Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Silent Hill - Revelation

Day Thirty One: Silent Hill - Revelation

Holy cow, I made it. Blogging random topical stuff related to one's particular interests is one thing. Setting out to specifically meet a quota (for fun and not profit, admittedly) is something else. Still, it was worth it, and the fun in reviewing films for a month has taught me that I ought to do this more often. It's fun to analyze movies, to wonder about what they did right as well as how and why things might have gone horribly wrong.

Speaking of which, Silent Hill Revelation is up next! I ponied up for a 3D matinee showing (so, about $11) and saw it today. I was the only one in the theater on a 5:10 PM showing. Pity horror movies don't scare me anymore, that could have been cool.

In fair disclosure, I forgot to mention that my review of Resident Evil: Retribution was for a standard (non 3D) version and I saw it in a discount theater for $2. By contrast, Silent Hill Revelations was full (matinee) price and was in 3D. As usual, no movie I've seen in 3D since Avatar has been worth the extra few bucks. Also, I would have been less annoyed at this movie if I'd waited to see it for $2 as bad. Wife and kid are out of town for a few days again, had to seize the opportunity while I could!

Watching all these Resident Evil movies as well as Silent Hill Revelations has made me realize what might be going on in the development cycle of game-to-film design. I think it starts something like this:

Studio lands a deal for using the game IP. Marketing howls in triumph.

Early on, game studio hands over the game, the art assets and script used to develop said game. The people picked for set design, costuming and FX go hog wild with the amazing assets laid out for them. This wasn't always so; there was a time (when games still looked like ass and our imaginations filled in the cracks) that the team poo-poo'd the assets and did their own thing, enraging the fans.

The script writers are handed copies of the game and maybe the development script and assets used for the "story" part of the game. It's not in a format that they can assimilate from their screenwriting experience, and they chuck it. Someone is tasked with playing the game, but he's not really one of those "gamers" so he hands the game off to his son, who plays it and when his dad asks for a summary he copies and pastes the summary of the plot from Wikipedia. Second possibility: no one bothers to play the game because it requires too much attention for hopped-up Hollywood to bother so they just cut straight to Wikipedia.

Someone reads the Wiki and culls out all the stuff that makes no sense without context. Then they paste in the stuff that generations of film writing have burned into their heads must be in any film for a perceived demographic.

"This has monsters in it that look sort of like Pinhead. Oh, look at all the pictures of rusted metal and torture instruments, maybe its more of a Saw movie. Hey, the Wiki says there's a cult in town, lets get a metric ass ton of extras to run around populating this place as cultists. What's with the fog? I dunno, the wiki doesn't say much. Let's explain it as ash coming down from a burning coal mine, like that story I read about on Yeah, that's the ticket."

"What's that fog horn noise? Hey, it must be a fog horn because, you know--fog. Or better yet, one of those old air raid alarms. Who's this triangle-headed dude? Oh, he' head. The wiki doesn't say much about him. These nurse monsters? I dunno, but wouldn't it be cool if they were all, like, twitchy and stuff when they sensed movement? And it gives the FX guy a chance to hobnob with those models for, like, hours while they slather on that makeup."

The end of development gets close. "Will this appeal to the fans? Sure, we've gotten all the characters named in the game to look like they do in the art stills. But will it appeal to the millions of people who've never even heard of a Silent Hill game? Yeah, we've added in a love interest, and this game's pure gold because its protagonist is an 18 year old girl who's all about being an outcast, so we've got the Twilight crowd element in there. And we've got the father figure for all the old farts who played this game when it was new. Oh, and we've got lots of sudden shocks and spooks and thrills, because we heard that was really big in the game. What...that was Resident Evil? This game was all about psychological horror and shared purgatories? What does that even mean? Hell, it's not like we've got David Lynch directing, anyway! Well, doesn't matter, and it's also not like we're filming hours of someone walking around in fog, right? Bwah hah hah!!!"

And on it goes. The end result is someone who has parsed out a Cliff's Notes version of their target product, glued on art assets to make it look cool, and then filmed the thing. Meanwhile, no one has noticed or tried to understand what anyone who's played and enjoyed the original games are talking about when they refer to psychological horror. There's no connection between the imagery, the monsters, and the subtle underpinnings of deep psychological trauma made manifest in a dark purgatory that is a shadowy mirror of the minds of its trapped victims made real.

They're best hope now is that the movie, which they are already sure will be picked apart by its pedantic, obsessive fans, will instead grab the actual casual movie-going crowd that wants to see a scary movie.

To help this crowd understand, Silent Hill Revelations front-loads a metric ton of plot exposition in the first twenty or thirty minutes. You will not have to guess about what's going on or why. The absolutely bizarre and disturbing elements of the game series in which the player can often make it through the entire game and still not be entirely sure of what happened on that first play through is gone here; it's spelled out so plainly that they might as well have shown a 3D mallet beating it into our skulls. The plot, by the way, is fairly similar to (based on) Silent Hill 3, and in principle it is a fair modeling of said plot....with the caveat that the depiction of said plot was derived entirely from the screen writers using the Wiki to summarize it.

I tried to think about whether this movie was enjoyable from the angle of someone who had no familiarity with the games. It was kind of hard to tell, to be honest; the horror was there, but they periodically threw in hapless victims that Heather, the lead character, stumbles across specifically so she can see them get dismembered. Heather is a decent character here, and I do feel that they nailed, fairly accurately, the onscreen version of the same protagonist from Silent Hill 3. But everyone around her? Horribly two dimensional, put in specifically because the people making this film appear to understand shock horror and splatterpunk gore far better than they understand the more subtle and disturbing undercurrent of gnosticism that powers the Silent Hill universe.

The movie throws a couple fun bones out at the end....if fun means "painful teasers for the small chunk of the audience that actually played all the games," with a quick introduction of the truck driver Travis Grady (from Silent Hill: Origins) and a quick shot of a prison transport that is no doubt transporting Murphy Pendleton from Silent Hill Downpour on board. Surprised we didn't see a lone war vet heading home at the same time, or a guy sitting in a room somewhere, for good measure. The movie also keeps Harry Mason alive all the way to the end, where he stays in Silent Hill to look for his lost wife. A vague, half-hearted allusion to Silent Hill 2? Maybe.

Unfortunately this movie was just more annoying than funny, unlike the hysterical Resident Evil films which won out by virtue of sheer audacity. It was sort of fun to watch, but just not as much as a better film with more effort would have been.  I give it a C-, because it clearly had so much potential, but the only way that a good Silent Hill film will be made is if someone were to talk Guillermo del Toro or David Lynch into doing it. Then, maybe....just maybe....we might get a movie worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney Owns Star Wars and is Going to Give Birth to Star Wars Episode 7 in 2015

From the WTF news dept....

I head it on the radio while driving home today! It must be true, it was right after Hurricane Sandi reports and the stock market news. What the.....Wow.

Apparently Disney bought Lucas Films for four billion dollars or something. and announced a seventh Star Wars movie to be slated for 2015.

I wonder if in a few years fans will all remember the good old days of Papa Lucas fondly or if they will bask in the glory of a Star Wars film liberated from his force grip?

Time will tell....

