Tuesday, 24 June 2008

What Sony needs at E3

Regardless of you gaming preference, it is difficult to deny that Sony has some good offerings in store, and its probable that there are other key software which we are unaware of. 2008 has been a good year for Sony but the game releases are, currently, not mainstream enough to truly accelerate the Playstation 3, but I will acknowledge that the next six months could prove otherwise. However, 2009 offers different and better possibilities, and with Sony enjoying success this year, it could be that much better in the more potential 'Year of the PS3': 2009. Here are the key areas Sony must target to get them firing in the console race:

1. Rectify the JRPG situation

Sony will first want to dampen the euphoria around Microsoft's surprise Japanese RPG announcements. Revalidation of The Last Remnant could dent the early release of the Xbox 360 version, but Sony would need to provide a concrete date for both White Knight Chronicles and Final Fantasy XIII. Information on Final Fantasy Versus XIII would be appreciated, along with the possible confirmation of the rumoured Dark Cloud 3. These titles easily hold their weight against the Xbox 360 exclusives but Sony can further add doubt into the minds of potential Xbox 360 owners: announcing an English port of Eternal Sonata could be very pivotal for a couple reasons. Eternal Sonata was once an Xbox360 exclusive, by Namco Bandai, who just so happen to be developing Tales of Versperia, which seems to be another timed-exclusive, unless Famitsu are to be believed about an exclusive Tales title for the Playstation 3. This could lessen the effect of Tales of Versperia and The Last Remnant. As well as including Disgaea 3, X Edge and Tears to Tiara in their lineup could easily make many question the JRPG support on the Xbox360.

2. Celebrate the Playstation 2, and leave it to rest
The Playstation 2 is one of the best selling consoles in existence, and helped Sony gain a valuable footing on the gaming industry.
But with both the Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable not selling at an expected pace, it might prove best for Sony to encourage Playstation 2 owners to jump aboard Sony's other two systems. Though this should not stop Sony from announcing the final build of the Playstation 2 hardware for retail purposes and encourage potential Wii buyers to jump aboard Sony's ship instead, just in time for such releases as Yakuza 2 and Perona 4.

3. Enhance the image of the Playstation Network

Pushing the PSN in its totality is a must. With a possible announcement of a music and video download service, and with the imminent release of firmware 2.4, Sony will be catching up to Microsoft in terms of extras features which their console supports. But games are where Sony will truly enhance the PSN, with HOME being a easy bet to appear. Home is become a laughingstock of the gaming community, with the countless praise by Sony only turning into countless delays. It is obvious that fine tuning has been taking place with the recently reveals 'Media and Events' room not in the original proceedings of Home, but it really cannot not afford anymore negative news. Though in a more positive manner, the PSN will be seeing the releases of Wipeout HD, PixelJunk Eden, SIREN: Blood Curse, Socom: Confrontation, the soon to be announced Or2 (or is ir Orz?), and the intriguing LittleBigPlanet, all highlighting the further potential of the PSN platform. But besides the confirmed releases, the world still awaits more information on all projects by David Jaffe, the first being a Twisted Metal title. Nobi Nobi Boy by Keita Takahashi, of Katamari Damacy fame, could prove a hit, with the mysterious Linger In Shadows, sounding similar in design to Sony's Echochrome, adding a new type of game to Sony's repertoire of genre types. And this does not even begin to touch upon the possible title of Ratchet: Quest for Booty (which could be mere DLC), and as well the apparent Team ICO title that is heading to the PSN. Another major boost will be getting the release of many Playstation classics ready, and the rumoured enhanced port of Final Fantasy 7 will truly be a shocker.

4. Bring out the big software for the Playstation 3
The disc-based region for the remainder of the year does fare quite well. Afrika could get a potential release, though recent news states otherwise, and Buzz! Quiz TV attracts the increasingly popular casual market, with Valkyria Chronicles being an interesting exclusive along with Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm to appeal to anime fans. Yet these titles are far too niche, and the big titles of Resistance 2, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, and the eventual PS3 release of Bioshock, might not pick up the pace of the Playstation 3, as the lineup is not entirely dominating. The much famed Tekken 6 is a key title, though it might be aging as of late, but Sony really needs is a 2008 release date for White Knight Chronicles, at the very least, and the wishful idea that Final Fantasy XIII gets a 2008 release date. The latter title, a real system seller, would be of tremendous help to the notion of 2008 being the year of the Playstation 3.

