Reincarnated Retro Games

19.25.37 - Mark

Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Minesweeper and Solitaire. Games like have reached a cultural status that's just shy of godliness. Play them or not they are referenced, rebuilt, or outright cloned to the point where if you're using a digital device with a keypad, there's probably some way of installing some version of those classic games. Those also aren't the games I'm writing about.

Rather I'm talking about the obscure off the map video games. Ones I played as a 7 year old kid on an Macintosh IIsi / Quadra 610 and the internet was AOL or CompuServe, not the World Wide Web and HTML. I spent hours playing games so it's no surprise I remember them after nearly 20 years. Many of the ones I downloaded from AOL's Mac Game Section were buried when AOL shut down it's closed community to cater to the need for national ISPs. Even games where the parent company still exists, like Freeverse's Enigma, have drifted off into the ethers be it Apple's move to OS X or the later move to Intel processors (which from the 90's would have been an unimaginable treachery).

Then there are the ones that while not buried, live only from fan support. I've spent weeks of my life playing Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity (whose registration postcard I still have floating around) and it's later sequels. While the originals are still sold, there's little hope to see them running on a modern mac, but thanks to the fans there's a plug in to at least replay the it's arcs.

As you dig deeper in the history of Mac games, there are a few, from the smaller firms to the larger, where those classic games still exist, and some that are still being developed. One of my all time favorites was Spectre, who could only afford the demo version, as on release it cost something like $60. I know the price dropped over time, but like all games so did my intrest in it. However a few months ago I learned that it had being ported to the iOS, and at $1.99 I instantly paid for it.

Spectre isn't the only one either. Today I learned an old Mac classic, Glider is not only available as freeware for OS X but is being ported to the iOS by it's original author. [via toucharcade]

While I don't play video games as much as I did at a child, I love the fact that not only can I still download and play some of my favorite games on my laptop, but that I can enjoy them on my iPod when I have a spare minute. Plus, if nothing else, I can send a few dollars to the people who's demos, shareware and freeware helped keep me entertained as a child.

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Respectably Devious

19.59.29 - Mark

Last night I sat down to watch Scott Pilgrim Vs The World on DVD though Netflix. An enjoyable visual overload with a good bit of humor, and as it finished I'm glad I received it on DVD, because after all DVDs come with Extra Features and with a movie like this, I was anxious to see what treasures this DVD came with. After the credits ran (no I didn't skip the credits) and the standard DVD Publisher logo (in this case Deluxe Digital Studios) aired it moved right into the Extra Features menu.

As I clicked into the Deleted Scenes I was delighted that this standard DVD came backed with extras, rather than the somewhat common practice of "Deluxe" editions where all these extras were burned onto a separate DVD. With Netflix, it's easy enough to rent out both discs, but for the right movies you don't want to wait or gamble on the value of those assorted extras.

So as I turned off the commentary and moved onto "Play All." I clicked, but video did not play. In it's place a notice that said that as a Rental DVD, all the extras were disabled, and to access them I would need to buy a DVD or Blu-Ray copy. A second attempt produced the same result. The first though I had was another strike against the consumers the producers depend on.

I've felt for a long time that DVD productions tend to treat the honest consumers, buyers and renters, as criminals-to-be with Region Codes, forced viewings of FBI Anti-Piracy Warnings, or even MPAA's own Anti-Piracy ads. Things so easily bypassed you never see on stolen versions, only the legal copies. I understand the threat the corporations are attempting to prevent, but as an honest consumer we hope for at least a little trust and respect. While these has been an issue since VHS cassettes were the Big New Thing, to the way it's dealt with on DVDs, Blu-Ray, or the next generation of physical media for video distribution we'll probably see in 10 years, it's going to get worse, not better.

After further thought however, I came around. In this case, I'm not being treated as a criminal, yes the FBI warning as usual, but none of the MPAA anti-piracy ads. Upon taking a second look they were not secretive about the rental status. Well labeled on the disc, and on loading made it clear that those extra features were disabled. In the pre-movie trailers the distributer, Universal Pictures, placed an ad about the benefits of the different medias, even covered the ways you can get those extras from the different technologies. While it remained a bit of a slap in the face, it's actually rather good marketing.

