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Happy demotion day, Pluto - Pluto and other Trans-Neptunian Dwarf Planets in animation, games and TV

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 24, 2011 01:00pm | Post a Comment


Pluto

Today is the fifth anniversary of the demotion of Pluto from "planet" to "dwarf planet." 

PLUTO



Pluto was first discovered in 1930. Part of the reason it was accepted as a planet was due to the fact that despite some behavior not fitting a proper planet it was assumed to be larger than Mercury unti l1978, when its moon, Charon, was discovered, revealing that the mass of Pluto was much smaller than had been thought... roughly a twentieth the mass of Mercury. Two more orbiting objects, Nix and Hydra, were discovered in 2005. S/2011 P 1 (aka P4) was discovered in 2011. 



Reaction to Pluto's re-designation was controversial, especially among young nerds who failed to see how going from the smallest planet in the solar system to largest known object in the Kuiper Belt could be viewed as a positive move. The New Mexico House of Representatives and Illinois State Senate passed ridiculous anti-scientific resolutions to continue recognizing Pluto as a planet.

PLUTONIC CARTOONS




Of the Trans-Neptunian Dwarf Objects, Pluto remains the most popular, if not the largest. In animation it's appeared in Cowboy Bebop, Futurama, Galaxy Express 999, Roughnecks -Starship Troopers Chronicles, Space Battleship Yamato, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and The Magic School Bus.

PLUTO IN VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAMES



In games, Pluto has been depicted in Battlezone 2, Descent, Epch Star, Gyruss, Lenny Loosejocks in Space, Mass Effect, Star Control II and Starsiege.

PLUTO ON TV





According to my strenuous research, Pluto has never made it to the big screen - perhaps the result of our collective subconscious's acceptance of its diminutive stature. A better and more natural fit has been TV, where it's appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Sun Makers”, Earth - Final Conflict, Space Odyssey - Voyage To The Planets, the Space Patrol episode “The Fires of Mercury” and X-Bomber.




The remaining known Trans-Neptunian Dwarf Planets are Eris, Haumea, Makemake, Orcus, Quaoar, Sedna and Varuna. If it's any consolation to the cognitive dissonance-suffering "Pluto is a Planet" crowd, none of them have shown up in any of these forms of entertainment. Nonetheless, each is interesting if not crying out for an appearance in science-fiction narratives. Eris is bigger than Pluto and yet no one is pushing any state resolutions to recognize it as a planet. Haumea (fka Santa) seems to be and ellipsoid. Makemake is unique among known KBOs for its lack of a satellite. Orcus seems to have a large amount of water. Quaoar is named after a Tongva god. 

*****

Mars - The Red Planet in Games, Movies and Television

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 31, 2010 11:00am | Post a Comment
A lot of people come up to me and say, "Love the blog, especially the ones about moons, planets and dwarf planets in film, music, video games, &c... so why haven't you done one on Mars?"

Actually, no one said that and I just never did one until now because I figured it would be too much work. To my surprise, it actually turned out to be pretty manageable, so here you are, on the two year anniversary of the discovery of water on Mars.

The reason writing an entry about Mars in films, TV, &c proved to be rather easy is because although Martians show up all over the place in films (mainly as invaders of Earth) we rarely ever see the planet or culture of Mars itself depicted. This post, then, is only about depictions of life on Mars and not every depiction of Martians.


Marriage of Venus and Mars

O MIGHTY MARS!
Mars is named after the Roman god of war. He was the sun of Juno and Jupiter. He started out as a god of fertility, vegetation, cattle, fields, boundaries and farmers. Over time, he became the most prominent of the martial gods. As the father of Rome's founder, Romulus, he is the ancestor of all Romans.


BACKWARDS SIGNIFIER OF FIRE AND FLOW

Easily visible to the naked eye and recognizable for its reddish color, the planet named after the Roman god was an object of study and speculation for ancient Babylonians, Chinese, Dogon, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Mayan astronomers. To the Egyptians, the planet was Horus the Red, the backward traveler. To the Dogon, it was Yapunu toll, the planet of menstruation. To the Chinese, it was ruled by fire.


MARS OBSERVED

Mars was first observed with a telescope by Galileo Galilei in 1610. As telescopes improved, so did our view, revealing geographic features and storms, igniting the imagination of writers. In 1877, American astronomer Asaph Hall III first observed Mars's two satellites and named them Phobos and Deimos. Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli believed he could see seas, channels and continents. The Italian term for channels, "canali," was misunderstood to mean canals and American astronomer Percival Lawrence Lowell popularized the notion that they were the work of intelligent life.


LIFE ON MARS?

