Georgia Moffett (above right) plays the Doctor’s daughter in the sixth episode of the fourth season of ‘Doctor Who’ on BBC One. The episode paces perhaps a little too quickly, leaving us with a slightly disenchanted connection with Ms. Moffett when she steps in front of a bullet intended for the Doctor, but nevertheless, Ms. Moffett puts on a solid performance and it would appear viewers might be getting more of her later on (she seems to have regenerated at the end).

Interestingly, Ms. Moffett is the real-life daughter of Peter Davison, the fifth doctor. She also auditioned for the role of Rose Tyler, which wound up in the very capable hands of Billie Piper. While I think Ms. Moffett is a good actress, I’m very glad the role of Rose went to Ms. Piper. Moffett’s acting is a little flat compared to Piper’s — and I’m not sure she has the same range as Billie does. That said, if the BBC does carry on a new series with her as the Doctor’s daughter, it might turn out to be a great series. Many on Who fansites have clamored for a female doctor; Ms. Moffett could be a perfect substitute for post-4th season blues. And since the BBC plans to put the Who series on-ice for a while to juggle the creative team, how better to keep the Who-verse top of mind?

Check out the trailer to the episode here (Also embedded below). For more promo photos, journey here.

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This movie bothered me — but not because it was bad. I’m what one might call a Superman fan, so it irks me that a second-string Marvel character like Iron Man gets a class-act flick like this and Superman, arguably the most recognized (and before ‘Returns’, most admired) superhero, gets rubbish. That said, this post isn’t about Superman, but if anyone from Warner Bros. with any level of control watches ‘Iron Man,’ they should take some notes on what makes a good superhero movie.

‘Iron Man’ succeeds on something most superhero movies don’t have: solid writing. There is considerable punch between Downey, Jr. and Paltrow throughout this film, and each deliver his/her lines with credible accuracy. Downey, Jr. may not fit the category of blockbuster actor and certainly wasn’t on anyone’s shortlist of superhero physiques, but he is almost perfect as the troubled and transformed Tony Stark. Paltrow also deserves some credit for her role as Virginia ‘Pepper’ Potts — some might say she hasn’t really done any acting since ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (and this isn’t wholly without merit) — but she nevertheless puts forth a classy effort. Paltrow is admittedly an acquired taste — there are many who think she was miscast in this role but I do not share that opinion. If you want to see a truly miscast female lead, see Kate Bosworth in ‘Superman Returns’.

The plot is serviceable and the action sequences – though few – are well-played. That said, some comic gurus will probably notice one-too many similarities with Chris Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ but let’s be frank, Tony Stark is in many ways a chopped up version of Bruce Wayne. There aren’t as many surprises in the story and the back-stabbing possibilities become awfully apparent early on. What perhaps kept me glued to the screen was how good ‘Iron Man’ turned out despite the character’s position in the pantheon of superhero creations. ‘Iron Man’ is no Wolverine, and his following has always been more cult-ish than mass. That will probably change with this film. Marvel and Favreau have somehow legitimized alchemy; they’ve taken brass and turned it into gold. Kudos to them.

And yet as surprising good as ‘Iron Man’s’ debut is, it isn’t an off-the-scale shocker. ‘Iron Man’ is the first of hopefully many movies Marvel is financing itself. That’s right, after some miserable outings (anyone remember ‘Ghost Rider’? No one? Good.), Marvel decided it best to manually bring its characters to the big screen versus licensing them off to studios such as Sony or Fox. If Iron Man is any indication, this was clearly the right move for the comic book giant. This makes so much sense and honestly, is something I’ve always scratched my head about. Why movie studios often put people unfamiliar with the properties to make them was frankly lost on me. Singer never read a Superman comic (or for that matter, any comic) growing up. Some believe his X-Men movies were gold – I’m of the opinion they were decent; spectacular only because no one had made or seen serious superhero movies in a long time. But I’d bet that superhero films would be miles better if we put the likes of Busiek, Morrison, Miller, and Moore on them. Art direction by creators like Lee, Ross, Campbell, and Maduriera (and maybe even Warren) would put to shame what we’ve seen in a good number of superhero movies.

