Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The history of the Hulkbuster armor

If you've seen The Avengers: Age of Ultron teaser trailer, you may have noticed what looks like Iron Man putting on a gigantic exosuit to fight Hulk. Comicvine.com has put together a history of the suit from comics to movies. Here's the article. Quoting from the piece, the "Hulkbuster was a specific variant of the Iron Man Armor designed to combat the Hulk." It begs the question, "Does Tony Stark turn evil or does he Hulk go bad in the upcoming movie?" We'll find out when the movie comes out. Meanwhile, check out the teaser trailer below.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.

Lizard Squad humiliates Microsoft

You may have tried to play that video game you got for Christmas and was not able to connect online. Well, don't blame your router. Business Insider is reporting that the hacker group, Lizard Squad, has taken down XBOX Live and the Playstation Network. I had trouble last night with XBOX Live, However, both networks may be back today, Christmas day.

First, let me admit I was wrong when I wrote that Lizard Squad would get crushed by Microsoft, the owner of XBOX Live. Lizard Squad threatened XBOX Live that they would bring down the network on Christmas Day and it looks like they did. I will assume that Microsoft knew of the prior attack and threat. Because if it didn't then some lawyer has a class action lawsuit on his hands. But I digress. I am going to surmise that Microsoft had some countermeasure in place. And yet a group of hacker trolls defeated and humiliated the most powerful software company in the world.

But what does this mean in a larger sense? In light of the Sony hacking, and now the antics of Lizard Squad, should we fear? Yesterday, it's a major media company. Today, it's a video game network. Tomorrow, perhaps it's a banking network. And are our government networks safe? Until the United States brings Lizard Squad and other hackers to justice, no one can be sure.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interstellar review

There's been a tendency in popular entertainment to not explain things in story telling. Look at the TV series Lost, or the video game Destiny. While screenwriters are taught to show not tell, there are times that one must have some exposition or else the audience will spend most of their time trying to figure out what is going on rather than getting the major message of the story. This lack of exposition affects writer-director Christopher Nolan's film, Interstellar.

Interstellar takes place in a dystopian future where mankind is struggling to survive due to large dust storms. And if you want to know what is causing this environmental disaster, well you can forget about it. Writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan aren't going to tell you. Widower Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) is a farmer and former astronaut struggling to raise corn and his family. His daughter Murphy starts to get strange coded messages from her bedroom which she says are ghosts. One of the messages are coordinates to a nearby secret NASA base.

Cooper and Murphy drive to the base. They are arrested and brought before Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia. (Anne Hathaway) Professor Brand tells them that NASA knows the world is dying but they have discovered a wormhole created by some intelligent beings. Deducing that the aliens put the wormhole to save man, NASA sends three astronauts separately through it. NASA is getting signals from them and that they have landed on three planets surrounding a black hole. Brand enlists Cooper to join his daughter to find the astronauts and explore the worlds to see which ones would support mankind in their exodus from earth. Failing that, there's another plan where the scientists would start humanity all over with fertilized eggs.

To enjoy Interstellar, you're going to have to accept its plot devices on faith. For some reason, Nolan decides not to tell you what is causing earth's drought. While the logical culprit is global warming, I wonder if the writers wanted to avoid the cause for political reasons. Can't piss off the Kock brothers, can we? Then there is the physics involved in the movie. Cooper and Amelia go to one of the planets and according to them they will age at a significantly slower rate than the rest of earth due to the black hole. I'm talking hours for years. It's gut wrenching to see Cooper get videos from his children now grown up when he's only been on the planet's surface for a few hours. There are additional twists such as Amelia's relationship with one of the lost astronauts that causes the film to feel disjointed. Without exposition, the plot twists make the story telling artificial, i.e. it's melodramatic for no reason.

While watching Interstellar, I spent too much time trying to figure out one, what was going on with the earth. And then trying to figure out the time issues regarding the physics. This could have been problematic if Interstellar wasn't so well made. The stakes to humanity are so severe that it kept the drama moving. The screenplay is intelligent and relies on serious science. Once Cooper and Brand land on an alien world, I was captivated as to what they would find. The film kept me glued to the seat with intrigue. There are some nice nods to other science fiction movies specifically 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you see the rectangular shape of TARS, the robot in the movie, one can't help think of HAL from 2001 and the alien monolith. I did feel the design of TARS was a little impractical but maybe the nod to 2001 was the point.

