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The Girl with All the Gifts — This film had me enrapt from start to finish. This is a sterling, fresh and fascinating take on the zombie genre. If anything, this is an altered perspective on the statement made in the novelette, I Am Legend. I was never sure which way the story would go, and in the end I was fascinated with the varied and complex emotions it instilled in me. There are a couple of odd continuity problems in the story, but nothing ruinous. The girl who played the lead is going to be huge.

Swiss Army Man — The Daniels, as they credit their shared writers/directors effort, do a passable Michel Gondry imitation, including sweded films, makeshift scenery, and the volume of fully three films' worth of twee intimacy. Along the way they leap gleefully past every limitation of good taste to indulge in fart, shit, vomit, and boner jokes, as Hank (living but emotionally dead) and Manny (dead but emotionally alive) collaborate to rescue each other from their predicament, finding the meaning of love or at least true compassion along the way. It's never clear if we're actually dealing with a man who was stranded on a deserted island, or if it's simply a figurative one. The ending is fantastic, but does nothing to clarify the so-called reality of the film's preceding scenes. 
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I have rarely been more disappointed in a movie than Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. I learned afterwards that it is based on a comic book, which has a significantly different art style. The movie clearly wants to be similar to a Laika film in its character depiction. The designs are very similarly proportioned, the shots' framing are sometimes similar, and the general tone is clearly aping Laika. However, I've seen Laika films, I know Laika films, and this is no Laika film. The entire movie looks like it is made from the pre-viz work that would go into a real movie. The lighting, textures, pacing, editing, etc. are all waiting for an editor to have their way with them before being passed to the people who will film the actual content.

My first thought was that it was older. We've all gone back and watched the original Toy Story and been shocked at the image quality – how it seemed amazing at the time, and now it's just weak sauce. So I figured this Frozen Kingdom maybe had been made in 2010 or 2005 – that might have explained it. – Nope, it's a 2016 film. Or at least that's when it was released… maybe the initial work was done much earlier, and it was shelved while waiting for a release?

It just feels like I got suckered in. The cast has Ron Perlman, Christopher Plummer, and Jane Curtain. It seemed like it would be a legitimate production!

It was not.
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I'm stunned that I'm not having more fun in [PROTOTYPE], but somewhere between the overly complex control scheme, difficult to utilize combat abilities and powers, and the [UTTER RUBBISH] they are passing off as a storyline, it feels as though I'm struggling through completion because I know I will never pick it up again if I set it aside for even a moment.

It's strange, because it's still a much better version of Sega's HULK game. There are so many things done much better than HULK, and yet the dissonance between Alex's "must find a cure" motive and his "destroy anything which moves" tactics. I don't know that Mother Theresa gameplay to deal with the hordes of Infected people running rampant in Manhattan would be compelling, but at least it would make sense.

I know holding the player's hand and mollycoddling them is not considered "hardcore" -- but in a game with two or three dozen melee moves spread out over five or six distinct power groupings, plus their variants locked to and combined with various forms of locomotion, there should be more prevalent [TUTORIAL] missions to bring the player up to speed on what they just purchased with their Evolution Points. 

When this and inFamous came out at the same time, and so many people were noting the similarities, I was really excited. But inFamous is more internally consistent within its fiction, and the control scheme makes more sense. 
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EA Sports MMA arrived a couple days ago, but after its demo I wasn't inspired to drop my Rock Band 3 habit to experience Endless-Takedown-Attempt-flavored A.I. My lunchtime RB3 partner borrowed my copy last night, so I had a chance to crack MMA open. I started a career and ended up playing until after 02:00 this morning. Today I'm more than a little tired.

The Career mode grind is more fun than I expected. First off, in contrast to the demo, across 7 career fights and several free sparring sessions, I think I've seen only a couple takedown attempts (that weren't already part of the current training exercise).

Training mini-games are fun, but they're a little too easy after Fight Night's high difficulty bar; in FNR3 and FNR4 I can't seem to do their exercises to save my life. I get minimum points and always feel like I'm going to have to re-start my Legacy Mode fighter for having "wasted" so many chances to progress my fighter. In contrast, in MMA I get Rank A on the first attempt most of the time, consistently on the second. And your best training game performance can be re-used whenever, so there's unfortunately no need to repeat the exercise, even though they're effective at player training. It's as though EA heard players complaining about the Fight Night training exercises being boring and frustrating, took it to heart, made them fun and then ran too far with making them both easier and optional. Fortunately, more advanced ones open up pretty quickly

Clinching and takedown are a little too easy to lock in, and from clinch it's pretty easy to move the rope or cage, which becomes an overwhelming advantage. But it's problematic in the Training sessions, where the LT(away)+Y Button doesn't seem to register the same as standing clinch, but rather prioritizes pulling away from the cage in a clinch. This ends up breaking the combo, requiring the exercise to be re-done. I've learned to avoid the cage while clinched, just so I can finish my Training, but it's accomodating a hole in the control scheme.

