Sep 292011

A thread in attempts to establish a baseline of the finest pieces of interactive fiction available.

My ten favorites, in probable publishing order:

Zork II: The first Infocom game I ever played (back in 1984), well ahead of the first part of the trilogy. Took a couple of years to finish. Despite its shortcomings (never understood the bank puzzle), this treasure hunt with a persistent enemy is still an entertaining game.

Planetfall: The first Infocom game with a plot. With the bonus of Floyd the droid, the first properly realized interactive NPC (who even responds to meta-commands).

Wishbringer: A beautifully written beginners game that had me stumped for a long while. Platypuses, transformed town, multiple solutions to problems. What’s there not to like.

Guild of Thieves: While The Pawn was more of a technology demo to show Infocom that Magnetic Scrolls were a real competitor, their second game was a much better product. A relentless treasure hunt through a quasi-medieval milieu was perhaps cliched, but an impressively put together collection of puzzles.

Unnkulian Unventure: The first new generation game that I played. A game that proved that there’s still life in the genre even though the commercial publishers are dead. Humorous and complex. A perfect showcase for TADS, the language and virtual machine that allowed development of highly complex games.

Curses: The Inform language and compiler began intimately tied to Curses. A massive game that mixes in puzzles of variable quality and difficulty. Immensely enjoyable, but packs a steep learning curve.

Photopia: Short, pointful and emotional.

Anchorhead: Long, pointful and powerful. Finest horror game I have played. So good that I actually crafted a mostly functional Call of Cthulhu- scenario out of the plot.

Lost Pig: The most recent entry on the list is yet another impeccably written game. The point-of-view of a not so smart protagonist is well realized in an avalanche of appropriate responses to most commands.

And looking at the other respondents’ lists, I see that there’s tons and tons of good interactive fiction to be picked up and enjoyed. Hence #10 remains open.

Sep 272011

Week three ended in yet another high-scoring victory.

In the absence of Miles Austin (out for at least a week on account of a hamstring injury), the heroes of the ‘niners were familiar names. Drew Brees and Wes Welker. The former continued aerial assault with three TDs and plenty of yardage, while the latter set a Patriots’ team record with 216 receiving yards. Greg Olsen scored his first TD, San Francisco defense picked up a lot of points and Maurice Jones-Drew ran aplenty (without crossing the goal line, unfortunately). The disappointment of the week was Nate Burleson, the Detroit Lions offensive steamroller seems to have little room for him (with Calvin Johnson getting plenty of quarterbacking love).

Unless Austin recovers, it’s time to go WR-shopping, the receiving corps is getting more and more shorthanded by the week.

The biggest news in the real NFL continue to be the two surging teams: Bills and Lions are both 3-0. The former at the expense of New England, Tom Brady’s uncharacteristic four picks doomed the team. ‘niners and Saints are both 2-1, the Colts 0-3 (with no sign of Peyton returning).

Bring on week 4!

Sep 272011

Butch posterMy favorite outlaws in the movies have always been charming rogues rather than cold-eyed killers. Hence the choice of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid is far from surprising.

George Roy Hill directed two fabulous films with Paul Newman and Robert Redford sharing the limelight. This western was first of the two (the other, for those scoring at home, was The Sting from 1973).

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid rolls on from the very beginning, and the distance from the Hole-in-the-Wall all the way to Bolivia is crossed all too soon in the 112 minutes the film runs. The two stars fit in their roles well, and the two distinctly different criminals complement each other well. The superb script (brimming with ever-useful oneliners) helped a lot in raising this film firmly into my personal hall of fame.

Movie Monday #18: Outlaw.

Sep 262011

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom FlameMy last movie of the 2011 R&A festival was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Tsui Hark’s return to wuxia movies.

The film is uses the character created by Robert van Gulik, but the originally rather cerebral traveling judge is equipped with world-class martial arts chops in the movie.

The movie has lots of awesome scenery. The building of the huge Buddha statue gives an insider view on what the construction of a wonder looks like in Civilization games, the underground city of Phantom Bazaar is a brilliant creation as well. There’s plenty of CGI work, and most of the time it blends in well.

Sadly, the script doesn’t match perfectly. Despite the strength of the main plotline, there’s quite a lot of chaff around the edges. In addition to the plentiful (and appreciated) red herrings, there are a couple of fantasy elements that do not sit well in the story as a whole. And the martial arts combats (as masterfully directed by Sammo Hung) do get a bit boring towards the end, especially when most of the early ones end up providing no additional clues despite the hardships.

