Sunday, 30 June 2013

Documentary Sunday - Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

It should be made very clear that I do not like Sushi in any way and yet I consider this documentary to be one of the most fascinating and visually triumphant food documentaries I have ever seen. It also made me feel very very hungry afterwards, so I would advise not watching on an emprty stomach.

Jiro Ono owns and operates a small sushi restaurant (it seats about 8 people) in a Tokyo subway. The catch? The restaurant is one of the greatest in the world when it comes to sushi, it is the only of its kind to have been awarded three Michelin stars and Jiro himself is regarded as the greatest ever modern sushi chef.

The documentary is a window into the life of this extraordinary man and the methods that brought him too where he is today. We get a brief glimpse at his childhood and the childhood of his sons but for the most part, we see Jiro in his natural environment - the kitchen. And it is magnificent to watch. The food preparation is captured in such a way that it almost feels like a form of art; the frame-rate slowed down a bit to give you a real glimpse into each technique.

But this is all about Jiro and his legacy. We learn that his ambition to become the best only is from continuous practice and improvement, and that the day he dies will be when he is at his greatest. This aim for perfection has had a noticeable toll on his personal life (he refuses to take holidays and only takes time off for important personal events, such as funerals) and those of his sons, the eldest works in the same restaurant while the younger one runs his own, slightly less well acclaimed sushi restaurant.

The documentary is accompanied, musically, by some select works of Philip Glass and the result is a magical visual and audio feast that locks you in. Adding Glass' works to just about anything is guaranteed to make it better but it works as it adds an extra layer of depth; Glass' repetitive melodies almost mimic Jiro's repetitive outlook on life and work and it makes the experience even more immersive to watch.

Who Does it Appeal To?
Food lovers (especially of the raw fish variety) will find themselves salivating within the first few minutes. But there is a lot more than just images of good food, particularly in the way of life Jiro has adhered to. He has dedicated his life to work to the point where his life is his work and he has been rewarded immensely for it, and this is fascinating to watch as a westerner because this is a work ethic that none of us are used to (truthfully, how many of us like our jobs).

What to Take Away From It?
Only from complete dedication can you achieve to become the very best you can. It comes at a heavy price, and you will never be satisfied, but people will respect you for it.
That and I've never seen sushi look this good.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Have Rakuten Just Won the Netflix/LoveFilm War?

Everyone in the UK knows It's that great website that used to be so cheap due to its Jersey-based store meaning no tax on all its goods.

A couple of years ago they were bought by the Rakuten group, a Japanese e-commerce conglomerate that's one of the largest in the world. Since then, tax changes have meant Play is no longer as cheap as it used to be but it's still a pretty good alternative to Amazon or eBay.
And it's just gotten a whole lot better.

In what I can only guess is an answer to Amazon's LoveFilm service, they have made (a previously Spanish-based VOD service, also purchased recently by the group) available in the UK for only £2.99 a month (as a special offer).

So what is it? Well, it's a VOD service, so nothing new there. can learn what titles are available on the service via the store much like you can with Amazon and LoveFilm, so that's Netflix out of the game.

AND...You can also rent movies (at an extra price, of course)

AND...You can also buy movies and they are stored via the cloud, so goodbye to you Mr Amazon.

So what's the significance of this? A cloud-based storage system for movies that you can watch anywhere at any time (with internet). No more scratched discs. No more restrictions for movies from the Apple Store. It's all digital and it works everywhere.

So for the price of a (very cheap) single film a month, you get a VOD service with a decent catalogue, a premium rental service and an unlimited cloud storage unit for movies bought via that account.

The catch? Well there isn't really one unless you consider that few of the movies are actually available in HD and prices for buying are not cheap in the slightest. That being said, the service has just launched so all this could be set to change.

The first month is free, and if you act now you only pay £2.99 a month (half price).
It's not a bad investment, even if you are already subscribed to one of the others, and for that price you can always trial it for three months to see if it's worthwhile.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rant - Are Subscription Services Worthwhile?

I was trying to work out how much money I was saving by subscribing to Netflix as opposed to buying DVDs (a huge amount it turns out) when it occurred to me that you can currently subscribe to pretty much all forms of digital entertainment (books, films, music, games) without the need for physical purchases. The best thing is that you get access to essentially an unlimited amount of choices rather than restricted to buying select items.

But is it actually cheaper?


Before Netflix came along, I found that I was spending almost £20-£30 a month on films. It's a lot, but also bearing in mind I tend to only buy the cheap stuff (ie films at under £5), I was getting a lot for my money. This is me however and I'm a film fanatic.

I assume that the average consumer probably buys two or three DVD's a month, maybe one new release and two on special offer, so they spend maybe around £15 a month.
That means they spend, on average, about £180 on DVD's a year.
A Netflix subscription (at £5.99 a month) runs you at £71.88 per year, so you can save around £110.

LoveFilm, while cheaper at £4.99 a month (£59.88 per year), doesn't offer you the same variety, assuming you use your Netflix subscription on both the UK and US sites. To get the full benefit of LoveFilm, you need the Streaming and Post membership which costs £7.99 a month and £95.88 for the year, still a considerable saving but more expensive than Netflix.

You could opt for the BT/Sky/Binkbox/other options, but your best value for money (for the time being) comes from either Netflix or LoveFilm.

So total savings per year:
Netflix - £108.12
LoveFilm - £84.12 or £120.12, depending on subscription

Conclusion - Even if you buy just one film a month, you can still save a huge amount of money with a (basic) subscription to either service. Obviously the more films you do watch, the better value for money your membership becomes.


Technically there isn't really a proper digital lending library available in the UK (or anywhere else as far as I'm aware) however being a member of Amazon Prime grants you the ability to 'rent' a book from the Kindle library as often as once per month (providing you actually own an official Kindle device - the Kindle app on a non-Amazon tablet won't work).

The average person in the UK probably reads between two to three books a month.
Assuming they buy a new release every other month (about £8.99 a book), as well as a cheap novel on offer (£4 each) once a month, the average person may spend about £100 on books a year.
Amazon Prime costs £49 per year, however you are limited to one book per month therefore you will probably still crave an extra read or two. Assuming you use the service obtain new releases, that means you will still pick up a special offer if you see one, so in total you will spend about £97 a year.

So total savings per year:
Amazon Prime - £3 (don't forget that this also means you get free next day delivery on all Amazon purchases, so you do end up saving a fair bit more if you are a regular customer).

Conclusion - Heavy readers will not find any savings in this service and the limit of one book per month means you have to wait a while before diving into the next big adventure. For the time being, individual purchases are probably your best bet.


I'm a Spotify user and have been for a good two years now, therefore I will use them as my example. I'm pretty sure they are still one of the best providers of digital music, both in content and price.

On average, a person (an honest one to be more precise) probably buys around two albums a month as well as maybe a couple of individual tracks. Album prices tend to differ quite dramatically in price, depending on the content available, but on average they come out to about £8 each (with individual tracks at £0.99). On average, I estimate people spend about £120 over the course of the year.

Two types of membership apply to a Spotify account (excluding free because it's, you know, free).
The Unlimited service (£4.99 a month) is essentially just an extension of the free account, only you can play as many tracks as you want without adds. This is fine providing you listen to music only while at home but most people like to have their tunes on the go, therefore you have to opt for the more pricey £9.99 a month Premium option to get the ability to download to your portable device and get offline play enabled. So basically for £119.88 a year you get access to pretty much every song ever made at any given time, internet or not.

So total savings per year:
Spotify Unlimited - £60.12 (though no offline play or device storage)
Spotify Premium - £0.12

Conclusion - Music lovers will find that the Premium service will open up so many new artist and genre discoveries and so it turns out to be a whole lot cheaper in the long run. Casual listeners should just stick with the free and only upgrade to unlimited if you get tired of the ads.


Currently all game rentals are disc based (for what I assume are copyright and licensing reasons). Game rentals are normally for people who want a taste of a game before they buy however many use the opportunity to complete the game and move on without having to pay full price for it.

PC users are the worst off as you can't rent PC games period. Gamefly set up a subscription system similar to Netflix or Spotify but that seems to have disappeared. Occasionally, Steam have free weekends where you have access to the full game for 48hrs, and this can be used to complete the entire game without spending a penny. Otherwise you are better off waiting for sales.

Console gamers have it better as you can actually rent the games due to the restrictions in the technology that can actually play them. A regular console gamer probably plays about seven major games a year. Three of those will probably be bought on day one, so you are looking at around £40 each. The others may be the result of a sale, so around £15 each. On average, you'll probably spend £200, including Indie Games and in-game purchases.

Blockbuster, for £9.99 a month, offer unlimited games with two discs at a time. Bearing in mind you can only play one game at a time this is more than enough (it does also include movies, however it is not cheaper than the streaming services available). So this makes it out to be £119.88 a year for pretty much any game you wish.

LoveFilm, for the odd price of £11.22, offer unlimited game and movies, both disc and streaming. Again limited to just two discs at a time, this is more than enough. Assuming you are a heavy film lover too, that means you are essentially taking the LoveFilm £7.99 package and having unlimited games for an extra £3.23.
For £134.64 it's a pretty good bargain.

So total savings per year:
Blockbuster - £80.12
LoveFilm - £65.36
Bearing in mind this does not include downloaded content.

Conclusion - Strict gamers may want to consider the Blockbuster option, which with the two discs at a time option means you can send a disc back and have one ready to play at any given time. Film enthusiasts on the other hand will be able to combine their love of entertainment to opt for the LoveFilm experience and get everything in one convenient bundle. Casual gamers may not find any savings however, especially if they only ever buy games on offer to begin with.

So, final thoughts.

Subscriptions are a good investment if you are a consistent user of that particular media. Both for film and music, you can save a huge amount in the long run while still having access to all your favourite choices and much more.

What does make life better is that you can cancel your subscription at any time and resume it again when you are ready. What I like to do is cancel my Spotify account every couple of months for a few months at a time. What this means is that I can then buy new CD's (cheaply, for less than the subscription per month) based on what I have heard on Spotify, while revisit my own personal music collection resulting in me actually saving a lot more in the end.
The same could apply to Netflix or LoveFilm. Cancel every once in a while to revisit the movies you actually physically bought and maybe treat yourself to a new movie for £4. You may only save £2 but every little helps.

Games are trickier as they are based around the physical discs required to play them. The beauty of owning the game is you can go back to it whenever you want, rather than wait for it to arrive in the post, however at the same time you can rent new releases, play them all the way through and them buy them when hey become cheaper and still make huge savings.

The thing to remember is that you will never actually own any of these items. There's no knowing what the future holds however it may turn out that Netflix can't keep up with the growing demand of film lovers and they go bust, thus rendering all the money you've paid in the past moot. Of course there will be another company to take up the slack, but if there isn't you'll have to build a physical library from scratch.
This is of course worst case scenario, and a very pessimistic outlook, but subscription services are not 100% foolproof.

It's worth finding out much you actually pay for these things and seeing if becoming a subscriber will actually save you money. After all, the more people who show interest in these services the better they will become in the long run.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Top10: Ways Netflix Could Improve its Service

Top10 is a (new) feature where I list the Top Ten things for a given subject. The list is not finite and merely represents personal views on the subject.

There's a heavy debate going on right now over who the best Video On Demand provider is, with the general consent favouring either Amazon's LoveFilm/Prime service or Netflix.

I'm a huge Netflix fan and have been from the very moment they rolled out their service to the UK. In my opinion they have the better catalogue (although I do use both the UK and US sites) and very recently they also showed they could dominate the original (and semi-original) content market.

But it's not to say they are without fault. Here's the Top10 list of everything they need to do to improve their service, in no particular order.