They show us the menu, give an idea of what we'd receive. It's no different than receiving the desert menus after finishing dinner at a decent restaurant. The balanced combination makes it all pretty clever, and I'll admit I'll a bit tempted to buy it rather than rent it again. While I may not enjoy the well advertised movie deserts if I pay for the privileges, I think in the end it's a respectable tactic. Don't label consumers as threats, respect the consumer's choices but offer rewards for moving to a higher tier. If the content is valuable enough, the companies get to charge multiple times with no (or at least minimal) bad feelings.

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Walking past Front Row

22.29.36 - Mark

While I still live in a house with a subscription to a satellite TV network, even with an included DVR, I really could do without it. While I was skeptical about the success and value of streaming video when it really started appearing it's grown on me a lot - to the point where I almost only watch streaming videos. I can watch it when I want to, love having to deal with fewer commercials, and being able to rewatch things that have been off the air for years (and some which never made it to DVD) Yes, it's a little hard to watch some things I miss from the plethora of TV stations, but there are solutions to those problems.

For almost all of these streaming videos, I've been tolerant of my MacBook's screen. One person watching a 13" screen from a foot or two away works fine - battery powered and completely portable can even make it favorable. Using a decent 22" LCD desktop screen and a set of speakers and you can make it work for 2, occasionally 3 people. Not the most comfortable, but it works.

So recently I went back and got the Mini-DVI to Video adapter for my MacBook, dug out the Apple remote that came with it, twiddled with some of my cable solution and now enjoy using all these full screen streaming videos on a decent sized TV. Navigating around to find the right video however, has become a bit annoying.

The browser and Finder are work fine when you're at the computer, but if you want to use a remote from across the room control you need to keep it simplified. At one point, Apple's Front Row (which no, doesn't require a remote) along with a plug in called Understudy let you get to Netflix and hulu though FrontRow. It worked, but was a bit of a hack. When Hulu had to start actively preventing people from putting the streaming video onto their TVs, Understudy doesn't work with it anymore. While it still works with Netflix, it's more of a kludge than a useful tool.

Boxee's software, which is sort of like Front Row on steroids. While it's a beta, it's open source, cross platform, and a few weeks ago announced it was releasing a hardware solution at CES. At one point I actually preferred it over Front Row. More power, easier navigation, and no hacks needed to get to some streaming video content providers - including Netflix. It's useful, particularly for navigating around Netflix via remote, but I never really enjoyed it enough to find a way of making the Apple Remote open it in place of Front Row. I also wanted a good way of getting into Hulu over remote.

The only non-browser approach to hulu streams is Hulu Desktop. After they had to block boxee (and other applications) they developed their own desktop player. To their credit it provides better navigation and works with my Apple remote, but it's all it does. No other streams, no messing with local files.

So my question became, how can I get to all these tools by using my Remote. Understudy plugin instantly picked up on Hulu Desktop's presence, and while it's a little buried, I was able to "switch" from Front Row to Hulu, but since it was off the path, and wouldn't open Boxee I turned around to dig. and sure enough it was out there.

Hole in the Ceiling figured it out and posted Front Row plugins to launch several applications including Hulu Desktop and Boxee.

So while there's no single application that lets me watch what I want to controlled by a simple remote, at least I don't have to walk across the room to run one commands.

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A Collection of Thoughts

22.54.59 - Mark

I've been lazy this past week. There have been things I've wanted to say, but nothing that really deserved it's own post So I'm going to lump a few together. There's some other stuff that I want to get out, but deserve more thought and longer posts - like how "old media" still can't produce a useful website, even after 15 years of the world wide web and a solid five years since "new media" platforms like blogging started appearing in a big way.

First up I finished George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops last week, and while I enjoy Carlin's material it felt like binge reading a thing-a-day calendar. I'm pretty sure they formatted it so it was easy to stop after 5 or 10 pages, which in a way helps but for a book that has a list price of $24 (I was given the hard cover edition as a gift) you would hope there's at least a little continuity.

