Sunday, December 11, 2005

Movie Review: Chronicles of Narnia

Here is my Chronicles of Narnia review for your viewing pleasure.

Not having read the books I went into this movie with an open mind. I understood the mindset that this was geared towards children and it was obvious from the onset. However, this did not impact the pleasure of watching this movie at all. I think back to some of the greatest fantasy ever. The Hobbit, which later spawned the Lord of the Rings, was written as a children’s book. Even when Tolkien began the LotR saga he was gearing it towards a children’s story.

There is something about the child’s mind that inspires true fantasy. As I watched the movie I immediately understood why the youngest child of the group, Lucy, was the first one into the world of Narnia. Narnia is a place you do not seek out; it happens when you are the least expecting.

Let's get back to the fact that this movie is geared towards children. This leads to some awkward scenes where the young actors fail to really carry the weight their roles required, but overall the movie was excellent. Looking at the roles I will give my thoughts on each.

Lucy - The youngest of the group she quickly sets herself apart in terms of acting. She carries many awkward scenes and that is a lot to say considering her young age. Her first initial interaction with the faun character of Mr. Tummus is by far one of the best of the movie.

Edmund - Really the only character in the movie with any sort of character development he definitely fits the role. He evolves and over the movie I believe he grows indefinitely on the audience.

Susan - The A-typical older sister attitude. The sad part about her role is that she seems to be there mainly to fill in holes in various scenes. There never seems to be a connection built between her and her younger sister which was disappointing.

Peter - As the designated "hero" for the story he is a very lateral character. He fits the role well, but the role leads nowhere. Like Susan, Peter suffers from being a filler character. In the opening scenes of war stricken Britain a connection begins to form with his younger brother Edmund, but by the end of the movie it is relegated to weak and quick scenes of bonding.

However, the movie is a sum of its parts and together they make for one hell of a kick ass ride. Pardon the language if there are young ones around. Outside of the four children the movie is filled with a host of computer generated characters that range from talking beavers to half-man/half-horse centaurs.

On the note of the special effects it is noticeable in some areas that Sony Imageworks is no Weta Workshop or ILM. We are still in the transition period for major motion pictures using large amounts of special effects and if Narnia is any sign its getting better by the movie.

The special effects and complete CG characters never fail the movie. The prominent character of Aslan, a Jesus inspired lion voiced by Liam Nisan, is a joy the entire movie. The comical duo of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are a wonder to behold. I loved the imagination put into the various creatures and it makes me want to learn about each and everyone of them.

Comparisons to the Lord of the Rings trilogy were apparent before Narnia hit theatres. I’m glad to report that Narnia is nowhere near as dark or moody as Peter Jackson’s films. Again this is akin to the fact it was a Disney production developed from stories meant for children. As the scenes lift from winters blight to spring bliss the mood never strays far from the scenery.

The other disagreement point of the movie before release was the religious overtone of C.S. Lewis’s work. This is left up to interpretation during the movie. To some it has overtones into their religion while to others it is simply Narnia. It by far does not disappoint those faithful to the books from what I’ve read.

Overall the movie is like its final battle scene. It starts with a triumphant roar and as it nears its collision point it silences itself into a single heartbeat that explodes into the rage of battle. The dark points of the movie pound to a dramatic turning point, but silence into the light and magic of Narnia. It is then preserved and there is enough magic left for both adults and children alike.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

WoW Review - Part IV

Part I
Part II
Part III


The good -

They offer a central themed area for PvP fighting. They bring team based objectives into play which require coordination to achieve. The fighting is constant and the honor gained is good. The sides are capped and usually equal out at the max amount allowed into a BG at a time.

The bad -

You must stand in line before entering a BG. If enough people want to get in; another instance will open. If there isn't enough people you could essentially wait hours on end and never make it into a BG.

Along with standing in line several servers have the problem where there is only enough people to open a BG during prime time for a few hours. The rest of the day the BGs are closed and anyone that doesn't play during prime time is out of luck in ever getting to enjoy a BG.

The honor system is set up to reward only those that farm BGs non-stop. These people get in early and then leave their machines idle to keep their slot in the BG while people that actually want to play stand in line outside. Along with this the majority of gameplay in the BGs revolve around organized teams just bypassing unorganized teams and farming honor.

The "goals" in BGs are often never accomplished aside from the main goal. The quests and so forth are misleading and there is no solid way to really understand how the whole BG works. There is a few key areas that are attacked and then everything else is abandoned. Even in the capture the flag BG there is little strategy used outside of sitting at the graveyards.

The respawn timers are 30 seconds. The fighting is non-stop. The second you feel as though you are begining to win is the second that the entire enemy force resurects on top of you.

Blizzard answered the call of many gamers who were sick of bored level 60's attacking them around the world. Now level 60's are left bored because if you aren't in a BG there is no PvP action to be found anywhere.

