenomena. The best-looking release, by far, is the Japanese one, and it is also the full-length integral version, but unfortunately, presumably as a result of using a longer cut of the film which sometimes includes shots which differ in length from the English version by a frame here and a frame there, several dialogue scenes are rendered in Italian only on the English audio track. If you’re prepared to do a bit of piecing together in a video editing program, you can put together a satisfying version, but if you intend to play it straight from the disc and watch it in English, you’ll have to be prepared for some key narrative scenes being in Italian, despite English audio existing for them.

I’ve posted some screen captures comparing these new releases to various other versions that are available at Dark Discussion.

 
Posted: Monday, June 02, 2008 at 10:19 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology | Web
 

Actually, it really is that bad

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

The illustrious Baron Scarpia has braved a fate worse than death and submitted himself to reading all thirteen of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comics. It was actually the Baron who first drew my attention to the world of rubbish Buffy comics in a post he made back in 2006, and, while I’m sure I’d have sought the Season 8 comics out regardless, I suspect that his, erm, appraisal of the comics available on the BBC web site probably served as something of a warning of just how bad things could get in comicdom. Therefore, I suppose I have him to thank for my experience with Season 8 not being as traumatic as it could have been. You see, my expectations had already been tempered somewhat by what I knew about the previous comics in this franchise, to the extent that I wasn’t particularly surprised by the poor quality of this official continuation. Still, I think my appreciation for the comics would have improved immensely had they included this delightful line from a piece of Buffy fan fiction, quoted by the Baron in his 2006 post:

The demon jumped into the air and landed in front of Buffy. “I know you Slayer. You cannot stop me. I shall defeat you then I shall fuck you to death.”

Is that poetry or is it poetry? Proof, perhaps, that Willow asking Satsu what Buffy is like in the sack (in Episode 13) is actually not the single most absurd conversation that could have been written.

Anyway, there’s a point to this post other than simply hawking a friend’s review (not that I wouldn’t have done that anyway - go and read it, it’s insightful and quite amusing). I want to take the time to reply to some of the issues raised in a comment left on of my own reviews of these comics. Basically, the visitor, Marc, felt that, in comparison with my reviews of other series and films, my Buffy reviews were a bit like something you might find in a “tawdry fan blog”, featuring over-analysis and without sufficient context given for those who are not followers of the show to understand what I was writing about.

I disagree with the first point, in that I don’t think my coverage of this series has been any more (over-)analytical than the other reviews I do. And if it is… well, let’s not forget that Buffy is a series that has gone out of its way to be very self-aware and referential towards pop culture. It’s the sort of thing that practically demands that you address it in an analytical way rather than just saying “I liked this, I didn’t like that”.

The other point, however - the lack of background explanation - is a perfectly valid one, however, and is a shortcoming of the Buffy project that I’ve become aware of over the course of re-reading some of the episode reviews recently. It’s quite true that there is a lack of context: if you don’t watch Buffy, most of the time you’ll have no idea what I’m talking abut in terms of characters, events or the mythology in general. In that respect, these reviews are very difficult, not to mention weaker, than the reviews I normally write. In my defence, when I began the Buffy project I wasn’t really writing the reviews for anything other than my own benefit. By the time I realised that this was a problem, however, it was too late to modify the tone of these capsules without going back to the beginning and starting over, something that I don’t feel particularly compelled to do, since it would necessitate yet another trip down memory lane, dredging up all the painful memories that come with it.

Tell you what - one of these days, I’ll sit down and write a summary-style review of each season, written with the assumption that the reader has no prior knowledge of the series in question.

 
Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 10:29 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Web
 

Clash of the tits

Would you like to punch this man?

Above: Would you like to punch this man?

Source: Dread Central

Dr. Uwe Boll is at it again! Not content with making some of the worst movies known to humankind, the man behind House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark has issued a personal challenge to Michael Bay, calling on him to meet him in the ring to battle it out, mano a mano, and determine once and for all who is the better director.

You may remember a previous escapade involving Uwe Boll and a boxing ring. Two years ago, he famously challenged his harshest critics to a punch-up in the ring. In something of a perverse twist of fate, Boll resoundingly thrashed all five opponents, proving that it doesn’t matter how bad a filmmaker you are, provided you can pack a mean punch. Frankly, I don’t fancy Bay’s chances if he chooses to accept the challenge.

You can view the Herr Doktor’s video message to Bay at MovieSet.

 
Posted: Monday, April 28, 2008 at 4:11 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

How ya doin’?

