PC Gaming Alliance Founded

For quite some time now long time PC gamers have been sounding off at various places about the decline of the PC as a gaming platform. While I certainly don’t think PC gaming is dying which is what most people seem to be getting it, there is a very noticeable decline in the general sales of PC titles evident from sales of games such as Crysis last year. It seems to have hit the ears of most of the people connected with the PC market as companies such as Acer, Dell, Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Microsoft, Activision etc. have banded together and formed the PC Gaming Alliance – a non-profit organization focused on “coordinated marketing and promotion of PC gaming…”.

When I first heard about the PCGA, all I could hear in my head was “PR Stunt”. Each of the companies that are part of the alliance has something to gain from it. Microsoft could sell more copies of the underselling Vista as well as increase market for their Games for Windows Live initiative; AMD, Intel, Nvidia all have the advantage of being able to sell more of their respective hardware; and of course all other publishers get to sell more of their games. The word “non-profit” seemed like a blatant lie to me and while I still think of the PCGA along the same lines, I am more positive of the overall outcome of the newly founded body. Instead of reiterating what has already been said by most PC gamers at various places, I think it would be wiser concentrating on what the PCGA should do to set right all that is wrong with the PC.

The most talked about aspect is, of course, piracy. No matter what the PCGA or anybody else does, piracy can never be fully curbed as long as there are people who are intent on doing such stuff (and there will always be dickheads like that). The optimist in me hopes for the usage of Steam to better curb piracy. Steam is a natural choice because of the forced serial key validation required even on boxed copies and as far as I know there are very little options to circumvent this check. Apart from Steam and the amazing Steamworks, something along the line of what Stardock achieved with Galactic Civilizations II would also be a positive move. The one thing that would ruin gaming experiences is adding third-party intrusive anti-piracy systems like Starforce or Securom which will only end up frustrating people who have bought legitimate copies of the game.

With piracy out of the way, the other major hurdle for modern PC games is the Hardware Requirements. What certainly would be bad is a “standardization of requirements” - forcing developers to adhere to a certain standard of PC requirements which would mean lesser games like Crysis that push the boundaries of gaming to the maximum extent. What would be positive to see is a clear explanation of the requirements and the different game settings out of the box so as to help even complete newcomers adapt quickly to the nuances of PC gaming. Standardization in the naming of graphics cards wouldn’t be too bad also.

Games that require patches out of the box to work properly also have to be minimized. This is a trend that has started very recently with many games being delivered to the factory to get it out to stores as quickly as possible only to require a patch on day 1 because they are not coded properly and contain several bugs out of the box. Such a trend does nothing to help PC gaming and has to be stopped at the earliest as it only increases frustration for all parties involved including developers and consumers.

These are some of the major problems as highlighted by the PC Gaming Alliance themselves and are ones that I know, if set right, would kick PC gaming up the hill again. The PCGA is definitely an interesting move. On the one hand, while it certainly seems like a PR stunt, it also has a lot of potential because it provides a common forum through which all these amazing companies can share their thoughts and opinions. Whether the PCGA actually goes somewhere and fixes a few of the aforementioned problems remains to be seen.

Crysis - Final Impressions

When I upgraded my almost-dead computer last December, I was thinking of only one game in mind when I did it and that was Crysis. Apart from being able to experience the loads of games that are going to be released this year in their entire graphical splendor, Crysis was one game that convinced me that a new computer was in order. Of course, soon after buying said system, I also bought Crysis and after steadily progressing through it, I was finally able to beat it today.

Most of the initial screenshots and videos suggested the game would be set on a tropical island in a very similar setting to Crytek’s debut effort Far Cry. But what I did not expect was the amount of variety in gameplay the combination of the setting and the game’s nanosuit would offer. The Nanosuit is one of the best new gimmicks I have experienced in a game in a long time. Apart from serving to enhance the gameplay there were some situations where I would have ended up dying if not for the special abilities that the suit offers.

The levels featuring large open-ended areas and difficult battles against the Koreans were clearly the best. The enemy AI was very good and I was surprised quite a few times by Korean Soldiers flanking me when hiding amongst the bushes. The game rewarded slow and steady gameplay making you think like a Special Ops soldier stranded in the middle of nowhere. The later levels featuring the aliens, though linear, were very good and inserted a great deal of urgency into the proceedings making the action very fast and frenetic in contrary to the slow pace of earlier levels. The final battles against the huge aliens were awesome and had my adrenaline pumping the whole way through to the final cutscene.

