<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples

11Jan/07Off

Final Fantasy 12 – The Movie

Posted by Charles Chen

 

Or rather, the cut scenes (in game and pre-rendered) from the game.

If you're like me, you really don't have the time to spend plunking down in front of your TV to play 40-60 hour games anymore.  Most of my gaming time these days is spent with the DS (the greatest gaming platform of this generation?).

But I can't shake my adoration for the Final Fantasy series, even though sometimes it seems like it's been milked to death.  The game always features some of the most creative character, architectural, landscape, and creature designs.  In this respect, Final Fantasy XII does not disappoint...some of the bosses and their specials are just jaw dropping.  It blows my mind that they were able to create this world with such detail, creativity, richness, and beauty.

In any case, if you want to skip to the good stuff, then hop on over to videogamesheaven.net and check out the FFXII cutscenes.  It's worth watching through the whole thing.  I actually think it's fairly well written and the voice acting isn't terrible (Vaan is possibly the worst one but Fran, Balthier, Basch, and Penelo are all great).

On some level, the main theme relates to one of the central themes of the Blade of the Immortal series: how does one come to grips with the desire for revenge and the reality of bloodshed that such a path would entail and the cycle of hatred that is driven by such actions?

 

9May/06Off

Believe!

Posted by Charles Chen

My eyes just teared up (no, really...I'm still kinda all emotional inside) watching the Nintendo E3 press conference intro video...wow, incredibly moving.

Amazing.

Update: Man, the tears keep coming...I dunno...such a fanboy I guess.  Glorious day!

27Feb/06Off

What is Terrorism?

Posted by Charles Chen

Came across an incredibly deep editorial by Devin Faraci on why "V for Vendetta is the most dangerous film of 2006".

What’s happened in the world in the last few years is that we’ve had our dialogue taken away. Remember when conservatives freaked the fuck out about the PC movement – where they took offense at the idea that maybe it wasn’t cool to use unpleasant racial or sexual remarks? When they decided that being polite was some kind of liberal conspiracy? Well, we live in a world which has become PC times a thousand, where to even question the US occupation of Iraq or the way that the War on Terror has been fought is to be un-American. If you try to even begin to understand why a huge percentage of the Middle East hates us, you’re a jihadist sympathizer. Why do you hate America so much with your questions and refusal to just accept the party line? But for the love of God, don’t tell me I can’t call gays “faggots,” because that’s PC nonsense. V For Vendetta seeks to dynamite open that blocked dialogue and to confront us with many issues – what is our security worth? Is terrorism inherently evil? What the hell is terrorism anyway?

V isn’t the only place these questions are being asked. Last week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica impressed me as it showed heroic human resistance fighters on Cylon-occupied Caprica blow up a café full of quite possibly innocent human-looking Cylons. Show creator Ronald Moore and his writers are no dummies – they took the characters we sympathize with, that we understand, who have been almost driven to extinction by the unspeakable aggression and brutality of the Cylons, and put them in the position of a Palestinian terrorist. We never saw what any of the Cylons killed in that explosion had done before. They may have been administrators or accountants – at least one was a barista. But the human resistance didn’t care if they had had a direct hand in the attempted genocide of the human race – they were complicit, guilty by association. And brilliantly the show puts us in the mindset of a terrorist. That's the beauty of what art can do, and how it can present to us new ways of looking at issues we thought we had already covered.

Some would say that’s glorifying terrorism; smarter people would say that’s examining how terrorism happens. Which is V? I think in the end it’s riding a fine line; it’s not explicitly condoning terrorism, but it is making the argument that sometimes the people need to commit violence against the state. Ironically, this is a statement that conservatives should agree with – it’s the basis, they say, of their impassioned defense of the Second Amendment. Violence against the state will always be classified as terrorism – by the state. If the modern concept of terrorism had been in vogue in 1776, I can guarantee to you that that would be how the Revolutionaries would have been smeared by the British. Instead they had to stick to the usual old-fashioned lines of treason and such. In the end the American Revolution was the illegal use of violence to make political change – and if you don’t believe it was illegal, I suggest you do some reading as to find out why the signing of the Declaration of Independence was such a big deal. Each man who signed that document essentially signed his own death warrant, should he be captured – the British didn’t recognize American sovereignty and saw the Revolutionaries only as traitors who would be hung.

