Posts tagged #feature

Nic's Response to IGN's "A Newer Hope"

[Edit: This article was originally written in October 2013. On May 1, 2014 IGN decided to rerun the article that this article is responding to. So here we are again. I've made a few minor edits here and there to 'celebrate.']

Back in August, IGN posted an article entitled "Star Wars Episode VII: A Newer Hope." Its central thesis is that George Lucas never really understood Star Wars and its greatness. He created it, and presided over it. But he "never got what made it so special." However, the sequel trilogy there's a new hope that Star Wars films can be enjoyable again.

You know us. Here at The Inner Dorkdom we enjoy the Prequels. And we believe that although entertainment can educate and inspire us, it's something that should never cause us to despise other people, or treat them poorly.

But I must admit, when I read articles like this (even if they are written with more civility than normal) part of me wants to punch people (the authors in particular) right in the mouth.

Of course I would never do that. That’s taking things incredibly too far.

So instead I offer you, dear Inner Dorkdom readers, a point-by-point response to the article.

In the opening paragraph, the author says, "for too long the history of that galaxy far, far away was at the mercy of an incurable revisionist, someone who didn’t mind treading on the memories of others."

A couple of things here.

First, for too long? Star Wars was being presided over by the man who created it for too long? I must ask: According to what standard? Certainly not any objective standard. In fact this, like much in the article, is nothing more than a subjective preference stated as an objective fact.

There is no standard for how long the creator of Star Wars needs to be in control of Star Wars. It's just a matter of tastes. And since I like the stories George Lucas tells, and the way he tells them, I for one am glad he was involved with Star Wars for as long as he was.

Second, how much has Lucas revised over the years, really? I mean, I hear people make this charge from time to time. But the claims always seem larger than the actual facts of the matter. From a plot point standpoint, what has Lucas changed over years? (I'm not counting any decisions he made contrary to EU canon, because, well, we've been over that one.) Ep IV had the scene with Jabba added and changed it from Han to Greedo shooting first. Ep V changed the dialogue between Vader and the Emperor, gave Boba Fatt Jango's voice, and changed Vader's line after his confrontation with Luke. Ep VI changed the song Sy Snootles sang, gave Anakin a couple of "no"s, and made his Force-ghost reflective of his young mid-twenties self. And that's it. The rest of the changes were cosmetic. Fancier shots of ships flying around, some shots of the Wampa, and so on. Of course one can discuss how one enjoys (or doesn't) the changes. But to say they show Lucas to be an incurable revisionist is just silly.

Third, the memories of others bit. Though he says it with more tact and civility (which I thank him for), this is really akin to the old "George Lucas raped my childhood" chestnut. And, I'm sorry, I just don't understand that. He has done nothing to your memories. What you saw back in the day is still what you saw. That hasn't changed. Again, you don't have to like that he's made revisions. But just because he's made and released them doesn't mean your memories have been trampled. To think of it that way is, if I may, an awfully self-centered way of looking at an author modifying HIS work.

(And it is his work. If he wants to alter something, it’s his prerogative.)

Next up: "...hopefully we can now all admit this publicly, Episode I never felt like Star Wars."

I'm going to ignore the problem of taking a subjective opinion and stating it as a universal fact. Otherwise, we'd be here all day. (Just know that I noticed it.)

How can one say it didn't feel like Star Wars? It is Star Wars. Thus, by definition, it feels like Star Wars. It can't not feel like Star Wars.

What I assume our author really means is that it didn't feel like the Original Trilogy. What do I make of that?

First of all, I think we should ask, should it feel the same? Does a film set in a very different era, featuring characters with very different backgrounds, occupations, and goals need to feel the same? I argue that it shouldn't. At least, not in every respect. How else are we going to feel the impact of the Sith conquering the Galaxy and all the changes that brings?

Second, granting those differences, Phantom Menace still 'felt like Star Wars' to me. Jedi, lightsabers, Tatooine, hyperspace, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, Jabba, Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid), Yoda (played by Frank Oz), space battles, ground battles, a dialogue-free ending, wipes as transitions, all with John Williams music throughout.

I think it's worth asking: Is the reason for Mr. Krupa's feeling simply due to the fact that the elements The Phantom Menace didn't have (scoundrels, flirtatious banter, Vader choking people, etc.) are the things he likes most about Star Wars?

Next: "Exciting moments are scattered throughout the prequels, as are likeable characters and moments of intrigue,..."

Which, the negative connotation of the word "scattered" notwithstanding, is the best that could be said about any quality story. Not every moment is, or should, be exciting. Not every character should be likeable. And every event doesn't need to produce intrigue.

Next: "...but it’s all so haphazardly assembled that I’ve long suspected that these are little more than kind accidents."

How is it haphazardly assembled? Our author just plops that statement down as though it were a well established fact. But it's a rather large statement that could use some supporting evidence.

But here's the thing. So the Prequels have a slightly different tone than the Original Trilogy (just as each film in the Saga has its own distinct tone). Why conclude that the difference between the two trilogies is probably attributable to George Lucas' incompetence, and that anything good about the new films is purely accidental? Why be drawn to the conclusion that carries with it a critical, even derogatory, attitude toward an artist?

Given that Mr. Lucas was involved in all three original Star wars films (including ESB), as well as the Indiana Jones films, it just doesn't make sense to conclude that the guy doesn't understand how to create likeable characters, enjoyable action sequences, and so on.

Isn't it also a possibility, and more consistent with the facts, that the differences between the OT and PT were purposeful? That Lucas simply wanted to tell a different kind of story with Episodes I-III? Indeed, did he not tell us beforehand that such was going to be the case? Are the seeds of the different kind of story not clearly evident in the notes that he wrote back in the late 70's?

Next: "’s clear they’re [the Prequels - NW] deficient in so many of the qualities that the originals had in abundance – genuine warmth, wry humour, real charm..."

Slow down, man. Let's take them in turn.

genuine warmth - I think it's safe to say that for the most part the Jedi are the main characters of the Prequels. And I think it's also safe to say that the Jedi can come across as a little distant and cold at times. I loved Episode I, but that was one of the few things about it that disappointed me a little. But then I remember the first time I saw Episode II noticing and enjoying several of moments right in the opening minutes that almost felt like I direct attempt to reverse that trend (Yoda and Mace concerned about the Separatists, Yoda's warm feelings over Padme's surviving the terrorist attack, Obi-Wan and Anakin joking in the elevator). I realize that still might not be the sort of heart-on-sleeve wearing that people would prefer. I get that.

And, if I may, it seems like perhaps that's part of the point of the Prequels. The Jedi, out of fear of themselves going to the dark side and using their powers in vengeful or controlling ways, have decided not to have attachments. Better never to be close to anyone than to be close, get hurt, and have to fight the temptation to respond negatively. This philosophy, which, granted, many of them don't seem to always follow, helps get the order decimated. It's Luke's compassion and obvious warmth that brings Anakin back in the end, allowing him to destroy Vader and Sidious, bringing balance to the Force.

wry humor - Allow me to retort: "That's why I'm here." "Good job." "Not to worry, we're still flying half a ship." "Another happy landing." "Today you were the hero, and you deserve your glorious day with the politicians." "Alright, but you owe me. And not just for saving your skin for the tenth time." "Ninth time. That business on Kato Nemoidia doesn't...doesn't count." "I'll try not to destroy all the battle droids before you arrive." "So uncivilized." Etc. Yes, most of those quote are from Obi-Wan. But didn't most of the wry humor in the OT come from one or two people (Han, and to a lesser extent, Leia)? Also, the wry humor increases as you go from Ep I to Ep III. Just as darkness increases in the galaxy.

real charm - This one is really subjective. What one person finds charming another won't, and vice versa. When I watch the Prequels, I see what I feel to be be real charm. So now what? Neither one of us is objectively right or wrong.

Next: "Nothing in the prequels ever came close to drawing out this emotion." [i.e., "that less tangible property that made Star Wars so unique. It differs between viewers, but for me, it was always a hopeful sense of wonder, a secret knowledge that a greater destiny waits for us amidst the constellations. I think its at its most palpable when Luke watches the twin suns set on the desert planet of Tatooine."]

Again, this one is very subjective, and is a simple case of your mileage may vary. Indeed, our author acknowledges this by saying that what he's talking about differs between viewers. Yet he says it's nowhere to be found in the Prequels. That doesn't make sense to me. If it's a differing thing from person to person, how can you definitively say that it's absent from the Prequels?

But for sake of discussion, let's take what the author says is that quality for him--this sense of wonder / knowledge that a greater destiny awaits in space.

First, I'm not convinced that's what Luke was thinking when he looked at that sunset. I personally never read him that way. I've always figured he's thinking, "When's it going to be my time? Will it ever be my time? Cause, boy, I'd like to get off this rock. I think I would enjoy it. But who knows if I'll ever get to." I don't take it that he's also thinking, "Deep down inside I know that I will. Secretly, I know it is my destiny." I read him 100% yearning, 0% secret conviction.

Second, even if we granted for sake of discussion that Luke did have that secret knowledge, where's that quality in Episodes V and VI? This is, after all, something he argues the OT had (not just A New Hope) and the Prequels lack.

Third, do the Prequels actually lack it? Little Anakin looking up at the stars with Qui-Gon, the Jedi council testing Anakin, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon looking out over a Coruscant sunset, and Anakin kissing his mommy goodbye may not have been accompanied by swelling music from the excellent John Williams (except that last example), they may have been more subtly-stated, but story-wise they are dealing with the same thing. Characters wondering what their future holds.

It seems to me that much of the flack the Prequels get comes from the fact that with them Mr. Lucas wanted to tell a more complex story. In my experience, adding complexity to a story sometimes results in a sacrifice of archetypal and emotional resonance. "Farmboy dreams of leaving his family farm in the desert, and when his family is killed he follows an old warrior on a mission into the starts to rescue a princess, following in his late father's footsteps," is different from, "slave boy with a mysterious origin has no illusions of ever being free, but some religious knights show up due to a broken ship, and one of them wagers for his freedom, believing him to be a prophesied chosen one who's destiny is probably to do something good but there's debate about the prophecies' interpretation."

Next:  "...too bogged down in recounting the bureaucratic origins of the Empire to ever truly reach out to grab the stars."

Like I said, a more complex story that perhaps sacrifices some archetypal resonance. If you’re not interested in complexity, or don’t desire that type of complexity from Star Wars, you’re naturally going to be disappointed.

Also, how else does one tell the story of a republic collapsing from within (due to political machinations) and turning into an empire? How do you tell a story about politics without dealing with politics?

Next: "And ironically Lucas’s passion to innovate and use cutting-edge technology, which made the originals such landmarks in the history of cinema, actually undermine the prequels quite badly – so much is left looking synthetic, cold, and dated."

We're going with the 'CGI looks fake' argument, it would appear. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but model work composited on an optical printer with visible matte lines/rectangles and occasionally awkward looking motion also looks fake and dated. A puppet whose mouth only opens and closes and occasionally suffers from extreme bouts of lazy eye looks fake and dated. It looks fake in a different way, granted, but it still looks fake.

If I may expand on that. I was talking about Star Wars with my father-in-law the other day, and he made basically the same point as Mr. Krupa. As we discussed the matter I developed a theory I'd like to share with you for your consideration Internet. Is this a generational thing? People like my father-in-law grew up on analog special effects. He'd been a full grown adult for some time when Jurassic Park came out. Non-digital matte paintings, miniatures and model photography, analog compositing, people in costumes, these look more real to him than CGI. On the other hand, kids today feel the exact opposite. The old tech looks bad to many of them. CGI looks more real. And then in the middle there are people like me. Born in 1978, I grew up with both types of technology. Analog visual effects were the norm when I saw a little boy. But I was only in early high school when Jurassic Park came out. To my eyes, both practical effects and CGI look fake. Or, I should say, they can look fake to varying degrees based on the quality of the work. Neither one has an inherent advantage in my eyes. They can both look fake, just in a different kind of way.

Point being, what looks synthetic, cold, and dated to one person looks perfectly fine to another. Thus the author's point, yet again, is actually a subjective preference.

Next: "Lucas mistakenly believed the magic of Star Wars resided in the Universe he had created, and that simply showing more of it would be enough to satisfy fans. He was wrong."

He didn't just simply show more of it. But anyway.

I was satisfied with the Prequels, and I'm a fan. Josh was satisfied, and he's a fan. Todd was satisfied and he's a fan. Thus your claim is shown to be factually inaccurate.

There's no arguing, many Star Wars fans didn't like the Prequels. Seeing the galaxy far far away again wasn't enough to outweigh their disappointments (one or more of the following: plot, scripting, casting, acting, art style, visual effects work). I don't deny that.

But many Star Wars fans did like the Prequels. Some in spite of those things, some because of them.

I don't understand why those who dislike the Prequel continue to act like they are the only ones who exist, or the only one whose opinions count.

Next: "Recently, I attended Star Wars Celebration Europe where I saw Kathleen Kennedy, the executive producer of Episode VII, talk about the approach of the new film. Character and story were being prioritised above everything else, she said; effects would be at the service of the story; CGI would work in tandem with more traditional forms of effects work – miniatures, set-building, shooting in exotic locations. As Kennedy presented this new creed, it was greeted with hungry applause by the congregation."

New creed? Is it really new?

I realize that people on the internet talk all the time as though it is. 'Lucas cared more about CGI than character development.' 'He cared more about CGI than analog forms of effects work.'

People say it, but they offer little support. From what I know of the Prequels, CGI got Lucas excited about making them because the technology allowed him to write almost whatever he could imagine. He could conjure characters and places freely. CGI was great, because it could serve the needs of character and story. And when it came to actual production, ILM used a combination of digital and analog technologies. Even in Episode III.

But about Ms. Kennedy's statements at Celebration Europe, yeah I remember hearing about that. It didn't send me over the moon with joy and excitement. The emotions it created in me were more subdued, because it seems to me this indicates one of two possibilities, neither one I'm overjoyed at.

First, it’s possible that perhaps this doesn't reflect Ms. Kennedy's views on the George Lucas and his work with the Prequels, and is just PR-driven Prequel-disliker baiting. You know, like click-baiting, but for people who didn't like the Prequels. I mean, come on. In that one presentation she dealt with all of the major over-arching complaints the stereotypical "Original Trilogy only" Star Wars fan has with Eps I-III. Disney/Lucasfilm is certainly going to want the enthusiasm (and money) of that portion of the fan base. Everyone already knows Lucas won't be scriptwriting or directing these new films. Thus, that crowd is already feeling some hope. Why not throw them a few bones, say some things they want to hear, to further excite them? My problem with this option is that Lucas and the Prequels are implicitly being thrown under the bus simply for marketing purposes.

Second, to me the more troubling possibility is that the new head of Lucasfilm might actually believe those criticisms herself. (Given the Lucas appointed her this possibility is doubtful, but you never know.) My problem with this option is that, again, I think those criticisms of the Prequels are unfair and unwarranted, and as such I'd rather the head of Lucasfilm not believe them. The Prequels had a story. A complex one. They had characters. Granted, most of them were stoic Jedi, awkward Jedi (I tend to think written and directed that way on purpose), and politicians. So, maybe not the kinds of characters some people wanted. But they had characters. I've watched the Prequels literally dozens of times. And I just don't see the argument that they are more about the visual CG spectacle than they are anything else. And as for special-effects techniques themselves, again I don't see the criticism as valid. All three Prequels had model work. They all had sets. They all shot on-location. So, in the Prequels the two approaches already were working in tandem. If we're just talking about what the ideal balance is between CG and practical, isn't that a function of individual tastes and, for the filmmakers themselves, budget considerations?

The common thread in both options is the possibility that throwing Lucas and the Prequels under the bus is going to be an on-going part of Lucasfilm's PR strategy. This is a possible trend that I'm not excited about, since I respect Lucas as a filmmaker and want to believe that he was sincerely trying to make the best films possible, and I like the Prequels.

Next: "The fallout from the prequels has made audiences realise that it wasn’t simply the universe they loved – it was the timeless approach to storytelling and the way it had been made, principles that had been forgotten at the turn of the millennium."