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as John Scalzi entertainingly points out. Remember, Disney also owns Marvel....and ergo, Avengers.

If they can do for Star Wars what they did for Avengers, then theaters across America will need to set up splash guards as millions of nerds heads' pop in exultant joy.

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Thirty One Days of Horror: Resident Evil: Retribution

Day Thirty: Resident Evil: Retribution

Oh my Zombie Gods but do I have a lot to say about this movie! I'll get this out of the way real quick: SPOILER ALERT. Spoilers all over the place. Spoilers, Spoilers, Spoilers. SPOILERS!

You know what the difference is between bad movies thirty years ago and bad movies today? Bad movies today can (and often do) look like damned good movies, and are often still fun to watch, especially if you watch them drunk, or while suffering a mild concussion or something.

Resident Evil: Retribution manages to be a movie that infuriated, annoyed, confused, irritated, excited and thrilled me all at the same time. I was simultaneously flabbergasted at the movie's brazen and highly tenuous train of logic (yes, even after marathoning the first four last September! Even after watching Deep Space!) and still enjoying this movie like the action movie porn it truly is. Resident Evil: Retribution, despite a couple brilliantly horror-like moments, has all but shed its horror roots and embraced a world of high-tech post-apocalyptic zombie action super hero adventures. It is arguably beating the video games in terms of sheer, unadulterated brazenness. And I just finished the Leon Kennedy campaign for Resident Evil 6, too.....

I remember a time when video game inspired films were pathetic in their poor embrace of the admittedly loose source material. Now we have video game inspired films which make the video game designers look like boring, unimaginative people who need to learn to think outside the box.

(That might be a bit harsh...RE 6 has some moments that make the movie logic look downright spotless comparatively, but more on that in the RE 6 review...heh....)

Okay, enough general exposition! Time to talk about this movie and it's...uhhh....plot?

When we left Alice at the end of RE: Afterlife she had liberated a secret Umbrella ship called Arcadia from the tyrranical grip of Evil Wesker, with the help of Chris and Claire Redfield. Then a literal army of VTOL attack craft loaded with umbrella goons led by a mind-controlled Jill Valentine show up to crash the party.

Cut to RE: Retribution! We open with a slow-motion reverse of the first minute of the conflict, followed by a lengthy and rather elaborate narration by Alice which serves little purpose other than to remind the casual viewer of what the hell happened in the last four movies and how it may or may not relate to what the viewing audience, like test rats, are about to be exposed to. Then it opens up on the neighborhood from Dawn of the Dead (the remake) complete with fast zombies and everything. In fact, I have to say that the zombies get faster and faster with every RE movie. Alice is apparently waking from a bad dream in Raccoon City Suburbia, married to the Umbrella agent from Resident Evil: Apocalypse and with a daughter who is deaf. Then zombies attack and Alice does a fairly good job of escaping, aided by her friend who appears to be a civilian version of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain from the first movie. Then Alice wakes up, sort of, in a very large and extravagant Umbrella torture/interrogation chamber.

We're about ten or fifteen minutes in here, just so ya know.

So Jill Valentine, still being controlled by a red gem-thing on her chest (which, for what it's worth, is as inexplicable in the games as it is in this film) interrogates and tortures Alice. Actually, I think she's trying to brainwash her into being an Umbrella agent again. Actually, I am not sure what they want from Alice, but I do know that the real purpose of this scene was to demonstrate yet another semi-nude scene of Alice in a two-piece smock just like she wore in the first two films.

Rule 34 dictates that somewhere someone is selling "Resident Evil Umbrella Medical Gowns" online and people like me are risking dismemberment by asking their wives and/or girlfriends to wear them

So after a bit something odd happens; security goes down, Alice's weapons and black body stocking Death Agent of Umbrella uniform appears, and she finds herself escaping...first from yet another reprisal of the laser grid trap from the first movie. My complaints about how in the hell this trap works in the review of that film seem quaint compared to the Escher painting logic that subsequent movies have taught me to expect. But that's neither here nor there....she escapes and finds herself in Tokyo, right before the imminent zombie apocalypse is about to trip, exactly as it appeared at the start of RE: Afterlife. Then of course the zombie apocalypse hits and Alice gets a'killin.

Before long, the, the movie throws its first major twist in: it may not seem like a huge twist to people who have not played the game, but trust me, if you're a fan of the games this is HUGE: Ada Wong shows up! That's not the twist, though. Nope, the twist is: Ada Wong explain everything. Well, almost everything....but she effectively outlines exactly what's going on and why; she provides more plot dialogue, exposition and explanation in a few minutes on film than she has ever done in in 15 years of video games. In fact, Ada's main job in the game universe has been to show up and confound the plot. Here she serves primarily to help make sense of things. Holy crap!

Macho Women With Guns

Ada explains she's here to bust Alice out of Umbrella's aquatic kingdom of evil ruled by the evil computer the Red Queen herself (or maybe a copy of her, since she did blow up in a nuclear firestorm in RE: Apocalypse). It seems Alice is once again very important....and Ada's external ally is ...get ready for it!.....Evil Wesker!!!!! Except maybe he's not evil now. I miss evil Wesker (fear not, he's just feigning not-evilness, luckily). Instead, the Red Queen is the evil one, engaged in endless experiments on clones with monsters to find increasingly more devious ways of destroying all humanity.

So Ada, directed by Wesker (who's video-phoning in his part of the plot) explain that an ancient aquatic North Pole Soviet Military station that was purchased and repurposed by Umbrella Corp. as a distributor of biowarfare weapons as well as a place to demonstrate them, I can't believe I'm not making this cloning armies of civilians, populating entire replica domes of major cities across the world with said clones, and then breeding and releasing various monsters that are then used to test their overall effectiveness on these vast numbers of clones (that are embedded with flash memories) in the simulated cities. You know- to help establish product placement for out-of-control biogenic weapons that do everything from create zombies to spontaneously mutate said zombies into tyrant super soldiers and more. That's hard to demonstrate without a super-secret James Bondian underwater super lab, apparently. Hoo yah.

I apologize to the mad scientist from RE: Extinction at this point; clearly he was more in tune with the Red Queen's goals than the rest of Umbrella.

Anyway, Ada has allies. It turns out one is Barry (lifted from Resident Evil 1....I still can't say for sure if he is canonically alive in the video games or not), another Luther West, one of the survivors from RE: Afterlife (but in keeping with tradition all characters not directly taken from the movie except for Alice die in the second film they appear in), and then there's Leon Kennedy (not that I figured this out until late in the movie when I heard him called Leon). So Leon's Mirror-Alice-Universe twin finally gets some screen time. At least he's in a film with both Jill (who he doesn't seem to know here) and Ada (whom he's got a thing for).

Take note that at no point do we find out where Chris and Claire Redfield went at the end of the last film. So Luther West somehow survived and made buddies with Leon, Barry and "unnamed destined to die" guys, but Chris and Claire? Who knows.

