Ethereality News & Weblog

July 31, 2006

Never thought I’d be a substitute teacher

Filed under: Art & CG,My Life/Musings,News,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 4:42 pm

I’ll be substituting for three classes at Art Institute of California (San Francisco) this week. It’ll be my first time teaching in a formal classroom situation at an accredited school, so it should be a lot of fun. Since I’m more like a guest speaker than a teacher, I’ll try to impart as much useful information as possible that’ll prepare the students for a career in CG animation or video games. I generally feel that some schools blow too much smoke up the students’ asses and many students leave school totally unprepared for a job in the industry. This is definitely one of the things I’ll address during class.

Any of you use storage containers? I’ve had my stuff in storage for the past five years (I use Door-To-Door), so I’ve bled thousands and thousands of dollars holding onto all my crap. I admit, I’m a pack rat by nature, and so is Elena to a degree, but I seriously didn’t know what to throw away. I mean, I have expensive stuff like my Clavia Ddrum4 system, my $5,000 (at the time) computer setup, some nice furnitures, airsoft guns (all upgraded) and gears, then cheaper stuff like my laserdiscs, DVD’s, CD’s, novels, magazines, art books (extremely heavy, and very expensive–some cost well over $100 per book), game consoles, video games..etc. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to throw things away, and it would be a nightmare to sell all that stuff on ebay (and I don’t much want to part with any of them anyway). So now, five years later, I’m about to be reunited with all of my crap (as soon as I settle down at a new job and a new place), and I hope they are worth the amount of money I’ve bled for them. I can’t wait to sit down at my Ddrum4 system again and bang out some funky breakbeats. I’ll cherish that moment when it comes.

I’m roughly past the half-way mark of Dreamfall now, and although I hate to say it, I’m not nearly as into the game as I was almost convinced I’d be prior to playing. I loved the first game–it’s on my top 10 games of all time list, and I was so sure I’d love the sequel. So why am I not into Dreamfall, you ask? Well, it’s one of those times when I hate to agree with the negative critics out there, but the ones that don’t like Dreamfall really nailed it with their reviews. For me, the main reasons are:

1) The characters aren’t very interesting this time around, and their relationships aren’t all that interesting either.
2) The loading time is ridiculous, and way too frequent. Someone at Funcom needs to get fired for that.
3) The animation is substandard for today’s games.
4) Although the designs are good, and the environments are pretty nice, the character models/textures are substandard for today’s games.
5) The fighting system is terrible. It’s pretty much a useless distraction and totally unnecessary. If you thought the fighting in Omnikron: The Nomad Soul was bad, you aint seen nothing yet.
6) Some of the puzzles are more annoying than fun, and they felt totally irrelevant to the plot development–as if they were put in the game for the sake of having puzzles.
7) This time around, the game feels more like an interactive graphic novel, and it’s really not even that interactive. I’m starting to think that Ragnar Tornquist should just become a writer/director and leave game design to someone else, because he seems more suited to being a storyteller and not a game designer.
8) Playing as three characters didn’t do anything for me, because none of them compelled me to really care about them–at least not yet.
9) The character controls aren’t very good, and the camera is annoying. I can’t believe you’re not allowed to look up–what’s that all about?
10) What the hell happened to our beloved April? (I’m hoping by the end of the game the old April will resurface in some way. We miss that perky and witty cute girl.)

Ok, I know I sound pretty harsh, and I don’t mean to. I really wanted to love this game, and who knows, maybe I still might when I finish it, but I think that’s highly unlikely. Oh well, I guess you can’t expect to hit a home run everytime. I do think it’s great that there are still developers out there who are passionate about adventure games, and I hope to see more of them (especially innovative ones like Indigo Prophecy). I’ll definitely finish Dreamfall, and I hope I’ll like it more by then.

July 22, 2006

The aftermath

I’ve just returned from CGOverdrive 2006 in Singapore, and it was a blast! Although the jetlag and the south east Asian weather took its toll on my body, I managed to survive the whole affair with only a sore throat and recurring dizzy spells (no idea what that’s all about).

The conference itself was a huge success–I think it surprised all of us. Not that we expected it to suck, just that the vibe of the whole thing was so wonderful–all the attendees were very enthusiastic, and all the speakers (well, almost all) rocked the audience during their workshops. The kind folks behind the whole thing were very generous and professional, and have a genuine love for everything related to CG. The real shocker for me was the fact I got mobbed for autographs and photos everywhere I went for all three days of the conference. I had no idea people actually knew who I was, or even cared, but apparently despite the national diversity of the attendees (Philippines, India, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, UK, Sweden, USA..etc), they know about me from online CG forums and websites. If any of you are reading this–hi! it was very nice to meet you all!

No trip is complete without photos, right? That’s why I took plenty–complete with commentary! Read up on my little trip to Singapore and look at the boring photos. I put all the photos and commentary on a seperate page because I don’t want to kill all the 56k modem guys who read the blog but aren’t interested in the CGOverdrive 2006 conference.

July 9, 2006

Off to Singapore!

