31 May 2011

Trust in the rust (Review: 'Clear Skies 3')

Sequelitis is a common problem in franchises; where gags and concepts that were good once aren't necessary good a second time. Or for that matter, a third. It's rare to find a sequel that's better than the first installment; The Empire Strikes Back springs into mind. Finding a threequel that exceeds the quality of the first two is like finding hens' teeth.

Ladies and gentleman, we have a toothy hen.


For those of you who haven't seen the first two Clear Skies animations, I would strongly recommend you watch them before you watch this. You can find all three here. You won't regret it.

The Clear Skies series is set in the universe of EVE Online, the space-based MMORPG developed in Iceland and with a larger player population than that country. Probably a stronger economy too. You don't need any familiarity with the game to enjoy this - although there are plenty of insider jokes for those players. There are some key changes from the game universe, most notably the lack of "clones".

Using EVE for external shots and the Source SDK (the modding kit of the engine used for Half-Life 2 - before you ask, Garry's Mod has never been used in this) for interior scenes, the series follows the crew of the Minamatar Tempest class battleship Clear Skies, as they travel through New Eden, trying to make ends meet and keep their ship together. This is not an easy task.

In this third instalment, the mysterious Mr Smith asks them to give back a piece of technology he gave them in the previous story. Things aren't what they seem, though.


Ian Chisholm, who plays captain John Rourke and generally heads up a high-quality team of voice actors and other crew, has spent close to five years of his life on the trilogy. Most machinima are basically music videos or comedy shorts. This is a full-cast, action-packed drama that runs to a total time of 73 minutes, 23 minutes longer than the second movie, I believe - this might even be some sort of record. It's also extremely funny, which I'll get to.

The plot is excellent, with believable characters, villains with convincing motives and great performances by all involved - nearly all amateurs (with the exception of Francis Capra, a professional American actor with a rather impressive listing of guest roles in US drama). There are some wonderfully moving scenes, including self-sacrifice (and the aversion thereof). The ending is lovely and wraps everything up in a great manner.

The dialogue is up to the superb standards of the series. CS has created a number of catchphrases among its fans ("HOW MUCH?", "top-wingy bit", "Get that interdictor!") and this will add some more. Wait until it's "Hot drop o'clock". The humour is better than many sitcoms and will remind you of Red Dwarf or Firefly in its style, as well as its quality.

The visuals of this have been spruced up considerably, with help from CCP, EVE's developers. Ian and his crew had access to a motion capture program that allows for a fist fight to occur at the climax, something not previously possible. The HD, 1080p graphics may make the download a whopping two gigs, but it's worth every bit. The excellent set design remains and we get some wonderful new sets, including a Caldari fighter hangar that gets only a few shots, but would be worthy of at least a short in its own right. There are plenty of sight gags - including the explosive charge labelled "Plan B". I may well have missed some.

Then there are the spaceship battles. CS2 featured an 80-ship four minute gate fight. This tops that in nearly every regard; with a chase through a station that owes some resemblance to the "Death Star Trench" scene, but only some.

The sound is crisp all round and the incidental music, which includes things from Coldplay to Mike Oldfield and EVE music fits perfectly. The choice of "Fix You" for one battle scene is arguably just as good, if not better, as the use of "Far Above The Clouds" for the gate fight in Clear Skies 2.

Ian Chisholm has stated he will not be making another movie - he wants his life back and I understand that. I'm sure that many fans would want to carry on this story, with his blessing of course.

There are some minor flaws that could make me lower this if it were a professional production. However, since this is an amateur production, I see no reason to. Achieving something of high professional standard when you're largely self-taught it is worthy of the highest praise.

Congratulations to all involved. Mr Chisholm, even if you don't make a fourth one, you've gained immortality in this business.

10/10. It's a true Titan of machinima.

30 May 2011

Clear Skies 3 is out!

I'm currently downloading it and so are a lot of other people.

Here's the main, now updated site.

EDIT: I have now downloaded, but I won't be watching this until Wednesday in all likeliness. Please don't post spoilers in the comments.

29 May 2011

Congratulations to Ian Chisholm

Sir, you've managed to crash eve-files.com as people try to get Clear Skies 3. Congratulations.

28 May 2011

Doctor Who review

I accidentally forgot to put a delay on the review - I have now removed the potentially spoilery review and reset it to appear at the appropriate time.

My apologies.

Blogger issue fixed

I can now approve comments etc. Woo hoo!

Clear Skies 3 should be out this weekend - expect a link and also a review...

27 May 2011

Problems with Blogger

I’m one of the people affected by the Blogger log-in issue, so I’m not really in a position to a) approve comments  or b) comment on other people’s blogs. I can still post by email and I certainly plan to post some stuff this week or next.


I will be delaying the posting of my review of “The Almost People” for a week; the Memorial Day weekend has forced the US showing of that episode back until the following Saturday.

