Category Archives: Movies

Charmed by 9

Just rented the movie “9.” Those little sackboy characters were super cool, and despite being a little simplistic, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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What’s wrong with the VGAs

When Zach Braff (Scrubs) stepped on stage at the VGAs Saturday night, his face said it all. Escorted on stage by a model dressed as valkyrie warrior (or something), Braff sized up the tall vixen at his side, feigned fright, then appeared on the verge of laughter. He looked embarrassed. To begin his speech, he yelled, “Hello, fellow nerds!”

Last night as I watched the VGAs, a landslide of feelings poured across me, and like Braff, one of those feelings was embarrassment. I felt pride, happiness, and angst, too. But it’s the former emotion that raised my hackles. I was embarrassed by the very tall model having to wear those stupid get-ups. (She never spoke, but she certainly gave Braff a look.) I was embarrassed by the mention of the phrase “balls” more than a half dozen times, courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal’s game of the year monologue and Joel McHale’s catchy little mid-show appearance. And I was angered by Hollywood’s general sense of embarrassment at appearing on the VGAs, while talented and hardworking designers and producers got on stage, unfolded their acceptance speeches, and bravely flashed their souls in front of millions of people.

Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig receives the game of the year award at the VGAs (AP).

The Video Game Awards (VGAs), the closest thing the video game industry has to Hollywood’s Oscars, still has a long way to go before it really makes sense of the videogame industry–and before it’s taken seriously by the Hollywood stars that line its runways. What I saw last night was a flashier, better produced, and certainly more star-studded show than ever before (with fewer gaffes, to be fair), but I still got the sense that, from a show about video games, video games are still very much Hollywood’s nerdy little cousin–and they still haven’t found their place on TV.

I wonder, is it possible to air a video game show without the constant flash of violence, big tits, and an endless array of explosions? The collage of images I saw Saturday night showed little intrinsic value to video games. Perhaps that’s why Braff, along with Olivia Wilde (who was thrown off her short script by calls from the audience), didn’t take it seriously. If there is anything genuine, human, and real about the video game industry, is there is any art, innovation, or brilliance, it wasn’t shown at the VGAs.

There were sparks of human emotion, and these were the few moments where I felt the show succeeded. It’s great, truly great, that Flower won the Best Independent Videogame Award and that Chair Studio won Best Downloadable Game. These weren’t even categories a few years ago. One of the most genuine acceptance speeches I saw all night was from the Flower team, where they briefly explained the absurdity of pitching a game about emotions and blossoming to Sony, and ended by asking all of the millions of laid off game makers to join them in indie development.

Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, and because I have spent many hours talking with Amy about games, I could tell she delivered a genuine heartfelt speech that didn’t fit any mold or formula. I am so happy for her and her team. They fully deserve all the recognition they get.

It was great to see the Assassin’s Creed II team receive their award for best action-adventure game. The Ubisoft Montreal team spoke in both English and in French on stage, didn’t ham it up and, for anyone paying attention to the shift in talent traveling to Canada, represent some of our Northern neighbor’s growing top talent.

Perhaps the biggest win of the night was the best studio award. The guys from Rocksteady, basically an unknown English studio whose claim to fame was the totally ignored Urban Chaos: Riot Response, were grateful, excited, and earnest. Their success story is just fantastic, and their game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, is equally fantastic. It perfectly balances high production values and smart writing that shows the writers really get the Batman character and the universe, and an excellent balance of stealth, action, and adventure. Every comic book videogame from now on will have to reach as high as Batman Arkham Asylum from here on out.

When I think of the Oscars, I often remember the collages of movies and actors who have been a part of the industry’s success; the retrospectives about people who made a difference. When the great directors, actors, writers, and special effects technicians who excel at their craft are recognized and rewarded for their achievements, it puts in perspective what the industry has achieved in the past in comparison to the achievements its awarding today. When I saw the VGAs Saturday night, I saw a show that gave no recognition to its past, that gave no award to its founders, that didn’t seem to have a past or a future, just a right-here, right-now orgasm of action, flashing lights and…the Bravery. Yes, I too like action, flashing lights, and a little Snoop Dog in my cultural diet, but when I eat a meal, I don’t just eat steak by itself.

What’s perhaps equally disturbing is that all night I listened to invisible “professional announcers” guide me through the show. There was no guide, no host, no person, who represented the world of videogames to hold my hand, make me laugh, show me the history of the industry, and again, put the awards, and the industry, in perspective. What does it mean to win best shooter of the year? Who won last year? Are their any journalists out there who could be interviewed to put the games in perspective? One easy solution is to have the previous year’s winner present the current year’s award, informing the audience and passing the torch in a way that means something.

