28 April 2009

Utility software for the DSi would be good

Nintendo could really make the DSi a useful tool as well as just a games machine. If they opened the SDK to third parties free of charge we could get:

  • Wi-fi finders
  • QR code readers
  • Calculators
  • PIM tools
  • ebook reader supporting ePub format

All these things would make it far more useful. Nintendo could open up a kind of DSiWare shop where these things were sold (hey, hang on, they already have one! ;)) and given Nintendo's desire for control they would presumably have to vet every entry, but having said that there's already a small but thriving homebrew community for the console that could be tapped. This would be an enormous boon to the little console and see its use other than just for games. The screen is fairly low resolution, but given what has already been achieved I don't see this as a problem, people just need to think around it. Just think, if there were an "official" DGP Player (Nintendo's DS video format) then there could be sales of movies (in YA format) on the DS shop too, perfect for cartoons and the like for little Johnny in the back of the car given the DS' long battery life. Everything just needs to play from the SD card, to ease up space on the main machine. Best of all, this would get away from the shadowy world that is homebrew currently, relying on third party "dodgy" add-ons like the acekard 2i I have that could potentially be used for warez. Please, please, do it Ninty!

24 April 2009

Review: Gremlins (1984)

This film still had a 15 certificate on DVD, so I was a little worried about watching it with my son, but really the rating is a little confusing. The only bad language in Gremlins217 is someone getting called an asshole, and the violence is nothing worse than Doctor Who and a lot less realistic. Finn, who is six found it an amusing romp and loved when Gizmo drove the car. For me, it's impressive to see how well the effects stand up today, with large crowds of the evil mogwai marching down the road and a clever trick in the cinema where I would say that they filmed the seats three times and then projected two of the filmed occasions on screens on either side of the seats to give the impression that the cinema is much larger, and more full than it is. As is now common in our jumpcut! faster! more! world, it does seem a little slow, but it's still good. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates were shining stars when this film came out so I wondered what they'd be doing since. Phoebe Cates married Kevin Kline in 1989 and basically retired from acting, and Zach Galligan is still in films today, but not ones that garner major box office for Amblin... 3/5

Review: Picross

Picross? Pic-crack more like. This is a very simple game, a bit like the old logic problems, but reduced to even simpler aims. There was a game on the GameBoy Advance called Mario's Picross originally, and this is a DS version with all the abilities that the DS brings. In smaller puzzles, like the starter 5x5 grids, or the basic 10x10 grids, the puzzle is presented in its entirety on the lower screen, where you mark boxes with squares or crosses in order to bhuild a pixelised picture of something. In the later levels, grids are 15x15, 20x20 or even 25x20 on the last level and at that point, the ability to either put down a square or cross is joined by a scroll function and a zoom function to grant you an oversight of the entire puzzle, like the top screen (not something I use often). In normal mode you are increasingly penalised when you make a mistake - with your first mistake two minutes are added to your total time, then four, then eight and eight and eight and so on. If you go over an hour you have failed. With free mode you get no penalties, but also no help - you have to keep rearranging your pieces until you solve the puzzle. This was a game I got from the supermarket because it was on offer cheap. I also got it to try and get Fona playing a little on the DS. It didn't take for a couple of months, but now she loves it.

This may be simple, but like the best puzzle games it doesn't need to be any more complex to keep you engaged, sometimes for hours at a time. Best of all, if you wish to try it for yourself, you don't need a DS or to spend money. While looking for images to pepper this review with I found a site called wiipicross where you can play the games for yourself. Try it, but don't blame me if you become less productive... 5/5

21 April 2009

Review: Blast from the Past (1999)