Except that a great many audiences enjoyed the Prequels and felt they still exemplified a "timeless approach to storytelling."

But, regarding the specific differences between the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, again the author here assumes that Lucas forgot certain storytelling tools, instead of entertaining the possibility that he simply chose to do some things differently. I'm personally really growing tired of the almost arrogance that seems to be at the heart of this oh-so-common assumption. Can't one just say that he/she didn't like the changes and leave it at that, instead of moving beyond that into things about which one doesn't know (i.e., Lucas' mind), and making personal criticisms?

Next:  "She was involved in the very first use of CG in cinema..."

Allow me to be annoying for a moment.

No she wasn't. Ep IV, which itself wasn't even the first use of computer graphics in film, had primitive CG for the Death Star trench run briefing. That was '77. Ms. Kennedy didn't get a producer credit on a movie until '81. And if we're talking CG used to represent something "real" within the film's story, then she still wasn't, since she didn't work on TRON or The Last Starfighter.

Next: "and produced Jurassic Park, a seminal film in the history of CG effects. At Star Wars Celebration, she spoke about the excitement she experienced when she first saw that wireframe model of a dinosaur sprint across a CRT monitor at ILM. She knew, using this technology, it was possible to make the impossible – that dinosaurs could return from extinction. The brilliance of Jurassic Park lies in the sparing use of CGI and how it’s deftly balanced with the use of more traditional special effects, like animatronics, and shooting in fantastically beautiful or strange real-world locations."

But it isn't like they had a choice. The state of CG work when Jurassic Park came out in '93, both in terms of raw technical ability and costs, precluded fully-digital photorealistic environments or the elimination of animatronics. They couldn’t have done those things even if they wanted to.

Next: "It was clear that Kennedy recognised the dangers of embracing CGI too openly, forgetting its limitations and the deadening effect it can have despite its inexorable march towards photorealism."

That may be. But the fact that Jurassic Park used CGI sparingly is no way proof of that.

Next: "But it’s the emphasis on writing that’s really reassuring. They’ve even called Lawrence Kasdan to attend daily script meetings."

That is indeed cool. I'm not complaining that Kasdan is involved. But, he did co-write Return of the Jedi, which many Star Wars fans dislike. So, there is that.

Next: "Kennedy, when she spoke about the film’s director, described J.J. Abrams primarily as a storyteller, with a background in screenwriting and television touted as his most impressive and valuable credentials."

People's mileage varies on this. But, for me, when one starts talking about J.J. Abrams, they run the very real risk of getting me started.

But for now, I'll just say that Abrams wasn't hired as a writer, but a director. So, even if he is a wonderful writer, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. There are many great writers who would make horrible directors, and vice-versa. Will he contribute to the story? Probably. But he isn’t writing it.

[UPDATE: Since the time this article was written, Disney/Lucasfilm announced that Arndt was out, and a writing team of Kasdan and Abrams would be penning the screenplay to Episode VII. So, well, it could be good. But, my gut feeling is, "oh poodoo." Hope that gut feeling is way off. No way to know until December 2015.]

Next: "His Star Trek reboot pulled off that most paradoxical feats: a canonical reboot."

I'm serious now. Don't get me started.

Next: "It didn’t ignore the disregard what came before..."


Next: "...but with one swift movement, it avoided forty years of densely-tangled continuity."

Uh oh, here comes the windmill....

Next: "And nobody’s delicate memories were trampled or even wrinkled in the process – every mission of the Starship Enterprise still took place but just in another timeline."

Of course no one’s memories are trampled on. (See above.) But things are messed with. Significantly. The reality is that for most practical purposes it did ignore and disregard much of what came before. And the notion that every mission of the starship Enterprise (and those of the Enterprise-D, Enterprise-E, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and everything else in the pre-Abrams world of Trek for that matter) still occurred just in a different timeline is one of the most inconsistent cop-outs in the history of quantum mechanics and inconsistent cop-outs.

(Incidentally, you don’t need the “many universes” quantum mechanics angle to create a canonical reboot. Just have Nero and Spock travel to the past and change the timeline as they would in any old Star Trek episode or movie, and then don’t have them try to fix it. Sure, everything that happened before would be erased from the timeline. But you would still have an in-universe canonical reboot.)

Next: "It had moments of sentimentality, but on the whole it was a remarkably forward-looking, assured film that decanted what made Star Trek special."

By...spoiler alert...destroying Vulcan? Having a Starfleet cadet become captain of the Federation flagship? Inventing a stable version of plot-eroding transwarp beaming? Hooking Spock and Uhura up? Having Deep Roy walk around a beer factory...I mean starship engine an alien suit? Not bothering to put "tripods" in the filming budget?

Don't get me wrong, despite the negative bias I had going in, I fairly well liked Star Trek 2009. But "remarkably forward thinking?" I don’t see it. It was yet another time-travel story.

Next: "(Incidentally, one of my biggest problems with the sequel, Into Darkness, was its decision to revisit old frontiers.)"


But, interestingly enough, my wife, who likes Trek but hasn’t watched that much of it (unlike Josh, Todd, and I), rather enjoyed the movie. The revisit didn’t feel like a revisit to her. And what many fans lamented as a departure from the style, tone, and substance that is at the very core of Trek, she wasn’t bothered by. Yes, Abrams and company changed things. But she was ok with the changes, because she liked the results and wasn’t tied to the original.

Next: "The reboot proved it’s better to be daring, than deferential."

That's exactly what the Prequels did! They changed some things up! Yet our author think they're a disappointing mess, for the very fact that they didn't adhere closely enough to what it was about the originals that he liked.

Next: "This desire to look back to the originals for inspiration..."

Uhhh....I'm getting whiplash. Now deferential is good again?

Next: "...seems to extend across other Star Wars projects now in the works. The new animated show Star Wars Rebels, for instance, is revisiting the legendary concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, which had such a profound influence on the look and feel of the Star Wars universe. The show’s producer Dave Filoni..."

Don't be too proud of the "Lucas-era is behind us" mentality when bringing up Dave Filoni

Next: "Filoni and his team have studied the film’s shooting itinerary, trying to replicate not only the exact camera movements and lens used in the space battles but also trying to recreate the grain of the original film."

I can't find any corroboration on this point.

Next: "There seems to be a newfound respect for the past, and a humble desire to learn from it, not rewrite it."

I refer back to the beginning of this article about rewriting.

Next: "The new creative talents involved have a reverence for the source material in a way that Lucas never could. And by looking backwards, Star Wars Episode VII may have inadvertently picked up its most potent weapon: nostalgia. As fans of Mad Men know all too well, nostalgia in Greek refers to the pain from an old wound – a nagging, dull sort of pain, tugging at your insides, making you remember the initial cut. And that’s how I feel about Star Wars – I remember the way it was, how it made me feel as a child, but those feelings have faded over time. Episode VII has re-opened those old wounds, and that twinge is the dormant pain you only get from a new hope."

Blah blah blah....

My translation: "I didn’t like the Prequels. People I talk to didn't like the Prequels. People on the internet didn't like the Prequels. In other words, no one liked the Prequels. They weren't what I and the aforementioned groups of people wanted them to be. Thus, they were bad. And they show that Lucas' success with the Original Trilogy was kind of an accident. He didn't understand what he was doing. But fortunately for us, a new generation of filmmakers, along with acceptable and approved remnants from the old guard, actually get Star Wars and thus can do a better job of making quality Star Wars films. And by that I mean films that, when compared to the Original Trilogy, keep the same that which I personally want kept the same, and change that which I personally am OK with being changed. So I'm still sad that the Prequels were such a mess. But I'm hopeful that finally Star Wars can be set right. And by that I mean "exactly the way I want it to be."

I guess I’m being a bit provocative there. In the end, the points are argued by Mr. Krupa with more tact than that. (And certainly with more tact than how many other folks dissatisfied with the prequels have approached the subject. See the article’s comments section.) But when it’s all boiled down, it seems to me to be a simple matter of a person not respecting the role of an author/creator, not liking three films in a franchise, not being able to see past the subjectivity of his own opinion, and ascribing deficiencies of skill on the part of the film’s creator rather than allowing that it might be a simple matter of differences in goals between the filmmaker and himself (thus engaging in what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error).

I’ll end with this:
No one has to like the Prequels.
No one has to dislike the Prequels.
No one has to like the Prequels more than the Original Trilogy.
No one has to like the Original Trilogy more than the Prequels.

And the Sequel Trilogy will be what it will be

 - Nic

Posted on May 1, 2014 .

Dear IGN: Millions of People Like the Prequels. Get Over It

At the beginning of the month, IGN published an article by "Sydney-based freelance copywriter and screenwriter" Robbie Boland entitled "8 Things Star Wars Episode VII Can Learn From Episodes I-III." Now, this will probably surprise you, but despite what you might be thinking from the title the article does not in fact discuss 8 positive things the Prequels brought to the world of Star Wars, things the new trilogy would do well to incorporate. No, this article engages in something that's quite rare on the Internet: it cracks on the prequel trilogy, and in a condescending "everyone knows this" manner.

As Inner Dorkdom Prime Directive 3 teaches us, Mr. Boland is free to like or dislike whatever he wants. But, at the same time, others (like myself) are free to like or dislike whatever we want.

And, personally, I'm kind of tired of all the bashing on the Prequels, especially when it's done (as it usually is) in that "it's not just that the films didn't meet with my expectations or preferences, it's that they are objectively bad" way. This article is no exception. Note one of the first sentences:

"Whether you think the Star Wars prequels were a cinematic marvel or a crime against humanity, we can all agree that they had their share of high and low points. Okay, more than their share of low points."

Seriously? Was that second sentence necessary?

Anyway, the purpose of this article is not merely to point out that someone is being completely awesome by acting like they're better than the Prequels. Rather, I want to look at Mr. Boland's points and respond to them. So, if you haven't read his article, please go check it out.

Back? Ok, let's go.

Lesson #1: Please Don’t Make it About Intergalactic Trade and Taxation Laws

He argues that such topics are boring, and that no one wants to see a Star Wars movie about them. He also offers what would have been better (in his opinion, though he doesn't acknowledge this point): Anakin’s quest to “Bring Balance to the Force” by finding and confronting Darth Sidious, a mysterious virus decimating the Jedi, an uprising staged by a malevolent sentient potted plant named Frank would have been more entertaining.

My responses:
1. The Prequels weren't actually about trade and taxation laws. At most they are part of the background to the events of Episode I. But even that film

2. George Lucas was entitled to make the Prequels about whatever he wanted to (ID Primary Directive #4). If he wanted them to have a political aspect to their story, then that was his prerogative. If he, Kathleen Kennedy, and whoever else in charge of Ep VII (incidentally, that list doesn't ultimately include Mr. Abrams) want it to also have a political angle, again, that's their right.

3. I actually enjoyed the political aspects of the Prequels. So, apparently, I'm no one.

4. The political aspects strike me as pretty essential to the story being told. A story that had similar mythic qualities to that of the Original Trilogy, but with added layers of content and meaning. The OT, it seems to me, is about good and evil on the individual level (Luke's journey from thrill-seeking farmboy to noble self-sacrificing Jedi Knight, Han's challenge of growing into a better person than the selfish smuggler he is when we first meet him, Darth Vader's redemption, etc.) The Prequels deal with this as well, but also deal with good and evil on the societal level. (how a free society becomes a dictatorship, the corrupting nature of evil on entire societies, etc.). It is partially these added levels of commentary and meaning that cause me to like the Prequels more than the Original Trilogy. So, far from being hindered by the political aspects, I think Eps I-III are improved by them.

5. I let Josh read the draft of this article, and he pointed out something very much to the point: how are you going to tell a story about a guy (Sidious) rising to power (from Senator to Chancellor to Emperor) without dealing with politics?

Lesson #2: The Comic Relief Should Actually Be, You Know, Comic

He says that the idea of including comic relief in the films for kids was a good idea, it's just that Jar Jar wasn't funny. Not just that he didn't find him funny, mind you. But that no one, including presumably the kids, found him funny. He says, "When every single person who watches The Phantom Menace for the first time wonders, “Why doesn’t Qui-Gon just stab him to death with a lightsaber?” you probably haven’t nailed the comedy sidekick bit."

My responses:
1. I didn't wonder why Qui-Gon didn't stab Jar Jar. So, clearly not every single person thought that.

2. Even if I'm not annoyingly taking his words literally, I just don't think his claim holds up. There were many people, not just me, who had no feelings of hatred, animosity, or contempt for Jar Jar on their initial viewing of Episode I.

3. Mr. Boland concedes that Jar Jar was included as comic relief for kids, yet refuses to acknowledge a rather relevant objective truth. That is, kids did find Jar Jar funny. So...yeah.

4. Jar Jar's goofiness is, it seems to me, essential to one of the messages or points of the Prequels, Episode I especially. That is, be careful about judging people superficially. The annoying, weird looking goofball who you might write off as just a pathetic lifeform that would be served well with a lightsaber to the back might turn out to be a loyal friend and just the person you need when the going gets rough. He's the Wicket, and the Gungans the Ewoks, of the PT.

Lesson #3: Sometimes Less (CGI) is more

He says there was too much CGI in the Prequels. CGI is good when "used somewhat sparingly, or to enhance practical effects and real world settings." But too much is bad. In particular he refers to the boredom brought about from watching two CGI armies featuring CGI characters you don't care about fight. CGI armies going at it can be found in all the Prequels, but his reference to CGI characters you don't care about suggests he's thinking of Episode I again.

My responses:
1. It's possible to have too much CGI for my tastes also. So I don't think this point is completely devoid of any merit.

2. The thing is, the "too much" line is going to vary from person to person, and will depend on a number of factors, including what their threshold of "realism" with CGI is.

3. Same goes for what constitutes "sparingly."

4. Enhancing practical effects and real world settings? I'm sorry, but this is Star Wars we're talking about. A franchise with exotic unrealistic locales populated by strange creatures and amazing machinery. Given that, I'm not sure his request is doable. Is he saying they should have built a real working General Greivous robot, and then just CGI'ed in some greebly bits or his beating heart or something? Should they have built actual droid factories, and used CGI to add in extra conveyor belts? Do you put a feathery-lizard suit on a horse, take it to your Utapau set, and tell Ewan McGregor to "just hold on tight"?

5. I'm glad the Prequels used CGI. Certainly some effects shots hold up better than others. But the pioneering work done by ILM on those films had led us to where we are today. And besides, without the extensive CGI work found in the PT we wouldn't have been able to see many of those new places, creatures, and vehicles.

Lesson #4: Do, or Do Not (Act). There is No Try.

Predictably, like many cool people before him, he criticizes the acting. He even calls it wooden. However, he does include a bit of a twist that I don't recall encountering before. He argues that part of the reason for the bad acting, besides George Lucas' directing, was due to poor casting. For example, he loves Samuel L. Jackson, and would loved to see him as a bounty hunter or rogue Jedi who swears a lot (I'm not kidding) and plays by his own rules. But he was dissappointed with Mr. Jackson as "a venerable Jedi Master who sits on a chair and offers sage wisdom." He contends that J.J. Abrams needs to "cast the right people in parts where he can get the most from them."

My responses:

1. Have you not seen Episodes II or III? You do realize that the Prequels consist of more than just Episode I, right? I say this because Ep I is the only film where Mace Windu does nothing but sit in a chair and offer advice. In Eps II and III he's involved in giving orders, conferring with Yoda, fighting droids and decapitating bounty hunters, leading armies, not trusting Anakin, and attempting to arrest Darth Sidious.

2. I liked Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. He brought to the character a great mix of stoicism with quiet intensity just under he surface that I don't think we would have gotten with another actor. And, maybe this is just me, but everytime I see Mr. Jackson in a movie, I don't expect/demand him to just reprise his role of Jules in a different wardrobe. "What ain't no planet I ever heard of. They speak Bocce on What?"

