Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mario Kart Wii

Street Fighter 2 might be the undisputed champion of SNES games, but if anything comes close it's Super Mario Kart — especially the dizzying mayhem of two player Battle Mode. I can't wait for the upcoming Wii version, which has just been announced at E3 for release in early 2008.

It'll be bundled with a wireless steering wheel and include support for online multiplayer. Start practising your banana skin + red shell combos now!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Amiga Retro Showreel Spectacular

A great compilation of clips from some classic Amiga games.

I recognised these: It Came From The Desert, Kick Off, Black Crypt, Golden Axe, IK+, Lemmings, Another World, Cadaver, R-Type, Loom, Ikari Warriors, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, Marble Madness, Moonstone, Shadow of the Beast, Wings, Turrican II, Silkworm, Shinobi, North and South, Rainbow Islands, Sim City

There are quite a few others I don't remember, luckily there's a full run down at the end.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Bring the beat back

State of the Art

Jesus on E's

Monday, July 2, 2007

It insists upon itself

I finally got around to watching indie sci-fi thriller Primer last night, after a friend recommended it about a year ago. It's basically about a couple of engineers who accidentally invent a time machine, and the plot unwinds predictably thereafter. It's the same old story.

The first of the guys, Abe, turns on the machine, which is a necessary step for anyone to jump back to that particular point in time. This is also the moment that his time-travelling double future self could re-emerge from the machine, so he needs to set a timer for the machine to start automatically after a fifteen minute delay. He'd then have time to escape and not risk bumping into his future double, and risk polluting the respective timelines with causal anomalies.

He then waits six hours before entering the time-travel box, and starts travelling back in time at 'normal' (but reverse) velocity, and after six hours he (Abe2) is back at the point where the timer originally started the machine. His other self (Abe1) is hiding in a hotel room, beginning his six hour wait before using the time machine. After six hours Abe1 gets into the box, again, and gets stuck in a time loop, allowing Abe2 to continue a single Abe future timeline.

However, it's not all as straightforward as that. Unknown to the audience until later in the film, Abe had built a secret 'fail-safe' time machine the day before and started it running, giving someone the opportunity to go back in time even further, just in case they had to prevent the second box being built.

At this point I went to make a cup of tea and found a Milo bar in the cupboard. They were delicious and complemented each other perfectly. There were then some other time travel shenanigans involving Abe, and possibly the other guy Aaron, and they used the machine to get prescient knowledge of sports and stock results to make some money, and explore themes of time travel paradox and existentialism.

You don't find this out until the last twenty minutes, but Aaron had actually discovered the secret fail-safe machine and used it travel back in time to before the first other box was built. He took the first time machine with him in the box, back to when the first fail-safe box was turned on. Luckily he doesn't bump into Abe because he turned on the machine using a timer, to avoid bumping into himself.

Even though most of the plot and its nine separate timelines aren't shown explicitly and need to be inferred from other parts of the story, it's perhaps a bit unfair of some critics to label the film a 'wilfully pretentious exercise in obfuscation'. It's certainly abstruse and mostly incomprehensible, but that's the appeal. It goes to amazing lengths to avoid any exposition whatsoever.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

There's a party in my browser and everyone's invited

For me, tracing and debugging HTTP traffic has always been a fun-packed group activity, like playing SingStar or having a barbeque. As soon as I fire off a web request, my work colleagues immediately rush over to marvel at the heady stream of status codes, headers, cookies, caching directives, compression, encryption and performance metrics. They just can't get enough.

The HttpWatch website captures the scene perfectly.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Play! A Video Game Symphony

Went to this amazing concert, PLAY! A Video Game Symphony at Sydney Opera House last Saturday — massive screens displayed scenes from video games, accompanied by a live orchestra soundtrack. Although every score was great, the highlight for me was probably a theme from Shenmue, closely followed by Mario. Can't wait for the CD.

This video is Mario from the show performed in Stockholm.


Once again, it's with a tinge of sadness that we bring out the cardboard box, fill it with soft straw, and lay down our favourite TV shows to hibernate through the cold months — Desperate Housewives, 24, Lost and Heroes, all snuggled together for a well deserved rest. Some, though, deserve it more than others.

Desperate Housewives was relentlessly sarcastic, original and funny, with a brilliantly shocking season finale. 24 was, well, a bit average this year. After six seasons it seems to be struggling to meet its own very high standards, but is still enjoyable. Next season, please: no more kidnapping.

It's Lost and Heroes, however, that I'd like look at in a bit more depth. The contrast between them was striking, especially in the final few episodes. As Lost picked up momentum and sprinted to an explosive finale, so Heroes ran out of breath and collapsed with an asthmatic whimper.

Heroes was especially disappointing given how well it all began, compulsory viewing with a great concept, some interesting characters and solid storyline. But somehow it never quite managed to develop any of these beyond my lowest expectations, and as time went on it became more obvious that it was destined to disappoint. Quality declined steadily, then finally slumped as it struggled to conclude the main story, and reconcile the sub-plots into something resembling sense.

What should've been a gripping climax was instead predictable and a bit confused. The anticipated showdown between Peter Petrelli and Sylar was a huge let down, ending up — shock-horror! — with Hiro impaling the amalgamated anti-hero, just as predicted in the comic. Wouldn't it have been better for a berserk zombie Isaac Mendez to burst from the shadows in a VW camper van, and unexpectedly mow Sylar down? Clearly yes, likewise anything else remotely entertaining.

Both Lost and Heroes gave us a teasing glimpse of next season. Lost's staple narrative, the character flashback, finally cashes-in the long con by exploiting our familiarity to disguise a gripping flash-forward. We're left with the revelation that Jack and Kate somehow escape The Island, eagerly opening up a whole new chapter of intrigue.

Heroes, on the other hand, ended like a bad episode of Quantum Leap, randomly dropping Hiro into 17th century feudal Japan, vulnerable before charging ranks of angry samurai and saved from certain death by a convenient solar eclipse. For once I could empathise, I just as disoriented. As Sam Beckett would've said, "Oh, boy..."

Heroes seems outclassed in so many ways. Lost's rich ensemble of characters have carefully crafted backstories and complex ongoing relationships, whereas the Heroes are comparatively hollow, cartoonish and connected through convenient contrivances. When Lost writers bump off a major character I'm genuinely shocked, but after Heroes' only significant dispatch, Isaac Mendez, I was neither surprised nor particularly bothered — it was difficult to care about a character so two dimensional. Compare that with Charlie's ultimate act of selflessness and calm acceptance of inescapable destiny in The Looking Glass, while Claire and Aaron waited hopelessly for their hero to return.

Both Lost and Heroes explore themes of precognition and determinism versus free will. "Save the cheerleader, save the world", is the seemingly profound proclamation that underlies the collective destinies of the Heroes. Can they escape a fate of thermonuclear annihilation, or are they free to avert disaster? Coupled with some confused examination of time-travel and grandfather paradox, that's about as deep as it gets.

It's weak compared to Lost's treatment of the same. Charlie, Desmond and Locke each tackle issues of individual fate, meanwhile all humanity is seemingly condemned to extinction, subject to the predictions of an intractable doomsday equation. How do the destinies of individuals, inevitable or otherwise, affect the fate of humanity? Are they correlated? Lost doesn't give us the answers, and perhaps never will, but it provokes irresistible curiosity and debate.

The Lost storyline is a maze of cause and effect, character connections, recurring themes, allegory and symbolism; yet somehow they manage to keep it all fairly coherent. Heroes overreaches by having characters with abilities to turn invisible, fly, heal, mind read, predict future, time-travel and walk through walls — there are too many gaping plot holes for any given situation: why didn't he just away? ...or teleport? ...or predict that? ...or heal himself?

Let's hope next year Heroes gets itself back on track, maybe by introducing a strong new character from the Heroes: Origins mini-series, or by pushing some of the better minor characters, like Christopher Eccleston's brilliant Claude Rains — the crazy invisible pigeon fancier.

Let's also hope that Lost hasn't "jumped the shark", or "escaped from Fox River", as I now like to say.