Archive for September, 2011

A statue in Chrono Trigger

The PSN Is About to Send You Back in Time…

The PlayStation blog reports Chrono Trigger, the classic collaboration between some of the minds and talents behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, will be hitting the PlayStation Network on Tuesday, October 4. The game is widely renowned, and in this writer’s opinion is the finest Japanese RPG of all time. The game features a colorful cast of heroes and villains, ranging from prehistoric cavewomen to robots in an epic, time-spanning plotline.

The game was also re-released earlier this year on the Wii Virtual Console.

Classical

The trailer for EA and Starbreeze’s new take on Bullfrog’s Syndicate features futuristic corporate warfare set to a new remix of the classic Syndicate‘s music by LA-based musician Skrillex.

Dead Island: The Movie

Artist's conception of a movie poster or an unhinged writer's cry for help?

It’s A Dead Man’s Party…Who Could Ask for More?

Mr. Bean looking shocked

Serious critics like this one agree, the Dead Island trailer was awesome?...Game, what game?

So, we at Bits ‘n’ Bytes Gaming received a press release saying that Dead Ri– I mean Left 4– …Dead Island – that’s the one – is apparently being turned into a movie by Lionsgate Entertainment. Lionsgate is of course known for distributing such cinematic classics as Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark, Bratz: The Movie and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. So it’s entirely understandable that they’re going to treat a game that has sold primarily on the strength of its overwrought and emotionally manipulative trailer with tender love and care. After all, zombie films still have a high level of credibility in our day and age, right?

The release describes Dead Island as a “global brand” (that was fast) introduced through its “non-linear” and “wrenching” trailer which received unanimous critical praise (guess they didn’t read my article), while labeling it “haunting” and “artful”. You know, I went to art school for a semester and I can safely say if someone says their painting of smeared feces is art, you damn well better believe them. According to the article, Wired, College Humor and G4TV called it the best videogame trailer of all time. In fact, the press release goes on to mention G4TV calling it “The best video game trailer.  The best movie trailer. The best anything trailer.” Hmm. G4TV covering videogames in between episodes of COPS and Cheaters? This could be a bold new direction for the channel.

Seriously, did Will Ferrell’s parody of James Lipton write this press release? I’m surprised it doesn’t say “when the Dead Island trailer debuted, the gaming media had its sore lumbar massaged by flights of seraphim whilst their nipples were tweaked playfully by the muses.”

First zombie you meet in Resident Evil

Capcom turned zombies into clowns. Clowns with a spot in their head that when shot will cause it to "blow up".

Zombies were used by George Romero to lampoon and critique American consumer culture. Now they have become a cottage industry that’s consumed by people who fantastically miss the point of the sociological zombie film, and are probably just in it for the gore. Yes, congratulations to Max Brooks, Zack Snyder and Capcom: you are all guilty of this dilution of the zombie into a product. A critique of conspicuous consumption becoming a profitable industry? Hold your horses, stagecoach of irony!

Now to be fair, zombies have been a – pardon the pun – dead genre since Edgar Wright’s stellar parody, Shaun of the Dead. Since then, zombies have become increasingly popular, probably to the detriment of society as a whole. We’ve had vapid zombie-killing movies, entire message boards dedicated to preparing for a zombie apocalypse (leaving us all horribly vulnerable to the real threat of rogue artificial intelligences and Sectoid invasions). Honestly, I really doubt a Dead Island flick will do anything new or interesting for the genre. It will just be another crappy videogame movie.

Count Floyd speech bubble

Don't make promises you can't keep, Floyd.

Now, I can actually understand why you would want to see some videogames turned into movies: they would just never stand a chance of being good. Let me bring up the Doom movie again. Doom has a simple concept and a miniscule amount of storyline. Basically, scientists open a porthole to Hell and demons come streaming through; one tough SOB has to kill ’em all. Hollywood managed to turn that simple premise into two hours and maybe four ammo clips empty, not to mention they dropped the whole “demons from Hell” angle and just turned it into another virus. Yeah, don’t want to be too edgy and scare away the Shrek crowd with your hard-R rated action-horror flick, Universal.

I see a Dead Island movie as the same thing. Perhaps even more so. After all, what was the original Dead Island trailer but a cynical, manipulative marketing ploy intended to get people interested in a middling-to-merely OK product? And I have a feeling this is exactly the kind of crap Lionsgate is going to pull. It’s a cynical ploy to make a fast buck on a recognizable title. Well, an emerging recognizable title. Let’s see if anyone can still remember Dead Island existed by this time next year. Heck, most of us have already forgotten about Duke Nukem Forever. Thankfully.

