I Just Got a 100x Increase In Internet Speed

So for a couple years now I have been living in an apartment on the South Side of Chicago where it's safe to say Internet upgrades are a bit behind the times. My Internet hit various speeds depending on the time of day but in general I got about 120 Kbps. That's not even fast enough to stream a Youtube video. Well last week I moved back in with my parents while I get my finances under control. Unfortunately I didn't get my stuff from Chicago until today. So after a week I set up my consoles and my computer and decided I needed something to play. So I decided to download Stalker which I owned on Steam but hadn't ever played much of. I'm used to a 6 GB game taking a week or so to download at speeds of around 30 kbps. So when my download started and the speed read 3 MB a second I nearly died. I went in to ask my Mom why she had such a fast connection and she said AT&T offered to upgrade her connection for free for six months. She didn't know to what speed. So I did a speed test and the result was a massive 12 Mbps. Yes I got an amazing 100x increase in speeds. So I watched some videos, went on some forums and such and checked my download a half hour later expecting it to be at maybe 25% and low and behold it was already done. I now am looking at my 150 strong Steam game collection and not dreading downloading some of them. I also am a PSN Plus member so I can download all those full games and the full game trials without having to wait a week or two. Such a beautiful connection. At these speeds I could stream 1080p video. Yup no more waiting on Youtube for me. In fact no more waiting at all. For at least a couple months I'm going to download the heck out of things and it is going to be amazing.


The Perfect Run

Several people who commented on my last blog asked me to share my thoughts on Pixar's so called "perfect run" or the films the studio made from the release of Toy Story through the release of Toy Story 3. Consisting of 11 films it is arguably the longest perfect run of any movie production studio in history and at least the highest by an animation studio depending on your view of Isao Takahata's 90's Studio Ghibli movies Pom Poko and My Neighbors The Yamadas. Should you appreciate those two films then Studio Ghibli's "perfect run" probably extended from the 1986 release of Castle In the Sky (Unless you count Nausicaa as a Ghibli film) to the 2004 release of Howl's Moving Castle or 13 films. Honestly as an American I just can't appreciate Takahata's 90's efforts so the prize goes to Pixar. Comparatively Disney's perfect run ended at 5 films with the release of Bambi. Dreamworks never had a perfect run while Don Bluth's production house under its various names had a perfect run of four films from The Secret of NIMH to All Dogs Go to Heaven. Blue Sky Studios never had a perfect run, and Michel Ocelot's films are arguable too controversial to even mention.

So who cares about perfect runs? Well a lot of people. A studio that has a perfect track record can say to its audiences that regardless of the quality of the marketing or the subject of the film, there is no reason to not believe that their next film will be great. The longer the perfect run lasts the more certainty the studio can say this with. To make a video game comparison look at Blizzard. Ignoring the company's porting work, Blizzard has arguably had a perfect run from its release of Blackthorne till the present day. Some people like some of Blizzard's games more than others, but it is safe to say that Blizzard has gone 20 years without ever making a bad game. These days a new release by Blizzard is treated as one of the largest events in a gaming year. Until the studio releases a bad game there is no reason to believe they ever will. Especially considering the complexity of their ownerships and the staff turnover it is hard to imagine any bad game coming out of Blizzard.

Of course the thing about a perfect run is that it only takes one film or game to ruin a perfect run and no matter the amount of successful products you release before and arfterwards there is suddenly an uncertainty about quality that you simply cannot ever remove. Blizzard has been pressured by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to release games on a more regular schedule and this has arguably jeapordized their status as the premier PC game developer today. So what events lead to Pixar's perfect run and what events lead to its demise? Let us examine.

