Snippets

Neither game related, both scooped up to me via my RSS feeds:

Tokyo introduces manga restrictions
Tokyo has banned the sale and lease of anime films and manga comics depicting rape, incest and other sex crimes to under-18s.

Call me crazy, but I would have thought that the distribution of sort of material would have such controls already. Perhaps I’m just an old prude.

Torn admits drunken bank break-in
Seventy-nine-year-old US actor Rip Torn admits to breaking into a bank while drunk and carrying a loaded gun.

This definitely rates as one of the best stupid-things-to-do-when-you’re-drunk stories I’ve heard recently. Mel Gibson’s really going to have to pull something out the bag to top that one.

Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Mobile Phone

After games, movies are probably my greatest passion. I’m lucky that my town has a multiplex and it offers a sort of ‘all you can eat’ service. I pay a fixed amount each month and all ticket costs are covered. The attraction for the cinema is that I’ll be there more often to buy overpriced popcorn and drinks. The attraction for me is that I can easily budget and see heaps of films. Furthermore, any film I’m a bit unsure of might as well be seen as it’s not costing me anything extra to see it.

A glance at my timeline widget will show you I get through a lot of movies and, as far as the movies are concerned, I enjoy them a great deal. I find the experience of going to a cinema, the screen, trailers and all that stuff to be very enjoyable.

However – is it just me or are audiences the worst thing about cinemas?

When I go to see a movie, I go to see a movie. I don’t go to send texts continuously on my phone. Nor do I continue conversations on my phone. I don’t go with a dozen mates who are too immature to handle a passionate scene without falling into a fit of giggles or who, every 10 minutes rush out of the screen en masse, clambering over seats or calling each other only to return moments later with more giggles or waving their mobile phones around. Constantly kicking chairs, making noise or doing anything they can to provoke a reaction seems to be some people’s goal.

Poor behaviour isn’t restricted to the youngsters either. Adults on their phones or, amazingly, listening to music through one earpiece or simply chatting to one another or at the movies.

The behaviour is rude and inconsiderate and it degrades the experience of every other patron who wants to see the film. Often, it seems, this is the explicit reason for such behaviour in the first place. Yes, I can go out, miss some more of my movie, and call an usher in to observe people being well behaved until they go away again a few minutes later.

Unlike many of the people who set out to ruin a movie-going experience, I work for a living. I can’t just choose to see a film on a quiet Tuesday afternoon. I’m also aware that, from a business perspective, I’m one person. If one person is complaining about a group of five people then, purely on numbers, why should the cinema care? I’m only worth a fifth of the revenue.

In fact, cinemas don’t seem to care at all. After taking your ticket and popcorn money it’s unlikely they’ll get more cash out of you – yet they’re obliged to house you for a couple of hours. There’s little worth, from their point of view, making those two hours better or worse because they’re not going to earn extra income from it. Sometimes I wonder if they’d rather not show the film at all.

So, in spite my 30 or so years being a good cinema patron and in spite of my repeated comments to staff and managers who assure me they’re doing lots to make my experience hassle free (no evidence of this is forthcoming) I’m considering not going to the cinema any more. I can quite easily get the latest releases in good quality and watch them on a 42″ TV at home. I can get my own popcorn and ice-cream (at better prices), I can pause things if I need to answer the phone. Hell, I can even grab trailers if I want.

This is a shame, but on increasing instances I’m leaving a cinema feeling that my time has been wasted as I could not enjoy the film or the film-going experience due to the selfishness and poor behaviour of the audience.

Is there a solution? I don’t know. Cinema trade seems very healthy and each summer sees more blockbusters than the last. Why should they invest more money or effort into keeping patrons happy when they’re queueing up to see movies anyway?

I don’t manage cinemas. I don’t know what their cash-flow is or what their overheads are. What I’d like to see is some positive steps taken to inhibit the functionality of mobile phones in cinema screens. Something that goes a little further than an animated panda telling you not to use your phone. I don’t care if it’s lead lining in the cinema. Or some ultra-high frequency signal that blocks phones from getting to their networks. There’s simply no need to use a phone in a cinema. People seem so concerned that they simply can’t bear to be out of touch with their phone-buddies for two hours that they have to text or natter in a place where communication is expected and intended to be a one-way thing – between screen and viewer. I never have my phone switched on in a cinema. There is simply no reason to have it switched on.

