Friday, October 12, 2012

"Who are you calling inferior?!"

If you've been following what I have posted, then obviously this is part 2 of the whole thing.  If you're the kind who just want to read up on my personal experience on it, then you're at the right page.  The previous post was kind of a long preface to the whole thing.  Anyway...

Originally I did not know what I was getting into.  This was going to be my first 3rd-party unlicensed product purchased.  Meaning, I never knew if there was any particular problem, quirks, issues, and what-have-you.  Basically, I was flying blind.  I do not know if they are reputable.  I do not know if there are quality issues.  I do not know if it is worth the price.  So it was a gamble.

When I noticed that my order has shipped out, I kept a close eye on it as it rode on a FedEx truck from TFSource over to the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  As soon as I saw the FedEx truck pull up, I ran out the door to greet the man.  Finally, and at long last.

I carefully cut the tape like any neat freak would have to open it up.  I had to remove brown crumpled paper padding, foam lining, and a cardboard layer just to remove the product from the box.  Yes, TFSource packaged it like that.  I dare any other companies to try to do the same.

The gift set came with the toys mostly arranged so that you can piece them together to form Giant right on the spot.  This is a nice setup to have.  But it is also not a good start.  The instructions booklet that came with it showed steps for changing from vehicle to robot and from vehicle to component (for Giant assembly).  So it was a bit tricky trying to reverse the steps to get it back to vehicle mode.

Each vehicle mode is designed very nicely.  The design on having the vehicles look like actual construction machines is surprisingly good for a 3rd-party design.  The build constructions feels solid and the paint application looks very good.  As with any toy design, where there is parts the toys excel in, there needs to be a compromise in another.  Some parts do not turn, rotate, or move.  Yet, I cannot find myself to fault Maketoys for doing that.  There is probably one or two places within the whole set that may not entirely fit snugly or correctly.  But given the amount of money invested into this, I dare not try to force it in.  Still, it is a minor issue and exists only on the dump truck toy in vehicle mode.

Changing them from vehicle to robot mode proved to be an interesting challenge.  But, again, having invested so much in getting this toy set, I resorted to using the instructions booklet to ensure that what I am doing does not mean I'll end up breaking a piece off.  Of the six that I have handled, the most complex and intricate is perhaps the front-end loader, aka "Scrapper."  His transformation steps was probably the most tricky of them all.  The most stiff is definitely the mobile crane, aka "Hook."  Trying to get the arms to properly set and become arms proved to be the most stiff.  On that, I can see that they could use a bit of improvement on it and make it less stiff.  Overall, each piece are molded in a frighteningly precise specification that makes Hasbro's toy release feel like Lego bricks.  Granted, these are high quality toys designed by a 3rd party.  And they probably have that intention of being as high of a quality as possible.  Still, the way it is all designed gives you the feeling that there is little room for error.  It's a minor thing.  Such a flaw is probably a 0.1 or 0.2 point deduction out of 10 or 5.

Piecing each figure together to form Giant is an experience on its own.  Where to start is often a question one will ask.  I think for most, they start at the legs/feet.  Getting them set is simple, at least for Mixer.  Front Loader though is a different story.  One has to arrange the back heel so that it is aligned correctly.  It is then held together by the engine that is popped off.  Setting up Dump Truck was fairly easy, as I have already seen how it looks when I first took it out of the box.  Changing him into the lower-torso and hip means changing him partially into robot mode.  Once that is done, connecting him to Front Loader and Mixer was simple.  The locking mechanism is probably the best way of knowing that the connection is secure.  I welcome that any day as this makes assembling a gestalt a more fulfilling experience.  The next step I took is to get Mobile Crane set to become the upper torso/chest and head.  The head is pre-connected.  Revealing it is a matter of sliding the head out and flipping the "cap" up.  It is there I experience what others have noted on their review of Mobile Crane: the head does not look up well.  I am not entirely sure if this is a fault or if this is by design.  Thus I do not know if a point deduction is warranted.  But I'll leave it as it is for the time being.  Connecting Mobile Crane to Dump Truck to complete the body is a simple matter of aligning the slots up and letting the locking mechanism hold it in place.  For Excavator and Bulldozer, setting them up is a simple matter of pulling out part of the arm piece, snapping into place, and rotating the pegs appropriately.  One has to be careful on connecting the forearms to the vehicle itself, it can be a bit tricky trying to pull them apart and reorienting it.  While preview photos of Giants never showed this, the hands are designed with individual fingers.  However, the fingers themselves are static and curled.  Still, this is a nice thing to have for a big piece like this.  Connecting each arms means plugging the peg into Mobile Crane which has a locking mechanism there too.  Once both arms are connected, the Giant figure is complete, more or less.

