Man of Steel (2013)

IMDB plot:

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

Spoilers. Pretty much.

So… yeah, another incarnation of the super boyscout guy. And, amazingly, they seem to have done it right — at least, in my opinion, but I’m not super “AMG! They destroyed the version in the comics” kind of person.

I mentioned this in my Twitter timeline, but I’ll repeat here: Man of Steel is a movie about the little things. Not that it talks about little things, but the little things make this a great movie.

For example: Jonathan Kent puts Clark in a hard position of showing his powers or staying hidden. His preference is to hide his powers so people won’t be afraid of him. But suddenly is Jonathan that needs Clark powers to be saved and what does it do? With a small gesture, he tells him “you shouldn’t show your powers, it’s ok”. It’s small, but it tells a lot. Even smaller is when you look directly at Kevin Costner’s face and see a little smile in his lips, like a father proud of his son, but with sadness in his eyes, like saying “I’m sad ’cause I’ll never see you go full power”.

It’s one of those defining moments for me. When an actor goes beyond lines and simple movements show everything. I said before, in “Marley & Me” that it was the best work for Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, ’cause you can see the light fading in her eyes when Jenny realizes she lost her child and Owen losing his voice when John thinks Marley will not survive. All of this kind of “going beyond the lines in the script” happens here, over and over again.

Jonathan’s “stop” and “I’m proud of you son, and I’m sorry I’ll never see you grow up” face is one; Zod/Michael Shannon face when the hologram of Jor-El disappears, showing regret to have the image of his old friend disappear forever’ Jonathan (again) chocking when saying “You are my son” when Clark asks if they can keep pretending he’s his son; Clark/Kal-El/Henry Cavil face when he’s faced by a hooligan in a bar and have to control himself (three times, nonetheless); the way Faora falls on her knees seeing that she’s free ’cause her planet was destroyed… And that’s only acting, you still have how the music and the sound mix when Metropolis is being destroyed (the sound is part of the music and the music is part of the sound); the way the fire vision is shown and how the Kryptonians react to its use… And, in the very end, the way they put Christopher Reeves over Cavil face to pay an homage to the most well-known Superman.

This all show the incredible vision Zack Snyder had for the movie.

But surely small touches can’t make a movie. The way David Goyer and Christopher Nolan wrote the movie allowed Snyder to go into this. And the story is good and flows magnificently. You’d keep watching and then suddenly realize

A lot of people complained about the level of destruction. It seems to fit well here, since just now Clark is fully exploring his powers; he’s not the one that learnt how to hold his powers to protect everyone. In the animated series, there is one scene when Darkseid is about to destroy Metropolis and when Superman finally appears, he comes with lines like “What we have here is an unique opportunity. I can finally use my powers without any restrains.” I think Snyder tried to do something around those lines, although in reverse: He didn’t know restrain yet; and he wasn’t fighting some human with lots of money, he was fighting people with the same powers as his that would not stop till they kill everyone.

Music is a weird issue to me. I heard the music in the trailer and absolutely loved it, bought the whole album and found it absolutely boring. It follows a tendency these days of making a single theme for the movie and then twisting it to fit everything else. The hero theme is a slower version of the original theme, with a single violin; the villain theme is, again, the same theme, but with guitars, drums and lots of distortion.

Also, as I mentioned to a friend, surely the original Superman song, by John Williams, is way more “wristlable” than the Hans Zimmer version. On the other hand, Zimmer’s version have a lot more impact than Williams’ version.

But no matter how I feel about the soundtrack, it sits perfectly with the movie — although one can say they stretched a bit too far in the last scenes. The fact that could mix the music itself with the movie sounds makes it even more spectacular, making it “organic” to the general aural experience of the movie.

Acting is largely a hit. Cavil absolutely kills as Clark/Kal-El. Not only that, but he uses two different tones when talking: One is when Clark, the adopted son of two farmers in Kansas, is talking; the other, when Kal-El, the alien that wants to help everyone, talks. You can clearly see those two voices comparing the tone when he talks to his mom or Lois and when he talks to the military people (and I think Snyder will use this tone change as part of the disguise for Superman in the next movie).

Amy Adams is alright as Lois, although the script really fails with her (fall from a plane exactly when it blows up? Really?)

Costner, as I mentioned, has his moments. His acting is ok, like most of the movies, but there are a couple of scenes in which he absolutely kills.

Russel Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni… All seem to be still be doing the same characters over and over again. Seriously, pick Morpheus and put him as a newspaper editor and there you have Fishburne acting in this movie. Meloni is still doing the guy in uniform. And Crowe… well, Crowe still is the Gladiator, although he talks more than fight.

Diane Lane, on the other hand, seemed completely off the movie. She completely lacks the empathy needed for playing Clark’s mom in this movie. It’s weird seeing an actress like Lane doing such bad acting in a movie where Costner kills twice.

Although not as bad as Lane, Michael Shannon is also not that good as the evil Zod. But, then again, it’s hard to pinpoint if is his acting that’s somewhat bad or it’s simply the way Zod is. (Back to the story,) In Krypton, all people are engineered since conception to be something and Zod is engineered to be a military person — the though, in control, military type of person. So, let’s take that to the side and just mention that his lines like he burned his whole tongue with a hot potato are… bleh.

But really, I think Snyder/Nolan/Goyer did an amazing job in finally bringing Superman to a more realistic role, even if most the fights seemed like parts of a high quality video game. Now instead of being the invincible being, the guy that simply was born to save everyone, they put him with a teacher (his father) on how to be good, they put him in a training position… He finally have space to grow up instead of just appearing ready for everything.

Now You See Me

IMDB Plot:

An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

I’ll try to tone down the spoilers, but I make absolutely no promises.

Let’s start with the disclaimers: I had an idea what this movie was about, but I wasn’t too hyped and didn’t catch anything about it. That alone may be the reason I enjoyed it so much.

