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Sunday, 19 October 2014

My Story of Making Stuff

It’s been a while, erstwhile fans of my blog (yes, all 2 of you) so you might be wondering what games and films I’m planning to review next. Actually, I did promise someone to add some variety on here by not restricting myself to only doing half-arsed reviews every now and then… So I’m back with something unapologetically self-obsessed that maybe taps into the reason I’m doing this silly little thing in the first place.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to create. It’s always been a driving force in my life, and I’ve also never been particularly restricted to one form or another. Well, okay, there are restrictions, in the sense that there are certain things that I’m so appallingly bad at that it makes no sense to even contemplate trying them. And that’s ok. Arts and crafts, anything relying on manual dexterity; certain primary school projects featuring pottery or stitching or woodwork come to mind as disastrously applied examples of botched art; it is quite apparent that these are not areas that I should be looking to fulfill my creative itches.

So, at a young age, faced with an overwhelming lack of ability in sports but above average literary skills, it makes perfect sense that I would want to write. All kids doodle, and doodle I did, but I also wrote, and wrote a lot. The really early ‘stories’ I wrote are surreal to the point of actually not making any sense at all, and not just because of the terrible handwriting. Looking back through all these archives (I’ve got really good at hoarding everything through the years, both on computer and on paper), it’s quite amusing to see how many stories and things I abandoned soon after beginning, after the first chapter, first page, or in some cases, after just the contents page (for a while as a kid, I had this hilarious quirk of wanting to do the contents page first, and guess the page numbers for each chapter, before even writing a single sentence.)

Video games had a massive impact on me. We got the Nintendo 64 in 1997, and my five-year old brain just exploded. I’d never seen anything like it; bearing in mind until then I’d only ever seen games on the blurry monochrome screen of the original Game Boy. So, of course, soon everything I was writing was video game themed; I’d be making up badly-worded game walkthroughs for games that didn’t exist and writing lists of game menus - even more pointless than fake contents pages. It didn’t matter though, it was all just adding fuel to the childish fantasies in my head, no different to kids playing make-believe and running around pretending there are exploding spaceships everywhere. 

The first ‘book’ of any notable length that I finished was based on N64 classic Banjo-Kazooie in 1998. It was about 50 pages long in the end (albeit with massive handwriting and huge pictures) but it was complete, and I was so proud of it I spun out two sequels over the next few years, and then tape-recorded myself reading it out loud like an audio-book, high-pitched voice and all. I would have been maybe 8 years old. I have no shame. (I also used to record myself playing around with a Casio keyboard - badly, I never learned to play piano - and singing along... THAT, my friends, is embarrassing.)

Of course, this was around the time I ended up starting to make things on computers. There was a great old art program called Kid Pix that I was obsessed with, not just because it was a child doodler’s paradise, but because it let you stitch together slideshows and essentially make your own little movies. Here's one of them:

"I think it's about time we fought Earth" - Great motivation there from the Martian leader

That was mind-blowing, because now I could tell stories through moving pictures as well as words. Over time, my dad’s graphic design credentials led me to gradually become exposed to what is now Adobe Flash, and it’s what I’ve used as an animating tool now for almost 15 years. The beauty of Flash is that it also houses its own programming language and combined with the visual interface it’s quite easy to make certain basic types of games. Yeah, games. I’d already been tinkering with level editors at this point, but there’s just something different about being able to make something entirely on your own. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, back in the early 2000s, but I figured out how to do point and click styled things and had an absolute blast doing so. Most of the time I’d knock out a title screen and get no further, but it didn’t matter that I was never going to finish most things, it was just fun to try.

Everything changed when we finally got broadband in the mid-2000s and I realised I could share my stuff with the outside world. Before then, I’d done the odd crude animation or two to share with people at school, but as I started developing my skills, I realised I really could do something more ambitious. My first real internet project in 2006, Stupid Mario Bros, was a crude sprite-animation video that I chose to do, pretty much, because similar things were already widespread and attracted a lot of views. Funnily enough, this video has had by far the biggest viewership of anything I’ve ever made, even though it’s unoriginal and was animated it in a single day.

10,000 views… 100,000 views… This was exciting! For a while I became captivated with the idea of simply having an audience, so I guess I became a bit of a sell-out. I jumped aboard the ‘YouTube Poop’ train, basically a fad of doing quick and silly remixes of memes, particularly the Cd-i videos, and these made up the majority of my YouTube channel for a good few years. I brought in a whole load of views this way, but it didn’t feel earned. It was fun for a while, but it was too cheap and lacking in spirit. I took up a number of ambitious projects to try and dispel this bad taste, and most fell through, though there were exceptions - this Star Wars game I did stands out as being a massive 6-month long project I can actually say I finished, back in 2008. During this period I had a website too, tank2tank.co.uk. It’s long-gone now, was never particularly successful, but it was a massive learning experience. In a way, I think it proved to me that internet views are pretty meaningless. You can attract a following from any kind of rubbish, but is that really what you want to do? You have to be a) absurdly lucky and b) obsessively committed to make a living off it anyway, so surely it’s better to just do what you feel like doing?