When it's time to move to a Camp and learn additional special moves, my progress hit a wall. I went from scoring Rank A's in practice, and 1st Round stoppages in my professional fights, to having Randy Couture bitch me out ceaselessly while I try to progress from open guard to full mount. Bas may have ragged on me for a couple of biffed combos, but Randy clearly wanted nothing more to bail on my session and go get a protein smoothie. And it sounded like he was doing it over the phone, quality-wise, like they'd recorded pick-up lines using Skype. What got me though, is that I couldn't do the task. Today it dawned on me that, unlike the training A.I., the Special Move learning is probably subject to harsher completion parameters, and likely uses stronger A.I. and contests against the player-character's own skills and attributes. UFC 2010 has the same problem, where a beginning CAF has the option to attend a camp and make progress toward learning a new move, but in likelihood his skills are not going to allow him to complete the win-condition, leaving the new skill unlearned. I was entirely unable to get it, despite trying some exercises 20 times, each attempt with its own loading lag.

Speaking of which: Remember people complaining about UFC 2009's cumbersome menus and slow loading times? It is UNFATHOMABLE that I've not seen a single mention of EA MMA's loading times. God's pearlescent testicles, it takes forever to transition from your gym to the fight venue, and the fight is sometimes over within the first 30 seconds... and the trip back to the gym. And then a trip to another gym immediately if you "travel" get enhanced training. Sloooooow.

I looked around to see if any reviews specifically mentioned this, and found this link:
http://www.pastapadre.com/2010/10/20/ea-sports-mma-hard-drive-evaluation
So I'll be running it from the HDD as of this evening onward. It makes sense that the reviews don't mention it if preview copies are now largely downloaded from Xbox Live via code... they're not on disc, so they're not slow. But, man, I was feeling the wait like a weight last night, and it was heavy.

Overall the game is fun. There are some really spotty presentation problems in sound and non-fighter animation (referee is weak, the ring announcer looks like a stroke victim or an animatronic doll). But three hours flew by and left me screaming obscenities at my TV in the wee hours.
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I watched the Watchmen, the Director's Cut even. Thanks, Weezie! Your care packages save my life. Pros:
  • almost slavishly faithful to the comic, save the end -- and the end is more comprehensible than the comic's was.
  • casting seemed spot-on for all the characters, except Owl-Dude who was good, but seemed like a handsome guy playing a dork.
  • Rorschach. Wow. Perfect, start-to-finish, makes Bale's Batman look ham-fisted and overly well-armored.
  • The Comedian, surprisingly. I had no empathy for the character in the comic; he's still a horrible person in this movie, but the larger sociopathic ethos makes more sense in the context of his environment. Or maybe it was just the actor. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, holy shit that guy is going to be big, if he isn't already. I am stunned to see that he was in PS: I Love You, which I watched the other day. I could -not- remember where I'd seen him previously.
  • it made me want to re-read the comic, which I've not in ten years; the time before that was probably college, and the time before that was when it first came out in its original run of singles. Which I have somewhere. I think.
  • gorgeous cinematography, almost to the point of being distracting from the story. nearly too pretty, too luscious in its grime and saturation
  • um, yum, latex.
There are some serious shortcomings though:
  • the acoustic soundtrack was weirdly noticeable and somewhat jarring, and the licensed music choices were all cliché; they were the kind of choices I'd make, sadly. All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix, Koyanisqaatsiby Philip Glass, these all speak to our own timeline, so they seemed out of place in the Watchmen '80s timeline.
  • and what's with keeping the movie in the '80s? the comic was set in the modern age of its time; not updating it makes it a more accurate depiction of the comic book, but does it say anything valid about our current era, or is it only making the same statement about the '80s?
  • The last scene at The New Frontiersman felt trite and out of place. Not the story twist, but rather the acting, in some lame mockery of Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, or J. Jonah Jameson. "It's a comic book movie! Make the newspaper editor a caricature!" Lazy shorthand, where so much of the rest of the film had some nuanced characters, even for cameos like Silhouette and the original Nite Owl
  • Knot-Tops - the "samurai" gang; these felt out of place; there's no real nipponophile tendencies shown anywhere else in the movie, so these quasi-bushido gang members felt out of place. Were they in the comic? Was the Nite-Owl II and Laurie alley tussle in the comic? I felt the whole sequence was gratuitous, more so since it was clear they were looking for an excuse to get in a fight. It felt like a sequence from The Director of 300 more than a scene from an Alan Moore comic.
  • the aging makeup prosthetics for Sally Jupiter and the guy playing Nixon were distractingly bad.
  • the natural dangling motion of Dr. Manhattan's meat-and-two-veg was distracting, and better portrayed than ANY of his lipsynch animation.
  • why re-work the artwork for The Black Freighter comic in that world? Why not use the original. Better yet, since the sequence isn't portrayed in the movie except for ONE SHOT, why shot it at all? What does it tell the audience who hasn't read the comic? It's an in-joke for comic geeks.
Overall, this is one of the best comic book movies out there, but it doesn't transcend its roots like the original elevated the world of comics into grown-up entertainment. This is a work for fans, and as one, I'm thankful.