So here’s to Marvel’s ‘Iron Man’; I hope to see many sequels — but please don’t become ‘Batman and Robin’. And to DC Comics, please get off your rear ends and try to wrestle more control away from Warner Bros. before it turns the rest of your beloved franchises into wretched abominations; see ‘Catwoman‘.

Worldwide release of the 4th and allegedly final installment of the venerable (and at times mystifyingly bizarre) “Metal Gear Solid” series is set for June 12. If there is ever to be a game release that can rival the likes of that green giant, Master Chief, Kojima’s mega opus MGS4 is it. From what little we actually know — aside from screenshots, video snippets, and interviews — the game certainly looks and sounds AAA. Indeed, like what MGS2 did for its predecessor, MGS4 stands to define the power and potential of the PlayStation 3 in the eyes of undecided consumers. Sony hopes MGS4 can also serve as THE game to finally convert reluctant PS2 gen holdouts (such as myself — though admittedly, it’s the school loans and lack of free time that’ll hold me back for at least another year or more — even these entries exist solely based on my unwavering passion for this industry and the spirited creativity it can stand for).

This, however, is a question worth some conversation. Sony seems to have made up its mind already — well, actually, it isn’t as if there is much of a selection from which the company can choose from. Outside MGS4, PS3’s next round of major hits aren’t due for awhile (Final Fantasy 13, GT5 – I mean the real sequel, Ratchet Future 2, to name a few). Unfortunately, the rest, while sounding awesome — GTA4, Soul Calibur 4, Resident Evil 5 — are platform agnostic, meaning they’ll probably be great games but not ones Sony can tout as distinguishing markers of its platform.

So this brings us back to MGS4 and Sony’s intention to make it the face of its console, at least for the Summer and quite possible for the rest of the year. There is the US bundle, and today word came that Sony would even release a limited edition silver bundle. While bundles have become commonplace, this is still somewhat of a big deal. Why? Well, when was the last time Sony bundled software with the PlayStation 2? Or even with the original PSOne? Sure, there were retailer bundles — but official Sony ones? If you’re having trouble remembering any, that’s because there were none. And that’s mostly because Sony didn’t have to. We all know who won those generations.

The story is very different today. In North America, the PS3 remains in third place, and the sight of number one is (if not already gone) fading fast. While the 360 has lost a lot of its momentum, the console’s headstart in building a viable online community remains a factor Sony hasn’t quite cracked on its platform. Whatever grand promises HOME still holds are also fizzling out as more and more demo-testers discover its limitations, bugs, and, well, mediocrity. May be, deep down, Phil Harrison knew that.

The story isn’t all doom and gloom. The future of the PS3 is promising but whether MGS4 can be a title that turns the charts around might be too much even for a beautifully rendered Solid Snake to handle. The Metal Gear series was undeniably at its peak during the PSOne years. The two-disc wonder grabbed the attention of gamers and Press alike as it merged together gameplay with a truly cinematic and compelling storyline. MGS2 — despite its sales — probably deflated the hype. With its borderline insane ending and “deep” dialogue, Kojima essentially took the series away from the casual gamer, deciding instead to stick with his hardcore devotees. Though I too scratched my head more than a couple times finishing MGS2, my respect for Kojima only grew with MGS2; artists sometimes do things people don’t understand; taking those risks without fear of commercial consequences takes guts — even if you’re Hideo Kojima.

MGS2 played a huge roll in helping the PS2 run away from the competition, but that success came at a cost. The attention to MGS2 brought out the critics, many of whom to which gaming was a casual affair — and most of them panned MGS2’s storyline. And they were right in some respect, piecing together roadkill might be easier than deciphering MGS2.

But nowhere has the impact of MGS2 been felt greater than on the series’ sales. Compared to MGS2 and the original PSOne release, MGS3 was — as Konami put it — “moderately successful.” In other words, the game never met sales expectations. It’s an unfortunate outcome, given MGS3’s storyline was almost entirely coherent. It was, I suppose, what consumers wanted in MGS2 but never got.

