March 13, 2009

There Is Life without the Internet...

Soon this theory will be put to the test.

Tomorrow I am going to see two movies in a row, Marley & Me (2008) and Watchmen (2009). In that order. The tickets were already purchases online and printed out. Hope it won't be too crowded, especially at the Watchmen showing - it's this movie's local premiere day after all.

And the day after tomorrow I am leaving my beloved country. Indefinitely. There is nothing fun about the trip, but it is something that must be done. I will be living in some shithole with population of around 5K. There will be no TV, no Internet and no PC. Well, I am taking my Macbook Pro, but this machine was not meant to be used for fun.

This is the time for my trustworthy PSP and DS to do a lot of heavy lifting. It will be the perfect opportunity to finally play all the games I bought for those handheld consoles.

Still, I am getting depressed already.

March 12, 2009

Are You a Real Actor? Academy Awards Cometee Doesn't Seem to Think So

So, finally I got to finish the famous Heavenly Sword (2007). Back when I bought PlayStation 3 in March 2007, with Metal Gear Sold 4 being indefinitely postponed, this game topped my most anticipated PS3 titles list.

Ninja Theory, the developer of the game, showed the world a couple of trailers long before Sony released its latest console. What was shown in those trailers was literally the state of the art. In my believe Heavenly Sword was to become the most visually stunning video game in the history of video game entertainment.

In September 2007, I got the game hot from the new releases shelf. First 10 minutes of Heavenly Sword were the ultimate jaw dropping experience for me. When I passed the shock caused by the game looks, I started to notice that there is no much going on in this wonderful world. I played it for one hour and got so turned away by the boring gameplay, that I had put the game on a shelf and completely forgot about it up until now.

Heavenly Sword is truly a piece of art. Even now, a year and a half after its release, the game boasts with one of the most incredible graphics in a video game. Is it enough though? Maybe for someone, but definitely not for me.

I am not against the action genre in general, but Heavenly Sword has the most repetitive, mind-numbing dumb action to be found. After you get your hands on the legendary weapon, Heavenly Sword, and play around with it a bit, you have seen the whole game. While the story advances, the game continues to provide you with the same type of action over and over again. Even though there are several types of enemies (a few though), to fight them off, Nariko, the heroine of the game, has to use the same mechanics. It is possible to unlock dozens of new combos, but they all look and feel basically the same.

Heavenly Sword is very short, I taped my complete walkthrough and it took only about 5 hours to reach the finish line. 5 hours is a very bad number for any type of video game, but this particular game was so dull, that it felt like it took forever to beat it. I lived from one stunning in-game movie to another. The art of the game and its cut-scenes can be worth suffering through the boring action indeed.

Everything looks very beautiful in Heavenly Sword, but special attention deserves the characters' facial animation. Nariko is beautiful in general, but her facial animation is nothing to brag about. King Bohan on the other hand gives a very memorable performance. No wonder though, this character was played by Andy Serkis of The Lord of the Rings fame. Serkis is Gollum. He was impressive in The Lord of the Rings and he is no less impressive in Heavenly Sword. This guy was considered for the Best Supporting Actor nomination by the Academy Awards in 2003, but was ruled out as his character in the Lord of the Rings was computer generated. Really sad.

March 9, 2009

When in Doubt, Say Yes to Pizza

So, I went out of town for a couple of days to hit the capital city. I don't usually leave my home town during this time of year, but this time there were several reasons for making the trip.

The main reason was to to the concert of a Russian band called Би-2 (Bi-2). I am not a big fan of Би-2 and like only a single song of theirs, Варвара.

This song is a really great fun, I spent almost two years performing it after getting wasted. I don't know how to play the guitar, but the song can be only played with four simple chords. I didn't all the words, but the chorus consists of only one word. So, me and all of my drinking buddies were ending up singing that single word really loud. These were the best days of my dorm life! This song is the reason I can say that Би-2 has a special place in my heart. As I already said though, I don't like the band overall. I think most of its songs are depressing and sound a bit alike. Also, I don't enjoy the lead vocalists' voice.

Би-2 has a special tour thing going on for some time already - they go around performing with Latvian symphonic orchestra. I though that the orchestra could make the band sound more interesting. And it did, but not interesting enough to make me enjoy it more than I did before. There were a couple of not so bad songs, including the one I liked so much, thus I didn't regret going. Even though it was the worse concert I visited so far (and I saw Mel C performing, she had a really lifeless concert), I still got to enjoy it at some extent. I guess no matter how good the concert is, it is hard to love it, if you didn't like the performer forehand.

