A Fistful of Dynamite, Existentialism and the Paradox of Identity (Unedited)

January 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

John H. Mallory: “I used to believe in many things, all of it! Now, I believe only in dynamite.”

A Fistful of Dynamite is one of my favourite Leone westerns. Although it is not rated as highly as the ‘Dollars Trilogy’ or the ‘Once Upon A Time…’ films, the central theme of revolución, idealism lost, and cynicism gained are very interesting to me. James Coburn’s character, John Mallory, is a veteran of the revolution, a worn out old husk of a soldier who used to believe in the ideals of the revolution; but, when we meet him, he has become a sort of nihilist, having seen too much reality behind all that grand talk of change, liberty, justice etc…

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'Philadelphia' (1993) Impressions (Unedited)

January 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

Here is the tagline for this movie:

“No one would take on his case… until one man was willing to take on the system.” Now think, how many films can you think of that fit this description, or even have the same clichéd theme behind it? And that’s the problem, this tagline speaks for the entire film, it’s just too damned broad.

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The 'In My Opinion' Defense

January 25, 2009 § 1 Comment

Having just watched the film Amadeus (which I would recommend anyone see) I decided to check out the imdb entry for trivia to see if anyone else had anything interesting to say about the film. While I was doing this I caught this petty exchange in the forum:

Oh God, operas *sigh*
by morbius82000 (Wed Apr 23 2008 13:23:23)

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The most pretentious and boring of musical art forms. The operas they chose weren’t very interesting either. Too bad they couldn’t have focused more on his symphonies or piano works.

Re: Oh God, operas *sigh*
by Suzume-san (Thu Apr 24 2008 06:51:11)

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It might be nice if you prefaced your remarks about opera with an ‘in my opinion’, Morbius. One or two of us here rather like it.

You wouldn’t believe how often I hear this being said, usaully at me for expressing some kind of assertion or belief on a topic of interest; and every time I do hear it I become a little more annoyed for the next time someone boldly flings this tautology at me.

Is it really necessary to preface every opinion we make with an ‘In my opinion’? Are we really that afraid of another’s perspective challenging our world-view that we encourage them to recognise the irrelevence of their opinion before they even advance it? If I were to make a comment similar to the OP’s example above for someone to come back to me saying something in the way of “that’s just your opinion” I would respond “Yes! Of course it is my opinion, whose other opinion could I possibly be qualified in expressing other than my own!”

And this leads me onto my second point: using “in my opinion” as a defense against all potential criticism. On the other hand of the spectrum you see, especially in forums, that people will frequently use the ‘In My Opinion’ defense to safeguard their own opinion against all possible attack. The idea goes: if I point out my assertion is subjective then no one can criticise me because I have already advanced that this opinion has no claim to an objective truth, and therefore you have no need to take it seriously, and you yourself may offer up an alternate opinion without it being regarded as ‘wrong’ or incompatible with my own. We can be both be happy in that nothing has been said which challenges the other since both are subjectively right.

This is pure cowardice, it is almost as if saying “my opinion has no real value, and I am so uncertain of it that I preface it with a defense which almost states something to the effect that this assertion expressed by myself is an opinion, has no real objective validity about it and therefore neither challenges your view and cannot be challenged itself because of its subjectivity.”

This is where these people go wrong: subjective opinions can be challenged on the matter of coherency. It doesn’t matter how many ‘in my opinion’s’ you put before your statement; if your opinion is totally incoherent, doesn’t make any sense or just doesn’t match with the facts then your opinion is wrong.

Opinions are an expression of subjective truth that we may or may not choose to advertise, but to abandon them so quickly because they have no truth value from an objective standpoint would be to abandon a part of ourselves: of who we are and what we believe in. Opinions are valuable precisely because they are subjective, because they are personal and belong to us and we should defend them and protect them to this end.

Of course it can come down to personal taste where it truly is a case of no one being right or wrong. For example, I might say “I like jam; you don’t like jam.” And that would be perfectly fine; there is no need to further qualify that statement. When it comes down to the most basic sensory experiences this is often the case. Of more important interest though, is that while discussion over art can often take the form of rational arguments essentially it can boil down to somebody just not getting it, and then that’s about as far as you can go on the subject. It can often come down to individual feeling and things so subtle that often no further discourse can be had. For example, if you look at a film like Sin City you could have two contrasting perspectives, one positive; one negative and both can be entirely true. One person may say that they loved the comic-book style, the monochrome visuals matched with splashes of red gore, the melodramatic dialogue and the cliched, archetypal characters. Another may say that the whole thing is a shallow and banal affair; a strong case of style over substance in a film if they ever saw one. What it comes down to here is someone just not getting the style, while the other does.

Sometimes it’s just a case of you say to-may-to; I say to-mah-toe. Let’s call the whole thing off.

January and Potential Idea for a Proper Godfather Game

January 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ah January, the most cold, dark, dingy, depressing month of the year. It’s a bad month for new media releases and just a bad month in general. I promised myself I wouldn’t moan or remark on mere trivalities in this blog and so to escape this this self-imposed ruling I have found a loophole – I have to find something of substance to talk about.

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I saw some trailers for Mafia 2 and The Godfather 2 a couple of days ago. From what I’ve seen it’s not promising. The Godfather 2 seems to have more in common with Goodfellas rather than the spirit of The Godfather films and Mafia 2 doesn’t look like anything we haven’t seen before.

As it happens I have been playing a bit of Medieval Total War 2 and it strikes me now as odd that there hasn’t been a game made which borrows the setting and characters of The Godfather universe and combines it with a turn-based strategy game vis-a-vis Total War’s campaign mode. After all, the most fun I have in Total War is the plotting of alliances, the betrayals, the scheming, the plotting etc… Unfortunately the diplomacy in Total War is quite screwy a lot of the time with factions betraying you one turn after signing a peace agreement, but the idea is rich for exploitation.

You set the game in America, right at the point where Vito Corleone is rising in power, having set up his olive oil import/export company. The campaign map would be representitive of New York. The game would put at your disposal several agents, similar to Total War’s princesses, diplomat, assasins, spys etc… but they would be slightly different. So for instance you would have your soldiers, your capos, diplomats and possibly even a couple of Luca Brazis at your disposal. Next to them you also have your own family members, the Don would act as the King, sons would be princes and the daughters could be married off to other factions to seal alliances. The family members would of course have certain characteristics and statistical data attached to them. For example, they would have stats for ‘ferocity’, ‘intelligence’, ‘charisma’, ‘respect’ as well as random bonuses attached. You could have several criminal activities open for exploitation such as racketeering, prostitution, drug peddling, gambling, smuggling etc… The aim of the game would be to be the most feared and respected clan by a certain date.

Further to this you would have random events popping up – family members would marry, have children, others die and also structured historical events which would dramatically change the game, for instance, prohibition and its abolution, Sollozzo’s appearence etc… Businesses under your control would provide your family with a basic resource – money and manpower, as well as assorted bonuses i.e. owning a newspaper could imrpove your public perception, peddling drugs would decrease your reputation with the state and potentially with other clans, money laundering would add a bonus to income etc… Further, investment in the political scene could reap dividends, encouraging softer laws to be passed; police captains could be bribed to target rival clans instead of your own.

Supremacy in the game would be won through a mix of force and cunning and the balance of that cocktail is up to the player. Outsmart your opponants or trample over them. At times of peace there could be an assembly set up to discuss pertinant issues challenging the mafia’s overall stranglehold of the city, a discussion which involves all of the five families and is resolved by vote. From here certain missions could be assigned to specific clans including your own which if completed wield a reward and if not will bring down a punishment. Missions could also come from constituents in your territory willing to exchange a favour or two. The assembly would act like the senete in Rome: Total War, defying it could bring about grave consequences. Of course at the same time, if you are head of the assembly you could set the agenda yourself. Becoming head of the assembly could be another aspect where the player expresses his playing style – he can curry favours and be voted in or become head through fear and oppression of all the other families, forcing them into submission. If he wanted he could even dissolve the assembly.

What is crucial is that the diplomacy between factions is complex enough to be interesting as well as transparent enough to be comprehendable to the player. The game must inform the player what affect his actions have and at the same time, the motives of the AI factions must also be transparent enough to the degree that they make logical sense. Betrayal should be an option for the enemy AI to use but at the same time it has to follow from some logical rationale. Again, the Don’s statistics would play into diplomacy with his intelligence and charisma a factor in negotiations and in detecting when betrayal is a foot, perhaps giving a percentage of certainty as to whether an opponant is telling the truth in his dealings or not. Agents also must have many options available to them to allow varied gameplay opportunities. Intimidation and murder would be gameplay options but more would have to be added to allow for a more complex game.

Further, a reputation system would be implemented and would impact on how the different clans and the state perceives your family. this could be affected by many things such as killing a policeman, attacking a clan without proper cause etc…

Finally the game would have a timeline, beginning at one point and ending at another and as the game goes on, the state will become more and more wary of the mafia so by the end the most eminent threat will be the state clamping down on organised crime, it won’t necessarily be the other factions providing the main cause for concern.

The above can be seen as a mishmash of ideas, probably illsuited to a design document. However, with some refinement and tweaking, I can see a very good game being made out of this, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks so. In fact I’m sure other people have thought of the same ideas too, so why hasn’t somebody made this yet?

'God of War: Chains of Olympus' PSP Review

January 17, 2009 § 2 Comments

The God of War series has made its mark on the Playstation 2 platform with its combination of intuitive combat mechanics, simple puzzle solving and less than annoying jumping sequences (an exception to the trend, I know). Interestingly, this game in the series is made by Ready at Dawn studios, not SCE Studios Santa Monica – who made the last two games in the ever expanding saga. Ready at Dawn Studios is mostly comprised of ex-Blizzard and Naughty Dog employees, their previous and only game to this date being the critically acclaimed Daxter for the PSP. Taking into account the talent at work here and the studio’s currently unspoiled track record, it comes as no surprise to hear that God of War: Chains of Olympus is nothing short of being a terrific success.

This iteration once again puts you in the boots of Kratos – our friendly neighbourhood, pissed-off anti-hero – whose only motives are revenge and a lust for chopping people’s heads off. The story itself is set ten years before the first game in the series, and as we start the game, we see Kratos defending Attica from – what seems like – the entire Persian army. As he is doing this, he notices the sun going down and disappearing from the sky. It turns out that Helios – the god of the sun – has gone AWOL, plunging the world into darkness, and Morpheus – the god of dreams – has used this opportunity to lull the other deities into a deep slumber (that naughty tyke). Who is behind all this mischief? That’s what Kratos is sent to find out: discover the evil behind these events and destroy it – in probably the most gruesome manner possible. The story continues from there, heavily invoking the Greek myths and legends as an excuse to throw Kratos into some epic locales against some truly collossal enemies. The story does provide some entertainment value, and there is a nice subplot involving Kratos’ lost daughter Calliope, which adds a softer shade to his character, as well as the possibility of redemption. Ultimately though, it’s the usual guff about God’s behaving badly, an overwhelming evil that must be destroyed etc… and if you’re not interested in that, then you can switch off, as I did, without the game being too intrusive in wanting to tell you its story. All you need to know is that Kratos is a pissed-off badass whose job title includes kicking arse, taking names and generally butchering anyone who gets in his path.

So with the story out of the way, we can consider the action itself. Chains of Olympus is a 3rd person beat ’em up whose closest relatives are probably the Lord of the Rings games. You’re usually outnumbered by the enemy, but overpowered against them, and armed with a variety of weapons and combat techniques to slay your way to victory. The player is able to parry and evade most enemy attacks, and as you collect the souls of your disposed enemy, you are able to upgrade your items, granting you access to a greater variety of combos and special moves. In this manner, the game does have a very light RPG element attached to it as the player will inevitably prioritise certain weapons over others for upgrading. Along with the conventional battle sequences, there are the – now dreadfully overused – quick time events, which I imagine players will either tolerate or be generally frustrated by. Luckily, most of these events aren’t compulsory so you can avoid them if you wish; although, often, they can be a shortcut to victory . It’s strange that what was once hailed as an immersive method of interaction for the player has turned into one of the most vilified and hated game mechanics employed today.

Technically, this game is a graphical marvel. I don’t think I’ve seen a game on the PSP that looks as good as this. Of course, compared to the current crop of consoles, the textures on the surfaces of objects look horribly basic, but you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer scale of the levels, which aren’t hindered by constant loading sequences as you might imagine. The developers have pulled a clever trick in compartmentalising the game into small sections – often, where you are forced to defeat a certain number of enemy foe before progressing onto the next area, but somehow this doesn’t go against how utterly seamless the transition feels, as the player progresses through one part of the game world to the next. There are save points in the game, but there are no levels per se; there is just one giant narrative, one giant world to get lost in, in which you go from one end to the other, and it works really well.

None of any of this would really matter unless the controls were any good and, thankfully, they are. At no point during the game did I feel cheated by the controls. For the most part, they work in a very graceful manner, the only issue being the analogue stick, which is used for movement. This is a fault though that rests more with the inherent design of the PSP, rather than the developer, as using the digital pad would not have been sufficient to allow for the level of manoeuvrability needed to control Kratos under the stress of combat. The analogue stick is functional enough, but because of its small surface area and the way it is placed on the PSP shell, your thumb does feel the strain of it, and over a long period of time it does get quite tiring. Luckily, this issue with the PSP hardware doesn’t impede majorly on your enjoyment of the game.

Also of mention is the difficulty level. I played on the normal setting and it was challenging without being too easy or too hard, and this makes a change from a lot of games made now which are either firmly based in the latter or former camp. The segments of combat are engaging, and the few instances of platforming are quite fair to the player. The puzzles are generally simple affairs of destroying/activating an object to open up a gate so you can progress, and are nothing to really keep the player stumped. I say this as a good thing because, in a game like this, part of the enjoyment to be had comes from the fast pace of the action, and so you don’t want to be stuck for hours on one insiginificant little puzzle.

The music in the game is the usual fare which you’ve probably heard hundreds of times before in films like Gladiator, Troy, 300 etc… but it is standard for this genre and no real complaint can be made about that. Likewise, the sound design is good without being overly remarkable. The voice acting is actually quite decent despite the somewhat cliched dialogue and subject matter.  Talking of subject matter, the game can most definitely be regarded as a real ‘man’s game’, as it is often fairly misogynistic, sadistic and crude in its narrative. In the very first section of the game you have the option of a quick time event, which involves a threesome with two harems – writhing on top of each other naked, no less – and an instance where you crush the head of a mini-boss with a heavy chest, repeatedly, while he cries for mercy. This could all be seen as being in bad taste, but this kind sleaze and gore is so over the top to render it absolutely innocuous and, in reality, hilarious. In fact, it gives the game an added sense of levity which helps offset the po-faced seriousness of the bleak, mythical storyline.

I can honestly offer very few criticisms of the game beyond the sometimes slightly awkward controls. On occasion, the save points are placed a little capriciously, giving you frequent opportunity to save when you don’t need it and not enough when you do, but this is not a frequent occurrence. I have also heard comments about the game’s length. The same criticism was issued towards Call of Duty 4 and you know what these two games have in common? No filler. Both games skip on the lazy to make sure that they are exciting and fun the whole way through, and if I had a choice between quality and quantity, I know which one I’d sacrifice at the expense of the other (hint:  it’s not quality). I see the shortness of the game’s length as complimentary, not as a criticism.

The only thing I feel I must mention is that I don’t feel this is really a game to play on-the-go; I’d play it at home, lying on a comfy sofa or bed, but not while travelling on the train or bus. True, the action is often short and sweet enough to start and stop without too much lost in the process, but it’s simply not the game I’d want to play in transit. It requires a lot of concentration and focus which I don’t particular want to spare when I’m on my way to somewhere. Again this is not a criticism: to say that a game is too engaging, and levy it as condemnation, borders on the ridiculous. The game is an incredible achievement both technically and design-wise. Nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t a game best suited to a handhold console. With a game like this, you want to play on a big-ass screen, with an ear drum shattering sound system, while stretching out on a sofa in your living room. You don’t want to play it on a crowded bus or noisy train; you just wouldn’t get the most out of it that way. Personally I think developers need to start thinking (and some already have) of creating more high concept games for the PSP that utilise the console’s graphical abilities, while understanding the limits of a portable device. Games like Lumines, Every Extra Extend already do this and are good examples of that kind of thinking.

What else? Hmmm, nope, that’s it. Somehow, Ready at Dawn Studios has done what up to now has been impossible for most developers: make a scaled down version of a console game that works well, and without compromising too much on design. Despite what I’ve just said in the above paragraph, it’s an excellent game and I think every PSP owner who’s a fan the genre should consider it a must-buy.

'Gaming In The Clinton Years': Tomb Raider 3 Storyline Idea

January 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Now I don’t like bashing someone’s work but Gaming in the Clinton Years are the worst set of game reviews I have ever seen. They were all done by the same guy and to give him credit, he did cover a lot of games during the 90’s. Unfortunately they’re awful and I don’t just mean his reviews are often wrong, I mean the reviews themselves are so bad, they are laughable. I’m not going to spoil this particular episode but you really have to see it.

'The Godfather: Part II' (1974): The Ending (Unedited)

January 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Francis Ford Coppola is probably my favourite director. In terms of his body of work, he’s made a fair few misteps but I don’t think any of those can overshadow his accomplishments with regards to the film Apocalypse Now! and The Godfather Part I and II.  In this entry, I wish to talk about the second Godfather film in particular, more specifically, the ending to the film. They say this is one of the few instances where a sequal has surpassed it’s predecessor. I’m not sure I agree with that, I’d have to watch both films again and analyse them point-for-point but in all honest I don’t want to do that. Both films are incredible, but different, in their own rights.

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