Thursday, September 21, 2006

Know What You Sell

What does it take to work in a specialist store? Any kind, I’m not fussy here. I saw recently that a local bookstore was hiring, and part of the notice in the window read “Applicants should have a love of books and reading”. Seems fair to me. If you’re working in a book store, you should enjoy reading. Similarly, if you’re working in a leisure centre, you should enjoy swimming, or working out in some way. People working in a music store should have an interest in music. This all goes without saying. I thought.

I went in this week to pre-order my Wii in a local computer game specialist store. While there I spoke to the two females behind the counter about the machine and it’s possibilities. One of the two was the manager, by the way. Neither had a clue about the new console! They were surprised when I explained about the unusual controller design and the motion sensor technology. The manager of a computer game specialist store didn’t know about the new console being released for Christmas by the one of the Big Three! I was... well... amazed! I mean, the Wii has been getting more coverage over the last few months than any of the consoles, if only for its crazy, crazy risks to reach a wider customer base!

Not that that will stop me buying my Wii there. There are three places in Cork I would even consider buying a console. Two are specialist stores from different chains and one is part of a large toy store chain. There is also HMV and Virgin, but I don’t usually buy consoles from them as they rarely have very good opening offers. So that leaves me with the three I’ve previously mentioned. The toy store is a possibility, but they can’t guarantee an adequate supply of the machines to meet orders. The two specialist stores support two very different strategies regarding employment. The previously mentioned one employs lots of pretty girls in a “car show” kind of way, that look good selling stuff, and lonely geeks (not me, thank you very much!) like talking to them as it’s the only chance they get. The other one employs said geeks, who know just as much about computer games as the customers, and are happy to debate the pros and cons of one console versus another.

So which strategy is better? Pretty, girls who only have a cursory knowledge of the product, or people who can discuss the product with confidence and almost (sometimes only) geek-like detail? Appealing dimensions or knowing the consoles dimensions?

I shop in the first one. The one with the pretty girls. It’s a nicer, cleaner, brighter store. The offers are generally better. And yes, it has pretty girls. So sue me. I’m a red-blooded male. Though I am also one that is happily engaged, so... um... you know... don’t tell Claire!

Me And My Voice

I grew up on a steady diet of American tv from a very young age. My parents, while never resorting to the TV as a babysitter or substitute for parenting, allowed me the freedom to enjoy the box purely as an evening activity when outdoor sports were not possible.

Because of this, I don’t remember watching very many cartoons when I was very young. I didn’t get into Transformers, M.A.S.K. or GI Joe until a much later stage. I didn’t even watch Bosco, that primary source of Irish children’s television, though my younger brother developed the fascinating to watch ability to quote each line up to 3 seconds ahead of particular episodes having watched them to death! On the other hand, I do remember playing as The A-Team while I was just in play-school, putting me at only four-years old when I was watching it! That’s about the only thing I remember from that early point in my life, along with an almost Freudian love for my play-school teacher. She was amazing.

I still remember watching The A-Team, MacGyver, Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Street Hawk and many more when they were all primetime shows on RTE. I remember sitting on the couch with my dad and mom, watching explosions and action, watching B.A. make a tank out of a few sheets of metal or MacGyver… well, macgyvering (yes, it’s a verb, they used it on Stargate) gadgets from duct-tape and rubber tubing. I remember being allowed to stay up until the very late time of 9pm just so I could watch these shows to the end. And they were all great.

As well as bestowing upon me an avid interest in action/adventure shows, the ability to use ordinary gadgets in extraordinary ways, a desire to be the hero whenever possible and the love of writing cross-over fan fiction (A-Team versus MacGyver: One Warehouse, No Way Out, Lots of Gadgets. Someone’s About to Have a Plan Come Together) watching all those American shows had an unexpected side-effect. It left me with an unusual accent that has the slightest twinge of American in it.

It comes as no surprise when Irish people ask me how long I’ve been living in Ireland. When I tell them I was born and raised here, the next question is often how long I spent in America . This inevitably leads to shock when I inform them that I’ve never set foot on American soil. I’ve never even been in one of the embassies! It all comes from too much TV as a kid.