Pixar was founded by George Lucas in the early 1970's as a computer graphics company. It wasn't until the mid-80's that Pixar transitioned into making CG television shorts after the success of John Lasseter's CG Short films including the now iconic Luxo Jr. It was 10 years later that then owner Steve Jobs agreed to let Lasseter attempt to make a feature length CGI movie. The film was called Toy Story and it was distributed and marketed by Disney. From the 1995 release of Toy Story to the 2003 release of Finding Nemo, Pixar's movies were created by a dedicated internal team. At the head was John Lasseter. Acting as co-directors were Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Pete Doctor and Joe Ranft. Music for the films was done mostly by Randy Newman while audio was designed by arguably the greatest sound designer of all time, Gary Rydstrom. Stanton wrote the scripts with stories from himself, Lassetter, Ranft and Doctor, among others. This core creative team were the masters, the insiders responsible for almost every Pixar movie throughout the 90's and 00's. Following Steve Jobs' dedication to quality at any cost, the team worked to better themselves, always attempting to top themselves with each successive release.

In 2004 Pixar brought in its first outside director, The Iron Giant creator Brad Bird. His first film was The Incredibles and it brought with it a new age of quality in which Pixar made arguably its best films. The Incredibles was followed by Cars, Ratatoullie, Wall E, Up and Toy Story 3. Pixar, it seemed, could do no wrong. At least to outsiders. Inside the studio changes were afoot. Pixar was purchased by Disney moving Lasseter to a new position in charge of all Disney animation. Suddenly the head man was no longer making individual movies. At the same time Ranft died in a tragic car accident. With two of its top creatives gone pressure fell on Stanton, Doctor, and Unkrich to keep the float aloft and they did so admirably. The one, two, three punch of Wall E (Stanton), Up (Doctor), and Toy Story 3 (Unkrich) was an amazing cinematic achievement. But things were about to go sour. After Wall E Stanton took a break from Pixar to work on John Carter. Brad Bird, meanwhile, was working on the live action movie 1906, before transitioning to the latest Mission Impossible movie. Pixar's two top writers were out of commission and Pete Doctor and Lee Unkrich had several years before their next films would be ready.

Before its acquisition by Disney, Pixar would often take off a year if it didn't have a movie ready. But Disney demanded regular releases and with none of its regular team of directors and writers available, Pixar turned to fresh new faces to direct. Their first effort was Cars 2 directed by producer Brad Lewis. Meanwhile Gary Rydstrom began work on a film entitled Newt and Dreamworks director Brenda Chapman began work on The Bear and the Bow. Suffice to say things went poorly from the start. Within a year Newt was cancelled and Cars 2 was rumored to be unwatchably bad. The Bear and the Bow was renamed to Brave and pushed up to a 2012 release. Less than six months before the release of Cars 2, John Lasseter realized that the film needed more help than anyone but he could give. So he fired Brad Lewis and personally went in to retool the film. Time was short and the end result was reportedly a lot better than Brad Lewis' version, but there was no doubt that Cars 2 was simply a bad movie. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 34% it was more than 40 points below the first entry, the already barely 4 Star rated Cars. Pixar's perfect run was over.

This year Pixar attempted to get back on track with Brave. But, again, less than six months before release Brenda Chapman was removed from the director's chair and replaced by long time Pixar employee Mark Andrews. The result was a film vastly superior to Cars 2 but not as great as the Pixar films leading up to Cars 2. With Newt cancelled Pixar looked to its catalog for a new idea. Monster's University hits next summer directed by Dan Scanlon. Following that we have what should be a return to form for Pixar with films from Pete Doctor, Lee Unkrich and Up co-director Bob Peterson. Stanton also is due to return for a new film. Regardless of the quality of Pixar's films over the next five years, though, there is no doubt that the legendary perfect run ended last year with a disastrous cash grab that felt like something coming from the Dreamworks B team not the masters at Pixar.

In the end, though, if Pixar had to end its perfect run, it couldn't have chosen a better movie to go out on. With Toy Story 3 Pixar arguably ended an era. 15 years later the kids that watched the original Toy Story with their parents were now parents themselves and they were taking their kids to the movies. As I said in my last blog, Pixar's tales often involve letting go. Toy Story 3 is indeed a story about letting go, both physically with the toys themselves, and emotionally as Andy goes off to college. But for many Toy Story 3 also is about letting go of the dream studio that spent 15 years creating some of the greatest films in history. As I said at the start, perfect runs are abolished by only a single film and can never be earned back. Whether Pixar can return to form in the future or not, it will forever have that mark on its record. And that is truly a shame.


