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Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Game of Thrones is True Blood in Medieval Drag

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If you want to see a glimpse of George R.R. Martin’s complex and epic fantasy series, it’s nowhere to be found in HBO’s Game of Thrones. But if you want to catch True Blood in medieval drag, it’s there and you’re welcome to it. But where True Blood’s campy soap may be a fair tribute to the original, Game of Thrones isn’t. Instead it maximizes the trashiest elements and wallows in them putting something that’s closer to Guccione’s Caligula than a quality production.

Watching the first 15 minutes that HBO put online, it’s easy to feel good about Game of Thrones. But that 15 minutes gives you about as much of the world building and the fantasy background as you’re going to get. It also gives you some of the better acting in the first episode. From there on in, it gets worse. Much worse.

No one involved with Game of Thrones seems to care much about establishing a plausible world, but they care even less about character background. And that quickly boils Martin’s complex intuitive tales about human vulnerability into a stream of bedhopping instead. Take the scene where Daenerys is told by her brother (one of the worst actors on the series) about her fate. What is a story about an abused young girl who is the heir to a lost kingdom on the page, loses all its context on screen for nothing more than a prolonged nude scene. When Daenerys says that she too wants to go home, the viewer assumes that she shares her brother’s motivation, but the reader knows that she only wants the small house where she lived for a while as refugees. The red door that was a symbol of her childhood is gone, and the 13 year old girl is aged enough that HBO can decontextualize what’s going on for a prolonged nude scene.

The rest of the first episode isn’t as bad, but it’s up there. Sean Bean is the name actor and the central redeeming factor. When he’s on screen the story has weight, but it doesn’t keep that weight for long when he’s off screen. The production tries to invest the northern life of the Stark clan with some authenticity, but it eagerly slips out to the bedhopping royals that it’s sure the audience really wants.

For an HBO series, the bad acting is surprisingly commonplace. But it’s not because so many of the actors are bad, but because the material isn’t being taken seriously. It’s True Blood in medieval drag, and too many of the actors treat it that way. There’s little suspense and unsubtle foreshadowing. The networks may be canceling the soaps, but HBO and Showtime are investing in a new kind of soap.

Maybe Schwarzenegger Should Just Retire?

Being involved in a new Stan Lee cartoon is like parachuting on to the Titanic. It’s not really a great move. And can Arnold Schwarzenegger get any more cartoony than he already is? Hasn’t he been playing out a cartoon character of himself in live action format all along.

Then there’s the dignity question. Schwarzenegger ran for Governor of California after a string of bombs or underperforming movies. He didn’t have it then, so he probably doesn’t have it now either. And he’s older and less in shape. Okay so a cartoon character dodges that bullet. It lets him voice a permanently younger version of himself. But where’s the audience?

This just looks like an 80’s cartoon, complete with bad rap and dated visuals. And who exactly is the audience? Does any 9 year old really want to see this? Most adult cartoons are self-mocking, but this doesn’t seem to be. It’s unintentionally funny. And a 3D feature film based on this? No way.

Love him or hate him or yawn at him, Schwarzenegger has done what few have. And there’s no reason for him to go back and do this. He had a legendary movie career and he made the leap to governor. He can’t keep on playing action roles and he can’t do serious parts. He doesn’t need the money and might as well just enjoy the retirement.

Does Zack Snyder Have Basic Narrative Problems?

Let’s take a look at the one thing that Sucker Punch and Watchmen have in common. Okay the four or five things. Like 300 and Owls, they’re all CG cartoon. But Sucker Punch and Watchmen (I didn’t see Owls) have major narrative problems to the point where they really don’t feel like complete movies.

With Sucker Punch, Snyder aimed way too high and blew it. Some narrative problems are understandable when you’re hoping around this much. Though even TV shows have pulled it off better. But Watchmen was just as much of a mess in its own way. It did a poor job of juggling the characters and the events. There was no sense of forward motion. Just sets and scenes scattered all over the place. 300 covered that up with a simple story that was made up of slow motion fight scenes. And it had a good template to work with.

Now what happens with Superman? It’s less obvious but Bryan Singer has his own narrative problems. It was more obvious in Superman Returns. So are we headed for another round of the same? Superman Returns overthought the material. After Sucker Punch, there’s a risk of a Snyder Superman doing the same thing.

Another Reminder from Bryan Singer Why Superman Returns Failed

I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don’t think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer.

But what was it romantic and nostalgic about? That’s the hang up. Superman and Lois’ past relationship. Was that really what Superman is about? It’s not nostalgic for the comics or Superman or even the Donner movies. But for the sake of being nostalgic.

What I had noticed is that there weren’t a lot of women lining up to see a comic book movie, but they were going to line up to see The Devil Wears Prada, which may have been something I wanted to address.