Anyway, if you like comparisons, this is basically “Ocean’s Eleven” but with magicians instead of con artists. And I’m using “magicians” in a very lose sense. Sure, one guy is good with cards, but some things are way beyond magic and more in the zone of “CGI”. On the other hand, it gives a sense of “plausibility” to the most absurd things ’cause, hey, it’s magic.

Cast is a hit and miss. Woody Harrelson is still doing his “I’m kinda crazy, kinda sane, but totally sympathetic person” role, although this time he’s the guy who can hypnotize anyone (hey, it’s magic); Jesse Eisenberg is, once again, playing Zuckerberg, although less “distant” and talking faster. Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are… discount big stars. Isla is, basically, looking like Jennifer Lawrence, but louder; and Dave Franco, well, he looks like a discount James Franco — and I don’t know if it was because of that that his role in the movie is really small compared to the others. Mark Ruffalo… I won’t talk about Ruffalo ’cause I think the only role he did well so far was Avengers — and he absolutely doesn’t shine here till the last 20 minutes and only in the first 5 of those.

The big stupid thing in cast was using Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Mélaine Laurent. No, not because “oh my god, they suck!” but mostly because it was a complete waste of money.

Caine is deeply underutilized in the movie. Expecting him to deliver a role to make you cry like a little girl just saying “then I failed you and your father”? Nope, not gonna happen. I mean, seriously, they could replace Caine with some discount-old-actor-that-looks-good-in-a-suit and you can remove Caine completely.

Freeman is borderline useless. You can pick any other actor that is able to sound wise and you can replace him, but… yeah, how many actors do you know that can sound wise but just saying random lines of script?

My biggest deception with the cast is Laurent, though. She shines on the screen, she captures your eyes, she steals any scene and, still, she’s there just to provide a romantic counterpart to Ruffalo. Replace her with a guy that just keeps pushing Ruffalo’s skepticism and you’d need very little changes in the script.

But the script and the directing is what really shines in the movie. Really. Again, you have a bunch of magicians stealing things, but when you have a constant theme — and phrasing — of “deception”, you start to look at things in a different way, and you try to figure the plot but it keeps moving faster than you can imagine and after a while you start to ask yourself if the amount of “deception” being thrown around isn’t a deception in itself.

And then you have the final plot twist. Surely, by this time, you probably imagined every possible outcome, every possible twist… and still you’ll not be ready for the end. And even if you’re hinted during the scene, it still twists it further.

I really enjoyed my time this weekend watching this movie. I was laying on the couch while watching it and, to be honest, it’s been awhile since a movie made me get up and sit straight — specially in the end.

Senna (2010)

The usual IMDB Plot:

A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.

The usual spoiler alert… Wait a freaking second, this is documentary! It’s like asking to not spoil the result of the World War II.

So I finally watched the documentary that, at some point, was said to be the “highest rated documentary on IMDB” (although today it doesn’t even appear in the first page). I reckon it didn’t catch much attention around, as most people are not Formula 1 fans and most people are not Brazilians in their mid twenties or older.

So, let me put this (and specially that last phrase) in context: It was the late 80s, early 90s and Brazil was still recovering from a military dictatorship. Inflation was growing like crazy and the feeling from the general population wasn’t so happy. So there was a great need for a circus (the bread part was a bit harder) and, at this time, this guy, who raced in one of the most expensive racing sports, was considered brilliant by experts and would say he was Brazilian any time he had the chance and displayed the Brazilian flag proudly on every victory and that gave the Brazilian people some hope.

(And people forgot the fact that he came from a very wealthy family — he was the 1%, or even the 0.1% at the time — but remember fondly his Foundation, created to help poor kids, which only existed after he became famous.)

The problem with this documentary is mostly the way it was edited, to give a more “drama!” vision of the events: You have the hero, the rival and the evil.

The hero is, obviously, Ayrton Senna. They show how the people loved him, how impressive his driving was, how he was a bon vivant…You know, the guy you want to be (or have a close friend). In no point, the documentary shows anything negative about him — and, honestly, I think the Brazilian press shielded things like that pretty nicely, as I can’t remember anything bad about him.

The rival is Alain Prost, who Senna had problems since the very beginning of his career. I remember that, recently, someone asked Prost his opinion about the movie and he said that it painted him as the bad guy and I totally agree with his commentary. There is this bad light put over his shoulders in the movie, his driving skills are mentioned hastily and without depth and there is absolutely no word about his personal life. But, again, a good drama needs an antagonist and Prost was used for this. Oh, not only that, but in the very end, when they talk about Senna’s death, Prost is shown helping carry the casket and with distraught face; the bad guy turned to be a good guy in the end. As I said, just so it feels like a real drama movie.

The evil is Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the FIA at the time Senna was racing. The movie goes great lengths to show that Balestre did everything in his power to grant Prost victories over Senna and would take any chance to block the Brazilian progress in the sport. The movie also cleverly does this 2 years after Balestre’s death, so he had to way, as Prost did, to give some words about it. I’ll give the chance of doubt to the filmmakers, as (maybe) Balestre was a total dick (as the movie portraits him) after all, but one has to ask if such thing was really necessary for a documentary.

In the end, it’s a good documentary to remember Senna (if you actually remember seeing him driving) or to get some insight from one of the most known personas in Formula 1. Otherwise, it’s just an average documentary with too much drama and little documentary.

The Avengers (2012)

Hey, look! I’m not dead. Check pulse. Yup, I’m sure, not dead.

As usual in movie reviews, here comes… THE IMDB PLOT!

Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.

Spoilers? Spoilers. I mean, for sure this time, I need to spoil this. Also, beware if you’re a Whedon or Marvel fanboy.

Anyway, the easiest way to describe The Avengers is “it is an incredible good sequel, but a very lousy movie by itself.”

What do I mean by that? That the movie is only good because it is based on everything that Marvel did before. If it wasn’t for Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain American and the numerous remakes of Hulk, this movie would suck donkey balls.