I definitely recommend reading the rest of it. Very well written and puts into words some thoughts that at least I've been having about some of the policies that are coming out of the Bush administration these days.

Very much looking forward to this movie.

Filed under: Entertainment 1 Comment
24Feb/06Off

Of Creativity, Skill, and…Television?

Posted by Charles Chen

I've never been much of a television guy, except for news and sports, especially "reality TV" shows.  But two shows have really caught my attention recently: Dancing with the Stars and Project Runway.

I think what catches my attention about these shows is the incredible amount of creative energy and passion displayed by all of the participants.  You'd figure that a guy like Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver ever, would have been through it all and experienced all of the emotion and passion that comes with competition.  And yet, you can just see how much he's enjoying himself and really, really working hard at this competition.

Drew Lachey is also amazing.  Like all of the other competitors, he is really, really into it and really driven.  (Just watched his final dance, non-freestyle, and it was amazing, perfect 30!).

The person that I'm more amazed by is Stacy Keibler.  Wow, she is beautiful.  Beautiful body and, more importantly, amazing skill.  Of the non-professional dancers, she is definitely the best one on the show (Drew is second).  Seductive, silky smooth on the floor, and absolutely amazing in all respects. 

When asked about this experience, Stacy said:

"This is the first thing I've done in my life where I have fans who are children and women, instead of just men...If I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn't think twice.  It reallly has changed my life.  I've been offered movies and I'm auditioning.  I kind of wake up every day with a smile on my face and pinch myself."

Maybe more schools should add ballroom dancing to their curriculum?  But to be sure, this is great, enjoyable television.

I also caught a short piece in USA Today on Dolly Parton's Oscar nomination for her song Travelin' Thru written for the movie Transamerica, a movie about a pre-operative transsexual.  Now I've never really known much about Dolly Parton, but this piece really boosted my respect for her a hundred-fold.

"Some things are strange to me, and some things are odd," says Parton, 60.  "But I don't condemn.  If you can accept me, I can accept you."

"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats" she says.  "Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy.  One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds.  It's all right to be who you are."

Just thought I'd share :-)

12Dec/05Off

Ebert on Games as Art, Part 2

Posted by Charles Chen

Over the last few weeks, there has been quite some noise regarding the debate as to whether video games should be regarded as a form of "art".  Certainly, this is not a new debate, but it has been reinvigorated as the new generation of hardware and software allow the game designers to build ever more photo-realistic environments and bring us closer to an interactive movie.

At the center of the debate, today, is Roger Ebert, one of the most respected and recognized authorities on motion pictures.  I must have missed the original source of the current dialogue (I can track it to the third Q&A on this page), but the resulting comments from around the world/web is interesting nonetheless.  There are so many great replies and comments, that it's hard to really summarize, but there are a few choice perspectives that I feel I should highlight.

Like Tim Maly, I don't think that a comparison of film to video games is one that has any relevance.  As Tim states in a letter to Ebert,

The invention of photography sparked a crisis in the world of
painting: "Why should we paint if pictures can do it better?" But then
painters figured out that there were lots of other things that they
could do, that cameras can't.

Simon val Alphen adds,

Last year, I finally got around to reading Aristotle's Poetics and was
charmed to discover that large sections involve Ari discussing the
relative merits between the new-kid Tragedy versus the established form
of Epic Verse. He cites other critics who argue that Tragedy, featuring
vulgar elements such as singing and creating works of hugely less
scale, is a lesser form than the traditional Epic Verse. Aristotle
plays it cute, arguing what they've analyzed as weaknesses are in fact
strengths, allowing Tragedy to move people in ways Epic Verse simply
can't.

