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Underworld Evolution

Review by Gokhra

I Finally got to see a good print of the new Underworld: Evolution and it was breathtaking if nothing else. Underworld first came out in 2003 as a science fiction film in which werewolves and vampires are locked in a never-ending war.

In the sequel they are still fighting in a much more visually inspired movie than its predecessor. Kate Beckinsale stars as a werewolf-slaying vampire called Selene in her sleek, black rubberized outfit.

In the first installment, Selene murdered a 1,400-year-old vampire. Now she's on the run from his minions along with her half-werewolf, half-vampire lover, Michael (Scott Speedman).

The plot:
The movie begins with a flashback to 1202 A.D. where two siblings Marcus (Tony Curran), the original vampire, and William (Brian Steele), the first Lycan a.k.a werewolf are battling each other in a frosty village. Marcus is betrayed by Viktor (Bill Nighy), stored away in the vaults of the family mansion, and William is trapped in a steel coffin for all of eternity. The twins are separated. Then we have flashbacks from the original film where Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has killed Viktor and his blood has revived a hybrid Marcus, now with wings.

Selene and Michael are being hunted by Marcus who wants to get his teeth in Selene.

She holds the key to something he desperately needs which he can probably access by tasting her blood. You see, a vampire can read a fellow vampire's past by tasting his or her blood. Oh, and did I tell you that Marcus wants world domination? But then again all major bad guys want that.

The verdict:
Len Wiseman returns as director and edits the action sequences like the way a live-action comic book should be. It's cool beyond cool. Visually, the second Underworld replicates the first. Everything is gray and grimy, and there's a monochromatic, metallic look to each scene. It sets a cool and creepy atmosphere that goes very well with the premise of the story.

The continuity was the most wonderful thing. While the first movie took place over a couple of nights, this one picked up right where it left off and continued for another couple of days. It almost made you feel as if you were living each moment in the movie.

One aspect I liked from the first movie is that the female star was clothed throughout it--something that's rare in today's Hollywood. Umm, that changes in the sequel though.

The one little or major complaint I have with both the Underworld movies is utter and absolute absence of humour. Somehow can't help thinking that a bit of levity would have elevated the movie to Blade status. It's a bit too grim and dreary at times. But despite that it has a good story, great fight scenes and copious amounts of blood. No, it's not the disgusting mouth opening wide to show alien fangs sort of blood. Good thing is you can follow it even if you haven't seen the previous one.

And the ending hints toward a third episode. Can't say I am not looking forward to that.

The SIMS 2
Open For Bussiness

Review by Gokhra

Its yet another SIMS expansion but it's quite good too. It introduces new job-related skills, the ability to hire and fire employees, and a healthy number of new items to put your sims to work.

The Sims 2 charges you with guiding virtual people through nearly every minute detail of their simulated, suburban lives, ranging from when to use the bathroom to who to marry. But one task that has always been a big, black hole in Maxis' suburban-lifestyle simulation is work. Yes, your sims can flourish in a multitude of job paths, becoming filthy, stinking rich in the process, but the actual work is purely theoretical, and you never see them lift a finger. Open for Business, the third expansion pack for The Sims 2, adds an entrepreneurial edge to the action, letting you start your own business.

All you need to start your own business is a phone, an open/close sign, and possibly a cash register, the latter two of which represent just a few of the new items that Open for Business introduces.

Once you've established your business, you're going to need to decide what you're in the business of, exactly. If you choose to buy and sell goods, you'll go into a modified version of the "Buy" mode, which allows you to purchase any available item in the sim catalog at a wholesale price, and then sell it for a markup. There are some items that you can sell that you cannot buy from the catalog, such as toys, robots, and floral bouquets. To acquire these items, you'll need to purchase special workstations for your place of business. You can also choose to offer a service, such as a beauty salon or a bar. Lastly, you can create a business that charges people simply for being there.