cowabunga

Jan. 6th, 2010 01:08 am
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Just finished achievement-whoring my way through a borrowed copy of TMNT: the movie game, not one of the ports of the old arcade stand-up machines. Oh my fucking god, this game is crap. Crap, crap, crap. I am no longer in love with Ubi's Montreal studio.

It has no user-controlled camera, so there is no, no, no excuse for the camera shenanigans which occur with offscreen enemies, unclear world paths, and poorly controlled character movement/navigation due to camera misalignment. So many times during playthrough I found myself saying, "No, your camera is just not good enough to demand that a player tolerate this." So much inexplicable fall-to-death gameplay. So many times the game wants you to jump down to street level to continue the path, other times it will kill you outright for making the same-distance drop, because the path is on rooftops for now. Crap.

The game has a learning curve like a long, boring, flat highway ending in a stout brick wall. It's boringly linear in every way, even to the point where the turtles announce "OH, A MAZE! LIKE THE ONE IN CRETE" except that it's a non-branching hallway. So... not a maze. Excepting bad controls and sketchy camera, there's not a single thing challenging until the final boss, which suddenly requires you to do paired-combo moves which were available, but neither needed nor explained before, but are the only way to clear the final boss fight.

They did a weird thing where the level completion Achievements are all strange numbers like 58 pts or 44 pts, I am guessing they wanted everyone to finish the game and try to avoid having a weird looking Achievement total. However that last boss battle is an even 80 pts, and I'd bet money that it's because they know most people will quit before finishing this turd.
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Pre-completion review of Brütal Legend: It's very good, despite a couple of serious missteps. (Full disclosure: I have several friends at Double Fine, some of them very dear to me, and I am very clearly biased.)

The first misstep is the demo version of the game; it doesn't really show the game off for what it is. It touches only on two aspects of the core experience: epic, gorgeous, heavy-metal inspired environments, and third-person mêlée combat. There's a driving sequence that might as well be on rails, and a boss fight in an arena.

In actuality game is an open-world/driving action game (a la Grand Theft Auto), featuring story progression missions which usually focus on real-time strategy gameplay (think Warcraft). There are side-missions which consist of skirmish-level RTS with fixed unit resources (no resource management, but RTS controls apply), races, hunting, and a very occasional mission which focuses on using Team-Up powers in a new context. The depth of the gameplay is primarily invested in the RTS sequences, but the bulk of the time in singleplayer is in driving/exploring the world, and non-Stage-Battle missions.

This is really the second misstep: The game stops teaching the player about the complexity of the RTS portion of the game right about the point where it's needed the most. The game is fastidious about teaching the player how to attack, defend, drive a car, all stuff that could have been pretty well handled through trial-and-error. It doesn't teach the player about managing overall unit "Load" or improving their Stage (increasing their tech level). It gives very brief instruction on sending only a portion of massed forces out with individual orders. There's a really smart, complex game, an RTS reconsidered particularly for the controller-driven console market, but it isn't successfully conveyed to the player.

In fact, I'd been cruising through the singleplayer with nary a hiccup until "Dry Ice, Wet Graves" at which point I became seriously frustrated. The learning curve took an immediate turn for the vertical, leaving me running directly into a wall. I played it several times before looking up some strategy guides online, at which point it became fun. More fun that it had previously been, in fact -- a sudden insight into its depth of gameplay is all it took.

