A Belated Farewell to City of Heroes

Posted in City of Heroes, Games with tags , on May 29, 2013 by pieman70

A Belated Farewell to City of Heroes.

It was near the end of last year City of Heroes closed its doors.  So I’d like to take a bit of time to look at the game which held my attention for around 6 years.  For those who didn’t know, City of Heroes was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game, or MMORPG based around Super-Heroes.  Initially the game only supported Heroes but eventually expanded to include Villains.  Create a character and go off to fight/commit crime.

Off the bat I will say that Villainy wasn’t all that great, however it did inadvertently give a very good reason why the myriad of baddies never sweep over the heroes, quite frankly a good chunk of your missions are in-fighting with other villainous factions.  Saying that while more raids on Paragon city would have been nice in general the Villain faction was at least as well realised as the Hero.

One of the ways City of Heroes stayed fresh was by constantly changing, while City of Villains and the later Going Rogue were bought expansions (Admittedly both were eventually merged in to the main game) subscribers could still enjoy regular “Issues” which would add in game content, from the minor, such as Power Spectrum which allowed players to change the colouring on the effects of some powers, to others that opened up  whole new mission areas and game play systems like crafting.  This was usually enough to bring people who had let accounts lapse back into the game if nothing else to check out new content.

One of the biggest shakeups was when the game went free to play under the banner of City of Heroes: Freedom.  Arguably, one of the better executed free to play systems.  While most content was available on micropayment, and features like new costumes and power sets were now bought add-ons, a VIP member (One still paying a sub) got a monthly amount of in-game money which covered most new additions, plus free VIP exclusive costumes through veteran rewards.  VIPs also got automatic access to the Going Rogue expansion.

Going Rogue was very interesting, taking place in Pretoria, what should be the “Evil” mirror universe of City of Heroes.  While undoubtedly the main heroes in Pretoria are definitely more villainous, the choices you are given are much more morally ambiguous.  While your faction choices of Loyalist and Resistance sound pretty straight forward the game included a “Power or Responsibility” arc, basically you could be a Loyalist without being evil, instead you try to keep order and help people but from within the confines of a potentially corrupt system.  Similarly a Rebel may be more like a rabid terrorist than a noble freedom fighter, not caring too much about civilian casualties.  These shades were well realised and made for interesting game play.

Similarly the alignment system released with Going Rogue allowed your Hero to act more like a Vigilante or villain less villainously and all this made the basic grind-emup game play more textured.  There were also attempts to make missions more varied and interesting than merely kill all mooks, press a button etc.

For me, while City of Heroes was definitely a grind at times the setting and feel of the game usually made up for this, plus with my altitis there were always new characters to create and new parts of the game to explore and when all else failed, new costumes to create.  In fact arguably the strongest part of the game was costume creation.  A part that was further enhanced in freedom which took away the faction binding to classes.  While most classes were similar, there were subtle and often not so subtle differences, for example a Scrapper and Stalker do the same job in a group but are pretty different beasts.  To be able to create a heroic mastermind was a real bonus.

While Star Trek Online has now filled the CoH hole in my free time I do miss roaming the streets of Paragon City fighting the various forces of evil, it was my first MMO, and while even playing STO has highlighted the flaws in COH I still have a soft spot for the game play and plotting that kept my attention all this time.

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Cinema is Dying

Posted in Uncategorized on June 24, 2012 by pieman70

Heloo, anyone still there?

Life has interfered with blogging, but I thought I’d try a post or two as time permits.

Just a couple of days ago I managed to get out to the cinema, something of a rarity these days.  Both the film and the company were excellent (cheers Reilly2040 And Avengers) and the cinema experience was actually pretty good, however I get the feeling that I am experiencing the last throes of a dying industry.

The film industry isn’t dying but cinema is. Partly this is due to the advances in home cinema, you can get HD, surround sound, even 3D if you’re that way inclined in the comfort of your own home mere months after the cinematic release.  Indeed a combination of getting cinema quality at home, for less per film (not counting initial equipment outlay) is part of the problem, but cinemas themselves must take responsibility.

Basically, when you go to the cinema you pay an excessive amount to sit in a seat that is significantly less comfy than one at home, surrounded by strangers who often talk, eat noisily and take phone calls, and eating massively over-priced sweets while drinking an insanely huge cup of cola flavoured ice.  Now I know cinemas don’t make much on tickets, but the ticket price plus cost of food makes a trip prohibitively expensive (particularly for families)

The Cinema response to dwindling numbers has been poor as well.  They aim for gimmicks like 3D and vibrating chairs, or blaming piracy rather than going to the source of the problem.  Quite simply, the cut costs and pack ’em in strategy is probably the most important factor in the loss of business.

Big multiplexes run from a skeleton staff now.  While this is countered slightly by online booking and self service concession stands, ultimately most modern multiplexes are severely short on staff.  This means your queue for a ticket is longer, as is the queue for overpriced food.  Once in the cinema the low number of projectionists means your film may not be in the correct aspect ratio, and fixing this will take significantly longer.  If there’s someone annoying in the cinema, talking, causing a ruckus etc, there are no ushers to deal with them (And any staff aren’t paid nearly enough for that aggro)  overall, the cost cutting and high prices make the cinema a fairly unpleasant experience, not worth the few months advance you’ll get to see the film before the DVD release.

