Friday, March 29, 2013
Ignorant American Gaming: Nights into Dreams
Availability: Was originally released for the Sega Saturn in 1996. It was re-released on the Playstation 2 in 2008 exclusive to Japan but is now available with an HD face-lift on PSN, XBLA, and Steam.
Version I played: Digital download PS3 port off the PSN.
Review: Despite poor reception in the states I actually have a lot of very fond memories of the Sega Saturn. I got it not too terribly long after it launched and attribute a lot of my best gaming memories of the mid 90s to it. I played countless hours of Virtua Fighter, Sonic Jam, Panzer Dragoon, and also the game I want to touch on in this post, Nights into Dreams. The Saturn is another one of those consoles I wish I never got rid of. I do wish I still had it but if I ever want to achieve my goal of getting a complete Dreamcast collection I need to remain focused. Maybe I can use the credits I earn from making purchases on Game of Japan over time to purchase a Japanese one. That way I can get the best out of the system with the best products released on it. Gotta use the credits for something, right? Sadly I won't be reviewing the Sega Saturn version. However this isn't entirely a disappointment. What I will be reviewing is the port that I got for the PS3. One of those things that I immediately purchased without thinking after seeing it available. So this review will be part review of the game itself, and part review of the port.
One thing that is unfortunate is that the Sega Saturn was really hard to program for. This is due to the way the hardware was put together. A modern example of this is the Playstation 3. This means that there were plenty of dropped deals and games because it was too much of a hassle to port over or to program from scratch for third party developers. And when the transfer did happen sometimes the Saturn version was considered the lesser. Sadly this has transitioned to porting Saturn games over to modern consoles for re-releases. Transitioning from the Saturn is just as difficult because of the bizarre programming. Because of this Saturn fans like myself have gotten very few re-releases of Saturn games over the years. And plenty of times it is ported over from the PC version of said game because it's less of a hassle. I have a feeling if there wasn't this technical roadblock we would have more Saturn re-releases these days (like Panzer Dragoon Saga, aka one of the rarest games for the Saturn, at least the American copy). But I am glad to see they've been able to get out some of the essentials. Obviously I'll be talking about Nights. But also they've re-released Daytona USA, Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, and Panzer Dragoon just to name a few. Here's hoping that one day we'll get a port of Fighters Megamix. That's my favorite fighting game of all time.
So they were able to bring over Nights. Pretty freaking awesome. This was one of the most popular games for the Saturn back in the day. It was released both on it's own and with a special controller that was designed so you could play through this game with ease instead of being rigid to the d-pad. It looked like a shitty first attempt at a Dreamcast controller but it wasn't bad for the time. Just wouldn't want to use it now. Basically the "joystick" which is more of an inverted nipple gives you the ability to free-flow around and around as you're flying through each level. Since this game scored you not only on time to complete but in how you do it. So things like flips and swirls were essential to beating the game proper. Also since it can get really fast paced it's good to know that you could fly away pretty easily if needed. In the end the game got a ton of praise and also had a special Christmas version of the game (more like DLC if you look at it in a modern perspective, it was sold on a separate disc but didn't contain all the levels). The original Saturn version is a classic and if I were to ever get a Saturn again it would easily be one of the first games I would get.
Now there is a port of it available making it much easier to pick up. The version I played as previously stated is the Playstation 3 version. Since this is a game that didn't originate on a Playstation console it isn't just a straight port. It's been reprogrammed as it's own application and has a new menu and features built in. The most noticeable addition is the option to choose between the original version of the game and a graphically updated version of the game. Being the purist that I am I went directly for the original version. I knew from the start that I wouldn't play the updated version unless I had to.
But before we get to the game let's get to the story. The story and how it plays out it both simple and vague. There is no dialogue whether spoken or written in a dialogue box. The story presented is about a boy and a girl, both with something of their own hurdles to get over. The girl Claris is having trouble building the courage to go into an audition without it completely falling apart. And the boy Elliot is having trouble being any good at Basketball against the big kids. These are communicated through dreams each of them are having that quickly turn into nightmares. This is the basic setup of the game. And while nothing is communicated to you outside of visuals the rest of the plot is left to you interpreting it. But basically what can be taken from the rest of the game is that in your dreams you take form of Nights and try and restore the dream world from the nightmare it is becoming. So essentially the cliche that it was all a dream isn't a twist or punchline in this, it's the actual story.
This is then executed through four stages for each character. All are different with the exception of one, the final level. Both Claris and Elliot play out the same last stage and fight the same final boss, but there's a reason for that and it involves them fighting together in the dream (Inception?). Otherwise every level is different and unique and every boss is also unique. However, fighting is something you actually do very little of in this game. The main objective in each level is pretty simplistic. Basically four of these diamond-like bubble things have been stolen from you and you need to get them back. They're being held in these giant contraptions that can be destroyed by collecting these blue pearl-looking items and then planting them in the contraption to get back your diamond thingy. Deliver the diamond bubble back to the start of the stage and then move onto gathering the next one. You do this four times a level and then you fight a boss. Now that I think about it saying what you do in the game sounds nowhere near as exciting as the real thing is. Watch this clip from the game to see what I'm talking about.
The game is actually very fun and exciting. One of the big thing that makes it so fun is the way your character flies around and how smooth the controls are. As I'm sure you can imagine I would only suggest playing with the joystick for this game. Using the d-pad will not be as good of an experience. Once you get going you will discover how easy and fun it is to cruise through each level. It's one of those games where you could have no idea what you're doing but it looks like it because the game handles itself just so well. Then during the boss fights, while simplistic, feels so graceful as you battle. And even though the boss fights are not hard they are still very satisfying when you finish. Seeing that boss literally explode while this peaceful music plays is just delightful. All in all it's such a wonderful experience. And an emotionally positive experience. You really can't help but smile when playing. This is because of the colorful imagery and fantastic music. Here's a link to the theme so you can hear what I mean. I don't even know how else to express how I feel about this game besides saying how much of a delight it is. And with the way I'm talking I should probably start ring shopping.
Although something I've come to notice that I didn't notice as a kid is how long it takes to complete some of these games from the past. The answer is not that long. If you tried to blaze through Nights just to see the endings it could easily be done in around an hour. This is attributed to a few factors. One is that there's only eight levels, one of which is a duplicate that you play through as each character. Another thing is that there is a time limit to each of these levels. Any level you select won't take longer than a few minutes even if you beat it by the skin of your teeth. Then the boss is another couple minutes at the longest as well. In a way it makes you wonder how a first party company could get away with such a short game and even bill it as one of their system seller games. Well, part of it is context of the time. This was released in the mid-90s before every other game had a promised 80 hours of content with another 40 hours of DLC to come out later. So it was more common to have a shorter game because the focus was more on re-playablity than releasing additional content later. Not to mention games in this era had a harder difficulty generally speaking instead of there being standout games as actually being difficult whereas many handhold through the whole game (a rant for another day). So to get the full experience from games you had to really work for it. This is why chances are some of your friends beat Sonic the Hedgehog 2 back on the Genesis but you know nobody who has gotten all seven emeralds. This is a similar thing with Nights.
Despite there being only eight levels and that it doesn't take too long to get through them it is still a challenge to get the full experience. Simply finishing the three levels for each character doesn't grant you immediate access to the final level. You actually need to get a grade of at least a C on each level before it to unlock it. Believe it or not that's harder said than done. It's not something you'll sweat over for hours but it still is tough. You'll really need to make sure you're going through each section pretty quickly while racking up a bunch of points in the process and get plenty of additional pearls. Then even when you think you've done it as well as anyone could you'll only wind up with a C rating. But whatever because that gets you another step forward. As a matter of fact the highest grade I've gotten on any of the levels was a B. And I worked my ass off for that! I can only imagine what it takes to get an A. This was and still is a fairly common thing in games developed by Sega. They have this grading system that is insanely strict on what you have to do to get a high grade. This isn't like Angry Birds rankings that are inconsistent, this is just outright difficult. I had an easier time playing through God of War III on hard than I did just trying to get an A in some of these levels.
What this challenge of needing to actually achieve something in this game to finish it off is what does provide it with some longevity with so little. Again if you're really trying it doesn't take long to get there but you will feel satisfied when you do. And that's something that this game provides that some games simply don't. Satisfaction. That's because it's quality over quantity. There isn't a lot packed in this game but it's so great in the time you're playing. It's unique, colorful, fast paced, easy to play, difficult to master, just so many great things about this game. So what that means in the end is that since it provides such a wonderful experience the first time around people wouldn't be opposed to playing through it again. It doesn't take very long so it's not a huge commitment. As usual with the modern examples this can be somewhat comparable to Portal. That game only takes a couple hours to complete. However it was wildly praised despite the length. That's because everything that needed to be there was there in one small package. And that's the thing, quality in small portions instead of bland in large portions. I know any day of the week I'd rather have a 6 pack of any New Glarus brew over a 24 pack of Busch Light despite they fact they wouldn't cost much different. It makes the re-playability of Nights into Dreams so much higher over other games. And I think that's one of the reasons I like to play it over so much. It has that appeal. It's the same reason you may play the old Sonic or Mario games so much. If you really concentrate on getting through the game it won't take that terribly long. But I can guarantee you've played through them a countless number of times. And why is that? Because they pack so much in so little that makes you want to revisit it.
Now getting to the port of the game. Easily one of the best features of the port is that the original version of the game was included. Something that's been happening since the HD age began is to do HD revamps of old games. These tend to have very mixed results, though. I know the 3D HD revamp of TMNT: Turtles in Time was not received well despite being damn near the same thing only with new visuals (I only played the demo and hated it. Something about it just felt off). But I have heard positive things about Bionic Commando: Rearmed and a few others. Now in terms of Nights into Dreams there is an option to play a visually revamped version of the game. It smooths out the graphics, adds more details, makes it much more crisp and clean. Fuck that. I want the original experience. I do understand why this was included. Graphics from this era of gaming does not age well. Come to think of it, it seems like polygon visuals don't age well at all no matter what. 2D seems timeless. But 3D? Good for about five years and then it looks stupid apparently. So if anything it was smart to include this feature for people who want something new and revamped even though it's the exact same game. But the inclusion of the original is excellent. It's even presented in it's original aspect ratio. However the rest of the screen was filled for those who don't like black bars on the left and right. Basically it's a purple border with some stars. Thankfully not a distracting image like some other ports release. As much as I like playing the original there is one part of the game that does require me to play through on the revamped graphics. And that's in a piece of bonus content.
