Quick notes on Framerates (for Gamer Arguments)

At the dawn of the 20th century, Thomas Edison and his company discovered that the human eye needed to see, at bare minimum, a framerate of what we would today call 10 FPS before our brains could become convinced that a single image was in fact moving and not just a fast slide show. 10 FPS is the baseline. Edison actually shot a few films at this framerate, including a short film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (beating Universal to the punch by two decades), but little of these films survived.

24 FPS was a standard of Old Hollywood, and games below this seem choppy and poorly animated to pretty much everyone. This low framerate is part of why restored versions of old films that feature a higher framerate seem so odd to watch, but it is only part of the reason.

30-45 FPS is the current Hollywood standard, and this is the range in which most console games fall, as developers consider it the “best of averages” balancing on screen details and framerate.

60 FPS is the up-coming standard of Hollywood — for instance, the Hobbit films were filmed with special 60 FPS cameras. This ended up making test audiences complain that the films felt “unnaturally smooth”, so in many theaters, the films were artificially brought back down to 45 FPS, which is how you probably saw them unless you saw them in IMAX. For PC gamers, this is often the minimum optimum framerate.

60+ FPS is the desired framerate for PC gaming, especially for games that require pixel-perfect reflex timing like serious e-sports. It will be a long while before Hollywood or consoles catches up to this.

Here endeth the lesson.

Mutants, Latex Ninjas, and Olivia Munn, oh my!

So, as we approach the release of X Men Apocalypse I’m sure that we’ll be hearing the mandatory interviews with actress Olivia Munn that she’s incredibly stoked to be playing such an “empowering” and “inspirational” character as Elizabeth Braddock, aka Psylocke from the X-Men comics. If it seems kind of inauthentic, it’s probably because there still isn’t much about Psylocke that is empowering to women or all that inspirational.

HELLO, BOYS...!
HELLO, BOYS…!

See that outfit Psylocke is wearing in that illustration? That has been her outfit, more or less unchanged, for DECADES. Sometimes she’ll switch it out for a slightly more modest painted-on body glove, but let’s not mince words: the character of Psylocke exists for two things: Tits. And. Ass.

Here's the other half of her costume if you somehow believed it magically covered something.
Here’s the other half of her costume if you somehow believed it magically covered something.

Here’s a photo of Olivia Munn in her official costume (in an official photoshoot to promote the film too; I wonder why she was asked to promote…?) so you can see how little has changed in the transition to the big live action screen. Munn even claims the outfit requires four assistants to apply body lube just so she can put it on, and she’s not exactly a chunky girl.

Points for accuracy to the comics, at least. For whatever that's worth here.
Points for accuracy to the comics, at least. For whatever that’s worth here.

Ironically, the most modest we’ve ever seen Psylocke is in her bit part in X-Men 3 (aka: the only version of the character that actually wears clothes). I love that look for the character, because it channeled the visual energy of the character without coming across as stripperiffic.

Was this look SO HORRIBLE that they couldn't have repeated this?
Was this look SO HORRIBLE that they couldn’t have repeated this?

Psylocke has definitely had superb writers over the years, and she can have the potential to be an empowering, inspirational character– it all depends on the storysmiths running her show.

But let’s make one thing clear: she was created for the male gaze, and while I appreciate that as a straight male will, and because of how her appearance has always been handled, I don’t have much reason to expect greatness from this role, or anything that indicates female empowerment, which I feel is yet another missed opportunity for the film industry.

There are characters who manage to be both sex objects and empowered women, and I hold Bayonetta as a prime example of that. She’s a very sensual, flirtatous, and sexual being, but she owns it as part of who she is, and yet she has a great many genuinely heartwarming and downright motherly moments throughout her story with the little girl she winds up rescuing early on. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s designed to look like a dominatrix librarian in a leather catsuit, but she manages to be both a sex object AND a very female-positive character who even passes the Bechdel test as we spend time with her over the course of her story.

Amazingly more girl-positive than most women in comic books.

To quote a very insightful bloggess about Bayonetta passing the Bechdel test:

  • RULE 1 It has to have at least two women in it – Bayonetta and her nemesis Jeanne are arguably the two biggest characters in the game.

  • RULE 2 Who talk to each other, – Yep. Plenty of Bayonetta vs. Jeanne scenes.

  • RULE 3 About something besides a man. – Indeed. Everything that Bayonetta and Jeanne discuss revolves around their past histories and their present disputes. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they ever talk about a man.

