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I Wish I'd Bought Fallout 3 On The PC

Thu, 06 Nov 2008 17:28:20 +0000

Basically, yeah. Aiming with the Xbox controller is just about impossible, so I usually don't bother with anything but VATS aiming except when an enemy's almost dead.

I should have bought it on PC, but I wasn't convinced it was gonna be good and that dang Gamefly queue is so tempting.

Now what am I gonna do? I could chuck my 10+ hours of progress and start over on PC. I might actually consider it if this wasn't the most gamingest time of the year and I didn't have a backlog of five games already.

I still might just start all over. Left 4 Dead's coming out soon, and I need a reason to retrieve my PC from storage.

So help me. Someone stop me from buying this game on PC. Especially with Wrath of the Lich King coming next week, I can't afford this waste of time.

But when I think about it, it sure would be easier to read that hideous green/black monochrome text the game uses if I was sitting directly in front of a monitor. Even with a 40 inch TV, lying on the bed ten feet away gives me terrible eye strain.

...I don't want to buy on PC, I don't want to buy on PC...

Silent Hill: Origins

Fri, 14 Dec 2007 07:30:36 +0000

After Silent Hill 4 I pretty much lost all hope for the series. Then Silent Hill: Origins, the prequel game for the Playstation Portable was handed over to an American company I'd never heard of. After that the Resident Evil 4-type combat mechanics started popping up. The list just got longer and longer. I started to regret having jumped the gun on my purchase of a PSP.

Then, like a miracle, the original team was scrapped and all that post-RE4 hooey was flushed right down the drain. Previews confirmed that the up and coming Origins had a tone quite similar to the Silent Hill games we all love so very much. No longer were there on screen ammo indicators and desert eagles in every screenshot. We were back to rusty orange hallways and dark lighting and creepy wheelchairs.


What I didn't realize is how seriously, how clinically, they'd try to match the atmosphere. Series tropes, mostly from the second game, are there in full force. In Origins there are no shortage of dark holes to jump down. We’re quickly introduced to a Pyramid Head knock-off. And those damned "patient demons" – fresh from their other cameo in the Silent Hill movie – are back to make another inexplicable appearance in a Silent Hill that doesn’t involve James Sunderland.

You can not call Origins a bad game. It borrows so frequently and so unashamedly from the series, and in doing so it gets most of the same things right that the other games did. The atmosphere is creepy. Sometimes creepier. In a dark enough room your flashlight will barely light up the floor right in front of you. The monsters are scary. And the plot is baroque as ever. In all these and more Origins succeeds, and because of that it is a game worth your time.


But it’s a game that you will continually scratch your head over. You'll feel like it's a rehash of a game you've already played. There are too many elements that should’ve been left in earlier games. Like the fanfiction writer, they know they like the scenery and style of Silent Hill 2, but they don't understand the deeper meaning behind the imagery. There is a reason Pyramid Head was in that game. And there’s a reason why this game shouldn’t have an almost carbon copy clone of him. There exist too many things in Origins that are only there because they were so loved in other games. There is an entity meant to represent the protagonist's bad side. There are notes from an unknown person uttering cryptic warnings to Travis. The Silent Hill checklist is complete, but it's done with such precision that it loses all of its heart. Its copies are accurate. Like many Silent Hill main characters, Travis has a dark past. The difference being that in Silent Hill 2 you approached the ending with a serious sense of dread, having been given just enough clues to know what waited for you beyond that door. Travis's dark deeds are so obscured and poorly related that you might not even realize they exist until your second playthrough.

After Silent Hill 4 we needed hope that the series hadn’t gone completely down the gutter. Origins is that hope, but only just barely. It’s a clone game. It’s something a ten year old dreams up on graph paper after playing an especially good Doom level. It apes every convention it can get its hands on, and that’s what makes it so good, but it’s also what denies it any kind of spark of its own.

Origins gives me that hope. Hope that somewhere out there a group of people are working on a really smashing Silent Hill 5. I just hope this time it’s a little different.

