Angry Robot

Ah, Game Journalism

On the 18th, TUAW reviewed the just-released SimCity for iPhone and found it to be good, saying

This is one of those games that will help make the iPhone be viable as a portable gaming unit alongside the Nintendo DS and PSP. For those hesitant to try out games on your iPhone, give SimCity a try. You won’t be disappointed.

One week later, they re-review it, and find it to be bad. It crashes every five minutes, it takes two minutes to load, the controls are bad, and it “keeps draining the battery even after connecting the iPhone to a power source”.

Not that game journalism in general has very high standards, but iPhone game journalism in particular is setting some new lows. Yet another reason to avoid TUAW like the plague. (via funkaoshi’s iphone blog)

Hooray for The Asylum

Knockoff brands always make me laugh, whether it’s Sorny or Toasted Oat Os. So I wound up thinking about The Asylum today, the studio that produces ‘mockbusters’ (which I’ve mentioned here before), and I checked in to catch up on their recent output. Highlights:

What, no Dank Knight starring Heath Leggings and Bristian Cale? Missed revenue opportunity, fellas.

YouTube, Hollywood, Camera Phones

I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how one medium is going to influence another. Right now, there are so many media spilling into the same pot that it’s hard to imagine how the stew will taste. But in this AV Club year-in-movies retrospective, Tasha Robinson makes an apt observation:

To me, the trend there seems to be less about people filtering the world through their pop-culture experiences—apart from the occasional extreme iconoclast, who in this industry doesn’t?—and more about people filtering the world through camera lenses, seeing every experience as something to be caught on video and shared with a hungry voyeuristic world. I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 2008 Rolling Stones concert doc Shine A Light, and I laughed at the way Scorsese’s cameras capture people in the process of capturing Mick Jagger’s cavorting on their phones. He’s making his movie—a big, shiny, energetic, polished production—and they’re making their low-fi versions in the middle of it. Or looked at another way, they’re in the front row at a Stones concert… and they’re watching the experience on tiny little screens held up in front of their faces, because capturing it for later is more important than living it.

That attitude has its benefits—for one thing, it gave us Trouble The Water, which rides entirely on the amazing from-the-ground footage two New Orleans residents shot to document their own lives before, during, and after Katrina. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of that in 2009, as people continue to turn their cameras on themselves and their neighborhoods. Given that so many of our favorite 2008 movies were little lo-fi films about ordinary people rather than the pricey escapist fare, I’m suspecting this might ultimately be a good thing, and I hope it continues.

One of many interesting ideas here is that with so many cameras out there capturing footage, there’s a potential for a new kind of cinema that is both theatrical and collectivist. Imagine a room full of people at an event; you stage something going on in the room, and count on the people there to record it for you. You then sort through the footage from the event and assemble it. Or, you could post all the collective footage for anyone to assemble their own edit. It’s the sort of production that would have been completely inconceivable 15 – 20 years ago.

It’s also the sort of production perpetrated by none other than The Beastie Boys, with their awesomely titled Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That in 2006, the year Google bought YouTube, and conceived well before YouTube opened for business.

I don’t know the moral of this story – it’s ongoing, as they say. Perhaps it’s that the Beasties are awesome.

Constructing Space

The office I work in is not like most in my field. As I shuffle to my cubicle each morning with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, music in my ears and laptop bag slung over my shoulder I could swear I was sitting down to a call center job ready to hock another product people don’t need and not about to try to do something creative, which apparently we are supposed to be doing here in TV land. With a work place like this you can’t help but think about environments and how they effect you. It is overwhelming how these spaces define, alter, effect and reflect a person. They play important roles in our mood, decisions and over long enough periods of time our personality. The astounding reality is how little time, thought and effort many of us dedicate to crafting these spaces, these places where we as individuals will exist. With that thought clanging through my head I came across this great video. I want one!

Private Library from A Space In Time on Vimeo.

Rap! The Musical

Without all that rap, courtesy Mr. Show.

PVR Parasite


With the advent of the new PVR system, life is good. No more commercials. I start my show 15-20 minutes into the broadcast, time spent making a tea, putting my kids to bed or doing the dishes, sit down on the couch and enjoy a 1 hour show in 43 minutes. It’s like a little piece of digital heaven.

Unfortunately I’m PVRing myself right out of a job.

You see I’m a promo producer. I write, produce, and edit promos. If nobody watches my promos then why should the company I work for keep me on the staff? Going one step further, why should any advertiser pay good money to have their commercial air during a show if everyone is just going to fast forward through it? They shouldn’t, and eventually maybe they won’t. Without advertisers, TV stations don’t make money; and without money, they can’t buy the shows. Without shows, we won’t need our PVR. So there you go: the PVR could actually be the author of its own destruction, like a parasite that kills its host and then dies itself.