The Bechdel Test aside (and spoilers to Bayonetta, ahead), there were several other pro-woman outcomes at the conclusion of Bayonetta:

  • Bayonetta defeats her father, Balder, who reveals he not only manipulated Bayonetta so that he could use her to revive “the Creator”, but also used his powers to pit Jeanne against Bayonetta in the first place.

  • Towards the end of the game, Jeanne and Bayonetta abandon their previous animosity and join forces as friends to save the world and destroy the Creator Jubileus, who also appears as a woman.

  • Bayonetta does not take the romantic bait in her fanyboy-sidekick Luka. While there are moments in the game that suggest that they may end up together as Luka secretly lusts after her (while he helps care for Cereza), the coupling at the end of the game turns out to be Bayonetta and Jeanne as partners in crime.

Somehow, I doubt Psylocke will get the same (relatively) girl-positive treatment as Bayonetta did. I think someone wanted to see Olivia Munn in a pleather one-piece, wrote a portion of the script to vaguely justify this, and then waved money at Olivia Munn until she agreed.

There’s nothing empowering about that, regardless of what miss Munn might claim in the interviews. I know she’s a comic book geek at heart, and I know she’s been an enthusiastic cosplayer on several occasions, but that’s really not why she was cast here. Whatever the rationale given, they went with that costume in the film to capitalize on her sex appeal, not her acting skills, and certainly not the narrative merits of including the character.

This is one rare time I will actually subtract approval points from a comic book film for staying visually true to the source material. If I had a girlfriend, I would feel slightly embarrassed to take her to see this film as soon as Psylocke strutted into frame in that outfit, especially since the X-Men films have, until now, taken regular sizable liberties with the physical appearances of the characters (ESPECIALLY the women– they’re often better dressed in the films than they are in the comics).

Hopefully, I’ll be somewhat wrong, and Psylocke’s writing might turn out to be utterly amazing and very pro-women. I really hope so. Hopefully, Olivia Munn will turn in the role of her career that we speak of for years to come.

I hope.

But given the evidence so far, I’m not betting a single penny on that hope.

Compassionate Machines?

After being blown away by Chappie and Ex Machina (WOW YOU SHOULD SEE BOTH OF THOSE), as well as a replay of Mass Effect 2 (which leans HEAVILY on AI as a plot element between the characters of EDI and Legion), I felt I had to write a short story about a possible form AI might take in reality, and which explores themes that I feel fiction tends to dance around without really addressing.
It doesn’t have a title as of yet, but the basic plot is that Liam, the main character, buys a “Life Companion Droid” (which he names ‘Red’) after being frustrated by his chronic bachelor’s syndrome. In other words, he bought a custom tailored girlfriend the way that some guys today might buy a custom tailored RealDoll.
Each Life Companion Droid is custom built and programmed to perfectly match the buyer’s needs and specifications to be an off the shelf soulmate or brother/sister figure.
Part of what makes this work (in the story) is that each AI is not completed until the buyer’s brain has been scanned and mapped, and this data is fed into the partial AI to make it not only come alive, but in a way that it understands its partner and can empathize and sympathize as a human would (also, the original designer gave up trying to replicate certain aspects of the human body with technology, so Life Companions are about a third specially grown organic material, making them even more human, and I suppose technically cyborgs).
The end result is that they are “Droids” before being switched on, but afterwards, their legal standing changes to “Artificial Person”, and they have rights and privileges the same as “Natural Persons”.
Red in particular is very blunt and logical, but also compassionate, supportive, and loving. She cares deeply about Liam because she is built to do so, but in her own words: “I love Liam because I am meant to, but that doesn’t make it any less real for either of us.”
This is something that I really see as a potential application for AI in the real world marketplace if the technology ever got to that point. People in the real world fall in love with video game characters all the time, so it makes sense, if only from a certain market perspective: if single people fall in love with computer programs, why not make a computer program that is designed to fall in love right back?
Discounting that awful potential for robot “bunny boiler” girlfriend/boyfriends who get way too attached, or a completely detached and unempathetic one on the other end of the spectrum, if we created that right balance, and made an AI designed to be compassionate and empathetic, I think we could solve a great many problems beyond mere loneliness in a large segment of the upper middle class of the Western World.
In fact, humans may not learn to be compassionate as a species *until* our machines do (and teaching compassion to machines successfully may completely avert a Skynet/Ultron-like apocalypse, so… BONUS!).
After all, to quote Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection: “No Human being is that Humane.”

My first review is live on GameSkinny!

Return to the Asylum one last time….

Very proud. With this, I take my first step towards being a gaming/tech/pop culture writer, who might entertain some ideas about getting PAID someday.

Here, I have reviewed “Batman: Assault on Arkham” from the perspective of someone who has played the Arkham video games.

