Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Oh, Microsoft

You would think that with all the billions in your bank account you would direct a few more dollars towards your marketing department. Case in point: the current naming scheme of the Xbox. The first release was unimaginatively called the Xbox - or DirectX Box. For those not in the know, Windows uses DirectX for all its graphical and audio needs, and so, Xbox was basically a Windows PC which can only play games. This was then followed on by Xbox 360 ... and then the Xbox One - or X-Bone. Colour me confused - the marketeers had somehow created a new numbering system where they go from (1) to 360 and then back to one.


And all would be right with the world if their marketeers had just left it at that. They then decided that they would fragment the X-Bone with the X-Bone S (which is the refactored/diskless version) and X-Bone X (which is the slightly more powerful version of the stock X-Bone). They then decided that this wasn't confusing enough so the next generation of XBox will be known as - wait for it - the Xbox Series X (for the top-end version) and the Xbox Series S (which is the less powerful than the Series X but more powerful than the X-Bone X). I look forward to having parents around the world picking up the last generation X-Bone X and thinking they got a good deal on their next-gen console.

Notably, the Xbox Series X can be (puerilely) abbreviated to Xbox SeX. At this time I must think the marketeers are leaning into their five year-old mentality - or they're taking a leaf out of Musk's playbook. Whatever the case, having two different hardware targets will cause fragmentation and result in sub-par releases for the top-end version as developers will not be arsed utilising the full capabilities of the top-end if that means having to dedicate twice the level of effort testing and optimising for two different hardware targets. Even if I'm a PlayStation fanboy, the two PS5 versions quoted for release will utilise the same hardware for both the disk and non-disk version. There won't be any fragmentation and will result in games fully utilizing hardware (if the developer is worth their salt.) 

 I don't enjoy any company merely being successful because there's no competition - we are all better for a healthy triopoly (if you include Nintendo) as that will force all parties to do their best. I really hope that I am wrong with regards to the next-gen XBox's ... but my spider senses are tingling even now.

Monday, August 24, 2020

I blame you, Goscinny

 For those of you not in the know, he was the original writer for the classic and beloved Asterix and Obelix comics. Unbeknownst to my younger self, almost all the names were based upon real world romanified or gaulified words. Generally speaking, for the Gauls (re: French) characters usually had X's replaced for certain English words to form their names, whereas Romans had 'us' appended to similarly normal English words. For example:

  • Getafix => the name associated with the village Druid
  • Vitalstatistix => the name associated with their overweight village Chief
  • Cacofonix => the name associated with the village bard (who cannot sing)
  • Geriatrix => a very old member of the village

And then we have Asterix (the unofficial hero of the village). His name is, I believe, the main reason people pronounce * as asteriks (as opposed to asterisk.) I am pretty sure I am in the minority when I (begrudgingly) say asterisk sounds wrong. But this not the only infraction I see/hear on a regular basis. We have others like:

    vice-versa. I would say at least half the population says vice-a versa rather than vice versa

    etc. or et cetera (or and the rest in English). Almost everyone says ekt cetera.

NOTE: did you know that ampersand or & is actually et (or 'and' in English) which has been distorted and run-together? I thought that was pretty cool

All in all, if these were the worst regressions to the English language, I could let it slide. If I am in the minority, would that make me the one who is wrong? My mind recklessly recoils back to the wonderful punchline at the end of In the Mouth of Madness at this notion.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It's all jacked up ... but in a good way

So, in the pursuit of watching all of the bad/schlock movies, I was trawling through the recommended listings on Hulu (burn!) and came across a movie called 'The House That Jack Built' with Matt Dillon playing the eponymous Jack. When I discovered that this was also written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I was concerned - I did not want another Antichrist (I would strongly recommend you do not watch that movie, even if it does star William Dafoe.) For those who are not into art movements, Lars Von Trier is catnip for all those arty-farty so-and-so's and is, usually, very self-indulgent when it comes to what he chooses to present to the general public.

But - back to the movie - Jack is about a serial killer who wants to build a house. So far, so unassuming. Now, even though there have been many films which have covered serial killers, I think this is the first to do so in such an original manner. Every scene seems to cover at least one topic of commentary on either the blase approach to violence, the willingness to ignore violence (quite topical at this point in time) or perhaps the fallibility of the human psyche and its willingness to still hope for a positive outcome even while facing their impending doom (which will continue to be topical for the foreseeable future.)