In general, I tend to agree with the opinion that games can't be compared to movies (nor should they be).  It's certainly not a crime to compare a gaming experience to a cinematic experience (read my review of MGS3 for PS2), as more developers start to create more story driven games, hire top notch voice acting talent, incorporate motion captured movement to create more fluid animation, and push the visual envelope that distinguishes the virtual world from the physical world.  But there will always be that element of interaction that seperates games from film.  This interaction, as Ebert and several correspondents point out, leads to an experience that is altogether incongruent to the principles of film.  However, as van Alphen suggests, video games offer an experience that simply cannot be delivered by film.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no similarities in the two mediums, but rather these similarities must be compared in different contexts and with regards to different factors.

There are many, many more great comments on Ebert's website that are worth reading through for offering well thought out responses to this dialogue which Ebert seems to have singlehandedly rekindled.  I, for one, am glad that Ebert has brought this discussion to a more mainstream outlet (as opposed to the geek-infested Internet forums and boards).

23Sep/05Off

Classic

Posted by Charles Chen

Via Gaming-Age Forums:


"What non-gimmick games would benefit from the Revolution controller?"


Classic reply:


"Baseball - you'll get to see how much you suck at baseball

First person quarterback - you'll get to see how much you suck at football

Fighting game - you'll get to see how much you suck at fighting

Grand Theft Auto... now you can actually perform the shanking motion when you kill people before jacking their cars

Pancake/skillet/burger flipping simulation - a job training sim for many gamers

Sweeping/farming/window washing simulation - it becomes a job training game for other gamers

(mature) shuffle board

casino games

(mature) sex trainer"

23Sep/05Off

Gold Digger

Posted by Charles Chen

I'm not a big fan of what I would call mainstream music (top 40's, stuff on the radio or MTV). The last mainstream CD that I purchased was probably Life for Rent by Dido (she's got a great voice). And perhaps my least favorite music genre is mainstream rap/hip-hop. I mean, how many times can you rap about shooting people, bling-bling, dubs, $d(hos), and your homeboys before it just gets tiring?

The scary thing is that when I try to apply any logic to this, it seems like the current fad will never die. I mean, how long have people been writing songs and poetry about love?

Anyways, so as I was flipping through the channels this morning while eating my oatmeal (yeah, I know, I sound like such an old man), I came across the video for Gold Digger by Kanye West (the site keeps talking to me, which is kinda annoying). I must say, the song and the lyrics are very catchy and, while it is still on the topic of bling-bling and hos, it takes a seemingly different angle than what I typically try to tune out. Besides that, who knew that Jamie Foxx could actually sing? Hard to believe but he has this deep, scratchy voice that adds a very nice blues flavor to the mix.

But perhaps what intrigued me more was the video itself. It was a visually stunning video. Stunning in it's simplicity and the way it brought out the beauty of the female subjects. It was sexual, but I didn't find it overtly so. Yeah, yeah, some of you will say that it was just a bunch of women scantily clad in lingerie dancing around and posing, but it was very tastefully done, at least in my opinion. Director Hype Williams does a great job of recalling the pinups of decades past with the excellent set and costume designs.

So for those of you who don't normally listen to rap/hip-hop, this is one video that might be worth checking out (it's linked off of the front page of Kanye's site).

Filed under: Entertainment No Comments
22Sep/05Off

Of Katamaris and Revolutions

Posted by Charles Chen

I came across a link this morning (via Ars) to a forum where Chris Kohler of Wired News does an impromptu Q&A on his exeprience with the Revolution controller at TGS.


Kohler echoes some of the same sentiments that I had when I first read about this.


"The Revolution controller, much like the DS touch screen, takes away a barrier between people and machines. People loved to post that Minority Report screen as a joke, but that's pretty damn close to at least the thought pattern behind the controller -- you just reach out with your hand and start manipulating things on-screen.


For some people, a DualShock controller is just that sort of extension of their person. But it takes a lot -- some would say a lifetime -- of practice to get there."


There are some memorable posts in this thread; this one being perhaps one of the top 10 funniest I've read all year:


"Let me say this again.