Ranking Pixar

For the past 17 years Pixar has delighted audiences with some of the best films ever made. Spanning numerous genres and covering a variety of subjects, Pixar's animated masterpieces have replaced Disney as the animated films of choice for a generation of young people. Unlike many Disney movies, though, which appeal far more to children than adults, Pixar movies transcend age and gender barriers, proving themselves enjoyable for people from any wakes of life. 13 films in, Pixar has had an incredible run. Ranking Pixar's movies is mostly an effort in choosing which masterpiece is more of a masterpiece, with only a couple duds among the bunch. Suffice to say that except for number 13 I would heartily recommend any of these movies to anyone looking for a great film to watch. Even the second worst film on this list is better than the top efforts of most other studios. So without further ado I provide you with my personal ranking of Pixar's mighty movies. Feel free to leave your rankings if you have seen all of the films.

13. Cars 2

The sole dud among Pixar's films, Cars 2 isn't a bad kid's movie but it is exactly that - a film that will appeal only to children. Highly preachy with a weak story that never sounds as genuine as it could be, Cars 2 is the only Pixar film I simply wouldn't recommend to adults. As a kid's film it is serviceable but Pixar can do much better.

12. A Bug's Life

The second Pixar movie is great as far as animated movies go but not on the same level as later Pixar movies. Telling the tale of an Ant trying to save his ant hill it is a relatively touching film that will appeal to kids. Still it lacks the complex relationships that define later Pixar movies. Don't doubt that it is brilliant, but keep in mind that comparatively to other Pixar films it doesn't hold a candle.

11. Brave

Brave is a film with stunning animation and a great mix of action and drama. Director Brenda Chapman brings a woman's touch to Pixar's films and the great female heroine Merida is a much better princess than any Disney has ever created. For once a movie with Disney involved features a princess who isn't falling in love. The only reason this film falls towards the bottom of this list is its preachy beginning. Hitting the audience over the head with morals isn't the Pixar norm and this heavy handed approach cheapens the film. Still it is easily the best Disney Princess movie ever made, and is the best animated film I've seen since Toy Story 3.

10. Cars

Cars for me is Pixar's most underrated film. It doesn't do anything as ambitious as the remaining 9 films but it is still a brilliant film that tells a touching story and has a great soundtrack. As I said at the start of this blog, every film on this list but Cars 2 comes with my highest recommendation, so don't take its low place as evidence that this film is bad. It is in fact one of the best animated films ever made. It just isn't as great as the next batch of films.

9. Monster's Inc

The second half of Monster's Inc is a powerful and wonderfully written tale that mixes messages about the bonds of friendship and the power a child can have over a parent. It is among the best pieces of animation ever made and is near the top of Pixar's work. But to get to that half you have to sit through the first half which is the second worst thing Pixar has done. In the end the amazing second half and unique concept outweigh the dull first part, but this film still sits near the back of the list.

8. Toy Story 2

Who says sequels are never as good as the first entry in a series? Toy Story 2 is a sequel done right. It is filled with action, humor, and drama including a hugely powerful montage that ranks among the most powerful 5 minutes of filmmaking I have ever had the pleasure of watching. That sequence alone makes Toy Story 2 better than the bottom 5 films, but don't forget the intriguing questions about death and mortality that serve as the backdrop of the film. While children will enjoy watching Woody and team going on another adventure, parents will appreciate the deeper messages the film presents in ways subtle enough that you may not even notice it.

7. Toy Story

Sitting at the halfway point is Toy Story the original Pixar movie. It's a film that is wholly universal. What person on this planet didn't grow up imagining that their toys were real people? Toy Story takes the magic of childhood and transforms it into a landmark piece of animation that changed the movie industry forever. It catapulted director John Lassetter to the top of the animation industry and is simply a great film all around. Though not as deep as the second film in the series I place it ahead of Toy Story 2 simply because of its place in film history as the first ever computer animated feature film.

6. Ratatoullie

Leave it to animation master Brad Bird to turn the story of a rat into a relatable tale of dreams untapped. I think this film is actually more enjoyable for adults than children. There is much less action than in other Pixar movies. Instead the focus is on the coming of age story of a young man and his pet rat. Touching and moving, Ratatoullie is a great film, no qualifiers needed.

