Day of the Mac #1

So… to finish this project I’ve spent the past several months programming, I need a mac with Xcode…  For those of you who don’t know me, I have railed against macs.  They’re overpriced, they don’t give you the low-level access I enjoy, they tend to have this “holier than thou” aura about their promotions…  I can’t stand it when people talk about only serious content creators use Mac.  Okay, in the day of Myst, Apple was the way to go, but that was 1992 when graphics cards were limited.  Today, you get wayyyy more bang for your buck on a PC.  Nevertheless, yesterday, ca 10 AM, I found myself in an Apple store.

An hour later, as I walked to my apartment with a MacBook box under arm, I felt dirty.  I felt like all these people were looking at me, and I wanted to turn to them say, “Hey, I’m not a Mac person” (with a nervous laugh).  “I just had to get one of these things so I could use this piece of software which only runs on Mac.”

Session 9

A disappointment but worth the experience.

I came across Session 9 when I was researching the inspirations of Team Silent (the group who created the original Silent Hill games at Konami). Session 9 is a USA Films production written and directed by Brad Anderson. The film is set in the former Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, MA. The plot revolves around a small hasmat team hired to remove asbestos for the institution’s renovation as a community center.

Session 9 has got some great ideas, the most important one being the usage of the actual, real life Danvers Hospital. The complex itself is the central character and its natural allure, mystery, and disfigurement permeate the film so effectively, I could just watch a film touring the structures. Unfortunately, the setting is really where the virtues of the production stop. Session 9 could have been so much more, but really, what it comes down to is a lack of craft.

Directing. It’s obvious, from the first 5 minutes of the film, something is lacking in the character relationships. They just don’t feel connected. Some may say this is intentional, to show their familial dysfunction. If that was the case, it was too soon. My feeling is that so much more could have been brought out if the director focused on building the relationships before the first scene, like The Shining, and then letting the plot unravel the connections.  From the very beginning, I just don’t believe in the characters’ histories with each other. They feel stilted. If you can’t believe in the characters, you can’t believe in the film.

Cinematography. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous the set is, if the cameras don’t see properly, all that production value is lost. In the first few minutes of the film, I became skeptical. Two characters, Phil and Gordon are sitting in a van in daylight. The outside is blownout so badly it detracts from the van interior where dialogue is happening. Very often, depth of field is overlooked. There are many shots where it would have lent much more dramatic effect to focus on the foreground character elements and leave the background blurred and then rack focus to elements of interest as they enter the character’s attention. This would have better placed the audience in the film, allowing them to see things only when the characters themselves see them. Finally, a more realistic image would have been captured with a different selection of lenses. There were many close up shots (and I’m going back to the opening scenes in the van) where the lens was too wide and the shot was suffering from optic distortion.

Preproduction and Post. However the script was written, it felt too simple in the end. The resolution and meaning of “Session 9” just didn’t fulfill me as a viewer. I didn’t feel a build up in rising action or a real climax in the plot. There were disjointed events that should have been better brought together.  In watching the “alternative ending” and other deleted scenes on the DVD, I get the idea there were other possibilities as far as the film’s protagonist and climax. In a plot, these elements are the real cornerstones. If there were other possibilities being shot then I wonder if the script was really fully baked. I understand if there are elements left to improv and inspiration (David Lynch is my favorite director), but this film is really a ghost story, and as such you can’t afford to go in without a well defined map. Maybe these decisions were made in the edit room. In any respect, I was let down by the simplicity of the resolution. The significance of “Session 9” was little more than a voice over, which is a last ditch device to tell the audience the film’s meaning, as opposed to really allowing them to experience it.

Though I’m pointing out areas to improve, I’m glad I watched this film. There were moments when I was pulled in to the set, the lighting, and mood and my heart got moving. However, these moments of trance would be broken again by lack of attention to craft. Visually, there are some gems well worth seeing, but I think they are much more to the credit of the hospital than to the production. If you are a student of the genre, do watch this. It’s worth the experience and analysis. If you are looking for a good ghost story, though, Tale of Two Sisters is still in the top of my list.