Thankfully, new key titles can help improve the remainder of 2008 and 2009. Both Insomniac and Team ICO have big-budget titles on the way. After Resistance 2, work on a sequel to Tools of Destruction will be in full sway, with Team ICO's title being hotly anticipated. Naughty Dog are another company who has had great success with Sony over the years, and with a rumoured new Jax and Daxter title on the way: The Lost Frontier. What can be expected is a possible Uncharted 2, but this will obviously depend on how far into production the game is currently. Other important sequels which should get a place in Sony's conference are Killzone 2, Gran Turismo 5 (usually a system seller), Yakuza 3, and God of War 3, which is perhaps one of the most anticipated titles at the moment. Sony do have a new Socom in development but with their multiplayer-only Socom: Confrontation not even released yet, its doubtful that Sony would jeopardize this title, and therefore show a new Socom possibly early next year. It should be expected that SOE's The Agency will appear in some form, and even possibly their DC Universe MMO. NCsoft could have a title shown, even four, as their exclusive deal with Sony was much publicized. Two unique titles which could possibly be Playstation 3 exclusives is the Guilty Gear successor, BlazBlue, which could help entice 2D fighting fans, and the Suda51 project, Kurayami. While its not entirely known if BlazBlue will be an exclusive title, Kurayami was last seen to be having publisher issues. Rockstar's L.A Noire is another title which appears to be wavering as far as being an exclusive goes, but by information so far, it is a playstation 3 exclusive. There has also been talk of a possible Zone of the Enders sequel, even going as far as being declared a Playstation 3 exclusive. Though there are three definite exclusives titles which really look intriguing from the limited showcasing they have received. The first is inFamous with its Phil Harrison looking protagonist, being developed by Suckerpunch, responsible for Sly Cooper (I wonder if a new title could be in the works as well), and seems like a nice mix of Grand Theft Auto and the television series Heroes. The second is Wardevil, one of the first HD-generation games ever announced. Initially a multiplatform title, it went Playstation 3 exclusive. Another amazing exclusive is Heavy Rain, which not only has the potential to further the experience of Fahrenheit, a former Quantic Dream title, but also be a showcase for the Playstation 3's hardware capabilities. However there are three more titles, which beyond some scans, have yet to get any real showcasing. Apparently being developed by the Sony Namco initiative known as Cellius, the three titles are Brave Arms, Chain Limit and Second: Season 01. All three make use of an advanced QTE system, but as the main game play element. Its possible that the long absence of these titles was so as to develop a more practical game play system, while incorporating the new QTE system. Lastly, there were rumblings of an unannounced exclusive in the works. Ranging from Heavy Rain to a title know as Tears of Blood, it appears that Sony might in fact have two new exclusives by which the gaming public is unknown about (that is if Tears of Blood or Heavy Rain are not the title). Though this is strictly unconfirmed in every possible way , though Vanssa Morgan, new editor for OPM Australia, did briefly mention two unannounced titles for the Playstation 3 which were huge. This doesn't even begin to make mention that Red Dead Revolver 2 could be an exclusive, a console Syphon Filter, and the Biochock port for later this year.

5. Make the Playstation Portable important again
Sony will need to attempt to prove that the Playstation Portable is not dying out, with the new iPhone being a potential threat. LocoRoco 2 will easily make an appearance after it's confirmed release, and highlighting Bleach: Soul Carnival, Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep would be expected (especially for the latter if Sony wants to gain a Kingdom Hearts 3 exclusive). Recent articles on both Ubisoft and Crytek could bring new life to the handheld, though its disheartening that their is not much to talk about software wise for the system. Even the expected handful of PSN titles, after Beats, could help strengthen the Playstation Portable's position, with two rumoured titles being LittleBigPlanet and Call All Cars. Yet any surprise information on the canned/ vaporware titles of Gran Tursimo: Mobile, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Earthworm Jim, Gekido 2, Heartland and Oblivion would be of much use to Sony, amongst new unannounced titles.
With Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G selling so strongly in Japan, it would be wrong of Sony not to make an announcement of an English release. It revitalized sales in Japan and, with other good quality software, could do the same in other territories.

