Here, have some text.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Erase Una Vez, Había Una Pez...

Era granjero:
tenía un perro
y Bingo era su nom-bro
y Bingo era su nom-bro.

It doesn't work as well in spanish, does it?  "There was a farmer: he had a dog" just doesn't have the same ring.  Not that Bingo had much of a ring in the first place.  This is why I pity anybody whose ever had to translate serious poetry.  I tried my hand at translating Antonio Machado's famous 29th entry in Songs and Proverbs for a writing assignment the other day, and it ended up something like this:

Wanderer, the only path is
Your footfalls, nothing else
Wanderer, there is no path
The path is made by its walking
By its walking your path is made
And on looking aback
You see the path you’ll
Never again walk.
Wanderer, there is no path
Only wakes in the sea.

It seems to have lost...a...err...lot.  Caminante sounds intrepid, Wanderer sounds stupid, given the word play between camino (path or journey) and caminante (most accurately journeyer).  One could do something similar between pathfinder and path, but the connotations are wrong, and pathfinder sounds even more stupid.  But that's not even the biggest issue, the biggest issue is that the spanish just "sounds" better, aesthetically.  In english, it sounds too...I don't know...fuzzy?

Our assignment was to take the theme of the poem, and write our own interpretations:

I’ve never looked to check my marks
What lines I had been leaving:
Webs of motivations, arcs
Drawn stark and cast in morning light.
What kind of picture might they form?
Were all the trails I’d drawn right?
Might I be artist unaware
Of haunting etchings in the sky?
I’ll take a seat and simply stare.

So proving I can't do English either.

What Am I Playing?
Not much, actually, but I have been watching the news from the industry a lot lately.  All three of the first person shooters I talked about last entry were released in the intervening time.

Bulletstorm got interesting reviews that told me at the same time that the developers had at least partially succeeded, but that I also probably wouldn't be interested in buying it.  I suspect that whatever popularity it had directly after its release has been waning steadily.  From all reports, the gameplay mechanics work well, but don't have the potential to keep the player interested in the game over the expected "lifespan" of the game.  Gimmicky is what some people have called it, and having not played the game myself, I don't know whether those terms are too strong or not.  However, I'm glad to hear that the developers succeeded in doing what they wanted to do, it's just that what they wanted to do wasn't a particularly great idea.

Homefront is a bit of a tragedy.  The single player campaign, which the developers decided to focus their marketing on, was generally considered to be way too short, light on character development, and overall poorly told, despite the fascinating premise.  For that reason alone, I'll probably never buy it, but the multiplayer was almost universally praised for the interesting game types, expansive maps, and game mechanics in general.  Watching it on Machinima is fun, and it seems like the game is fairly balanced in that regard.  I suspect it'll remain popular at least among a small community for quite a while.  But that's just it, the game was marketed all wrong.  The weak single player campaign got all the attention while the interesting new multiplayer was largely ignored.  What's even more tragic is that because of this, the game got what can be considered "average" scores from critics.  When I say average, of course, I mean mostly 8/10.  Now, you may wonder, "wait a minute, since when is that average?  8/10 is actually very good!"  Well, you're right.  But that's not how the majority of gamers see it.  All of a sudden 9/10 is considered the new "great," and for some reason, 9.6/10 is the new "perfect."  8/10, or any variation thereof, is "a failure."  So a lot of people who would probably enjoy the game and help along the fledgling developer will probably never play it.  The phenomenon is properly called the four point scale.

Crysis 2 was only released yesterday (as of 3/23/2011).  I'm still not sure about this one, and here's why. My prediction that the writing and acting would be bad (with a few exceptions, like the guy in the trailer to the left) seems to be spot on from everything I've heard so far.  However, responses to the actual story and campaign have been much more mixed.  Most people seem to agree that from a pure gameplay perspective, the campaign is very diverse in the sort of missions you do, with a lot of leeway for you to figure out your own tactics to get to a certain objective, and a very intelligent enemy AI.  It's agreed that the game takes its cues from the more gameplay integrated approach to storytelling of Half Life than anything else, and that this is generally a good thing.  What's not agreed is whether the story itself is any good.  I've heard people say it's an interesting story that respects the player's intelligence, exploring themes very rarely if ever explored in FPSs, especially modern ones.  I've also heard people say it's full of plot holes and uninteresting characters.  Not that these are mutually exclusive, but it's obvious that enjoyment of the campaign seems to vary from person to person.  Of course, everybody praised the graphics, art, and sound, but that's only to be expected from a game running on a variant of Cry-Engine 3.