MGS3 still went on to sell millions, but only after a price cut and a visit to the clearance bin. There’s something almost unfitting about seeing a Kojima game sitting alongside Backyard Wrestling 2 for $9.99 at Best Buy. I think it says a couple things: One, MGS2 drove away a lot of people, and two, those people never really came back.

So what does all that mean? It means MGS4 — for all the attention Sony is giving it — may not be the system seller it believes it to be. And I won’t be at all surprised when MGS4 sells well, but ultimately, doesn’t drive new system sales. Sure, there will be a bump, but that bump probably won’t be anything to write home about. Factor in the reality that Metal Gear has always been more of a Western attraction (i.e the Japanese gamers frankly don’t care much about it) and you suddenly realize that the real potential for MGS4 to move systems is actually pretty average, if not low.

In other words, Sony is probably more likely to move systems by packing Sly, Jak, or Ratchet. Snake isn’t going to do much more than convert hardcores who waited. Yeah, those gamers who probably have a 360 sitting at home, too. Ultimately, bundling MGS4 — at best –will probably get Sony to finally get those hardcore players who complained about the PS3’s price tag and library. But that too is a tough sell — because the fact is the PS3’s library still isn’t much to Toyota! about.

So is that all MGS4 can do for the brand on which it was born? Probably. Expect some amazing sales figures but system sales probably will fall off real quick. In an economy like this one, outside of the hardcores, not many are going to jump on a $400+ console for one AAA game.

In a way, the end result of MGS4’s role on the PS3 will be much like the game’s protagonist. In a trailer, an aged Solid Snake says, “War has changed. Our time has ended. Our war is over.” At the time, some writers suggested this was a sly way for Sony to tell its competition it would reign supreme yet again. However, now several years later, after nightmare delays, laser shortages, the Wii, that phrase means something very different.

Kutaragi is gone. Nintendo is #1. Dante swings on the 360. And so does Rockstar and pretty much everyone else. MGS4 may ultimately serve to remind everyone that Sony’s time as king is over and that the traditional console war waged over the last few generations is no longer the same kind of war. Now it’s about digital downloads, online functionality, and casual gaming contraptions (Scene It anyone?). In that sense, Solid Snake’s adieu on the PS3 marks more of an end than a beginning, a way to say thanks, good-bye and good luck, though with an understanding that down the road, should Metal Gear ever emerge again on any console, it might well be on more than just the one bearing the Sony logo. **

Doctor Who - Billie Piper Returns!

Alright, so some people have major issues with Ms. Piper (far right, above) and the sidekick part she played during the “rebirth” of the Doctor Who series with Christopher Eccleston and later David Tennant (center, above), but as the Brits might say, “buggers to them.” Piper is just as responsible for the uber popularity the New Who series has garnered across the world as the two doctors; her acting and charm certainly helped carry the day in several episodes and there’s a reason why fans have clamored for her return since the last episode of season 2, “Doomsday.” Show-writer/producer R.T. Davies (RTD) has spilled little about Piper’s glorious return but no doubt many of us will have our eyes peeled when the 4th season of the Doctor’s time travels hits the UK and the Sci-Fi channel. This being the rumored last hurrah for Mr. RTD (and quite possibly for Mr. Tennant, too), it makes perfect sense he’s bringing back the companion that re-started our infatuation with the Doctor and his Tardis. It promises to be a wild 13 episode romp.

Unfortunately, I can’t stand following a TV series week-to-week (Sarah Connor Chronicles was my last foray into this unknown vehicle and my patience wears thin). As I’ve done before, I’ll probably pass on the season entirely until it hits those wonderful DVDs later in Nov. (get those preorders ready!) and plan to take it in during my well-needed Winter break after another round of law school finals. No better way to spend the winter than with the Doctor!

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I’m not much of a Terminator fan; I admit I enjoyed T2 but I never really watched all of the first or any of the third (or care much for the rumored 4th). That might change with what I’ve seen of the Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fox’s new 45 minute magnum opus starring “Serenity’s” under-rated star, Summer Glau (far left) as the bad robot gone good (Cameron), and the beautiful Lena Headey (second left) as the titular Sarah Connor.

