Hello 2011! Part 2

Yesterday we looked some of the best video games coming up this year. Today I’d like to look at a few developments that will be interesting to watch in 2011.

The Android Strikes Back!

Last year, Apple was once again the big winner in the mobile market. The 4th gen iTouch devices impressed with more powerful processors and enhanced screens, but it was the iPad that really shook things up. While some questioned if a market existed for a device that was essentially a blown-up smart phone, it has since become clear that the tablet is here to stay.

Meanwhile however, even as Apple extends its dominance over the general public’s imagination, Google’s Android platform continues to grow. Android-based devices have become ubiquitous, and in the smartphone arena they have collectively become almost as prevalent as their iOS rivals. Offered by all mayor carriers (unlike the iPhone, still AT&T exclusive) and available in many sizes and price points, Android OS phones have also come to feature much improved hardware and functionality. The trend promises to continue well into year; and with the release of an updated OS, 2011 will likely finally see some tablets released that can take on the mighty iPad.

Kinetic Movements

Late last year Microsoft and Sony released the Kinetic and Playstation Move, respectively. They’ve come to join Nintendo’s Wii in living rooms (and dorm rooms) across the nation (indeed, the world!) in an attempt to control how we interact with our games, electronics, and indeed, each other. This movement (no pun intended) to revolutionize interaction hardly exists in isolation; one could argue that the multitouch devices we have in our pockets with their pinching and swiping gestures are another part of this trend. As a gamer, I remain somewhat unconvinced; in terms of precision, of simply an reliably translating my intent into actual on-screen results, nothing I’ve tried yet has proven to be as effective as the old standbys: gamepads, or mouse and keyboard. And yet, not all gameplay experiences are about precision, and not all interactivity is about gaming (or so I’m told). A lot of fun can be had with a Wiimote. Still, for us hardcore gamers, the potential of motion controls has yet to be realized. Now that Microsoft and Sony have entered the arena, maybe we’ll finally get our due. Neither system had anything hugely impressive in their release libraries, but then again neither did xbox360 or PS3. 2011 will be the year that will either make or break motion control in the eyes of core gamers.

As an aside, these new systems, particularly Kinect, have other, non-game non-motion functionality, such as cameras and speech recognition. A media center that responds to my verbal commands, a full digital collection of music and video files, reconfigurable touch screens here and there, and little PADD like devices in our pockets. Daily life is starting to resemble an average episode of Star Trek The Next Generation.

Comics Movies in Space

The last few years have seen quite a number of superhero movies released. Many of these have been successful, and some have even been quite good. The first two X-Men, the first two Spider-Mans, the latest Batman movies, The Watchmen, and Iron Man and its sequel have all done at least modestly well and have been at least decent; some have been truly excellent. I would argue that this is partly due to the fact that the source material (the comics) has been respected more than in the past.

However, these movies have featured predominantly “street-level” heroes. Even the super-powered X-Men have primarily dealt with humans or other mutants. Certain things have been simplified (Juggernaut is a mutant; no magic) or avoided (Apocalypse, anything to do with the Shi’ar Empire) to keep the plot straightforward and easy to handle for a general audience. Also perhaps to keep budgets under control. In other words, all of these movies have happened on Earth, often in the streets or neighborhoods of places we know.

That is about to change this year. At least two comics movies are about to be released that are as much sci-fi/fantasy as they are superhero-centered, and I am very curious to see how it all turns out. I’m speaking,of course about Thor and Green Lantern. Both ave trailers out now. One will take us to Asgard and the gods, the other to Oa and the guardians. Both should feature strange locations and some truly epic threats; planet-level stuff. I expect CG to fly like candy, and the trailers so far seem to support that assessment. From the trailers, it also seems apparent that we’ll be getting fairly faithful translations of the comics; at least as much so as previous Marvel endeavors. Faithful in broad strokes and spirit, if not in detail. I like both leading men; I’ve been fond of Ryan Reynolds’ comedic talents for a while and thought he made a fantastic (if horribly misused) Deadpool in the Wolverine movie. Chris Hemsworth I’m less familiar with, but found him instantly likeable as George Kirk; in fact those early scenes depicting the fate of the USS Kelvin were my favorite part of that movie. From the trailer it seems like he has bulked up considerably for Thor, and he seems to look the part. Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin might potentially make for the coolest superhero dad since Marlon Brando played Jor-El to Christopher Reeves’ Superman.

Both trailers show impressive creatures and Sci-Fi vistas. Asgard and Oa look amazing. The Frost Giants and Kilowog, Sinestro and Loki, all look spot-on at first (brief) glance. The challenge now resides, as it should, on the tone the movies strike, on the tightness of the script, and the performances of the cast. I’m not without some concern about the direction the movies will take and the final result, but remain guardedly optimistic. Still, a decade ago I’d have called these movies unfilmable and would have thought it all but impossible that they would be considered high-potential mainstream blockbusters. Nothing to be done now but wait and see how it all turns out. Somebody please pass the popcorn.

Thats all for now. Bring on 2011!

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