The success of your business hinges on a lot of different factors. Open for Business introduces a whole slew of new business-related skills for you to develop, from restocking shelves to sales, and the proficiency of you and your employees in these various fields will greatly impact how your customers receive you. You'll want to keep an eye out for your employees, too, since their moods can affect business, and if you've got a sim that's slacking off on its duties or taking too many breaks, you'd better fire them snap quick.

Release Date: Feb 28, 2006 Minimum System Requirements System: 1 ghz or equivalent RAM: 256 MB Video Memory: 32 MB Hard Drive Space: 1500 MB Other: A T&L-capable video card with at least 32 MB of video RAM. 5.0 GB total hard drive space is required if installing both The Sims 2 and The Sims 2 Open for Business at the same time.

Additionally, your sims don't need to be old enough to hold down a job to make a couple extra simoleans for the family. One of the new items introduced in Open for Business is a lemonade stand, which you can plunk right on your front lawn. The attraction of your delicious wares to passersby is largely based on how much you charge, though selling rancid lemonade probably won't help boost business.

Part of what makes Open for Business so strategically interesting is that running your own business doesn't preclude you from having a regular career path. Seasoned players of The Sims will know that time management is one of the key skills you'll need to cultivate healthy, well-rounded sims. Between the time spent at a career, maintaining the household, and cultivating social ties with other sims, there are hardly enough hours in the day for a sim to take on a second job. Thankfully, and rather arbitrarily, time spent on a commercial lot doesn't equate to time spent at home. What this means is that you can come home from your day job, go to your store and work a full shift, and be back home in time for supper.

The Sims 2 looks and sounds as good as it ever has in Open for Business. The myriad of new items that you can buy--there are 125 new items in all--make it easy to build a business with its own unique look and style. The new animations that go along with your business-related activities all do a great job of conveying the task at hand, and some of them can be quite hilarious--watch as customers sob after you give them a terrible new haircut or snap after a sales-sim pushes them too far.

All in all, it's another interesting expansion that will have SIMS fans tinkering for hours on end.

Hollywood FX

By Tanvir Hafiz

Alexa Davalos and Vin Diesel film in front of a green screen. A cliff hanging scene will be editted in later for the film Chronicles of Riddick

part deux
Hey guys, I am back at spinning off the another part in the Hollywood movie fx series. As promised, I will talk about the various movie making techniques that the big Hollywood studios use for movies such as Star Wars, Matrix and Robots. But first, a little basics for the lost ones. The various special fx that we see on screen can be basically divided into two basic categories, one is visual fx (VFX), which consists of blue screening, strings, animatronics and miniaturization. The other is Computer Graphics (CG). CG consists of rendering out wholly or partly various actions, including virtual human character, animals and other eye candy virtual effects. I will first shed light on some VFX techniques.

VFX was in employment in Hollywood for a very long time. As I had said in the previous segment, the first Hollywood movie ever to employ special effect had employed VFX. So VFX was the way to go before computers started taking over the various processes. Remember the thrilling end to the movie Cliffhanger? The hero hanging on for his life by the edge of the mountain when this enormous chopper was blasted off only inches from him. Well that is a pristine example of VFX in action. In reality, the shot of the actor hanging on for his life by the ledge and the exploding chopper were nowhere near each other. In fact, as far as the actor's scene is concerned, there wasn't even the mountain. He was simply hanging on over a “choter bosta” (the way mountains and caves are constructed in dhakaiya cinema, believe it or not!). The chopper that was blasted was just a miniature toy. To make the scene believable, the entire thing is played in slow-mo, so that the toy looks like it had masses over ton.

Speaking of slow-mo, I bet all of you remember that famous slow-mo scenes in Matrix, that would fall within the category of VFX. Remember the roof top scene where Neo evaded a barrage of gunshots hurled at him while the camera seemed to move around him in glorious 360 degrees? Well the entire thing was shot on a green screen (used to be blue but apparently green works better), with Keanu being manipulated with a set of rigid strings (talk about puppets!) and 135 high speed still cameras placed strategically all around him. The final outcome had to go through computer post production to create a seamless camera angle, but it is still VFX. In the history of Hollywood there are tons and tons of examples of VFX in virtually every movie made from the 1970's.

Agent Smith of Matrix transformed into a fireball with the aid of CGI

Compared to VFX, CG is more of the 90's flick. As the computer and the software's became more and more powerful, movie makers wanted to use more CG to help them shoot some of the more difficult and challenging scenes without seriously denting their budget. In cliffhanger, for the final showdown, the producers built 3 miniature choppers. As expected, the first chopper explosion didn't really go very well, but thankfully the second one did. But for that small 2 minute scene, the producers had spent thousands of dollars to destroy precious props, and had taken risk of serious damages. But in Charlie's Angels 2, in the opening gambit, a more hair raising stunt was shot, without any damage or loss of props, there were no miniatures or anything involved. In fact, the whole scene was fully rendered for a fraction of the cost. No explosions, no damages, unlimited tries and a perfect scene. Such is the power of CG.

Getting back to my all time favourite effects movie, The matrix, the scene where Neo takes off from the ground was an entire CG shot, no human or strings involved. In The Matrix Reloaded, the entire fight scene between Neo and hundreds of Agent smiths was done entirely in CG. For the scene, they fx people took very high resolution pictures of Neo and Smith and created them virtually, complete with human expressions of pain and hate. That, to me, is the Power of CG.

Keeping feature films aside, some of the powers of CG can be discovered in movies like Final Fantasy The Spirits Within and Animatrix, where the entire movies were rendered using super computers. When I saw the Final Fantasy Spirits within for the first time, I literally jumped out of the seat and went closer to the Television, just to make sure whether Akira (with all 100,000 of her fully flowing hair) was for real or rendered. The exponential rise to the power of computation can be seen in Robots where the physics of thousands of tiny marbles were calculated as they hit each other and bounced off the surface and rolled along. The line between imagination and reality has been challenged.

Final Fantasy: Exquisite details such as hair that flows like the real thing

All these breath taking animations and special effects was made possible by the use of expert animators, who work day and night to combine the tasks of animating, acting, visualizing and directing sitting thousands of work hours in dimly lit studios. But these would not have been possible either without the use of software like Maya, 3DS max and Lightwave. These software's have brought dreams come to reality. In the last segment of this series, I will discuss some of the basics of these 3D software and how exactly animated movies or virtual live action scenes are brought to life through the animators imagination. Till then, Ciao.

Type words and play games on a computer using
No kidding!

By, Niloy

New technology shown at CeBIT 2006 show, the largest IT festival in the world, allowed volunteers to type out sentences and play a game of PONG using just their minds.

It works by translating thoughts into cursor movements on a computer screen allowing users to type messages onto a computer screen or control an on-screen object by mentally controlling the movement of the cursor. The user has to wear a cap containing electrodes that measure electrical activity inside the brain, known as an electroencephalogram signal, and imagine moving their left or right arm in order to move the cursor around. "It's a very strange sensation," says a user. "And you can understand from the crowds watching that the potential is huge."

The brain-computer interface uses 128 electrodes placed on the scalp to translate thoughts into cursor movements on a computer screen. The project is being run by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology in Berlin.

The concept is still in its infancy, as evidenced by the five to 10 minutes it takes just to write a typical sentence. It's also difficult to place those electrodes on the skullit reportedly takes an hour to place all 128 in just the right spot. But the scientists are working on that, too, where they're developing a more convenient contact-less cap it will take the place of all those cumbersome electrodes.

This particular technology holds enormous promise for “perfecting prosthetics, assisting quadriplegics, and improving vehicle safety.” So what's the first application shown off at CeBIT? A way of playing (and losing) a game of PONG... with - your - mind. Check out the video of it in action at http://doiop.com/MindPong

The technology needs a lot of refining, but it does have a huge potential. Maybe ten years from now, we are going to look back at today's times and laugh, "Hey, remember those days when you had to actually use your fingers to get the information on the screen?"



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