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Nervous Brickdown & the Space In-between

Fri, 27 Jul 2007 09:22:22 +0000

Nervous Brickdown, the first effort from DS developer Arkedo Studio, was quite the pleasant surprise! I was skeptical that anyone could pull off a 'modern' interpretation of a Breakout/paddle-and-ball game that was engaging and original but, thanks to a litany of uniquely themed levels and an interesting mishmash of mechanics, they managed to do so in spades! However, one facet of the game's been picking at me since I started playing, and it's a crucial aspect of the DS that I've been waiting for a developer to confront for some time. Even though the DS' design demands relegating your game between two screens, I really haven't seen many games actually use both screens to display the same field of view yet. Most games just shove a separate angle/map/cinematic/whatever in the less-active screen and call it a day, consequentially skirting the issue. But what happens when you're trying to display an entire area between the two screens? What of the space in-between the two screens, the piece of plastic that allows the DS to have its clamshell design? Is that area just unseen or is it simply meant to be forgotten? Is it negative space or simply ignored space? That's the problem I faced while playing Nervous Brickdown. While I find the game extremely stylish, unique and engrossing, the game's dual-field perspective has me slightly puzzled. In most of the levels, you control the paddle at the bottom of the screen and watch the ball ricochet from the paddle up towards the top of the screen before either being deflected by an object or wall and falling back towards bottom again. Which means that, often, the ball passes through the space in-between them. Nervous Breakdown chooses to confront this by simply ignoring the fact that the screens have any separator to begin with. In fact, on levels that allow you to place your paddle anywhere on the bottom screen, you can position it right at cusp of the top border and see the ball, comfortably resting, smack-dab on the bottom of the top screen. And while, logically, this makes sense (the two screens are supposed to be married, inseparable), visually it's simply strange and incongruent. Sometimes the ball is moving so slow in Nervous Brickdown that you end up cross-eyed due to watching two halves of the ball scroll across both screens, wondering just what sort of abnormality can allow for this to occur. Then again, this way you don't have to wonder about what sort of madness may lay in store for the ball when it crosses over that may upset the ball's trajectory but, it simply feels like something should be inhabiting the plastic between the two screens. Obviously, I haven't seen many titles address this head-on as a playability issue. Sonic Rush sprawls between the two screens, sort of, in that Sonic runs between both with intermittent frequency. However, most of the time he does so during periods where the player has little control over him, often when he's propelled by a platform/springboard/row of rings/etc. so, as far as playability is concerned, it's mostly a moot point (additionally, visually, he's often moving fast enough that it's practically seamless). I'm sure there's at least one 'shoot-em-up' that's out for the DS that also confronts this conundrum, but most that I've seen from the genre seem to inhabit just one screen (such as Nanostray). So, those of you that are big DS players, do you have any thoughts on the matter? What do you expect to occur in-between the dual screens, if anything? Have you seen any other games take advantage of the space, or have any engaging ideas about how developers can use it? I wouldn't mind seeing more developers make use of the screens like separate camera angles, and 'cut' between the screen's like film editors do with standard continuity editing (which, arguably, Sonic Rush already does, but I'm talking using a multi-camera set-up). What do you think? P.S. Just to clarify that I was only 'slightly puzzled' by this behavior – I doubt either approach to the game would have thrown [...]

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“Bit Poppers, Chipsters, and Bitsters” - More Art of Play

Thu, 12 Jul 2007 08:13:30 +0000


It's hard to believe it's time for the second Art of Play Ohm Multimedia event already! I noted the first one two weeks ago, and tomorrow, July 13th, Bubblyfish, Receptors and Mason Dixon take the Chicago Cultural Center's stage, bringing quality chip & 8-bit music to our fine city.

Both Bubblyfish and Receptors are pretty established chip-musicians, and it should be interesting to see what they bring to the table and how they conduct their performances. If you're not familiar with either artist, well, a great place to start is the 8-bit Operators Kraftwerk tribute album, not only because it was Receptor's project to begin with, but because they both turn in some fine covers of 'It's More Fun to Compute' and 'Trans-Europe Express'.

I'm not too familiar with Mason Dixon, apart from the infamous line, but I have read that he'll be projecting visuals for all in attendance, as well as some sort of game culture references. I'm not sure if that means he'll be holding up placards featuring transcripts of Xbox Live conversations or what, but hopefully it'll be interesting!