As for the acting, you can't go wrong with this cast. McConaughey loves his daughter and there's pain when he leaves her. Caine and Hathaway's scientists are brainy, and sincere. Jessica Chastain plays a grown up Murphy. She's wonderful as the hurt daughter who's dedicated finding a solution to earth's problems with Brand.

Interstellar continues the pattern of Christopher Nolan's filmmaking. He doesn't dumb down anything for the masses. Despite its flaws, the film is thought provoking and exciting. The grade is A.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

You stink Lizard Squad

It looks like for the second time this month, the hacker group Lizard Squad has hit XBOX Live. If you've been trying to play XBOX Live this morning and last night, you've probably been thrown out of the service and been unable to connect. Well, it's not your Internet connection. According to Neowin, it's the hacker group Lizard Squad. And they did it when the 2014 Game Awards was set to air. How's that for strategic planning?

It gets worse my fellow XBOX players. XBOX Live will go offline then come back online. Then after a few hours, it seems Lizard Squad attacks again. They've threatened more sabotage this weekend with a tweet that reads, "This will be an entertaining weekend."

This is one of the problems of the Internet. You get trolls and you get these guys, the hackers. Ha, ha. (sarcastically) Lizard Squad you got us. But you want know something my reptilian friends? I don't need XBOX to have a good weekend. I can go to a movie, or go out to the pub or watch football. But you will eventually be caught. That's because you're messing with Microsoft. These are the guys who run the PC world. It ain't Sony. You're interfering with the company's ability to make money through financial transactions not just players gaming with each other. They will crush you. Enjoy eating that prison food. And by the way, you guys are using Twitter to brag about your exploits. You really don't think they can't track you, do you? Who's the idiot now?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Destiny XBOX 360 review

Destiny, the video game, has been out for more than a couple weeks now. The game developed by Bungie, the guys behind Halo, is one of the most hyped games in years due to its pedigree and new manner of playing it. It's new to a degree since it's an online first person shooter that has RPG and MMOG elements. Certainly, this form of gaming is not trail blazing for the XBOX, as Defiance (2013) came out first. Bungie didn't want day one reviews because they claim the game must have thousand of players for it to gestate. I've played the game through campaign mode and multiplayer. Time for this blog's review. So , the question is does Destiny live up to the hype or at least live up to the aspirations of the kick ass live action commercial for it? (Embedded below.)

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me." Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein (1974)

The prologue to Destiny starts with the introduction of the Traveler, a big spherical living being, at least I think it's alive that comes to earth. It's benevolent and helps man to achieve a new Golden Age where man is able to colonize the planets of the solar system. But hundreds of years later after the Traveler's arrival comes the pursuing Darkness . Okay you know with a name like that you can guess it's evil. What else are they going to call it? The Pinkness? But I digress. The forces of the Darkness causes a collapse of human society. You wake up in a ruined Russia by your Ghost (Peter Dinklage) who is kind of a cross between Guilty Spark from Halo and Bit of the Tron film. It's a good performance by Dinklage as he must be part machine and sentient life form. He informs you that you are a Guardian with a smart ass raccoon as your only friend. Um... okay that's Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this leads to you exploring the planets and blasting bad guys.

That premise would be great assuming Destiny will enlighten us with exposition. But that's one of the major problems of this game. There's no explanation of anything. You just take the word of your Ghost or Guardian "supervisors" that certain aliens are bad and they need to be blasted. I didn't care about my character other than the fact I got to create his face which by the way is always a cool feature. But I also didn't care the other people in this half baked story. I can't even remember the other characters in this story. Mass Effect, this is not.

And here's another thing that bothers me about the story. It's supposed to be science fiction. But you got plants and buildings on Venus. Really? In real life, Venus is a hellish place. Temperatures there reach 788 degrees F. The atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. Yeah, I get the concept of terraforming but Destiny's story doesn't tell you about that. So, how about a little science in the science fiction?

You will be treated to some gorgeous graphics. And I'm talking about the XBOX 360 version of Destiny. Yeah, the XBOX One version has more detail but you really won't notice the difference. I mean you spend most of your time killing aliens. Regardess, the colors of the planets are rich. There's much detail for them whether it's the rocks, plants or pools of liquid found on Venus. I felt like I was on alien worlds. Human and alien structures are all interesting though some of the buildings are repetitive since they're almost all ruins. Yet, they are rendered so well they beg you to explore them. You will love the look of your character and his or her costume. Helmets are kind of goofy though. How does a Warlock see through his helmet without eye sockets?