I took the controller and pointed it at the screen. This moved a cursor around wherever I pointed my hand.


AND FUCK ALL IF I KNOW HOW IT WORKS.


Nintendo could have engineered a little tiny hamster that runs inside a ball that tilts around when you spin the thing, for all I know. When you press the A button he gets an electric shock and pees."


I also like this one from Ars:


"A friend of mine told me a few years ago that he didn't expect video games to get any better in the future. Everything's been done, and only the graphics improve now. I told him then that the reason for this was the level of precision in control. You simply cannot control a ninja with 10 buttons and feel like you're *really* a ninja.


The revolution controller, if it is precise and fast, provides a quantum leap in the level of control you can have over games. In my book, Nintendo will win the next-gen console wars, because the Revolution is the only next-gen console being made."


On a related note, I just got my copy of We (Love) Katamari last night (via the bestest wife in the whole wide world) and I can't help but think how awesome this type of controller would be with a game like Katamari. When my wife first started playing it, it was quite humorous watching her shift her whole body around as if it would help her roll the Katamari in a different direction.


While the game doesn't break any new ground like it's predecessor, it is, nonetheless, a cute, quirky, and entertaining game.


I only have a few gripes about this version:



  • The new soundtrack isn't as solid as the one from the first. It seems more electronic...not really my style.
  • There are now, somewhat craftily disguised, loading screens during the middle of a level as a new area is opened up. This was somewhat annoying as this was non-existent in the first version.
  • The "storyline" isn't quite as quirky and WTF-inducing as the first one. Although it's cute that you bump into some of the characters from the first one once in a while.
  • Royal Rainbow is not nearly as badass as the original.

On the plus side:



  • You can now select your background music for each level, which is cool.
  • I haven't tried, but I think you can play as any of the cousins.
  • You can accessorize the Prince with multiple presents now.
  • There's tons more new stuff to pick up and new environments.
  • The gameplay mechanics are improved slightly, especially the camera.

For $30, it's not a bad pickup. The original gets a 9.5/10. This one gets an 8/10. This one just doesn't quite floor you like the first one did, but it's still a fun and enjoyable way to kick back and unwind at the end of the day.


Katamari only serves to reinforce the point that games need not be graphically/visually extravagent or realistic to be enjoyable. In fact, part of the charm of Katamari is the quirky, colorful, blocky character design. To this end, I think Nintendo has chosen the right path. Of course, the Revolution will offer superior graphics to say Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube, but the point is that this won't be it's only selling point.

21Sep/05Off

Conversation with Werner Herzog

Posted by Charles Chen

A couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon a transcript of a conversation between Roger Ebert and Werner Herzog.

To this point, I've read several of Ebert's reviews on Herzog's work (several of his movies are on my to-watch list).

But after reading this transcript, I'm more fascinated by the man and what he's trying to accomplish through film. 

I think what really intrigues me about Herzog is the great extent he is
willing to sacrifice himself to create imagery that no other filmmaker
today is willing to attempt; his drive and purpose are not monetary.

"It was disgusting actually because at that time 20th Century Fox was interested
to produce a film and we had a very brief conversation of about five sentences
because it was clear their position was, “You have to do it with a miniature
boat.” From there on it was clear no one in the industry would ever support
something like that. It was really risky, and I knew, at that moment, I was
alone with it."

Ebert makes a very interesting observation about Herzog in his review of The White Diamond:

"In 'La Soufriere,' a 1977 documentary released on DVD last month, he journeys to
an island evacuated because of an impending volcanic eruption, to ask the only
man who stayed behind why he did not leave. What he is really asking, what he is
always asking, is why he had to go there to ask the question."

Filed under: Entertainment No Comments
20Sep/05Off

The American Dream

Posted by Charles Chen

I finished watching Spellbound this past weekend with the wife.

It's quite amazing watching some of these kids, as young as 9, prepare for the Scripps Natiaonal Spelling Bee with such intensity and focus.

