Saturday, November 07, 2009

New Season Brings Glee

At this point we're well into the new season of television, with the start of a number of new shows, and the welcome return of others. Most shows are hitting episode seven or eight this week, so we have a fair idea of what to expect from the brand new offerings, as well as the season story arcs for the new season of those series we've watched for years.

Smallville has introduced Zod in the awesome form of Callum Blue, a move that almost makes me want to catch up on the series I left way back in season three. But there are just too many other great shows to invest time in, and while I'm sure many people who know me think I spend all my time either playing games on my Xbox or using it to watch tv, I really have more important things to do than sit on my couch long enough to watch everything that's available. How I Met Your Mother, House and Heroes are just three of the many shows I've let slide, while repeated recommendations like Dollhouse, Chuck, Sons of Anarchy and 30 Rock haven't even been given a chance.

There are just far too many good shows to watch right now. Returning Big Bang Theory and Mythbusters are joined by the immensely enjoyable Castle, starring everyone's favourite space cowboy, and the intriguing mystery series FlashForward, which I hate to think will become the new Lost, giving question after question and no answers, but I'm finding myself sucked into regardless of caution.

But there is another that has taken me by surprise. I never even knew it existed until I stumbled onto it from a completely unrelated article online. It sings to my inner love of cheesy music and cringe-worthy but hilarious situations. It plays on my desire to be a famous singer/dancer (admit it, everyone has that dream, right? ... Er... Right?). Watching it makes me smile and laugh. It brings me great Glee.

Glee is about a music club in an American high school. In the past, the club was popular and successful, but now they are nothing, while cheerleading and football rule the school. The series starts when Will, the Spanish teacher, volunteers to be the new Glee teacher as well, and recruits new members, including the football teams quarterback.

All the clichés are there. The thickheaded bully is a fantastic singer, the bitch cheerleader can sing as well as she dances, in fact, the entire cast is full of highly trained singers and dancers, most coming from Broadway. Unlike Fame, people don't spontaneously burst into song in Glee. Instead, any song is a product of the clubs rehearsal, stage production, or the individuals exorcising their personal demons in front of a mirror. As of the end of the third episode, the only example of someone bursting into song and causing people around her to dance in perfect choreography was, of course, part of a dream sequence.

But it works. I love it! It's hilariously funny. The cast is excellent, both vocally and in acting ability. The dynamics of the characters are fun, and the relationships are interesting. The cast are strong and all seem to be truly enjoying themselves. Thankfully, the network seems to agree. If TV.com is to be believed, Fox has picked up the show for a full 22 episode first season.

In the end, the show is just fun. The songs are fantastic and the choreography is flawless, making the many numbers during each episode fascinating to watch. It's a great addition to the weekly viewing, moreso because of it's core nature. In Glee, life is good. It might be tough sometimes, but ultimately, it's an enjoyable ride. While every other show of television has murder, tragedy, affairs, broken relationships, jealousy and hatred, Glee has songs, laughter, music and dance.

And when the credits roll, Glee leaves you smiling and humming a tune.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot

As with last years post*;

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.


Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!


Instead of watching V For Vendetta this evening, we watched the pilot for the remake of 80's series V. It's been getting slammed online, which I think is a bit unfair. It's nothing special, but it's far from the worst thing I've had to watch in recent months. I think people were hoping for big changes that refreshed the old concept like BattleStar Galactica did, but instead the pilot is a reshoot of the original concept with a few very minor changes.

*- only 12 more years to go!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Have A Question

Here's something I just thought of while I was writing my previous post.

What if a large media company, such as Fox, ABC, NBC, or any number of other such media outlets made their shows freely available for download through a torrent network of their own? What if the quality of those downloads was exceptional, full HD, broadcast quality? What if the only catch was that the show you downloaded had ads embedded, either as banners similar to how networks currently advertise what's coming up next, or as a more standard "ad break" format?

Would you use the official site, or stick to the current ones?

The Obvious Pros:
The network gets advertising revenue, but you have to put up with ads. Except, the shows you download now usually have a ton of ad banners during them anyway from when they were ripped.
You have a guaranteed quality, know exactly what you're getting, and have no fear of an attached virus.
Worldwide simultaneous distribution.

The Obvious Cons:
Advertising would have to be regionalised. Don't know the details of this, or how difficult that would be to do.
It would kind of remove the revenue from selling shows to regional stations, such as our own RTÉ.

Of course, there are millions of variables and details to be worked out. The biggest and first that springs to mind is would the network stagger releases across geographical locales, so that Europe gets the show a month or even a week later? This would still be an incentive to go to the alternative torrent sites. But just as a straight-forward, worldwide release, no nonsense rather than the inclusion of revenue producing advertising, what do you think? Would it work?

Personally, I'd go for the official site. Advertising doesn't bother me. That said, given the choice, I'd certainly prefer banner ads over ad breaks. Happily, in this hypothetical system, banner ads would be better, as you could just fast-forward an ad break but you won't skip a chunk of an episode just to ignore a banner at the base of the screen. As I said before, I currently see numerous banners in the shows I watch. This would just be a way for the network that paid for the show to benefit from it!

I Just Had A Revelation

Don't get me wrong, I'm probably not the first person to realise this, but:

For the past ten years the old 80's cartoon and toy franchises have seen an astounding rebirth. What's old is new again. GI Joe, Transformers, He-Man and many more have experienced this. And the reason is simple: The kids of the 80's are the executives of today, and they remember what they love and want it back.

That's not my revelation. I've discussed this with friends for years. Everyone knows it's true. But I just realised something similar:

The kids and young adults of today are downloading music, movies, books and TV, to name but a few. They are illustrating a need for new copyright laws and a modern method of distributing media, but it is the current executives and company CEO's that refuse to embrace change*. We currently hear of all the legal battles big companies, such as the RIAA, go through against little people to enforce their authority. However, today's young adults will be tomorrows CEO's. And executives. And lawyers. And judges!

We just need to grin and bare it for the time being. Things will improve. Media will grow. Digital distribution will become a common, standard, household function, like shopping. DRM will be a thing of the past, as legitimate people will not be made feel like criminals, and more people will use legitimate methods in response.