But here's my problem: I'm planning on maybe going to Gamestop this weekend to get either Crysis 2, or Il-2 Shturmovik: Birds of Prey.

Birds of Prey got pretty good reception when it came out (by which I mean those infamous 8s and 8.5s), though it never achieved any sort of popularity.  It being a flight game that didn't even bother to even pretend to cater to any sort of casual audience, this is easy to understand.  Still, from the people that took a chance and bought it or had previous flight game experience received it very well.  I'm not, however, exactly a flight sim enthusiast (though I certainly used to be), so I'm not so sure I'm inclined to trust their opinions.  Is it fun, or just realistic?  There doesn't seem to be any sort of story, which is okay to an extent, but I'd have to *shock* judge the actual gameplay for myself.  I probably wouldn't buy it either, if it weren't a few years old now and likely only twenty dollars or so at Gamestop.

Or I could not get either.  After all, Portal 2 - which I know for certain I want to get - will be coming out April 19th.  I don't want to be spending too much money on games that I might play once every month or so, especially with something as almost certain of being totally awesome as Portal 2.

Moreover, my birthday is coming up in almost exactly two weeks, and since I know for certain my parents are among the tens and tens of people who will be reading this, I can't guarantee they won't see this and go and buy either of these.  For that reason, if you, reader, happen to be either my mom or dad, text me or something first if you're thinking about doing it.

Speaking of Portal 2, apparently JK Simmons is cast as Cave Johnson, the CEO of Aperture Science who may or may not be dead.  JK Simmons is one of those actors who seems to jump between deadly seriousness and total camp every other thing he features in.  He'll be in Juno as the girl's father one minute, and the two-fisted commie-fighting President Ackerman in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 the next.  It's good to know he has a range, anyway.

Anyway, something that has me rather exited is Arrival, another DLC for Mass Effect 2 that will supposedly bridge Mass Effect 2 and the coming Mass Effect 3: yay.  Except I'm too cheap to get Xbox Live: boo.  I wish Microsoft would go by Sony's model know...not making the user pay for access to the stupid store or to play online.  Of course, there's no reason for them to do that, since they can and do make money off of it.  Damn them for being smart like that.  Oh well.  Even if I had Xbox Live, to purchase the Cerberus Network Pass (I lost mine), Overlord, Kasumi - Stolen Memory, Lair of the Shadowbroker, and now Arrival would cost 46 dollars.  That's almost the price of a new game; I could just get Dragon Age Origins and pretend to be fighting Blue Sun mercs instead of...whoever it is you fight in Dragon Age.

What Am I Watching?
I'm still keeping up with Fractale as it's being simulcast.  It's come a long way since I last talked about it, but the characters are still fairly interesting, as is the plot, and the art (even though the latest episode has some not very severe but still noticeable off-model moments, possibly because of the tsunami).  I don't really have that much to say about it, because I don't really know where I'd begin, since it's been so long.

I'm also watching Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden/東のエデン).  Well, I watched the first episode a week ago and haven't gotten around to watching any more of it yet, but despite that, it seemed like a very interesting premise, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how it'll develop.  It's pretty highly regarded, and since it's on Hulu, it'll be first on my list of the metric crap ton of series I've meant to get around to watching.  I guess I watch anime like I read books: slowly and sporadically.

Speaking of which, I have been doing more reading (though not in that Tolkien book that I still haven't finished.  Nothing of worth noting though.

Back during spring break (yes, thats how far the backlog goes, apparently), I got to watch the second part of Rebuild of Evangelion in the theatre.  I had a lot to say about it back when I had just seen it, but now I'll have to try to remember everything I was going to write about.

Rebuild of Evangelion is a busy, busy movie.  After all, it tires to squeeze the equivalent of twelve of the series' 25 minute episodes into a 108 minute film.  If you stop paying attention for even a second, chances are, you're going to miss something, especially since the movie is not in any way a direct adaptation of the series.  Some of the changes are because certain scenes work better in film than in an episodic series, some of the changes are because, unlike the series, the movies actually have a budget to speak of (a very big budget too), and some are just there because Anno or Sadamoto or Tsurumaki sat down and thought "hey, wouldn't it be interesting/awesome/soul-crushing if things happened this way instead?"

