Angry Robot

Choppers & Tankball

How about a little Halo 3 news? Yeah, I thought so. Looks like people have figured out how to get into the custom game menu, which reveals a boatload of options. Adjustable gravity, powerups, speed, etc. People have also figured out how to actually play custom games, which seems to require having already joined a custom game – and it has spread like a virus.

Right when the beta launched there were modders poring over code and finding all sorts of weird stuff (that is by no means guaranteed to make it into the final game.) An upcoming issue of gamepro yields some images that appear to prove some of the modders’ finds true: customizable Spartans, a Brute vehicle.

UPDATE: Kotaku has instructions on how to get into custom games. Pretty elaborate.

Blog at the Singularity Institute

The Singularity Institute, a Kurzweil joint, has a blog now. Worth watching. There’s also an introductory video.

Google Apps Up in UR GRILL

Having used other, similar apps before, most notably Backpack and other 37signals apps, it’s also notable just how quickly Google rolls out new features. Obviously one of these companies has a staff of eight and the other is a behemoth, and it makes me uncomfortable when a huge corp uses its size to outclass competitors, but yeah. Google Calendar, for free, gets you SMS alerts, instant map links, a bitchin’ ‘quick add’ feature, and a nice mobile interface. Seems like every couple weeks there’s a handy new thing being rolled out, and it’s hard to complain about that.

I can imagine that the benefit to a small business is remarkable. I mean, google docs & spreadsheets are a lot, well, freer than Word and Excel, and considering how often the email at work has problems, it’s a lot handier having google worry about all that jazz than either having an IT person on staff, or trying to make do without one.

(Worth adding: I’m actually not the hugest fan of web apps. Obviously they have their advantages, but I’d still like to use a desktop app whenever feasible. So I love it when I can sync between the two, as I do with Google Cal and iCal thanks to spanning sync)

(Also worth adding: I still love backpack and use it for organizing projects, I just don’t use the calendar anymore.)


IGN has it right, when you first learn about The Xbox 360 “Gamerscore” aka Achievement Points, you’re like what’s the big deal about some nerd count. But that’s before the obsessions and compulsions kick in. I try and keep them under control, and I’m not about to play a shite game just to raise that number. But that doesn’t keep me from checking every game’s list of achievements, or being thrilled when I got about 100 points just for Nadine and I playing a half hour of Viva Pinata. Why do we care about such things? I mean, we know money and power are but illusions, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to drive a solid gold mech and rule the world. It’s like a suspension of disbelief.

I want Achievement Points for doing the dishes.

Hot Shit at Cannes


Let me filter GreenCine Daily for a moment. (I wish someone would do that, actually. There’s so much good stuff every day on that site that I can’t keep up. That’s a common feeling; I can’t keep up with MetaFilter either. Online content needs filters, but apparently now even the filters need filters…)

Right, Cannes. To sum up interesting films: Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely, Spanish thriller The Orphanage, Friedkin’s Bug, the animated Iranian Persepolis, and of course the Coen’s latest, No Country for Old Men. Oh wait, Bug isn’t at Cannes. Anyway. Speaking of things not at Cannes but mentioned by GreenCine, Satoshi Kon’s Paprika.

Tech of the Hundred-Dollar Laptop

There’s a great post at 37signals that nicely summarizes the technology behind, and the interface of, Negroponte’s $100 laptop (which I thought had gone up in price, but perhaps I’m wrong).

The Second Coming of 3D Film

Here in the NYT is another in a long series of articles heralding 3D filmmaking as a potential saviour for cinemas. CinemaTech mentions:

in 1953, the peak year of the original 3-D boom, there were 23 movies released in 3-D, including ‘House of Wax’ and ‘It Came from Outer Space.’ (I’d be surprised if we see a half-dozen 3-D releases this year from major studios.) By 1955, there was just one movie made in 3-D.

The question is, what’s to save the present recurrence of 3D film from the fate of the original, 50s incarnation? In the Times article, proponents argue that this time around, they have Cameron, Jackson and Spielberg on their side – the A-team of spectacle filmmaking. I’m not so sure that more spectacle is what Hollywood needs, or if it’s even possible. But at least they’re trying. In the 50s, in response to the rapid growth of TV, the film industry evolved many variants in an attempt to differentiate itself. Most failed. (Insert smell-O-vision joke here.) But eventually, film found its place in the ecosystem – albeit a smaller one than it had enjoyed pre-TV. Film will adapt again, but is it too late for the theatres, I wonder? Will TV (in the form of HDTV home theatres) finally eat film?