As someone who barely – and I mean barely – watches much TV, I’ve actually stayed through with this show from first to season finale (well, thanks in large part to Fox making all their shows available online), and may I say it has been one of the most enjoyable and exciting shows ever. Sure, it’s not going to get any crowning ‘Oscar’ achievements in the writing department, but what’s there is sharp, well developed, and at times, brilliant. I know some Terminator fans out there who’ve long walked away from the show, decrying its mediocrity, but I fail to see their cult-ish criticisms. For the action-viewer, there’s not much on TV that can rival this series, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next season. Fox, you’ve got yourself a looker in this show; you better not go canceling it now. You may want to roll these cast members into that 2009 movie you’re making. If you do, I’ll be there to see it.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen the lovely Ms. Glau in action before, I highly recommend you check out the little-known sci-fi film, “Serenity.” Based on the short-lived series, “Firefly,” the movie hit theaters in 2005 to much critical fanfare … but alas, very little commercial attention. This Joss Whedon (yes, the Buffy scribe Whedon) invention never caught on, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. After you watch it, you’ll probably wonder what took Hollywood so long to put Ms. Glau back to work.

And if you missed out on the Sarah Connor Chronicles, fear not! Just head over online to all of Season 1. It’s must-see online TV 🙂

Kristen Kreuk as … Chun-Li?! Wha?!

After a long hiatus… I’m back to post. There has been quite a drought in new posts and that’s because of two words: Law School. After making one of the most monumental (and may I say very expensive) shifts in my life, the notion of writing about videogames unfortunately took a literal backseat. Life as a 1L is tough — but while the workload and hours are long the satisfaction of being back in an academic setting is invigorating in many ways. Sure, life as a student after years in the work force is sometimes daunting but I wouldn’t trade a day to have come earlier. IMHO, the perspective I have from having a professional career before law school gives me mental freedom, patience, and discipline. Freedom to think about other things, patience to learn, and discipline to master. I suppose in some ways, it’s like tackling a new videogame.

New posts will probably come slower but rest assured the Green Pipe remains active. There have certainly been some major developments in the industry since my last few rants. Most notable are three:

1. The slow but sure rise of the PS3 (which BTW I talked about a long time ago). Sony’s console is starting to gain momentum but unlike EGM, which seemed quick to reverse opinion in its recent cover story, I’m not entirely sold that this PS3 comeback will be the equivalent of Gandalf’s march upon the Two Towers at the end of the second LOTR movie. Without a doubt, there are some key software releases coming this year, MGS4 the obvious poster child. But while I’m excited about this game, I think this is an example of the industry clamoring over a game the majority of the public doesn’t care as much about. The Metal Gear series saw its high-days with MGS2; fact is MGS3 never really caught on in terms of sales. Some argue that it was because the title was coached between GTA and Halo 2, but that to me sounds like a copout. If Metal Gear is so big and popular, it should have kept its own. After all, it wasn’t as if the coverage and advertising was any less (I can recall the barrage of MGS3 ads in countless magazines). That’s why MGS4 isn’t likely to put up the numbers of Halo 2 or 3. I’d even hint that MGS4 may not move as many consoles as people want to believe. Solid Snake doesn’t scream the same cool mystique that Master Chief embodies, and well, even Sony and Konami together can’t quite match the powerhouse marketing force that is Microsoft. And if MGS4 doesn’t move the needle that much, then is PS3 really the comeback kid? Maybe still. But I’d position PS3’s rise as more of an indication of how weak the 360 remains — in other words, it’s not that the PS3 is getting better, it’s actually that the 360 isn’t really striking a Toyota! momentum. More on that in future posts.

2. Oh, HD-DVD, we hardly knew ye’. I think it was quite apparent the format started out with a peg-leg when the 360 opted against making it the console’s format of choice. Face it, the outcome of this war might have been very different if there were 5-10MM 360 equipped with HD-DVD playback. Movie studios – the fickle giants that they are – might have seen better HD-DVD sales over Blu-Ray (an almost given since 360 would have been on the market longer) and kept its support with the format. Sony’s climb then would have been steeper, and hey, may be those price points on the PS3 would have dropped even faster.

