Saturday, 26 June 2010
The first release in an ongoing series of Mondo commissioned Star Wars posters. Hit the link for an artist commentary, Mr Soto explains why he chose a Gonk Droid for his piece. Feel the power of nondescript brick toys! Super7 would be proud.
More please! I'd like a Jawa or Wampa pin-up if it's not too much trouble, but if you really want to give me a treat, it's gotta be IG-88. That chap was stone cold.
Friday, 25 June 2010
High Moon Studios certainly start off on the right foot; playable cast is a pick 'n' mix of Bay movie bruisers and curios from the recent angular animation series, topped off with a glut of Generation 1 mainstays. Cybertron is rendered as a clashing, weaving mass of technology upon technology, guiding players from fascistic scramble cities to derelict snake-pipe underworlds. The transformers themselves are spikey recalibrations of typical drafts that compliment the brutally utilitarian landscapes. If not original, Transformers: War for Cybertron's overall look does have an agreeable sense of identity, meshing nostalgia nudges and brand concerns, while honouring the aesthetic demands of this created world.
Unfortunately, as a game, War for Cybertron is sorely lacking. Enemies are interchangeable drones; face toys are withheld for light story sequences and infrequent boss encounters. Combat consists of basic health sapping, any sense of fun further hampered by pick-up drudgery and simplistic set-pieces. There's rarely a need to transform, and alternative modes are sluggish dodgem cars balanced for corridor sightseeing. The weed thick twists of Cybertronian geography, that no doubt shine as concept doodles, also become almost unreadable in practice. Gunmetal grey is total, and inconsistent door properties inspire apathy. War for Cybertron isn't quite awful, just savagely unremarkable.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Cut to appeal to audiences gagging for another Iron Man entry, this shill for Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet does reveal a few prickly corners on further examination. First off, the hero's desire to create a super-identity is based not on some desire to do good in the world, but rather as a way to transform himself into a short-cut facsimile of his philanthropic father. Instead of knuckling down and making inching progress, Seth Rogen's Britt Reid leapfrogs legality with lethal toys and fawning media buzz. Likewise Jay Chou's Kato plays less like a noble sidekick and more like a reality shifted lunatic taken to blowing his pal's billions on massacre mechanics. Also buried in the noise is the film's 'big idea' - a superhero duo that willfully break the law to further their own twisted agenda. Hopefully in Gondry's hands we can expect a morally confused manic narrative focusing on two entitled psychopaths and the lengths they will go to to get their moneyed kicks. Keep lying to yourselves guys!
For its Japanese release, sandbox superhero smasher Crackdown was carefully rebranded to better cater to perceived audience tastes. Out with an enormous, muscular black man! In with a lithe burning-guts everyman with a faint whiff of Monkey Punch's Lupin about him! Title change aside, the rest of this covered cover is more a conceptual reorganising of the original US eye-catch. The lead switch is interesting though, ignoring any ideas about avatar apartheid, the shift seems to be as much about the sort of figure that best represents each markets masculine ideal: America favours a stomping brawn powerhouse, very much in the mould of a professional wrestler. Something aspirational. Japan favours an obtainable nondescript, that'll likely win through on personal ingenuity rather than raw power. Neither is misleading either. Each rendering represents a distinct state of the game's hero too - at the beginning your character will be physically smaller. Your agent begins as a wiry enforcer, slowly mutating into a hulk state as you acquire experience.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
As well as selling on a controllable cyborg ninja, this trail for Metal Gear Solid: Rising also apportions a large amount of its screen time to demonstrating a variety of mechanics more or less new to the series. Dubbed 'free slicing', Metal Gear's new toy is a precision slash, allowing players to dismember their foes using controllable geometric paths during free-frame play. Director Mineshi Kimura has been quick to point out that although the user is able to horrifically carve up enemies, this new installment, like the rest of the series, will still encourage them to seek pacifistic alternatives. More than likely, ripper-play will attract all kinds of armed unwanted attention, hassling up the experience. Still, with a Raiden this powerful, who cares? Let them come! They shall be cut too. Also interesting are the destructible environments, an idea teased very early on, but more or less junked from the final build of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. The ideas been flipped on its head though. Rather than be the fleeing party, suffering ever shrinking cover, you're the monster removing any sense of safety.
Thanks to E3 we have a glut of Marvel vs Capcom 3 gameplay vids. Here's my fav. True to series roots, it makes you dizzy. Watch as Capcom's biohazard ox Chris Redfield expertly manhandles The Incredible Hulk with just his mitts, an electrified cattle prod, and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arsenal. Can't shoot a Hulk-quake though can you?