5. Finding Nemo

The funniest Pixar movie also has its fair share of action and drama. The story of a father trying to rescue his son is timeless but the highlight is Dory a fish suffering from short term memory loss. Dory is a truly hilarious character and her interplay with Marlin, Nemo's father is brilliant. Finding Nemo is Pixar's second most successful film ever and there is a reason for that. The humor works great for children while the complicated themes about love, parenting, friendship, and letting go resonate with adults. Truly a masterful film in every regard, Finding Nemo is easily one of the greatest animated films of all time. That statement alone tells you something about the quality of the next four films.

4. The Incredibles

It's rare to see an animated film that resonates with middle aged men but Brad Bird's greatest success manages it almost effortlessly. There is the great Pixar mix of action, drama and comedy but the family dynamics at play here are so masterfully created that The Incredibles easily takes its place as one of the truly great family movies in film history. Honestly the only three animated films better than The Incredibles are the next three films on this list and maybe Disney's mighty The Lion King.

3. Up

The first 10 minutes of Up may be among the greatest 10 minutes of a film ever. Pixar somehow managed in 10 minutes to tell a love story greater than those found in thousand page novels and mega movie series. The tragic end of this story sets the stage for Pixar's most affecting film. There is a point near the end of Up where the main character manages to move on from his loss. It's one of the most powerful scenes I have experienced in a film. Some may complain that the final third of the film has too much action, but seriously the 2/3 leading up to that are simply astounding and so stunningly powerful that they brought me to tears several times.

2. Toy Story 3

Leave it to Pixar to make the single greatest threequel ever made. Outside of planned trilogies there has simply never been a third film in a series even close to as good as Toy Story 3. It somehow is better than 90% of Pixar's original movies and easily eclipses the first two films in the series. The final third of the film is an emotional rollercoaster and the 2/3 leading up to it are filled with more humor and drama than most any live action film released this century. A lot of Pixar films involve letting go of something. Toy Story 3 is maybe the pinnacle of that message. For children who saw the original Toy Story back in 1995, Toy Story 3 comes at the perfect time as they enter adulthood. The parents watching this film were maybe seeing it with their parents 17 years ago, and their parents surely can't help but be moved by this film about growing up and moving on. This film is Pixar at the top of their game, and if they never reach this height again I think I can safely say that Pixar's perfect run ended on the perfect film, a closing of sorts for a generation that grew up experiencing the films on this list.

1. Wall E

It was a tough choice between this film and Toy Story 3 for the best Pixar film. In the end Wall E is in many ways simply perfect. The first third of the film is easily the greatest piece of animation ever created. Who would have thought that anyone could create such an amazing love story featuring two voiceless robots? But Pixar manages it. With no voices Pixar creates a romance for the ages. It then combines that with an amazing sci fi story filled with all the humor and action that Pixar is known for. Maybe in the end it isn't as solid all the way through as Toy Story 3, but when Wall E is at its best it is better than most any film I can think of. It's truly the pinnacle of a studio whose films seemed too perfect to be true. It is Andrew Stanton's crowning achievement both as a writer and director and it is the best animated film ever made.


Tactics Vs Strategy

In my last blog post about Max Payne 3 I made a mistake. This mistake confused quite a few people so I wanted to apologize for it and maybe educate some other people about the issue. When talking about games most people use the term tactics and strategy interchangeably. I'm not one of those people, but unfortunately in my previous blog I got the two mixed up and used the term tactics where I meant strategies. The difference can at first seem small but when you examine it more closely you can see that while virtually every game includes tactics, only the best games include strategies.