Of course, one can look at MS’ decision now and insist it was a “smart” move. What if HD-DVD still lost? Then the 360 would be toast. That argument certainly has merit and as a company wanting to put out a game console, I suppose the last thing it needs is an achilles heel that isn’t even tied to content. There is a long list of reasons why HD-DVD probably would have lost even if 360 supported it out of the gate. But then again, there are also a lot of maybes that suggest HD-DVD could have put up a formidable fight if MS had acted otherwise. We’ll never know. Regardless how you feel, the truth is the next 360 will probably run on a Sony-owned format. There is admittedly something both ironic and humbling in that prospect. Competitors on the outside, sleeping together on the inside; who says there’s no drama and infidelity in the gaming world?

And *finally* 3. the meteoric rise of Nintendo Gamecube 2.0 … I mean, the Wii. I’m actually not at all surprised by the Wii’s success, and I think many of us who follow games closely knew Nintendo had a hit in the making, though even I’m taken aback by the level of success the House of Mario has reached in the past 4-6 mos. Everyone keeps asking whether Wii can sustain the momentum and I’m not so sure that’s the right question we should be debating. The real question should be broader, as in can the entire industry sustain the momentum it has with the casual gamer? Because that’s the real issue; the Wii has done a phenomenal job in enlarging the gaming circle, but can Nintendo AND its competitors reap the rewards and keep them there? That’s a very tough question, and it’s interesting to see all the companies trying to woo the casual market at this year’s GDC. The community arcade from MS to WiiWare from Nintendo are good moves, but there are real questions as to whether the industry is taking the time to ensure that casual gamers understand all this (remember who we’re dealing with here) and there are serious questions about what these moves are doing to each company’s bread and butter. For Nintendo, it’s the loyalists who want only to play Zelda, Mario and Metroid — Is a bigger remake of SSBM and SM Galaxy enough? For MS, do its Halo faithful really care that Xbox can render board games in HD? And do Sony players really want to see and interact with pimple-faced teens and moms singing Britney songs via SingStar? It’s a tough scale to balance, and with limited resources, the gambles each camp is making is definitely one reason why we’re seeing fewer releases *we* (and I say we as in mainstay gamers) care about. And it may also explain the increasing “clone effect”. Flip through a game magazine today and you may have to do a doubletake to make sure you’re looking at more than two games from two genres: racing and FPS. There’s nothing like saving money when multiple titles can be released running on the same engines and the same third-party renderware. It’s a telling sign something’s up. Is it the trend for the future? Hard to say for sure. If the Wii movement continues, it might be. Whether that’s necessarily a bad thing is once again the wrong question. The question is whether the pool of hardcore or moderate gamers keep up the giant’s share of profits. If many of us fall out and start to lose interest (come on, how many Resistance sequels do I really need?), then the console audience may truly change once again over the next 5 years. By the time the next set of consoles rollout, don’t be surprised if everyone takes a Wii approach in terms of technology.

Finally, I can’t help but at least mention that Kristen Kreuk of Smallville “fame”will play Chun-Li in the upcoming Street Fighter film. If you saw DOA and could at least appreciate the martial arts action, I suppose you’ll enjoy this film. I have a hard time believing it’ll be as bad as the first Street Fighter film with Jean Claude (and Kylie Minogue as … Cammy?!). But I have to admit, it’ll be hard for this new film to beat out one of my all-time favorite lines from that flick; it’s when Jean Claude (who plays Guile, BTW) says: I’m going to kick Bison’s ass so hard the next Bison-wannabe is gonna feel it.

Any line as MacBaine-ish as that will just sound weird coming out of Kreuk’s mouth. At least she looks the part (above).

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As console sales go, the PS3 is getting manhandled by the Nintendo Wii and DS. Even in Japan, Sony’s supposed stronghold, the Wii is outselling the Ps3 by a ratio of 5:1. Recent Japanese-centric releases have closed the margin in recent weeks, but Sony execs are clearly troubled by what they see as a week-by-week descent from grace.

That probably explains the sudden flurry of rumors about a PS3 price-cut. While Sony and some analysts continue to deny such a cut would happen, a leaked Circuit City ad shows the PS3 at $100 less (from $599 to $499) the week of July 15. As sales go, it would be highly unusual for a national chain to sell the PS3 for that much less than its competitors, not to mention the legality behind it given the Supreme Courts’ latest economically senseless ruling.