In the short time that I have tinkered with Giant and each individual toy itself, I find the overall experience to be great, much to my surprise.  I did not know what to expect even though I have looked at the same photos so many times.  Yet it never ceases to amaze me just how awesome it looks.  Yes, it is factually noted that he is smaller than TFC Toys' Hercules.  But the size difference is rather minor to be honest.  And the savings you get for choosing Maketoys' version over TFC Toys' is immense.  Those with smaller and tighter wallets may opt for Maketoys' version for their Devastator fix.

The common question to be asked is... "Is it worth it?"  That's something I cannot honestly answer.  This is my first 3rd-party toy purchase.  And it may not be my last either.  The build quality is definitely up there.  I can say with confidence that it is superior to both Hasbro and Takara-Tomy.  Often if I were to buy official Transformers toys, I tend to get the ones released and offered by Takara-Tomy.  It is due to the fact that the mold quality and paint application quality is superior to the ones released by Hasbro.  Still, it is a very heavy investment.  The most I can every say with regards to this is to contemplate over it heavily.  Never be hasty in ordering right off the bat, unless you're easily raking in dough.

The next common question is perhaps "Am I happy with this purchase?"  I'll say yes to that.  Yes it hit the wallet hard.  And I did gave some serious thoughts when I was browsing through several photos.  Yet I heard no news from neither Hasbro nor Takara-Tomy about having a reimagined Constructicons.  Something has got to give.  So I went with this.  Yet at the same time, I cannot help but wonder... Even if Takara-Tomy or Hasbro were to design and produce a reimagined Constructicons, can it ever live up to the quality of design that both TFC Toys and Maketoys produced?  Or more importantly, can it ever match the build quality that both of these 3rd-party companies put out?  I've long supported Takara-Tomy, especially in their Masterpiece line and their defunct Binal-Tech line of toys.  But the current generation of toys being produced now is mostly derived from the Fall of Cybertron game and the Transformers Prime TV series.  For the time being, there is virtually nothing for me to look at.  I guess you could say that they created the void in which TFC Toys and Maketoys have filled.

"Constructicons inferior."

You could say that there are two or three types of Transformers fans, all of which grew up in a certain period or era.  The first is, of course, the Generation 1 era.  Fans of this era remember the old days of watching the series on TV, seeing the movie on the big screen or on home video, and the feeling we got when we saw Optimus Prime died.  Back then, both Prime and Megatron were a truck and a Walther P38 pistol respectively.  It was also the time when we saw a team of smaller robots combine to form a bigger and more powerful robot.  And thus, the gestalt was born.

The next in the era and fans were the Beast Wars, Machines, and imported anime series.  These include the entire Beast Wars CG series as well as the horrible follow-up Beast Machines.  The Japan-only Beast Wars II and Neo anime series are within this realm.  What followed were Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, and Cybertron, series that were originally done in Japan and brought over to the US for airing.  Their Japanese name counterparts were Car Robot, Micron Densetsu, Super Link, and Galaxy Force in the same order.

Then there's the Michael Bay Transformers -- 3 movies that spawned a new line of toys, designs, as well as terrible writing, acting, and creative input.  There are those who like it.  But there are those, like me, who despise it.

But that's the basic gist of it, for the different types of Transformers fans out there.  So why the explanation of all that?  Because there are those who do not know it.  There are people out there who know next to nothing about the whole Transformers series and culture, and know next to nothing about who is who and what they change into.  But that is okay.  It helps them to realize that the Transformers name is much bigger than just the three shoddy movies that Michael Bay put out.