The New Internet

Interesting article from Saturday’s Globe about the movement to build a new internet infrastructure, now in the research stages. A couple key quotes:

The Internet was not designed for Second Life or “adult entertainment” videos either – high-volume, resource-consuming uses of the network. If just 1 per cent of the DVDs that NetFlicks [sic] sends to customers every day were downloaded, we would need a tenfold increase in the current core capacity of the Internet.


In fact, he wonders if the only economically sustainable model for the Internet may be a nationally funded or regulated infrastructure – or some sort of government monopoly. (Though he adds that, “in the current economic and political climate” of the U.S., proposing this idea “is nearly suicide.”)

I’ve wondered the same thing before, but in the context of Rogers (a huge Canadian ISP) and their tendency to stifle innovation through things like bitshaping and extortionate wireless data plans. Let alone the paltry bandwidth of their “high speed” cable plans. I’m of the mind that real high-speed internet access should be made available to all, at reasonable rates; and if Rogers et al can’t do it, the govmint should make ‘em!

Angry Robot Sounds #1

So we did a podcast, Nadine and I. Starts off with general gaming nonsense and then is all Halo 3, all the time for the rest of the half hour. This one is pretty rambly and chaotic, we’ll figure things out better next time, hopefully. Also, we recorded it on wednesday, and then I took forever to cut it down to a listenable length. But hell, you learn on your feet. I’ll update this with an iTunes link when it shows up.

Angry Robot Sounds #1 (12MB mp3, 25mins)

UPDATE: subscribe in iTunes

Baldness, Convertibles and High-performance Computing

Male pattern baldness and convertible automobiles are correlated. I don’t know that baldness causes convertibles; it could be that convertibles cause baldness. Nor do I mean, “ha-ha, that balding dude is having a midlife crisis and therefore he bought a corvette. Look, he thinks he’s teens.” If anything, driving a roofless vehicle is an expression of the acceptance and celebration of one’s own cranial rooflessness. Why, after all, do we celebrate the cool rush of wind and sleek aerodynamics in cars, but not on male heads?

So what kind of computer does the balding man buy? Computers, like cars, are sold on speed and power. (I suppose there are some of each which are sold on safety and reliability, but that’s not our concern here.) Sports cars – and I know of no convertible minivans – are performance vehicles first and foremost. They are often ludicrously impractical (bad gas mileage, no space, thief magnet1). While they tell you they are this way for sports purposes, they are this way to attract attention – like the peacock, or the weightlifter. Their rooflessness, though, signifies a very real appreciation for the art of driving, a willingness to embrace rather than block out the whip of wind, the roar of the engine, to agree with Vanishing Point that “speed means freedom of the soul”.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 20-inch laptop. In all its back-breaking, battery-eating glory.

1 Spoken from the point of view of someone who seriously considered purchasing a 1983 Pontiac Trans Am V8.

YAN Post About the Halo 3 Beta

So, originally my friend Nadine and I got on splitscreen-style and played against random strangers. That was not a great experience, which I suppose was unsurprising because I hate matchmaking – as I’ve mentioned here before.

(We actually recorded a “podcast”, which should be up here soon – and parts of it may appear on the Space podcast. Next week though.)

Anyway, we played again last night, this time in a group of eight friends (and friends of friends). That causes the system to not add any random strangers since you already have enough for two teams, so we played against each other for a couple hours.

It was so much better. Freed from the incessant radio chatter (and superior skills) of southern children, we could learn the maps a little better, try out the new weapons, and see what uses ‘equipment’ can be put to.

Halo 3 Beta Strategies at Major League Gaming

Quite a few good articles. Snowbound review, High Ground review, Valhalla review. Weapons: spartan laser, spiker. There was a good piece on the shield bubble, but now I can’t find it.

