Wednesday, 30 March 2005

Platoon

Hot on the heels of last week's Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which is proving popular with thousands of Mac gamers. America's Army: Special Forces 2.3 was released for Mac OS X today. AA has the somewhat dubious honor of being endorsed by the US Army as a recruitment tool. Unlike ET, AA is based on Epic Games' Unreal Engine 2 and minimum system requirements are higher. I'll leave you to deliberate over any ideological concerns. IMG Pro users can download it now (759MB).

In other gaming news. There's a new unofficial MacMAME Xcode build available. Sega's Thunder Blade (1987) is finally 100% accurate. I remember playing the notoriously difficult Thunder Blade at Exeter's Megabowl whilst MTV was showing Madonna videos back to back.

Monday, 28 March 2005

Pass the Popcorn

iLife '05 is, arguably, the definitive prosumer video authoring suite for Mac Users. However, I recently discovered a variety of useful applications that can augment and compliment your iLife video tool box.

MPEG2 Works 4. This is a powerful MPEG1/MPEG2 and VCD/SVCD/DVD encoding application. As an experiment, I transferred several episodes of a popular franchise from AVI format to PAL 16:9 DVD to see how it handles compression and the results were superlative. Well worth the inexpensive $25 admission charge. I'm promoting it here and please tell the author who sent you. Thanks in advance.

BitrateCalc is a handy free utility, which works in tandem with MPEG2 Works 4, and gives you the optimum bitrate for encoding video and audio for making DVD and DivX video discs.

Want to backup your DVD collection in the event that the originals are lost, destroyed or stolen? Then you'll need Roxio's Popcorn! Popcorn is a DVD duplication application that “helps you easily make high quality copies of your DVD movies.” Not only that, but Popcorn’s “powerful compression technology gives you the flexibility to copy even the largest movies to a single DVD disc” - meaning you can compress an entire 9GB dual-layer DVD to a standard 4.7GB DVD disc and maintain high video quality and full audio fidelity. Popcorn cannot extract data directly from a DVD, so you will need a ripper to transfer the data to a VIDEO_TS folder. I'm loathe to discuss the implications of copy protection and intellectual property as I always buy movies from established retail outlets.

Once the disc has been burned. Don't forget to launch Photoshop and create a beautiful amaray/jewel case cover.

Sunday, 27 March 2005

It's The Easter Beagle

Last night the BBC broadcast episode one of the new Doctor Who series. The only differences between this and the Press preview are as follows:

*Newly scored main theme (abysmal)
*Additional post production sound effects

With the arrival of BST I watched The Ark In Space (1974) and, the obvious limitations of the Wirrn aside, the story boasts fine acting, taut direction and stunning set design. If Earthshock (1982) foretold Aliens (1986) then The Ark In Space is Alien (1979). Tonight, I'll continue to view The Seeds Of Death (1968). This is one of my favourite stories (from the enigmatic Patrick Troughton era) and is the uncut and remastered edition.

Friday, 25 March 2005

The Long Good Friday

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory has consumed many, many hours since its surprise debut on the Mac this week. The past few nights have witnessed the destruction of tanks, city walls and beach defenses! In the latter I served as an Axis soldier equipped with a Panzerfaust. For an adrenalin-fueled 30 minutes my team (of 30) held back Allied forces and prevented them from breaching the sea wall defenses. The maps are lavishly detailed and none more so than the Cathedral and Egyptian tomb (evoking the adventures of Indiana Jones).

The key ingredient in ET is team co-operation (up to 64 players) and the ability to increase one's skill (not unlike an RPG). Incidentally PunkBuster precludes any players from cheating and a voting system kicks troublesome team mates (those who deliberately engage in friendly fire) off.

A technical tip for anyone using that pile of junk known as DivX. To avoid the DivX conflict uninstall the application (it's taking up valuable HDD space anyway).

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Enemy at the Gates

Castle Wolfenstein (1983) was originally released for the Atari XL and Commodore 64 by publisher Muse Software. id Software purchased the rights to use the name and released seminal FPS Wolfenstein 3D (1992). The first sequel, Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2002), ensnared me with its pulp Sci-fi/Nazi mythology and dark atmosphere. Now id/Splash Damage/Aspyr has ported Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003) to Mac OS X. Originally planned as an expansion pack for RtCW, ET is a free multiplayer online FPS (sans bots).