All we need to do is wait for our youth to be in charge, and let their vision change the world. We should really listen to them when they tell us how the world is many years from now. They'll probably be right.

*- I realise this is a broad generalization. Many of today's companies are moving toward digital distribution as the norm now, even for music. But there are still a ridiculous number companies holding out for the old days.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nutshell Review: Up

Just back from Disney Pixars newest offering, Up. First impressions are good.

The music is fantastic, utilizing a lot of classical music to full and wonderful effect. The beats are well matched, though possibly the fact that I noticed them is actually a negative. Music should accompany the scene, never overpower it, but I just couldn't help notice how well certain pieces fit the action onscreen.

And the action is rendered in stunning clarity and detail. Once again, Pixar prove themselves masters of their chosen medium. Having seen Monsters Vrs Aliens earlier in the year, the difference in quality is astounding. Everything is lovingly crafted, from the principle characters holding your attention, to the tiny flowers, bugs and landscape details all over the scenery.

Which brings me to the characters themselves. Now, admittedly, they were clichéd and, highly ironically, very 2D in nature, but they were fun and enjoyable, and I liked them. The animals that appear were probably more fun than the few humans, but I certainly wasn't annoyed at any of the characters presented.

Finally, the big part of the movie, the 3D. It seems that this is becoming more and more prevalent in modern cinema. In just this year alone, I can think of three animated movies already released and one on the way presented in polarized 3D, the style that needs the lined glasses, rather than the red/green ones. Monsters Vrs Aliens was ok, but the 3D never seemed to be quite right. It was a fraction of a millimeter off the whole time, and both myself and Claire ended up with quite the headache afterwords. We didn't get to see Coraline, unfortunately, so I can't comment on that, and I have no interest in seeing A Christmas Carol, having been less than impressed by any trailers so far.

But Up was incredible! The 3D was, for me, stunning. It worked so well. There were just a handful of moments when it shifted a little off, but 90% of the time, I loved the effect. Bit's flying out at the screen, depth and distance between characters and backgrounds, and even effective multiple layering. It has to be said though that Claire disagrees with me. She found the 3D distracting and annoying again. She says it was better than Monsters Vrs Aliens, but still not great.

The one weakness is the story. It's rather basic, simple and clichéd, and feels unusually by-the-numbers for a Pixar production. Claire felt she could not only tell where the plot was going, but could almost predict the dialogue in some places. I think her situation wasn't helped by the fact hat she couldn't immerse herself in the movie because of the 3D, while I fell headlong into the screen and only resurfaced when the credits rolled.

Well worth seeing in my opinion, though not Pixars finest hour. Then again, they may never top the perfection of Wall-E, which all members of this household are delighted to point out was a movie released before 3D became the cool thing to do.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Three Weddings

August 5th, 2008
We arrive at the Las Vegas State registrars office at around 10am, three hours before we were due to be at the chapel. There is already a long queue before us, filled with people from every walk of life. While we fill in the required forms, I catch fragments of accents from the other couples. There are at least two more Irish soon-to-be-newly-weds. Looking around, I see people in everything from nice suits to track suits. I smile and keep filling in the boxes.

August 1st, 2009
We arrive at Hollycross Abbey around 11:30am. There is no other cars in the parking lot. Taking a look around, we quickly realise that there is no-one else here. I ring one of my friends and learn, much to Claire's amusement, that we're over two hours early!

September 25th, 2009
We arrive in Portmerrion at 11am, an hour before the ceremony is due to begin. This is the first time either of us have been here, so we take our time walking through the village. Claire's choice of footwear seems to disagree strongly with the cobblestone pathways. We follow the village map and head for the main hall.

August 5th, 2008
Squashing any opportunity for Claire to be fashionably late to her own wedding, we get to the chapel a full hour before we're booked in and decide to head across the street to a nearby Starbucks. I'm surprised and amused to discover the Starbucks is inside a bank! Claire gets a juice and snack, I order a sandwich and coffee, but barely manage to drink the coffee, let alone eat more than a bite or two from the sandwich. As the hour ticks closer, we make our way back across the street to the Wee Kirk O' The Heather chapel. I can't resist humming "We're going to the chapel". Claire laughs, then tells me to stop.

August 1st, 2009
We head back into Thurles to get a bite to eat and waste an hour or two. The food is ok, but Claire and I get to have a laugh in the car. This time, when we get back to the church, there are a few more cars around, and shortly after we arrive, some of my college friends turn up. We spend time catching up and complimenting each other on our outfits, then get to chat with Thomas, the husband-to-be. He tells us he's feeling great, but he's exactly as he should be, a bundle of nerves.

September 25th, 2009
Outside the hall, we bump into Graham, soon-to-be-Mr.-Lynn. He's greeting everyone, and letting them know where to go. We have some time, so we look around the grounds near the hall. While we're wandering, more and more people are showing up. By the time we head back to outside the hall, there are a number of the Dublin gamers outside enjoying themselves. We wait around for a bit before the word comes that we should start moving inside.

August 5th, 2008
The Wee Kirk O' The Heath is a lovely chapel off the Vegas strip. It happily proclaims to be the oldest chapel in Vegas, something we didn't actually know when we booked it several months previously. Claire is kept outside, while I head into the chapel room itself. The Reverend greets me and we chat for a while as the photographer takes some of the final photos of an unmarried Claire.

I stand nervously before the altar.
The music starts.

August 1st, 2009
Hollycross Abbey is just as I remember it. It's huge and old. It has wonderful sound properties, and there are still ancient televisions mounted on the walls. The side aisles can't actually see the altar, thus the TVs . But that won't be a problem today. The central aisle easily seats all the guests with a good portion of the back seats to spare, and that's with a guest list of, at a guess, 200 plus!

Thomas stands nervously before the altar.
The music starts.

September 25th, 2009
Hercules Hall in Portmerrion is incredible. The entire ceiling is covered in high relief carvings depicting the story of Hercules. Above the table at the front of the hall is the panel showing Hercules holding up the heavens with Atlas. To the right as we look up the hall, the Greek legend battles Cerberus and behind us he battles Medusa. Two chairs covered in white sheets sit facing the guests to the right of the table. We spend the time chatting to the guests near us, some of whom are friends we haven't seen in years.