Not being all negative, I could suggest some adjustments, first, cut ticket prices, possibly negotiate with studios to preserve margins, but reducing ticket prices, or offering group deals (For example family tickets.)  Second, cut concession prices, dropping the price will put the majority off bringing in their own food, why high prices are a false economy.  Third, hire more staff, make the experience run smoothly and pleasantly.  Luxury cinemas like Glasgow’s Grosvenor should be the norm.

Second, adverts, again I know they’re a revenue stream, but cut those to a minimum, drop all the anti-piracy ads (We’re here, people who torrented the film have cut this bit out) and finally, make the trailers appropriate, Batman and Spider-Man are decent trailers for Avengers, a film about a male stripper finding himself and love is less so.

More importantly, play up the social side, do more marathons (Alien series, die hard films) possibly try a “Film Club” where the screening is accompanied by film discussion.  The one thing home viewing will replicate less is the social side, take advantage of the idea that you’ve drawn together groups of people to share a film.

Without some radical new ideas cinema will die, and I wouldn’t want to see that.

Space: Above and Beyond – Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 5, 2012 by pieman70

Just in time for a proposed Region 2 DVD release I’ve finished watching my Region 1 boxed set of Space: Above and beyond, watching this and Babylon 5 and playing Duke Nukem 3D and Max, I may as well be 17 again.

As always, I will not avoid spoilers, be warned.

For those who don’t know, Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) was a one season wonder created by X-Files alumnus Glen Morgan and James Wong which Aired in the UK around 1996-1998.  It was a military SF series following the lives of the 58th US Marine Corps Squadron known as the Wild Cards during a war between Earth and an inscrutable advanced alien race who never named themselves but were commonly referred to as the “Chigs”

While it didn’t get much critical recognition in its day I was a real fan of the show, admittedly it helped that I often spent my Friday nights in watching TV late at night and so was one of the few who probably caught it on its initial broadcast.  However, could this be a case of “Don’t meet your heroes?”

In short, no.  If anything being older and having many years of different SF under my belt lead me to believe this is an under-rated classic.  Like any good military fiction this is not primarily about “boys Own” action, swinging in and giving chiggy a jolly old boot up whatever it uses for a backside.  In fact during the bulk of the single season humanity is loosing the war.  It is instead about the characters, from hardened veteran Colonel McQueen, rebellious loner Cooper Hawkes, and all round nice guy Paul Wang, what initially start off looking like bog standard ciphers become fleshed out, three dimensional characters.  They bond as a unit in a believable way (i.e. not by the end of the pilot) and similarly, while not avoiding the “redshirt” trope entirely (In general any new recruits of the 58th have a short shelf life) they actually built up one new recruit (Winslow) which made the squadron’s reaction to her demise more believable.

The series itself was very cynical, particularly of humanity.  In the future they’ve created robots to act as slaves only to have them rebel, at which point they create artificially gestated people (In-Vitros or Tanks) to fight the rogue silicates, who also eventually refuse to fight.  The war itself turns out to have been started by a shady Aerospace contractor called Aerotech.  Yes, the series had subtle underpinning and development of plotlines that sadly we never got to see come to fruition.

Interestingly, watching S:AAB now, it definitely gave a good chunk of its DNA to the re-imagined Galactica.  The overt military feel, which the Likes of Trek and even Babylon 5 often avoid.  In S:AAB they don’t shy away from military jargon in much the same way BSG adopted its own forms of military speak.  There is also something of S:AAB’s Hammerheads in the way the BSG vipers fight, in fact aside from artificial gravity S:AAB tried to keep its Sci-Fi relatively “hard” the fighters do behave a bit like planes but can also perform 180 turns in space in the same way the Babylon 5 Starfuries could, only this is lightening quick.  All the equipment is more militaristically named.  On a personal note and as someone who doesn’t see an X-Wing, they see an Incom T65 X-Wing Space Superiority Fighter the Aerotech SA-43 “Hammerhead” Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Attack Jet brings me great joy. 

Like BSG it’s not afraid to be grim, people die, people are sacrificed, sometimes in vain and it isn’t usually tied up at the end with a nice ribbon (Although S:AAB isn’t quite as unrelenting as BSG was)  there are moments of levity and nobility.

If I was to bring up a couple of gripes, in early episodes the acting is a bit sub-par (However not unusual for any series, look at early DS9 or TNG) the effects have aged a bit, although they did make some good calls, not having a massive effects budget they make good use of shadow, the darkness of space and put a lot of effort into re-usable stock footage.  It saved money for when they wanted to be ambitious, like the Beauty shots of “Chiggy von Rechtoven” lurking in a gaseous atmosphere.  The series is also undeniably “90’s” not in actual substance but in look and feel, in a similar way that TNG is early 90s while both DS9 and voyager are a bit more timeless.

The best way to recommend this series in my mind is not through all this piffle I’ve just written, but to give a Top 5 Episodes, if you watch nothing else, catch these 5.

In no particular Order

Who Monitors the Birds.