Halo 3 Beta notes

Halo 3 and the Graphics Fetish

  1. articles by and for hardcore Halo players; generally focused on what minor gameplay changes have been made since Halo 2. Sample prose: “All of the ‘nades explosive diameters have been reduced, so you’ll have to be more accurate. The nail grenades do stick to walls, but don’t have a huge blast radius.”
  2. articles by the more mainstream press for a mass audience, such as this Reuters one, which tend to emphasize graphics, and tend to qualify them as disappointing. Sample: “Gamers at the invitation-only preview gave mixed reviews.“The graphics can use some work … They’re not much different than the previous Halo.”“

The latter sort of article triggers crowing by fanboys of other platforms, the internet weeps, and pretty soon a fairly innovative marketing idea transforms into a lost battle in the console war.

It’s pretty logical, really. What will the non-halo-fanatic journalist write about other than the graphics? Joe Sixpack cares not about the tracking ability of the plasma pistol. (Actually, I have some ideas for what they should write about instead, but I’ll leave them aside for now.) In general, the non-gamer journalist writes about the graphics because, well, all they are doing is looking at people play. Concepts of gameplay or game flow elude them; like the Windows user seeing fancy Mac OS X visuals for the first time, all they see is the pretty surface.

Yet, just as a Mac OS X user couldn’t give a rat fuck about how dashboard widgets ripple and splash when they’re just trying to get shit done, gamers actually playing the game think very little about the graphics. And what they do think about graphics tends to be utilitarian: are they immersive? realistic? can I see things clearly?

Imagine if all coverage of film concentrated as exclusively on cinematography. Would people be disappointed when The Return of the King did not have better cinematography than the previous two films? But no, unless the cinematography is terrible and thus distracts from the story, or expresses something about the story in a particularly notable way, we tend not to mention it.

Now, there is some justification for considering graphics in games moreso than that. Because of the relentless march of Moore’s Law, there are revolutions in visual quality in games every few years. There is no such correlative in film. Or, in fact, there is: computer-generated imagery, which (obviously) follows the same law of the Moore as do games. But no-one but the most ADDed male teen will try and convince you that better CGI leads to better films. It may make more immersive fantasy environments and more realistic dinosaurs, but these do not save terribly written, acted or directed films. Nor should they make or break a game in the eyes of the public.

In the case of the Halo 3 beta, there is no story to concern ourselves with since this is only three levels of multiplayer play. What the prospective player wants to know, then, is how good is multiplayer going to be? Those who have played Halo 1 and 2 multiplayer will want to know what has changed, and whether those changes are for the better. And yes, since the multiplayer for the previous games was largely well-received, they don’t want revolutions in gameplay – they want small tweaks. Minutiae like less long-range tracking on the plasma pistol (since this makes gameplay more balanced). It’s the equivalent of reporting on proposed rule changes to a sport, like when the NHL decided to allow two-line passes and clamped down on obstruction. In other words, it’s of little interest to those who don’t play or follow hockey.

Which brings us to the very nature of the public beta. Why is it a press event at all? Why do we need articles from Reuters on the topic? The cynic might answer that the beta’s sole purpose is to add to the steady stream of hype coming out of Redmond with regards to its game console. Prevailing wisdom is that advertising is on the way out, and PR is ascendant. Thus while Microsoft could flood the airwaves with TV spots firing out Halo 3’s release date – and I’m sure they will – it would be more effective to generate hype via news coverage. And another bulletpoint yet-to-be-released game doesn’t merit a press release, but a playable beta does. So the celebs are purchased and the press passes given out.

Unfortunately, in this case, it seems to have backfired.

Ubiquitous Capture

This article about a pillowfight event at Nathan Phillips Square notes the huge numbers of cameras present: “there were so many lenses that when, as the number of participants started dwindling after about an hour, those with cameras actually started to outnumber those with pillows.”

It would be remiss, when talking of technologies that spread like the zombie plague, to not mention photography. At a recent show at a small venue, we couldn’t help but notice just how often camera flashes were going off. Nothing spectacular was happening – it wasn’t anyone’s wedding and no-one was on the red carpet, it was just people taking pictures of their friends – but when ten out of forty are taking pictures at any given moment, it starts to seem like the inevitable future is upon us: people taking pictures of people taking pictures.