So what is a tactic versus a strategy? In the simplest terms a strategy is what you are going to do and a tactic is how you are going to do it. So a strategic shooter would let you choose how to engage in any situation while one lacking in strategy will give you only one path in which to go through the game. Max Payne 3 (and 1 and 2 as well) lack strategic planning. By this I mean there is only one way to resolve any given situation. Compare this to the highly strategic Halo series. In Max Payne 3 there is one entrance to an area and one exit. In most situations there is only one path to get from one to the other. Halo, however gives you sandbox style arenas where you can take multiple routes to any target. These alternate routes allow for different strategies. For example, I could choose to use heavy force and drive the enemy back through sheer firepower. Halo lets me do this by giving me tanks and rocket launchers and other heavy weapons. Choosing which of these to use is a tactic but we'll get to that in a moment. I could also choose to be stealthy, sniping enemies from a distance and hitting them in the back. In Reach I could even turn invisible momentarily. My last major strategy in most situations is to go in guns blazing and hope that my tactics are strong enough that I don't need stealth or heavy weapons to overcome my foes. Even in these situations, though, I can use broader strategies about how to fight a battle to overcome the enemy. For example, taking out a powerful Elite often causes the weaker grunts to route, a key strategy that has been used since the beginning of war.

Now compare this to Max Payne 3. In that game I have only one way to go about any situation. I simply go in guns blazing. There are no other options. Just shoot until everyone is dead. What Max Payne 3 does include, though to a lesser extent than Halo, is tactics. Tactics involve how I go about applying my strategy on the battlefield. In Halo this would involve choosing what weapons to use, what paths to take, what enemies to take out first, and in Reach, what armor abilities to use. In Max Payne 3 I have to choose what weapons to use, when/if to use bullet time and shoot dodge, and what enemies to take out first. You could also argue that the moment to moment decisions about what way to dodge and what cover to use also falls under tactics. Now the first choice (what weapons to use) can be either a major choice or a smaller choice depending on the game. Let's end my Halo analogy and use another game that demonstrates this really well. The Resistance series, especially the third game, features a vast array of weapons with very unique abilities. The tactics in a Resistance 3 battle are very high, maybe even higher than Halo, because each weapon offers such a different way of going about each fight. In Max Payne 3 there really is only one choice to make when it comes to weapons - long range or short range. There are multiple types of each weapon but in most cases you can only choose between a couple weapons in any situation, and when you have the option for, say, two different rifles, one is almost always better than the other. In Resistance 3 the choices are far more extensive. The Bullseye can tag enemies and let you shoot without aiming and around corners. The Auger can let you see and shoot through walls. The Sniper can slow down time and the distance rifle (don't remember the exact name) can lay down turrets. Those are just some examples. Point is, there is a lot more to choose from than distance and strength.

Therefore the main tactics of Max Payne 3 involve bullet time and cover selection. Those let you have some decently tactical battles, I don't deny that. But Max Payne 3, as well as numerous other linear games, have no strategy. In Call of Duty, Battlefield 3 single player, Killzone, or Gears of War there is only one strategy and very few tactics. Compare this to shooters that give you greater options like Resistance, Halo, Half Life, Deus Ex, or Battlefield Bad Company and you can see that while one style may give you greater control over player actions, the sacrifice is in the depth those shooters have compared to the wealth of strategy and tactics available in the best shooters. Max Payne 3 is a game with no strategy, and whose tactics are middle ground.

Hopefully people understand the difference between tactics and strategy now and understand more of what I was getting at in my previous blog. Thanks for reading everyone!


Max Payne 3 And Creative Bankruptcy

Today Max Payne 3 arrived from Gamefly. I played through the first disc and have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand it is a perfectly competent game. It always works. It controls well, the level design is solid, the graphics are decent for a console game, and the story is interesting and well written. But after playing it for several hours I have to say it is one of the most creatively bankrupt titles I have played in recent memory. This game has not a single unique mechanic or idea to its name at least so far. You walk down incredibly linear corridors and shoot dudes while hiding behind cover and slowing down time when you have the juice. It's just so average. I'm enjoying it but I just keep thinking how Rockstar, at the very least, usually brings something new to the table with each of its games and this game just doesn't have any of that.