Usually I can gauge a film's quality by the opening few minutes and, after said minutes, I was hooked. It starts with the story behind his first victim, Uma Thurman - but her death ends with a fascinating post-mortem dialog between Jack and what is seemingly a German psychiatrist of some kind. They talk on many aspects of the murder, tool used and also (unsurprisingly) somehow segues into a discussion on renaissance art.

Now, before you think that this movie is some heady, aloof, violence-glorifying art piece, take a step back. The writer/director also manages to inject a strong under-current of very (very) black humour. This plays out even in the initial scene where Uma plays more as the antagonist than the victim, while she verbally assaults Jack saying how he had (hypothetically) messed up his alibi when they were both seen together while fixing a broken car-jack. At this early stage Jack is conveyed simply as an enduring victim under the strong-willed and sharp-tongued determinations of Uma. If I had been presented this scene as a concept, I would not have thought it would work ... but somehow it does just that. Matt Dillon gives an Oscar-worthy performance throughout the movie as he manages to be charming, belligerent, homicidal and somehow still not unlikable to the viewer - which is no small feat. It is this common thread and perhaps the viewer's curiosity to see where the next discussion will go which keeps you invested throughout.

Even if I have painted a seemingly alluring painting, this movie is not without its share of shock-value. There are many scenes which will surely make you grimace but are somehow smoothed out by a discussion or a twist of humour - or even a few bars from 'Fame' by David Bowie. Even though a lot of the film is portrayed realistically, there is always a surrealist element playing just below the surface which perhaps softens some of the scenes and actually assists when reality breaks down in the final throes of the film. Similar to the movie The Voices, you have been primed to go along for the ride by the time it goes off the rails.

In summary, I would recommend watching this movie. This is probably one of the most original and approachable films (by Von Trier's standards) to come out in a decade - but only if you can handle the squeamish parts and see beyond merely the violence. This is a movie which is rife with symbology and does not shear away from the heady topics. Now, more than ever, this movie seems so strikingly poignant. It is well worth a discussion or two.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

I am not sure what all the fuss was about

I was super excited to learn that the oscar-trumping Korean-made Parasite was now on hulu, and so, I set aside the obligatory number of hours needed to watch this masterpiece of theatre - or maybe not. Perhaps no movie could live up to the hype of best director/film/writing/international film ... but I did expect a little more than I received. For some reason I thought this was going to be a psychological horror film where the rich folks were somehow unhinged ... but I was wrong.

On the surface, it's a far-fetched story where a family of (literal) gutter-dwellers finagle their way into all working for an upper-crust family. The main themes cover the hackneyed tropes, like the one percent, classist struggles and (perhaps) some pointless nuclear bomb commentary. Maybe I didn't get the significance of the nuclear references - perhaps due to the tensions between North and South Korea - but I don't think it added anything to the story.

From a cinematic standpoint the movie was beautifully shot and, for the most part, relatively well acted. The story builds very nicely, although I don't think you should rate some of the acting or story points on a western scale. Even if I may have enjoyed watching an amazing film like Oldboy - but, at least for me, it had at least a few scenes which didn't seem like a realistic response. So, perhaps, I shouldn't be too harsh with Parasite - but I should at least list a few issues I did have:
  • The rich family is really dumb and unbelievably gullible
  • One man kills a man because that man is repulsed by another man's smell
  • The family trashes and abuses the house of the rich family for no good reason
  • The Have vs Have-Not allegories are bludgeoned into you to the point of being comical
  • A man lives in a panic room for 10+ years and whose sole purpose in life is to turn on lights on the stairs
  • The conclusion didn't have much weight due to some strange tonal shifts
Perhaps not the most scathing list of issues ... but I just couldn't get a bead on the tone of the film. I was unsure whether to watch this as a drama, thriller, social commentary or comedy. Maybe this hodge-podge of styles was intentional ... but I found it distracting. This movie follows a classic three-act structure but, by the end of act 2, I didn't really feel much desire to want to watch till the end which is not a good sign. Structurally, upon reflection, it was actually done pretty well. I can see that there was some good framing in place which would allow even a virgin viewer the ability to notice some of the cues but it wasn't enough to rescue (what turned out to be) a pretty weak ending. In conclusion, I did actually enjoy parts of the movie but the 'tonal kaleidoscope' kept me from reaching the heights I had expected. I would say you should probably watch the film but probably not expect anything amazing, even with all the accolades.

