All posts for the month June, 2008

I’ll spare you what you already know about how great the Wall-E movie and how its strong theme is about the ravages of commercialism. I wanted to talk about the secondary theme in Wall-E, the thread of symbolism that enriches what seems like simple story-telling fabric. Forget the “hypocrisy” that one (of the very few) soulless critics pointed out about the commercial viability of the slickly designed cast against the wholesome message. That critic has forgotten his job is to review movies, not corporate greed, unless he’d prefer the movie to NOT have its message and JUST be a vehicle for Disney’s marketing.

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Michael Walbridge the Game Anthropologist has some interesting things to say about why he felt the Team Fortress 2 community was more civil and mature than what we’ve all experienced to be the absolute dregs of humanity in other online FPS’s. I won’t mention Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike, and Halo, but oops I just did.

While I think his points are on the dot about the way the team dynamic of the game fosters a cooperative us vs. them bond for the players that ultimately leads to self-regulation, and I like how he explains that anti-social behaviour is deflated by being an actual part of gameplay, there’s another point I’d like to add. So far, his comments are true for most team-based online shooters, just handled more elegantly in TF2. Yet one aspect of the game that stood out to me only after a lot of intense playing is that the character classes in TF2 were like tools to me.

Tools? Well, at a certain level of skill, we pick and choose from a small range of classes that we know well, and apply them to the current situation on the battlefield. I don’t think the majority of players play only one class. For myself, I choose between soldier (objective-driven offense), pyro (defense and chokepoints), and engineer (control) constantly as needed. The classes are like my swiss army knife of the proper contributions my team needs.

I think this leads players to identify less with some avatar online through which they would normally evoke all the horrors of anonymity, and instead a certain fourth wall is broken and a player is displayed onscreen as his tactical choice. In my opinion, this places players and their decisions in much greater proximity to each other because their intentions and personalities are more transparent. Only in that kind of openness will player-to-player advice and criticism mean much. I had similarly mature companionship in games such as the Battlefield and the Tribes series, and provide the same way of thinking about your avatar. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

If you care about games as games, then you should be as disappointed as I am to see that Boom Blox sold only 60,000 copies, even with pantheonized director Stephen Spielberg at the helm. Was his own critically panned addition to the Indy series a harbinger of the move away from well-executed formula in both games and films? Or have the formulas simply become more surreptitious about invading our pop psyche?

Boom Blox is a great game. It accomplishes what many party games want but can't do- elicit laughter, name-calling, and a group agony of suspense over an individual's gameplay, all within ten minutes. The physics are so well done that smashing blocks is the Wii equivalent to popping shipping bubbles. But each ball toss, nothing we haven't done a million times in our lives, causes a whole room to hush, tense up, and then explode along with the shower of blocks in the game.

I think the game takes advantage our primal instinct, that need to dash apart hours of construction a castle made of blocks represents, but gives it to us without the need to clean up the mess. There's no guilt, just the enjoyment of aftermath. Cause, reaction, cause, reaction… and at the same time we know exactly what will happen, but not what happens exactly.

It's a time-tested formula. It's proven. It usually works. And yet it failed on the same platform Nintendo made it work. I don't want to believe there is some kind of Nintendo magic that they apply to their first-party games. There were too many mistakes in how Boom Blox was marketed, how its art was directed, how it was priced, etc. blah blah. However, at the end of the day, I can't help but feel that its simplistic fun, like the taste of a fine Italian pasta with nothing but EVOO and a shred of cheese, is not what epic thrill-seekers with a taste for more "refined" fare are willing to give a sliver of chance…

…unless of course they're giving it to Nintendo.

Opera in da House

Opera 9.5 - beautifully engineered

Opera 9.5 is out! Get it here!

I've got to say, after spending time with the beta, there were some bugs, but the performance was out of this world, especially comparing Google Maps in Opera and IE, they made huge gains to browsing pleasure.

We just finished Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica… oh my god this show is good. I keep calling it a Republican version of West Wing in space…. but it's just so much more intense and you'd imagine, somewhere near ER and The Shield. I've also deduced who the final Cyclon…

…and it sure ain't Hillary. I think we can safely expect her to announce withdrawal tonite. And it's about fucking time. I've complained enough about how unscrupulous of a human being she is, let's forget that for now. Let's just focus on the fact that after the Bush administration, there shouldn't even be talk of a race between Republicans and Democrats. It was in the bag. Her actions in the last few months were the single most harmful thing to the DNC's future, far better than what the opposition could cook up. If you haven't seen the brilliant SNL mock ad, watch it now, it's viciously succinct in its summary of follies.

Anyways, back to BSG, the last Cyclon must be Dualla. Here's my evidence:

  1. Dualla's first name is Anastasia, which means "resurrection."
  2. Leoben tells Roslin early on in the show that one of the Adamas is a Cyclon. Dualla, having married Lee, is now an Adama. Anastasia Adama to be exact.
  3. Each of the final four Cyclon were paired with an important human element. Lee Adama, who's last name means "man" and "earth," is no exception. We can expect the last Cyclon to be part of a pair.
  4. Dualla is a Sagittaron. Lee's callsign is Apollo. On Caprica, Starbuck seeks the "Arrow of Apollo" as the way to Earth, and that arrow was placed in Sagittaron's bow to open the Tomb of Athena. This implies the two of them are destined for something related to Earth.
  5. D'Anna recognizes the final cyclon on the Algae Planet. Dualla is the one that gives D'Anna the tour on Galactica.

So what does this mean? Well, my theory is that Starbuck, who represents the self-destructiveness of man, leads them to Earth only to find that it's a conflict ground for humans and Cyclons. For millenia, this cycle of humans versus machines has been happening, hence the hybrid's warning that "it has happened, and will happen again." Starbuck, being the ultimate Cyclon killer, is not only keeping human and Cyclon apart militarily, but her love triangle with Lee keeps Lee (human) and Dualla (Cyclon) apart metaphorically as well.

This means that at some point Lee will have to choose between Dualla and Starbuck, essentially choosing between the unification of man and Cyclon, and perpetuating the cycle of war. I'm still trying to figure out what role Hera will play in all of this, but that's what is so compelling about this show… it keeps you guessing even when so much evidence has already been in plain sight for you to dwell on.