Even though I had the ending spoiled for me, it was still surprising. Recent news suggests that the next game from Crytek is a few years away and I hope that they are talking about a new IP. The main story line in Crysis needs some finishing and I hope that they release the next one sooner rather than later.

Crysis is a game that made me feel proud of the fact that I play games and the last time I felt like that was when I finished Half Life 2 and Knights of the Old Republic. Before this game, there was only one developer whose games I could buy with my eyes closed and end up not getting disappointed and that was Valve. With Crysis, Crytek has been added to the list and I urge anyone with a system capable of handling it to give this game a go.

Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Amidst all the chaos that is attempting to get decent marks in my unit test, I finally caught up with the much hyped Taare Zameen Par. Of course, it came highly recommended from my sister who said she could not resist crying and my college friends who said they were brought to tears even though they don’t know Hindi. So in the end I finally gave up and saw the movie and for once, in a long time, I can definitely say the hype is truly deserved.

Taare Zameen Par is a movie that will force its way into the deepest and darkest corners of your heart and firmly find for itself a place there. It is riddled with wonderful performances literally from each cast member and even the ones who appear in the smallest of roles end up touching our hearts. It is arguably one of the best movies of 2007 (if not the best) and any person – whether parent or child – would do themselves good by experiencing it.

Taare Zameen Par follows the story of Ishaan Awasti (Darsheel Safary), a 9 year old dyslexic boy who cannot understand studies how much ever he tries. His father, however, thinks that he is just a stubborn boy who does not want to study and after getting angered by the increase in complaints against him decides to put him into a boarding school against the wishes of his wife, elder son (who is a topper in school) and of course, Ishaan himself. How Ishaan overcomes his condition with the help of recently appointed art teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) and realizes his true potential as an artist forms the rest of the story.

You’d be hard pressed to convince anyone after watching the film that this is Aamir Khan’s first directorial venture. Aamir has cleverly sidestepped showing us what cool directorial tricks he has up his sleeves (this being his first movie and all) and instead given us a true, non-cinematic look at the life of Ishaan Awasti and his family. The movie works out more like an experience (similar to reading a great book) than a movie and in the process helps us identify with the main characters a lot better.

Story and Screenplay from Amol Gupte (who was initially supposed to direct the film also) is top notch. Apart from the initial sequences (which give us a look into the life of Ishaan and his family) which are a bit slow moving, the movie keeps you gripped and never lets you go right from the sequence where Ishaan is dropped off in the boarding school to the climax. The dialogue writer also deserves a lot of praise in making the movie feel realistic and a lot of the dialogues really hit the nail on the head without venturing into the preachy territory which would have felt out of place in the movie. The scene where Aamir Khan visits Darsheel’s house and the one where Darsheel’s father visits Aamir at school are fine examples of the dialogue writer’s excellence.

With all the applause Darsheel Safary has been getting, it is really a moot point discussing his performance but I am going to do it anyway. Being cast as the central character, the movie had a lot riding on Darsheel’s performance and it is worth reiterating that he delivers on all accounts. Whether with his facial expressions or body language, he really brings the character of Ishaan Awasti to life and is truly the hero of the film. Aamir Khan shines in a role that expects him to underplay a lot but he gets to deliver all the best lines in the movie and, as expected, does full justice to them. Tisca Chopra comes out with an outstanding performance whether as the mother who loves her son too much to let him go or as the wife who cannot go against her husband’s wish when the latter decides that a boarding school is the best choice for his son. Vipin Sharma as Ishaan’s father is dignified in a role that requires him to be stern and sentimental in equal parts. Other notable performances come from Sachet Engineer as Ishaan’s elder brother and Tanay Chada as Ishaan’s best friend at school.

If movies like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom led you the believe that the trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy can come up only with foot-tapping peppy dance numbers, then with wonderful music in an offbeat film like this one they have proved that they really have become the complete package when it comes to Bollywood music. Shankar Mahadevan’s wonderfully sung Taare Zameen Par… and the haunting Maa… are clearly the pick of the lot with beautiful lyrics from Prasoon Joshi. However, other songs like Jame Raho… which plays in the background to scenes presenting the family’s morning routine or Bum Bum Bole... which has the entire class room up and dancing really prove the trio’s superiority and all of this while never feeling out of sync with the movie. The movie’s animated sequences also deserve a special mention for bringing the quirky thoughts that play in Ishaan’s mind to life.