As always, more information is available from the Chicago Cultural Center website, but here's the breakdown:

Who: Bubblyfish, Receptors & Mason Dixon
What: “Bit Poppers, Chipsters, and Bitsters”
Where: Chicago Cultural Center - 78 E. Washington St., Chicago
When: Fri July 14th - 7:00pm
$$: Free!

Also coming up on July 30th is the 'Video Games & Systems' exhibit, yet another part of Chicago's Art of Play city-wide exhibition. While it certainly won't be as extensive as Game On, it has piqued my curiosity. For more information on it, and other Art of Play events, check out the official website.

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Lilting Through Kororinpa

Tue, 03 Jul 2007 21:44:54 +0000

I just wrapped up Hudson's Kororinpa: Marble Mania which is, fundamentally, the same game as Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, executed in the same manner, but far more memorable. In Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz you're indirectly piloting a monkey, sadistically trapped in a plastic ball, throughout an array of slopes and planes all while nabbing bananas on your way to the level's goal. Kororinpa has you manipulating a banal marble, again indirectly, by controlling the level's plane. You direct this marble through a series of precariously placed slides and ramps and collecting crystals as you head to the goal. Both games use the Wiimote in practically the same manner: You tilt it the way you want the level to tilt, thus moving your monkey/marble whichever way you want them to roll towards. But it's how Kororinpa executes its controls that places it above Super Monkey Ball while truly showing the deft potential of the Wii. It all comes down to the Wiimote. Super Monkey Ball's levels don't really angle all that much. By that, I mean you find yourself sharply tilting to roll your monkey 'up' a 90 degree incline. However, with Kororinpa it's not uncommon to maneuver the world in order to 'roll up' a wall and locate the next crystal, literally changing the level's perspective (not unlike some of the later, more astounding, levels in Psychonauts). The full use of the third dimension induces a mindbending quality and, normally, you'd think that it'd be utterly confusing to navigate this world with the Wiimote but no, it's smooth as silk, with the sole caveat that it does result in the Wiimote finding its way into some odd positions. While these intriguing level designs require finessing the Wiimote, Hudson didn't require such byzantine motions to punish gamers though – quite the contrary. In fact, these motions come off as completely intuitive, as long as you're actually holding the Wiimote in a flexible and comfortable position. Trying to clench the Wiimote in one hand like you would a standard remote won't cut it here. I ended up holding it with both my hands, using my right hand's forefinger and thumb pinching the front of the controller while my left hand gripped the back. This approach allowed me to easily maneuver and twist the Wiimote in whatever position necessary, even if the resulting position looked more like I was aiming the Wiimote down towards the floor, or over at a sleeping cat on a chair. And I learned this naturally, through the (almost too easy and abundant) introductory levels, to the point where I didn't even notice that I had adopted a somewhat uncommon controller stance. Which, I'm sure, is rather the point. By the end of my short, four hour tour to Kororinpa's end I had ceased to think of the Wiimote as a nebulous object, but instead wielded it like a Rubik's Cube, deftly tilting and bending with my left hand while twisting with my right. The Wiimote motions felt tactile. The controller was so responsive to my twists and tilts that it felt as if I was holding the Koroninpa levels in my hand. The game realized its goal in making me feel as if I were physically controlling the world and not just a simulacra. I'd slowly tease the controller when coming to hairpin turns with an level of precision I normally would reserve for wielding an exacto knife, and the level of intuition and responsiveness afforded by the game's marble and the controller allowed for it! Of course, it's not just the controls that molded this tactile feeling – the consistent physics, the satisfying sound effects, the adequate graphics and interesting level design, they all helped to provide a concrete experience but, it's the controls that made it memorable. Unlike my time with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz which, even though I enjoyed the previous Monkey Ball games, I can recall practically nothing about my playtime with this Wii-based one. And while Kororinpa's a bit too shallow (and expensive) to wholeheartedl[...]

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"The Video Game Soundtrack of Our Lives"

Fri, 29 Jun 2007 08:45:37 +0000


While we enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer by neglecting our writing duties, others are working hard to entertain this season. Case in point, starting this Saturday, the Chicago Cultural Center is hosting a series of chiptune concerts!