3. In general I thought all the casting in the Prequels was great.

4. I really don't think JJ Abrams by virtue of directing Ep VII is going to be in charge of casting.

5. Just a point about the general claim of "wooden" acting. What I think people fail to see and/or acknowledge, is the possibility that the mannerism of these characters are purposeful decisions, not the results of bad acting. Perhaps the Jedi, being a peace-keeping spiritual order, don't talk and act like the Avengers. Perhaps people who have spent half of their lives in political office likewise don't act like our next-door neighbors.

6. Samuel L. would play a great bounty hunter, no doubt. But the Prequels weren't about bounty hunters. They were about the fall of the Republic, the extermination of the Jedi, and the fall of Anakin. Thus, if Mr. Jackson is going to have a prominent role in the Prequels, it's not going to be as a bounty hunter.

7. A swearing rogue Jedi? I figure this, as well as much of the rest of the article is embellished for [sic] comedic effect. But really? Do some people have no understanding of what the Jedi are supposed to be?

Lesson #5: Use the Force (Better), Luke!

Apparently so. He was disappointed that the Jedi in the Prequels didn't wow us with their amazing Force-powers. What we saw in the OT was supposed to be, "the tip of the iceberg." But the Jedi in the Prequels didn't do anything new or overwhelming. It was "the same old Force pushes or Force chokes." My suspicion is that he was expecting/hoping for something along the lines of the way Jedi are presented in the EU.

My response:
1. The EU has not portrayed Jedi in a manner consistent with what George Lucas envisioned them to be. In the EU they do indeed have these amazing powers, like superheroes. But that's an area where the EU simply got it wrong. It's unfortunate that people read the EU and then were disappointed that the Prequels didn't gel with it. But, it is what it is.

2. I'm glad that the Jedi aren't all Superman, or even the X-Men. The balance of their abilities and their limitations makes them interesting, and actually relatively unique among fiction.

Lesson #6: We Need Heroes We Can Invest In

He says the characters of the Prequels are not of the sort that audiences can invest in. Everyone has favorite characters from the Original Trilogy, but not from the Prequels. Nope. None of those characters were, "believable," with, "real problems and personalities." Also, he says that the Prequels didn't have a clear protagonist throughout all three films.

My responses:
1. Obi-Wan. Followed by R2-D2, Yoda, Anakin, Mace Windu. And, I know you can't see me, but coming up with that list did not involve me making poop faces.

2. "Believable" is apparently in the eye of the beholder, because I didn't find the characters of the Prequels any less believable than those of the OT.

3. As for the "no clear protagonist," 1) Just because you don't meet Anakin until 35 minutes into Episode I doesn't mean he can't be the protagonist of that film. 2) Just because Qui-Gonn dies at the end doesn't mean he can't be the primary protagonist of the film. 3) Even if it were the case that the Prequels have no clear protagonist, I would say to that, "....and?" I don't get how this is a criticism, per se. The story of the Prequels is a bit more nuanced and complex, and it ends with a major tragedy. That often doesn't lead to a film series with one clearly defined hero from the first scene to the last.

Lesson #7: And Bad Guys Who Actually Kick [Butt]

He complains that Maul was the only cool villain in the prequels (wow, I've never heard this before). The battle droids were too awkward, Dooku was too old, and the 4-armed cyborg (wait, that sounds kind of cool) had a tendency to cough (that's better, everything is fine now because coughing is so lame). Vader was so intimidating, which was cool in itself, plus it implied that the Emperor must be super bad-news. When Luke lost to Vader on Bespin, he was outmatched.

My responses:
1. What about Sidious? You know, the guy who later, when he was older (and British), would be Vader's boss? Yes, he didn't pull out a lightsaber until Ep III. But the guy was able to take over the entire Republic, convince the public that the Jedi were evil and their extermination a necessity, and manipulate Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, into severely injuring his wife and turning his back on her, his mentor and best friend, and the only life he'd known for 13 years. Maybe that's not butt-kicking in the literal sense. But I'd say that it is butt-kicking all the same.

2. Anakin was clearly outmatched on Geonosis. Dooku cut off his hand, just like Vader would do to Luke. So why doesn't that count? Why is he not a butt-kicker because he's old and has a British accent? I personally thought Dooku was a great villain.

3. I also thought Greivous was pretty impressive as a bad guy. In fact, that's one of my few disappointments about The Clone Wars. It showed us that Grievous wasn't as all-that as we initially thought.

4. As Josh read the draft of this article, he pointed out how the totally awesome Darth Vader was sometimes a little on the underwhelming side in the OT (case in point: the duel between him and Obi-Wan on the Death Star).

Lesson #8: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This Dialogue

He says the dialogue was awkward, pointing to the Anakin and Padme "love scenes" as prime evidence. He says that the new films don't need to rehash the OT's Han/Leia, or the "same will-they won’t-they Luke/Han bromantic vibe" (again, I'm not kidding). But there needs to be more quotable banter, a believable love story, and a legitimate spark between the characters.

My responses:
1. I don't think anyone can deny that the style of dialogue that is predominate in the Prequels is of a different style than the OT. There's more formality and less snarkiness.

2. Again, I don't know why people chalk it up to 'George Lucas can't write dialogue' and don't even consider that the characters of the Prequels are of a much different sort than those of the OT. In the original films we had farm boys, smugglers, gangsters, bounty hunters, and a princess who was one by (adopted) birth, not choice. In the Prequels we had Jedi, lifelong politicians, reclusive aliens, and a couple of bounty hunters. Different characters speak in different ways. Maybe people don't like the way characters in the Prequels speak. But that doesn't make the dialogue bad.

3. I also don't know why people chalk it up to 'George Lucas can't write dialogue' when he wrote Episode IV.

And there it is. Eight supposedly horrid things about the Prequels and my take on each one. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, I am,

 - Nic

Posted on March 18, 2013 .

Josh's PS4 Thoughts

Console hardware is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss. As of right now, the Wii U has already been released and the PS4 was revealed only recently. How do the two compare and how will they stack up to Microsoft’s new Xbox? It’s really hard to say given the fact that no one outside the gaming industry has actually played anything other than the Wii U.

Some of the features revealed to be capable of the PS4 are kind of neat, but will they be enough to make the system sell? It seems as though Sony is going down the same road as Microsoft did last generation with more of a focus on social networking features. Stuff like being able to share gameplay videos across various media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook, or being able to spectate and take over the control of a friend’s game are cool ideas, but how much of that will simply be a novelty that will quickly wear off?

One thing about Sony’s presentation that I noticed was the very odd balance contained within. On the one hand, Sony was taking the Nintendo approach of, “this will change the way you play games,” but on the other, there was a focus on the PS4’s raw power, likening it to higher-end gaming PCs. While for most it would seem as though the presentation contained a good balance of the two, I felt like Sony is finding it hard to market this new console to consumers that have grown accustomed to current-gen hardware. More like, “how do we sell this thing? Is it the features, or the power?”
At least the “used games lockout” rumor proved to be false.

Going off pure features other than those mentioned above, it looks like there won’t be much more to offer than the PS3. The idea of playing games streamed to the Vita is ok, but it is a feature that requires one to actually own a Vita. Sony could possibly move a few more units by implementing this kind of connectivity, but given the Vita’s lackluster library, that’s highly doubtful. The PS4’s lack of backwards compatibility could also be problematic for some gamers. The Wii U succeeds here given the fact that it will play previous generation titles, as opposed to the PS4 which will not play PS3 games. In my opinion, every console should at least be capable of playing games from the previous console. I was disappointed that the Wii U can’t play Gamecube titles, but at least you can still boot up Wii software. In the final days of a console’s life, being able to play previous-gen titles on the new machine can keep the last generation alive for just a bit longer and ease people into the transition of a new box. Odd that Sony opted not to do so.

On power, there’s no question that the PS4 is in the lead so far. True enough, we don’t know what the exact specs on the Wii U are (which I’m getting really tired of saying, by the way), but then again, we probably never will. Nintendo has never been forthcoming with its system specs, something which Sony had no qualms with in their presentation. The PS4 will make a pretty big jump in improvement over PS3 architecture, making it a much easier system to develop for (according to developers, themselves), given its new, “not-cell” processor and various memory improvements.

In the graphics department, who can really say? It’s highly doubtful that the Wii U is capable of the near-PC quality visuals displayed by the PS4 demos, but you never know. As Nic and I talked about on the most recent episode of the podcast, we’ll never truly know until Nintendo develops and releases a game specifically built for the Wii U. But Nintendo’s system’s true power could possibly make itself known even further down the road seeing as how Nintendo has only just started experimenting with shaders and lighting effects.

So how does all this stack up to the new Xbox? There’s really no telling at this point since there has been no official news on anything pertaining to Microsoft’s new console other than a reveal event, similar to Sony’s, which is just around the corner. Judging by the rumors, the new Xbox will have nearly the exact same hardware that’s stuffed inside the PS4. Unfortunately, there are still some terrible rumors such as having to be constantly connected to the internet in order for the console to function and forced Kinect integration.
A lot of people ‘round the internet are already seeing the PS4 as the “one to beat” this generation, but I really think people are underestimating Microsoft. This is a company that has built a gaming empire with its Xbox Live online service. With comparable hardware under the hood and the consistent online features of the Xbox 360, there’s still a lot that remains to be seen. Also, there’s no doubt that Microsoft will take the same extreme measures in securing 3 rd party support as they did last generation. Sony has seemed to take similar measures, which will make the whole thing very interesting to watch.

Overall, I think the PS4 reveal was a good one, I just wasn’t overly impressed. The thing is though; I wasn’t really expecting to be. I remain skeptical that consoles will bring new things to the table that become mainstays of gaming, but I won’t know for sure until they’re hooked up to my television/monitor and the controllers are in my hands.

Sony has been the first to show what next-gen console gaming is capable of, something that Nintendo has yet to do, and Microsoft’s plans are still unknown. That being said, this year’s E3 will probably be one of the most interesting in recent history. E3 will give Nintendo a chance to reveal new games which will start to show the direction they want their console to go and the new systems will have a chance to build hype. I think that once the new Xbox is revealed and there is much more of a chance to compare and contrast all 3 systems, perhaps my excitement level will increase. All that can be said at this point is, “we’ll see….”

In order to wrap up, this brings me to something that people really need to realize: None of what you’ve just read, or what Nic has already written, or even what websites like IGN have written, really matters at this point because of 3 things:

1. The PS4 and Xbox HAVE NOT been released yet. No one has actually played the 2 consoles, aside from the aforementioned gaming industry (developers).
2. We don’t know how popular these features might eventually be. The PS3 was the first console to truly implement integration features (web browsing, streaming video, apps, etc.) and at first, they were services that nobody thought they would use from a videogame system. Now, these features have become the standard across the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. A year down the road, a “share button” could be what turns the tide for consoles. That’s highly doubtful, but entirely possible given consumer’s mindsets these days.
3. All these “impressions” are based off of how well Sony presented their product. Did these features make you want to buy their console? Based solely on a presentation, that’s really hard to determine. Just like point #1 states, we have not actually used the console yet. I remember my initial impressions of the original Xbox as not being that great, but after I actually bought one, I ended up enjoying it. You know what made me want to get a Nintendo 64 initially instead of a Playstation? Playing Mario 64 for hours on end at Wal-Mart. Until one can actually review the console, then these impressions are, for the most part, meaningless.

After E3, when perhaps journalists will be able to spend some hands-on time with the PS4, these impressions will take on a bit more validity. Even then, however, the features that Sony has revealed of the PS4 won’t be known until one buys the console, plugs it in, and starts to play. Remember, “Knowing [about a console] is only half the battle.”
“G.I. Joooooooooooooooooooooooooooooe!”


DmC: Devil May Cry - Review (PC)

I never really got into the original Devil May Cry series. I played a majority of the first game and a little bit of the 3rd and 4th ones, but it always seemed as though the series was a fairly good one; I was just involved with other games at the time. Apparently, Capcom felt the need to reboot the franchise, so they contracted UK developer Ninja Theory to handle the reset. Previously an action/puzzle solving hybrid, DmC (No, that doesn’t stand for DeLorean Motor Company) strips away most of the puzzle elements and relies on straight-up, over the top, demon-slaying action.

Differences between the PC and console versions:
I played the PS3 demo and downloaded the PC version on Steam a few hours later. The demo may not be indicative of the finished PS3 game, but what I played was pretty close to the PC version for the most part. The game runs at around 60 fps even on the console, but the PC version benefits from higher resolution, better lighting effects, and other various optimized features. No matter what platform (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) you choose for DmC, it’s going to look fantastic; although the PC version does contain advantages.


Dante speaks with "Kat," the mysterious guy's personal witch.
Story: 10/10
DmC tells the story of Dante, a half angel, half-demon hybrid who must travel back and forth between the real world and what the game calls “limbo.” Dante is enlisted by a mysterious stranger and his assistant/witch to help fight back demons that are trying to force themselves into our world. Dante also wishes to exact revenge upon the demon king Mundus who killed his demon father and angel mother. The story may sound extremely simple, but that’s because it is. DmC, with its highly-steeped Christian mythology, never tries to take a religious standpoint of any kind and keeps things unquestionably fictional and easy to follow.  

The things that can happen in Limbo.
Visuals: 10/10
Every bit of this game is gorgeous. The real world and Limbo have distinct visual styles apart from Limbo just looking “really messed up.” The real world looks a bit grittier, while Limbo has very saturated colors and truly looks otherworldly. One thing in particular that stands out is the character models and their facial motion capturing. Developers are really getting good at this technique and DmC is no exception. Facial expressions are very well captured and the character models look more like actual actors and less like CG dolls whose mouths kind of match their words.
Animations are extremely fluid, lighting is great and the overall look of the game is pure eye-candy.

Beatin' down some demons at the beginning of the game.
Sound: 9/10
All of the slashing, shooting, and bone crunching is all accompanied by some mostly great music. I’m not too fond of dubstep, but its use here fits the game’s situations rather well. I much more prefer the metal-style tracks during combat. Every time Dante engages in combat, the metal starts and you can’t help but feel pumped up as you play. The reason I have to dock it a point here, and this may be more of a writing thing, is because of the excessive cursing used throughout the game. Cursing isn’t something that bothers me, but its use here is, a lot of the time, unnecessary and downright corny. That being said, the voice acting is fantastic and some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. Coupled with the facial capturing, the characters feel more alive than in most titles.

Bosses are usually on the 'large' side.
Gameplay: 8.9/10
There is no way that you could play this game and not have fun. Whether you want to “button-mash,” or actually learn the combos and various moves, there’s mass fun to be had here. You can’t help but feel awesome as the game informs you that you’ve taken out a crowd of enemies and achieved an “SSS” ranking. These rankings reward you with points which you can spend on upgrades for your arsenal, or more moves and powers. I did, however, feel that some of the moves were a bit unnecessary. Usually, you’ll only need a few key moves in order to progress throughout the game, but these extra abilities do add to the visual appeal and overall awesomeness of combat.
The boss battles are excellent. They’re not terribly difficult, but unlike most bosses in games which are strictly difficult, these are actually a joy to play. Most involve not only hacking at whatever huge demon you’re up against, but using platforming elements to avoid their various attacks.
The only real complaint I have with the gameplay is that it can be a little repetitive during the game’s final levels… and I’m talking like, maybe the last 2 or 3.

Controls: 10/10
Like the overall gameplay, the controls are fluid, yet relatively simple. Combos are easy and you’ll be demon slaying like a pro in no time. As you progress, you gain more and more abilities, but the game eases you into them gradually rather than unloading all at once. By the end of the game, you’ll be taking out swarms of enemies as if it were second nature. 

Dante says, "Don't buy this game for children. I curse alot."
Other than Portal 2, DmC may be one of the best games I’ve played in quite some time. Normally, I’m not that big a fan of “beat-em up” style games, but this one transcends all of the clichés associated with the genre. Is it worth $60? Definitely. No question about it. This is a must-have game for any gamer. Only keep it away from the kids; There’s a reason it’s rated ‘M’ for mature.