After downloading ET (258MB standalone installer includes PunkBuster and does not require a commercial copy of RtCW to run) I leapt online and started playing the "Dora" Rail Gun map. Dora was the largest artillery gun built during WWII and its purpose was to pummel defenses during Operation 'Barbarossa', but did not see active service until 1942. The Rail Gun campaign sees Axis players defend and man the Dora as it begins bombardment of a nearby city. Allied forces are charged with blowing up the track and gun before the first shot is fired. The abundance of crystalline detail, fluidic animation and sound surpasses even Raven's Jedi Academy Quake 3 engine modifications. Now if only there was a Rachel Weisz avatar!

Improvements in ET will filter down to RtCW (Mac client) in a future patch. Therefore I'd encourage any Mac gamer, who doesn't own RtCW, to grab a copy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Pepsi Twist

Having watched the Beckham, Lopez and Knowles Pepsi commercial. I can only conclude that it's an eminently forgettable plagiarism of Kill Bill. A far cry from the momentous Michael Jackson campaigns. Sony BMG will be delighted with the publicity that has been generated for its two solo stars. Perhaps the cola company should sign Apple's iPod Shuffle as the new face of Pepsi?

Monday, 21 March 2005

Light in Dark Places

Today I ordered the remaining Dr Who stories missing from my DVD collection including The Ark In Space, Ghost Light and The Leisure Hive (superlative soundtrack score). For any interested Whovians, Sendit.com (Blackstar) is worth a visit during their £9.99 promotion period. Also of note is the forthcoming release of Quatermass and Day Of The Triffids (1981) on BBC DVD. The latter initated months of childhood nightmares.

Dr Who Online published my review of Rose.

Sunday, 20 March 2005

Room On Fire

Microsoft's recent dispatching of replacement power cords (incorporating a trip switch) appears to have not addressed the overheating issue in XBOX consoles! The problem affects versions 1.0 and 1.1 of the power supply. The design flaw was fixed in subsequent power supplies. I shall follow this with interest and take the matter under legal advisement if necessary.

Saturday, 19 March 2005

Texas Instuments

Looks like Lucas' vision knows no bounds. Not content with refurbishing his Star Wars saga ad infinitum. He now intends to release the movies in a brand new 3D digital incarnation! The irony is that audiences lament the original trilogy (as seen on their theatrical debut). What's happened to George's desire to return to 'experimental' movie making once post production on Revenge is complete? I was looking forward to THX 1138.2!

Thursday, 17 March 2005

St. Patrick's Day

My Photoshop foundry houses a blazing kiln! A Revenge of the Sith favicon has been uploaded and, preserving continuity with the rollover’s text, is the number 3 in Hebrew.

Favicons are popular graphical garnishing (viewed in a compatible browser) in the web address bar and bookmarks. So, in 2003 I investigated the feasibility of creating my own favicons. Various design sites were charging around $75 ($125 same day delivery) for an icon. As a control freak there was no way I was going to part with my cash for creative that may or may not meet my expectations and couldn’t be edited. Therefore I approached web masters who either never responded to my queries or made empty promises. After a Google search I lucked upon a favicon plug-in (GPL) for Photoshop. This, coupled with expert advice from the web master of Sideshow Weta, resulted in the first favicon forged. If you’re interested in the process see here.

The news that SCEE has further delayed the release of PSP (until the summer) may lead to trauma, tantrums and shatter domestic tranquility. Sony is citing a production limitation, which is a euphemism for shipping inventory, destined for Europe, to the USA. To anyone from SCEE that may read this, I'd be more than happy to receive a review sample. Thanks in advance.

Was the leaked new Doctor Who episode ingenious viral marketing?

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Mask of the Phantasm

This morning I completed a review banner for Revenge of the Sith. Originally, I intended to source a still image from the trailer (using QuickTime 6 Pro's export Movie to Picture facility), but the results were less than satisfactory (compounded by encryption). However, I happened across a superlative photo of Darth Vader to be used in a forthcoming book from DK. This is the result.



And here's the rollover. The font is based on the text that appears on Vader's chestplate, and looks to utilize the Hebrew alphabet. Translates as The Chosen One.



The official ROTS poster and marketing campaign has been a disappointment and the realization of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Drew Struzan's poster is a composite of two paintings and doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Hopefully this is an antidote.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Requiem for a Dream

Growing up my aspirations diverged from "learning the ways of the force" and time traveling to video game author and Grammy-winning performances. Yet the desire to act and perform overarched everything.

