Ramblings

Let them eat cake!

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I like cake. Those that know me, will know that. ūüôā

But more importantly I’m a strong believer that should people be allowed and given the choice to do what they want, that the vast majority of the time people will do the right thing or at least TRY the things that society/religion deems socially unacceptable/immoral. I don’t like to consider people to be stupid, at least not until they prove themselves to be stupid. Of course there are some OBVIOUS exceptions to my utopian view of society; People should not force or hurt each other.

With that in mind, why then are some things illegal or considered so immoral as to be offensive?
Some of the things that fall under this umbrella are alcohol laws, drug laws and even the way an individual chooses to dress.

It seems to me that this boils down to the political agendas of a few and the influence of the (Usually local) media.
I’m not trying to spin a web of conspiracy (Even though conspiracy cannot be ruled out completely) but the fact remains that because of how human beings are inherently tribal, there are a multitude of nations, countries, religions, races, borders and many other divisions that can be observed as examples of how one society can be so different in its views to another. We’ve all seen it, travelled to another country and inadvertently offended a local because we quite simply didn’t understand the local customs, traditions or mindset.

Why is it that standing on one side of a completely artificial line/border means that you can drink at the age of 18 and why can you take certain drugs without being arrested? Why is it that in certain societies, even wearing your skirt a little shorter will cause a woman to be shunned? Why is it that legalising a drug would be more of a political move by a politician in one country, but something that is just common sense in another? Of course it would take far too long to reason through all the reasons for this, and whether they are justified or not, but too often I’ve heard people preach their own opinions as ‘what should be the way it is’. The practicality of opinion is something that varies quite profoundly also which doesn’t help (My own opinions included here).

I guess what I’m ultimately trying to get at here is that when you travel, you see that things can be different. Not right or wrong, better or worse… But plain different and can be no other way when considered within the boundaries of the time and place. The problems appear to arise when opinions are pressed onto others, instead of allowing them their own choice. But that’s just my opinion on it.

So, I say, let them eat cake.
Everybody likes cake right?

Review of Ultramarines – A Warhammer 40,000 Movie

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*SPOILER ALERT*

Well, last night I saw Ultramarines.
This is kind of a big deal for some mostly because it’s the first ‘proper’ Warhammer 40k movie produced by anything approaching a real studio. As I explained in my earlier article regarding Dark Millenium Online, Games Workshop has recently been very shrewd (Or picky) when it comes to signing the Warhammer 40k name to anything that they do not have complete internal control over. This of course is a good thing in terms of quaility control, but when considering that GW dont develop anything outside their own tabletop game themselves or contribute towards other projects such as¬†games or the¬†Movie in this article, it means that they can be a little stiff.

Still, it’s their product and thats their right.

So, enough rambling and more about the movie: Ultramarines РA Warhammer 40,000 Movie. I was a little dissapointed with some aspects and pleased with others.
I’ll dive right in to the¬†bad stuff¬†by announcing that upon finishing watching the movie there were some things that immediately stuck out to me. The most obvious of these was a certain unsettling feeling of misinterpretation that sat¬†with me throughout the movie. I will explain this by saying that the Space Marines in the movie didnt seem to be Space Marines according to my interpretation of what a Space Marine represents. For those who care to read into it, there are a lot of ‘facts’ in the 40k universe that build the idea that a Space Marine is a badass piece of work.¬†Things like¬†the power armour they wear that is handed down through warrior generations, the genetic modification, psychic conditioning and even redundant organs that they have all seemed to count for nought in a movie filled with 1-shot kills and other mysterious deaths I usually associate with ‘silly people in movies’ (Those times watching a movie when you throw your hands up and say ‘You didnt see that coming?!’). It seems unreal to expect them to be the bastions of¬†humanity against all kinds of vicious and violent advosaries when they appear to have little resilience themselves.

