Saturday, February 20

Movie Musings - "Ink"

So the trapped nerve means my usual extremely active PC enjoyment has been replaced by more sedentary PC activities; I've been catching up on some TV via BBC Iplayer, running through my DvD archive and hunting down anything that might look interesting to stream on the net. I've watched a fair few movies this past few weeks, there have been some low points - the remake of 'The Day The earth Stood Still' being a fine example of hollywood taking a classic and turning it into something truly banal and utterly lifeless, somehow I watched it until the bitter end. In contrast Pixar's 'Up', in spite of its maudlin begining, I'm glad to say did just that. In a sea of what has been mostly mediocre movies today I finally found a real gem.


It's hard to make parallels with other movies, Dark City and The Matrix because of the common theme of others being in control came to mind. While aliens in Dark City affected our lives via our sleep and in The Matrix we are kept asleep to live a life provided for us, Ink gives others control of our sleep and it seems rarely does that cross in to our real lives. There are those that give us dreams, there are those that give us nightmares and there are those that walk inbetween.

The central theme of 'a very young girl in danger' (played extremely well by Quinn Hunchar) made me think briefly of Pan's Labrynth, but they are poles apart, too far to make any real comparison.

It's been accused of being 'deliberately obfuscating' and having a 'complex narrative', I have to disagree with both, it just takes its time to tell you the story and rather than handing it to you on a plate, it weaves its tale with grace. Once that tale has been told, and this to me is what makes it such a gem, the end becomes predictable, almost painfully so, any pain caused by the obvious and it's subsequent failure to suspend belief is so soon overshadowed by the beauty of this (almost) masterpiece, you're immediately beginning to care again, sucked in by it's beautiful hypnotic pace.

It takes it's time to draw you in, the synergy between choice of colour, cinematography, editing, direction and music create a strong, slow natural rhythm that aims to seduce, you need to let it. If you want immediate gratification, leave this one for another time.

The performances aren't universally strong, Ink himself was lacking, I was unsure if the motivation of the performance was to have less depth of character beause of who he had become and was trying to be, or it was a combination of lower budget prosthetics and a weak performance that made me wish Ink had more 'ooomph', it didn't really matter until close toward the end.

Flawed it maybe but the beauty and pace of the whole made it really easy for me to forgive and get sucked right back in.

It's unique, it's indie, it's definately Art with a capital A and it apparently had 400,000 illegal downloads the first week after release, those that loved it as much as I did will have then gone on to buy the DvD. The producers relished the piracy as it meant exposure and that exposure also meant a massive lift in sales. There is no way you can't own this on DvD if you got as much from it as I did. Piracy worked well for this indie company (hell I'm even going to get myself the t-shirt!) but it's a damn fine work of art, whereas piracy and most hollywood titles won't get on because quality isn't uppermost, Ink is a keeper :)

Thursday, February 11

Earth Eternal

Earth Eternal: Finally, a real MMO for your browser - well that's how it sells itself, I guess it's ignoring Runescape then? I would also add a ? at the end of that claim. If the fans are to be believed rather than the ubiquitous 'WoW killer' we have a 'Runescape killer' on our hands...

It's currently in open beta, however the cash shop is already open, rare even for a F2P title in OB, guess those development costs need to be regained pretty soon. So far though items in the cash shop don't look like they are necessary unless you want the upper hand or that fancy armour straight away. In comparison to the Runescape shop, your limitations so far seem to be less in EE if you choose not to use it.

Open Beta means it is plagued with a few rather game breaking problems; very long loading times (go make a cup of tea or read a book), low FPS regardless of video settings and plenty of lag. One of the strangest things I've seen in a game is that while assets are loading for NPCs and players, the game displays floating sparkling orbs, which I guess gives you at least something to target and lets you know danger is imminent.

The game can be played in a browser but you get better performance launching it as it's own app.

There are 22 anthropomorphic 'Races', there's a robot thrown in for good measure in case you don't want pointy eared and waggy tailed.

Customisation allows 3 different body types, 3 different faces and plenty of colour options, if you want a rainbow coloured mess you can have one. You are then given the option of 4 different armour designs for each starting armour part, no colour options for those though. Names are double barreled and the game will give you suggestions for both, you can choose to ignore those and create your own.

There are 4 classes to choose from, Mage, Knight, Druid and Rogue, each have their own skill trees, you can unlock or power up skills through using attribute points gained as you level (or bought from the cash shop), some skills also have a coin cost. The interesting thing is that you don't have to stick to your own skill trees, while some of the skills are locked to outside classes, some are also available to any, if you want to use Druid skills as a Mage you can, this could provide some interesting progression but as armour is limited to class, along with its associated stats then I doubt many will take advantage of this to its fullest. On top of the 4 main class trees there are 4 other trees to invest points in:

Travel: You have 2 unlocked skills at start, the ability to set your bind location and the ability to warp to it, further unlocks provide the ability to warp yourself, team members or other individuals to specific locations and there are skills to increase movement speed.

