Pages

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hoodwinked


      Now, you may initially think, based off that DVD cover there, that this film was a direct to DVD film sold primarily at Target to confused grannies... But, Hoodwinked was actually released in theatres, and is utterly amazing.


      Is it "The Funniest Movie Since Shrek!"? No, not really. Unless you count Shrek 2, which came out a year before Hoodwinked, then it skates by only on the fact it's competition for that title is Chicken Little. Don't get me wrong, the film is funny and enjoyable, but that is not why I call it incredible.
     The film is incredible because it was made for less than eight million dollars.


     The film is basically Little Red Riding Hood meets Rashomon. Each person involved in the Granny's House Incident has their own side to the story... and they grow sillier with each new person. The plot is also a mystery, trying to find out who the "goodie bandit" is, stealing all the forest's recipes. As such, saying any more about the plot is spoilers; the only reason I care as such is that I want people to see this movie, and thus don't want to ruin the experience.
      The plot isn't especially good, but it is far from bad. There are times it feels like the story was two guys going "wouldn't it be funny if x?" but there is some genuinely clever stuff in this film that still makes it a fun ride.


      But like I said; this film isn't truly incredible for its plot, but for how it was made. The directors had a limited budget, had to train pretty much all their employees how to do animation, had 10 animation problems in every scene... Yet the film got made, and did spectacularly well.
      For its less than 8 million budget, it made 110 million globally (BoxOfficeMojo). In the opening weekend the film earned 12 million, which entirely paid for the costs (some of the box office revenue goes to the theatre, but on the opening weekend a larger portion goes to the production company). The film was a massive success, and well deserved.


      This film, though it is not perfect by any means, is in my top 10 films. Because it serves as an inspiration to me: you do not need super powerful particle effects, realistic fur or skin, or just perfect animation in general. What you need is a style, and a good story.
      Hoodwinked's animation is not smooth at all. Smooth animation calls for a lot of time spent meticulously moving bones and pieces, time spent rendering that smooth animation, and a ton of key frames. Time was something they didn't have a lot of, so they couldn't do as many key frames as smooth animation requires. So, instead they went with snappy. It could've been jerky, but they instead made everyone move quickly into their poses. This works well with the film's comedic timing, and gives the characters a unique expressive feel.
      One flaw common in cheap animation is to use a kind of world lighting; no cast shadows, shade, or color other than "mid-day sunny." Hoodwinked averts the problem by having mood lighting, using some of their render power to give shadows to the scenes and characters to make them feel more alive and visually appealing. They didn't go overboard with the lighting, or go full hog by adding stuff like bounce lighting, secondary lighting, et cetera... Just enough to make the scene look good.
     I mentioned before that the team had 10 problems in every scene. Due to their budget, they stated they had to pick 3 big ones to solve, then move on. This is actually something useful to know as an indie producer: you are going to have problems, fix the ones you reasonably can, and move on; don't get stuck trying to get it perfect.



     If I were an animation professor, I would be assigning Hoodwinked as my textbook; have students study the scenes, and piece together how they did what they did, and how they can do the same.
     Hoodwinked is by no means perfect, and that is precisely why it is so amazing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Awareness Rooms

Steam Link
     You know what's the new entertainment business? Escape rooms! Put a group of people, usually strangers, in a small room together, and let them solve a series of puzzles to escape. Kind of like those rooms you see in mystery thrillers.
      It's a new fad in the real world, but in the video game world, it is a standard. Ever since The Legend of Zelda on the NES, using puzzles to navigate and escape a dungeon are fairly common.

      Awareness Rooms is a small indie game that tries to mix up the formula a bit, with a unique gimmick: You start out in a very basic room. But, as you examine items, you grow to understand them and your environment better, and slowly add detail to everything.
      Sounds interesting, right? Like you have to solve a puzzle with half the solution? Well... it is only partly that.

      One thing you don't want in a game is an unusual leap of logic. One puzzle involves a bookcase; the top layer has a partly filled shelf, and the bottom has a full shelf. You find a clue that shows you a bookshelf, with two arrows, one on each shelf layer. Naturally, one would assume that means the books on the shelf need to be moved according to the arrows. However, you cannot interact with the books.
      The solution to this puzzle involves a jewelry box with two buttons marked "S" and "L". You are supposed to turn the books into a code based on their length, and the arrows were what direction to write the code in. There are too many degrees of separation to find that train of logic normally, especially since all previous and all following puzzles only have one degree of separation between the clue and the solution.
     But, another unfortunate problem is that the game is just plain tedious. The concept sounds cool, but in practice it is just running around examining and touching everything until the game says you can actually interact with them. Not to mention the controls are finnicky, though I am more willing to forgive an indie game for its control scheme.

     The game is also really short... I beat it in an hour and 8 minutes. No guide, no assistance. Puzzle games shouldn't have this problem of being too short, by the simple fact that more puzzles and more puzzle rooms can easily be added. Even an indie game producer is capable of more. In total, there were 4 puzzle rooms in the game, with the last one being the easiest in a bizarre twist. This game should've had double that number at minimum, and introduce new mechanics within the room awareness idea, like changing objects causing the room awareness to go down... Or make fully aware of the room be dangerous to the player, so they have to figure out how to solve the room's puzzle with less knowledge, and to not interact wildly.

    This game needed expanding upon to make it truly fun.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spore



     Developed by the now closed Maxis Software, Spore is a life simulation game created by the famed game director of the sims and sim city, Will Wright. The idea behind the game was that you would create your own creature, and evolve it from a single celled organism to a galactic civilization.

     The game was hyped to hell and back as a huge development in gaming technology, and for the gameplay itself. When it was released... it got less than stellar reviews. Part of it was due to Electronic Arts putting an extremely harsh DRM on the game that made it so you could only install it 5 times. (EA still hasn't learned from this, has technically gotten worse about it, but we've just kinda come to accept it.) But the biggest blow is the gameplay itself. The game is very shallow in all but the last section of the game's story mode, and in the actual creature creator.

     The thing is though, the math and coding behind the biggest part of the game is still very solid. If someone were to take that part of it, and make a sequel with it and enhance the modes, it could be a really fantastic game.

     What I'm referring mainly to, is the spore creature creator.




     The Spore Creature Creator is incredibly powerful. It is very easy to understand and control, and gives an extreme amount of variability and control to the player, whose only limit is their imagination, and the available parts.

     The animations of the game were designed to be able to account for all different kinds and configurations of creatures; no arms or legs, 4 legs, 6 legs, a dozen arms, three legs... Granted there is a crap ton of model clipping, but all things considered that's a minor issue. Hell it is kind of expected when you have a dozen legs flopping around.

     The Spore Creature Creator is a nearly timeless piece of mechanics. New games with character customization will come, but no one will reach the Spore level of customization without basically copying it. The only way it could be more timeless is with a larger library of parts to use. Different mouths, eyes, ears, hands, feet, et cetera.
     People are still playing Spore just for the creature creator, using it to create artistic beasts and other creatures. All the work done on the creature creator was well worth it, and is a mechanic that SHOULD be built upon.



     The main game itself though... the best part is the creating, and the game feels somewhat more like an obstacle at times.

     The game has 5 modes to go through: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space.
     The cell stage is the second best of the modes; primarily because it is short, but also because its mechanics are simple but sound. You play as a cell, where your goal is to eat as much as possible, and to not be killed by other cells. You also collect parts in order to evolve your cell, giving it different abilities, like new forms of propulsion or attacks like poison or lightning. This stage is very short though... only about 10-15 minutes. At the end of it, you evolve a brain and legs, and venture onto shore.

      Originally, there was an underwater stage planned, where you played as a fish. It was scrapped when they couldn't figure out a good way to have it be controlled (honestly just having it be WASD for movement and right mouse button for direction would've done perfect). some people like to argue that if the stage was in the game it would've been better, but given the rest of the game I doubt that'd be the case.

     The Creature stage is where all of the creature's evolution takes place. It is now a land mammal, and the goal is to befriend or cause the extinction of a lot of different species. You get parts for doing this, as well as scavenging around. This is the third best stage; you play with the creature creator here, but the creature stage is mostly an obstacle to making your awesome creature. The fighting and befriending mechanics become repetitive, and start a common thread for the modes: you win if you just have more people. The easiest way to befriend races is to not let them call friends for a dance off while you have your posse. Fighting is just spamming your 4 attacks when possible... no strategy, just go nuts. The game in no way encourages build diversity either; just get the maximum level of the skills as soon as possible to end the stage and soon as possible. and unfortunately those skills are tied to parts in the creature creator. So, either you lose how you want your creature to look, or you go in with a deoptimized build that is just more annoying than fun.

     The tribal stage follows the creature, and it is the second worst stage. Also you no longer get to change your creature, just add some clothes to it. In the stage, you must kill or befriend several other tribes. The mechanics change here though, and for the worse. The game switches to a real time strategy mode, though strategy is in the hardest of quotation marks. You control 6-12 villagers. Befriending works the same as in the previous stage, but is even easier and is just tedious. Destroying the villages isn't fun because you have worse than no control over the fight. You do not have finesse when controlling the tribe; unless you want to pause the game to issue individual orders, your best bet is to tell them to attack something, and then let them auto attack until the village is dead and you can burn down the hut. There is no point to destroying weapon shacks or stealing food, you win just by going in with bigger numbers and more button mashing.

    Civilization is the worst stage in the game. It is still a real time strategy, but now mixed with city management (just put buildings in optimal positions then never touch it again). You have to conquer the world to move on to the next stage. You get three unit types: land, water, and air vehicles. The best thing about the stage is the ability to design these units yourself. The worst thing is that the stats just don't matter. Just give it a body, something that makes it go, and a gun, and it will have the exact same effectiveness as any other unit. You want to win fights? Just have the unit be slow, you'll win easily with more health or firepower. Or, just build up a large amount of units and steamroll everyone. The stage usually ends with just a horde of planes demolishing the last city. Unless you are playing the economic game, in which case it is incredibly slow and uninteractive. Civilization is the worst stage in the game, beating out the tribal stage by being so boring and shallow.

     But, following the worst stage comes the best stage, Space. There is so much to do in space: trade with other empires, establish colonies, terraform planets, conquer other empires that won't stop asking for tribute, visit the galactic core... (and there is actually something there, those of you coming hot off the heels of No Man's Sky; and what is there is awesome and worth the difficult trip.) There is even a gigantic hostile alien force called the Grox to fight... or, attempt to befriend them and cause the ENTIRE GALAXY to go to war with you. The playstyles in this mode are extremely varied as well, but encourage trying other forms as well. You could be an extremely peaceful race... but when the zealots come asking for tribute for the 50th time, you're going to want to make it stop permanently. As a warfaring race you'll also want to make friends, who will also go to war alongside you.
     Space mode got even better with the release of Galactic Adventures. In it, your captain can beam down to planets to go on adventures created by others. These adventures can vary in quality, but the gameplay change was very good, and brought new and interesting mechanics, that did actually introduce some strategy to the game's fighting and character building.



     Unfortunately, Spore is now a mostly abandoned game, outside those still making use of the powerful creature creator. Spore had sequels, but not any that expanded on what the core of the game was. Darkspore was an action rpg that improved the fighting gameplay a lot, at the expense of only being able to slightly modify premade creatures.

     Spore's problems stemmed from an idea: progressing from a single cell to a space-fairing race. If everything was thought through well enough, that wouldn't have been something a player could do in an afternoon, but something that took a lot more time.
     The game mechanics are shallow and simple because the game wants you to hurry up and get to space, where the meat really is. The game would've been better if the yadda yadda yadda'd the tribal and civilization stages... but improving by omitting isn't good design.
     Despite being significantly more fun than No Man's Sky, it and Spore share the same problem: they both have the mindset that whatever comes next is more fun than what you're doing now (or it should be). What it should have been is a mindset of "what you are doing right now is fun; what comes next can wait until you are done having fun here."
      Each stage in Spore should have been expanded to the point where they are a game all on their own.

      As a Cell, getting to the top level should mean you can go on land... or stick around and advance some more as a cell, meeting other life that is becoming more powerful in their niches, as you refine yours.
      In the creature stage, there should be more options than just gaining intelligence... like, increasing the size of the pack to become a clan, and then a horde, more along the lines of the Xenomorphs or the bugs from Starship Troopers. Become the apex not just through intelligence, but through other means as well.
      The tribal stage (and civilization stage) shouldn't have been RTS's. These pull you away from your intimate connection with the species, and just make you a god controlling string puppets that hate their strings. Instead, they should've been direct control over the chieftan/mayor, and become gamepaly based around the same mechanics introduced in creature, but built upon. Like, evolving the hunter/gatherer gameplay of the tribal stage, creating farms and agriculture as the tribe progresses in size naturally towards civilization. In civilization, political maneuvering as the mayor should take center stage... when you aren't on the front lines of war. If you are a religious country you should create the religion you espouse, and have to deal with splinter groups and the like as you try to unify the world under your religious roof.
      Or, if you went a different route in the creature stage, choosing to become the apex monster, then you work to unite all the clans under your rule, to eventually reach the stars under the power of evolution.


      Each of the stages were developed in a way that made them more like minigames, separate from each other. They should've been developed as a part of the same system, just with more pieces added on as life evolves.


      I said at the beginning that Spore has an extremely strong mechanical foundation that a sequel that expanded on the original would be really good. And I fully stand by that. The hardest part of the game was completed; the creature creator is brilliant, and is what truly sold the game. If they were to take that, and put it in a game with improved gameplay mechanics, the game would be amazing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Piece Film Gold



     One Piece film 13 is on a limited release in the US from January 10th to the 17th. I managed to go see it last night, and had fun seeing it.


     A couple quick notes for the review: I am a big One Piece fan, but I'm not a massive fan. If I was I would watch subbed instead of dubbed and be completely up to date on the story. As it stands I have only seen up to the last episode before the two year time skip; I know about what happens after, so less is lost on me than if I didn't, but those who are watching dub only and are avoiding spoilers, this movie has a ton until you reach the end of the "dressrosa" arc.
      Second, this film is definitely not an introductory point to the world of One Piece. If you came into the film with no knowledge, there is some decent fun, but everything would be flying over your head and you'd be asking quite often "Who is that? Why does that matter? What are they talking about? Does that burn scar mean something?" The film assumes you are a One Piece fan. Which by no means means it is bad, just that there is a bit of a height bar of, "You must understand this much about One Piece to have fun."
      Third, this is the only One Piece film I've seen. Funimation doesn't have Strong World available to stream, so I haven't seen it. I also haven't seen the filler episodes related to the movie, but that's more an aversion to filler in general. (This film being the sole exception.)


      Point blank: I had a lot of fun watching this movie. The fights were kinda eh, but the atmosphere and tension were spectacular. The comedy was on point of course, full of One Piece's usual brand of humor mixed with drama.
     One Piece carries a lot of themes in its stories; the ones on display in this film are power, money, freedom, greed, and slavery. They work quite well with the motivations of the villain, and he works quite well as one. Though I feel like if this was actually 6-7 episodes of One Piece, he should've gotten one, or part of one, episode devoted to his past so we can see why he's so nuckign futs. But, that's partly to blame on Japan's love of extra reading material before their movies. The other main villains were neat, but the fights were, again, weak.

     Normally One Piece has a whole episode devoted to defeating a named villain. That might seem really slow to non viewers, but it actually works well... when you can watch the next episode after it ends without waiting a week. This pacing allows the villain's powers to be shown and developed, giving a proper push and pull to the fights. Here, it's more brief malicing, then finding the key to beating them and just knocking them out in one shot. The proper build up for the villains was there, but the payoff was a bit rushed.

     Also, several important figures to the story are present... but they are completely pointless. Brief cameos and nothing more.



But, as I said, I had fun seeing this film. It was like watching a marathon of 6 fun One Piece episodes. I recommend fans of the show see if any theatre near them is playing it; or see if Funimation added it to the streaming service if you are reading this from the future.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Trolls



     Hoo boy, no other film more perfectly named for what I'm about to do than this... I am going to use my Bachelors in Film and Media Studies to deconstruct Trolls.


     Before I begin going full Tumblr, here's my honest opinion of the film:

     It is good. The music is very pop, but it is fun. The art style of world is also a joy, with a felt-like texture to it. The film gets worse after the midpoint, when they are with the bergins and playing the old matchmaker shtick. Also some plot details are contrived, and end up creating one or two plot holes... Kids won't care, they will enjoy it regardless. Adults may get more enjoyment out of the soundtrack. I give it a solid 7/10; colorful and bouncy, with a somewhat annoying plot.


     And with that, I am going to have fun playing that which I hate: a socjus warrior that wants to die on a dumb hill.

Commence Media Studying!


     Trolls is an ableist film. Its entire message is that "there is happiness inside of everyone," even inside the gray Branch, and the Bergins that are said to feel nothing...
     Trolls is ableist against people with depression, who literally cannot be happy.
     Let's break it down:

     In the beginning, we are told the Trolls are always happy, singing, dancing, hugging, and loving. We are then informed that the Bergins, represented in the film as ugly, gnarled toothed and warted beasts, are never happy. Then one day, a Bergin ate a troll, and was able to feel true happiness. When the Trolls manage to escape the Bergins, the prince of their kingdom is told that without them, he will never be truly happy.
     Several years later, the film shows us the Trolls being blissful, carefree, and happy to contrast with the sad Bergins. The film introduces Branch, a blue-gray troll who does not like to be around people, and lives in a survival bunker. The other Trolls try to make Branch just like them through nothing but hugs, singing, and oppressive positivity.

     The film makes those who aren't as happy as the Trolls into an "other" that is unlikable and rude. It is hard not to see Dreamwork's intention to paint people with depression as crazed, ugly individuals that, if they seek to undo their state, resort to unnatural means that only give a facsimile of true happiness.

     This is further emphasized when the audience is introduced to Bridget, a scullery maid Bergin, who is made to be like the Trolls by having her introduced by singing an Adelle song. She is only made sympathetic because she is like the Trolls, and sees the folly in eating the trolls for false happiness.
     It is through Bridget that the film insists that those that were previously stated to never be able to feel happy, could in fact be happy, they just never tried hard enough. How many times have people with depression heard "have you just tried being happy?" or "Why don't you sing a song? That's worked for me!" In the end, the Bergins are made to be as happy as the Trolls just by singing and dancing.





     I should hope that it is obvious I don't believe a word that I just wrote up there. I don't believe Dreamworks was being ableist, or that they think depressed people are ugly... and I of course don't believe medication for depression just gives a facsimile of happiness. My point here, is that there are many hills in the world. There are some legitimate causes to fight for, and hills worth dying on. "Trolls is ableist against depressed people" is not one of those hills.
     All that discussion and rhetoric above was a big part of my Film and Media Studies degree. In one of my classes, Masculinity in Film, we discussed masculinity in the Titanic. Now, you could have a legitimate discussion on that, talking about what it means to be a true man... our discussion was that Jack was better at sex because he worked with his hands. I learned from all of my various classes how to turn molehills into mountains using reductive reasoning and "high class" language. When you use language like "ableist" when talking about a condition, and "other" when talking about people, your discussion is elevated to a higher level of discourse. (Yes, that previous sentence did the exact same damn thing.) Higher levels of discourse elevate a topic into a higher level of importance... and you turn a mole hill into a mountain.
      I hold a great dislike for people that do what I did above, because such discourse can damage causes. If people suddenly started shouting at DreamWorks because of this, nothing positive would result from it. They may apologize, but that apology would not heal any real wounds, because they didn't inflict any to begin with, But those that fought for their mole hill would be content they got "justice" and nothing actually improved.
     If you must die on a hill, die on one that is actually helpful. If you want to help people with depression, fight with congress to get them to increase funding for research into cures for depression. Maybe someone out there has the solution, but they can't get the funding to put it into action. That would be a worthy hill.



     Fight for a worthy cause; mountains made out of mole hills are still just molehills. Dying on one will not truly help your cause, only selfishly help yourself believe you helped, and did your best, when in reality you did nothing.




     Trolls was a good film; I might've taken a couple more passes at the script, but otherwise it was a solid kids film. It's gonna make a lot of money on merchandising...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Suicide Squad



     Is it a stretch to say that Suicide Squad was DC's answer to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy? All the key points are there: a bunch of villains or anti-heroes teaming up to defeat something powerful, while being quirky and funny.

     In the latter aspects, they did succeed. There are points in the film that are genuinely humorous, and the characters are quirky and interesting. There were bits to like about each character; some more than others, but there was still something to like.

     The characters aren't the film's problem though (at least, not the biggest problems, but that will be covered later). The biggest problem is the plot, followed by how the film plays that plot out. Then, there are tonal problems, and problems they made for themselves in the future as a result of this film's now cemented canon.


     This list of the film's problems will serve as the table of contents for the problems of the film, and subsequently possible fixes. Note that some fixes might bleed into others, but if you wish to only hear my thoughts on certain aspects, this should allow you to do so:

1. The Plot
2. Willingness to Kill: Tone issues and future problems
3. The Joker and Harley
4. Misc Canon Issues


1. The Plot


     The plot is as follows: Amanda Waller, an operative for the pentagon, makes a list of villains that have been caught, and that she can manipulate into doing the government's dirty work, and ground pounding against metahumans. As a part of this team, she finds a woman that has been possessed by a powerful and ancient creature named Enchantress. after her attempt to control her fails, she begins wrecking the city. This team Waller collected is thus called in to deal with it.

     Sounds straight forward right? Unfortunately, the film doesn't really have the right set of priorities when it comes to this.

     Picture this: Cthulhu is threatening New York City. A team of badasses are called in... to extract the secretary of state from a nearby building. It's... a problem that has to be solved, yeah, but it really seems like treating the symptom and not the disease. That's the plot of Suicide Squad. the team is introduced, we are told how awesome they are... they are taken out of prison, implanted with bombs to make them behave, and told they will be extracting someone from the city. That person turns out to be Amanda Waller, who was stationed in the city.

     The antagonist of the film is supposed to be the Enchantress, but she doesn't feel actually threatening until the last 5 minutes of the climax, because she does practically nothing for the majority. She turns some people into asphalt zombies to malice the suicide squad with, but ultimately little else.

     In the absence of this antagonist's presence, the audience is left to seek the film's other antagonistic presence... which ultimately ends up being Amanda Waller, and her ground commander, Captain Flag (yes that is in fact his last name, and army rank. He was invented in 1959, 18 years after Captain America). These guys become the villains because our sympathies lie with members of the suicide squad, and they are in opposition to them. But, they suck as villains too, because they are supposed to be the good guys, and are subsequently not threatening. All that is left as a strong antagonist is the Joker... but he is definitely not the villain for reasons I'll discuss later.

     The characters are good, my favorite being Diablo, followed by Deadshot. But characterization doesn't help much when the goal is unclear, the villain isn't a big enough presence to threaten them... and when they aren't actually focusing on the villains they set up.

     To refer back to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser is introduced fairly early on. He makes it clear he wants to destroy a planet because he is a raging racist. He becomes a threat by immediately interfering with the affairs of the heroes. He maintains a presence through how two characters view and oppose him, with the MacGuffin of the story being a key to making Ronan even more of a threat. So, even when Ronan isn't the direct target of the plot, he is a presence that moves the plot in a certain direction. The antagonist of Suicide Squad, the Enchantress, creates the inciting incident to get the plot rolling, but ultimately is in the background and not a true presence until the climax.

     So, what's the solution to this problem?

     It mostly involves editing, and conservation. The film front-loads a lot of backstory for characters; we are told who Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Diablo, Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang are, their abilities, and how they got caught. However, this front loading is actually unnecessary. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the backstories, and the details of them, are doled out as needed. Peter Quill has the focus, so we see his backstory in full (minus a myth arc). Rocket and Groot are mercenaries and bounty hunters, which is all you need to know to start with them. Drax's motivation IS his backstory, with Ronan killing his family, he wants revenge. Everything important about a character should be told quickly. We don't need to know right away that Batman caught Deadshot while he was shopping with his daughter (which really, REALLY is out of character, but more on that later).

     All we need to know about Deadshot, is that he's good with a gun, he kills for money, and he has a daughter he loves. Diablo catches himself and his surroundings on fire, and he turned himself in willingly. Harley Quinn was turned insane by the Joker. These are the important bits, the stuff the audience needs to know about the characters, and can be given to the audience in a quick and organic manner without a big flashback sequence. Everything else, like why Diablo turned himself in, can be explained later, at the right moment.

     Second, make the antagonist of the story actually be the antagonist. Don't futz about for an hour with an extraction mission, because even if that went without a hitch, there would STILL be the villain to deal with. If you need to fill running time, have the team deal with having to get to the antagonist, using the team's unique skills to do so, figure out a plan for how to go about defeating the antagonist, and then do it.

     You know, like the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2

Actually, just the suicide mission in general should've been the guide for the film.

     The plot is the film's biggest problem. If they had a different, more comprehensible plot, the film probably would've been very good.

     Also... nix the zombie army crap. The asphalt zombies just made me think Will Smith was in I Am Legend mode. They provided some action scenes yeah, but they did nothing for the villain's presence, left the audience in confusion until they were finally explained, and even when they were they were not threatening. (That's true of a lot of things in this movie actually.)



2. Willingness to Kill: Tonal issues and Future Problems



     Remember how I said Diablo was my favorite character in the film? He has a lot of parallels to Groot. He is the most powerful member of the team, but also the most peaceful. Of the people in the suicide squad, he's probably the only one that, with a little convincing, could like the idea. Like Groot, however, he pulls a heroic sacrifice to save his teammates... but unlike Groot, he isn't coming back.

     When I say "willingness to kill," I am not talking about the characters, that obviously comes with the territory. I am talking about the writers. When a named character is killed, possible stories with them are gone. Killing a character is NOT something to be taken lightly. Even if it seems powerful to have a heroic sacrifice, there must be MORE in favor of their death than their life for it to be worth going through with.

     With Diablo dead, no further stories can be told with or about him. What's worse is that possible answers to problems in writing future movies cannot be accessed. So, if a writer ever has a problem where a fire guy would solve the issue... they don't have Diablo. Because they killed him.

     This is a problem for the DC universe, which Marvel found a solution for. DC recently killed Superman in their Batman VS Superman movie. Of course Superman is alive again, rendering death completely meaningless and pointless, but it sets a tone for their cinematic universe. The writers are willing to kill characters off without thinking of the consequences.

     Now, characters can die. In fact, some characters should die. Death is a powerful tool in story telling... but you have to use it right. Death is very permanent, and should have a lasting and powerful effect. A character dying should affect those around them heavily.
     The two famous deaths, Uncle Ben, and Thomas and Martha Wayne, are deaths that define characters. Uncle Ben's death made Peter become a hero, because others may be hurt if he does nothing again. Batman fights because he believes no 8 year old boy should ever lose their parents to a gunman ever again (coming back to this later...). Even Groot's sacrifice in Guardians profoundly affects the story and the sequel, where Groot is still regenerating and is still small.

     Point blank, the death of a character should open more doors than it closes. If more stories can be told as a result of a character's death than a character's life, then their death ultimately aids the story.

     DC's Cinematic Universe is willing to kill characters when stories could still be told with and about them. This is not a sign of "maturity" but of lack of foresight and forethought. What if they want to make a sequel to suicide squad? They'd have two weapons experts, a boomerang guy, a strong man, a crazy girl, and a samurai girl. All physical fighters, which limits the scope of enemies they could fight. If they just replace Diablo, then they have to introduce them, and give their backstory and motivations, which goes right back to the first kettle of fish.

     DC really needs to stop killing characters; even Marvel left the door open for Red Skull to return one day.



3. The Joker and Harley



     So, Jared Leto, the actor who played the Joker in Suicide Squad has been complaining about how much footage of the Joker was cut from the final film... Honestly I'm surprised he's still in there at all.

     I'm not exaggerating when I say that NONE of the joker's scenes are essential. They add nothing, they change nothing, they aren't involved with the main plotline at all... The Joker is entirely pointless in the film. Which is criminal.

     The Joker shouldn't even be a side villain in anything but an ensemble villain cast. He is a main antagonist, the ring leader and primary threat. Having him as a supporting character is the first problem with his character. He is a main character only. He's center stage, or not on the stage at all.

     But, maybe it is better this Joker isn't actually important... because he's a terrible Joker. Not in reference to Jared Leto's performance, he did fairly well with what he was given, but the design and characterization... they were all wrong.

     The Jared Leto Joker is not threatening. There isn't any tension when he's on screen, because he just isn't scary. He's weird, but not scary. Part of the lack of tension comes from the fact he is a straight ally of Harley, who is a partially sympathetic protagonist. In the comics and TV show where Harley made her first appearance, it was clear the Joker had no respect for Harley. He didn't care for her, he just saw her as a devoted lackey that was easily twisted around his pinky finger. He could throw her out of a building and she'd blame herself for it.

     Yeah, that is what their relationship is supposed to be: blatantly abusive, both mentally and physically. Harley's just too far gone to see it most of the time. But, DC tried this and it was rejected because focus groups didn't like Harley eventually sticking up for herself and breaking off from the Joker, so they went with the straight romance that parts of the general audience likes on the surface... Again, showing lack of foresight when people think on their relationship more and realize how goddamn awful it is after the fact.

     Then there is the design... goddamn the design...

Note the tattoo that says "Damaged" and the grills on his teeth.
     There is only one answer to such a design:


     The Joker's design isn't threatening, or insane, or creepy... it is just straight "edgy."

     This is Reaper from the most recent Blizzard game, Overwatch:


     He has DUAL WIELD SHOTGUNS named HELLFIRE, he has a SKULL mask (actually a barn owl), wears ALL BLACK, and a HOODIE, and he has POUCHES. and he EATS THE SOULS of his enemies while talking all about how he is DEATH and PAIN.

     An edgy design was cool in the 90's. Now it is laughable. It's even noted in-game how not scary Reaper is. Jared Leto Joker is trying too hard to be edgy, that he just appears silly (and not in the good Joker way).



     How do you fix this? Well, honestly just go back to the original canon material, for both Joker and Harley.

     Make Joker the insane clown whose main weapon is a gas that makes people laugh so much they die:
Also wearing a nice suit helps.
     And though I won't go into it that much, Harley's outfit should've been more like this:

     Which is ironically more practical, conservative, and empowering than her film design:

     The film took every chance it got to show off Margot Robbie's ass. Haven't heard any feminist complaints about this crap... Could we PLEASE get some uproar so DC at LEAST gets the message to have Will Smith give some fan service as well? It feels really sexist and off balance to only have male-centric spank material. (Shirtless Joker doesn't count, his existence already gets the wrong side of humanity turned on. On BOTH sides of the technicolor rainbow.)



4. Misc Canon Issues


     Why the flying duck does Batman attack Deadshot when he's with his kid? Does he WANT to create more villains? Does he want her to get hit in the crossfire? His entire motivation for becoming batman goes against what he was doing in that scene. He doesn't want any child to go through what he did; he should've caught Deadshot when she WASN'T around! If she wasn't there, she'd be sad her father was caught, but she wouldn't have the image burned into her head of her daddy aiming a gun at her, telling her to move so he can shoot the Batman. Can't even blame Deadshot for that, that situation is entirely on Batman.


     Also, related to the killing problem above... Slipknot. The most forgettable character in the movie. No backstory, we're just told he can climb anything. He tries to escape and gets his blown off as a result. That's it for Slipknot! Had to waste him showing the audience what we already explained what would happen if they tried to run away like two scenes ago! He was entirely pointless, and just made it so they can never use him again in the future. Wasn't important enough to mention in the main section though, so he's here. The sacrificial lamb to show that the film was "for seriouz yo"


     Finally... The Jared Leto Joker would've made a better Lex Luthor than Jessie Eisenberg's. Jessie pretty much just played the Joker, because apparently that's the only villain DC understands. His joker personality would've fit better in Suicide Squad than in BatmanVSuperman, and Jared Leto's gangster nature would've fit better with Lex Luthor. Not a good fit, but a better one. A great fit would've been making him act like a cold, logical billionaire instead of a crazy man... Just a strange thing I noted when I realized Leto was more tame than Eisenberg.



Conclusion



     Suicide Squad has the right kind of central characters and dialogue, but the wrong plot. Cut the Joker, refocus the plot, make the antagonist a threat.
     This film very well could've been good, and in fact a decent answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, so it is unfortunate that these problems exist.



     Additionally, Wonder Woman looks good; maybe being set during World War 1 will help with the plotting issues DC seems to have. We already know her love interest dies, but at least we don't know if it's from old age or "dramatically" in Wondy's arms; I REALLY hope for the former. Also Chris Pine, so it has that going for it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Man's Sky - Cycles of Gameplay



So, No Man's Sky. A massive game, hyped up a lot by Sony, with 18 quintillion planets to explore. A number so big, Google spellcheck doesn't recognize it. The game was made by 15 people, and, quite frankly, it kinda shows.

18 quintillion planets were made by procedurally generating them; everything about the planets is determined by math equations that make the planet as you observe it. In No Man's sky, everything from the color of the sky, to the ground, and animals, is made up by math equations.
Now this would be incredible... if there was some actual gameplay to go with it.

Here's the gist: you are a space explorer, trying to reach the center of the galaxy. Your current ship isn't capable of making it there, so you have to get a better one. to do that, you gather valuable objects and minerals like gold. You sell those to get a bigger ship that can hold more materials. You also use materials to make better tools to get more materials.


In essence, it is Minecraft, the game all under-10 children and lazy Youtube Lets Players play. Dig materials, build better tools to dig more stuff, so you can go find the end game. Similar cycle to No Man's Sky.


However, No Man's Sky has nothing BUT that one cycle. fly to a system, go to a planet, load up on valuable materials, sell them, get a better ship, keep flying until you get to the center of the universe... and that's it.
You can also discover unique plants and animals, and name them and the planets, and when other players find them they'll see the names. That's neat, but the fun of that dies rather quickly.

This is the biggest problem of No Man's Sky: if you don't like the cycle, there is nothing to do.

But I'm not here to beat up the game; if anything I REALLY want the game to fix its problems and become amazing. I do have a bit of an idea how it could be improved though; and it has to do with adding more depth to the cycle.


Lets look at minecraft again; the main gameplay is survival. Get the tools you need to survive, and later thrive in a harsh world. However, if you are not interested in digging, there are other things to do. You can build a farm, build a house... Those were available from very near the start of Minecraft's life. When it was fully released, you could also build intricate mechanics, stories for others to play through, even make calculators. Also... this:


Erebor, the Lonely Mountain

People in Minecraft have painstakingly worked to recreate entire worlds of fantasy.

So, while Minecraft is, as its title suggests, about mining and crafting, its primary cycle is not the only thing one can do in it.



No Man's Sky needs something else to do besides its cycle. Otpimally, I think of it like this: there are 18 quintillion planets yes, but what if there was enough for them to do on the planet that they may decide to just stay there for a long time?
Like, there are thousands of diverse creatures made in the game... What if we could domesticate some of them? Obviously it'd take a long time to do such a thing, and there are a lot of tools one would need to be successful at domesticating them.

Like, for instance, a place to keep the animals penned in. Obviously one cannot allow them to get away, or else they may wreck the process. to do that, the game needs a way to build. Build structures of different shapes, sizes, and purposes.


I can think of two games that'd be ideal to follow for this sort of thing: Fallout 4, and Space/Medieval Engineers.


Fallout 4 has, as a main draw, the ability to make settlements for people to live in. The system is relatively simple, you go into an over head view mode, and can place down all sorts of walls, stairs, ceilings, floors... in addition to some fun stuff like turrets and electronics. These settlements require resources to build, which you collect in your travels.

Space and Medieval Engineers focus entirely around building structures, tools, and weapons. In survival mode of these games, which certain materials you can set up a 3D blue print of a structure, and then start adding materials as you collect them. Good for planning, and an incredibly diverse system, probably more so than Fallout.


For No Man's Sky, I can imagine a similar system. Basically, after collecting specific, and somewhat rare materials, you can build a construction drone. With the drone, you plot out structures with holographic blueprints. You can also set things like the interior atmosphere, temperature, et cetera. Then, with the blueprint completed, you have a list of materials you'll need to build the structure. Gather the materials and return to it to build what you've planned.

This alone would add a lot of depth to the gameplay cycle, especially for those who would spend hours on this aspect alone.


This same tech for the construction drone could be sued to build unique starships. Obviously it'd require rare materials, but it's a better option than having the only way to get new ships being buying them off someone else. These starships could have unique settings like the grounded structures, so that you could transport living cargo, like plants and animals. Also you could walk around your ship while it is in flight.


Just imagine this: instead of mining for gold forever, you make your money domesticating some cute creatures. You make them friendly towards people, you evolve them to survive in different atmospheres, and then you breed them as pets, selling them on the intergalactic market. Hell, imagine another player finding your domesticated pet and buying one!
Could train larger creatures as mounts, hunting companions, or cattle. Or make a farm and sell products off of them, like meat, their version of milk, eggs, or fertilizer...
You could become an alien farmer!
It may sound like Blue Skying, but a lot of these features exist in some capacity already in the game. Creatures have temperaments and diets, it isn't that much of a leap to say one could feasibly work to change those features through various means.


That is but one way to add depth to the cycle. There are countless others as well.


Like, for instance, the Sentinels of The Atlas. Basically, The Atlas is supposed to be the organization that prevents you from doing what I suggested above, and also opposes practically all actions players take. They have these sentinel drones on planets, making sure no one is messing around with the ecology of a planet. The problem however, is that they are just a nuisance. They aren't threatening, they are just annoying. If you somehow manage to die to them, you merely have to run back to where you died to collect your stuff.
The interaction with these guys should no be so banal. You should be able to lay claim to a planet, and say that it is now YOUR house, and you will command its ecology. You should then have to fight hard to get this, until The Atlas concede and let you have one of the Quintillion planets, or work out a peace treaty where you get a couple acres or something to work with.



Now, I realize that some of these suggestions go against what the team thought the "core" of the game was. They wanted space exploration to be the main pull. But, there is nothing to actually explore. Every planet is nearly the same. It may or may not have a planetary hazard that has the same effect on you regardless of what it is, and the planet is a spectrum of colors. Sometimes you'll get a planet with a green sky and orange plants, or you'll get a orange sky with blue plants... you won't find anything actually worth finding currently.
When your believed core doesn't work, then spread out, and try other aspects, or, realize a problem with the core: you want them to go out and explore, but don't want them to stay somewhere too long, so there is nothing to explore, to force them to go out and explore.
For the core to work, it actually requires a paradox: you have to make the planets themselves so great, they may not want to ever leave it. This, oddly enough, will also push them to find more planets, because maybe it'll be even greater than the last.

It should be where, when they find their ideal planet, they could settle down on it. Ultimately this is also necessary since the game designers also want the game to be playable after the player reaches the core... Currently, there is no reason to continue after, or to even continue to the core.
If each planet had a wealth of possibilities upon it, where the player could construct a mining operation, or a space port, or a city, or a farm, then there would be something to do after you've gone to the core and seen it all. Hell, people might actually want to go to the core, thinking it may give them something incredible.

Like, consider Maxis's Spore. It got bad reviews, much like No Man's Sky has now. This was also due to poor gameplay. However, its space phase had a lot of options for the player to have fun with. One option was to go to the galactic core... which gave you a genesis rod, perfectly terraforming a planet when used. If something like that was at the center of the No Man's Sky galaxy, then it'd be truly worth it to reach the center, because it could open up a whole new game once accomplished.



No Man's Sky has a wealth of potential. Right now, it is more tools to make content than actual content. But I can very easily see the game becoming an amazing space game.