The weather in the capital city was horrible, it was cold and the streets were slippery, this didn't encourage to take the long walks. I spent most of the time visiting cinemas and eating pizza at my all time favorite place - Pizza Americana. This place serves the best pizza I ever had and every time I get to the capital, I use the opportunity to pay the place a visit.

As for the cinemas. Finally, I got to see Doubt (2008). Not only it has my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman starring, it also caused some commotion in the movie world with all the nominations.

I loved the movie. It revolves around Philip and Meryl Streep's characters and I was ecstatic to see their powerful performance. There is also Amy Adams, but even though she is pleasant to watch, I felt like her character was not at all important to the movie and could have done just as well if not better without her. Sister James, Amy's character, is used to advance the plot at one point, but some other means could have been utilized without any loss. Doubt is all about interaction between Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Father Brendan Flynn. Also, it felt like Amy Adams is playing almost the same role as she did several times before. In Catch Me If You Can (2002) and Enchanted (2007), the only other movies I saw with her, she plays this innocent trustful girl, an angel. Not really that different from her character in Doubt.

Some other movies I saw were Yes Man (2008) and Twilight (2008). I already watched the first one before, but enjoyed it none the less the second time around. As for the latter, I wanted to see it for a very long time already, but didn't get the chance up until now. Twilight is good. It's not extraordinary, but got me excited enough to want to read the books it was based on. I felt like the movie had some gaps in it and am hoping the books will fill the blanks.

I also got to play a lot of flOw (2008) and God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008) on PSP and realized that my battery needs to be replaced, it dies way too fast. flOw really says it all with its slogan - "go with the flow", it's really the perfect way to describe the game. As for the God of War, it is simply the best PSP game. I didn't like the original PS2 titles that much, but the PSP version is really good and delivers a lot of fun and impressive visuals at your fingertips.

All and all, I had a pleasant trip.

March 6, 2009

Don't Trust a Bank!

Just came back from the movie theater where I watched The International (2009). It is a typical political thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts.

The story follows a generic template. Louis Salinger, Owen's character, is an Interpol agent who is trying to expose a banking organization which is suspected in arms trading. Salinger is always two steps behind and every new lead gets him nowhere. In the end, Louis Salinger realizes that his adversary is too powerful and the only way to fight it is to go "outside the system". The hunter becomes the hunted and Salinger gets an upper hand. But can he call himself victorious? Surely not, one person cannot fight the organization. Typical.

The story is almost as old as the world itself. As for the actors, I never was too excited about Clive Owen and always think of him as the guy who played in Privateer 2: The Darkening. He was good there. Naomi Watts looks much worse than the last time I saw her. It seems that the time was not very kind to her. Also, her character is not that important in The International as this is kind of a one-man movie.

Even though The International is not a new kid on the block, I still enjoyed it for a number of reasons. The movie features quite a few action scenes, but it doesn't use the "shaking camera" (more like "vomit camera") technique which became so famous quite recently. For that I am very grateful. You can actually understand who is shooting whom or who is running from whom. I still can't forget the first chase scene from the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace (2008), it gave me a headache. Another thing, despite of the fact that the movie was inspired by the events of one of the biggest scandals in the financial world, which occurred in 1991 and involved the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, it doesn't pose as another "based on a real story" picture.

I don't regret spending my money on the movie, it is worth seeing on the big screen. The perfect Friday evening flick. Popcorn is in order.

March 5, 2009

One Thousand and One Nights

A while ago, I played the latest Prince of Persia (2008). This is the the second series reboot already (there is the Original Trilogy followed by the Sands of Time trilogy) and I was eagerly awaiting its release from the moment I heard about it, being a huge fan of the Prince of Persia franchise.

I ordered the game on eBay and couldn't wait to receive the package. The day the game arrived, I was totally hyped up and cleared my evening plans to be able to completely immerse into the world of a fairy tale.

Without further ado, I would like to say that even if the game looked very impressive in the beginning, I got totally bored with it in an hour or two. Ubisoft Montréal managed to take a step back not only with the Prince of Persia games, but with games in general. Seeing as video games should be the ultimate interactive form of entertainment, I just can't understand why Ubisoft decided to turn their game into some sort of an interactive movie.

There is almost no way to do anything wrong in the latest Prince of Persia. If the Prince jumps off the cliff or does something else which would result in death, Elika, the Prince's companion, will use her magic to pull him out at the last moment, brining him almost to the same location he was at before.

The combat part is even worse. The whole fight generally consists of pushing different buttons at the right time (there are even flashing icons to help the confused player), repeating that over and over again. Even though the fights look spectacular, there is no feeling that you are actually in control of your characters. To understand how the combat works, think simplified Indigo Prophecy aka Fahrenheit (2005) or better yet, Britney's Dance Beat (2002). And once again, it's impossible to die during a fight, if the Prince is about to receive a deadly strike, Elika pulls him away. Enemy gains a bit of health and the fight continues.