What? I’m just going to go with the first part of that quote. Okay so Singer tried to appeal to women. But turning Superman Returns into The Notebook may not have been the way. You still have to have a movie in the movie. Romance is an overlay. And Superman Returns didn’t really have romance either. Just Superman stalking Lois and brooding about her. And Lois and Superman being uncomfortable around each other.

But when you’re making a movie, you’re not thinking about that stuff, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, I want to make a romantic movie that harkens back to the Richard Donner movie that I loved so much.’ And that’s what I did

No. No. No.

Donner’s Superman movies weren’t perfect, but they were movies. Superman Returns is Twilight with capes. Nothing happens for a lot of the movie. And when it does happen, it isn’t very interesting.

Donner’s Superman movies were epic. There’s a hero’s journey and massive battles. Superman does almost everything he needs to do. In Superman Returns there’s nothing.

Crysis 2 First Impressions

Shiny. Very shiny. What else? Really, really shiny. And not much else.

Crysis 2 tries to take Half Life 2 and merge it with Prototype to make a game that’s visually stunning, but not that interesting. The first Crysis dumped you into a war that turns you into an alien invasion. The second Crysis makes you run around on some annoying geek’s errands. I’m sure it gets better than that, it just has to. But having Gould in your ear ordering you around reminds me of Radical’s own Hulk game (also the company behind Prototype). It’s also there in Half Life, but without being that annoying.

Crysis 2 takes a beautiful engine and turns you loose in an alien invaded New York and then makes you run errands for someone who it doesn’t bother to establish as important in any way. It’s not a great beginning.

There are open spaces, but the city is also cut off by blockades which sticks you into fighting narrow scenes. Sometimes you can dive into a sewer. Other times you can go up on an elevation. But it feels like a step back from the more open world feel of Crysis.

Then there are the enemies. An evil corporation which for some reason has taken over New York. Disposable baddies who happen to resemble the bad guys in Half Life 2. Then there are the enforced cut scenes, beginning with an extended opening incorporating live action animation. Crysis 2 boasted of having more of a story, but it doesn’t need the story. It has the engine.

High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling book review

High King of Montival by S.M. StirlingIf you took every single dinner party or mealtime out of the second phase of the Dies the Fire series, it wouldn’t have taken four books just to get Rudy and the gang to and back from Nantucket. To its limited credited, High King of Montival does manage to get them back in one book. But not without visiting everyone along the way. And attending all their dinner parties. A dinner party for the Maine Vikings. A dinner party for the Boise nobility. A dinner party in Wisconsin. A meal out in the wilderness. On and on until there’s more meals and dinners than battles. More dinner parties than the hobbits ate at in Lord of the Rings.

Four books in and there’s finally a sword, which is a deus ex machine that can read minds, project thoughts, teach languages and do everything. Characters get married. There’s a brief battle against the Cutters over in Canada’s Alberta province, which is the only place in North America to still have something like a non-feudal democratic government. And not much else.

The High King of Montival reruns the characters and situations from the previous books, wrapping them up, but mostly dragging them out. There are a few good moments, one as the travelers climb to the top of Toronto’s CN tower, but it’s a rare exception to a narrative which satisfies itself with more homecomings, detailed descriptions of food and repetitive banter. There’s a brief spurt of energy with the Cutter ambush but that dissolves into a generic homecoming. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it’s clear this story will drag on through more and more books.

More Dragon Age 2 Apologia from Marc Laidlaw – Part 2

More of the same.

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What we tend to do when looking at companions is we start with who would be interesting and, honestly, who would make sense.

And then they came up with the least interesting characters and stuck you with them, then out of desperation went fishing for characters from Origins and Awakening.

Certainly, the main character having a stronger personality, one where you are able to provide sarcasm, [instead of] having you be the straight man and relying on someone else chiming in for the laughs.

That means you get the chance to either say something stupid or sexually harass a party member.

On first blush, it’s easy to dismiss the new people as nowhere near as cool as the old people. But what I see with Dragon Age II is that the characters, perhaps, don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves as much simply because they don’t have to, because we have more time for them to evolve and grow.

Wishful thinking much? They do wear their hearts on their sleeves and there’s nothing there. They’re boring one note characters.

The story arc around Aveline–to use one of our best examples–is more involved than any character story arc we had in Origins.

Are you kidding me? Aveline trying and failing to hit on one of her officers is more involved than a Golem on the loose trying to figure out its moral code only to learn that it began as a female dwarf? And that was only an Origins DLC character.

when you read a line of Origins dialogue for comparison, you see everything you could potentially say. In your brain, you’ve done the totality of that conversation. Whereas looking and saying, “Oh, I know that’s going to be a smart-aleck line, but I don’t feel it’d be right to use it,” you’re left with that temptation or that urge to pick it because you can’t tell exactly what you’ll say.

So the point of the new conversation is to give you conversation options without letting you know what you’re going to say. Why not also give you weapons with unpredictable effects?