Blast from the Past (219) is a sweet little film. The story revolves around Christopher Walken's character Calvin and his pregnant wife Helen, played by Sissy Spacek. Calvin is a scientist who makes his own fallout shelter in the garden of his house because of growing nuclear tensions. There is a party in the house, the night Kennedy makes the Cuban speech on TV and so Calvin gets rid of the guests and he and his wife go down into the fallout shelter. At that moment, a US jet fighter has engine trouble and the plane falls on the house leading Calvin to think the bombs are falling, so he locks the door and sets the timer for 35 years... Their son Adam is born and brought up in the sheltered environment of the well, shelter, and is taught French, German and Latin by dad, and dancing by mum. When the 35 years are over and the locks automatically disengage, Adam gets sent out to find supplies and a girlfriend and comedy ensues. The film is not a great classic, but it is a little gem, sweet and perfectly-formed. There are all manner of time-related misunderstandings and Adam has baseball cards and stocks worth millions (though he doesn't know it). The score I give it might seem low considering how much I like the film, but it's not really worth more... 3/5

20 April 2009

Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

Not your average teenage film... Donnie Darko is like a piece of jazz, it plays all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. That doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable experience by any means, but it does mean that when the film ends you will more than likely be nonplussed by its giant non-sequitur nature. This is the theatrical version, so apparently a little more obscured than the later director's cut version with its extra twenty minutes of story, exposition and clues. The story goes something like: Donnie is sleepwalking and plagued by a giant, scary bunny rabbit called Frank who tells him to do things like flooding the school and burning down someone's house. He's asleep on a golf course when his house gets hit by a falling jet engine. He gets a girlfriend called Gretchen with whom he goes to an old lady's house. He enters the house by the cellar door and disturbs two burglars who turn out to be the school's resident bullies. Gretchen gets pushed into the road and run over by a guy called Frank, who is wearing a scary bunny costume. Donnie goes home with the dead Gretchen in his arms and steals his sister's car keys and drives up to a high point overlooking their home and sees the engine fall...

In short, this isn't an easy film and if my synopsis has made it confusing, then this isn't the film for you. However, if this synopsis intrigues you, watch the film then go to this site and read through. Oh and don't bother going to www.donniedarko.com because it was long replaced by one of those phishing sites, you can go to the Wayback Machine at archive.org and take it back to roughly 2004 and you can play on the site. 4/5(220)

19 April 2009

Our films

We have 440 DVDs in our collection. I have a note of them all on my Palm and we have them arranged on bookcases around our living room. The ones in the portrait photo are in "Finn's collection" and on the other shelves they are in ours. Since we have all these DVDs, and since there are a couple still in their shrink wrap(!) we decided (well I did) that we should watch them all at least once to make their purchase worthwhile. Now, this is not a problem with the films in Finn's collection, so I struck those off the 440 to watch at least one recorded time. Also, TV series on disc would take a disproportionate amount of time to watch, so I knocked those off too. That still left us with over 260 to watch. With my work the way it is now, it's not always easy to find time together to watch a film, but one of the strictures placed on this watching was that we both had to watch the films, even if it was topics we didn't care for.

Anyway, the Star Wars films are part of our collection, so watching TPM and AotC counted against the total we had to watch, so even though they are really bad, there was one good thing that came from watching them, we're now down to 220 left to watch (and with eps 3-6 still to go, that'll be another four off the list). I shall try to remember to do a little review of the films we watch on here in case gives the reader (there's probably only one, right?) the incitement to watch a film.

Goodbye Lenin 4/5(223)
This is a lovely film. It starts as a farce, with the mother of a young guy (Alex) in East Berlin going into a coma (bear with me okay) just before the Berlin wall falls and so missing the changeoever to a capitalist society. Alex is allowed to take her home to recover when she wakes, but on the understanding that she is subject to no shocks, so Alex rearranges the flat back into its communist state, getting rid of all the new furniture they bought and so on. He enlists his wannabe film director friend in helping to make fake news bulletins to cover up lapses in the deception and the humour is based around these cover-ups. At about the 2/3rds point, another event occurs that changes the tone of the film to bittersweet and it plays out beautifully. 5/5

PS. Pics taken with the DSi camera

OMG why are Star Wars Eps. I and II sooo bad?