Just to show this: If you saw the movie already, answer me this: Who is Hawkeye? No, “the guy who can shoot arrows without even looking at the target” is not the valid answer. Who is Hawkeye? We know that Iron Man/Tony Stark is super genius, incredible egocentric guy from the previous movies (and that he is dating Potts only due his guilt/she’s the only one that cares); we know that Captain America/Steve Rogers is the supreme-good-guy-Greg who is in all about do what’s right form the previous movie; we know Thor is the demigod that cares about Earth due his experience when he was stripped of his powers in the previous movie; we know Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff is the supreme spy and very good at hand-to-hand combat from the previous movies; we know Hulk/Bruce Banner is the super smart guy that can get angry or he turns into an incrontrollable beast from the previous movie. And what do we know about Hawkeye? That he was sitting in a crane on Thor in a very small scene and that’s it. There is absolutely no character development and those were traded with very small “in the previous episode” type of recons.

If someone who never saw Thor (the movie), for example, would that person understand why Thor (the character) cares about Earth? Probably not.

So yeah, it’s a sequel. No matter what anyone says, this is a movie for anyone that saw all the previous Marvel movies.

And for the science, I’m happy that Joss Whedon didn’t ruin this movie too much. Now hold your freaking Firefly[1] fanboyism and listen for a second: The problem with Whedon is that he’s a nerd. The same way I could bore you to dead discussing some intrinsic property of some programming language, he could probably do the same about comic books. It’s too much for anyone that only wants to learn a programming language or read a comic book. But, again, we both hold ourselves and the movie is saved, which a few exceptions in the screenplay — which is also partially credited to Whedon.

I won’t discuss acting of everyone ’cause, as I said, the characters are pretty much the same you saw before. We don’t need to talk how Scarlett Johansson makes a mysterious but well trained assassin/spy ’cause she’s just redoing the same thing she did in Iron Man 2; or how Robert Downey Jr does a good job being the playboy, narcissistic, super-smart guy ’cause he’s just replaying the same guy he did in two movies.

But we have Mark Ruffalo doing Hulk, a job that was done before by Andrew Norton and Eric Bana. I think he does a good job being the “I… must… control… myself… must… not… get… angry…” type of guy but his physique is a bit… off. The Banner/Hulk relationship is similar to Steve Rogers/Captain America, with the “return to previous state” clause: The thin, weak guy vs the bulging, strong guy. But Ruffalo is already a good-sized guy, which feels… out of place. Nothing that ruins the story, though.

Heck, compare the way Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in the very old “The Incredible Hulk” series. Sure, both actors have different sizes and there was some camera tricks to enforce this difference, but it worked: The Hulk was huge and Bruce was tiny.

Even if he’s doing the same job he did in Thor, one must point the incredible work of Tom Hiddleston being Loki. I mean, really. What this guy did with the character is the same thing Brent Spinner did for Lieutenant Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation: There is no actor, only the character. The movie could pretty much put “Loki as himself” in the credits and it would still be accurate. A few maniacal laughs missing, but still pretty good character portrait.

I can’t really say anything about Jeremy Renner. I really like the guy, I usually enjoy the way he acts and the type of character he portraits but, again, we are stuck in the question: Who is Hawkeye?

Story wise, there are so many plot holes as created by the number of explosions in the movie. First and foremost, Who the fuck is Hawkeye? Maria Hill also don’t have any character development, but she’s always in the sidelines and never in the center of the screen. But Hawkeye? Oh, come on! And, most glaring, is the fact that Loki is captured because he did want access to the Hulk. Only that he never ever gets near him (Hulk gets near Loki, though, and that’s completely different). It’s never said why Loki wants to get the Hulk as the Hulk never contributes to his plan or against it — Loki doesn’t need Hulk gamma-saturated body parts and the Hulk doesn’t have the power to simply stop Loki, and one sees clearly that Loki doesn’t fear the Hulk later on. Wanna a plot this? Loki wants to use the power of the Stark Tower, but change that to the generator in Tony Stark chest and BLAM! Tony Stark is the monster! OH SHIT! Except that don’t. And if Bruce Banner is always angry and can sort-of control the Hulk, why he goes apeshit on Black Widow if one can clearly see that he’s pissed with S.H.I.E.L.D. — Nick Fury specially — in the discussion? Tony Stark gets annoyed with the idea of losing Coulson (told you, spoilers), walks away when Fury talks about it, gets angry with Cap when they talk about it and, still, nothing really changes. He doesn’t break. He doesn’t bulk up. He shows to be the most affected by Coulson dead and, still, he doesn’t give a fuck? The fuck! And goddammit Whedon, if you want to show semi naked, long legs girl, why the fuck Gwyneth Paltrow? Geebuz!

And then we have the combos. I mean, for anyone who played Marvel Ultimate Alliance — both games — know that this is a big thing: Heroes combine their powers for even stronger attacks! And you keep expecting those to happen, which twice in the movie, in one symmetrical distance between start and end and never used again. Cap, Thor and Iron Man find out an incredible powerful combination that can really destroy lots around them but, when cornered, they go by themselves instead of using this knowledge. Earth Mightiest Heroes, but not smartest, for sure.

The movie is good but only because it stands on the shoulders of its predecessors. Story-wise it’s full of cracks and, if it wasn’t for the previous titles, this would be on par with any Michael Bay movie — or even below them.

[1] And Andromeda was way superior than Firefly, ’cause they had Kevin Sorbo and the series was still kick ass.

Edit: Ok, two things I realized after I posted this:

  1. The implied relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye is only there exactly because they gave zero fucks about his character development. It was added ’cause you already know Black Widow, you care about Black Widow and, thus, with said relationship, you now care about Hawkeye by proxy.
  2. Let’s take a step back and look at “Loki needs Hulk” thingy: Let’s say that the plan was really to blow up the Helicarrier. You can kinda make this by seeing that Banner picks the scepter and that the whole discussion was actually Loki manipulating everyone in the most perfect timing in history. And then nobody realizes it was actually some mind manipulation going on, including the two most brilliant minds in the Marvel universe?