Windows Vista

Apologies for the relative lack of posts recently. I’ve been quite busy of late, finishing up a piece of written work for my supervisor (who is now back from maternity leave) and also filling out a six-monthly progress review report. I’m going in to university tomorrow to discuss this, among other things, but I just thought I’d swing by to fill you in on the latest.

First and foremost, the reason for the garish logo attached to this post is that I am currently typing this from inside Windows Vista. Yes, I decided to give it another go, primarily because (I kid you not) I want to be able to play the snazzy new versions of Solitaire and Spider Solitaire. Well, okay, the fact that the whole operating system looks really nice did sway things in its favour too. In any event, before long I’ll probably be picking up a DirectX 10-based video card in order to enjoy supported games, and I’m sure that, within the next year or so, the Windows-based port of Halo 2 will no longer be (pretty much) the only game to require Vista. More importantly, Vista-compatible drivers and software are now available for my USB TV stick, which, back in May, was one of my main reasons for opting for XP. In any event, I’ve been using Vista on my laptop since I got it back in October, so I figured I might as well standardise my computing experience™.

I have, however, kept open the option of switching back to XP if I feel the need: back when I set this machine up last May, I wisely prepared for a rainy day by only formatting 40 GB of my 80 GB primary hard drive. Tonight, I formatted the remaining 40 GB as a new partition and installed Vista on to that, retaining my install of XP on the already existing partition. It must be pointed out that I’m a complete luddite when it comes to operating systems: it took me ages to finally let go of Windows 3.11, for instance. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still had it installed on my computer as a dual boot with Windows 98 at one point. That said, I’ve got a good feeling about things this time round. Vista is slick and smooth and pretty stable, and driver support does appear to have matured somewhat in the last 10-12 months.

That said, I’d be lying if I said everything was plain sailing. That old bugbear, Creative Labs’ shoddy sound card driver support, reared its ugly head. To briefly explain, Creative’s support for their legacy products in Vista is notoriously slipshod, and my ageing Audigy (that’s the original Audigy, from 2001) is about as legacy as they come. Anyway, fed up with this sorry state of affairs, a fellow named Daniel Kawakami began creating his own Vista drivers, reinstating features that Creative hadn’t bothered to port over from their XP drivers. All well and good, and you’d think that Creative would have been pleased that someone was doing their work for them, and for no charge. At the very least, they could have bought him a tankard of foaming nut-brown ale. But oh no - instead, they slapped him with a “cease and desist” demand, deleted all his posts from their forum, and as a result suffered an unenviable backlash from a fan community already monumentally pissed off at them for their third-rate support.

To cut a long story short, Creative finally realised that what they were doing wasn’t making them the most popular people in the business (their plummeting stock was probably the final nail in the coffin), and they relented, reinstating Daniel’s posts and telling him he was free to continue distributing his drivers, barring the ones that were infringing on other companies’ intellectual property.

Anyway, finally getting to the point of this diatribe, aware of the shortcomings of Creative’s official drivers, it was Daniel_K’s drivers that I initially downloaded and installed. Everything was working fine until I attempted to play a DVD in PowerDVD. For those who don’t know, I use SPDIF audio output for my DVD playback, bypassing the sound card and letting my external receiver decode Dolby Digital and DTS streams. The only problem was that, as soon as I attempted to play a DVD, I got an instant Blue Screen of Death - the first BSoD I’ve ever had on this PC incidentally, which really didn’t get my Vista experience off to a great start. I eventually gave up trying to fix the problem and simply uninstalled Daniel_K’s drivers, putting the official Creative ones in their place. Now, I know these drivers are crippled in many ways, but I’d rather live with their shortcomings than not be able to watch my DVDs the way I want to, so I’m just going to live with them. When all said and done, though, I hope the Daniel_K debacle and the public backlash will convince Creative to get off their flabby backsides and write some decent, fully functioning drivers for Vista. As it is, they are currently the only thorn in my side when it comes to my usage of Vista. (Of course, I’m sure I’ll discover some additional niggles as soon as I post this.)

Anyway, until tomorrow, folks, when hopefully I’ll be able to get back to posting news on a more regular basis. There have been some interesting developments recently which really need to be posted about, including an impending increase in the European import limit to a whopping €150, which is sure to please anyone who enjoys value for money. The times they are a-changin’.