The flip-side of the coin is the feeling of having made a difference on a more personal, interconnected level. There’s the rare occasion where you get a comment along the lines of ‘this video cheered me up after a hard day’ or perhaps most unbelievably ’I watched this video with my parents and we quote it every day,’ and you can’t help but feel proud of what you’ve done. It’s still true, then, that people’s reactions to what I’ve made are something I actively seek out, whether it be between my friends or amongst strangers online. Of course, that can mean sifting through criticism or incessant trolling if you’ve ever navigated the labyrinths of YouTube comments before. It’s never been a problem for me, though. Sometimes I question whether I’m just selfishly looking for something to prove, to witness that spontaneous reaction of people being impressed, amused, or even in awe of seeing something they wouldn’t know how to make themselves. I don’t know whether that’s really what it’s all about. There is something special about being able to provoke a reaction in something you’ve made, but there’s also something special about fulfilling your own desire to simply create, to seize ownership of your own imagination and turn it into something tangible. 

In recent years perhaps my output has lessened. It’s a pretty natural effect of growing up, grinding through university, having to get a job and then having less time week on week to make things at the same rate as before. Also, it’s a side effect of wanting to make everything better, trying more and more ambitious ideas that just aren’t going to go anywhere without proper planning and time management. As recently as 2012 I was trying to focus on Shoe Sandwich, a collaborative channel with much higher quality output; for a while it looked like it would work - the Shoenice video below is the most sophisticated animation I’ve worked on - but like many things Shoe Sandwich soon fell apart due to a lack of time and overly elaborate ideas.

If I die tomorrow, at least I can die knowing that I once voiced a talking tampon.


But elaborate ideas can’t be ignored. My own YouTube account may have gone quiet and it may be harder for me to find the right time or place to work on something, but I can never give up on my desire to create. Why else do you think I started this blog? I have massive projects I still want to do someday, things I’ve never tried before, other things I’m already half-way there on. I’ve come full circle, in a way, back to my original desire to tell stories and design games, and I’m finding it exciting. It’s really, really exciting. What I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter what medium you choose. Writing books, poems, drawing comics, painting, making music, singing, dancing, acting, directing, programming… it doesn’t matter what it is you choose to do, or how you choose to do it, or how successful you are at it. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with your career, or get in the way of your degree. It can just be a hobby. I actually like the fact that it’s just a hobby for me. In a way, that makes it more special. Do it because it’s enjoyable. I know what I want to do.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Mini-Reviews #2 - Sci-fi Roundup - Apes, Space Raccoons, Bald Men & Betas!

Oh, wow. I've somehow broken the 'one blog per month' curse to do another selection of half-arsed reviews. This time they're all sci-fi themed. Yep, time to embrace my inner nerd...

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The confusingly titled sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (how can the dawn come after the rise?) is a brilliantly made blockbuster. Even if you disliked the previous film, it's worth giving this one a shot as it has a significantly different tone. The film does a good job of keeping you invested and rooting for both sides, though the CGI chimps undeniably steal the show. Koba in particular gets some very scene-stealing moments. The characterisations and mo-capped performances are complex and nuanced even when the film dares to devote entire scenes to subtitled sign-language and simple primal growls. Despite devolving into silly, schlocky action full of apes-riding-horses-with-machine-guns, exploding skyscrapers and overly convenient plot contrivances, it does so in such a way that the film loses none of its credibility while more than fulfilling the Summer blockbuster action itch.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Has Star Wars come early? Er... if Han Solo were a space raccoon and Chewbacca were a talking tree... maybe... Actually, Chris Pratt's Starlord is even more the Han Solo type, making for a likeable protagonist, rolling around with his inexplicably-still-working Sony Walkman. Some good song choices in this movie. It's fun seeing a goofy ensemble sci-fi that doesn't take itself too seriously, but does enough to make us care about what is happening. I'm looking at you, Star Trek Into Darkness. Effects can be a little over-flashy and some scenes are derivative of other Marvel films (good or bad depending on how much you're into them, personally I'm a little burned out), yet the film has a lot of director James Gunn's wacky indie charm, a massive likeable cast and does a great job setting up an expansive and completely bonkers world. I just wish Peter Serafinowicz had more to do.

The Zero Theorem
Moving away from blockbusters, here's something that's had virtually no marketing of any kind. A dystopian film from Terry Gilliam, very much in the vein of his classic Brazil (which is one of my favourite films), though this is way more abstract and less accessible. Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz plays Qohen, a bald, deluded programmer tasked with mathematically proving that life has no meaning, or something. It's all very surreal and visually interesting, as one would expect from a Gilliam sci-fi. There are plenty of quirky elements, like the AI therapist who at one point breaks out into rap for no reason whatsoever. The film is only sporadically thought-provoking though, it's mostly just headache-inducing Gilliam nonsense. At one point a character asks, "Do you have any idea what the zero theorem is all about?" which is a very apt comment.

Destiny (Beta)
Alright, now let's talk games. As anyone who's been following Destiny's development probably knows, Bungie ran a beta of their Borderlands-esque Halo-but-not-Halo shooter for the public a few weeks back. I had a decent amount of time with it, but I came away somewhat disappointed. Production values - awkward Peter Dinklage dialogue aside - are incredibly strong, particularly soundtrack-wise, while the controls are as smooth as you'd expect given the company's heritage. It's just that the focus is so much on grindy, MMO-style repetition... I spent nearly two hours trying to grind out a tank boss with a couple of other cohorts and wandered what I was doing with my life. There's just so much repetition in the design that everything rubs off as generic and pointless, in spite of how good it looks. Guardians? Darkness? Fallen? Blah. Thanks Bungie, I'll pass. I think I'm getting a bit sick of sci-fi now.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

6 Pointless Observations About Commuting to London

Right, I think I feel like taking a break from talking about mooveez ’n vidya gamez for once. Good gravy! Did I just say what I thought I just said?

