The Orange Box. The reviewers are right: the Orange Box is absolutely sublime in every conceivable way. What more can I say? Except that I really admire what Valve is trying to do with storytelling in these games. The standard Half-Life gimmick is that the viewpoint never leaves Gordon Freeman's head; you see what he sees, and all the "cutscenes" happen while you're in the room where they happen, generally free to react in your own way. This does mean you do have to meet Valve halfway on this. If you'd prefer to jump around wildly whacking things with the crowbar while Alyx and her dad are having a serious chat, it'll kind of let the air out of the situation. But on the other hand, surely that's not so different from, say, improvisational theater? You can allegedly "do anything" in improv, but to get the most out of the experience you should cooperate with the other actors, and really, this type of video game storytelling is the same. I think there's something interesting to learn about storytelling in single-player games here: perhaps the way forward is to trust the player to be willing to cooperate in telling the story?
Beautiful Katamari. Though it is fun (in the penultimate level you get to start as a little 1m katamari rolling around town, and this time you get bigger and bigger until you're picking up countries off the surface of the Earth and then roll out into space gobbling up planets...) it isn't really a patch on Everybody Loves Katamari, which was really by far the best game in the series -- ELK took care of the niggling little control issues from the first game and then tossed around every idea anyone could think of for fun places to roll and fun things to do, plus the music was awesome and there was a ton of replay value. BK by contrast really has just one area to roll in and the "King's requests" gimmick is more an irritant than anything else, as you can hardly avoid just rolling up everything in front of you anyway. Plus, the 360 controller just isn't as well-suited to a katamari's tank-like controls as the old Dual Shock. It's not, you know, bad, I suppose. But it made me want to get my PS2 out of storage again and play the second one instead.
Halting State by Charles Stross. This is Stross's newest novel, aside from the Merchant Princes books. Though I'm only part way in I have to say so far I'm really enjoying it, a lot more than I thought I would. I had feared that the crazy stylistic tricks he's using in this novel would turn me off -- it's written entirely in the second person, for example, something I've always considered to be an irritating and pretentious literary gimmick. But somehow, here, it goes down quite smoothly. I also can't help but identify with one of the characters, a video game programmer who's been death-marching for years and has now emerged, blinking, into the sunlight to realize he doesn't have any clue how to do anything besides work any more. Yeah, that doesn't hit too close to home, sure. Anywho, so far, so good.
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales. Rented this from the cable company's video on demand thingie tonight. I was a huge B5 watcher back in the day, when the Nerd Wars raged across the length and breadth of USENET between Star Trek and B5 fans. One cannot deny that B5 was always sort of lurching and ramshackle and it kind of sputtered out towards the end, but in its own way it changed what people were willing to expect from science fiction television, and perhaps from series television in general; don't forget that the complex plot and character arcs we see in popular shows such as 24 nowadays were awfully rare before B5 kicked over the card table. B5: The Lost Tales is an odd duck -- it feels as if somebody called up J. Michael Straczynski and said "hey, we got a couple of free hours on the computer graphics systems and Bruce Boxleitner and Tracy Scoggins aren't doing anything -- here's fifty bucks for sets, go make some TV." I honestly don't know if I would recommend this movie, or show, or whatever, to, well, anybody, but it did give me an awful nice sense of nostalgia to see the old bird in the air again.
So what have you been watching, reading, or playing lately that you want to share? "Listening to" is good too.