Graham is nowhere to be seen.
The music starts.

August 5th, 2008
The doors open and Claire enters the chapel. She is all I can see, standing in a green floral dress she has bought just a few days earlier. If breathing and pulse were a conscious action, I would be dead right now. Nothing else exists. I jump a little when the Reverend speaks and I am reminded that he and the photographer are in the room. The ceremony is short and eloquent. My hands are shaking as I hold Claire's, and I am terrified I will mess up placing the ring on her finger. Neither of us do. At our request, it is a religious ceremony, so God gets a few mentions, but this is about us. No-one else is there. Just Claire and I.

August 1st, 2009
The doors open and Andrea enters the abbey. Her father walks her down the aisle. She is spectacular. Outside, everyone had been asking about what her dress was going to be like, and now we get to see it. It is white with a royal blue train, and she looks fantastic. The ceremony is rather more the usual affair than ours was. I am constantly reminded of how much I enjoyed Vegas. I feel my eyes water and hold Claire's hand. Andrea and Thomas look amazing. They both laugh and enjoy themselves throughout the ceremony. The readings have been carefully chosen and the prayers of the faithful worded just right. The priest blesses them, and does go on just a little bit. Still, when it gets to the "You may kiss..." bit, I'm reminded that this is what they wanted, and for them right now, no-one else is here. Just Thomas and Andrea.

September 25th, 2009
The doors open and Graham and Lynn enter the hall. Lynn is beaming. I see her dress for the first time. She handmade it herself, and it is beautiful, with various earthy colours throughout. I love the design. Claire sniffs once and wipes her eye. They walk up to the table at the front of the hall, and the lady officiating the ceremony begins. In Wales, a civil ceremony can not, by law, mention God, and that feels strange for a bit. The first reading is a piece about the important things in a successful marriage, and the second is a poem about love. Everyone laughs at a few funny moments. As they kiss, I am certain that they forget about all the eyes watching. Right now, no-one else is here. Just Lynn and Graham.

August 5th, 2008
We head out of the chapel after getting our photos taken. The photographer is funny and kind, and lets us choose where to take some of the photos. We arrange to collect them the following day. Claire and I sit into our rented Corvette as husband and wife and head back to the Hilton. My heart is beating faster than it should be. Claire is beautiful. We spend the rest of the day in the hotel. Our wedding day dinner is in Quarks Bar, part of the Star Trek Experience located in the Hilton. I get a burger and chips, Claire has some chicken fingers. It is, to say the least, unforgettable.

August 1st, 2009
Everyone heads to the hotel. Andrea and Thomas go elsewhere first to get photos taken. The weather is beautiful, unlike the day before, or the day that will follow. They get to the hotel and spend time getting more photos in front of the wonderful building with various groups of people. The photographers are hilarious. The meal is delicious, topped off with possibly the best desert ever, a huge slice of toffee pudding.

September 25th, 2009
We all head out of the hall into the village grounds. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. The photographer gets some great shots of the various groups around the newly weds, and the village provides a captivating backdrop from any angle. Dinner is lovely, and everyone gets a cupcake that made up the "wedding cake" for desert. It is a clever idea. Clever, and delicious.

August 5th, 2008
We spend the evening in each others company, relaxing in the rooftop pool. I feel fantastic. We talk about how our friends are going to react when we tell them. We talk about the next four weeks we have in America. Claire asks if I regret not having the big Irish wedding. I don't. Though maybe, just maybe, I miss the obligatory cheesy-awful wedding band. But no. It has been a perfect day.

August 1st, 2009
As the evening continues, the band starts to play and the newly weds get their first dance. The music is exactly what I expect from a wedding, equal parts awesome, cheesy and just plain terrible, but always fun. The DJ's choice of music is no different. I don't get up to dance nearly as often as I want too, though I get better later in the night. It has been a great day.

September 25th, 2009
We have three hours to wander and enjoy the village. Claire goes back to the car to change her shoes and I put on my hoodie. Then Claire, Brian and I start our trek around the entire village. On the way we meet some other guests, end up on the beach for a bit, find a dog cemetery, reach a gazebo we saw earlier, and finally return to outside the hall as the evening gets dark. Because the meal was early, there is a buffet laid out, so we eat again before the DJ starts. Once again, the music is equal parts awesome, cheesy and just plain terrible, but always fun. I dance a lot more this time, and even manage to get Thriller played, much to the joy and fun of a large number of the guests. It has been a great day.

August 6th, 2008
We get up early. It's hard to sleep-in when the Vegas sun is outside. We drive to the Hoover Dam and take some photos. It's far too hot to do much, so we drive back to the hotel and swim again. We still have over three weeks ahead of us in America.

August 2nd, 2009
We arrive back at the hotel for the second day. There are a lot more kids today, and I get Rock Band set up in the TV room. It proves to be a popular with the kids. Over the day, there is a lot more singing and a lot less dancing. The singing moves from the TV room and the kids to the bar and the adults later in the night.

September 26th, 2009
We get up early and drive back to the ferry. I chat to Claire in the car, but sleep through a lot of the ferry crossing. The sea is calm, but rainclouds gather overhead. We meet a friend of Claire's in Dublin for dinner before driving back to Cork.

We get home. Tomorrow, we'll tell all our friends about the good times we had. But tonight? Tonight, we'll sleep.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Have Found My New Favourite Video


My favourite bit is the leg kick at the 26 second mark! Cracks me up every time!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Titus Will Be Missed

I gotta admit, until earlier today, I had no idea there was a gorilla named Titus, though I had seen him several times. Titus was named by the famous zoologist and gorilla expert Dian Fossey when she first met him, and rose to fame at the tender age of five as part of Sir David Attenboroughs Life On Earth series, when he climbed all over the famous naturalist. Titus even went on to star in Gorillas In The Mist, along side Sigourney Weaver, the lucky, lucky primate! He even had a whole BBC documentary devoted to his life last year called Titus: The Gorilla King.

Titus became the first gorilla to have his life documented from birth, and over the course of his 35 years, he has provided researchers with unparalleled levels of information. Titus died last Monday, September 14th, after a short illness, reports BBC News.