Battlegrounds do more harm than good in the end game.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

WoW Review - Part III

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

If leveling from 1-60 in WoW is the adventure... then level 60 is the grind. Level 60 is only a starting point in WoW. When you reach level 60 you are thrown into the world of end game dungeons, epic quests, and PvP Battlegrounds. Each good, bad, and ugly in their own respects.

The end game dungeons are a two fold monster. There is the small 5-15 man dungeons that litter the world at large. The majority of class based gear is found in these dungeons. The items are superior in quality and offer a lot to those who spend the time to get them. The reward is worth the time spent.... the first time through.

However this is where the grind falls in. You have to repeat each of these instances multiple times to get the item you want. It is a poor system that rewards those with more time to play... instead of rewarding those who use their time wisely.

Overall the dungeons are creative enough to make repeating them not to overbearing. WoW raised most people on always having a new area or adventure to take part in, but at 60 the content gets vastly limited.

On the high end are the epic dungeons and quests. 40 people required and 6+ hours if you want to complete them with those 40 people. Blizzard has a good system in place by instancing the dungeons so that there is no spawn camping of the epic monsters. You actually have to raid your way through a dungeon... not just be the next one in line.

This gives access to the content to a lot more people. However the average gamer in WoW will never see these dungeons because the requirements to get in are just not what the average WoW player are looking for. WoW attracted a lot of people on the merit of being a casual game and lets them down at level 60 with the classic "time sink" repetitive content.

WoW is not casual once you hit 60. Level 60 is an entirely new game and casual friendly is not part of its vocabulary.

Part IV will be covering the Battlegrounds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Battlefield 2 Review - Part I

What do I want out of Battlefield 2(BF2)?

I want an FPS with team based objectives. I want a game that rewards working together and combining efforts. Balance between vehicles and ground combat are a must. The gameplay needs to be polished and free of the common bugs found in the Battlefield series. Overall the gameplay, graphics, and fun factor need to be equal.

With my expectations outlined lets get into the basics.

Graphics - What can I say? The game is beautiful. Turn the settings up to max and you are in for a treat. Unfortunately the graphics come at a price on system performance. However, even running the game at the lower settings is a pleasure. The animations, textures, and landscape is all very well done. The detail inside and outside of buildings is astounding to say the least. You definately need to take a second look at any lump, bump, or strange figure you see to ensure it is not an enemy soldier.

The only weak spot is the cut'n'paste approach of a lot of the structures. Most buildings are the same on every map. Creative placement of the buildings keeps it interesting enough to be barely noticeable at best.

Sound - A gun sounds like a gun. An aircraft screaming in for an attack sounds like it should... and knowing how planes sound is part of my real life job. The sound is very well done. Area effects are also well done. If you listen up you can hear enemy soldiers shouting orders and requests. You can hear someone sneaking up on you... even though footsteps are a bit soft.

The music is classic battlefield with a middle eastern swing for the middle east maps and an asian flavor for the Chinese maps. Same tune... different game.

Technical Performance - There is two parts of the game that can be evaluated in this category. While playing the game and while not playing the game.

While playing the game there is little problem when it comes to technical performance. Patch 1.02 has resolved the only major issue regarding a server side memory leak that crashed many servers and brought them to lagging slide shows. The net code seems to be solid so far and there is little room for complaint.

While not playing the game there is severe issues that EA/Dice need to tackle. The first being the rushed out 1.01 patch that caused more problems than it fixed. The poor testing and quality control is an absolute insult to the BF2 community. The 1.02 patch did come out in much better condition.

Also the in game menu's are a horrid interface to launch the game from. The menu's often freeze and crash you to desktop. Even with the 1.02 hotfix the server menu still lags and many features of it still don't work. You can't filter servers. You constantly end up with a blank server list and the only fix is to restart the game. Overall this detracts from the experience. It is a slap in the face for EA/Dice to have put so little effort into the menu and server browser.

Take my advice and get a seperate server browser such as Xfire or All Seeing Eye.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Guild Wars Review - Part I

Guild Wars Review – Part I

My thoughts on how to review an MMO.

What do I want out of Guild Wars(GW)?

I want a fast and fun PvP gaming experience with an MMO mentality, but of course free of charge. I want a game based around skill and a wide variety of viable in game skill sets. There needs to be massive competition among all the guilds and the competition needs rewards. The PvE needs to be enjoyable, but overall nothing more than a side adventure compared to the PvP aspect. The game needs balance to a certain point, but overall balance needs to be decided by giving the players the ability to build a wide variety of effective strategies.

The Basics

Graphics – Very well done. The ambient glow the game world has adds a lot to immerse you into the game. The character models are well animated and the monsters are fun to look at. The backgrounds are breath taking in some areas. You will be stopping to look at a water fall, forest, or battlefield in the background.

However there is a major detracting problem with these backgrounds… because that is what they are… backgrounds. You can’t interact with most of the game world. Small hills and other such visual aids often are misleading resulting in an invisible wall. I am sorry, but my character needs to be able to step over a two foot high rock in my path. It is confusing on the eyes when your avatar runs pointlessly into an invisible wall… visual clues such as walls, bushes, etc are needed to indicate an area is unreachable.

