Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Last Post: End of Term

Hello, all,

Your final papers are graded (without comments) and course grades posted. If you would like your paper returned, with or without comments, please let me know as soon as possible. Papers can be picked up in my office in the next few weeks - I will be gone over the summer but will hold on to them through the Fall, so you can also retrieve them at the beginning of next term.

Otherwise, enjoy your summer and go play some games!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

GTA activity book

Wow. This is a pretty funny joke that parodies the anti-gaming hype that GTA is for kids.

Citing Games: Some More Examples

Grand Theft Auto III. Rockstar Games: Rockstar North, 2001. PS2.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Aspyr: Funcom, 2006. Xbox.

For a game that has not yet been released (if needed):

Bioshock. 2K Games: Irrational Games, 2007 (expected release June 1). Xbox 360.

For an ongoing game:

Asheron’s Call. Microsoft Game Studios: Turbine, Inc., Oct. 1999 - present (ongoing). PC.

And some more traditional citations:

Bailey, Tom. “Character, Plot, Setting and Time, Metaphor, and Voice.” On Writing Short Stories. Ed. Tom Bailey. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. 29-79.

Bartle, Richard. Designing Virtual Worlds. Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders, 2004.

Dibbell, Julian. “A Rape in Cyberspace; or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society.” (21 Dec 1993) Feb 26 2007.

“The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clich├ęs” (June 2004). 29 Nov. 2006.

Howard, Todd. “Bethesda Softworks Announces The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” (22 Oct 2004). 26 Feb 2007.

“The Legend of Zelda Retrospective: Part 6.” Dec 28 2006. <>

“Plot/Theory Analysis FAQ.” Shadow of the Colossus: FAQS and Guides. (26 Aug 2006). Feb 28 2007.

Citing a Videogame

Final Fantasy 17. Square Enix (developer): Square Enix (publisher), 2012. PC (system played on).

Can we play a game now?

Videogames and films could easily be deemed as two of the biggest revolutions in multimedia. It's been since its earliest days, the videogame industry has been fascinated with films and movies, and with turning big-screen stories into interactive worlds and all this with a range of success. But later down the years Hollywood indulged into creating movies based on the interactive storylines and worlds rendered in videogames - again with mixed success. In recent times, Hollywood has been mining videogames (and their predominantly huge male fan base) for box office gold. What makes this art of transition of films to games, analog to digital and vice versa so inconsistent? What makes success to elusive?

In the last 2 decades or so there has been a magnitude of revolutions in films, in multimedia. This revolution is the shift from analog to digital methods of recording and manipulating vision, perception and sound. However, if you think about this, it is interesting that the development of videogames in many ways followed that of film. The only difference being, it took films about eighty years to do what videogames took 20 to do. Still games are trying to get as close as possible to movies, may it be looking photo-realistic, may it be having deep storyline or may it be to inject emotion through games the same way movies do. Movies on the other hand, are trying to cash in on the gaining popularity of videogames.

Videogame developers are passionate about their games. And gamers, are more passionate about the games they play so devotedly for most part during the day (and, even in their dreams!). When a movie based on such a game which is popular and has a massive following comes onto the big-screen, the gamers expect it to be closest it could in following the game. But the game's biggest assets, its interactive form, challenging AI or the multiplayer aspect, the non-linear format are the most difficult to replace. And when the director of that movie manages to encompass all these hurdles and pack it into a linear medium, there are the non-gamers and conventional movie-goers who think it's too radical or a blasphemy or maybe just that the plot doesn't make sense. I remember this incident, I was watching "Doom" in a theatre and right when the pinky monster pops up, the guy (presumably a gamer) sitting ahead of me remarks, "Oh, I would have so landed a headshot on that!" And a person sitting next to me just looks at the guy perplexed and possibly disgusted. He probably did not realize the cult following that Doom possesses among FPS gamers. Still, the gamers did not react favorably to the movie primarily because the movie strayed away from the original game-plot, there were not enough monsters, etc.

A movie has such a wide base of audience that it's almost impossible to have a successful game-based movie that would be an instant box-office hit. It does not take a film fanatic to know that the critics rarely appreciate seeing a video game on the silver screen. Unsurprisingly, it is equally rare to find a film critic who appreciates a good video game at all! Movies like the first Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, both Tomb Raider installments followed the respective game plot loyally and have done pretty well among general audience and gamers. Transformers (movie), on the other hand was praised my general public but grossly criticized by the hardcore fans.