Now, it doesn’t have to go down like this. Advertisers are finding more creative ways to reach their market. In the last couple of years, product placement is at an all time high. Product placement is when an advertiser pays to have their product featured in a film or television. Sometimes it’s done so well you don’t really notice it consciously; other times it’s so blatant it actually disrupts the flow of the show. That’s called bad product placement.

Here are a few examples: in an episode of Smallville, the show about Clark Kent’s wonder years, Clark’s friend Cloe actually says to her friend “here, take my Yaris”. Now we’re not talking about a Porsche or a Beemer, we’re talking about a Yaris. What she should have said was “take my car,” but Toyota probably paid a lot of money for her to actually say the word Yaris. In real life, her friend may have responded with “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing”. On another episode, Clark reaches into his locker for his deodorant and we are treated to a very long close-up shot of Old Spice deodorant. Then he runs on to the football field and there is a massive Old Spice banner the length of the field. Obvious – and quite painful to watch.

A few years back I saw a webisode of 24 during its off-season. I was excited to see it – until I realized it was a not-so-cleverly-disguised car commercial. The Chinese are holding Jack Bauer prisoner, but in a daring nighttime rescue an elite force is sent in to save him. They run off into the woods and pull a tarp off the getaway car. It’s a brand new, extremely shiny SILVER truck. Who washes and buffs their car for a stealth mission? We are then treated to a long car chase in which the car company logo appears numerous times. This thing can go off road, on road, through water; wow, I wish I had that truck. What was I talking about? Right.

I don’t mind subtle product placement. It can even add to the reality of a show. I hate it when someone orders a beer or a soda without saying what brand.

You may have noticed that people on TV are always using Apple laptops. That’s fine, except when you see them in banks. I’ll tell you right now, no bank in the world uses a MacBook Pro to do their bookkeeping. 30 Rock recently did some very clever product placement by working the product placement theme in to the show. It was very funny – and no doubt lucrative as well.

So there you have it. The world of film and television is changing very quickly. Advertisers are looking for new ways to get their product to the masses. Some of them work well and some don’t. I love my PVR, too bad it’s going to put me out of a job, but until then I’ll put on my tourniquet and inject as much HD PVR goodness into myself as I can take.


D: Rock. I find myself in a very similar position, as a fellow promo producer. I’m even considering canceling my cable and going all over-the-air (did you know you can pick up something like 20 HD channels over the air in Toronto?). Then I was like, my channel needs cable fees and viewers, I’m just endangering myself here.

I’d like to bring up a related idea: that the brands themselves are a form of parasite, attaching themselves to content and infecting the viewer. In the days of contentional broadcast, the relationship was symbiotic; but in the era of pay downloads and cable subscription fees, to say nothing of BitTorrent, as viewers we need these ads less.

I’m of course not a huge lover of TV commercials, and even less of product placement. Just think how it would affect content if it was the only financing model. Good luck finding money for your historical drama! That said, I don’t want to see TV production dry up in favour of endless reruns, so the question of how we finance quality TV is still an open one. I have some theories, and I may post some of them in the near future.

More Authors!

So you will have noticed some posts from Matt over the past week, pointing out some great stuff. Matt’s a good friend, bidne$$ associate, and all around Chief of Awesome. He’ll be continuing to post things, which I’m looking forward to greatly.

I’ve also got a couple interesting posts from my friend Duiker, the first of which I’ll post shortly.

New Light on "Opening Night"


I constantly dream of moving to New York, to live a life that never sleeps, mainlining the cities infectious energy and wrapping myself in all its culture, art and media. Today, though, as I read a review in NYT of Ivo van Hove’s stage interpretation of John Cassavetes 1977 film Opening Night this dream bubbled over into planning…ok, more like looking at apartments online that I can’t afford and turning a blind eye to all the fundamental road blocks and obstacles that stand in the way of my imminent departure…but back to the point. For me Cassavetes’ work embodies the soul of why art is meaningful. His ability to capture life’s moments in raw and unbridled ways and translate them, just as pure, through film to his audience made his work resonate in ways other films can only aspire to. He knew how to manipulate his environment, his actors and his camera with just the right subtle touches and direction that opened up emotional doors I didn’t know were possible by film. So to see his work brought to the stage in an interpretation that Ben Brantley felt did the film justice makes me most definitely intrigued. If you live in New York I recommend checking it out. If you don’t, go to you local indie movie store and rent a Cassavetes. My favorite? A Woman Under the Influence.