But let’s face it, even crappy games can have movies based on them – the fact that Bloodrayne was just a vampire T&A-festival and Dungeon Siege was a bland Diablo clone made them ripe for Uwe “Ze Only Focking Geeniuz In Ze Businez” Boll to adapt into his only tangentially related films. Let’s face it. You don’t really have talented directors like Duncan Jones or Gullermo Del Toro lining up to make videogame flicks. You have two-bit hacks like Paul W.S. Anderson and Christoph Gans churning out this crap for an easy paycheck. The videogame movie isn’t really a medium for thoughtful artistic introspection or even competently shot action sequences. You could offer me another Resident Evil flick with more explosions and zombie killing than ever; I’d still rather watch Die Hard or Predator.

Predator looking badass

Why hire 100,000 zombies when one Predator can cause the same amount of mayhem?

 

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What the Hex Is Wrong With You?

Back in the day, Raven Software did one thing, and they did it well: they licensed id Software’s existing game engine technology, improved upon it, and made some excellent dark fantasy-themed first-person shooters. The first of these was Heretic, which featured one of three villainous Serpent Riders and his army of demons for the player to mow his way through. The game was notable for using inventory items in an FPS and allowing the player to heal, use alternate weapon powers and fly around the landscape, but Hexen was where Raven really started rocking the boat.

Hexen did a lot of things very differently from the typical shooter: it included three character classes to choose from: a speedy and strong fighter, a weak-bodied but offensively powerful mage, and a middle-of-the-road cleric. In addition to the inventory style carried over from Heretic, Hexen featured some items that worked differently based on the class. The fighter might pitch an explosive potion, while the cleric would use the same potion as a gas bomb, and the mage would leave a timed bomb. The characters could pick up armor to improve their defense and had to manage two separate kinds of magic power (usefully color-coded as red and blue). Also, the levels were hub-based, offering several smaller (but no less labyrinthine) levels branching off from a central area. To sum the game up, it took the dedicated first-person shooter into action-RPG territory.

The fighter deals a deadly blow with a beefy arm that would do Trogdor proud.

And it did in fact get a sequel, with all the great full-3D and fast pace the original Quake engine had to offer, even expanding in places to allow for four distinct character classes, adding a sneaky assassin to the fighter/cleric/mage lineup. It also managed to expand the worlds featured in the game from medieval castles to Egyptian and Greco-Roman-styled ruins. It also added a full leveling system – although the number crunching was mostly off-screen, so the game maintained its actiony-ness – so the more enemies you diced up early on, the better prepared you’d be for the Serpent Rider facing you in the endgame.

So where did this promising series go? Did it die with the third Serpent Rider? Are we to expect a game’s storyline to end when all its plot arcs have successfully wrapped up? Sadly, Heretic and the two Hexens (there was another Heretic game which featured the same hero from the first but in an unrelated story) are probably all we’re going to see of the series. id and Raven have gone their separate ways, id under the wing of Bethesda, and Raven has been working for Activision. And of course, at Activision, creativity isn’t so much discouraged as shipped off to a Siberian gulag and never heard from again. Are the Serpent Riders really gone for good?

Well, for the forseeable future, the answer is “probably”. Considering the two teams have gone their seperate ways, and with the once proud designers at Raven now toiling away making Call of Duty multiplayer maps, it’s unlikely we’re going to see the once-happy couple of Raven and id together again anytime soon.

“So I guess hav­ing a strong female lead isn’t cool in Sci Fi. We bet­ter inform Ellen Rip­ley and Honor Harrington.”

When Will Hollywood Learn?

Details on the upcoming Mass Effect film (I hesitate to call it a “motion picture event” as so many Hollywood types like to call their moviefilms) have begun popping up of late (including our own article, some of which has been refuted by Legendary Pictures’ recent Q&A). Now there are certain details that certain sections of the Mass Effect fanbase will not take kindly to; my purpose isn’t to point out those things. My mission here is to point out why this film, even so early on, has a minute chance of being worth a damn.