Final Score: 9/10


My History of Thoughts on Nintendo (A disclaimer for the upcoming "Nic vs. Josh" debate)

First off, I just want to say that I consider myself a Nintendo fan. Am I a fan of their hardware? I would say yes, but I’m more so a fan of their software. Growing up with franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Mario and Metroid kind of makes it hard to not eagerly anticipate the newest titles in their respective series.

Second, and most importantly, I think that Nintendo, in more recent years, has made some rather poor choices when it comes to hardware design and business in general. This doesn’t mean that my fandom has diminished or that I hate Nintendo, it just means that I’m sort of disappointed in their lack of willingness to compete with the rest of the video game world.

Here we go…

During the 8 and 16 bit eras, Nintendo ruled the entire planet. Sure, there was competition from Sega with the Master System and Genesis (maybe a little with the TurboGrafx 16), but Nintendo always seemed to 1-up (like that?) them in some fashion. Whether it was graphics, sound, or quality titles, Nintendo always seemed to have the bigger dog in the fight.

Around the 32/64 bit era, things started to change. Previously, CD-ROM based add-ons were met with mostly negative results. The Phillips CDi didn’t do well, the Sega CD was mostly horrible, and even Nintendo canceled a partnership with Sony during development of their own SNES CD add-on. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they created a monster that would prove to be much more competitive than Sega ever thought possible.

The Sony Playstation was released on American shores in 1995, but wasn’t exactly the most popular piece of hardware ever created. A year later, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 (previously known with the much cooler, Ultra 64 moniker), a much more powerful system. There was one problem, though: The system still used the cartridge format for games.

Now let’s step back and think for a second: Could Nintendo really be at fault for that? From Nintendo’s perspective, every CD-based add-on/console had failed up to that point. Why would Nintendo ever think to release a console with its primary form of media being the Compact Disc? Nintendo probably thought that they were doing the right thing, a thought with which I can mostly agree. The only thing one can really chalk it up to is timing. The time was just right for a CD-based console.

The one thing that really hurt Nintendo during that time was the announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be released for the Playstation rather than the Nintendo 64. By this point in history, RPGs were starting to become slightly more mainstream. Games for the SNES like Final Fantasy III (VI, as it would later be known) and Chrono Trigger were "must-have" games for 16 bit gamers. Because of the rise of RPGs and their ever expanding scope, Square decided to release FFVII on a console that could handle the larger demands of the game. There would be a hit taken when it came to visuals, but FFVII could be a much larger game with the CD format.

The quality (or lack thereof) of the game aside, FFVII was a monster title. The thing sold a ridiculous amount of copies and, (again) unfortunately for Nintendo, a LOT of Playstations. Because of the growing Sony console market and the ability to reach a much larger scope with the CD format, most of the previously "Nintendo loyal" third party developers jumped the Nintendo ship and began producing games on a near exclusive basis for the Playstation. While Nintendo was still successful during this period, due mainly to relying on their brand name and first party titles, the 128 bit era would start to see things change drastically.

Sony, still riding high as the dominant console when it came to software sales, released a more powerful console in March of 2000 dubbed, "Playstation 2." Sony would continue its dominance throughout this era as well, facing off against competition from Nintendo’s newly released "Gamecube" and newcomer to the console market, Microsoft and their "Xbox."

The Gamecube was a great system, don’t get me wrong. It was technically more powerful than the PS2 and more on equal footing with the more powerful Xbox. The problem was software sales and name recognition. The PS2 was not only the first out of the gate in the new generation of consoles, it also carried a more recognizable name this time around. Most third party developers were already on board with the Playstation brand previously, and with sold out preorders around the world, were more than willing to develop for the new system. The Gamecube was left out in the cold and the Xbox was just starting to gain steam.

Nintendo still had their first party titles which were, and still are, top-notch in terms of quality, but perhaps Nintendo’s shining decision was securing exclusive rights to Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise. This was a huge move for Nintendo, but the exclusivity of one franchise couldn’t make up for the ridiculous amount of third party franchises on the PS2. Also, Capcom’s exclusive contract must not have been a very long one. Shortly after the Gamecube release of Resident Evil 4, there was a port of that game (with huge additions), Resident Evil: Outbreak File 1&2, and Dead Aim all released for the PS2. Outbreak and Dead Aim being PS2 exclusive, I might add.

The only thing bad that can be said from a technical standpoint about the Gamecube is its choice of format: Mini-DVD. Other than wanting to preserve the small (size-wise) nature of the console, this is a decision that I honestly can’t understand to this day. Did this hurt the console? To be honest, I’m not really sure. It’s possible, because rather than have games cost roughly the same across all three consoles to produce physical copies, publishers perhaps had to pay a little extra for Mini DVD. I can’t really say for sure, simply because I don’t know how much it cost back in the day to produce that particular format.

In the current generation, things got even more hairy for Nintendo. Microsoft was the first company on the floor with their Xbox 360 in 2005. With more of a focus on multiplayer/networking and graphics that were a noticeable improvement over the previous consoles, it’s no wonder that the 360 gained popularity as quickly as it did.

A year later on November 11th, 2006, Sony released the Playstation 3. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft had mostly blanketed the market with the 360, so the PS3 was marketed as more of an entertainment "do-all" than a straight-up video game console. Sony also used the PS3 as more of a marketing tool to sell their new High Definition format: BluRay. While I commend Sony for wanting to integrate new features into home consoles, they were a bit ahead of their time. Video streaming services had not reached the popularity that they are in 2013 and neither had the advent of the "app." It was good to know the PS3 was capable of doing these things, but in 2006, people found it hard to care enough to drop $500 on the console.

Nearly a week later, Nintendo released the Wii. The problems that I had with the system are shared amongst most gamers, so I’ll break down some of those opinions:

Motion Controls -
When the Wii was first revealed, I remember seeing images of the controller and thinking, "What the crap is that thing?!" The design was so far removed from what gamers were used to that it was somewhat unrecognizable. There were a few familiar elements like a d-pad, a few face buttons, and an analog stick, but you were supposed to hold separate pieces in each hand and point it at the screen in order to interface with whatever game you were playing. On paper, the ideas for gameplay sound pretty cool, but in actuality, they become somewhat frustrating. First person games were tedious because movement was a lot more difficult; platformers mostly required you to turn the wii-mote portion on its side in a somewhat uncomfortable fashion; and having to point the controller at the screen constantly became quite tiring after extended periods of play.
I, like most gamers, like to "vedge out" while playing a video game. I don’t really care to wave my hands about just to make my in-game avatar turn around to look behind me, or have to point the controller constantly on screen to make sure my character moves in a particular direction. These actions are made much simpler by the use of dual analog sticks.
A "classic" controller was released with a more conventional design, but it was only compatible with a few regular Wii games and mostly used for downloadable (Virtual Console) titles.

Graphics -
High Definition graphics and imagery were becoming the standard before the Wii was released. I understand Nintendo’s focus on gameplay, but graphics immerse me in the experience as well as gameplay. When I’m having to deal with frustrating/tiring controls AND graphics that are nowhere near what they COULD be, the immersion is lost. Immersion is clearly what Nintendo was going for with the introduction of motion controls, but is it really that hard to have both graphics and gameplay? I don’t think that a game has to be pretty to be fun, I’m just saying that there’s no excuse for releasing a console that is underpowered when compared to its competition just for the sake of in-game controls.

Lack of Third Party Support -
This is the main problem with the Wii. I can’t blame anyone but Nintendo for this one. With the Gamecube, even though developers were attached to the PS2, they still knew that Nintendo could release a quality piece of hardware. Games COULD be ported, they just weren’t because of the popularity and large user install base of the PS2. I believe that had Nintendo released an equally powerful console like the Xbox 360 (and perhaps dropped the motion controls), they would have seen more third party developers gravitate towards them. Releasing a drastically, technically speaking, inferior console than what technology was capable of, made developers scoff at the Wii and mostly avoid it. Also, motion controls would HAVE to be integrated into the game since not everyone had the classic controller or "nunchuck" peripherals. These extra controller options, and added motion controls in general, take more time and therefore cost more money to implement. I honestly can’t blame third party companies for wanting to pass on the Wii. I don’t say that out of spite; I only say it because it’s the most realistic viewpoint.

Catering to the "Casual" market -
I’ve been talking about how I’ve been writing an article about this for a few weeks now, but I’ll go ahead and address part of the subject.
A casual market does, indeed, exist. The thing I get sick of hearing is the "core gamer" term. I think that the term is used in most cases to put a stamp on gamers who like games like Grand Theft Auto, etc. Most of the time, it’s used in some kind of derogatory manner, or to separate certain games from others that shouldn’t be separated in the first place.
I look at games in 2 different styles: Casual games… and EVERYTHING ELSE. There is no in-between. Grand Theft Auto is no more "core" than Super Mario Bros. A casual game is something like Angry Birds. Most of what you’ll find in an app store for your particular smartphone can be considered casual games. These games are defined by the fact that you can pick them up for 5 minutes and put them down. Basically, games you play when you’re bored or waiting in the doctor’s office.
Most gamers, just like we all did back in the 80s and 90s, take video games seriously. The video game market EXISTS because we take them so seriously. Not only do consumers take them seriously, but so do developers. Gone are the days when a game was developed over the course of a couple months with a team of 5-10 people. Nowadays, games usually have 40-100 people working on them and sometimes take up to 2 years to produce. With that kind of production, developers want to deliver the absolute best experience possible, which is something most of them didn’t feel was possible on the Wii. Just like developers want to deliver the best experience possible, gamers want to receive the best. Being a platform which caters predominantly to gamers who only want to pick a game up, play it for 5 minutes and then go to work, the Wii was not the platform to go to for most third party companies.

With the Wii, Nintendo based their marketing strategy around roping in the casual gamer… and they did it in spades. People who normally wouldn’t dare pick up the latest Nintendo console were actually making it a point to do so. One particular example that’s always used is that of someone’s grandma playing Wii Sports. Did this actually happen? Yes, it did. The problem is that a grandma is still a grandma. Because grandma enjoys bowling on Wii Sports, that doesn’t mean she’s going to be beating down the doors of her local Gamestop to preorder the next Mario or Zelda game. For grandma, it begins and ends with Wii Sports. My question is: What was the point in Nintendo doing this? The answer: To sell more systems. But system sales are only half the battle. If a company doesn’t have the software to back it up, then that company doesn’t get any back end off of titles sold and the console sits and collects dust. Such was the case with a great many Wiis that were sold in 2006 and onwards.

All that being said, the Wii DID have some solid titles, but those were few and far between. I realize that that’s subjective given to one’s tastes, but can’t that be said no matter what console is the subject of discussion? I believe the games that were the strongest were ones that were developed by Nintendo themselves… which were few and far between. Nintendo didn’t have the "next killer app" down the pipeline from month to month. Sometimes strong titles would release with 6 months to a year between them as opposed to the PS360 which had a new, large-scale title available nearly every month. But when you’ve only got one company releasing consistently, top-drawer games, what do you expect?

I’ve already made my recent opinions known about the Wii U, so I won’t go into that again. I’ll only say that Nintendo has a lot of catching up to do to win back all the gamers that they’ve lost to the other two big companies in recent years. I still love Nintendo and will probably continue to buy their hardware for as long as they continue to produce it. But when two other guys carry around bazookas and you’re still carrying around a pistol, it’s easy to see how the fight’s going to end.

Ok, I was done with the article and then I thought of this analogy to sum up the whole thing and expound upon that last line:

Nes = Pistol; Everything else at the time = BB-gun

Snes = Machine pistol; Everything else at the time = Pistol

N64 = Upgraded machine pistol; PSX = Regular machine pistol with more bullets

Gamecube = Assault rifle; Xbox = Assault rifle; PS2 = Slightly less powerful assault rifle with more bullets

Wii = 2 assault rifles duct taped together; Xbox 360 = Machine gun with buckets of bullets; PS3 = Machine gun you can play BluRays on, but has the same kind and amount of bullets as the Xbox 360, but sometimes misfire.

Wii U = Machine gun; Next Xbox = Bazooka of some sort; PS4 = Bazooka of some sort that will probably play BluRays.

Yeah, the analogy is a little bit ridiculous (and using the bazooka to represent the unknown was probably extreme), but it illustrates how Nintendo’s consoles are viewed by the majority of the gaming public (myself included) and that recently Nintendo has seemed to be behind in recent years. At times, being behind in a somewhat costly fashion.

With that, I release you!


Nic's Response to Josh's Recent Wii U Article

Josh is a fool who doesn't know what he's talking about.

OK, that may be a bit much. But hey, that's sort of the point of sensationalism, isn't it?

In truth, I think Josh makes some good points in his article. But there are a few areas where I think there's either room for difference of tastes or interpretations, or where I think some context would be helpful. So this is my response to (or smack down of) Josh's article. If you haven't read it then this article won't make sense. So go and read it, then return.

Alright, caught up now? Groovy.

I'd like to publicly thank Josh for giving his article numbered points, as it makes it easier for me to respond. So, get ready Josh, here we go...

1.  Although "strongest" is a relative term, subject to personal subjective preference, there's no doubt the most high profile launch titles, especially from the point of view of the 'core' market, were ports of games either already available on the PS3 and 360, or launching almost simultaneously on them.  But let's do two things: get specific facts in front of us as opposed to generalities, and put this in historical context.

The Wii U launched with 23 titles (both retail and eshop). Of them, 11 are third-party exclusives (games not available on another home console): Scribblenauts Unlimited, Tank Tank Tank, Rabbids Land, Nano Assault Neo (eshop), Game Party Champions, ESPN Sports Connection, Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013, Chasing Aurora (eshop), Mighty Switch Force Hyperdrive Edition (eshop), Little Inferno (eshop), and ZombiU. No doubt there's some varying quality here (a.k.a., some of these games are good, some are so so, and some are straight up stinkers). And in the case of ZombiU, people have widely differing takes on it (some folks, like Josh, aren't that impressed by it, while others really seem to like seems to be a "love it or hate it" kind of game).

From the perspective of someone who is exclusively a 'core' gamer, there is indeed not much here. Most of these titles don't fit that rather narrow mold. But for someone who is simply a gamer, one who likes games if they are enjoyable without requiring them to be of a certain genre, art-style, or tone, there are some worthwhile titles here. Scribblenauts Unlimited (which I have, and am really having fun with, especially due to the object creator), Mighty Switch Force (which I also have, and find to be a great mix of platformer and puzzler, with great art style and music thrown in), and Nano Assault Neo (which I don't have, but hear is good) all jump out in particular.

Of the remaining 12, half of them (Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Wii U Edition, Trine 2: Director's Cut, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper, and Darksiders 2) are enhanced in some way over other versions, either with tweaked gameplay (NG3), new game modes, characters, levels, or character abilities (Batman, Tekken, Warriors, Trine 2), or previously released DLC being included at no extra cost (Darksiders 2, NG3).

As for some historical context, let's examine the launches of the past generation. The PS3, which came out last, launched with 15 games, 3 of which were 3rd party exclusives (Genji: Days of the Blade, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, and Ridge Racer 7). The Wii, the middle child as it were, launched with 21 games, 6 of which were 3rd party exclusives (Red Steel, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Tamagotchi: Party On!, Trauma Center: Second Opinion, GT Pro Series, and Rayman Raving Rabbids). The 360, which came out first, launched with 28 games, 9 of which were 3rd party exclusives (Amped 3, Call of Duty 2, Condemned: Criminal Origins, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, Perfect Dark Zero, Quake 4, Ridge Racer 6, Tetris The Grandmaster ACE, and Bankshot Billiards 2).

So the Wii U numbers aren't that dissimilar, and in fact hold up pretty well.

Something else worth noting. The Wii U and XBox360 have something in common: they were the first system of their generation to be released. Looking at the 360's launch lineup, one finds that, much like the Wii U, a large portion of it (at least 9 titles) consists of games that were also available on the systems of the previous generation. Being first out of the gate seems to do that to you.

I point out all of this not to say Josh is somehow delusional for wanting more 3rd party games on Wii U, but to remind us all that console launches aren't usually overly-impressive. A lack of mind-blowing exclusive 3rd party games at launch does happen with some frequency. And the launch titles are usually not a reliable indicator of what will happen over the system's launch title.

