Tuesday, July 29, 2008

E3 Thoughts

So, E3 came along a little while ago. I can distinctly remember a time when this mattered. I also remember that it was in May and I literally stopped going to classes so that I could keep up with all the crazy upcoming video game videos being released every couple minutes. I remember how important each of the Big 3's press conferences were and how each one had to be more awesome and more full of exciting announcements than the one before. I remember how afterwards, everyone would argue about who had "won" that year.

Man, times have changed. Or, alternatively, how the mighty have fallen. E3 has lost every semblance of relevance imaginable. I can't really come up with any new game announcements, merely more info about stuff we already know about. It's become just an update to let everyone know what to expect this Christmas. And, well, I hate to be a spoilsport, but everyone already knows what to look forward to this Christmas. We've known pretty much since the end of last Christmas. You can't surprise us there.

Possibly even more depressing was the fact that I'm being forced to realize that neither Sony nor Microsoft nor Nintendo care about me at all. I listen to their press conferences and all they tell me is why I should stop caring about them. I mean, can't they pretend that interesting, narrative-based single player games are worth making and advertising anymore. It's weird because there's still plenty of games that fit into that genre that are coming out successfully, such as GTA 4 and MGS 4 and Assassin's Creed and Bioshock and Ninja Gaiden and Portal and Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime and Final Fantasy games and the list goes on. These games are all quite successful and they all fit into that description. But if you watch the press conferences, you'd think nobody cares about that at all.

The problem is this whole "social gaming" thing. Now, in my mind, there's two definitions of social gaming. Because I'm old, the first definition of social gaming is when you're hanging out with people playing video games. You know, split screen multiplayer and stuff like that. This is social because you're hanging out with friends and playing a game. Oftentimes, drinking is involved. See, they will pretty much never be able to announce another social game that I care about because Rock Band is the greatest game in this genre ever made. And, because Harmonix is constantly adding content, it is almost guaranteed to remain that way. Every other game will be just a distraction before my friends and I get back to playing Rock Band.

The other definition of social gaming is online multiplayer. Apparently, online multiplayer has become so popular that games are coming out that focus more or less entirely on this aspect. And, while I personally will never get into any of those, I don't inherently hate the fact that they exist or anything. The problem is that these have become the focus of most upcoming games.

I mean, Resident Evil 5, a survival-horror game, has an online co-op mode. What is the point of that at all? How does bringing a friend along improve the gameplay in that genre at all? Am I going to get more scared of the zombies when I have a friend helping me fight them? No, no I'm not. And, since they're not with me, we're not really going to share the communal feeling of fear that playing a survival horror game with an audience typically creates (which can be the most fun part of playing such a game). So, yeah, I'm guessing RE5 is no longer survival horror at all (number four was an action game, but it was a freaking scary action game).

Both Sony and Microsoft's biggest games this November/December are shooters. Gears of War 2 has a major focus on it's co-op mode and Resistance 2 has a major focus on multiplayer. I don't really care about either game (admittedly, I typically only allow myself one sci-fi shooter per year, maximum, and with Bioshock finally coming out for the PS3, I should be covered until most of the way through 2009 anyways...).

Bethesda is turning Fallout 3 into Elder Scrolls 5 with a nuclear wasteland background instead of a fantasy background. Oh, and the Elder Scrolls had already become basically a shooter in the trappings of an RPG. And really boring. That too.

It's weird to say this, but EA is pretty much my last good hope for gaming this holiday season. What with Spore, Dead Space, and Mirror's Edge, their line-up of games I can happily play alone is second to none. This is mind-boggling, by the way. To put it in perspective, up until this generation, I had never bought an EA branded game. I don't think. It wouldn't be very easy to really confirm that, but it's probably safe to say since I don't have any EA PS2 games, and before that I only bought Nintendo systems and EA didn't really get along with Nintendo that much anyway. So, yeah, the giant monolith where great games go to die is actually bringing more games that I care about than anyone else. How is that even possible?