I have to take a shot at the level design here. Now just a couple lines ago I said the level design was solid. I say that because it is virtually always obvious where to go. The levels are clear and feel natural. But they are also some of the most linear levels I have ever seen. They make Call of Duty look like a sandbox. There is no room for tactics in this game. There is always just one path to take and it is a very narrow path with a couple boxes thrown up to hide behind. What's more, the combat here basically plays itself if you set it to auto-aim. You can choose to manually aim, but how anyone could aim well enough to shoot grenades out of the air without help is beyond me. Maybe if I was playing with a mouse and keyboard but not with a 360 controller. So you have to choose between making the game all but impossible to beat and having the game basically play itself for you. You spend most of the game hitting forward and pulling the left trigger to lock on and the right to shoot. It's fun on a visceral level but there is literally nothing to it. That isn't to say it isn't hard. I'm playing on the easiest difficulty and enemies still do enough damage that using the shoot dodge mechanic is akin to committing suicide. So you walk forward, hide behind cover, slow down time, and take some pot shots until everyone is dead. Then you watch a cutscene before repeating.

Speaking of cutscenes, there are a ridiculous number of them in this game. Almost every single door you walk through (essentially after every battle) leads to a cutscene. These vary in length from 30 seconds to 5+ minutes. And chances are if something cool is happening in the game it is happening in a cutscene. Once in a while you are asked to shoot some people in slow mo at the end of said cutscene, but I never escaped the feeling that I really wished I was playing what was being shown on screen. I think some of the worst examples of non-interactivity in this game occur in the hostage-swap level. I was shocked that after the sniper started shooting, the game put the HUD up and theoretically gave me control, but Max just started running without me doing anything. In fact I tried to walk the other way or stop and he just kept running. It was like they pretended to give me control but really I was just experiencing another cutscene. Later, while sniping the game decides it is going to move the reticule for you. It follows along the path of the person you are supposed to be protecting, and then gives you control for five seconds to shoot a couple dudes before taking control away from you again. I really hate that critics praised the story aspect of this game. If you want your games to be movies then become a movie critic. This is a game. I want the gameplay to be exciting as well as the cutscenes and I'd prefer if the ratio of cutscene to gameplay was a bit less than 50/50.

If it seems I am bashing this game to hell, well I am. It manages to be everything that is wrong with games today. Relentlessly simple and heavy on special effects over substance it is barely a game and more of an interactive movie. Even the shining example of interactive movies, the Uncharted series, gives you control during the action sequences. That is what makes Uncharted work. Because you are in full control during the cool parts. In Max Payne you are rarely fully in control at any point in the game. Max Payne 3 goes down easy because Rockstar does its best to avoid frustration. Checkpoints are numerous, and the easy difficulty is easy enough that most players should be able to make it through without much difficulty. The game is kind enough to end cutscenes with you facing in the exact direction you need to go and since cutscenes bookend almost every room you are almost never lost or confused on what to do. This is shooters for dummies. An experience so easy going down that you can't hate it. But there is no meat on this game's bones. There are no clever mechanics, no tactical depth, no variety. I'm enjoying it in the same way I enjoy a movie, so I'll play the second disc, but the first has left me utterly underwhelmed. I know I rag on Rockstar a lot, but in a way this is a worse offense than their normal games. My problem with their work is often that the story and the gameplay don't mesh. In this game the story and the gameplay are one in the same. But unlike a game like Braid where the story is cleverly wrapped around the mechanics, in this game the gameplay feels like merely a way to get from one cutscene to the next. The challenge here comes not from intelligent scenarios requiring skill and strategy to overcome, but by putting a ridiculous number of enemies in front of you and having them do a ton of damage. Your only solution is to press forward and make sure bullet time is engaged. After all it will probably only be 30 seconds until another cutscene shows up.

I'll say again that I am enjoying Max Payne 3. It does go down easy. But I feel like I'm enjoying it in spite of the gameplay, not because of it. I love a good movie almost as much as I love a good game, but Dan Houser, as good a writer as he is, is no master screenwriter. If I want to watch a movie I'll go see a movie. When I play a game I want to do just that, play it. Watching cutscenes and holding down forward and right trigger are not what I call a game. That's called an interactive movie and I honestly am glad I didn't pay $60 to experience one of those.


Just Watched The Triplets of Belleville.

