Paris and AiGameDev 2010

I’ve finally got around to editing and uploading my AiGameDev 2010 conference notes. I’m still working on photos, we’ll see if I can be bothered to post any – since Alex did a great job posting some himself I don’t know though.

Paris itself was also excellent, with the very cool Micah who I shared a room with – and if you need additional AI notes, contact him 🙂 I managed to do some good walking (and I definitely should get some of those photos sorted!). I listened to some Parisian Jazz, saw various sights and enjoyed a bit of the music festival on Monday evening. I’ve still got things to do there, so likely I’ll try and get to next years conference too.

Mystery Man on Film

(Yes, I’ve been back from Paris for a while, I’ll post my notes from the AI conference shortly…)

In the mean time I’ve also been reading recently Mystery Man on Film. I’m no film buff (I’ve got a lot of good films to see still! still rooted in games myself), but it is great to read about the creative process and what works and doesn’t work in film, which is applicable to other linear things – animation, TV series etc.

The “Art of…” collections are great (written not just by the elusive blog writer, who moved to his own site by the way for slightly newer things). It is great to see some things brought up as good I never appreciated quite as much such as really good verbal exposition – although of course I know some greats there were some nice surprises.

Also is the great way some “rules” are entirely deconstructed, and is something game critics and anyone being creative can take away. I certainly liked Charlie Kaufman‘s views on it in an interview on the Synecdoche, New York DVD. He pretty much explained that there were no rules or they all could be broken, and he had only “vaguely heard of the 3 act play” – it sums up perhaps why there is the fact you only need one exception to break any silly rule, and those exceptions can be plentiful.

If you are interested at some of the screenwriting and other things that are done in films and why (and a lot of criticism to boot! something that isn’t exactly widely forthcoming in games), it’s well worth a read. I highly recommend it, but it is a big time sink too – too engrossing by half!

In relation to games (why not?) the figuring of a lot of things in film can be applicable for the protagonist-based games – not that they should be films however – there is a still growing vocabulary and set of best-practices (let’s not use “rules”!) where games still both fall flat by ignoring films, or worse, emulating them too much. I think I can look at some of this a bit more in the future – got a lot of good games to play (or finish playing), and even the bad examples at least show you what not to do.

Nostalgia in Historical Game Articles

This is just a brief thing; I’m trying to gauge the point of this here article. I mainly skim or don’t read The Escapist anymore so I have no idea if this is basically the standard for the weekly content the site was originally built on, but well, I’m still trying to think of the point.

The point appears to be a nostalgic reminiscence with a few bits of historical information thrown in. It is a article which is fine if you want a very basic bit of knowledge about what Dragon’s Lair is but that is it. Sadly, when it comes to historical articles, I am usually disappointed. In this case it is easy to point out some reasons why. It doesn’t make it a terrible article, just one without much of a point.

Framing the Game Against Nothing

Going with any kind of press release is infuriating in history, since they are always overblown and bad. So the first bit of the article simply regurgitates horrible marketing, fair enough.

However we never get a frame against what other things were out at the time. Even some rudimentary research into the actual games, and not a vague reference, as in this case of “Conventional games of the era were sprite-based, representing movement through a series of bitmaps displayed in succession”.

Then, later we get comparisons to contemporary games as if they were inspired solely by Dragon’s Lair. It might well have influenced quick time event games in general from that point onwards, but a lot more came out after Dragon’s Lair (and plenty of games basically were QTE games before it); especially which were not animated and a lot more “typical” QTE games on consoles and PC’s. The genre itself entirely failed since they were all so really really bad. Almost all FMV games were QTE based. Sigh.

The fact these are not even mentioned is bemusing, apparently the entire QTE industry just died soon after Dragon’s Lair (even though it was soooooo good!). Very selective revisionist history!

Leaving out Important Information

For some bizarre reason when expounding the love for the game, it is glossed over just how much the game cost to play; “during a time when a quarter got you a bus ticket, two seats at a movie and a hamburg steak, if my grandpappy’s stories are to be believed” – wha? What? That’s your accuracy?

Then we go onto why the games failed; perhaps the fact laserdisc machines broke easily and were expensive to do games for (and they worked in very specific technologically-limiting ways). Doing hand animation must have exacerbated these costs massively; the amount you can make from one expensive, if novel, game is limited. Perhaps the money train had gone, and it was a fad, but where are the stats to back this up? Perhaps it was there were just actually too few of them and they were too short so even a die hard fan could only spend so much? Do home consoles not factor into their decline either? Sure you’ve got the American 1983 crash (which might well have helped Dragon’s Lair), and afterwards a larger and larger increase in power; meaning proper home ports were available of the once-50cent-per-play game.