Carnak, Chaplain of the Imperial Fists.This brings me to the story itself, which I am quite split about. Despite being written by Dan Abnett, who I have a lot of respect for as a well known Warhammer novel writer, overall the story arc and general narrative appeared out of balance. I felt there were many missed chances to introduce and explain the greatness of Space Marines, perhaps by using flash backs or other techniques. Consequently, I was ultimately left with a feeling of that the story itself seemed obscure and that I wanted to see bigger events and battles. In terms of filmography, there were too many moments of ponderous walking, panned shots and asmosphere building flashes. When clashes with the Chaos Marines flared, they were very often far away or blurred siluettes in the night. A missed opportunity to have a larger scale battle that Space Marines are known for. Something unrelenting and fierce that I feel is been better exploited in Warhammer video game cutscenes, such as those in the Dawn of War series of games which portray Space Marines to be unrelenting, purposeful and curageous warriors. This is just my opinion of course.

Something else I had a split opinion on was the animation.
In a conversation I had with a friend a short while ago, he described the visuals used in the movie as ‘hammy’, which I countered that its not about the visuals. Unfortunately, there are times in the movie when the animation is somewhat embarassing and others where it looks pretty good. For agument sake, lets also remember that this isnt Pixar or Disney doing the animation here, its a relatively unknown studio called Codex Pictures. They dont have many big name projects to mention, the most notable of these are the Lego Bionicle series of movies that I¬†understand¬†were successful enough¬†to the target audience… But this movie is something different. They’re playing in bigger leagues now and will be compared as such, so animation needs to be slick, even if the modelling is not great. Unfortunately I feel its the other way around, feeling as though a lot of work went into the models of the characters and not so much into their animations, subtle movements and mannerisms. As a result, still shots look great and character movements look stiff and akward. Facial animation¬†was often impressive but equally bad at other points, however, the biggest shortfall in the visuals department has to be the smoky/foggy effect present through what feels like most of the movie. At times I almost squinted to try and see further during pan shots of what would have been an outdoor landscape.

Boreas, Space Marine InitiateI must say that wasnt bored by watching the movie. There was a fairly good feeling of atmosphere and suspense, which went on a little too long at times but was consistent. I wasnt bored, but I would not say I was gripped either (Gripped like for example when I recently watched Inception for the first time). This was part of the movie that was pretty spot on, and encouraged an impression that something was going to happen.

Voice acting was excellent in places, but was consistently good at a minimum.¬†Donald Sumpter¬†excelled in what I believe is a marvellous performance as the Apothocary Pythol, and along with Terence Stamp who provided a very good but not amazing voice of Captain Severus. Mr Stamp let the character down by being a¬†little flat at times. John Hurt was suprisingly¬†average as the Imperial Fists Chaplain, however,¬†Sean Pertwee did not seem to fit his role as did some of the other voices for members of ‘Ultra squad’.

In conclusion, it was a good but not great movie, which in itself is dissapointing as it is a real first. There is a lot of missed opportunity here, but I hope for more and better.

Do games servers have a place in the Workplace?

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Playing games at work… It doesnt sound right somehow, as if its an affront to all that is businesslike. But why is it?
I’ve worked in places where we’ve had (By request I setup) a games server running. In one place it was on an old PC, in another it ran on our voicemail server, both times it was awesome! By that I mean it created something for people to get together about and enjoy, mutually, and without prejudice. It transcended rank and title and showed some unlikely champions and some other unlikely obsessives.

But one thing it always did do was bring people together.

The game in question was the original Unreal Tournament in one place, UT2004 in another, and it was simple enough for me to setup (I’m a System Admin after all!).
We would agree on an end-of-friday jaunt every week, last thing around 5:30 before people headed out.

It also highlighted an interesting thing in my mind; handles, nicknames, tags or whatever you want to call it. Its basically just what people chose to call themselves ‘in-game’. This is, of course, nothing out of the norm these days. People have Gamertags and in-game handles for a million different games, sometimes each different, sometimes consistent across games.
What I found interesting is how they often related so personally to each person, and how the vast majority of the time, they were thought up by others rather than the person actually using the name.

For the sake of those that I’ve worked with, I wont list out the hilarious names in public as I would have to explain each persons actual name, which would not be very appropriate.
I will refer to my own though in the hope that someone might read this and comment about their own in-game-name origins…

So I usually go by the name of KptnKMan. Its a little hard for some people to say and I’ve laughed at a few on Xbox Live who have spluttered out convoluted attempts at pronouncing it, but its quite simple really; Captain K-Man. ūüôā

The origins of the name came from a few years ago when I worked at Electronic Arts. We used to game in the office openly, because we could, and because it was our jobs… more or less. I was named ‘Captain Caveman’ by one of my colleagues, which became ‘Captain K-Man’ later, then I shortened it to ‘CptnKMan’ and eventually modified it to KptnKMan. These days I still use that name in games and often are called KMan by my friends. So it just stuck, but the evolution and personal attachment that a fictional name produces is interesting.