The perception of massive irrigation systems led to the notion of Martians as a dying race and inspired early Science-Fiction writers. In 1880, author Percy Greg wrote Across the Zodiac, in which his hero travels to Mars, where the Martians refuse to believe he is from Earth. H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, published in 1898, depicted a Martian invasion of our resource rich world. By the turn of the century, efforts were made to communicate with Martians. In July 1965, Mariner 4 arrived at Mars and pretty much put an end to speculation about life on Mars. After that, most science fiction about Mars dealt either with ancient Martian civilizations, or the future taming of Mars by settling and often terra-forming it.

MARS IN FILM
Films set (at least partly) on Mars include:





    

  

  

   

     


MARS IN TV


Martian depictions on TV include the 1962 series Space Patrol, the Doctor Who episode "The Ice Warriors," the Twilight Zone episode "People are Alike All Over," Space - Above and Beyond, Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets, the mini-series Race to Mars, and the Outer Limits episode "The Invisible Enemy."

MARS IN ANIMATION


In animation, Mars has been depicted in Armitage III, Cowboy Bebop, Avenger, Mars Daybreak, Tom and Jerry Blast Off to Mars, Big Wars and Genesis Climber Mospeada.

MARS IN COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAMES

Mars has also been the setting in video and computer games including Red Faction, Zone of the Enders, Commander Keen, X-COM - UFO Defense, Red Faction, Elite 2, Doom 3, Airforce Delta Strike, Descent, Martian Gothic Unification, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Armor Core 2, Terra Driver, Darius II, Mars Matrix and DoDonPachi.

MARS'S MOONS IN POP CULTURE

 

Mars's moons have shown up less often in fiction. On April Fools Day 1959, amateur astronomer Walter Scott Houston perpetrated a celebrated hoax in the Great Plains Observer, claiming that "Dr. Arthur Hayall of the University of the Sierras reports that the moons of Mars are actually artificial satellites." Both the doctor and school were made up. Nonetheless, my perusal of Youtube has shown that some people didn't get the joke and now perpetuate one of the dumbest of all the dumb conspiracy theories -- this one involving a NASA cover-up. Anyway, the moons don't show up too often.

Deimos appears in the games Doom and Marathon and the animes Zone of the Enders and Astro Boy (2003).

Phobos has appeared in the games Doom, Armored Core 2, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2004, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and RTX Red Rock.



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Films and Video Games

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 16, 2010 12:34pm | Post a Comment

With Tron – Legacy, the sequel to a movie about video games, scheduled to open in theaters this coming December and Tron – Evolution, a video game based on a sequel of a movie about a video game scheduled for release in November, now seems like a perfect time to look at the Ouroboros-like nature of film and video games and film.

     

In the early 1980s, Hollywood still sometimes made films that weren’t re-makes, adaptations or sequels and before there were movies adapted from video and computer games, there were movies about video and computer games. Tron (1982) was the granddaddy of them all. The Wizard (1989), WarGames (1983), Joysticks (1983), Cloak and Dagger (1984) and The Last Starfighter (1984) soon followed. 

In a culture where toys (Rubik the Amazing Cube anyone?) and sugar cereal are fleshed out into serialized children’s narratives (Cap'n Crunch - available on DVD), it was perhaps inevitable that video games would be adapted into cartoons. About the only thing memorable from Saturday Supercade (with segments including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr, Pitfall Harry, Space Ace and Kangaroo) was the excellent theme song. I have little memory of Pac-Man (1984) but was a big fan of Pole Position (1984), a show that really fleshed out the narrative of the game, which just featured a race car… racing. A couple of years later, the first film based on a video game appeared – in Japan - Super Mario Bros. - Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (1986).

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Chip off the old tune - chip music for the masses - apologies for the strained, non sequitur, idiomatic headline...

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 28, 2009 01:13pm | Post a Comment
Trailer for Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet

Chiptunes (or chip music) is a genre of electronic music made using (now) old video game and computer hardware. The limitations of 8-bit technology present considerable challenges that require surprising creative solutions. Kōji Kondō, pretty much the Mozart of the scene, composed the score for Super Mario Brothers that shows how brilliant the music can be. Using a remarkably tiny sonic palette he managed to create a catchy electro-Afro-Cuban melody that could be looped over and over without driving the gamer completely insane, even in shameful, febrile, all night gaming sessions. When the DJ Jubilee-led Take Fo' Superstars used it in "Do the Mario," it was amazingly still fresh. Witness:



The roots of chiptunes date back to the 1970s. In the first part of the decade, video games like Pong used sound effects sparingly. With the introduction of the Atari 2600 and the Apple II in 1977, video games and computers began to use music more extensively. Then Asteroids debuted in 1978 and ushered in video games' golden age with distinctive bleeps, blops and white noise.