That having all been said, Nintendo seems to agree that it would be good for them to start letting folks know about upcoming games. Hence, Wednesday's Nintendo Direct. Perhaps I'll do a little article dedicated to it in a day or so. But suffice it to say, Nintendo pleasantly surprised people with their presentation. It only lasted 35 minutes, and only focused on 1st party titles, with a spotlight on 3rd party apparently coming relatively soon. And yet, it got people's attention. During the video presentation, new footage was shown for two upcoming games (The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2). Five previously announced titles were mentioned (LEGO City Undercover, Pikmin 3, Wii Fit U, Game and Wario, and Super Smash Bros), with most of them coming out in the first half of this year (the exception being SSB, though it was confirmed that the first footage of the game will be shown at E3). Eight new titles were announced, some expected and others complete surprises: a new 3D Mario (playable at E3), a new Mario Kart (playable at E3), Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei, a new RPG from Xenoblade's Monolith Soft, Wii U Party, a new Yoshi platformer, a new Legend of Zelda game, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (coming out by Fall of this year). And they confirmed that the Wii U will have a Virtual Console service (with the ability to play the games on the gamepad), officially coming in April but really beginning now (through the Famicom 30th Anniversary promotion).

And, outside of the Nintendo Direct presentation, in recent days Capcom has revealed that the port of Resident Evil: Revelations will be coming to the Wii U along with the PS3 and 360.

One last thing on point number one. I think Josh is somewhat overstating the case when he says not many people care about LEGO City Undercover. It may be true that not many in the "core only" audience are looking forward to it. And Josh, who is not in that audience by the way, is perfectly within his rights to also not care about it. But the LEGO games are quite popular. They tend to be reviewed favorably, and they sell very well. This game in particular is looking to take the LEGO video game concept in some slightly new directions, and many of the folks who've gone hands on with it (like the folks at IGN) say it's shaping up to be a lot of fun. (They also say it's less like GTA than it might at first seem. Yes, there's an open world, and the gameplay is mission based. But they say it's actually more like a detective game, with investigating, tracking, and apprehending. They say it isn't trying to be GTA, but something unique.) Based on their comments, the concept for the game, videos and screens I've seen, the quality of previous LEGO games, and my general enjoyment of the LEGO brand, I'm excited about it. In fact, I've already pre-ordered it at Target and gotten my free Chase McCain (the hero from the game, not to be confused with John McClane, who they're clearly referencing) LEGO minifigure.

That having been said, the LEGO games certainly have a different sensibility to them than, say, Grand Theft Auto. No one can deny that. Not a lot of prostitute punching going on in LEGO games. And not a lot of Shawshank Redemption parodies in GTA games. And, perhaps as a consequence of their light-hearted style and easy-to-play game mechanics, the LEGO games apparently aren't typically "system sellers," nor are they must-haves for the "core" audience. I'm not here pretending like they are.

So I'm not saying LEGO City Stories is going to move tens of thousands of Wii U systems and Josh can circuit. Nor am I saying that its existence should be enough to satisfy any gamer who is wanting more games for their Wii U. I'm just saying its impact may not be as minimal as Josh seems to think.

2.  As for Zombi U, I think Josh makes some good points about how the purported realism of using the gamepad as your survival pack isn't actually that realistic. Indeed, if you were really trying to get something out of your pack in an effort to survive the zombie apocalypse, it doesn't seem you would always have to stop and kneel down in order to do so. As for not even needing to look in the bag, I think that would depend on what you're looking for.

I've only played the demo of ZombiU once, for about three minutes. So I need a bit more time with it before I can even begin to develop an impression of the game as a whole and the use of the gamepad in particular. But I will say using it as a scanner was fun, and having the voice of the guy who's helping you out come from just the gamepad and not the TV is a nice touch of immersion.

Recently Ron Gilbert, the guy who gave us Monkey Island 1 and 2 and then fortunately stepped away so Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley could give us Monkey Island 3, expressed the same kinds of general concerns about use of the gamepad as Josh did, although he did speak with some optimism. He said the that he doesn't think developers have yet really figured out how best to use the second screen, and believes it will be about a year before we see games that completely nail it.

I'm curious to see what uses developers and designers come up with. I think we'll be impressed.

3.  The question of system power (how the Wii U will stack up against the new Playstation and XBox, and what that will mean for the Wii U going forward) is, it seems to be, the big unknown, for at least three reasons.

1. We don't really know the specs for the Wii U. The hacker who released some specs a few weeks ago obtained them while running the system in Wii mode, and we just don't know if the system performance adjusts depending on whether the system is in Wii mode.

2. We don't know how powerful the new Playstation and XBox will be. All we have is speculation, and the beginnings of rumors. For example, just the other day some possible specs for the PS4 were released onto the internet. Four dual-core processors, etc. etc. But who knows if there's any truth to it.

3. We don't know certain economic factors, like how much of an increase there'll be in production costs for new PS and XBox games, and how, if at all, those increases will be passed on to the consumer.

I don't think there's any real question about it. The Wii U will in all likelihood be the least powerful system this generation from a raw hardware standpoint (barring Josh's "turbo-boost" speculation turning out to be true). But what does that mean for Nintendo? Nothing conclusively, it would seem. The last two generations of consoles have demonstrated that being the least powerful doesn't necessarily lead to the lowest hardware sales. Wii was the least powerful and yet it outsold its competitors, and the same was true of the PS2. Having the most power wasn't the deciding factor. For the PS2 it was the system's diverse software library. And for the Wii, it was the appeal it had with more mainstream everyday consumers, those who might typically have been described as "non-gaming."

Because it wasn't its diverse software library, that's for certain. Even though it sold large numbers, and even though it did have a number of quality titles in a variety of genres that fans of gaming would do well to partake of, even Nintendo will now acknowledge that the library of games for the Wii was not as diverse as many game players would have wanted. Under normal circumstances a deficient software library is disconcerting news both for the console manufacturer, and for the owners of said console.

Two things that gamers care about: One, what games they can or cannot play on their systems. And two, even more so, whether the game companies they like will still in business in the future. Given how well Wii and the line of DS's were selling, there was no reason for that smaller range of games to have caused Nintendo or Nintendo gamers to worry about whether the big N was about to go the way of the dodo. So with that concern off the table, they were free to focus on something else: just the fact that the Wii didn't have a broad and wide range of titles, and notably missed out on many of the big name titles from that time period. Although there was a bit of snowball effect to blame (it didn't have a wide range of games, so many gamers didn't purchase it, so developers didn't often put their AAA titles on it, thus it didn't have a wide range of games, so many gamers didn't purchase it, etc.), the factor that got the ball rolling in the first place was likely how large the power gap was between Wii and the 360 and PS3. Developers had ideas for games that the Wii just couldn't handle, so they didn't develop those games for it.

I'd say that, to some extent, both of those concerns are in play with the Wii U. The 3DS is doing quite well these days (better than the DS was at this point in its life-span). The Wii U is also doing well, but it isn't currently the mainstream runaway success that the Wii was. And so, the security of Nintendo's future, though I think nowhere close to anything resembling in doubt, is slightly less rock solid than it was in late 2006 / early 2007. And, as always, consumers want a steady flow of varied and quality titles for the systems they own.

How will the power gap between the Wii U and the other guys play into all of this? That's impossible to say for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we simply don't know how much less powerful the Wii U will end up being. There's a lot of speculation out there, but only time will tell.

Well there you have it. Josh is a fool. If you want to hear Josh and I continue this discussion in audio form, then keep a look out for our next podcast, entitled "Josh vs Nic: A Battle for the Ages." It's going to be brutal.

I think we're also going to talk about a guy named J.J. Abrams.

Hoping you all have a great weekend, I remain,

 - Nic

Posted on January 26, 2013 .

So, If There Is Ever a TNG Reboot Or Something...

So my wife and I were watching Good Luck Charlie last night. One episode (we have several on the DVR) featured a relatively new recurring character: Victor. Victor is president of the A.V. club, a master at Mock U.N., and in general a likeable nerd/dork.

He's played by an actor named Kevin Covais. Some people remember him as a finalist on the fifth season of American Idol. I am not one of those people. I had no idea he was on American Idol until I looked at his Wikipedia article about 5 minutes ago. As far as I can recall, him showing up on Good Luck Charlie was the first time I saw him. But now I know. In addition to being on the Fox juggernaut, he's also had a few acting roles outside of GLC.

Ok, so here's a picture of him:

And here's a video clip of him:

Alright, folks. Tell me if you think I'm crazy. But if in 5-10 years the powers that be at Paramount and CBS decide to revisit Star Trek: The Next Generation with a reboot, or maybe let them make an appearance in the Abrams-timeline, I think we've found who should play Data.

I mean:

What do you say?

 - Nic

p.s. - While getting out my Wacom to do the rush photoshop job there, I thought to myself, "Yeah, I guess I need the Wacom for this. I mean, not that it really matters that I do a flawless job with it. But, then again, how impossible and yet cool would it be if this image caught on, and eventually it got the attention of Paramount and CBS, and the image and the fan enthusiasm got the momentum going, and eventually a return to TNG did happen? And it all got started here, with me going through this box, getting my Wacom, and photshopping a picture. And then The Inner Dorkdom would come to be known as the site that gets stuff done." And then that last sentence amused me, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Posted on January 21, 2013 .

Let's Talk Superman - Take 2

Alright, let's try this again.

Last night for some reason I was on a Superman kick, so my article today is going to be about the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel.

Before I begin, I think it best to let you know 'where I'm coming from.' I'm a big of the Superman. From childhood until only very recently he was far and away my favorite superhero. His time of complete supremacy came to an end when Disney and Marvel introduced me to a guy named Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America. But even now he is still in my top two.

You also need to know where my appreciate of Kal-El comes from. I'm not The Inner Dorkdom's resident comic book expert (that's Todd, no question). In fact, growing up I had very few comics. It's not that I disliked them; I just didn't collect them. And unless my memory fails me, I've never owned a single Superman comic. So when I talk about Superman, I'm not approaching it from the perspective of someone who knows all about Kal-El's decades of comic book exploits. My knowledge and appreciation of Superman comes from film/television (the Superman films and the old Superfriends cartoon show most notably).

I tell you this because someone might read my about-to-be-shared-with-you concerns about Man of Steel and say, "Come on man. This kind of stuff has been happening in the comics for years. Get with the program. Get with post-modernism. This us just the superhero genre growing up." I'm just going to go ahead and head that off at the pass: Yeah, that's great, and very well may be true. But I don't read the comics. And if I did, and if what you say is true, I'd probably feel the same about them as I do about what it looks like Man of Steel will be.

Ok, now with that behind us, let's talk about Man of Steel. The truth is we don't know that much about it. A couple of trailers have come out recently that have shed a little light, but we'll talk more about them in a minute.

It's a reboot. The all-news cast includes greats like Kevin Costner and Russel Crowe, and relative newcomers like Britain's Henry Cavill (Kal-El himself). Hans "I write superhero themes that consist of 4 notes" Zimmer is doing the score, and has said he won't be using any of John Williams' themes. And given the screenwriter (David S. Goyer), director (Zack Snyder), and producer (Christopher Nolan), folks have inferred that the film will give us a dark, more gritty, 'realistic' take on the story of the last son of Krypton.

And this is what concerns me. I'm just not a fan of applying the "darker and edgier" trope (overused these days anyway, in my opinion) to Superman. I'm ok with a Batman movie being dark. It fits with his character. "Dark" is even in one of his nicknames. But Superman isn't Batman. The story of Batman is the story of a man overcoming a great personal tragedy and using his wits and fortune to fight for justice in a corrupt place, channeling the darkness within him into his Batman persona. The story of Superman is the story of an alien...from outer space...orphaned as a newborn, who finds he has extraordinary invulnerability, flight, and laser eyes...and chooses to use them to protect the people of his adoptive home, fighting for truth, justice, and freedom wearing a blue and red uniform with a cape and a big bold S on the front.

I know that the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy has done very well for DC. The films were praised critically, and made boatloads of money. But that doesn't mean that the same formula should be, or must be, followed for all superhero films in order for them to perform well. Marvel's recent films I believe prove this conclusively (The Avengers, anyone?). I fear that the powers that be in the DC world are afraid to embrace the 'lighter' side of their properties on film. Maybe The Green Lantern is part of the reason. Then again, maybe I'm completely off-base on why they would choose to make Superman gritty.

But, with the release of two trailers now, I think it's safe to say that's exactly what they've done.

Or it is? I think we need to throw out a little disclaimer here, to keep us from jumping to conclusions.

See, the thing about trailers is they can very easily be misleading, because they exist for marketing purposes, not artistic purposes. They are made in order to 'sell' the movie to us. That being the case, they aren't designed to purely reflect the final film. Sure, they use footage from it, and attempt to give us at least a sketch of what the film will be about. But accurately previewing the tone, pacing, style, or overall vibe of the film is not the top priority. Now, this is nothing new and earth-shattering. Many of us have been the victim of a misleading trailer, going into the theater expecting a film very different (sometimes better, sometimes worse) than the one we actually saw. And there's an entire genre of videos on YouTube that exploit their inherent potential unreliability.

So information gleaned from trailers is somewhat suspect. Always good to remember that. But, bearing that in mind, I think it's safe to say the new trailer does give the impression that Man of Steel is going to be the grittier, darker, edgier, and 'more realistic' take on Superman that we were expecting.

First, so we're all on the same page, here's the trailer:

So all the usual suspects for "darker and edgier" are all here. Enya-style, chorus-filled, this-is-stinking-serious-folks-so-take-it-serious music: check. Muted color palate with a hearty helping of blue tint: check. Quick fades to people suffering: check. Tripod-free shaking cinematography: check. Random shots of water over rocks: check. Superhero outfit that has been modified from the traditional outfit in such a way that it almost seems to be apologizing for its roots: check.

But let's also notice the story points the trailer seems to be sharing with us, because that's where I think we get the 'more realistic' take stuff.

We begin, despite the initial images of him as an adult splayed out in the water (somewhat Jesus-style), with Clark as a small child. He's talking to his mother, presumably about the hardship his super-hearing is giving him. The world is too big, the voices are too many. It's making him cry it's so bad. And so his adopted mother is apparently trying to teach him how to cope by focusing only on one voice.

See? He has super-hearing, and it's not just coolness and rainbows for him. If someone really had super-hearing, yeah it would have advantages, but it would also be a total burden, man. This is realism.

(If you'll allow me the opportunity to be especially dorky, I don't think this is actually more realistic. His super-hearing is apparently an innate ability all Kryptonians have, and is, barring hearing sounds on other planets despite a vacuum between them and Earth, just a souped up version of our hearing. So why would he need his mom to help him learn how to filter sounds? We humans have that ability on a smaller scale, and no one has to teach us. Our moms don't have to sit down with us when we're at the mall or supermarket or some other place with a lot of voices and sounds and help us learn how to focus on just one. We just do it. It is an innate ability, and seems to be a part of the "ability to hear" package. So it seems odd that if Superman's natural hearing ability is just a better version of ours, his sound sorting ability would be a thing that had to be learned, making it worse than ours.)

The second story point in the trailer takes us a few years further into Clark's life. He's in high school it looks like. A school but plummets into the water, and he saves everyone. His dad is concerned, because saving a bus full of children puts the secret of his abilities in danger. Should Clark have just let them all die? "Maybe," his dad says.

See, Clark's parents have to wrestle with the fact that a person with superhuman abilities isn't just going to be accepted and welcomed. People will be curious, fearful, jealous. They'll want to know why he can do those things. They don't want that for their son, so they wrestle with whether or not he should use his powers. This also is realism man.

The third clear story point (as the second half of the trailer includes tiny snippets of all sorts of action-filled scenes) is an extension of the second. Clark, apparently in military custody, is telling someone that his dad (presumably Pa Kent) thought that if the world knew who he was, it would reject him. He believed people weren't ready for him.