Knowing that I can’t expect people to behave with civility or consideration an alternative/additional pipe-dream comes to mind. At the end of the day, I want to hear the film, not other people. If I could plug headphones into my chair and tune into the movie and drown out the popcorn-munching prats around me then I think we’d all be happy. I get my movie experience, selfish idiots can keep texting their equally selfish mates in the adjacent seat. Many cinemas actually have an audio service for the benefit of the hard of hearing or the blind. This would simply be an extension of that service.

I’m not sure how workable either idea is, and it’s a shame such a ‘solution’ needs to be sought simply because people are too rude and selfish to abide by some simple considerate rules for a couple of hours. Something I’ve enjoyed doing most of my life is being ruined because the people providing the service don’t care for their customers. So if nothing changes, I’ll simply stop using the cinema as my means of viewing movies. All in all, I don’t think I’m asking for very much – either from the cinema or from the audience.

Sleuth

Not to be confused with the execrable “Clue!”, Sleuth is a play revolving around two characters. One, a successful author of detective novels, the other a young man having an affair with the author’s wife. The premise of the play sees the author inviting the young man to his country home to learn his background and to make a criminal proposition. The author explains that his wife is used to expensive luxury and the young man is in no position to provide it. The author suggests that if the young man acts as a burglar and steals jewels kept in a safe in the country home it will benefit them both. The author can claim on the insurance and the young man can sell the jewellery. The author will enthusiastically call upon his experience of researching his detective novels to ensure the authorities are misled should any questions be asked.

The stage is set and what follows is an engrossing battle of wits between the two men as layers of their characters (and character flaws) are unravelled and motives behind motives are revealed.

I recently rediscovered Sleuth in its first movie adaptation which features a young Michael Caine and not-so-young Laurence Olivier in the roles of the two characters.

Sleuth - 1972 Screen adaptation

Sleuth - 1972 Screen adaptation

Last night I enjoyed watching this play in its original form in the theatre.

I find Sleuth fantastically enjoyable. Being a play there is a focus on characters, dialogue and interaction between the principal roles. This is reflected in the original screen adaptation with minimal deviation. Don’t expect any car-chases.

The dialogue positively crackles with gleeful wit and self confidence – qualities that the character of the author believes he has no peer. As such the interplay between this older, successful man and the young upstart courting his wife is very much a game on one-upmanship. Nearly every line or response shows an effort to better the delivery of the other man. As the stakes increase and the balance of power shifts to and fro references to earlier exchanges are made in a different light and reveal greater depth.

If you have any chance to watch Sleuth I encourage you to do so and can promise you as entertainingly sophisticated couple of hours as you’re ever likely to get.

In all likelihood, it’ll be easier for people to see the 1972 movie than the theatrical version. I’m no theatre purist so see no harm in this. Watching this version will still reward you with a hugely enjoyable experience and a couple of Oscar nominated performances from two highly celebrated actors. Beware: I understand the 2007 version of Sleuth (featuring an older Caine in the role of the author) does not compare at all well to the other versions.

So, before the deluge of summer blockbusters hits, hunt this down in one form or another and see it. I promise you won’t regret it.

Sad news (a guest piece by Mrs Koffdrop)

The last couple of weeks have been a difficult time for our family, in that on 27th October, my sister and brother-in-law’s niece, Maddie, lost her fight against a brain tumour. Maddie was only 10.

Despite her symptoms and the side-effects of her treatment, Maddie was one of the most joyful people you would ever meet. I shall always remember her with a huge grin on her face, and the biggest belly laugh I have ever heard.

Research into brain tumours in children receive very little central funding. Therefore, an event called the Million Metre Swim has been organised to help raise funds for Nottingham’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre. You can read more about it at www.millionmetreswim.org.uk.

Our niece, Hannah, who is also 10, has decided to help to raise money for the centre, so that, hopefully, other children can live. Hannah will be swimming 1 mile (64 lengths) on Sunday 11th November 2007 in Nottingham, as a participant in the Million Metre Swim. As I write, she has already raised more than £1200, but more money is needed to help research childhood brain tumours.