First, let’s consider the 800-pound gorilla in the room of any videogame-to-film adaptation – there hasn’t yet been a decent videogame movie.  Starting with Super Mario Bros., which seemed to have taken the plumber’s consumption of mushrooms to heart, videogame adaptations have been relentlessly bad. Some have been enjoyably bad, like Street Fighter (Raul Julia was clearly having a great time as Bison) and Mortal Kombat, which remains a guilty pleasure. Then there have been the irredeemably bad such as Wing Commander and Doom, and even the laughably bad but financially successful Resident Evil series. Probably the best videogame movie so far has been Silent Hill, which was visually and aurally perfect but ruined by changing the game’s Lovecraftian cult to a fundamentalist Christian sect that was ripped right out of one of Stephen King’s stories, not to mention hiring Sean Bean and completely wasting his talents. Prince of Persia couldn’t even be saved by having the series’ creator writing the script, turning an exciting, action and parkour-filled romp into a flaccid bore of a film that mostly involved wandering the desert for forty years. And this, of course, is without mentioning Uwe Boll’s oevure (Uweure?) which can, and has, filled entire pages.

Lest we forget.

So for starters, we have that working against the Mass Effect movie. In addition, you have the removal of player choice. Of course, this is in a series where your choices can have far-reaching and nerve-wracking effects (Virmire, anyone?). We’ve all played our own unique Commander Shepards. Male and female, paragon and renegade, reporter punchers and non-punchers, and so on. So those of us who played and enjoyed the Mass Effect series are expected to sit back and enjoy someone else’s interpretation? Of course not. We’re going to be yelling at the screen, chucking our five-dollar sodas and saying “NO! NO! THAT’S NOT HOW MY SHEPARD ACTS! MY SHEPARD HAS HAIR, DAMMIT!” and of course, “YOU SAVED THAT WIENER KAIDAN?”

Because in Mass Effect, who you're dating is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

While this may seem like an overreaction, it’s in fact the reaction we should have. BioWare spent a lot of time making sure we care about and identify with our personal Commander Shepard. One of the hallmarks of the Western RPG is the ability to define your character through their actions, and BioWare has gotten damned good at this over the years. So, are we ready to hand over our class, gender, alignment and – probably most dangerous of all – love interest choices to someone else?

Now, the Mass Effect novels (at least the one I read) have actually done a good job of existing outside the game’s storyline (acting effectively as prequels, the first one covering a young Anderson’s storyline). I guess I don’t see why the film can’t take a similar route, exploring the rich, cool, richly cool universe BioWare has created without performing a storyline copypaste. And if you think there’s no precedent for a BioWare game being given a terrible adaptation by a bad writer…oho, are you wrong. Oh, are you so freakin’ wrong.

This actually goes back to the novelizations of BioWare’s first RPGs, the Baldur’s Gate games. Like many Dungeons and Dragons properties of the time, it was given a novelization. But, rather than hand the job to someone like R.A. Salvatore (i.e. someone with genuine talent), it was given to TSR’s Forgotten Realms novel editor Philip Athans, proving the old adage that editors should not write (I kid! – I love ya Marty, Dec, Pascal). And what does he do with this tale of the sheltered lad/lass from Candlekeep, and his merry band of misfits? Oh, ’tis a sad tale. The blank-slate whelp hero becomes a sociopathic (and experienced) mercenary. Yeah, that’s what happened in the ’90s. Your editor spends too much time reading Youngblood comics and he’s like, “Screw this well-crafted plot and characters! Our hero’s gotta be a pouch-wearin’, shoulder-padded badass!”

"I didn't expect it to be THAT bad. SHEPARD."

I quote one of the best, and most damning reviews of the novel from Amazon:

What we have here is a very poor novel which takes place in a world where the places have the same names as that in Baldur’s Gate, and the characters do, but nothing else is even the same.

Even after that abominable embarrassment, there managed to be an even worse sequel (which is quite funny, considering how great a sequel Baldur’s Gate II was as a game.). What did Imoen ever do to you, Athans? And there’s a lesson in that, too. Even if the movie sucks, it’s probably gonna make a buttload of money and there will be a sequel which will swirl the carefully crafted setting of the game even further down the cinematic toilet. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be good to make money – Resident Evil proves this, Twilight proves it, Avatar proves it.

Heck, I’d almost rather see it not be taken seriously, as generic fratboy Shepard flies his intergalactic Delta House Normandy around the Galaxy, shootin’ stuff, fistbumping his broheims and scoring with alien chicks. See, that would be so completely awful that it would actually be worth seeing.