On the storytelling side, things are kind of a mess, but since it all happens in the span of a movie rather than spread out over twelve episodes, it seems even stranger than the legendarily strange plot of the original.  The fact that some of the poorly explained plot devices are replaced with other poorly explained plot devices makes very little difference other than a brief "ah, I see what they did there" every now and then.

Now, when I refer to storytelling, I refer to the story of the Angels, Nerv, and Seele, which isn't really the main story being told.  It's as much about fighting the Angels as The Little Prince is about the Pilot's struggle to repair his plane.  The character arcs are what's truly fascinating.  Since the series had a much longer time span to develop the main characters, FilmShinji, FilmAsuka, FilmRei, FilmMisato, and most everyone else feel a bit flatter - less deep - than their series counterparts.  Still, all of them have the same core motivations, feelings, and failings, and their exposition is just as well done in the film as in the series.  In some cases, it's actually handled better.  For instance, Asuka's introductory scene explains how she sees herself in a nutshell: it's done in the style of a hot-blooded, rule-of-cool-motivated, eighties style super robot show.  Millions upon millions of dollars of tax payer money are spent on what basically amounts to letting her show off in Unit 02, as she does awesome but totally outrageous mid-air maneuvers to take out an Angel made out of what appear to be metal rods, all set to heroic fanfare.  Obviously, the directors have retained there love for post modernism.  Still, the improvement isn't just in the technical aspects: Anno, Sadamoto, and Tsurumaki have had over a decade to think over their characters, to get more in touch with them.  It doesn't show obviously, but the glimpses are there.  It shows most obviously in Asuka, who (though there are legions of fans who would...beg to differ) I feel is a much more well defined, consistent character than the series version.  Yet, I say despite this, the characters (including Asuka) still feel more shallow, simply because that's the nature of the beast (or ZA BEASTO, in this case).

There's one very interesting case, however, in which the intervening time has almost totally changed the conception of who a certain character is supposed to be: Rei Ayanami.  As Anno had originally envisioned, Rei was supposed to be creepy and uncanny valley evoking, as if she simply didn't think like a human.  She was supposed to be sympathetic, but at the same time, inexplicably alien.

They got the sympathetic part down.  They did not get the alien part.

Rei became to many the prototypical moe girl, the fragile sort whose presence makes you want to reach through the screen and give her a hug.  Yet at the same time, she became somewhat of a sex icon (as far as a cartoon character can be a sex icon), making her strange creation that at the same time evoked the big brother instinct and the...err...human male instinct.  She became nigh ubiquitous in Japanese popular culture, appearing in contexts hilariously at odds with how she acts in the series to the point where the Rei Ayanami that Anno had written and Sadamoto had drawn is a completely different person from the Rei Ayanami that appears on ramen noodle cups.

Now, in Rebuild, Rei still has the same set of basic motivations.  She's, at her core, still Rei.  However, she's depicted as a lot more overtly moe in the way she acts, the way she speaks, and the way other people interact with her.

For that matter, everyone in Rebuild - while just as totally dysfunctional as before - are a heck of a lot happier.  For that matter, the entire film is a heck of a lot happier.  In places, it feels more like a romantic comedy, albeit a romantic comedy where half the jokes are about how everybody is totally incapable of dealing with the world and can't express how they feel to each other.  Also, there tend to be precious few giant robot fights in most romanic comedies I've seen.  This totally needs to change.

Seriously though, even during the scenes of urgent panic and impending apocalypse, everybody seems much more professional, especially Shinji.  In fact, one of Shinji's final actions in the film is one that diametrically opposes the action Shinji made during the same situation in the series.  Shinji acts aggressively, heroically, like a more traditional super robot show character.  Of course, this being Evangelion, there's a strong sense that this newfound heroism is being deconstructed, especially given the consequences of this certain move he makes in Rebuild.

Speaking of the battles, Rebuild shows off its budget very well in how it depicts the Angels, Eva units, and their kinetic, bloody, surreal battles.  The angels of the series were strange.  The angels in Rebuild are insanely bizarre, like eerily beautiful visual non sequiturs of death and destruction.  The battles are extremely kinetic and well rendered.  We get the idea that this is what the creators really wanted to do for the original series, but couldn't because of the pitiful budget they had to start with.  Of course, something like this could stand the chance of being visually incomprehensible, but Anno and Tsurumaki are very good at composing shots so as to make everything understandable.