The main company Cinematronics was also acquired in the 1980’s so isn’t a vast change in management also an issue? Is Bluth and Dyer leaving an issue or not? Who knows why they left…the author sure doesn’t, and doesn’t cite anything of course, it’s pretty much speculation.

Creators Relation to Other Games

What else did Bluth and Dyer do after Space Ace? Apparently nothing? I don’t get how you can centre so fanatically on them, especially Bluth, without a followup besides “He’s got his own animation company” and “he saw the future” (yet it wasn’t to be! sarcastic sad face here.). I mean, for goodness sakes, his artwork is also in the sequel (also unmentioned) called Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp!

It’s a shame since we also don’t know what Dyer even did before this game, which at least we got for Bluth. Space can’t be an issue (see “Questions”), especially also since I’ve seen articles much longer on The Escapist.

Platform Adaptations

“To date, Dragon’s Lair has been released 59 separate times across over 30 platforms” – please, at least qualify it properly that until major amounts of space were available, the actual gameplay in most of the 59 titles was no where near the original thus are name-tie-ins only, almost akin to “Videogames of the Film” – being platfomers, adventure games and, haha, not even having quick time events in them as such! That’s just lazy.

It is also odd since no connection is made even here between the availability of the game in it’s original form more-or-less and the rise of FMV games at the same time. It’s even funny to see him mention BluRay and DVD releases too.

Questions!

Who doesn’t like questions? Do you not like unanswered questions? Do you think questions are a cheap cop-out for actually putting some worthwhile words on paper? Do we agree that I’m using too many sentences to make this point?

Well, perhaps not:

“are games defined by form, or by content? Do you turn to games for stories or beautiful graphics? Or are you content with the bare bones of gaming – the stuff Bluth would contemptuously describe in Digital Leisure’s interviews as “little sticks and dots”? What ultimately do we desire from our videogames – control, or the illusion of control? Put simply – how much game do you want in your game?”

Gee, thanks for naming all that stuff, but not actually bothering to do anything with it. Most are pretty rubbish polarising questions with no answer (“Do you turn to games for stories or beautiful graphics?” doesn’t have to be one or the other!), the others are rhetorical at best such as “how much game do you want in your game?”.

Finally…Nostalgia!

Even after this deluge of questions Brendan basically carries on the nostalgia – even after hinting it is a “mongrel movie rather than game proper” nothing is questioned as to why it even was made this way. Nostalgia rules over the fact that even if these were the best looking games at the time the amount of effort to make them was astronomical and economically unfeasible (after all; the market is there for new or long lasting things, not playing Dragon’s Lair repeatedly especially at the cost it was – it simply wasn’t really a full game).

Perspective is everything and the article basically has none. It tries to make it up as a precursor to Metal Gear Solid 4 or Heavy Rain, yet makes no actual attempt to describe why such techniques are still used since they plainly didn’t work for Dragon’s Lair even after saying how often it fell flat on its face! He actually comments a little more in the comments about how the game was basically a way to get a short film out to people in Bluth’s own words – this is an area that could have used better examination, and contrast it versus todays games (or even the later FMV titles).

It is, admittedly, at least showed how a “game” which so little input obviously wasn’t long lasting. It perhaps is a testimonial to how you can make short term profit over anything else by making something look so ridiculously pretty. Perhaps too it led to the long deluge of bad QTE based games, or inspired ones that use QTE’s to never use them like Dragon’s Lair. It is worth a better, fairer article then it got here, since it had some influence at least in the art department, something that isn’t actually raised at all how the traditional artwork still isn’t used today much. There are many other points I could bring out but these ones apply well to many other historical articles I’ve seen. I’ll be on the lookout…and really should write some of my own or research games more.

Hancock – Nice Idea – Shame About The Implementation

Inspired by Nice Video – Shame About the Song, there are a ton of things which simply have one brilliant gem embedded in them, but the rest of it is just a shame. It basically means a middling film, game or book.

Hancock personifies this for me (at least recently). The film itself starts really well; a flying brick superhero; but one who doesn’t care and simply is an asshole who gets drunk and breaks things. Why is he like this? Why doesn’t he care? Where did he come from? Why are there no others like this? Lots of somewhat interesting questions!

It then leaps to trying to get him to improve after randomly meeting a PR person; The PR angle alone is actually quite fun; him going to prison was pulled off okay; the bank scene was fun and also made sense in a “superman can’t be killed but hostages can be” way, give or take the issue with a bank robber thinking he’d get away somehow.