1. Bring Back the Star-Rating System

Up until recently, viewers could leave behind their mark with the built in five-star review system, allowing others to get a general feel for how the community responded to the film. Sure, there's always the written reviews but the stars are a lazy quick and easy way to work out if a movie should be viewed or not. Since a few months ago however, Netflix opted for the more "social" rating system of the Facebook 'like' button, and it's been downhill since then.

I personally hate Facebook for various reasons (not the idea, just the execution) and I could never see myself using the 'like' function on Netflix. Problem is I don't seem to be the only one. Either that or only about 200 people subscribe to Netflix...

The 'like' button does not give a clear indication as to whether a movie was good just that a certain person liked it. Not amazing or passable, just liked. It isn't a very good system. To add further harm, I find it very sad to see 'Grown Ups' has 89 likes but 'In The Heat of the Night' has only 4. The Facebook generation will be the end of us all...

Solution? Bring back the star system. It worked fine. Don't hate us Netflix.
To be fair it still exists in some form however the only way to see or use it is via the search page, but it involves more than one action and I'm often too lazy to resort to such steps.

[I also miss the 'Not Interested' button. Instead I have to resort to rating movies '1 star' just to hide them. I am troubled to think that Netflix believes I have actually watched episodes of 'Jersey Shore' or 'The Only Way Is Essex'.]

2. Integrate with a Review Website

One of the best features of being a LoveFilm/Prime subscriber is you can browse imdb and, if the movie want to watch is available, you are one click away from watching. This is perfect as it means you can check up on both critical and professional reviews for the movie as well as check out other cool movie info. Unfortunately, imdb is owned by Amazon, so I highly doubt they will offer it up to Netflix users (though they have made the Netflix app available on the Kindle store, so who knows).

Netflix did have some deal with RottenTomatoes, however that seems to have vanished, and besides it only really affected US customers. Now that Netflix have opened their digital libraries to the rest of the world they should really consider trying to find something similar as it has a lot of potential in helping people find good movies to watch.

3. Expand the 'Common Sense Media Rating' Feature

One of the great features of the Netflix US site is that when browsing a title, there's often a segment called the 'Common Sense Media Rating' which gives a description about the level of sex/violence/language in the movie (essentially like the Parental Guide page of imdb). It's not for everyone, sure, but parents of children who may want to show them more adult movies can find it most beneficial as it also advises them of the themes in the movie and how best to approach children with them.

A good example is DePalma's The Untouchables.
Rated R in the states (ie 15 for here) Netflix rates it as 'iffy for 14+' and gives a (spoilerific) rundown on what you can expect in the movie (the café bomb, the baseball bat scene etc). What sets it apart is that it then goes on to push parents to question the levels of violence in the movie (realism, necessity for watching) as well as how criminals are portrayed in the media today as compared to back then (they claim the film's portrayal of the media favour Mr Capone), the morality of Eliot Ness' character when he breaks the law himself and also encourages parents to find out the truth behind the events and how the film changed them (quite dramatically as it turns out...).

I understand that normally parents will have seen a movie, and they know best whether their kids should see it, but even I find this system intriguing, no less because it makes me ask questions about the movie that I would never have asked myself otherwise.

It's only available on select titles on the US site but this could have a really big following if it were to embrace the feature and offer it to members globally. Going even further would be to allow user customisation.

4. Merge the Redeeming Features of the Console Apps

Depending on where I am, I find I spend equal amounts of time using every possible device to watch Netflix - my iPod, my Android Phone, my PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. The PC version is arguably great the way it is (barring the improvements I've suggested in this list of course) and the mobile apps offer just what they need. The problem is with the consoles where sometimes one has a great feature that the other doesn't and it would be nice to see some level of consistence between them.

The great thing I love about watching TV shows on my PS3 is that when it starts the next episode, it automatically skips any recap/credits before the actual episode. This to me is perfect as it is rather like using the chapter skip on a DVD (though without pressing anything) while the fast-forward function is clumbsy and often results in me missing a few seconds (shock horror!!).

Another PS3 win is that you can chose the subtitles/episodes before launching into a movie/episode whereas with the Xbox 360 version you have to navigate within the actual player, which can be awkward. Also, the PS3 description is much better for individual episodes.
Oh and PS3 have the whole 'Super HD' viewing format. Would love to see this on the PC.

Xbox 360 have...well they have the Kinect which they haven't fully utilised in their app (voice search anyone?) and this is somewhat disappointing. And they also have the preview function, which is actually pretty cool though I never use it.

5. Subtitles

You would have thought that with the evolution of digital media you would be able to watch any movie with an unlimited choice of subtitle language however this appears to not be the case.

The only option is for English subtitles, which is fair enough as this is a UK based subscription, but the UK comprises of many immigrants for whom English is not a first language. The Dutch are some of the most prolific non-native English speakers in Europe, mainly because all their programming is shown in the original language with Dutch subtitles, so they can learn as they watch.

I understand that not all films have the appropriate subtitle translations but this is a great way for Netflix to push itself forward in the VOD market by offering user-generated subtitles, where members use their linguistic talents to submit their own translations for approval from the community.

Even with just plain English only half the titles have subtitles, which for people of Hard of Hearing can be quite irritating. Does Netflix not care about its disabled members?

6. Content Expiration Page

Netflix generally keeps its catalogue in rotation which means films come and go from the site. They generally give you a months notice however you only know if a film will disappear by actually selecting it. What would be nice is to have a separate page telling us which titles we will no longer be able to stream in the future.

7. Queueing/Want to See

Members of the Netflix (US) postal service have the ability to queue up movies, so when they send one back the next in the queue is automatically sent to them. It would be great to see a similar feature of the streaming site.

The actual 'queueing' of a streaming titleis unessesary however I would love to have a system where I could check a box that says "Watch Later". I hate nothing more than to see a movie that spikes my interest only to go back and forget what it was. I currently save all the movies I want to see as individual tabs, so if Netflix could incorporate this into their site it would make mine (and I hope others) viewing experiences easier.

Better yet, members can connect with each other to see what's on their friends' list and share movies and experiences. Handled well, Netflix could enhance the social viewing aspect they so obviously are trying to initiate.