Alice explains to Leon who the real protagonist is in Aliceverse

The movie proceeds to burn along at a fearsome pace as Ada and Alice try to escape one simulated city full of clone victims and monsters after another, while the guys (some of whom are unfortunate enough to be there only to die, of course) do the same, including having an encounter with the Las Plagas. The tentacle-faced monstrosities, you say? No! The Las Plagas, as if their existence wasn't already muddied by RE: Afterlife's inexplicable introduction of the tentacle-claw face-sprouting zombies (as well as the Really Big Dude with an Axe) wasn't confusing enough, these Las Plagas are actually an army of zombie-soviet-Nazi-soldiers complete with suits, armor and gear that looks like more Soviet-purchased surplus. Or something.

Luckily I have very, very little hair or it would be easier to pull out. Oh my god. Seriously. Here they had a chance to explain or at least rationalize the existence of the Los Plagas and the unmentioned G Virus in the RE-Mirror Aliceverse and instead somebody says, "We need something that can have a cool shoot-out with Leon, Barry and Luther. How about umbrella goons? Naw, we've been shooting a hell of a lot of them, and they're the ones duking it out with Ada and Alice over here...I know! Zombie soldiers with guns!"

Indeed, not only has Alice found the simulated Raccoon City zone (because on the list of major locales to simulate for purposes of bioweapon sales I'd put Raccoon City right next to New York, Moscow and Tokyo) but she's found yet another victim clone of herself, and a daughter she never had but now decides to fiercely protect. Actually this is a pretty good plot twist, second only to dropping Ada in as a center of plot exposition.

Cloned versions of the entire Umbrella crew from the first movie then show up, led by Evil Jill, and a lengthy shoot-out ensues. At this point I am loathe to spoil too much more, if only because the majority of the film at this point is one long scene-changing gunfight, mixed with a few bizarre moments (which I will happily point out!). In order:

A major Resident Evil monster reappears, this time in a deluxe super-size edition: the licker is back, and he's damned big.

Kevin Durand Resident Evil: Retribution
Barry is Schrodinger's STARS agent in both the RE-verse and Aliceverse, apparently. 
Barry dies toward the end, so in the Aliceverse we know he's dead. That makes Barry the first official "named" character to be extracted messily from the games who is actually dead in Aliceverse.

Alice finds yet another clone processing plant, and this time it's not just mass-generating clones of her, but of her brand new deaf foster daughter and 48 other flash-cloned souls that I guess the Red Queen took a liking to. Luckily the super-licker chases Alice here and she is forced to blow it and all the clones up with official Umbrella grenades. Not so luckily I kept wondering why the goal of the movie was the assisted escape of Alice when siezing the facility and freeing a vast number of clones who, while still clones, could in theory do a fine job of rebooting the decimated world popuation....but as I've learned from the other movies one does not overthink how the Aliceverse works.

Next time Jill should avoid shopping at Jared's of Umbrella Corp. for jewelry

We do finally get A showdown between Jill and Alice. Alice almost loses this one, sort of. Jill is finally released from the control of the Red Queen, which is a good thing I guess, although I have to admit, Jill's relevance to the plot outside of just sorta "being there" is a bit difficult to fathom.

We also get a showdown between Leon and Luther vs. whatever clone edition of Rain this is....this is a clone of Rain from the first movie who's much more effective at being an Umbrella goon. She pulls out an injector with a Las Plagas parasite (bwuh?!?!?!?!) and injects it (an impressive feat since the needle looked kinda small to inject the bug in the syringe.) As is traditional in both the game universe and the Aliceverse the virus works near-instantaneously, except here it just makes Rain really, really badass.


Michelle looked and acted like she was here for the money throughout this movie

Okay, so everyone fights a lot and in the end Alice and crew escape, to live happily ever after, right? Hah!

 The real surprise at the end is just how they close it out with whatever new, spanky insane ending will set the stage for the next film. If you still want some semblance of surprise, stop reading, because I have absolutely got to spoil it:

They fly to Washington D.C. to a White House under siege (looks like the one in Modern Warfare 2...or was it 3?) and Alice is allowed to enter the Oval Office. At this moment I was expecting them to rip off Resident Evil 6 with an appearance by Zombie President, but No! They did one better! It's EVIL Wesker!!!! He's the president now....or something....and he injects Alice with the T-virus, again, explaining that he needs her hopped up on T-Virus mojo so she can help deal with the last stand of humanity. Cut to the scene outside, as Wesker, Jill, Leon, Luther, little girl and Alice all gather to look out on an insane scene of full military action as the US Army barricades the White House in against a vast, unending army of darkness, led by the Red Queen to exterminate all humanity. RE: Extinction apparently exaggerated how far long the extinction process was, I guess.

The forty-one year old Me was simultaneously apoplectic at how nonsensical this movie was while the thirteen year old Me was ready to drop golden bricks in sheer excitement at how Freakin' Awesome this movie was.

I don't even know what the hell to make of this series anymore, and I can't even think about the plot or the point of it all without feeling like I bruised my brain. I do know that I will see the next one, and I do plan to be mildly inebriated when I do so I can enjoy it a bit more without wanting to wave my fists like a lunatic madman at the screen!

B+ for the sheer spectacle and over-the-top action porn. Giant freaking F for coherence, but who cares anymore? This movie's Alice is well and truly down the zombie rabbit hole!

Monday, October 29, 2012

DDN Playtest Pack #4 is up

Just got my notice, but the fourth (I think this is the fourth?) playtest package is up. Looks like it covers levels 1-10 of content, has numerous revisions, and the Isle of Dread module. I may comment on it more if I get some free time to read it...

No dragonborn in DDN....yet.....

On an unrelated note: had a lot of fun this month doing all the reviews; I think I'll try to make it a regular habit, with more book, game and film reviews at least once or twice a week! It makes for a nice change of pace from an all game content all the time approach like I have often exercised in other months...that's a very hard pace to keep up with, anyway.

Thirty One Days of Horror: Silent Hill

Day Twenty Nine: Silent Hill

Aside from Resident Evil I'm a big Silent Hill fan. I thought about doing an overview but then decided that it would be more fun to look first at the original that started it all.

Silent Hill started on the Playstation One as a horror game much in the same style and feel of Resident Evil, but with a murky plot in which you are Harry Mason, an otherwise ordinary fellow it would seem, who loses his daughter after he nearly runs off the road while swerving to avoid a little girl. After county officer Cybil Bennett find him, Harry realizes he needs to find his daughter in the nearby mist-shrouded town of Silent Hill.

Naturally, after a qausi-dreamlike event in which Harry is ripped apart by demonic child-things he finds himself in the inexplicably abandoned town, and begins his search. As he does, reality seems to twist and fold, as he finds himself shunted in and out of the dreamlike purgatory that overlaps with Silent Hill in an effort to find his daughter Cheryl and figure out how she is connected to another mysterious girl who seems to haunt the town. Amidst all this truly malevolent and disturbing monsters (well, for the time this came out they were disturbing, anyway) haunt the town, and make like very difficult for Harry.

Ultimately the storyline proves to be fairly complicated, involving an ancient god, a young vessel, and a soul split in two, with the threat of reincarnation/rebirth forcing the ancient evil to manifest and....well, the game has multiple endings, and the what/why/how of it all can vary quite a bit depending on how well you fare in playing through.

Silent Hill's design was effective and easy enough for the time it came out, though the pre-analog controls are frustrating now. It was notable for its time in that it employed "realistic" character management; you can get winded after sprinting, for example, or take damage that impacts your character's behavior. Later games would expand upon this and make it eponymous with the series trying hard to distinguish it's protagonist as more realistic, in contrast with most video game portrayala.