Koffdrop has kindly agreed to promote Hannah’s fundraising by adding a link on this page to her website, which you can also visit at www.justgiving.com/hannahbignall. Since every penny counts, please consider donating.

We are filled with admiration for the way in which Hannah and her brother, Liam, have remained brave and strong through this terrible time, and can think of no better tribute to their only cousin, Maddie. Finally, I would like to share with you a poem that Hannah and Liam wrote for Maddie, and which they read out at her funeral earlier this week.

Our Maddie, Our cousin, Our friend
Our playmate
Our partner in crime
Our co-star in our shows
Our trampoline bouncing buddy
Our angel in heaven
Our star in the sky
Our friend, Our cousin, Our Maddie
We will miss you always

Perfection

I’ve noticed a worrying trend with somes games reviews of late. There’s an increasing tendency for high-profile games to get perfect scores. I’ve seen ten-out-of-ten and 100% “Perfect!” reviews and it doesn’t make me happy.

This is not to say the games being reviewed aren’t great. Just that they’re not perfect. No such thing exists. And to give a score that represents “free of flaws” or “couldn’t be improved” that a 10/10 suggests is simply wrong. No game is perfect. Every game can be improved. Every game has flaws.

Now, in part, this is as much a criticism for using a two or three digit number to distill one person’s lengthy opinion of one game into a piece of meta-data that the typical A.D.D. style gamer can grasp as much as it is a critcism of misrepresenting “good” as “perfect”.

I know what you’re thinking – and you’d be wrong. I’ve been against ‘perfect’ scores since the first time I saw Xenon 2 get 10/10 in Amiga Power. This isn’t an issue about games appearing on certain formats. Save that for the shallower arguments please. Although, I must say, in the two most recent examples of perfection that spring to mind, both are by western media, for western games, produced by western developers, parented by one of the largest and richest companies in the west. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy but sometimes, when something sounds too good to be true it’s because the truth has been compromised.

I know reviewers are human beings. They have feelings like you and I. They have bias like you and I, and they can get caught up with the excitment of the moment like you and I. The difference between us and them, however, is that most of us don’t use our opinion as the basis for our profession. So there is an expectation and a responsibility by reviewers to rise above bias, excitement and goodie-bag and remain objective. Anyone willing to review a product and declare it as perfect, in my mind, has compromised objectivity somewhere down the line.

In fact, when I think about it, I dont think I agree with any game review that’s given a perfect score to it’s subject. I’d have considerable more respect for a review that stops at 99% than goes to 100.

The last game I played to the end of was Bioshock. A game that got more than one perfect review. Ignoring hype and agenda-fuelled fanboys and, generally speaking, everything that wasn’t talking about the game itself, I wasn’t really too fussed about Bioshock. Once the reviews came through and the demo was played I had something meaningful to work with. As you may have read, I’ve bought the game, played through it and found it definitely less than perfect.

This only serves to reinforce my attitude towards games with perfect scores.

Of course, game scores carry a lot of the blame. At the end of the day they become numbers for warring fanboys to volley at one another to prove that something as unquantifiable as a player’s experience with a game can be represented by a number between 1 and 10 and, based on that number, serve as undeniable proof of the worth of a piece of silicon. Such a flawed mentality! I mean, if you truly gave a damn about whatever it was you were arguing about you’d manage to make the effort to say a little more about it than “average of 98%!!” to prove your point. But then, people are lazy and numbers, like stats and specs, are always manipulated to present a one-sided story.

So, here’s hoping that games journalism can hold onto some shred of dignity by avoiding the easy, please-the-reader-at-the-expense-of-quality route and we can look forward to reading opinions worth something.

In summary: if you think a game is perfect, or if you believe it should be graded with a perfect score then you’re happy to cheapen perfection when it suits you.

Shame on you!

Can’t See The Wood For The Trees

By SledgeHAMMER

In a brief lateral move, I thought I’d talk about another subject close to my heart.. tech stuff. As I said previously, I like to consider myself an avid consumer not just in the software sense but of all of that lovely hardware too.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that as well as all of the advances in computing and consumer electronics, there’s been a corresponding increase in the rate at which we understand and adopt it all. Unless you’ve been living in Stevenage for the last 30 years its hard to avoid advances like mobile telephony, broadband and wireless connectivity, digital photography and other digital media like compressed audio and High-Definition video. The speed at which the internet has established itself is pretty astounding (some would say scary). It’s been the driving force behind numerous, significant cultural changes; in the way we live our very lives, from shopping to education, communication to recreation.