The only gestalt ever shown in the Michael Bay version happens to be the Constructicons, a team of construction-themed vehicles that can combine to form Devastator.  However, unlike the Michael Bay version, the Devastator that any Transformers fan would describe to you comes without banging hung steel balls.  The Constructicons and the Devastator names were used many times in the toy line but came in as mere recolor of existing toy designs.  The original Constructicons toys came out over 20 years ago.  They were small, green, and were named Scrapper, Long Haul, Hook, Scavenger, Bonecrusher, and Mixmaster.  When combined as Devastator, its destructive power and strength is matched only by the Dinobot team or Omega Supreme himself.

While the toy itself was over 20 years old, it would take Takara-Tomy, the Japanese company that handles the release of Transformers toys (and often times, the design as well), just as long to reissue the very toy that boosted the success of the Transformers line.  However, times have changed since its initial release.  The toys themselves were simple, often bulky, and very limited in articulations.  But that is to be expected for a toy that was designed, produced, and released 20+ years ago.

Now, there has been some interesting toy releases since then prior to reissued Devastator.  They were named as Generations in America and Henkei in Japan.  They featured toys reimagined using today's more modern vehicle or toy designs.  One of the first two to come out were, obviously, Optimus Prime and Megatron.  Interestingly enough, the release of Megatron marks the first time he turns into a pistol/gun in years.  This gave fans some ideas as to what they would like to see next.  One of the obvious request is the Constructicons.  But ever since the first set of Generations toys came out, there has been no words or news about ever a Constructicons set being planned or designed for that matter.  And thus, the idea falls upon two 3rd-party companies, who seeks to unleash their creativity ideas onto the world in two ways.

TFC Toys settled on their design based on the concept and idea of Generations reimagining.  However, part of the design process was partially eliminated due to the on-going comic book that featured the Constructicons.  Their Devastator would then be named Hercules and it would be their tribute and homage to the Constructicons team. On the other end of the spectrum, Maketoys sought a different design process.  Their design idea is based on the Generation 1 toys.  Thus the vehicles and combined form will appear the most familiar.  And they would named their combined form as simply... Giant.

The result would be a set of unlicensed 3rd-party toys that both Takara-Tomy and Hasbro never ventured into.  They had ample amount of time to design, produce, and release it.  But we never saw nor heard of anything with regards to it.  In the end, it's a shame that neither companies would take that step to do something as big as this.

Both TFC Toys and Maketoys differ in many ways for their Constructicons homage.  The most obvious is in size and in price.  At the time of composing this, individual piece for TFC Toys' Hercules set costs just over US$100.  The total expense would result in a set weighing in over US$600.  For many, this is a hard price to swallow.  On the other end, Maketoys' Giant originally came in three packages that featured two pieces of the set.  Each package were released with a price of around US$120 each.  The whole set would total about US$360, significantly less than TFC Toys' offering.

Originally, Maketoys' Giant series were released in yellow color.  This is perhaps homage to the Generation 2 colors that were released during the decline of Transformers' popularity.  Words of a green color variant came about and would be released as a complete gift set, featuring all 6 pieces, plus toy design updates.  I jumped on it.  Granted, this is a hell of an expensive toy offering.  But it is a lot lighter on the wallet than TFC Toys' asking price.  The wait was long.  But the extended wait that I had to endure helped alleviate the harsh hit on the wallet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BF3: Walking Away

Having played Battlefield 3 since its release, I've come to the point where I cannot focus on it any more. On July, I hit a snag. The fan on my video card has stopped working. The blades won't spin any more and thus I had to send it to XFX to have it serviced. However, it took XFX longer than I anticipated and I was out of the loop for nearly a month. By the time I have the card back, I was so rusty and so out of touch that my skills (along with my knife) has dulled. Like any gamers, we tend to move on to a different game or fire up an oldie and relive those days. For me, I am in the process of moving on to a different game: Guild Wars 2. Having pre-ordered the game and getting the perks, I will be starting my play on August 25th, while others who did not have those perks will start on August 28th.