See, this is realism man. An alien with superpowers shows up on Earth, puts on a suit and starts flying around fighting evil, it doesn't matter that he's fighting evil. That's going to freak people out. They're not going to respond with gasps of joy, thunderous applause, and looks of awe, admiration, and gratitude. He won't be man of the year. He'll be public enemy number one.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against realism completely. I don't even know how one could be, unless you're all into strange French cinema. You need some realism. This is not a matter of absolutes. It's a matter of balance. And while it is true in many types of stories, it is perhaps especially true that in superhero stories you're always having to find that good, balanced amount of realism. You need to have some minimum amount, so that characters behave in believable ways and plots feel cohesive and believable. But if you have too much realism then, well, Superman can't fly (no dense molecules and amazing strength because the gravity of his star...not even his own planet...was higher, no zero point energy, no telekinesis).

So my concern isn't that there might be some realism in a Superman story. My concern stems from the fact that, at least these days, realism seems always to be of the 'dark and edgy' variety. It's as though in many people's minds, "realism," inherently includes, "dark and edgy." Just note the three examples from this trailer: A boy crying because he hears a bunch of stuff a lot, a parent who tells his young son that maybe he should have let a bus full of children, his own peers, die, and a person trying to do good bound with chains.

So if Man of Steel is going to give us a more realistic take on Superman (a.k.a. a flying space alien in a tight suit who fights crime), that means it's probably also going to present that realism in a dark, gritty, edgy way. In a way that (maybe until the end of the film) lacks any vibe of optimism. That is, it won't be like, "Life is rough but then comes Superman to give us all hope and help! Hooray!" It'll be, "Life stinks, even for one trying to be a hero."

Again, don't misunderstand. I'm not anti such ideas being explored. When done so in a thoughtful and skilled way the results can be thought-provoking and emotionally moving. But, and this is just personal preference, I don't want to see them explored in Superman. My reasoning is simple: because the character for so long has been the one voice of optimism when everyone else in the room was being pessimistic. To fight the dark, Bruce Wayne embraces the dark. To fight the dark, Kal-El stands in the light. To take that character and give him the dark treatment, and to do so in the name of realism, I just don't think it fits.

This is also not to say that I doubt that the film will be executed well. Zack Synder is a skilled director. David Goyer is a good writer. The cast members whose work I'm familiar with are all talented actors and actresses. And I suspect the editing team, sound designers, etc. will do well with their unsung but oh so important contributions.

My suspicion is that I'll roll away from the film thinking, "That was a good film. But it didn't feel right. It didn't feel like Superman."

Hans Zimmer's score in general, and the lack of the classic themes in particular, I think will be a major contributing factor. It's not that I hate Zimmer. He's a better composer than I, no question. But I'm typically not impressed with his scores. They feel less like "underscore" to me and more like "background music." That's not my attempt at being a musical elitist or anything. I'm not trying to make any kind of normative (look it up) statement. What I'm trying to articulate is just a difference in style. When I talk of, "underscore," I'm thinking of music that complements the on-screen action, but also stands up well on its own. When I talk of, "background music," I'm thinking of music that complements the on-screen action, but isn't the sort that stands up on its own. That doesn't make it inferior, it just makes it different. It's a different style, one that I personally don't enjoy as much, especially in genre films.

And of course there's the matter of themes. As I've already mentioned twice now, the indication is John Williams' themes will not be used. I find that disappointing, because...

Now that's what I'm talking about! That's how I personally want it done.

Obviously I'm not alone in that sentiment. But on the other hand there are many folks who feel just the opposite. Some people may want to chalk the difference up to a generational thing (the old folks who grew up on Williams want his themes, whereas the young whipper-snappers who grew up with this modern trend in film scores want Zimmer). Some may think it's just a fanboy thing (some folks love Williams, and others, like one person whose comment I saw on YouTube want Zimmer, because "he's f-ing Hans Zimmer").

Those explanations account for some of the differences, sure. But I think the most real, the most artistically relevant reason, is one of tone. Someone I know referred to the Williams themes as "cheesy," and not suited to Man of Steel. One person on YouTube said the Williams music won't fit "with the tone and type of superman movie" that Man of Steel will be.

Allow me to be the old fogey: If that's true, it's because they aren't trying to make a Superman movie that is positive, optimistic, hopeful, inspiring, and fun. Because Williams' music fits perfectly with that type of film.

Alright, well, I guess I'll leave it there for now. I'm sure there'll be much more Superman discussion in the weeks and months to come.

Until later, I am,

 - Nic

Posted on January 18, 2013 .

The Razzies....oy

File this under "Why we created The Inner Dorkdom."

Many of you are no doubt familiar with the Razzies. If not, then all you need to know for the purposes of this article is that they are a group of awards given to ostensibly the "worst" in film and within a given year. So, you might say, the opposite of the Oscars. Tuesday the Razzie nominees for 2012 were revealed. As I read about the announcement on IGN, I felt compelled to share with you these two observations.

1. I just don't get the idea of the Razzies. I mean, I understand the concept. But I don't understand the point. Taking pleasure in demeaning the work of others? Don't get me wrong, people are entitled to their likes and dislikes (ID Primary Directive #3). And they are entitled to express their dislikes. But being all snarky about it, acting like what the voters don't like is indeed the worst (as though there is some objective standard with art), and taking the effort (minimal as it may be) to have awards for them... Well, it's like Jetfire said: "Who wants to live a life filled with hate?"

2. If you're nevertheless going to have awards for the "worst," why don't you at least try to seriously follow through with it.

This year Breaking Dawn Pt 2 has more nominations (11) than any other film. It's been nominated for worst film, worst director, wost actress, worst actor, worst supporting actress, worst supporting actor, worst ensemble, worst screenplay, worst remake rip-off or sequel, worst screen couple, worst screen couple (yes, it has two nominations in the same category). There are only 10 categories in the Razzies. Now, I've actually seen Breaking Dawn Pt 2. It isn't my favorite film ever. But it is a very competent movie. People may not care for the story. Love, teenagers, and vampires may not be something some people want to see mixed. That's their prerogative. But if you do like such things, and especially if you care about the characters of the Twilight series, I can assure you this film was made well enough to elicit all the emotions the production crew intended. I saw it happen with my own eyes.

Yet it has been nominated for all those Razzies. I'm sorry, but if there were such a thing as an objectively worst movie, Breaking Dawn Pt 2 wouldn't be it for 2012. Same can be said for the film's actors, actresses, and their chemistry. So why all the nominations? Of course I can't be certain about how these decisions or made, but it certainly gives off the impression, to me anyway, that often times it boils down to the same old chestnut: it's cool to hate on certain things.

In an attempt to explore this notion, I took a look at the past nominees and winners of the worst film of the year. Waterworld was nominated in 1995. If you recall, that's the year it started to become cool to hate on Kevin Costner. Two years later the movement was in full swing, and lo and behold The Postman won worst picture that year. The three most recent Twilight films were each nominated, and yet the first one, which even some Twilight fans believe had tons of room for improvement, wasn't. (Did it just take some time for Twilight hate to catch on, or have the films really gotten progressively worse?) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen won in 2009, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon was nominated in 2011, and of course we know how cool it is to hate on Michael Bay. And then there's this man named George Lucas, who, I think, might also be on the "cool to hate" list. Two of the three Star Wars prequels were nominated (the fact that Episode III wasn't suggests there must be some bare minimum standard of integrity).

Looking at the Worst Prequel, Sequel, Remake, or Rip-off category, we find that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull won in 2008, beating out another Lucasfilm production that was also nominated, that being The Clone Wars film. The Santa Clause 3 was nominated in 2006, around the time it was cool to hate on Tim Allen. And, yes, all Twilight sequels have been nominated.

A few more quick notes. In directors, Costner was nominated for Waterworld and won for The Postman, Lucas was nominated in both 1999 (Ep 1) and 2002 (Ep 2), M. Night Shyamalan won in 2006 for Lady In the Water (beating out Uwe Boll), and Michael Bay won for Revenge of the Fallen and was nominated for Dark of the Moon. In screenplays, The Postman won in 1997, and Lucas was nominated for worst screenplay with Ep I, and won (along with Jonathan Hales) for Ep II. What about worst actor? Shocker, Costner was nominated for Waterworld and won for The Postman. And last but not least, in worst film score, which was discontinued after 1985, the winner that final year was Vince DiCola. That's just stupid.

Again, I can't be certain about why some films get nominated or win. But when Crystal Skull beats out Disaster Movie, or The Postman beats Anaconda, or Kevin Costner beats out Joel Schumacher, one can't help but be dubious.

Ah well, the hates can have their fun getting together and hating. Meanwhile, we'll continue to spotlight what we enjoy, as well as pointing out the silliness of the hater.

Until next time, I remain,

 - Nic

p.s. - They also hated Howard the Duck.

Posted on January 9, 2013 .

The Clone Wars Turns 100

Tomorrow's new episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the 100th episode of the show. So I thought I'd jot down a few words about it.

Around the time Episode III came out it was announced that the 2D Clone Wars micro-series was going to be modified and return to television as an ongoing show. I for one was excited.

First, it would be more Star Wars. This itself was good for at least two reasons. One, since back in 2005 we were all under the impression that there would be no more theatrical Star Wars ever, a new show meant Star Wars would be able to continue (yes, yes, I know there were still the books and videogames....don't get me started). And two, it would be Star Wars on, presumably, a weekly basis. Holy lightsabers Obi-Wan, new Star Wars every week!! Josh and I quickly did the math, and realized that in just one season, assuming it would be a half-hour, we'd get almost as much Star Wars content as the entire film saga had given us. So in just one season there'd be a doubling of Star Wars. And if the show went on longer, wow.

Second, I really enjoyed the Tartakovski micro-series. It felt Star Wars-ian to me. You might think, well, duh, it's Star Wars. But just because you slap the Star Wars name on something doesn't make it feel like George Lucas' galaxy far far away. I've found that many of the EU novels, while fine books in and of themselves, don't quite nail that Star Wars feeling. But even with minimal dialogue (especially in the first batch), this little show with a funky art style and anime influences felt right. So a continuation of that in particular was exciting.

As I recall, shortly after the announcement news about the show completely dried up. There was nothing said about it. I had confidence that the show was being worked on. But still, not hearing jack diddly about it was a bummer. But eventually the news started to flow again. The show was going to be CGI (that may have been announced originally, I'm not sure), each episode was going to be a half-hour, and they weren't sure what network would carry it. Rumors included everything from Cartoon Network (since they had broadcast the micro-series, and they're called Cartoon Network, it was certainly reasonable to include them in the list) to HBO (what would a Star Wars cartoon on HBO look like, we all wondered).

As time went on, news picked up and the hype train pulled out of the station. And then, one fateful day, an announcement was made. The series premier would not be shown on television, but in the movie theater. I got misty-eyes, I must admit. I was going to get to go to a movie theater again and say, "I'd like two tickets to Star Wars, please." I'd thought my days of doing that were over (little did I know, eh). Soon preview clips of the film and show found their way onto the Internet. I remember watching them, listening intensely in order to try and figure out whether the live-action actors were reprising their roles or not. At the time I was hoping for the original actors, although now it's quite obvious that, by in large, they (although great talents) weren't essential. Indeed, it's hard for me to imagine the Clone Wars show, and the fandom surrounding it, without folks like Matt Lanter and James Arnold Taylor. Their talent and their genuine enjoyment of their place in Star Wars has been an irreplacable aspect of it all, one that I just don't think would have been there without them (I guess that's what irreplacable means, huh). In any event, it is a testament to the talents of James and Matt that in listening to those preview clips I just couldn't quite tell whether I was hearing Ewan and Hayden or voice actors. I knew that Lucasfilm had a voice actor who did a phenomenal Obi-Wan, since he'd played the part in the micro-series. Kenobi was, and is, my favorite character, but James Arnold Taylor's Obi-Wan was so good that I wasn't really concerned that he might get the role and not Ewan McGreggor.

It turns out none of the original cast was returning, save Anthony Daniel, and, for the film, Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson (who, incidentally, is the one film actor who I still wish was reprising his role on the show). But that didn't deter me, Josh, and my wife Liz from being in the theater opening day. (In fact, we observed that once the show got into its second season, all these new actors will have played these parts for more screen-time than their live action counterparts. James Arnold Taylor would have been Obi-Wan Kenobi longer than Sir Alec Guiness and Ewan McGreggor combined.) Reviews were already out, and, shocker, a lot of them were negative. This also didn't deter me, as reviews of the prequels had been less than stellar but I thoroughly enjoyed all three films. The lights darkened, the 20th Century Fox fanfare did not play, the Clone Wars version of the main theme hit, and we were on our way.

About 10-15 minutes in, the battle of Cristophsis was still going on, the projector in the theater locked up. While on the one hand a bummer, it did give the three of us the chance to share initial impressions. Liz isn't a huge Star Wars fan, but she was liking it well enough. As for Josh and I, we really liked what we'd seen so far. Soon the projector was fixed and the movie resumed. Our final feelings were the same as those initial ones. We just didn't see what all the hate was about. It felt exactly like Star Wars, just CGI instead of live action/CGI. Sure the animation had room for improvement. But it was by no means bad. The art style was very appealing, and the music, though definitely taking Star Wars music into more experimental territory...for Star Wars music, and though definitely not John Williams, was still very good, and fit perfectly with the film. The actors all nailed their parts, the story had that Star Wars version of swashbuckling fun, the new padawan seemed like she had potential to become an interesting character, and Obi-Wan was dry and snarky, yet warm-hearted, just as he should be. (I still consider the film to be one of the best 'episodes' of the show. The premier of the show, now confirmed to be on Cartoon Network, couldn't come soon enough.

And eventually it arrived. Ah, season one. Although I don't consider it to be my favorite season (that would be two), there's a certain magic associated with that season in my mind. It was Star Wars on TV. And it was airing in the Fall (my favorite time of the year). I have very fond memories of season 1. And there were some standout episodes in that first season: The Malevolence Trilogy, Ambush, Jedi Crash and the subsequent episode (which incidentally gave us our first Star Wars / Star Trek casting crossover, at least of a major character), Blue Shadow Virus and Mystery of a Thousand Moons. Reviews started off pretty harshly. It was apparently the cool thing to do to hate on the show. But slowly, people started to come around. Star Wars fandom started to embrace the show on a larger scale.

And here we are, years later, in the middle of season 5. (A show which covers three years of in-universe time is in its fifth season. Don't do the math.) I must admit, over the last season and a half my excitement for the show has waned just a bit. There are a few reasons I can identify, but I won't go into that here. (But if you're curious, check out the latest episode of our Clone Wars podcast, The Clone Cast.) Nevertheless, I'm glad the show is still on, as it gives me a chance to explore that galaxy far, far, away, and to see the exploits of what may be my favorite fictional character of all-time (yup, Obi-Wan Kenobi).

I don't think the show needs to run for another 100 episodes. But when it does end, I hope it is succeeded by another Star Wars animated show of some sort. We're getting more Star Wars films in the coming years (!), but that doesn't mean we don't need we don't also need Star Wars on TV. May they both continue for a long time. And years from now, I believe folks will look back to The Clone Wars and see that it set a firm foundation for the post-original saga era of Star Wars.

Still anti-clankers, I am,

- Nic


Posted on January 4, 2013 .

Nic's Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Premier of Deep Space Nine

Twenty years ago tonight Deep Space Nine premiered, and I was there in my parents' living room watching, and recording on VHS, the whole thing. It's hard to believe that that was twenty years ago, since, being the first 'spin-off' of TNG, I somehow have this perpetual feeling of it being a recent show.