Hawkes takes on a covert assassination mission, however when his commander is killed he must survive alone on an enemy planet until extraction.  As well as getting flashbacks to the In-Vitro programme it’s a daring episode that gets by on relatively little dialogue.  Hawkes doesn’t talk to himself as he starts feeling the effects of isolation, the hardships are played out through action.  I’d challenge a series to do this now without some sort of Voice over log recording or hallucination friend to talk to.

Toy Soldiers

West’s brother is assigned to the Saratoga under the command of a reckless, enthusiastic and inexperienced commander.  It’s not blindingly original but the dénouement is nonetheless heartbreaking

The Angriest Angel

Quite an uncharacteristic episode, McQueen goes into full on action hero mode to take down a Chig ace who has destroyed squadrons of pilots.  It should be absurd that this one pilot succeeds where many others have failed or were lucky to return alive but James Morrison makes it compelling and fascinating viewing.

The River of Stars

Almost an obligatory Christmas Episode, the 58th are stuck in a damaged APC drifting in space.  The idea of the enemy helping them to safety is actually secondary to the character development, particularly that Happy go-lucky Wang has actually lost his faith and is actually getting worn down by the horrors of war.  It’s also a good episode showing the way the cast have bonded over the past few months.

…. Tell Our Moms we Done our best

The Final episode.  Yes it’s a hateful cliff-hanger with no resolution, but instantly forgivable.  The Chigs have sent an envoy for peace after the 58th unwittingly revealed their invasion plan’s in the previous episode.  As a gesture of goodwill the chigs release the Colonist POWs who have been held since the Pilot including West’s girlfriend.  However when Aerotech’s complicity is revealed and talks break down the rescue becomes threatened with tragic consequences.  Yes, they bump off half the cast.  By the end of this episode Wang is dead in one of the finest TV deaths ever, Vansen and Damphouse are MIA, probably dead and McQueen has lost his legs.  There is so much to like, from the Gung-Ho “Shuffle up the wild cards, and Deal em” to the lump in the throat “Take Her home West” and “Semper Fi my friends” to McQueen’s words to Commodore Ross “No, It shouldn’t have been you, it shouldn’t have been any of us”  One of the finest 45mins of TV you will see.

 

So, needless to say I’m not sorry I decided to re-visit this particular gem from my past.  But I have been thinking about why it wasn’t a success.  Frankly, my view is it came too early, it came as Babylon 5 and DS9 were beginning to bring this sort of thing to the front.  Also, in general people prefer allegories they can relate to.  The nearest war we had in mind was the first Iraq war, and it didn’t really fit the war depicted in the show.  In many ways it was still reflecting aspects of Vietnam.  I imagine somewhere there is a world where this series was delayed by a decade and came out in the post 9/11 mid Iraq/Afghanistan world and found its audience.

The Pie Man Television awards 2011

Posted in BBC, Being Human, Caprica, Channel 4, Chuck, Dr Who, Game of Thrones, James May, Misfits, Outcasts, Sky, Stargate Universe, Torchwood with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by pieman70

Hey you thought I’d forgotten, about the TV awards or the blog, or both, you decide.  I sometimes wonder if I should keep doing this since it’s more than likely that In the Night Garden or Rastamouse will eventually feature, since they dominate what’s on my TV at home at the moment.  Saying that there was a particularly good episode of Octonauts that…

Sorry, will carry on, as always, I will not shy away from spoilers so if you don’t want to know the results, look away….. Now.

Its not that the pickings have been sparse this year, although there is definitely less TV I like going around, I’m also scuppered by opportunity.  I never managed to catch Fringe, Eureka or Warehouse 13 which is a shame as these seem pretty good and are propping up the schedules nicely.  On the other scale Sky graveyarded the last series of Caprica and were damn late with SGU.  Oh well, let’s see how I do.

 

Best TV show.

There were some obvious ones to go for here.  In my view Stargate universe gave a good last season, Misfits Season 2 was worth watching as well we also had The Walking Dead and since I have decided to give everyone else a chance and give Game of Thrones the Best new Show.  Still, Misfits made a good effort and Being Human was damned close, however the winner is.

Doctor Who

The latest season of Dr Who has divided fans, critics and commentators.  Critics say it’s too complex and confusing.  The split season lost momentum and they dislike the cast.  I disagree

This season wrapped up the River Song arc, finally explaining her origin and relationship to the Doctor.  While not straight forward I would dispute confusing.  It’s a bit of a no-win scenario, you make things too simple and people criticise for being simplistic, add in an arc and some more complicated plot elements and it’s over complicated.

In this series, when episodes have been strong, they’ve been really strong.  The opening 2 parter had mystery, excitement and a real epic scale (The filming in the US really paid off) Similarly Epic were “A Good Man goes to War” and “The Wedding of River Song” and it contained the knockabout fun and breakneck pace of stories like “Let’s kill Hitler”  There were also some good character pieces like Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Girl who Waited” overall quality was high and while some episodes didn’t quite make the grade, for example “The Curse of the Black spot” was disappointing and the “Rebel Flesh” 2 part story suffered from padding. (Although I suspect if it had been cut to one episode it would have seemed rushed)

The finale had a slight feel of Deus Ex Machina to it, and indeed was guessed by some fans but has left us with the rather nice idea that the whole Universe thinks the Doctor is dead.  A good way of undoing the slightly tired plot device of the Doctor turning up and basically saying “I’m the doctor, Boo” to scare off his enemies.