Weapons: Classes are locked to what type of weapon can be used, unlocked skills in this tree increase specific weapon damage.

Protection: Your initial armour skill is unlocked, further skills include removing buffs from opponents or removing debuffs from yourself or other players, getting further in to the tree increases overall protection from individual damage types.

Restoration: Provides heals, the ability to resurrect and increase healing effectiveness.

The Mage Skill Tree

It's an interesting system, a great deal of room for building a unique character, the limits of armour stats will keep choices limited for most players but at least the choice is there. Attribute points can be reset at any given time, the only loss you incur is the loss of any coin you spent on gaining skills, that gives you plenty of scope to experiment.

Graphics; the only fair thing to do is compare it to it's competitors which I guess would be Runescape and Sony's Freerealms, I haven't played Runescape so no comment on that, compared to Freerealms though I would say it lacks the smooth look achieved by that game, things like trees are more obviously made from blocks, there is more ground clutter if you play at max settings (once it loads) which does look nice. It's very cartoony, as you would expect from a game of this nature, overall it gels together nicely, it has day and night cycles, I found night to be much better looking. Don't expect any convincingly scary mobs, your first encounter will be against plants in their pots and you'll come across their big brothers later in your first instance.

Armour is as you would expect from a game whose polygon count and textures needs to be low, the looks are generally bad but the great thing is that if you find a piece you do like you can use an NPC to transfer the stats from one piece to another, something I've only seen in one true MMO, it's a nice touch, sadly there is no option to dye pieces.

Audio is sparse, music doesn't loop and the game is a bit too quiet. Animations aren't anything special and if you travel down any incline, no matter how shallow you will find yourself jumping down.

The UI is efficient, there is no real scaling of the chat window, even at its smallest setting it looks too big. The hot bars allow you to add a further eight, each of which can be moved anywhere you like and can be flipped. Each quest will show a marker on your compass pointing you in the right direction.

Inventory size is limited requiring frequent visits to an NPC to offload your goods, I received one upgrade as a quest reward and I understand further upgrades can be bought in game, to increase it to a reasonable size though I'm guessing the cash shop is the only way to go.

The game has some interesting mechanics, as melee characters have a miss chance, mage types have a spell failure chance, it's no big deal as nothing is lost from a failed spell, it just increases combat time and means the foe has a chance to get more hits in . There is a stat called 'heroism' that fills up as you defeat foes, the higher your heroism is the more 'lucky' you become, that luck means higher XP and better loot from mobs, it's a mechanic that encourages you to grind and grind you will need to do. Quests are the usual kill ten rats and fed ex types but to level effectively you will need to kill more mobs than the required kill count, I've only played a few hours and to get through to level 7 via quests I had to grind more mobs than needed in order to be successful, of course that grinding means better loot. There are 'Bulletin Board' repeatable quests that offer a choice of rewards, the first will enable you to get a full set of very good armour if you repeat it enough times.

There are dungeons and instances which are locked to just you or your team, the first is a solo instance, the game informs you of the mechanics for instances when you first spawn in, the games description is 'Step up spawner', meaning you have to kill a certain amount of the lower level mobs to start spawning the next tier, in the first instance it just meant clearing the trash to spawn the boss. The boss will drop a token to spend in the chest that spawns on it's defeat, you then choose what to spend that token on, instances are repeatable so going back to get the other goodies is possible.

The game does contain crafting but as far as I can tell resource gathering is only from mob drops, recipes can be bought from vendors and some may drop from mobs (not 100% on that one), crafting takes place at a vendor, there doesn't seem to be any 'luck' chance or any way to create improvements, so recipes give you exactly what they say on the tin.

Is it a true MMO in a browser? Hard to say with such limited time play, it has some classic MMO attributes, a persistent world with instancing and meaningful stat progression, in comparison to Freerealms then yes it's closer to a classic MMO experience. There needs to be some serious optimisation development for me to spend any quality time investigating it further but I do think it has potential for a lot of fun for a wide range of players. My first small look leads me to think the developers have a potential winner on their hands.

Friday, February 5

Some eyecandy

A quick showcase of Mass Effect 2's titilating elements:

Mass Effect 2 is a little grimmer

But there's leather seats!

And ominous spaceships that look like rock-cliffs

Smart-mouthed space-jocks

There's also time to relax and catch up with old friends

Not to mention blistering action (and a spoiler)

But also tender and or humorous moments

Of course there's also standoffs

And moral dilemmas

Thursday, February 4

So LOTRO huh?