8. Random Recommendation

One of the big problems with having such a vast library to choose from is that you never know what it is you want to watch because you are literally spoilt for choice. Once I start the movie I'm fine, but for some reason I spend almost 30min choosing that one movie. I know Netflix has the whole 'Taste Profile' features and for the most part they are pretty accurate, but the problem is they still give me too much choice.

What I want to see is a simple "Random" film button I can press that will instantly launch a movie I have never seen before. It would be even better if it would randomise one of my 'Want to See' choices too.

9. Hide 'Watched' Titles

There's nothing worse than scanning the 'Mind-Bending Critically-Acclaimed Thrillers' section on the main page only to realise you have seen them all. You know there's still some gems on the site but Netflix has decided that you should re-watch one of those ones instead. All it needs is a 'Hide Watched Movies' button and that problem is instantly resolved.

10. Suggestion Box

I know that 99% of what they will receive will be "Can you add XXXX" or "When will XXXX be added", but part of what makes a good business is making sure you have a way for people to leave feedback. Currently there is no online support of any kind other than FAQ's on how to mend streaming problems. You can always ring, sure, but that involves waiting through all the call-centre jargon and by the time you actually speak to someone who will listen you've lost any positive criticism you may actually have.

People actually have good ideas sometimes and if you listen to what the community want, others will pay you money to reap the same benefits.

Monday, 24 June 2013

New to Netflix UK - 24/07/13

A somewhat lacklustre offering this week...

The Trip to Bountiful - An elderly woman, tired of being trapped at home by her son, manages to escape back to her childhood town. A very emotional and exceptional movie that features the Oscar-winning performance from the amazing Geraldine Page, this is a real movie to see before you die.

The Event (TV) - When his girlfriend ends up missing, a man races to try and find her only to stumble across a huge conspiracy destined to change everything we know. Cancelled after the first season, this mixed bag of a conspiracy show had a fairly dedicated following however the plot proved to be too muddled for most.

Cars 2 - Lightning McQueen gets roped into some international espionage during a high-stakes race in Europe. It says a lot when you consider this movie to be one of the worst Pixar movies and yet admit it's actually pretty watchable.

Northfork - A story about the inhabitants of a town as they evacuate to make way for a new dam and the people the power company send. Visually, poetically and philosophically this movie hits all the right notes but that actual plot and story feels muddled and somewhat lacklustre compared to what we should be experiencing.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Documentary Sunday - Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

Werner Herzog is a curious man. He's made some of the most visually and thematically unique movies of the century, he's been involved in some of the most notorious director/cast conflicts ever recorded and he's made some of the most compelling documentaries about menial subjects ever committed to film. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is one of them.

Herzog and his crew have been granted exclusive access to the Chauvet caves in France, a pristinely kept prehistoric site that features some of the oldest and most beautiful examples of early-human paintings ever seen by the modern man (and not open to the public). And that's all it is. A brief tour of the caves, some interviews with the archaeologists and historians involved and a brief existential look at our past and future. In any other hands this would have been a complete borefest, something a primary school would have slung on the TV to pass an hour. Herzog somehow turns it into a truly captivating experience that explores pretty much all the realms of the senses.

Each shot of the cave is stunning, especially seeing as how their equipment was restricted based on weight and size, and they really manage to capture the awe-inspiring detail of these cave drawings. Honestly, you have never seen paintings like these before. Each scene drifts on, perfectly narrated by the German auteur himself, as he examines the reasons behind why people may have left their mark behind in the first place and looks at the tragedies of never knowing exactly why.

The entire documentary is interlaced with baroque music, almost religious in theme (ironic given Herzog's strong atheist claims) but it fits the mood perfectly and actually enhances how mind-blowing each piece of art is. Normally you use music to transition a scene, or just add background noise but here is actually fuels the experience and allows Herzog's calm, hypnotic (probably slightly sinister) voice to completely carry you away with it. So calm perhaps that it may actually send you to sleep.

Who Does it Appeal To?
Mainly people with a strong interest in prehistoric artwork or just history in general however I would strongly recommend anyone to check this out if you get the chance. The documentary really manages to show the best advantages of working with history and I can easily see it inspiring people to investigate the issue further, perhaps even checking out some caves in real life too. Many will find the actual presentation boring (it's just Herzog's style) but the actual meat inside is well worth your attention.

What to Take Away From It?
The interviews add depth to the knowledge obtained since the site was first discovered, so there is a history lesson involved somewhere but mostly it's just to sit back and observe as you are taken on one of the oldest ever journey's mankind has ever been involved with.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Rant - Just how good a game is 'The Last of Us'?

These last few days I have been dedmyself into the PS3 gem that is 'The Last of Us'', a beautifully realised survival thriller from the guys responsible for the equally awesome Uncharted series. This game has had unanimous praise from critics and fans, all claiming it to be a solid gaming experience with action, emotion, thrills and suspense. Pretty much everything you wouldn't normally get in your average triple-A game.

But as the game progressed, numerous things began to happen to me that made me question if this is really a good game at all but rather just a mediocre game with an amazing story.

So the first thing. Bugs. Or glitches rather. I have currently experienced three of them that basically messed up my entire progress for an encounter. For those of you who don't know much about the game, each action segment is broken down into 'encounters' where if you screw up you can restart at the beginning of the segment. It's a nice mechanic that stops you from either restarting the whole level or from people saving after every kill, allowing them safe passage through the levels.

Each encounter has various ways to tackle them. You can either go in guns a-blazing, which is not recommended due to very limited ammo reserves and your character pretty much dies after 3 hits. You can evade the enemies by sneaking round them, or you can also stealth kill them. I opt for the stealth killing option due to my past experience playing the Hitman series.

Anyway, it is with my method of stealth killing the enemies that I have often found myself stuck in the game environment. And I mean proper stuck, in that the character loses control of his basic movements and spazzes out. This has happened to me three times, and each time I have cursed the game, for I had been doing so well.