Cast wise, Matt smith does well, although is occasionally written too close to Tennant for my liking.  Amy has annoyed less now that they’ve finally dropped her lusting after the Doctor and Rory has been a real standout, definitely my favourite of the two companions.  Alex Kingston put in a great turn as the many personalities of River Song, clearly enjoying playing the younger evil version of herself.  She’s a bit of a divisive character but I liked her.

So, hopefully we’ll have something next year, Due to the Unique way the Tories are trying to shaft the BBC we’ll see what we get.

 

Best New Show.

Ok, I won’t pre-amble too much.  While picking were thin I still caught some new stuff, and any other year the Walking Dead would have walked this, however in order to talk about more than one show, this got best new show..

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is a stunning example of what Commercial stations should be doing and the risks they should be taking.  It adapts the first of George RR Martin’s dense and complex “Song of Ice and Fire” series of books and does a grand job.  There are so many places they could have gone wrong, as it’s short on action but long on talk they could have cut the lavish production values, they didn’t.  They might have thought to add in a bit more action and less talking, they didn’t, and they might have shied away from killing their biggest name actor and the guy on all the posters a few episodes from the end of the series.  Again, they didn’t.  Why other networks don’t take risks like this is beyond me.

Sean bean plays Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, who is recruited by the King of the seven kingdoms to the job of Kings Hand after the previous hand dies in mysterious circumstances.  Meanwhile the two remaining children of the deposed house Targaryan plot to return to Westeros and take back their kingdom.

I can’t praise this series enough.  However extra credit has to go to the Actors.  Sean bean gives his usual gruff performance but never drifts too far into Boromir or Richard Sharpe.  However the real praise has to go to Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, also known as the Imp.  He doesn’t just steal every scene he’s in; he takes it over, as if it was always his.  It helps that Tyrion is one of the more interesting characters from the books but Dinklage really deserves every scrap of credit he gets for this role.  Jack Gleeson also deserves credit for his portrayal of the heir Prince Joffrey Baratheon.  He is either a hugely dislikeable person in real life or a fantastic actor.  I would prefer it to be the latter.

I could go on, there are lovely touches, take the opening credits, an animated map shows you key locations of Westeros, adding some such as the Aerie and the Twins as they feature, shows a pictorial representation of the Rise and fall of house targaryan and the extra touch of having the sigil of their house next to the names of each cast member.  The only downside it that it has set a very high bar for any other fantasy series to meet.  Camelot has been the first to fall well short on just about every level.

 

Best Finale

This was a tough one, which season ended on an absolute high?  Tempting to add Being Human again but there were other stronger contenders.  Chuck was close on this as well, however the winner is

Being Human

Being Human was one of the absolute standouts this year, managing to outdo last year’s spectacular season.  Due to the events of last season our spooky trio have moved to Wales and taken up residence in an old B&B.  It was a nice touch that, quite realistically much of the season looked at the aftermath of Mitchell “Falling off the wagon” surprisingly enough the police tend to keep looking when a trainload of people are killed.  This combined with the return of Herrick from S1, Werewolf fights and a zombie made for an interesting series.

The finale had the events of the Box Tunnel massacre finally catch up to Mitchell, all the pieces set up through the season fall into place.  Herrick finally recovers his memory and naturally goes on a rampage, mysterious vampiric agents shut down the Box tunnel investigation and Mitchell is arrested and photographed.  By the end the final scene with Mitchell choosing to have George kill him rather than be turned into an agent for said vampires was touching.  Overall a great end to a good series.

Most Improved Show,

.Again, a tough call, more so because many shows didn’t so much improve as maintain the level of quality.  However, I reckon the prize has to go to

Stargate Universe

Is this the second season?  Was it just season 1A?  Sky 1’s dubious scheduling has me all ahoo.  Anyway, this season solved a lot of its normal problems.  They had a greater sense of peril and more action, but thankfully without sacrificing character and plot.  There was some neat use of Time travel, which lead to arguably one of the series most satisfying stories, finding the lost civilisation of their own ancestors, similar to an old DS9 story but taken to extremes.

The robot drones made a good enemy, really making the crew of the destiny seem trapped and outgunned.

Finally, the ending, yes it ended on a cliff-hanger, and arguably a small, low key affair, but again, I rather liked it.

 

Most Gratuitous T&A in a series

So many contenders this year.  Camelot, from what I saw was trying for a Spartacus’s crown but forgot to add the decent plotting, instead just dubious use of T&A.  Similarly Game of Thrones proved that to be an HBO TV series you have to allow nudity and sex.  Indeed one of my only criticisms was that on occasions it was pretty unnecessary (Even, Gratuitous?  Quiet inside voice) However, the winner managed to win without showing actual sex or nudity.  The winner is

Chuck

Chuck may nab a second award, but, as in all seasons, chuck has several goals.  Amongst entertainment, Genre references, fun and action it also requires to have Sarah either appear in underwear/bikini or dress up in a slinky outfit at least every other episode or more.  It’s the best sort of gratuitous; it’s gratuitous with a self referential mocking nod.  I expect the next season to have Sarah dress up as a Nurse, French Maid, Policewoman and air hostess all in one episode, with added sarcastic comments

Best Factual series

Sadly I’ve not been watching as much factual TV, unless you count Aunt Mabel telling me how we get Marmalade in “Come Outside” or Katie Ashworth explaining where cheese comes from in “I can Cook” (For those without kids, these are kids shows, I long for when they want to watch Horrible histories) and sadly I missed Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe, however there was a particularly good factual series I did catch.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Phew, clunky title, not exactly tripping off the tongue, but a fascinating look into the way machines have affected our lives and how we perceive and interpret the world around us.  It looked at those who believed we could have leaderless utopias or self regulating ecosystems and indeed critiqued some of these ideas or showed where things went wrong.  Deep, challenging and eye opening.