I mean, I guess I'm curious about what Ubisoft is doing with the new Prince of Persia, but the videos definitely seem to be suggesting online co-op options (or, hopefully, the girl is just like the girl in numbers 1 and 3, which would be okay too). Otherwise, it feels like Ubisoft has given up on anything that doesn't start with Tom Clancy's name (oh yeah, and they've hinted at Beyond Good and Evil 2, I'll be looking forward to that for a long time as well).

Activision is too busy trying to become the next EA to make a game worth caring about (because I don't care about Call of Duty, being that it's a non-sci-fi shooter and all).

And, worst of all, freaking Square-Enix has basically abandoned the PS3. I mean, seriously, come on. Their bread and butter is making RPGs. From a pure controller design perspective, the PS3 is a way better platform for making RPGs (the reasoning being that it has a very nice, very usable D-pad in the most comfortable position, while the 360 relegates the D-pad to a more awkard position and it works like crap).

But, Microsoft desperately wants to not only steal market-share from Sony, but they want to keep it, so they must be spending tons of money convincing Square to make exclusive RPGs for the system. The idea being that if enough exclusive RPGs are made for the system, eventually RPG fans will be forced to buy the system and buy the RPGs and then the console will get the reputation of having a good catalog of RPGs (because then Japanese gamemakers will willingly make RPGs for the platform). But, it hasn't happened yet. Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey didn't exactly sell well, nor did Eternal Sonata for that matter.

But, now they've gotten Square on board and they're releasing the new Star Ocean game exclusively for the 360. This makes me very, very sad. I mean, this is Square we're talking about, and they do love money very much, so I imagine the PS3 version will be out in a year or so (with extra content, of course), but it's still frustrating. These are games I want to play, and Microsoft is just using their clout to stop me from playing them. Truly, it's a very personal offense.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, what exactly has Square been doing for the last two years in terms of working on Final Fantasy XIII? It's like we're watching the same CG video from two years ago. I mean, how long did it take to even make Advent Children? I bet it wasn't that much more than two years, and yet they haven't even been able to get around to cut a new trailer? Let alone, you know, come up with an even remotely playable version yet. I swear, we're not going to see that game for another two years (in Japan, and then 9 months later it'll come to the U.S.). That's just ridiculous.

So, yeah, that's E3. It's pretty much just an avenue for game company's to tell me the bad news directly. Sadness.

That is all.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight Pre-Post

I actually wrote this post on Wednesday, before going to see The Dark Knight on Thursday. I meant to clean it up a bit on Thursday before going to see Batman, but then I got distracted by Rock Band, and so I'm finally posting it now.

So, The Dark Knight comes out this week. That can fairly be called "good news". I'm pretty sure that everyone under the sun is excited about this movie (except my dad for some reason I don't really understand). And, well, in preparation for it, I thought I'd just reminisce about how much I like Batman and stuff like that.

So, when I was young, I was kind of into the movies. I had enjoyed the first movie, but I got bored during the second one, so I didn't like it very much (keep in mind, I was like 6 or something). I was kind of madly in love with Nicole Kidman during Batman Forever, so I was totally into that one. And, well, Batman and Robin was terrible, and even I could tell that. It's interesting to go back to Batman Forever and realize that it's almost unwatchably bad. If you have any fond memories of it at all, don't ever re-watch it. It's embarrassing.

Similarly, it's not very easy to even re-watch the first either. I mean, Tim Burton established the feel of the Batman movies with this one, and it deserved the success it got. But, it's not much of an action movie, and it's kind of slow and the result is that when you come back to it, it suffers a little. On the other hand, I did like the sequel a bit more upon re-watching it, but since I still don't really like it, that's not worth much.

Then things were quiet on the Batman front for a long time. Oddly enough, I started getting into comics and graphic novels and I ended up reading The Dark Knight Returns. My mind was blown. This was the first thing I had read that really made me care about Batman. The tough guy dialogue that Frank Miller writes is just classic and the themes are bad-ass. I was completely enthralled by this version of Batman.

I loved how much of a bad guy he was. How he relished the pain he was causing his victims. How he took pride in his unwillingness to kill, but felt no such qualms about torture. This version of Batman was a vigilante through and through. And so, now every Batman thing I see must be compared to that.