You then learn his past a bit (amnesia, no one coming for him) then it really goes to pants – I’ll just ignore the rest here – the whole “duo demigods” (with silly fights)/”plot device of him being vulnerable” (with silly conclusion) and so forth. His past could have always been unexplained too; a real John Doe superhero, and just focus on the present. Shame it just went to pants exactly when the woman throws Hancock through the wall – like Hancock I was like “waaaa?” for all the wrong reasons (not just because she can’t act).

The gem is having a rather real anti-superhero (a non-caring one, not just one who kills bad guys) and actually pulling it off quite well in the beginning. It could have been an interesting dissection of why someone who is invincible wants to help people (and in fact it is never reached in the film the reason why he does help people apart from it possibly being rewarding in unto itself!), especially when he has no past and possibly might not even be human.

In fact how he even came to be actually absolutely terrible but at least trying to help is never really covered – he could have just as surely just bummed around doing next to nothing but stealing liquor for the rest of his life! Seeing his past would have been an interesting way to take the film – flashback or just actually seeing him start out trying but failing and just being terrible at it. After all you have to wonder after 80 years what happened? How long has he been trying? and so forth. It’s quite Disney overall despite implied violence; no moral questions about not saving anyone one day because he was hung over, or if in fact he had issues doing everything right so turned to drink or whatever. I mean, it is quite comically both serious (in a way; with hostages, C4 and so forth) yet just not serious at all (silly demigod fights and over-the-top fights in general, silly badguys, redemption-in-a-week montage, no actual questions asked about morals and fuzzy silly PR, etc.).

Anyway, enough rambling words on Hancock. I hope some future films look into the more meta-side of superheroes. I’d certainly find it entertaining 🙂

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

The Bad Guy(tm)...who I can't shoot since it's a cutscene
The Bad Guy(tm)...who I can't shoot since it's a cutscene

I’ve not played much of the Battlefield series, but it has a grand legacy of small-to-medium-scale tanks and troop battles. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a passable basically rail-shooter singleplayer, but gorgeous first-person-shooter squad-based multiplayer.

Still Haven’t Finished the Singleplayer…

The B Team, the guys you really don't want to call...
The B Team, the guys you really don't want to call...

Thankfully it definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, since the singleplayer game I’ve still not had the sheer will to complete yet. It is both ridiculously easy and patience-testing boring – however becomes hard when you’re thrown into fighting large amounts of enemies since you simply can’t shoot them all. This comes from them being relatively easy to kill (they barely take cover or move), but you too are easy to kill (you can only crouch and a few good shots – or missles – can kill you).

Not having to prone and peek around corners is a bit refreshing but I do miss it from Call of Duty 4 and STALKER. Still, crouching and having simpler controls means it is fast paced until it gets more annoying with enemy troops spawning in huge numbers.

Curse you Inevitable Betrayal!
Curse you Inevitable Betrayal!

In any case, it’s passable if boring. The characters are sterotypical and macho as per usual, and the plot is random and doesn’t make much sense but at least it gives you a good feel for how the game plays.

Okay, actually I finished it…just…

Since I was taking my sweet time getting screenshots I went ahead and finished the singleplayer, which took a matter of an hour or so in any case. Not much to report apart from a few screenshots! I mean, some really silly things; “brilliant” writing and sequel fodder.

What Brilliant Writing
What Brilliant Writing

Ace Rimmer POV
Ace Rimmer POV

End shot from the singleplayer AKA "Sequel Fodder"
End shot from the singleplayer AKA "Sequel Fodder"

Multiplayer! But where is my kit…

Testing my Eyefinity setup with Very Ultra Widescreen
Testing my Eyefinity setup with Very Ultra Widescreen

Leaping into multiplayer is both a great and a sad thing from the outset. I did it only a few levels into the singleplayer and came off none-the-worse since I’m a competent FPS player. This is good since there are no tutorials and also everything apart from your first weapon and a grenade is an unlock!

This meant as a medic I couldn’t heal anyone, as an engineer I couldn’t fix vehicle damage, and as a soldier I couldn’t provide ammo. Luckily a sniper just needs to snipe, so his default kit is the fairest (apart from he gets his ability to place a motion sensitive item as an unlock, but at least that isn’t heavily needed for combat).

