Pride and Pirates

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

Pirates!

I’m not certain what it was which made me want go and see The Pirates! in an adventure with scientists. It certainly wasn’t their starring role in the UK film industry’s latest preaching-to-the-converted stop film piracy advert at the beginning of every film i’ve seen for (what feels like) the past 6 months. Although to be fair, I didn’t realise that the pirates were also promoting a film until the posters appeared in cinemas a month ago (that’s either a win or a loss for pre-awareness depending on your point of view)

It might have been the delightful T4 behind the scenes of Pirates! special I found the other weekend when I was looking for the Hollyoaks Omnibus. I was filled with the love of stop motion animation from years past, before Aardman took a (un)surprising shift to CG animation with Flushed Away; which ironically is exactly what that film did to Aardman’s successful track record.

But most likely it was down to when I sent a mass SMS message the other weekend to find companions for a cinema excursion and with the options of Pirates!, Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans (don’t you judge me) the only one with a 100% response of “sorry I’m busy, but I really want to see that one” was Pirates! My cinema going mass SMS list has never agreed in this fashion before, so after the weekend we went to see it.

Right about now you’re probably thinking that this blog post is just a poor attempt at a film review in the style of ain’t-it-cool-news. While you’re mostly on the money, the point of this post is that The Pirates! In an adventure with scientists is a fantastic film which you owe it to our British cinema to go and see.

Aardman Animation have been around for a long time, they invented Morph you know (you probably did) and then gave us the inspired Creature Comorts. Wallace & Gromit was a wonderful piece of quintessentially British whimsical comedy (although it did get a tad stale after it tried to transcend to the silver screen) and Chicken Run was a work of genius even if it did star Mel Gibson.

But it all went a bit a awry when some suits no doubt said that stop motion animation was dead and CG was the future, which resulted in Flushed Away. We shouldn’t be too hard on Aardman as Disney went through a similar and far more drastic cull of its hand drawn animators following Lilo & Stitch. But like Disney, Aardman were eventually allowed back to their roots and we have the fantastic Pirates! to show for it.

It’s a great British film based on (I have now discovered) great British books with a great British sense of humour (channeling the best of Python and Carry on) great British cast with a British studio and a British writer and a British Director – admittedly it was probably mostly funded by the Japanese (Sony).

It’s hard to be proud to be British when we’re lead by numpties and our media is the envy of secret service agencies with no scruples world wide. But sometimes something comes a long, in this instance a film, which makes you laugh, warms your heart and makes you proud that you’re part of a culture, part of a nation, which could bring something like that to life.

We owe it to our culture, to our media, to homegrown honest fun for all the family, to go and see this film to show the suits, to show the world which rams lowest common denominator trash down our throats every week, to show ourselves the kind of entertainment that can exist, that do exist, that we deserve, that we want.

The Gaming Paradigm Shift

So I was at the BAFTA Games Question Time and hopefully by mentioning them on my blog I’ll qualify for some kind of discount on the membership form they sent me following the event.

Anyhow, it was a very interesting evening and I hope they do it again, there were plenty of “clever sods” in the audience who asked “clever sod” questions, such as Andy and I, about the state of play of the Games Industry and the future of the business, games and hardware.

Now I’d love to get into the discussion on “what is a AAA game?” seeing as how I have worked on more AAA games than the entire panel combined (ZING) but what I really want to talk about is the future of hardware. What does the future hold for gaming? It’s also vaguely topical as the PlayStation Vita came out this week and I am reliably informed via Twitter from journalists who haven’t had to pay for one that they are worth every penny – though in the interests of parity i’ve heard the very same sentiment from journalists who have paid for one. News outlet MCV has already proclaimed that both Sony and Microsoft will present the next iteration (you can take your “next-gen” moniker and shove off) of their respective home consoles at this years Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short. Other news outlets are busy speculating on what gubbinz will be filling these new shiney boxes to sit under your telly with much chitter chatter, rumour, linkedin profiles and hyperbole in abundance.

But none of these reports seem to have any level of common sense. The suggest entirely new hardware, with new state of the art graphics never before considered possible by man and something probably involving “the cloud” because everythign will be using that fancy stuff – if you’re unamiliar with “The Cloud” yours truly wrote a piece on it last year. Let’s assume that a major videogame release costs 40 million dollars to make, because there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that is the case, and wonder “what would happen if the same game needed to be made BIGGER AND BETTER?”. You’d need to have better AI, better graphics, better sound, better animation, better physics, and most crucially better budgets because someone will have to pay for all the people who will be needed to make these improvements.

