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"Nothing says 'Happy Birthday!' like rubbing Jeremy's face in it."

Richard Hammond 
 .:[ Further Blitzing ]:.Posted: 02:27 on Monday, 15 October 2007 
State: bit poorly  Music: Autonomus 

Well, i'm creeping towards the end of the trial period for Blitz Max and it's pretty much decided that i want to make that relatively little investment to get a licence so that i can continue using it and hopefully produce some decent games. And since people reading may find it interesting (who knows... i'd be slightly surprised but there y'go!) here's a little "review" of it.

The positives
Max is really quick... not as quick at basic image shifting as Blitz 2D since that'll even run on my (t)rusty P2 laptop at a decent speed but, considering what it can do and all the image blending and manipulation options, it rattles along nicely. One thing that really surprised me came about by accident early on, i'd loaded a background image and was trying to place a rotating primitive over the top with light blending and had just added rotation... but forgotten to reset the rotation for the background. Max proceeded to smoothly rotate the entire image around it's top left corner at full speed!

In fact, the image scaling and rotation is very quick, staggeringly easy to use and surprisingly good at cleaning up the edges of the scaling; there aren't any large pixels to be seen and the controls over both rotating and scaling are given very fine control. As i said previously, the light blending options make producing Geometry Wars-style phosphor glow effects stunningly easy but they can also write in images as either alpha or light blended with selectable alpha and there's support for the alpha channel in PNG files too.

Generally speaking, it's just as easy to slap simple games together with Blitz Max as it was with Blitz 2D and Plus, but now there are further options to extend the range of what it can do graphically to experiment with and those simple games can be rather special on the pyrotechnic front.

The negatives
To be honest, there's not many to be had... error trapping can be a little vague sometimes in the same way the 2D was (a personal bugbear of mine and one of the reasons i've never liked Dasm and find Xlang a bit annoying) and it can get confused as to what is causing the problem; a forgotten NEXT or ENDIF can accidentally cause a nearby ENDFUNCTION to become orphaned from the FUNCTION declaration it's paired with, for example. There also appear to be some memory issues, leaving a Blitz Max-compiled program running for an extended period will usually cause it to grind to a halt and, although i'm not sure if these seize-ups are gradual or sudden (since the program is being left to it's own devices in lieu of a screen saver) it still looks a bit worrying.

The biggest niggle i have, however, is the lack of out-of-the-box support for Pro/Fast/ScreamTracker modules or (unless i'm missing something) MIDI music. It can be added with the registered version of Max but, in order to make a program cross-platform compatible, it works out easier to stick with the internally-supported formats, WAV for sound effects and OGG for music. That's a bit of a shame to be honest... i understand that the issues are with licenses for FMOD and indeed for MP3 decoding and can see why they'd want to perhaps step a little away, but i don't even want to use the thing for MP3 playback and i feel that at the very least a collaboration with the FMOD team to produce a pared down version of their code that purely handles modules and MIDI should've been included for those migrating from other flavours of Blitz.

It's not perfect, it's possibly not considered complete just yet with that memory leak (assuming it's not just my machine...!) but what is there is very workable, flexible and, importantly, powerful. One payment gets access to Max and it's dedicated IDE (which is an improvement on the older versions in most ways except the help pages, to be honest) on four formats and entitles the user to work with it for any commercial or non-commercial purpose; there seems to be support for PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, as well as for PCs running Windows or Linux. It's at least worth any amateur programmer's time for a look and, since it supports other langauges inline, might be worth considering for at least prototyping by those with more experience - i've read of it being used in a commercial environment for that, it makes a lot of sense since Max would make knocking up tech demos and so forth a lot easier.

 .:[ Adventuring with Sarah Jane ]:.Posted: 22:53 on Monday, 22 October 2007 
State: awake(!)  Music: Moonlight Shadow 

So i've been watching Sarah Jane Adventures for six weeks now without comment... time to say something i 'spose. On the more trivial front to begin with, i did notice a few weeks back that didn't strike me straight away is that the theme music has a couple of nods to the mothership; the amazing Murray Gold, who performed a minor miracle by producing a modern interpretation of the Doctor Who theme that i actually like with an orchestra no less, has put a couple of cheeky little touches in, but the ones that struck me specifically are the down slide used at the start and end (as well as during) that are more than a little reminiscent of the first note of the Peter Howell rendition and general beat of the bass. Minor points yes, but a nice touch that i found myself missing with the Torchwood theme.

One thing that has always worried me about SJA was never the idea of Sarah Jane coming back to television in order to solve Earth-based mysteries; i was up for that part of the concept straight out of the box and Elisabeth Sladen has always been, to my mind, an underrated talent and even us more "hardcore" 'Who fans haven't seen much of her despite watching all the documentaries produced in the last ten years alone for DVD releases and anniversaries, partly because she essentially "retired" to be with her family when her daughter Sadie was born (and you'll never hear me say a bad word about anybody putting family before work). No, i knew Lis would be excellent as long as she was given at least a half decent script to work with and, to date, she's had some very good material to get her teeth into. No, what worried me was kids.

Y'see, despite being a slightly worrying fan of children's television who can happily spend an hour watching shows like Kim Possible, Fillmore or the Teletubbies when in the right mood, i'm not massively keen on shows that rely heavily on child actors - there are very few who don't come across as just a little false simply because they're too young. And now here was Sarah Jane firing on all proverbial cylinders (oh, i quite liked the car too and it's got loads more character than that blue Metro used for K9 And Company), Alexander Armstrong voicing suave hyper-computer Mr. Smith and no less than three child actor leads... and in the first episode we had Kelsey. i hate being negative about anything that's part of the Doctor Who universe, but watching "Invasion of the Bane" i was cringing just a bit at Kelsey's character; Luke made absolute sense, Maria was perfect as the inquisitive teen who gets caught up in something exciting and wants to keep being excited (and, ironically, seems to be who the audience is meant to relate to rather than Sarah Jane who has become a little mysterious, sort of the Doctor character this time around) but Kelsey... her motivations just didn't seem to work. She also seemed out of her depth with Sarah Jane, Luke and Maria and the idea of a series with her as a lead character was, regardless of how much i wanted to watch it and enjoyed the pilot, always going to be a bit difficult to sit in front of. But come the first episode of season one she'd disappeared, replaced by new arrival Clyde who, whilst retaining those "streetwise" characteristics Kelsey that was bringing to the table, was far deeper generally, operating on the same wavelength as the other characters and a good juxtaposition for the still naive Luke.

So... for the full series the production values are excellent with The Mill throwing their weight around a bit (such as the very nice looking-out-of-the-orbiting-spaceship shot shown earlier today) and some very good prosthetics (although the Slitheen being purely costume-based was, for me, a bit of a letdown since lack of the faster-moving, more aggressive CGI ones took some of the edge away), a cast of characters that now works well even if Maria's mum is a bit overkill and a series of scripts that aren't, as i did vaguely worry, all based in or around schools. We're getting some depth, characterisation, emotion, moral dilemmas and all the action viewers could want. But what is interesting is that, whilst the new look Doctor Who has changed it's tack somewhat by going over to mostly single-part stories, SJA uses an episodic format and, possibly because it has a lower overall budget, is actually more reminiscent of "classic 'Who" than the new series! That's certainly not a knock at the new 'Who at all which has been almost always fantastic and very good for the bits that weren't or indeed for Torchwood which works as an adult-targeted look at the 'Who universe, but of all the paths SJA could have taken which would've been twee, cloying or just plain rubbish, this works and, somehow, seems the most appropriate. If you're not watching it, you should be.

And as another aside it seems there's a Children In Need special on the books from the Doctor Who team called "Time Crash" and, fanboy joy of joys, it's a Doctor-meets-Doctor piece written by Steven "Blink" Moffat! Peter Davison is bringing the fifth Doctor back to our screens for the first time since Dimensions In time.. it'll probably just be a fifteen minute throw-away like the year before last and i'm at a bit of a loss to see how they can wedge it into ongoing continuity since the set-up for the Chrimble special is at the end of the last aired story (then again... considering the title, i've just thought of a few possibles!) but who bloody cares since it's Tennant and Davison with a Steven Moffat script! Woohoo!

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