The music and sound capabilities were a selling point for video games, and computers and programs like 1980’s Atari Music Composer and 1987’s Ultimate SoundTracker (preceded by the 1982 introduction of MOS Technology SID in Commodores) allowed users to make chip music. Eventually, Atari’s POKEY, Nintendo’s Ricoh 2A03, GI’s AY-3-8910, Yamaha’s YM2612 and other hardware fueled the growth of chip music.


Celebrated professional chiptune composers of the golden age include Ben Daglish, Chris Hülsbeck, Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka, Jochen Hippel, the aforementioned Kōji Kondō, Martin Galway, Nobuo Uematsu, Rob Hubbard, Tim Follin, Yuukichan's Papa and Yūzō Koshiro.


Prominent amateur chiptunes composers include Baroque, Duz, 4-Mat and Turtle. Their preferred way of making their music available was through computer files, although, by the late ‘90s there began to be CD releases of chip music – roughly coinciding with contemporary video game scores moving toward indistinguishablity from those used in films, relying increasingly on full orchestrations or collections of popular songs. Nonetheless, there remains a dedicated movement of musicians who still make chiptunes.

In many of the musicians’ cases, they’re probably too young to have played video games that used 8-bit technology, which probably leads some to dismiss the practitioners as engaging in hand-me-down nostalgia. That may be partly true (although chiptunes have recently been revived for several new games). Some chiptunes musicians bristle at the suggestion that their music is merely a retro trip and distance themselves from the music’s video game roots, attracted more by the unique aesthetic, timbres and artistic limitations of the format than an ironic revivalist spirit. In fact, many newer acts don’t limit themselves merely to chip music, instead using the technology (and samples of it) into more conventional genres like indie rock, heavy metal (e.g. Nintendocore) and dance.


Newer chiptunes progenitors, in addition to releasing recorded music, have, unlike their forebears, turned to live performance (although some professional video game composers have adapted their scores to symphonic performance. This era was ushered in with 8 Bit Weapon’s 2005 performance of "Bombs Away" and "Gameboy Rocker" on G4's Attack of the Show! Today, performers like Alex Mauer, Aliceffekt, Anamanaguchi, C-jeff, Firebrand Boy, mcfiredrill, Paza Rahm, PDF Format, Random, Role Model, Sabrepulse, Solemn Camel Crew, Trash80, Virt, XC3N and YMCK incorporate chiptunes to varying degrees in music in many cases made available through netlabels like 8bitpeoples, 8bitcollective, micromusic, Pause, superbutton and mp3death.

For more about chiptunes, check out these links:

>Examine text adventure - Ask will Generation Text revive the popularity of text-based adventures?

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 6, 2009 02:37pm | Post a Comment

Like silent films, old time radio, male grooming and slide shows, the text-based game is a largely dead art form. Like the other examples, it's uniquely enjoyable and was snuffed out by its flashier, less imaginative offspring in the pursuit of realism and technology. (Don't get me wrong, I think GUIs are la mamá de Tarzán and I even crossed the security line at Xerox PARC on a nerd's tour of historic Silicon Valley to drink from the fountain where the Xerox Alto was born back in 1973.) But the quiet pleasures of text games are enjoyable in their own right and with a whole generation almost incapable of communicating through any means except texting, the text game seems ripe for a comeback.

 

Instead of using graphics, text-based games use prose to tell the story. Players type specific commands to such as "go north" to play. A lot of the fun (and frustration) comes from having to type them precisely. For example, if you type "omg go north lol!!!," the computer will reply, "You used the word north in a way I don't understand." It may be frustrating at first to not punctuate every command with "lol," but once you get the hang of it, you'll find text games can be highly addictive. Besides, frustration puts hair on your chest.


The fact that there are no pictures can make physically creating a map with a pencil and paper neccessary. It also requires using your imagination and problem solving that you may not be accustomed to. Text games can be very challenging and sometimes you may want to type an expletive. If you do, the programmers have in nearly all cases thought of that and you might get a response like, "Not right now. I'm tired."

  

The earliest text games were created for mainframe computers in the 1960s, allowing multiple users to play online. Adventure was the first widely-played MUD (or multi-user dungeon) and set the standard for text games that followed. Over the years, text games were continually modified and ultimately many of them ended up being ported to personal computers. I, for one, greatly enjoyed The Sumer Game, and most of all, Oregon Trail, on our family's Apple ][e... and Zork on the TRS-80.

