May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
I recently had the opportunity to fulfill a long time wish to drive the length of I-40 from end-to-end. This happened to coincide with my desire for gainful employment. A new job had me relocating from Apex, North Carolina to Orange County, California. Thus, continue my foray in the Video Games Industry, this time under the Carbine Studios banner.
While the trip itself is worthy of a longer treatment, I will focus this piece on something I will call: Game Tourism. My better half is an Architect and Urban Planner with a focus on Community Design and her work often has her trying to distill the essence of a “place” and create an inventory of the various facets that make that place unique. Often these are interesting historic places, a famous individual’s legacies, unique geography, iconic structures, so on and so forth. All these are then woven into a vision for the locale in order to leverage these things to enhance the lives of those who live and work there as well as bringing interest and tourism to the area. I posit that the fictional depiction of a place should also be considered an important facet.
I have always been fascinated with the meeting of media and reality. From film to video games, places depicted in media take on an extra cache from being injected into the stories. Thus, the real places enter into my curiosity after having learned something of them from a film, video game, etc. For example, living in The Triangle of North Carolina, the Durham Bulls are a local minor league baseball team… that the film Bull Durham made more famous than any other team of their stature. Going to a game with the film as a backdrop takes on another dimension. What’s more is the team even realizes this and last time I was at a game, Susan Sarandon was the PA voice over welcome to the game and park.
How does this work for a video game? For my example, I will return to my recent cross-country trip. In order to get to L.A. from North Carolina, I-40 is the shortest, fastest route. It also happens to pass close by the Grand Canyon and through Kingman, Arizona; both of which are featured in the futuristic/post-apocalyse MMORPG, Fallen Earth. (FE is a game that Mr. Platt and I both worked on during our time at Icarus Studios and I still play when I get the spare moment.)
Having played in a game that used the USGS map for its world-building basemap, it was extremely cool to visit the real places and see the game in “real life.” I have to give extra kudos to the Icarus Studios artists and worldbuilders for making a “real” world after having been able to compare their work to the real place. Driving through the “real” Sector Three’s Kaibab Forest was like deja vu with the only difference being I was in my SUV rather than in an Interceptor, dirt-bike, horse, etc. from the game. Oh, and the roads weren’t as cracked…yet. Parts of I-40 in Arizona are dead ringers for the game’s Sector 1 Plateau and more so as you come upon signs for Kingman, called “Old Kingman” in the game.
I made a point to stop for the night in Kingman and soak up the game’s “ambiance,” up close and in person. In game, the town is overrun by raiders and is an important location in your quest to get a set of wheels, literally and figuratively. I discovered the railway that cuts through town in the game, just where it should be in the real town. I saw the motel and storage facility where the raiders hold up. I have seen the game’s “past” and the town’s “future.” I was grinning like an idiot the whole time thinking about all my game experiences in the town juxtaposed to being there in person.
The town of less than 30,000 people doesn’t have much to recommend it on its own. Route 66, the bygone icon of road freedom, is the biggest point of pride. It probably would surprise the town fathers of Kingman to know that, at its height, Fallen Earth had many more players going through a virtual Kingman than the real town has residents. Will they run out and put up a sign “Welcome, Fallen Earth clones!” I doubt it, but this is one person who DID stop in the town precisely because of a video game. On top of that, Kingman won out over Needles, CA for my stop for the night. Needles afterall plays a prominent part in another of my favorite games: Wasteland. It couldn’t hurt Kingman to reference its appearance in the game, even if it was rated MA. Afterall, Wilmington, North Carolina had a Blue Velvet tour last time I was there and that’s not exactly family friendly, either.
By Josh Peery
May 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
My favorite sequence in the Song of Ice and Fire novels so far has been the Battle of Blackwater Bay. With some trepidation, I’ve waited to see how it would make the transition to TV in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
In this episode, written by George R.R. Martin himself, everything was focused with laser precision on the events surrounding Stannis Baratheon’s invasion of King’s Landing. No visits to the north to see how Robb Stark’s army is faring. No scenes about Danaerys in Qarth. Nothing beyond the Wall about Jon Snow.
Instead, we got a taut showdown that – all apologies to Peter Jackson – put the Helm’s Deep battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to shame.
Everything since the death of Robert Baratheon in the first season has been building to this, and even if it doesn’t quite perfectly reflect how the battle unfolds in the novels, it provides a gripping hour of television that includes:
* Epic moments for everybody: From Tyrion’s troop-rallying speech (“Brave men are knocking on our door. Let’s go kill them!”) to Bronn’s explosive arrow lob to Cersei’s wine-tinged rants about gods and war to the Hound’s indignant defiance of his craven king to Tywin’s well-timed arrival.