Interesting sound is what you would expect from a science fiction shooter. Weapons make futuristic sounds. Enemies sound quite foreign. But what I love about the sound is the soundtrack by Martin O' Donnell and Michael Salvatori. If you remember Halo's distinct themes you get more of the same. Destiny's music is lush, mysterious, heroic and dramatic. It adds to the conflict.

The future of video games?

The first thing about Destiny's gameplay that grabs you is the gun mechanics. This is certainly where Bungie has learned quite a bit from its Halo games. Firing a weapon is a joy whether you are aiming or free firing. Aim. Put your bullets on target. Melee is fun too. Finally a melee attack that instantly kills lower level enemies or ones that have very little health left.

But maybe Bungie should have just stuck with guns. Because Destiny introduces superpowers kind of like Mass Effect but with much less success. First you can upgrade the superpowers but since they don't explain to you how to do that, you're stuck having to research this. And the superpowers kind of stink. They regenerate every four or so minutes. And unlike Destiny's glossy ad below they are not so powerful that they wipe out a boss with one blow. You've got to degrade an enemy boss to a sliver of armor for one power, one kill. Then there's the armor. It's confusing since each piece has stats for regenerating grenades, superpowers or melee powers. And there other things or items that improve your lot in life but since nobody explains this stuff, you're just going to be confused on what they mean. Spinmetal? Hadronic Essence?

What about the missions? Extremely repetitive. Most of the time you are guarding your Ghost as he hacks something and you get attacked by bad guys. Then there are the boss missions. Kill alien boss while he spawns minions to harass you. Speaking of spawning, aliens will spawn in areas you have cleared. Kind of discourages going back to explore areas. Okay, there is fun as you and your buddies take on missions. The questions is how long will this fun keep your interest in the future.

The Social Network

Destiny is supposed to be a social game. But everybody is not talking at me and I can't hear a word they're saying. I mean you see random players and nobody talks or maybe they can't talk? For example, the Tower is an area where players upgrade weapons, get bounties, equipment etc. I've tried to talk but get the silence of outer space. I get more social interaction from the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto V. And speaking of the Tower, there's nothing to do there. You can dance outside but who cares. Meeting some interesting NPC (non-player character) or even have a mini-game would be welcome. Since you can dance how about a dance game?

The multi-player aspect of Destiny comes in two flavors. Co-op or player versus player. Going against other players is enjoyable since your weapons fire as well as they did in the campaign. In other words you have a chance here. Finding your opponents on the map can be difficult. And chances are you're going to get whacked and humiliated by an eleven year old. Co-op is great since your buddies can help you with a difficult boss. And trust me, you don't want to play missions on the Hard Diffculty setting by yourself. You will end up taking two hours to bring down a boss.

Being a game that must exist online creates a new set of problems. If you have trouble with your home network, or Internet connection, you're screwed. And this happens to everyone in online gaming. You're about ready to take down that alien boss when you lag out or get disconnected. That's already occurred to me while playing Destiny. Doh!

Hype and Glory.

You've heard me compare Destiny to Mass Effect specifically I should say Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 gets it right. The online multi-player works with the single player campaign. From a plot aspect, Mass Effect 3's online gaming is consistent as you join forces to fight the aliens threatening the galaxy. That being said you can play the campaign without going online. And one more thing. Mass Effect's story is rich, smart and emotional. I cared about the NPC characters in the game.

A great video game should have two components. A rich single player game which does not require online access. And a fun multi-player that is online and can also be done as a network. Bungie did well with Halo 3. And as I have pointed out, Mass Effect 3 works perfectly. I think the video games that will stand the test of time and be successful will be like Halo 3, Mass Effect 3 and Grand Theft Auto V.

Destiny does not live up to the hype. It's an uninteresting but well made first person shooter. To really enjoy it, you will have to put in more effort to get into it than a great video game. The grade is B.

Too bad Destiny is not as cool as its live action trailer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

John Oliver explains Scottish independence for you and begs for Scotland to stay with England

It's going to take an Englishman to explain Scottish independence to us Americans. So luckily for us, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight is here to do it. Very funny stuff. I especially like the joke about Mel Gibson. Courtesy of HBO.