I know this is a basic game bug and the game has only just been released but you would have hoped that they might have picked up on something like this seeing as how stealth is one of the core combat mechanics. I know some games use a technique where the game automatically detects if your character is unable to move and discreetly repositions him to avoid further gameplay disruption. This is something I believe all games should have and  I am really annoyed that TLOU has screwed over my awesome stealth-kill abilities as a result of not implementing it.

And for what it's worth, the action isn't all that engaging. Sure there are moments of suspense and dread, plus the fact you can't aim well to begin with is a nice added mechanic, but the action is repetitive and predicable, something the Uncharted games also suffered from.
Takedown animations aren't exactly numerous and after seeing about 4 or 5 you've probably seen them all.
The enemies themselves, while intelligent enough to converge on your location, aren't intelligent enough to notice you sprinting back round behind them.
All in all, the action is fun but it doesn't really engage you very well. Disappointing given its potential.

Also, for the latest big release, the graphics are a real mixed bag. From a distance they look gorgeous and there's not denying this is a good great looking game, but some of the texture qualities are bad, as in pre-next-gen bad.
I understand you have to make compromises here and there but it was kinda sad to see blurry bricks or fuzzy trees.

The 'big event', as it were, that me question whether the game was any good was the big sequence near the middle where Joel has to take out a bunch of marauders with Ellie covering him from a balcony with a rifle. Now this encounter is set up to be a big action set-piece, given that you have someone giving you cover, however I thought I would try to take out as many of the enemies as possible with stealth first, to help conserve ammo.
But then, after taking out two of the bad guys, I realised I could easily do this section with just stealth alone, so I continued. Took out the last bad guys and...reinforcements. No worries, just do the same again...and...holy hell, that guy just spawned right in front of me!
Yes. I had an enemy spawn literally a foot in front of my guy. There was no other way for him to have entered the game. He just appeared right in front of me. And there goes my stealth. Oh, and six other guys also seem to have appeared from nowhere...oh a fire bomb...and I'm dead. God-freaking-dammit.

I almost quit the game there and then. The last time something like this had happened to me had been with The Thing, where a neat mechanic meant you had to test the members of your crew to make sure they were still who they said they were. The only problem was that pre-determined events meant people would become infected even after having been cleared moments ago, and this a huge failure on the part of the game.
TLOU promises us that there are various ways to go through different combat sequences, so why give me the option of stealth if the game was programmed to have enemies run at you in waves anyway? Have me engage in a gun-fight from the get-go or have me trigger a cut-scene after downing a certain amount of enemies. DON'T let me spend 45min (yes, that's how long I took carefully planning out the movement of each of my victims) using stealth only to find that you had other plans to begin with.

So like I said, I 'almost' gave up with the game. Why didn't I? The story.
My God is the story good. From the prologue you realise you are not in for a happy ride but as always, Naughty Dog have offered up a compelling story that's fully realised and instantly draws you in. Even when I stop playing, my mind fails to think of things other than 'what could happen next'. Few games, especially linear ones, have this alluring ability. If this wasn't a post-apocalyptic scenario (or a game) you could have convinced me this was a re-telling of true events. Amazing given the generic infection/all-hell-breaks-loose/Children of Men backdrop.

The characters are realistic to almost complete perfection that I forget at times I'm actually playing a game. The dynamic between Joel and Ellie is conflicted but ultimately endearing and this plays out very much like a love story between the two of them. The banter is fresh and dynamic and never once does it feel annoying or out of place. Ellie's dialogue in particular has the most impact as she is looking upon this new world with no knowledge of the last, so her ignorance and curiosity as to life pre-infection is always poignant. (My favourite bit was her reaction to seeing a poster of a size-zero model, to which she responded "I thought you guys had plenty of food back then." It's subtle but it has an edge of social commentary about it.)

So it's a shame that this story ended up in the form of a game. I find myself just wanting to sit back and watch the journey that the two embark on without the need to frustrate myself over annoying bugs or game mechanics. It adds immersion sure, and this is still going to be hands down one of the best games of the year, but I kinda wish this had ended up as a TV mini-series instead.

Rant - Has Microsoft really made the right choice by removing DRM?

To answer the question directly, in terms of staying alive for this generation's console war, yes they have. They have pretty much regained public sympathy now, thanks to listening to gamer's concerns over the whole DRM issue and shown that they truly care about their fan base. And money. After all, it's all about the money.

The downside is we have lost all the features that really set the Xbox One apart from both the PS4 and the 360. The features were divisive sure, but they had the potential to change the face of gaming. This is what we lost.

The "bad" things
-No more 24hr check in. This feature was one of the most criticised functions, so many were pleased to hear about it's removal.
-Used games would work and you could lend/trade a game as many times as you like. Again, a really divisive feature.

The really good things
-Gone is the whole 'digital library' of games, so no chance of booting up a copy on another console without the original copy. Also, if your disc breaks, you have to buy a new game. This sucks. I was looking forward to their new "Steam"-type features.
-You can't add a 'family' to your Gold account anymore, which is a real downer for large families where all the kids want to play. One account per person.
-DRM potentially meant cheaper games in the long run, though this was always just speculation.

In the end I feel like Microsoft have told us what we want to hear but have punished us at the same time, kinda like "You don't like what we offer, fine we'll do things the old way but it also means you can't have these awesome new features either".

Gamers were complaining about the wrong things. They were more worried about their right to play pirated games and deal in free trading than they were about the console or the games themselves. I'm not saying Microsoft handled that situation very well, as their uncertainty and incoherence was one of the main catalysts for all the negative rumours, but I'm very disappointed in them for chickening out.

I think Microsoft have made a terrible mistake. Sure, everyone's happy and they will probably sell ten-fold more consoles now, but there's nothing unique about the Xbox One anymore, other than improved capabilities.
On the plus side, the focus will once again shift to the most important questions everyone should be asking which is what can the console actually offer (not what does it not do).

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Chrome Experiments - Cube Slam

Will Google never cease to provide us with numerous ways to waste our lives?