* More outstanding exchanges between Tyrion and Varys (“I’m entirely sure you’re entirely sure you know what I’m saying”) and Tyrion and Bronn (“Just because I pay you doesn’t diminish our friendship.”).
* Some great tension, from the dramatic turns inside the Red Keep as Cersei awaits the outcome of the battle to the horrors of war unfolding before the walls of King’s Landing.
* Apparently, a huge chunk of this season’s special effects budget, because – damn, people, they spared no expense with Tyrion’s bright green nuke roiling across the surface of the Blackwater.
No wasted seconds, from beginning to end. Well done, show. One more to go for this season, and then…well, damn it, we have to wait and see what they deliver next year.
May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
House M.D. wrapped up the series of eight seasons Monday night. The episode itself was perfunctory in its familiar formula with little attention paid to the “case of the week” which I believe was nearly the same as the episode “Two Stories” except substitute pea with tree stick. Even the “in trouble with the Law” sub-plot and chats with illusions has been done before in the series. The last few minutes were the best part of the show, frankly.
That said, this review is about the series as a WHOLE. This series is the ONLY series I have watched from pilot to finale. It is the ONLY medical centered show I have EVER watched regularly (M*A*S*H* doesn’t count).
What was different about this show for me? EVERYTHING. From the anti-hero main character with more snark than anyone, to the special F/X depiction of the medical issues inside and outside the bodies, to the great supporting cast that was solidly acted.
I will miss House, Wilson, Foreman, Chase, Cameron, Taub, 13, Park, and Cuddy. The finale made me miss Kutner (excellent casting of Kal Penn) Amber (aka Cold-Hearted-Bitch) and the smouldering Stacey (BIG Sela Ward fan.)
When, I predict, the Blu-Ray 8 season collection is released, I WILL buy this. I will cycle through the seasons on the days where nothing good is on TV. That would be most days, I fear.
What I really would dig, but doubt will happen, is a 20 episode “road” series of House and Wilson living out that 5 months left on Wilson’s clock. Something like a Route 66 meets The Fugitive with a dash of The Incredible Hulk. (House’s skills and demeanor are incredible and unpredictable, like the Hulk <wink, wink>) They can move from place to place, ahead of the Law, solve medical mysteries, or get into other hi-jinks based on their personalities. I would watch that.
May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
Up front, I’ll admit that I’ve never wanted a multiplayer version of Diablo. I’m perfectly happy conquering evil on my own, thank you very much.
So, it’s safe to say that I was pretty cranky when I found out that Diablo III would feature an always-online setup, requiring a connection via Internet to Blizzard’s game servers to play.
I don’t have to rely on someone else’s hardware to work if I want to crank up Civilization V. I’m at my own computer’s mercy if I want to play Torchlight.
Back when I was an avid World of Warcraft player, I was accustomed to putting up with maintenance Tuesdays. Color me unamused that I’m forced to endure them with Diablo III.
All that said: When the game runs, it’s mostly fun and it’s tremendously addictive. It is quite obvious as I play that the deep pockets at Blizzard spared no expense when it came to graphics, sound, and overall atmosphere/art design.
The monster design is amusing, from the horrors that explode and spew demon worms at you to the killer trees that spawn toxic pods to the annoying little treasure goblin guy who is, seriously, a mobile piñata that you’ve got to chase down and bash open to get goodies before he escapes via portal.
Combat’s simple: Clicking and mashing a couple of buttons. You won’t hear me complain about simple combat. I’m an uncoordinated goob. I’m old (just ask my fiancée! She says so!). Simple combat works for me.
What also works for me are the details in Diablo’s combat. Explosive spells make the screen appear to shake and they tear the environment apart. Beam spells seem like they actually strike substance when they hit a target. And there are some nifty area effect spells for mages, like electroshock, that let you zap groups of bad guys in a chain, even around corners. Little touches like that make me feel like even my starting character is a lot more epic than some new warrior getting started whacking peons in an MMO starter zone.
So far, the boss fights haven’t been all that great, and many seem like knockoffs of what Blizzard has done before. Fighting a skeleton king? Where have I seen THAT before? Beat up on the bloated horror boss, but get out of the way of the bursts of fire from Onyxia’s lair…er, I mean the grates in the floor.
Crafting isn’t much to write home about so far. It’s a money sink: You throw money at crafting skills to improve them. You throw money plus salvaged components at recipes to make items. I haven’t done anything with the Diablo III auction house yet, but my expectation is that I’ll use it like I did WoW’s – I’ll farm gold with my main and channel awesome items to my lower level alts from the auction house.