There are advantages to the outsourcing of memory. But the proliferation of image capture causes many problems, summed up by the Borges character who can remember everything and remarks, “my mind is like a garbage heap”. You know that feeling when you’ve taken a ton of pics on your digicam and you can’t be bothered to sort through them for hours finding the good ones? So you import them and then don’t even look at them? There are two paradoxes at play: in the pillowfight instance, the urge to capture the event destroys the actual event; and with the Borges example, the ability to remember everything prevents you from remembering any one thing.

When I think of possible solutions, I come up with the idea of a “crowdsourced” version of the roller-coaster picture setup where you purchase your photo on the ride afterwards. If I could easily grab someone else’s photo of a given event, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to take a photo myself. But despite the possibility this could happen what with geotagged photos and whatnot, I doubt it will take off, since we all view our memories as personal. We don’t want to admit that a collective memory-image of an event will do just fine. This memory/photo is my own. Despite the fact that it looks like everyone else’s.

New Crackdown Downloadable Content

Wow. I just went and bought a used Godfather (there’s an image for ya) to keep me busy gaming-wise, and now not only is Double Dragon on the Live Arcade, but Crackdown gets a hefty downloadable update. Never mind that the Halo 3 beta starts next week. So much for extorting the merchants of Little Italy.

The list of added features for Crackdown is pretty remarkable. Some of it costs “points”, but considering what you get – and in comparison, say, to the GRAW 2 map pack which was four repurposed multiplayer maps for the same price – I’d say it’s worth it.

eMusic and the Value of Songs

A bunch of indie labels want to pull out of eMusic because the price per track is too low. eMusic’s CEO responds. Both are worth reading.

I’m an eMusic subscriber. I love it and it’s my main way of getting music, so I tend to agree with the eMusic side. My plan, which I guess is no longer available, is $20 US for 90 songs a month. If we estimate 12 songs per album, that’s under $3 an album. Keep in mind that these are non-DRMed mp3s that you get to keep. Not a bad deal.

What’s music worth? Who knows. I’d definitely pay more than $3 for an album, but at the same time labels need to realize they&#821#8217;re not competing with iTunes, they’re competing with free. In some ways it’s a miracle that a nerd like me will spend any money on music at all, let alone $240/year. I guess I’m still happy that the days of the $25 CD are over.

Update: good post on the topic at CDM, and more at hypebot plus apparently a few in-depth posts to follow tomorrow.

Games to Care About on the 360 This Year

The obvious biggies are Halo 3 and GTA IV. The appeal of these two monsters is so great that we need not say any more about them here.

It seems like much of the innovation in games these days comes from role-playing games, in areas like non-combat gameplay i.e. dialogue, non-linear storytelling, and character customization. Bags is looking forward to Two Worlds, an Oblivion-esque RPG that offers all of the above in an enormous, 32 square mile world.

But as great as orcs and elves are, sometimes you need to escape the world of D&D cliches, and so we both eagerly await Mass Effect. It’s from Bioware, the makers of Jade Empire, which we both loved, and it’s an RPG in space. It has squad-based tactical shooter aspects, and a nice-looking dialogue system as well. Even the overall world navigatin’ map looks well thought out and slick as hell. Check out some demo footage here=, or better yet get it off Live Marketplace at way better quality.

The other thing I’ve been missing since going xbox-only – a situation that will not last forever – is Japanese storytelling. I realized at one point a few years ago, when I had only a PS2, that all the games I owned originated in Japan. It’s pretty hard to have that happen on the 360, a platform flooded by PC shooter ports. That should change though, with a couple of games from Mistwalker Studios, a Japanese studio with roots in Square: Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. Both of them sound packed with the original ideas, bleeding stones, pastiche artwork, and childhood tragedies that only Japanese games can provide. Yes, but will they have gun-swords?

So what in a non-RPG is there? My biggest crush has got to be Too Human, as I’ve mentioned here before. Again, reading this IGN piece was enough to make me pretty durn interested, not only because of the subject matter (Norse cybergods!) but because of the control scheme (one stick for movement, the other for directional melee attacks) and the subsequent potential for gameplay innovation.