One thing I was really happy to see included as a bonus for beating the game was Christmas Nights. This was something that was released in December of 1996. It wasn't a whole new game but rather only one level/boss from the previous game but changed to have a Christmas theme. However since the level is the first level of Claris' dream, when you play as Elliot the level is slightly altered for the change. But it's not the most noticeable. Essentially it was a little bonus for the holiday season. Also it wasn't a full price, stand alone game. It was given away in magazines and was also a bonus if you bought select Saturn games, such as Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition. At least this is how it was in Japan. I'm not sure how far it extended in America but I do know it was available at Blockbuster. And then the UK didn't get it until Christmas 1997 a year later. Anyway, this previously exclusive disc is now available in this port. However it's only available in the revamped graphics. Something I wasn't too happy about but whatever. This is where I was able to confirm that it was simply a visual revamp. They did nothing to change the gameplay. It is still the same as I remembered it in the original game. So essentially this was a previously played stage that is now Christmas themed. I'm only bummed out that they didn't include an option to play the original version as it was released back in 1996.
In terms of other bonus content the rest is media related. A ton of different images including concept art, videos of all the cutscenes and other supplemental material, etc etc. Some pretty cool stuff I must say. Neat stuff for fans of the series. And as a matter of fact the whole thing feels like a few cards short of a full deck. But there are enough cards to make it a very satisfying package. For $10 you get everything the original game offered and more. Plenty cheaper than buying a Saturn and getting the disc version. If you were ever a fan of this game or a fan of Sega in general I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend picking this one up. It's a great deal for a great game.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Review: Men Behind the Sun
My Edition: Single disc, widescreen version (Additional details in the review itself)
History: This film has had it's share of controversy and censorship over the years. Looking at the wikipedia page alone you'll see that different regions have different run times because of cutting chunks of violence out. It has been released with a run time from 90 minutes all the way up to the full 105 minute cut. The original intent was to make the film as realistic as possible, but because of how exploitative the violence was he has been accused of it not having any sort of historical or educational value. In China it was considered to be so violent that it was the first film to receive a III rating (equal to an NC-17 here in the states). This film had three sequels but have little to nothing to do with the first one outside of general theme.
Personal History: This is my first viewing. I knew very little about this title, or the franchise as a whole going into it.
Review: Before I start talking about the movie itself I want to talk about the edition that I got in the mail. Looks like the US audience got pretty shafted with this movie because the only version I could find outside of a more expensive import is really shitty. First off, the transfer is horrendous. It looks like a transfer straight from a VHS copy with basically no remastering. Seriously, it looks really bad. Then while it does have multiple language tracks, including it's original Chinese track, it has no subtitles whatsoever. So either you can watch it the way it was originally conceived but not know what they're saying, or you can watch the English dub and be annoyed but know what's going on. Lastly, it is in widescreen but it's non-anamorphic. To those of you who don't know what I mean by that, the widescreen image doesn't fill the screen. It's presented in a square "full screen" type format and then the image is letter boxed. This was the least of my concerns cause I don't mind having to use the zoom feature on my TV. Still it doesn't help when looking at the terrible image quality of the transfer. Also, I'm pretty sure the version I bought was partially cut. It's shorter than the original run time as it shows on IMDB and Wikipedia at 105 minutes. Whereas mine is 100 minutes, and on the case it stated 95 minutes. So I give the DVD I received a very low score. On a school grading scale this is easily a D. It only passes because the movie played from beginning to end without any problems. This is a really poor excuse of a DVD release.
So, the actual movie. I've got to say this one was a tough watch. It is really no holds barred. Also, I've got to say that with how low the budget was on this movie it looks great and is very effective. The movie doesn't bury the lead, either. The way it was promoted also touches big time on how intense it is. Even on the box art to the shitty version I found states a warning about the content and how it is certain to offend anyone. Talk about potentially over-selling. But it's good to warn cause some may pick this up thinking it's more along the lines of Schindler's List in terms of historical dramas. Something that is hard to watch but people would put up with the difficulties cause it's interesting. It's history after all. Well Men Behind the Sun is closer to a horror movie if you ask me. Nothing supernatural or haunted or anything like that, and it does claim to document the tortures that happened during the war, but so much of it feels to be intensified and put together in a way that felt more horror-like than straight up drama. I feel like if it wanted to be more like a drama then it wouldn't feel the need to be so intense. At least a bit more realistically intense. Well and here's the thing. Maybe the reason why I found this to be more along the lines of horror is not really in it's execution in acting and cinematography, but just the overall feel of the story and the realism in the visual effects.
To expand on this I'll reference a documentary I once saw. It's a short film about the holocaust called Night and Fog. I remember toward the end of the movie there was one shot in particular that showed dead people being tossed into a giant hole to be buried. It was nothing more than a drop but the way the dead body dropped and fell down the hold curled my stomach in ways that regular movies do. Something about it was different enough, well, realistic enough that it was really unsettling. Again, just a body dropping. Not being ripped apart, not in the process of actual murder, just a dead body dropping. Now the reason why I told you that is because of this. The movie's budget was really low and China (at least at the time) didn't have a special effects industry for the filmmakers to turn to. So for the brutal killings in this movie they did something I've never seen before. The director had connections where he was able to obtain real dead bodies and body parts. So in the scenes I'm about to describe to you, just imagine. Imagine it being done in a way that is the closest to realistic you will ever see. The next step above this is actually doing these things to a person in real life and not just on dead bodies. I think it's safe to say you've been warned...
Well now that I've built it up like I read about I hope you aren't disappointed when I get into it. Usually when I watch movies like this I think I get a little overly excited about how crazy it will get and so the entire time I'm really focusing in on anything that could be intense. This always leads to the same process every time. The beginning is tame/not so intense. My expectations lower as the film goes on. And then something hits me out of left field that I did not see coming. So with that said the beginning didn't quite hit me with the intensity right away. It does take some time. There are a couple deaths early on but one of them is a far away shot of a man being electrocuted to death on an electric fence. Otherwise nothing too terribly noteworthy. But much like in Salo, it's when the torture, or in this case experiments start that things really get insane and earn it's reputation.
One noteworthy experiment that seems to be pretty popular in this movie is the scene when they leave a woman outside, repeatedly pour cold water over her hands and forearms, allowing them to freeze. It goes on for quite a while and is really tough to watch. Interesting piece of trivia on this scene, the girl that is the guinea pig is the director's niece. She was the only one willing to play the long and torturous role and even nearly got frostbite in the process. So what happens is after they've frozen her hand enough they bring her back inside. Then they dip her hand in boiling hot water to heath them back up. Then to finish it all off the skin gets pulled off clean by the man doing the experiment. All that is left is the bones. Keep in mind what I said earlier about the visual effects. It really makes your stomach turn just seeing it.
What follows really is a series of vicious experiments and other violent imagery. On the cover of the (TERRIBLE) edition I have it states that it's in the tradition of Faces of Death. While this is a completely different style of movie as Faces of Death I can see where they make the connection. The images in this are terribly realistic. And if they're not realistic then they're still quite horrifying to look at. There are really two other specific images that come to mind. One is when they throw a man into this chamber and lock him in. Then in this chamber is some sort of machine and when they switch it on the sound of a piercing high pitch noise comes out. The man slowly finds it more difficult to tolerate it and appears to fall over dead. That's not the end, though. What happens next is the man's body swells up. Then it appears he starts to soil himself from the back end (by the way, he's naked), but then you quickly realize that was his intestine as it literally explodes out of the back end of him. Pretty gross, and don't forget these are real human parts. The other scene that comes to mind is when the people running the experiments bring in a young boy to operate on him. They proceed to perform an autopsy on him while he's still alive. It includes closeups and everything. Although the closeups of the still beating heart and stuff were the crew dissecting a pig. Still really rough to watch because it looks so real (BECAUSE SO MUCH IS REAL... in a way).
Describing those scenes does not to the film justice. It really is a case of "seeing is believing." Much like other shock films like Cannibal Holocaust. One scene I didn't even mention in great detail was the scene when a cat was killed by literally a full room of rats. Between that and the other scenes I described it is pretty clear that this title isn't for everybody. But the movie isn't entirely about death. There's also something of a side story about some of the inmates escaping so they aren't killed in one of these bizarre experiments. Also there are multiple scenes that touch on the politics of what's going on at this time done in the fashion of all the officers gathering around for these different meetings. Oh yeah, and there's an attempted rape scene. The only reason the man stopped is because he got distracted, too.
So at the end of movies like this I can never really tell if I liked it. Since the purpose of a movie like this is to shock, if it succeeds does that means it's a good movie? But then again was the shock necessary to create this type of movie? It's titles like this that make it hard to define as entertainment. It's not exactly the type of movie you'd throw in on a Friday night when you have a bunch of friends over. So is it art? Probably closer to that than entertainment. But what kind of art? In short this is really complicated to classify and even harder to recommend. But did I like it? Did I enjoy it? I can't say cause I watched a shitty version of it. I feel I can't actually appreciate it or attempt to appreciate it proper until I see a subtitled version with the original language. Dubs rarely work in live action so I didn't feel I got the proper experience. But I am into taboo in film, seeing different titles push the envelope from different eras. Cause I've always been fascinated by controversy and censorship. So titles like this are up my alley in a way. Not in a pleasurable way, mind you, in the same way some of you may watch a summer blockbuster. I'm fascinated by the subject matter. Seeing just how far the content will go whether it's violence, sexuality, or dialogue. I am working on a post right now regarding taboo in film so I'll definitely touch on it in more detail there.
There were multiple sequels to this movie made but I can't imagine they have the same impact. Also they're probably just about the same thing, too, much like other horror sequels. I'm still curious to check them out cause I like when I'm proven wrong when I have low expectations. If you're interested in controversy and/or pushing the envelope of what can be done in a film then this is definitely one to keep an eye open for. I didn't feel it was as well done as other titles like Cannibal Holocaust and I'm sure A Serbian Film is better than this, too, but still worth checking out. While it's nothing too special it's still pretty unique in it's own right. I'm glad I picked it up but can't imagine watching it a whole lot. It's pretty touch to get through. Don't exactly feel like a million bucks at the end. Still, pretty glad I picked it up. Just looking forward to finally viewing it properly. But I will have to pay out more for it then. May as well go all out and pick up the complete box set if I'm gonna shell out the cash.
Friday, March 15, 2013
PS4 First Impression & The Future of Gaming
On Wednesday February 20th Sony officially announced the Playstation 4. I think it came as no surprise since so much talk had been going on about it, especially since they previously stated "Big announcement on February 20th!" What else would it be? The Move 2 or something? Anyway, so it has been announced but my feelings are mixed. Not because of the hardware itself (looks like it'll do some pretty cool stuff) but where I am in my life and what I already have with gaming, not to mention where gaming seems to be going.