23 May 2011

Clones are people too (Review, 'Doctor Who' 32.5, "The Rebel Flesh")

Doctor Who is arguably more of a fantasy show than a science-fiction one. However, this doesn't stop it from from having "sci-fi" episodes and this was one of them.

Exploring the themes of "surrogate bodies" and identity, "The Rebel Flesh" involves Team TARDIS arriving at a factory on 22nd century Earth just before it's hit by a solar tsunami (of which more later). The dangerous work is done through created bodies controlled by human operators known as "Gangers". When the tsunami hits, the gangers become living people of their own...

"The Rebel Flesh" is a rather different episode from the previous four of Season 31. Instead of being big and bombastic, it focusses on moral issues, like quite a few of the great stories over the years, such as "Doctor Who and The Silurians", "The Ambassadors of Death" and "Genesis of the Daleks".

On this form, I don't think the story is going to join the pantheon of true greats, but neither is it going to end up in the pit of shame like "Timelash" or "Warriors of the Deep".

Matthew Graham's done a good story here, making us think about our views of clones and AI duplicates, which we too often dismiss as cheap plot devices and don't really feel for as they're not "real". The Gangers feel very much real and should be considered as such. Matt Smith turns in a quiet, understated performance, not overdoing things - in fact he's a little too subtle at times. Everyone else, including Marshall Lancaster and Sarah Smith, do well and the pre-titles sequence is good in particular.

There are two flaws in the story. I've heard of solar flares, but I've never even heard of a solar tsunami. Without some decent explanation, it sounds stupidly unscientific (yes, I know this a show with a time travelling spaceship that's bigger on the inside) and a power failure, plus attendant earthquakes, could have been caused by, well, an earthquake...

Secondly, the pacing seems a bit slow for my liking. While Who doesn't have to always be a huge rush, this story seemed to be going for the pace of the classic era and it didn't always work.

I'll see how "The Almost People" goes, but so far this isn't brilliant, it's merely good.


Press TV found by Ofcom to have breached fairness rules

Pages 30-40. You'll need to skip past the porn stuff.

Very interesting.

21 May 2011

New review up

Review of 'Castle' 3.11, "Nikki Heat".

For those if you wondering where the Spiral review is, I decided not to do it - I had left too late after first UK airing and so it was a bit irrelevant. From now on, I will only review stuff I have watched within 72 hours of first UK transmission unless I have good reason to do otherwise.

18 May 2011

The Silent Hunter: How people find me.

Jams has done an article on how people come to his site through search engines. (Mild language warning)

Figured I might as well do the same... Or similar. I can't find what he's actually used (I have a free account on StatCounter only), so I'll list some of the more interesting searches that people have arrived at my attempt at interesting commentary via:
  •  who are the super injunctions: There's a lot of ones like this. I wrote an article giving my thoughts on the subject on 23 April, but it certainly does not even attempt to speculate on the identities on those who have them.
  • Obama hostages for counter strike": OK...
  • "counter strike source" abbottabad map: This does exist, but I've never even discussed it.
  • "backfire raid". Glad to see people are interested in the Tu-22M "Backfire", my favourite military jet.
Also, looking at Blogger stats, my ten most popular posts all were posted in late July and early August last year, including my four-parter Farnborough report.

Doubt I'll ever be as popular as the superlative Jams O'Donnell, but it's nice to know people are at least glancing at my site.

Upfront Week

This week is Upfront Week, when the US TV networks announce their schedules for the upcoming TV season, thus revealing what pilots they've picked up and which of their running shows won't be returning.

It's been a fairly good one for me - only two shows on my watch list were cancelled - Lie to Me and Brothers & Sisters. While I enjoyed both, the former had started to drag a bit in its third season and while the latter was still good, I feel it jumped the shark with the car crash last season.

Xander Markham

I've added a new blog to my links and updates list.

Xander Markham  has just started out in the blogging business, but his television and video game oriented blog already has some excellent posts. Plus he likes Doctor Who, which is always a good thing.

16 May 2011

A joyous run through the darkness (review: 'Doctor Who' 32.4, "The Doctor's Wife)

So, bestselling fantasy author Neil Gaiman had a go at writing Doctor Who - and he did a very good job.

I'm not going to describe the plot - for a start,I couldn't explain it properly without spoilers and the Moff has expressed his unhappiness about spoilers. Secondly, no amount of description would do it just.