Silent Hill was the first truly good horror game to come out on the Playstation One, barring Resident Evil, which despite being the first survival horror game was still infused with a bit of the action and adventure element; you could get scared or surprised with shock while playing Resident Evil, sure; but Silent Hill, when it was new, could disturb and frighten you on a much deeper level. It's almost infamous for its imagery, mood, ambient noise and foreboding. There's always a suspicion that something is "not quite right" both in the town and with those trapped there, including Harry. Later games expand greatly upon this and to great effect (especially Silent hill 2, which managed to exceed the high bar the first one set).

Silent Hill today is available on the Playstation network for download (I replayed it on a PSP but theoretically it might be playable on the PS Vita or PS3, I imagine). It's an A+++ game by all rights,  and if you are willing to overlook the dated control scheme and graphics its still better than most horror games out there (and most Silent Hill games after #2, as well).

Monstrous Monday!

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Death Valley

Day Twenty Eight: Death Valley (season one)

While everyone else was watching high profile stuff like The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, or even....I dunno....Breaking Bad (or whatever), MTV was quietly doing this hysterical horror-comedy series called Death Valley. The first season is available on Netflix right now; if you're looking for something suitably horror-ish yet also hysterically funny to play during a Halloween party, I would definitely suggest this series.

I've been told by other people (i.e. my wife and pretty much everyone else) that Death Valley borrows a bit, thematically, from shows like Reno 911 and Super Troopers, then sticks it in a blender with a mix of werewolf, vampire and horror films, a dose of Tarantino's sensibilities, then adds in a dollop of Reality TV and Cops for good measure. This is a pretty succinct summary of how Death Valley feels: like you're watching a humorous spin on cops where all the guys in wifebeaters are zombies, all the pimps are vampires, all the domestic disputes involve werewolves, and all the cops know they're on a reality show filmed by Quentin Tarantino. It is frankly amazing no one else thought of trying this first....pure formula gold!

Death Valley follows the exploits of the recently formed UTF (Undead Task Force) in Los Angeles, about a year after something weird happened and one day people started popping up as vampires, werewolves and zombies. L.A. being what it is, the net effect was simply to make it slightly more entertaining when dealing with mostly supernatural criminals, of course.

The UTF is composed of Captain Dashell (Bryan Callen), an ambiguously gay blowhard (and absolutely my favorite character), followed by the rookie cop officer landry (Caity Lotz), along with old vets Stubeck, Rinaldi, Pierce and Johnson. Everyone fits a role, has their schtick that makes them stand out, and has interweaving bits that play in and out from episode to episode.

Running gags can be found through all twelve episodes, from the persistent habit of the poor boom-mike guy to get bitten by zombies to the habitually gang/elitist focus of the vampires (the douchebags of the supernatural set) to the rules and regulations that require werewolves to have suitable "safe room" accommodations for nights of the full moon (and of course the UTF has to follow-up and make sure each registered werewolf is compliant with city ordnance). The net effect is a fantastic lineup of episodes, both hysterical and exciting at the same time.

Despite being both a horror and a comedy series, two genres that traditionally don't mesh well with "reality" in any sense, Death Valley manages to do a pretty good job of making a monster-infested L.A. work and feel surprisingly organic. L.A. was a good choice for this; plenty of other cities would have felt a bit contrived; L.A. is already halfway there in terms of chaos...and its got the monsters, just needs a few more supernatural beasts in the mix....!

So far there's only one season of Death Valley, and what news bits I found revealed that MTV apparently didn't renew it, though the show creator is looking for a new channel to take over. I really hope someone grabs it; this is absolutely one of the best horror-comedies I've seen in a long time (Suck being the other awesomeness of this special genre) and really would like to see more.

Head over to Netflix and check it out. Another A+++ from the Death Bat!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Monsters

Day Twenty Seven: Monsters

I'm about 48 minutes into this movie when a monster finally shows up, in the flesh, and not hinted at in some's a good thing, too, because the last time we actually saw one it was the opener to the film, with a brief image of a large floating daikaiju-sized cephalopod monster getting hit by a tactical missile strike. With a name like Monsters you'd expect more...monsters, yeah?

Monsters was a 2010 film that I decided to skip in the theaters after it received lukewarm reviews. Now, available in all its glory on Netflix in the middle of my horror movie marathon, it seemed like a shoe-in for reviewing. The movie features the story of two people trapped in the middle of southern Mexico and trying to make good an escape. One is Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), daughter of the man who owns the media empire that Andrew Caulder (Scoot McNairy) works for. Andrew's down trying to secure some hard footage of the mysterious alien monsters, giant floating cephalopods which have invaded much of Central America in a region now known as the "infection zone." He's derailed when his boss, Samantha's father, orders him to find her and get her home. She's on a walkabout of sorts....apparently having chosen the incredibly dangerous region where an alien invasion is underway to think hard about her future marriage plans (or something).

Monsters' monsters aren't really invaders, though. They're more like what rabbits were to Australia, or the tumbleweed was to the American Southwest....foreign visitors introduced, unchecked, into an environment ill-equipped to deal with them. The giant cephalopods grow and thrive in Central America, and apparently this has been happening for six or so years, as the giant beasts (brought back by a NASA probe in some vague fashion hinted at in a news report and a bit of text in the prologue) play cat and mouse with the US and Mexican military.

That all sounds really cool, right? Well unfortunately its a great setup but the follow-through is really, really slow. Most of the first forty five minutes of the film is a sort of travelogue, focused on life for two American tourists trying to get out of a strife-torn region of Central America. It could just as easily have dealt with a guerrilla uprising for all one knew, and only the occasional sign of "infected zone" or periodic newscasts with footage of the military fighting giant flying octopi suggest otherwise. It also tries to be a sort of "two strangers cast together might fall in love" story but really falls flat on its love story ass for a variety of reasons.

Ignoring the fact that the aliens don't really, truly show up in a meaningful way until an hour into the film, this movie's slow, methodical pace is punctuated by some beautiful scenery of the Yucatan region, and in terms of travel films its actually really quite good, if you are willing to overlook the sci-fi survival horror injected sporadically into the movie.

Scoot McNairy has something going for him, too. Throughout the movie I kept feeling like I was watching a movie with David Duchovny in it, because Scoot is a dead-wringer for his voice. This actually was critical to my ability to slog through this movie, as it was so unbelievably slow at times that only by imagining this as some sort of stealth X-Files riff could I find the energy to enjoy it.

Monsters makes a big mistake, probably a necessary one I imagine as it seems to me this film was overly ambitious for whatever budget it had: it adopts the fairly common technique of trying to make the extraordinary seem plausible through underplaying everything. By trying to make the story slower, the reactions of people more muted and less dramatic, the presentation ultimately nothing more than a travelogue of two people in a very screwed up place, it attempted to invoke a sense that this could, indeed be happening, or could at least happen in the way depicted. But for some reason it just doesn't manage to pull it off. Other films (i.e. District 9) did the same thing masterfully.