BBC Worldwide has some videos on YouTube with Sir David and the crew that accompanied him on their first meeting with Titus and his brother. Below I embedded my favourite, the one showing a young Titus lying on Sir David, but they also have a beautiful one talking about how close the entire crew got to the huge primates.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Are Number One

My mum and sister were visiting for a day yesterday, and inevitably, we ended up in Argos at some point in the day. While there, we had the rare pleasure of seeing the customer order number roll over from 999 to 001. In fact, because we had to change one of the things we bought for a similar item in a different colour, we had the order number 999! Sweet!

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Like The Way This Soldier Talks

Finally, someone is doing something about this menace to our way of living! General Ryan has some interesting ideas, and I for one will be keeping a close eye on Cork Zombie Watch, especially coming up to Halloween.

Be vigilant out there.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brrrraaaaaaiiiinnnnssssss

A clichéd beginning, but I was chatting to friend over coffee in town just the other day, when the conversation moved to the subject of zombies. Yeah, my posts never stay clichéd for long.

Talk ranged from The Walking Dead, both the comic and the upcoming series, to the millions of movies, included the role playing game All Flesh Must Be Eaten, as well as the board game Zombies!!!, but tragically missed out on Zombie Fluxx, an omission I am deeply upset by.

Anyway, it got us talking on the subject of Zombie Flash-mobs, such as the one Claire and I were at while visiting Karen in San Fransisco. And very quickly, our little group huddled around a coffee shop table enjoying a breif spell of fine weather decided to run our own one. Here's the plan.

This Halloween night falls rather conveniently on a Saturday, allowing all you grown up kids out there to get all dressed up and go out drinking, without worry of work in the morning. We were thinking that we could turn this years Halloween festival into Corks biggest zombie mob event, and just the start of something special. Hopefully, people will show up to a set location, dressed in standard Halloween affair, but zombiefied!

Being Halloween, even if we only get ten people to turn up, we'll be cool! It's Halloween. We'll just be a big, themed group! But if we get more, it'll be awesome! It'll show that there is enough interest that we might get it done independently. It could be done at some time removed from Halloween. Which is the ultimate goal. Cities in America have zombie walks every six to eight months. It would be awesome if we could get just one run next year during what passes for a summer in this country.

So start spreading the word. Get people interested. Get excited. It doesn't take much work at all to be a zombie. Having seen the mob on show in SF, zombie costumes can range from torn clothes, latex ripped skin, prosthetics and lashings of blood, to simple effects like just some white face paint with a fraction of green mixed in for a very Romero effect. And of course, if you really want to be minimalist, just dress in some old clothes and put a duct tape X across your chest and let the other zombies do all the work! An X marks you as a "willing" victim, and guarantees you'll get attacked and covered in blood.

But facts like that are another post. For now, I'm just getting the word out there, to see who's interested. Anyone?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Destined For Obsurity?

Young enthusiasm. Where do you think their future will lead them?

Do you think they knew where they were going when this was taken?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yo Joe!

This is easily one of the best videos I've seen in a long time! Fantastic!


Just look at that cast list!! Alan Tudyk, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup and Vinnie Jones, to name just a few! Even WWF legend Sgt Slaughter makes an appearance! He had a GI Joe action figure back in the day, and got to voice his own character in the cartoon. Awesome!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

August 5th, 2008

Claire and I were in Las Vegas this day last year. It was a Tuesday, and we were up early to make the most of a special day. Today, we were getting married.

We started by going to the State registrars office to register and get the official documents. There was a long line of happy couples ahead of us, and while we filled out the forms, we heard a multitude of languages and accents, including a few Irish voices here and there.

Arriving at the chapel early, we made sure everything was cool for the ceremony, confirmed our time and then, knowing we had a few hours to waste, headed across the street to Starbucks. Claire enjoyed a tea and muffin, while I was barely able to drink a juice and pick at a snack. The excitement was making me jumpy.

Ours was the first wedding of the afternoon. It lasted a blissful seven whole minutes, which we have on DVD, and ended with Claire jumping me, much to the amusement of the Reverend. We got a bunch of photos taken in and around the chapel and then took a drive around before heading back to our hotel, the Hilton.

We had our wedding day dinner aboard the Federation space station Deep Space Nine, in Quarks Bar. We enjoyed a wonderful, filling meal, with odd juice drinks and weird deserts. A quick dip in the outdoor pool located on the roof was the final touch to a perfect day.

The perfect start to a perfect year. And many, many more to come.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Many Faces Of Me

After posting some images of my Avatar in my last post, I was inspired to have a look at the many in-game avatars I've created. This is just a sampling of what I grabbed, and are missing some fun ones, in particular, my character from Saints Row 2.


From Left to Right:
Top: Rock Band 2, Fallout 3, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Guitar Hero: World Tour
Bottom: Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Fallout 3

The top row R6:V2 character is my Snake Eyes inspired clothing, while the one on the bottom row is showing off the face underneath the mask.

Sorry for the appalling quality of the images that go into making this collage, but they're photographs taken of the image from my projector against my wall. If you look at the full, giant sized image, you can make out the individual pixels!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Testing The New New Experience

Considering that the present Xbox dashboard is still referred to as the New Xbox Experience, or NXE, I'm not sure what to call the newest update, due some time next month. NXE was introduced some time in November of last year, and brought with it a whole new clean dashboard, party chat options, and, most noticeably, Avatars. One of the biggest additions that the new NXE update will include is the ability to purchase full Xbox 360 games from the Marketplace storefront, storing and playing them directly from your hard drive. All this, and much more will be available for every Xbox with an internet connection from mid to late August onwards.

But I have it now!

A few days ago I was informed through one of the many computer game websites I read that there was a site set up by Microsoft where you could apply for access to the new update early, on a Beta test basis. I signed up, and yesterday evening, minutes before going to bed, I received an email informing me I had been accepted. Turning on my Xbox this morning, I was greeted with the query "Would you like to update now?", and I excitedly accepted! Some six minutes later and I was looking at... oh... the same old dashboard.