Growing up I was far more interested in the future of gaming more than the present and past of gaming. Slowly over the years that interest has transitioned and now I'm far more interested in catching up on what I missed out on over the years. Actually, right now a lot of my focus is on the Sega Dreamcast cause it is my all time favorite console and am disappointed in myself that I once got rid of it. I am now not only catching up with the many many games I missed out on there but also rebuilding my previous collection I had on that console among other consoles. Also with the introduction of digital downloads on classic titles through PSN, Virtual Console, and GOG I am rebuilding and building a collection I used to have and now will have through these services. Recently PSN had a sale on Final Fantasy games. I walked away from that sale purchasing Final Fantasy I, II, V, VI, and VIII. On top of the fact that I already have VII and IX, which alone could cover me for the rest of the year for gaming. But those aren't the only cases. I got a PSN gift card for Christmas and bought other classics such as Silent Hill, Arc the Lad I and II, and Xenogears. On top of this I've got a couple of Wii games I'm yet to finish up. But lastly the biggest one is PC gaming. Since getting a new laptop a little over a year ago that can actually play games (I used to have a mac) I took advantage of the services available. Since then I have used these services to pick up some older games I want to re-visit, such as the Myst franchise, and Duke Nukem 1, 2, and 3D. And then to pick up some older games I never got to before, such as Phantasmagoria and Theme Hospital. Also the Steam outlet has given me an affordable passage into the modern age of PC gaming. Through that I've picked up titles like Portal 1 and 2, Alice Madness Returns, Borderlands, Bioshock 1 and 2, and the list goes on. Frankly if I listed all of my games I currently own that would be quite a list so I'll get a move on.
That previous paragraph is enough for me to not worry about the Playstation 4 for at least quite some time. If I wanted to (or had the will power) I could make a promise to myself to play through all the games I currently own or any of the games I get in the future before I can pick up a Playstation 4. Essentially literally running out of games to play because I've done everything. Now by that time there will probably already be a new version with all the kinks worked out and at a lowered price, too! Or Playstation 5 will be on the horizon considering how many games I currently have and how long some of them are (I'm somewhat scared of the day I dedicate myself to The Witcher). But I think a part of it is age. I'm not saying I've grown out of video games (I don't know if I ever will). I still play video games almost every day if I have the time. That's the key word, if. If I don't have enough time to play what I've already invested my money in why would I buy a whole new console to add onto that pile? I at least need to lower the number of games I have left to finish. Not only that but I'm at a time in my life where I can't easily afford to drop anywhere from $400-$600 at launch on a new console plus a game or two. Don't get me wrong, I am definitely interested. Playstation is the only company I truly follow anymore in the console wars (I could care less about Wii-U but would still buy it before the XBox 720 or whatever the hell they're going to call it). I just don't have as much time as I used to like the rest of you to get excited about and enjoy a new console like this one. Now time and money isn't the only factor. I definitely have some commentary on the direction gaming is going, too, and in a way it is making me less excited about the future than anything else.
I really hope I don't come off as a bitter old man where all he thinks about is, "Back in my day you see we had [insert something old here] and we liked it that way." I am still very interested in new games that came out and are coming out. When the God of War Ascension demo came out I played through that and I was blown away by it. Not only that but I am very excited to see what Watch Dogs has going for it cause it looks like it may be really innovative. Really the only difference between the gamer in me now and the gamer in me back in the day is time and money. I ironically have more money I could spend on games if I wished but I don't have the time to play them. The exact opposite of when I was a kid of course. This is not a unique problem with this hobby as you can figure. My interest is still very much there, however I have chosen to not involve myself as much because I know I can't afford a lot of them and won't have the time, either, so I try and concentrate on specific titles instead. Did you see the word try in there? This is why I rarely buy anything on day 1 anymore. Actually, I think the last game I did buy on day 1 was Star Wars The Force Unleashed back in late 2008. This is also why I cancelled my Playstation Magazine subscription a couple years ago after 10+ years of subscribing. No sense getting excited and tempted for games I can't always afford or have the time to play. If I don't have the time I may as well wait for the price drop so I can get the same game, only later, but for anywhere from half to a quarter the original price. I pinch many pennies and it has worked out for me. It's how I obtained a movie collection of around 700 on a super tight budget. I know where to look and how to shop for these things.
I also seem to enjoy video games somewhat more than even when I was younger. Cause you see, in many senses video games have gotten so much better. They're bigger than ever, they look better than ever, there is so much variety these days, and there is a better chance that obscure imports will be coming our way. Back in the day I would have never imagined getting titles like Catherine or Tokyo Jungle or Katamari Damacy if it weren't for the direction the market has gone, and download services are only helping in that respect. Also we'll probably never have to worry about something similar that happened with Final Fantasy when the games were first being released. To the few of you that made it this far and don't know what I'm talking about, Square released Final Fantasy 1, 4, and 6 initially but labelled them as 1, 2, and 3. We wouldn't get 2, 3, and 5 until years later after 7 was released in the late 90s. Now I'm sure things like this may still be happening but not on as huge of a franchise. Also with the internet I'm sure fans of said franchise would make it very, VERY aware to the publishers.
Outside of the marketing side of things since games are bigger than ever and look better than ever. We don't have to deal with clunky visuals as much anymore. 3D is now well polished and doesn't require trick 3D ala Duke 3D or Doom by using sprites. Also with polygons the characters no longer look like a hunk of square blocks put together (Virtua Fighter) or sausage links (Metal Gear Solid). Granted a lot of these problems were somewhat fixed by the early 2000s, but it still keeps on looking and feeling better year by year, giving bigger and better variety.
Another thing I love about modern gaming is the console itself. I love the fact that on my PS3 I can play my games, movies, do streaming, and even store photos and music if I wanted to. And this is all in one box. Honestly the only time I ever use anything other than my PS3 for movies or games is if I want to play a Wii or Dreamcast game, or watch a movie in the bedroom where we have a separate DVD player. Game consoles have essentially because home computers but with specific limited purposes. All I can say is that I love this because of everything they do now. As much as I love having a physical copy of a game, it is so convenient (and sometimes cheaper) to have a bunch of digital download games on my PS3 hard drive instead of my shelf so I can make more room for my DVDs (Those I always get the physical copy of). I can just throw on the system, click on the game in the specific folder it's organized under, and boom I'm off an running. Also no worries about the disc not playing, too! Then in terms of price that's where the real charm is. With the Final Fantasy games I picked up recently, granted they were on sale, but even at their original prices it is less than tracking down the original discs. An even better deal came up not too long ago on an old PS1 game, Persona 2. The price for the digital copy is $10, the original disc is very rare and can go as high as $50, $60, or maybe even higher in value (In some instances as high as $100!). So buying it this way is a steal. A game I do plan on picking up eventually (probably will pretty soon).
Frankly I think in many respects that gaming is better than ever and in time I imagine the Playstation 3 will go down as one of my favorite consoles of all time.
However as expected I definitely have some concerns over the direction of gaming in the near future. One of my first thoughts is the social networking and other related online aspects and how it seems to be forced upon instead of made an option.
Being someone that only really uses the internet on his PS3 to download games and stream movies I know I'm not the best person to talk to about this. Based on what I've heard the PS3 does have a pretty terrible online setup when it comes to tracking down friends or pulling together games. The closest experience I have to this is playing through many games of Warhawk and even that was all me jumping in on games in progress. I never hosted one. On the flipside I've heard that XBox Live is pretty incredible in what it does for online, but again since I don't really do online it's hard for me to care. But what I keep noticing is more and more games having a much more present online experience. Is this good? I would say so to those who are interested in it. However I feel like it's presenting itself is in games where it doesn't need to be present. At least as a default.
One game that comes to mind is Tokyo Jungle. A game I've talked about a few times including my full on review from a few months back. That game somewhere along the way decided that it needed to be connected to the internet at all times despite the fact that it's a single player game. Every time I boot up the game I need to scroll through a terms of agreement thing to say yes to. Not a big deal, only takes a few extra seconds. But then whenever I play through survival mode it does something that's an even bigger pain. Whenever I die in survival mode it goes to another screen to count up my score. First off it takes a bit too long for it to go through this process, then when I continue to the next screen it feels the need to connect me to the leaderboard to see that my score is in 17,000th place that day/week, which follows up with me needed to exit out of that screen before I can start up another game. I guess I just don't know why it automatically has the leaderboard come up and forces you to go to it whenever you lose in survival mode. Why not just have an extra menu that you can go to when you want to see how you've done? You know, for the people that actually care! I know I don't because no matter how good I am at a game there will always be someone who is ten thousand times better than I am.
A minor problem compared to other things. And by other things I mean a big problem. I think you might be able to see where this is going. That's right, Diablo III. I've never been a fan of the franchise but I know it's story as of late fairly well. You see, Blizzard is one of the biggest PC gaming developers on the freaking planet. They have roughly the same number of franchises as Nintendo does where they keep on cranking out more into those over and over again and they still seem to shit into a golden toiled and eat breakfast with a diamond spoon. Also it had been over a decade not counting expansions since the last Diablo came out so this has been highly anticipated. Now despite all this, on the night it was released, Diablo III had so much activity going on online that the servers crashed and many people couldn't even play the game for some time (in gamer time a few hours may as well be a few weeks). But beyond that initial crash there was still a lot of trouble with handling everyone who was going online to play. You wanna know why this was such a huge issue and why not everyone could play even by themselves? The game required you to be connected to the internet even to play the single player game. I've heard there's some social aspect to the single player mode but I just find it a bit odd to the need to be online no matter what. It seems like there should at least be a function where they don't need to be online since stuff like this can happen. Why is it so necessary? What's the point? Why not make a mode that IS single player? For more information on this in a more recent example look up the newest Sim City.
I guess that's one of the biggest beefs I have with current and the future of gaming. The social aspect. I have no problems with it being present but I feel like it's being pushed onto gamers all over the board when they may not necessarily want it. I don't know about you but I tend to play video games as an escape. It's where my introverted side comes alive. I can't really say I even play two player games with people in the same room much anymore, and if I do it's something like Wii Sports or the occasional bout in Marvel vs Capcom 2 when I have a friend over. And again, I'm not against multi-player or social networking in games. I just wish that there was an easier option to avoid them for a better experience for the loners in gaming. This is why I don't play MMORPGs (and yes I have tried a couple, they're not for me). I prefer taking on the adventure by myself. It brings the scope into my experience and makes me really feel like the hero. When I anywhere from a few other adventurers all the way up to a whole city's worth of adventurers along with me I don't really feel like I'm the hero, I feel like a sidekick. It kills the sense of excitement and adventure to someone like me. In those games I feel like I'm trying to be the life of the party at a party I wasn't invited to where I don't know anybody. So that's pretty much the reason I don't play MMOs, that and because I don't feel a strong sense of story with them. Just feels like a series of fetch quests and grinding upon grinding with no closure. I like closure. That's why I wasn't exactly excited when I found out there will be more Metal Gear Solid games. Just doesn't feel necessary. But maybe I'll pull that rant up in a future post.
No there is a partial element of this MMO feel in an excellent PS3 exclusive, Demon's Souls, a single player action RPG. The game connects to the network because there is a small element of social networking within the game. There isn't multiplayer or anything like that. What this game has is more along the lines of tips and warnings. Players can drop messages in areas that may prove to be a bit difficult for someone who doesn't know what's coming up. This can be helpful but the game is so difficult you'll probably just learn on your own anyway. Also, when you get to an area where another player died it shows their death animation. Again suggesting what is coming. These hints and warnings help to a point but I never felt that it was enough of a game changer that I couldn't live without it. I would actually prefer they weren't there or I had more of an option against them because it goes back to the MMO reasons for not enjoying parts of a game. It gives me that sense that I'm not the one in power here. I love that game but I can't stand the online elements. It feels so unnecessary. If I want tips I'll go to the internet. My laptop is usually near me when playing games.
