The Rise of the eNote

You stumble out of bed, untangling yourself from the bed sheet. The heat of these summer nights is becoming too much to bear as you contemplate how little you’ve managed to accomplish in recent days. Lethargically you glace up at digital clock on your bedside table. It’s after 1pm (again). Gently you climb to your feet and head to the bathroom for a drink of water, as you try to summon up the mental strength to breakdown all the tasks that are still waiting to be done…

This is the pattern I seem to have fallen into once again. I’ve lots of work to do, but I don’t seem to be getting anyway fast with it at all. This year, jotting down all my ideas and memos in note form has gone up a level, which means my diary has been used so much the spine is falling apart, I’ve got scraps of unsorted post-it notes and paper, my electronic calendar also has memos, and I’ve been filling dozens of Notepad files with rough notes and drafts throughout the year. Simply put: I’ve made so many notes that I can’t organise them.

So how ironic that today I only just found out that Microsoft OneNote (software which has been stilling on my laptop for two years now) could be the answer to all my note collating problems: “OneNote is an electronic version of a paper notebook where you can write down notes, thoughts, ideas, scribbles, reminders, and all kinds of other information. Unlike the traditional document page format of other programs such as word-processing or spreadsheet programs, OneNote offers a free-form canvas where you can type, write, or draw notes in the form of text, graphics, and images wherever and however you want them.”

I was prompted to check out this program at long last after reading PC Advisor’s feature on Microsoft Office 2010. Being a regular user of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, I’m now much more interested in how I can maximise my publishing efficiency, so I can go from draft document to finished product faster. I’m pleased to have discovered this new electronic note software and hope it will assist me to collect and sort my thoughts, memos and ideas faster than my current mess of physical papers and linear digital notes. Maybe these production improvements and Platform articles will get done after all.

E3 2010: Aftermath

Gaming’s biggest media event stormed into LA last week bringing with it plenty of chest-beating smack talk, a massive electricity bill, parties for attendees to schmooze and booze one another and a weird circus-themed press event.

E3 this year appeared to have returned to its former glory, and there was no shortage of exciting titles and announcements to add substance to all the glitz.

Miyamoto Factor + 3D
I certainly did not expect this going in, but from their press conference alone and the surprises they managed to keep, Nintendo came out on top for me personally. Admittedly, their Zelda: Skyward Sword live demo wasn’t the best icebreaker, but they went on to show game, after game, after game. I didn’t expect to see GoldenEye, and though I know it won’t recapture the original’s ‘right time, right place, right people’ feel, it’s one nostalgia trip that I’m feeling. Then there’s Epic Mickey – a title I’ve been intrigued by since I first laid eyes on its Game Informer cover. Seeing Warren Spector demonstrate the paint and erase mechanics had me sold. The art style is gorgeous and I love the idea of meeting canned Disney characters. If this doesn’t come to PS3 or 360 at some point it’s yet another reason for me to buy a Wii.

But that still wasn’t the half of it. My knowledge of Nintendo’s core franchises is limited, but even I couldn’t fail to recognise some of the names. I’d be tempted to give Kirby’s Epic Yarn a go, so impressed was I with its visuals and gameplay. Of course, the elephant in the room was the 3DS – I’ve been highly sceptical of it since its announcement a few months back. Can a glasses-free 3D handheld actually perform? Much to my amazement, the answer from the majority of technology media appears to be “yes.” But it’s still the games that matter and, oh boy, did Nintendo bring the heat. Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil: Revelations, Assassin’s Creed, Super Street Fighter IV, Star Fox 64 3D, Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D are all in development for the 3DS.

Back in the 90s, my brother and I yearned to own an N64 – we saved up but never bought one in the end – as well as PlayStation. I can still remember the excitement of getting a Game Boy Pocket and later a Game Boy Advance. But in the years since then my interest in Nintendo has dipped considerably. I seriously doubted they would able to affect my latency. How wrong I was. Nintendo’s conference was personally the most surprising of the show and actually left me excited about first- and third-party Wii and 3DS games.

I need to find a job soon, because a black Wii is actually looking like an interesting proposition, and, if the price is right and that 2D-3D slider works, even the 3DS too.

It Only Does Ersatz Events
I had very mixed feelings about Sony’s conference this year. I felt it was good, they certainly had the most to show and left me fairly impressed with a large portion of it. But, apart from Gabe Newell announcing Portal 2 was coming to PS3 and David Jaffe finally admitting Twisted Metal was his secret game, there was nothing that surprising.

Fortunately they did manage to convince me that the Move games they have in mind are engaging for both sides of the gaming spectrum (unlike Microsoft’s Kinect, which we’ll get to later). Sports Champions is a good introduction and I’ll give Heroes on the Move, Killzone 3 and LBP2 a go. Besides, if they didn’t do it, Kung Fu Rider did, because when was the last time you rode a swivel chair down a busy Tokyo highway in an effort to escape the Yakuza?

