Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's So Heavenly...

Recently, I purchased what analysts predicted would be PS3's Killer App, or rather flagship game. Heavenly Sword has been promoted since the launch of the PS3, but has only recently been released. Personally, I'm glad that they took the extra time to produce this work of art. Before the release of the game, Ninja Theory released five short animations detailing the history of the game's namesake, entitled "Legend of the Sword". The short series served to provide some background on the sword, as well as some of the main characters, their ambitions and motivations.

In Heavenly Sword, Produced by UK Based Ninja Theory, you play as Nariko, the red-maned heroine and daughter of the leader of her clan. The clan is in possession of the Heavenly Sword, a mythical weapon once wielded by a deity sent from heaven to defeat the Raven Lord, a battle which predates the start of the game.

Over the generations after the defeat of the Raven Lord, the sword passed from hand to hand, leaving carnage in it's wake. It granted its owner immeasurable power, yet drained their life at the same time. It eventually fell into the hands of the clan, who vowed to keep, but not use the sword, until the next heavenly warrior appeared.

The game begins as the clan is fleeing from the armies of King Bohen (voiced and acted by Lord of the Rings' Andy Serkis). Bohen, in his attempts to conquer all the lands in his sights, sees the heavenly sword as a means to do such, and is as relentless as he is evil. The story is about Nariko's journey after attaining the Heavenly Sword to free her people and put an end to King Bohen's reign.

Heavenly Sword is an Action/Adventure game which uses the PS3's CELL processor incredibly well. Each environment is beautifully crafted. The models are well made, and versatile, and the animation is seamless and flows very nicely.

One of the most impressive parts of the game is in the cut-scenes. Serkis was made Dramatic Director by Ninja Theory, and thus, coordinated the motion capture for each scene. Not only are the actor's bodies motion captured, but their faces are as well, leading to very impressive facial animation, adding a new depth of realism to the game. The score, produced by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, borrows from both Asian and Indian styles and rhythms, enhancing each scene.

Each of the characters are well written, from the heroine Nariko, her adopted younger sister Kai (who reminds me of a certain Icelandic Pop-Star), to the ruthless Flying Fox and Whiptail. Each character has a distinct persona, and nothing is overplayed or reused, as is a problem in many modern games.

In the efforts to not spoil this game for anyone who hasn't played it, I won't go into much detail about what progresses. The game got good reviews, but also come criticism on two major points. 1) Heavenly Sword is so similar to God of War that some have termed it Goddess of War, and 2) The game is comparatively short, and can be completed in 1 to 2 afternoons. There are certain gameplay similarites between Heavenly Sword and God of War, but they do not detract from the overall experience. Heavenly Sword also borrows from the interactive cut-scenes of Shenmue.

All this aside, it looks like game developers are starting to utilize the PS3's CELL processor better. With games like this and Lair, we can only hope to see more beautifully crafted games for Sony's newest console.

Heavenly Sword (PS3) Trailer - Watch today’s top amazing videos here

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We Doth Been All Up in That Piece

On Sunday, I was graciously invited by Kevin and Jane to go to the Renaissance Festival in Tuxedo New York. It's been years since I've gone to a Renaissance Fair, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Luckily, I was in good company.

As is tradition, we went around and sampled many types of Renaissance goods like swords and leather. Jane spent about 20 minutes trying on pirate boots with lots of buckles and lots of leather while Walt and I fought off the locals who were making comments and trying to sneak a peek.

As a tribute to the Harry Potter series, Jane and I repped it up big after I bought my wand (geek powers, activate!). We would have taken more pictures, but those cloaks itched like hell.

On our way out, we out, we walked past a lonely wizard perched on a hill. As we are not those to miss a perfect photo opportunity, we strolled up to the kindly old wizard and asked if we could take a picture. He started mumbling all sorts of things that sounded like Jane and I were getting married, while Kevin took the picture. Walt stepped in, but I told him that I wasn't into threesomes. After taking the picture and getting the hell out of there, we broke out, back to reality, but not before Walt and I got put away for attempted assault on a wizard.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Maguire attached to Robotech

Tobey Maguire, the guy who made it clear he was oh so sick of doing big budget, comic book movies while on the press tour for Spider-Man 3, is producing and possibly starring in a big budget, anime movie for Warner Brothers. 