And, well, Batman Begins just happened to come around and compare very, very favorably to just that. I love how dark and evil Gotham City feels in Batman Begins. I love the emphasis on fear. I like that everyone wants to use fear to control each other, even as Bruce Wayne is letting fear control his life (okay, um, sorry about that Donnie Darko reference out of the blue). This isn't the Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight Returns, but it's not hard to imagine him ending up there someday. I mean, Batman is always at its best when Batman is carefully toeing the line between superhero and monster, and Batman Begins actually brings that into play, and so it was awesome.

Recently, I watched Batman: Gotham Knight, which was also a really fun take on Batman. American Batman writers prepared a couple short stories and some anime directors and studios did the animation and the results are pretty cool. The first one is about the myth of Batman as different kids who all saw Batman in action try to describe what they saw. Each of them provides a fantastic description, of this robot or bat creature or just shadow creature fighting crime. In the end, though, they see Batman and he looks completely human. He's been in a fight all day and he's bleeding and tired (and looks rather out of shape). He's not that myth at all, but the kids are still in awe. Because he is Batman.

The second one, for me at least, has the most powerful image of the entire movie. There's fire all around and the bad guy has a gunto the female cop's head and he's threatening to kill her. Batman, this time looking seven feet tall and deadly, approaches. Through the fire. In the middle of the fire, with flames dancing up his cape and all around him, he stares into the eyes of the bad guy like a creature from Hell, sent to bring this man back down there with him. Then, in a flash, the bad guy is disarmed and the girl is safe. He never stood a chance.

The third one draws Bruce as embarrassingly pretty (in that anime form where the kick ass guys look like girls). It's an interesting story, providing insight into Bruce's morals. When he tries a device to protect himself, it hurts a bystander (not an innocent bystander, mind you). As a result, he refuses to use it, because it puts unnecessary risk to those around him. I like that.

The fourth one is just cool fighting and animation, while the fifth one tells a story of how Bruce learned to "work through pain". It's especially interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that we get to see Bruce with some scruff on his chin and he looked pretty cool that way. The second is that he's traveling the world studying and he attempts to join this order or something to learn to deal with pain. Basically, he lies and uses them to train him to tolerate pain so that he can fight, when they want him to learn to tolerate pain as a means of finding peace. In effect, he uses them to learn their secrets, then betrays their beliefs to satisfy his own desires. I thought it was cool to see that.

And then the last one was more cool action, which I enjoyed as well.

After watching that anime series, I decided to go out and get Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. This is a retelling of Batman's origins, which doesn't so much vary from the source material, as tell the story in Frank Miller's voice. For me, the coolest part of this graphic novel is actually Lt. Gordon. I've always been used to the cartoon version of Gordon where he's pretty much useless. He's old and overweight and incompetent and so has to rely on Batman. Even in Batman Begins, he's incapable of actually doing anything besides not get killed until Batman comes in.

But in Frank Miller's hands, Gordon kicks ass. I mean, really kicks ass. Gordon's fights in that book are actually better than Batman's fights, in my mind. And I think that's a really cool way to look at it. We see a young Bruce learning how to be Batman and then we see this aging gunslinger settling into a new town and cutting out a place for a good cop. Gordon's a hero in this view, and I thought that was really cool.

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited about The Dark Knight. I really want to see what Christopher Nolan does with this Batman. And this Joker for that matter. Oh, and this Two-Face as well. I want to see Batman lose control of the fear he cultivated in the first one. I want to see what he does once this happens. I want to see how he reacts when someone scarier than him arrives on the scene. I'm sure the writers and Christopher Nolan know that you can't use fear to control people forever and eventually their fear will give them strength they didn't have before they were scared. How can Batman control the criminal population in the long term? That's what Batman needs to learn in this movie. And it's going to be a fun ride.

I'll try to get around to writing my actual review of The Dark Knight shortly. That is all.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Movie Catch Up Post

So, if you haven't noticed, I've been way behind on putting up posts. Yeah, I don't have an excuse. No, I don't really feel like coming up with one. Just assume that it means I started having some semblance of a life or something (which, of course, is entirely false, but that's what I'd like people to presume in general).