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

IMDB Plot:

After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals.

For anyone that knew me after my teen years, it may be hard to imagine that I could relate to the pre-Captain Steve Rogers: I was thin as a stick and I really wanted to have a nice body (although I never planed fighting for America). And I watched the “unanimated series” from the 60s cartoon — and that’s my only experience — and expectation — for this movie.

Now, before anything else, one thing I worried about was “Is this a movie for Americans?” In an interview, Chris Evans said that the movie could be renamed “Captain Nice Guy” and still work, but it’s kinda hard to believe he would say something that would ruin the box-office worldwide. But the real question is not if “Captain America is ‘America, FUCK YEAH!'” but if the movie is made for Americans — somewhat, bad memories of the first Spider-Man with those bad lines like “You mess with Spidey, you mess with New York” “You mess with one of us, you mess with us all” (completely ignoring the fact that the Green Goblin was also a New Yorker, herp derp) and Spider sitting in a pole with a huge American flag for no good reason (actually, I know why they put those things there, but still!). Anyway, no, the movie is not tailor made for Americans: The cast is diverse enough, as the Allies were in the World War II. Sure, Captain America leads the story, but you have the German scientist who made Cap a possibility, the British intelligence officer and the “Howling Commands” (which are never given a name in the movie) which have British and French army guys — and never ever in the movie is mentioned how “America will win this war”. So that line of “America ideal’s” on IMDB plot is, once again, pure bullshit: It’s more “the Allies ideal’s”.

The script is on par with the other super-hero movies from the Avengers series: Good, but not “Batman Begins” level. In a way, they finally started to use the big story arc they are building for Avengers, putting hits on the future of the series there and there. Fortunately, they still manage to add character building long enough so we care about Steve Rogers enough to now want him to die in the next movie. Sure, sure, there are plot holes, but they don’t mess with the general story — even if the Hydra agents seem to have taken shooting lessons with the Storm Troopers: “Hey, look, it’s the main character and the guy that it’s kicking everybody asses here! Let’s shoot two miles over his shoulder, that should stop him!”.

Acting is mostly good. I was surprised how Chris Evans managed to make a believable “nice guy” character. Hayley Atwell makes a good (mutual) love interest for Cap, although I couldn’t really listen to her British accent. Do I need to go and say anything about Tommy Lee Jones acting as a military officer? I don’t think so. The only downside is, weirdly as it seems, Hugo Weaving as the villain. I mean, we saw him being a maniacal, ruthless villain with a big ego who thinks he can take over the whole world — and that can be said about Red Skull too. But I guess he was so worried about not doing another Agent Smith that he toned Red Skull down a bit too much, to the point that it seems, deep down, he’s not sure he can take over the world — or that he really is better than any other human. Again, another Agent Smith would work for Red Skull, but I have this feeling Hugo toned things down to not be compared to his own character.

One thing to note about the movie is the end credits. I mean, the pre-“rolling text” credits, when they put the main people names before everyone else: The did a nice mix up of American pro-war posters that, although it’s American, they are also some piece of history. Also, there is, as usual, a post-“rolling text” “more story”, but it’s not that awesome. It’s just the teaser for The Avengers but you know how teasers are. In short, not really worth staying 10 more minutes in the theater just to watch it. Wait a few days and watch it in HD on YouTube.

Overall, Captain American is really entertaining and worth watching, as much as any Iron Man or Thor movie is worth watching.

Crafting Map of Terraria

So I’ve been playing Terraria for a while now. For those that don’t know, Terraria is a small game that borrows elements from several games, like Minecraft, Zelda and… well, lots.

One of the curious parts of Terraria — and the most controversial — is the crafting part. It’s curious ’cause you don’t have a full view of what you can craft (if you don’t have the materials, you won’t see it on your crafting list). Controversial ’cause a lot of people accuse Terraria of shamelessly stealing it from Minecraft.

(Personal opinion: Although I never played Minecraft, it seems, from what I read, that Terraria offers more than just crafting stuff, so it actually shamelessly steal from several games — almost like every game these days. I bet if you look at game story, you’ll find some game that took crafting way before Minecraft. But that’s not the point I want to bring here, so let it rest for now.)

Since I was curious about what could be crafted, I made a map using Dot to draw things for me ’cause… well, ’cause I’m kinda used to Dot, although some options I can only remember by looking at the source of their examples. And, to be completely honest, because I don’t know most of the options, the output doesn’t look that nice. If you want to take a look at the source, I pushed all the files to a Github repository, so you’re free to fork it and make it look better. Any suggestion is welcome.

Because the output doesn’t look that nice, I tried to recreate the same thing in Omnigraffle. The result is that, 1/4 through the list, Omnigraffle decided to crash. Adding a node was crashing it. Changing the node order was crashing it. I send the reports to Omni, but since the Dot was working and it’s a lot easier to just add a single line and let the application worry about connecting one point to the other instead of trying to find one node to graphically connect to another node, I kept using it.

Also, I used all Graphviz renderers (dot, neato, fdp, sfdp, twopi and circo, although that last one makes a 6Mb image, which is too big to upload to my server), trying to find the one with better results. Unfortunately, not much better results, as most of them don’t worry about lines crossing nodes, it seems.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, I present you: The Crafting Map of Terraria (in various formats):






(And before you say it: Yes, hot damn wood is used everywhere!)

Star Trek Online, Early Review

My history with Star Trek Online started way before their first beta. When it was announced, I created an account hoping I would get a beta key when it started. I got a key indeed, but it was (and still is) a Windows only game and I wasn’t in the mood to do a Boot Camp just to play a game when World of Warcraft was playing fine on OS X.

The story would end there if it wasn’t for an offer appearing on my Steam window after playing Terraria. The game was now being offered at US$ 3.75 and, since I now have a Windows partition (just to play games), I decided to finally check it.


