Resident Evil. 6. (Both of those full stops are intentional)

HOLY CRAP. THIS LOOKS AMAZING.

I never thought I would say that about another Resident Evil game. Resident Evil 5 was utter garbage. I didn’t even bother with it after a couple of hours. I realized I was just bored and clinging on in desperation. This trailer though… if this game can live up to it at all…

Things I like:

  • It looks like a genuine sequel to Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 was amazing.
  • It takes all the Resident Evil 4 goodness and pumps it back into an urban setting, while deliberately referring to Raccoon City. This is all gold so far.
  • Some cheesy hardbit burnt out mercenary dude (I initially thought might be Wesker) as a playable character, and it looks like his blood is the antidote. He wants money. Money for his blood.
  • There is cheesy looking parcourt stuff going on.
  • Characters walk around woodenly in cut scenes and scream things about vendettas at each other.
  • Leon and Ashley.
  • The president is a zombie, apparently. Probably a dream sequence or some crap, but here’s hoping.
  • It looks NUTS.

Things I do not like, so much:

  • There is cheesy looking parcourt stuff going on.
  • My excitement for this trailer allows me to overlook the blatantly bad cut scenes, but will I still be okay with that when this game actually comes out?
  • The urban setting looks cool but there are still very Japanese-y design tics showing up here. The big example for me is the little example of Chris Redfield pushing aside a photographer. Seconds later, he clearly stops running to do another canned animation on a guy who happens to be in the way. Not very convincing.
  • I loved RE:4. Absolutely loved it. But that game is seven years old now. Hopefully they’ve taken the gameplay on a bit. It looks from this trailer like they have, but I don’t know…
  • Resident Evil 5 was absolute garbage. I’m just worried. What if you need a friend to call over and play as Ashley the entire time just so the game makes sense?

So, yeah… the things that I am excited about already outnumber the things I am worried about, and I had to stretch a little for that short list of negatives. This looks fantastic. I thought I was done with the Resident Evil games, but it seems Capcom still knows how to make a Resident Evil game. That in and of itself is exciting.

Say it with me…. Resident… Evil….

SIX!

Some thoughts on iBooks 2.

So… Apple are in on the education game.

They have been for a while of course, as they pointed out this morning while discussing iTunes U. Now they’re in for the long haul, getting more invested, becoming more involved.

Is it a good thing?

Yes, it is. It definitely is. There’s something exciting about a company of Apple’s stature becoming so assertive in finding a role in education. Perhaps even, and for certain if you believe the chaps from Cupertino, making education better. There. I am down with iBooks 2, I think it’s a positive thing. Now time to air some of my reservations.

Here’s the thing. As an educator myself, I balk a little at complaints like “students don’t read” or “the textbook is out of date as soon as it’s printed” or “the book is heavy and cumbersome, they won’t take it to class.” Trust me, these statements are all accurate. Students don’t read. They don’t bother bringing books to class. Thing is, at what point do we stop coddling people? I mean, it’s this simple:

Bring. Your. Damn. Book. To. Class.

Read. The. Assignments. On. The. Syllabus.

Not rocket science. At some point when you’re teaching people you have to set standards and stick by them. Now, at the same time, you don’t want to leave people behind. In universities in particular, there can be a tendency to do that, to leave the majority behind to tailor content or even advice to the top level students. A large part of that derives from a noble goal: to keep standards high so that students have something at which to aim. Lowering the bar does a disservice both to students already at or above the bar and those below it. It helps no one. You just find yourself frequently looking back at the bottom half of the class and trying to think up ways to motivate them or at the very least make it clear that their time and their work is just as valuable to you as that of the student regularly handing in A material.

So, how are we looking to improve the education experience? In an ideal world, we want the better students to have opportunities to stretch their limits and to reach the fullness of their potential. We want students with less ability (or, more frequently, less ambition or intellectual self-confidence) to be encouraged and to become more engaged with the material and with the learning experience. Apple purports to be the harbinger of a world of magic, the expeditor of our ideal world, so it makes sense that they would aim high. I am happy. I am all for aiming high. I want my students to aim high.

For me, there’s so much more to any given class room than the small number of A and A- students. I wonder about the low Bs and Cs, I really do. Many of them are following the dictum that Cs will get you degrees. They turn up, they hand in work that took just enough time to get a C, and they’re out. That’s fine. Not everyone has to want an A, and it’s a free country. I’m particularly loathe to harbor a grudge against that approach in a system where I end up with Graphic Design majors and Finance majors and Theatre majors who need to fulfill History requirements to get their degree but need to focus their time on core classes in their field of interest. Thanks to the field I teach, I usually get non-History majors who are at least vaguely interested in the content. That doesn’t mean that they have any interest in putting in the time required for high B or A work.

