Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley has a steep dropThe Uncanny Valley - It is basically a theory that says humans will accept human likeness to a certain level (about 70%) but if the artificial human becomes too human-like without being human (about 80-90%) then we will be uncomfortable with that artificial being.

Why am I referring to this now? Look at the chart to the left. I would postulate that over the past 10 years, video game graphics have went from the 10% likeness scale to the 50% likeness scale. Now 2004-present, we have been wavering in the uneven ground of 50%-90%, in video games and movies.

I would say that when Final Fantasy: Spirits Within was released, that movie unfortunately fell into the Uncanny Valley of CGI. But now video games have finally caught up. Take a look at a build from the upcoming game Crysis (2007).

Hi robots!As far as I know, these are rendered human models that will be placed in the game in a real time environment. Now where do these models lay on the graph? Just to the left of the valley? Just to the right?

That is, assuming the Uncanny Valley is a stable theory, but I do not believe that has yet to be proven.
However, let's look at another screenshot of another game, Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006).

This is Alyx. Dr Kleiner is also hiding in this picture. Can you find him? Once again, assuming the Uncanny valley theory is correct, I think Half-Life clearly sets itself upon the left side of the valley. I would also think most other CGI in these days also set themselves up on the left of the valley.
Remember how scary the Mom and Boy looked in Toy Story? (Uncanny Valley?)
Remember how comfortable it is to watch The Incredibles instead? (Left side of Valley?)
Remember how ugly the Final Fantasy characters seemed even though they were so realistic? (Uncanny Valley?)

I'm just interested to see where video game graphics will go from here. With the technology seeming to range from 60% likeness to 90% likeness, it will be interesting to see where companies put their graphics in the future.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Battlestar Galactica (Season 1) [Part 2/2]

1x07 Six Degrees of Seperation (41 Minutes)
Dr. Gaius continues to go crazy while the cylon's motives in these two sub-plots grow increasingly cryptic.
Score: 8.8/10.0

1x08 Flesh and Bone (41 Minutes)
Dr. Gaius has finally turned completely to the dark side (or so it seems) and interrogation scenes resembling LOST occur! (But I did like the LOST interrogation scenes better) More character progression as humans empathize with cylons, and cylons empathize with humans!
Score: 8.6/10.0

1x09 Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down (41 Minutes)
Dr. Gaius (or should I say Baltar?) continues to be a moron and this drama turns into a comedy! But it's funny, and not like a sitcom. More like an episode of Lucy--which is kind of a sitcom. Also, the cylons are getting feelings and jealous of human imperfections! Whee!
Score: 8.6/10.0

1x10 The Hand of God (41 Minutes)
In an allusion to the "water" episode, the Galactica and its followers are low on fuel and find the fuel in an asteroid, except it's guarded by a Cylon base. What follows is a pretty epic attack plan reminiscent of the Death Star and the trench run by Luke. All in all, a good episode, except Gaius is still a moron.
Score: 8.9/10.0

1x11 Colonial Day (41 Minutes)
Politics, political statements, assassinations--I almost thought I was watching 24. It seems as though the show has finally got into gear as the season finale is coming up next.
Score: 8.7/10.0

1x12 Kobols Last Gleaming - Season Finale (82 Minutes)
Starbuck hunts for an ancient arrow on Caprica, the president is arrested, the Cylon ship is destroyed, and some dudes are shipwrecked on Kobol. I had already seen this episode before (the last 20 minutes at least) so I'm more interested into seeing what happens next, as basically I had an idea of the whole story-arc of season 1 in my head before I watched any of these.
Score: n/a

Overall, Battlestar Galactica season 1 is a high-caliber show, with excellent characters, an interesting premise, good production values, tight writing, and no major flaws. The only negative aspect I can think of is the major story arc did not really play into the first season, but it appears to be kicking by the season finale.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Battlestar Galactica (Season 1) [Part 1/2]

Battlestar Galactica - Think Wing Commander, mixed with Freelancer, mixed with Ender's Game, mixed with LOST.