So the game is going to cost more to make, but that’s only the beginning, who are you going to sell it to? Well you’re gonna sell this game to all the people who have bought the fancy new game consoles, but, and here’s the thing, how many people will that be? Currently there are 65 million Xbox 360s out there. 65 MILLION. That’s considerably more than however many of the next machine they release will have sold in a year. You’re going to start making a videogame which costs more to make with a significantly reduced install base? (Thats’ the fancy word for how many consoels have been sold, therefore how many games your could approximately sell, but then i’ve gone through three Xbox 360s so read into that what you will). In these tough economic times I don’t see masses of gamers jumping ship to the new shiney box straight away, because they’ve never done so en masse in the past. The games industry has gotten too big, to assume you can just release a new piece of kit and have everyone switch over to it just because it is shinier it is to ignore the lessons of Blu-Ray, HD and 3D.

No, I believe the future will have it’s inspiration from Apple and from the PC gaming world. I currently have an iPhone 4S, a year ago I had an iPhone 4. They looked the same, but the newer one is shinier and better and has loads of pointless new features i’ll never use properly, like Siri. The iPhone is a platform, new ones come out, but the games all still work, albeit better and shinier on the new ones, enabling early adopters to get their shiney new toy while the rest slowly play catch up when they’re inclined to. When a new iPhone comes out it doesn’t reinvent everything about itself to be different. It’s got new features but ultimately it looks and behaves the same way. When people say Apple are taking over the handheld space and rumour to move into home entertainment also, to not learn from how they keep their users happy by giving them a great experience that evolves with them and doesn’t revolutionise everything each time. Don’t force people to upgrade, make them want to.

Which is why I believe, like iOS is the platform for iPhones, Xbox Live and PSN (SEN now) will become the platforms for their consoles. The Xbox 360 2 will be like an Xbox 360, but better in every single way, but won’t be a NEW REVOLUTION, it will still connect to Xbox Live and more importantly, it will do so in the same way as the current Xbox 360 does. When you put your game into an Xbox 360 2, it will look and sound superior to the Xbox 360, and you can multiplayer together on the same servers. Why not? Why would you cut off part of your user base like that? When the next Call of Duty comes out on whatever the new system is, you don’t want to split up all those gamers into different tiers of machine, you want them all together, it’s bad enough you have to split them into console format as it is. Much like PC gaming, you’ll have your good PC, and your awesome PC, and they can all play together in one happy family, but on consoles. So when you upgrade to your new console, it’s all ready and waiting for you, welcoming, familiar, shinier. I’ve played PC games without a PhsyX chip perfectly well, while those with them PhysX chip made sure to tell everyone that waste of a PCI slot was doing something finally.

Is this possible via some kind of “Triple Play DVD/Blu Ray” set up? Will you download an “awesome graphics” patch and just buy the same disc? Who knows.

I don’t have any special information, I don’t have any idea what the next home consoles the big players will be producing, I’m no scientist; But what I do know is that when we’re in turbulent economic times, when video game retail is in an interesting spot, when pre-owned and 2 weeks later sales are on everybodys lips; it’s in no ones interest to further fragment the market at the top end of the pay spectrum, just because that’s how things have been done in the past. To our left is Kickstarter and Minecraft. To our right is iPhones and free to play browser games.

The videogame industry is on the verge of a paradigm shift, or at least for it’s sake, it should be.

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

The Evolution of Supply and Demand

Ahhh the age old system which conveniently explains how the business of selling goods and at what price works. The less there is of something, the more valuable it is; that’s your supply. The more people want something, the more valuable it is; that’s your demand. But how does it work when the supply is infinite?

With digitally distributed products there is an infinite supply of the good in question, supply effectively becomes insignificant in the equation.  It is now all down to how “elastic” the demand is; the more elastic the demand for a product is, the more it changes with a change in price. The iOS game for example is extremely elastic, it could start at £2.99 and sell ok, but sell ridiculously well in the inevitable £.69 sale, demand significantly increases . Things like bread, water, milk, petrol, cigarettes – be it by a basic need or by a necessity to addiction/circumstance – are in elastic; the price will change but demand will change very little.