Now I know not every gaming company is jumping on board with social interactions, or feel as strongly about it. Nintendo seems to enjoy it to a point but from what I've heard makes it incredibly difficult to use on the Wii, Wii-U, and the DS and 3DS. Something with friend codes or what not? I don't know. The only online I've done is checking out their online shop for digital downloads. It just feels that everything is slowly migrating toward online. Just don't think it is something that is necessary to be required.
Okay, this is going to sound like I'm a bitter old man but remember when a game console was just a game console? Sounds like I'm contradicting myself because I was just singing a lot of praise for what the PS3 does and how much I like to make out with it because of it. But there's a sense of enjoyment and simplicity when I put in a cartridge or disc, pop on the power button, and there's the game. No long startup, no updates, no dashboard to deal with initially (unless you want/need to for some consoles), no need to get connected online, and especially no DLC to get the full experience! The game was all there and it was ready for you right off the bat. The last console I believe was true blue to this method was the Sega Dreamcast. It had no extra bells and whistles outside a pretty badass memory card. It played games and the games it had, had it's features right there on the disc. Nothing else to it other than that. Yes it did have online but that was mostly for Phantasy Star Online and other select games.
Maybe I'm just tired of going through long processes just to play a game. Whenever I want to play something on my PS3, whether it's a modern or retro game, there's a process. First I need to power on the console. I wait for it to load up. Then I navigate over to the game I want to play and hit start. But that's not always it. If I'm playing a modern game I may need to log in online first. Then the unskippable screens with the names of the 18 developers and distributors have to come up for you to see. Then the game loads up to the menu unless there's an unskippable opening video for the game. Now I realize that was a bit of an exaggeration but there are games out there that do have similar experiences. One game in particular that comes to mind is Metal Gear Solid 4. One of the best games on the PS3 but it has it's issues with loading and getting to the gameplay. It's far from "pick up and play." As a matter of fact you'll be waiting for a while when you first start playing the game. First there's the initial startup of the PS3 followed by selecting the game in the XMB. Then you may encounter an update for the game so that could take anywhere from a couple minutes to quite a few depending on your connection or the size of the update. After that the game does the initial installment (never mind the full install or the installment at the beginning of each chapter, depending on how you proceed) and that takes around 8-10 minutes. Then you start up the game. The opening is pretty long as with the other cutscenes in this game. There is minor interactivity in the opening but basically from the time you put in the disc for the first time to the moment you start actually playing the game as it is supposed to be presented is around 30 minutes or more (all estimated times).
Again I am obviously exaggerating some of this but as a whole this is true. The games that are the quickest and easiest to boot up are the actual retro games, meaning either the original discs of, or the roms of Playstation games from back in the day. That's because these are unchanged unlike some of the "proper" re-released that are optimized for playback specifically on an HDTV. Lots of times there are specific developers that will re-work it. Whereas the rom are just that. Roms. Sony went back into their archives and released those roms back onto the network allowing for download. When I boot up my digital copy of Jet Moto it is literally the same thing if I had the original disc that came out back in 1995. On the flipside when I boot up a game on my Dreamcast I pop in the disc, hit the power button, I can choose to sit through or skip the opening logo, and then it's maybe a few skipable developer/publisher screens and then I'm pretty much right at the main menu. It's a quick and easy process and it's something I've got to say I miss. Is it nostalgia? Probably, yeah. But gaming was like this for three decades before consoles became a combination of things instead of just a gaming console.
One thing I realized recently that has me less excited than usual has to do with how the new consoles are being put together. It always seemed from generation to generation there was some sort of big upgrade or big reason to get excited for a new console. Granted for many years that was something as simple as better graphics and sound, but there was usually enough of a difference to set the previous one apart. Take the Playstation for example. First console is a pretty standard console. It plays disc based games in 2D and 3D environments and it also plays regular music CDs. Not much else to say about it besides the actual games that were released for it. Then came the Playstation 2. The PS2 had far superior graphics (if you were still counting bits then it had 4 times as many), better sound, and new technologies that go beyond what was previously not possible within a game such as expanded worlds. Also the console itself had a better user interface, would play old PS1 games with a smoothing feature to make them look better, and the console would also play DVDs. Then the PS3 came along. The PS3 offered graphics and sound beyond anything the gaming world has seen before. It also expanded what it can do because not only it can play PS3 games but also PS1, PS2 (for the early models), and a library of downloadable games from the PSN. It also offered a blu-ray player, multi-media options that include storing music, photos, movies, and even a download and rental service for movies among many other apps that would come along later that I would never use except Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Basically each generation offered something leaps and bounds new when compared to the previous generation. Each time we thought "What else could they possibly do?" there was something else added. Granted those things weren't always gaming related but they were features none the less. As I stated before I primarily use my PS3 for most of my entertainment needs. But when I look at the new consoles that have come out or are coming out I can't help but feel underwhelmed.
The reason why I feel underwhelmed is because I feel like a lot of the new consoles are selling based entirely on a single gimmick added into essentially the same/similar console as before. Take Nintendo for example. They are pretty notorious for re-releasing the same console in multiple version. How many versions of the DS have there been? Standard, XL, DSi, etc. But when they released the 3DS it was marketed as a whole new console. But when I look at it, it feels more like the jump that was made from Game Boy to Game Boy Color. In other words I feel like the 3DS is more of a DS 1.5 (Now with 3D!) in the same way the Game Boy Color felt like Game Boy 1.5 (Now with color!). Yes there are new games that are exclusives to this new version, but I feel like it's not enough to really call it a new console, just a new version of the same thing with some tweaks. Staying on track with Nintendo I feel this is pretty similar with the Wii-U. When I look at that console I pretty much see the Wii with HD outputs and an iPad attachment. I'm sure there will be elements that will effect the gaming experience because of their new gimmick, but that's what it feels like, a gimmick. It's like a new console is banking on a peripheral. Granted it always takes time for a console to get on it's feet and utilize their updates to the best of their abilities, but again the new consoles don't feel that new at least from what I've seen and played. Just new boxes that support new controllers or gimmicks.
I guess it's no surprise that it went in this direction where the new releases felt more like new computers being released. Technically speaking there's all kinds of new chips and bits under the hood, but the overall execution feels very similar to most of the world and very recognizable to what they've seen before minus the new controller or 33333DDDDD! I came to realize something similar to this when I was asked what the best choice would be for a person to buy a home gaming console (not portable. I don't know much about those). My reaction was always to suggest a Wii if they wanted to get something on a budget or the person I spoke to had kids. But then when it came to a "hardcore" gaming console it was a matter of which exclusives said person would want more. I'm of course biased toward Sony but when it came down to it the question would be, "Do you like Halo or Uncharted more?" "Gears of War or God of War?" "Kinect or Move?" And even then they may still look so similar to the average gamer so it's hard to tell from person to person outside of telling them what my personal preference is and why.
I think that's why I'm still waiting for the PS4 to have something come out that really impresses me. From what I can tell it feels like another PS3 upgrade and this was pretty well backed up when I saw the first screenshots of the user interface. It looked very similar in style and execution of what is currently on the PS3. Don't fix what isn't broken I guess. But if the investment of a new console is being proposed I want it to have something that will sell me on spending that much all at once outside of backwards compatibility and exclusive titles. I've got more than enough games to last me for a long time so I don't see any reason to get a PS4 right away outside of keeping up with the Joneses. And if they are trying to sell me on exclusive games they'll really have to sell me. I've already got my favorite gaming console of all time, the Sega Dreamcast, and am working on building up my library for that console. Something that isn't nearly as expensive (for the most part). Also I'm not strong into the online experience nor do I feel it's necessary to share my experiences online when I'm playing single player outside of my reviews in this. Outside of trophies of course, I'm addicted to collecting those little fuckers. Currently working on getting the platinum trophy in God of War III! I also don't find it hard to live without certain games. The reason why is because either I know I'll be able to get it later for cheaper (Assassin's Creed 3, God of War Ascension) or I don't find the investment into the console just to get said game is worth it in the end. Someone can put a lot of money into something just so they can play both Halo and Killzone.
Now I have watched the press conference to announce the PS4. I admit when I first started working on this post I had not seen it yet. But I downloaded it so I could see it and judge everything properly. I will admit a lot of what I heard and saw was pretty cool. I think it's really neat that there's going to be cross-play between the PS4 and the Vita for (they claim) every PS4 game. I think it's cool that there's a hibernation feature where you can essentially pause your game when powering down the console, and then start back up where you left off when you come back to it later (all without having to keep the console on the entire time). That would be really convenient if something came up last second and I don't have to say "Let me get to the next save point first" (Although that's rarely said anymore with the auto-save feature in place.) I also think it's really cool that they're improving on the move controller cause it did have a bumpy start and I would like to see that peripheral succeed. I once intended to get it but after it was released I saw little reason to. But if they can keep some of these promises for the Move I may have to reconsider. Then lastly I will say that the visuals are pretty incredible. They showed that closeup of the old man's face and I couldn't believe how good it looked. Also a couple of the other trailers did have that look and feel that a CG movie has. It was really impressive. But of course... I have some beef.
I've come to realize that game companies and politicians have a lot in common. They're both campaigning for you to choose them. In order to make that decision they're making a lot of promises to you on what their game console/term in office will be like. Now since we're not living in a time where it's actually present we can't say for sure. It's all a matter of taking their word for it. Too many times have I been disappointed by details of these promises for a new game or console that it really is hard for me to spend a ton of money on it before I get a proper assessment. There have been and still are games I would buy day 1 if I had the money. God of War Ascension is one that comes to mind. If I had the additional cash I would have no problem buying that game, full price, right now, cause I know it can keep it's promises and the demo lived up to a lot of good promises and then some. I also would consider doing the same with The Last of Us or Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut. On one hand The Last of Us looks like something pretty incredible, and then Deadly Premonition is technically a re-release but from what I've heard it's so bizarre and out there that it would be right up my alley. However many many many games are promised every year and many of them bring disappointment in the end. Most recent example of this is Aliens: Colonel Marines. Apparently it had been a long time coming of a game and people were really anticipating it. Then when it came out it had nothing but scathing reviews. Was I surprised? Not really. From an outsider's perspective who knew hardly anything on it looked at it and didn't feel like it would live up to the supposed amazing promises it was making.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is this. Sony can and has been making plenty of promises for their future that frankly look pretty amazing. There are some inherit problems, though. One being that launches are never that smooth. Each console usually has a clunky start because the market has limited choices in games and many of those games may have/were issued out quickly to make the launch so they're not as well put together as they could be. Lots of times there's only one or two go to games right off the bat. I know the PS3 launch was a bit rough because the games they had available weren't all that stellar. A couple of the first games I had for my PS3 (I got it the February following launch, it had been out 4 months) included Def Jam Icon and Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire. While both looked really good at the time and had a handfull of good ideas but their execution was mediocre at best. What I should have picked up was Resistance but I didn't get that til later on. Basically when the PS3 launched the few good titles in my personal opinion included Resistance (as I previously stated), Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Tony Hawk's Project 8. Everything else was either garbage or not noteworthy enough. But even with these "top 3" I didn't feel any of them were exceptional titles. I always felt Resistance was overrated, Marvel Ultimate Alliance was fun enough and the same goes with Tony Hawk's Project 8. However the last two weren't really made to optimize the console because it was also created with ports for last gen consoles as well. I distinctly remember seein both PS2 and PS3 copies of some of the same games.