The latest Chrome Experiment, Cube Slam, is a nifty twist on the pong classic, offering 3D visuals and some pretty awesome/menacing power-ups. Available for both single and multiplayer, it's highly worth checking out. Just make sure you have an hour or two to spare.

It is also probably the only game (other than that of hunter/prey) where you are likely to be defeated by a bear.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Rant - Why are people being such dicks to the Xbox One?

There's no doubt that Sony have probably won this generation's next-gen console wars as Microsoft have made so many changes and leaps forward that people have been completely turned off by the idea of owning an Xbox One. That and the PS4 is cheaper.
So why am I so annoyed by the fact people are treating the Xbox like a mutant outcast instead of the revolutionary bit of kit that Microsoft have aimed for?

The first big blow Microsoft felt was the whole "No more used games" debacle. This was initially blown completely out of context by the gaming community, who claimed that no used game would ever work on the Xbox One. This however turned out to not be the case but the usage of a used game was still very limited, in that you had to obtain prior permission from the publisher via a new activation code.

But this isn't much different from what we have already in place with PC games. Serial Keys have been around for ages now, but you never hear the PC crowd whining (much). At least with the Xbox One you have a chance of buying/selling a used game, even if it is highly retricted.

On a similar note, people are also up in arms about the whole DRM issue. Again, to use PC gamers as an example, how is this any different from Steam or other online retailers. In fact, Microsoft has basically created it's own Steam store, where you'll be able to have access to a digital copy of your game whether you bought the physical copy or not. This is great news if the disc gets damaged. What's more is that you can access that copy anywhere, including all saved files.

I think console gamers have been too used to getting pampered and Microsoft have opted to push them out into the real world, where life isn't always fun and dandy. Why do people want used games? Because they are cheaper than new releases. But are they? Used games are around the same price as a new copy during the initial release period anyway. If you really want to buy it on the cheap, just wait a few months and it will be 50% of its current price.

One of the reasons why games are so expensive is due to the lack of protection when it comes to trading and reselling. The games companies have to make their hard earned money back so they can keep releasing great games but it's hard to do when around a third of your profits are lost due to private transactions. So if anything, people should be welcoming this new method of restrictions. I know it feels like a step back but it is actually a step forward. (On a positive note, if this whole DRM thing works, the Xbox One games may end up being cheaper than the PS4.)

But the whole "No backwards compatibility" thing? Yeh, sorry Microsoft, you guys are [expletive deleted] jerks. I'm not paying again for stuff I already own.

The next big issue that put people off is this whole "Always On" case. The Xbox One has to always be connected to an internet connection in order to work. Why? Because it has to check with the Microsoft servers every 24 hours to ensure you aren't running any pirated software.

So again, it's a case of Microsoft trying to be the "good guys" and trying to ensure everyone is not breaking the law. Are they right to do it? Yes, they are? Is this the most efficient way to go about it? Probably not, though I can't personally think of a better alternative.

The biggest problem this poses is for people with restricted internet access, however the Xbox only really needs to check in once a day so all you have to do is connect it to the internet for that one minute it needs to check in and you're good to go.

Again, I bring up the whole digital PC platform (aren't PC gamers so sophisticated...) where they always need to be connected to the internet to play their games and again, they hardly ever complain about it.

Sure there are times when your internet may be down, but get a life people. One small 48hr break from the latest Elder Scrolls game is not going to kill you. Read a book, go for a walk, have a life! Sure it's a mild inconvenience, bearing in mind you also coughed up £420 for the console and probably £50 for the game, but just think that the game will feel that much more awesome thanks to you anticipation of getting back into it.

And now we come to the elephant in the room...the cost. Yes, the Xbox One is a whole £80 more expensive than the PS4. It's pretty much got the exact same innards as the Sony behemoth so why the price difference? I'm guessing it's the Kinect.

The current Kinect model retails at around that price so this would make sense however not many Xbox gamers like the idea of the Kinect and hence are not happy that Microsoft have made the Xbox One unusable without one. I bought one myself and while I have never really used it, I never thought to myself "God what a waste of money". I still use it from time to time, either voice commands or Kinect Sports, but it still feels like a part of my console and I'm all the happier for it.

Let's not forget why the Kinect was so great in the first place. Remember when the Playstation Move was announced and people realised that Sony had nothing innovative up their sleeves? Well along came Microsoft and showed people how motion control really could be awesome. Sure it was clunky but their decision to open source the material has made the Kinect a complete game changer in many professional applications. The biggest example is for surgeons who can use the Kinect to control a virtual model of their patient without the need to spend time disinfecting their hands to use a computer.

The new Kinect looks to be even more awesome, with features that probably will never be used in games to begin with. Is it worth paying an extra £80 for at day one? Probably, but Microsoft need to explain why (other than the console won't work without it).

Oh and this whole "The Kinect is always watching you" malarchy...nonsense. Just throw a towel over the damn thing.

So, away with the negative and in with the positive.

Cloud Gaming - Yes this requires Microsoft to ensure their servers are always running, but they have already teased as the unlimited possibilities regarding the game engines being able to handle extreme computational tasks to provide the best possible experience.

Home Cinema Unit - Currently only really available to US buyers, Microsoft are still looking to conquer the living-room but they seem to be heading in the right direction. The ability to seamlessly switch from Live TV to game to film is a big plus as well as their augmented viewing capabilities.

Xbox Live - No more subscriptions per person. One subscription is enough to cover the entire family on the one console. Great for families who have more than one kid.

Play your game anywhere - Going to a friends house? They don't have your favourite game? No worries, just sign in and you can both take advantage of your digital copy of the game. They may not be able to play it once you leave but that's not your problem.

(Supposedly) No Ads - The current Xbox dashboard annoys me to hell as ever now and then I accidentally highlight the LoveFilm ad which causes some inane movie trailer to blast out of my speakers. Apparently the new dashboard will show you only what you want to see, no ads in sight. Or at least they said 'No ads on the home screen'.