 

Best Entertainment Factual

This award almost has a usual suspects list, Mythbusters, Top Gear and something with James May, however the addition this year was Channel 4’s 10 O’clock Live, which I still intend to blog about.  Sadly it didn’t win, nope it’s that James May again.

James May’s Man Lab

In this series James May explores “Manly Pursuits” From building bars to serenading women.  It’s a bit like the sort of disposable “Man skills” or Dangerous book for buys” stuff you might get for Xmas made into a TV series.  But it works.

The show covers a wide variety of subjects.  The less than instructional DIY segments, combined with on once occasion cookery, are performed in the “Man Lab” which they actually build around themselves as the series progresses, installing a kitchen and bar.  Outside bigger tasks are attempted such as bomb disposal, rescuing someone from a beach or serenading a woman.  There was an extra feature (Sadly not carried to the second season) where a celebrity man had to perform a “Man task” against the clock, such as assembling IKEA furniture or changing a tyre.  Overall fun, informative and very watchable.

 

Best UK Network/Channel

Have clearly been responding to criticism that they just buy the best shows by making more of their own output this year.  However, so far it’s been fairly forgettable.  Their placing of all of HBO’s output on Sky Atlantic could have qualified them for this award but you’ll see in the next award why not.  In the definite running was Channel 4, who do seem to be trying new and better things since they axed Big Brother.  I’ll mention Channel 5 as well for not being too proud to buy up second showings of walking dead (Other free view channels should follow this lead) however, looking at the awards so far is it any wonder the winner is

The BBC

Good gods they’re not perfect, budget shenanigans, the infamous wondering timeslot and good old fashioned graveyarding aside they have produced the Best TV this year outside of HBO (And much of their work stands well alongside that) Yes, we had misfires (Outcasts) But they are trailblazing in nearly every field, Documentary, Comedy, Drama, Kids, at the moment the beeb does it better.

Sadly how long it will last is questionable, the budget has been cut in real terms with the govt freezing the license fee and dumping the world service on to the BBC’s books.  They are cutting down many cheap daytime programmes, but the problem with cutting something cheap is it inevitably only saves a little money.  We already know Dr Who is taking a hit, and with Spooks and Hustle finishing its doubtful any replacement will have the same money behind it.  Similarly there will be less money for expensive experiments like Outcasts.  Overall, we could be in for some lean times from Auntie

 

The Pirate Bay Award for services to Bit-Torrent

I changed this award last year because so many networks were doing well. Sadly a network that was the trailblazer against using Bit-torrent has now fallen afoul.  Yes the winner is

Sky

Sky made a number of slipups.  Now it is fair that Anytime isn’t free to all, although if you can get sky channels (Say with Virgin) its not unreasonable to want to use their on demand service for what you pay for, but no matter (Virgin would do the same if they owned any channels) however Sky made a couple of big mistakes this year.  First was Sky Atlantic, in principle a very good idea, buy all of HBO’s output and bung it on a new channel.  New series even premiered near the US airdate.  What’s the problem, it was Sky subscribers only.  N matter how much you pay you can not get Sky Atlantic on Virgin.  Some said this was a clever way to drive people to Sky but those people seem ignorant of the advent of the Internet.  I wouldn’t expect Atlantic to be free to non sky subscribers like sky 1 and Living are, but to take it completely off?  You might as well say “Just Torrent the damn thing”

Second problem, Sky have been jigging around the channels a bit.  Part of it is to make more sense, Sky 1 will be mostly their own output, Living will be imported shows not from HBO like Chuck, and Atlantic covers US imports (mainly HBO) but sadly this has meant delays to the start of some series, such as Chuck.  As anyone knows, delay too long from the US and once again people go to torrents.

Finally, their poor treatment of Stargate Universe and Caprica.  Ok they knew both were axed, but universe returned with little fanfare and Caprica was Graveyarded.  Both were shown significantly later than their US counterparts as well.

Overall these 3 mistakes have meant more bit-torrenting and lower ratings for Sky.  Hopefully they’ll improve things by the next awards

Only the Good Die young award.

Not too much for the axe to fall on this year, but it claimed a few scalps.  I was going to give this to Caprica, but I’m still debating the Good part of that.  No the award has to go to

Stargate Universe

Ok, it was a massive diversion from the parent show, but it had found its feet and was growing well.  Sadly as far as we know destiny is drifting between universes for all eternity, or until someone stumps up the money for a TV Movie.