Another big disappointment is that there are almost no enemies around. The Prince and Elika will have to face some Corrupted (creatures) which usually spawn only at particular spots (not a lot of them around) and can be wholly avoided by moving fast. Other than that, there are only a few bosses. The annoying part about the bosses is that it is required to slain each one of them several times. Not a lot of variety going on there.

After being disappointed, I felt like playing the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time just to cheer myself up. I decided to play both, the PS2 and PC versions of the game. In that order. It took me two evenings to finish the game on PS2 and only one evening on PC.

PC and PS2 versions of the game are very different and it's hard to decide which one is better. The PS2 version has very intuitive and smooth controls, I had no difficulties at all guiding the Prince through the Azad Palace. At the same time, it has a huge downside - graphics. How Prince of Persia looks on PC and how it looks on PS2 is like day and night. I even got slightly shocked after seeing that big of a difference. At the same time, the PC version can't be the obvious winner as it has horrible controls. It's not like you have to sweat a lot, but as with the graphics, the difference between how the controls work is very noticeable.

I think my preference goes to the PC version after all. I am not a sucker for glamorous graphics, but if on PS2 The Sands of Time looks simply OK, on PC it looks spectacular even now, five years after its release. My breath was literally taken away by the views from atop of the Tower of Dawn.

Compatibility note. If your processor has several cores, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will run extremely fast on your PC. In order to fix that problem, you can use a program called ImageCFG to set affinity for the game before you start it. You can find it here. To use it, just type the following:

imagecfg -a 0x1 [PathToGameFolder]\PrinceOfPersia.exe

From now on, the game will run using the first physical CPU.

Dan Mahowny Day (Quotes, Part 1)

Just watched a pretty interesting movie called Owning Mahowny (2003). The movie is based on a book Stung (1987) by Gary Ross which in turn is based on a real-life story that occurred in 1982 in Toronto, Canada.

The movie tells a story about a successful assistant branch manager who is addicted to gambling, his name is Dan Mahowny (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my favorite actors of all time). Dan lives his life from one gamble to another, he plays to get a thrill and can't ever stop. He doesn't play to win, he plays to lose. If he wins, he uses the money he won to gamble until he loses all.

In order to be able to keep up with his addiction, Dan Mahowny requires a lot of money. He takes advantage of his position to embezzle his employer's money by taking loans registered to a phantom client.

Owning Mahowny is a great fun. The story is interesting and the actor performance can't get any better.

Here is a quote from the movie.

Psychologist: How would you rate the thrill from gambling, on a scale from one to hundred?
Dan Mahowny: Hundred.
Psychologist: And what about the biggest thrill you've ever had outside of gambling?
Dan Mohowny: Twenty.

March 4, 2009

Queens of the Jungle

TV series is my second biggest passion after video games. I wasn't such a big admirer only some time ago. I was always aware of what TV series is really about, but I never actually sticked to watching any show up until some time during 2003. It was the time I started dating this wonderful girl, lets call her Prussakas (in case you understand what this name stands for, don't be misled, it's actually much cuter than it sounds). It was this girl, whom I will never forget by the way, who opened the world of TV series to me.

I got sucked into it pretty fast. First, I was watching Home Improvement and Friends, but soon I discovered Futurama and Family Guy. Both those shows became my all time favorite (well, Family Guy went sour after the reboot).

Since then, I watched hundreds and hundreds of shows and found out something interesting - even though there are favorites, I tend to enjoy watching just about anything. "No show is a bad show" - I could this line as my slogan, I guess.

Recently I watched two seasons of the Lipstick Jungle. From the first seconds of episode one I felt something familiar about this show. Independent successful women living in the big city... soon it hit me - Sex in the City! I watched the credits more careful and my suspicions were right, both shows are based on the books by one and the same author, Candace Bushnell.

Sex and the City was one of the shows I changed my opinion about several times (this rarely happens). At first, I totally hated it. I had personal reasons behind it, they involved this girlfriend I mentioned before. Then, I started enjoying it a a lot. In the end, I grew totally unattached from it before it even was over.

Even though Lipstick Jungle looks a lot like Sex in the City at the first glimpse, those two shows are in fact totally different. If in Sex in the City we saw main heroes going through a lot of relationships, trying to find Mr. Right, in Lipstick Jungle all of the heroes already have found the love of their life (or find one pretty soon in the series) and the show is heavily based on solving the problems in the already existing relationship as well as problems at work.