In 1983 I was selected to audition (along with other hopefuls from around the South West region) for a place at a prestigious acting school. Due to very poor planning, on the part of my school, the day turned into an unmitigated disaster and the schedule went askew. Our audition piece, performed at Exeter's Northcott Theatre, would have been savaged by Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul! I had prepared a solo set reciting HG Wells' The War of the Worlds and instead was instructed to mimic a tree. A conciliatory weekend placement was offered to selected students who showed promise - one of whom had the propensity to burst into tears when they'd forgotten their lines. I felt slighted, but nothing that a new Star Wars Return of the Jedi action figure couldn't fix! Biker Scout, I salute you.

During High School, under the aegis of Mr Burton (no relation of Richard or Tim), my passion for drama class flourished. Regrettably, he decided to change schools and his successor drove out any sense of enjoyment and I dropped out. A few years later my Dad would meet Mr Burton, in Torbay, who had assumed that I had continued with acting. And learnt that this was not the case.

In 1990 whilst at College I formed a Pop/R&B band - Def Track - as part of a Media Studies project concerning the music industry. During the coach ride to and from London's V&A (I was also studying A-Level Fine Art) I co-wrote "Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover". We recorded the song, promo video and prepared marketing materials (using MacDraw) ourselves. At the suggestion of our Media Studies tutor I wrote further songs for a possible EP (for submission to local radio stations). However, during the summer my work was stolen or mislaid and there was no backup other than a skeletal arrangement stored on an Amiga A500.

I acted in a University studio project (1993) and was required to show a complete lack of interest in the main protagonist. This wasn't too difficult a leap as I found the person, in question, unpalateable at best. It was noted that my performance was very effective and made ingenious use of a newspaper (a metaphor for the barriers in our relationship)!

My claim to fame is as a background extra on BBC Radio Four's The Gemini Apes (1998). However, acting has not lost any of its allure and one day I'm hoping for a reprise.

Monday, 14 March 2005

Once Upon a Time in America

Last evening's edition of Inside the Actors Studio chronicled the career-to-date of Jennifer Connelly. The show's conservative format precludes controversy, but Jennifer came across as highly articulate, intelligent, shy and self-deprecating - as bewildered by her adulation as the acting undergraduates were nervous. I knew that she, like myself, was an only child and it was a very pleasant surprise to learn that both our Mothers are Jewish (none practicing).



Can't believe that I've been a Jennifer Connelly fan for nearly 19 years after first seeing her in Jim Henson & George Lucas' Labyrinth (1986). The movie was showing at the local Odeon and the High School Computer Club (self-confessed geek that I am) arranged a midweek trip - the opening sequence featuring a CGI Owl was generating buzz in the press. We unexpectedly met friends (including James Hearn and Helen Duff) inside screen 2. A veritable popcorn moment. Afterwards James and me went into the nearby Exeter Model Centre to buy Citadel Miniatures' Chaos Marauders!

The memory of Jennifer Connelly's beautiful visage adorning my bedroom wall, listening to the Labyrinth soundtrack (includes David Bowie's haunting "As The World Falls Down") and playing the video game, remains strikingly clear.

It wouldn't be until 1996, at the suggestion of Rudy (a Student Village neighbour), that I would see her cinematic debut in Sergio Leone's acclaimed Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Semiologists have noted that Dark City (1998) set an enigmatic trend whereby Jennifer Connelly's character would stand alone on a Pier at a critical narrative juncture (see also Requiem for a Dream, Beautiful Mind and House of Sand and Fog). Coincidentally the composer Trevor Jones scored both Labyrinth and Dark City.

Jennifer still gives me butterflies.

Sunday, 13 March 2005

The Keeper of Traken

Today I started to undertake changes to my main site and lay the foundations for future content. Whilst the blog provides a daily commentary, my portfolio will continue to host the more important stuff and facilitate further UI creativity.

From tomorrow sky will start to distribute the first of two software download updates for its digital satellite platform. New functionality and stability improvements are always welcome.

Saturday, 12 March 2005

Virgin Isles

This afternoon I was surprised to notice Nintendo DS in abundance in Virgin Megastore's games section! The Easter bank holiday may see a surge in sales unless consumers are awaiting SCEE PSP launch details (as I am). Tellingly Nintendo is rumoured to be releasing the GBA 2 later this year! There's a real possability of brand dilution. PlayStation is going to dominate both home and portable console gaming.

Friday, 11 March 2005

Do what must be done

After watching the Revenge of the Sith trailer online and on UK television. The standout moments include:

*Palpatine's manipulation of Skywalker
*Skywalker leading the Jedi massacre
*Mace Windu's ill-fated confrontation with Palpatine
*Wookies
*Blockade Runner

Next week I'll post signature stills from the trailer (one of which will be adapted for my review section). For now, here's a screenshot taken from Sega's Galaxy Force II (1989) coin-op.



Notice how the ship on the left looks like a TIE-Fighter and the planetary setting could be Mustafar, where Darth Vader battles Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Nintendo DS goes on sale in the UK from today.

Thursday, 10 March 2005

Show no mercy

The full trailer for Episode III Revenge of the Sith is, unquestionably, draped in the dark side of the force. Ian McDiarmid's commanding performance is as chilling as it is captivating. And Hayden Christensen appears to convey the unrelenting anger and loss of self control, so pivotal to his fall to the dark side.

Here's an extract from my AOTC (2002) review that appeared in Starburst magazine (issue 289):

Anakin’s ‘Tusken slaughter’ confessional to Padme is, arguably, almost on a par with Vader’s paternal revelation! Hayden Christensen (finally getting centre stage) chillingly convinces as the conflicted apprentice. John Williams serves to underscore this pivotal scene, reflecting on what is to come with familiar leitmotifs that sound somehow fresh and new.

To quote C3-PO "Oh my!"

Wednesday, 9 March 2005

A Rose by any other name



This is a review of the first episode of the new Doctor Who series, as shown to the press, and differs to the final broadcast version.

Rose.

The opening title sequence marks the welcome return of the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker main theme arrangement and sent chills down my spine. The CGI TARDIS, blurrily tumbling through time and space, recalls the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras. The logo is the work of someone who has never heard of Photoshop! Why not update the classic diamond logo?

The subsequent montage, introducing Rose, pays homage to BBC franchises EastEnders and S-Club! The producers make excellent use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound and make reference to gay and popular consumer culture.

Billie Piper's pop career still haunts this reviewer and I'm ashamed to admit that, gulp, I liked "Because We Want To"! However, before Piper's pop career she was trained at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts (BBC taps this rich reservoir) and once she encounters the good Doctor, amidst an Auton attack, their chemistry is electric. Somehow Piper disarms you and the Doctor is, well, the Doctor! I couldn't help smiling and thinking Christopher Eccleston was a canny choice. He's funny, but there's an edge waiting to be explored.

The Autons (controlled by the plastic manipulating and octopus-like Nestene Consciousness) were an infamous enemy and irked parents and the self-appointed moral guardian Mary Whitehouse following the broadcast of Terror of the Autons (1971). I saw the notorious serial in 1983. Terror was screened at the Doctor Who 20th Anniversary convention and followed by a Q&A with the principal actors (including Jon Pertwee) and production crew.

I could opine that the production values of the new series are not on a par with Angel, Buffy, Battlestar or The X-Files. However, this is a postmodern parody and Rose is loosely based on Spearhead From Space (1970). So, international audiences may be left out in the cold at its superficial lack of sophistication. I defy any Doctor Who fan not to be deeply moved by the sight of the TARDIS and its familiar sounds.

All in all, I'm delighted to see the Doctor back (sans episode cliffhangers) and so should you. Just in time...

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

No second stringer

With the triumphs of Walkman and Trinitron a distant memory, Sony has announced the appointment of Howard Stringer as CEO of the company and software that will link a PSP to a Mac and PC. This clearly demonstrates a shift in strategy and owes much to the success of Steve Jobs' resurrection of Apple and its "i" brands.

Stringer steered Sony's 'software' division for a decade and will now focus on better integration with hardware in his new role or at least that should be his focus. A new range of cool looking Network Walkman's were revealed today. Yet iTunes and iPod (in all its incarnations) is still an unbeatable combination.

Monday, 7 March 2005

Easter XEGS

After an eventful Mothering Sunday, where's Agent Scully when you need her? It was a pleasant diversion to learn that acclaimed Atari 8-bit/5200 emulator Atari800MacX has been updated to 2.1. This release includes many bug fixes and a new brush metal appearance (suggested by yours truly). Requires real Atari DOS to work.

Updated Nick Smith Books.

