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Ender’s Game Movie Review

Poster Art

Let me begin by saying that I’ve read the book(s), but I’m not going to delve into the minute differences between them and the film. Frankly, it could’ve worked even with all the things that were cut – but it doesn’t, for a myriad of reasons:
While the movie does contain most of the events that Ender went through, the pacing is all wrong – it feels as if you’re watching Ender’s story in fast-forward mode. For a movie 2 hours long, they sure managed to rush every scene. As a result, there is no meaningful character development – the kids are hollow, placeholder faces, which appear like a generic ad for diversity. In addition, there is no sense of achievement: success seems to fall out of the sky on Ender, and difficulties are overcome with unexplained, laughable ease.
Finally, important concepts (like the limitation on number of children, or the Ansible) are not explained properly in-film, leading the viewer to guess and deduct on his own. On the other hand, “the enemy’s gate is down”, one of Ender’s critical insights, is gained nonchalantly even before his first battle, without any context, or apparent meaning. It’s as if 10-year-old Einstein sat for breakfast one day, and randomly told his mom, “you know what? I think E=MC^2”. What horrible storytelling.
But the worst comes when the actual war begins. It’s as if this were Ender’s Game as told by the Buggers (AKA Formics for the polite). All of a sudden, humanity isn’t desperately fighting for survival against a superior, infinite enemy, that has murdered tens of millions. Instead, it has the bugs “boxed in”. A single-planet species, with an asteroid base somewhere, has somehow boxed in a species with numerous colonies, and endless fleets. Perhaps the script writers require a rudimentary lesson in spacial geometry?
Forget tactical brilliance against insurmountable odds, the inhuman fatigue that the children had to suffer, and the sacrifice of the people in the war fleet, up to the ultimate, last-ditch victory. In their place we are presented with Hollywood’s standard infantile anti-war morality, that turns humanity – yet again – into interstellar brutes that literally just won’t listen. In an astonishing accomplishment, this movie manages to avoid all the politics that are in the original story, while pushing its own inferior agenda instead.
Bottom line: I’m giving the film a 2 out of 10, since visually it was done quite well, and the actors did seem to put a decent effort into their roles. However, it is an insult to a classic sci-fi story.
Categories: General

Chaos on Deponia – an unfortunate disappointment

Rufus

A single frame that says it all

Chaos on Deponia has great drawings, an interesting, appealing atmosphere, and an epic score, which livens up the start menu section.
Unfortunately, under the pretty facade, both on its own, and in comparison with its predecessor, this adventure game is severely lacking in actual content. Yes, there are more areas to explore, more scenes to play out, and more videos to watch, but the jokes are fit for little children (which is out of place in a game with a mature setting), are devoid of wit, intelligence, or class (oh, this guy speaks in a funny way, let’s laugh about it for the entire game, because it’s obviously such a riot) not to mention the completely needless and tasteless parts with cruelty to animals.
Supplementing the vapid, hollow humor are unlikable, skin-deep characters that do not evoke the tiniest bit of emotional attachment.
All except the protagonist, of course who is a loathsome with no redeeming qualities, which I found repeatedly wanting to see fail. The fact that he is an oblivious, rude, shallow, mean-spirited, self-centered, charmless, immature idiot (and yes, this is how the game itself portrays him) might have been (almost) cute in the first game, but his behavior is simply insufferable this time around. In effect, he does not serve as a hero, anti-hero (Guybrush Threepwood has that part done correctly), or even as comic relief.

In short, this is an average adventure game, that falls short of the classics it tries to imitate (there are a few homages too, not that they help much). Despite wanting to like it, I became more and more disappointed as the story progressed. Perhaps this trilogy (why?) can still be saved in its third installment, when that is available, but my advice is to think three times before handing over your money.

Categories: Gaming

Divinity: Dragon Commander – a bad political joke.

Image

In the words of Wikipedia,

Divinity: Dragon Commander is a turn-based and real time strategy role playing video game developed by Larian Studios as part of the Divinity series of fantasy role-playing games. The game features a hybrid of gameplay styles and has single-player, competitive multi-player, and co-operative multi-player modes.

In others words, it is a mish-mash of popular genres, none of which is executed particularly well, and all of which are better experienced in other games.

At this point, thanks to the plethora of online websites that cover the technical aspects of this sewn-together abomination, I have little to add about the gameplay itself, but I’d like to delve into a part of it that was unforeseen to me: Dragon Commander’s flirtation with ‘current affairs’, that is equally mediocre and shallow as the rest of its parts.
Certain reviewers (I’m looking at you, Angry Joe), seem to be ecstatic about the sort of terms thrown around (like “gay marriage”, and “universal health care”), but the way they are presented, (not really) discussed, how their proponents are idealized with beauty and intelligence, while their opponents are demonized (literally, the undead – skeletons without reproductive parts – are against women voting, for some non-brain-eating related reason; and a fat capitalist pig™ talks against elven homsexuals, because ‘obviously’ successful industrialists are only attracted to one gender), all reeks of writing level that is beneath high-school. The flat voice acting only made me cringe further, upon hearing some of the lines.

If this is some aspiring attempt at satire, it fails even at grasping the meaning of the word, and instead comes off as simplistic political conformism, which tries to make the game appeal to young audiences.
Gender inequality in society is not a result of “men being mean” for the sake of it, and implementing universal health care is not a matter of “insert money, get ideal result, and live happily ever after”, but these subjects go beyond the scope of this review, and that’s exactly the point – by showing the world through absolute, one-dimensional, black-and-white lens, this game and propaganda piece is doing a great disservice to real public debate. In that, it is an insult to one’s intelligence, but I guess that the bad writing fits perfectly in with the overall shallowness and mediocrity of every other component it presents, from the RTS, to (yet another) card-collecting element and the Risk-style game board.