As a graduate who has now managed to transition into the perpetual reality that is the world of work, as someone who was used to taking five minute walks into lectures and had to adjust to a daily ninety minute commute into the capital, I thought I’d give a brief overview of some of the less-than-widely-documented things I’ve noticed over the last few months. 6 of the most unceremoniously trivial and generally obtuse points I can think of, which may or may not ring true for anybody else of a similar background. Are we sitting comfortably?

1- Commuting from outside London isn’t as common as I thought it would be

You can always tell when somebody asks ‘where do you live’ that they are expecting the name of a London borough somewhere within zones 1 to 6. Give a different answer and the typical response will generally be ‘which zone is that,’ to which you must calmly explain that there are in fact places beyond the city and it is actually possible to come from “the outside.” Once the shock dials down, the accuser will then proceed to either treat you as one of the wildlings from Game of Thrones or continually ask you bewildering questions about your commute as if it is the most exciting thing in the world. (Spoiler alert, it isn’t, although that hasn’t stopped me blabbing on about it.)


Of course, I shouldn’t complain at the end of the day, because there are still more than enough commuters like me around. Frankly, if there were any more of us, the whole national rail system would grind to a halt. In the grand scheme of things there isn’t much to complain about - the travel time is still significantly less than many people who live within the confines of ‘zone 1-6’ so is it really something to worry about? Cheaper house prices offset the higher travel costs, so in the end of the day, I suppose, the decision of where to live is a matter of personal convenience, and personally, it’s quite convenient being able to come in from such a distance that there’s just enough time to watch an episode of Game of Thrones on the train every day. That’s the second time I’ve mentioned Game of Thrones and I'm still on point number one. I think I might have a problem. 

2 - Everyone walks around with smashed up phones

Now this is a weird one. I get the principal, really, you’re working in London, you’ve had a few pints and you’ve dropped your phone. The screen is all buggered… where’s the warranty? Your phone is on a contract, ooh but what’s this? Next year’s model is about to be released? Never mind - you can wait until then to get it fixed. But seriously? The amount of smashed up phones I see being used on a daily basis is quite bizarre to me. It’s at least one per day and often three or four, be it on the tube, out and about or in the office. I’m not talking minor scrapes or scratches either, I’m talking full-blown shattered glass.


Maybe it’s the fashion these days to be unable to see 95% of your screen thanks to cracks so deep they make the pixels around them bleed into one another. I can’t imagine it’s very good for productivity - try sending a legible text message when you can’t use certain letters ‘cos there’s a massive gaping hole in your screen. What exactly is going on here? Are people this prone to butterfingers with their mobiles when travelling out and about in the capital? I don’t remember ever noticing this trend anywhere else, maybe it’s just me? Maybe the sheer density in population is making it appear like this is more commonplace than it actually is. I guess the moral of this story is to take care of your phone, but if you smash yours up to the point that it’s almost unusable and want to feel less bad about it, I guess you should go to London.

3- There’s a knack for catching the right train at the right time

Alright, listen up whippersnappers. I’m going to break the commuters’ code and give y’all some actual advice right now. It’s hard to quantify this but there is a system, there is a way to make sure you always manage to get on a train that’s A) a fast train, B) always has a space to sit and C) doesn’t break down suddenly. The first point is obvious, you just have to know in advance which ones will have loads of extra stops and which ones won’t. If you want to do some more detective work, mix up your routine from time to time. Figure out which trains regularly have large pauses at signals at specific times (the ones with more stops won’t always be slower) and which ones tend to be the most crowded. 

As for point B, you don’t have to get to the platform super early, although it can help. If you’re staring at the departure boards waiting for an incoming train’s platform number to be announced, you can usually rely on simple deduction to figure out which platform it’ll be, and if not, I’ve noticed that the average King’s Cross’er doesn’t have particularly good reaction time when the boards refresh, even when they’re fixated on them. It’s pretty satisfying (in a kind of devilish, OCD way) to be the first one in a massive crowd to have twigged which platform a train’s gonna arrive at - and once you’re ahead of the masses, remember you’ve got first dibs for seating. If you’re not going to be early, I find that the best place to get on a long train is about a third the way down the platform. People will generally get right on the front of the train if they’re completely rushed, but many will try to go all the way down the platform and fill up from the opposite end, so you often end up with this weird lull about a third down the platform shortly before the train departs. That’s my advice, anyway. What do I know? I’ve not been doing this for very long, so I’m probably not qualified to write a whole bloody essay on it. 

Oh, as for point C? Yeah, ok, that was a lie. Good luck with that one...

4- Finding something productive to do on the journey isn’t hard, but plan ahead

More advice? What’s come over me? 

I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy watching stuff on the train. However… If you’re trying to watch something on your phone in the middle of Summer, it can be pretty damn impossible to hear any of the dialogue with the sound of the wind rushing past, even with maximum volume booming out of your headphones. Frankly, nobody wants to shut the windows on a hot day, probably not even you. So download some subtitle tracks beforehand. It’s not hard to get them synced up to whatever you’re watching - use an app like VLC if you’re doing this manually. The other point of course is to make sure you’ll be able to get to a good stopping point in time. If you’re gonna sit playing games or even do some actual work on the train then the same advice stands. You don’t want to be missing your destination ‘cos you just had to beat that damn level / fix that spreadsheet (delete as appropriate)

I’ll confess to occasionally watching things at 120% playback speed. A little mental, I know, but faster-than-normal dialogue becomes surprisingly unnoticeable with practice (as long as it’s not pitched up.) So if you need to make a 50 minute show into a 42 minute show to fit the travel times, give it a go, and let me know how much of a nutter I am.