For all the awe moments built into the game world there are enough “damn it I can’t go that way” moments to counteract them.

Sound – From clanging swords to sandy footsteps the sound is right on in GW. The sound effects are excellent. However, the voice acting during the in game cut scenes lacks emphasis. The voice actors are drab and uneventful. You will spend more time skipping the cut scenes than enjoying them. The good news is that the sounds you will be hearing the most of, swords and spells, are very well done.

Technical Performance – The game runs nearly flawlessly. Everyone is part of the same game world and major areas are either instanced or broken up into several cloned districts. This results in a net positive effect on performance. The one area of technical performance that is troubling is the collision detection. Like the graphical problem of being unable to traverse the smallest hills there is an equally troubling problem of collision detection warping your avatar around.
You will have several times where you will try to move around an obstacle only to be warped back against it as though you never ran around it. Also when it comes to other players you will sometimes wonder why your character is running a zigzag pattern to someone or something right in front of you.

GW allows you to play the game with little to no lag and only suffers from poor collision detection.

Customer Service – Being a free MMOG there is little need for customer service outside of your routine spammers, scammers, and griefers. Every incident I encountered in game regarding a bad name or a constant spammer was resolved and the person removed or silenced. I actually reported a name of a group mate and before we finished out our current instance his name had been changed. The A.Net CS department seems to be on the top of their game.

WoW Review - Part II

Find Part I here.

My thoughts on how to review an MMO.

Part II

WoW does a lot of things right. It has minimized the “grinding” time to reach max level while filling it with actual things to do. The questing system guides you from level 1 to level 60 leading you into new area after new area.

This is both good and bad. You learn the world, but you also lose a sense of belonging because the higher level areas lack significant towns. You go from the main cities and right into run down dumps. In your early levels you experience Blizzard’s grand vision for huge involving cities, but quickly lose it as you spend little to no time in them.

Towns in the higher level areas are no more than a couple buildings or tents with a few NPCs attached to them. The lone exception being the mid-level area of Booty Bay which is quite a site to see.

This does not detract from the overall experience, but is disappointing considering the polish put on the rest of the world.

The crafting system was well implemented by Blizzard after several changes in Beta. You can select two professions and raise all three of your secondary skills. The system is easy to pick up and is nearly completely player supported. You can rely on other players for nearly every major supply that is needed for every craft.

The gathering professions however are not balanced against the crafting professions. You can select two gathering professions and guarantee to sell whatever you gather to other players via the Auction House.

However the crafting professions where you actually make items are sparsely populated with items that are of any use to anyone in the game. Most in game dropped items are better than the equal level crafted items. There is very few end game crafted items worth spending the effort to create.

Due to rare materials being required for most end game items players only invest in the ones that give them the MAX benefit. No player is going to spend the time to get 20 Arcanite Bars to build a weapon that is worse than another weapon that also only requires 20 Arcanite Bars. Weapons are just an example of what plagues all high level crafting professions. There are too few good items to be made for profit for high level crafters.

Every player in WoW can participate in the crafting process, but in the end only the gathering professions profit on a regular basis.

Part III coming soon…

Friday, June 10, 2005

WoW Review - Part 1

My thoughts on How to Review an MMO.

What do I want out of World of Warcraft(WoW)?

I want a casual, fun, and fast gaming experience. It should be easy to learn, but hard to master. I want an Alliance vs Horde conflict. There needs to be reason behind the conflict and balance in the battle. My actions need to have an effect on the world. Overall the game just needs to be fun and fun is the overriding factor that will keep me in WoW. I do not want another Everquest.

The Basics

Graphics - Excellent. The world has a very hand crafted feel to it that is unique to the Warcraft universe. From start to finish there is definite polish on everything in the world. The animations blend perfectly with the models. The environment is fleshed out with swaying trees, grass, bushes, and everything you expect to see when traveling into a forest, desert, or swamp. The graphics add to the immersion resulting in a very eye pleasing gaming experience.

Sound - The sound in WoW goes hand in hand with the graphics. It completes the immersion with excellent sound effects wherever you travel. The music is fitting to the feel of Warcraft. The sound will always keep you aware of your surroundings and the music will make those slower times feel much more alive.

Technical Performance - The lag has been up and down as much as the servers have been up and down. WoW has performed increasingly well and the server maintenance team seems to have their game faces on. Most problems have been fixed relatively quickly and aside from some known issues (mail box, AH, and big city lag) there is no negative effect from the technical performance. You will be playing WoW more than you will be staring at a log in screen.

Customer Service – Let’s not be shy. WoW has attracted a HUGE player base. The customer service(CS) is going to suffer because of this. However Blizzard has gone a long way to ensuring that your voice is heard when you have a valid complaint. Whether it’s in-game mail or out of game e-mail from the CS department you will get a reply to your request/inquiry. Also they are very public when they go ahead and ban a large group of players for cheating, hacking, or abusing exploits. A definite plus in my book.