Dark Millennium Online looks Awesome!!!

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I’m secretly excited, and have been for some time now… Ever since I heard whispers of a Warhammer 40k MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), and more recently with the real announcement that there is active development on it! To say the least, I’m stoked. I ranted and raved at my friends for a while, but they all looked back at me suspiciously, so I kept quiet… and for good reason.

I’ve always been fascinated and pulled in by the amount of depth in the Warhammer 40k ‘universe’. Games Workshop have sole ownership over (And guard fiercely from my understanding) the entire Warhammer franchise, and have recently been putting it to good use. By this I mean that there are many 40k projects on the go that further tap into the vast amount of content and storytelling already woven around the 40k universe.

Examples: At the moment of the this writing, The Ultramarines Movie is JUST released (That being the FIRST real Warhammer 40k movie, all done in CGI), the W40k: Space Marine game is also soon to be released (The closest comparison I can make is to Gears of War or other 3rd person action games) and of course not to forget the steady stream of quality 40k games that have been released over the last few years (Dawn of War, Dawn of War 2, Warhammer Online and Blood Bowl among others).

The reason I’m so happy about this is because for some time Games Workshop got into an unhealthy trend of signing the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k names to quite a few very mediocre and often just plain awful games. Fire Warrior springs to mind (Among others), and may it be struck from the history books back to whence it came. I think this is also why many fans of Warhammer go very quiet when a new Warhammer game is announced, or even comes close to release. There is a long line of games that were just… awful.

But things seem to be changing, mostly it seems because Games Workshop themselves have hand-picked and been VERY picky about who develops their games. The Dawn of War franchise did very well and has solidified Relic Games as a solid developer of quality Games Workshop games… and rightly so! Relic are the developers behind many quality games including Homeworld, which holds a VERY special place in my own heart and always will. *sigh*

But back to the game at hand; Dark Millennium Online. It looks awesome! Not only that but there appears to be a genuine intention to include some of the scale of the wars and going-on in the 40k universe. There are footage of Titans (yes TITANS!) stomping around in all their 80ft glory, stepping on whole squads. I’ve seen in one video an ork riding in a Deffkopta, which made me chuckle, and in the included screenshots here you can see that there are tanks and such included too. I’ve even seen Space Marines on bikes! If this is true to final gameplay and the game is balanced, then there might well be some EPIC battles to come. This brings me to consider what the other factions in the game will be and what they will represent or mean to the overarching experience. The Imperium is the ONLY CONFIRMED faction so far, and its obvious to see the presence of the Imperium of Man (Space Marines, Mechanicus and Imperial Guard perhaps) and the Orks (Who presumably will mostly be there to cause mayhem and fuel war which is so endemic to 40k), however, there is something to be said for the other yet unannounced factions who will be there to vary the carnage and add more diversity and agendas to the proverbial pot. According to Wikipedia, the Eldar and Chaos are rumoured but not as yet have no official word. The Eldar in particular make me wonder, as they are an enigmatic and secretive race, always meddling in the other goings on of Man, Ork and Demon.

The structure of the gameplay also makes me wonder. Will it just be a free-for-all or will there be strained alliances and turncoat behaviours at each turn? Will the Orks be truely portrayed as the ‘Sea of green’ that they are, and will the Eldar be few but powerful?

The questions… so many questions… But LOOK, here is a trailer!

Free as in beer…

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Remember when people would copy a tape or even CD (illegally) and give a copy to their friends? Well the way things seem to be headed, the transition of this seems to be for people to transfer AVI/MKV/MOV/WMV/MP3/add-your-format-here files to USB keys or upload/download via the internet.

They of course do this for free, free as in beer.

To explain what ‘free as in beer’ means, you have to consider that neither beer, nor the internet is free. Somebody has to pay for it, but a beer that is bought for you, is free to you… right? Right! With that in mind, the internet is a free market where free speech (Which is a different concept entirely) is also prevalent, as well as free beer. People rip, upload, download, trade, comment, rate and otherwise break the law for things that are free… But they’re not free, because somebody paid to produce that movie that was uploaded and subsequently downloaded for ‘free’ over the internet.

If you think about it, its the same as making a mix tape.¬†The problem years ago with mix tapes and nowadays with downloading videos or MP3s from the internet (In a very similar effect, if not method) is that it is illegal. Somebody paid to produce that content, and by ripping it the law is broken because the appropriate loyalties are not paid to those due. This is where DRM (Digital Rights Management) come in to control the illegal copying and¬†distribution¬†of digital media. Unfortunately, the only effect this has is to slow things down by adding an extra hurdle, and make everybody’s life more difficult to do what people have done since media was first distributed to the masses. I image that even when books were first printed, there were people who would take the time to copy paragraphs or maybe even whole chapters from books which would be breaking whatever agreement, law or moral boundary was in place at the time to prevent this.

The problem I see with DRM, and also maybe why it is ALWAYS circumvented before long, is that it is an inherently human production.
It’s unreasonable for a DRM programmer to expect their copy-protection or media management ‘solution’ to be unbreakable, and I’d hope that they don’t expect that it wont be broken.

Take a look at the current holy grails of DRM protection, which of course are Blu-Ray copy protection, HDCP stream encoding, and the Playstation 3’s security system. All of these have recently been cracked which will allow people to run their own software and/or decrypt the data stored behind these ‘restrictions’. This is the work of various groups, most of which with the idealistic view that things should be free to everybody and that people should share everything. Obviously, this is not in-line with how contemporary consumer society works, but still it can be a noble cause when observed from the right angle.

There are of course seemingly obvious good and bad examples to this, like for example the developers behind XBMC (Software which forms the basis of Boxee, which I’m very fond of, so please fogive my bias). I encountered this software originally by aquiring non-official builds of XBMC to run on my (original) ‘chipped’ xbox, essentially extending the life and use of my games console. This even encouraged me to buy an xbox360, which I have even now recently bought the updated ‘slim’ incarnation. For technical reasons XBMC will not run on the xbox360 and the developers have stayed true to their x86 roots by producing XBMC for windows , mac and Linux as binaries, but still… The project started off in a less than official capacity.

So why are these groups labelled as criminals and sued to high heaven by the ‘evil’ corporations that own these circumvented solutions?

Because they break the law, sometimes to do the good work of some groups like the XBMC team, but other times to circumvent systems for no apparent reason other than to facilitate piracy. I won’t wade into if this is strictly right or wrong, as it’s just my opinion expressed here, but I do wish to highlight it.

If anything I wish people to be aware of the humble and somewhat shady background of an epic software project (Which has spawned other abitious projects including Boxee) but also that without this we would not have benefitted from great matured applications like this.

The other important thing is that this kind of development and developer maturity isn’t as easy to spot as people may like to think. For example the XBMC development team could have have gone down the route of producing software to promote piracy, rather than giving people a choice of quality software.

Personally, I’m glad they were not stopped, but in my opinion the same cannot be said for other software developments which have circumvented protected systems to give people a free alternative.

Long live XBMC and Boxee!

About Media Centers and Boxee

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As some of my friends may know, I’ve been a vocal advocate of Boxee and I’ve lead by example building my own Media Center experience using Boxee and Windows Media Center. As a result, I don’t watch terrestrial ‘over-the-air’ TV when at home and have not missed it.
For the uninitiated, Boxee is a piece of software that you can install on your PC, Mac or Linux system that converts any computer running those Operating Systems to work as a ‘Media Center’.

“What is a Media Center?” I often hear asked. The best way to explain a Media Center is to show someone. Failing that, probably to compare it to a set top box or other contemporary cable/satellite¬†box, but mixed in with a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player, also able to record your analogue and digital broadcasts and on top of that the vast majority of Media Centers also pride themselves on being able to play the vast and varied amount of digital media files that are becoming so common.¬†This is where the key part of this is lost to the content producers; the internet is free. Free as in beer.¬†But I’m getting off-track.*** A PC can do all of this, yes, but Media Centers do all of this from a sitting on the sofa distance, which bears so many functionality¬†conundrums¬†into account like font size, ease of controls, menu systems, etc… This all works differently when you’re not sat at a desk with a mouse and full sized keyboard in front of you.