6. Highlight hardware specials
Beyond software, Sony are possibly developing something big hardware wise. Before that, I think it's viable that Sony could announce a new Eyetoy title. While Eyedentify seems to have gone into gaming limbo, a new title to help promote the new Eyetoy, or even a new Eyetoy Kinetic title could be in the works so as to challenge Wiifit (though it must be said that Sony did it first). There are rumblings of a new Playstation 3 controller, two in fact. The first talks of a controller which breaks apart and can form new controller types, and another which is similar to the wii-mote. I talked a little about this in a previous short article: New rumoured Sony controller not so new?. Regardless of which is correct or not, a new controller could provide a new angle for Sony to play upon in regards to their console. However, bringing to light the release of the Dualshock 3 in Europe is vital, regardless of whether a new controller is shown, but I did discover when this could possibly be: Dual Shock 3 EU release in end July?. If both the Dual Shock PAL release and the new controller make the conference, Sony will need to to make sure not to alienate the Dual Shock 3's capabilities. E3 will be a great oppurtunity to discuss Play TV, and attempt to show what other features the Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable will be capable of.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Kung Fu Panda


A strange, yet cute and fun approach to martial arts...

Po (Jack Black), a clumsy Panda, works at a noodle restaurant, but as an avid kung fu fan he dreams of being able to meet The Furious Five, a group of kung fu experts noted for their great ability and heroic deeds. One day, it is decided that one of The Furious Five will be granted the status of the Dragon Warrior, and a determined Po attempts to watch the tournament taking place. After various attempts to enter the Dojo, he finally gets in, only to be told that he is the future Dragon Warrior.

Kung Fu Panda is quite a unique story: it is a clear parody of kung fu films but it does enough to prove that it pays homage to them as well. For instance, Po is told he will become the greatest warrior in the whole of China, but he is both overweight and clumsy, and has no martial arts training whatsoever: parody. However, the old and wise kung fu master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has some very wise words, infused in traditional Chinese philosophy: homage. This becomes the most striking aspect of the film, and one which will no doubt be more attune t adults then children. Though it must be said that the film is more for kids then adults, unlike previous DreamWorks Animation productions such as Shrek, Madagascar and Flushed Away. This is mainly due to the simplicity of the film as a whole. The film is ridden with clich├ęs, sometimes to aid the comedy, and the comedy itself can be far too silly at times. The film is also too short, and characterization pays for this. Beyond Po and Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), no other characters really gets any depth added to them. There is a little for Tigress (Angelina Jolie), but that is about it, and it's disappointing because it is possible that each character has a rich background. The length also lessens the overall impact of the film, with Po seemingly able to learn Kung Fu is a very short space of time. In fact, there were times where I felt totally disengaged with the film, wondering when it was going to show something that truly excited me.

But the action looks great, mostly due to the superb animation. Characters look like great representations of cartoons, and their body movements are fluid. There is also a great deal of detail, with much work being put into the fur of characters, and facial workings. Special effects do not appear to have gotten as much work on, but they are not bad at all, and work well with the other animation. DreamWorks Animation mus be commended for making a truly believable world and its clear to see references to other great martial arts films like House of Flying Daggers. If anything, its a shame that some good action sequences become used more to emphasis comedy then action, and makes the fighting less engaging then you would hope.

Music is very consistent, bringing traditional Chinese melodies expected of kung fu movies to the helm. At all times, it works, unlike the voice acting. Now all the voice actors do an impeccable job illustrating their respective characters, be it Angelina Jolie as the fiery Tigress, Ian MacShane as the evil Tai Lang, and even Randall Duk Kim as the serene and wise Oogway. And while Jack Black does a good enough job as Po, he comes across as too Jack Black, and Po as a character feels lifeless. In fact, the problem with Black is that unlike the other actors, he brings no charisma to his role. By no means is he a bad actor, his last role in Be Kind Rewind was great, but this time around, he doesn't quite gel with his character.

With unnoticeable tame language, and no sex or nudity, the film does have its fair share of violence. However it is far from being actually violent and is also used quite often for comical purposes.

As far as computer animations go, Kung Fu Panda is good, but not good enough to truly compete with the forerunners of the medium. For every aspect which makes Kung Fu Panda worth watching, humour and animation quality, there are aspects which make not worth the watch, simplistic story and lack of character development. It does what it sets out to do and that is entertain, but it falls short of what it should have tried to accomplish.

