Monday, 29 November 2004

The Sega continues...

Over the weekend MAME developers continued to make strides in arcade emulation and added further Sega sweetness to the mix. Also. Atari fans will be delighted to see the inclusion of Exidy's Max-A-Flex, an 8-bit arcade system utilizing licensed Atari 600XL (eXtended Line) home computer hardware.



In 1983 the 600XL (based on the Sweet-16 project started in 1982) was a well-designed, thoroughly debugged machine with an outstanding specification at a reasonable price (the cost of software and peripherals made it a luxury item however). Its stylish and sleek footprint outshone Commodore and Spectrum rivals on retail shelf space. Atari envy was infectious!

It appears that James Cameron will return to mainstream theatre screens with not only The Dive, but also a 3D movie based on Battle Angel Alita (according to The Sunday Times). For a while Winona Ryder was attached to the project if I'm not entirely mistaken!

On Saturday, whilst perusing the shelves of Exeter's MVC store with a friend, we spied the BBC's inaugural DVD release of The Box of Delights (1984). A family drama deserving of classic status. Clearly the gatefold cover art was inspired by New Line's LOTR trilogy.

Friday, 26 November 2004

To be this good takes...

Sega is unquestionably one of my favorite video game publishers. From playing US Gold's port of Up n' Down on the Commodore 64 to arcade adventures in Out Run and Space Harrier, the company has never ceased to captivate and enthral! With the recent progress of Sega arcade emulation in MAME here's a testimonial.



During the '80s, after the collapse of Atari - following the infamous overproduction of the E.T. cartridge, which consumers had no appetite for - Nintendo dominated home entertainment in the US. Sega released the Master System to limited success (the color booklets were a work of genius) and then Mega Drive (Genesis) arrived.

Mega Drive was the first of the 16-bit consoles and, with its black livery, epitomized cool. The machine was a hot seller in the winter of 1990 and, as a Michael Jackson fan, I coveted, nay, obsessed over Moonwalker (Sega America had signed a deal with the pop star to develop a video game based on the movie of the same name). The console conversion did not disappoint and the music samples taken from Jackson's Bad album deserve special mention. The 'synth sound' lent itself to the medium perfectly.

After many hours dancing with MJ and bloodless decapitation in Golden Axe. I sold my Mega Drive to a former friend and embraced the charms of Super NES. However, Mega Drive prospered and was further empowered by Mega-CD and, more interestingly, 32X. The 32X (a mushroom-shaped peripheral) pumped the console's processing power to 32-bit and brought Virtua Fighter and Star Wars Arcade into the home for the first time.

In the arcades Sega leveraged Mega Drive under the Mega Play and Mega-Tech brands. These cabinets contained 8 cartridge titles (including Altered Beast and California Games), which could be randomly selected. This format was pioneered in the '80s by Nintendo's PlayChoice-10 system (8-bit NES architecture).

With success comes inevitable hubris. Sega embarked on an ambitious schedule and introduced its next generation console, the Saturn, to an exhausted user base. Tellingly I recall that same friend, whom had bought my Mega Drive several years earlier, purchasing an expensive gray import Saturn and loading Panzer Dragoon and Nights for the first time. We played for several minutes before deciding to venture out to see another friend's newly arrived PlayStation. Soon PlayStation would assume the mantle of console cool and leave Sega stranded.

As Y2K neared Sega made a valiant attempt at seizing the high ground again. This time it was the Dreamcast. To this day no fighting game has eclipsed that console's version of Soul Calibur. Ironically Sega's machine was more than adequate, but without the dynamic marketing that defined the Mega Drive era, consumers waited for PS2.

Wednesday, 24 November 2004

King of the World

According to Italian home theater magazine AF Digitale, 20th Century Fox is in the process of finally releasing the long-awaited Titanic: Special Edition in 2005. DVD content details are still vague, but the magazine reports that the film will receive a mega four-disc set featuring a new DTS ES 6.1 audio track. Of the extras, expect commentaries, deleted footage and mountains of other bonus material. This highly anticipated release is tentatively scheduled for the summer and arrives 5 years after James Cameron's original announcement.

What follows is an extract from an email sent to a friend in January 1998, which makes mention of a future DVD release!

Well, it's finally arrived after shattering the U.S Box-office:

"Navigating the sepia Ocean"

Your kind birthday wish was indeed prophetic! We managed to ensure elusive seating arrangements, at the Exeter Odeon, for Friday night's inaugural performance of "Titanic." As the cinema can only accommodate two screenings a day, the film is completely sold-out till next weekend! As you can imagine I was thrilled to have accomplished this feat with the aid of Tom.