I will be posting more links as I continue to publish, and be sure to bookmark me on GameSkinny!

 

Captain America 3: Rise of the Grand Director

I think that, having now covered the Red Skull and Winter Soldier, the next Captain America film should cover a relatively obscure yet entirely meaningful villain: William Burnside, AKA Steve Rogers II AKA The Grand Director AKA The Captain America of the 1950’s.

The foundation has already been laid with Bruce Banner’s work in recreating Erskine’s formula– it simply needn’t have been the first attempt (and Coulson’s dialog in Avengers indicates it was simply the last in a LONG series of experiments to that end).

Here’s how I figure the backstory works:
In the 1950’s, during the rise of the Second Red Scare, the United States decides it needs a new Captain America to give the masses a symbol to look to, an icon.

They enlist William Burnside, a scholar and College Chemistry professor who has studied Erskine’s work in creating Captain America, to work with Howard Stark in recreating the formula. Burnside proposes using the unfinished formula that created Red Skull (which was retrieved by the Original Cap’s team during their assault on Red Skull’s HQ) as a springboard so they don’t have to redo the whole formula from scratch. Assisting Burnside and Stark is Jack Monroe, a student of Burnside’s who is equally vested in seeing the “rebirth” of Captain America.

After much work (montage time), they create a prototype formula, and Burnside takes two samples for testing.

Before he gets a chance to test it, however, he and Jack witness Hydra agents attempt to do… something despicable. Something COMMUNIST NEO NAZIS would do. Jack and Will inject themselves with the prototype formula, and gain the extra oomf they need to thwart the plot. Burnside and Monroe are legally declared Captain America and Bucky, but soon develop psychotic paranoia that leads them to be subdued, captured, and frozen by agents of an early incarnation of SHIELD.

This can all be explained via a series of flashbacks and a mission briefing from Nick Fury (when the time is right and Steve’s about to quit over a lack of intel, of course).

In the present day, a villain calling himself “The Grand Director” is leading an anti-American terrorist cell that is managing to outclass the federal agents deployed to stop them. Captain America, Sam Wilson, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are recalled by the government to neutralize the threat. During their battles with Grand Director’s thugs, Hawkeye notes they fight similar to SHIELD troops, and this drives the group to seek answers from Fury, who of course, is not obliging.

Eventually, their backs against the wall, Steve presses Fury for answers as to the Grand Director’s true identity.

Fury looks at him and says “He’s YOU.” and proceeds to relate the story of William Burnside, and mentions that the bodies of William Burnside and Jack Monroe had been stolen following the events of Winter Soldier, possibly by HYDRA agents.

Steve has a “holy shit” moment as he realizes that Grand Director is basically him, just more insane, and probably manipulated by HYDRA. He engages the Grand Director in direct battle, and with some intervention from one of Steve’s allies, Grand Director decides he’d die “before submitting to what America has become” and sets himself on fire.

Steve hits the bar, and muses on the Grand Director’s words, which after “Winter Soldier” hit him harder than they otherwise might have. After some deep reflection, a man delivers a message to Steve: Burnside is alive, and is going to destroy the Hoover Dam as a symbolic attack on the “corrupting transformation America has undergone.”

As Steve arrives at the Hoover Dam with Sam Wilson, Burnside (now in his old Captain America uniform from the 1950’s) explains his motives, claiming that the present-day United States had turned away from its core ideals and more honest basis as he remembered them. He says he “went home for a while, and looked out at the brave new world”, reflected on the current political and economic distress of the United States, and decided that the current government had abandoned its duties and had failed its citizens. Burnside then claims that it would be best to overthrow the government and restart America with a new one that would reflect his view of what America ought to be, his vision as outlined in dialog warped and twisted by an obvious HYDRA influence, while he rants that it is “Captain America’s duty to remove the filth from the American national soul”.

Steve tries to get his would-have-been successor to see reason, but Burnside instead flies into a paranoid rage like the ones that caused him to be arrested in the first place, and Rogers is forced to kill him with his old World War II revolver while Sam manages to thwart the destruction of Hoover Dam, apprehending a slightly more lucid Jack Monroe in the process.

The movie winds down, with Steve talking with Sam Wilson and Black Widow, and while they reassure him that Burnside was insane and further manipulated by HYDRA, Steve merely points out that “While he was crazy and manipulated, he also had a point”, noting that while his ultimate vision for America was just as diseased as the one he saw already in place, “after everything we’ve seen, can we really say we haven’t fought the same demons he did?”

Quiet drama scene finishes, end credits roll, Marvel sets up for the next movie post-credits.
It’s brilliant.

Marvel, get thee to work!