The failure to make this transition is solely due to the lack of interactivity in a movie, and without the luxury of a joystick (or a controller) in gamers' hands, he stands no chance to make the incoherent on-screen antics any better. The joystick places the gamers in control of the narrative, essentially allowing them to rewrite the story. Two of the most nerve-chilling games Silent Hill and Resident Evil have multiple successful sequels. However, they each offer a completely different take on fear where Silent Hill often feels more terrifying of the two. There is a reliance on torchlight, for instance, creating a sense of intense vulnerability whilst a hollow morose soundtrack of gothic industrial screams and clangs shake your spine. It does not mimic the high level of monster-slashing action and shock horror techniques used to build fear in Resident Evil. In 2002, Paul Anderson's interpretation of Resident Evil was released, followed by Christophe Gans' Silent Hill in 2006. Both directors admittedly being huge fans of the respective series, thereby allowing the films to remain largely true to the games, each using the same nightmarish creatures to haunt familiar locations. Both directors even recreated some of the most iconic scenes; such as a train carriage showdown in Resident Evil reminiscent of the second game's ending, and Rose Silva's car crash in Silent Hill taken directly from the opening of the first game. This loyalty means that the films also reflect their respective games' portrayal of fear. Unsurprisingly, the critics in both the US and the UK were mostly negative in their reviews where as both films were a hit with the fans, although when reviewing the profit margins it appears that the action-orientated Resident Evil was more successful overall. Nevertheless, gamers should perhaps be reminded that even in videogames, the joystick only gives the gamer the choice to do his own stunts and stuff, rather than the ability to affect the storyline, which is usually pre-determined by the developer. Nonetheless, support from fans means that the industry will continue to push into the cinema and games will keep evolving and getting closer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Closest Chances for Game Movies

sorry for the late paper. I had severe trouble finding a game for my original topic and had to switch gears at the last second. Since it's not appropriate for the paper, I would also like to just point out that with the new Speed Racer movie, we were 20 dollars and a paint job away from a serious F-zero movie.

My full intention for this paper was to write out a summary for a live-action game movie that would be successful enough to reach critical acclaim and hopefully lift the stigma on game movies. For this, I set three simple criteria.

  1. The game has to be obscure so as to not immediately be recognized as a game movie

  2. The game has to have a rich background and history with at least some maturity to it

  3. The movie has to be a side-story of the game's plot and not an immediate rehashing

However, as I spent a whole week searching, I came to realize that no game has actually met all of these criteria. Even if one did exist, it's likely said game wasn't very good, and would not reflect well on it's movie successor once it was revealed it was a game movie. So, I decided to present four candidates that fill most of the criteria, but fall short in some way and present my argument for them.

Psychonauts- Unfortunately, this one fails to have any known backstories worth exploring that weren't fairly well fleshed out in the game. Do we really want to know Dr. Demento's life as a dentist before the game? Also, this game is not as obscure as it would need to be to keep from being immeditately recognized as a game movie. However, the game has three major things going for it. First, the writer of the game is alive and would want to see his character brought to a mass audience again. Second, the game, while not Oscar winning, is definitely an interesting and wonderful world to epxlore. Third, the game ended on a cliffhanger that'll probably never be resolved due to poor sales of the original game. A movie could be an excellent chance to tie up this loose plot end. If anyone could write a movie script for a game, it's Tim Schaffer. Mind you, it'd come off as a bit like Kevin Smith, but is that a bad thing?

Skies of Arcadia- Here's a game with a really interesting world. Technology is steam-punk, everyone lives on islands floating in the sky, and the whole place is littered with bad ass Air Pirates and an evil empire. This isn't exactly a Shakespearian tragedy, but the game does have a solid plot and a very well fleshed out world. On top of that, if we're talking about selling seats, nothing is hotter in the movie industry right now than pirates and fantasy. Like Psychonauts, the fans got a cliffhanger ending that will likely never be resolved, and we're too assume that the main characters had many adventures after this. So, a side story movie after the game isn't unheard of. The game's obscure enough, the world's rich enough, and we have the grounds for an after story. The problem with this adaptation would be the casting. Even with only 6 main characters in the actual game (and only 3 of them actual members of your crew), the movie might have too many characters. Fans would insist on a nod to some of the members of the previous game, and it might bog down the plot a lot. There's only so many cameos you can do in 2 hours. On top of that, casting Vyse, the main MAIN character, would be extraordinarily difficult. Vyse is portrayed in the game as one of the most charismatic characters ever. For some reason, this was accepted in the game. People like Vyse. However, in a movie, without careful casting, Vyse would be a smug James Bond/Indiana Jones wannabe. Finally, even if it does come out, this isn't going to win any Oscars without Peter Jackson directing it

Breath of Fire IV: Dragon Quarter- This one's very interesting. Despite being from a famous series of games, the game itself is an obscure cult classic due to a weird combat system. The world is rich and interesting. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future wherein the people polluted the world so bad that the people can no longer live above ground. Instead, they live underground where monsters roam free and rangers have to keep everyone living from day to day. One of the characters is created for the sole purpose of filtering the air in the underground mine shafts that everyone lives in, and it turns out that she's defective and that living down here for much longer will kill her. From a serious plot stand-point, this game has everything. In a game that's only about 10 hours long, we touch on issues such as class gaps and elitism, the needs of one versus many, the environment, the harshness of dark side of science, government conspiracy and surveillance, terrorism versus freedom fighting, and sacrifice. The game even has an almost tragic ending. The game fleshes out its story extremely well with unlockable side cutscenes extending the story on multiple playthroughs. The best part is, if you cut out the fluff and dungeon crawling, the game could actually be truncated into an actual 2 hour movie without sacrificing anything of particular value. However, this volates the rule of doing a side story. You could discuss the events prior to the game a bit more, but ultimately, this would be a rehash of the game itself.

Phantom Brave- This one has much the same idea to it as Dragon Quarter. Fairly simple plot that covers some deeper issues at its core. The story of a girl that can see ghosts and her ghostly sidekick covers issues of honor, people's inability to accept things that are different, personal sacrifice for the good of others and society, not judging people by appearances, and even that the most insignificant of people can have a major impact on the world. It's a deceptively deep plot with few enough main characters that you could reasonably cover most of them in 2 hours without sacrificing anything. The plot is a bit longer than dragon quarter, but it is still possible to get the whole thing down due to the simplicity of some of the chapters and the fluff nature of others. It even has a bit of a tragic twist at the end of the game. Once again, we're getting mostly the same plot. Unlike Dragon Quarter though, this one has the potential of telling the story from a different character's point of view. The tragic Anti-hero of the game, Walnut, is interesting enough to warrant a main character role in a movie, and a story about him would be one about the redemption of the flawed hero. All in all, it would make for an interesting and very serious film that doesn't have the typical happy video game ending.

In the end, I'm not entirely sure the industry is ready for good video game movies. No one has made a game that fully fits the criteria needed to break that barrier. How long were movies out before we had a good movie based on a book? How long after that before we stopped constantly focusing on the fact that said movie was a book first? If anything, this research has proved that the industry isn't ready yet. A game hasn't come out that's good for movies, but this research does show that there is a good possibility that we will get there in the future.

The Dark Eye and Involving a Player Through Interactive Fiction

Blogger went down for maintenance or something and didn't save my draft >:(

Many developers wish to recreate an experience from a book or movie or graphic novel while being completely faithful to the source material. Many developers also wish to involve the player in a more involved emotional experience than the typical game. Interactive fiction is one format which has had some success in this area.

For the uninitiated, interactive fiction is similar to the adventure game genre. The games focus on exploration, interaction with other characters, and are heavily narrative based rather than reflex based. However, unlike adventure games, interactive fiction is typical much more linear and resctrictive. While adventure games often allow the player to roam around until they figure out what they need to do next and often revolve around puzzle solving, interactive fiction is generally limited to moving from one character interaction to the next on a heavily design-guided path.

The Dark Eye serves as an excellent example of a game that succeeds at getting the player involved in the story while being a faithful translation of its source material in content, tone, and style. The Dark Eye is a piece of interactive fiction that places the player in the role of an unnamed character who is visiting his uncle Edwin. The game uses this overarching plot as a framing device. During his visit, the main character becomes ill dues to the paint thinner Edwin uses to paint. This paint thinner, along with the main character’s decline in mental health due to his nightmares and events in the main story, causes him to have hallucinogenic nightmares. These nightmares are retellings of Edgar Allen Poe stories and the player plays through them from the point of view of both victim and victimizer.

The Dark Eye faithfully recreates three of Poe’s stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amantillado,” and “Berenice.” By using the interactive fiction format the developer, Inscape, can do a more accurate job of placing the player into the shoes of characters in the stories. By limiting the choices that the player has at any one time it is easier to manipulate the player into going a certain direction, interacting with a certain object or experiencing a certain event. This makes it easier to control the pacing and the exact events and the order they take place in for each player. This in turn makes it easier to manipulate the player’s emotional reactions to the story, just like a movie or a book. The framing story is an original story but maintains a faithful atmosphere by creating a very Poe-esque narrative using many of the common themes in his short fiction.

The Dark Eye limits what the player can do much more than most games. Although the ‘nightmare’ sections can be played in any order, within the scenes themselves the player is often very limited. There are key moments when the control cursor is ‘grayed out’ to all action choices except one so that the player can in fact only turn left or pick up the box or whatever might be happening at that point. Yet the fact that the player is given free choice to choose the order in which the stories occur (even going so far as to allow the player to select to play the victim in a story and then at key parts ‘soul jump’ into the victimizer if they so choose) allows for different experiences among each player while still keeping the same story.

In the end, the deciding factor is whether or not this kind of interactive fiction can be categorized with other video games. The limitation of player choice makes it easier and more effective (compared to most games released so far) to maintain a faithful translation that actually places the player into the role of a character in the story and to create a narrative that more easily drives the player. However, the interactivity and choice afforded to the player are major factors of what makes a video game a video game and are the major draw for the medium. Interactive fiction, if handled properly, can be an effective tool but in the end it really must be categorized as a separate entity from games due to its too restrictive nature.