But what is surprising is when Americans ask me the same question. This has happened twice recently, and it got me thinking. I’m not trying to say that the Americans in question were foolish for thinking I was from their side of the Atlantic. They seemed like very nice people during the short while we spoke. No. This isn’t a “look at the stoopid American” post. I quiet like Americans. This is an “I have an unusual accent” post, nothing else.

Personally, I like it. I have a very easy to understand voice with no strong accent. You might say that my voice has a “travelled” quality to it, as if I have spent a lot of time abroad. It certainly doesn’t sound like I’m a country boy that grew up on an island. But the truth is, I haven’t. I’ve rarely been outside Ireland. And even when I have been, it’s only been to England !

So is this the way of the future? A new, universal accent for all. Our children watch almost entirely American TV from a very early age. Barney, Elmo, and Bear in the Big Blue House have replaced Bosco as the primary form of preschool edutainment. Am I the first in a new wave of mixed accents? Will we see more and more Irish and European children growing up using American phrases?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just wanted to post about my unusual vocal qualities and the effect of TV on me. That last part is hardly cause for concern. All that action/adventure hasn’t caused me to go out shooting people (yet), or made me aggressive in any way. It hasn’t made me want to run off and join a secret organisation testing new super-bikes kitted out with turbo boost and lasers... actually, it has, but it turns they’re really hard to find. Unfortunately it hasn’t made me into an ace mechanic, a bomb disposal expert, a government agent, an undercover spy or even (my true desire) a qualified teacher. Oh well. Guess I just need to watch some more!

Monday, September 11, 2006

I, Robot

Just watched this movie again while I had the house to myself. I love it. I saw it twice in the cinema. It's a great action movie, with cool special effects, very nice CGI and a compelling murder mystery story.

Okay, so it's got nothing to do with Isaac Asimov's story save the 3 Laws, but it's a whole lot of fun.

And I love seeing what I like to refer to as a "Galaxy Quest Machine". This can be defined as a machine that has to be gotten at through a ridiculously designed approach that the main characters must use in order to stop the badguy/thing/whatever. The phrase comes, obviously, from the fact that the movie Galaxy Quest makes blatant fun of this principle, dispite the fact that it's been around for much longer than the movie itself.

Course, the whole time I was watching the movie, I wanted to start watching Firefly again. Alan Tudyk voices and plays Sonny, the rogue NS-5 robot of the movie and Wash in Firefly.

Interesting but useless observation: One of the assistants to the owner of USRobotics that shows up in the police station is currently the chief engineer on BattleStar Galactica.

Overheard On...

The Venture Brothers

Starting a trend here!:

Henchman 24:
Come on! They have one female servicing a large group of males. That implies a species that lays eggs.
Henchman 21: Oh my God, you're crazy! They're so obviously mammals!
Henchman 24: Please! She'd be in estrus 24/7 if she didn't lay eggs.
Henchman 21: Smurfs don't lay eggs! I won't tell you this again! Papa Smurf has a fucking beard! They're mammals!

Overheard During...

A game of Zombies:

Not sure who said what, so I'm going to take some guesses with the names. It's the conversation that matters anyhow. All I know for certain is that Noel gave us the priceless punchline.

Noel: I'm inflammable.
Dave T: I think you mean "unflammable". "Inflammable" means you burn more.
Ninja Dave: Like "infamous", meaning that you'd be "more famous".
Bob: "Infamous" implies "famous for the wrong reasons".
Ninja Dave: So "inflammable" means "flammable for the wrong reasons"?
Noel: Flammable for the wrong reasons? What? Like babies?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Broken Promises

But this time, they aren't from me.

Wednesday morning, at 06:40 Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced the revised release date of March 2007 for the PlayStation 3 in European and similar PAL territories. They also announced that on release a mere 500,000 units would be split between Japan and Northern America, with only 100,000 of those going to Sony's homeland.

First off, let me say that I am not very surprised by this news. A few weeks ago we learned that the machine had yet to go into production! It hardly seems worth even feigning shock when told this most recent news.

Secondly, as I've stated before in long rambling posts, I'm a Nintendo fan. I'm not an extremist fanboy, I do own and very much enjoy playing my PS2, but I am looking forward to the Wii more than anything else. So feel free to colour this entire article with "Mario Red" tinted glasses.

Well, lets begin. This latest bombshell from the halls of Sony has got to have a massive impact on their own defences. Credibility has been taken a gut wound after promises about the release, the number of available units and the assured success of the PS3 in this very competitive market have been thrown overboard at this late stage in the war.

So how does this actually affect Sony? Stocks are certain to drop in light of the news, or at least will continue to decline as they have been since E3 this year. The sales of the PSP are certain to suffer. Plans to allow link-up features similar to what Nintendo have been promising for the DS would have boosted rapidly declining sales of this handheld. As it stands, the PSP is floundering in the shallow end of the pool, suffering desperately from a lack of ongoing support.

All because they announced a new, later release date for Europe.

But the truth is, we’re used to delays here in Europe. Many movies are still released here weeks after the American screenings, DVDs are worse, games can be delayed by months, and previous generation consoles have been over half a year after the Japan and American releases. And comics! The British Collectors Editions” of American Marvel comics are up to three years behind in the stories! No. We’re well used to delays. We sit back and savour the opportunity to compare the competition in another market, allowing us the chance to see both flaws and merits of the product in question, be it console machines, movies or fizzy drinks, before we have to worry about making our own purchase. So the delay really isn’t that big a deal. Worldwide releases for consoles are rare due to manufacturing constraints, and we all know that.

What has burned the gaming masses is the lateness of Sony’s announcement. Leaving it until it is so close to the expected date makes the news feel all the worse. Are we to believe that Sony were unaware of the problems and short supply in units until just earlier this week? Are we really expected to accept that the added difficulties of manufacturing the blue diodes only became apparent recently? Actually, no. We've known for a while now of Sony's difficulties with Blue-ray production.

In essence, it is Sony’s arrogance shining through again. The success of the PSOne and PS2 have put Sony in a position that they believe themselves invincible. And for a while they were right. Both machines were great, clearly superior to their competition in many respects. Though I never owned a PSOne, I do have a PS2 and love it dearly. I have owned every Nintendo console since the SNES, and even got a working NES recently. While I will defend them to the last, it is ultimately true that resent Nintendo consoles, specifically since the N64, have suffered from a lack of quantity in games, even if I still believe that, quality based, Nintendo is superior. Over two generations, Sony built up a dominating (and sometimes rabid) fanbase. Where parents used to use the phrase “playing Nintendo” in reference to any console of the 80’s, the parents of the 90’s and new Millenium use “playing Playstation” in the same way. “Playstation” has become the new “sellotape”, “hoover” or (one unique to us Irish) “Tayto”. True as this may be, that does not give Sony the right to treat their customers and fans in the manner they have chosen. But the delay is not the first time Sony has shown a level of superiority and egotism often associated with Hollywood megastar actors.

E3 2006 was a disaster for Sony, and began to hint at problems that have now become clear. Their keynote speech became the butt of a thousand jokes across the gaming public (Riiiiiidge Raaaaaacer!) even before it had finished, clocking in at an excessive two and a bit hours long! Where days before people predicted Sony would dominate the show with dazzling displays of the power of their new machine, now Nintendo and Microsoft were ahead in net-chat statistics. With the 360 already released, the majority assumed Microsoft’s involvement in E3 would be mute at best, silently watching as the unstoppable Sony flexed its muscle. However, a slew of new and interesting games, the announcement of add-ons such as the webcam and the HD drive and a general sense of fun pushed interest in the X-Box 360 to unexpected levels. In contrast to Sony, Nintendo’s keynote speech was packed with information and fun. Of course, things like release date and price point were absent, but the recording of the event proved to be hugely popular on Google Video and gave many their first glimpse of the Wii in action.

The problems continued as Nintendo and Microsoft put out press release after press release of new games, new partnerships and new announcements. Nintendo has built anticipation up to fever-pitch, while the X-Box 360 continues to turn heads with not only its steady flow of quality games but also it’s distinctively designer looking appearance. Many have critisised the PS3s bulky features and, rather interestingly, the controller was changed back to the PS2 style after fans slamed the original new look online. Sony seemed to be making mistake after mistake right from the start.