Never given a proper chance award

Well, it wasn’t SGU, so it had to be

Caprica

Now, Caprica, for the most part hadn’t impressed me.  But it had potential, and S2 was gaining momentum.  However a graveyard slot by sky made watching difficult and its axing means we’ll only know where it was going by a quick summary at the end.  A shame because done correctly we could have been into S3 Caprica now ready to segway into the proposed Cylon war series.  Sadly it was just too different to Galactica

The Reilly 2040 worst padding award

Again, not been too bad this year, more sires are avoiding padding and getting to the point.  However, there was one culprit.

Torchwood: Miracle Day

This US/UK co-production saw a world where nobody died.  Interesting concept, shame they padded out the series so much.  It left the view of a series that had would pick up pace.  “Now we’re getting somewhere” you’d think then next thing you know we’re plodding again.  Probably not as poor as Series 1 torchwood but this bloated beast was no match for S2 let alone the excellent “Children of Earth”

Pie Man Special Award

In an effort not to make this the Special award for Chuck, it has been disqualified from the special award this year leaving room for

Misfits

The second season of Channel 4’s anarchic Super-hero comedy/drama really went from strength to strength.  While still remaining largely episodic there were some interesting stories carrying through, such as the Superhoodie reveal, in general though past episodes are referenced more than anything.  It almost became a running joke that Nathan, now immortal, is killed once an episode but it was done with such a sense of fun you knew it was a running joke.  An underrated addition was the new probation worker (No 3) who in contrast to the past two is simply uninterested, presumably why he has survived significantly longer than the other two.  For a comedy Misfits manages some Pathos, Alisha’s relationship with Simon/Supherhoodie is well played and there is occasionally some real pathos (Kelly and the gorilla for example) The series finale has a suitably apocalyptic feel where the Asbo 5 reveal themselves to the public and face off against a guy who can telekinetically manipulate dairy products.  Yes you knew Curtis’ time jump power would undo everything but seeing a previously unknown Lactose intolerance used as a Deus Ex Machina is something that only happens in Misfits.

Next series is interesting (I’ve seen it, it’s been on already) using the idea of Seth the power broker from the Xmas special to mix up the powers a bit.  The series will also be surviving without Nathan, but I’m less worried since he was often used as a comedic crutch by the writers.

Worst Treatment of a series

Will keep this short because it’s the same complaint as last year,

The BBC

Ok, let’s nail this down.  Dr Who is a flagship show, one of your biggest ratings hits.  Is it really that hard to set aside the same slot every week for the run of the series?  How hard can it actually be, make up a damn schedule.

Biggest Missed opportunity

Again, no pre-amble here, the culprit was obvious

Outcasts

I wanted to like Outcasts, Original British Hard SF drama, high production values; it’s what we’ve been asking for.  I blogged about this a while ago and it still annoys me.  Hackneyed old SF plots, unengaging characters and a feeling that the writers had no idea what they were doing.  They could have done so much better.  At least it wasn’t the Deep

 

Top Gear vs The Electric Car

Posted in BBC, Cars, Driving, Environment, James May, Top Gear with tags , , , , , on October 9, 2011 by pieman70

As always my blog, due to the bone-idleness of its author, is somewhat late to the
party. But I was honestly going to do a piece on Top Gears attitude to Electric/Hybrid
vehicles. Honest guv.

Anyway, Recently Top gear ran a segment on two commercially available electric
cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Peugeot ion. It has come under some criticism,
particularly from George Monbiot and others. Top Gear have also responded but I’d
thought I should put in my 2.5p (Exchange rate variable) worth.

First, declaration of interests. I am a petrol head. Love cars, Love the internal
combustion engine. Not only that but I do like cars that are bad for the environment,
the growl of an American V8 or the great looks and handling but 1960s fuel efficiency
of a classic british sports car. However, I do despair at my fellow petrol heads from
time to time.

Sadly, it seems most seem to think our love of cars and environmentalism can’t meet.
Indeed it quite often leads to a rather childish inclination towards climate change
denialism (Mr Clarkson, I’m looking at you) This need not be the case. My original
blog post was based around comments by Jay Leno, himself an avid car collector and
driver. His point was alternative fuels would free up the petrol car for the petrol head,
in the same way the car freed up the Horse for the enthusiast. This rings true for me,
as 90% of the car driving population care nothing for A V8 rumble or a supercharger
whine. They would prefer a car that goes from A-B, carrying all they wish to carry
(Cargo, children, sports equipment, cows) and costing as little as possible to buy
and run. My point is always we should nurture this and demand better electric, or
hydrogen cars and better public transport. The former to hopefully reduce the demand
for petrol, lowering prices and the latter to ease up congestion, not to mention the
environmental benefits. However to the piece.

One of the main complaints from Nissan and various articles and blogs, is the comedy
scene where they run out of power and have to push the cars around looking for a
charging point. Many state that they deliberately rand down the batteries to around
40% and selected a town with no charging infrastructure in order to make electric cars
look bad. On this point I disagree.

While charging infrastructure has improved, a good percentage of us live in cities
with little or no charging facilities. Hell, Glasgow has something in the realm of
2 locations and its Scotland’s biggest city, imagine the difficulties of running an
electric car out in the highlands. While Top gear may have laboured this point a bit
the possibility of running out of power miles from a charging point is a fear most of
us have. The Leaf has various clever systems in place to advise you if you have run
the battery too far down to reach a charging location, but like it or not at the moment
running an electric car will require planning and forethought that a petrol version will
not.