This is pretty much as anyone would have guessed and assumed. So to get to the point, and for those who have known me and have played with me in the past, thank you all for the awesome nights. Thank to the handful of you who I have played against and with, along with the shiny dogtags that you have given me. I am retiring the knife and its brother, the ACB-90.

In my stabbing journey, I have managed to claw my way up the world rankings. Keeping up with the rest was a tad rough. But ever since hitting that snag, I have slowed down and pretty much stopped.  I have achieved what I have already sought after, to be within the top 500 in the world. And with that, I can walk away proud for that achievement, even for a fleeting moment.  I can no longer be bothered to step back in, actively, to climb my way back up the rankings and doing it all over again. It is not worth the time nor should I spend that much time doing so.  I have already invested over 600 hours, meticulously restricting my sessions to 2-3 hours per night.  I have done most of what I wanted to do.  I have unlocked most of what I wanted.  I have earned most of what I wanted.  However, the one thing that the game has failed to do is keep me in.  With the way our current PC gaming system works, there is absolutely nothing worthwhile that can prolong the life of this game.  There is no mod tool to create modifications to the original game.  There is no map creation tool to generate new maps. There is no system in place that can help people play on new maps created by the PC gaming community.  And then there's Origin.

There are still numerous things that can be done to save the game, to fix the game, to prolong the game.  The community has given ideas, suggestions, and their thoughts on how to improve Battlefield 3.  Yet all we got in return is silence and more methods for which DICE and EA can generate more revenues.  We are being ripped off time and time again.  And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I will not bother to purchase Battlefield 4.

Anyway, this is pretty much it... There will be rare times where I play BF3. But in general, my knife is officially retired.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Seven Sword: Done

It's been way too long since I last posted any update with regard to this model.  The model itself was finished a long time ago.  The problem was that I procrastinated on taking photos of the finished model with its LED lightings on.  And no matter how many times I've looked at it, I cannot help but think that this is one of the coolest model designs as far as extra features go.  I've seen numerous Gundam models.  There are plenty of basic ones with only the basic essentials that define the Gundam character itself.  For instance, the latest Gundam franchise is the AGE line.  The AGE-1 Normal model is quite basic on many levels.  I had this Gundam model ordered and delivered.  And I can already tell from the size of the box that there isn't many accessories or anything fancy to go with it.  It's the same with the Gundam Deathscythe EW model.  Examples of models that had a lot of accessories or have special features are the Astray Red Frame, this 00 Gundam Seven Swords, Destiny Gundam, and Sword Impulse Gundam.  They come in bigger boxes, have more parts, and can take longer to assemble.

In my rush to get the pictures done, I didn't take enough time to really set up a decent backdrop.  So the whole quality seems more half-baked than I'd like.  Still, because of the LED lighting that Seven Swords can have, lighting is a bit of a tricky issue.  In order to better bring out the LED lightings that illuminate the eyes as well as the GN drives on the shoulders, I turned off the camera's flash entirely.  The result is that the picture would end up looking grainier than normal because of higher ISO speed used.  Well, nothing much can be done other than retake the pictures another time.  However, I do not know when I'll ever come around to doing that.  If I ever get a proper setup for snapping pictures of my Gundam model, amongst other items that I'd love to snap photos of, I may revisit it.  Until then, this is perhaps as good as it gets.

I haven't touched Gundam AGE-1 Normal yet since receiving it.  And for the time being, it seems I'll be suspending my Gundam model collection.  I have viewed the designs for the Gundams in AGE and none of them piqued my interest.  Granted, the design was more intended for the children as a way to get them into the whole Gundam franchise as well as model, the whole series itself seems uninteresting.  Since Bandai's main Gundam focus is now on the AGE line, it means that there will be next to nothing new for designs.  Since I started the Gundam model hobby based on designs, this will come as a bit of a relief to the wallet.  With today's economic struggles, the dollar/yen exchange rate is an absolute mess.  I suppose this is, in a way, a double-win for me.