Also, Alan Wake sounds like it has potential. A horror game with a writer as the main character has obviously been done before by Silent Hill, and for all I know right now the plot is entirely lifted from In the Mouth of Madness, but it’s worth seeing how it turns out. And finally, I hadn’t realized that another game I’ve mentioned here, Age of Conan, will be released on the 360 as well as the PC. (Does that make it the first MMORPG for the 360?)

Disclaimer time: this list is from our perspective, not necessarily yours – obviously neither of us are big into racing games. Also, trying to judge games before they are released is a fool&#82#8217;s game – I’ll still be waiting to read some reviews for all of these before I jump out and buy. That said, it’s still worth looking ahead so as to not sleep on anything when it does get released.

3D Printing

Have I not mentioned this here before? I should, stat. A home 3D printer will be available later this year for $5,000, and in four years for under a grand. Many things will change when these (and 3D scanners) are in every home. Intellectual property issues will get even uglier.

Ultra HD

What happens after HD? Is a question I was wondering about, and happened to catch a post-NAB blurb on the topic.

Ultra HD, or “Super Hi-Vision” (what a name!), is what Japan’s public broadcaster NHK proposes.

ultrahd vs sd and hd

It’s 7,680 × 4,320 pixels of resolution, as opposed to SD’s 640 × 480 and 1080 HD’s 1920 × 1080 px. 16 times the res of HD. One minute of uncompressed footage would take up 200 gigs of space.

I’m not sure you would really want to be super high if you were watching that.

I used to constantly have the argument with my film pals about whether digital tech would replace film, and they used to tell me it would never happen. (One of them is now a manager of digital cameras at a big camera maker.) One of the big arguments in favour of digital over analog tech is: although suchand such digital technology may not at present surpass the analog equivalent – say, HD is not better than 35mm film – just give it time and eventually the digital option will be both cheaper and much higher quality than the analog. You can’t fight the robots.


So the content is not spectacular. The interface is nice. It’s mostly an Apple-style black semi-transparent HUD. Although the app can run in a window, it’s clearly intended to go full-screen. The only interface I can think of that tries to do something similar is the one I get from my Rogers digital set-top box, which is uglyclunkyhorrid, so Joost clearly wins for look and ease of use.

Wait a minute though. There’s a feature called “my channels”, which as it sounds is your personalized list of channels you like. However, as it’s your default channel listing, it comes pre-populated by Joost, and it contains a lot of stuff guaranteed not to appeal to me, such as poker and driving channels. It’s easy enough to add to “my channels” – you go to the channel catalogue and browse, and click ‘add’ when you find something you like. But removing channels from “my channels” must also be done from the channel catalogue, and it gives you no indication which channels you have subscribed to. So you must go laboriously through every channel and check whether it’s detail view says “add” or “remove”. There’s no way to purge items from within “my channels”. Furthermore, some channels apparently can’t be removed. Anyway suffice it to say that the interface is nice for basic use, but falls apart for advanced usage (if you can call what I was trying to do advanced).

Search is nice to have, that’s for sure. I’m not sure how great the chat is in the context of on-demand programming.

The app has no support for the Apple Remote. I suppose this will be added eventually, but it seems like an oversight even in beta. The best place for this thing to live is on my mini hooked up to the TV, but without remote support I can’t give it a shot.

There were performance hiccups as well. I tested both over airport and over ethernet, and I have a 5MBPS connection, and both stuttered at times. Nothing terrible on the standards of internet video, but something that would certainly bug you if it happened to your cable account.

The biggest drawback to me: ads. This is why I bring up what I want from TV, and why it isn’t necessarily the same as what others want. But I most definitely do not want ads in my TV. What I like about TV is serialized one-hour drama, and to a lesser extent half-hour comedies. My perfect TV system would allow me to quickly and reliably grab those episodes and watch them without commercial interruption. So what I am looking for is much closer to iTunes / AppleTV / Front Row, and/or BitTorrent, than it is what Joost is offering. That said, I know of people who just like to vege out and flip channels and see what’s on some of the more obscure cable channels. For them, joost could be a nice, free substitute for a $70/month cable bill.

I’m guessing that eventually I will be able to use it in that way as well. I yearn to ditch my cable, and may well do so soon, and keeping Joost around won’t cost anything and might come in handy now and then. But it’s not going to change my world or anything.