Next, Voice actors are amazing. Period. Almost entirely unrecognized and it's a true shame. I love animation and have been chewing though some "old" cartoons from the mid to late 90's (back before the FCC's Educational and Informational rules kicked in, when Saturday morning cartoons still existed and didn't totally suck) as well as some more recent stuff (like Futurama) and it's amazing when you watch these shows and realize that in a recording booth somewhere, these guys are having conversations with themselves. It's great when you can just see (or hear) these people working - like the Simpsons episode of Inside the Actors Studio or some of the DVD extras - The live reading of the comic on Bender's Big Score comes to mind. It's a shame that more and more animated movies want to fill ranks with celebrity voices. Afro Samurai strikes a good balance - a few big name voices supported by some voice actors.

Third, and kind of similar to voice acting I never realized how amazing Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? was, and how it's the sort of movie that would never get made today. Intellectual property lawyers, standards and practices, animators, and celebrity voices would totally ruin the thing before it got started. You would never see alcoholic detectives helping cartoons, kids with cigarettes, social commentary (the description of freeways is far from positive) the same level of animated violence, or some of the more sexual scenes and obfuscated language in the easter eggs. Maybe some of them, but not all of them. It's a treat

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A Year of Rating Stuff

22.10.20 - Mark

For the last year I've been rating the books and movies I've read or watched (and then bothered looking up on Amazon) and I just entered the last book I finished (Scalzi's The Android's Dream) and I skimmed over the 25 books and 100 or so movies I've rated in the last year and started thinking about how I actually rate them.

Books I tend to rate higher. I'm using an 10 point scale (5 stars in half star increments) and I tend to rate high. The lowest rating I've given was 3 stars to William Gibson's Spook County which was lower than the 3.5 I gave to Children of Men (the book, not the movie) which is off because I liked Spook Country a whole lot more than Children of Men.

I think part of the reason is I was comparing Spook County to other Gibson works that I love, and felt that Spook Country wasn't hitting the same pace. In a similar vein I was comparing Children of Men to the movie. The movie was amazing (and is one of the few that I've bought since getting Netflix) but the book was slow and had a lot less action, I'm not the type who likes reading scenes that take place in Bed and Breakfasts. The other part is that I have a low tolerance for bad books if something is less than average - like the books you're forced to read in High School English class, or ill advised college textbooks that get selected because there was a great sales pitch from the publisher - I don't finish it.

To an extent the same is true with movies. If I managed to sit though the Dukes of Hazzard with out massive brain damage I'd probably rate it under 1 star (I've got the common sense to walk away when it's on) but I've got a higher tolerance for bad movies that only eat up an hour or two of my life (I managed to walk away from The Fast and the Furious 3 - Toyko Drift more or less unharmed and it got 2.5 stars) Overall though, I rate movies more on enjoyment than cinematography or story, or plot, or acting. Snakes on a Plane (which got points for campiness) is a whole different beast than Helvetica (a smart visual documentary about fonts) and they don't have anything in common with The Last King of Scotland (which had great acting) but I gave all three 5 stars.

Something to think about if you ever look at my ratings.

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Twinges of Guilt

23.56.21 - Mark

Viacom has put The A Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report back on the air, and while I love watching both shows, I kind of feel bad about having them on. The Writers are striking for a reason, and while it doesn't make a lot of difference to me it does to them.

It also kind of feels like the studios are being *&^%ing hypocrites. Consumers sit though endless advertisements, news stories, and movie trailers claiming piracy hurts the guys (like say, writers) who don't get wildly rich and famous when a movie or TV show makes it big, yet here they are screwing the writers by going on with the show.

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Missing Myth Busted

11.34.17 - Mark

Mythbuster's take on Plane on a Treadmill was originally slated to air last night (just like the interwebs expected) but at some point in the last couple of moths got pushed back to January 30th, at least according to the show's executive producer. Still someone at Discovery really screwed up, and it doesn't look like they've done a lot to appease the viewers.

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Mythbusters piss off the Interwebs

23.23.52 - Mark

Tonight the Discovery Channel royally pissed off the interwebs. It's been hyped for a couple of months that tonight's episode of Mythbusters would feature "Plane on a Tradmill" which has been an internet meme for a couple years. So like the meme before it the internet took hold of the promised mythbusters episode and has been hyping it for a few weeks. Because of that the Discovery channel probably saw a decent ratings boost tonight, followed by a ratings plummet as the myth turned out to be a no-show. There's a pretty nasty backlash going on right now and will probably go on until Discovery coughs up some plausible explanation for axing the myth and starts offering some profuse appologies.