Of course, it just wouldn't be Evangelion without any totally soul crushing, depressing, and horrifying scenes that take whatever hope the cast has and puts a morbid twist on it.  Needless to say, the moments are there, and even though I know more or less what's about to happen, I can safely say they're just as soul crushing, depressing, and horrifying as ever.  None of them happen in quite the same way as the series, and because most of them are important points in the development of the characters and plot, I have a feeling the third and fourth parts are going to be even more different from the second.

All of these components - the rushing plot, the kinetic fights, the less depressed cast - adds up to a film that feels a heck of a lot more over the top than the series.  The series, with its twenty-six episode arc, sparsely animated scenes, and ever-present philosophical and psychological introspection, feels much more sedate.  I'm even reluctant to compare the two for that reason.  I very much enjoyed the film, but I think I still prefer the series so far.  Still, I can't wait to see what'll happen next.

On a note that's not precisely related to the film, I find it kind of funny that there's even more meaningless religious symbolism in Rebuild, despite the fact that now Anno and company know for certain that they have a not-insignificant western audience that's going to be scratching its collective head at it.  Not that the plot would be any less strange without it.

I also now have Tsubasa o Kudasai stuck in my head.  Eh, it could be much worse.

Oh, and Birdemic: Shock and Terror!  Seriously, almost as bad as Manos: The Hands of Fate.  The sound editing might as well have been done by a deaf person, the cinematography is amateurish, the actors don't even walk convincingly, the dialog sounds like it was taken from a Teach Yourself English book, the story goes absolutely nowhere, slowly, and the special effects are laughable.  Characters we've never seen before come into scenes to talk about global warming, and then never show up again.  The plot itself is supposed to be a "romantic thriller."  This does not mean it's a romance story driven and framed by the threat of homicidal birds.  No, it means the first half is a horribly executed romantic comedy, and the second half is a horribly executed thriller.  I'm serious, it's like they all of a sudden chose to show a different film with the same people.  And yet, despite all this, it was a real, theatrical release.  People went to see it in the theaters.  It's incoherent, inept, and totally brilliant.

And there's a sequel.  It'll be in 3D.

I'm totally going to have to go see it.

What Am I Listening To?
Good music.

Especially Deadmau5.  Some interesting compositions that guy has.  Kaskade too, though Kaskade is more towards the upbeat club dance side of house, and Deadmau5 is towards more the electronic, D&Bish end.  Both are talented in their own way.

And stuff.

Yes, I did in fact have more things I was going to put here, but none of them seem quite as interesting as they did when I had other things to do than write this blog entry.  Now the whole paragraphs of material I had in mind seem rather inane.  In lieu of any serious analysis, here's a basic (incomplete) breakdown of Deadmau5's Strobe:

0:00 - Steady pulsating electronic symbols.  Some modal features.
0:22 - Formation of melody around same instrumentation and beat.  Repetition of melody eight times.
1:30 - Slow introduction of synthesizer accentuating beat.
1:50 - Introduction of piano.  Follows same melody as electronic symbols.
2:30 - Buildup of violins and other instruments, including percussive sound effects.
3:10 - Coda into synth piano following same basic melody.  Tempo increases.
3:55 - Introduction of straight 4/4 drum beats.
4:25 - Introduction of base line.
4:40 - Introduction of fast percussive backup.  Gradual increase in dynamics.
5:30 - Some syncopation in synth piano line, fade into...
5:39 - Main episode.  Bouncy melody along the same basic progression and instruments, but more heavily syncopated.
6:12 - Additional polyphony with synth organ playing rising sequence.  Buildup.
6:43 - Key change.  Introduction of beat and additional harmonies that state the melody more strongly.  Repeat of main episode.
7:18 - Reintroduction of rising synth organ sequence.  Some minor syncopation.
7:49 - Key change of synth organ sequence.  Increasing dynamics of sequence.
8:19 - Minor key change in main melody.  Stop of rising sequence.  Gradual reduction of dynamics.
9:20 - Coda, repetition of first phrase of main episode.
9:33 - Complete first phrase of main episode.
9:34 - Reintroduction of percussive sound effects.
9:47 - Complete first phrase of main episode again.
9:50 - Fadeout into percussive sound effects.

I should probably write some more.



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