I don't recall when I first heard about this new Star Trek show, set concurrently with The Next Generation, but set on a space station. But I know that I was looking forward to it. TNG was easily my favorite show on TV at the time (Quantum Leap was a close second), and the prospect of two Star Trek shows per week (airing every Saturday at 5 and 6) was very exciting. And yet, it was also an unknown. A show set on a station? Even at 15 years of age I knew that DS9 would have to approach things a bit differently than TNG. The stories would have to come to the crew, rather than the crew going to the stories. And while we're talking about the station, I don't recall whether or not I knew before the premier that the station was built by the Cardassians, but I did know it wasn't built by Starfleet. That meant the station would show a different design sensibility from what was established in TNG (and even the, at the time, recent Original Series movies). What that really meant for me was that the station's computers wouldn't be running LCARS. Don't judge. I loved (still do) the look of LCARS (kudos to Mike Okuda). Plus I've always been fascinated with computers, whether fictional or real. Their appearance and actions could be a strong selling point for me. And, with LCARS in particular, it just felt like Trek. So having this new show set on a station that didn't look like Trek, with computers that didn't feel like Trek, was a bit of a bummer. But concerns about fictional operating systems weren't enough to keep me away.

And so it began, with some opening text explaining the significance of the Battle of Wolf 359. Ah, hearkening back to Best of Both Worlds 1 and 2. Given that those episodes marked one of TNG's undisputed high points, incorporating them was seldom a bad idea. Soon we were introduced to the new show's Captain, who wasn't a Captain at all. In the Wolf 359 opening Benjamin Sisko is the first officer of the Saratoga, which is in a desperate battle along with dozens of other Starfleet ships against the Borg invasion, itself led by Jean Luc Picard. Or was it Locutus of Borg? That's a question Sisko would have to wrestle with in a very personal way, since in the opening few minutes we see Sisko's wife Jennifer killed in the attack. Ben is heartbroken, shook up (other officers have to remove him from their quarters and get him to an escape pod), and, judging by his blank expression in said escape pod as he holds his young son Jake and witnesses the destruction of the Saratoga, broken.

We fast forward three years, to find Jake fishing by a lake. Ben comes up and speaks with him, and we soon learn that Ben is to be the new Commander of Deep Space Nine, a station in orbit of the planet Bajor.

I won't bother recapping the entire premier. Memory Alpha does a fine job of that. Suffice it to say, the pilot does all the things a pilot should do, and does them well.

First, we're introduced to the setting: Deep Space Nine. Originally it was known as Terak Nor, a mining station employing Bajoran slaves. But now that the Cardassians are moving out (thanks to the Bajoran resistance), the Bajorans have invited the Federation in to help manage the station. And so, unlike TNG, the main location of this show will not be populated exclusively by Starfleet personnel and their families. Starfleet and Bajoran officers will be working together, which won't always be easy. This was a departure for Trek. Although members the Enterprise crews sometimes disagreed with each other on the best course of action in a dangerous situation, on the whole they tended to get along like peas and carrots. All very kumbaya, part of Roddenberry's vision of the future of humanity. But now, if the pilot is any indication, DS9 will chuck that out the airlock, at least to some extent.

As for the station itself, yup, it doesn't look nearly as cool to 15 year-old Nic as the Enterprise-D does. Cardassian architectural and computer design just isn't as cool. Oval screens, oval and round doors, lots of brown, red and green computer displays that look unintelligible. But, at least they have some Federation runabouts, and those look all Starfleet-y.

The pilot also introduces us to the main characters:

Ben Sisko - The new commander of DS9. He started out well enough in my eyes. I felt bad for him with his losing Jennifer and becoming a single father. His conversations with Jake showed he was a loving dad. He was initially unimpressed with the station itself, and so was I. But then he had a meeting with Captain Picard, and acted like a jerk. My jaw dropped. Picard is a good man, and Wolf 359 was not his fault. You don't need to despise him, and you certainly don't need to talk to him like that. Not good Sisko, not good. Copping an attitude with Jean Luc is a bad move. After that drama, he goes back to being likable. He shows he can be a bit more laid back that Picard, that he is willing to think outside the box to make a difficult situation better (like encouraging Quark to stay), and that he's the Emissary of the Prophets.

Kira Nerys - A Bajoran, former member of the resistance, now second in command of DS9. She's none too happy with the Federation being there, thinking them just another occupying force no better than the Cardassians. Consequently she has an attitude with the Starfleet personnel, but even by the end of the first episode she begins to soften a little. Going through their first ordeal together might help explain that. Except for that attitude towards the Starfleet folks, I liked her pretty well.

Miles O'Brien - Now that's what I'm talking about. Here's a great way to build continuity between this new show and TNG, take a well liked side-character from the latter (O'Brien had been around since the very first episode of TNG, and was indeed well liked) and make him a regular. He brought a sense of familiarity with him. But it was more than that. I had no doubt that O'Brien could work as a main character. What I didn't know was 1) how every year the writers would make something absolutely horrible happen to him, 2) that he eventually wouldn't be the only crew member of the Enterprise to wind up serving on DS9, and 3) just how much his eventual friendship with Julian Bashir would impact me.

Julian Bashir - The station's chief medical officer. He was an interesting combination. On the one hand he was pretty self-confident in his abilities, and came across as a bit condescending (he was excited to come out and practice frontier medicine). On the other, his condescension seemed completely unintentional, the result of over-enthusiasm and maybe even a touch of naivety. I'm not a big fan of hospitals and other things medical in the real world, so I don't naturally gravitate towards doctor characters. But he seemed like he'd be alright. Little did I know what secrets would be revealed through him and about him over the course of the show.

Odo - The Spock or Data of the new show. That is, the character who differs the most from the others, and is thus in some sense an outsider. Spock was the logical Vulcan. Data was the emotionless and yet somehow tender-hearted android. And Odo, Odo was a changeling, a shapeshifter. I had a hobby back in the day. I enjoyed watching special effect shots in slow motion (oh the wonders of VHS). I distinctly remember watching in slo-mo Odo's transformations in the pilot many times over. But my interest in Odo wasn't just for technical reasons. Those outsider characters tend to be my favorite, or one of my favorites, of their respective shows (years later The Doctor would be my favorite character on Voyager for the same reason). Odo would prove to not buck the trend. Some things I didn't know about him at the time: that he'd soon develop unrequited feelings for Kira, the full nature of his origins, and that I'd pick up and incorporate into my mannerisms the quick little bow he gives to Sisko after stopping Morn and Nog and still be using it twenty years later.

Jadzia Dax - Trill chief science officer. She was a man, baby. Now she's a woman. I'm typically drawn to the science officers. And yet although I had no problems with her or anything, she didn't immediately jump out at me. To this day I'm not sure why. As the show went on, it continued. I liked her well enough, but even when she m[spoiler]ies W[spoiler]f, it didn't change. You want to hear something many might consider heresy? I actually like Ezri Dax better. There, I said it.

Quark - I'd like to apologize to Quark for mentioning him last. As I watched the pilot, he was not at all the sort of character I expected to ever like. He was morally questionable, jerkish, and greedy. What I didn't know was that as the first season went along, the writers would continue trying to decide on exactly who Quark was, and between flashes of responsibility and teamwork, and a relationship with Odo that ceased being purely adversarial and started to include a strange sort of begrudging friendship, the course would be set for making Quark a very different and far more likable character than he was in the pilot.

So as to make Quark not the last one, I'll give an honorable, or dishonorable mention to Gul Dukat. He's the former prefect of Bajor, and the pilot's token Cardassian baddie. Little did I know that he would be a recurring character (one of many, a great strength of DS9), a very well fleshed out one at that, and that his questionable moral status (good guy or bad guy) would be a major source of interest for me.

And last, the pilot set-up an overarching question, really at least three questions, which the series would be concerned with:

Would the Bajorans and the Federation types get along? This was a question that would play out both on the individual level (Kira and Sisko, for example) and the planetary level (would the Bajorans view the Federation as allies).

What would be the result of having a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quandrant? The existence of the wormhole is the major discovery of the pilot. And it drastically changes the importance of DS9. Instead of being a little known station in an unimportant part of the galaxy, it would be a hub of scientific, economic, and as we later find out, military activity. It also looks really cool, and there are aliens in it.

What will become of this whole Sisko as the emissary of the prophets thing? Clearly at first he's skeptical and uncomfortable with the whole deal. But there was no denying the existence of the Prophets (or "wormhole aliens"), and with them being non-linear and all, when it comes to the future it was clear that they may know what they're talking about. Oh, and I'd like to take this opportunity to say the following: "Baseball!"

And so, when the two hours were over, and the credits rolled accompanied by the DS9 theme (which I wasn't ecstatic over at first, but really grew on me), a new chapter in Star Trek had been introduced. I knew that it had potential, but at the time I knew there was no way it would ever be as enjoyable for me as TNG. Now looking back, TNG will always hold a special place for me. And it will always be my favorite, because it's TNG. But DS9...might actually be the superior show in my eyes (if for no other reason that its first and second seasons weren't littered with...struggling...yes, I'll use that word...struggling episodes like those of TNG were).

Until next time, don't drink the water from the Denorios Belt. And I remain,

 - Nic

p.s. - Sisko was much nicer to Picard during their second meeting.

Posted on January 3, 2013 .

Blast From the Past - Pt 2

 Let's talk tutorials, shall we?

The old man says, "Back in my day we didn't have tutorials. You'd put the game in the system, turn it on (which immediately brought up the game, by the way), and there you'd be at the title screen, often with the first level already in the background. You'd hit one button, and you'd be in the game. None of this signing on with certain profiles, or making all sorts of adjustments to the controller or volumes or whatever. Title screen, and hit a button. That was it, and then you were in the game and you had to figure it out. No on-screen prompts. No "non-playable characters" telling you in some maybe-clever-maybe-not way what to do. Nope. Your character was there, a goomba was walking directly towards him, and you'd better figure out how to use that d-pad and those two buttons or the height-challenged plumber was toast. And as for the purpose of the game, the goal, whatever you want to call it, there was no need for a stinking tutorial. Your character was on the left of the screen, enemies were coming from the right, and there was a counter. Obviously you need to go right and reach some sort of goal before the timer runs out. We didn't need some snarky voice-acted polygonal "NPC" to tell us anything so utterly obvious. Tutorials...good grief."

Obviously video games have gotten more complex over the years, and with that complexity most would argue has come the need for tutorials. (Although there were some games back in the day that could have benefited from some sort of tutorial...I'm looking at you NES Rambo.) Objectives aren't always as obvious as they were back in the day. And certainly we have more buttons to deal with.

It seems to me that there's one thing a tutorial absolutely must do, and two things it really needs to do. It must actually show the player how to play the game. If it doesn't do that, then whatever it may be, it isn't, by definition, a tutorial. And it really needs to 1) be entertaining, and 2) not take the player out of the game narrative (if said game has one).

Game developers, in my experience, tend to do pretty well with the "show the player how to play the game" bit. But the other two elements...well, those seem more hit and miss. And I can see why. The mechanics of a game may be great fun in the game proper, but that's no guarantee that they'll be fun when being explained for the first time. Pushing Z to target an enemy, and then hopping around it before making a deadly strike is fun when out on the field. But if the enemy is just a block, and the environment is just an empty room, then hey, listen, it isn't so enjoyable. Making the tutorial fun requires some creativity. And preventing it from taking the player out of the game requires even more. Unless it's a zany, slapstick, fourth-wall breaking, tongue-in-cheek kind of game (I'm looking at you Mario RPGs, save the first one, I'm not looking at you, you can go about your business), you can't just have a character say "Push the A button to jump, Lara." That wouldn't make any sense to her. A button? She doesn't have an A button? And it's not like she's never jumped before in her life. Why is he deciding now that she needs to have basic movements like jumping, running, and opening doors explained to her? What is he talking about? Is he referring to her rear end in some way? That's it, she's got to get to the bottom of this. "What do you mean, push my A button?? No, I'm serious. What did you mean by that??" And the tutorial is derailed, with game characters suddenly talking about suing each other for harassment.

So in my first real Blast from the Past article, I'm going to offer a few observations on how I think Ubisoft did with the tutorial for Assassin's Creed, as well as some general comments on the game so far.

One thing that's clever about Assassin's Creed, and it really helps with the challenges of tutorial making, is that it's sort of a game within a game. Granted the Animus is not presented as a game system, per se. But you know what I mean. By having most of the game take place within the virtual world of Desmond's genetic memories, certain limitations of video games can be dealt with in an in-universe way. For example, in the first level you eventually make your way to the assassins' fortress. On your way to talk with the boss man you pass a tall tower. At the end of the level the tower comes into play, as you climb up it, and dive off a platform. But the game designers don't want you doing that when you're first going into the fortress. Rather than just placing an inexplicable invisible wall between the player and the platform, or having some random obstinate NPC standing in front of the tower and telling you that you can't go up, you need to talk to the boss, the game designers have the off-limits area become glitchy and hazy, as though for some reason the Animus is unable to allow Desmond to access that portion of the memory. Even the staple of gaming, the health meter, gets an in-universe explanation (the sync bar).

Applying such possibilities to the tutorial only makes sense, but this doesn't make the results any less enjoyable. When playing through the tutorial, I couldn't help but think about the tutorial in Metroid: Other M, as it's arguably the most modern core game I've played up until now. So I'll be referencing it for comparison here.

So how do you smoothly, in a way that makes sense from a story standpoint, introduce a tutorial? If the character is doing something he/she has never done before, the task is a bit easier, as both the gamer and the game character are doing something new. If the actions are supposed to be old hat, it gets more tricky. Other M falls into the latter category, and the designers dealt with the issue by having Samus test out her suit to make sure everything is working after her big battle with Mother Brain (who, oddly, didn't sound like Audrey II). Assassin's Creed is in the first category. Desmond has never been in an Animus before, so from a story standpoint a tutorial (the doctor and the Animus itself even call it that) makes perfect sense. Again, the game within a game set-up helps.

There is still deluge about pushing certain buttons to accomplish certain tasks, and I don't recall seeing buttons on the Animus. But at least the buttons are referred to in ways that make sense in-game (left hand button, as opposed to X button or square button).

In terms of the fun factor of the tutorial, both AC and Other M use the in-game technology the game characters are themselves using to make things more interesting that they otherwise would be. With Other M, it's the fact that Samus is in a training room with some holodeck tech in it. Virtual enemies are made to appear, giving her a chance to test the power suit. In AC it's our first look at the virtual world created by the Animus, with the blue, hazy, computer-y (that's a word) backdrop and the faceless people Desmond gently pushes, shoves, and assassinates. In both cases, art style (visual and aural) are integral.

It terms of effectiveness, both tutorials serve their function, although I had a bit more difficulty with the AC tutorial. However, that's probably more due to my playing it on the PC. I'm using an XBOX 360 controller, but the game's default button mapping doesn't correspond to what the HUD makes you expect. So it says use the head button to look around, and yet what should be the head button doesn't do jack. It took me a minute to figure out what was happening. But then the process of remapping the buttons is frustrated by the fact that the computer doesn't i.d. the buttons with their face names (X, B, L, etc.), but with totally non-descriptive numbers. But that was a minor issue that was fairly easily remedied.

One last thing. How long should a tutorial be? It's not something you can put a number on, but when one is too short or too long, you can feel it. I've found that for me the best tutorials are the ones that give me a firm grasp of the basics, but leave some moves to be explained later. The tutorial in Assassin's Creed does this well, I think. I wasn't sick of the tutorial when it ended. But I wasn't also like, "Come back! I need you!" About the only thing it didn't cover that I wish it had was the parkour stuff. But that's a minor quibble.

Well, there it is, my take on the tutorial from Assassin's Creed. See you tomorrow to talk about some about the ethical dimension of the beginning of the game.

Still trying to access my own memories, let alone some ancestor, I remain,
 - Nic

Posted on January 2, 2013 .

Blast From The Past - Pt 1

Happy New Year everyone!!

Nic here. This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of mini-articles chronicling my experiences diving into the broader world of 4-5 year old 'core' gaming.

OK, let me break that down a bit. I'll begin by giving some background/context. I'm what you might call a Nintendo gamer. I can count the number of non-Nintendo video game systems I've owned (PC's excluded) on one hand. And remember, I only have four fingers on my entire body. Specifically, I've had three: an Atari 2600 (yes, I'm old), a PS2 (which Josh convinced me to purchase when Dragon Quest VIII came out), and an XBOX (given to me by a friend...and I've never even turned it on). On the Nintendo side of things, I've owned: an NES (with World Class Track Meet....ironic, isn't it?), an SNES (the best overall game console of all time from my perspective), an N64 (with memory expansion pack), a Gamecube (mine was black....that's what I've got for this parenthetical...sorry), a Wii ( was white?), a Gameboy Advance (it was like a portable Super Nintendo....awesome), a DS (red), a DSi XL (a giant brown one), a 3DS (red) which I traded for a 3DS XL (also red).