Until then it looks like Wikipedia is getting vandalized (the main mythbusters article and a few related pages are locked for a week - here's a vandalized copy from of the main article after it was locked), the discovery channel message boards look like they're being swamped (10k+ views on the official PoaT missing myth thread in under an hour), and I got goatse'd when I went to the Discovery sponsored Mythbusters wiki.

I guess the internet is testing the myth of "can a large mob of anonymous people remove a Discovery Channel executive from office"

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Tin Man

00.29.48 - Mark

Scifi channel has been hyping Tin Man (their big budget overly sponsored miniseries movie thing for the year) since last December, and I haven't been paying much attention to it since the whole "Wizard of Oz" remake thing just wasn't that attracting to me. I'm not a fan of the bright sun shinny fantasy world we see in the 1939 version (which like most people is the only version I'm really familiar with).

However with nothing much else on tonight when it started I turned it on and I'm glad I did. The acting is solid and the writing is enjoyable (even if the revamped scarecrow's lines are a little too good for someone lacking a brain). I love the visual aesthetic of Tin Man - some of it's a little unworldly (hovering cyborgs), but there are huge swatches of steampunk that get backed up with some steampunk character and world elements. Like the Battlestar Galattica reimaging, it's not trying to paint a Utopian picture, it's a darker grittier world where we get to see real problems and how the characters make tought decisions to overcome. However it still throws out referances to the source material that keep you paying close attention (I was reminded of a few when I looked over the wikipedia entry for the original book).

Tin man is a real treat to watch since it's more on par with a major movie production than what you expect from a made-for-TV movie.

My only real complaint with it so far is the CGI. This wouldn't be a problem, except Sci Fi has this horrible habit of getting the cheapest computer generated animations available, as if they dumpster dive at all the major CGI firms and walk away with 10 year old backups that they then hack into new movies. For example the Tornadoes in Tin Man look worse than the ones I remember being in Twister from 1996. Any SciFi channel original picture with a giant killer wave will always look far worse than what was created for The Perfect Storm in 2000. I'm willing to admit that Twister and The Perfect Storm had bigger budgets for special effects, but Moore's Law has had a clear effect on special effects - just look at the problems Hollywood is having with the Uncanny Valley. There's no good reason that the Scifi Channel (whose main audience by definition is geeks) should have shitty visual effects.

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Funny Pages

02.07.41 - Mark

It all started with a call from Global Frequency, well sort of. Like all good general purpose geeks I like comic books, but I had the misfortune of growing up in the speculator boom era of comics when they became $3 special edition collectibles, were 40% ads, and you had to decide which of the half dozen versions of a character you wanted to read. Not exactly the 10 silver age comics my dad used to collect. So mostly I grabbed some comics whenever the local comic store was clearing house, and attempted to find remnant's of my dad's old collection when ever we visited my grandparents (who despite being packrats threw out many of the comics)

But when global frequency came out so did my interest in comics, and I've been picking up a TPB or two every few months (currently more or less in sync with Ex Machina releases, which means I'm due for an Amazon order), getting the occasional graphic novel like The Watchmen or Maus, reading free web comics and using other means of getting comic book fixes. I've considered buying some of the phone book sided collections of classic comics, but they tend to be pretty bad. Black and white on cheap paper in the book the size of a dictionary, so I'm happy to hear about Marvel's Digital Comics. I may even try it out, but I have a tendency to read when I can't get online (or don't want to go online) so the web-only approach is a turn off. Offer a (DRM free) CBR or CBZ subscription based download service and let me load them into a reader of my choice, now I'd pay for that. It would probably boost my book buying too, since I've found a few series where the art is good enough that I only want dead tree editions.

Even if I read online, the flash interface they have would eventually drive me nuts. Compared to ComicBookLover (Mac) or Comix (Linux) it feels slow and cluttered.

Still, I may have to give it a try. While I'm not really into the superhero comics, I do like a lot of Marvel characters, and it would be nice to read up.

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