And it was weird. American animation over the past decade has become more and more sterile. Pixar often deals with very adult themes, but it does it in a way that is appealing to children as well as adults. Most other animation studios simply make movies that solely cater to those under the age of 10. There are occasional moments of brilliance such as the original Shrek, Happy Feet or Coraline. But all in all American animation has become the bastion of politically correct children's movies that have a great deal of trouble appealing to an older audience. Now I like a lot of these children's animated movies. I'm a huge Disney fan and enjoyed Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Winnie The Pooh (their three most recent efforts). But every so often I yearn for something a little more edgy. Now you could mention anime, and there are "adult" anime, but 90% of anime either involves either high school drama, endless battles or, most often, both. Now again, I like anime as well. Studio Ghibli especially puts out amazing stuff, but when anime gets mature it tends to just become exploitative.

Which brings me to Triplets of Belleville. It's a French film by Sylvain Chomet and it is decidedly not something you would want to see with children, or your up tight parents, or your otaku friends. Featuring some graphic nudity, disturbing violence, and dark thematic elements this is a film that reminded me to some extent of the much more extreme works of Ralph Bakshi. Surreal, and featuring almost no dialogue, Triplets is a unique and decidedly odd film. The story can be somewhat hard to follow as most of it is told through visuals which can take a turn for the weird at almost any moment. And the whole film is over before you know it, but it was refreshing to watch an animated film designed for the art house crowd with mature elements and a dark, disturbing story.

I've criticized mainstream American animation in the past, and Triplets shows exactly why. Animation can be bizarre, surreal, and expressionist in a way that live action films cannot. Too often today animated films ignore the animated part, telling a story that could just as easily be told in a live action scenario. Triplets for me is defined midway through the film at a club where a waiter serves diners while bent in manners impossible for the human body to attain. It's incredibly strange but it is something that would only work in an animated movie. It's something unique to the medium, a medium which should celebrate the weird and the macabre but has become far to intent on appealing to family audiences.

If you want to try out a weird and unique piece of animation that is like nothing coming out of either the US or Japan I'd suggest Triplets of Belleville. Chomet directed a new film a couple years back which I'll have to get a hold of. While he may not be the brilliant storyteller that Miyazaki, Stanton, or Bird are, he dares to offend in an animated film and that makes him, to me at least, something pretty special.


2013 - Best Year In Gaming History?

We all have our personal choice for best year in gaming history. Mine has to be 2004, the year we got Halo 2, Half Life 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, World of Warcraft and Far Cry among others. This generation most people point to 2007 as the defining year with the release of Halo 3, Modern Warfare, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and The Orange Box. I have to say that 2013 is shaping up to be a year to remember. Will it eclipse 2004? I don't know but it has the best shot since 2007. On the docket just in the first quarter are games like Bioshock Infinite, God of War Ascension, Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Ni No Kuni, and Crysis 3 among numerous others. Later in the year we'll have The Last of Us, Prey 2, Metro: Last Light, GTAV, Gears of War Judgement, Beyond, Watch Dogs and numerous others. By the end of year we'll probably have a couple new consoles in the mix which will launch with Star Wars 1313 and the new game from Bungie. If that doesn't sound like a lineup to break wallets then I don't know what will be. All we need is for Half Life 3 to be miraculously announced for the launch of the next gen systems and it will easily be the year gamers have been dreaming of since 2007. What are some of your guys favorite years in gaming? Do you think 2013 will eclipse them?


The King Arthur Paradox

So this past weekend Steam had a sale going for the games of publisher Paradox Interactive. Among these games was the King Arthur series. I knew nothing about the games going in but the screenshots and videos made the series seem similar to Total War so I decided to give the games a shot. Several days later the first game in the series had finished downloading.

The game is fun. It mixes RPG elements with Total War gameplay. It lacks the complexity of the Total War games as far as strategic depth is concerned, but it has its interesting RPG elements that somewhat make up for it. My biggest hitch is the performance. I have a computer vastly superior to the recommended specs, and I'm able to play Empire Total War at 40-60 fps. This game looks much worse than that one yet during heated battles the framerate can drop as low as the low 20's. It's not a massive issue due to the genre of the game, but I'm worried that if the first game runs this poorly, how will my computer handle the second game, released only earlier this year?