The question now is whether a $100 price drop can turn the tide on Sony’s faltering division, and thus far, the answer — at least for the US market — seems to be “no”. From the eyes of the consumer, the $499 price tag isn’t new — in fact, Sony offered a slightly less advanced version of the PS3 for that price on release so to the average consumer, this price drop, even if it’s for the higher-end model, may seem almost invisible. If you weren’t going to bite at $500 before, the addition of 40GB and memory card slots isn’t likely to radically change your opinion. This thus far unspoken reality may explain why despite the price cut, most gamer boards and blogs aren’t all that thrilled.

What will be interesting is Microsoft’s response. Although the spotlight has been on Sony, the fact is the 360 has had its fair share of lackluster sales. With the sure-fire hit, Halo 3, due Sept. 25, there’s little incentive for Microsoft to drop the price but not doing so may steal some of the thunder away from its booth. A Halo 3 or some other packaged deal might be a clever way to spoil Sony’s announcement without formally introducing a price cut.

Of course, in either instance, the winner is still Nintendo. Sony will now surely be bleeding dollars well past the usual 3-year marker for console profitability, and the tug-of-war for hardcore gamers (who, btw, apparently drive most of this industry) between Sony and Microsoft is keeping both preoccupied enough to practically ignore the larger picture. All in awhile, the DS and the Wii are cleaning up the house. Who would have thought Nintendo would ever — even for a moment — be worth more than Sony?

Expect an all-out war at mini-E3 this year. Sony will try to push its remaining exclusives (Uncharted, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy XIII, Tekken 6, Metal Gear Solid 4) and tout its blu-ray technology. Problem is 3 out of the 5 big titles are now 2008 and the blu-ray advantage hasn’t demonstrated its worth quite yet. Microsoft will ride Master Chief as far as he can take them, but it also has Mass Effect, Beautiful Katamari and Too Human. Problem with the 360 is that beyond that, it doesn’t have much more.

GTA4, DMC4, and SC4 — now all multi-platform will probably lead the chatterbox, but it will be Nintendo’s Wii that has the most to gain or lose. The Press will want to see whether that fancy-pants remote can do more than replicate fishing games and golf. If the DS is any indication, then Nintendo should wow its audiences with Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl — all 3 are set for release this year. If the Wii can establish why it should remain relevant at this parade, then look for it to remain dominant through the holidays.

Me, I only care about one game, and it’s a remake of sorts. Bloody Capcom has *finally* given us 2-D gamers the gem we’ve always wanted.

Here are some other potential announcements I suspect will be part of each company’s press meetings:

Sony:

(1) HOME will be pushed into 2008 but become a central component of Sony’s push to capture the mainstream gamer — good luck with that non-mainstream pricetag.

(2) The ailing PSP will see a redesign — likely thinner with a built-in hard-disk. Unfortunately, Sony will keep saying its already defunct UMD format is still alive and “popular”.

Microsoft

(1) Look for more Sony exclusives to jump ship. The most talked-about one is likely to be Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 4 and Namco’s Tekken 6. The only one that probably won’t quite make it over is Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy 13 but something tells me 360 is going to get something Square — may be a derivative of the FF universe akin to Crystal Chronicles. After all, how else are developers going to recoup costs — the PS3 penetration numbers are simply nowhere near the Wii’s or 360’s, and won’t be anytime soon.

(2) And while talking exclusives, prepare for an onslaught of US companies declaring them on the 360. Microsoft’s push for its Games on Windows platform will finally see some benefit as PC titles will migrate over to the 360, bolstering the company’s already dominant LIVE service.

(3) There are rumors Microsoft might be getting into the handheld fight but that’s a tough one to call. Rumors of MS stealing former PSP and Gameboy designers has floated around the Net for some time but that end-result was the Zune. With the games division poised to turn its FIRST ever profit (remember the orig. Xbox never made a dime — costing Microsoft an estimated $3.5bn), it makes little sense for the Redmond-based powerhouse to bleed more dollars and scare off its true believers (aka Wall Street investors). Sorry, no dice here.