 

Here's a by-no-means-complete list of some of the more significant text games which debuted on mainframes:

BBX (1961), The Sumer Game (1969), Highnoon (1970), Basbal, Oregon Trail and Star Trek (all 1971), Hunt the Wumpus and Star Trek (both 1972), dnd and Dungeon (both 1975), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Empire, Mystery Mansion, Oubliette and Zork (all 1977), Acheton and Decwar (both 1978), Avatar Battlestar, Brand X, HAUNT, Martian Adventure and New Adventure (all 1979), Hexarin, Kingdom of Hamil, Monsters of Murdac, Quondam and Rogue (all 1980), LORD (1981), FisK (1982), Avn, Castle and Dunnet (all 1985), Fylfeet (1986), Crobe, MIST, Nidus and Quest of the Sangraal (all 1987), Spysnatcher (1989), and Rise to Glory (1997)

  

When personal computers began appearing in homes around the turn of the '80s, programmers like Scott & Alexis Adams, Don Daglow, Jonathan Partington, Jon Thackray and others began professionally making text-based games for the new market. Anyone that was familiar with programming languages could make their own with relative ease. I wrote my own, Voyage to Zeus, based on the bizarre imagination of my younger cousin, Carly. What I wouldn't do to have a copy of that! Big companies like Adventure International, Infocom, Synapse Software (who referred to text games as "electronic novels"), Melbourne House/Beam Software, Angelsoft, Topologika and Spectral Associates spun what had once been an amateur hobby for a few nerds into commercial gold. In 1982, games with graphics became popular, but as this partial list suggests, popular text games continued into the '90s.



Adventureland, Pirate Adventure
(1978), Voodoo Castle (1980), C.I.A. Adventure, Eamon and Mission Impossible (all 1980), The Count, Ghost Town, Madness and the Minotaur, Mystery Fun House, Pyramid of Doom, Saigon: The Final Days and Strange Odyssey (all 1981), Deadline, The Golden Voyage, The Hobbit, Savage Island and Starcross (1982), Enchanter, Forbidden Quest, Infidel, Suspended - A Cryogenic Nightmare, The Witness and The Wizard of Akyrz (all 1983),  Cutthroats, High Stakes, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Mindwheel, Seastalker, Sorcerer and Zyll (all 1984), A Mind Forever Voyaging, Brimstone, Essex, Hampstead, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Spellbreaker and Wishbringer (all 1985), Breakers, Mindwheel and Terromolinos (all 1986), Philosopher's Quest (1987), Amnesia, Braminar, Dodgy Geezers, Jacaranda Jim, The Lurking Horror, Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It, Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels and Stationfall (all 1987), Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. (1988), Arthur - The Quest for Excalibur, The Hound of Shadow, James Clavell's Shōgun and Journey (all 1989), Humbug (1990), Danger! Adventurer at Work! (1991), and Spy Snatcher (1992)

 

For many younger people today, the thought of life without a constant flow of text messaging is, if not unimaginable, incredibly stressful. Though it, like the text game, goes back to the mid-'60s, text messaging didn't really explode until the peak of BBS use in the late '80s/early '90s. In the early and mid-90s, I killed a lot of time (partly because it was dial-up) on ISCABBS and even made friends whom I'm still in contact with regularly today -- as unlikely as that sounds. My brother, meanwhile, was often using IRC to do the same.

 

Not coincidentally, as peer-to-peer communication through personal computers grew more common, conversely, text games became less so. Cell phones weren't really an issue at first, as they were still primarily used to make telephone calls. Although the first phones with SMS appeared in Finland in 1993, when I got my Motorola StarTac in 1997, it (like most cell phones) was bulky clamshells with external antennae and a simple diplay of phone number. Not to mention, they were so large that I carried mine in a pleather holster attached to my belt.



Nowadays cell phones are more like tricorders than conventional phones and there are many days (weeks?) where mine's phone function goes unused. As I walk the streets of Los Angeles, I routinely have to dodge hunchbacked textlemmings blindly stumbling around, no doubt in most cases merely making inconsequential small talk or sexting their friends. But what to do when your friends are busy, or their phone is dead, or your continued coordination of multiple Stove Top Stuffing meals has left you hungry for something new? Why not, just for lolz, run a terminal emulator and play a text game on your phone? You'll be glad you did. And check out the computer game section at Amoeba. We've been known to feature some pretty classic antiques at low, low prices. Though to play them may require tracking down a floppy disk drive, text games are doorways to whole 'nother worlds and therefore worth the effort.

One final note, should this whole "text-based games on cell phones" thing take off-- under no circumstances attempt to play them whilst driving. Just look what happens when a group of chavvers get wrapped up in a game of Eamon!


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