Now in terms of launches it wasn't just Playstation who was cured with a rough launch. For example, outside of Halo do you even remember what games launched with the original XBox? And of those how many of them were any good? Chances are very few and even less on that second question. In that same era the PS2 basically had The Bouncer, Fatavision, and SSX. Going back a generation or two then it's not much different. Yes the N64 had Super Mario 64 but other than that they had very very few titles available. The Dreamcast on the other hand had a pretty strong list of launch titles including Sonic Adventure, Marvel VS Capcom, Soul Caliber, and House of the Dead 2, but that's an exception to the fad. All in all I can guarantee you no matter what console you look up will have a pretty weak set of titles available on day 1. This is what makes day 1 so underwhelming and why I'm choosing to wait around a little longer. I truly believe the PS4 will do great things like the PS3 did. I just think it'll take some time. You know, like every other console that has ever been released (minus the Dreamcast. That Sommbitch was incredible right out the door and only got better!).
Again I think part of this is age but also lack of interest in some of the tech advancements as of late. As I'm sure many people can agree, we've come about as far as we can with graphics for the time being. All the advancements of that have been pretty subtle as of the last 5-6 years. So having new consoles or games that feature something we've never seen before isn't as present as I feel it used to be. Biggest example from the past would be the transition from a strictly 2D sprite world to 3D polygon gaming. That completely changed everything because it gave the gaming industry a whole new world to work with that was far less limited. Then as 3D grew it just kept looking better and better. But that's because it was so drastically different it was noticeable, making it more impact-full But these days graphics don't seem to matter as much as they used to (not that they ever should have because it's all in the gameplay). Part of this is due to independent developers and Nintendo's game plan. Games from every level of expertise seems to be coming out these days from your neighbors garage all the way up to mega AAA games. So many games will have less impressive visuals and other tech but may still be entertaining enough to hit the market and make money. And heck, some of the most popular and most played games in the world have not so top level visuals (Angry Birds and Minecraft for example). Then when Nintendo chose to stick with a much simpler visual style and tech for the Wii for the purposes of making it a cheaper console that made many people forget about graphics as they just enjoyed the games that came out. Visuals haven't mattered in a long time and I can't imagine it being much of a concern over the coming years.
In terms of other tech advancements I am very uninterested. I've played around with a 3DS a few times and whenever I put the 3D on I would barely play before turning it off. I can see how it would benefit for certain parts of certain games, otherwise it just feels like a way to sell more consoles. 3D is something that hasn't excited me since I was a kid. And even then it wore off fast. I also don't like how it's recently been a thing in movies, too, but that's a whole other rant. Although I would probably get crucified because I would be making an argument against 3D in film but I still haven't seen what is apparently the holy grail of 3D, Avatar.
Another tech advancement that I have had little to no interest lately is touch screens. I realize it is very futuristic in concept as we've all seen them in sci-fi movies growing up. However I still feel it is a very flawed technology. Before I continue I would like to point out that I do have an iPhone. I love the living hell outta it but it is not without it's problems. But the only games I play for it are ones fit for it. The most "hardcore" game I've played on it and enjoyed is Final Fantasy II. I've tried other "hardcore" games on it and thought they were shit. And the port of GTA3, while fun in concept, was poor in execution. Anyway, touch screens. Maybe this is one reason why I never got into the DS. I like my controllers to be like my games, movies, etc, compact into one definite package that gives you everything you need and no extra bullshit that frustrates you along the way. So the idea of playing through a DS game where I know at some point I'm gonna have to jumble with a stylis to play the game properly is a pain to me. I get annoyed enough when I have to keep tossing around my wiimote when I play Cooking Mama and Super Paper Mario. This is also why I was pretty underwhelmed by the PS Vita. I'm always up for supporting Sony but I felt they tried to focus in on the touch screen way too much. But they took a step forward by having touch technology on the front AND the back. Just seems way too excessive use of the tech and make games more jumbled than intuitive.
But that brings me to the most recent example, the Wii-U. Now I haven't played much of the Wii-U outside of an in-store demo and that was Rayman Origins so it wasn't a fair assessment of the technology. I guess the part that gets me is the fact that people are now essentially willing to play games with a controller the size of an iPad in their lap (heck, it pretty much is an iPad with the Nintendo logo. I'm pretty sure if Apple and Nintendo paired up they'd conquer the world). This blows my mind because in the past the idea of a large controller was a big pain. I don't know if you remember this or not but the XBox released a smaller version of their controller after the first one was found to be too big by the mass markets. And it was, it was HUGE by comparison. I guess it was a good pairing with their 90 ton gaming console. So since large controllers have been a problem in the past I just wonder how well this one will do. I realize there's room for innovation (whether it is necessary or worthwhile is left up to question) but I feel it is a hard sell. Also, I wonder how much Nintendo is banking on the same families that bought and have been playing around with the Wii and DS over the years. I mean, yeah, everyone and their grandmother (literally) has a Wii and DS these days. But I just don't see the Wii-U having as much of a wide appeal. I don't even see it having a ton of appeal with the actual gamers in the gaming market, either, outside of Nintendo fan boys. I don't see it as something that will sell the console to a new market, either. A lot of people would just rather play on their iPads that they already have instead of buying a whole new console that is hooked up to their TV, as opposed to on the go. Besides, many people who bought the Wii have treated it like a $200 virtual bowling game. Cause outside of that there were still plenty of games that didn't make big sales despite the number of consoles out there. Besides that I look at the console and it seems like just such a cumbersome experience. Not to mention you'd probably get whiplash by going up and down between screens or get confused because of what is happening between the two.
There are two primary reasons why I only think of touch screen as a novelty for a home console controller and how I will (probably) never get into it outside of my iPhone:
1. No matter what you're doing you're obstructing the screen.
Now I don't know how much your hands are but mine are pretty big. When I'm playing a game on my iPhone the screen is already pretty small so sometimes I have to pinch and expand to take a closer look. But then when I start touching the screen here's a big glimpse of my hand getting in the way of everything that's happening in the game. Granted the games I play on my iPhone aren't terribly intense but in some instances it can be a problem. When I play Angry Birds it's not an issue because that game you can take your time with. But I also have Tapper (a remake of Root Beer Tapper essentially). If you haven't played it here's a clip of the original game it is based on. For the iPhone version just imagine it with updated graphics and exotic locations. It's an old school style arcade game where the game never really ends. It just keeps getting harder and harder until you die (Just like real life, harde-har-har, sick of that joke). Now the iPhone version does have a definite end because there are different levels at different bars, but the intense difficulty still builds with each level. When I'm trying so serve drinks to all these people rushing in it only makes it more difficult when I have to navigate around my hand as I'm trying to get to the right line at the right bar. It gets less fun and more annoying. Still wish I had my own cabinet of the original game. Been searching for that for a long time. This isn't the only example, though. I had some similar difficulties while playing through Duke Nukem 3D on my phone. But come to think of it that was a clunky transfer (THAT DIDN'T INCLUDE ALL THE LEVELS!) anyway so part of that game's problem was with how it played.
I get why a touch screen is handy because you don't have to worry about using the cursor or joystick on the controller to get to a certain area, or even a mouse. You can just move your hand over and tap. Nice, quick, simple, easy to do. But I feel this brings more problems than it solves. In the end touch screen is a novelty that makes us think of the sci-fi movies we watched as a kid. Pretty sure one of the main reason touch screen even exists is because of this novelty. I don't feel it provides much of an advancement in technology outside of something really cool to play around with. Okay, before I start getting a tech speech I will say this. It is handy having one screen account for multiple buttons that don't need to be installed making for a sleeker device. Recently the church I go to replaced their boiler. I got to see it up close and what was previously a machine covered in buttons and a minimal screen has been upgraded to one screen that is a touch screen. It does provide convenience to what would otherwise be very clunky to work with, so I do find benefit in touch screen that way. Still I feel a machine would work so much easier with something like an arrow key or a mouse. So much more definite especially since, as I've stated, you can't always see what you're doing because your hand is covering it and to add onto that because it isn't always the most responsive.
2. You have to be actually looking at the touch screen to see what you're doing.
This one primarily applies to gaming on a home console with a touch screen as a controller. One thing that makes a person good with their hand eye coordination is muscle memory. So using this skill that makes a person good at a game and ready to do quick reflexes at the drop of a hat is knowing what buttons to push and when. Now to get there you need to know what to do without looking. How do you know this? You can feel where they are. This is my biggest problem with introducing touch screens into modern gaming that isn't portable. I guess with portable since it's all there in your hands you can take it or leave it, but when you bring it to a medium that requires you to concentrate on the screen and not the controller visually then there's a problem. You can't actually feel what button you're pushing and every game would have a potentially different set up. Like a more futuristic version of the Jaguar controller (I love obscure references). The first example that comes to mind for potential trouble is obviously on the Wii-U. I remember hearing that there's a port of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 on the console. Now the game pad does have actual buttons which can be used for moves but I also remember hearing there will be touch screen options for moves as well. What a cheat and what a problem is what I thought to myself. A cheat because I heard it was a quick button to perform special moves, eliminating any sort of skill in the process. And a problem because a game like that can incredibly heated in battle where every step can count. If you've got people fumbling with their U-Pad to hit that special move when you're fighting Heihachi even on an easier difficulty I can imagine that will cause some losses in battle. Modern games have made it easier and easier to win in video games whether that was by lowering the difficulty, holding your hand the entire way, or by literally allowing you to buy your way to the end. But now we've got fighting games fighting for us. One of the last truly skill based games that didn't hold your hand and now it's being made easier, well, unless you want to play with a controller 3 times the size of a normal one (Yes I know that is just one example but it could be a start).