Please remember that this is about functionality, not form factor. The set top box is the established form factor of the home electronics world. People can recognise a DVD player or satellite box by its form, shape and size the same way that a games consoles are naturally made this way to be expected to slot under/next to your TV along with all the other freeview boxes and DVD players etc.

Its like comparing playing games on a PC to playing on an Xbox or Playstation.
Its also, in this case, about the difference between analogue and digital media.

Its all about DIGITAL media. What’s wrong with analogue media? Well,¬†in my opinion, is the future of television and also how we will eventually come to assimilate and use DIGITAL media. Boxee and other Media Centers like WMC (Windows Media Center), XBMC (Originally named XBox Media Center, but no longer on the Xbox), Media Portal and other efforts are leading the way in this digital revolution. Traditionally, analogue media works in a stream and can be cut and played from different segments like videotapes. Digital media is different in that you can instantly ‘seek’ to a point in a movie or music file. An example of this would be DVD players that remember the exact point of the movie you were watching last when you stopped it, or an iPod that resumes your track from the same spot even though you may have done something else with the device. This is profound in that it allows us to watch what we want, when we want. Stop and start it. Pause and resume. Not the same as a video tape.

Boxee have taken this a step futher by using the open sourced software code base from the XBMC team and adding functionality which allows even more media to be streamed from online. This is another profound step forward because it adds sources such as YouTube, Google Video and ‘Internet TV’ channels such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Revision3 and Vimeo to the sofa experience. You could argue that BBC iPlayer and 4OD are accessible via ‘normal’ TV, but you cant pick and choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. This is the big difference; Online access to content, which means no swapping DVDs and no requirement to be sitting on the sofa at 7.30pm EXACTLY to watch Eastenders.

All the benefits of iPlayer and all other digital formats like a PC, but on the sofa.
That’s what appears to me is the future of Media Centers and digital media.

More to come.

***As a matter of fact, I went so off-track as to make enough extra text to make another whole post, which I will post later, explaining how it appears to me where things are going and where to content producers have got things somewhat wrong.

Orks go WAAAGH!!!

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Well as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Warhammer 40k player, and I wouldn’t claim to be a particularly great one at that… But I do it for the fun of it… And because I love my army: Orks! Space Orks to be exact.

Orks are a great army to play in 40k, not least because they have so much character as a race, but also because they’re great for stompin’ those pesky ‘umies!
I built my Orkish horde relatively quickly through a couple of purchases from eBay (SHOCK! HORROR! I BOUGHT models!) and a donation of old-skool Orks from a very old and good friend of mine who used to collect Orks many many years ago when I was first dipping my toes into the 40k hobby.
Back then I played for about a year, never really got the hang of the rules, didn’t really know anyone who played and eventually gave up because it turned out to be quite a solitary endeavour for me. Still, it always stayed with me and since then I would always wander into any Games Workshop store that was within eyeshot to umm and arr about collecting again. As a substitute, I got heavily into reading the wide range of 40k novels released by the Black Library, which I readily recommend.

It wasn’t until quite recently I took the plunge and actually went for it (again), purchasing the Assault on Black Reach starter set, a bunch of paints and started, encouraged by my friends who play 40k.

Since then I’ve played a handful of games, bought a few units from eBay with what I believe is a good reason: 40k can be REALLY expensive and time consuming! I worked the numbers and determined that it would be cheaper and faster if I purchased some badly painted models that I could finish/repaint, it would both speed up my army building by giving me something to immediately play with (I don’t like playing with unpainted models) and saving some cash as opposed to buying everything new.

I have bought about half of my army new, assembled and painted them myself but I do think it would have taken a long time to get to where I am now. Considering that, I wasn’t afraid that I’d lose interest… More that I wanted to PLAY sooner rather than later. I’ll get there eventually, and even now I have about 20 boyz, 20-odd nobz, 3 warbikes, 3 deffkoptas and a trukk that I have yet to assemble and/or paint. I have a lot more that I’ve painted myself and some others that I’ve bought and finished.

So, there it is, my Orks and how I got into it.
I’ll be adding photos soon of some of my units.

For more information, check out Games Workshop’s site.