Anyway, I finally got this piece out of the way.  Now if I can just get around to piecing together AGE-1 Normal...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

MIA: Android Battlelog

I've been playing Battlefield 3 since the day it launched.  Now, granted, I wasn't bothered by their iPhone app for Battlelog.  I figured that it won't be long until an Android counterpart would come soon anyway.  At the very least, that's what everyone had hoped for.

Recently, I just ordered myself my first smartphone -- a Samsung Galaxy S III (or S3 for short).  I've long held off on getting one because the smartphone market has been pretty fragmented and uninteresting.  That was until the S3 came along.  Here and there, I've looked into reviews and spec sheets over each smartphone.  I've looked through a lot of them.  And a lot of them had some sort of deficiency that detracted me from getting one.  Added to that is the fact that getting a phone w/o any ties would cost an arm and a leg.  So I held off on getting one.

I've watched the Android market explode and become as big as it is today.  Tons of Android phones with varying degree of features, and OS versions, as well as power, capabilities, and battery life.  You get all that for less than what most people would pay for an iPhone.  But that's the thing.  Granted, iPhone is perhaps one of the biggest selling smartphone identity since the Blackberry.  In fact, it essentially steamrolled over the Blackberry like Judge Doom.  But ever since the Android came into the market, things has been tricky yet the OS slowly got better and better, along with the hardware too.  The hardware got better and it pulled even a GPU company into diving into the mobile device market with their own SoC (System on Chip).  Today, Android is competing head to head with iOS on even grounds.  The market is basically split in two.  Things were not as shakey as they were back then for Android.  And both are viable platforms for which to make apps on.

When Battlefield 3 came out, you had two major smartphone platform -- iOS and Android.  While it was initially disappointing to see that there's an app for the iOS platform, I figured it was a matter of time before an Android version would be released.

It's been 8 months since then.  And what do we have?  Nothing.  Google had its I/O conference and they unveiled Android 4.1, along with the Nexus 7 tablet.  Android is a market that will continue to grow and compete head-on with Apple and their iOS platform.  It only makes sense to have an app for both platform so you don't alienate your audience when it comes to a mobile app.  To not have an Android app after so many months is simply unacceptable.  In fact, it's downright deplorable.

So how long would it take to really have an official Android app for Battlelog?  It certainly should not be 8 months, if not 6.  To leave so many people out in the cold without an app, it does not make Battlelog a more social experience.  It's akin to making Battlelog an Apple experience.  It's not magical to me.  It's almost discriminatory.

I'm nearing the edge of my playing time for Battlefield 3.  There's a certain game slated for a late August release.  I have a feeling I won't have much time to continue supporting my "top 400" world ranking for knife kills.  Put simply, I might have to hang up my knife and let it retire.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

One Big Pile Of...

It's been a while since I last posted anything.  It seems that I've slacked off in getting my last Gundam finished up and its photo taken.  Hopefully I'll get around to it.

For the past several months, I've been constantly playing Battlefield 3.  That isn't to say that I've been playing 24/7.  But whenever possible, I clock in about 2 to 3 hours worth each night.  Sometimes less, due to illness or just too tired to bother.  Playing the game has been a rough ride, personally, because of what DICE, the developers of the game, have done with the franchise.  At first, things were pretty okay, with a couple of things broken and some things not working as it should.  And updates would be released in order to fix that.  Along with it are changes in how the weapons work and how things are rendered on the computer.  Mind you, I play first-person shooters on PC first rather than on consoles.  Yet in each and every update, I see some improvements bout a several drawbacks.  Getting used to them takes a while and usually I just don't find it all that interesting to really do anything else.  To pass time and in an attempt to challenge myself, I set up a rather unorthodox challenge.  Unlike most who would try to get certain kills using certain weapons or whatever else, mine is more of a long-term goal in mind.  The first challenge was to rise up in the world rankings and become part of the top 1000 in knife kills.  Meaning, using whatever means, be it a front slash kill or a takedown, I'll try to get a kill with a knife.  Any potential target or chance I get, I'd try my luck.