Now if the trend of touch screen controllers continues with gaming this definitely will be a problem. Imagine not having a sense of touch in your fingers and every time you wanted Mario to jump you had to look down to make sure you were hitting A. Or in a more intense situation imagine you're Kratos and you accidentally hit the jump button when you needed to hit attack or grab against a tough boss. It can make all the difference. Because of things like this I don't truly believe there will ever be a 100% full touch screen controller outside of the portable market. Just keep that in mind. But this is another one of those gimmicks that I guarantee will catch on only to create more annoyances with controllers, and therefore forcing features that use it or else it's a waste of space and time. This is why almost every Wii game requires some sort of motion control no matter the type of game. That will now be replaced with/put along side with touch screen controls. It just seems like such a hassle to be constantly looking up and down between the screen and the controller. And since they're not solid buttons you can't always rely on it being the most responsive or you may not always have the best aim in a panic hitting potentially the wrong button more likely than a regular button. It just seems odd that gaming controllers are moving this way since it by nature doesn't respond the way it should. The only way I could see this working is if the screen could provide you with bumps on where to press. But if that were to develop then what would the point be? I just don't get it and think we should stick with standard controllers. Touch screen just feel so fragile and unreliable.
So what does this mean for the PS4? After everything I've said it seems like I don't have hopes at all for the future of gaming. Well I'm always interested in what it will bring out next. If it weren't for that open mind I would have never experienced games like Heavy Rain. I'm also the type that enjoys wacky and out there imports so I think it would be pretty clear I have an open mind for what's to come no matter how different it may be. This is why I keep my eyes on games like Journey and The Last of Us because they set out to do something different. Unlike the COD games that come out every year that basically feel the same. But I still look forward to a certain level of "same" in the new generation because that's comforting. That's why I can't wait to get my hands on God of War Ascension. I've played the demo and yes it is very similar to the previous games. But I can't think of a God of War game I didn't like. I really liked even the PSP games. They were brilliant for what they were. Why wouldn't I enjoy the new one? Sometimes you just know what you like and it's good to stick with that. So I guess I should apologize to the COD fans. If that's what you like then that's cool. It's just not for me. But I guess to sell me on a PS4 there will have to be a good balance of the different and the same to keep me interested.It's just hard to say because there's only so much that we know right now. But from what we do know it's either things I don't care about or can't afford to do.
The social networking aspect where people can jump in my game to help me out is something I wouldn't want. I wouldn't feel like that's me playing the game proper, essentially "cheating" in a way. I'm the type of person who likes to complete it entirely on my own. I do look up walkthroughs if I'm having trouble but then I actually do it myself instead of having someone else do it for me. Then I do think the cross play looks fantastic jumping from console to portable, but I don't have the extra cash to pick up a PS Vita. I'd rather have my PS3 (or 4 one day), build that collection, then also build the collection of my Dreamcast and bring in the occasional title to the Wii as well. I don't necessarily need the on the go gaming cause usually when I'm on the go I'm too preoccupied. Lastly it's not really worth the price to buy a Vita just so I can keep playing when my wife wants to use the big TV to watch Star Trek. I'd rather drop that 250 on something else (Still wouldn't say no to a Vita if someone wants to send it my way, though). Then lastly there are the visuals and the overall use of the hardware. I'm sure some of the tech junkies reading this were going nuts because I barely touched on the actual tech of the console. Here's the thing, that stuff is pretty Greek to me. I just look at what it looks, sounds, and plays like when the disc is spinning and a controller is in my hands. I understand that the hardware appears to yet again be very state of the art. The evidence shows in the game videos presented at the conference. However utilizing that power is something that someone actually needs to be skilled at. Just because a console has the power doesn't mean the games themselves will. I mean, take God of War III for example. I feel this is one of the best looking games on the console. The developers did just about everything they could to make it look great and I still think it does. On that same console is a game called White Knight Chronicles. Not nearly as AAA a game title but when you see the finished product the visuals and feel to the game are very last-gen-like. It just doesn't feel like the game utilized enough power of the console and as a result brought out a lackluster, un-visually appealing game. I still enjoy the game, I'm just trying to point out that just because the game is on the console doesn't mean it's using the power it should be.
In the end it's all a crap shoot. Personally I'm going to take it easy with this one. I'll sit back and see what happens at launch and where the console goes after that. I know for a fact there will be a better edition of the console to come out later and at a lower price. That's the edition I will more than likely be getting. I have already started putting money aside for that and eventually a new, bigger TV to play it on. It'll be some time before I experience this console in my home. Until then I look forward to seeing what it does and can't wait to play the in-store kiosk for a good sampling.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Review: The 85th Academy Awards
Sunday February 24th the 85th annual Academy Awards aired. It's a night just about everyone who loves movies was looking forward to. And who wouldn't? The show typically has something for just about everyone. There's the red carpet with hit or miss styles all over the board. The show itself always has a great dose of comedy. For the musical people there's always at least a few musical numbers. And then chances are someone or a specific movie you love will win at least one of the awards which will give you the satisfaction an artist you appreciate got the just award you wanted them to get. This show is also met with a lot of controversy and by that I mean a lot of people whine and moan over who didn't win and how some people were overlooked, etc, etc, etc. I have a strong opinion and thoughts on stuff like that but that's for another post I'm working on.
The awards that aired on this last Sunday night, though, was one of the finest examples of the show that I've seen in years. After a few disappointing shows over the last few years I'm glad to see they got a spring in their step again bringing back a lot of the great things that make the show fun but also brought some freshness to the show. Enjoy as I go through each part of the show below:
The Red Carpet: I don't care about fashion or who is wearing who. I did watch this but it was casually. I enjoy the brief interviews they have that don't involve their dresses. Moving on.
The Host: You never really know what you'll get unless you've seen them host before. Billy Crystal hosted a ton of Academy Awards shows in the past and he was excellent and charming every single time. So when you saw his name attached you knew it would be good. This year was a surprise. I would have never guessed they'd have Seth MacFarlane host, let alone anyone like him. I always saw him as a lower peg celebrity. Granted Family Guy is wildly successful but mostly to teens and college students. He's hardly a household name, though. So I'm not sure what it was that drew the academy to him but I must say I am glad they did. He was absolutely hilarious every time he was on stage. And compared to previous years he was the god of hosting. I don't even remember who hosted last year but it clearly didn't make enough of an impression on me. And then a couple years ago when Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted it was one of the worst shows I've seen for this tradition. So go you academy for picking someone so funny and entertaining. If anyone had doubt about Seth's talent, it was proven over the course of this 3 1/2 hour show.
The Introduction: One thing I've liked about the introductions to the Academy Awards was the fun video that was put together at the beginning. In recent years this involved humorously splicing the host into all the movies that are up for awards. Otherwise in older years they put together pre-recorded sketches or initial tributes to the awards as a whole and then it's off to the opening monologue. When I saw this year didn't have one but went straight to the opening monologue I was a little bummed out to be honest. But what came over the next twenty something minutes was something so hilarious and incredible that the show could have ended there and had the results posted online and I would have been satisfied.
So the opening monologue initially was really funny with some fun, clever jokes. One of my favorites being the Argo joke pointing out how it was nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director, "A movie so classified the academy doesn't even know who directed it." But then out of nowhere here comes William Shatner as Captain Kirk. The bit was that Captain Kirk went back in time to stop Seth from screwing up the show. A headline shows that Seth was the worst host in history. So of course he asks how such a horrible result came from this. Basically it came down to three specific events.
The first was a song that would offended all of the actresses in the audience. Basically it was a fast paced, Broadway-esque song naming and quoting all the actresses and movies they were in where we saw their boobs. This was one of those bits that had me laughing so hard I had to hold it in so I could hear more of the song. To explain it wouldn't do it justice so I'll just link it here. The next was a re-enactment of the movie Flight but entirely with sock puppets. This plays out exactly the way you would think but I'm gonna link to this one as well. Between those two I don't know which one I liked more because they both made me laugh about the same. Really, really hard. The last one didn't quite make me laugh as much but it was still pretty great. Basically Seth was backstage during the show and was, for a lack of better words, coming onto Sally Fields, by dressing up as the flying nun and expressing to her how much he adored the flying nun and even found it to be hot. After a brief back and forth they start making out and drive off in a call back to Smokey and the Bandit. I was going to link that one, too, but I couldn't find just that skit alone. You should be able to find the full opening monologue somewhere which would include that skit.. This paired with the "improvements" which were very impressive song and dance numbers made for an amazing opening that was pretty much a show in and of itself. The rest of the show couldn't top it in humor but the next 3 hours were still very entertaining and engaging.
Sideshows: The biggest hits or misses is the extra material that comes up between the awards. This is usually musical numbers, honoring someone in particular or a franchise, or banter at the mic before they present the award. This is also an effort to extend the show even longer which I don't feel is very necessary cause the show is so long as is.
This year had less musical numbers than usual. Well, less showey musical numbers than usual. It still had a lot of music just not the wild stunt type music numbers. I remember a few years back when they started having live performances for all of the nominated original songs throughout the show. That wasn't the case this year and that's okay. The song may be fit for the title but it doesn't necessarily mean it's fit for the show. What they did this year was a couple of the nominated songs (Skyfall and Everybody Needs a Best Friend) which were both great. Skyfall was a knockout performance and Everybody Needs a Best Friend was adorable as Norah Jones can be. But then they also had a performance to celebrate fifty years of James Bond where Shirley Bassey came out to sing Goldfinger (She was the original performer for the movie). However since Goldfinger came out in 1964 she has aged a bit and her pipes are a bit rusty. It was a rough song to get through and the same goes for when Barbara Streisand came out to sing at the end of the dead people list. For the most part the musical portions were enjoyable minus those two, I'm just trying to figure out why it was such an important thing to celebrate a decade passing since Chicago won for best picture aside from the need to fill in some time with yet another musical number. Oh, and they had a song from Les Mis where the major characters came out to sing. It was weird cause the voices kept getting better and better until Russel Crowe came out and brought it down a notch.
Another thing that is inevitable at these shows is the banter at the mic before presenting the award. I cannot stand this and I think it's obnoxious. It's weird cause usually these are good actors, sometimes award winning actors, but the crap that gets pulled off at the mic comes off as so cheesy and trying way too hard. I especially felt this way with Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy who are normally very funny people. Nothing much to note on it aside from me stating my opinion of it as a whole.
Since I've already talked about the incredible opening to the show and now have covered most else of what happened outside the awards there was still one more quick thing I wanted to mention. The reveal of the best picture award. In case you didn't see the broadcast, when the presenter came out for the best picture award we all saw that it was going to be Jack Nicholson. I thought to myself, "Awesome! I love that dude!" But then he introduced the actual presenter. Talk about upping the ante because they got Michelle freaking Obama to present the award via live feed from Washington D.C. How on God's green earth do you expect to top that in the future? Gonna get the actual President? The new Pope? Raise Ghandi from the dead? Maybe they'll just go with the 2Pac hologram if that's still exciting in the future.
The Results: This is what everyone watches for. They want to know who wins. Also everyone likes to make their predictions on these things which I did with my fam. My wife and I were at my parents house watching the whole show and beforehand we filled out a ballot with our predictions. In the end I wound up getting approx. half of them correct. Allow me to explain my choices and thoughts on the results.