But it would seem that Demand is mo alone, there are still two factors in play, Supply and Demand has evolved into Greed and Demand.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with this description, I’d say that greed and demand, or rather greed and pricing, have and always will be intrinsically linked. People will always charge the maximum they can get away with, but the price increase of Whitney Houston albums on iTunes following her death ruffled a fair few feathers; such as those of fellow Hombre Andy.

I’d not be one to say that it wasn’t incredibly poor taste to profit from someone’s death, but business is business and business is greed. On a basic level, when a singer dies, sales of their albums go up. This isn’t related in any way to the price point of the albums, it’s a public response to grief, demand is in theory inelastic.

If the price won’t affect the demand, why not put the price up? It would be stupid not to, right? I’m not defending it, it’s incredibly poor taste, as previously stated, but it’s just business. If you can’t charge a few pence more for a singer’s songs who has just died from customers who are only buying the singer’s songs because they have just died, when can you?

When something is popular, for whatever reason, it becomes more valuable, unpleasant though this can sometimes be.

Here’s a question, who was keeping an eagle eye on the price point, no doubt anticipating the rise after Whitney Houston’s death, ready to pounce on the issue? No one can have any kind of moral high ground in this, we’re all debating, discussing, profiting, high ground climbing off the back of a tragic loss of life.

Hopefully the profits Sony and Apple are making off the price increase will be donated to a relevant charity to Whitney Houston. In the mean time, so long Supply and Demand, hello Greed and Demand. But have you been here all along?

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

The Nature of Observing Changes the Observed

That’s a fancy phrase from science or some kind of “ology” meaning “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”.  Or to be clever, it’s Shroedinger’s Cat; you don’t know the cat is alive or dead until you observe it.

Let’s look at it another way, if the observed changes as a result of being observed, what happens to the observed when it is aware it is being observed?

Think back if you will, to the original Big Brother. No one knew what would happen in the house, no one knew what would happen after the house. But by series 2 everybody had a good idea what would happen. The experiment of throwing some interesting characters into a house to see what would happen turned into a yearly stream of exhibitionists desperate for their 15 months of fame. 

Fast forward to Celebrity Big Brother (twisted irony of the the show which makes pseudo celebrities turning celebrities into pseudo celebrities withstanding) and we have a winner in the form of Paddy Doherty. I don’t watch Big Brother per se, but I do like to keep track with which “celebrities” go into the “Big Brother house”. So I was surprised to see Paddy Doherty, whom you may remember from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was a “documentary” series following various people from the traveller community in England, typically focusing on a wedding which was about to take place. We all enjoyed this fascinating look, this never before seen insight into a culture right under our noses and had a good laugh while we were at it. We didn’t pass too much judgment on the male dominated society they have made for themselves in caravans (and some Liverpool council houses) across the country because, you know, they’re a different culture, right? All the ridiculous dresses, gender representations from the dark ages, “grabbing”,  discrimination,  it was all rather amusing, right?

But I’m not writing about that, what I’m writing about is the NEW series of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which starts next week which features the tag line “Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier.”

Have you guessed where I’m going with this? The first series may have been a never before seen insight into traveller culture, but this time round they’ll know the score. If they’re funny enough, outlandish enough, controversial enough, they could end up winning celebrity big brother. 

The rules have changed. We’re no longer observing a culture alien and amusing to us while we think up witticisms in the hope of many a retweet on Twitter. Whatever we see in this new series won’t be reality, it will be a manufactured piece of entertainment where the participants long for pseudo celebrity status and the creators aim to sell ad breaks to a society which likes to laugh at those different to them. 

And they’ll continue to laugh, right up until the point they realise their prejudice, their disdain for their fellow man, their desire for entertainment in the good old days of Rome, their complicity in Channel 4’s pursuit of the lower class pretentious denominator, has turned them into something far worse.

Who’ll be laughing then?

Who’ll be observing us?

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

Unfair Competition

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

About a year ago on my previous blog I wrote about how I’d discovered the wonders of LOVEFiLM. I was rather self indulgent (obviously) and how these grand plans and calculations for how I was goign to game the system and get the best value for my money. I won’t go into the exact details but lets’ just say each month my exploitation of my LOVEFiLM account had diminishing returns.

Anyway, it’s a new year and we have a new streaming service in the UK, Netflix has arrived!