Assassins, Dragons, and Free Broken Swords

GoG.com is celebrating its third birthday in style, with sales, a price drop, and free stuff. First off, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is getting a permanent price drop (by $10 USD, €10.00, £5.00 and $10 AUD respectively). Second, all of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise games on the site, including classics like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale (as well as honest-to-goodness drek like Demon Stone and Dragonshard) will be offered for $6.99 each, knocking $3 off their usual price.

In addition to this, they’ve got a counter going on the front page of their site, counting up to their six millionth download. When the counter hits six million, two things will happen. The buyer of that six millionth download gets the entirety of GoG’s catalog for free; the rest of us get the none-too-shabby consolation prize of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars for free. So there’s something good for everyone.

Robert Heinlen is one of the best-known names in science fiction; up there with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as some of the truly monolithic giants of the genre. Heinlein’s writing covered a vast array of ideas- ranging from Libertarian revolution on the moon (The Moon is A Harsh Mistress) to free love (Stranger in a Strange Land) to the subject of today’s post, infantry in powered armor.

The story follows Juan Rico on his journey from high school grad to member of the elite Mobile Infantry – marking the first appearance of powered armor in fiction. The Mobile Infantry are, therefore, pretty much the archetypal space marines. The Mobile Infantry go through training from hell like any good special forces unit, and go on a hunt for massive spacefaring bugs that have ravaged human colonies. Now, don’t think you’re getting off easy, reader, because Heinlein has a penchant for dealing out chunks of philopsophy.  And in this case, his philosophical bent is, depending on your particular interpretation; either in favor of serving the government in order to attain full voting rights, or in favor of a militaristic system where only soldiers can vote. Naturally, your interpretation may vary. But hey, even if the politics bug you (pun intended), there’s still plenty of exciting, large-scale arthropod extermination.

Starship Troopers was first turned into a videogame with the obscure 1982 computer game Klendathu, named for one of the planets the bugs operate from. In addition, there were a few games based on the (enjoyable if you know what you’re getting into) 1997 Paul Verhoeven adaptation, but to be honest – I’m going to go in a different direction from my usual Page To Pixel articles and have a look at the influence Starship Troopers has had on games in general.

You may have noticed powered armor is a popular choice for videogame protagonists.

Now, as I mentioned before, Starship Troopers is pretty much the source for the concept of powered armor. Suits of powered armor, of course, have been seen in everything from the Brotherhood of Steel’s bulky, Imperial Dark Trooper-esque suits to the sleek nanosuits in Crysis, to Earthworm Jim‘s Super-Suit. Powered armor of course serves the function of any armor, to protect the soft fleshy person inside, as well as fortifying and increasing the strength of that person. The suits may also have additional functions such as targeting systems (the Silencers in Crusader), means of travel such as jetpacks (the Jump Jet Troopers in Command & Conquer), or even Predator-style stealth as seen in Crysis and (naturally) Alien vs. Predator.

In addition, the concept of the space marine began in Starship Troopers, although the Mobile Infantry aren’t marines per se; the idea of spaceborne troops that operate from dropships began here. There were perhaps two non-videogame franchises that helped to evolve our modern concept of the space marine in the 1980s. The film Aliens featured a squad of Colonial Marines sent to dispatch alien “bugs”, and Warhammer 40,000‘s Space Marines are the 8-foot tall, ornately armored, two-hearted heroes of the Imperium. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are getting videogame installments concentrated on in-your-face space marinery.

Considering Blizzard’s typical originality, it’s entirely possible they came up with the idea for space marines on…sorry, can’t type that with a straight face.

The space marine is practically a videogame archetype. The Doom guy, the Terran Marines in Starcraft, Master Chief, Commander Shepard and the assorted meatheads of Gears of War all fit the space marine style to a T, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Halo is probably the best example of Starship Troopers’ enduring legacy on videogames. It ticks all the major features that Troopers contributed – you play a space marine in powered armor, operating from the Foe Hammer dropship…I don’t want to call Halo unoriginal (for my own benefit, as I know the internet will bite my head off for not considering it to be a completely original work), but the impact of Heinlein’s themes are quite clearly shown in the game.

Finally, the entire military science fiction sub-genre, one which encompasses numerous novels and games, was essentially launched with Starship Troopers. Even Star Wars franchise games like TIE Fighter and Republic Commando fall into the military SF genre, presenting a look at the rank-and-file front-line fighters as opposed to the more glamorous heroes the movies present.  So the next time you’re playing a game set in the distant (or not too distant, for that matter) future, and you’re dropping from a ship or flipping your ride over with the help of your armor-strength, remember where it all started.