If all else fails, just take a nap. It’ll be good for you. I like to do that in the mornings, since it helps soften the blow of getting up at stupid o’ clock. Again, don’t miss your stop. It can happen.

5- Don’t eat food on the tube

Just don’t do it. I don’t care how empty the carriage is, it’s just not on. I’m not sure where this rule originated from but I could hazard a guess that it’s because you pretty much can’t find anywhere less hygienic in the whole of London, and that’s saying something. Oh, but feel free to go nuts if you’re on a National Rail train. At rush hour it’s like everyone's just come from an all you can eat buffet. 

That’s all I want to say about the underground. The less said about it, the better.

6- Beware the King’s Cross escalator hologram lady

She even has her own Twitter page these days. Shut your eyes! There is no escape! 






Thursday, 31 July 2014

Abandoned Scripts - Game Over

Blog filler time! While I continue to fail at finding adequate time to write entertaining junkets of trivialness on here, I'm going to dig out another one of my unproduced animation scripts from a couple of years back. This one actually did get started and released as a short Shoe Sandwich video, though we really didn't get very far with it.

Loosely based on the March 2012 administration crisis with British retailer GAME, this script was intended as a parody of the state of video games entering the digital distribution age. It could have been quite timely with the whole Xbox One debacle last year, but never mind. Also, Paul Christoforo is a character for some reason. If you haven't heard of him, read this article. It might just make your day.

Now, with no further adieu:

GAME OVER

It's launch day for Call of Warfare 3

INTERVIEWER
Good evening viewers! I'm reporting here live from the Gamerz midnight launch of Call of Warfare 3. This new title from Electronic Infinity Vision is set to become the highest grossing video game in history! Let's see what these guys think.

PERSON 1
Call of Warfare!! Wooo!!!!

PERSON 2
I'm so pumped man, this game's gonna change the world man, f'real man. Ugghhhh!!!!

PERSON 3
(A man is rubbing his crotch) 
UGHHHHEHHHOOHH

INTERVIEWER
You're near the front, right. How are you feeling?

PERSON 4
I've been sat here for 17 hours straight, just waiting and waiting and I can't… (inaudible)

Clock strikes midnight and the doors of Gamerz open, the crowd rushes in. Paul Christoforo is at the tills

PAUL
Hey man, welcome to Gamerz. What can I do for you?

PERSON
One Ultra Hardened Legendary Elite Edition please!

PAUL
Erm, alright , what game is that?

PERSON
COW 3!

PAUL
What? Three cows?

PERSON
Call of Warfare 3!

PAUL
Oh… right, we don't sell that game here.

PERSON
What?... but the signs?

PAUL
Uhh we got Call of Warfare 2.5. We'll throw in a free strategy guide!
(strategy guide is mispelled as 'stratagy guide')

PERSON
I've been here all night man, where's my COW 3?

(Outside the shop the crowd are getting anxious)

PERSON 1
What's taking them so long?

PERSON 2
Maybe it's not midnight yet?

PERSON 3
I bet it's part of the big buildup, just you watch…

(Small awkward wait as nothing happens)

PERSON 4
Uh… guys…  (looking at his phone)

(Back in the shop)

PERSON
This is just a joke!, how am I supposed to unlock perks and prestige before all my friends!? Euagghh!!!

PAUL

PERSON
You can't treat your costumers like this!

PAUL
Well, we here at Gamerz do value our customers but sometimes we get kids like you - we have to put you in the corner with your 'I'm stupid' hat on.

(Outside person 4 is reading what's on his phone)

PERSON 4
Confirmed, Gamerz is unable to sell Call of Warfare 3 due to a lack of credit insurance with the game's publisher and suppliers...

PERSON 3
What?!

(PERSONS burst in the store panicking)

PERSON 2
Is it true?!

PAUL
Is what true?

PERSON 3
Are you selling COW3 or aren't you!

PAUL
Pftt.. No of course not, we promised a launch party not a launch!

ALL THE PERSONS DELIVER LINES OF SHOCK

(Paul is kicking the crowd out of the store as a angry nerd riot starts outside)

PAUL
Oh yeah, yeah, cry bitches! I'll sell your orders on eBay!

INTERVIEW
(the man who likes to appear on the news is standing behind the reporter unfazed by the riot)
Excuse me, Mr. Christof… Mr. Christof… Damn (getting trampled by the crowd)

(Crowd is going mental like the London Riots)

PERSON 2
(Crying) Oh my god don't do this to me man, please God no man, please!

PERSON OFFSCREEN
OVER THERE!

(A delivery van is driving past, the mob chase after it and it crashes - shaky cam footage)

PERSON 4
I've got one!

Person appears having holding the game box, but the mob quickly overpower him and force the box open - the disc starts rolling down the street as the mob chase after it and rolls down the drain. Shot of the disc at the bottom of the drain buried in mud, then it cuts back to the interviewer who is watching the people try and reach into the drain. He turns to face the camera.

INTERVIEW
Another successful launch for the gaming industry. Call of Warfare 3, available from online retailers today.

