Saturday 26 November 2011

World of Kung Fu Panda

There'll be no political posts right now, in keeping with electoral law guidelines. So, we're taking a detour for now.

In the days of Warcraft 3, the 'pandaren', a race of panda-like people, were created by senior Blizzard Entertainment artist Samwise Didier as an April Fools joke. But by popular demand, they were later incorporated into the game as playable units, only to vanish from the scene in World of Warcraft.

At BlizzCon 2011, Blizzard announced the next World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Months earlier, the name had been officially registered at the US Patent Office as "digital entertainment", cranking the rumour mill up to 11. There were those who found it inconceivable that the next expansion could be all about pandaren, and as such believed it would be a mobile game of some sort, given that the patent explicitly ruled out any non-digital media such as books, comics or card games.

With the official announcement, the Warcraft fan base was immediately polarised. While some welcomed the announcement as a breath of fresh air and a bit of harmless fun, others felt that the inclusion of the pandaren would forever ruin the game, with some going as far as threatening to cancel their subscriptions once it was released. The most common complaint heard about Mists of Pandaria is that it's one big rip-off of Kung Fu Panda, and that it was a sop to the kiddie crowd and 'furry fandom' subculture.

Rumours also resurfaced of Mists being banned for sale in China, due to supposed laws against depicting the killing of pandas in games after negative reaction from Chinese gamers. That's actually an urban myth, as there are plenty of games in China which depict pandas involved in deadly combat. The real reason behind the negative reaction was the pandaren originally being designed to look like Japanese samurai — invoking still-raw memories of General Tojo's wartime atrocities — and were later changed to look more Chinese.

Personally I'm not too hung up about the forthcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion. Yes, there is an element of Kung Fu Panda, but the pandaren were conceived by Didier long before the movie came out. The game mechanics will be further refined for the better. And it seems to offer a bit of light relief after the overall grimness of the last 2 expansions, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm.

A potentially more serious issue surrounding the Warcraft universe is perceptions of faction bias, whether founded or unfounded. Rumours were leaked a few days after BlizzCon 2011 that in the lead-up to Mists, a major Alliance city would be destroyed by the opposing Horde, triggering a major inter-faction war that would be the main theme of Mists. It provoked an Internet backdraft never seen before in Warcraft circles, prompting defensive responses by Blizzard community managers. Yet it was merely the trigger for an issue that had been brewing for at least a couple of years. Daniel Whitcomb of WoW Insider and The Renaissance Man of the Children of Wrath blog have already explained the issues in depth.

My take on the matter is that the bias is not necessarily intentional, but in comparison to its Horde-side counterpart, Alliance-side quests and lore — especially in Cataclysm — have been rushed through to meet release schedules, and as a result have come across as somewhat flat and one-dimensional. As pointed out by Renaissance Man above, such flaws are a lot more pronounced in interactive media like computer games, than they are in books or films.

If Blizzard gets it right, there'll be some much needed depth to the storyline. Get it wrong, and World of Warcraft could fatally lose a sizeable chunk of its player base, and may even provoke jingoistic fervour that could spill over into real-world violence, as happened with the 2011 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver. For the most part Blizzard has never put out a bad game, and the next Warcraft expansion could put that to the test.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Two Johnnies

The Tea Tapes affair has taken some interesting turns. Some have compared it with the News of the World phone hacking scandal. While others have said it's much needed sunlight.

And out of left field comes the lawyer representing the Hackgate victims, calling for the tapes to be released:
"There is a difference between the News of the World hacking into someone's phone to find out private information and seemingly - whether accidental or on purpose - effectively a journalist investigating some political statement,” he says.
“That's something that is in the public interest and sounds like it should be reported without the unfavourable comparison to what was clearly a criminal act."
If you read some of the comments in the above story, it's funny how those who still believe in the Mother England cargo cult delusion are now telling it to butt out. And Talkbackistan is going all "la la la la la, I can't hear you!" Forced exposure to sunlight makes more than just vampires behave very strangely indeed.

If there really was nothing to hide, then why go straight to the boys in blue, instead of the Press Council? Regardless of one's views, the mask is visibly starting to slip. Recent past leaders like Rob Muldoon, David Lange, Jim Bolger and Helen Clark didn't need masks. When you hold up a mirror to those who rely on the smokescreen of keeping us deaf, dumb, happy and fat, it'll crack.

"It's goodnight from me." "And it's goodnight from him."

Sunday 13 November 2011

Death of a Prime Minister

Artist Sam Mahon has created an artwork depicting John Key as a homicide victim. Even opposition leader Phil Goff thinks it's in bad taste.

On balance though, it's not that different to the speculative documentary, Death of a President, which I saw at the 2007 NZ Film Festival. It wasn't so much an anti-Bush polemic - Bush is depicted as a victim rather than antagonist - as it was a wider commentary on civil liberties, racial profiling, tabloid journalism, and how authorities are desperate to be seen to be doing something regardless of the consequences.

Friday 11 November 2011


I wonder if this was an inside job by Weta? No one else could have lit blue touch paper that well.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Holiday Highways to Nowhere

Ever been to Japan and seen the infamous Roads to Nowhere? They make Rob Muldoon's Think Big projects look like sand castles, and they're basically what happen when public officials and vested private-sector interests get a little too cosy. In America, it's the same with the proposed Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska.

The proposed Puhoi-Wellsford highway - otherwise known as the Holiday Highway - threatens to take NZ down the same path. The good folk at Auckland Transport Blog have already done the fisking, and the general idea is that all that has to be done is fix a few blackspots.

The gold plating proposed for the Holiday Highway and certain other 'Roads of National Significance' has little to do with actual transport needs and safety, and much to do with old boys networks and a compliant Prostetnic Vogon cosying up to Big Trucking (who were recently successful in getting their 53-tonne wish, but that's for another post). Just like in Japan and Alaska.

Feel free to circulate this poster far and wide. Better still, go one up, and print and enlarge it.

UPDATE - 29 May 2012: The ante has been upped and the figure is now up to $14 billion, from recent news reports. Also available as prints from CafePress.

The City That Sued God

Remember Billy Connolly's battles with Big Insurance? Well, anyone who's living in Christchurch right now and facing uncertainty about the colour of their zones probably do.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

The Instant Anime Attitude

A salute to one of the finest advertising campaigns to come out of New Zealand in the early 1990s, this video was entered into the 2009 Wellington Armageddon AMV contest. No prize this time though, despite having better production values than the actual winners.

The World's First Split Enz AMV

I entered this video for the Wellington Armageddon 2006 Anime Music Video contest, earning 2nd prize and a collection of free DVDs. As the title implies, this was the first ever AMV done to a Split Enz song, which kind of surprised me.

Interestingly, when I showed this video in Wellington, there was laughter all round the auditorium. But when it was shown at Auckland Armageddon later in the year, the response was far more muted.

Welcome to the Kumara Republic

Welcome to the Kumara Republic, one of the latest additions to the estimated 200 million-plus blogs in existence.

So why add to already crowded cyberspace? To stimulate minds in a world increasingly racing to the lowest common denominator. To air certain viewpoints when people feel they're not being told the whole story by overworked and understaffed news outlets. To provide an outlet for my creative endeavours. To amuse people in times of decidedly unamusing circumstances.

I've posted regularly on forums like Russell Brown's Public Address - one of those rare native birds known as a forum with a decent signal-to-noise ratio - but on the suggestion of a close friend and one-time co-worker who read my posts there, I've finally made some online ink space of my own.

And so I hereby declare this blog open for business.