Washington, DC

I just got home from 5 days in DC for the Satellite 2009 show.  Obviously, most people don’t know what the Satellite show is.  “Satellite” is a gathering of vendors and professionals in the satellite communications world.  Hands down, it was one of the best shows in my career with KenCast, which is a bit counter intuitive considering the economy, nevertheless, I’m told attendance was actually up from last year’s exhibition.  We had some incredible traffic at the booth and everything just clicked together.  But I don’t want to talk about work…

I want to talk about Washington.  DC is another unreal city.  Of all the places I’ve driven, DC is the most unique.  It’s the only place I can think of where you can expect to find a succession of 3 traffic lights within one intersection.  It’s also the only town I’ve driven where I really need a GPS to make sense. 

Percussion Ensemble

Music has been a significant part of my life since I was 12.  I left the boyscouts and joined the highschool band as a drummer.  Overtime, I gravitated to timpani as my particular instrument of choice.  I also began studying piano at 16.  Throughout highschool, I was in every music ensemble possible and this carried into undergrad.  
 
At Alfred, I was in Orchestra, Band, Chorus, and I started a percussion ensemble.  I came across this recording while sifting through some junk in my dresser.  It’s a piece called “Stinkin’ Garbage” by Stomp.  I hope to find some other pieces soon, maybe even Carmina Burana, which was the most exciting performance I took part in.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this.  BTW, this was during my ponytail years, and just to show I don’t edit myself, yes, I do drop my left stick towards the end:) (I’m the second guy from the left).
{mp4-flv width=”600″ height=”480″}Stinkin_Garbage{/mp4-flv} 

Silent Hill Origins (PS2)

A few weeks ago, I completed Silent Hill Origins. For those of you that haven’t read some of my earlier entries, the Silent Hill game series from Konami has been among my favorite series. “Origins” was originally written for the PSP and then ported to the PS2.

 

Story

 

There was an interview I watched a few times several years ago with Rafael Chandler of Red Storm Entertainment, creators of the Rainbow 6 games. Basically, his point was: story is where it starts and the rest follows. I’m a believer. Of course, there are genres where this is less true (arcade action for example), but in the Adventure / Survival Horror arena, I think this is crucial. Even in first person shooter, as Chandler discussed, where the gamer is focused on a mission structure, a story is crucial to carry the player through the game.

 

Silent Hill Origins has the story. It works pretty decently as a precursor to Silent Hills 1 – 4, depicting the origins of certain persons, events, and plot lines. I feel there were times when the more horrific elements were a little too intrusive versus the more subtle treatment of Silent Hill 2 which is often characterized as the epitome of psychological thriller.  However, this may be a characteristic nuance of the transition of the series from the original, Japan-based, “Team Silent” to US developer Climax.  

 

Gameplay

 

Gameplay was rough. Admittedly, it took me a lot longer to get through this game than its predecessors. Usually, I’d get through a title in a few days at most. This game, I frankly put down in frustration for weeks at a time. There were two elements that irked me. The first is, as we all know in any horror flick, you don’t walk away from the monster when he’s down because once you turn your back he’s back up and chasing you. It’s the same philosophy in most games: just because you knock someone down, doesn’t mean they are out. This is the case in all the Silent Hills, including Origins. However, unlike the earlier titles, Origins requires you to wait until the monster is back on his feet before you attack again. Honestly, it might sound trivial, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, your heart’s pumpin’ and you’re surrounded by zombie-creatures, you don’t want to break that tension by having to wait, in place, for precious seconds while the creatures writhe around on the floor rejuvenating. You want to take them out and not be like all those stupid teenagers in every horror film you ever saw.

 

Second issue, which is kinda the generic bane of many action-based games and which does not always get thefull attention it deserves: fighting has to be fair. What I mean is that there has to be a very clearly defined ruleset as far as : “if monster does ‘x’ than player must do ‘y’ else some negative outcome will occur”. This is the central issue I had with a game called Rule of Rose which I never bothered to review (but should). Oftentimes, you just couldn’t do anything to counter the baddies attacks. Often times in Origins, you can see one of those straight-jacket monsters coming at you, but before you know it, they’re magically on top of you spewing acid in your face. Between the moment when you saw the character, and the moment the negative outcome occurred, you as the player never have that opportunity to really counter their attack, you just have to kinda put up with it and after a while, it gets really frustrating.  Stuff like that, I’m guessing, happens when a development schedule gets crunched and certain parts of QA are, unfortunately, neglected.

 

In-Game Graphics and Sound.