1x00 - The Pilot (180 minutes)
The introductory episode serves just as that: an introduction. We are introduced to the race of the Cylons, who were created as slaves by the humans, and the long standing silence of no contact between the two races for 40 years. The contact is finally remade in the form of a surprise attack by the Cylons and eventually the only remaining human ship left is the Battlestar Galactica. The story is somewhat predictable, seeing as this is a remake and you know everything that will happen. However, the premise is quite interesting as the Galactica is being retired and the characters interact with each other. BSG also does not fall into the unruly Sci-Fi technique of "explaining things in odd manners for the viewer." It's not a bad start but not too interesting.
Score: 7.4/10.0

1x01 - 33 (41 minutes)
After announcing their goal of escaping to Earth in the first episode, the Galactica sets off on a lightspeed journey, but their progress is hampered by a Cylon fleet tracking them, rejumping to each system the humans jump to in exactly 33 minutes. This creates for a very interesting show premise (exactly like the 108 timer in LOST). The episode is highly interesting and very entertaining. It is a great kick start to showcase humanity's struggle for survival and the efforts of the enemy Cylons to track and deceive the humans.
Score: 8.9/10.0

1x02 - Water (41 minutes)
Continuing through space, the Battlestar Galactica is sabotaged, forcing the ship to look for a new water supply. Meanwhile, the implications of a Cylon on board the ship grow stronger, and the relationship between the maintenance crew, the pilots, the commanders, the civilians, and the scientists is explored more.
Score: 8.0/10.0

1x03 - Bastille Day (41 minutes)
Upon discovering water, the humans still need to undertake the monstrous task of extracting it in the ice of the planet, during 180 degree below zero temperatures. To do this, some of the crew is sent to ask the prisoners on a prison ship if they want to volunteer to take this task. Instead, the prisoners take over the ship in a "revolution" attempt to reorganize the government. The episode is not bad, but not overly exciting. I also sense more political commentary coming from this show.
Score: 8.2/10.0

1x04 - Act of Contrition (41 minutes)

Character development! Flashbacks! Flash forwards! Exciting new story prospects! That's the whole episode. So, it's basically Starbuck has character problems and must develop them while training new pilots for the fleet. A good character-development episode.

Score: 8.4/10.0

1x05 - You Can't Go Home Again (41 minutes)

Continuation of the previous episode - basically the same content except progressed and developed to a further extent. Starbuck is marooned on a planet and gets off while the fleet searches for her. I wish the show would announce a goal, instead of just saying that the Galactica keeps jumping from system to system doing nonsense.

Score 8.5/10.0

1x06 - Litmus (41 minutes)
Following the aftermath of another Cylon boarding the Galactica and sabotaging it, an independent bureau is set up to investigate the possibility of another cylon being on board. The news of the cylons finally being human is revealed to the crew, and witch hunts are started. I sense strong political commentary.
I don't know if this episode was better than the previous few, but I certainly enjoyed it more for some reason. Perhaps it was the propelling contrasts and battles between the characters that fueled the episode.
Score 8.7/10.0


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Thursday, October 11, 2007



Portal summed up in two words:
Fantabulously amazing.

This game is fantastic, and unlike Episode Two, it is a whole, complete, satisfying game. From the opening scene, to the puzzling tests, and the hilarious commentary by the computer in between, this game is great.
The difficulty curve is just right, first introducing you to the mechanics, then allowing you to get comfortable, and then throwing cryptic challenges at you when you have motivation even when you're stumped.

The humor is spot-on and excellent, and a great incentive just to complete each puzzling task.
The portal gameplay-mechanic is fresh and well executed.
The story is revealed in just the right manner and ends at the right time.
The absence of any human characters and the striking white design of the corridors maintains the lonesome atmosphere and enhances your anticipation when you reach for escape.

This is by far the best game out of the Orange Box, and the best Valve game since Half-Life².

9.7 Cakes/10 Cakes

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Half-Life²: Episode Two

I have just finished playing Half-Life²: Episode Two. Thoughts:

The Good:

- New enviroments: These include outdoor forests, mountains, underground caverns, and a rebel base.

- New gameplay situations: Teaming up with rebels against antlions, running around with a vortigaunt ally. Thse new gameplay situations refresh the old combat in new ways.

- The physics puzzles actually make sense and don't feel tacked on.