Next is a montage scene showing a series of before and after stills with a fade in-between
 First - the outside of the Gamerz shop, which becomes a coffee shop or hairdressers or something.
Next - a bookshelf full of games becomes a collection of hard drives.
Next - a shot of a fairly small TV with a bunch of consoles is replaced with a TV that's far too large for the room, with a hard drive plugged into it. As this last part fades we hear a voiceover:

ELECTRONIC INFINITY VISION PRESIDENT
My fellow gamers. In the past few years, we've seen the rise of digital downloads as the primary distribution method for all forms of entertainment. But there are those who refuse to accept this new medium, and continue to hold back the gaming industry. That's why from today, it will be illegal to sell or distribute boxed games in any shape or form…

Camera pulls back to reveal a screen in the middle of a dystopian police-state city, with Combine-like police officers patrolling the streets. A shifty looking ‘dealer’ is ducking around in the shadows, and steps into an abandoned warehouse. He approaches the back of a van and knocks.

DEALER
Steve? I've got the package.

STEVE
(Opens the trunk of the van) Well well well…

DEALER
My money. Where is it?

STEVE
Ah ah… Not yet. Let's see it.

Dealer hands Steve a package. Steve opens it, revealing a game box (Call of Warfare 17 or something) He examines the box cover and smirks excitedly. He rips the box open and sniffs the inside as if it's a drug.

STEVE
Awww yeah… That is some good shit. What do you think boss?

(He tosses the box to a guy behind him who also sniffs the inside.)

BOSS
Disc, check, new game smell, check, no eco-friendly holes, uh-huh, full colour manual! Haven’t seen one of them in eons… no notes section, busy day?

DEALER
Nobody ever gave a toss about the notes section.

STEVE
Hm, funny guy. 

BOSS
Anyway, it'll do. Come over here.

(They lead him inside the van)

DEALER
It wasn't easy getting the right thickness of plastic, I'm telling you, the next time I…

STEVE
(draws a gun) FREEZE! THIS IS A RUSE!

DEALER
Oh god dammit!

BOSS
You didn't just think you could get away with disobeying the state like this, did you bub? See the sorts of tactics you dealers have forced us to employ. It's shameful. Cuff him, Steve.

DEALER
What you're doing isn't fair. What are collectors supposed to do now?

BOSS
Digital distribution allows for freedom of expression, innovation, getting away from the system.

DEALER
You people became the system! Seriously, when was the last time you played a game that wasn't a sequel?

STEVE
He's got a point there, Boss.

BOSS
Shut it! Look, sonny, like it or not, this is the way the world works now. Let's take this guy to the station.

DEALER
No…

STEVE
What was that?

DEALER
No!!!!

(Dealer grabs the game box and makes a run for it. He doesn't get very far.)

BOSS
Take him out.

(Dealer is shot and falls to the floor with the game case falling to the ground and breaking. Blood leaks into the game case and over to the same drain as before, where the original Call of Warfare 3 disc has become buried in the dirt and is being worshipped by insects.)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Mini-Reviews #1 - Godzilla! Fargo! Mario Kart 8! E3!

Let’s try something new then, seeing as these blogs aren’t going to write themselves. Mini-reviews! Boom!

Godzilla (2014)
At last someone in the West figured out how to make an actual Godzilla movie unlike 1998’s pseudo-Jurassic Park nonsense. Godzilla himself has an impressive sense of scale and looks very good for once, but he sure likes to make us wait, almost like he’s doing a two hour long striptease. It means that we get just the right amount of Godzilla to have an impact, but we’re left with a mediocre human story to carry things, which only gets more generic and tedious as the movie progresses. It's generally all very well directed and acted; the other monsters have some decent moments, though I would have personally preferred it if ole Godzy was fighting something that didn’t look like an amalgamation of literally every single recent movie monster from Cloverfield to Super 8. Let’s get some of those bonkers Japanese monsters back. Well, maybe not all of them

Fargo (Series)
Made oddly more compelling by the fact that virtually nobody I know was watching it, this series captures the tone of the Coen brothers film perfectly with some great visuals and a terrifically deranged Billy Bob Baddie. Between some over-the-top anti-heroes and ann amusing supporting cast (hi Saul!) there’s a strong, believable female protagonist much like the film to keep things grounded. Speaking of which, I worried at first that the characters and scenarios would be too archetypically similar to the film (to which the story is only loosely connected) but that fear subsided before the end of the first episode. Overall thoughts now that it’s over? Well, it was occasionally a little slow-moving, probably didn’t need 10 episodes, but there’s an engaging undercurrent of tension throughout. Now if only I could get over Martin Freeman’s accent.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Mario Kart 8 is like meeting up with an old friend you've kept bumping in to since 1996 and discovering that they are still exactly the same as they’ve always been, except they’ve suddenly struck gold in the looks department. Which is to say that the graphics are the main new selling point in Mario Kart 8, unless you count the anti-gravity stuff… but that would be doing a major disservice to the best racing game of all time. The replays are cool - scrubbing through them is a lot of fun; having no control over the camera isn’t. The racing is solid but the lack of item stocking is odd if you’ve been playing the series for years. The balancing is fairer than it has been previously (shudder) but still regularly aggravates. The battle mode is lazy. The extras are non-existant. Oh, stop whining! It’s Mario Kart.