Not that many people take notice of the install process, but I kinda felt there was something wrong when the Steam installer said it would need “10.000 Mb”. I mean, such round number seems someone really didn’t care how much space it takes; it was just someone saying “Meh, just make it 10Gb” instead of doing their job and checking how much space the game really uses.

With 20Gb free, there went the installer. Downloading 5.5Gb. Compressed around 50%? What a damn compression they have there, huh? Toping at 300kbp/s, it took a whole afternoon to download the thing. Rift, on the other hand, have to download 8.5Gb, but it goes up to 1.1mbp/s, giving me a playable game in around 2 hours.

After the download completed, the launcher appeared: A complete white screen with “Wait, loading…” Again, another sign that something was wrong: A launcher that looks like crap. After a while, a somewhat decent launcher appeared, asking login and password. The only reason I can think of for such awful thing is that the launcher is, actually, an HTML that needs to be downloaded from the server — or maybe they never heard of parallel programming or threads. Also, another sign of things going bad: pressing Enter after entering your password does not work; you must click the “Signin” button. After all that, the launcher pointed that “there was a problem with my account”, the problem being I didn’t had the game in my Atari account.

The launcher will launch the launcher when the launcher launchs

I got the keys from the Steam launcher, which kept popping their damn overlays all over my Firefox all the time telling me to add the keys to my game account in every chance it could. After a while, I got really fed up, copied the key to the clipboard and set it to go away and never come back.

Adding the key to the Atari account was as easy as you could imagine: You log in on your account, point that you want to add a key, paste the key, done. After that I thought I could finally play the game.

Not so fast. After the key was there and the “problems” with my account were solved, the game decided it needed patching. Another 4.5Gb download. And yet another sign something was wrong. I mean, if suddenly your patch is almost the same size of your initial download, maybe it’s time to redo your initial package install, as downloading large amounts of data only delays the experience for new players — which is something you’re trying to get selling your game at US$ 3.75. After a whole afternoon just trying to get it run, I gave up and went to bed.

Next day, new surprises: This time, the Steam launcher sent a 2.5Gb patch to the game. At first I thought it was the remaining of the previous day patch, but after it completed, the launcher went into patch mode again. Again, no amazing speeds.

The game

After the whole downloading was done and gone, I could finally see something that assembled a real game instead of a flash, in-browser game.

Captain, who you want to be today?

There is nothing fancy about the character creation screen: You have a character list, a create character button… Which gives access to Federation characters, and an option to create klingon characters, although you first need to unlock them (how is not explained). One thing you can notice there is that you can rename your character using Atari Tokens. Lots of content is available through those tokens, which you can buy with real money in the Atari Store and use on whatever games Atari have. My account had about 500 Atari Tokens and a rename costs around 180, if my memory doesn’t fail.

After you create your character, you’re greeted with him/her standing in the lounge of a ship.

Future captain Thor, of the U.S.S. Asgaard (believe it or not, I did manage to create such character)

The first thing you’ll notice is how cramped the screen looks. And how bad the graphics look. There is a reason for that: Apparently, STO is not capable of getting your current resolution, so it defaults to 1024×768, which is not my monitor native screen resolution. It took me a while to realize that was the problem and not that the game actually looks that bad ’cause… well, ’cause I didn’t had to change a game resolution for ages. World of Warcraft starts in the right resolution, Portal 2 starts with the right resolution, Rift starts with the right resolution. STO starts with whatever resolution the developers feel like.

Also, disregard the yellow bar right in the middle of the screen. To take screenshots on a MacBook Pro, the key combo it kinda messy like Shift+Fn+Alt+F11. In the game, Shift gives you a running speed, which can only be kept for a while, indicated by the yellow bar. Since I was pressing the Shift key, even without doing any movement, my “run power” was running out.

The first thing you learn is how to interact with your surroundings.

Aaannndd.... ACTION!

The action in itself is good and bad at the same time: Once you get close to anything you can interact, a popup appears asking what you want to do with it (most of the time, there is only one action, though). It’s good ’cause it helps to find what you need to interact to continue. It’s bad ’cause it’s a freaking box that pops up right in the middle of your screen and there is no way to dismiss or move it. It may not look so bad here, but once you’re in warp space (I will get there, don’t worry), near a solar system, trying to find the next point you need to go to complete a mission and the damn box is right in the middle of the screen, covering whatever you have there, including the names of the solar systems — even the one you’re trying to find — you just want the thing to blow up and die horrible in a fire.

One of the things I like is the ground combat. It is not that different from combat from Rift or WoW, but it gives a bit more stuff, like “couching”, which increases your damage, resistance but reduces your movement speed. And that’s basically it, but it gives a bit of a different taste to this game compared to the other MMORPGs. Everything else is the same: Move with WASD, use the right button to select a direction with your mouse, move the camera with your left mouse button… pretty standard movement.

Yeah babe, shoot that borg! Shoot that borg good!

You have access to a map but… Meh. It does it’s job but there is nothing impressive. The first times I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out if there was a waypoint to my quest or not. It took me a while to realize that there was a circle and the “i” pointing to the direction. “Oh, you dumb”, you must be thinking. Well, there is this: First, the starting zoom doesn’t take the zone with your waypoint. Second, if the waypoint is out of screen due the zoom, there is no indication about that. Third, even when the waypoint is in the screen, it doesn’t blink or have a higher contrast to get your attention. If you’re not used to it, it just looks like another element in the whatever you are.

Damn, Google Maps in the 25th century looks really bad.

As you progress through your missions, you get equipment that can be attached to your character, to your team or to your ship. The interface is basically the same.

This goes... here!

The game changes the borders to where the piece can’t go in red, with low contrast again, which doesn’t get that clear that the piece can’t go there. If the places where the equipment would go in, say, bright cyan, the location would be much much easier to find.

Once you complete the ground missions you get your first ship. And that’s where the game falls flat on its ass.

Space Movemento and Combat

Space! Spaaace! I'm in space! SPAAAAACE!