At first glance, visually, there is nothing new. The dashboard remains the same as the NXE style, but then, that wasn't what was getting an update. I clicked into my Achievements list and found my first new feature. The first blade now shows a cumulative Achievement score for every game that is registered to my Xbox, titled Achievement Progress. Every game I could possibly get Achievements in. I now know that I have 12065 Gamerscore out of a possible 46645G. That is 632 Achievements unlocked from a potential 2088. I have less than a third of the Gamerscore available to me. Wow! I'm not entirely surprised. I've only experienced a brief period of being a Gamerscore whore, and I've only gotten over 1,000G in two games. The Achievement Progress blade also shows an icon for each completed game, of which I currently only have one; Avatar. Despite having over 1,000G in Burnout, as well as unlocking all the Achievements that come on the disk, I don't get an icon for that because I have yet to complete all the Achievements from downloaded content (DLC).

Realising that the update was at least working now, I dashed off to the Avatar editor. One of the most discussed new additions to the dashboard was an Avatar Marketplace, where you can spend real money to buy virtual clothes for a tiny digital you. My friends and I had chuckled about that for some weeks now, debating the kind of person that would do that.

Turns out, I'm that kind of person. Dammit! Don't judge me! They had Steampunk gear! My Avatar now dresses the way I'd love to dress in real life. I'm jealous of tiny virtual me! He flaunts his cool goggles and clothing at me every time I see him.

Apart from the new Marketplace, the Avatar editor seems to have been given an overhaul. It now runs much, much faster, with the various panels opening as soon as you click on them. And there is an Awards area, where you can get the clothes you won in games! Yes, thanks to the newest update, we now have the feature every Xbox player has guessed at since Avatars were introduced. Games can now award you clothing for your Avatar, making little you into an advertising board for your favorite games. Not something I'm complaining about at all. In fact, I'm be only too glad to show off to friends what games I love to play!

One of the final additions to Avatars that I can see is the ability to purchase Props. While playing in the Marketplace, little Quaid played with a radio controlled Warthog from Halo. He looked so gosh darned cute. can't wait to see what other Props appear over the coming months. Obvious ones such as guitars and drums for Rock Band and Guitar Hero spring to mind, but I'd love to see how creative and inventive game companies get with their Props. As well as the Warthog, the Monkey Island store has a huge cotton bud stick and the obligatory chicken with a pulley in it, among others. Far too cool!

There are loads more little updates that I'm sure I'll uncover as I go along. For now, I'm off to play with the new Gears of War map pack, Dark Corners! I got me some Horde to chainsaw!

Monday, July 20, 2009

From The Earth To The Moon

July 20th is generally considered to be the anniversary of mans first steps onto the lunar soil. But much like the idea that the millennium began in the year 2000, it's a bit ambiguous. You see, in the US, it was indeed the 20th, but here in Ireland, and most importantly, in Greenwich in England, it was already into the early hours of Monday, the 21st of July, 1969. Regardless, we chose to celebrate the occasion with the US, and had a special movie night tonight to mark the historic event.

Opening the evening early at 7pm, we watched Mythbusters NASA Moon Landing Special, wherein they bust some of the bigger so-called "reasons" that conspiracy theorists give to "prove" that the moon landings were fake. By then, a few more people had shown up, and before we started into the trailers, we had a grand crowd of nine people in our living room, watching the big screen. The lights went down, and I started up the trailers.

It has become almost a tradition now that movie night at my place always opens with a number of new trailers for upcoming cinema releases. Tonight was no exception, and we watched trailers for Planet 51, Zombieland, The Last Airbender and District 9, among others. All in all, we got through nine trailers, ending with Moon, right before the feature presentation.

The room went silent as I placed the disk in the Xbox drive, waited for the menu to appear and pressed "Play". The music swelled, and The Dish began.

Claire and I went to see The Dish on release way back in 2000 in the cinema, and have loved it ever since. We bought the DVD as soon as it was released as well, and watching it tonight, I realised I haven't seen it enough. I remember the silence in the theater as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface and uttered his immortal line. The joy of watching a DVD with friends is that you can chat and joke about scenes, characters or events, and we did. But once those grainy images of a ladder and suited-up spaceman appeared on the big screen, everyone was silent. There was hardly the sound of breathing from all nine of us.

40 years on, mans first steps onto the dusty surface of another world still have the power to silence us, and inspire us to dream.

To everyone involved in the Apollo program, from the men who walked on the moon to the people who built the machines to do it, from those who programmed the computers to those who stitched the spacesuits, thank you all for making a wondrous dream a reality.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe

Seeing the unequaled talent of Sir Anthony Hopkins delivering the final monologue from Bladerunners Roy Batty, played by the incredible Rutger Hauer, sent shivers down my spine when I saw it just now on TV. The dialgue is haunting and beautiful, and to hear Hopkins recite it so naturally is surprisingly emotional.

Ironically, despite the fact that this is an advertisment for Sky HD, there is no HD version around! Harhar!

The original Bladerunner scene is easily one of my favourite moments from cinema history.

All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Still Awake

It's gone 10:30pm, and I've now been awake for an astonishing 18 and a half hours without even so much as a nap. In normal circumstance, I would be dead on my feet by now. But, while I feel like I'll be enjoying my sleep tonight, I'm not feeling exhausted. I played 12 songs in Rock Band back to back around the 6pm mark, and got 100% in several of them. I'm almost treating these last few hours like some warped experiment. Testing my reaction times in games like Rock Band and Scene It!, as well as N+ on XBLA, I seem to still have a good level of coordination.

Regardless, this whole event has been a wonderfully strange way to pass an otherwise uneventful Friday. And I made a t-shirt!

Tomorrow I head home for a few days of home cooked food and pampering. Later!

Showers Don't Help

  • Just had a nice cool shower to try to slow down.
  • Spent entire time fine tuning RPG plot details.
  • Need waterproof markers and notepad for shower.
  • Still buzzing.
13:41:
  • Don't feel that this needs it's own individual post, but I just yawned for the first time since 4am this morning. Seems lying out on a super comfy couch watching Mythbusters might just slow me down. It's certainly taken my mind off of any RPGs. Not because Mythbusters in boring or slow, but just because I love watching it so much. Maybe I'll get a catnap this afternoon after all.