Toronto, Capital City of Facebook (and Zombies)

Reading the Globe last week, I discovered that Toronto is the largest network on Facebook. Which is crazy since the cities of London and New York are obviously much larger in meatspace, but TO’s Facebook population dwarfs theirs. It’s crazy but it’s entirely believable to a Toronto resident: over the past couple months, Facebook has come up in conversation more often than even the weather. It’s spread quicker than a zombie plague. And in fact, to those who refuse to sign up (I’m on Facebook myself, but I know a few holdouts), it’s like your friends are one by one succumbing to the virus. Instead of asking for your brains, they ask if you’re on Facebook, and if not, why not?

That Torontonians would get all wrapped up in relentless, privacy-invading bulletins of friend-related minutiae flies in the face of our reputation as a quiet, withdrawn people. I suppose you could explain it by saying we are indeed withdrawn, and that Facebook appeals because it is the form of socializing that involves the least amount of actual socializing. Or, you could just call bullshit on the “quiet Toronto” myth. Either one works for me.

But then I remembered a past realization, that Toronto, city of SARS, filmic home of Resident Evil, Land of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead remake, is of course the capital of the zombie world. Which explains how infectious networking would especially catch hold here, but which also goes a little towards supporting another half-baked theory: that zombies in fiction symbolize P2P networked communications, and the fear of zombies reflects the fear that old, hierarchical, gatekeeper media have of a society that has no place for them.

That’s probably too cultural studies for a nice saturday afternoon, so let me clunkily segway into a mention of zombie-demon musical sensation Evil Dead: The Musical, which is back in Toronto. I saw it a couple of days ago for the first time, and it’s worth attending. It’s one of the only entertainment events that you can walk out of soaked in blood, and it contains some great writing such as one character’s dying words, “Death’s a bitch… a stupid bitch.”

The Myth of the Perfect Headphones

Of late I have used the Grado SR-80s and the aforementioned Shures. I hoped the Grados would be the holy grail of sound quality, which they pretty much are – at least until I join the yacht-owning set and am willing to spend $500+ on headphones. However, the Grados are impractical for anything but home use. They let a ton of sound both in and out; to drown out the sounds of your environs, you must play these cats loud enough that anyone downwind of you can hear the swear-ridden lyrics of the filth you call music. It almost cost me my job as a baby photographer.™

The type of headphone you are willing to tolerate is the single most important aspect of choosing a model. Earbuds tend to lack bass; headphones, unless enormous and therefore unwieldy and uncomfortable, have the Grados’ tragic flaw; in-ear headphones like the Shure E2Cs are fussy, gross and to many, uncomfortable. I can put up with their downsides since I need something that will drown out ambient sound, both on my foot-based commute and in the “open-concept office,” a.k.a. trying to write a paper in the middle of a steel-cage royal rumble.

Of the in-ear models, the ones worth considering seem to be the Sennheiser CX300-s, the Ultimate Ears 3 and 5, the Etymotic Isolators, and the Shures. The low-end model, the CX300, go for around $70, the 5s are $200, and the others from $80-150. If money is an object, I’d suggest you follow my lead and get the Shures, despite my complaints about the build quality, since you’re unlikely to get better quality from any of the other models.

Also, treating the included case as mandatory and not just a thoughtful suggestion will cut down on your wear and tear. Oh yeah – and don’t walk around outside, in Canada, during the winter for hours at a time. Apparently that’s just not wise.

Vudu vs. AppleTV

Here’s “an article about Vudu, a movie-downloadin’ box that will compete with AppleTV and the Xbox 360. Distinguishing features:

Looks interesting. Will it work? Consumers aren’t dumb. So the cost of the downloads will be crucial. They will have to be substantially cheaper than DVDs to justify the purchase of a $300 box.

And from what that article says, it seems Vudu doesn’t do TV shows. It strikes me that the compelling reason to buy into the iTunes-iPod-AppleTV system is getting TV shows right after they air. If you get your shows from iTunes, you can cancel your cable altogether. The downloaded films aspect seems much less compelling – hobbled by high prices, poor selection and lack of extras. So I’m not sure relying on films alone will be a smart move, especially since both competing systems offer much more.