The Lake

This is an experimental short I just finished. I’ve been meaning to do more of these; the last one was one year ago. I find the format pretty inspiring and theoretically relatively easy to get done, but the bottleneck has been editing; I do a fair amount of editing for my day job, and rarely want to when I get home. So this summertime footage has taken until now to cut together.

I don’t want to say anything about my intentions here, other than to think of it as a trailer for something – a memory or dream, perhaps.

Design and the Elastic Mind

I meant to write about this a while ago but got distracted by life and it for that matter. I’m referring to the Design and the Elastic Mind online exhibit presented by MoMA. I can’t take credit for this find. It was brought to my attention by a marvelous musical blond barbie friend. Since her tip I just haven’t been able to get enough. This interactive exhibit is a celebration of the art of design and the vital role it plays as a medium between raw science and technology and society. In their words:

Design and the Elastic Mind explores the reciprocal relationship between science and design in the contemporary world by bringing together design objects and concepts that marry the most advanced scientific research with attentive consideration of human limitations, habits, and aspirations. The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.

Click the link above. Enjoy. And brainstorm a good excuse for your boss for your inevitable plummet in productivity.

Screens Issue

Missed this one – The NYT Magazine’s Screens Issue, from last week, with lots of amazing articles about the convergence of film, TV and computers, and also a David Lynch interview.

Daytrotter Sessions

Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

With D recently writing about Fucked Up I thought it appropriate to chat a bit about Daytortter, as the hardcore band from Toronto recently stopped by this middle-of-nowhere musical cauldron to stir up a fucked up session. I have a lot of respect for the crew at Daytrotter. In the crowded sea of music reviews and band interviews all scrambling to be the first to break news and discover artists, Daytrotter, and in particular their Daytrotter Sessions, look to interact with music in a way that produces something that adds and not subtracts, something with value and something that provides genuine insight. Their approach is simple: Invite bands as their traveling through America’s heartland (as they put it) to drop by their space, hangout, eat some food and play some music. These impromptu jam sessions lend bands an opportunity to experiment with old songs and test out new ideas. The sessions breath the electricity of witnessing something set sail with an end yet to be determined, where creating something good is only an option and whose guts and brash attitude towards their music can’t be denied. In the end the band and Daytrotter are left with a handful of recorded songs which they post to their site. With the tweaks and twists of post production stripped away these sessions give listeners a new angle and perspective on some great bands. Akin to La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows or Pitchfork’s Juan’s Basement, Daytrotter is heading in a direction in which media should go; interacting with bands in a way that gets beyond the surface and leaving the world with added value instead of lost time. Plus they have some cool ass artists creating poster art of the bands that swing on by.

Let the Right One In

Just wanted to recommend this Swedish tween vampire flick. If that sounds like something you would hate, look again. It’s a fascinating film, beautifully made and acted, by no means trendy or facile. It’s always impressive when a film tries to let the characters’ gazes speak instead of dialogue, especially when it works. This ranks up there with my favourite vampire films (including Habit, another amazing and often overlooked one). It’s amazing how so many different sorts of stories can be told through the vampire myth.

iTunes Movies

I was surprised to discover that the file only plays on one computer, which is confusingly different from iTunes’ music DRM. It would theoretically play on an Apple TV. But it’s not okay for it to play on my Mini, which costs more than the damned Apple TV?

Let’s not ignore the rent/buy confusion: some films are available both to rent and buy, some can only be bought, and some only rented.

Never mind that the purchase price is way too high. I suppose $10 for catalogue flicks is reasonable-sounding. But at this point, last years’ box office smashes are in the $5 DVD discount bins, and if you buy them that way, you can a) play them most anywhere you want and b) resell them, neither of which is possible with iTunes movies. $20 for a new release is foolish. A flyer in Toronto is advertising Dark Knight on Blu-Ray for $20. That’s a door-crasher-style price, but we all know that’s where things are headed.

Finally, the HD situation. HD versions are only available through Apple TV. Granted, there’s no point to having HD on the 320 vertical pixel iPhone, but it would certainly look good on my 800 vertical pixel computer, let alone the Mini hooked up to the flatscreen. Also, although I’ve obviously been unable to see it for myself, from what I’ve heard, this is HD-in-air-quotes HD, with visible pixellation and so forth.

I think I’d value an SD copy of a film at about $5, with no DRM. That would be better value and less effort than rent-and-rip, and more convenient than waiting for a free torrent to get in. At this point, with DRM-free MP3s the standard for music, it’s surprising that the studios are bothering with all of these limitations. They should be doing whatever the hell they can do to actually attract paying customers, shouldn’t they?

