Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon is Good

How To Train Your Dragon is a good movie. Better than I expected it to be by a long shot. There were several parts that really impressed me artistically. Yes, the CGI is excellent, but the mastery of the physical acting of CGI characters (especially the *Spoiler Alert* dragon he trains *End Spoiler Alert* ) is really great. Not one person left that theater not in love with the *Spoiler Alert* dragon he trains *End Spoiler Alert*.

The movie also took a few chances with plot and events that I didn't expect from something marketed to children, and it avoided most of the idiotic things people tend to add to movies to make them "Kid Friendly". (Why do people think vomiting, farting, and getting hit in the groin is hilarious to kids? For children, humour comes from character. Adults love the nut shots.)

I like to mock Dreamworks as a second-rate Pixar, but I'd definitely put Dragon against Pixar. It's certainly not as good as Pixar's best, but I'd say it's certainly on the same level.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Robert Culp RIP

Robert Culp, who performed many roles but is best known by me for playing Breen in Half-Life 2, died. It seems likely that his character wouldn't have returned anyway, as he probably went to the alien world and got some sort of bio-modification to live there.

Either way, Breen was the best character in Half-Life 2. The announcement from Valve describes him as one of gaming's best love villains, but that's not quite right. Dr. Breen is not a villain. He is an antagonist, but he's a good guy. A man willing to make the compromises necessary for the survival for humanity is far better and more virtuous than someone like Gordon Freeman, who would just shoot bullets at an impossibly powerful alien invasion, leading his men to a glorious but inevitable defeat.

The best part was how Breen actually called out Freeman on his crap. When he accused Freeman of building nothing, only destroying things, he made the most effective and insightful criticism of Half-Life's protagonist possible. Gordon Freeman is simply an autonomous kill-bot: far less interesting, and less good, than a man like Breen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

TF2 Contribute Update

First of all, I have to extend congratulations to El_dawg, who cunningly kept over a dozen Camera Beards in anticipation of their upgrade to full hat status. Way to get 8 hats, including the Kabuto, you jerk!

So what about these new items? It seems like Valve has made them terrible in an attempt to avoid breaking any balance issues. I don't have the Dalokohs bar, but I imagine it will be as bad as the Homewrecker and Pain Train.

Homewrecker first. This is the worst item Valve has ever made, balance-wise. It does 130 damage to buildings per swing, at about .8 second swing, for about 150 DPS to buildings. Buildings have starting HP of 150, and max HP of 216. This means that you can't one-shot anything with the Homewrecker;* everything takes two swings. This would actually be a cool item for some classes. If a Scout or Soldier had a way of doing high damage to buildings without depleting a clip, that'd be great. But a Pyro already has an item that does high damage to buildings without depleting a clip. It's called a flamethrower. It does ~150 DPS, and can hit more than one person at once. Once you've destroyed the building, its broken shards will refill your ammo, so there's no risk of having to face the next player with no fire. To put it simply, Valve has taken a class with the best building destroying close-range attack, and given her an infinitely inferior alternative. It's like a handicap on people who like trying out new items, or are stupid.

Second up is the Pain Train. First of all, I don't like the idea of an item that can be useless** for one team. However, when you can use it, it seems all right. The first thing you have to remember is that the penalty isn't very big. On many lives, you don't get shot by bullets at all. I've tried it on some Payload maps, but that doesn't seem to work too well, since the speed of the bomb maxes out at x3. The Pain Train was designed for 5 point maps, giving Soldiers and Demos Scout-like ability to capture points, while simultaneously weakening them against those same scouts.The real question is whether it'll be picked up for professional play. My instinct is "no". No one likes dying, and scouts are a huge danger in pro play. I can only imagine one Soldier on a 6 man team taking a Pain Train and taking a sort of "professional capper" role, but even that seems unlikely.

I don't have a dalokohs bar yet, it doesn't seem like it's going to be that great, but I'll try it before I mock it. (I'm idling as hard as I can, Valve! Please give me more drops!)

*You can get things while they're still being built, but none of this matters, since the flamethrower does more DPS, as we'll see in a moment. Also, the 150 DPS statistic I just referred to can be deceiving; if you're attacking a building, it's never going to have HP divisible by 130, so you're effectively attacking with less DPS

**Not just bad, but useless. If you have a Pain Train on Defense, you are taking a penalty with no benefits whatsoever. Better hope you remembered to switch it out when you switched teams!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

I have a good joke.

Person 1 "How did you like Alice In Wonderland?"

Person 2 "What do you call a movie that has nice CGI but is terrible in every other way?"

Person 1 "Avatar?"

Anyway, Tim Burton is rapidly becoming the most unnecessary film-maker of all time. If ever there was a film that didn't need to be made, it's a sequel to Alice In Wonderland. It doesn't even have much for the macro/micro-philia crowd.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Voyager and Character

Kurt Vonnegut had a piece of advice for writers: everything you write has to do one of two things:
  1. Reveal character
  2. Advance the Plot
Nothing else is allowed. I think Voyager is a good example of why this is important. For the first six seasons of Voyager, character is incidental. Occasionally, we get a character driven episode, but most "character" we see is "Be'llana gets angry at something! She's half-Klingon!" or something along those lines. Instead of revealing character, they're reminding us of Be'llana's one-sentence description.

I'm halfway through the last season of Voyager, and I know the following things about Chakotay, the second in command:
  1. Native American
  2. Used to resent his Native American-ness, but now embraces it just enough to be silly
  3. Used to be a boxer, briefly.
  4. He was in the Maquis (A resistance group that opposed both Star Fleet and the Cardassian Empire)
That is all. Personality wise, I'd say he has a vague placidity that must have made him a terrible captain when he was in the Maquis.

Note, I have no idea why he was a boxer, or why he joined the Maquis, or what made him change his mind about being Native American.

For a well fleshed out character, you could imagine what he would do if he was in a new situation. All I can imagine Chakotay doing is standing around waiting for input from another character. I've heard that the actor playing Chakotay was unsatisfied with his character, and did a lazy job because he didn't care. This is entirely possible, but even if he acted his heart out, you can't do anything with a character that's less fleshed out than Checkov.

PS. I only got the idea for this after watching some clips of DS9 again. Now there's a show with character! Quark, a character who almost never is driving the central plot of an episode, is far better fleshed out than anyone on Voyager.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Voyager Season Seven

I've done a lot of mockery of Voyager, but they've finally figured themselves out. Unfortunately, they only figured out how to make the show when it's already in season 7.

It's as though they realized they were working on their last season, so they'd better do all the plots they have been avoiding for no reason whatsoever. Season 7 is the first time you see real conflict between the Voyager crew and the Maquis crew. Of course, there's no reason for anyone to remain loyal to the Maquis, so the entire mutiny is driven by the Star Trek equivalent of a mystical curse.

Even though it's been delayed, Season 7 really does shine. I'm less than half-way through, and almost all of the episodes have been solid, character driven episodes.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Steam on Mac

If you're interested in Valve, you've probably seen the news that they're tacitly admitting that they're making Steam compatible with Macs. Not really the news we've been looking for, especially since Macs can run windows.

I think they should just release the PDQ and the GRU right now.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Knowledge Island

Imagine all of potential human knowledge is an island. It has fertile plains, mountains, lakes, and so on. Each of these areas symbolizes a different realm of human knowledge. People start out in a rich plain, where food is plentiful and life is easy. This would be the "Things you notice by looking around" area of knowledge, with information like "fire hot", and "food tasty". But humans like to expand, and so many leave the comfort of this easy terrain, and enter the nearby foothills of science, and even go into the mountains of mathematics and physics. They learn how to fish and swim and dive into biology.

On this island is a swamp. Early exploration of the swamp made it clear: the swamp isn't very useful, and most people have taken the position that there's no value to entering the swamp. Since the beginning, people have solemnly entered the swamp, and proclaimed themselves wise, and important, and every other virtue you'd care to name. They enter wearing white robes, and end up covered in filth before the first day is through. Not once has anyone brought anything of value from the swamp. In fact, the only activity that seems to happen in the swamp is flinging mud at other inhabitants of the swamp, and arguing over the precise etiquette of flinging mud at their opponents. If a onlooker comes too close, he may fall under the sway of these mud men, but most of the world is safe.

This swamp is Philosophy. Philosophy produces nothing except arguments. I had stuff about how the higher up the mountain of math you go, the more "pure" the math is, and how that becomes less useful, like how mountain climbers aren't exactly contributing to society, but that's not really relevant to insulting Philosophy, which is my thesis, I guess.