Best Live Action Short
-Nominees: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry
Best Animated Short
-Nominees: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Paperman, The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare
Best Documentary Short Subject
-Nominees: Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, Redemption
Best Documentary Feature
-Nominees: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man
-Winner: Searching for Sugar Man
Honestly I didn't see any of these. I took a wild guess at all of them for who would win and got them all wrong. Nothing much else to say on those. However there was a screening of the shorts at a local theatre that I could have gone to. But that was the same day I went to Zero Dark Thirty and I know I liked that more than I would have likes any of the shorts.
Best Costume Design
-Nominees: Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman
-Winner: Anna Karenina
Best Hair and Makeup
-Nominees: Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Miserables
-Winner: Les Miserables
Best Production Design
-Nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln
These are a few categories I can't say I pay a lot of attention to. I don't think many people do consciously. Obviously if the right closing and design wasn't chosen it wouldn't have the right look for the story, but I can't think of too many times when I was watching a movie and things felt out of place for these aspects. However for the ones that did it the best in their opinion I would for the most part have to say I agree with it.
The first one is something I find boring and predictable. It's almost never fails to have the Victorian period piece win the costume award. It makes it boring and uninteresting. I get that those would be really difficult to put together but does that period always deserve to win every single time? Whatever, good for them.
However I can say that I definitely agree with the choice for hair and makeup. Still haven't seen the movie yet but from the clips I've seen the look to the characters is pretty intense and fitting for the subject matter. I saw those shows of Hugh Jackman looking like garbage and Anne Hathaway looking like she's been through hell. Hitchcock appeared to be more-so imitation and The Hobbit looked about as good as the rest of the LOTR movies. Good but not quite outstanding. I definitely feel the right choice was made here.
Then lastly the production design for Lincoln was pretty fantastic. The look, the feel, everything was superb. Far better than The Hobbit which sadly had a bit of a fake look to it, a decline in quality from it's previous installments. Really the only thing I didn't care for in Lincoln was the style and execution in how Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon-Levitt looked. I wasn't quite sold on them. Otherwise great work Lincoln!
Best Sound Mixing
-Nominees: Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
-Winner: Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing
-Nominees: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty
-Winner: Tie between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty
Best Film Editing
-Nominees: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Visual Effects
-Nominees: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel's The Avengers, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman
-Winner: Life of Pi
-Nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
-Winner: Life of Pi
The technical aspects of a film is something I do tend to pay more attention to. You usually can tell if a film did these parts right because you find yourself not thinking about the technical portions and believing what is happening on screen. Some of these I tend to notice more than others, but I do have a few things to say on these like everything else here.
Sound mixing and editing is something I can't say I have a strong opinion about. When it comes to sound I mostly pay attention to the music but can appreciate the sound that comes through as well. However I tend to not notice it unless it stands out to me pretty strongly in one direction or another. Otherwise I felt that Skyfall had well put together sound as well as Zero Dark Thirty. Glad to see they both got an award but I feel it's a bit of B.S. that there was a tie. I mean, seriously? You'd think they'd have a tie breaker of some kind. And this isn't even one of the bigger awards where it would be a bigger deal if there was a tie. This is a technical aspect. Would it really have been that hard to pick one over the other when you already have to select one out of nine films to say was the best overall?
Film editing is another thing can really can make or break a film so it is very important. Linger on something too long may make the film feel awkward and have a strange, maybe slower than it should be pacing to it. At the same time if all you do is quick cuts then it gets confusing and dizzying. So believe it or not there's more to the art than simply putting it all together. You've got to know where to cut everything. I didn't care for a lot of Argo's cinematography because it had far too many extreme closeup shots that seem to be taking Hollywood by storm as of recent years, but I do remember it was all pieced together to keep it exciting. Well done.
Visual effects I imagine picked the right one. Again since I haven't seen Life of Pi I can't properly judge it, but damn does that tiger look good in those clips. In terms of the rest they all looked good but not substantially good. I felt The Hobbit didn't look much different than the previous LOTR movies released almost a decade ago. The Avengers looked great but was also plagued with a few too many instances of things looking computery. Then Prometheus was more of the same. Did look great and had some awesome organic effects, yet it didn't quite cut the mustard in the long run. Lots of instances where the visuals were a bit off.
What I say for cinematography will be similar to what I've already talked about. Skyfall was framed well but had similar problems that a lot of action movies these day have, shot in a way that is hard to tell what's going on (Especially the night shots in China). And again, haven't seen the other ones so I'll have to take their word for it.
Best Animated Film
-Nominees: Brave, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, Pirates: Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph
I was really happy to see this win. This is one of the very few categories where I had a strong opinion about who would win and I am so glad that Brave won. I adored Brave. There's something about Pixar that I felt with Brave but didn't with a lot of their other movies. Outside of Toy Story 1, 2, and 3, Pixar's movies have entertained me but I've never been nuts about them. They were just missing something I felt or weren't doing something quite right to tickle my fancy. I'm not sure what it was about Brave but it grabbed a hold of me and didn't let go. I loved every minute of it and sure enjoyed it more than any of the other nominees (Minus Wreck-It Ralph, I can't judge that one because I haven't seen it yet).
But in terms of who would win, wasn't it obvious? Unless there's a unique project that is a total knockout with the critics (i.e. when Spirited Away won many years back) it's almost always guaranteed it'll be the Disney or Pixar. Every so often you'll see an Ice Age or Shrek nominated but I feel those are more token entries. At least this year had five legitimate entries that all (as far as I can tell) deserve to be there because they were that good in their field. Oh, and may I point out that three out of the five were done via old school stop motion. That's something, too.
Best Foreign Language Film
-Nominees: Amour (Austria), Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada)
This wasn't even fair. Amour was nominated for best picture of the year. Who did you think would win? And if something else won then why is Amour on the top of the year list?
Best Original Score
-Nominees: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
-Winner: Life of Pi
Best Original Song
-Nominees: Before My Time from Chasing Ice by J. Ralph, Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted by Walter Murphy and Seth MacFarlane, Pi's Lullaby from Life of Pi by Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri, Suddenly from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schonberg + Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil, Skyfall from Skyfall by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
This is the technical part I really get into. It is very noticeable when the music isn't right for a story. I don't have a whole lot to say about the original score, mostly because I remember Argo having a bunch of snippets of songs from that era, and Skyfall I don't remember the score because all I can think of is the theme song.
That brings me to the song Skyfall. I am so happy this song won. I have never enjoyed a Bond theme song more than this one. It gets my blood pumping ready for a good old Bond adventure. When Adele performed the song at the ceremony I turned to my wife and said, "I wanna go out, buy that movie, and watch it tonight because I want to see it again so bad right now!" To me that song defines that movie. The rest of it is fantastic but to me that song alone helps raise the movie itself to another level. I love Skyfall, the movie and the song.
Best Supporting Actress
-Nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
-Winner: Anne Hathaway
Best Supporting Actor
-Nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
-Winner: Christoph Waltz
Outside of Lincoln where Sally Field did do a knockout job I haven't seen any of the other performances. It does look like Anne Hathaway kills in her performance in Les Miserable so I'll take their word for it. No real opinion on that one.
But for best supporting actor I do. What I came to notice with some of these categories is that there are plenty of good actors being nominated but most give very similar performances in most movies with the exception of one actor who stands out among the rest because of their range of acting. I like Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman and I'm sure they all did a great job (Alan Arkin was fantastic!). Tommy Lee Jones I have mixed feelings about because of all these nominees I feel he's the most samey. But Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor. Even in Water for Elephants which may or may not be your cup of tea he played a superb villain. He's the type of guy who takes his roles far more seriously than most and it really shows in his performances. Nice work Christoph, I haven't even seen Django Unchained yet but I already know you deserved this award.
Best Original Screenplay
-Nominees: Amour by Michael Haneke, Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino, Flight by John Gatins, Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal
-Winner: Django Unchained
So I realize I haven't seen Django Unchained yet but I've got to say that I was really bummed out when Moonrise Kingdom didn't win this one. Wes Anderson is a brilliant filmmaker whose characters are at times much better than what Tarantino puts together. Wes' characters I feel tend to offer a lot more variety than the samey quirky/violent characters that Tarantino has. Moonrise Kingdom in this example has an awesome story about a couple of young kids who become infatuated with each other and their relationship develops in a very unique way. Not only that but the adults looking for these kids after they run away together have such fantastic reactions outside of what you may expect. It's a fun, funny, unpredictable, and exciting in the very bland way that Wes puts together movies.
I'm sure Amour is well written but it seems like one of those stories where you already know what's going to happen as soon as the story starts. Flight also seems like one of those. Then Zero Dark Thirty, while an amazing movie does have the flaw of cramming a lot of dense information into a 2 1/2 hour story.
I may be swayed after I finally see Django Unchained but I'm not sure I will be with how much I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom's story and characters.
Best Adapted Screenplay
-Nominees: Argo by Chris Terrio from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez & The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin from Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, Life of Pi by David Magee from Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Lincoln by Tony Kushner from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns, Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell from Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I really can't stop singing praises for Argo and this is no exception. Again for only seeing a couple of these flicks I can't properly compare. And while Lincoln was really well written as well I found Argo's writing to be spellbinding. The only other thing I can really say about this category based on what I know is essentially comparing Argo to Lincoln (Again, haven't seen all of these). Basically it makes more sense for Argo to win than Lincoln because:
-For one you're dealing with more recent history so chances are facts may be more accurate.
-Lincoln has a much bigger story than Argo does. To condense more and denser material into a 2+ hour movie will always leave the feeling like something isn't quite right or is left out.
-Lastly, Argo just straight up has a wider appeal in it's writing. Lincoln is fantastic but it is far more complicated than Argo.
We truly are living in an era where the academy has become a lot less pretentious.
-Nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
-Winner: Ang Lee
This one I was and wasn't surprised about at the same time. Mostly from all the attention Life of Pi was getting overall. But the thing with Ang Lee is that he seems to be really hit and miss with his work. First off he did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon which was an incredible poetic martial arts film. Then he made Hulk which was a big disappointment to many people. But then he also brought out Brokeback Mountain which was a well put together film but I didn't feel it deserved all the Oscar attention it got. But more recently he put together Lust, Caution. He went back to China to make this amazing WWII era thriller that got less attention that it truly deserves. And some of that attention was over the fact that it was released with an NC-17 for a couple of graphic sex scenes that Ang Lee insisted needed to stay in. So it's been really back and forth for him and I wouldn't say it was something that was a long time coming.
The thing is that this was, much like many of the other awards, what seemed like an even race and there was no clear winner here from the Oscar buzz. Personally I chose Spielberg but his career is so profound that he doesn't need that to be honored. He's got an entire library of amazing works which is worth more than an Academy Award for one year. Otherwise I haven't seen any of the other films but I assume they all did a knockout job considering the nominations. Sadly this is one of my favorite awards but I know little about these five people and what they're being nominated for.
In the end I can't say I'm excited nor disappointed. I don't know what to think because I just don't know enough.
-Nominees: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossibe)
-Winner: Jennifer Lawrence
This one I only have a little bit to say on it.
Of these performances I've only seen one but I am familiar with a couple of the other actresses. I'll start of by saying that I am not familiar with Emmanuelle Riva outside of clips from Amour. That's all so I have nothing to say on it simply because of lack of knowledge.
As far as the other actresses go I've got to say there were some great choices here. I thought Jessica Chastain was superb in Zero Dark Thirty. I was very empathetic with her character and would love to see her in other movies cause she did such a good job. Then I would say I've always enjoyed Naomi Watts since first seeing her in the remake of Ring (I'm sure I've seen her in something else but I couldn't quote it for you at this moment). I wouldn't consider her to be amazing but very enjoyable (and very easy on the eyes).
To me this came down to Jennifer Lawrence and Quvenzhane.
A lot of buzz had been surrounding Jennifer Lawrence and her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. I already know she's a great actress as before this I saw her in The Beaver and The Hunger Games. She was also nominated for an award a couple years ago when she was in Winter's Bone but didn't win. So I wasn't too shocked when I found out she was nominated. Now at the same time Quvenzhane Wallis felt like Oscar bait. She is the youngest actress to be nominated for the award at just nine years old. She was in an independent film and on top of all this she is absolutely adorable. So pretty much I was basing a lot of my suspicion around the, for a lack of better words, politics around it instead of her actual performance. But for as much attention Beats of the Southern Wild was getting I would imagine she had a chance from her acting alone.
But in the end Jennifer Lawrence won and she was very deserving. I don't even need to see Silver Linings Playbook to know this is true. She is a fantastic actress and will be going on and on in film for a long time to come. I just wish the poor girl didn't trip on her way up to accept her award. Still she played it off well and classy.
-Nominees: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Juaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight)
-Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis
There is no reason to think it would be anyone other than Daniel Day-Lewis. That is not to downplay everyone else's performance, but if you know a thing or two about Daniel Day-Lewis (or in this case saw Lincoln) you would know that he is one of the most immersed and dedicated actors working. He literally lives his roles and does an unrecognizable transformation for the sake of a role. For Lincoln alone he literally was in character 24 hours a day during production. This is just the tip of the iceberg on what he's done for the roles he's played and I would suggest you take a look into it because it is incredible. His wiki page does touch on this which I'll link here. I mean, seriously, if you show someone The Crucible, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln back to back and then asked them what they all have in common it may be difficult to make the connection that it was all the same actor.
You see, this may seem obvious but the best performances are when an actor doesn't just portrays but completely transforms. You'll see a lot of performances that mimic a character, but rarely will you see a transformation where the actor becomes that character. To test this is easy. When watching a movie and you look at the actor, whether or not you know their name but you're aware of the actor's previous work, do you recognize them as that actor or as that character. Far easier to do in a movie with unknowns (like Paranormal Activity) or movies with heavy makeup (The Nutty Professor... these are bizarre examples). But when an otherwise recognizable actor truly transforms and becomes something else it is profound. A popular and recent example of this is in The Dark Knight. Like many other people I felt Heath Ledger gave the best performance of the year as the Joker. This was partially due to the heavy makeup which made him unrecognizable. But what made him even more unrecognizable was the character he played. Even when someone is in heavy makeup they can still be recognized or some quirk they have will show through. Not in this case. If Heath wasn't credited for this role I imagine the world would be wondering who that was. He did such a knockout job and wasn't even recognizable anymore not just through makeup but also through his acting abilities.
Another example that is coming to mind is in Inglourious Basterds. Did you know that Mike Myers is in that movie? As in "Yeeeeaaaah Baby!" and "Wayne's World! Party on! Excellent!" Mike Myers. It wasn't some hidden to the side cameo. He played a small character that stood directly in front of you. It's been a while since I've seen that movie so I don't recall the exactly when the scene came up but it was brief and small. He was in pretty heavy makeup but someone who has such a distinct voice you'd think you'd recognize him. At first I thought it was some other Mike Myers. Then I took a closer look at my second viewing of it and there he is. There's Mike Myers acting like a legitimate actor for once and he was fantastic.
Now those are not the best examples because I'd rather compare DDL to someone who was able to accomplish this feat without makeup helping them. And granted DDL has done that as well but it's been minimal makeup for the character (i.e. a beard in Lincoln, a mustache in There Will Be Blood, really long hair in The Crucible) but any other character in those roles and they would be instantly recognizable. Take Tommy Lee Jones who was also in Lincoln. When I saw him I basically saw Tommy Lee Jones with a wig doing what he's good at. I wasn't as immersed in his character because I didn't see the character, I saw the actor. When I see DDL play a role I don't see DDL. I know it is him but I don't like to believe it. As far as I'm concerned he became Lincoln for this production. He was that good.
The best part? His speech. I'll talk about the speeches a little more later on here but I wanted to talk about it in context of this category. His speech was so humble. I mean, this is a god among actors and he could have been standing up there waving his dick around showing everyone how amazing he is, but he didn't. He was so appreciative and had an attitude that seemed to say "I could have never expected this. I am so honored." His was easily my favorite acceptance speech of the night. Daniel, you went up an even higher peg in my book than you already were. You are to acting what Stanley Kubrick was to directing. I look forward to whatever you work on next.
-Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
This is where I knew I was out of touch with the nominees. While I know plenty about each of these titles and why each of them would be worthy of the best picture title there wasn't one that really stood out over the rest in my mind. It was a big guessing game for me especially since I've only see three of the nominees (Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty) and of those three I would say any could win but all for different reasons. Argo because it was not only really well written and directed but also because it was vastly entertaining. Lincoln was one of the best period pieces I've seen in a long time with a brilliant performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. Then Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most gripping and engaging thrillers of the year that I'm sure I would have enjoyed even more if I hadn't drank so much soda during the movie and had to hold in a bladder full during the last part of the movie when they infiltrated Bin Laden's hideout. I could easily see how any of them could win the award.
Also based on the rest I could see how some of the other ones could win, too. Amour being a foreign and depressing looking film appeared to be Oscar bait, so did Beasts of the Southern Wild since it's both an independent film and it's about black people whose life doesn't appear to have treated them well. This is based on the very little information I know about these movies for the record. But then even a flick like Les Miserables seems like a sure thing. Classic novel, adored musical, mega cast that seems to have done a pretty amazing job with the singing, and it wouldn't be the first time a musical won. Knowing very little about Life of Pi, Django Unchained, and Silver Linings Playbook I couldn't say for sure why they were up for best picture. Especially since upon first glance they didn't appear to be that kind of movie
I think that's what made this year really exciting. There was no sure fire contender on who would win all the awards or specific awards with few exceptions (as I previously stated with the other nominees and winners). A couple years ago when The King's Speech was nominated for best it wasn't even fair to have other nominees because that year it was so obvious that it would be the winner. Even last year when The Artist kept winning award after award it wasn't even fun to watch after a while. It just became so predictable. (P.S. I still think The Artist is an amazing movie). I can tell you how this all would have played out if it was ten to fifteen years ago. It probably would have been something more like Amour to win best. I mostly state this from me remembering the days of when movies had to be like Gosford Park or Frida to get the attention of the academy. I'm glad times have changed in a way where the academy isn't as pretentious.
So in the end it was Argo. Do I agree? Does it matter if I agree? Well I would say I do. As I have stated in the last few paragraphs it felt like a year where almost anyone could be the winner. And as I previously stated plenty others are great but for different reasons. Based on what I know, seen, and heard it did feel like Argo was the most well rounded, making it one of the most logical awards given for the night. Not only was it well written, directed, acted, and so forth it was flat out entertaining. I remember when I went to go see this there wasn't a moment I was bored and even felt it was far superior to Ben Affleck's last movie The Town. A good friend of mine once said that the best movies of all time that will stand the test of time will be a combination of having great artistic value but also be entertaining and appealing enough to appeal to the mainstream for it to stay popular. I feel Argo touches on all of those aspects. The only unfortunate thing is that now people will be going into it with unrealistic expectations, thinking, "Well this is the best of the year so it better be the best" followed up by comments stating it was over-rated, blah blah blah.
If you want my opinion I feel Argo is great. But if Lincoln won, also great, Zero Dark Thirty, the same, if any of the other ones did, I guess I wouldn't know for sure but all in all this was a close race. The only one I may have been a little bummed out on is Life of Pi. From what I heard that's not a great story and aside from the technical aspects it doesn't appear to be worthy of being the best.
For the record on my personal ballot I picked Lincoln to win.
The Speeches and Conclusion: Aside from the intro being my favorite part of the show, there was another part of the show that I really enjoyed. The speeches. So many of the speeches were better than other years. Rarely was I actually bored with them because most people this year felt to be truly thankful and even humble. It was a wonderful change of pace from other years where egocentric folks like James Cameron jumping on stage screaming, "I'm the king of the world!" No, this time around people seemed so appreciative. Even the first speech of the night when Christoph Waltz won for best supporting actor. He was so touched that he was chosen and it was so sweet the way he showed this appreciation. Keep in mind this isn't the first time he's won an Oscar, so it's not like this is his first time. But so many of the speeches from there were just so wonderful.
A common theme that was present in these speeches are the people they love in their life. It was simply, "I would like to thank the academy," or, "I had a great crew," etc, etc, etc. So many people were thanking their spouses. Then they were tearing up along with their spouse in the audience because they're so proud. Then so many were there with their mothers it seemed. Even bigger stars like Chris Evans and Bradley Cooper brought their mothers as their date instead of some skanky looking bimbo to carry around with them. But it really got to me right in the heartstrings when many referenced a parent (usually their father) and either pointed up or said they were watching from heaven. It was so refreshing to have them reference and show they have faith in a higher being and believed their former loved ones were watching down on them. I almost choked up during one of them, too, but I don't remember which.
There were one or two that dragged on a bit and one person even got cut off entirely. But the only one I didn't particularly care for was Quentin Tarantino's when he won for best original screenplay. It was a bit egotistical I felt. I mean, I'm sure the guy wrote the script entirely on his own (for the most part) but he still said things like "The reason people will remember my movies are because of the characters I created." Really? I mean yes you're right to a point but what about the people playing those characters? I don't know, I just wasn't too crazy about his speech.
In the end I've got to say this was one of my favorite years for the Academy Awards. The awards were much more unpredictable than previous years, people seemed to actually appreciate the award for the most part, the sideshows were actually pretty nice to watch for once, and it was flat out hilarious damn near the entire show! It passed by all so quickly. The tension was there and the answer was rarely obvious for who would win. This made it so exciting to watch. It was engaging. Most of all it wasn't disappointing. I hope they bring back Seth for other years because he may very well be this generations Billy Crystal for the host. He's not as clean in his humor but neither is this generation so it works out. Overall I loved this year's show. It was refreshing since the last few years have really bummed me out with it's predictability and lackluster hosts. I look forward to next year now more than ever.
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