So how was the special 'Birthday treat' movie? Superlatives prove to be, as ever, elusive! Nothing could've prepared us for the audacious spectacle. The sheer joyous grandeur that literally leapt from the great expanse of widescreen. My most immediate comparison would be that it had a similar effect on me as "Edward Scissorhands." I mean the finale was almost unbearable to watch! The tragic haunting beauty of DiCaprio and Winslet's 'simple' performance was on a par with Depp and Ryder or DiCaprio and Danes. I'm such a romantic eh! Their flawless 'twilight-hued' visages continue to remain a-fresh on my mind... I was in tears and could hardly breathe during their 'goodbye'... Having that "E.T" feeling all over again... Yes, James Cameron is indeed a master magician of beautifully painted montage and emotion. WOW!

Of course composer James Horner's lyrically seductive and beguiling score made no small impression either. A seamless merging of Enya's ethereal vocal, "Edward Scissorhands", "Wrath of Khan" (the best bits) and "Cocoon" to name a few stylized cousins. Of course I mustn't forget to mention the fact that I very affectionately recalled the trip to see "Heavenly Creatures" (Peter Jackson) in 1995. And the first time I saw Winslet. I was beguiled by her then. I'm willing to bet that she'll make an appearance in the Star Wars Prequels! Just a spooky hunch that's all...

The film transcended my giddy expectations. Cameron has truly come-of-age with this almighty epic. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about his haunting 'Ghost story.' That's all I can say. Can't wait to see the five-hour TITANIC: SPECIAL EDITION on DVD in 2000!!!!!!

To bring this post to a close. Fox's DVD releases are amongst the finest that commercial companies have to offer. The Day After Tomorrow benefits from a luxurious anamorphic print and DTS audio. The only disappointment is that the sound stage is predominantly confined to the front three channels, leaving the rears to convey ambiance. This treatment is inappropriate in a movie that relies on technological bombast. Complaint aside. Watching DAT, on my Sony Plasma, far surpassed the theatrical version, which was curtailed by the limitations of wear and tear.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Maniac Mansion

It's very rare to stumble across an application that is a revelation. Earlier this year MacMAME earned such a distinction - authentic arcade action delivered directly to your desktop - and now ScummVM joins the pantheon!

ScummVM derives its name from 'Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion' and is a 'virtual machine' for several notable graphical point-and-click adventure games. For example LucasArts' The Dig, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle. Loading Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis rekindled halcyon memories of my Amiga adventures and the often delayed fourth installment in the movie franchise. Incidentally, the Maniac Mansion property was licensed as a family sitcom (in the US) and ran for several seasons in the early 90's. Did it ever show in the UK?

Both MAME and ScummVM are a Work-In-Progress and available for the majority of popular computer platforms. MacMAME now sports an improved OpenGL driver that fixes VBL sync and aspect ratio correction. Checking anti-aliasing (AKA smoothing) in MacMAME's front-end evokes graphical comparison with Sega's underrated and poorly marketed Dreamcast (NAOMI-based console). Playtime.

Google continues to rollout updates to their email service. Gmail POP3 set-up is a breeze in Entourage 2004 and the added benefits of SSL shouldn't be overlooked. As an avid user of Gmail, I hope that the final release retains this feature. Hotmail announced that support for offline reading and composing would be withdrawn sans subscription. If this happens, then Gmail more than meets my needs.

Time to read the latest developments concerning the Mac OS X 10.3.7 update.

Thursday, 18 November 2004

Dismissed

Destiny Fulfilled completes a quartet of albums from DC (in all the groups various incarnations). From the bland self-titled debut to multi-platinum breakouts The Writing’s On The Wall (1999) and Survivor (2001), DC has delivered consistent commercial and creative success. Expectations for the fourth album were understandably high.

Upon opening the CD jewel case the listener (captive audience) is exposed to a marketing onslaught from Tommy Hilfiger’s True Star campaign (fronted by Beyoncé) and McDonald’s tour sponsorship pack-ins.



Destiny Fulfilled opens with the dynamite duo of Lose My Breath and Soldier (video promo already available online). This listener was so impressed that he had to play them twice a la Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. Then something unexpected happened. It all went so horribly, horribly wrong! Ballad followed ballad showcasing what we already know; the girls harmonise without peer and Beyoncé is the star. Where did the attitude-enthused anthems, Bootylicious, Bills, Bills, Bills and feted CD/DVD flipside technology go? Beyoncé’s second solo album may provide the answer.