Somehow, for such a gorgeous and technically proficient film Monsters feels just sort of...lifeless. Still a better film than some of the abyssmal 80's dreck I've been watching, but it really could have used a bit more....pacing, and story, I suppose; and maybe two characters who were just a bit more interesting; the movie rides on their stories, their performances....and that just didn't cut it, unfortunately.

If you survive to the very end, around the 1:24 mark in the film (the tail end) it suddenly gets really, really interesting, providing a tantalizing hint of how much more it could have been. It's too little, too late....and mostly just a hint of what sort of movie Monsters could have been (hint: not a sci fi horror flick, maybe something more akin to real sci fi, a Jurassic Park meets Avatar deal, perhaps) but did make me wonder if someone down the road might not see this, realize the same, and then try to it all right next time.

This movie hovers around a C+ for effort and despite being a very slow travelogue/love story mischaracterized as a monster movie, jumping to an A in the last few minutes with the tantalizing suggestion of so much more about the actual monsters that we never got to see.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Deep Space

File:Deep space film.jpg

Day Twenty Six: Deep Space

Continuing a trend with horror themes containing the word "Space" in it, we have an obscure 1988 horror special starring Charles Napier as Detective Ian McLemore, a rogue cop who --wait for it!-- plays by his own rules. He's paired with his partner Det. Jerry Merris (Ron Glass), who serves as his slightly less rogue-cop foil. The two are doing all the things you'd expect of a couple detectives in an 80's action flick with a captain ready to bust a vein at their antics (they're introduced with a furious and dubious gunfight that leads to the death of a guy smuggling around....halloween costumes???) when something from space crashes into a remote section of town, unleashing...well...basically a close cousin to the tree demon from Evil Dead, at least at first.

Seems that some secretive government-funded military lab has fired off a bio-weapon into space for some special but not entirely obvious reason, and somehow lose control of it. The overly buff, poorly acted not at all science-y dudes manning the control stations using technical language even a beach bum could grasp might be part of the problem here...

While the massively incompetent government officials try to figure out what happened to their rogue space capsule, the "big brown thing" has started hatching and eating people in short order, culminating in a very alienesque monstrosity escaping from the morgue.

Actually, it's hardly fair to say the monster looks suspiciously like the Alien xenomorph. It might be more accurate to say that this monster bears traits of pretty much every Alien-inspired movie monster to appear since Alien came out:

I'm in ur movie eatin ur plot

Anyway, McLemore wrestles with mutant invaders, a potent psychic who wants to help at all costs (played by Julie Newmar no less!) a new relationship that he wants to foster into something meaningful (with Elisabeth Brooks) -- by luring her into getting naked with bagpipes, no less....yes, McLemore is a busy manly man, a pure and unadulterated product of 1980s cinema.

This movie is full of some awesomely bad dialogue, delivered with shockingly, awesomely bad acting. I can't tell if the actors are playing it straightly....and badly....because they're simply nonplussed by the insane script they're stuck with, or because none of them can quite believe they're reduced to making such a hideously bad movie as this. The strongest actor in this movie is Napier, who plays the role of the dangerously rogue detective to the hilt; Napier plays McLemore just about like you'd expect (or even hope): as a conventional made-for-TV cop drama star who somehow accidentally stumbled into a monster movie and can't quite come to terms with the fact that he's forced to trade up Columbian drug lords for mutant space monsters. Everyone else....well, they're all just a foil for this intensely by-the-numbers schlock horror flick, except for Elizabeth Brooks, who's an old hand at this sort of film (and it shows); she's got a more than exemplary performance as McLemore's main squeeze.

Giant Roach Egg???

Despite the utterly tired, worn and terribly cliched mess that this movie is right from the get-go, it had some sort of weird charm that kept me watching. I think the idea that McLemore was actually somehow peering through the fourth wall, fully aware he had been accidentally placed in a horror film when he was really supposed to be doing some sort of Starsky and Hutch or Lethal Weapon rip-off instead made it slightly more amusing to me. Perhaps it was when the captain sends the detectives off to investigate the crashed pod on Innsmouth Road. Maybe it was the way everyone unrelentingly delivered their lines in the most plebian, unremarkable and utterly fake way they possibly could. Somehow, it made this movie work, despite the fact that it really doesn't...!

Just like The Terror Within, Deep Space can't resist ripping off some of the scenes from Alien. When the old security guard chasing the cat in a warehouse with a rooftop leak problem meets the, giant mutant cockroach thingy, well....lets just say the scene escapes being a blatant rip off only because when the security guard throws his flashlight at the monster it handily catches it before actually eating the man with its extending, I mean, tentacle-like things.

I dunno....I'll give this one a D...for derivative!

This movie reminded me of another bad cops vs. monsters movie from the early nineties called Split Second and starring Rutger Hauer. Tragically not on Netflix, but one which I need to find again....there's something about cops vs. alien films I kinda like...

"It'll be a few more years before Predator 2 shows us how to do a good cops and aliens movie, sweetheart."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Dead Space

Day Twenty Five: Dead Space

Back to video game horror! I'm an unabashed fan of Dead Space, having played through it once on the Xbox 360 and twice on the PC. This is a rarity for me; I don't usually indulge in single player games more than once or twice, and very few titles have earned this honor, among them being Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and of course Dead Space.

If you don't know anything about Dead Space then I'll avoid spoiling it for you. The short synopsis is as follows: you play as Isaac Clark, an engineer onboard the USG Kellion, a deep space rescue and repair vessel that answers distress signals (shades of the earlier film Super Nova). In fact, it's just received one from the "planetcracker" mining vessel Ishimura, which has gone strangely silent after what must have been a massive systems failure. This particular ship is one of the first of its kind, a mining vessel that uses gravity tech to effectively gouge out chunks of planetoid and engage in an extremely high-efficiency refinement process to extract a variety of rare metals and other useful elements. It's a rough sort of job to work, and the ship environments in this game reflect an environment and standard of living that makes Alien's corporate-owned Nostromo look like a luxury liner.

Isaac and his cohorts quickly run into trouble and find their own ship disabled. Then they discover that something has gone horribly wrong onboard the Ishimura, which appears to have succumbed to some sort of invasion or assimilation by an alien presence: the necromorphs.

Plot complications begin to pile up quickly. Isaac has a bigger stake in things than normal, too. It turns out his girlfriend Nicole was on board the ship, and she was a convert to a cult of unitarianism that was prominent onboard the Ishimura's crew. The Ishimura stumbled across an ancient alien artifact, the Red Marker, the recovery of which sparked the entire debacle. The story spirals deeply into a troubled nexus of religion, alien transformation, government conspiracies and a desperate need to survive in the face of madness and death. Great stuff!

Dead Space as a game is actually much better to play on the PC than the Xbox in my experience. My original play through on the 360 was a bit frustrating, and there were spots where that frustration grew by leaps and bounds (there's an instance where you man a point defense canon to destroy asteroids threatening to breach the ship's hull, for example; on a mouse and keyboard this was a relatively simple task, but on the Xbox with a controller I almost quit and never returned....only dogged persistence saw me through).