The Games - The PS3 had only two exclusive-only developers that I bought the console for; Naughty Dog (the excellent Uncharted series and the amazing The Last of Us) and Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain and the upcoming highly anticipated Beyond: Two Souls). Other than that? Sorry, Xbox had the much better choice of exclusive games. Halo, Gears, Lost Odyssey (remember that one?), Overlord (initially), Mass Effect (initially), Crackdown etc. The Xbox One promises further hours of pure entertainment with Quantum Break, Dead Rising 3 (surprisingly Xbox exclusive), Forza, Ryse and more Halo. PS4 only really has the new inFamous game (of which the first two were pretty good) and the new Jonathan "Braid" Blow indie game, The Witness.

The Controller - Have you seen the damn thing? The PS4 one feels like a pale imitation of the features of the 360 controller with added Wii functions and a share button. The Xbox One controller looks like a gaming controller.

Achievements - This is a 'meh' feature for me but I know lots of people who swear to unlock all possible achievements, and from what has been demonstrated they will be completely amazed by the improved system which evolves dynamically to display who you are as gamer not just what you can accomplish.

At the end of the day, Sony played it safe by offering gamers a console that had nothing really new other than improved graphics and an insta-share function (yay!?!). Microsoft on the other hand took a big (arguably arrogant) leap forward and said "This is the future" and people were scared, scared because the future was not how they pictured it.

The Xbox One has removed a lot of the freedom original consoles had, features that pretty much defined them, but at the same time it is paving the way for a whole new method of gaming in general and these should be the facts people concentrate on, not the fact they can't trade their unwanted games anymore.

New to Netflix UK - 17/06/13

Posting a little bit later than I would have hoped but at least there's stuff to talk about this time.

Thor - The mighty God of thunder must regain his honour after he is banished to the human realm. This movie could have failed in so many ways but luckily Branagh and company managed to keep it on the right side of campy-fun that ensures this Marvel adapt is a solid hit.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV) - All seven seasons are now up for grabs of this teen-horror/comedy/cult hit. Highly recommended viewing, especially for fans of anything supernatural or Whedon related.

Machete - A mercenary seeks vengeance after he is set up during the assassination of a high profile politician. This highly tongue-in-cheek grindhouse exploitation flick has to be seen to be believed, though be sure you have a strong stomach.

Up - An old man finally sets out for the adventure he always dreamed of, unwillingly taking a young scout along for the ride. By far one of the best Pixar movies (and that's already saying a lot) Up is a truel great bit of animated storytelling that never dulls no matter how many times you watch it.

The Expendables 2 - The Expendable crew are back and out for revenge following the death of one of their own blood. The first movie (also available) was a watchable mess but I somehow found this action-packed sequel to be even more enjoyable despite it being just as bad.

Damsels in Distress - Three girls set out to improve life at a university campus where all the students appear to be miserable. It may not sound like much but this movie is actually a very witty little gem thanks to some great dialogue and charismatic performances from the actresses.

Fans of the US adaptation of The Killing will be pleased to know that Netflix are uploading episodes  weekly to (roughly) coincide with the US broadcast of the third season.
Also, there are some newly added LEGO related animated shows for the kids to watch.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Documentary Sunday - General Orders No. 9

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

Before you even start to watch the documentary, there is already a certain lever of intrigue based solely around the fact that the main image for this poetic/visual feast is a rather large rabbit smoking a pipe. It has nothing really to do with the film itself. Not literally anyway. "General Orders No. 9" feels like what would happen if the state of Georgia hired Terrence Malick to make a tourist film for them, only to let him get carried away with it.

The film is a love letter to the American Deep South, filled with a lyrical narration that slowly moves the film forwards. Each sentence, carefully worded and expertly pronounced, adds depth and meaning to the images on screen, but it feels more like a lecture than an explanation. It's not a long film but it can feel like it drags on at times.

Visually however, the film strikes every note. The scenes of nature, beautifully captured, haunt the screen. They aren't polished and the director didn't wait for the ideal day to shoot but instead they capture how a person would see it on an everyday basis and this makes the experience more personal. Animated maps chronicle the urban development; simple but very effective. In the end, the visuals and the prose amount for a rather unique experience that feels more like a dream.

Who Does it Appeal To?
The obvious answer here would be any residents of the deep south (or people with a strong connection to it) however anyone who is also a fan of Malick's strong, hypnotising visuals will find some very similar themes and techniques here too. This is not an easy documentary to watch, and it is likely to bore many, but to just sit back and listen and watch you may find a rather mesmorising journey awaits.

What to Take Away From It?
Modernisation can be as beautiful as it is devastating.
At least I think that was what it tried to imply...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cheap Blu-Ray Deals (UK)

Blu-rays are great, but they're also very expensive. To save you the hassle of tracking down the current cheapo's, I've listed the better movies currently on offer below (prices also include delivery).

A Lonely Place to Die [£2.99]
The Good, The Bad, The Weird [£3.99]
Man on Wire [£3.99]
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Extended Edition) [£3.35]
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist [£3.49]
Loser (aka The Grand) [£3.97]
Casino Jack [£2.99]
Get Smart (2008) [£3.68]
Rachel Getting Married [£2.58]
Apollo 18 [£3.84]

Other Notable "Cheap" Films
The Artist [£4.74]
The Grey [£4.74]
The Princess Bride [£4.99]


Harry Potter 6 [£2.54]
Scream 4 [£3.05]
Beowulf [£3.25]
Quarantine (US Remake) [£3.17]
Lethal Weapon [£2.87]
Final Destination [£3.30]
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me [£2.96]
Tell No One [£2.03]
The Karate Kid (2011) [£3.16]
Night Watch [£3.88]

Monday, 10 June 2013

New to Netflix UK - 10/06/13

So apparently there's nothing new this week. That's disappointing.
If anything crops up later this week I'll do a mid-week special, otherwise I'll group it in with next Monday's edition.

In the meantime, I missed out Smokey and the Bandit when it was added. Fans of car movies should definitely check it out as it has some truly awesome car stunts in it.

Just saw this little gem is now available.