It didn't take long to really rise up in the world rankings.  And soon I've surpassed that mark of 1000.  Okay, challenge is over.  What's next?  Again, with nothing else to really do, I've continued what I've been doing.  It's gotten to the point where I'd know how to do a knife takendown almost proficiently.  The days go by and I'd fly past 900, 800, and 700.  So I figure I'd set up 500 as the next marker.  It's a nice round number and it isn't too drastic.

As I was climbing up the world rankings in being the top 500, I noticed that the rate of which I skip past others got a bit slower.  It's probably because the kill gap is continually changing.  Just how much is changing is beyond me.  Still, I didn't let it stop me, as I've been consistently going to a particular server and playing on a certain map to get those stabs.  Eventually I'd finally break the 500 mark and breathe a sigh of relief.  Yet I still do not know what else to do.  Granted, now that the new "expansion" has come out, there are new weapons to unlock and something for me to try out.  But that doesn't really stop me from constantly looking for lonely stragglers and gutless snipers to stab.

Another thing that I've been doing is doing video capture of my knifing runs.  The clips were nothing more than chances and spots where I've managed to hit the 'record' key and get a knife kill in the process.  There were several short clips but some were long and worth the HD space it consumed.  After processing 51 clips, it's time to edit it all and creating a montage video out of it.  But there's a problem with that.

To see what it's capable of, I installed some Windows Live Essentials programs and made sure to include Windows Live Movie Maker.  Editing in this software isn't too bad, and is capable of doing what I wanted it to do, at the basic level.  And when I finally got around to finalizing the whole thing for export, the only format I could save it under is a WMV file.  To me, this is an inferior format and I had wish they would use a more open or usable format, such as MP4.  Another drawback is the lack of encoding option.  There was no option to choose a different video encoding such as H264.  So I was stuck with encoding using Windows Media.  I saved the exported file for a trial run and gave it a quick view.  It only took me 2 seconds to see that the whole video look like crap.  The video was blurry and the video was saved using a very high bitrate too.  I looked high and low for ways to improve this and found nothing.  I was frustrated at the result of constant searching, reading, and the repeated trial & error that resulted in no improvement.

Another program that I tried was also free, called Lightworks.  This editor seems to have a good reputation as being the premiere editor of choice when it comes to film editing.  But I was looking beyond film editing.  Still, I gave it a trial run to see what it's capable of.  Sadly, there's little I could do.  Granted, editing is probably top notch but its video format was very lacking in almost every way possible.  Importing Motion-JPEG encoded videos is fine.  But it could not even support a lossless encoding format like Huffyuv.  And that really drags everything down.  Worse is that in order to support Motion-JPEG is that I was forced to install QuickTime on my system, which I could easily live without since I use iTunes as a music player.

In some YouTube videos, I see there are people using Sony Vegas.  I gave it a quick look through but there are things that doesn't make much sense and it felt very foreign.  I wasn't able to give it enough time to really examine the software throughout to see if it was truly worth using.  Still, it didn't feel like things fell into place when I tried it.

Frustrated, and feeling that there's no other option, I installed parts of Adobe Master Collection CS6, Premiere included. I have not used Premiere in a very long time. Still, some of the basic editing tools are still around and their concept of layers still applied despite their lettering to be reversed. After spending a few days with it, I got used to how things worked and started viewing their exporting option. While it is a bit disappointing that I do not have an output format of Matroska for a container, I'm relieved that it can encode in H264. For audio, it did not matter to me what encoding I used as I am fine with either MP3 or AAC. The biggest factor is always the video encoding and H264 is my preferred choice when exporting videos for upload.

The resulting export gave me a file that weighs in at 1GB for 15 minutes worth. Initially, I had thought YouTube would not allow me any video uploads longer than 15 minutes. Yet when I went in to upload the video itself, I get a blue banner notification saying that my account is approved for uploads longer than 15 minutes. "DOH!" Well, no use in dwelling over it. The cut was already made and I finalized the video. I have no intention of keeping the original and processed videos for long since they eat up so much space. I plan on doing some more but that's if I ever get around to doing it. I still need to do an example video showcasing the immense peripheral view difference between single-monitor gaming and triple-monitor gaming. I hope that I will have such a chance at some point. And then there's the idea of doing a full-round recording with a possible commentary mixed in.