Knowing how the other Star Trek games handle space movement (I had one for the PSP), I knew I’d be steering a cow in molasses. What I wasn’t expecting is that they would put such stupid restrictions in space like having a fake horizon, not allowing your ship to pitch up or down more than 45 degrees and make the ship “center” on the horizon every time. I played EVE 2 or 3 years before this game was released and they didn’t had an horizon, which gives a better illusion that you’re flying in space, not on Earth.

Not only that but, in space, you have to use your keys to control your ship. Oh, you can use your mouse, yes: Left clicking select a target, right clicking select a target and both keys let you move your ship — and your camera. There is no way, with mouse, to move your ship still looking for your target.

It may not sound that bad at first, but when you’re fighting 3 destroyers, twice the size of your ship and you want to change the side of your ship to face them, allowing your shields to regenerate, it becomes simply impossible to do. Either you have to use the damn keys or you’re fucked.

Not only the game takes you to that route, but warp is, actually, just another space. “Data, set destination to Wolf 359, Warp 0”. And then there is the damn action window popping when you just got into “warp space” and you’re looking for the damn system you need to go to complete your missions.

Once you complete the incredible easy starting missions — one single ship destroying borg drone ships? One guy with a single phaser killing borg drones with just 2 shots? — you get to the star base, which have a pretty crowded parking zone, you can customize your ship a bit.

Piece A connects to piece B...

The design options are a bit limited for starting ships, but you can get more stuff once you reach the rank of rear admiral — or so it seems, as most of the content you can buy with your Atari Tokens is for rear admirals. How long it takes to reach that rank is unknown to me: After playing for about 2 hours, all I could reach was the rank of “Lieutenant”, which is around level 3.

Also, as I mentioned before, you can get more crew for your ship, with a tactical officer, a science officer and a engineering officer. As your own character you can customize them.

Don't even try to make a hottie like Beverly Crusher. It's impossible.

Some settings are just weird to watch them in effect. For example, changing the torso length and seeing it happen in real time actually looks like someone is stretching them, almost breaking their spines. Ugh.

Stretch the torso, freak out and throw up.

Glitches Galore

In just one hour of play time, I managed to get increasingly annoyed by some small glitches.

For example, just because you’re an admiral, it doesn’t mean you should stand up on your chair.

"I'm an Admiral! I was fighting the borg even before you were born, kid! I can stand up wherever I want!"

And then there is the little to no differentiation between NPCs and players. Because you can customize the hell out of your appearance, including your uniform — and not counting the uniforms and races you can buy with those Atari Tokens — and they used that same thing for NPCs, you are never sure who is a player and who is a NPC. I mean, come on, wouldn’t a star base at least have a dressing conduct or something?

One of those 3 in front of me is a player? Can you spot it?

And then there is the quest order you need to keep doing for NPCs to talk to you. For example, because I didn’t talk with the admiral first (actually, I did, but I had to talk to him again to complete the previous quest), I couldn’t talk to the NPC I needed to, even with the quest objective appearing right in front of me.

Commander Samuel Winters doesn't give a shit about your objectives.

I understand that those are small issues, but it keeps piling up and that is just the starting quests.

Curious Aspects

One thing that really caught my eye was the user content. Yes, users can create quests and such, which is rated by the users.

Spirits! In spaaaace!

There is only one thing: Because the content is created and rated by users, some… conventions are completely ignored. Or maybe the game simply doesn’t understand that people from different countries can be playing the same content.

Gespenster! Im weeeeeeeltraum!


Honestly, although I call myself a trekkie and such, for US$ 15 per month, I’d prefer play Rift. Or even go back to WoW. But the game feels half-finished, even after a whole year after release. If it was cheaper, like US$ 3.99 per month or free to play — which could happen, as they have the whole C-Store and Atari Tokens — I’d seriously consider it. But, again, it feels half finished, some sequences are real killers and the price is too high for it.

Rift, Early Review

Recently, I decided to try Trion Rift, a new MMO in the block. I haven’t had the time to explore the game at its full, but I saw enough to write some words about it.

My experience with Rift started with a free weekend — which Trion seems to be spreading around, just keep an eye around and you can get a free weekend of play too — but after playing it for 2 days and reaching the level cap (of 15 out of the 50 in the full version), I decided to get the game and its free 30 day included, after getting tired of World of Warcraft.

Comparing Rift with World of Warcraft is kinda obvious and somewhat “forced”: First, World of Warcraft is the largest MMORPG around, with 12 million subscribers[1] and it’s called the behemoth to be bested; Second, Trion used phrases like “You are not in Azeroth anymore” in some ads — Azeroth being the world of World of Warcraft.

So, let’s start comparing with the similar stuff: First, as any RPG, either single player or multi-player, you play character that, by completing quests and killing enemies, earn “experience”, which accumulate till you get enough experience to reach another level, giving access to more powerful attacks and abilities, which let you fight bigger enemies, do harder quests, to get more experience to reach another level. When you level up, your abilities are not set in stone, so you can customize your character in a way that fits more your game play. As in World of Warcraft (and EverQuest before it), there are three roles a player can take:

  • A “tank”, who should draw the attention of the enemies and take the blows while his/her friends take care of killing the enemies. For that, a tank have special abilities to mitigate or avoid damage taken, sacrificing damage done in the process
  • A “healer”, which should heal the group when they take damage and
  • A damage-dealer, which is responsible for killing the enemies before they can kill either the tank or the healer.

At first, Rift seems like the RPG with the least options of game style: There are only 4 classes you can chose to play: Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue, compared with the 10 classes World of Warcraft offers. Even Diablo 2 (which is not a MMORPG, but includes RPG elements) without the later expansion came with 5 classes (the number goes up to 7 with the expansion).

But of those 4 classes, 3 of them can be tanks and 2 of them can be healers (and another one, although with very limited capabilities), which is pretty close to World of Warcraft numbers: of all 10, 4 can be tanks and 4 can be healers and 4 can be only damage dealers. This is accomplished by a confusing (at first) mechanic called “Souls”: In the Rift universe, players actually “tap” in the souls of old heroes, giving them different abilities to complete their tasks (of saving the universe, obviously). For example, a Rogue can, instead of fighting in melee range, chose a Soul that uses bow or gun and get a pet and fight as in World of Warcraft is the hunter class; a cleric, although just wearing mail (the second hardest armor type, behind plate), can chose a Soul that increases defenses and become a tank; a mage can take a Soul that instead of dealing a lot of damage, actually heals the party.

Although the range of possibilities is huge, the game keeps things nice and tied: First, each class have a base mechanic and keeps it no matter the chosen souls; Second, gear is constant no matter the chosen souls. For class mechanics, except for clerics, you have some sort of “stacking points”, with abilities that increase this count and others that use those points, increasing the damage: Warriors have attack points (stacking up to 3 points), rogues have combo points (stacking up to 5 points) and mages have charge (stacking up to 100). No matter what soul you pick, the base class mechanic still remains, meaning you don’t have to relearn the class when you decide to try something different. Also, gear is constant for the classes: Even clerics that decide to tank, requiring more Endurance (hit points) and melee attack power (most of cleric gear have spell power) get that from abilities, so the cleric can tank, heal or deal damage without requiring a new set of gear — in World of Warcraft, “hybrids” (the name classes that can do all 3 roles get) need a complete different set of gear when changing roles: A paladin tank needs a complete different gear when switching from tank to healer, leading to continuously running the same content over and over again, just to get the right gear. Obviously, this is easy to accomplish in Rift, with only 4 classes and each class with a different gear type: Warriors always wear plate, Clerics always wear mail, Rogues always wear leather and Mages always wear cloth.

Rifts is another thing that Rift have that World of Warcraft doesn’t: They are random events, which can spawn at any time. Basically, they are special points in the map, with special enemies, which give special tokens that can be traded with better gear once defeated. They also spawn what it’s called “Invasions”, which are basically small groups of enemies that will march to some player “safe base” and try to destroy it. To help players help themselves, the game create “public groups” once two or more players are close to one of those two, and newcomers are presented with a “join public group” option right on the top of their screen. This creates a feeling of “we are fighting for this” which brings players together. Unfortunately, once the players kill all the enemies, the group is not disbanded, which means, if you’re not paying any attention, you may run up around with a group of people without even noticing it.

Those events break the monotony of running around doing quests like “kill 10 of those guys” over and over again — which is a problem with most Rift quests and that World of Warcraft solved in the latest expansion with something that Total Biscuit called “magic wand quest”: Instead of mindlessly killing 10 of those guys, you get a special item (like a magical wand) that turns them into something else. It adds a little flavour to the quest, even if, in the end, you’re still just killing 10 of those guys.

Also related with Rifts are world events, eventually one “demi-boss” will get bored and decide to ruin the puny players questing and rift closing. This will spawn a lot of rifts all over the place, with a dozen of more invasions, which require the players to group up and fight to defend it while taking rifts and invasions down. Once a certain number of those are taken down, the demi-boss will show up himself/herself and players must, again, group up and fight it, which will give the players more powerful tokens.

But not everything in the garden smells like roses. As I mentioned, quests are really repetitive and lack some imagination. The scenery makes up a bit for it, but doesn’t solve that the basic mechanic of most quests is “go there and kill 10 of those guys”. Also, PvP (player versus player) speed is really slow. Either you’re ambushed by someone with a DPS so high you can barely see them or, when you join the warfronts — areas created specially for PvP, with objetives and such — the rhythm is so slow you feel like you’d either survive it or just die. There is no frantic pushing buttons, calling your survival abilities to get out of it like in World of Warcraft, killing any adrenalin rush you could get. Simply, there is none.

Overall, the game is prettier than World of Warcraft, still have some issues like repetitive quests and out of rhythm PvP, but one must also remember that World of Warcraft is 6.5 years old and that Rift is out for about 3 months only and, thus, a lot can still change while Trion polishes the game.

[1] Some people buy two or more World of Warcraft accounts and play more than once character at the same time, so it doesn’t mean there are 12 million players.

Portal 2

I must admit that, at first, I wasn’t thinking about getting the new Portal version. But friends mentioned getting it and there was this co-op option that should be fun. So I got it.

The game follows the previous game about… centuries after Chell escapes the first time while killing GLaDOS. I was expecting some kind of explanation about it inside the game, but there isn’t (sorry, spoilers). The explanation is in the online comic book that you can see on the Portal 2 website (sorry, no spoilers this time).

The game mechanics start the same, but Valve added some new tricks, like (no, no spoilers, you should know this from the videos they posted around) light bridges, lasers, bouncing gel, high speed gel and a special gel that let you put portals on surfaces that couldn’t keep portals before — extending the game even further.

The first levels and mostly a recap of the classic mechanics, like portals, boxes and buttons and momentum. I thought it was quite boring, but just because I played the first version. I bet those levels are there to teach newcomers how things work. While I understand that, the levels are very small, but there is a very annoying loading screen. Due this, you’ll see a loading screen taking about 15 seconds to load a level, completing the level in about one minute and then having to wait yet another 15 seconds to load the next level.

Once you get past those training levels, the challenges start. Although not the real challenges yet, as those are obviously the last levels, they provide the exact amount of deception, frustration and satisfaction when you figure out how to complete the level. And some levels seem designed with deception in mind, with some obvious solution right in front of you, hidden by some bright, new thing just a few meters in front of the solution. Also, I must congratulate Valve for the level and teaser video design: At some point, in one of the levels, I thought “Oh, I remember seeing this on a video, I’ll do that” and then I was happily surprised when things didn’t went the way of the video — and that’s why you should watch them, they will teach some stuff about the new mechanics without spoiling you with solutions that you’ll bang your head on your desk for a while while figuring it all when trying something silly.