I’ll be flying to Singapore in a few days, as I’ve been invited as a guest speaker to teach a digital painting workshop for CGOverdrive 2006–other guest speakers include hot shots from Pixar, ILM, Bluesky, Rhythm & Hues..etc. It’s amazing they invited me, since I’m just some dude on the internet, not a worshipped superstar from a world-famous studio like the others. I’m also not one of the top digital painters out there either, so I’m not sure why they didn’t pick someone else. Supposedly the people that will be attending have asked for me by name, so I guess CG kids in Singapore dig my stuff. I’ve worked hard on the preparation of the material, so I hope the attendees will find my workshop worthwhile. If any of you are attending, I’ll see you guys there. Make sure to say hi–we’ll go have a drink or something (I’m not much of a drinker though, so please don’t try to get me plastered).

The good folks putting together CGOverdrive 2006 will be putting me up for four nights at a pretty cool hotel that looks like a modern art piece. I’ll definitely be taking lots of photos of that place.

I’m dreading the upcoming long flight to Singapore, as I’ve gotten quite weary of long flights in the last few years. I almost wanted to buy an Ultimate Ears 5 Pro to make the trip more appealing, but with a price tag of $200+, I really can’t justify a brand-new in-ear monitor just for one trip (they are nothing like ear-bud headphones, which are basically the cheapest pieces of crap for music listening). Maybe if one day I’m forced to do a lot of traveling, I’ll buy one. You can learn more about in-ear monitors and other types of headphones here.

I actually have two excellent headphones already–the Sennheiser HD 555, which is an amazing pair of open headphones for the price, with sound quality that rivals some of the much more expensive audiophile/pro headphones, and the discontinued Denon AH-D950, which is a sealed pair of cans that’s been with me for many years and home-repaired a few times. The AH-D950 has a more dynamic sound–noticeably boosted bass and slightly harsher treble, but still accurate enough to not be misleading when working on music. It isn’t nearly as comfortable to wear as the Sennheiser though, as the cartilage of my ears would start to hurt after a few hours of straight listening. The Sennheiser HD 555 is a full sized pair of cans, so the felt cushion sits very comfortably around your ears and can be worn all day and still be very comfortable. The only drawback of open design headphones (not fully sealed to provide superior acoustics) is that you can hear other people still and they can also hear your music–a tinny and faint version of what you hear. However, for superior sound quality, nothing beats unsealed open headphones, as they don’t have to deal with a resonant chamber’s feedback of sealed headphones. I’ll probably replace the Denon eventually, as the Sennheiser in comparison revealed its weakness and lack of comfort. I guess ideally, I should have one pair of open cans for music making (where accuracy is critical), one pair of sealed cans for typical listening (when I don’t want to disturb others), and one pair of in-ear monitors for traveling (seals out all outside noise).

While looking to extend the battery life of my Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20 GB hard disk mp3 player), I discovered to my dismay that it’s been discontinued and now completely unsupported by the company. Fortunately, Boxwave, a third-party manufacturer, has picked up the slack.

In one of the threads on KVR Audio, someone posted this pretty funny little observation:

Cabinfever wrote:

Maybe it’s all about the users, not the software. Let me be very mean for a moment and try to charactize (and exagerate of course) each hosts users:

SX3 / Sonar: Music industry equivalent of accountants

Protools: “Don’t you know I’m a pro?”

FL Studio: Teens and fanboys

Orion: Only two users – Bones & Kriminal

Logic: Supporters of corporate evil (PC betrayl not forgotten)

N-Track: People who should have known better

Reaper: Ex-musicians now more interested in beta testing

Traktion: Cheap-ass zealots

Ableton Live: Smug fashion victims

( It’s just a laugh OK )

I guess that makes me an accountant, as I’m a Sonar guy, and was a Cubase guy prior. I would’ve been a Logic guy had they not betrayed PC users. I was envious of all the cool extras that Logic users get for the longest time, but now that I’ve stocked up on some great VSTI’s over the years, and after the new additions in Sonar 5, I no longer feel the presence of the green-eyed monster.

I watched the French version of March of the Penguins today with Elena and I thought the first person point of view narrations of the dad, mom, and baby penguins were just horrible. I understand that the filmmakers wanted a different style of documentary, but the overly sentimental and pretentious narrations that grafted human emotions onto penguins just wore on my nerves. A film like Babe works because it’s supposed to be a story, not a documentary. The purpose of a documentary first and foremost is to educate, and when you turn it into a story that does not give sufficient information about the actual facts of the penguin’s biological makeup, their mating habits, the environemental facts, their hunting habits..etc, it becomes a lot less fulfilling intellectually than it could’ve been. We are not blind to the harship of the penguins–we have eyes and can see what they go through on the screen, so when the filmmakers decided to hammer what’s essentially redundant information narrated by voices that gives the penquins fabricated human qualities into our heads, it becomes tiresome and irrelevant. The electronic pop music itself is cute at times, but one particular track was completely inappropriate in style, tone, and pacing (when the young penquins had to endure harsh snowstorm for the first time), and this is coming from a musician who’s got a soft spot for electronic pop music. After finding out the American version changed both aspects I didn’t like about the film, I wished I had watched the American version with the straightforward documentary narration by Morgan Freeman, and the re-scored music instead–that would’ve changed how I felt about the film completely.

In the end, it’s a matter of difference in taste. I’m not a cold and unemotional person–that has nothing to do with it. It’s about preferences in execution and style. Steven Spielberg is a perfect example–he used to be harshly criticized for his excessive sentimentality in execution, but in the recent years, he’s gotten much better and learned to convey the same intensity of emotions without being overbearing and saccharin. I much prefer his recent films over his older films for that reason. To me, it’s about one very important rule in storytelling–“show, don’t tell.”

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