The second point which Top Gear made pretty well was the Electric Car’s biggest
fault, the time it takes to charge. Yes again they had some knock about fun waiting the
13 hrs for the leaf to charge, but still, for a complete charge from empty 13 hrs is a long
time.

I am not completely defending Top gear however. They took some liberties. First
there was some dodgy figures surrounding the cost to charge up a car, with many
wondering where they found their particularly high tariff. Second was a discussion
about the lifespan of the batteries and potential damage and replacement costs. The
main fault here is tha they failed to explain that if your battery does go wrong Nissan
will replace it for free, and worth noting that 90% of the battery is re-cycled in the
UK. This fact would have taken the force out of their ranting about some of the
running costs.

I don’t want Top gear to do puff pieces on Electric cars, but while not the hatchet
job some of the critics are making it out to be the Top gear piece was aiming to be
negative, as the bookend studio segment with its tiresome “Batteries are rubbish” line
from May and Clarkson “Humerously” suggesting we could use something called
Petrol. This has never sat well with me, Clarkson has a definite objection to the
Prius, and if he could get past rant mode and provide figures to his argument that they
are more environmentally damaging to build and dispose of, he would actually have a
pretty good scoop, since Toyota make a big deal of the Prius’s green credentials, but
instead of that we get general bluster and various omissions.

I don’t expect purely factual slots on Top gear and realise it is as much entertainment
as informative, but I do expect a little honesty, particularly since, like it or not, within
the next 20 years its more than likely we’re all going to be running an electric or
alternative fuelled car.

Here is the BBC’s response, it covers some of the points above, but still fails to mention nissan will replace any battery not holding a charge for free.

Obligatory Phone Hacking Post

Posted in Journalism, News, Politics with tags , , on July 26, 2011 by pieman70

Yes, of course I’m going to comment on this.  I was going to talk about less important things but this has been very interesting indeed.

First, as always, this story has been covered better in the following blogs, Obsolete, Zelo Street, Angry Mob, Enemies of Reason, Bloggerheads and 5 Chinese Crackers, also worth reading is Flat Earth news by Nick Davies, who broke this story ages ago and has been doggedly persistent in trying to get this to the publics attention.

Ok, still here?

So, for those not paying attention, there was a Sunday tabloid called the News of the World owned by a big media baron called Rupert Murdoch.  Rupert owned a lot of media and was feared by politicians.  Reporters at the News of the world, in order to get celebrity stories, started hiring a private detective called Glen Mulchare to hack answerphones on the off-chance they contained juicy gossip.  This was pretty normal as most papers were involved in similar and indeed worse breaches of the law on fishing expeditions for gossip.  However it was discovered that said PI had hacked the phone of missing Teenager Milly Dowler, and had even deleted messages to listen to more messages of her desperate family begging her to come home.  This then opened a floodgate, 7/7 victims phones had been hacked, families of dead soldiers.  Terrible stuff, but for those who have read flat earth news, unsurprising.  What it did was cause enough public outcry to start a boycott of News of the World’s advertising causing News International to close the paper.

This sorry debacle finally brought into the open the true horror of our press.  Politicians had been scared to act against NI for fears of being attacked by their sizable media interests.  The Police were spiking stories and utterly failing to investigate illegal practices by newspapers in exchange for favourable coverage and a cosy relationship.  While phone hacking was the final trigger to get a proper review it wasn’t the only problem, the real issue was the influence of the press, of News international and the complicity of the police.  It also embarrassed many a politician on both sides as they had all been spotted enjoying the hospitality of News International’s summer garden party mere weeks previously.  David Cameron took a particularly hefty amount of flak for his close relationship with Rebekah Brooks and his hiring of Andy Coulson, not to mention his response was to try and hold back and see if the whole thing blew over, said NI papers currently being on his side.  It was not to be.

Those of us who have been fighting to get this in the open scored victories, the Arrest of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the calling of Brooks and the Murdochs to a select committee.  Murdoch abandoning his bid to take over BSkyB, a move that was to be waived through by our compliant culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.  The lib-dems have managed to make some minor gains and Labour’s Tom Watson has shone.  Its been entertaining to say the least.  It seems that every sacrifice that Murdoch throws in teh hope of all this going away gets eaten up and teh hungry spectre of accountability merely asks for more.  Send down Andy… More, Shut Down the News of teh world…. More, Send down Rebekah… More, Ditch the BSkyB bid…. MORE

The prize however, is going to be a bit more difficult.  Already the Right Wing press are desperate to either paint this as a left vs right issue, with the Stalinist BBC trying to knock out the more efficient private NI.  It doesn’t help that Ed Milliband’s main attack is around Coulson, rather than the cosy media relationship.

What I want to see is some hefty reform.  The PCC has repeatedly shown itself as toothless.  The remaining right-wing papers, led by the Daily “Hooray for the Blackshirts” Mail are desperately trying to play this as a problem with NI, when they’re not playing it as a BBC plot, partly in the hope of occupying NI’s position if it is suitably weakened, and partly in the hope that once this blows over they can carry on as normal with no accountability.  Press reform is not in their interests.