So… are they learning? I often wonder this. How many of my students who turn in a paper about Confucius or the Chinese Civil War actually know more than they could be bothered to put on paper? Trust me, some of them have missed the point completely, and it’s my first duty as an educator to look at my own approach and see how I can tweak it to avoid such issues. But for others… I do wonder. Particularly when you’re teaching history to somebody who is developing an entirely different skill set, what is the aim here? First and foremost, you want to teach students how to examine sources, how to read a book and maintain their own opinion, not simply to accept whatever the author has said as Gospel. That’s the big aim, and frankly it is by far the most useful skill you can teach in a History classroom, particularly to people who may never take a History class again. After that, though… Are there students who take a Chinese History class because they want to know more about China, and submit just enough work to get a C, but walk away knowing more about Chinese history and culture, and are glad for it? Can they talk about the Cultural Revolution in the pub? Will they think of historical examples of the abuse of power or the vibrancy of a truly popular revolution while they’re watching CNN? Or, you know, a good news program on a channel that doesn’t suck?*

*Sorry, CNN is terrible. I have a brief and highly effective argument in support of this point. Piers Morgan. Argument concluded.

In that respect, I am utterly bewitched by iBooks 2 and the whole concept. But here’s the rub: how do I actually use this? I don’t have an iPad myself. I intend to get a tablet in 2012 but it may not be manufactured by Apple. Hey, that’s fine: if iBooks 2 was compelling enough maybe I would get an iPad rather than an Android tablet. That makes sense to me. What do I do next term, however, assuming there’s even a decent book on modern Chinese history available on iBooks? Tell my students they have to get an iPad? It just doesn’t make sense.

I understand that Apple already has an entire business strategy for this and they will get universities and high school systems to buy in and basically install iPad support systems for their students, but many institutions already use Desire 2 Learn or Blackboard, and have very little incentive to suddenly subsidize iPads. I love this picture of the brave new world that Apple wants us all to advance towards, but I am increasingly upset by the blatantly high price of entry. The monopoly of one company isn’t encouraging either but that’s a whole other argument. There’s a brave new world out there in education, if you have the money for an iPad. If you don’t, screw you. I can’t get on board with that. Surely we need to be trying harder than ever to make education accessible to those in difficult economic situations, not merely improving the lot of that wealthy tier of society that take a university education as a given? There’s a tendency in the United States to completely ignore everyone below the tier known as the “middle class”, a stunningly arbitrary label given to a large section of society that don’t want to admit that they are extremely wealthy and privileged. There are enough issues of disparity in wealth and affordability in education as it is, I’m not thrilled about introducing more and more barriers, and I have no interest in bringing them into the classroom. 

The Very Important Issue of Informal Best Of Lists on the Internet

The often brilliant (but always very good) Joe Posnanski is holding a poll over on his blog, last night and today. I meandered over via twitter and had a look, and made my votes. I was happy to see several (association) football players on the list as well as the usual suspects in the major American sports and some basketball players. I don’t know much about basketball, except Jordan was the best ever and Dr. J was cool. I mean, he had to be, right?

Incidentally, this is what I love about twitter. I really enjoy Posnanski’s work, and I actually prefer to go through his personal blog, even though the exact same articles are often reposted on the Sports Illustrated website. He uses his twitter account well. Asking people to vote on a poll he is running that will inform a future article? This is exactly how twitter is supposed to work, and I love it. More of this type of usage of twitter, please. Contrary to the beliefs of some, it is far from over.

Anyway, I meandered over there and had a look, and immediately noticed something that, to be honest, I was half expecting. Lionel Messi and Ronaldo are on the list. I’m going to go ahead and assume that Cristiano Ronaldo is the player being mentioned and not the original Ronaldo. Personally, I prefer the Brazilian as a player but I don’t feel he could credibly be discussed as a potential nominee for the top five footballers of all time. So I’ll assume the poll is referencing the Portuguese genius cheat whiner winger centre forward.*

*Hey, this post started with a reference to Joe Posnanski so I get to use an asterisk and have a little note in italics. Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly a centre forward and has been for years. In fact, he’s a very good centre forward. Observe the crazy amount of goals that he scores. He was never a particularly good winger. His crossing was generally sub-par and his poor decision making crippled him at that position. Other than to make him seem even more amazing by assigning his already astonishing goals-per-game ratio to a position on the field that doesn’t necessarily score that many goals, there is no reason in 2012 to talk about Cristiano Ronaldo as a winger.