As for the traditional stuff, I’m quite excited to see more of Killzone 3 (just check those rolling waves in the gameplay videos). LBP2 is also looking really sharp, especially with refined control and an ambitious new ‘game making’ tool. inFamous 2, awesome, but why has Cole changed so radically? Gran Turismo 5… well, finally. And Dead Space 2 with Extraction (even though I’m still not done with the first)? Yes, please.

However, I also felt there were some poor spots that didn’t sit well after watching and waiting so long. Kevin Butler’s arrival lightened the mood, but it couldn’t relieve those awkward moments in Sony’s conference. Gabe Newell looked more than a little uncomfortable on stage – and not just because his mere presence clearly contradicted his previous outspoken judgments. I wonder if his Portal 2 announcement will actually signal a sea change for Valve, making them put their full efforts behind both the 360 and PS3, or is this just a one-off deal?

Also, I don’t care for the new ‘Marcus Rivers’ PSP campaign (featuring child actor Bobb’e J. Thompson) – the ads come across as arrogant and worst of all they’re not presenting audiences with a diverse range of games which has been the PSP’s issue all along outside of the core market. PlayStation Plus also received a muted response and I’m not surprised. So you could get £200 worth of PSN content (themes, early demos and betas, minis, PSOne classics and full PSN games), but the content is loaned and will only remain accessible for as long as you subscribe (for the x amount that they are yet to disclose). Thanks Sony, but no thanks.

I’ve expressed my dislike of this inevitable 3D revolution before so Sony’s heavy focus on the technology only served to make me more nervous. I’m still tentative about the whole idea, and while the 3DS has swayed me, I’m still not convinced its place is in the living room. Sony showed Killzone 3 which looked stunning (even from the 2D feed), but can you really see yourself wanting 3D in every upcoming game? Playtests of MotorStorm: Apocalypse have suggested the 3D can get extremely choppy if it’s not implemented correctly and Sony and other third-parties have already admitted that frame rate takes a significant hit when outputting in 3D. Until I witness 3D on a variety of games firsthand, I won’t be convinced.

There was no word on Last Guardian or even the existence of Resistance 3 which was disappointing, but I was pleased with the majority of Sony’s conference – even if I’ve spent most of this section expressing my displeasure with the bits I didn’t like.

Fatal Kinect-ion
I watched all of Microsoft’s half-hour press conference and I couldn’t help but feel utterly disappointed. I should have stopped watching after Gears of War 3, Fable III and Metal Gear Solid: Rising – incidentally, those games look incredible. Since Peter Moore and J Allard (and to an extend Robbie Bach) decided to call it quits with Microsoft, their entertainment division has had so many changes that Microsoft really lack a public face for Xbox. For all Microsoft’s millions, Don Mattrick’s attempts to seem “hip” and everyone’s best bud, from film directors to guest developers to you and me at home, just comes off feeling lifeless and corporate. None of the suits during Microsoft’s conference seemed to have any stage presence at all, preferring to read from the teleprompter and play it safe. (Note that Kudo Tsunoda doesn’t wear a suit. Should he be the next face of Xbox, the new Peter Moore? No. But would it be a laugh? Yes.)

If the hosts were bad, the Kinect games were worse. After all this hype, after telling us that this will revolutionise gaming Microsoft show up will a bunch of Wii clones and voice controlled DVD playback? Poor. JoyRide was a game that looked quite fun last year, now as Kinect title it looks cumbersome and needless. The only demos that I was remotely impressed by were Kinectimals (which looks like it could have huge appeal, even if most children don’t react to Skittles as neatly as that girl did) and Harmonix’s Dance Central (I play SingStar and Guitar Hero with friends, so this could make party nights even better).

Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved could be a wildcard for the casual market, but still no official price from Microsoft. $150 is the word at present and if it stays that way then I’m beating my chips even more heavily on PlayStation Move winning the motion control struggle this winter. The announcement of the “new Xbox 360” didn’t do much to peak my interest and nor did their sudden jolt of generosity for the industry insiders they were so eager to please with free systems. Microsoft coming out with the Xbox 360 S now is a slap in the face to their existing customers, since it has built-in wi-fi and whisper quiet internals. But the fact that they could only mimic existing motion games, with Kinect’s casual, low-end experiences, proves just how disconnected Microsoft are. I don’t normally say this but… “Epic fail, Microsoft!”

