December 2001 Archives

Grell's passionate drawing

I picked up a copy of the graphic novel Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters the minute I saw it was written and illustrated by Mike Grell, an old-time favorite of mine from when I was a teenager. As I read through the story, my mind reached back and recalled some of Grell's quirks, evident in the book lying before me: sometimes incoherent, though ambitious paneling, and occasional lapses in perspective.
Yet despite these technical failings, there is a power in Grell's drawing that has, for me, always overshadowed the less successful aspects of his art. I admire very much Grell's passion for the human form, whether male or female, which is so evident throughout his work. It's quite clear that this is an artist who loves drawing bodies and loves drawing comics. In The Longbow Hunters, his enthusiasm for drawing seems to express itself in the sheer variety of media he employs, including watercolors, pastels, and colored pencils--on a range of papers as well as canvas. More than just an interesting read, it made me remember why I treasure Grell's work.

Meet the Amphipolis's

My experience of playing The Sims has been greatly enhanced by the Livin' Large Expansion Pack, which I received as a birthday present from my friends Grace and David some months ago. If you have been playing The Sims for awhile but have held back on getting this expansion pack, I urge you to put your neighborhood on pause and quickly treat yourself to the many perverse possibilities afforded by Livin' Large.
I would like to introduce you now to two of my Sims, Xena and Gabrielle Amphipolis, seen here dancing in their pajamas. Xena is on the entertainer career track while Gabrielle is pursuing politics. Of course, one of the first things I bought them was an indoor jacuzzi, which they both like to relax in. In fact, their house is so nice I wish I lived in it myself. Like any good butch lesbian, Xena enjoys cooking up some hamburgers on her outdoor grill. Gabrielle has a penchant for star-gazing and was recently abducted by extraterrestials, with no apparent harm to her person. I will introduce more of my Sims in the near future.
An interesting aspect to the Sims games is that it allows one to create and upload to the Internet illustrated stories about an individual gamer's Sims. The stories can be viewed one panel at a time or they can be seen in storyboard form, in a layout similar to that of a comic book. The game does this by automatically taking "pictures" at various points in the game, as well as by allowing the gamer to use a "camera" feature to freeze and save game stills. These stills can then be arranged, edited, captioned, and gathered into storybook albums.
The Sims main web site has a large collection of albums which tell the stories of Sim families. One of the best I've found is A Lawn Gnome's Revenge, which can be found on the Sims Exchange Page under the heading Highest Rated Albums. It is interesting to note that while hypertext and other experimental forms of electronic literture have not gained much of an audience, these albums, which are jointly authored by humans and artificial gaming intelligence, enjoy a broad readership. Sometimes the most avant-garde practices take place in plain site.
By the way, I look forward to getting The Sims Hot Date Expansion Pack when it is released for the Mac. I have recently learned that, like previous incarnations of The Sims game, this expansion allows same-sex singles and couples to do all the same activities as their heterosexual counterparts.

Weighing the pros and cons-oles

You're probably wondering what I was doing for all those days in November and December when I wasn't posting. As you've probably noticed if you're a regular reader of In Sequence, I've recently redesigned the site, which took up a nice bit of time--what with the colossal pain in the ass it is to develop style sheets that will work in a half dozen different browsers.
I also had a few work-related projects, and then there was the holidays, and oh yes...um...er...I may have spent a little too much time these past few weeks comparing the relative advantages and disadvantages of the X-Box, the Game Cube, and the Playstation 2. The very least I can do after so many weeks of silence is share the fruits of my research with you. AnandTech's excellent series of articles comparing the capabilities of each game system will tell you pretty much all you need to know.
From what I can gather, true pixel whores will want to get the X-Box, which seems to be the most advanced of the three systems. Although I would like to consider myself a "pixel whore"--don't you love the way that trips across the tongue?--I'm afraid I'm a bit too practical to purchase any of the three systems at this stage in the "console wars," especially when I can barely keep up with the games I have for my original Playstation and my Mac. I may change my mind in the coming months, however, because those Game Cube titles look really cute.

DVD improves Phantom Menace

I rented the Phantom Menace on DVD the other night, mostly because I was intrigued by all the extra features offered on the DVD and thought, what the hell, I might as well watch the movie again. After all, it wouldn't hurt to freshen up a bit on the story before the next installment comes out. I also hoped, deep in my heart, that I might find the movie better the second time around. Although I still think the movie is weak, I did find it infinitely more palatable to watch as a repeat--this time with my viewing expectations considerably lowered.
Now that I have offered my disclaimers, I am pleased to report that I can recommend the Phantom Menace DVD on the strength of its extra features alone, which are contained on a second stand-alone disc. The pleasures of the film are magnified by these accompanying extras, especially the several production documentaries focusing on the technical aspects of making the film. I also enjoyed the deleted scenes on the second disc, and game lovers will be interested in the short piece on turning the Phantom Menace into a video game for the Playstation 2.
The biggest weakness of the movie is, in my opinion, its storyline and consequent lack of dramatic momentum. On second viewing, because I was already familiar with the story and its problems, I wasn't waiting for it to deliver a dramatic punch. Instead I was able to relax and enjoy the film as a sequence of incredibly rich and detailed tableaus with a Star Wars theme. The extras disc only reinforced this view, by offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at costume and design for the film, and by taking the best film segments--the fight scene with Darth Maul, for instance, and the Pod Racer scene--and showing the various elements--fight choreography, scale models, blue screen technology--that contributed to their success.
With the Pod Racer segment in particular, we get to see the scene develop from comics-like storyboards to an "animatic," a computer-generated animation sequence that may include live action and illustration, and which serves the purpose of allowing the director and others to preview the action of the scene before actually filming. Interestingly, the animatics look very much like computer games. By using the DVD angle button, one can switch back and forth among storyboards, animatics, and finished film scenes.
In sum, if you're wavering on whether the extras makes the Phantom Menace DVD worth the rental, my answer is a resounding "yes."
On a related note, I see that the Game Cube's Star Wars: Rogue Leader game is getting excellent reviews, while a new game title called Star Wars: Obi Wan is going to be released for X-Box soon.

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