The game was unique when it came out for employing "in game" queues and status interfaces that were effectively part of the actual environment. Isaac's engineering suit has gauges and a unique spinal tube of energy which fluctuates with the health of the character. When he talks to his associates who have hidden away and bark orders at him while staying as far from the action as they can, he relies on a projected holographic field that appears in front of him rather than on the screen. It was an innovate concept which helped greatly with the problem of immersion vs. UI issues other games had wrsetled with, and this innovative format continued into Dead Space 2.

Dead Space was the last genuinely true-to-spirit survival horror game I have played, discounting those moments in Resident Evil 5 or 6 where it touches upon the genre again (Before veering off into other action shooter formats). It embodied mood, a sense of distrurbing revelation slowly building over time, a desperate main character who's isolation and sanity are at odds with survival, and despite a wide arrange of firepower it manages to keep the main character in threat of danger and short on ammo. A first play through of Dead Space will always be hard; it can get easier and more efficient as you go through a second or third time, but even then there's the higher difficulty tempting you with incredibly difficult and deadly challenge.

If you haven't played Dead Space and have a tolerance for the sort of video games that require a third-person sense of spatial awareness, then this is one of the best and last true survival horror titles to come out in the last five years or so. Another one of Death Bat's A+ titles!

For extra Dead Space fun I recommend the novel Dead Space: Martyr written by B.K. Evenson, whose horror work I had run into before and quite enjoyed. Martyr takes place centuries earlier in the Dead Space universe, not long after man's expansion into space, and deals with the discovery of the first Marker, found on Earth, at the center of the Chiculub Crater off the Yucatan Coast. It's an extremely well done, creepy novel which adds a great deal to the Dead Space backstory and also helps to set up a decent explanation for the popularity and origin of the unitarian cult, as well as some of the mysteries of the Red Marker found in Dead Space. A great read, well worth checking out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Only Vistas, Eh?" - The Necronomicon

Frickin' Hillarious!

Enjoying Runequest 6 at last, thanks to degrading vision - Also, RQ6 Firearms

Everyone knows I love BRP and the Runequest system, as well as spin offs such as Legend. A few of you who read this blog know I have lamented my inexplicable issue with the Runequest 6 font, which boils down to the fact that it has a loopy t and p that distract me to no end, as when my eye "hits" the word it is drawn to the loop like its some sort of unique character or printing error.

There is bad and good news! Lately my vision has been deteriorating, and I am scheduling an eye appointment to see what's up....on my last pair of contacts, anyway. However I am diabetic and sometimes the eyes get a little loopy. For the last three years my vision has been on a steady and inexplicable improvement, but within the last six weeks or so they've gotten noticeably worse, and I am not sure if its my contacts about to go or if I really have some new issue.

It's probably from playing too much Rift!

That said, I popped open the Runequest 6 book again and was pleasantly surprised to notice that I wasn't even noticing the annoying loop anymore. It seems that my slight difficulty in focusing has diminished the obvious presence of the loops, allowing the lizard-portion of my brain that was annoyed by them to relax and carry on with its lizard duties. This is a good thing.

So I plan to finish reading and absorbing Runequest 6 in total before my opthamologist appointment in a couple weeks. See, always a silver lining to every storm cloud!


As an aside, I hadn't noticed this before but the Design Mechanism posted rules on firearms (including modern and futuristic firearms) on their download page, here. There's also the GM's Pack with scenarios there if you didn't know about it, and the form-fillable character sheet for Runequest 6. Alas, no specific word on when any new supplements will be forthcoming.

Thirty One Days of Horror: Blood Creek

Day Twenty Four: Blood Creek

Blood Creek was unexpectedly awesome. Picking random films on Netflix is like reaching into a grab bag of candy on never know if you're going to find some delectable chocolate or a mass of hideous candy corn. Blood Creek is sweet, sweet chocolate.

This 2009 film has been popping up as a "You might also like..." option on Netflix for me for a while now. Every time it did I ignored it. Finally one day I stopped judging a DVD by its jpeg and decided to watch it. Turns out, this is a movie about three of my favorite things: the occult, the undead, and Nazis. All in one film! How the hell did I overlook this one so long???

The story opens with a bit of a prologue, it is the mid 1930's and the German immigrant Wollner family are invited to play host to a visiting German scholar, sponsored by the Reich. A true honor, hard to turn down, of course! Richard Wirth (Michael Fassbender) is a true dedicate to the Third Reich and an occult seems he has taken a deep interest in one of many ancient runestones left by lost Nordic explorers who came to the Americas long before Columbus, leaving behind an ancient artifact of incalculable power and evil. This runestone powers blood magic, and through it one can learn to raise the dead and the secrets of immortality, it seems. The young Liese Wollner (Emma Booth) draws Wirth's interest as he demonstrates his necromancy on her recently deceased pet bird. Things are going to get uncomfortable for the Wollner family...

Cut to the present day where paramedic Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill) is dealing with all sorts of rough stuff on the job all while supporting his elderly father and helping out his sister-in-law and her kids, who've been having a hard time of it ever since Evan's brother, an Iraq war vet, came back and disappeared on a camping trip in the mountains. It's been long enough that Evan's convinced he's dead.

I'll concede that despite the great prologue, the bit with Evan was so generally bleak and unpleasant that I got this momentary vibe that the film was about to pull out a lot of typical bad movie tropes as it strove forward. And then Victor Marshall (Dominic Purcell), Evan's missing brother, shows up in the middle of the night, a ragged wild man who looks like he's been through hell. He needs Evan to go with him, back out into the wilderness, up river in the boat. And to bring guns and ammo, lots of it, no questions asked. Being the dedicated brother he is, Evan complies, especially when he realizes someone's tortured Victor, badly.

So in less than twenty minutes we get a mysterious pre-war Nazi occult themed prologue, a dark and moody "brother trying to do right for his damaged family" lead-in, and then suddenly this turns into torture film backwoods revenge flick. Time to buckle up! This movie is clearly aiming to be a  different mix from the usual horror fare of the 2000's.

Evan and Victor forge their way into the deep woods upriver and eventually find a lonely property with a vast fence marked up with odd symbols. They make their way onto the property and Evan realizes that Victor seems intent on killing or harming what appears to be a seemingly normal family, including a the fair Liese, who Evan spots looking out a window in the house. The house itself is also covered in odd red marks...runes, if you will....all over the doors and windows.

I hate to spoil much more, but we'll summarize it as follows: the family has hardly aged a day, and is the same people we saw in the prologue. There's something weird and disturbing going on, and Victor is maniacal in trying to find the man who did the damage and drives the family: Wirth. It is quickly evident that the family, too, is terrified of Wirth, and when the patriarch of the Wollners arrive home things go south, fast. Wirth, it turns out, is alive and well in the basement where they lock him up when they can, letting him loose to feed on the odd derelict or stranger they kidnap and lock up in a torture chamber made out of an old shipping crate. Wirth doesn't look so good; he's sporting a snazzy SS trenchcoat but he's got a decidedly undead quality to him, as is quickly evident by his ability to shrug off bullets. Things go from bad to worse when the brothers, along with another captive and the surviving family held hostage hole up in the house; it seems the runes are designed to keep Wirth out.

