Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Well, that's it for the Report. See you in hell."

Two minor things some people may find of interest:

First off, thanks to David for pointing out Will Wright's video presentation on Spore, his latest open-ended nontraditional game. I'd initially learned of this game in a rather negative context, but after watching the video I think it looks quite cool.

I think that last paragraph used up my quota of links for the week.

The thing is, I really hope that the cool idea translates into a cool game. I keep thinking of Black & White, which had an incredibly neat idea and deliciously open-ended gameplay, but which failed to hold people's attention long. One of the risks I see here is also one of the game's advantages, namely the sheer variety of gameplay modes exposed. On the one hand that's really cool; on the other hand, you have a variety of game modes (Will Wright identifies arcade games, platformers, RTS, Civilization, and more) which will not be universally attractive to all people. What if I really enjoy the Civ-style game, but hate having to run around on the land first? It sounds like they're going to focus on the endgame, so hopefully if you like that you'll enjoy the whole experience, but I can still imagine some potential frustration.

So, we'll see. This'll probably be a game that I'll wait for a month after it comes out before deciding whether to get it. His previous games (Sim City, the Sims, etc.) have been ones that I've had fun fooling around with but haven't felt much desire to return to. Let's hope this one breaks through.

In other news, did anyone else see that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are now available on iTunes? You can buy individual shows for $1.99, OR you can get a "Multi Pass" that will give you 16 shows for $9.99. I've just gotten a pass for the Colbert Report and thought I'd share my thoughts.

First off, the interface is pretty slick. It's integrated directly into iTunes, so you can navigate like normal, and you can watch thumbnail previews of an episode. I'm not sure yet whether you can browse and purchase past episode; there's just one episode displaying now, but that might be because this service recently launched.

My favorite part so far is the download. When I grab a Colbert Report or Daily Show off mininova, I generally let it download overnight; unless I'm lucky and get some super-seeders, it always takes over an hour. I didn't exactly time my download, but it was less than 15 minutes. Granted, some of the disparity may be due to my ISP throttling my Bit Torrent ports, but the end result is still an impressive download speed. Oh, and the file was just a tad over 100MB as opposed to the 170 I tend to see on mininova, so they're still moving most of the data.

Video playback is pretty good. When it starts playing it's in a little corner of iTunes, I guess so you can continue to browse and shop while watching it. The effect is like picture-in-picture, and frankly it's a little annoying. Clicking once will open the video in its own window which can be dragged around outside of iTunes. You can double-click in the picture to pause and resume playback. To switch to fullscreen you need to right-click inside the video and then choose "Full Screen." I'll experiment to see if you can set a preference so all videos immediately start playback full screen; that's the way I always want to see them, and it's a little annoying to require three clicks to switch it over. Image quality is fine, not great but for this show certainly adequate. It looks really sharp in the window; once I expand it to fullscreen on my 19" LCD, it's a tad grainy.

I'm looking forward to using this service, but I kind of doubt I'll continue it once my pass runs out, for the simple reason that the videos won't play on my Linux media box and therefore not on my TV. To do that, I'd need to choose between running a long cable from my PC over to my entertainment center or buying yet another PC (or Mac Mini or something) to handle MC duties. I don't really mind watching this on my monitor, but I'd prefer to patronize a service that gives me more control over my playback options.

Still, I was very pleased to see this. As I described in an earlier post that I'm not going to bother looking up now, I'm very optimistic about the long-range potential for online video delivery. Something like this is going to be even more impressive to a person who has previously only seen TCR or TDS on cable: imagine watching an entire show, on your schedule, with no ads. Given that there are hardly any cable shows I want to watch, it would make sense to pay around $20 a month to get quick, easy, full access to every episode of the few shows I do watch. Best of all it's all downloaded content that I can archive, burn, and otherwise store for posterity. We're seeing the future here, folks, and while it isn't perfect, it's already much better than what we had a few years ago.

UPDATE 3/10/06:
For those of you who are interested in the game, be sure to check out the official site. I think it's cool that the Flash intro is basically the 30 minute presentation compressed thirtyfold, though you won't necessarily understand the significance of what you're seeing without watching the video.

Also, there is a fine Wikipedia entry that provides some additional information. Included in here is a projected release date of Q4 06, which I'm guessing means a bit before Christmas. Honestly, the very long delay between what we're seeing here and the release date makes me extremely suspicious of what we see in the video; the demo was probably very narrowly designed to only show a happy path, and my guess is that if someone really went in cold and started fooling around it would break. That said, what they have looks really cool, and if they can get everything working before the ship, well, that's a plus. (And kudos to EA if they are letting Maxis finish this game for real before rushing it into stores.)

Finally, a MINOR SPOILER regarding "His Dark Materials":
Almost as soon as I saw the creature emerging from the ocean in the video, I began wondering whether the game would support the creation of creatures like those found in "The Amber Spyglass." You know, the ones with the wheels. I kind of doubt it, mainly because it's such a close symbiotic relationship between two disparate species, and also, modeling that would be almost completely different than the modeling they've done for things like running. As a final note, in the book Pullman explicitly says that these creatures wouldn't have evolved without the land's unique terrain, featuring "pavement" over smooth landscapes. So, it probably won't happen, but who knows. If it's possible, it will almost certainly be because some Maxis engineer specifically thought of that book.

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