August 20, 2009


Movie Previews

I need movies that remind me that “life” is a wonderful and amazing place! I think these movies will definitely do just that!

Where the Wild Things Are - directed by Spike Jonze

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - directed by Wes Anderson

Alice in Wonderland - directed by Tim Burton

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District 9

When I first saw the trailer for District 9 (IMDb) I thought that it looked like it might have potential to be amazing so I made up my mind to not read anything else about it, hoping not to spoil the enjoyment of seeing a great movie with no expectations beforehand. This paid off, because District 9 was amazing!

This is why: District 9 takes an unusual twist on a common sci-fi concept (alien invasion), has an unusual protagonist, has the visuals that are typically afforded to films with a large effects budget. One of my first thoughts was, “this is not what I would have expected” – and I was glad for that. The situation in the movie, as weird as it is, is presented without explanations for why things are that way. The alien “invasion”, which is often the focus of films like this, in District 9 has already happened. And the existence of extraterrestrial life on earth is something taken for granted by the human population. The aliens are commonplace, and a nuisance, which is an important plot element underling the events that happen in the film.

District 9 is based on the apartheid that director Neill Blomkamp witnessed while growing up in South Africa. The movie is a surprisingly violent allegory of those events. As for the protagonist, Wikus Van De Merwe – he exhibits characteristics completely contrary to the typical tough-guy hero character typical in big-budget sci-fi films. He is afraid, and vulnerable at times, which makes him very endearing.

Note: The Halo Connection - I remember wondering early into the film if possibly I was watching a very-good-covertly-kept-secret prequel to a “Halo” movie. (Halo is a very popular video game franchise.) So after I got home I did a little research and was surprised how accurate my intuition had been because director Neill Blomkamp had originally been attached to direct a Halo film with Peter Jackson attached to produce. But when that venture collapsed, Jackson asked Blomkamp to make whatever film he wanted instead – the result being District 9. And I think sci-fi fans can feel very fortunate that this was the case.

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August 16, 2009


City Planning

As I have mentioned before, I have had an interest in maps for a long time, so it would make sense that I also am interested in video games that involve maps. In this post I'm going to describe four free city planning games:

It was 8th grade when I was introduced to the original city planning video game – SimCity. This game is still a lot of fun. And since its considered 'abandoned software' so you can download and play it free. My friend Dave sent my this link some time ago and I've been playing this classic ever since. It uses a diametric top-down view of a city you create from scratch using only some land and some money to begin with. You have to create a harmony between the residential, business, and industrial zones as you design the layout of your city.

(Above is a close-up of the city I created with SimCity - below is the entire city)

FarmTown – Another game I've spent some time playing is called FarmTown, which is a free Facebook application. Although this game is about managing a farm rather than a city, its shares a lot of similarities with it and SimCity's style of game play using an isometric view.

There is also community/social element because the game allows users to connect with other FarmTown players and work on each other's farms. In fact, thats the best way to succeed, by collaborating with others. Another interesting aspect is the role of time. You have a certain window of time after crops are planted and are ready to harvest before they spoil in which you must harvest them. As your farm becomes larger it becomes a lot easier if you employ other players you meet in the market place to help you harvest your crops. To play FarmTown, you must have a Facebook account, then search for FarmTown in the Applications menu.

I was curious to see if their were any free/open-source games available similar to Sim City or its not-yet-free sequels like Sim City 2000. I found two of interest: LinCity, and Simutrans.

LinCity - now called "LinCityNG" is an advanced version of LinCity, which was an open-source alternative to SimCity. The name LinCity is a play on the name SimCity and the operating system Linux. Clever eh? The graphics and some of the features such as the water infrastructure management aspect are improved and/or added with "NG" version. Overall the game plays very similar to SimCity with a nice looking user interface and an isometric view. Click here to read more about and download LinCityNG. Or click here to download the original version of LinCity.

Simutrans – A few characteristics distinguish Simutrans from the others. The primary focus is on transportation, so you can only edit roads, trains, airports, seaports, and other various transportation and related infrastructure aspects of the world you are playing with. However, The territory you are responsible for is really massive. The Graphics are surprisingly great, right down to individual people walking on the street. It is a little more complicated to install because you need to install it in components - first the Simutrans program, and then you choose a "Pakset" ... The visualization of Simutrans depends on whatever graphics set (called 'pakset') you choose to use – there are many which allows for a lot of diversity in the look of the area you are developing. Click here to read more about Simutrans. And click here for a page that demonstrates several of the different "Paksets" available.

Below is another scene from my farm in FarmTown. If you look closely you'll see an homage to another classic video game in the crops I've planted.

(Alas, the Princess is always in another castle!)

Sim City Classic -
LinCityNG -
LinCity (original) -
Simutrans -

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August 14, 2009


Summer Movies - Part 2

I recently went to see Away We Go with some of my friendly new neighbors. Away We Go stars Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski (who plays Jim in the American 'Office') and is directed by Sam Mendes, who previously directed Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, and American Beauty. I haven't seen Revolutionary Road, but Jarhead and American Beauty were both films I really appreciated. Away We Go depicts a man and woman who are about to become parents who embark on a trip around North America encountering friends and people they know checking out places that might be suitable to raise their child. I really enjoyed the film, and it was the first movie in a while that had me squirming because to the awkwardness of the events and characters on screen. It is a very endearing film that doesn't try to force any perspective on the viewer, and relevant questions in life are left unanswered.

Here are a couple trailers for films coming out soon that interest me:

District 9 - Comes out today - here is a funny related NPR blog posting about governmental relations with otherworldly visitors. District 9 caught my attention with the interesting visuals in its trailer reminiscent of the huge space ships in Independence Day. click here for HD trailer @ Apple, or click on youtube below

Surrogates - September 25th 2009 - Bruce Willis does well in Sci-fi (The Fifth Element, 12 Monkeys) click here for HD trailer @ Apple, or click on youtube below

Tron Legacy - sometime in 2010 -I was a big fan of Tron growing up, so I was excited to read a couple years ago that a possible sequel was in talks. Then as time passed it looked like it might not happen, until recently my friend Andy referred me to the surprise trailer for this sequel. Awesome! I can't wait! click here for HD trailer @ Apple, or click on youtube below