- New graphical features (motion blurs, dynamic flashlight shadows) add a nice touch to old graphics.

- Some of the new AI is very impressive. The combine are smarter than before (I think) and some of the cave enemies are very intelligent and elusive.

The Bad:

- Some minor, reoccuring graphical glitches.

- The WOW factor of seeing real-time enviroments and characters interact has died down since 2004. If Half-Life is going to continue, they need to upgrade the gameplay and not rely on the "frosting" to get gamers through. Right now the gameplay is somewhat shallow, acting only as a constant "problem solver" to every barrier in the story. This is not bad in theory, yet Half-Life is feeling more like an interactive movie with pauses of mundane combat to keep the interaction.

- Due to the episodic content, the story suffers from a lack of completeness as a whole, and thus is less satisfying.

- Every time you must do an inane old-school FPS jumping sequence, Alyx still leaves the room.

- Some sequences felt predictable and had a sense of deja-vu. It seemed like the game was redoing the same sequences from older games in slightly different ways.

The Best part in the game:

Driving through the forest, you make a pit stop and search an abandoned hotel for supplies. You get in your car to continue yet a surprise forcefield activates, blocking you in. The Combine have sprung a trap on you. You retreat back into the hotel with Alyx and take out multiple Combine troopers and several Hunters in an epic battle of two versus fifty.

Overall, Half-Life²: Episode Two is on par, or better than Half-Life² and certainly much better than Episode One. However, the repeating combat system, recycled graphics and short story arc keeps this from being a completely enjoyable experience.

Half-Life²: Episode Two


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Friday, October 05, 2007

Resident Evil 4 (Wii)

"Resident Evil...
...Four!" - The guy who talks in the Wii menu.

First off, this game is insanely fun. I'm tired of regular first person shooters where you sport weapons and run and gun everywhere shooting loads of enemies who take hit points and fall as long as you keep shooting them. Finally I have to use my brain to take out fewer, harder, and smarter enemies, instead of shooting loads of dummies who will die from any gun blast.

Also, every single aspect of the game has a strategy element to it.

- First off, shooting zombies can be done in a variety of different ways, depending on your ammo situation, your weapon situation, your enviroment, and the types and number of enemies.

- Inventory management was suprisingly fun to me, and mixing herbs created another layer of strategy.

- Simple situations, such as the first village fight, were made interesting by having many ways to complete them. You could run in a house, barricade yourself, and do all sorts of things.

I also noticed how fun a game is when a new core-gameplay mechanic is in action. I had never played a "zombie" game before and it's fun to try and learn how to take out the zombies. You can shoot them in different parts of their bodies, with different weapons, and different strategies. Only when you have a good core-gameplay mechanic, is the frosting of a game fun. The frosting being extra add-on features, such as: side-quests, upgrades, RPG elements, etc. Without the core gameplay mechanic being good, everything else will just fall flat.

The graphics do their job without being overly noticable or shiny, and the same goes for the audio. The only real negative issue with the game was the pacing. The story and gameplay progress well in the village, then the story is seemingly put on hold during the Castle and the final 10 hours of the game. During that time, all you do is rescue ashley, watch her get captured, rescue her again, watch her get captured again, and repeat 3 more times.

Small things that could be improved:

- A side-stepping feature would be nice, although it does make you feel claustrophobic when you don't have this feature, which is kind of a good thing.

- The cinematic sequences where you have to press buttons or wave the remote to complete an action just feel corny. They are still a little fun, but they just feel tacked on, and you don't know whether to watch a cut-scene or hold your Wii remote waiting for the screen to tell you to do something.

- Random sound effects for simple actions would be nice, for example

- The merchant using different lines, but who cares, because it's funny to hear him repeat the same stuff.

- Different voice commands when Leon orders Ashley to wait and go.
That would spice the game up a little more.

Overall, it's a very well executed game, with a strong integral gameplay design, with tons of optional features and side-elements to spice it up. The only negative issue is the pacing, which felt like they dragged the game on for too long without any story progression, only backstory revealing.
But in the end, it's easily the best single-player game I've played in the past year, or maybe even 2 years.

Resident Evil 4 (Wii)