Things I've Learned From Being Awake Since 4am

  • My brain and mouth are moving at a mile a minute. I can't stop talking. And when I talk, it's non-stop stream-of-conscience.
  • When I logged into Gmail this morning, I had three unread mails from three different people that I actually know! At 4am! I have to go back to June 4th before I find three mails together on the same day from different people, and even then, two of those three are automated system mails! Going back as far as the start of 2009 I can't find another day that I have three mails on the same day from three people I know! Weird!
  • I realised I hadn't read my Reader Feed at all on Thursday, so I had over 100 posts to read. Good thing I was up at 4! Maybe, subconsciously I knew I'd forgot to read my Feeds and that's what was keeping me awake?!?
  • I got hungry long before anywhere was open. I even got into town 30 minutes before Puccinos opened! Ended up nursing a coffee in O'Briens until nine o'clock.
  • There is a lot of wet stuff falling from the skies.
  • It's 10am, six hours after I first got up, and I show no signs of slowing down. Updates as they happen...

Insomnia Sucks

Yes, in a revelation that is sure to shock no-one, insomnia sucks. Not only am I wide awake at the ungodly hour of 4am, having had very little sleep since I went to bed a little before midnight, but I can't even muster enough enthusiasm or inspiration to come up with a witty title for this post. Instead, I'm just being blunt and to the point. Also, expect numerous grammatical errors and incorrect spelling.

I'm not usually the one to suffer from insomnia. As soon as I crawl into bed, I can be out like a light in minutes, especially if I attempt to read anything in bed. It's like a Pavlov's Dog effect at this point. Bed+reading=sleep, guaranteed. Usually. This is probably the first time in recent memory that I've been so bad I just had to get up and do something. Normally it's Claire that wakes me from my deep slumber to tell me she can't sleep and is going to get up, to which I do my best Frankensteins Monster impression, reply "mmmurrhhh" and roll over.

So, what's keeping me up this morning? I could easily blame poetic justice. Just a few hours ago, after finishing up playing DS at Robs place, I mocked Neill for his inability to sleep the night before. In response to "I got to sleep at 6am and was awake again at 9", I said "I got to sleep around 11pm and wandered out of bed just before 10 this morning. Hah!" So... yeah. I totally deserve this to be honest.

But based on my erratic, yet speedy, heart rate I'm going to go out on a limb here and blame the Mars bar and one-and-a-half liters of Lucozade I had while playing DS at Robs place for my currently alert but unstable status. Yup. Yeah. That'll do it all right.

On the upside, my sleep deprived state has driven me to insane, yet crystal-clear thoughts. I have decided to entirely kill my attempted Tuesday evening RPG for the time being. I shall have to wait until a far more sane hour to text my players regarding this fact. Chances are, a few of them will read this before they get that text anyway. On the other hand, I am now considering running not one, not two, but three RPGs over not four, not three, but two days!! Yes. That means running two games on one day. Insanity, I hear you cry!! Allow me to explain.

Previously to this early mornings events, I had offered to run an RPG on Monday evenings for Kris, Neill and Gar, though this has yet to be confirmed. Recent Mondays have found us sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, either playing Xbox out of boredom, or watching a movie, also out of boredom. The biggest issues with these are that Xbox ends up excluding some of the people present, and movies are a very passive activity, at a time that I would be much happier doing something with. So an RPG fits nicely. Also, the prospective players have been turning up when there has been nothing of interest on, so surely when there is an RPG on (which will hopefully be interesting), they will continue to be around.

A similar situation has grown around our Sunday afternoon group. Meeting for breakfast in town is great, and I do love getting together to catch up with the weeks news, but afterwords, we've been at a loss with what to do. As with the Monday group, the Xbox has been fired up out of boredom, but it doesn't last long. It seems that everyone apart from myself has grown tired of Rock Band already. Card games and board games got dragged out, but I'm fairly sick of replaying Battlestar Galactica and Fluxx (both awesome games, but I need an extended break for a while), and it's hard to get everyone to agree on a game with just a few minutes notice. So I got thinking, why not run an RPG? I usually think of RPGs as evening events, running after dinner, from seven until late, but that's not really necessary unless it's mid-week. On a weekend, why not start at, say, two, and finish at six. In fact, that would seem to suit my friends better. They still get home nice and early for work on Monday morning.

And that's where the third game comes in. Some of the players from my first Spirit of the Century campaign (have I mentioned before what a huge success that was?!? I have? Oh... well... it was. Huge!) can't really make it mid-week, due to a variety of commitments. But a Sunday evening game might suit them nicely. Say, from seven until half ten, eleven o'clock? That gives me an hour leeway between games, time to grab dinner and re-energise (without Luzoade from now on), and get the two player groups swapped around. Easy.

I think I could totally do it. Yes, it is now creeping towards 6am as I continue to write, so that may have more than a little to do with my hyperactive state, but my games are very much player driven, requiring very little work on my part. Events are moved forward by what they want, expect or make happen. Apart from a small number of special event sessions, my previous Spirit of the Century game (huge!) required almost no preparation between sessions, and I usually only worried about what I was going to do each evening an hour or two before everyone turned up. To quote Mythbusters, I think two games in one day, and three games a week is... "Plausible!" And we all know that it'll only be through scientific testing that we can learn if this myth is "Proven", or "Busted".

The next thing to decide is what game when. Currently, I'm happy to attempt a second run at my Spirit of the Century game, Mouse Guard and Dogs In The Vineyard, three dramatically differing games, but each based on the episodic style of play; adventures are usually wrapped up in a single evening rather than extending over several play sessions. I'd love to run a superhero game, but I find it unusually difficult to come up with an arc, which is usually where I start with my campaigns, breaking it down into sessions, or events. Whenever I try to think of an arc, I just end up with one I've read in comics already. Dammit! Why must I be such a comic nerd?!?

So there we have it. A kind of manifesto against boredom, and in support of creativity and hyperactiveness. Now all I have to do is gauge interest of everyone apart from myself. Unfortunately, I'm not actually around this weekend, which would be the perfect time to start asking, while my excitement towards such a big undertaking is at a high, and my brain has failed to truly realise how completely, utterly, stupidly insane it's being.