E3 2014
E3 was a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t said anything about it which is weird because I’ve usually made a stupid parody video by now. Maybe E3 just wasn’t very exciting this year? Actually, that’s not true, the main reason is probably because there weren’t really any silly conference goofs to laugh at this year, so all we're left with is a load of marketing jargon and fake gameplay trailers for expensive shooter sequels. Microsoft did a good job of turning around the Xbox One’s terrible reputation. All it took was a fan-spanking Halo collection and the promise of 4000 gamer points, apparently. Sunset Overdrive looks passably entertaining and I’m hyped about the Platinum Games thing because Platinum Games. Sony went through the motions and kind of ran out of steam somewhere around their hundredth indie showcase, though I’m looking forward to the likes of No Man’s Sky. Nintendo meanwhile are now so stuck up in their own little world that literally anything goes, it seems, and it was refreshing to see things like Splatoon and the wacky new look for Zelda. Amiibo though - those Skylanders style toys for Wii U? I’m not convinced, but if anything’s gonna save them at this point, resorting to the old ‘gotta catch-em all’ tactics probably isn’t a bad idea. So there was some decent stuff at E3, but was there enough to justify buying a new console yet? Ask me again when Metal Gear Solid 5 comes out.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Abandoned Scripts - Star Wars: No Hope

So here’s a little sneaky look into an alternate future where George Lucas set out to do an ill-advised remake of the original Star Wars: A New Hope. Actually, it’s an unused script for an animation I wanted to make some time around early 2012, then the Disney buyout happened, Lucas stepped down and the whole thing suddenly no longer seemed relevant. But, you know, it’s Star Wars day, so what better time to dig it back out again…

STAR WARS: NO HOPE
By Tom Cheshire

Set in 2027, for the 50th anniversary of Star Wars, 82 year old George Lucas is about to begin production on the remake of A New Hope.

Ewan McGregor's house, phone starts ringing.

EWAN
Hello?

GEORGE
Hey Ewan, it's me Geoorrrge.

EWAN
Oh f***. What do you want?

Interview cutaway with Ewan McGregor

EWAN
I told him I was done. I didn't hold back. I told him, after episode 3, I said, George, I respect you, you made me a lot of money, but I don't want to see your pug-ugly face again. I wanted to sever our working relationship for good, y'know? But thing is with George, people say that to him every single day anyway. He doesn't even know what it means.

Ewan McGregor's house - Ewan is arguing with George down the phone

EWAN
No George, just no. There is no way … look it's not gonna happen George.. George! I'm not going to be a part of it! Not for 5 million, not for 10… 

GEORGE
I can give you 2 million now, plus 15 once we make the movie.

EWAN
… 17?

Interview cutaway with Ewan McGregor

EWAN
He knows exactly how to get what he wants. It's really simple with George. Money solves everything. I should have asked for more.


Interview cutaway with George

GEORGE
We had to get Ewan back, there was really no other option. People say Alec Guinness was the perfect Obi-Wan but what they don't realise is he was a terrible Obi-Wan. Not the Obi-Wan that I had intended. I can't even bring myself to watch his performance. That was one of my main motivations for doing this new picture.


Cast roundtable, doing a read through of the script (really badly)

GEORGE
OK scene 17, Luke, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru at the dinner table.

GUY PLAYING LUKE
Gee Uncle Owen, I think the R2 unit we bought might be… have been stolen.

GUY PLAYING UNCLE OWEN
What makes you say that?

GUY PLAYING LUKE
I stumbled across this recred… recording he… and he said he began… begonged… er… belonged to someone called Obi-Wank… er.. Obi-Wonk, Obi-Wan Kennedy, Kenobi, sorry, George.

GEORGE
Why are you saying sorry? That was perfect! All that emotion in your performance, I’m right aren’t I Rick…

Producer Rick McCallum is sat opposite

RICK
It’s so dense…

GEORGE
Carry on!

GUY PLAYING UNCLE OWEN
Don't worry about that Luke, you can go to the academy next year.

GUY PLAYING LUKE
(turns the page of the script) … Yippee!

RICK
Oh… George… Oh it's so dense… So dense!

Rick is having some kind of orgasmic seizure all over the table. Ewan makes eye contact with George and slowly shakes his head.

Interview cutaway with George

GEORGE
People sometimes ask me since I have the technology, why don't I just do the whole picture in CG? That’s not how I roll. I'm a traditional filmmaker. I like working with actors in real physical locations.

George and the cast walking onto his massive green screen set

GEORGE
Here we are! Isn't it great! How are the costumes guys?

The cast walk on screen wearing entirely green onesies

RANDOM CAST MEMBERS
Great. Terrific. 


Interview cutaway with George

GEORGE
Absolutely the best set I've ever worked on. The set designers really outdid themselves. 


George and Ewan arguing on set

EWAN
Where's the set?

GEORGE
I'm sorry?

EWAN
Is this it? Is this what they've been building for 6 months?

GEORGE
Yeah. We're here.

EWAN
It's… We're doing the whole film like this?

GEORGE
Of course. It needs to be realistic. What do you think, Steven?

Steven Spielberg is visiting

STEVEN SPIELBERG
It's just a green screen George! How is this the best set ever?

GEORGE
My green screen is bigger than your green screen.

STEVEN SPIELBERG
That's… A very good point.


Interview cutaway with George

GEORGE
Directing is a really difficult job, really, one of the hardest and most tiring things you can ever do. I'm really hardworking, I'm always looking to shoot the most interesting shots and get the most out of my actors.


On set, George sitting in his director's chair with coffee.

GEORGE
And… action!

George SLOWLY lies back in his chair, all the fat bulging out and making squelchy noises.


(Montage of scenes of them filming the remake)

Ewan is about to film Obi-Wan's fight scene with Darth Vader

GEORGE
Ready Ewan?

EWAN
Yeah. Hang on, where's Darth Vader?