However, I’m not really writing about how wonderful it all is – when it works well, its fantastic. What amazes me (and therefore worthy of a few words of rant I feel) is how in this information saturated age, it’s still really really hard for people to have quick and easy access to any kind of reliable information resource to help demystify it all, and ultimately help them make the right choices.

Ok, I’m not talking about this readership specifically. But the majority. The general, tech-aware but not tech-savvy, consumer base. The vast people on whom the commercial success of such technologies lives or dies.

The reason for this article was chiefly down to a recent, sustained bout of what could best be described as (to put a fancy-shmancy title on it) A/V Lifestyle Consulting. Yes I know that sounds stupid but I guess its not too far off the mark and I’ll tell you why. I like to try and keep current with what’s out there and as a result found myself to be bit of a black hole, drawing every scrap of information into my dark heart 😉 As such, over the last few years I’ve been asked by countless people to put that info to use and help them with their A/V, gadget and computing purchases. Lately, my efforts have been focussed in helping Koff and Lady Koff drag themselves kicking and screaming into this brave new HD, Digital Media-Centric world. I say that but actually its been quite painless. What’s helped me help them is a clear idea of what they want to do..

..You’d be surprised though, at how many blank looks I get during the start of the whole advice giving process (and not because we’re dealing with tech-stuff here). You see over and above any direct advice I may give, my first response is to challenge the person asking to actually think a bit more about what it is they want to achieve, what restrictions they have and how much they want to pay. Its not unreasonable to say that these are pretty straightforward questions, but the failure of most people to define clearer requirements does make wading through all of the many possible solutions considerably harder. The usual outcome being, that people begin to perceive the whole purchasing process as far too complicated; further perpetuating the myth that its only for geeks 🙂

When we do get past that hurdle however, we’re still not out of the woods. You see we then hit the great brick wall of information ambiguity..

“..I want to buy something, I want to know what it does, what it can’t do and what alternative options I have available..”

It would be great if this kind of information existed in any kind of consistent abundance but no, life just isn’t that simple.

Lets start with the manufacturers themselves. As consumers we can’t rely on them. Period. They’re in the business of selling us product, but in their eyes the focus is squarely on marketing, NOT informing their customer base. They want to achieve sales through media saturation and brand awareness. Informing you about their products and what they do in any depth comes a dim, distant second.. Of course there’s also the very real possibility that reliable product information is deliberately obfuscated in a bid to hide shortcomings of the products themselves. Lets just assume however that “Product A” can adequately perform its intended function – but I need to know more about it. I’ve got a specific requirement and can’t say with any confidence that “Product A” ticks all of the boxes; certainly not when I’ve also got the choice of “Products B – Z” as well.

You know what I’m talking about, getting the skinny on basic details like say..

..Accurate and current specifications? Meaningful model numbers? Clearly delineated product-lines?

Having access to this kind of information isn’t too much to ask. Its the kind of data that anyone with an ounce of common sense would find useful in helping them make more informed decisions about their purchasing. Yet trying to extract details of this type from a CE manufacturer is almost as hard as getting Paris Hilton to say something intelligent. If you don’t know what I mean, try this as an exercise.. Go forth and find out about 40″ LCD televisions. Using our good old friend Google and a fairly common search term like 40″ LCD television brings back a whole bunch of links as you’d expect. First off, you get sponsored one for two manufacturers; both of them lead to flashy, but ultimately hollow marketing dross. Next, you get all the usual Google suspects like Kelkoo, Pricegrabber and Dealtime to name but a few. Amongst all of this only a single link on the first page of results takes you to an actual product information page; Sony UK in this case and amazingly enough it actually contains the kind of comparison information that I’ve been whinging about previously!! Score one point to Sony as this in itself is great, until you realise that in order to make the most informed purchasing decision possible, you really need to consider product lines from other vendors too. Of course, that’s not easy because no other manufacturers sites are listed until a full four pages later. Even then, its only one other company (Samsung) and their product page is a pale shadow of Sony’s.