Of note, I tried changing the settings around to improve performance but there was virtually no difference between medium and high settings. I gained a massive 1 frame per second. It's a shame that this game is hampered by both that issue and by a bug that crashes the game to the desktop at the start of battles once every couple of hours. The game keeps something like 10 autosaves for you, but I don't get why they save at the end of a battle instead of the beginning. There is a major difficulty issue in this game where you are often given quests to defeat certain enemies whose power you don't know before the battle begins. A large portion of the time these battles end up being way over your head and you end up getting slaughtered. Of course the game saves directly after the battle, meaning you have to load the save before the end of your last turn if you want to survive. And it is very important that you do load if a hero falls as upgrading heroes takes a lot of time and losing any hero and all of the artifacts he holds can be a devastating blow to your empire.

All these weird quirks aside, I'm enjoying the game. It doesn't seem super long and the core campaign is RPG like enough that you wouldn't really want to replay it other than to choose the opposite side of the morality scale. Compare this to something like the Total War games which can be played over and over with different results every time, and it does feel a bit limiting. I hear, though, that the DLC which was included in the collection I got is more strategic and less RPG like so I'm interested in trying that out once I finish the main campaign.

So has anyone else tried this game? I know Paradox games are something of an acquired taste but I feel this is one of their better efforts and is something that can be understood without too much effort assuming you are familiar with this type of game already. Anyone have any tips or any tricks for improving performance?


Deceptive Marketing?

Last year when EA was showing off Battlefield 3 they spent most of the year showing off only the PC version. They were pretty upfront with the matter but if all you did was watch a commercial on TV then you might have been disappointed when your shiny new game didn't look anywhere near as good as the version from the trailer. Now for a lot of people graphics don't matter and getting a watered down version of the game wasn't a huge loss. I'll argue that getting it at only 30 fps was a bigger loss especially for those use to the smoothness of Call of Duty. Regardless, while EA never outright lied, for those who didn't do their research there could have been a big blow to the face when they started playing their game.

This year EA did a repeat of last year. Except this time they showed virtually every game at their press conference off on the PC. And this time they didn't own up to it right after. But this year it wasn't just EA. Ubisoft was only showing its games on PC (I understand that this was the case even at Sony and Microsoft's press conferences), Tomb Raider was running on a PC, RE6 was running on a PC, everything was running on a PC. The only games actually running on the consoles they were being displayed on were the exclusives (You Halo and God of War and so forth). Now arguably Sony's exclusives especially looked better than most anything anyone else was showing save for maybe Watch Dogs and the stuff confirmed to be next gen. But the question is, for all of these third party games, will they actually look and run anywhere near as well on a console as they did on PC? The answer is obviously no. At best they will look pretty close but run at half the frame rate. At worst you will get the type of game we saw at the end of the last generation, where games looked decidedly worse on consoles than on PC. The question is, which games are going to look good regardless of system and which won't? And furthermore will gamers have any heads up in advance or will we be at the whim of critics to tell us what games are functional on consoles and what games aren't?

It's going to be an interesting year and a half until the launch of next gen systems and in that time I expect PC gaming will see a big explosion in popularity as people await a console that can keep up with the PC's on the market already. As someone who buys most of his games on the PC I think it is great that developers aren't holding back when it comes to their latest engines, but I also feel bad for those who don't do their research and end up buying something that doesn't work how they thought it would. What do you guys think? Do graphics and performance matter enough to you that this is going to be a problem? Or are you content with the graphics of current gen systems even after seeing what the next gen will be capable of at this year's show?

Oh and as a final note, thanks to everyone who took my survey over the past 24 hours. I got over 150 responses thanks to you guys so I'm set to go other than needing to get some more girls to take the survey. Didn't think of that skew when I posted it here. Oh well. So thanks everyone! I really appreciate it!


Help A Duder Out

Hey duders. So I'm taking a marketing class right now and we are working on a project involving bottled water and flavored bottled water. Boring subject, I know. Anyways I need some help from people. We have to send out a survey and I was hoping some of you guys could take it for me. It's 10 or so questions and should take under 5 minutes. For the final question, my name is Seth. Linkage

For your help I will reward you with this trailer for the new video game movie from Disney, Wreck It Ralph.