Saturday, February 17, 2007

Now that the NDA has been lifted...

Here you can see a man of Gondor looking over the town of Combe (described in Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-Earth as a "village in a valley in the eastern Bree-land.")

This is, of course, a screenshot from the beta test of Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So far, I'm generally pleased. There are some Tolkien purists who object to the liberties being taken*, but so far I haven't seen anything that completely breaks it for me. I may change my mind if the "Lore-master" character class starts tossing explosive fireballs around at higher levels.

Much (ok, all) of the gameplay is virtually identical to World of Warcraft. Many people are disappointed by this. I'm not sure I am - WoW does so much right that just lifting essentially the same gameplay out of the generic-fantasy setting of WoW and plonking it down into Middle-Earth, with a less cartoonish graphic style... I can't complain very hard about that.

There are some clever and surprising touches, as well. For example, like other MMORPGs, this has a "newbie" area for new players/characters to get their feet wet without facing anything too deadly. For men and hobbits, this transitions seamlessly into the main game, but for elves and dwarves, those newbie quests take place years earlier. Actually, in the case of elves, I think it may be centuries earlier. As a dwarf, you get to start out in the Blue Mountains just as Thorin and Company are preparing to set out on their quest to the Lonely Mountain. Elves are present during an attack on the elven Refuge of Edhelion (not listed in Foster, unfortunately) by a group of corrupted dwarves, and then "return" to its ruins centuries later for the main game.

Basically, I like it well enough that I've already pre-ordered it. I'm contemplating whether I want to go all out and pay the $199 for a "lifetime membership", instead of the monthly fee - if I stay on it for 2 years, it'd be worth it, and I think I may do that. If you're interested (and have a fairly hefty computer...), they're doing an open stress test next weekend that you can sign up for at Gamespot.

And boy, it sure is pretty, ain't it?

* A particularly obtuse example: A group of characters working together in this game is, naturally, labeled a "Fellowship" (in WoW, they're called a Party. It's just "flavor" text). In this post, someone actually says, "I still am wondering why in Eru’s name a Fellowship does not consist of nine players". In other words, because the "Fellowship of the Ring" consisted of nine people, he believes that all "Fellowships" should always and exclusively consist of exactly nine people. Gaaah.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

This is pretty awesome.

Technology in the year 2000, as predicted in a 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics.

I particularly like the amusing image of businessmen with documents "held up for examination" over their video phones. And yet, in the very same article, they talk about 5-cent facsimile document transmission over "telegraph" lines. I guess it didn't occur to them to link those two concepts: Even in the world they describe in the article, I'd pay the nickel to send the actual document around to my videoconference colleagues, just to avoid putting myself in the ridiculous position of holding paperwork up to a video camera for them to read.

And forget the personal helicopter (I've seen how people drive on the ground): What I want is the $5000 house, where I can clean the living room just by hosing it down.

More Movies

The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch - Not as good as the original. This is mostly some new interview footage interspersed with outtakes from the first movie. There are a few good bits in the interviews, particularly with Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Bonnie Raitt. Unfortunately, there's also a tiresome running gag that's basically an inferior retread of an old Python bit, with Jimmy Fallon as a rival documentarian stealing Idle's microphone. Recommended for serious fans only.

The Notorious Bettie Page - Very nice. Gretchen Mol does a simply amazing job of recreating the innocent playfulness of Page's modeling and film-loop work. The look of the film is great - it's in both black & white and color at various times and places, but the color scenes were shot on old film stock, so it looks like the sort of Technicolor/Kodachrome color film available in the period (while watching, I had assumed they'd just created that look digitally during the color-balancing stage, but apparently they actually shot on old color film stock).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Creativity On Parade

"Teri Polo is set to reprise her role as Ben Stiller's wife in "Meet the Little Focker," the third installment of the movie franchise."

Boy, we sure weren't expecting that, were we?