GEORGE
Oh, he's gonna be added in post processing. The suit isn't good enough for my vision so we're doing him digitally this time.

EWAN
Are you having a laugh? What the f*** am I supposed to do?

GEORGE
Just swing your lightsaber around. It'll look good!

EWAN
If you say so…

GEORGE
Action!

Ewan flails about randomly with his lightsaber whilst saying quotes like 'if you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine'

GEORGE
Cut! Perfect! That's a wrap everyone!

EWAN
When do I get paid?

GEORGE
Soon Ewan, soon, you'll get your 5 million don't worry…

EWAN
5? You promised 17!

GEORGE
Oh… well…

George pulls Ewan in close.

GEORGE
I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.

EWAN
This deal gets worse all the… no wait come back here! This isn't fair. You made me sign a f***ing contract!

GEORGE
By signing that contract you agreed that Lucasfilm Ltd, i.e. myself, has the right to alter individual budgets, performances and credits at will without mutual consent. You quit then fine, I don't have to give you anything, I'll replace you with a digital puppet that does everything I want, the stupid kids cannot tell the difference!

EWAN
This isn't fair! I've been bored to death for the past 14 months in this snot coloured room wearing this embarrassing sweaty latex piece of shit and you drop my salary?

RICK
What's going on here?

GEORGE
This is MY MOVIE! And I'm making it the way I WANT TO!

George starts poking Ewan with his stick.

EWAN
Ow… what are you doing! Stop that!

GEORGE
Only now at the end do you understand!

EWAN
Hey, you can't do this! Piss off!

GEORGE
You are paying the price for your lack of vision.

EWAN
Rick … please! Get this jerk to stop will you?

Even though Ewan is barely getting hurt, Rick looks really worried and looks side to side like Darth Vader when the Emperor is electrocuting Luke.

GEORGE
And now, Mr. McGregor. You will die.

EWAN
Ow. That's… this isn't funny now George this is just pathetic. Stop it… George. Stop it. Rick?

RICK
No… No!!!

Rick picks up George and pathetically throws him on the floor

GEORGE
Ow… my back. That's not good.


George is rushed to hospital and is then lying in his bed in similar pose to Darth Vader's death. God appears before him and tells him he's rubbish, showing him scenes from the prequels as he dies. At the end George finally realises the error of his ways and pleads to God to give him another chance. So, God reincarnates him as a guy working in a supermarket. An Ewok walks past him. George does a double-take, then shrugs and gets back to work.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Minor spoilers ahoy

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, not to be confused with the Spider-Man 2 that only came out 10 years ago, is the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the movie version of the origin story of The Amazing Spider-Man comics, previously adapted in the 2002 movie Spider-Man. Still with me? This time around Spider-Man must face ‘Django 2: Electric Boogaloo,’ along with his nemesis the Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, who previously appeared in the movie Spider-Man 3 as the New Goblin, the son of the Green Goblin, Normal Osborn from the movie Spider-Man. Because comic book movies.

Andrew Garfield doesn’t have Tobey Maguire’s gift of unflattering facial expressions but admittedly comes off better as a more conflicted, nuanced version of Peter Parker. Which is funny when your superhero film also features a flying neon-blue Jamie Foxx playing what essentially amounts to a Dubstep version of Mr. Freeze. This film goes all over the place - it’s over the top and conventional at the same time, with an emphasis on setting up all the million billion sequels and spin-offs; that’s the Avengers law I suppose, stating that a superhero film series can no longer exist unless it plans to last several decades and contain at least twenty interlocked AAA blockbusters. All this obvious web-spinning (if y’all pun the pardon) would have got on my nerves except for the fact that it was all quite entertaining.

I’m glad that this sequel had the courage to follow through on a couple of lingering threads from the first film, but to be honest I could have done without the whole conspiracy subplot with Peter’s parents in the first place. The opening of this film is hilarious. It’s like the writers watched The Dark Knight Rises and soiled themselves, so felt they had to go with a plane crashing sequence too, one that feels out of place and serves virtually no purpose. Oh, I guess it did have a purpose - product placement for a certain Sony laptop. If we are to believe this film, these laptops are apparently able to stay connected to a server and upload a file in an exploding depressurised plane travelling at hundreds of miles an hour. The payoff to the conspiracy subplot is… basically just a confirmation of things that we, the viewers, suspect or already know by this point, and it’s pretty underwhelming at best. Plus the whole setup undermines the ‘Peter Parker is an everyman’ idea by making Oscorp far more integral in every area of his life. Speaking of which, I’d just like to write a quick letter to Spider-Man…

"YO SPARKLEZ"

Hey genius, you know the Oscorp company, the one with all these shady ties to genetic enhancements that was already responsible for your spider powers in the first place, oh, and that whole Lizard fiasco in the first movie? The one where your girlfriend works and for-some-reason-you-seem-totally-fine-with-her-working-there-despite-worrying-about-her-safety-because-you-are-also-spiderman-angsty-angst? You don’t suppose that the company shouldn’t already have been shut down because the whole of New York got wind about the Lizard thing and probably doesn’t feel safe with this massive shady corporation trying to control the future of science? You don’t suppose that they could be responsible for the creation of more super powered monstrosities in the future, do you? The kind that might, I dunno, put your girlfriend in danger, perhaps? You don’t suppose that your creepy childhood friend with serious emotional issues who’s just become the head of said company would ever have anything to do with that? You don’t suppose you should just openly tell him your girlfriend’s name and where she works so that you can maximise your chances of endangering her and exposing your secret double life do y… oh wait, you just did that, didn’t you. Well, never mind. The Marvel police are coming over here telling me not to worry because it’s just a comic book movie and stuff has to happen “because sequels.”