What stopped me from noticing the first time around? Finn want to see the Star Wars movies again, so we watched The Phantom Menace (TPM)(222) yesterday and we've just finished watching Attack of the Clones (AotC)(221) this afternoon. What a terrible start to TPM, the text is scrolling up the screen and already I'm yawning. Jar Jar Binks has not aged well, from his tennis ball head that actors can't seem to stare at, to his ridiculous "Uncle Tom-esque" mannerisms. And then in AotC he speaks to a whole senate of several thousand delegates?! And as for that film, from the text onwards... okay, if several thousand star systems are seceding from the republic and since the republic hasn't yet completely collapsed that implies several more thousand star systems are still loyal, exactly how many Jedi are there to police them? No wonder they are feeling overstretched...

Yes, seeing Yoda leaping around after Count Dooku is fun, but it's not that fun. And what is it with Jedi? Once they become teachers, they completely lose track of the Force? From Qui-Gon Jinn saying he felt nothing out of the ordinary while his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi was jumpy at the start of TPM, to then completely ignoring the very obvious danger signals while his padawan Anakin was suggesting something might be amiss in the chase sequence with the assassin? Bah, still at least our great minds thought alike on a possible suggestion for why everything in the 1-3 trilogy seems far more advanced than thirty years later in the 4-6 trilogy. It's the war innit? If you think back to the glowing and glorious 1930s and then the austerity after the second world war, it's kinda similar, no?

Anyway, George Lucas: EPIC FAIL

ps. I know it's been ten years since TPM came out, so I possibly a little late with this opinion piece, but I'm not sure it can be said enough.

16 April 2009

Review: Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on The Cliff)

Just back from seeing the sublime "Gake no ue no Ponyo", known in English as "Ponyo on The Cliff" and "Ponyo sur la Falaise" in French. It's a hand-drawn animation that really shows up CG in the opening sequence with thousands of moving elements (shoals of fish swimming). In terms of intended audience age the story is pitched between Totoro and Kiki and there were several nods to previous Miyazaki films with the flooded road being reminiscent of Chihiro's flooded railway, Fujimoto resembling a thin male Yubaba, and the baby they meet being a normal-sized version of the big baby (no, not George Dawes) from the same film. The story goes that a five-year old boy called Sosuke rescues a goldfish trapped in a discarded jar and names it Ponyo. The goldfish is actually the offspring of Fujimoto and the goddess of the sea and when Ponyo is in Sosuke's company she realises she really wants to be human too. There are plenty of extended wordless sequences that just allow you to appreciate the quality of the animation and the film is never boring. Where it sits on my chart of Miyazaki films? Difficult to decide just on one viewing, but it's up there with Totoro and Laputa for sure. The only fly in the ointment is that there's no release date for the UK for it, and although this is not even a really widescreen production (I would say 1.76:1 at most) it really deserves to be seen on the big screen. 4/5

13 April 2009

Review: Monsters vs. Aliens

We've seen this film twice now, once in 2D once in stereoscopic. Before I proceed onto a potted review of the film itself, I just want to talk about the difference seeing it in 3D made - not much apart from a lighter wallet. Seeing it in stereoscopic added another 9€ to the costs of the tickets and didn't actually add much to the experience. Sure, there were the ooh bits where the scientist in Antartica played with the bat and ball game and a few other such moments but in the main it didn't really add a lot to the film.

Onto the film itself. We saw it in French so some of the dialogue was no doubt lost to us, but it was a fairly standard plot with the creature from the black lagoon, the blob, the 50' woman, the fly and Gamera all of whome have been captured by the government and put to work defeating an alien invasion. Lots of stuff for grown-ups familiar with the genre, from the Close Encounters theme, Steve McQueen's baseball throwing to the initial missiles from the attacking warplanes hitting a shield à la ID4. The quality of the animation is splendid as you'd expect apart from a couple of the vehicles in the Golden Gate bridge sequence where it looked like the previz models and animation got left in final compositing! Bob (the blob character) must have been a swine to animate but his seamless nature never wavered.

All in all, enjoyable, beautiful, but nothing startling. 3/5

11 April 2009

Review: Nintendo DSi

Just trying to write a post on the blog from the DS itself. Obviously, typing isn't much fun, and although the DS has a camera I don't know if there's a way to upload a pic.