If the band's manager, Mathew Knowles, is so astute then why didn’t he assemble an EP or greatest hits package – a fitting final curtain call for DC - instead of this misguided mess? Fulfilled suffers from Beyoncé’s solo success and has echoes of The Jacksons Victory (1984) album. Will a Victory tour debacle follow?

For the time being I'll seek sonic solace in my Canadian roots, and listen to DC's stablemate Avril Lavigne. The string section on Nobody's Home is sublime.

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Without further ado

Destiny Fulfilled arrived this morning courtesy of Play. I'll be writing a short review of the album to be published tomorrow.

Kylie's collaboration with the Scissor Sisters, I Believe In You, is inspired! I'm unashamedly biased as the Scissor Sisters are fans of Michael Jackson - ergo the "shamon" vocal shows up in Laura - and the band members met whilst waiting to see Captain Eo. Plus Kylie was a teenage crush of mine (alongside Jennifer Connelly).

From now on I'll be managing both Nick Smith's blog and website. I can only hope that my efforts are deserving of my friend's faith. Time for some hand-coded html (missing GoLive CS already).

Friday, 12 November 2004

Big in Japan

The holidays are coming and Panic are not averse to early gift giving! From today (and subject to availability) Mac Users can now download Audion 3 (3.0.2) sans cost. Audion's history affords a fascinating glimpse into the application's development and popularity in the Far East. Download the iTunes that never was here (complete with MP3 editor).

Whilst perusing the shelves of software speciality store Game (Electronics Boutique in the US) I took The Urbz (GBA) for a trial spin. Big mistake. The UI is joyfully intuitive and the game's highly addictive. Keep your eyes peeled for a G4 Cube and Apple Cinema Display in the tower offices.

Thursday, 11 November 2004

March of the M-Pire and Gmail plays POP3

Next March witnesses the ultimate Star Wars prequel merchandising blitz and Mars M&M's are getting in on the act too! However, I'm in the mood for nostalgia. So, here's a photo depicting Hasbro's diecast spaceship series.



Remember these Kenner gems from the 70's and 80's? My parents bought me a Star Destroyer (with Blockade Runner), Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, Snowspeeder, Slave 1 and Millenium Falcon over successive gift giving seasons. Detailing was superb and I hope that the TIE Bomber is released too! The original is highly prized by collectors and memories of seeing it on the shelves of Exeter's Pram & Toy shop only compounds my frustration at never owning one.

Talking of consumables. This holiday's must have is, again, the iPod. And there's plenty of GBA content to keep everyone amused from the upper Manhattan chic of The Urbz: Sims In The City to The Legend of Zelda The Minish Cap, which looks great.

Google is upgrading Gmail accounts to include POP. The rollout has yet to reach my inbox.

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Out of Sight

After further exhaustive investigation, it appears that my keyboard may be the culprit behind recent system freezes, and not a broken installation as reported previously! This is actually good news because a replacement keyboard from the Apple Store is relatively inexpensive. In other computer peripheral news, my new Wireless Intellimouse Explorer 2.0 works a treat and breezily accesses power user features in Microsoft Office 2004. Neat.

Firefox 1.0 is now available and anyone (especially Windows users) would be advised to download and make it their default browser! Will this branch of the Mozilla code metamorphose into the Google browser? The gauntlet has been thrown down and, in the Mac User community, eyes are now on Safari 1.3 and 2.0. Exciting times.

New UK digital television channel ITV 3 starts showing Karen Sisco tonight! Ms Sisco was played to perfection by JLo (Out of Sight, 1998) and the small screen incarnation is depicted by model/actress Carla Gugino. With the likes of Kathryn Bigelow (a former Mrs James Cameron) at the directing helm and co-stars Robert Forster and Bill Duke, the series has been well received by press plaudits.



No sooner has Apple opened its online doors to the iPod Store. You can now checkout the Amazon iPod Store from today!

Monday, 8 November 2004

Grievous Bodily Harm

As an addendum to the teaser trailer post. Count Dooku and General Grievous (soon to be merchandised to death) are conspicuous by their absence! The former makes a noted appearance in the Revenge video game trailer, which contains a possible spoiler (read on at your peril). Dooku duels with Anakin as an entrapped Palpatine goads the two combatants (shades of Jedi?). This epic encounter is aboard a Confederacy starship.

Hm, the Emperor's line in Jedi "Strike me down with all of your..." has always puzzled me! Will we see Anakin striking Sidious down, thus completing his journey to the dark side?

Sunday, 7 November 2004

Serendipity

The response to the alumni working in the media feature, published in The Talbot (Summer 2004) magazine, has exceeded my expectations and it is very flattering.