The concerts are part of the Ohm Multimedia Series, an annual series that occurs each summer in Chicago that "invites professionals from the art and music scenes, including live DJs and visual artists, to create multimedia artworks in front of an audience." This year they're focusing solely on video game-inspired music, which means Chicagoans get to see some of the finest chiptune and game-related musicians for free!

This first in the series, entitled "The Video Game Soundtrack of Our Lives", features fan-favorites Bit Shifter and Nullsleep. Also contributing are the Super 8-Bit Brothers, while local art collective MF Chicago will be providing additional beats & visuals.

Here are the nitty-gritty details:

Who: Super 8-Bit Brothers, Bit Shifter, Nullsleep, MF Chicago
What: "The Video Games Soundtrack of Our Lives"
Where: Chicago Cultural Center - 78 E. Washington St., Chicago
When: Sat June 30th - 1:30pm (early!)
$$: Free!

Upcoming events in the series feature performances from other well-known chip musicians like Bubblyfish, Mark DeNardo and many more. Check out the Chicago Cultural Center Ohm schedule for all the lurid info!

Thanks to Stuart bringing this event to our attention, without whom we'd simply be cursing the good times we missed out on. And if you don't have the fortune of living in Chicago and can't attend, well, Nullsleep just released a new album, Electric Heart Strike, available as a free download. It's the next best thing to being there!

An NES Theremin

Tue, 24 Apr 2007 21:34:46 +0000


Who doesn't love a theremin, what with its warm, electronics tone and enigmatic control scheme? Well, some time ago Chris Covell (who, among other things, was quite prolific in the NES demo scene and whom I found out about via his recently acquired PC-Engine modem), was bored one rainy day and ended up taking the theremin concept, and applying it to an NES.

I'll let his quotes from his README explain, as it's all slightly over my head:

"I've noticed before that if I'm playing a game or a demo on my NES or NES clones, if I remove the cartridge while the game is on-screen, all the character (CHR) graphics disappear in a bunch of static. This staticky picture wavers and shimmers as though the electricity is draining slowly out of the pins to the cartridge connector. I also noticed that if I wave my hand close to the connector, the CHR graphics flare up on my television monitor. I don't know the exact technical reason behind this, but I figure that this all has to do with changing electromagnetic fields around the NES. When I move closer to the NES, I cause disturbances in that electric field, and so it registers on the TV screen.

So, I figured I should make an NES demo that takes advantage of this quirk."

And so he did! It seems a bit finicky though:

"To get it to work right on an NES or NES clone, you have to put the program on a devcart and put that into the NES. After you start up the NES, the program copies itself to RAM so it is now safe (uhhh... somewhat safe) to pull out the cartridge to get the connector nice and exposed. A vibrating tone will come out of the NES' audio channels and it will begin reading the CHR space to produce different frequencies. You should find that if you move your hand progressively closer or farther away from the connector that the frequency of the sound should change. It takes a lot of work to get it to make nice sounds, though."

Unfortunately there are no pictures or videos available of him manipulating the machine (I wish there were!), but in the supplied ZIP file there is an audio file of Chris eeking out a bit of the Star Spangled Banner via the demo. He has also made the ASM files available for those with the smarts & resources to utilize them.

Pretty amazing work! I wonder if anyone (apart from Chris) has attempted to load this up and get it working? I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and control, but I can't help but grin at the thought of seeing someone actually playing an NES like this in public, preferably the next time a chiptune band rolls through Chicago!