I realize Apple had to bend over backwards to get Big Content into their ecosystem; problems with DRM, pricing, and lack of HD all smell like classic studio bugbears. But regardless of whose fault it is, the iTunes movie experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Un Chien Andalou

A golden oldie of experimental film.

(link) And what better opportunity for a Bunuel quote:

Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.

I Take That Back

THIS is the best TV I’ve ever seen.

Mac Mini Media Center Update: Plex and Boxee

First, the problems with Mira have been fixed, and it now works with Leopard. I don’t know if it’s better than SofaControl or Remote Buddy, but at least it’s still a viable option.

It also works with Plex.


Plex is what happened to the OS X port of Xbox Media Center. They forked off and have been attempting to make XBMC easier to set up and use, and the latest release is something to behold.

Setup is still a little finicky. To get full use of the fancy interface and metadata, the app needs to scan your libraries, so you need to point it where to go and tell it what sort of files it’s seeing. Then, it crawls the file structure and tries to make sense of it all, sucking down cover art and plot details and what have you. (Of course, you can forego this process and simply browse a flat file list, but that’s for suckers yo.) Films worked mostly pretty well, but TV shows were all over the place. I recommend you organize your files before scanning them in – organizing shows like “Show/Season 1/ShowS01e01.avi” works well. I had a few folders of personal videos that were radically misinterpreted, of course, and I went through each file removing them from the library, but the next time I scanned the sources to get some new stuff in there, all the old files showed up again. So you kinda have to move them into a different folder.

Once you have everything scanned, however, this app takes off and soars like a majestic eagle-god for couch potatoes. Let me bring in my old friend the unordered list:

Now, keep in mind that a lot (but not all) of these features are common to other XBMC apps. Such as Boxee.


I finally got my Boxee alpha invite, so I gave it a shot too. If you hadn’t heard of it, Boxee is also based on XBMC and is available for Mac, Apple TV, Linux and Windows. It does almost all of the things Plex does, and sports a fine interface itself. The additions it brings are twofold:

Boxee requires the same sort of setup as Plex, with many of the same problems.

Boxee is also pretty awesome, and I could see many people choosing it over Plex, both for Hulu and the facebooky features. However, it has the same surround decoding problems as XBMC did, which is a big issue for an A/V nerd like myself. Also, Hulu doesn’t work outside of the US, so that’s not a big draw for a Canuck, and until it has mass acceptance the friend features aren’t going to do me much good.

As you can probably tell, I’m favouring Plex right now. I’m totally hyped about it, in fact, and am getting ready to customize all the screens and such (ghetto blaster for the Music screen, yeah?). It’s also a small team doing amazing things, whereas Boxee is venture capital funded. But that’s sort of a false dilemma, and I’m definitely going to check back in on Boxee as it develops; as I understand it with these open source projects, they could fold whatever Plex did with their surround decoding back in to their project and that could be enough for me. So check out both and see what you think.

Fucked Up Fuck Up MTV

Thanks to Matt for turning me on to Fucked Up, the Toronto hardcore band. I haven’t listened to hardcore since the early 90s, but this shit is awesome. A couple quotes from the wiki entry demonstrate why:

And here’s the performance on MTV Canada (thanks, Teddy). It has to be some of the best television I’ve seen in a while.

And here’s their blog. I think.

New Design

That should be pretty obvious to all except feed-followers.

I loved the old design, but it was really suited for what the site used to be, and not what it is now. I returned to this site’s original design, which was based on Phu Ly’s Simpla theme, and then took it from there. And here we are: a simple, 2-column blog design that hopefully doesn’t spit in your eyes and is displaying okay in your browser (let me know if it ain’t, okay?). I’ll gradually add things back in when I have the time, but it seemed baked enough to let it out of the oven.

That leaves the question: what is this site now? I’m reluctant to answer that; I’d rather find out gradually. There’s an aphorism about butts cashing cheques that applies to mission statements from people with full-time jobs. But the general idea is to write about things I’m doing and things I love. Which hopefully will overlap somewhat.

Worst Best Lyrics Ever

Worst Lyrics Ever: Snap, “Rhythm is a Dancer.”

I’m as serious as cancer when I say
Rhythm is a dancer

I’ve got nothing against using cancer as a metaphor, even as a metaphor for how serious you are. But then you have to step up to the plate, which Snap most certainly does not. “Rhythm is a dancer”? What does that even mean? That’s like saying “flight is a pilot”. And don’t go looking through the rest of the song’s lyrics for possible exploration, you’ll drive yourself insane.