And what of the PSP? As sales continue to slowly spiral downwards, and the UMD market collapses in on itself, surely Sony were hoping that the connectivity between PSP and PS3 would boost sales for both machines. With a post Christmas release, will people just ignore the PSP in favour of *shock* *horror* a DS and Wii combo? Or forget about handheld fun entirely and get the stand alone power of the X-Box 360? If early rumours are to be believed and a Wii ends up costing as little as €170, a Wii/DS bundle would cost just €320 in total. Half the cost of a PS3! Crazy! Admittedly, I can’t really force myself to believe that one just yet, it’s just too good! But worse case, the Wii costs €250, making a bundle still only €400. That’s cheaper than the release price of the X-Box 360. Double crazy! And that’s with a DS Lite too. Sweet deal.

So what does the PS3 actually have going for it after yesterday’s announcement? The motion sensor added to the controller a few months back is one in their favour. Ok, so it’s true that they are in part just copying Nintendo’s innovative ideas, but in the end it will benefit both companies. As when Nintendo released the N64 controller with a 3D stick and later the Rumble Pak, Sony’s inclusion means that game developers no longer have to worry about the cost of designing a game utilising the technology knowing that their sales can only come from one console. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft release a controller with some form of similar technology in the near future also, allowing them access to all the same games. No-one likes to get left out.

Left out. That’s what Sony is going to start to feel. Cold. Unwanted. You get the picture. But we should remember that, in the loong run, fans are ultimately hard to hurt permanently, and fanboys are even less likely to hold a grudge passed release. Once everything is released and all the good reviews start rolling in, all this will be forgotten. PS2 owners who were looking forward to the PS3 will consider turning back to familiar territory. Hardcore fans, regardless of the damage they feel now will have the PS3 prebooked long in advance, whatever the ultimate release date. But that may be it. With no Christmas season to buy for, parents are going to be reluctant to shell out for the new machine. Spoilt kids with birthdays around that time might get one, but not many. Be aware, unless Sony drastically changes release trends, the €700 pricetag is for the console alone. Parents will have to pay more for the games unless their little darling really does just want a super expensive DVD player.

Then again, the PS3 is very clearly geared toward the young professional that likes to relax at home after a long day prosecuting criminals, stitching up open chest wounds or working in the leisure industry. But even said young professional will have to put some serious thought into handing over that much cash in one go.

So what does all this mean? Angry fans, annoyed parents, upset youngsters this Christmas, some very happy Nintendo and Microsoft executives... the list goes on.

Sony need to start into some serious damage control. People need to start seeing good things coming after this. Hearing that game developers are abandoning the platform is not a good thing. They need to learn from this mistake also. Waiting this late to announce something you knew weeks, if not months ago is not clever. Staying quiet and hoping everyone will go away is equally not clever. Be a man, Sony! Next time you get a bad report card from your manufacturing team, step up and admit it early. We'll go easier on you. Promise.

Finally, Sony need to read up on their history. As the says goes "a man who does not know his history is doomed to repeat it". Sega thought they were invincible. They released a cutting edge console that failed due to lack of development support. The DreamCast is an awesome machine, with some great games, but there just wasn't enough. And the market at the time could not support three consoles, especially when one was the all consuming PS2, it's biggest advantage being a DVD drive, something Sega just barely missed out on. It's failure directly lead to Sega dropping out of the console development market. Seeing Sony limping in the open grass, away from the other Big Two may cause a hungry and revenge driven Sega to pounce.

So that's it. In the end, I don't think Sony suffer excessively from this delay. They'll get back up, dust themselves off and hopefully chalk this one up as a learning experience. Never, ever promise things you can't deliver. They have left the door wide open for Nintendo and Microsoft to make the most of, stealing as many customers as they can get away with. The PSP may well become a write-off after this, though in truth I think Sony has enough money to pump into it to keep it alive if they so desire.