Part of me wonders if the expectation or hope was for BL to become a primarily multiplayer hit. Similarly to the way Halo smoothly brought multiplayer FPS genre to consoles, perhaps the desire was to bring RTS to the same audience. So far the attempts to do that have been overly complex; despite some clever button-chording, Universe at War and C&C Red Alert still focus on a tremendous complexity and depth, slavishly following the model of PC-based RTS games, allowing for homogeneous or heterogeneous unit grouping and orders. BL takes all of that and says "b'bye" and allows the AI to determine most unit behavior. This relegates the player to telling bulk groups where to go, thus freeing the player from unit-level micromanagement and replacing that activity with directly assaulting the enemy with their highly mobile, reasonably powerful avatar.

Imagine you're playing Warcraft or Starcraft, and your unit selection pointer, that gloved fist can travel over to the opponent's side of the map, dispelling fog-of-war as it moves, and then can begin flicking, snapping at the enemy units directly. Your "pointer" can diminish or destroy your opponent's forces. All I can say is "YAY!" Harrassing enemy troops is great, though if you linger too long your character can be destroyed, basically just resetting it to your own stage and awarding 50 Fans to your opponent.

Also, there should be a KLOS 95.5 sticker for The Druid Plow. Or whatever Schafer was listening to when he was in high school. But it was KLOS for Los Angeles, though I embraced my metalhood much later in life.

Along with having a fresh take on the RTS, the game tells an epic story through gorgeous cutscenes, fantastic voice acting and animation, and some spot dialog from interacting with the entourage at various points on the tour... er, "quest." On that animation thing, the facial animation is just spot on, start to finish. I recall some great stuff in Psychonauts as well, but much of this feels like a Pixar movie made for metalheads. Nothing's melodramatic and overblown, just believable, moving scenes with surprisingly endearing characters.

But artistically the thing that really gets me going is the world itself. I don't want to distract from what DF has accomplished with the RTS and story, but as an ex-world designer ("once and future world designer"?) I am very impressed with the world itself. Interviews prior to launch have mentioned they want the world to feel like it could be a heavy metal album cover, no matter where you look. I didn't know how they'd pull that off, but it's there. In spades.

More hours have been spent just tooling around and looking at the world than playing the game. I've looked for the "completion" items like Dragons and Legends and metal ViewMaster things, but I actually sit there in awe when the vista view is happening, and panning around the landmark for a larger view. These landmarks are all composed to make the world look like those old album covers which were so evocative of the feelings that the music brings. These need to be given away as wallpaper on the official site. They're gorgeous. They're so pretty in fact that I don't want to play the story missions, because I just want to drive around and absorb the feeling of being in the world. I was driving in my hot rod around the cliffs when the weather changed to a stormy night. Blue lightning flashed and lit the whole world in a stark, cerulean blue hue. Rain poured down as I tried to drive as close to the cliffs as possible, all the while the storm raged. It was just insanely beautiful.
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I always mimic [livejournal.com profile] aalfonso when he posts these things, mainly because I don't think to do them until I see one of his.

Brütal Legend. HELLS YES. Acres of land to cover in a big daddy roth style hotrod with heavy metal spewing from its MOUTH OF METAL stereo system. Exploration with item unlocks. Gorgeous, gorgeous heavy metal album cover evocative landscapes (I want wallpapers!). Top notch voice acting and writing, constantly wavering on the line of loving and respecting heavy metal music, and laughing at all it entails. I'm worried that the game may end up being short, so I'm pacing myself rather than trying to get through it. I want to spend time in this world, but I tend to drop a game as soon as I finish the main story.

GTA IV: My disc cracked and died, and while I followed up with official replacement channels I grew more and more obsessed with being able to play the yet-unfinished DLC, Lost and Damned. Now with so many of my friends playing Ballad of Gay Tony, I'm extra stoked that Weezie transpacifically flung a copy my way. I played some of each DLC this weekend. So far the side characters in Gay Tony seem like a return to some of the more sophomoric humor of earlier GTAs rather than the "I wish I was Martin Scorsese" feeling of IV.

The Beatles: Rock Band was out in full force during our Halloween party this weekend. Lots of fun singing, though one of my friends is a fantastic singer. She was killing my performances out of the gate and getting great scores even on Expert on her first playthrough.

Rock Band Unplugged: Still enjoying this though the track listing is stiflingly limited compared to even Rock Band 1.

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