The key driver behind it was the idea of unique visuals, being able to have Isabela stay Isabela instead of generic rogue put into the same leather armor your character is wearing. It lets us create a visual space between Hawke and the companions. And it gives the companions their own personalities [in the form of] unique body models and animations that are tied to how they idle

So Laidlaw is saying that they couldn’t create unique characters without fixing their armor in place?

It’s something that resolves one of the parts I really disliked about Origins where I’d see people’s screenshots with their badass team and they would kind of all look the same. Near the end of the game, everyone had the same set of suits of armor. It was kind of like, “Man, that’s not Morrigan if she’s not in those robes.” We ended up in this space where we decided to go with that visual style, and I think it’s something we’ll continue to iterate on in the future.

So Bioware gets its control freak on again. Pathetic. Controlled conversations, controlled outfits and tightly controlled choices.

The perspective we had for the tactical camera in Origins, with its extreme pull-up, created a very different approach for the way we designed levels. What it really created was restrictions on the way we designed levels.

But that’s okay because in Dragon Age 2, it’s all the same four levels repeated over and over again.

we’re quite happy with what we’ve done with Dragon Age II, and this is establishing a solid foundation that keeps a lot, in fact almost everything I want to keep about Origins, but still has tons of room to grow and, frankly, a more viable future for the franchise.

It’s more viable as a dumbed down console game, yes. Which is the real tell.

It’s one that’s more sustainable because we brought the world to a place that’s inherently more interesting than “Yay, we beat the Blight. Good for us!”

So hanging around the same city where hardly anything changes with no ability to explore is more interesting than traveling around a region and making decisions that actually matter? How does that work again.

That was always really the goal–to bring a fantasy property to life from nothing and to create a world and a space that makes people intrigued and curious to see more. They’re hungry to find out what happens next.

Not anymore they’re not.

We wanted to make RPGs, especially fantasy RPGs, accessible, cool, and interesting to people who have been playing RPGs for the last seven years and not realizing that every time they ate food or went for a long run in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, they were essentially grinding constitution.

To me, that represents a huge audience that may have disregarded RPGs, especially fantasy, as being too hardcore or too confusing. And making certain changes to make the game palatable without ripping out the mechanics that make RPGs so fascinating to a stats guy or what have you. It keeps this genre evolving into something that’s fresh and not stagnating.

So dumbed down RPG’s aimed at the console audience. How many pages did it to get to that one moment of honesty? Way too many.

More Dragon Age 2 Apologia from Marc Laidlaw

Make of it what you will.

What Dragon Age II does, or what I perceive it as doing, is take a lot of those gameplay elements–working together as a team, functioning as a combat unit, having a story that unfolds with choices (all of those core things that I see as principal to both Baldur’s Gate and, more importantly, to Dragon Age)–and tries to bring some newer ideas to the table (elements of responsiveness, elements of interactivity in the way those fights are coordinated) into what I think is a more modern setting and expectation.

If you understand what that means you get a prize. Dragon Age II really doesn’t have choices since its choices all lead to the same basic outcome. Fights are less less tactical than before. And more modern setting? A modern setting with dwarves, elves and magic?

We certainly knew there would be some friction between what Origins players have come to expect and what Dragon Age II delivers. But I don’t see the two in opposition to each other. I’ve talked to Origins players who said, “As soon as I moved it to hard, I totally see where Origins is again.”

Does moving it to Hard create a better story, better characters or a better world? Cause if it doesn’t, it’s not Origins. Dragon Age 2 isn’t New Vegas where another difficulty level changes the way you play the game.

First, we did want to focus in on a more personal experience–the experience of one person and not the avatar of an organization. To be quite frank, that’s a story we told before, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, we really wanted to challenge ourselves to not have you end up in the Jedi Order or a Child of Baal, what have you.

Instead you end up as the Champion of Kirkwall. So huh. The city is your organization.

But really, what I want to see Dragon Age II set up is a world that’s evolving over time just in the same way that Ferelden, as the Blight advanced, evolved through space.

And Dragon Age II failed to set that up. Kirkwall doesn’t evolve. All that happens is your home base is in a different location with more goodies and the Qunari quarter is blocked off.

So, in that respect, I think the narrow focus of Dragon Age II really does what we originally hoped to do, which is to say, “This is an event. We want to change the world.” As our lead writer said, we want to kick over the sand castle we just built to change something and to show that this is a dynamic space.

Why am I picturing Charlie Sheen reading those lines? Maybe it’s because it sounds like his brand of ‘dynamic space’ gibberish.

In the same way that Loghain is a comprehensible villain, such as it is, we wanted to make sure that we were telling the story of a descent into madness in a lot of ways. It’s driven by miscommunication, suspicion–human motivations rather than some sort of overarching evil.

Actually it’s driven by a nutter with a magical Lyrium idol. And another nutter possessed by a spirit from the Fade. Did Laidlaw even read his own game’s script?

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