There is a reason no real host was called upon last night. That person doesn’t exist. For starters, actors regularly fail at representing the industry because it’s clear they get paid lots of money to act in films, and that they appear on videogame shows for charity or because of a contract agreement (with notable exceptions like Vin Diesel). Second, there is no charming gamer nerd with the savvy to get up on stage and ride the fence between games and film/TV with moxie, perspective, and charm. From the game industry, the closest anyone has come to nailing that perfect blend are Tim Schafer, Will Wright, Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski, and Ken Levine. I am sure there are other talented game creators and personalities around who could pull it off.

Perhaps the show could hire better, funnier writers, too. The joke Tony Hawk told about action adventure games created a dreaded void of discomfort afterward. Almost every actor who took the stage was given sub-par lines, and the Tiger Woods jokes were just plain terrible. Stevie Wonder’s appearance was smart and his challenge to developers to create games for the blind and handicapped will be remembered as a highlight of the show. Jack Black’s entertaining skit for mistaking his best game of the year acceptance speech was pure Jack Black–silly, ballsy, and fun. But in all, instead of being helmed by a person, the host-less VGAs were peppered with Hollywood actors who looked out of place, embarrassed, and itching to get off that stage.

In the end, the VGAs represent the video game industry’s struggle for acceptance in the mainstream world in just the same way movies and TV are accepted. The truth is, the video game industry isn’t the same as the movie industry–though with shows like the VGAs, it’s clear the desire to be like Hollywood still burns brightly. And while I understand last night’s show was fully sponsored by Mountain Dew (the night’s biggest message), and it has to make money and attract an audience, the game industry needs better representation than last night’s show. It needs smarter, funnier video game people and less Mike Tyson. It needs fewer embarrassed actors and more genuine ones. It needs better writing that doesn’t rely on mentioning testicles over and over again to show that the industry actually has balls, and it needs to show its rich heritage, interesting origins, and the stories and characters that made it what it is today. And I don’t mean just trotting out Nolan Bushnell again and again (although he is great in his own way), but getting Shigeru Miyamoto out there to give us a sense of where we started and have come. Putting Will Wright out there to share with us his rocket scientist vision of the future of games. Hauling out Jordan Mechner to put the upcoming Prince of Persia movie in perspective–and not just his happiness at its acknowledgement. What about getting Ken Levine on stage to show us his quirky brilliance? Or having David Jaffe up there? That man’s blog is a world of entertainment.

With a better mixture of video game talent, more relevant Hollywood talent (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jack Black = good; Tyson, Jersey Shore = bad), a perspective, and a smart host, the VGAs could really be something worthy of the industry it represents. As it is, the VGAs are just a sideshow in Hollywood’s ongoing carnival.

Check this story for the show’s full list of winners (a lot of news stories out there show incomplete lists).

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review

I’m reminded of the stunningly poor execution of Activision’s Spider-Man 3 after playing the movie and game sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Given the numerous complaints the first Transformers game received, one would think Luxoflux would not only put those problems to bed, but create a dynamic, fun, and interesting game this time around. While Spider-Man 3’s terribly executed Quick-Time Events and bosses that mysteriously seep through ceilings don’t cause the annoyances, the coarse, control-unfriendly sequel provides Transformer kiddies with a slew of new issues that drag the fun out of it.

Starscream gives Decepticon fans a small dose of fun.

Starscream gives Decepticon fans a small dose of fun.

Based on the second Transformers movie directed by action-blowhard Michael Bay, Revenge of the Fallen, the game, guts the admittedly slim movie narrative and gives you a robot puppet show instead. If you dig idle robots standing around gesticulating in their headquarters (like robots!), you’re in like sin. But for those of you who like, at the very least, a thin veneer of story to tickle our brains, you’re shit out of luck.

All of this isn’t a surprise, as movie-based games are notoriously crappy. But one always has hope, as The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and GoldenEye 007 have shown us IT CAN BE DONE. And in my preview, I thought I witnessed snazzy, unique game mechanics and character variety. But alas, I might have been caught up in the optimistic current of hope that movies games can be good.

Revenge of the Fallen isn’t a terrible game, but it fails to deliver the mechanical power and atypical strengths of the Hasbro-based line of toys turned Saturday morning cartoon phenom 20-plus years ago. As they continue their ongoing battle on Earth for the remaining Allspark chip, the game smartly offers you to the chance to play as Autobots or Decepticons in entirely different campaign paths. On the Autobot side, you can play as Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Breakaway, Bumblebee, Ratchet, and two multiplayer exclusive Transformers, Aerialbot and Protectobot. The playable Decepticons are Starscream, Sideways, Grindor, Long Haul, Megatron, and the multiplayer exclusive character, Seeker. But you rarely get the chance to select robot you want; more often than not you’re restrained to one or two picks, even though you can cycle through the entire list at the menu screen. The missions lack variety and ultimately slow your brain down to a numbingly low sputter as they become repetitive. But they’re not lacking In punch, as you can essentially blow up everything on screen.