Best worst lyrics ever: Tom Petty

First in the Traveling Wilburys song “Last Night”:

I was feeling no pain
Feeling good in my brain.

And then, from “It’ll All Work Out”:

She wore faded jeans and soft black leather
She had eyes so blue they looked like weather.

I can’t even find words to express. Although some keywords might be “marijuana, zen, inane, mild brain damage.”

Video of Terminator Salvation

It’s over here, and the production designer brags that there will be ten new terminator models. I’m of two minds with regards to this project. In its favour:

On the other hand, consider the following reasons it could suck:

Two Worlds

I’m torn between two commitments this month: National Novel Writing Month and Fallout 3. I thought it would be a bigger problem than it is. I love getting lost in immersive worlds, so I imagined Fallout would swallow me whole, sabotaging my attempt to force myself to write more through gimmicky contests. However, I’ve realized that whatever electro-chemical cocktail that makes me like exporing worlds is the same formula that makes me like writing. When I’m writing, I’m creating a world, with only myself to blame if it gets boring.

The challenges of writing come from the vagueness of it all. You lay out a huge goal, yet there are many smaller steps that are unclear. Also, there is no one to tell you what to do next, or to even to do anything at all. It makes you wish you just had to chop wood all day. That’s the great thing about NaNoWriMo: it makes writing more like chopping wood. You need to hit 1667 words per day, and if you don’t, you didn’t do your job. No matter if the words suck, just keep blasting away.

So if you even see me up in this robot, I’m totally procrastinating and you shouldn’t encourage me. Bad readers! Look away!

Conspiracy Culture

Hm, I’d never heard of this bookstore on Queen West. Worth checking out.

Fallout Retrospective

I’ve never played Fallout or Fallout 2 but this brought me up to speed, sorta.

Some iPhone Game Reviews


Thanks to Ram for tipping me off on this one. It’s an RTS at it’s simplest; it’s a fast-loading, fast-playing game that is nonetheless strategic. In other words, a one-hitter for strategy nerds. There’s a Galcon Lite for free that may serve your needs, or the $5 Galcon proper offers multiplayer and several different game modes.

Toy Bot Diaries
This is an excellent platformer based on grappling hook and magnetic boot gameplay. The controls (accelerometer and touch) are perfect, and the art and levels excellently made. Just an all-round great game. $4.

Aurora Feint: The Beginning
An inventive puzzler with RPG elements, like Puzzle Quest without the story. It’s fun, well-designed, imaginative and free.


Blue Skies
A top-down arcade helicopter shooter controlled via accelerometer. I haven’t played much of this one, but what I have played I have loved – I have a feeling after a couple more hours logged I’d move it into the must-have category. $3; free Lite version is fairly robust with 7 levels.

Field Runners
There are a couple free tower defense games in the App Store that are like meh, and then there is this one. It’s $5, very slick and has one major flaw: there’s only one level. You can keep playing for ages, but the enemies will just march in a straight line toward your base, meaning it doesn’t really require a lot of strategy, just gradual accumulation of towers. Word on the street is that a free update will add levels, which will be a Good Thing.

Tap Tap Revenge
Very pretty rhythm tapping game. It’s free, but marred by Apple’s restrictions on 3rd party apps – namely, you can’t tap along with your own music.

This is a port of a Sega CD game. It’s an old school Japanese RPG. I was thrilled to see something a little more hardcore for the iPhone, so I shelled out the $5… and haven’t really played it much. Perhaps hardcore games don’t work well on the iPhone, perhaps I have enough of them on my DS & PSP, perhaps I have simply overdosed on JRPGs of late. Perhaps a little of each.


Sudoku (EA version)
You know what’s really annoying? Slick, well-executed animation that makes you wait for it to finish before you can keep playing. That, and paying $10 for something that is now $2. That, and there being so many sudoku apps now that even thinking about trying some of the other ones makes me want to take a nap.

Cube Runner
This is a simple, free, 3D, accelerometer-controlled flying game. By simple I mean the graphics are from 1986. But it’s good for a few minutes, and … see how ‘free’ lowers one’s standards?

Billy Frontier
Long-time mac developer Pangea has a bunch of games on the iPhone and while I’m sure some of them are good, this isn’t one of them. It’s okay, I guess – more or less a western-themed mini-game collection. But it’s slow to load and crashy, which gets in the way of the quick-fix entertainment it’s meant to provide.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m fascinated by the trunkload of racing apps out on the ‘Store now, so that may be the next thing I, er, take for a spin.