This time, instead of having only GLaDOS and the weird phrases written in hidden walls as companions, you have Wheatley, the robot/entity responsible for your care in the beginning of the game (not going to spoil how it begins, but you’ll find in the very first minutes of game play), some weird phrases written in hidden walls, the Aperture Science notification system and… GLaDOS. There is yet another personality that will add some explanations and a nice story arc mid-game in a very absurd location of Aperture Science HQ (oh, spoilers?)

Also, the single player campaign explains the origin of the robots you’ll play in co-op mode, although just in the end.

Speaking of end of the game, I completed it in 9 hours of played time — or so says the Steam launcher. This is a bit below 5 times the time it took to complete the first game.

Speaking of which, there is a co-op mode in Portal 2, as I mentioned right from start. I played just the first level with my cousin, but I think it gave a good idea how the game play is: The first level have two somewhat connected corridors, with each robot (player) taking a different corridor. Some obstacles in corridor 1 must be solved by the player in the corridor 2, allowing both players to keep going. Each player have their own set of portals, so you can “chain portal” on the way out. Valve also added some “flags”, allowing players to point to each other where they should go, open portals or drop boxes, without the need of typing or speaking.

The last point I’d like to add is replayability. The first portal, without the co-op and with a very short play time, didn’t offer much of it: You could finish the game 2 or 3 times in a free afternoon. Obviously, with a different game style (the co-op) and a longer story mode, replayability is a reality. Specially ’cause some levels are really fun to play, without the “how the heck I find the way out of this” feeling all the time. There are, also, more achievements this time — obviously easy to add due the longer gameplay: While the first Portal have 18 achievements, the new one have 50, some about the co-op game. All that, with the updated visuals — graphically, this game is prettier than the first version — give a lot of fun replaying the game again.

The game is really worth it, even if you haven’t played the first game.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

IMDB Plot:

A virtual-world worker looks to take down the Master Control Program.

Spoilers alert: There may be some minor spoilers. I’ll try hard to hold myself to only say things that you probably saw in the trailer but some stuff may spill into this review.

Let’s step back from that horrible, horrible description from IMDB and put it straight: 28 years after Kevin Flynn steps inside a mainframe and saw other programs as human beings, it’s Kevin’s son, Sam, to step in. You know that by the trailer.

So, let’s review this movie this way:

First, this is a sequel. How does it fit in the previous story? Disney said that, to understand “Tron: Legacy” you don’t need to know the story behind the original “Tron”. That’s kinda true, the story of this new movie is self-contained and the points you know to follow this story are given in the plot. Obviously, knowing the original movie actually helps, but, as Disney said, it’s not required.

Second, is it as groundbreaking as the original Tron? The answer is no. Let’s be honest: The original Tron had amazing 15 minutes of computer generated story and, today, we have whole movies made completely by computers (and Pixar makes a huge profit with them). And the background with bright blue/orange/red layout is everywhere, from our nightstand clocks to the display on our cars. But it doesn’t ruin the story that the original Tron universe is here and now, in the real universe; the virtual universe of Tron was expanded, improved over the original one with current day’s changes. Think about it as what J.J.Abrams did to the Star Trek universe.

Since we are talking about the story, let me say that I’ve been hearing Daft Punk soundtrack for the movie for about two weeks already and I couldn’t stop the goosebumps from “The Grid” music playing in the first minutes of the movie. And, to prove the point of real/updated world, they mixed it in a very nice way, right out of the bat.

Acting is pretty good, even for the virtual Jeff Bridges. The newcomer Garrett Hedlund, which I can’t remember seeing in any other movies (although he did some and I’m the first to admit that not seeing him is completely my fault) is also pretty good and saying Olivia Wilde is a good actress would be silly, as we know her from the two seasons of House.

Speaking of Olivia Wilde, it’s kinda weird seeing her play Quorra as a naive program compared to the strong Thirteen from House. On the other hand, her look in this movie and her sexy, sexy voice is really nice. And no, it’s a Disney movie, so no skin. Not from her, not from any other female cast. Which is kinda sad, when you think that Olivia Wilde and Beau Garret in the cast.

Also, I need to talk about Jeff Bridges acting, playing a young and an old version of himself (actually, the Flynn guy he played in the previous movie). There is a point on an actors career that he simply masters the art of acting (except for Gwyneth Paltrow). So he masterfully plays an angry version and a zen version of the old character without a flaw, including the use of slangs that someone would consider part of history which, actually, are, in the story.

The CGI is on par with the current movies. There is nothing to add about that and there is nothing so absurdly amazing that you haven’t seen in other movies. Yes, that includes the young Flynn played by the now old Jeff Bridges (which, again, you saw in the trailer). We saw what can be done in Avatar, so it was no surprise they could do that to living actors. And you wouldn’t expect something subpar from a company as big as Disney, would you?

On a side note about the CGI, I went to see the 3D version of it, on the cinema and, honestly, it’s not worth the extra buck for it. There are about a couple of places where the 3D pops up but, mostly, it’s just to point that actor 1 is in front of actor 2, which is completely unnecessary and not worth the headache. Also, if you get the 3D version and get the subtitles, I really hope they don’t do what they did here: The subtitles where in the same plane, in the same place, all the time, even when something behind them should be in the front. Headache galore.

Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in this movie (but, again, not everything was perfect in the original anyway). The kernel of the plot is weak, to say the least (so weak that I couldn’t figure out what was the problem — or the solution, in the cast — even after the movie ended). The lack of skin makes really a kiddie movie and doesn’t explore some more subtle things like what would happen in a relationship between a human and a program (and the original had only a program-on-a-program action). Daft Punk soundtrack is awesome but extremely overused and gets tiring right in the end of the movie. The big plot twist is not so big and you can figure it out waaaay before it is exposed. And a good easter-egg for after the credits isn’t shown.

Overall, it’s good movie and expands the original universe nicely, although with an “ok” script (not nice, not “WHOA”, just ok).

And, in the end, I couldn’t stop thinking “Man, that would be an awesome game…”