So, here’s my problem. Let’s take my issues with C. Ronaldo aside for a moment. Ok, let’s not. A quick summary: he has amazing physical gifts and a high level of skill on the ball but his complete failure to play as a member of a team coupled with his laughable failure to turn up in important games gives me considerable pause when looking to talk about him as a “great” player. Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Pele, Charlton, all of these players have given us timeless moments of unapproachable quality on the field. C. Ronaldo scored a sweet goal against North Korea once. Ok, and Fulham.

Messi is another kettle of fish entirely. He’s genuinely transcendent, a rare example of a player that can justifiably be discussed as one of the greatest ever while he is still in his prime. This is truly amazing. The Ballon D’Or has become his personal property, and is a legitimate award for the first time in years simply by being awarded to Messi consistently. Barring something terrible, there is nothing stopping Messi becoming one of the greatest players of all time. The only question mark remaining on his CV is the World Cup, and that will come with time. Our standards for the man are so high that he was widely criticized after his performance at the 2010 World Cup, for being merely human on a team that struggled to find its way under the direction of a mad genius. Unfortunately for Argentina, Maradona is a genius on the pitch, but simply mad in the dugout.

Thing is, and here’s the kicker (yuk yuk): I have to admit I’m being completely unfair. What if C. Ronaldo wises up with age, stops being a petulant fool and learns to pass the ball? What if a C. Ronaldo in his early 30s matured and learned to use his technical gifts more intelligently, rather than (as I am assuming will happen) become an also-ran with occasional moments at a mid-level team in Spain or Italy, having failed to cope with the decline of his physical gifts? What if an aging C. Ronaldo, playing in central midfield, leads a young Portugal side to a stirring showing in the 2018 World Cup? I’d have no choice but to reconsider.

I don’t think any of those things will happen, and as things stand I think C. Ronaldo will end up as an anomaly. More talented than the hype-driven Beckham, whose accomplishments in football already seem rather sparse after years of being hailed as one of the greatest midfielders in football, C. Ronaldo will still go down as a supremely talented athlete who scored an absolute ton of goals for a strong Real Madrid side but could never emerge from the diminutive shadow of Lionel Messi. Frankly, I would not even rate C. Ronaldo as the best player on his own team right now. Still, his career has a long way to go yet.

Messi is the exception then. For years now, these polls have been dominated by recent players. John Aldridge recently described Steven Gerrard as the greatest player in Liverpool’s history. Yeah… I love John Aldridge, but no. Eric Cantona has regularly appeared a little higher than he should on polls of greatest ever Manchester United players for over a decade. I know that we all have short memories and that this is even more true in professional sport, but come on. Can’t we just have a Baseball Hall of Fame style moratorium? I propose that we give players about five years after they retire from the game before we start mentioning them in “Best Of” polls. Get to it, Internet.

It’s terribly important of course, these informal polls voted on by anonymous fans. But hey, these are the things that bother me. Incidentally, my top five football players of all time?*

1. Maradona

2. Pele

3. Best

4. Beckenbauer

5. Dalglish

 

*The list is obviously extremely subjective. Names that I agonized over: Charlton, Gerd Muller, Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Paul McGrath, Franco Baresi, John Barnes, Cruyff, Keane, Rush, Shearer, Batistuta, and many many more. 

Captive Audience

This blog will not become a Dune fan blog. Not even a rarely updated Dune fan blog.

I kind of want it to become that, though. Anyway.

Happy New Year, Internet!!! I’m back, and the excuses fall away like the layers of insulation I have built around myself in preparation for the Chicago cold. I miss good chocolate and decent breakfasts already.

But enough of that. Travelling from the US to Ireland involves being on a plane for a fairly long time. I have this weakness, while on planes:  I watch terrible films. My own internal logic dictates that when stuck in a seat on a plane with nowhere else to go, I am allowed to give more time to films that I would otherwise ignore. This isn’t just something I’ve pulled out of the ether; I’ve learned the hard way. I once sat through Catch and Release, laughing several times. I was even moved, at one point. Admittedly, I may or may not have had a man crush on Kevin Smith at the time.

So, I watched two films that I otherwise would ignore: Transformers 3 and Cowboys and Aliens. I hated the first Transformers film with a passion. I’m that rare brand of weirdo who had something invested in the Transformers fiction. I actually felt betrayed by Michael Bay’s monstrosity. I’ve ignored the series so far but I decided to give it a shot.

Yeah. That’s a whole other blog post.

Cowboys and Aliens then, that deserves a post too, though it won’t be as furious as the Transformers 3 post. Ultimately, it was crap. Disappointing really. I was genuinely hoping that the negative reaction might have been a bit harsh. It wasn’t. Cowboys and Aliens isn’t good.

Interestingly, I seem to have shed my airplane-based ability to endure bad films for now. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to the end of Cowboys and Aliens in my room at home. I am genuinely concerned. I need to get a tablet so I can watch ripped versions of David Lynch’s Dune on long flights.