So, I'm going to resurrect something I used to when I was reviewing 24. I used to do "24 Points on 24". That's a bit long, so I'm going to do eleven points, one for each Doctor so far.
  1. The TARDIS travelling effects look much better than they've ever done before - of course, Doctor Who has had some ropey effects over the years.
  2. Matt Smith's Doctor, while very good here, tends to be at his best in Steven Moffat stories. Moffat of course created the character and so can channel him best - others do a rather hit-and-miss job. Gaiman's was a hit though.
  3. Speaking of chanelling, Idris did remind me a lot of Helena Bonham Carter in a lot of her roles (it's rare for Bonham Carter not to play crazy these days). Full credit to Suranne Jones for a great performance - she's left Corrie well and truly behind her now.
  4. Rory's is turning into this show's version of Daniel Jackson without the archaeological knowledge.
  5. Amy does not have a very nice episode - she even lets out a couple of screams. It says something about the state of the show now that it's no longer a huge issue that a companion screams. Of course, Rory does as well.
  6. That was Michael Sheen doing the voice? I thought it was Gabriel Woolf!
  7. Oh, lovely to see [spoiler] again - I hope to be able to see it in person at some point soon.
  8. We haven't had this many repeating corridors since "The Horns of Nimon".
  9. I'm happy with the outcome in connection with my RP.
  10. It's a good choice of title - that's all I'll say.
  11. Uncle and Aunt were creepy. In fact, much of this episode was.

A very good episode and one that's arguably a lot differently from regular Doctor Who. There were great performances all around and a very moving ending. By no means perfect (the pace was a little off in the middle and the Doctor was a little unconvincing at times), but a lovely first go and I'd be glad if Gaiman came on board for another story.


15 May 2011

The relegation of West Ham United

Just like they did all season, West Ham threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to Wigan, becoming the first team to be relegated this season.

Avram Grant was sacked within an hour - I won't miss him.

The bubbles have burst big time this season - we're going to face major problems next year with our debt and all; there's certainly no guarantee of a fast return to top-flight action.

The players, with the exception of Scott Parker, should hang their heads in shame.

12 May 2011

The descent to Davy Jones' locker (Review, 'Doctor Who' 32.3, "The Curse of the Black Spot")

After last week's epic conclusion to the two-parter, we go for a what is a bit more of a romp, with the Timey Team on board a pirate ship dealing with a "siren" that is luring the crew away.

I'm not going to go into a description of the plot, which involves an alien spaceship, treasure and a famous pirate. I'll just go straight into the review.

The start is very promising, but then things go downhill rapidly. The pacing is off badly; this might have worked better as a two-parter. The dialogue starts to get a bit forced - this seems to be a pale imitation of Moffat's style and it shows. Then the bit at the end with Rory just walks slap bang into cliché. One note - if you're not breaking ribs, you're not doing it right.

Hugh Bonneville's Captain Avery is served badly by the script. Lily Cole doesn't even get an intelligible line and doesn't really add much to the story. Matt, Karen and Arthur all try their best with the material, but that's all they can do.

Nice try, but I'm going to have to give this a 5/10. The words "whole", "sum" and "parts", spring to mind.

Neil Gaiman's episode next week looks good. We'll see if my Doctor Who RP (The Triple First) ends up having its entire concept yanked out...

Taggart: One Mean Broadcaster

Taggart has been cancelled by ITV after 30 years.

This is a great shame: hopefully STV will find a way to keep this vehicle for Scottish talent going and hopefully we can still see it on TV south of the border.

Demjanjuk convicted of aiding 28,000 murders at Sobibor

In news that I am sure will please many, John Demjanjuk has been convicted in a German court.

Justice has at last caught up with this man.

Many others cheated earthly justice by dying first. They, though, will one day face the infinite justice of God.

Update: He has now been freed, reportedly pending an appeal.

11 May 2011

A year of the Coalition

Today marks the first anniversary of the creation of the Coalition and David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.

I wonder how many people are celebrating today. I won't be.

08 May 2011

Doctor Who reviews

For those of you looking for my reviews of the new season of Doctor Who, the first two are here and here.

Future reviews will be posted on both blogs, allowing about 48 hours after transmission.

VE Day - 66 Years On.

It's the 66th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe today.

Over the last year, I've been reading through Winston Churchill's six-volume account of the war and am now on the final book, covering D-Day to the end of the war. In particular, he pays attention to the Italian campaign.

Italy was by no means the "soft underbelly" that people thought it might have been. It was a hard slog up the country - Germany wasn't reached from that direction until very near the end. Few major roads, narrow passes and at times very cold temperatures.

Today, I'm thinking about all those veterans of the Italian campaign and all the others. You truly were the greatest generation.

04 May 2011

I'm voting No tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we vote on whether to change the voting system for Westminster elections from First-Past-The-Post to the Alternative Vote system.

I will be voting No. I do not want a system that will make the Liberal Democrats, a party that I believe abandoned their principles for Cabinet seats, the deciding force in any future elections. I would only favour a more proportional system if there was a fourth major party (i.e. two party blocs) and even then that would not be AV, but rather AMS.

This is not to say that I welcome or agree with the tone of the NO campaign by any means. Their conduct has appalled me.

02 May 2011

The death of bin Laden

So, tonight there is one less mass murderer in the world. Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces in Abbotabad, Pakistan, apparently being shot while taking a woman hostage.

If true, he died as he lived - a coward who had no qualms about innocents getting hurt. No 72 virgins for him, that's for sure.

While this is by no means the end of the fight against terrorism, I can imagine that many terrorists will not get a good night's sleep tonight.