 
Posted: Monday, April 07, 2008 at 11:44 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: DVD | General | PhD | Technology | Web
 

Apparently they sell DVDs in shops now

DVD DVD

As you probably know, I buy most of my DVDs online. Not only does it usually work out far cheaper than shopping for them on the high street, it’s also considerably more convenient too. Since getting a job in the centre of town, however, I’ve often found myself wandering around the nearby shops during my lunch break, without much else to do, and have come across the odd bargain or two.

One such quite unexpected find came last Wednesday, when I decided to have a peek inside the shop that used to be called Virgin Megastore but was recently rebranded under the utterly ridiculous name of “Zaavi” and as a result is now often as quiet as the grave. They were doing a “2 for £10” deal on selected television series box sets, one of which, the first series of Lewis, I’d been meaning to pick up for a while. (To put this into perspective, it currently goes for a whopping £24.99 just up the street at the local Borders.) There weren’t really any other titles in the offer that piqued my interest (why is that always the way?), so I eventually settled on a somewhat battered-looking copy of the Series 1 and 2 box set of Sugar Rush. I saw a few episodes of its second series when it was airing on TV a couple of years back, and while they weren’t exactly masterpieces (ex-Casualty writer Bryan Elsley’s Skins is, for my money, by far the better of Channel 4’s “stroppy teenagers screwing each other and getting wasted” dramedies), I can think of worse ways of spending an evening. Besides, it was only a fiver.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of TV DVD sets, Waking the Dead’s sixth series is being released on May 19th, with the seventh series supposedly to begin airing a month or so ahead of that. Series 6 was, for my money, the weakest of the bunch (I said as much when it finished airing last February), but I would welcome the opportunity to see them again and re-evaluate them. Often, with Waking the Dead, an optimal two viewings or more is required in order to work out precisely what is supposed to be happening, and seemingly weaker episodes have a habit of transforming themselves once you’ve had a chance to actually figure out the plot.

 
Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2008 at 2:27 PM
Categories: DVD | General | TV | Waking the Dead | Web
 

What day is today?

Why, today is the day that Daily Wail renewed its campaign against vegetable porn and politicians who inhabit the same public houses as paedophiles. Oh, and there’s a shock new exposé into the latest murder simulators available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

 
Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Web
 

Boy were my pants brown

Technology

I’ve just had an extremely narrow escape. As many of you probably know, I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email application of choice. Yes, I’m well aware of the downsides of using POP3 email as opposed to something web-based, but I do so mainly for the convenience (I’ve used my @ntlworld.com address for years and have never got round to fully migrating to something like Gmail) and also because of the various advanced functions it offers. Well, this evening I discovered just how wrong things can go when cursed with the combination of Thunderbird and a finger that happens to land in the wrong location at the wrong time.

Picture the scene. I’m happily tapping away at my keyboard, replying to a message on some forum or other. The “new email” notification icon pops up the System Tray. “Oh, how nice,” I think. “Someone is speaking to me. Either that or they’re offering me viagra or trying to get me to send money to Nigeria.” I alt-tab to Thunderbird. Sure enough, it’s junk mail. “Not to worry,” I think, “I’ll just press Shift+Delete to remove it permanently. All well and good, only somehow (please don’t ask me how), I managed to accidentally select the entire contents of my Inbox beforehand. The Shift+Delete command, as you can probably guess deletes selected items without first sending them to the Trash folder. In other words, it removes them for good.

Only not quite. After a good half hour of panic and frantic rushing around the web, hoping against hope that there would be some way of reversing this seemingly irreversible process, I came upon an article at JiveBay which revealed to me that not only is no Thunderbird deletion actually permanent, it is also actually fairly straightforward to restore every single email I’ve ever deleted, since the beginning of time. (Seriously, my most sincere thanks to the author of this post. I owe him/her a glass of Pepsi Max.)

Crisis averted. Problem number two… well, you remember when I said “since the beginning of time”, don’t you? Would you care to guess how many emails you’ve received in the last five years? For me personally, it’s into the millions, what with all the forum reply notifications, advertisements for penis enlargement, comment notifications for Whiggles.com, and a disturbingly large amount of mass mailshots from the University of Glasgow that come my way. Most of these get deleted without a second thought. Well, they’ve all just been undeleted, and my Inbox now looks like the centre of London during rush hour. I have an impressive 21,790 reply notifications from Dark Discussion alone, before I even get on to spam and everything else that’s going to have to be deleted.

Needless to say, I’m extremely relieved to have managed to salvage all my mail (my previous backup was nearly a year old… note to self: backup more often), but I’m now looking forward to many a gruelling hour of hitting “Delete”. This time without the Shift key.

 
Posted: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 10:09 PM
Categories: Technology | Web
 
 

 
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