Friday, 4 March 2005

Giving You Up

Kylie's next single reminds me of Madonna's Can't Stop (taken from the Who's That Girl soundtrack). And that's no bad thing in my considered opinion. The video is excellent and the online making of documentary features a prominently placed Apple PowerBook. Subliminal advertising doesn't get much better than this.

The XBOX replacement cord arrived in time to play Dead or Alive Ultimate, which is now part of the pantheon of seminal fighters. Ultimate includes DOA, but DOA2 is draped in the finery of DOA3 and, in many ways, outshines the second sequel. When Team Ninja turns its attention to DOA4 (XBOX 2?) Sega's Virtua Fighter better be prepared!

Now that the Skywalker family saga ends (theatrically) in May and Star Trek *YAWN* has been retired, what Sci-Fi franchise(s) will take their place? According to press speculation eyes are now firmly fixed on Joss Whedon's Serenity movie: the first part of a proposed trilogy!

Serenity is based on characters and situations from Firefly (2002). The short lived television series took its toll on Whedon (arguably diluting both Buffy and Angel) and most likely contributed to the termination of his lucrative development deal with Fox. Having only watched a couple of episodes of Firefly, I decided to purchase the DVD box set (along with Roswell S1) in Exeter's Virgin Megastore. At £14.99 I didn't consider it an expensive outlay and it's nice to have Whedon's canon available for reference.

Thursday, 3 March 2005

Atari/Lucasfilm Games

It's not every day that I'm compelled to correspond with media industry pioneers. However, seminal video game releases BALLBLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus! have never been eclipsed IMHO. Both games were originally developed exclusively for Atari computer and console platforms as part of a partnership between Atari and Lucasfilm.

Although debuting in 1984, it wouldn't be until 1986 (when Epyx published BALLBLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus! on the incumbent Commodore 64) that I succumbed to their compelling gameplay and the Lucasfilm legacy. Ironically the Atari 800XL version was ready to ship in 1984, but Atari withheld its release in the hope that it would increase sales of VCS 5200 and 7800. I encourage Mac gamers to download arguably the best Atari 800XL emulator here.



A couple of salient points worth mentioning. Rescue on Fractalus! was originally entitled Rebel Rescue. And the name of the alien enemy, Jaggies (J'hagga Ri Kachatki), was a technical injoke. The Lucasfilm developers experimented with new anti-aliasing (AKA smoothing) technology, but Jaggies is a term given to the hard edge of a pixel and Atari's 8-bit color palette precluded smoothing.

Last evening it was a very pleasant surprise to receive a reply from Lucasfilm Games founder Peter Langston in my inbox.

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Don't Believe The Hype

Feeling that your literary needs are undernourished? Then read a transcript of the press kit for the new novel by my friend Nick Smith here. Next stop the movie franchise. Personally I'm really looking forward to reading Nick's books to my Mother.

Watching last night's episode of The OC, I noticed classic arcade game machines in the Student Coffee House! Galaxians and Pole Position had pride of place on the set. Don't you just love it?

To anyone who has downloaded my MacMAME Xcode build, you are cordially invited to provide usability feedback here. Thanks for your time.

OK. I'm off to unwrap the gorgeous Dead or Alive Ultimate and bask in its 16:9 rays.

Tuesday, 1 March 2005

Mad as a March Hare

Another month and another Mac-compatible product from those Google geniuses. Gmail appears to be on the verge of going mainstream! My invite allocation has jumped to 50.

With the news that Apple is preparing Mac OS X 10.3.9, there's little chance that Mac OS X 10.4 will be released this month.

After initial testing you can now download my MacMAME Xcode build here (Xcode project provided by Alex Eddy). Requires all folders from the official release to work. Strictly speaking this is an unofficial and unsupported product. However, so long as Brad Oliver, the author, doesn't object too vehemently, it's always preferable to be on the cutting edge of Mac gaming emulation. Enjoy.

Lucas Online has officially announced that the full Revenge of the Sith trailer will premiere during The OC, online (in partnership with AOL) and in theatres on March 10th. Those of us living in Europe should expect to see the trailer on sky news (ultimately owned by News International) alongside reenactment of Michael Jackson's Child Molestation Case.

Since registering with Blogger last year, it's interesting to note how many web site managers have now switched to the likes of Movable Type (a subscription service). The format is extensible and relatively straightforward to manage. A recent switcher is Bombia Design.