The game’s most pressing quandary is its controls; they get in the way. Driving an Autobot is stiff and awkward at best and transforming is an invitation to repetitive strain injury. It is possible to get over these issues if you’re just dying to play a Transformers game at whatever cost. You can adjust and deal with them. But nobody can rightly admit they’re smooth, intuitive, or smart. So, if you’re on the borderline, or only partially interested, you’ll be trading this in quickly. Coupled with Twinkies cream filling for missions, and a false sense of choice in picking your robots, Revenge of the Fallen earns a new sense of irony about it.

Ironhide delivers power and guns, lots of guns.

Ironhide delivers power and guns, lots of guns.

The multiplayer mode is the game’s strange surprise. The first game lacked a multiplayer mode, do Luxoflux attacked that issue by offering five modes of play and somehow, I’m really not sure how exactly, making the game more fun. Playing against other humans gives this a needed shot of fun and diversity, and adds a little to what could be a quick trade-in.

For what it’s worth, I also played the PS2 version. Because the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions superficially appear superior with their millions of dials, moving parts, and radar load screens, and their beautiful re-creations of the movie robots, the stripped down, base-level PS2 version, with its budget graphics and narrow, linear levels, is actually a more honest–and ultimately more fun–game.

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343 Industries Sparks Halo Legends, Bungie

Microsoft’s Halo series just fastened a powerful spark plug to its massive engine.  In conjunction with a recent rumor about 343 Industries (343 referring to Halo’s mad bot Guilty Spark), and a San Diego Comic-Con announcement about Halo Legends, an anime-style series consisting of seven short films, Microsoft today announced the official creation of 343 Industries, helmed by everyone’s favorite Halo artist and message board master, Frank O’Connor. O’Connor is 343 Industries’ creative director, first revealed in the LA Times.

The master expands his legend.

The master expands his legend.

“343 Industries is the publisher of the blockbuster Halo series of videogames and, as part of Microsoft Game Studios, oversees the Halo franchise, including novels, comics, licensed collectibles, apparel and more,” Microsoft said in a press release today. “343 Industries is home to world-class developers working on future Halo projects, including Halo Legends and Halo Waypoint, as well as partnering with renowned developers such as Bungie LLC and Robot Entertainment to produce Halo games for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

“If you look at how George Lucas held on to ‘Star Wars,’ not just to make money from action figures but to control the direction the universe went in, you can see why we think it’s pretty vital,” Frank O’Connor told the LA Times. “Luckily, Microsoft has the resources to enable us to do that.”

Halo Legends is in development with five animation production houses: Bones, Casio Entertainment, Production I.G., Studio4 C, and Toei Animation. Microsoft will supervise, approve, and manage the Halo property–including all art, presentation, and written material.

After a good long stint working as a social media manager at Bungie, Frank O’Connor left Bungie (about 8 months ago) to work at Microsoft. It wasn’t just an ordinary side-stepping job, it turns out. Put that together with Bungie’s separation from Microsoft to become its own studio, and now it all makes sense.

Bungie split from Microsoft to become more independent and gain a little more control over its destiny (although arguably all we have seen is more Halo games, and Halo 3: ODST seems a little like contract filler, to be fair). With O’Connor at MS looking over what is essentially a new publishing division at MS, Bungie is very likely going to be under different restrictions (fewer), and have better management over its properties than before. It’s essentially a custom publishing brand specifically made for Bungie.

Better custom management by a Bungie insider who knows games? Sounds like a great idea to me. Congratulations, Frankie!

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Iron Man 2 (The Game) Is Better, Stronger, Faster

Iron Man, the movie, rocked the Casbah. It was a supreme surprise. Robert Downey, Jr. sparked the normally stoic, dislikable drunkard/millionaire Tony Stark to life with a quirky genius and refreshing inventiveness. Iron Man the movie has become one of my all-time favorite comic book movies.

Iron Man, the first Sega video game, sucked big sweaty elephant balls. It was all of the bad things that videogames shouldn’t be: unfocused, repetitive, uninspiring. It made you feel like Iron Man was a pretty lame super-hero as he fought endless waves of stupid thugs from five miles away. Who would want to play another Sega Iron Man game again?

Can Sega pull off a kick-ass Iron-Man 2 video game?

Can Sega pull off a kick-ass Iron Man 2 video game? My fingers are crossed.

“The world has changed, Jarvis. The crazies are getting smarter. I’m not alone anymore,” says Downey, Jr. in this first reveal trailer on Sega’s home page.

Hm… does this actually look, dare I say, intriguing? In a cynical world, no one in their right mind should give Sega a second chance after the first game’s poor effort. But things change, publishers learn lessons, people get inspired, and sequels shouldn’t be prejudged.