The cry has been that Regulation will equal Censorship.  I disagree.  The regulation need not be state, but it also can’t be Self regulation.  That gave a system which favoured the press over the public and the “Fast Free and Fair” service the PCC claims only manages the “Free” part.

The goal of regulation is not Censorship.  In effect its quality control.  A newspaper is a business.  At the moment it is more profitable for a paper to publish an inaccurate story and apologise later than it is to spend money fact checking.  This must change.  I would propose a variety of options on the new regulator, the ability to impose fines, and in severe cases, to publish retractions in the same prominence and amount for inaccurate stories.  This would be a final sanction for a repeat offender (Say the smears relating to the first Jo Yates murder suspect, later found not guilty) Papers may complain that they can’t run a weeks worth of headlines and blanket coverage merely saying they were wrong.  I beg to differ, and the losses this will make, the missed headlines of current events will perhaps make a paper spend that little bit extra on research.  This would be a top end sanction (Others could include suspension of staff and suspension of issues, but the impact must be devastatingly financial)

It should be sometimes accepted that illegal acts may be required to reveal wrongdoing.  However fishing expeditions are not journalism.  If you hacked the voicemails of every MP there would almost certainly be a couple of juicy stories, but Journalist should have evidence before they resort to lawbreaking.  The definition of public interest should also be tightened up.  Celeb shag’n’tell stories may interest the public, but they are not in the public interest.  Knocking these out of the news may force the press to up their game.

We should also look at media ownership, no one owner or company should own so much of our media.  This should limit the influence of any one company.

We should also be able to read reports of meetings between politicians and the owners of companies (Any company) in fact Lobbying as a whole should be much more transparent.

I think what would really help is a cultural change.  The old rule in news, that Dog does not bite Dog meant that those who supposedly hold the powerful to account turned a blind eye at their own wrongdoing.  Perhaps Dog should eat Dog in this case.

Fear Itself

Posted in Avengers, Avengers Academy, Comics, Fear Itself, Fearsome Four, Heroic Age, Iron Man, Marvel, Secret Avengers, She-Hulk, The Initiative, Thunderbolts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by pieman70

ok, so this was an event I was going to miss.  Serious event fatigue has been going on in my comic buying for some time.  How I long for a wee contained event restricted to a certain family of titles, preferable the X-men while say the Avengers are allowed to carry on regardless.  Seriously, another world-changing event just over a year after the New Heroic age started?  Can’t these titles be given a chance at more than a couple of arcs before “Everything Changes?” So it’s rather annoying that Fear Itself has turned out quite so well.

Just to clarify, I’ve not been picking up the Fear Itself book, but many of the books I do collect are now Fear Itself tie Ins, see unless you’re willing to just drop a title for a couple of months there’s no escaping the huge event.

The plot, from what I can ascertain, Sin, Daughter of the red Skull has found an old Asgaurdian fear god who was so bad he was banished and removed from all of history.  This god has given her a hammer like Thor’s and sent 7 others to earth where they have been picked up by several Heroes and Villains, turning them into evil gods.  Sin has also led an attack on Washington using Giant Nazi robots.  Odin is in fact so scared he has withdrawn Asgard from earth taking all his norse gods with him.  Confused, well for someone not reading the main book it can be.  This is wat I would classify as a “Bad” crossover.  Namely you do feel you’ve missed something if you just stick to your main titles.  So much so that it took several books for me to realise I hadn’t missed an issue in between.

This criticism aside, the event itself is great.  Obviously, some heavy hitters get their own big bad to fight, such as Iron Man fighting the Grey Gargoyle or the Avengers fighting a hammer possessed Thing.  Others are involved in general fighting, such as the Secret Avengers being on the vanguard defending Washington DC from Sin’s forces, The Thunderbolts trying to secure the raft after a hammer landed and was picked up by Juggernaut or the Avengers Academy pupils involved protecting civilians.  Either way, there is a real apocalyptic feel to this event.  Society is breaking down and the problems are as much rioting, looting and people being scared as they are nazi battlemechs or godlike super-villains.

Fear itself has even got me picking up some extra Limited series.  First, Youth in Revolt.

Youth in Revolt Features Prodigy, plus many of the heroes that appeared in the Initiative, who are re-activated as a volunteer force to try to help.  Sadly a situation in Atlanta develops when Thor Girl accidentally deflects some shots from a policeman with disastrous results.  I liked this on two fronts.  First, its more about stopping looters than fighting big bads, although there is a good moment with Crossbones nearly wiping out Gravity’s team.  It’s also great if you were, like me, keen on teh whole Initiative idea.  As well as featuring Prodigy, Thor Girl, Cloud 9 and Firestar, it is jam packed with guest appearances from Butterball, to some of The Order, and ist a good read.

Second is a bit odd but worth a look, Fearsome Four.  because of the high levels of fear, man thing has been drawn to New York.  Howard the Duck recruits She-Hulk, Nighthawk and Frankensteins monster to try to prevent his friend from killing too many people.  Its quirky, Nighthawk appears to have gone a bit ga-ga since I last saw him, think more along the lines of the “God Damned Batman” but its worth it if nothing else for some serious Quack-Fu from Howard.

So, I’m still not picking up the main book, but the story is worth the disruption its caused to my regular reads.  In fact, at this rate I’ll probably pick up the trade.