It’s like LOVEFiLM, you pay your “modest” monthly fee and you can stream as many movies as you want onto your media device of choice. Netflix is a juggernaut from the US with a lot of experience and brand awareness over there, so how does it think it can take on LOVEFiLM? With superior technology.

See, as convenient as LOVEFiLM is, it only streams in standard definition and in stereo. A year ago I didn’t mind this, the only comparable product which offered a High Definition stream was Xbox Live’s Zune Marketplace, but that cost like a fiver a movie and you could only watch it like twice or something, it was timed and basically not quite as good as renting a Blu-Ray but better if you’re an impulsive person with no patience. But this is not last year, this is 2012,I want HD streaming with 5.1 Dolby Digital and I want a monthly fee with unlimited views. Netflix says “Hello”.

Depending on your internet connection, Netflix will stream content up to HD in Dolby Digital 5.1. It will stream it. For less than two drinks in a London pub.For a month. It’s a no brainer, right?

Well no, and this is where the “unfair competition” of the title comes into it.

LOVEFiLM and Netflix have different catalogues, with the former securing a lot of high tier exclusives over the latter. This is a bit of pain for a consumer, as it means to get access to all movies (and TV, don’t forget TV shows that they now stream) you HAVE to subscribe to both. Frankly i’d rather have a monopoly than have to subscribe to two services just because of exclusive bollocks.

But here’s the kicker, only Netflix offers HD. So far LOVEFiLM’s old technology rubbish is only in SD still, and is holding the likes of The Dark Knight and The Hangover hostage in it’s legacy screen format prison. It’s not a fair competition, one service is purely and simply superior to the other, but due to exclusive deals with content holders, a competition has been created where everyone wins except the consumer.

Up your game LOVEFiLM, or stop punishing consumers in your attempt to keep market share from a rival with superior tech.

Stallone giveth, Stallone taketh away.

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

Following the shocking revelations contained in South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut that children could quite easily make their way into R rated movies (for those not familiar with US ratings, that would be the UK equivalent of a film rated 18) Hollywood responded by really starting to clamp down on the enforcement of age ratings and no longer taking “yea my mum is like totally ok with me seeing this movie” as sufficient for kids to get into see a film intended for adults – R rated movies are like 12A’s over here, you can see the film if you’re with an adult.

So concerned was Hollywood that their entire blockbuster industry was actually built upon under age children watching their adult movies that they decided to not take any chances. They weren’t going to risk losing their audience now that these kids couldn’t actually get into the screenings, so they dumbed down their industry.

The biggest piece of evidence to support this notion is a diabolical film called Die Hard 4.0 (or the vomit inducing Live Free or Die Hard in the US) with it’s teen friendly PG-13 rating. This was a film, a Die Hard film, with one swear word in it. With violent scenes such as “woman being hit by speeding car and rammed into a concrete wall resulting in the smudging of her makeup”. Don’t think i’m somehow saying that a film can only be good if you have realistic violence and swearing, but if someone is rammed into a wall, they aren’t gonna just get a bruise and when angry men get angry they swear. And this is supposed to be a DIE HARD movie! oh…there’s also Kevin Smith in his most embarrassing role since he played the indie film maker who sold out and made the sequel he said he’d never make.

This was a dark time for adults who liked action movies, because Hollywood was convinced little kids, teenagers, were the source of all income, the movies that used to be made for us, that we looked forward to becoming 18 to see, were taken away from us. But one man new better, one man knew that there were enough people over the age of 18 who would pay money to watch a great action movie that wasn’t watered down so their little brother could watch it too. A man born from the action movie genre that Hollywood were trying to destroy. That man was Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone stood up and said enough was enough, he was going to bring back action movies as they used to be and people would come and see them. He gave us Rambo in 2008, rated R, a film which has one of the most horrific scenes in film showing just how brutal a .50 calibre machine gun is.

Meanwhile, during the time that mainstream Hollywood was forsaking the action movie – and no doubt fueling Stallone’s belief that there was indeed an audience out there for them – Jason Statham had carved his own niche as the action star for a new generation in the Transporter and Crank films.

It was then, that these two combined and rallying all their action movie buddies they showed the world, but more importantly Hollywood, that action movies aimed at adults, for adults, would be great fun and make everyone a lot of money. They made The Expendables. Rated R!

It was a glorious time, the R rated action movie was back and all was right with the world. Hollywood was treating us like the grow ups we always were, we’d shown them that we existed, the great silent majority of movie goers, this was going to be our time! But it turns out to have been short-lived, as The Expendables 2 looks set to be rated PG-13.