Anyways, I have still been seeing movies. Lots of them in fact. And, per normal, I've had opinions about them, although not especially strong opinions about some of them. So, I'm going to just start going through the various I've seen since Iron Man and saying whatever I can remember that I think about them.

Alright, let's begin.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (that is the title right?), I enjoyed it. I admit I had really low expectations. Also, I admit that I hadn't watched an Indiana Jones movie in at least 10 years, probably closer to 15. So, to be honest, I could barely even remember what I should be expecting. Keeping that in mind, I found it to be very fun. The beginning was totally fun. I really liked the escape in Area 51 and I thought the refrigerator scene was brilliant (even if everyone else thought it was stupid).

I especially liked the set up to it. The initial warning signs saying to stay away (which initially meant that he couldn't expect to find help, but then came to mean something else). I had fun with the entrance to the model neighborhood and the initial hope that he's safe, until the realization that everything is fake. Then the rushed search for safety as the countdown comes. And in the final seconds as we see the fridge and in your head (well, my head at least) you're screaming, "Go to the fridge, Indy! The fridge!" And finally he opens the door and it says that it's lined with lead, so you know this means he'll be perfectly safe in there. Just an excellent sequence in my mind.

The rest of the movie was less cool. It's hard to really like Shia's character (or care about him at all, for that matter). You can't help but like William Hurt (or is it John Hurt, I always get their names confused), but that's life. I thought the whole driving off a cliff and onto a tree was completely stupid. It would have been awesome except Marion did it on purpose. You're not allowed to do things like that on purpose. It's supposed to be the kind of luck that only the good guys can possibly have.

So, yeah, it was enjoyable. It made me go back to the old movies and realize that they're really not very good. I mean, obviously Raiders of the Lost Ark was pretty good and The Last Crusade does tons of stuff right, but I couldn't even sit through Temple of Doom. I'd put Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at least on par with Last Crusade, which isn't bad.

Let's see, next is Kung Fu Panda. I really enjoyed that. The opening dream sequence did a great job of both setting my expectations for the movie and just making me smile. I can't help but quote Jack Black's response to the people's desire to repay him for defeating the bad guys: "There is no charge for AWESOMENESS!"

The fight scenes in it were totally cool. They were actually really imaginative, which is really hard to believe in an animated movie. I mean, the big advantage that animated movies have is that you can do cool camera angles and cool weightless stuff and things like that. The result is that people have done the vast majority of the cool things you can really do with animated fights (I blame anime for this). But Kung Fu Panda pretends it's a live-action kung fu movie and so actually comes up with some cool fights that aren't really focused on the advantages of animation (keep in mind that the bad guy's escape from prison is an exception). Watching Po and Master Shifu duel for the last dumpling with chopsticks is easily my favorite part of the movie, and it's primarily because of the fight choreography, not the camera angles or the impossible moves. And I think that's totally awesome.

I also really liked it's final Zen message as well. I won't spoil what the scroll says, but I love that it contains the same message as Po's father. The wise turtle reached nirvana through training his mind and body in the martial arts and Po can't help but worship him for it. But, in the end, we learn that Po's father discovered nirvana in his work at the noodle shop. I think that's really beautiful. Both of these authority figures in Po's life are men of genius, and in the end, Po realizes that and finally respects his father.

So, yeah, it's really a great addition to the American tradition of kung fu movies. It's definitely better and more intelligent than The Forbidden Kingdom.

Let's see, I guess next would be The Incredible Hulk. I had actually watched a fair amount of The Hulk on TV since they had been playing it all the time to get people excited about the new one (which seems like the type of strategy that would backfire, since nobody liked it, but that's not important). It's interesting that upon rewatching the first one (in HD), I actually don't think it's that bad. I mean, it's still ridiculous and weird and confusing, but there's some good stuff about it. Like Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte. I mean, it's got a weird focus on psychology and repressed memories, which don't really fit in an action movie, but visually I found it really exciting. I mean, Ang Lee had a vision for The Hulk and I think he delivered it. The fact that nobody liked it might not be that relevant. But, whatever, this movie is pretending The Hulk never really existed so I'll stop talking now.