“Ah ha!” You may say.. “That’s Google’s fault. Not the vendors'” and you’d be at least partially right. Without going into the fine mechanics of search engine logic – which is clearly being exploited to the advantage of sites as like Dealtime/Pricegrabber etc – its safe to say that despite the above issues, there are ways to improve the visibility of your product information if you want to. I reckon its quite telling, that when using the world’s première search engine to find details on a mainstream product like a 40″ LCD Television, only one vendor has made any kind of attempt to do such a thing. Disseminating useful product information to potential customers is clearly NOT a priority here..

Lets move on to the printed media next. To begin with, you can forget about 90% of the magazines on the shelves of your local WHSmith. Its fair comment to say that With the growth of the internet has come a decline in the perceived worth of information contained within printed periodicals. And with good reason too. Taking Consumer Electronics and gadgets for example, “market leading” publications such as T3 and Stuff are nothing more than glorified advertising pamphlets. They have to be to stay alive these days but that isn’t to say its a good thing. Its a world where advertisers and flashy Front! Cover! Exclusive! Headlines! are king, with journalistic accuracy and testing rigour as nothing more than the poor village idiots trapped in the stocks. Of course, due to the fast moving nature of information and in this example, the Consumer Electronics industry, print-based media is never going to be able to compete in terms of throughput. However, a well-researched informative reference piece is the same whether its delivered by browser, podcast or glossy magazine.

Ok, so this was always likely to be a lengthy article, but even I don’t have the patience or the fingers to begin de constructing just how poor both T3 and Stuff are at reliably informing the general public about products in such a complex and evolving market. I will say however, that whilst the publishers of those magazines would have you believe that flashy presentation and snappy info-nuggets are all you need to get by, information on A/V gear/gadgets/CE is not something you can neatly compress in such a way – not if its to have any intrinsic value to the end user. Add to that the fact that a LOT of their material is just plain inaccurate and you can see the scope of the problem..

..and there’s the rub..

Still, all is not quite lost in the paper and ink world yet. Thankfully there are some alternatives. We have magazines from the “Which..” and “What..” stable. These guys do a better job, occasionally approaching the kind of accessible relevant information today’s consumer needs. But, even these publications have succumbed to the limitations of the medium; supplementing their bread-and-butter printed articles with subscription-only (certainly in the case of Which) websites. Having seen the quality of these articles and in this age of Google and Wikipedia, I find it hard to accept any justification for the price they’re charging.

So what do we have left? Well not a lot in terms of reliable stock resources as a few searches on the net will show you. There are forums and enthusiast websites in addition to the web presence of some of the review magazines. Using a combination of these, the more persistent among you should be able to dig up reviews plus the odd comparative shoot-out with occasional success; but there’s a lot of product to cover, and clearly not enough resource to cover it all. You’d think that with the vast depth of knowledge the Internet contains, it would be a damn sight easier to find stuff out but frustratingly that isn’t the case (the 40″ LCD TV example above, is typical of the frustrating experience an end consumer would face when trying to do some basic digging around)

On the positive side, things are a damn sight better these days than it used to be. But it could be better still. I mean, its not like there aren’t ample opportunities these days. Websites are easier to manage than ever before. Thanks to all those content management tools, reviewers and product specialists should be free to lavish time and effort on creating good information. Manufacturers have the opportunity to re-inforce their marketing strategies through effective use of accurate product literature. Print based media should be using the net to enhance the quality and depth of their coverage, not as a substitute for it.

In this day and age, with the vast choice of products available, its even more crucial that us consumers are given every opportunity to buy the right products to fulfil our needs. The information should be coming to us, not the other way round. Good consumer technology shouldn’t be complicated. Its ironic that finding out about it is.

p.s As a side nugget.. Regarding all this HDTV hoo-hah; here’s something you may or may not have considered. The current consensus finally garnering more and more support is don’t bother with 1080p if you’re going to be viewing it on less than a 60″ screen. An insanely high percentage of people simply don’t have the vision to perceive any discernable difference so save yourself the cash; 720p is more than good enough.