Friday, April 17, 2020

As welcome as a vagorant

Ah Valorant (or vagorant, as I like to call it). You promised us something new ... but I'm unsure whether your definition of new aligns with reality - but I'm getting ahead of myself. Valorant is the latest Beta-stage IP from Riot games, who is most famous for LOL which, in reality, was a clone of DOTA (which was responsible for creating the MOBA game genre), which is a mod for an RTS called Warcraft 3. Now that I've escaped the acronym soup, I would be okay if it were merely a poor man's amalgam of CSGO, FN, AL and OW (perhaps I'm stretching with a few of those acronyms) - but they didn't stop there, which brings me to the crutch of this article.

... or perhaps not. 

 I get tired when vendors don't even iterate on a proven formula - they merely copy - like what happened with all the BR's attempting to emulate the success of PUBG (just with slightly different contexts) . <*I promise* that is the last of the acronyms> Where has all the creativity and growth gone in the AAA games industry? I find myself having to lean on the exploits of single-man indies with any semblance of evolution on an original idea. But, anyway, here's the break-down of what vagorant has delivered:
  • Tight weapon mechanics (CSGO)
  • Weapon buy (CSGO)
  • Slow player movement (CSGO)
  • Colourful maps and colours (OW/FN)
  • Snarky one-liners (OW/AL)
  • Power-ups (LOL/DOTA/OW/AL)
  • Deagle (CSGO/AL)
  • Brimstone = Gibraltar (AL - not even trying)
  • Viper = Caustic (AL - not even trying)
I could go on but I won't. You get the point that there's clearly a lack of originality when it comes to this 'New IP.'  I could go into the basic map design (very cubist - FN/CSGO) but I think that was intentional; so you could clearly see opponents against the spartan surroundings. In a classic (and unoriginal) modern twist, this game is free ... but it does come at a price. You can (unimaginatively) buy weapon skins and such - but the real price comes in the root kit that's installed to fight cheaters. From what I've seen, it is having great success at fighting the script kiddies but even if it was a good game I'm not going to subject my PC to getting infected with a backdoor just to play something that isn't even fun (VNSFW - sorry).

Even if this were the bees knees of free-to-play (or F2P - sorry) I wouldn't play it. Especially considering Riot games is owned by Tencent which may just mean that the Chinese government (if they were so inclined) could force Tencent to force Riot games to data-mine or create a network of zombie PC's. Tin foil hat off: this actually could be a reality and I'm unwilling to help them with their nefarious plans. You have been warned: treacherous - but dull - waters ahead.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A tale as old as time

Ah, PayPal, you promised us seamless money transfers but delivered us price-gouging, bureaucracy and a useless payment process instead. Perhaps you are merely successful by sake of proxy but, sweet jeebus, you certainly rest upon your laurels while doing so.

Now listen, children, to a tale as old as time; in the early years of the internet there was a time when paying for things was fraught with danger. Where things like 'HTTPS' were mocked and evil-doers could easily extract credit card details at the drop of the hat. But, fear not, a plucky young hero going by the name of Elon Musk decided to put a stop to those antagonistic ways by putting up a relatively secure payment method going by the name of PayPal which would be able to bridge between the far-off lands and allow peasants, such as myself, the ability to pay for goods and services rendered.

Now, from the start, I wasn't much of a fan of it. It was heavy, cludgy and awkward to use and the price-gouging on fund transfers was pretty hard to swallow (although they did have to make money somehow). This also became the default payment method for all Ebay purchasers (which, of course, they had bought) - but the process remains awkward - even today, and so, our paths diverged as I moved onwards toward greener pastures. Later, approximately 8-9 years to be exact, I decided that it would be best to close my account. But, apparently, there remained an account balance which needed to be transfer to my linked account and then, finally then, I would be able to end the curse of PayPal. 

And so, began my quest to squeeze blood out of stone. 
First problem: I had forgotten my password; no problem - just use 'forgot my password' to leverage my (still-remembered) security questions. 
Second problem: the confirmation code is sent to a defunct cell phone number; no problem - just call customer support. 
Third problem: customer support can't do anything useful; no problem - actually, wait, big problem

I'm in a wonderful limbo state where I can't request my account to be closed; I can't request my balance to be transferred; I can't request my password to be reset; I can't request an iota of sanity to momentarily regale within the organisation of PayPal. And so, we have a wonderful stalemate where incompetent people within an incompetent organisation withhold funds from me due to stupid bureaucracy and stupid policies. And so, the not-so-evil Elon Musk (since he has disassociated himself from it) can rest easy in the fact the former aborted abomination can relax with a few more ill-gotten dollars to its name.