Where Diablo III ultimately wins me over is story – another area where Blizzard put in extra effort. I really enjoy playing through the narrative, seeing the high-quality cinematic cutscenes, and shifting from one important world locale to the next.
I’ll definitely play through it again with a different class and on a more difficult challenge mode.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any modding opportunities, but it’s not like I have an abundance of spare time to tinker with toolkits these days!
May 22, 2012 § 3 Comments
For just a moment, I thought the House series finale was about to deliver a great storytelling twist.
Don’t read past this point if you don’t want to be spoiled… « Read the rest of this entry »
May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
Some shows have story arcs. Arcs build to a highpoint and then recede. In season two of AMC’s The Killing there is what I would call a story trench. The story seems to be plunging to a low point from which, hopefully, the characters and story can return to better days.”Sayonara, Hiawatha” continues to dig that hole for the protagonists as nefarious forces act from the shadows and anyone remotely trying to do the right thing are smacked down, hardcore.
Last week, Detective Holder was beaten within an inch of his life by an Indian “chief’s” casino security and police. Linden gets stripped of her badge and gun as a result, as well. Like a re-envisioning of Cowboys and Indians, The Killing makes use of a dynamic where the Indian Reservation, in place of the Wild West, is a lawless, dangerous place where even the White Hats are risking their lives.
This week Linden rolls the dice at the casino, clandestinely attempting to find out what Rosie was doing on the forbidden 10th floor of the Indian casino and possibly learning what got her killed. As you can imagine, this does not end well for Linden. The trench just gets deeper for the police. Again.
Meanwhile, on the homestead, Stan Larsen is still badly coping with the fallout of Mitch leaving and his throwing Terry out. To further dig his hole, the oldest Larsen boy is suspended from school for killing baby birds which makes his teachers think he is a budding serial murderer. Yeah.
On the mayoral trail, Richmond confronts the Indian chief where he forfeits a politically expedient alliance in his attempt to get Seattle Police access to the casino. His campaign is going down in flames. Gwen attempts to leverage the sitting mayor with dirt which she finds will have no bearing or weight with the person closest to her, amounting to a massive betrayal in her life. C’mon!
The only bright spot is that Holder shows massive brass ones, walking back into the casino to create a diversion for Linden. This is capped by him flicking a lit cigarette at the thugs that beat him down and delivering the show’s title: “Sayonara, Hiawatha.”
With only a few more episodes left this season I am riveted, wondering how the “good guys” will pull it off. Or, even if they can.
by Josh Peery
May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
I don’t think George Lucas ever saw Wicked.
I don’t think he ever read the book by Gregory Maguire, on which the musical is based.
I know the man reads. Well, I know he’s read at least one book about heroic mythology by Joseph Campbell. Erm, I know he probably knows someone who could sum it up for him. But he probably reads.
The nice thing about a musical, though, is you don’t have to read anything. You just sit back, watch, and listen, right?
If Lucas watched Wicked, he might get a clue about how best to handle a villain’s back story and at the same time help flesh out the mystical universe created in previous works. If you know the story of Wicked, keep reading. If you don’t, if you wish to remain unspoiled, then stop right here. If you don’t, and you don’t care about spoilers, let’s keep on trucking. The wimps have had time to slip away through the exits by now.
Rather than burden us with convoluted trade disputes and bizarre immaculate conceptions a la The Phantom Menace, Wicked treats us to the story of Elphaba, born of a tryst between a married woman and a traveling salesman who persuades her to drink a strange green elixir. The musical then goes on to tell the story of Oz’s civil rights problems and weaves a dark tale about the origins of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. It’s The Empire Strikes Back of fairy tales, except we’re rooting for the (apparent) villain.
In the end, we find out that the Wicked Witch of the West is actually the daughter of that scam artist Oz himself.
Wouldn’t it have been great in the prequels to have a scene when Palpatine makes a diplomatic visit to Tatooine (maybe it’s Hug a Hutt Week in the Senate) and he hits it off with a nice slave lady in the cantina? They dance along with the Bith band, get drunk, and end up sleeping together. Years later, Anakin shows up at Li’l Sith Academy with big dreams of serving the Emperor someday.
We’d have to work on making him different, like Elphaba’s green skin, so let’s go with: Hugely asthmatic. He lives in a plastic bubble with flashing lights and a special respirator, so he’s a ten-year-old kid with the voice of James Earl Jones.
Really, the plot sells itself, I think.
In the end, unlike the Star Wars prequels, Wicked actually builds up the legend of the witch and lets the character retain massive amounts of dignity that were sadly ripped away from Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith.