Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lego Ninjago

   Is every Lego movie going to be about daddy issues? The first Lego Movie was about a kid trying to connect with his dad who was taking things too seriously to the point of becoming foolish, Lego Batman was about how Batman can't connect with people or have a family because of his trauma (said hang ups prevented him from being a good adoptive father to Dick Grayson), and now Ninjago is about how Garmadon is an absentee father whose son is hated because he is the son of Garmadon, and how they reconnect.
   Two films is exploring an idea; three is a worrying pattern. I love the Lego Movie and Lego Batman, they explored their themes well. But with Ninjago, it is starting to become worrying, like the company thinks they HAVE to have family issues to do well. (Given that it is Warner Bros as the production company, it's not an unreasonable fear)

I enjoyed my time while watching Ninjago, but its flaws are rather painfully apparent.

   First of all, the main character, Lloyd, is rather plain... but not nearly as plain as his teammates. I can only remember the name of ONE of his teammates, and it is solely because him saying his name was a punchline to a joke, when Garmadon says he doesn't even know the names of the rest of his team. His teammates are just tools for the plot, with a single personality trait each that they exhibit purely for comedy. I remember their elemental powers and personality traits more than the characters themselves, and that is a HUGE screenwriting sin.
     If they were removed entirely from the film, the story would actually have been stronger. Since Lloyd is made out to be an outcast, if he truly had no friends, his hang-ups, mistakes, and family connections would've ended up a lot stronger by contrast. But, I imagine the creators were a bit stiffled by the Ninjago canon (Lego has a habit of making grand, epic stories for their characters. To the point where a LOT of my writing is influenced by their most epic series, Bionicle. There were actually 3 Bionicle movies as well, which were, well, not that good. Would love to see a redo on the series, but definitely NOT with the current Bionicle iteration, so it probably won't happen).

   Having the friends around also introduces other problems. Like, the fact the other 5 members have elemental powers. Standard fare, basically the Bionicle powers minus Stone, and replacing wind with lightning (which, depending on some physics, could theoretically be the same thing). Lloyd is stated to not have an elemental power, kind of. It is given as "green" which is eventually described as the connection between everything... but that is a really weak explanation. Some better options would be to instead have his power be darkness, for his connection to Garmadon... or, to go Captain Planet, Heart. By saying his elemental power is "green" and holding fast to that, the value of it in the story is cheapened. Not to mention that the elemental powers of his team are utterly useless outside the context of two set pieces (harhar), and ultimately do nothing to move the plot forward.
   This is made somewhat worse by the fact that, in the original Ninjago canon (I looked it up) his element is still "green power..." actually meaning literal energy. The Ninjago wikia states energy to be the strongest of all the elements (no shit, half the elements ARE energy). This could've been better handled by instead making his element be unstable, corruptive, and dangerous in the wrong hands... and therefore his father, Garmadon, actually helps him master the abiltiy Lloyds normal teacher (he isn't important. Like, really not. He spouts exposition that could've come from a more natural, less deus ex machinaey place) doesn't want to teach him. This could've given Lloyd some real conflict when his father later asks him to join him, as his father taught him control of his element, and was promising mastery of it.
   As is, in the film, Lloyd doesn't make any real choices. (Minus one, but that's in another section, and arguably isn't a choice.) He is given a lot of non-options, and just goes along. It never felt like the main character was leading the plot along, but the other way around. This kind of writing generates apathy for a character, but in a subtle way that kind of goes unnoticed.

   The film also kinda has a problem with being serious. It has moments that should be very serious, with no jokes, yet are squandered on meh material. Lloyd at one point loses his arm (a fact actually foreshadowed in the beginning... which made this a non-surprise actually). In a better written movie, it'd stay that way, regardless of his Lego nature... but here instead, it is the agony of watching them take a long time to just pop it back in.
   Why would it be better if he remained armless? Because just a couple minutes ago, Garmadon taught Lloyd how to throw. Permanently losing his arm after that would have been incredibly poignant, and could throw a huge bit of character development at the main characters. This could also be factored into the whole element of energy and corruption thing, where Garmadon could convince Lloyd that he could get his arm back with mastery of his powers.
   There is a phrase in gaming called "win more." It basically is about not being complacent, or using strategies that cement a victory. When you are winning, work to win more. This roughly translates into screenwriting along the lines of "pile even more shit on them." Make the character's choices HARD. An easy choice is friends vs idol, a hard choice is friends vs working legs. An even harder choice is friends, your mother, and a city that hates you, vs power, your father, and a working arm. (I know that sounds like Luke's decision, but his was kind of a non-decision since his father was a space nazi, vs Garmadon who is more like Bowser of Super Mario; a threat, but not deadly.)

   Finally, there is the culmination of everything... the lack of seriousness, blandness, and the lack of choice... Meowthra, a giant cat summoned by the ultimate weapon (a laser pointer). Now, Lloyd was told his sensei had this weapon, and he wanted to get rid of Garmadon for good, so he wanted to use it, but his sensei refused. First problem: his sensei should've said what the weapon did. Imagine if the ultimate weapon was instead just a nuke that Lloyd activated. Ultimately it would've actually been the sensei's fault.
   Why is it the sensei's fault? Because he is so useless, Garmadon managed to build a pretty much invincible mechsuit, and take over the city. The ninjago had nothing that could destroy the mech, so of course Lloyd would go get the ultimate weapon. They were backed into a corner, and Lloyd made a logical choice based on his available knowledge. If his sensei had said what the weapon did, they would've rightfully crossed that off the list of choices for dealing with the mech.
   This was the non-choice choice I referred to earlier. Normally, this kind of bad decision is made when a protagonist is being brash, and using the untested weapon turns things against the heroes... but things were already against the heroes, no known options were available, so the only thing left was the unknown. Not to mention Lloyd tried using the weapon merely as a threat to make Garmadon back down, only using it when pushed.
   So, Lloyd did everything logically, and right. It's treated as a mistake because that's the trope, but the trope was played on the wrong board. The film treats it like he let his emotions get the better of him, but there was no better.
   What's worse is that Meowthra is superflous, as is the ultimate weapon. The team could've just been brought to their lowest point by Garmadon's mech alone, and then be told to go out and seek the ultimate weapon to defeat him without their mechs. Meowthra doesn't add anything to the story, and its presence actively hurts it.

   To sum up... The plot isn't exactly bad, but the elements going into it don't click.
   My best suggestion for making the film better: forgo the canon entirely, and economize. Lloyd is the only ninja in Ninjago; he has no friends because everyone blames him for Garmadon's attacks, but love the green ninja for stopping them (same as the movie, except the no friends part). Garmadon returns with his own mech to counter the ninja's, and destroys Lloyd's mech. This forces Lloyd to go on a journey to find the ultimate weapon to free the city of Garmadon.
From there, the movie follows like it did... plus energy, and minus an arm, and what little his friends did.

   When told to make the stakes high in a story, impersonal stakes do nothing. The stakes must be personal for them to impact the plot and tension. Screenwriting is all about this, economizing, and flow. If characters are being functionally useless, they ought to be tossed. If an action can be removed without affecting the plot with any significance, then it is needless padding. If I can't even remember the names of central characters, then they are not that central. I can name all 9 members of the Fellowship of the Ring, because they were all central to the plot... and I've only seen that movie once, and none of the others (except the hobbit trilogy, but that is unrelated; but it has the same problem; can't name all the dwarves, not that important).

   If the film absolutely HAD to have the other ninjas, then they should have been treated like the power rangers: of equal importance to the story, and therefore given equal depth. I had to look up what the hell was up with the ice ninja, because the film just tried to pass off him being a robot as just a joke/quirk. The regular series has him as a part of an entire species of androids, but there are no other characters like him in the film, so it is left as a bizarre and pointless quirk. He's a fricken robot in highschool! There was an awesome TV series about the life of a teenage robot, so an entire series can be built around trying to fit in such a situation, and could've been used by the film to endear us to the ice ninja as an awkward social outcast. If you want to have 6 protagonist characters, you gotta devote time to them. The film doesn't give me enough to work with to tell how the others could be expanded, thus I default to recommending their removal, but if they are absolutely necessary, make them necessary.

All in all... the weakest Lego theatrical release. Hopefully the true sequel to The Lego Movie is a LOT better, or else the franchise might be headed downhill after such a high point.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cars 3

     One of the main problems of the Cars films (not all of them, just the pretty big one) was that their plots were the same as a couple of 90's films. Now, I don't mean the same like "Avatar and Pocahontas are totally the same! Remember that scene where Pocahontas summoned the animals of the forest to beat the shan out of the conquistadors?!" I mean the same like the first Cars film has the plot of Doc Hollywood, and Cars 2 is The Man Who Knew Too Little. Different characters and climaxes, but no originality to the plot.
     Cars 3 averts that.

     The closest relative plot I can come up with for Cars 3, is Herbie: Fully Loaded, but even that is incorrect. This is legitimately an original (or, as original as a movie plot can be) story from Pixar. And it is a racing film that is ACTUALLY about racing. The characters also shine better as the film goes after a self vs self, and self vs nature approach. There is an antagonist or two, but they serve more as the drive forward for the characters, and more represent nature as a force than as obstacles in the characters's paths.
     I can honestly say I enjoyed this film, certainly a lot more than the first one. (I never saw the second, because I like life.) Going in to the movie, I was admittedly worried that the plot was going to be "Lightning is a dick; he learns not to be a dick. He succeeds because he is not a dick anymore." But thankfully that wasn't rehashed, and thus Lightning was actually a very sympathetic character throughout. Newly introduced character Cruz was a lot more enjoyable in the second half, whereas in the first she seemed like the load (Trope meaning a character that is useless and must be lugged around). It does provide a nice contrast to how she ends up, but she was really starting to get annoying, until the film suddenly decided to make her sympathetic.
     That is pretty much the flaw of the films: a character is annoying for way too long. The first film had the green mustached racer that won in the end and was a bigger dick than Lightning... and he's back in this film playing a racing sportscaster. I cannot recall his name for the life of me, so I'll just call him Rush; because racing puns, and he reminds me of Rush Limbaugh. Rush wasn't at all funny, yet kept coming back because the plot needed to dump on the lead. Kinda the same with Mater; there was thankfully very little of him in the film, but very little does not mean zero unfortunately.
     If Cars had less annoying characters, it might be higher up in the tomato score. But, since it does, the best of the trilogy actually about matches the original's score.

     Good rules of thumb for a story: if we are genuinely made to hate a character's personality, either limit the exposure to it, or have karma catch up with them. The exception being main villains, but you better have a satisfying payout, or else it'll be anti-climactic.

     I'd honestly say Cars 3 is a solid 7/10. It's a good average, animated film. The animated short before it, Lou, was very cute, and kind of Looney Tunes. Unless there are other contenders, it'll likely win Best Animated Short next Oscars.

     Speaking of other contenders actually... There is going to be another Frozen animated short. This time in front of Pixar's next film, The Book of Lif- Coco. I meant Coco, not the Guillermo Del Toro film with nearly the same plot but a better visual style and character motivations.
     This one seems... a bit desperate. The preview for the Frozen short seems to have the ENTIRETY of the plot in it. The actual short likely is only a couple minutes longer. And based just on the preview I already hate it; and I LOVE the original Frozen. it's about Arendell at Christmas, and how *GASP* they have no family traditions for Christmas! So Sven (reindeer) and Olaf go out to find some family traditions!
     It is the kind of saccharine crap that people associate with bad Christmas shorts. and Disney wanted to ADVERTISE IT. To get people to go see Coco! It really doesn't look good for Coco, as this move seems uncharacteristically desperate.
     Also, way to go Pixar, an original plot here, and then you use the same plot from a film released 3 years ago. Even if an animated film does take 3 years from conception to completion, that's still enough time to realize yer gonna need a rewrite. Hell, Zootopia did just that, and got done a year after the rewrite, and is now one of my top 10 animated films. (By the by, The Book of Life is also in the top 10, partly due to its visual style.)

     But, if there is one thing to look forward to... I just discovered that The Incredibles 2 comes out next year! Directed by Brad Bird again! Hype train, woo woo!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

     The past couple weeks, I've been non-ironically calling The Lego Batman the best Batman movie I've ever seen, and semi-ironically calling Zach Galifianakis one of the best Jokers (either just ahead or behind Cesar Romero; though both behind Mark Hamill honestly). Though it is only recently that I figured out why I really like this batman, while I dislike the others:

      I hate the modern Batman. I hate how people love the Joker as some "manifestation of Chaos" and revel in his murderous crime sprees. I hate how Batman is touted as being capable of being capable of beating EVERYONE in the DC universe, even and especially Superman, and has the emotional range of an "emo" teen. I hate how Harley Quinn is considered nothing but eye-candy. Finally, I hate how Batman started the trend of Super Hero films form DC being ridiculously dark (literally. It is hard to see in these films) and brooding.
     The Lego Batman plays to EVERYTHING I see the character as. A manchild with an over-inflated ego, fighting a clown that is obsessed with him to the point of it being a relationship, and actually made me sympathize with these people. It didn't shy away from the silly nature but embraced it, and found joy in the embrace. The film sought to make us root for Batman, not because we wanted him to beat the badguy, but for him to find happiness and grow as a person. It points out the problems behind Batman, and builds the film around them. I find it amazing how, this being a Lego film, the film had the freedom to make these decisions, and portray Batman in a way that is actually fun to watch.

      What I just said is probably "BLASPHEMY!!!!111!!!!1121!!" to a certain group of people. But then again they were probably screaming that when I didn't include Heath Ledger in the awesome Jokers (it's because he just played a crazy gangster with a gimmick like Jared Leto, and had nothing to do with being a deranged clown). It's blasphemy to say Batman isn't the most awesome thing since awesome, or that he is allowed to be anything but brooding or raging, or has any kind of color in his life other than gray, black, and blue. That fact is why I hate hearing about him so much. People ask why Superman isn't just a boring hero with no problems other than kryptonite, but I feel that way about Batman due to his memetic badass properties.
     Of course, it is also two-pronged. Batman could beat anyone... Except he won't. He will fail. He will always fail. It is as impossible for Batman to succeed as it was for Gilligan to build a boat. If Batman ever actually, truly wins, and stops the Joker, then his character is done. Sure, he has other villains... which he will also forever fail against. If he ever managed to win, he'd be done. My apathy to Batman is that, regardless of the outcome of any individual comic, or series, or film, Batman will never win. Even if Joker appears to die, he will just pop up again later. Arkham Asylum is a revolving door that could only let criminals break free at a faster rate if they didn't even bother to have a door. Batman is a boring failure hero to me. He can never truly win, so why even bother cheering for him?

     The Lego Batman answered all my concerns about the character. Though the end brings a status quo, Batman does actually win and move forward. It makes fun of his memetic badass properties, the problems with being a childish loner... The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie I've ever seen because it didn't just say "you love this because it is Batman" but gave me a reason to care what happened in it. It didn't induce apathy through darkness... it embraced everything about the Batman, and was so much better for it.

Friday, February 10, 2017


      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


     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.