Saling the Thrift Store Gamut

Sun, 22 Apr 2007 15:34:31 +0000

It's been a long month of waiting. About four weeks ago, we'd suspected that the Chicago weather had finally hit desirable garage saling temperatures, but unfortunately that first weekend was drearier than tax day. The second balmy weekend? We were out of town (Christos anesti? That's some pretty poor timing, guy). And the subsequent weekends saw Chicago wading deep in a sub-freezing climate, rendering conditions useless for saling. And now that the weather's finally spring-like, we're hampered by a string of personal and professional obligations. Fantastic. Anyway, to make a long story short, I at least managed to hit up the local thrift stores this week! The first store, our local Salvation Army, had little apart from a handful of id software game boxes. So I passed on those, but as I walked to the next place I ran across the following, unproofed, garage sale sign : The next thrift store, one of several Brown Elephants in Chicago, had a bit more substantial game library, even if it mostly consisted of your standard Sim games. And while they did have a copy of Mafia that I briefly flirted with purchasing, what really caught my eye were two copies of Phantasmagoria, Sierra's four million dollar, full-motion video, horror-based adventure game. I've been searching for a decent (read: all discs intact) copy of this game for several years now, but usually ended up finding an empty box or an incomplete collection of discs. And now here was an opportunity to get choosy! The first package had an older version of the PC game (I can't remember if it was the DOS or Windows 95 version), but was bundled with the 'Official Sierra Insider's Game Guide', all for $4. The second package was the Stagefright collection: A repackaged version of the first Phantasmagoria as well as the pseudo-sequel, A Puzzle of Flesh, all for the low, low price of $3. After making sure all the discs were present, I told the counter assistant that I'd take the Stagefright edition and he informed he that he had actually 're-donated' it back to the thrift store! It turns out that the assistant is a pretty big retro gamer, and he had previously taken the Stagefright collection home with him. Fortunately for me, he was unable to get it running quickly, so rather than try and hunt down specific tools he simply returned it. While it's nice to meet a fellow gamer, it slowly dawned on me that I'll only be able to find games & systems here that this employee has already rejected. On the plus side, this fellow was quite nice and offered the guide from the other copy of the game for free, stating that 'both copies have sat here for a while – I don't think anyone will mind'! The final thrift store (a venue that will yell your ear off if they see you brandishing a camera) had an assortment of standard NES carts, but nothing worth picking up. But that's all right as I was pretty happy with the Phantasmagoria find. While it may be mediocre at best (I haven't actually played either title yet), it's nice to finally be able to scratch it off my list. And better yet, thanks to a German installation tool, I was able to get Phantasmagoria running quite smoothly on my primary computer! Now, here's hoping that we'll be able to have a proper saling expedition next weekend! [...]

Sam & Max: Episode 5 - 'Reality 2.0' Impressions

Sat, 07 Apr 2007 01:28:11 +0000

Whenever I hear about an upcoming game that promises to lampoon the world of video/computer games, I usually just sigh. Most video games are ridiculous enough that most attempts to parody them comes off as heavy-handed and obnoxious, like someone aping Leslie Nielsen, eliciting the basest of chuckles only from fans who recognize the source material, and boredom from everyone else. So, even though Telltale had just delivered an amazingly raucous good time with 'Abe Lincoln Must Die', I was skeptical about how well they'd be able to pull off the subsequent episode, 'Reality 2.0', as even the title indicates that they're delving into sending up matters both virtual and interactive. Thankfully, my fretting was mostly for naught, as 'Reality 2.0' strives to be more than a game-centric edition of Cracked! magazine. (Those who haven't played the prior episode, 'Abe Lincoln Must Die', may want to skip the rest of this journal, as it will contain minor spoilers concerning that Sam & Max adventure. Hey, them's the breaks when you're discussing serial games!) 'Reality 2.0' picks up right where 'Abe Lincoln Must Die' left off & namely, Max is still president. Right off the bat, I was a bit stunned, since I figured we'd see Max stripped of his presidential status, then get a bit of lip-service as to why Max was booted from the White House and that'd be the end of that, but no! Surprisingly, Telltale decided to milk the joke for all it's worth, including numerous references, gags and Max's state, as well commentary concerning the states his presidency have affected ("U.S. out of Dakotas!") However, apart from that, it's mostly business as usual – there's a sinister plot, this time concerning computers & the internet, that's wreaking havoc all over the nation. As luck would have it, the epicenter for this activity is smack-dab in the middle of Sam & Max's neighborhood. Yet again, we lead our illustrious duo to both Sybil Pandemik & Boscoe, both of whom are strictly adhering to their previously established formula, namely Sybil has shifted into some topical job and Boscoe's adopted a similarly topical stereotype. Ultimately, after running about town, Sam & Max end up in front of the C.O.P.S., short for 'Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society' and the tech behind Reality 2.0, hilariously constituted by sundry pieces of 80s electronics (most memorably represented by a monosyllabic arcade machine). From there our favorite freelance police officers dive into a virtual world of wonder in an attempt to save the world ...yet again. As previously noted, the episode is peppered with all sorts of gaming and geek references, including nods to beloved Nintendo properties, role-playing game conventions and internet cliches, but Telltale integrates them nicely into the overarching story – they're never too pointed to cause eye-rolling, and they're never obtuse enough to be alienating to those not in on the jokes. It's a perfect blend of satire, parody and general cleverness, and really should be applauded and held up as an example to all those games that all too often get their meta-gaming wrong. It's also one of the more challenging episodes, almost to the point of frustration in some points, as one part concerning a +2 sword had me downright baffled for quite some time. Prior to this episode, I hadn't encountered any problems with the puzzles, but this one had me firmly flummoxed for some time. The fact that Sam's "It's stuck!" exclamation evoked my struggles with Kate Walker & Syberia didn't help matters either. The effort was worth it though, as the penultimate scene is a sight to behold and amazingly executed. I certainly don't want to spoil it for those who haven't played the episode yet, but the use of color is extremely clever and something I really wish had been adopted by that game g[...]