In Iron Man 2, developed by Sega’s San Francisco Studio–formerly known as Secret Level–a completely new creative lead heads up a mostly new dev team. The game is designed on a completely new, built-from-the ground-up engine, and gamers should get to play in the new Mark IV armor.  The game isn’t based on the movie, but shares elements of it, giving Sega wiggle room to do cool things in the game that it was restricted from doing the first time around (causing some of the first game’s issues).

For instance, Iron Man confronts Crimson Dynamo, as revealed in the first trailer, a character who isn’t in the movie (or so we have heard). From the video it appears that Sega has imbued Iron Man with a sense of power, enabling him to defeat enemies by blasting straight through them, ripping off their heads, and pummeling them to pieces. That’s sounds cool by me.

The story is penned by Iron Man comic book writer Matt Fraction, which means it will be more true to the character, his strengths and weaknesses, than anyone else is likely to pull off. Add to that the ability to research, create, and modify custom weapons for your suit before each mission and already this game sounds better.

A video game trailer can be deceiving. But this Iron Man 2 video does look bitchin’. Should we believe in Iron Man 2? I’m hoping Sega can pull it off, and I know it knows the first game stunk. So I am truly hoping they’re using that game as fuel to construct a truly kick-ass Iron Man 2 that’s worthy of the first movie and the Iron Man comic book legacy.

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Aliens Vs. Predator Again

Goodbye head, goodbye spine, goodnight moon (image courtesy of IGN.)

Goodbye head, goodbye spine, goodnight moon (image courtesy of IGN.)

I remember hearing the Colonial Marines’ movement detector in those silent narrow hallways, slowly pulsing at first and then eerily speeding up, mimicking my very own heartbeat as I looked and saw nothing but knew they were coming. It was the first time I felt like a movie and its accompanying game could replicate the same feeling of dread. The aliens were gathering and coming, and you knew it and you couldn’t do a thing except cock your gun and grit your teeth.

Teaming with Sega, Rebellion looks to replicate its earliest success with Aliens Vs. Predator on PC, Ps3, and Xbox 360 in Q1 2010. How does it look? Frankly, you have to work hard not to make your game look good these days, so yeah, it looks sharp. IGN has a hands-on piece illustrating how the Predator plays, and it looks like there will be gore, blood, guts, and more gore with close-up blade insta-kills, invisibility cloak sneak attacks, and head-and-spine trophies.

But how much better will it be than Rebellion’s years of medicore sequels? How much left is new, interesting, and worth your while in the crazily crowded first-person shooter genre? At best, this game reflects the familiar anxiety created by hordes of attacking aliens, the fear of their hunger for death in your mouth. At worst, it attempts such drama, but only reminds us how great that nearly 30-year old franchise was, and how old it still is. I ain’t saying Rebellion can’t pull it off, but they’d better make it really effing smart, fast, and brutal to make it any good. There are simply too many good choices out there to get stuck with a mediocre one.

We’ll find out at E3 2009, won’t we?

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Hiddleston to Play Trickster Loki in Thor

lokiAlongside burgeoning new star Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek), Marvel Studios announced today Tom Hiddleston will star as Loki in the 2011 release of Thor.

Hiddleston is relatively unknown actor in the big scheme of things, having appeared predominantly in TV series such as Wallender, Miss Austen Regrets, and Suburban Shootout, among others.

Following Marvel’s desire to tie-in multiple heroes in multiple movies (see the end of the Hulk and Iron Man, for example), Thor nicely ties into the Avengers’ theme.  The comic book team The Avengers starred various heroes over the years including Iron Man, the Vision, the Hulk, Valkyrie, Captain America, Ant Man, the Wasp, and Thor (among many others). This logically explains the next three years of Marvel movies: Iron Man 2 (May 7, 2010), The First Avenger: Captain America (July 22, 2011), and the Avengers (May 4, 2012).

Thor is scheduled for US release May 20, 2011.

I’m guessing that the low-key Samuel L. Jackson will play a part, even if very small, in each new film as Nick Fury. Kenneth Branagh will direct Thor, which is being written by Mark Protosevich, Ashley Miller, and Zak Stentz.

With Wolverine–currently the most popular Marvel character–getting a rather hack treatment on the silver screen (me = sad panda), and much higher expectations for Iron Man 2 than the original, I am a little perplexed that anyone would take on the notion of making a Thor movie.

Thor is not one of the stronger (i.e. more popular) or interesting Marvel characters, despite his Norse origins…which should make him legendary, right? (Or maybe Marvel thinks Thor will rake in the bucks in Sweden and Norway?) And with flops like Daredevil, Elektra, both Fantastic Four movies, and the surprisingly rank rendition of Wolverine (which I had hoped would be better) being churned out, Thor looks like a potential flop in the making. I can see him as part of an Avengers film, but alone? I hope I’m wrong, but a Thor movie sounds like a bad idea.

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