Early January we all three figured out that we miss the times to hang out in a game together. Lani made a great rambling post about it, and we all rambled on some more in the comments and via email. We all tried out Allods for a day, and finally Lani and me decided to go to middle earth to play Lord of the Rings Online. Before we could lure Geekie in as well he rekindled his joys n his favourite MMO, Age of Conan.

So LOTRO. I started playing on January 19th. I created the hopelessly named rune keeper Thoayanor... Thoayaianor ... Thoay-something. The set up of the tutorial and training village is done very nice. I had fun playing through it the first two days, especially since Lani was there to chat to as well on the second day. Very few other players around. Which I though is ok since I was not playing to meet other players. I was there to meet Lani. And we managed to pull that off on day three. We had a spiffy crawl into a spider nest. Of course the time was rather short. I think we had at most 2 hours, pro bably more 1 hour and a bit.

Then I went off partying in Holland, on return din't see Lani online and went back to Fallen Earth, the game I still consider my favourite MMO. The next day I was busy, the day after Lani was busy, etc. etc. We emailed up and down a bit and said we should really get together because it was great fun.

Last Tuesday, nearly two weeks after I last logged in, I returned. I found Thoay-something standing where I left here in the middle on a hobbit village. So I moved around a bit, talk to a few quest givers. Got the fun quest about delivering mail and staying clear of nosey hobbits. I did another quest killing 10 bats. And then I started to wonder how things are in Fallen Earth. So shortly after that I logged off and switched to the game I love.

The problem with LOTRO is basically the same as I have with the 10 single player games I haven't started yet. I feel no connection to the game (yet). There is nothing compelling me to log in. On the other hand I am almost feeling guilty not logging in on Fallen Earth. Pilatus, my new pistoleer, needs me somehow. She is a real character that wants to survive. Thoay-something does not need me. She is not alive. She is pixels that are waiting for me to control so I can talk and fight with Lani.

The problem is not really that LOTRO is bad game. I think the problem is that it feels too much like a single player game, not an MMO. And that is mostly my own fault. If I wouldn't have the compulsion to play FE I might have logged in more and tried to seek out other players, get into the lore, become alive. Another hurdle is the fact we somehow don't have as much time to do tings anymore. When we were playing Vanguard we were online every day for a couple of hours, and we had often adventures together or with other people we knew. The last three weeks we have been online at the same time (and without other commitments) maybe 3 or 4 times.

I think our LOTRO experiment is doomed to fail. You won't be able to pull me away from FE. And the 1 or 2 hours a week we have is not enough to sustain a new MMO. Until that great new game comes along we both (or better, all three) want to play, really want to play, we will be wandering the Virtual separate. We can't really force this. Maybe what we could force ourselves is to keep this blog alive some more. There is still plenty to talk. We actually should have even more to talk about now.

Ok, done rambling. Does it make sense or do you see some clever solution to make any lasting teaming up work?

Nein! Nein! Nein!

This morning I found out I have been a bit daft.

As a good video gaming associated company we have a subscription to Edge. Last month it had a big article about the upcoming FPS/rpg game Metro 2033. The game is way too FPS for me, but the concept of the game is rather intriguing. The game is based on the book Metro 2033 by the Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. The story is set in the metro of Moscow after the apocalypse.

The author worked close together with the development team. Of course he had some issues with how his story got butchered in a FPS. But he was still happy to see his story come to life like that. I think it is one of the first books that get turned into a game before it got turned into a movie. Although the article talked more about the game than the book I got excited enough what I wanted to read it. Life in the metro of Moscow just sounds like must-read stuff.

So my search started. As always with books I want to read I start with bookshops. Not much luck at Waterstones, WHSmith or Books Etc. But I had my trip to Chicago few weeks back. No luck there either! This only made me want to get my hands on it more. So last week Friday I gave in and went to It is just not as much fun to buy books online, but I was getting desperate.

A search for Metro 2033 resulted in plenty of options. I could pre-order the game in a couple of flavours. But I could also pre-order the book!? The book was written in 2007. I assumed it would be a special re-release to go with the game. So I clicked a bit more and found I could get it in hardcover with apparently the exact same cover. Amazon was even so friendly to tell me I could get Metro 2034 as well in a handy double deal. Sounded perfect. I didn't see much reason to wait for the next month released version. So I was all set. Now just waiting for it to arrive.

And this morning they arrived. Getting packages at work is always fun. So I opened it up with five collegues instantly cowering around my desk. The books where there. Nice cover. I turn it around and aaargh... I ordered them in German!

Apparently there is no English translation yet. No wonder I couldn't find it anywhere.

Wednesday, February 3

Hoe lang is een Chinees.

Instead of posting something interesting, like my time in LOTRO, or my thoughts about PvP, or how our gaming times have changed, I am posting a silly animation about the size of stuff. It is really neat though. It goes from Planck Length to 930Ym.

And we are probably not the center of the universe.

Tuesday, February 2