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
It's Disaster Year 2010, and it's still not the future. Automobiles do not fly, and full meals aren't available in pill form. 2010 is rubbish. Square Enix and Taito remember the future. Specifically, they remember the blip-blop incomprehensibility of future video games speculated by mid 80s sci-fi anime. Space Invaders Infinity Gene looks like interact overspill from Megazone 23 - all animation clean vector lines and indistinct objective areas, barely understandable to our under-evolved monkey mind. To the future!
Sunday, 13 June 2010
It's E3 this week, so that means lots of video game ads! This latest shill for Fallout: New Vegas teases a second-chance city frothing with extermination arsenal. As a follow-up, it's more of a superplay tweaker than drastic overhaul - wasteland citizens are still traumatised lump folk, faces frozen in a damaged techno-mortis. It's a good job the franchise sells on post-apocalyptia, that way you can at least pretend the shuffling anti-animation is a result of a total human shellshock. Of course, precisely none of that matters when you're basement deep in a science outpost rooting around for laser-gun batteries; by then you're immersed and experiencing.
Friday, 11 June 2010
Looks like Shockwave is being pencilled in as the main threat in Michael Bay's Transformers 3. Although wildly unlikely, it'd be cool to see Shockwave portrayed like he was in the Marvel comic series. Instead of the toady henchman of the animated series, Marvel Shockwave was an insanely powerful wild card who operated on pure computated logic. He observed no loyalty to any commander he deemed faulty, routinely slaughtered dinosaurs, and paraded Optimus Prime's severed head as a trophy. Above is Mark Bright's iconic cover to The Transformers #5. In this exciting issue Shockwave hangs several dead Autobots from a ceiling and then puts his feet up and watches some television.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
The 16-Bit rehashes continue! After a succession of lunky 3D plain also-rans, Mortal Kombat, under the stewardship of new owners Warner Bros, has apparently returned to its 2D bish-bosh roots. This trail stresses this nostalgia baiting devolution with a montage comprised entirely of spit shone ideas from the series's most enduring entry Mortal Kombat II; with a dash of Mortal Kombat 3 for spice. Executive Producer Ed Boon, a staff mainstay since the series's inception, has waffled to the US gaming press about pushing the limits of what is acceptable dismemberment wise in a video game. Hype!
Got my mitts on Earthworm Jim HD yesterday, and I'm happy to report it isn't quite the mess I predicted. It's not perfect: to the best of my knowledge neither the Mega Drive nor the SNES version is lurking away in any partitioned vault section, the music remix stresses anonymous, a secret stage has been removed, and Jim's playmobil pistol doesn't register as a death spewing hate machine anymore. Those issues aside there is much to like. Gameloft have woven in elements from the Mega CD Special Edition, finally allowing (relatively) unspoiled children to sample Shiny's original do-over. The Mega Drive exclusive Intestinal Distress level is in, and the additional stages loudly trumpeted by the trail are tucked away as bonus content in the main menu. Phew! In all Earthworm Jim HD is a successful reheat of a 16-Bit classic, it reintroduces you to all the things that made Dave Perry's platformer special, the playful structure, the joke bosses and nob-joke sound effects. 16-Bit Earthworm Jim took a skit sketch approach to platformer aesthetics. Levels were short and snappy and usually ended on a gag of some sort. This is the same. Earthworm Jim 2 now please!
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Warwick Johnson Cadwell has posted his take on the ABC Warriors over at his blog. Check it out! The strip was produced for issue 1 of Will Kirkby's Nu-Earth fanzine - hopefully the first of many. For my money, this meknificent five haven't looked quite so awesome since Mike McMahon stopped drawing them. If Tharg had any sense he'd throw money at Mr Johnson to chronicle an ABC mega-epic. Disaster Year's dream scenario would involve a bickering Blackblood and Joe Pineapples teaming up and betraying each other across all the known universes. WJC's Blackblood looks sneakier than Bugs Bunny.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
What's interesting about much of this John Hillcoat designed short, created to advertise Rockstar's latest Red Dead Redemption, is a nagging sense of passive observation. The viewer feels once removed. Is that because Hillcoat, by his own admission not too au fait with the video game medium, is struggling to engage with the material, or because the viewer is seeing sequences they would usually control presented as a brief feature? The virtual camera keeps Red Dead's lead John Marston at the kind of distance that would allow a player a fair approximation of his surroundings, and an ability to judge how best to play. In the context of a film though, the disconnect feels slightly disinterested, revolted even. There is a persistent lack of intimacy. Rather than implicate Marston as the lead, the construction stresses the viewer.