The film is a live action adaptation of one the most popular anime series of all time, Robotech, which is essentially about pilots who take giant mechs into combat against aliens. It may be written by Craig Zahler (writer of the upcoming revenge western, The Brigands of Rattleborge) and doesn’t currently have a release date. 

For more info, click here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Review: Windows Live

So out of curiosity, I decided to do some checking up on what is doing. Much to my surprise, they've been very busy.


With Vista out now for a while, and from what I can gather, Microsoft is doing it's best to create as much interoperability between Windows Vista and Windows Live.


Windows Vista Start Bar Windows Live Star Bar

On every Windows Live page, there's an icon in the top left corner that looks an awful lot like the start button on Windows Vista. The operation is exactly the same as well. In Vista, you access your programs, documents and settings through the start menu. In Live, you access all your Windows Live services in the same way.


Windows Live Hotmail

We all are very aware of Windows Hotmail, which has been offering free web based email for over ten years now. However, after Gmail hit the scene, Hotmail was nothing to write home about. Gmail offered more space, an easier interface, Google's name and stability. Hotmail had a fraction of the space, and because of it's lack of decent filters, was always riddled with spam. Now, thanks to a complete redesign, enhanced filters, it's established user base, and 5GB of space, Windows Live Hotmail is suddenly a force to be reckoned with.


Windows OneCare

While many people may find this a bit intrusive, Windows is offering OneCare, a downloadable application made specifically for Vista that offers protection, performance monitors, and more to keep your PC running smoothly. While the application is not free, Windows is offering a 90 day trial. For those who are not particularly computer savvy, OneCare seems to be easy to use, and beneficial for Vista users.


Windows Spaces

Microsoft's blog service is nothing new, and honestly, nothing to get excited about. The design is basic and bland, and the only thing it has going for it is it's integration with Windows Live Messenger. Users can see when new blogs and pictures have been updated right in their messenger window.

Normally, this wouldn't be of much news, but it does lead us into...


Windows Live Writer

This is one application that I was frankly surprised about. Windows released a standalone blog writing application for use with it's Windows Spaces blog service. What's surprising is that it's compatible with most other blog services. It's WYSWIG editor is very easy to use, and automatically formats itself to match the look and feel of the blog, taking fonts and CSS into account. Comes complete  with spell check, formatting tools, and more! However, as nice as a standalone application for blogging is concerned, one thing that I found a bit annoying is that unless you have an FTP account handy, embedding pictures is not as intuitive as Google's Blogger service. For this entry, I found myself uploading pictures into SkyDrive (see below), setting them in a dedicated folder, setting permissions, copying the web address for each one, and then inserting that into the blog in Writer. Not particularly intuitive, if you ask me. If you're listening, Live Team, integrate SkyDrive into Writer so that I can Click and Drag files into my posts!*

Well, with all this mention of SkyDrive, lets move on to....


Windows SkyDrive

SkyDrive is a web based storage drive, much like Google's Drive extension (which was not very intuitive to use). Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, SkyDrive was having some issues, and I wasn't able to check it out for this review. One drawback is that SkyDrive only offers 500MB of storage, which may be enough for hosting photos and the random document for transfer between home and work, but not much else.


There are more services which I haven't had the opportunity to sample yet, but one thing that I have noticed is that the Live Team has left Beta as a suffix to most of these services.  There are noticeable improvements to be made, but so far, the Live Team is making many enhancements to the general service.

I'm not sure if this will tempt me away from Google's iGoogle homepage, or the variety of services that Google offers. Some may think that this is too little too late for Microsoft, however, it is a welcome change from the bare minimum that was being offered before.


 (*Edit: As of this writing, an extension for writer has been made to include files from SkyDrive. It's available from the "Add a Plugin) link, but it's not much help...