6/10

Screen date: 16 June 2008
Release date: 27 June 2008

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Chery Automobile test drive

So my brothers and I just came back from having a test drive of the automobiles from the newly established in South Africa, Chery. I was looking forward to the experience, with McCarthy giving much exposure for the country, but sadly I felt underwhelmed by the offerings.

Tiggo


The Tiggo is a compact SUV which shares design similarities to the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Toyota RAV4. This is by no means a bad thing, for it looks like a stellar vehicle. However, it must be expressed that this conservative design approach does feel unwarranted. It's cheaper then the other SUV's mentioned, and so can appeal to those who want a more affordable option, but whereas the others have their own individual elements, the Tiggo is without any. Upon driving I noticed that the clutch felt very weak, with clutch control feeling awkward, but once the car got moving the clutch was no problem at all. Yet this is where the gearing became problematic. The gearbox does not feel like a solid unit but instead as if you have to pull along extra cargo which is latched to a rope, while walking around corners. The seating interior was decent, but the steering wheel felt a tad too plastic. While a compact SUV, my brothers noted that the leg space for the back seats where cramped; I had just enough space to drive with. In terms of driving, the brothers noted a smooth experience, but that is not the case for the driver. Considering its 2.0 liter engine, the Tiggo handles as if the engine is not strong enough to support its weight. It got some decent speeds all the way up to the fifth gear, but its power was severely lacking. It retails for around R155 000, but with that price tag, you are better off purchasing a tenth-generation 1.4 Corolla, which surpasses the Tiggo in every respect.

J5

Afterwards, I took the J5 for a test. Like the Tiggo, the gearbox and clutch felt poorly designed. However, the J5's clutch became problematic during driving unlike the Tiggo. Running on the same engine, the car feels better on the road, but upon shifting gears, the car unnecessary gave a slight jerk. I've driven a handful of cars, ranging from Toyota, to Fiat, to Citroen, but I have never come across a car which felt unstable upon gear change as if the car just wanted its driver to give it an early burial. But where I can at least recommend the Tiggo in some respect, I can't say the same for the J5. Yes, it has a nifty parking sensor, but its interior, regardless of its leather in the higher models, and exterior are far too outdated. If anything, there is more leg room in the J5, comparing close to the tenth-generation Corolla, but at R140 000, it is a little overpriced.


QQ3

While I did not technically drive this model, I did attempt to get a feel for the car instruments. Firstly it must be mentioned that the QQ3 feels outdated from the very moment you get inside. Besides the interior, there is nothing which even feels remotely like it was made in 2000 or beyond. In fact, the built in radio system has a cassette player. Beyond that I don't see it driving any better then the Tiggo or J5, but I must commend the interior seats, and exterior design, which has a uniquely cute appeal on its front side, even though you could easily misjudge it for a Chevrolet Spark. It is the cheapest car on the South African market, retailing for around R60 000 to R70 000, depending on the model. I am not a fan of the Chevy Spark, and sadly am not much impressed by the QQ3.

The build quality for the three vehicles is not bad at all, and they possess a wealth of little nice touches, such as a sun-roof or full electric window control. But with non-existent clutch control, clunky gearing, outdated cockpits, and other individual problems, it is very difficult to justify the price tag these vehicles possess. Yes, they are bottom range sellers, but for what you are getting, the Chery line is strictly for last resort or necessity only.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Sakar Raj

Engrossing till the end, but not exactly there...

Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai) proposes the development of a power plant for the rural region of Maharashtra, but is advised to meet with Sarkar Nagre (Amitabh Bachchan), a gangster who is worshiped as a leader of Maharashtra. While Sarkar sees the proposal as absurd, his son, Shankar (Abhiskek Bachchan), thinks otherwise. Shankar is able to persuade his father to accept the proposal for it will allow the development of the land, thus helping the rural villagers in the region. While campaigning for the villagers approval, Shankar gets an unforeseen opposition movement.