However, I'm mixed on the significance of memorizing large numbers of
words.  On one hand, it does excercise the capacity of the still
maturing brain, it does help kids understand the process of memorizing information, it does help develop a strong work ethic.  On the other hand, I don't know if it has any intellectual value.  To memorize formulas for physics is one thing.  To understand the formulas is a different story. 

Despite all that spekticism, I really liked the point that Rajesh Kadakia, one of the speller's father makes:

"I'll be the first to admit that it's hard.  But what is valuable in life that is easy to achieve?"

But in any case, perhaps the more important aspect of the film that I
took away from my viewing is what America symbolizes to the rest of the
world.  Now don't get the wrong idea, I'm not some chest thumping,
flag waving, patriot.  In fact, I'm probably middle of the road in
what I think of this country as a whole (or at least where we are
currently), but I was really re-awakened to the fact that America is land
of dreams by two segments in the film (it's one of those things that
you probably think about once in a while, but when you hear it again,
you're reaction is always along the lines of "Wow, that's soooo true", even though you've come to the same conclusion at some previous point in time).

As the spellers are introduced to us, one by one, we are also
introduced to the different cultural backgrounds of each family. 
It's truly amazing to see how the parents, family, and teachers in each
vignette run the gamut of skin color, attitudes towards education, and
their approach to supporting their kids.

Perhaps the best soundbites to come out of these subjects is from Mr. Kadakia.

"I'm so indebeted...to this country, which will accept a stranger
[to] come in and give them this opportunity.  America is just
great."

A little later, as Rajesh is showing us around his second home, he says:

"There is no way that you can fail in this country.  That is
one guarantee in this country: if you work hard, you will make
it.  And that's not existent in the rest of the world."

This struck me again the other night as I was talking to my wife
about how badass my mom is when I think about it.  When we first
moved here from Taiwan, she was a single mother, taking care of two
kids, attending grad school full time, and working part-time to pay for
it!  We used to live in a tiny little 1 bedroom apartment and
literally posessed only junk (my mom loved garage sales). 
Thinking back, it's truly amazing how determined my mother is. 
You would never be able to tell by the packaging (my mom is a somewhat
tiny woman), but my mother is just exploding with determination to do
whatever she sets her mind to.

I'm tempted to think that this is a largely immigrant way of
thinking.  Of her second trip to the spelling bee after being
eliminated in an early round the previous year, one of the young
spellers, Nupur Lala, says:

"You don't get any second chances in India the way you do in America."

It's true.  And I think that most people take this for
granted.  The immigrant mind feeds off of this second chance in
life and
utilizes it to excel.  Perhaps Angela Arenivar's story (the first
speller we are introduced to) symbolizes this more so than any of the
other spellers in the documentary (her father being an illegal Mexican
immigrant who doesn't speak English).

At this point, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this :-D but there was one other statement that caught my attention:

"I'm always thrilled to see any child come in who is from India because I know they are gonna have a good work ethic and the are gonna be good students."

Being the spouse of a teacher, I can tell you that this is a
general attitude (be it good or bad) that teachers have towards Asian
students in general.  My wife expects Asian kids to do well without the goading and prodding that most kids require; she's excited when
she sees an Asian name on her class list in the summer.  Now,
being Asian myself, and having met Asians of all walks, I can tell you
that there are stupid Asians as well (maybe I'm one of them :-D), and I
consistently point this out to people who make the point to me that
Asians are statistically smarter than other races.

Seeing as how I can't seem to string my thoughts together today, I
think I'll just end this post here.  It is the immigrant working
class, driven by The American Dream,
that has built America to what it is today.  As we move forward,
we need to keep sight of this ideal and realize that The American Dream
is not a right owed to any of us, but a privilege for which we must
continually strive to attain.

If nothing else, this movie serves as a reminder that our situations
are never as dire as we think them to be. America is truly the land of
opportunity, be it financial or academic; however, one must always be prepared to work hard to
achieve success.

Sidenote: If you search around the web, you can find various tid-bits about the spellers.  Some of them even have blogs. It's intersting to see their perspective and find out how the film affected their lives.