Insomnia sucks but it can be strangely productive.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958 - ?

Unless you've been living on the dark side of the moon, without radio or internet contact, you're probably aware that Michael "King of Pop" Jackson died on Thursday, June 25th, 2009.* His death, as a friend of mine pointed out, did what the Iranian government could not- it stopped the internet, breaking Wikipedia due to an influx of updates, and taking down several major websites.

While I was shocked by the announcement, I can't say that I had the reaction that a lot of people are having. Michael is being revered as some kind of "God of Pop" now, not it's King. In death, all his past failures and indiscretions are being cleverly ignored or forgotten in favor of his music, his personality, but most importantly, the "way he was" before things started to go... weird. I really don't have a problem with this, however. I find myself remembering the good times too, like the first time I heard Black or White, and how, even at the young age I was, it brought tears to my eyes for having such a powerful message.

What I can't understand is the fevered obsession that has spread across the world with this news. It is an event that seems to be gaining as much media attention as September 11th. His funeral is being predicted as even bigger than Frank Sinatras.

Yet if death is the end, then, for me, Michael Jackson died somewhere between 1995, when HIStory was released, the last album that had songs in it I liked, and 2000, when things started to really turn weird for the King of Pop. By 2002 he had two sons christened Prince Michael and Prince Michael II, the latter of whom was also referred to as "Blanket". That was when I stopped listening to news about Jacko.

Please don't get me wrong. His death is of course a tragedy. Of course it is right to be mournful. But I feel the same way about Michaels passing as I do about a person killed in a car crash in Cavan. They both had the potential for greatness, an influence on so many peoples lives. They'll never get to do all the things they had planned. But I didn't know either of them. It doesn't affect me personally. Their loss, while sad, means little to my life and how I live it. It is their family and friends that will have to continue without them in their lives. The people who knew and loved them will have to live in a world that is a little emptier now. All these things are cause for sadness and silence.

But it is not cause for what we are seeing now. Millions across the world are mourning Michaels loss as if he was their brother. He is being called the greatest dancer and musician the world has ever known. According to the ticker on Sky News, people seem to think that we have lost one of the worlds absolute greats. Really? Eh... no. Not in my eyes.

And maybe I've just realized what my difficulty with the media attention is. Michaels death is not what is important here. He has gone onto wherever his beliefs will take him. A place where he can find peace. It is his family that must deal with the loss. Both his parents are still alive. He has eight brothers and sisters. Countless cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, family and friends. And they are who I am sorry for. They cannot grieve the way the parents and family of the car crash victim can. They are going to be surrounded by rabid fans and media for weeks to come. Leave his family to morn their loss. Leave them in peace.

What scares me most about this event is how fast the world knew. With internet, text messaging, twittering and a whole range of world-wide social networking systems, I found out about it while out at a meal, away from radios, televisions and computers. Worse still, according to his Wikipedia page, "Jackson was declared dead at 2:26 pm local time (21:26 UTC)" which is 22:26 Irish time. I was informed of his death at around 11pm, a mere 30 minutes later.

Will my death be recorded that fast? If it means that my family and friends can morn me in peace, then I hope not.

*- If that is the case, then how are you reading this now? Oh, and, sorry to break the bad news.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

10,000G, 100% PURE Class

Not that long ago I posted about reaching 1,000G in a game for the very first time.

Today, I announce my newest gaming achievement. Minutes ago, I reached the five-digit GamerScore! 10,000G.

I gotta admit, I never thought I'd see that number under my Gamer Tag! As I said when I reached 1,000G in Burnout, I wasn't very big into GamerScore until I went online. I think it also helped that I started hitting benchmarks, like the first thousand, and I began to realize just how close I was getting to the 10,000 mark, which lent an air or excitement to each new Achievement I unlocked. Once I was within just a few short points of the big round number, I decided that I wanted to hit it exactly, and searched around for some easily reached Achievements that would give me just the right amount. Conveniently, Saints Row 2 hand a few five and ten point Achievements that I had yet to unlock.

But while Saints Row 2 might have brought me up to the magic number, most recently it was PURE*, a quad bike racing game by Disney, that added a sizable chunk of GamerScore to my tally. Having played the demo months ago, I grabbed this while it was on sale in HMV. It's an awesome racing game, that kicks things up a notch with an incredible tricks system. The tracks are stunningly beautiful, and the character models are fantastically detailed. I love how the bikes and riders start fresh and clean at the beginning of every race, but slowly get covered in a layer of mud and dirt that seems genuinely realistic. The immerse quality of the game can best be defined by revealing that this is the first game in well over a decade that I have found myself leaning side-to-side around corners, or twisting the controller in odd ways as my bike leaps off the apex of a hill into the wild blue yonder! The odd faces I make, and the little yelps of pain only add to the experience. Playing it with an audience adds a further soundtrack of cheers, howls of laughter and gasps of horror, depending on the outcome of some particularly spectacular jumps. I was particularly impressed with the veracity of the locations when a friend called over, looked at one of the loading screens for the start of a race and accurately identified the location. In fact, he had been standing roughly when the image was taken from, and had used the cable car that was visible! Nice!

The game itself is incredibly fun to play. I'd be lying if I said it was difficult, but Disney have successfully walked the thin line that separates easy from hard to create a game that remains fun right through to the end. I managed to get first place in every race fairly easily, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

One of the cooler aspects of the game is the bike creation feature. You get to build your own bikes, with an incredible ten slots to unlock and fill in your garage! Everything can be altered and customised, from performance affecting parts like the frame or engine, to purely aesthetic features, such as the grips, nerf bar or mudguards. Noel, Bob and Chris have all designed bikes for me, each with their own unique take on how I should use them. In all cases, I have gone on to use their bikes over my own! Chris designed a killer stunt track ATV, Bob's bike is great for races, proving that red truly does go faster, while Noels PaleHorse is the perfect all-rounder!

With such great gameplay, amazing graphics, beautiful locations and crystal clear commitment to fun, PURE is a game no racing enthusiast should be without. Seeing the Disney brand on the cover might turn some people off, but this is no Avatar! You earn your Achievements, and it feels great when you do. I pumped the air so often while playing this game I think I strained a shoulder muscle!