Is that an accurate reading or just a hang over from knowing where the material springs? Much has been assembled from in-game story sequences where this sort of visual language would go more or less unnoticed. You wouldn't detect how much of what you are seeing is being ordered for your schematic benefit, because you are the lead. John Marston is your toy. The stressed physical distance between audience and lead could equally be read as a tool to build a sense of mystery around John Marston. Like most revisionist Western heroes, Marston has a brutal past. This idea is supported by how the camera's behaviour changes when Marston begins to talk about his old life, it pushes right in on the back of his skull as if forcing its way into his thoughts. Another explanation could simply be that these avatars are not as engaging as real people, that the edit needs to diverge visually because watching a polygon figure shuffle through a environment doesn't grip like a prowling person. It's too artificial. If nothing else this short illustrates some of the key differences in visual grammar between the two mediums. Films can move throughout on visual signatures and motifs. Turns out games are all about geography.
Thursday, 3 June 2010
The Empire Strikes Back is Darth Vader's movie top to bottom. George Lucas has spoken at length about how the prequel trilogy firmly contextualises the entire Star Wars saga as a redemptive arc for Anakin Skywalker, but a substantial amount of those threads begin here. The film moves on Vader's whims and desires. Armed with a continent sized spacecraft, the Sith lord scours the galaxy searching for his offspring, and other Force sensitive, Luke Skywalker. Vader's hold on the film is such that eventually his image begins to bleed out into the world. At his most powerful Vader is surrounded by tense, screaming industrial facilities, all cast in his piteous pitch black.
Popular culture usually identifies Vader as an insoluble leader figure in the Galactic Empire so it's interesting, when watching the films, to see that this isn't quite the case. In the original Star Wars Vader is more of a thug henchman to Peter Cushing's lizardy politician. Rather than sit high in the imperial hierarchy, Vader seems to be a brutal wizard barely tolerated by his fascist contemporaries. Likewise, in Empire Vader issues orders, but subordinates wait for a nod from their actual superiors before proceeding. Vader is a phantom, drifting about observation decks, punishing those whose mistakes keep him from his son. He exists in an untouchable bubble, separated from any notions of rank or military bureaucracy. He is hated and feared by all.
The only figure Vader answers to is a projected image of the Emperor. In the 1980 mint of this sequence, Vader communes with a boggle-eyed witch that wishes to transform young Luke into a corrupted ally. This Emperor delights in his minion's aggressive immorality, smiling at Vader's impassive solution. The recent DVD remix of this scene adds Ian McDiarmid, and a few lines to clarify some duplicity on behalf of Vader, lending the sequence an element of pleading. Beats of silence warp the intent and intonation of Vader's speech, stressing a yearning paternal interest. It's just about the only addition these films have been subjected to that demonstrates any sort of dramatic impulse.
Cacophony shill for the latest in Shinya Tsukamoto's machine-man series, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. As with previous sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, this new release is more a reshuffling of ideas that narrative continuation. Half-delivering on a series of promises made in the 1990s, director Tsukamoto hasn't shifted the action to the United States, but he does appear to have assembled an English language cast to flail about in Japan's concrete capital. Hopefully the culture clash is handled with a little more grace than Takashi Shimizu's dreary Ju-on retreads.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Other mediums have it good, or at least better. For the most part, when films and albums get remastered the original elements are simply buffed and cleaned. If they're lucky they might even get centre-pieced in a box-set full of relevant off-cuts and documentary material. This process isn't perfect, modern foley has fouled up many a recent film re-release, but there's an underlying respect for the original work.
What happens to vintage games? They get turned over to third parties to be yanked apart and put back together in a form that pleases the idea of a modern consumer. It's not so much that this HD reissue of Earthworm Jim is bad, it's that it disregards aspects central to the original game's appeal. Seeing fluid, cartoon like animation running on the Mega Drive was a considerable boon in 1994, it defied the accepted limitations of the system. That's what made Earthworm Jim special. What we're seeing here is just a re-drawn approximation of those 16-bit assets. You don't re-shoot films for a Blu-Ray anniversary release do you? The introduction of new stages - including Keyboard Cat? - is a bit of a cheek too. I've never heard of contemporary sound engineers creating entirely new tracks to be roughly sown back into a classic album. Who would want that? Why should this be any different?
Remaster squads should be custodians, not creators. Above all though, there should be choice. If properties really do have to be tinkered with, at least give the audience the opportunity to have the lo-fi experience. Tuck it away somewhere in the package. Some people want the pixellated 16-bit mess, or the dull Mono soundtrack. Limitations, even outright mistakes, have value. Don't destroy them.