Word on the street is that this is exclusively down to Chuck Norris, a new addition to the Expendables team, who doesn’t want any of those naughty words in a movie he is in. I’d love to see the board meeting where they weighed up the potential marketing benefit of Chuck vs. making the R rated movie the fans wanted ,deserved and the numbers proved would be a success.

I hope the movie is still great, I loved the original, who didn’t? But it leaves me a little sad inside that Stallone, the man who brought back the R rated action movie from the grave Hollywood had dumped it in for fear of losing out on audiences, has now put the R rated action movie back where he found it.

Stallone giveth, Stallone taketh away.

But all is not lost, not while Liam Neeson still lives and breathes anyway.

The Day The Internet Stood Still

This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres

Tomorrow is potentially one of the most significant events in the Internet’s recent history. Wikipedia will be shut down for 24 hours.

The reason for the shut down are to protest against the SOPA and PIPA bills that are working their way through the US government at present. I won’t go into details of what they are, you either know what they are or don’t, you wont’ learn anything knew about them from me (well i’ll add that my greatest concern is that once again the USA seems to be the ones who control the internet and local laws they pass will have global ramifications) and the context of this post is not about them but Wikipedia and it’s place in our lives.

Do you remember a time when you couldn’t remember something about something? Like that guy who was in that film? or that TV show? The year your favourite album came out? what exactly cote de boeuf is? Was J Edgar Hoover involved with McCarthyism? These things happen all the time for me at least, but I don’t worry about it, I can just look it up on Wikipedia.

Good old Wikipedia, our salvation, our secret weapon, the fountain of all human knowledge at our finger tips.Anything you’ve ever wanted to know is there waiting for you to read it – providing that someone has added it to the database of course. To think, there used to be a time when you would have to phone a friend if there was ever some bit of trivia you couldn’t exactly remember. When having a discussion or argument, in the past you’d have a war of words, but now, just wikipedia the thing and put the issue to bed (unless it’s politics or religion in which case you shouldn’t be discussing these in the first place, no good can come of it).

In The Matrix the characters could download into their mind knowledge at the touch of a button. Today, with cunning use of a smarthphone you can partake in any dinner party conversation armed with an opinion without any prior knowledge of the subject by downloading it (though some clearly feel that knowledge of a subject doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on it). Knowledge is at out finger tips, you don’t need to KNOW anything anymore, you just need to have an internet connection.

This is the world we live in. An entitled world where people’s idea of knowledge has been reduced to how fast you can read and the speed of your internet connection. Encylopedia’s used to be musty tomes hidden away at the back of Library’s. I recall when I first saw the Encarta Encyclopedia, it came on a CD, in a caddy and opened up the world to me, provided you were in the school library. Now not only is more information than ever before available, it’s available to anyone.

Wikipedia. It’s a beautiful thing. Giving all the knowledge of the world to all the people of the world, all you need is an internet connection. Breaking down the barriers of education, disrupting the flow of knowledge moreso than anything in history. Knowledge is for all, it’s all here, it’s up to you to decide what you do with it.

The details of how Wikipedia works, who curates it ,who submits, who approves it, are not important in this piece. I’m not here to question the idea of democratically created history. History written by the online intellectual classes, by an online democracy, it is what it is and on the whole it’s a better world in which we live in as a result. It’s one of the defining aspects of the Internet, it doens’t cost you anything – but Jimmy Wales would like you to donate if possible to keep it running, you can’t run on venture capital and philanthropy forever, or can you?

But tomorrow, Wikipedia will be gone. There will be a big empty space in the very fabric of the internet. Wikipedia claim 100 million English speaking people will be affected by their blackout tomorrow, with the only pages viewable being articles on SOPA and PIPA. In theory that could mean 100 million people who will now know about what SOPA and PIPA represent. Potentially the greatest awareness protest of all time.

What does this mean for the world though? For those who don’t really care about things, they just want to get on with life, you know ,the kind of people who sign away their entire life, history, future and personal photos over to social networks willingly like they never read 1984 (they probably haven’t). They won’t be able to use a tool that they probably use every day. Anecdotally, whenever I google something, 9 times out of 10 the top result is to Wikipedia. tomorrow, all those top results will be meaningless. What is out there in the wilderness beyond the top results?

Tomorrow is the Day the Internet Stood Still.