Now we Europeans have to sit back and watch Japan and America scramble for all those Version 1.0 PS3's. I'm sure we'll all laugh come November 17th when it is revealed that the fan is too noisy, or the transformer overheats. And by the time it hits our shores in 2007, hopefully some of the bugs will have been worked out of the system. And think of the number of games we could get on release date! Most game developers were gearing up for a world-wide release too. Now they can have all those games due to be released from here until March released on the same day!

I'm still not getting one. Roll on the Wii. Excuse me now while I go rearrange my living room to allow for four sets of wildly swinging arms at a decent distance from my far-too-small tv. Thankfully I ungraded from a portable tv last Christmas, thanks to my girlfriend. Now I need a 48" widescreen... hmm... Christmas is happening this year, right? That hasn't been pushed back too, has it?

Additional: Please feel free to comment on any aspect of my writing style, formatting, image useage, whatever! I enjoy honest critisism, even if I blankly ignore you. What to people think of my review in general? Was I objective in my critisisms? I quantiied my bias at the start, but do you think I still showed too much bias against Sony in the article? Any comments at all, as well as just responses are welcome.

Broken Promises

Before I start, I just want to say that I hadn't put up a post about Steve Irwin before now partly because of what I said about the direction I wanted to take my blog in and partly because it still feels like a dream to me. A horrible, twisted dream. I just can't believe it. He just kinda seemed invincible. Amuse or annoy, irritate or fasinate, the man always entertained. More importantly for me, he was a great father and loving husband. My thoughts go to his family, especially his son that will never get to know him.

This is all I have to say. Everything has been said a thousand times already across the world.

We'll miss ya mate.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hello Again

I've been a bit lax in my updates recently, both here and in my Flickr account. So I've decided to rectify the situation somewhat by posting some more reviews of stuff, random thoughts that pop into my head and my second post of Random Shinyness, something I started way back in May, but never did a follow up too.

While on the subject of increasing post-counts, I thought I'd share some hopes I have for this blog. Way back in my first post I outlined the reason for the name, and hinted at some of the stuff I wanted the blog to be for. While talking about comics, toys and movies is still all well and good, I feel I want to do more.

Back when I was in secondary school I spent a lot of time writing. Short stories, articles, reviews, personnal thoughts on stuff happening at the time, just lots of things. I never had a diary, and most of what I wrote was on random sheets of paper that were lost by the end of the week. But two things held true.

Firstly, I enjoyed writing for pleasure, and leisure. I enjoyed writing things I could re-read and smile at, and thing I had to admit sounded much better in my head. I actually enjoyed learning from my mistakes, and making those mistakes. I liked trying new things, such as scripting for movies, comics and even theatre. I once wrote a sci-fi short piece as a theatre play, carefully working out how everything would work on stage. I'd like to get back to just writing as a form of relaxation, an outlet for my imagination, or a channel for my thoughts on a subject.

Secondly, and arguably the one that affected me the most, I was told more than once that I had a real knack for natural writing by my secondary school English teacher, a great man that I still respect and admire, though I haven't seen him since I closed that chapter of my life. He talked to me regularly outside of class about the various essays I handed in, and gave me pointers on each one. He was always more impressed with my "editorials", essays about things around me and how I saw them. I will always remember my five page essay on why I was looking forward to seeing the (then just starting on British tv) Teletubbies (Warning: knock of your speakers before clicking that link, especially if you're at work!)for the first time, and why Fireman Sam is still so much fun to watch. He gave me very high marks for it, showing amusement at my interest in kids tv, but never mocking me. Or the time I wrote a sci-fi piece about being on board the first manned mission to Mars. He was impressed with it up until the end, telling me I used a clichéd tool, and should have just let it play out. (In the story, I slipped on the last step to the planet only to find myself lying on my bedroom floor, realising it was "all just a dream". Like the man said, clichéd!) He really didn't like one I wrote about a billionaire inventor named Max Cannon. Man... he really hated that one.

So. I want to start writing again. As such, expect to see the afore mentioned editorials, as well as possibly one or two short stories.

I'd rather get away from "recent deaths", "back to college" and "From London to Fota, or How I Learned to Relax and Enjoy my Summer". However, it is now 00:34 by my clock, so I'm off to bed!