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a big, noisy, bloated, silly, well-acted, over-acted, under-acted, predictable, shocking, stupid, entertaining ride. The romance scenes work better than those in the Sam Raimi trilogy because Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone actually have believable chemistry, which I know everyone has pointed out a thousand times by now. Despite this, these scenes often overstay their welcome and revolve around really dumb story clich├ęs, but there’s plenty of stuff going on elsewhere in case you lose interest. As others have also pointed out, it's nice to see a modern superhero movie that goes out of its way to show the hero saving civilians. I'm looking at you, Man of Steel. Unfortunately, the action scenes here are ridiculously CGI heavy to the point where they are quite literally just video game cutscenes. I half expected a QTE button prompt to pop up in one obligatory slow-motion sequence. There’s almost no tension in these fights, except for a brief sequence that I won’t spoil because it’s basically the most important plot point of the movie. I don’t know… on the one hand, I feel like this is what comic book movies should be like, with the overdone digital effects, rather than trying to do stuff practically, but on the other hand, I don’t go to the cinema to be reminded that I could be playing Metal Gear Rising. Speaking of which, go play Metal Gear Rising. It’s way more fun than this.

But the film was still pretty good. I give it three and a half Tobey faces out of five.


Friday, 28 March 2014

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Review


So here we are with a two-part episodic follow up to BioShock Infinite, acting as a bridge between it and the original dystopian blockbuster from 2007. The second and final episode also acts as Irrational’s swan-song, after budgetary issues (or Ken Levine’s recent egomaniacal epiphany, depending on who you want to believe) forced the entire studio’s staff to be laid off. It’s a shame, because you can clearly see the team’s talents on full display here - I don’t think I’ve ever seen DLC with this much effort behind it… with the possible exception of the thing I couldn’t stop gushing about last month. This is BioShock 4 in everything but name and distribution method. While Irrational may be gone, I’m glad they were able to pump this out at the final hour. Now would you kindly let me explain why… oh god I just went there, didn’t I…

The first episode of Burial at Sea came out a few months ago and, frankly, wasn’t anything special. It didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ per se, but it was short and didn’t even attempt to do anything new gameplay-wise. It was interesting to revisit Rapture, exploring it at its peak, but the majority of the episode essentially served as a simple switch of settings for the regular chaotic Booker gunplay and ‘hey, I found some money’ Elizabeth sidekick woes. Playing this episode was a gentle reminder of what didn’t really work in Infinite, namely the ridiculously unfitting ultraviolence and general lack of strategy required thanks to an over-abundance of powerful combat and tear options. (No, I don’t want to play on 1999 mode.) The Rapture setting does work in the gameplay’s favour this time, though, as random decapitations don’t seem quite as out of place in the dark, derelict undersea setting compared to the bright and cheery Columbian skyline. Overall, Episode One keeps you invested thanks to the subtle callbacks to the original Infinite campaign, building to a decent cliffhanger.

Don't watch that if you haven't played the first episode yet

Episode Two, meanwhile, pretty much goes out of its way from the very start to show off. Right from the beginning its clear that things are going to get pretty crazy - you’ll want to make sure you’re well versed on the events of the original game(s) before diving in. There’s a lot of what I like to call ‘narrative museum’ sequences, whereby you’re walking around, taking in details and simply allowing the story to progress linearly… but like in regular Infinite, these sequences continue to be executed really well. 

But that’s not the real reason to be impressed with this new episode - what really stands out is the change to the core gameplay. It’s no longer about chaos and mayhem - by playing as an Elizabeth without the ability to open inter-dimensional tears, suddenly you’re vulnerable, so the game takes on a new focus of stealth rather than brute force. With the Peeping Tom plasmid, you can see enemies through walls and turn invisible, while new weapons include a crossbow that can tranquillise, unleash sleeping gas or create noisy distractions. Even though these mechanics are ultimately half-baked (don’t expect Splinter Cell, and as is often the case in stealth games the tranquilliser darts are a bit too useful) I found this approach much more fulfilling than before. There’s no regenerating shield and for the first time in a BioShock game you don’t immediately respawn when you die. No vita-chamber grinding here, folks.

The main disappointment in regards to the gameplay of both episodes is that there really isn’t much of the typical weapon upgrading or item scavenging, aside from the obligatory audio diary collectibles. It’s a necessity due to the short play times of these episodes, so if you’re mainly into BioShock because of the lite-RPG elements and not because of the narrative, you might not find as much to love here.

Clearly the focus is on story, and there’s a lot of obvious jigsaw-ing together of a whole bunch of strands to bridge the narratives of BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Considering the original game was made with no intention of involving a larger multiverse, it’s a nice surprise to find how neatly the story elements from Infinite are carried over to the familiar Rapture setting. I was worried, going in, that things were going to be a cluttered mess due to all the returning characters, but on balance, I think it worked out pretty well. If you’re a fan of Atlas, he has some particularly great moments here. The final revelation, even though you can kind of see it coming, is a convenient but undeniably smart and fan-pleasing way to draw a line under the convoluted plot. We’ve seen so many alternate versions of Booker and Elizabeth that after a while it becomes hard to care about their final fates, but this was probably the best possible way to wrap things up. I don’t doubt that BioShock will continue under the wing of a different developer, but now that we’ve ‘seen all the doors,’ it really doesn’t need to.