The Capello Era begins

Fabio Capello’s appointment as England’s manager came as a huge surprise to me when it was announced late last year. I was banking on the FA to get hold of Mourinho given his credentials in handling big names with huge egos at Chelsea (of which there are quite a few in the English team). I have since come to grips with Capello’s appointment and think it will work out well for England in the long run (in fact, I am pretty sure of this since watching Wednesday’s match).

The one thing that irked me about his appointment was that he never seemed like the kind of guy (he looked too soft spoken to me) who could manage a team full of big players. Juventus and Real Madrid had a few players like that and he seemed to manage them well but given the big heads in the English side, Mourinho seemed like the perfect choice and I thought it was a done deal when he left Chelsea. And since the Sven Goran Eriksson debacle I thought it was wiser for England to go for an English manager who would understand better the expectations of the English fans when it comes to football. With both Harry Redknapp’s and Martin O’ Neill’s (two names that would have been an instant hit with fans) denial of the post, the FA looked elsewhere and finally appointed Capello given his resume was one that would make other English managers hide inside their homes.

Wednesday night was the big day as far as Capello was concerned with his first international match (albeit, a friendly against the Swiss). Given all the hype before the match it was only natural that he delayed announcing the first team till the last minute. If absolutely anything at all had gone wrong on that night, I am pretty sure the English press would have lapped it up and ripped him apart to pieces. Thankfully, the team on display did a fine job and dispatched the Swiss army 2 to 1.

Capello’s first team sheet had quite a few surprises in it. His master stroke was in giving the captain’s arm band to a natural leader like Steven Gerrard (who also wears the famed No. 10 jersey nowadays) which looks like it will stay in his arm for quite a while. The defense looked very solid and balanced with two left footers in Upson and Cole on the left and two players who know each other well in Ferdinand and Brown on the right. Jenas in the center of mid field was a surprise to me, though that was merited based on his Tottenham form. Rooney up front was a natural choice given that is the role he is deployed in for Manchester United and Cole playing off him was also a good decision. From the team sheet, at least Capello looked to have gotten his tactics right from the word go which is what Steve McLaren was poor at.

The game itself was more entertaining than the qualifier in which England lost to Croatia which, even though it produced 5 goals, was quite boring in reality. Joe Cole was arguably man of the match in my perspective. He was quite lively from the time the whistle was blown and looked like creating chances for others every time he got the ball on his feet. Rooney was slightly subdued (like he has been for United off late) but got to play his natural role just off the striker in the second half and clearly had a better game there. David Bentley left me quite impressed with his workmanlike performance and great crossing ability. It seems like there will be quite a battle between him and Aaron Lennon as to who will be successor to David Beckham on the right side of mid field for England. The rest of the team came up with the trumps and barring Gary Neville and John Terry, this would make quite a first team against any opponent.

Capello clearly has to move forward from here and he seems to have gotten a big green light from the English press based on early reactions. With a decent win under his belt, he has got 2 years before the next big tournament which will be the 2010 World Cup (now that England are not playing any part in Euro 2008 after the disaster in the qualifiers) and he clearly looks like he is capable of putting out a team which will have each player playing to their strengths and which will play with the sort of passion that is on display in the Premier League week in and week out. He also has a natural penchant for success which he again proved as recently as last year in taking a poor Real Madrid side and making them regain lost glory in the form the La Liga title. Whether he can bring this clearly demoralized English side together and lead them to lost glory in 2010 (there is still a long way to go) remains to be seen.

Getting back on track

One of the qualities I pride in myself is that I enjoy all forms of entertainment. Whether it be movies, books, music, video games or even art (though to a much lesser extent), I enjoy getting myself engrossed in the amazing worlds they offer. Each one of them is unique in its own right and choosing any one over the other would be nearly impossible for me.

However, very recently I noticed a distinct lack of book-reading from myself (and yes, this is including study books also). I am pretty much sure the new computer has spoiled me. Apart from getting myself immersed in the beautiful islands of Crysis and listening to the indie rock of Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse and, of course, roaming around with friends (a part of every college guy's life), I have been pretty much neglecting books for many months now. You know it's drastic when the last book you read was Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows way back in July.