Lipstick Jungle doesn't have the same humor as Sex and the City does, but I still tend to enjoy it more. I actually didn't like that going through dozens and dozens of relationships part of Sex and the City. It seemed to me that Carrie Bradshaw and her pack set way too high standards for men and didn't want to work a lot on the relationships, just preferring to try something different. In Lipstick Jungle we see women work hard on their relationships, trying their best to savor it and keep it alive.

All and all, Lipstick Jungle is a very solid show about women and their problems. Sadly, it seems like it will not live for long. After the second season was over, the show got axed and there are only slim chances that it will be continued.

Oh, one interesting detail about the Lipstick Jungle. Everyone in the show has an iPhone. I have never seen so much iPhones in a single movie or TV show. Being a huge fan of everything Apple, I totally loved it. Most of the show we get to see the original model of iPhone and towards the end of the second season we get to see some of the characters using the iPhone 3G model. Not only that, every single laptop in the show is an Apple one. Seriously, this is exceptional. I even got to wonder if Apple sponsored the show. Who cares though? Apple is cool.

Internet, You Lying SOB!

I took an interest in the Oldboy (2003) OST, so I decided to find out who actually composed it. I did some Internet research and here is what I found on the most popular sites:

* On iMDB there are three different people credited for the OST in question: Jo Yeong-Wook (as director of music), Choi Seung-Hyun and Lee Ji-Soo (both as composers).
* On English Wikipedia only Jo Yeong-Wook is credited.

This is a good example of how frustrating the Internet can be. All this information is not very accurate.

I did some more searching and finally found a person who I decided to contact in order to make things clear, Shim Hyun-Jung. As you might have noticed, her name is not mentioned at iMDB or Wikipedia. This talented composer and a a very nice person agreed to help me.

It came out, it was her who composed 15 (out of 24) tracks for the soundtrack, including the memorable The Last Walts. The remaining tracks were composed by Lee Ji-Soo and Choi Seung-Hyun, and Jo Yeong-Wook was the Music Supervisor.

Apparently, all this information is provided in the pamphlet accompanying the album, but still, some people neglected to check it and went with posting inaccurate information. This is the power of the Internet for you.

March 3, 2009

Oldboy, Old Memories, Wild Wild Boy

Isn't it wonderful how sometimes when you are thinking about one thing, your mind jumps to another?

Only a short time ago I was writing about Rorschach and mentioned its music, which was borrowed from the Oldboy (2003) OST. Soon after making that post, I started thinking about the movie. I watched it a long time ago and could only remember a couple of things from it (not including the fact that the movie was extremely violent, this is kinda hard to forget).

For one, the octopus which was eaten alive by the main hero. A really memorable scene - octopus' legs sticking out of Dae-su's mouth, swirling. And, of course, the legendary corridor fight scene (a very long continuous take, marvelous). This scene was actually the reason I got to see Oldboy in the first place. I heard about it before I even knew what the movie is really about.

Anyway, it seemed only logical to find the DVD and watch it again. What can I say? It is indeed a very impressive movie, a thriller with a message, a story of ultimate revenge. The music is stunning too. But damn that violence!

The bad news is that I hear that Oldboy is going to have a Hollywood remake. Well, technically, it's not going to be a remake of the original Korean movie, but rather a new title based on the same Japanase manga as the Oldboy was. It seems that it is very important for Hollywood that the manga didn't have the incest theme, among other things featured in the Oldboy.

I have nothing against remakes in general and wouldn't mind watching a new version of Oldboy, but having Will Smith in the lead role? No, no, no... That is not right. I have nothing against the guy and even used to love him when I was younger, but he just doesn't seem right for the role.

If the movie ever gets made, I will only watch it on one condition - if I get to drink 0.5L of vodka prior to seeing it. There is simply no other way.

I am getting giggles every time I think about Will Smith starring in a movie which features incest and see him eat an actual life octopus... but, as I already mentioned, all of this is not planned for the American version. No surprise. I predict a regular American thriller coming our way.

March 2, 2009

Rorschach - Can You Pass the Test?

Recently, I got a chance to talk to Jens Andersson, an ex-employee at Starbreeze video game developing company, now working at LucasArts. Jens is an amazing guy, not only he was the designer of Enclave, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (one of my favorite action games of all time) and The Darkness, he also developed an amazing piece of software for Nintendo DS and iPhone - Colors!.

In addition to all those things mentioned above, Jens created an independent game called Rorschach. This is a very innovative adventure game. The most interesting part of the game is its dialogue system which revolves around the idea of gathering conversation topics while talking with different in-game characters. The selected topics are stored in an inventory and can be used later on to advance the plot. There is a limited amount of slots in the inventory, so it is important to think ahead and select to carry only the appropriate topics in order to save some legwork. That approach to the dialogue system is truly interesting and makes the game fun to play.