Wirth is essentially a lich, or possibly some sort of strigoi or vampire, but with all the characteristics of an undead killer and the evil mindset of a determined necromancer. He's gotten good at raising the dead, be it man or animal, and puts those who have died to good use. He's determined to see to it that this night is his last in captivity on the farm, and he intends to awaken the occult third eye, the end of his blood magic ritual, and make his escape into the rest of the world...

This movie has some really cool stuff in it, and I am loathe to spoil it, but if the idea of an undead Nazi necromancer, an evil undead zombie horse (awesomely well done special effect), the occult mystery of the third eye made manifest in all its evil glory, and an ending that promises so much more and hints at the vast and impressive legacy of evil spawned by the ancient Thule/Norse runestones...if all of that sounds even a bit interesting, you should check this out.

For me, this is the sort of movie I most relish when I find it. A+! The Death Bat is a happy film goer tonight.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's your (quest) line?

There are lots of bones people can pick with MMO design, but I have to say that the one I like gnawing on the most is quest text...or quest delivery, if you prefer. It's been common for a long time now to direct players in MMOs by way of quest givers, who usually have windows which pop up full of details about what they want you to do, why they want it done (maybe), and what you get out of agreeing to do it.

It wasn't always like this, of course! I'm a second generation MMORPGer (muh-mor-pee-gee-er, in the parlance of Yahtzee Crosshaw) who started in 2005 with the arrival of two very important elements to the process: a decent PC and a copy of World of Warcraft. WoW hooked me, being my first delve into the world of MMORPGs. I quickly got into Guild Wars, my first "day one" MMO experience and I also tried (and failed) to delve into Everquest 1 and 2. So most of my MMO experience started with games built from a premise of: "Wander landscape, look for guy with marker over his head, click on guy, read text (optional), accept, and go find ten orc spleens. Repeat until braindeath sets in."

And it's been this way for a long time now. The mythical pre-WoW era of which I knew little (having been a iMac user until late 2004, and not a very powerful iMac at that) sounded like a muddy place in which purpose and objectives in MMOs were left up to the players to define more often than not; the joy was in the novelty of playing with other humans online, and the idea that the game might provide meaningful organizational structure (in any form comparable to what we think of it now) was simply outside the scope of most MMOs back then. Or so it often seems. But the survivors of that Generation One era sure do have fond memories of it. My wife has a powerful necromancer in Everquest, which on rare occasion she goes back to visit for nostalgia purposes....but its never quite the same anymore, apparently.

Me? I tried the free-to-play Everquest recently and it was only slightly less traumatizing and annoying than my first effort in 2005 when entire waves of adventurers were killed by simple bats and skeletons for reasons unfathomable to me at the time.

Anyway, as I've been playing Rift I've been having a blast, and noticing that the game, while relying heavily on standardized WoW-like quest text boxes has managed to retain my interest, despite the fact that the incredibly bland, droll quest text info is just as physically painful to wade through as in any other MMO. This is ironic too, because I really like the world setting and story background in Rift....but just not delivered in tiny little quest text boxes devoid of character. Like I was saying yesterday, your character has no agency in quest text outside of "do this or not." You either accept or move on, simple as that. The wise ascended accepts, does the task, gets reward. The busy ascended moves on as his XP potions level him faster than local quests can account for. The smart ascended ignores them and attacks rifts, which are dlicious, juicy XP-filled planar fruit.

So how could quest text...the storyline, delivered in a coherent fashion that is engaging and not mind-numingly painful? How can this giant pink elephant get trusssed up in a pleasant dress so we at least find it palatable? Many people like myself really do play MMOs for the story, or wish they could. I barely had a clue what was going on in WoW until Northrend, for example...but not because I wasn't trying to figure it out! Here are some of the interesting ways different MMOs have tackled this issue that I felt are or were on the right track:

Age of Conan

Age of Conan had fully voiced cut scenes for the first 20ish levels of the game, and intermittend voiced cutscenes up to level 80 for the core storyline. It failed in that it stopped trying to offer the same (no doubt expensive) level of quality after the opening 20 levels, which was a shock for many people; it was almost like playing this awesomely interesting story driven game, and then suddenly it ends and dumps you into quasi-generic fantasy land, except with a Howard/Conan reskin.

Age of Conan failed mostly because it front-loaded the cool stuff. I wonder to this day why Funcom didn't try to spread out their voicing talent more evenly across the length of the game, or recognize that putting it all at the start was a bad idea. More likely they intended full voice acting all the way through, then deadlines and budgets ruined everything. Ah well.

The upside on this was it made for some extremely engaging storylines, and the idea of parallel group/public quest lines and the "night time" Tortage solo experience was a smart idea that they should have carried forward through the rest of the game. But this, of course, was one of many reasons AoC disappointed so many people.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR did the fully-voiced cut scene thing, with the usual multiple choice range and even the light/dark side option, and unlike Funcom Bioware carried out through the length of the entire game. So if this was so innovative, then why did it fail? I mean, I've played SWTOR and personally gotten tired of it long before reaching level 20. I'm not entirely sure why, but playing this game actually made me narcoleptic. I tried...I really loved KOTOR 1 and 2, but the spirtual KOTOR 3 failed to grab me, despite having such a fantasic emphasis on storyline. So why?

There are a lot of reasons SWTOR didn't work for many people. My wife and her guild are not one of them (although apparently Bioware's breaking the game in patches as it preps for F2P, and that there might send her and her guildies away), so I really can only speak for myself, but it boils down to this: SWTOR's got the theatrics right, and I even really liked how each of my characters had distinct storylines. I actually really, really want to play SWTOR again to see some of these storylines come to fruitition. But! SWTOR is supposed to be Star Wars, and one thing I don't remember from Star Wars was that episode where Han Solo talks to some guy on some planet about how he needs to collect twenty mynock snouts before he can get to talk to this other guy who will then demand he collects 15 rancor copralites so he can get a part to fix a speeder bike so he can cut down the inerminable amount of time it takes to run everywhere.

Put another way: SWTOR did the quest-delivery right, but failed to make quest lines that delivered the Star Wars experience. That might change when you get high enough level, but tasking me with suffering through 30-60 hours of running around Coruscant wanting to blow myself up and end it all is bad. I remember my years on campus at the University of Arizona, glad that I had a bike to get from one class to the next as each class was all the way the hell across campus from the other, day in an day out. But hey, at least I had a bicycle to get around on back then. By level 18ish my republic trooper didn't even have a bike to traverse the city planet. Yeesh.

Plus, unfortunately, no matter how much makeup you put on a pig its still a pig. And call them mynocks or jawas or whatever: collecting rat tails and orc spleens by any other name is still just a lot of wasted voice acting for the same old retarded MMO quest lines.

Everquest 2

One thing I liked about Everquest 2 was how you had to talk and respond to quest givers and all NPCs in little cartoon bubbles. It was a nice touch, and while only some NPCs had voice acting, it led to a sense of engagement. I imagine if you'd played EQ2 to death then the conversational text got tedious to click through....but it was definitely a step in the right direction (until the quest turns out to be "collect 30 rat spleens," of course).

The Secret World

I haven't played this since launch, but I really liked TSW, which had far and away the most engaging quest-presentation with FMV and full voice acting I'd seen yet, and still provided a very dynamic environment in which all sorts of spontaneous stuff could happen. The fact that many quests felt more like something out of a point-and-click adventure was an added bonus. I need to get back into this game, and resolve Funcom's issue with Paypal (or the other way around). Hopefully it doesn't stop providing such a level of detail after X period of time in the game...I'll have to ask my wife, who is hopelessly addicted to this game as well.