The Rocketeer - A pilot becomes an unlikely hero after he straps on a jet-pack, making him a target for the mob, the CIA and the Nazis. Pulp adventure at its very best, there's something for everyone in this movie including great villains, likable leads and just pure fun.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Documentary Sunday - DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

"DMT: The Spirit Molecule" is an insightful look into the world's most powerful psychedelic. its natural occurrence in the world and how people have used it to undergo life-changing experiences. Told from the point of view of doctors, chemists, psychiatrists and test subjects the documentary acts as an introduction to the drug and its unlimited potential towards understanding the human species. It never flat out promotes its use however they do not condone it either, instead offering pure scientific evidence as to the use and effects.

Broken down into easy to manage sections, the documentary looks at the chemical composition of DMT, including its role in human brain chemistry and plant life, and the history behind the testing and use of psychedelics before diving into the accounts of a modern DMT test and the lessons that people have learned including how they see it as the key to unlocking the mysteries behind the universe. It's some pretty heavy stuff but it's well presented and the lack of technical jargon makes this an easily accessible documentary.

Who Does it Appeal To?
As mentioned before, this is an easily accessible documentary therefore it can be watched by pretty much anyone with a thirst for knowledge. More specifically however, this is a documentary for people who want to know more about the scientific implications of DMT as well as its endless possibilities.
This documentary does not look to appeal to drug users but rather people who are looking for a purpose or meaning in life.

What to Take Away From It
DMT has the potential to be used as a treatment for a wide variety of psychological disorders as well as the ability to engage people in a life changing experience that could unlock the future of human evolution.

Monday, 3 June 2013

New to Netflix UK - 03/06/13

At last we've been granted some actually decent material.
Like, really really decent material.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - (Highly) unorthodox retelling of how Arthur and his Knights found the Holy Grail. The absolute best of the Python movies (sorry Brian), this film has one of the most insane use of narrative techniques (and plot in general), the best quotes, a trojan rabbit and the most ridiculous opening/credits ever seen in a movie.

Desperado - A lone musician goes head-to-head with the crime lord who killed his girlfriend. A bigger budgeted sequel/remake of El Mariachi, this film is nonetheless still highly entertaining to watch and features some of the coolest weaponised guitar cases ever used.

The Verdict - A washed-out lawyer takes a medical malpractice case to court rather than settling as a way to redeem himself, both mentally and spiritually. Combining Lumet and Mamet on the same movie was always going to be a success but throw Newman into the mix and you have a really powerful movie about the lengths people go for redemption.

Dogtown and Z-Boys - Documentary about the South Californian skateboarding scene in the 70's. It's an endearing look at how skateboarding got turned into the expressive form of art that many see it as today.

Desert Fox - An account of the life of Erwin Rommel, from his involvement in protecting Germany to his death. It's an entertaining and watchable war biopic but the hand of Hollywood is heavily felt through its historical inaccuracies.

Working Girl - After her manager steals her big idea, a woman gets even by pretending she is the boss. Fun and light comedy from Mike Nichols that features some good performances who make the most of the sometimes contrived plot.

Guarding Tess - A Secret Service agent, desperate to be taken of protective detail for the First Lady whom he bitterly resents, finds himself put in charge of her full time at her own request. Passable but forgettable comedy whose only redeeming feature is the good dynamic between Cage and MacLlaine.

Dirty Pretty Things - Two immigrants discover the dark and sinister side of London, a revelation that could prove deadly to both of them. Incredibly well acted and scripted thriller that finds ways to really shock you to the bone.

Bicentennial Man - A robot, longing to be human, embarks on a long and arduous journey to fulfil his wish. It's over long and too ambitious but there's no denying that Robin Williams is brilliant in the movie.

Broadcast News - Two TV reporters contest for the same female producer while coping with the major changes happening at the studio. A exceptionally well-written comedy, brimming with style and personality, that still finds ways to offer a satirical insight into the business.

Criminal Minds (TV) - (4 seasons) Procedural drama following an elite group of behavioural psychiatrists as they track down serial killers. It's not a new idea but the show executes it really well, offering twists and some really disturbing insight into what makes serial killers tick and how to predict their moves.

Jerry Maguire - Fired for expressing his newly-found beliefs, a sports agent uses his new philosophy on his only client. It's somewhat overindulgent but Cruise is on top form and there's no denying this is a well crafted story of personal growth.

The Quick and the Dead - A deadly competition throws a retired gunslinger-turned-preacher and a mysterious stranger looking for revenge into a violent battle of the wits. While not anywhere near as good as it should have been, this is still a fun movie full of great action and funny moments.

Four Rooms - A series of four outlandish inter-connected stories take place around a hotel during new years eve, all witnessed by Ted the Bellhop. The stories vary in consistency but it's still an interesting exercise and must see for fans of Tarantino and Rodriguez.

Little Voice - A shut-in with a penchant for her late fathers old records finds herself enrolled in a singing contest against her wishes.A special little movie filled with big dreams and great performances.

Starsky and Hutch - Two detectives with opposing methods to work must find common ground to bring down a notorious drug baron. It's more a spoof of the series than an adaptation but the movie is still very very funny, with great interaction between Stiller and Owen, and is a great addition to the buddy-comedy genre.

Hollow Man - A scientist tests an invisibility formula on himself, with positive results, but soon finds himself losing his mind and becoming a threat to those around him. The movie has received much flak from critics but it's a taut little thriller with a great Bacon rating that's just not to be taken seriously.

Charlie's Angels - Three top agents must track down the location of a stolen computer program capable of hacking into major security systems. It's not a decent movie by any standards but there is enough intrigue to make it watchable on a dull night, if only for the sex appeal of the three leading ladies.

I Spy - A top agent finds himself partnered up with a civilian boxer in order to locate a stolen high-tech jet. It's a terrible terrible movie, but I somehow like it thanks to the great chemistry between Wilson and Murphy.

Chasing Ice - Documentary following the movement of glaciers over the course of a year. It may not sound like much but this is a highly engrossing documentary that is brought to vivid life thanks to some absolutely amazing photography.