Sports Giants and Fitness Assassins
I missed EA and Ubisoft’s streams but I read the reports. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit could be something. I certainly have faith in Criterion, but just hope EA give them breathing room and don’t get overly protective about their ‘precious’ brand. For the second year running, Ubisoft have disappointed me by omitting Beyond Good & Evil 2 from their conference and not even commenting if it is still in production. I’m both stunned and bewildered that Ubisoft have managed to make titles that appeal to core gamers (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier) and new audiences (My Fitness Coach, Just Dance 2). But they really miss the boat with their conferences. Perhaps they’re interesting for investors but certainly not for gamers.

There are a lot of exciting games coming from third-parties too this year: Portal 2, Dead Space 2, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Brink, Crysis 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Okamiden, Driver San Francisco, Epic Mickey, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, Child of Eden.

I’ve more to say on many of the topics discussed in this post, particularly 3D, motion control tech and the oversaturation of shooters on display, but I’ll leave that for another time. It was no 2005, but E3 2010 proved that this generation has a good few years to go yet.

Just Your Average Spartan Family

In the years since Halo 3, Microsoft and their various creative partners have proved that, though Bungie may not have intended to spawn such a wealth of side stories and prequels, they won’t stop building on the original skeleton until it has mutated. For the third Halo miniseries from Marvel Comics, the creative team of Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela and Ulises Arreola bring the story of a Spartan quartet to the fore. With all these skirmishes happening throughout the Halo timeline I’ve more or less lost track of the canonical parts. The story itself is nothing you won’t have come across in some form or other, but it’s certainly the most succinct and believable translation of Halo to comic book form, which is saying something.

Halo: Blood Line follows Spartan-Black, a team of four Spartans who’ve trained and fought side-by-side since their youth, as they are shipwrecked on an unknown planet. A group of Covenant have also suffered the same fate and the opposing factions soon come into conflict as they attempt to find a way off the planet. However, the warring factions are forced to form a temporary truce when members of both their groups are abducted by huge, tentacle-armed droids.

Although Blood Line begins as a classic ‘uneasy alliance’ script for the first couple issues, things get more exciting in the last two issues as the cast of superhuman characters have their own personal conflict. More so than Uprising and Helljumpers, this is the type of tightly woven side story that works well for comics, because it’s self-contained. The artwork throughout also captures a sense of monolithic scale in the ancient alien environments and characters are detailed with poses that speak volumes. Simply put, it looks like a scene from the game – and puts Alex Maleev’s dim, shadowy approach in Uprising to shame.

I know it’s far from the most original, or even surprising, comic book, but I enjoyed Halo: Blood Line more than thought I would. If you’re only going to read one of Marvel’s Halo miniseries I suggest you read Blood Line, it has all the visual style of the game wrapped around a story that anyone can dip into. Judging from the last page of the final issue, Microsoft and Marvel are planning yet more comics and yet more side stories. But even as they dilute the fiction further at least these different creative partnerships will sometimes yield bright lights.

Time-wasting in Persia

Despite some of the film team having seen it themselves, they thought it would be more fitting if the resident “video game geek” went down to review the film adaption of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Well, I wasn’t going to say no, even if their reasoning was a little stereotypical. I have played 2003’s Sands of Time and see it as a rich, charming adventure. With the producer from Pirate’s of the Caribbean, Harry Gregson-Williams behind the music and, best of all, Jordan Mechner contributing to the screenplay, surely the Prince’s motion picture debut would be nothing short of legendary…

But it seems the sceptics were right, a far more predictable destiny awaited this film.

Over the Hill and Down the Mountain?

So it’s all over. My second year at Nottingham Trent wrapped up with my final exam today.

I must admit there’s a sense of trepidation still hanging over me. Even though my summer can officially begin, I’m uncertain about my performance in the end of year exams. An essay re-write is already hanging over my head and I fear soon it could be exam retakes as well.

I can’t lie to myself. The time I’ve spent working on my extra-curricular activities outweighs the amount of time I spent revising by a significant sum. Only two days ago, I spent over 24 hours transcribing an interviewing and working on various other admin bits for Platform. I know that my course is the primary reason I’m here at university, but is it so bad if I’m more motivated by a practical activity that in many ways teaches me things I won’t ever learn in a lecture theatre?

I suppose I’ll ponder that observation ruefully when my results are published in mid-August.

But let’s put things in perspective. Even if I don’t make a straight pass, I feel confident I will only have to address two of my five modules – the irony being that all my efforts doing extra work have vastly helped my understanding and confidence with my core journalism modules; it’s the theory ones I’m not so hot with.

I cannot waste two months feeling down trodden and melancholy. Now is the time for rest, recuperation and reflection. It’s also the time to see my friends and grab as many opportunities as I can. My academic performance this year may turn out to be a mixed bag of satisfyingly results and aching mediocrity, but I must not let that stop me enjoying my summer and, more importantly, recovering and returning even stronger next year.