Guild Wars 2

The 800 pound guerrilla for 2012, Guild Wars 2 is the one to trump all the rest, right? It has: highly unorthodox quest hubs, everything is public and shared, quests are more diverse than just fetch quests, fully voiced cutscenes and interactions, and an environment that actively discourages the need for elaborate quest text fetishistically there for its own sake. So does it work?

In part I love how GW2 does everything, because it really did go for a fresh take on things. I am surprised it doesn't have actual cut scenes, instead relying on two talking figures. I like that, as with the original GW your character has a voice. I like the custom storylines and the fact that many quests are much more elaborate than the typical MMO fare. It's really pretty innovative overall, although I think the "sharing" component of the game, built in from the get-go, is probably the actual innovation at work. It's actually kind of weird to play an MMO where you don't have to feel like you're in direct competition with others for resources and targets, and in fact the opposite is true. That said, there's still something to be said for a defined quest log with obvious goals, and so its the reason I've been enjoying Rift.


Rift doesn't do quest text differently. Like I said earlier, it's quest text, despite being full of the game background I really want, is so painfully bland I wish it really was delivered in a manner similar to one of the above-mentioned games. It does, however, do something unique with its rift events, world invasions and other public quest activities (instant adventures), and that is make the game world feel dynamic instead of static. I can actually log on to Rift and play for an hour, stopping invasions, closing rifts and maybe doing an occasional quest along the way, and feel like I was part of "something happening." It's a way of delivering content that generates spontaneous quests without ever calling it that, and it's why I've decided to focus so heavily on this game (and GW2, which does something similar).

In the end there's no answer to be had, as I am not a MMO developer and I don't play these games enough to qualify as a hardcore elite MMO specialist. I've never raided (and lived). I've never grouped an instance more than a handful of times, nor have I cared to grind for reputation points or gear. For me the entire point of playing an MMO is not the end game but the journey there, so for me how the questing works and how it engages me is what matters the most. If the game manages to make its world feel alive, I think it can call itself a success. Right now I think Rift and GW2 do that. SWTOR didn't do it (for me) but it does provide the necessary playground for my wife and her guild to have fun.

I think the future of MMOs will depend heavily on developers designing more dynamic environments, worlds which feel alive and spontaneous; if they pull that off, we'll never need another static baloon of quest text again.

Thirty One Days of Horror: Autumn

Day Twenty Three: Autumn

Thankfully I chose Autumn at random after the horrific disappointment that was The Tomb. Autumn is based on the novel of the same name by David Moody, and after seeing this film I plan to get the book, which appears to be part of a series. The movie introduced me to the novel and sold me on it all at once.

Here's the weird thing about Autumn: a fair number of people on Netflix gave it one or two stars, which is a travesty, although it says a lot about the nature of the zombie film audience, I guess. My opinion? This is a five star A+++ movie, and immediately became one of my favorite zombie horror films. I haven't watched a film that left me with such a sense of growing dread in a long time, nor have I enjoyed a film in the genre where I grew to care for the characters as much as I did here. That, to me, is impressive.

Autumn is very basic in its premise: a mysterious plague hits one day and wipes out the vast majority of the world population, who die in a matter of minutes. A handful of presumably immune survivors make their way to a shelter to cope with the immensity of the tragedy, but within a day or so the dead get back up, staggering around like automatons...nonthreatening automatons, mind you! These zombies are well and truly living up to their name.

As the story progresses a group of survivors head out, no longer content to stay cooped up in the shelter with everyone else, and concerned for the looming threat of disease and worse that will come from being in a city of several hundred thousand dead, rotting, walking corpses. They eventually find a cabin in the woods (heh) and set up base. Good enough, right? Wait out the dead, who are rotting, and survive the winter.

Things change however as it becomes evident that the zombies are learning, perhaps regenerating their senses and motor functions over time. Soon the evidence mounts that they are becoming more aggressive, as a pack of them hunt down first a dog and then later much worse. Bad things are about to happen.

Autumn earns immediate kudos for having a unique take on the zombie apocalypse. The idea of mindless corpses that slowly regenerate basic cognitive function and become a bigger threat over time is played well here, and helps greatly to enhance the slowly building sense of tension and menace throughout the film. For the first thirty five minutes or so I was growing conerned that this was a good albeit not overly exciting BBC know, the kind where the English deal with an issue stoically while much time passes and nothing of interest happens? Yeah, it makes you think that and sets you up handily to really feel the impact when things finally start to disintegrate later on. 

If you're a bit tired of the same-old same-old zombie films, you need to see Autumn. If you're just keen for a good horror movie that eschews standard formulae and obligatory kill counts, you need to see Autumn. If you want to watch a really damned fine end of the world tale that tries for a more measured pace...Autumn's your movie.

Also, the late David Carradine had a surprise appearance in this movie. How cool is that?!?!

A+ from the Death Bat, this is very possibly the best new movie I've watched so far this month! Do not take other reviewers at their word, and watch it yourself. Like I said, it seems like a lot of people had issues with this movie, and frankly I think they're out of their minds.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Musing on the Nature of the Ascended in Rift

Rift employs a plot-specific reason for why it's world is full of powerful adventurers who seem able to defy death and return from the grave: basically you're playing ascended, a form of enheriar who is resurrected by the gods to do their bidding, and who will continue to be resurrected for as long as it takes to get the job done.

The game's quest text lines and story plots are very specific about the many things going on in Telara, but it uses the "neutral participant" approach to presenting them, which is to say your character is never given a voice or opinion on quests; you're only option is "accept or do not." This has the downside of making quest texts less involved. It has the upside of making you realize that it's entirely possible that the ascended aren't quite "alive" or human in thought, anymore. This becomes especially evident when you get quests with some fairly morally or ethically ambiguous rationales from various quest-givers. At some point I started to get the "Would you kindly...?" feel from Bioshock in Rift; the suspicion that a hidden subtext to the storyline is that the ascended are literally resurrection survivors who are compelled to do the bidding of mortals specifically because that's the only reason they've been let off of death's leash by the valkyrie-like servitors of the gods. Viewed from this angle, it gives Rift a kind of weird, creepy undertone.

It also makes the artificially-induced resurrection of the Defiant ascended that much more nebulous; they're manufacturing their ascended and sending them back in time; the defiant engineers know their creations are bound by contract to complete the jobs ahead of them, basically doomed to fight, die, and be reborn time and again. But then, the Defiant managed to damage the world with their dimensional tampering and they get to see what things look like at the very end, so I suppose one could forgive them for taking extreme measures to right wrongs.

Storm Legion is out in a few weeks (Nov. 13th). Looking forward to seeing what sort of new material it adds to the broad lore of Rift. I wish Trion would get its act together and write some novels...even some graphic novels (of which there is only one right now) or visual guides to this game. Anything! It's got a much tighter and more interesting web of lore than many other MMOs out there right now.

Then, maybe someone could explain to me how these guys fit in, along with the mysterious invasion portals of House Fluffington...