Watching the Robocop Remake

I’ve just finished watching the new Robocop film on Netflix. It surprised me. I must be honest that I watched it in part to be annoyed about the sacrilege – Paul Verhoeven’s original is of course a masterpiece. But the new film had plenty of interesting things to say – and they weren’t all the same things as the 1980s film. And that made me sad for this film. There was some good thoughtful stuff here, some interesting concepts, some neat directorial flourishes and a fine cast. So why didn’t this need to hang it’s frame on Robocop? This was a film that could have told the same story without the baggage of living up to Verhoeven’s work. In making this a Robocop remake it did the original a disservice, but I’m surprised to say it did itself no favours either. This was a good film and deserved a chance to stand on its own.

Camera Gear Forums & Obsession With Sharpness.

It is mad how much stock people put in sharpness. On camera gear forums it seems to be the aim for many people – they’ll post what they think is an amazing shot – because it is sharp, not because of the composition, light, subject etc. People rate lenses and cameras on how sharp they are as the primary factor. I think it’s all bonkers.

Back when I used to have a little film camera and all my prints were 6×4 I don’t remember anyone talking about sharpness. Being in focus yes, but nothing more. But now folks can look at 100% images on large monitors they become obsessed with the pixel sharpness, throwing away images that would make pretty large prints before sharpness was an issue – even if sharpness actually is one.

But that’s gear forums for you. Go somewhere more about the end product and there’s less focus (no pun intended) on sharpness. Go to places that are about the art of photography – sharpness much less of a thing there.

Enthusiast forums go mad for sharpness. And good gear gets ignored despite many good qualities merely because its sharpness isn’t the main attribute. Meanwhile I see plenty of professional work in advertising, magazines and online that isn’t razor sharp and looks looks amazing. Other factors being more important to those pros.

I see it as a similar thing to the PC overclocking community. People build PCs to compete to achieve high overclocks, not because they will play games very well, but just for pure effort of building a machine they can clock so quickly. They have fun, it’s fine, but a PC much slower will do for any real world jobs.

Similarly folks build dragsters for the same reason. They want to reach extreme horsepower and speed over a quarter mile. These cars have not much other use, they aren’t even good racing cars, except for the short straight sprint of a drag strip. But they are competing to create massively overpowered vehicles for the sake of it.

And on gear forums people will buy gear and compete for the very sharpest of images. And this is totally okay as long as you realise that it’s a competition about sharpness and not photography. If people want to compete in that way then let them – they are having fun. But it’s got very little to do with art. And just like those dragsters and overclocked PCs, people look for a level of sharpness that is way beyond what most people need for practice everyday use.

Camera gear forums the camera equivalent of those hobbies. And that is totally okay. People compete, get very obsessed, and argue about gear. And the currency by which they measure isn’t horsepower or MHz, but sharpness. That’s how the game there is played.

Almost all digital cameras on the market today will give you a sharp enough image in a 6×4 print (and much larger really) that sharpness is just not an issue. People go looking for flaws and on a 24″ monitor at 100% they’ll always find them.

I used to be there too. But now every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.

Happy Birthday Will

Our youngest is five today. He’s been insanely excited about his birthday for months now and I’ve been concerned it couldn’t live up to his expectations. But his expectations aren’t anything other than the excitement of a day all about him – and he’s been giddy with joy all morning before heading to school.

It has been an interesting year for Will and us as it is his first year at school. He’s a bright, funny and outgoing boy but he’s also in many ways not a million miles away from the toddler he was. And when starting school I was nervous about his academic prospects – not because of any doubts regarding his abilities – but merely because he’s nearly a year younger than others in the reception class. After all, just three months before starting school he’d still been three.

I needn’t have worried. While he may be small and sometimes too trusting of his friends the one thing that hasn’t been a problem this year has been learning at school. He is a boy that’s always loved finding out new things – especially about dinosaurs, Star Wars and volcanoes. He has taken to learning to read with real enthusiasm and has really impressed us with his progress. We needn’t have worried – his reading ability at the end of his first year of school is as good as any in his school year.

I wanted to post today to mark the date, a date so special for our little boy. And it’s special to us too because it celebrates this bonkers bundle of cuteness and energy that is our baby boy. The little monkey has lit up my life. Happy Birthday William.

Driveclub, Forza Horizon 2 & Magic Computer Beans

This week’s announcement of Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One has got videogamers on many forums spouting the same old rubbish we’ve heard time and again about frame rates. The nonsense intensified earlier today as Playground Games revealed Horizon 2 would run at 1080p30.

Come on guys, most of you are smarter than playing out this silly 60 vs 30 argument all over again. Playground Games has chosen to make this game 30fps, rather than 60fps. Why? Because it’s a good compromise for this kind of sim-lite open world action. You can put lots of silicon horsepower into making the game beautiful.

Could it be 60fps? Of course it could.

In every console you’ve got 100 magic computer beans as a developer. You can spend them on pretty, you can spend them on frame rate. It’s entirely up to you. Some games you’ll choose frames – because your game is a sim racer and response is everything. Hardcore racing fans will forgive a lack of visual splendor if response is the priority. Meanwhile the more casual crowd playing sim-lite or arcade racers wants amazing vistas, splendid sunsets and dynamic Another – and so a developer will use a higher percentage of the hardware’s available power for beauty rather than speed.

This is not a function of a console being low powered. These compromises and choices exist in any hardware generation. The original Gran Turismo had a technical demonstration track that would run at 60fps. Yes the original PS1 could run Gran Turismo at 60fps. But that was at the cost of losing lots of trackside detail. It ably showed why the game ran at a frame rate lower than this – Polyphony chose to lower the frame rate and give us better image quality and art on the regular circuits.

There isn’t going to be a point any time soon where some hyper-powered console hardware comes along that can run everything at 60fps. Because a developer will still look at his/her game and say “you know, if we gave up half the frame rate we could make out beautiful game look twice as beautiful.”

I’m not an apologist for games that run poorly nor am I an advocate for the stupid 24p cinematic game argument (which is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how film records motion). I hate judder and screen tearing. It’s sad that recent Gran Turismo games haven’t prioritised hitting 60fps over visual fidelity. The result has been a halfway house that hasn’t worked either way. And for sim racing games yes I want 60fps, by all means give me a 2D crowd if that’s what it takes. But for Forza Horizon 2 I completely understand the choice behind 1080p30 (and frankly I’m surprised we’re not getting 900p30).

I imagine most critics of Horizon 1’s 30fps update haven’t played the game. Playground Games’ debut was silky smooth thanks to a motion blur technique which blurred objects based on their size and distance from the player. The result was a very smooth responsive fun sim-lite game with a beautiful open world to explore and some of the cleanest image quality of that generation of hardware. Forza Horizon was an amazing technical achievement that vindicated the design choices behind it.

I expect Horizon 2 will be much the same.

So let’s not do the same old silly arguments about 60/30 or erroneously compare Horizon 2 performance with Driveclub, Forza 5 and whatever. These are all different games with different aims, audiences and priorities. And frankly it’s getting a very tiresome debate among people who don’t seem to understand the issues at hand.