Not only that, the game features the most amazing art. Rorschach actually uses the pictures drawn on paper and scanned into a computer. All the art found in game was created by a very talented artist, Ida Rödén. The game is very pleasant to the ear as it has a memorable music taken from the movie Oldboy (2003).

The game is still in a prototype stage, but is pretty much polished. It introduces only the very beginning of the story, so it will take no longer than 30 minutes to complete it. The current versions of Rorschach are 0.9 and 0.91 for PC and PSP, respectively. Both versions can be downloaded for free here.

Be sure to check the game out, it is really a gem. The only thing to pity is that the story is not yet finished.

Grim Fandango. Manny, Were Art Thou?

There is one thought that constantly saddens me - there is not a chance in the world that there will be another game as good as Grim Fandango. Never ever. Why? Only because an independent developer couldn't pull such a great game and no major video game publisher will agree to finance something like that, seeing that the world is hooked up on the visually stunning games without caring for a solid plot.

Wold of Warcraft Is a Good Bashing Material

No matter what MMOG you play, unless you block the general channel for one reason or another, it is hard not to notice plenty of people saying how bad World of Warcraft is compared to the current title. I guess this is pretty much inevitable with WoW being one of the most popular MMOGs in the world and all.

The real problem about this is people actually feeling the necessity to bash Warcraft. I have been playing the game for almost 4 years. During that time I tried several other MMO titles, some of them I grew fond of, the others were not to my fancy. And of course, no matter what, I always kept comparing (to some extent) all the games I played to World of Warcraft, as it is kinda impossible not to, the game really set high standards. But, unlike so many people, I really couldn't really say that World of Warcraft was clearly better or the other way around. All the major MMO games are really unlike each other, they all provide the different things to the player. The only thing I can admit is that Warcraft is the most polished (in every possible aspect) game of all I've seen.

Recently, I totally dumped Warcraft and was open to new opportunities. If before I had a choice to only take a glimpse of some new online titles while devoting most of my time to WoW, now I actually have the chance to dedicate myself to something new. It wasn't that hard to pick a new title to devote myself to. I already had a game I wanted to play in mind - Tabula Rasa. I played it in open beta and continued playing it for a month or two after the official release, but was unable to keep up with WoW raiding and spending my time on Tabula Rasa, so had to dump it. Now that I was ready to return to TR, I found out that the game was announced to be shutdown some time ago already (don't even know how I missed the news). No matter how disappointing that was for me, I still had a couple of choices left.

For a very long time, my mind was set on checking two particular MMO titles - The Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online. I bought both games (The Lord of the Rings Online was particularly a great bargain - the special edition of the game features the original game, plus the expansion and two months of pre-paid time - all that for a very low price) and was totally excited by them. If LotRO surprised me to a great extent with a detailed world, interesting quests and character development mechanics, WAR totally blew me away with a high paced action, it really showed me a new perspective to fast and fun PVP-ing, among other things. You can pretty much guess, what I will be sticking to for now.

Anyway, I drifted away from the topic a bit. The idea is, I am not playing WoW for a couple of months already and totally enjoying WAR at this point, but I still don't have the need to bash Warcraft. Even though I grew tired of WoW and totally disliked what Blizzard made of the game with the latest expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, I still can't state that it is better or worse than any other MMOG. WAR is new and exciting, it has a very great approach to gameplay - sometimes it is really enough to play the game only for one hour a day. In Warhammer you can literally jump into action the second you log in. All the other online games advertise that "feature", but struggle to deliver. I enjoy that side of WAR a lot. Still, is WAR better because of it? Surely not. Worse for some reason? No way! Warcraft made a great job of keeping me hooked up for a long time and I still think highly of the game, but reject to stick to something for such a long time, even if there are some things left to explore. Period.

Currently, there are several interesting MMO titles in development. One of them is Star Wars: The Old Republic. Being a huge fan of all Bioware games, I can pretty much predict that I am gonna be all over it. Maybe by the time that game is published, I will be able to say that World of Warcraft is worse. Surely doubt though. Both games will be great in their own way.

One interesting observation. Recently, I started asking those WoW bashers, what made them think the game is worse than the title they are playing now. It came out, that most of those people didn't even get to play Warcraft a lot, didn't get to reach the level cap and enjoy the end-game contents. For me WoW was all about end-game, so I wouldn't even think about comparing it to any other possible game without knowing what it's like to raid. I kinda suspected those general channel flooders were low-minded people, now I am confident they are.