I’ve got major issues with this kind of treatment. I am competent enough to learn the maps and have fun while ultimately suffering a massive amount of deaths to mortars, guided missiles, super-explosive grenades, high powered shotguns…just to name a few. It takes a fair few hours to make the basic class unlocks, which is a real shame and I’m putting it down as by far the worst aspect of the multiplayer right now! 🙂

Multiplayer Joy!

Multiplayer shot
Multiplayer shot

The rest is a joy however; it is fast paced, seemingly balanced gameplay with a lot of tactical combat options available. Usefully all the classes weapons can actually kill things, meaning cover and covering fire is useful – I’m so glad the medic doesn’t get a pokey gun! Aiming is a proper skill to get heavy fire on someone since headshots kill faster, and like the singleplayer there is no prone or corner-looking meaning you do get a decent shot back at someone who shoots at you.

You can also join a squad with up to 3 others that allows you to spawn next to them when you die (which when you do not have basic equipment is a godsend). Your squad can be given basic orders (as in what objective to take first), but more importantly you can point out enemies to your entire team by pressing Q. How useful! No more mini-map scouring for red dots, and enemies (especially vehicles) can be pointed out so others can shoot them or know where they are in their view.

Multiplayer in a tank of some kind
Multiplayer in a tank of some kind

The maps are also very fun to play in. You can blow up a great amount of cover and buildings, which is fun and strategic, especially for attacking a well defended position. I enjoy the Rush mode, where an attacking team has a limited time to destroy around 6-8 points (by planting a bomb there or simply throwing all your firepower at it for ages), 2 at a time, making the maps a manageable size. It never seems impossible to defend or attack either, and it swaps the teams over so both sides can play as defence or attack (and you even stick in the same squads when maps change! although sometimes one side can really be much better and dominate of course).

Vehicles are also included in many maps. Most require at least a second gunner to make full use of the equipment (and most have 4 passenger slots for an entire squad), and are highly entertaining to just blow up stuff with. They’re not game unbalancing either, since certain classes have the materials to stealthily or loudly blow them up, and they also can’t kill everything but do help push forwards forces into what are otherwise kill zones, or at least distract those people trying to blow you up for others to get. Helicopters are something I’ve still not learnt how to use though – the lack of a tutorial for these complex beasts is a bit annoying!

Finally, there is no singleplayer deathmatch or other nonsense. The Battlefield series never had this of course, but it is worth pointing out that the game is balanced for multiple people on a team, so you never feel alone or outnumbered and always have friends to fall back on (or get revived by!). I’m also glad there isn’t anything like capture the flag – all the modes require some form of proper tactical offence and taking over areas, not just temporary in-and-out attacks.

Epic Fail - when you suicide!
Epic Fail - when you suicide!

So, if I didn’t have unlocks and things to “earn” I’d be enjoying it a ton more (I can’t ignore it though, I want these “specialisations” – I keep getting killed by people with them!), however the fast paced nature with a realistic slant makes it a joy to actually play. I’ve not heard any voicechat however, which is a shame – I need to play with some friends to really use the squad combat properly and work with my squad correctly.

IGDA Quality of Life SIG Committee Member

I’m not even in the games industry…why even try and be a committee member of the IGDA’s Quality of Life SIG? I think I can help is why!

It also might be a plus not being in the industry I’m only peripheral to at best, since I can’t really get fired for saying anything.

I’m also really happy if I can help get students more knowledgeable about the situation, and help facilitate the SIG to do great things. I’m going to be helping edit people’s own QoL stories, if anyone wants to contribute any, as well as help write or at least edit some of the white papers that the SIG will be doing. All this will hopefully grow the SIG so more rapid progress can be made, which is always awesome to see.

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton Title
Michael Clayton Title

I’ve had a one-sentence review of Michael Clayton before on my site but re-watching it on the BBC iPlayer really makes me want to say some more about the thriller – although if you’ve not seen it I’ll say it’s worth seeing, again I might as well say it has some great performances and some really well paced drama which is quite a lot more intense then people shouting or running around or being shot as thrillers sometimes are.

Watching it for a second time (this is probably my third time watching it in fact) really does help bring forward just how well told the story is, with a massive amount of unsaid dialogue portrayed just by physical acting. There are no triages of moral justifications or outbursts of people bent on revenge, which is what made it so fascinating to watch.

The way it did start into the story, and how it kept certain scenes outcomes hidden or off screen works well to make you think and piece together things, and also be surprised at times what is done. I think the choice to show Michael Clayton’s car blowing up was a fascinating choice but does make you immediately interested in how on earth that happens to a seemingly low-key lawyer. You never see any of them in court, so it is refreshing to see the actions without a gavel going down.