I did realize that I have about an hour's spare time during the time I take to reach college by bus and all of it is spent sleeping while listening to music. In order to utilize that time more effectively, I decided to get back on track as far as my reading habit was concerned. Last year, at almost the same time, I discovered about the magical world of Hogwarts and the rest as they say is history. This year my infusion into reading is going to begin on a more varied note with the following books:

Split Second - I started reading David Baldacci novels based on reading reviews from fellow blogger, Balaji Balasubramanium. Having read The Camel Club and Collectors from the Camel Club series, I went into the library today with the idea of picking up Stone Cold -- the latest book in that series -- only to find out it had been borrowed by someone. So, I ended up picking up Split Second which is the first book in the Sean King & Michelle Maxwell series and from a quick glance on the back cover, I hope it will be intriguing to say the least.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - I remember reading the title in Balaji's blog and when I saw it at the library, I checked out the synopsis and even though the book does seem to be aimed at children, I think I will find it a very interesting read.

I also have the aforementioned Stone Cold and The Five People You Meet in Heaven (both of which had been borrowed from my local library) lined up after I am done with the above books. I also hope that this time my latest foray into books actually lasts quite some while unlike the last time.

Indiralokathil Na Azhagappan (2007)

Indiralokathil Na Azhagappan has a lot of expectation behind it. For one, Vadivelu is just coming off the huge success of Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi which turned out to be a huge blockbuster and has to prove that Imsai… was not just a one-off show and that he can pull of two hits in a row -- something which is even eluding many of our top heroes. And we are still expecting our first huge hit of 2008 with all the pongal releases turning out to be complete duds and as mentioned with Imsai… behind him, it is not surprising to expect Vadivelu to give us our first huge hit of 2008. Sadly, INA does not fulfill any of our expectations. With a threadbare, incoherent storyline and even weaker screenplay, INA gets its foundation all wrong and expects Vadivelu to carry the movie solely on his own shoulders which he cannot since the movie fails in the comedy aspect as well and ends up being a total snoozefest.

Summarizing whatever little story the movie has is pretty easy. Azhagappan (Vadivelu) is a stage actor who lives a pretty ordinary life with his mother and a few friends who are part of his stage acting crew. His mother, however, drops a bombshell that he will have two marriages and his first wife will die. He marries a statue as his first wife to get rid of the curse but that statue ends up being Rambha (Suja) from Indiralogam who has come to be in such a state because she could not return to heaven in time. Azhagappan is then taken to Indiralogam and Yamalogam where he gets to see all the wonders first hand and realizes how messed up the situation up there really is. How he sets right all that is wrong in both heaven and hell and what consequences he and Rambha face forms the rest of the story.

It is really a moot point discussing about the story anyway. Whatever I mentioned in the previous paragraph is pretty much all there is to it. However, what little there is has also not been scripted properly and the screenplay is all over the place and the pacing of the movie is really slack. Logic also falls short at many places such as how nobody thinks about following Vadivelu to check out where he really disappears to at night. Bad sentiments have been inserted in places near the interval and the climax but they seem overly artificial and we end up squirming in our seat because of them rather than connecting to any of these characters.

What is really pitiful is that the movie ends up having some really good messages underneath such as how a completely evil man ends up doing some good deeds and lives a short term in heaven for it and is destined for hell after that or how the opposite is true for really good people who end up in heaven after serving a short term in hell in the afterlife. A few other stuff like how even the worst of people can listen to reason if somebody just puts it to them in the proper way are all lost in the sea of mess that is the movie’s scripting.

Thotta Tharani’s sets really do a lot to make the movie watchable for its duration. He has recreated the vision of heaven and especially hell nearly perfectly and it is fascinating to watch all the sets and the art direction is top notch in almost every way. Music is really average and even the much hyped about Shriya’s item number is big letdown both in audio and picturization. Costumes are another one the movie’s few pluses and fit in with the art direction neatly.

One cannot help but pity Vadivelu in the movie. Apart from donning three roles he also carries the movie entirely on his shoulders. As Azhagappan he does not do anything different from other comic roles he has done in a variety of movies. His Indira role does not get enough screen time but whatever little there is adequate. It is as Yama, however, that he really shines. Although the God of Death has been portrayed as a brutal murderer, Vadivelu has done well to make the character funny and a bit likeable. The new girl Suja, as Rambha does not have much to do but does get a few good lines and she does justice to them. From the supporting cast, it is only Nasser who impresses as Naradha.

Overall, Indiralokathil Na Azhagappan falls flat and does not live upto any of the huge expectations. With unfunny dialogue, an incoherent storyline and weak screenplay, INA will bore you to death and actually make you feel relieved when the misery finally ends.