Automavision & Lookey

Thu, 05 Apr 2007 12:50:22 +0000

"Film as media has one great flaw - it's a one-way media with a passive audience. As much as I love to dictate the storyline and control the experience I still wish that the audience could take an active part." - Lars von Trier This is just one concept in Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's latest movie, The Boss of It All. Von Trier, probably best known for being the progenitor of the Dogme 95 film movement, as well as the man behind Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, features two very game-like devices, one of which being the somewhat gimmicky audience-participation concept Lookey, while the other, Automavision, excises the cameraman and relies on a computer to frame the film. Lookey is, to use Von Trier's wording, "a mind game, played with movies as the game board." What exactly is it though? In The Boss of It All, Von Trier placed seven incongruent 'mistakes'. It's the audience's goal to find the intentional mistakes, as well as the system or rationale behind them. The winner is the one to first submit all Lookeys via the Lookey site. In the case of The Boss of It All, the winner collects (well, collected – someone's already won) a modest financial prize (£2,700) and a part in Von Trier's next film. As the earlier quote states, it's all part of a way for Von Trier to create the illusion of audience interaction. In my eyes, it's more of a race than a game, but that's probably more of a semantic issue than I want to get into with this post. Still, I find it pretty interesting, especially if you view the Lookey Competition Board and its dozens of wingbats. Now Automavision, that's really intriguing. Von Trier, in his everlasting quest to remove intentional framing & composition from his films, has taken the cameraman out of the equation all-together. Instead, a camera is placed in front of a scene and then a computer randomly selects the framing and angle for the scene. The entirety of The Boss of It All was shot using this method and, while I haven't been able to watch the film, David Bordwell has, and his thoughts on it and how the obtrusive results affect the viewer, are definitely worth reading (as always!). Screengrabs via David Bordwell's Boss of It All piece What piques my interest about Automavision (especially when combined with Lookey) is that it's ultimately not too removed from your standard non-FPS videogame camera. And I definitely wasn't the only person to think about that: when perceptual psychologist Tim Smith was writing about Automavision on his blog 'Continuity Boy', commenter 'Antithesis Boy' had the exact same idea. Mr. Smith then took that suggestion to the next level and drafted up a speculative idea of what Automavision 2.0 could contain, including sussing out 'significant objects' and having the ability to recognize and recreate (not to mention break!) classical compositional rules. Of course, that's a huge leap for the system to make but, nonetheless, I find it a fascinating area. As suggested by Mr. Smith's closing comment "Anybody up for a game of Halo directed by Lars Von Trier?", Automavision hints at a future time where cameras in-game aren't just patterned after object recognition and collision detection, but also take into consideration more artistic merits, such as emotional impact and more 'classical compositional' attributes, as well as being able to mathematically deal with more auteuristic visual narrative elements. To re-use the film director analogy, imagine having the choice between having say, God of War directed by Von Trier (an incongruent and edit-happy, but still somewhat understandable, mess) or say, Spielberg with loads of low-angle pseudo-tatami shots? And why stop with directors, why not cinematographers? Roger Deakins has quite the eye, and maybe we could programmatically raise the ghost of Sacha Vierny? B[...]