There is handwriting recognition but it is very slow although it does recognise 'natural' writing, rather than using glyphs like the Palm. Too tiring to continue...

Okay, so carrying on on the more normal format of the PC. Onto generalities first.

The new DSi is not as high, slightly wider and the same depth as the DS Lite and rather than the lacquered finish of its predecessor the DSi is matt black (or white, if you're a girl). The power button has been moved to the left side of the screen inside the clamshell, and the volume slider that was mounted on the front of the DS Lite is on the left side of the console. The power supply socket is different to the DS Lite's and it also won't get into your DS Lite case. I never used the Gameboy Advance slot in the front of the DS Lite, so I don't care that it's not on the DSi, but apparently those that like homebrew software for their DS are disappointed. The acekard 2i I just ordered apparently works just fine for this purpose (I bought it to play MP3s and read books, believe it or not).

The buttons are less raised (with the exception of the shoulder buttons that now stand proud of the console rather than being flush with the case as in the DS Lite. I'm not sure why this decision was taken as it makes the console less comfortable for these hads to hold, especially in Mario Kart. The buttons also now have an annoying micro-switch click meaning that late night gaming sessions in bed are annoyingly loud.

It is nice that you can hold down the select button and use the volume controls to raise and lower the brightness of the screen in-game, rather than having to turn the unit off to do so, and the quit hit of the power switch that returns you to the main menu is also appreciated.

The DSi has an updated interface that is far more "iPhone" than the DS Lite with icons you can swish around, and has three major new additions, one of which is the main reason for buying the DSi. These are a camera (or pair of them, one inside, one out), a sound tool and a web browser (that I used to post the start of this post). The browser is the same Opera-sourced browser as the Wii has, only rejigged a bit for the smaller screen real estate of the DSi. It has a column mode to read web pages adjusted to fit onto the two screens and scrolling up through them. Overview mode by contrast uses the top screen to show the whole page in miniature with a red box on it showing the area shown on the bottom screen.

The DSi shop is like the Wii shop on that console. The first reason to go there is to get the browser (free of charge) and to claim your 1,000 DSi points to spend on other software. You cannot limit access to the DSi shop meaning that small fingers can go there and download software without your wanting to. The Parental lock only affects what games can be played on the DSi, a serious oversight in my opinion. The DSi shop also uses its own "currency" DSi points, that don't seem to be interchangeable with Wii points or DS stars, resulting in a overcomplex system.

The built-in camera and sound software means that the DSi might get used less for playing actual games than playing around and both offer some nice features. I particularly liked the face tracking in the camera software to put a moustache or glasses on a face, and the sound playback altering pitch and duration always raises lots of giggles from Finn.

If it hadn't been for the ability to browse the web (using a WPA2 wifi connection) and use an SD card for storage I probably wouldn't have looked twice at the DSi. The DS Lite is a fantastic little game console and hard to improve upon. The DSi is not for everyone in my opinion, if all you want to do is play games then you don't need it. With the problems with the parental controls and buttons I can't give it more than 3/5.

8 April 2009

Getting a DSi

I went into GAME today and for the first time ever, took them up on their trade-in policy that has never seemed very generous before to get a new Nintendo DSi in exchange for my old DS Lite (the one Mark bought me as it happens) and two games (since my selection is fairly widespread, one of my games wasn't accepted since it was American, and the fact that the power supply for the DSLite is UK was a no-go either). I will post a review on here once I have it, but two things have got me particularly excited by the new machine. The first is the browser. Obviously, it's on a DS! I don't expect it to be like Fx3 on my PC, but it will be handy for looking up films on IMDB or checking my mail (not replying!). It might be possible to do some posts for the blog on here with it, which interests me (although they will be by necessity fairly short). The first thing that really excites me is to do with the browser actually. Since the DSi has an SD card slot it means that I may be able to use it as my ebook reader - perhaps Mobipocket will see this as a big market and make a version for the DSi downloadable to the machine... The second big opportunity I see with it is the camera. I don't see any QR code scanner software available for it right now, but I don't doubt it will swiftly come.