And, I was impressed by this one too. It definitely had some cool stuff in it. Edward Norton was a very good Bruce Banner, so I totally respect that. Liv Tyler was actually perfect as the girl, so I really totally respect that, too. Maybe it's just that she didn't have very much to do, but I thought she was really very good. She was absolutely devoted to him and he was to her. Their relationship was definitely a highlight of the movie. The general, as played by John Hurt (or is it William Hurt, I always get them confused) was not very good. I mean, I know he's the bad guy, except it seems like he's not supposed to be the bad guy forever. As an audience member, I want him to make peace with his daughter and realize the Bruce is not the property of the U.S. Government and that he should treat him like a human being. But, well, he refuses to do that. And it's frustrating because it just makes him an ass. And, it's hard to like asses, unless they're funny and clever.

Let's see, most of the fight scenes were pretty cool. I like that the Hulk isn't particularly intelligent but has just enough of Bruce to use the scenery as weapons and armor. For example, turning two cars into weights for his hand to kick more ass. That's pretty cool, but it doesn't make him seem like an especially intelligent creature, just intelligent enough to win even when he's not the strongest.

Lastly, I didn't like Tim Blake Nelson's character either. It seemed like they wanted us to view him as a good guy who's going to eventually turn bad, but he just seemed like a bad guy. See, that's what is commonly known as a distinct lack of subtlety. Obviously, all the comic fans already know he's going to be a bad guy, but you still have to actually make him seem good. I mean, after the way he spoke to Bruce, Bruce should have just walked out and said destroy all these samples of my blood. Then come back as the Hulk and make sure they're really gone. There's no way he should be trusted with that stuff, but the people are oblivious because they think he's good. I'm not sure who should be blamed for this, but it's a problem.

Think of the professor in the Spiderman movies. He's missing his arm and working on the science to one day regrow it. Someday, in a Spiderman movie, he's going to turn into the Lizard or something like that, but right now, as far as we're concerned he's a good guy who Peter trusts and respects. This will make their fight cool and interesting (but kind of exactly like Spiderman 2, so maybe they won't bother with the Lizard, but they at least have the option if they so desire). Alternatively, think of Harvey Dent in the upcoming Batman movie. Clearly, he's going to become Two-Face, but right up until he does, he's going to be a good guy. I think that's a much better way to introduce bad guys before they're bad guys (or you can be like Star Wars, with Emporer Palpatine, who I thought was developed really well as a semi-secret bad guy the whole time.

Well, after The Incredible Hulk would be Get Smart. I knew next to nothing about the TV show prior to seeing this movie. All I knew was from the couple of scenes they had shown during advertisements for ordering the entire series on DVD. This meant I knew that it was related to Mel Brooks and that it featured a guy using his shoe as a cell phone, in the days before cell phones.

At this point, I'd like to give an apology to Anne Hathaway. Dear Anne, you really are hot. I'm sorry I didn't properly admire you when I saw The Devil Wears Prada and The Princess Diaries. From now on, I will agree with people when they say that you are hot. Um, I guess that's all...and don't ask why I saw either of those movies when I didn't think you were hot (and definitely don't ask why I've seen Devil Wears Prada three times at this point, while never thinking you're hot).

Anyways, this movie was interesting. It's really odd that someone made the decision that Steve Carrell should play a totally competent spy. It's a little weird, to be honest. I mean, you go into this movie expecting Steve Carrell to bumble around and have Anne Hathaway pick up the pieces for him, but that's not what happens at all. Basically, they both compete to be the most awesome spies. I have to admit that it worked fine and was very funny, but it meant that there wasn't nearly as much slapstick as you would expect (and when there was slapstick stuff, it was often really bad and unnecessary, which is kind of annoying).

So, yeah, it was populated with some fun characters. Hiro plays a nerd working at the base and is quite funny. The Rock is totally cool too. Lastly, I just want to say that the Steve Carrell/The Rock kiss was amazing. I loved how the filmmakers telegraphed it so that I was already laughing just knowing it was about to happen. That was really ingenious.

Um, I guess that's all I have to say about Get Smart. Up next is Wall-E. Now, to be honest, I kind of feel like a bad person because I liked Kung Fu Panda more. I mean, Wall-E definitely a better movie, but Kung Fu Panda spoke to me much more than Wall-E. I don't think I had realized coming in that Wall-E is a love story first and foremost. But it definitely is. Every single thing Wall-E does after meeting Eve is either for her or to be with her. And, well, in the end he saves the human race. For her. So, yeah, it's a really sweet love story, but I must not have been in the mood for a love story or something, because I wasn't really into it.

The opening 30 minutes or something features effectively no dialogue as we simply watch Wall-E, and then Wall-E and Eve, existing. We watch their lives so far. The routines they follow, and the quirks they add in. Wall-E's collection of cool garbage or Eve's flying dance prior to getting to work are special.

Thinking back on the movie, there was a lot of really interesting things to like. I liked that the fat, lazy, pseudo-humans were still looking for love and companionship. I liked that when they were shown that their lives could be more meaningful, they wanted it. These people were brought into this life and needed someone (or something) to show them another life. There was no desire to stay coddled in the ship forever. When they realized there was more than that, they wanted it. That's a really positive view of humanity. I know most people think Wall-E is primarily a negative commentary on the American people, but it finishes with a positive and hopeful belief in us (as opposed to Idiocracy, which is definitely a negative commentary and has no such hope that the masses can be inspired to return to a meaningful way of life once it's lost to them).

It seems like everyone loves Wall-E's fellow rebel robots, but I'm a little more mixed on them. I do like MO, the cleaning robot, because he's the one we get to watch give up his meaningless routine and directive to do what he believes his job is. I think that one decision right there summarizes both the movie and Wall-E's effect on those around him. But, the other robots don't have any such realization. I mean, they're broken. They're in there for repairs because they're malfunctioning. I didn't really like that they were happy to be free or that they followed Wall-E because of it. It didn't really fit the idea that they're robots very well. Wall-E does his job, but has quirks, but these robots have allowed their quirks to take away they're ability to do the job they were built for. This is not the same to me.

Whew, last movie. Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I was really excited for this movie. I had enjoyed the first Hellboy, but it had seemed anti-climactic to me. The final giant Lovecraftian creature Hellboy fought went down really easily and was kind of a letdown. Otherwise, I had thought the movie was really cool and I totally thought Ron Perlman was ridiculously awesome as Hellboy.

Since that movie, I had gotten really into Guillermo del Toro's work and had become something of a fan. I liked Cronos quite a bit, but thought The Devil's Backbone was just okay. I'm probably really weird, but I was thoroughly impressed by Mimic. I mean, it sounds stupid and terrible, but it is neither stupid nor terrible. That impresses me. Obviously Blade II was the best in that series and I blame Guillermo del Toro for it. Also, Pan's Labyrinth was a work of art unlike anything I could have possibly imagined. So, yeah, I like Guillermo del Toro's work.

So, the previews had me really excited for it. I mean, here is what Guillermo and his team can come up with with a big budget and the desire to just blow your mind. Every flash of creature I saw in the previews just made me want to get to stare at the creature designs in wonder. And, well, the movie totally delivered that.

My favorite creature, hands down, was the Angel of Death creature. He looks like something out of a nightmare, but he doesn't come across as evil at all. He just is. He has power and he gives the characters choices, warning them of the consequences of their choices, almost certainly knowing what they will choose in any case. We know when the consequences come, it won't be by his hand. I love that idea of the Angel of Death. He isn't the cause of death, he's merely the bearer of bad news. He didn't make the decision, but you'll have to live with it (pun intended).

Also, watching Abe and Hellboy get drunk together was totally awesome. Also, I had forgotten how much love William Hurt (or is it John Hurt? Aargh, these guys were busy this summer) until I watched him read Hellboy a bedtime story. Also, Johann Strauss was a totally cool addition to the team. I was impressed with that.

Of course, the overriding theme of this movie (and the last movie, for that matter) was that Hellboy has to pick a side. He keeps picking the human side, primarily because of Selma Blair, but the Angel of Death's words can't help but make me wonder if Hellboy will always pick that side. In the first movie, he had to choose between the destiny he'd been created for and the purpose he wanted for himself. In this movie, he has to choose between the the side that can accept him, and needs his help, and the side that has no desire for his help at all.

It's never an easy choice for him, and Ron Perlman does a great job of capturing that. And delivering the line "Awww, crap." I love that line. I also love that they use it profusely, but it doesn't get old. They know just when to use it and how. The result is that it really feels like his immediate reaction phrase. So, when we get the slow, extended, classic delivery it feels even more right.

Man, I really want to see the next Hellboy movie. It'll be awhile, though. A very long while. Stupid hobbits stealing Guillermo's attention from what I want to see him working on.

Alright, that's everything I've seen so far this summer. Phew. Now I just have to wait a few more days till I watch The Dark Knight. That'll get it's very own post, of course.

That is all.


PS - Darn it, I got William Hurt and John Hurt mixed up, so, um, read the name in the parentheses, not the name ahead of the parentese, because I'm stupid. Darn.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Diablo III

So, Blizzard has finally announced Diablo III. Yeah, I'm kind of excited about it. Err, scratch that. I'm more than kind of excited about it. I mean, I know it's still at least a year away, and probably two to be honest. But, I can't help it. I mean, this is Diablo III we're talking about here.

I can very clearly remember getting sucked into Diablo II (I never really got into the original Diablo, only ever really playing the demo). I remember the first character I created. She was an Amazon, specializing in Bow and Arrow skills. This was my first character so she wasn't very good. I remember thinking it was really worthwhile to get Magic Arrow to a high enough level that it didn't require any mana. My thought process was something along the lines of: "I can attack enemies at absolutely no cost to me whatsoever". The fact that at this point Magic Arrow gave no significant damage boost nor an attack rating boost didn't occur to me as relevant. She also specialized in Ice Arrow. This may come as a surprise, but my character wasn't very good against groups. But, in her defense, she made it all the way to Hell difficulty (she didn't really make any progress in Hell, though, and this was prior to the expansion, I'm not sure she would have fared well in Act V).

I think my second character was a Sorceress who played exactly like my Amazon (except she used Fireball instead of Magic Arrow as her main attack and Ice Blast instead of Ice Arrow as her secondary attack). I can't quite remember how far I got with her. I'm sure I got at least to Act II in Nightmare before getting bored of her.

I especially remember when the expansion pack came out. I remember because I was on a trip in Europe when it came out and it was at the house when I got back. I remember that I was on a completely different sleep schedule and so I played it until 6 am or so (having arrived back home around 9 pm the previous evening). I then pretended to go to sleep for an hour so that I would look like I had woken up to go to school in the morning. I'm pretty confident my dad wasn't fooled.

Sigh. Watching those gameplay videos made me miss that game a lot. Well, intellectually miss it at least. The fact that I still play it for a minimum of 5-10 hours a month means that I'm still quite into it. In my defense, it's the only game that my ancient laptop can play (and, well, it's still more fun than most games out for my PS3). Of course, since watching those gameplay videos, I'm back to more more like 5-10 hours a week, minimum.

Nowadays, I'm playing an Assassin (yes, you've probably noticed the pattern that I only play the female classes, and no, I don't really have an explanation for it, but it's primarily due to the fact that I like the play styles and I swear it's not just because they're girls). I think she's something like level 70. She just finally made it to Act V in Nightmare. It's pretty tough because I only play with the number of players set to eight. This means that the bad guys are scaled under the assumption that there are eight people fighting them, but I play alone. In practical terms, it means they have 4.5 times as much life and they give 4.5 times as much experience. Primarily, I do it because it means they drop a shitload more items and I'm kind of a magic item whore.

To be honest, playing an Assassin almost feels like cheating. I mean, she's so ridiculously powerful it all feels kind of pointless (of course, they still kill me regularly, so there's still some challenge to it). Basically, she has one move that is effectively capable of casting three of the Sorceress's most powerful moves (so, it terms of skill points one skill point in that Assassin's move is worth 3 Sorceress skill points into each of those other moves). Yeah, it's ridiculous.

Anyways, back to Diablo III. I thought it was interesting that there was an almost immediate uproar that the game was too bright and happy looking. In some ways, I can see what they're talking about. I mean, the graphics really do look very much like WoW, which has a cartoony look to it. Diablo has typically tried to avoid that cartoony look. But, at the same time, it's tried to avoid a cartoony look while effectively existing as a sprite based game. Last time I checked, sprites are drawings and considering that these move, there is kind of an inherent cartoony-ness to it all. And, in all honesty, the switch to 3-D was pretty much guaranteed. And, since they're going 3-D you know they're going to have to be at least a little careful on the polygon counts, just because they have to be ready to have hundreds of guys on the screen at a time, so the result is that they have to use an art style that can handle relatively low polygon counts. And, well, last time I checked, relatively cartoony characters do low-ish polygon counts pretty well. Besides, they have plenty of time to work on the textures to add some grit to the world.

To be honest, I'm excited about this switch to 3-D. I remember dreading it prior to the announcement (read as: when I'd dream of them finally getting around to making Diablo III), but having seen it in action, I'm happy with it. I'm a little nervous about all that knocking bad guys off the narrow bridge thing we saw the Barbarian doing, just because that means we can't pick up their item drops, I assume, but hopefully that won't be too big an issue (besides, it's not like I'm going to be playing classes that would be knocking guys off bridges anyways). I'm definitely excited at the prospect of the bad guys actually getting to have a sense of scale. That was something that the earlier iterations simply couldn't really do. Everything that was meant to be big just looked fat.

Watching the gameplay videos, I couldn't help but be curious about what the online component is going to be like. I mean, Blizzard almost certainly isn't going to charge for using battle.net, but what if they did? What if they decided to actually make a semi-cohesive world? I'm not sure people know this, but Blizzard kept updating Diablo II well past the point when most people were still paying attention to it (clearly, I'm not most people, I think). They kept adding new Unique items and created a special separate "Ladder" realm. Characters in this realm had access to potential Unique drops and super unique monster encounters that couldn't be found in the other realms. These realms were also regularly reset and all the characters deleted to allow players to regularly compete for something or other (ie-status).

I don't know how much of a success this was, but assuming they were happy with the participation and response was positive, what could they do next? What can they build into Diablo III to keep improving the online component? Could they build 40 person dungeons filled with bosses unlike anything the single player experience could imagine? Could they create some sort of guild system to help organize the player community for these events?

In short, could they make late-game playing in Diablo III similar to the late-game play of WoW? Would they want to?

I'm not sure they necessarily would. To be honest, if I had to sit and pick a game to play, I'm about 85% sure I would pick Diablo II over WoW almost any day of the week. I'm all about killing huge numbers of enemies to see what I find and I can do that in Diablo much more efficiently than WoW. On the other hand, I'm free to do other activities while playing WoW, but I'm not sure I see that as a major advantage.

So, assuming there are other people like me, then Diablo III could, maybe even should, very well be the WoW-killer that everyone's been looking for. It makes a lot of sense to me. WoW takes a huge number of the gameplay concepts of Diablo and uses them as the backbone for the most successful MMO of all time. But, it kept the MMO conceit of very simple, limited combat. Bad guys are meant to be fought one at time (not necessarily one on one, though, of course). And so grinding in WoW is a patient affair of slowly killing enemies one at a time. This is dissatisfying. Diablo takes the gameply concepts of Diablo and simplifies combat to the bare minimum and allows players to take on innumerable enemies at a time. This is very satisfying.

I would not be surprised if the online component of Diablo III is at least as compelling as the online component of WoW (keeping in mind that the online component of WoW is its entirety). But, if it's as compelling as WoW, then, well, Blizzard will need to charge for it. Or they'll be cannibalizing their own income stream while creating a new resource drain.

So, yeah. I'll be dreaming of Diablo III for a long a time, and eventually I'll get to play it. I can't wait.

That is all.