 

I’ll lump these together for space. For the most part, I thought these were executed well and up to par with the series.

Cutscenes / Presentation

 

I was happy, except for the scenes involving duo-tone flashbacks which felt like blown up images from a low res source. The details felt flat compared to other, usually present-day shots.

 

Overall, I think the game was fulfilling in the end; however it wasn’t consistently enjoyable.  The gameplay got in the way too much.  I had to have a roommate egg me into finishing after I gave up in frustration, which is a first in the Silent Hill series for me.  I felt treatment of many psychological / character elements was heavy-handed.  I’m a  strong believer in “show don’t tell”.  Let the audience figure it out. 

 

Obviously, I haven’t given Silent Hill 5 a go yet, but I’ll let you know when that happens.

Amsterdam – International Broadcast Convention – Travel

Flying to AmsterdamIt’s half past midnight Amsterdam time.  Going to sleep.  I flew out of JFK at 6:30 pm yesterday en route to the International Broadcast Convention (aka IBC).  I’m not good at sleeping on planes.  The only time I wish I was short is when I’m looking at the 5 foot tall person next to me and understanding that”ample legroom” does exist for some.

In this case, the couple next to me wasn’t five feet tall.  They were in the same situation: cramped, but we made the most of it.  We couldn’t talk much as I don’t know Dutch, but we still managed to have some laughs, especially trying to work the remote control for the inflight entertainment (which gave me a chance to finally see KungFu Panda and revisit Batman Begins)

Well, I intend on putting down some observations from Amsterdam over the next few days.  I’m here through Tuesday, so I’ll have some time.

All I’ll really say now is, as I was flying out, Neil Young kept playing over and over in my head with “Old Man”.  I don’t know, maybe it’s my version of “Sounds of Silence” from The Graduate when Ben is at the airport in the beginning.  What I do know, is as I was flying out, I looked out the window, just about sunset, and saw Cape Cod receding behind me.  I thought about the first time I crossed the Atlantic on the way to the Cannes Film Festival.  It’s been just over 4 years since that first adventure, and since then, I’ve been a few places.  

This is my third trip to Amsterdam.  I grew up in my small, quiet valley back home, and now, as I write, I’m looking out the 19th floor window of my room onto the night time sky of Amsterdam.  I know for many, it’s not such a big deal, for me, it is.  I’m 6 hours away from the place where I grew up; a stranger who doesn’t know the language and many of the customs.  It’s a very different way to wake up in the morning.  It’s a very different way to go about finding a restaurant to eat, especially when you’re alone.

Well, I intend on taking some photos in my spare time.  So, I hope to have some additions here soon.  Meanwhile, I should get some sleep.  Goodnight.

XXIX Olympiad

I’m not a sportsbuff.  I’m hardly sports-competent.  However, when the Olympics come around, I’m glued to that screen.  I am a member of that crowd cheering the swimming team and hoping for Phelps to break Spitz’ 7 Gold Medal record.  (My dad and I stayed up late watching just that moment last night when it happened.)  Beach volleyball?  Cool.  Track?  Cool.  Gymnastics? Oh yeah!  I don’t care.  I’m there.  Just about the only thing that doesn’t grab me is synchronized diving: just doesn’t do it for me, though I can appreciate the time it takes to put together a real team.  

I have been a little put-off by the over-the-top commercialism of this Olympics.  I know it’s a great advertising opportunity and all, but seeing the US Team parading in with big Ralph-Lauren Polo logos on their chests didn’t impress me, and I gotta tell ya, the McDonald’s ad with the supposed Olympic teammembers “going for the gold” starting their day with a fried fillet of chicken?  I don’t believe that.  I sincerely hope their isn’t some kid out there, wanting to start his Olympic career with the supposed regimine of a friend chicken sandwich every morning.Laughing  I can just see the headline.

You know, though, I can put that aside.  Seeing these people, from all walks of life, from all different cultures, do these Herculean feats just astounds me.  Moreover, just seeing one volleyball player pull an opposing team member out of the sand, or seeing a swimmer stall a race so another competitor can get her swimsuit replaced… that’s what really grabs me.  The Olympics are about building international relationships, and that’s what I enjoy even above seeing someone smash records.  I love seeing the closing ceremonies when everyone is together on that field sharing a singular moment.

 

 

Reach out and make a friend