As a sequel, Sakar Raj proves a worthy entry in the series: the original was clearly an adaption of The Godfather, while Sakar Raj is easily an original story, but the links to The Godfather are still present, and sadly taint the film's overall image as a unique piece of film-making. Nevertheless, the story which is presented,
a political tale of power and revenge, is fairly engaging, with the first half keeping more in kin with drama, allowing the second half to up the tempo with violence, and it works. It should be noted that the violence not exactly tame, with the bloody aftermath of bodies being shown. They are not particularly gory, but that doesn't stop them being strong visual images. Now while it would seem as if the film lacks the story towards the end, this is not the case: it is merely because the consequences of certain actions which prevail in the first half, meet their timely demise in the second, while branching the story into further intrigue. A definite striking point of the film story is its conclusion, which is hard-hitting, and makes up for the few tedious moments the film presents. However the film's dialog does hit a few hiccups everyone and a while. There is one or two unnecessary one liners which sound out of place, but the real problem comes from certain lines which are obviously meant to contain a high degree of philosophical backing. Yet the depth some of these lines attempt to achieve, is not always exact, and feels as if the character speaking wishes to present themselves as far more intelligent that they actually are. It is a small niggle, but nonetheless noticeable, as it dampens the effect of some scenes.

Acting greatly commends the story, with no evident inadequate moments. The forerunners, Rai and both Bachchan's, are able to steady the film's progress, allowing the lesser actors, though still vital in the film's entirety, to not drain themselves from the overwhelming plot. Though with this said, these actors don't exactly come across as memorable and are easily overlooked by the many other facets of the films production. While Rai is underused, and never really portraying herself as well as she does, the most unique aspect of the acting comes in the form of both the characters Sarkar and Shankar. Sakar, the lead from the precursor film, plays a secondary role to the character of Shankar, who Abhiskek is able to portray with strength. He dominates his scenes, and its pleasant to see Abhiskek really start to push his roles further. However, while fans of the original might feel that Amitabh is somewhat slated, that is not the case. He merely plays a subtle role which escalates into something far greater as the films inches closer to its conclusion. As stated earlier, the conclusion is excellent, concluding the film on a very skilled footing, allowing room for a sequel.

The director, Ram Gopal Varma, is a great director, and he proves himself once again with excellent cinematography for most of the film. There are various 'Bollywood'-esque filming choices, which seem unfitting for the type pf film being achieved, but it is a characteristic which one couldn't have really expected to be missing. Like some of the best Bollywood dramas, Varma chooses not to include the typical dance and song routines expected of Bollywood films. While some might be disappointed, it is a good move on part of the director.

It is a pity, however, that the film's music is somewhat off key. The used tracks greatly enhance the tension, but they get used over ad over for almost no reason. Varma seems somewhat determined to create an engaging atmosphere for the entire film, when is really is not necessary. It can only be seen that Varma is trying to hard to make Sakar Raj succeed, especially after the
dismalness of his previous film: Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.

Sakar Raj is a good follow-up to Sakar: the acting is excellent for the most part, and works well with the intriguing story. It is just disappointing that some story issues, coupled with a few dialogue and music problems are easily apparent. Varma weaves an good story, though his problem with Sakar Raj, is that he so wishes to make Sakar Raj an enjoyable film, that he ends up losing sight of some minor problems which tarnish the final product.

8/10

Screen date: 06 June 2008
Release date: 06 June 2008

Monday, 2 June 2008

New rumoured Sony controller not so new?

Rumours as of late have Sony developing a new controller for their Playstation 3. According to Playstation Lifestyle, the controller had the following description:

"A mini-tripod that stood about 12 inches high. and what looked like 4 black PS3 “wiimotes”. Well they were essentially “wiimotes” for the PS3, but didn’t need a “nunchuck” attachment."
"The biggest concern of the demonstrator was that for these “PS3motes” to work they needed the tripod, which connected to the PS3’s USB port. It also needed to be set up in the middle of your gaming area."

Now they had a source to back up the evidence, so it is probably that such a controller is on the works. However, this is not the first time that such a scenario has occurred with Sony. We have heard the rumours of a Playstation 2 which bundled with a 'wiimote'-like device, the new transforming controller for Playstation 3, even the ultrasound controller whereby players would be able to actually expereince the game in its entirety. Yet, going back to late 2005, it was discovered that Sony had a patent for a device which worked on the Playstation 2, with the use of the Eyetoy by means of light displays from the controller:


It could be quite possible that this new controller has been in development for quite some time, with it being a modified version of the above screens of a patent filed back in December 2004. The only difference is that the eyetoy has been removed in form of a tripod which apparently is needed for the controller to work. A blatant evolution of hardware? It is a possibility. All which remains to be seen is whether the original exclusive story has any truth to it.
Now Sony, what about that ultrasound controller?