Tom Wilkinson
Tom Wilkinson

Tom Wilkinson is bar nothing the most amazing part of the film, especially how his character actually is portrayed as mad, clinically unbalanced – and is said to be on medication, yet once the truth is revealed it was almost exactly as he said and he was entirely morally justified and that he only came to his senses by seeing what happened to one of the plaintiffs. Seeing such a character die was pretty a sad point, especially since you know it wasn’t suicide. It was very easy to take his character seriously once you know why he was thinking as he did, which is good since such characters usually are unintentionally funny and unsympathetic.

Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton portrayed the antagonistic legal council well too. You do not need a lot of reasoning behind why she goes so far – it is set up extremely well that she is overworked, stressed, in a tough job working a tough case, and also fairly paranoid once the plot begins. Her breakdown at the finale is well justified – she’d already called hitmen to take two lives, something that makes her more human then just “being evil” is that she does have to think before making it happen (and interestingly don’t ever hear her make that final decision on screen, but that helps make it more unknown what will happen).

George Clooney
George Clooney

George Clooney also played a great part; a thriller lead who simply isn’t perfect and who does need to think about what he is doing. It’s not black and white – owing money to the mob from a failed bar, gambling issues, having a broken family (divorced obviously, and having a dead-beat brother who didn’t hold up to helping him get a bar going). Then selling out his friend both when he was alive by not believing him and especially when he was dead by taking the cheque is a situation I hope I’d never have to think of in any capacity (in a “Wouldn’t you do the same?” kind of way). He also has his past – turning his back on a past of District Attorney work and going into dubiously ground fixing issues, mentioned a few times in the film.

His moral turning point was really nicely done, with him realising his bar wasn’t worth selling out for (after being called on it in his poker game and perhaps just then noticing his relapse into poker because of meeting the same guy who previously beat him) and going about doing what he is paid to do isn’t the same, obviously thinking it all over (and the way they frame his twitch at the comment “you’re any good at it” towards his performance as a fixer, near the end) – thus needing a break and seeing the horses (a nod perhaps to the earlier discussion on his sons fantasy book). You do wonder if he made the decision before or after his car blew up, but quite likely he’d already made up his mind but that by far settled it.

Taxi Drive
Taxi Drive

It was also interesting seeing the conclusion film being him just taking a taxi ride, to nowhere (which I rewatched a few times, it is interesting). Perhaps he felt the same as Tom’s character, more purged and certainly hopefully free from the burdens of his past work, but most certainly he was thinking hard about the decision. There was no immediately happy ending of characters congratulating him, a rosy sunset or even a corny newspaper report on the case – life does go on, despite his moral victory and obviously doesn’t bring back what was lost during the plot – his friend, his job and the people affected by the U-North poisonings, nor the time they’ve spent fighting it, nor his time spent in such a job that in the end he didn’t enjoy doing. However he did make a massive decision on what to do.

Taxi Drive Smile
Taxi Drive Smile

I think you do see him hint a smile towards the end of the clip. A nice reminder he can smile – you barely ever see him do so, hopefully he’s felt his redemption was worthwhile and can go on, since he seems to relax more as the drive goes on.

All in all a great film for having all the characters not be completely black and white and actually needing to think now and again. Redemption in the film is hard to find, especially with such a focus for the plot being poisoning of humans intentionally by a company and the lawyers defending them. Seeing it a few times has it make a lot of sense – not just the pacing or the characters inner thoughts (many of which you can sort out by the end of your first viewing thanks to the great presentation) but how the plot is pieced together and why the characters act the way they do and simply how tough it would have been for them.

Still full of thrills, again I’d recommend watching this (it’s on the BBC iPlayer after all!). It is much more interesting and deep then some cursory glance might portray.

Akira

I’ve just finished reading Akira today, a really good comic book read in fact. It’s a pretty damn nifty sci-fi story, character driven and manages to cope with a huge cast of characters who delve into and out of the main thread. I’d recommend you read it, it’s pretty timeless considering it’s set in “the future” which isn’t seemingly that far off. It’s a good setting for the plot.

I had already watched the animated film so did know most of what to expect. They’re vastly different in scope, but the film is a nice short take on the longer book series – it was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the person who wrote the manga in any case, so isn’t that off the mark although obviously chopped down to essentials, with excellent action and some unique scenes and bits of it’s own.

If you have to choose one, the manga works out much better and simply isn’t as rushed.

(Some spoilers below, but not many I hope).
Continue reading Akira

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