In short, do NOT buy if you’re old enough to correctly spell your own name.

Categories: Gaming

Fox Toolkit – why it sucks, and why you should stay away from it

11/08/2009 1 comment

My second warning to the world after ‘Travian‘ – the horrible online game where you get to be bullied up your back hole by groups of strangers, is about the GUI library by Jeroen van der Zijp – Fox Toolkit.

You can feel free to look for info about it on the net if you’re interested, because I’m not going to advertise it anymore than I already do. Let me just say that never in my life have I ever had to deal with such an undocumented, cryptic, oddly behaving library.
I chose it back in 2004 for a test project, meaning to use it as practice for my C++ skills. Since then, that pet project had become quite a nice audio player that I use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it’s also at a point where rewriting it from scratch is just too much work, so I’m stuck with Fox toolkit.

So much for the exposition. Let’s move on to the warning itself:

Jeroen doesn’t just like to do things his way – he also makes it sure only he knows what the hell they are doing.

Example: The documentation for an FXOptionMenu is “Option Menu”.
Great! When you click on ‘more’, you get this additional informative text:
Detailed Description: Option Menu.”
Thanks, buddy! For those of not blessed with telepathy, some helpful words, or a screenshot, would’ve helped..

I know it’s being given for free, but for god’s sake – no examples to be found, a message board that contains very few actual answers to bugs I encountered (Why does a popup window corrupt my entire screen view?! Ah, right, because there’s a target for notifications, but the selector is zero/NULL – did that make sense to you? me neither, but it took me a good while to figure out this obscure problem).

Moreso than that, since the project is maintained, as far as I could tell, only by this one courageous soul, he doesn’t have the time, nor the patience, to deal with all the requests, complaints, and oddball queries.
That is understandable, but be warned all of you – your question may not be answered, or you’ll get a reply along the lines of “that’s the way it is, stupid”, like many others before you.

Forget 3rd. party documentation. In fact, forget documentation at all. I had to read through the source code so many times just to know what a function does, and then try to rewrite it because the base class couldn’t be modified easily.
Speaking of base classes – trying to extend FXTable was virtually impossible – because there was no way to find which of the many virtual functions needed to be reimplemented, and which didn’t.

I’ll have to commend no other than Microsoft now. Yes yes – the big devil from Redmond was smart enough to realize that some people want a table in which you can select whole rows, not just cells! But forget about it in fox-toolkit. ‘Not a popular way of using the widget’ says the author.
Sigh.
With tables in .NET this is but a simple change of a variable. Roughly 3 seconds of work.
Took me a day to figure out how to do this thing in fox. When I was finally done, it felt cathartic – like breaking out of a North Korean prisoner camp!!!

And another, more prominent problem – the maker of fox-toolkit does not like the STL. That’s right, he’s implemented his own strings, vectors, linked lists, and so forth. He’s even gone as far as to advise people not to use the STL.

This isn’t 1998 anymore! If, like me, you happen to like the STL, or any library that builds upon it, you’re going to find yourself mixed up in a lump of FXString, string, and plain old char* conversions, and speaking of FXString – it uses its own terminology (without further explanations, of course): what is a ‘section’? Where is ‘substring’? Oh right, it’s ‘mid’. Makes perfect sense. I guess it’s very hard to type ‘middle’, but then what is ‘find_first_not_of’ doing there?

I’ve had the doubtful privilege to worked with many GUI libraries in my life, and I know one basic fact:
When it’s time to choose a new library to work with – make sure it is well documented, has a responsive developer base / community, and has available examples you can learn from
.
In case of a graphical library, make sure there are working demos/examples/programs of the widgets, with source codes that show their functionality.
This way, you won’t have to waste too much time of your life trying to implement missing functionality that other people get for free because they picked the right tools from the start. They will read the documentation, and change a variable in a function, while you’ll be rummaging through obscure source code for hours.
What does an FXFooBar does? Well, you can’t tell. How do you know it’s only supposed to go in an FXBoolBlap, and not in a layout of type FXBullShat? That’s right – you don’t, until you figure it out on your own.

And by the way – it just gets worse with the more recent versions. Why were the functions in FXFile split to four different classes? How about keeping some kind of reference to them? Why do we need to play Indiana Jones trying to find where the missing magical functions went?
And really thanks for the unicode support – now all the Hebrew that I used to see automatically turned to question marks, and unicode Hebrew became Chinese. It might be a simple thing to fix that – if you’re Mr. van der Zijp. Otherwise – good luck with figuring out the unicode library! It makes the ancient winapi functions look like pure fun!
You know what was easier than figuring out why the unicode doesn’t work anywhere? That’s right – going back to the non-unicode version of the library that I used years ago, scrapping days of effort in the process.

I know I’ll never pick Fox Toolkit ever again, and if you guys know what’s good for you, you wouldn’t either. I can recommend two others right off the bat – FLTK (Which is more innovative, compact, and easier to understand), and WxWidgets (Which is massive, but at least well documented!).
Or even write your own, like I did once with a game I’ve built. That would be much less frustrating, because you’d at least know where the bugs are coming from.

My advice – avoid, unless frustration makes you feel alive.

Categories: General