That, or I'm just having sympathetic pains for all those times I landed my onscreen rider head-first into the track.

* - I linked to a review of PURE on Xbox 360 Achievements instead of the official homepage, as the games site is entirely Flash based and immediately starts playing sound and music once it loads up. If you'd like to visit the official homepage, just click here. Just remember, you have been warned.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Good Times

While looking through some of the photos I have tagged as "Favourite" on Flickr, I found these, in no particular order.None of these were taken by me, but all of them bring back some great memories. All images link to their original location, so click through to read about them.

In case people haven't seen them, there is a full set of Spider-Man's adventures around Cork, posted by Peter Parker himself, on Flickr. Seems he had a lot of fun while Claire and myself were away in the U.S. last summer. Just follow the link!

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Is...

This fine morning in Ireland is a Bank Holiday Monday, a day of rest and relaxation, a day of Xboxing, movie watching, comic reading, and, yes, blogging. Claire rose early, requiring tea and Warcraft, while I rolled over in my warm bedsheets, stretching out to enjoy the full space of the bed I now had to myself.

And then the fire alarm went off.

Now, as anyone that lives in Ireland will tell you, when a fire alarm goes off, everyone looks around and says "Is that my phone?" or "Sure, there's no smoke, so there mustn't be fire." The alarm has gone off once before, and I met one of the other tenants who informed me that if it does start ringing, I can just hit reset. If it's a minor incident caused by cooking breakfast, as long as that apartment has already looked after it, it will be fine. The alarm will reset and I can return to my beloved Xbox. The system is the same one NASA uses for it's labs.

Just as I was reaching the hall, the fellow (let's call him Fred for the purpose of this tale) I had previously met was already there hitting reset. I smiled, turned and closed the door.

And then the fire alarm went off.

I grabbed a jumper. "I'll get dressed", Claire said. I went back into the hall and asked Fred if I could help. Apartment 22 was causing the problem, so I raced up the stairs to the fourth floor to see if everything was ok. There was definitely a smell of smoke in the hall, and there was no answer when I knocked. Drawing on years of watching American TV, I placed my hand flat on the door, but there was no heat. Oh yeah. I rock... er... Now what do I do? I started downstairs, filling Fred in by calling down the stairwell. Fred was already on the way up, having left someone else at the alarm controls. We headed to the roof garden and had a look down. A faint smell of smoke, but still nothing visible. Fred and I looked at each other. Time to evacuate.

Both of us walked back downstairs, stopping at each floor to alert the various apartments. Once back on the ground we waited for the arrival of the fire brigade. One of the other tenants in the block rang them, but was just hanging up when we heard the sirens outside. Fast reaction times! They arrived in, questioned one or two of us on the situation, and headed for the building. There must have been ten to fifteen fire-fighters. It was incredible. They were so well organised and meticulous, and everything was done perfectly, at least from where I stood. I enjoyed spotting some of the tech they had as well. As well as all the standard affair stuff, they had a somewhat bulky thermal vision camera. Cool.

They gained access to the apartment in question, and removed a bin bag that had been smouldering from a disposed still-hot cigarette. One of the people renting the apartment had shown up in the meantime, and got a stern lecture about how careless she had been from the lead fire-fighter.

In less than 45 minutes, everything was sorted. We were let re-enter the building, and Claire found her morning cup of tea sitting on the table, cold.

I gotta say, it was a good morning. No-one was hurt. Nothing was destroyed. The people in the block got to meet each other and say hi. It turned into somewhat of a nice experience, and it has encouraged me to consider organising a block barbecue at some point so that we can get to know each other, and will know who is in what apartment if this every happens again.

And now I'm awake. I haven't wasted my morning of freedom asleep in bed. I'm off to fire up the Xbox for a bit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Resolute

Some of you may be aware already that I am a big fan of G.I. Joe. As a kid, the 3"3/4' scale Joe action figures made up the vast bulk of my toy collection, aided by the fact that both myself and my brother collected them religiously. Birthdays, Christmas', Communions, any excuse we could find was channelled into the Joes. I still have my first two Joe figures, General Hawk and Lifeline. Back then they were called Action Force over here, but while they started differently, they quickly became the same thing. We had the best comics as well. While Marvel produced the superb GI Joe monthly comic by legendary Joe writer Larry Hama, Britain, and thus Ireland too, got a weekly series with a bunch of extra material to make up the page-count, and even got an awesome black'n'white 2000AD styled series, Battle Action Force.

My memories of the G.I. Joe cartoon as a child however are non-existent, as my first experience with it was in my late teens. Cheesy, flashy and simplistic in every way, the cartoons were the usual 80's stuff, fantastic when you were a kid, but absolutely dreadful now. The animated movie, released around the same time as the animated Transformers movie was marginally better, benefiting from a larger production budget and increased freedom with its plot.

In August of this year, just a few short months away already, we'll have GI Joe's first run at a live-action movie. I personally can't wait, but admit to my huge love as a strong bias for enjoying anything with the name G.I. Joe. That said, the trailer looks awesome!


But before that, we have what prompted me to write this late night meandering waffle of a love letter to a childhood toy line. G.I. Joe: Resolute is the newest effort at an animated G.I. Joe in recent years. Prior to this we had the poorly received animé inspired G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, which was probably still better than the 80's version but I'm older and wiser now and have no nostalgia for it. Also, it starred characters with the same names as the toys I played with, but with very little resemblance beyond that, either in design or attitude. Resolute on the other hand is clearly made for fans of the old series and toy line. No, this doesn't mean that Cobra will be pulling the Arora Borealis down to earth to melt the polar icecaps and flood the world (actual episode plot! "Haul Down the Heavens", episode 115, circa 1985). It's written for the fans that grew up with these characters, and are now all my age! Thus, it has cool technology, kick-ass ninjas, action, adventure, violence, and all the stuff we did in our games but never saw on TV! And it's written by Internet Jesus himself, Warren Ellis! In fact, he seems to be as excited about it as I am, which is fantastic!

Looks awesome. But will it have the same opening theme? My heart can only hope!