Things are afoot! More news soon...

Friday, 5 November 2004

The Bonfire of the Vanities

It's Bonfire Night in the UK. A celebration of Guy Fawkes' abortive Gunpowder Plot, which would have culminated in the destruction of the Houses of Parliament. This morning, somewhat aptly, I've had the opportunity to view THAT teaser trailer...



Last evening’s online debut of the Episode III teaser teaser lead to Lucasfilm’s servers overloading and their licensing division issuing cease and desist orders left, right and centre to sites posting images and links to the trailer (only available to paying Hyperspace and AOL members at time of writing).

Clearly a work in progress, as evinced by incomplete CGI shots, the trailer inspires obvious elemental comparison with The Return of the King (yet fails to evoke the same sense of scope). Much has now been made of the ANH/TPM/AOTC montage at the start (32 seconds) and Obi Wan’s voice over. From a subjective standpoint it reinforces the patchiness of the Star Wars saga since the prequels were unleashed from the hallowed halls of Skywalker Ranch (the current DVD release typifies this and lacks the cohesiveness of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings).



Highlights include Darth Vader’s awakening a la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a screaming Darth Sidious (genuinely unnerving) and an enraged Anakin Skywalker. The attendant space battles are incumbered by too many elements on screen at once - ROTJ Death Star battle magnified to the extreme.



Overall the teaser affords insight into the dark core of the story and coupled with John Williams’ score, so long as Lucas’ incessant tinkering is minimised, Revenge may yet stand alongside Empire as a darling of both critics and fans.

As a footnote. The Episode III banner was composited in Photoshop Elements 3.0 and the screen grabs were captured in QuickTime 6.x Pro (with a light dusting of Photoshop magic).

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Fort Knox

The NSA has released a public paper concerning security settings for Mac OS X 10.3.x. Although the majority of Mac Users have little need to run a fortress as it were, it is at least worth a casual perusal and you may learn something too. At the end of the day no computer, irrespective of the defense level (virus scanner, firewall and on the fly encryption), is 100% impregnable on a network. And we need to keep some perspective as moral panics* need to be put into context.

As Apple continues to seed developer builds for 10.3.6, I've bitten the bullet and performed a clean install. Most of my applications are now reinstalled and Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 is fantastic.

[*‘An episode, condition, person or group of persons’ that have in recent times, been ‘defined as a threat to societal values and interests’ generally fueled by the dominant mass media - what Stanley Cohen has termed ‘The Moral Panic’ (Cohen 1972).]

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Mac OS Xbox

During my tenure as a reviews writer for IMG, it was frustrating that Mac ports of AAA titles arrived many months after the PC/console releases (if at all). However, Blizzard is the exception and continues to develop its award-winning StarCraft and WarCraft franchises in tandem. And Blizzard enjoys a dedicated and vocal fan base in the Mac community.

Yes, Mac releases can benefit from further bug fixes. But even this isn't guaranteed as evinced by my experiences playing Sim City 4 and Jedi Academy! The latter was unplayable out-of-the-box, and Aspyr hurriedly issued two patches (a further patch is under consideration). I'm not trying to single out, or be overly critical of, Aspyr as their programmers are known to revisit games years after the retail release and write an improved patch. American McGee's Alice (2001) was a recent beneficiary. This compelled me to play Alice (1.1.1) again and experience the title as McGee originally intended.

Both Microsoft and Sony will leverage IBM's G5 PowerPC architecture in their next generation games consoles! This leads me to conclude that Apple should start to push the message that Mac OS X (running on G5) is a viable gaming platform. The shared architecture should translate to a more seamless and faster porting process - indeed the Xbox 2 Software Development Kit (SDK) is Mac-based. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger has the potential to cement this with its rich audio and graphical capabilities.

With the holiday season almost upon us. iPodlounge has released its free buyers guide (direct link to PDF). So, if you're wondering what to buy me this year... ;)

Monday, 1 November 2004

Destiny's dawn

Have you seen the teaser trailer commercial for Destiny Fulfilled? The next release from Destiny's Child is being ushered in with a pomp and circumstance once reserved for a Michael Jackson release!

The teaser poster for the final Star Wars prequel was released last week! Honestly, upon first glimpse I laughed out loud because the superimposed image of Vader in a cape/cloud of smoke looked ridiculous! Are those bags under his eyes? The Episode I poster remains by far and away the most successful teaser campaign to date! The marketing division should be shown the door George! Lets hope the teaser trailer sets sparks flying before Guy Fawkes (in the UK).