Casting-wise Tsui Hark has succeeded well. Andy Lau owns the screen as the eponymous detective, and Carina Lau excels as the cold, calculating empress-to-be.

Detective Dee is a good film, but remains a notch or two below the finest the director has to offer, and hence it misses out on a full star.

Sep 262011

The second week’s result (reported massively late here) was a huge shootout that ended up in a disturbing loss. After all, usually 120 points and change is a safe bet for a nice victory. This week, it wasn’t enough – the opponent’s team scored no less than 135 points.

The hero of the week was Miles Austin, who unfortunately was injured in Dallas’ takedown of the ‘niners. Drew Brees and Matt Forte continued their high-scoring campaigns, and New Orleans Saints’ defense proved their worth against the visiting Bears. No grave disappointments – though I did expect a little more from Wes Welker following the explosive display in the first week.

Again, no need to resort to second-guessing about benchings – no substitute would have netted enough points to close out the victory margin.

In the league the biggest news was Detroit’s utterly dominant 45 point victory over Kansas City. The Lions are following up on their great pre-season with corresponding results. Pyton-less Indianapolis Colts lost again, this time to lowly Cleveland Browns.

Bring on week 3 (whatever’s left of it).

Sep 252011

1milliongamerscore charts Stallion83′s progress towards a seven figure gamerscore on XBox Live. I’m hovering somewhere around 12K, and thus only 640K points behind.

Thus far I’ve reached a full score in exactly one game, and that was the Doritos advertisement masquerading as a game. Not a bad game, by any means, it’s got quite a mileage in the hands of kids.

Sep 252011

Ethan HawkeI disliked Ethan Hawke intensely in his first movies: as an utter wuss in Dead Poets Society and just plain annoying in Reality Bites. He seemed to be yet another pretty boy with an extra dose of angst thrown in.

Was I wrong. Was I really wrong. The next two movies proved that. In Before Sunrise he tuned down the annoyance-meter by several notches, and Gattaca proved that he’s able to play deep as well.

And that’s good. Otherwise my rampant fanboying of Richard Linklater would have been a lot more painful, as he has cast Hawke in pretty much every film of his.

Sep 252011

The Unjust posterThe Unjust is a south korean thriller that expands a lot beyond the initial case of serial killing.

Unlike most Hollywood fare the characters in the movie are flawed – corrupt, incompetent or just plain criminal. There is no clear hero, just a couple of protagonists trying to make do in a legal bureaucracy that expects too much of them.

The plot weaves in plenty of characters and plots – this is not a film to idly follow while reading alongside. Sadly, even though the web of plots traps the characters well, the finale feels very much tacked-on and sudden, with a couple of threads left unpleasantly dangling.

Sep 252011

Red Nights posterRed Nights begins without much explanations, and ends without proper closure.

Just another couple of days in the Hong Kong underworld.

A couple of days filled with cold people doing cold deeds. Amongst which the belt-strangulation murder and a protracted torture scene take top honors in “nastiest of 2011″.

Carrie Ng is great as the sadistic collector behind it all, the rest of the cast seem to be just filling character shaped holes in the plot.

Not great, not bad – par for the course in R&A.

Sep 192011

13 Assassins poster13 Assassins was an unexpectedly great movie.

For a Takashi Miike movie the plot actually made sense most of the time and there was no prolonged episodes of cringe-inducing ultra-violence on screen.

But there’s plenty of violence. After all, the assassination of the entire Shogun’s brother’s entourage is not lightly accomplished.

Indeed, 13 Assassins is neatly divided into two. Gathering the crew (after assessing the gravity of the situation) took the first half, and the last forty-five minutes of the film consists of one of the most epic battles ever. The ambush in a rural town is well-crafted, intense and rarely boring (katana-fu does get a bit samey after a while).

The film is actually a remake, the original was done back in the sixties. Probably with not so impressive amounts of explosions and gore.

13 Assassins feels a homage to many films – seven samurai and dirty dozen are natural comparisons. But an even more apt one is Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch – a group of men whose time is already long gone. In this tale it’s again sense of duty that draws them to a violent end.

13 Assassins is a rarity, a Takashi Miike film I enjoyed to watch. And heartily recommend it to any fans of good melees or classic Kurosawa combat films. And I certainly wasn’t alone in my high opinion – this was one of the very few films where the audience burst into applause as the credits rolled onto the screen.