This is not to say I never enjoyed games on non-Nintendo systems. Far from it. In the 16-bit days one of my best friends had a SEGA Genesis, and I thoroughly enjoyed many of the games he had for it (the Phantasy Star games, Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion, Sonic 1 and 2, and others). In the 32-bit and 64-bit days I enjoyed, or in some cases just told myself I enjoyed, some PS1 games that friends of mine had (or I had on PC). In the I don't know what-bit era, there were some games on the PS2 and XBOX that looked good. And in the current generation, same thing regarding games for the PS360 (see what I did there? I saved myself some typing by combining the names of the two systems....except that I then explained it, typing far more characters than " and XBOX3").

If you're familiar with the course of gaming over the past couple of decades, then you know what happened to my pool of available games, especially on consoles. In two words: it shrunk. In the days of the SNES, that system was where it was at in terms of game variety (and pretty much everything else too). You wanted platformers? BAM! Mario, Mega Man X, Cool Spot, Bubsy, etc. Fighters? BAM! Three million varieties of Street Fighter II (with perspective simulating ground, take that Genesis), Mortal Kombat (with sweat, take that Genesis), Clay Fighters, etc. You want major franchises? BAM! Mega Man, Castlevania, Madden, Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Contra, Earthworm Jim, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. What about puzzle games? BAM again! In those days a person with a Nintendo system could play all sorts of high quality titles in all sorts of genres. But as things progressed from the N64 down to the Wii, that changed. Certainly there were what we today might call "casual" or "expanded audience" titles available on such systems. But there were also much loved high quality "core" games also (Goldeneye, Star Fox 64, Rogue Squadron I-III, Metroid Prime 1-3, Call of Duty: World at War, Viewtiful Joe, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, numerous Sonic games, several Zelda games, Resident Evil remakes and new entries, Super Smash Bros., etc.). I owned and enjoyed many of those. It's just that the number of "core" games, as a percentage of all titles available, seemed to go down as time went on. And increasingly new major "core" franchises skipped Nintendo consoles altogether. What that means for Nic is I didn't play them.

Here are some games/franchises that I, living at the beginning of 2013, have never played, or never played more than a few minutes of: any of the 3D GTA games, any Metal Gear other than The Twin Snakes, Gears of War, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Batman, Ninja Gaiden (except the DS game), Transformers, Elder Scrolls, Parappa the Rappa (I threw that one in to see if you're paying attention...but I'm sure you are...well...really I'm not sure....there's no way for me to gotta believe!), many of the Resident Evil games, and bunch that I don't even know exist.

So you might say that, in a sense, much of "core" gaming has advanced on without me, even though I've still been active in playing video games.

Smart folks out there might notice that a few of those franchises I listed have finally found their way onto a Nintendo console (most of them with their third game, coincidentally). And that brings us to these articles.

I now can purchase games like Assassin's Creed III or Mass Effect III. Indeed, I have purchased one of them (A.C.), and hope to purchase another (M.E.) in the near future. But, as I just noted, those are each the third game in their respective franchises. Playing the third game in a series without playing the first two might still be an enjoyable experience, but certainly it would be better to play 1 and 2 before 3.

Which brings us to the wonderful world of Steam. Folks, if you like gaming, and have a decent computer, give Steam a look. While I'm sure there are downsides to it that the bitter folks on the Internet gather together and whine about, what I know is that I got Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed II, Mass Effect, and Mass Effect II for a few cents shy of twenty dollars. That is pretty excellent.

And so I -- a guy who's been 'stuck,' I suppose you might say, with games available on Nintendo systems...a guy who enjoys video games (it matters not if they are 'core,' 'casual,' or something in between, only if they are fun) but has been in something of a game time warp -- am going to for the first time really play some icons of modern gaming. And, in these articles I'll be sharing my thoughts with you as I do.

I'm sure at first they'll consist of things like, "where are all the warp pipes?" and, "why is everything brown?" and "oh, the hero character I'm playing as did something morally ambiguous or evil and I don't like it," and "all these characters have voice acting??? How can that be done, Tom? It can't!" But eventually I'll acclimate some, and then, who knows, maybe I'll share something interesting.

I'll be starting with the Assassin's Creed games. So I'll see you next time from inside the Animus!

 - Nic

Posted on January 1, 2013 .

Wii U Launch Thoughts

Given that the Wii U launch is just a hair over a month away, I figure it's past time that I, the resident Nintendo fanboy, weigh in on the September Wii U press conference and all the information that was revealed (and what information wasn't revealed). We're planning on doing a podcast about the Wii U launch in the coming weeks, so think of this as just a discussion of the major points.

Release Date
Most folks were thinking November. Nintendo had confirmed that it would come out before year's end, so anytime from September to December was technically possible. But several indicators pointed to November. Nintendo would certainly want to have the system on shelves for Christmas shopping. A December release would miss out on far too much of that shopping season. On the other hand, it seemed unlikely that Nintendo would have a press conference in September and release the system the same month, or even the one after it. And last but not least, Nintendo's two most recent consoles launched in November, so history was pointing to that month.

But when in that month? Answers to that question were a bit more varied. A lot of folks were betting on a Sunday (again, looking back to the launches of the Gamecube and Wii). But even banking on that (which turned out to be smart), which Sunday would be the one? The 25th would miss Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The 4th and the 11th were championed by some, but others thought those dates might be a bit early. Thus, a significant number of people, myself included, were guessing November 18th as the most probable date...if one were to guess. And they/we were right.

I'm fine with that date. It's coming out the week of Thanksgiving, allowing it to almost herald and usher in the 2012 Christmas shopping season.

The Price
Watch out folks, Nintendo is trying some modern approaches. Indeed, many were surprised to learn that Nintendo will be offering two different SKUs on launch day: the basic bundle (MSRP $299) and the deluxe bundle (MSRP $349). The basic bundle is what it sounds like: the system, one gamepad (both in white), a sensor bar, power cables, an HDMI cable, and 8GB of storage space. The deluxe bundle includes everything in the basic (except the hardware is black), 32GB of storage instead of 8, a cradle for the gamepad, a charging stand for the gamepad, stands for the console itself, and a pack-in game (Nintendo Land, which I'll talk about later).

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime explained in interviews that his company is always focused on maximizing purchase value for the consumer. The decision to offer two SKUs is a part of that. Why force people to pay for a game they aren't interested in? Why force people to pay for more storage space when they'd rather hold off and purchase the space (via SD cards or external hard drives) when they need it? This reasoning seems quite sound to me.

So what do I think of the prices? I think they're good. You don't want to go too cheap, because then the consumer will get the impression that the system isn't new/advanced enough to warrant a purchase. But you don't want to go too expensive, because then people won't buy it and you'll have to do price drops and play catch-up for the life of the console (I'm looking at you, PS3, which cost the same as a small country when it launched). $300 and $350 seem just about right.

The public seems to agree. Within a week or so of preorders opening, all major retailers were sold out. The deluxe bundles were the first to go (likely the stronger showing of Nintendo Land at this press conference over the one at E3 helped convince people that the game itself would be worth the extra fifty dollars, not to mention the extra storage space and charging cradle). And the basic bundles followed shortly after.

The Games
At last check, the Wii U will have 23 titles available for it...on launch day. Twenty-three titles is a fairly nice number for launch window (i.e., the first three or so months of a console's life). But for launch day, that's not bad at all. Here's a list of them, with the caveat that the list is subject to some change:

 Call of Duty: Black Ops II
 Skylanders Giants
 Transformers Prime
 Wipeout 3
 Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
 FIFA Soccer 13
 Tekken Tag Tournament 2
 New Super Mario Bros. U
 Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge
 Nintendo Land
 Sing Party
 Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
 Warrios Orochi 3 Hyper
 Darksiders II
 Assassin’s Creed III
 ESPN Sports Connection
 Just Dance 4
 Rabbids Land
 Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
 Scribblenauts Unlimited
 Game Party Champions
 Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition

I'd say that's a pretty good launch day line-up. There's a lot of variety and balance here, in several different ways. You have both first party and third party games (with third party titles actually outnumbering first party). You have 'core' games (Batman, Ninja Gaiden, Assassin's Creed, Darksiders, Call of Duty, ZombiU, Tekken), 'casual' games (Just Dance, Game Party Champions, Sing Party), and games somewhere in the middle. You have family friendly titles (Scribblenauts, NSMB U, ESPN Sports Connection), and more mature titles (Ninja Gaiden, ZombiU, etc.). You have platformers, first-person shooters, third-person action/adventures, sports titles, racing titles, music titles, and health titles. There really does appear to be something for everyone.

And I have to point out that for the first time since 1996, a Nintendo console is launching with a new Mario game ready to go. Some may argue that that isn't as big of a deal now as it used to be, but the fact is Mario titles still sell like crazy. So this should not be dismissed offhand. And on a personal level, a Mario title launching with a new Nintendo console brings up warm feelings of nostalgia for me.

The Controls
The centerpiece of the Wii U is, at least initially, the new gamepad. Reaction to it has been mixed. As usual, there are folks who almost seem to be looking for some negative spin to put on it (it's not an actual tablet like an iPad and that's stupid of Nintendo and confusing for the consumer, it's not a real advancement in game design as there's not much you can do with a second screen, etc.). Then there are those who attack it not on the conceptual level, but the technological level (it should have allowed for multi-touch, it's too light, some developers say it's laggy, etc.).

I'm going to reserve complete judgment until I get my hand on one. But I can analyze the conceptual criticisms right away. And I'm just not seeing them. Yes, it isn't a tablet, so you can't take it to Wal-Mart or the grandparents' house. But that's what you have a portable for (whether a tablet, a phone, or a real gaming device like a 3DS or Vita). And if you can't see possible innovative uses for a full-buttoned controller with a touch screen, motion sensors, front and rear facing cameras, NFC capability, and speakers, then all that demonstrates is you're not creative when it comes to game design.

As for the technical issues, while I like multi-touch, I don't think its absence is the end of the world. And, personal preference here, if the choice is between multi-touch capacitive or more precise stylus-friendly single-touch resistive, I'll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sundays. For gaming, I think resistive is the way to go. And also, everything in the world doesn't have to be like flipping Apple (a rant for another day). Things like weight are a matter of personal preference, and I've heard some people say they think the weight is just fine. Lastly, regarding latency, reliable sources (such as Ubisoft's Michael Ancel) have publicly stated that the latency on the tablet is nearly non-existent. To be more exact, Ancel says the delay is only 1/60th of a second. Barring serious fighting game gamers (Josh), such a small delay is of no consequence.

Nintendo TVii
Coming completely out of nowhere was Nintendo's new entertainment hub/index. Not a media service itself, rather it integrates existing services, and adds new levels of social interaction to them.
On the first part of that, in a nutshell Nintendo TVii takes all the media sources a particular user has (Netflix, Hulu, cable/satellite, etc.) and combines them into one searchable database. So, say you want to look up Castle. It will let you know all ways you can watch it (old episodes on Netflix, new episode next Monday on ABC, recorded episodes on your TiVo). For on-demand sources, you can immediately play the episode. This all happens from the gamepad, and appears quite user friendly.
As for the second part, during live programming the gamepad displays a live message board of sorts, where people can comment in real time on what's happening. Screenshots even appear from time to time. With sporting events, the gamepad displays a live, interactive recap of the game (think ESPN's game tracker).

This is a significant move for Nintendo, as they are expanding their focus from just games to other forms of entertainment. I for one am intrigued by it, and am looking forward to watching some University of Alabama football with live gamepad interaction.

The Remaining Questions
In typical Nintendo fashion, the September press conference left some questions unanswered. Perhaps the biggest ones deal with Miiverse, the new social network service that apparently is significantly integrated into the Wii U itself. A few tidbits of info and a few screenshots and video snippets are all we have. Some folks are up in arms about this. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to learn more about it when Nintendo is ready.

Well, I think that's it for now. Again, hopefully we'll have a podcast dedicated to the Wii U launch in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

 - Nic

Posted on October 17, 2012 .

Dark Knight Rises review from guest reviewer

Nic here. One of my fourth cousins, Parker, is a good friend of mine, as well as a connoisseur of films. Also, he loves the Batman. He and I have had discussions about the Caped Crusader, and in particular his film exploits as helmed by Christopher Nolan, for some time now. He was anticipating The Dark Knight Rises the same way I anticipated the Star Wars prequels.

Well, he's seen the movie, and has written a review for us. So, after the break, I invite you read his thoughtful analysis of the film.

        It’s been four years since The Dark Knight graced the silver screen and I still remember my theater experience to this day. In fact, The Dark Knight is the movie that I credit for starting my passion for film. It just worked on every level. Who could forget Heath Leager’s iconic take on the Joker? He had a tremendous on screen presence and brought intensity to every scene he was in. The story captivated most in the audience and when the credits rolled, it was received with a thunderous applause. The Dark Knight was a masterpiece, no doubt, and The Dark Knight Rises was the inevitable squeal. However, expectations are through the roof and the bar has been set extremely high, perhaps even too high for Nolan to meet. So can Nolan not only give us the final installment that we deserve but also the one we need?

        The story takes place eight years after The Dark Knight; Gotham is in a time of peace. The streets are clean, and the days of organized crime are over under the Dent act. However, underneath Gotham, in the sewers, a fire is rising. Bane (Tom Hardy) is building an army and his plan is about begin. Unaware of the chaos lurking below, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is still covering for the lie about Dent, thus keeping the public’s view of Batman tainted. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and keeps himself locked up in Wayne manor, thinking there is nothing the world can offer him anymore. Once the reports of Bane begin to surface, Bruce realizes that Batman is needed again to save the people he vowed to protect. Enlisting the help of someone whom he may be unable to trust, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) leads Batman to the "Masked Man." Good and evil clash, and this could be Batman's greatest triumph or he may finally be broken.

       One thing I will say about the film is that the cast is fantastic. Others that I didn't mention are Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon Levitt. This is an A list cast and Anne Hathaway is surprising very good in the role of Cat Woman. She’s agile, sly, and ultimately alluring.  Tom Hardy delivers a tremendous performance as Bane. What he is able to connive with just his eyes is truly astonishing.  Hardy brings a certain level of physical ferocity to the role that not many actors could. When Bane enters a room, Hardy is able to quickly convince us that Bane is powerful, ferocious, intelligent, and just downright nasty. Bale gives a terrific performance as Bruce Wayne, authentically showing Bruce's inner demons and the final redemption of the character. However, the best performance comes from Michael Caine. The emotional depth given to Alfred in this film is unbelievable. There were moments that had me choked up a bit.  Michael Caine just knocks the lines of dialogue out of the park. In particular, the scene where Alfred tells Bruce he never wanted him to come back to Gotham is just flat out masterful.    

        Which brings me to my next point, the emotional core of this movie is the anchor that keeps it afloat. We feel for Bruce and his journey. We want him to move on with his life and at the end succeed at saving Gotham. This is what makes the action scenes so satisfying, because we are so invested in what's taking place. This is also what makes Nolan such a great filmmaker because he believes in story first and spectacle later.              

        However, when Nolan does deliver spectacle it's exhilarating. The set pieces, the thousands of extras and the large scope really make this feel like an epic conclusion. The battle scenes between Batman and Bane are dark, gripping and overall exciting. The best quality is the fact that the majority of the action scenes are not CGI. Most of these stunts are actually performed on real sets which give an extra wow factor as well as making them more believable. This all goes back to Nolan whose decision to do things the old fashioned way is stroke of genius.

        Of course the cinematography and production value is phenomenal. There are so many scenes that are amazing to look at. One scene where Batman leads the final charge at Bane is particularly stunning. Snow is falling and every image put on the screen is absolutely beautiful.  

        The themes in this film come full circle from Batman Begins such as why we do we fall?   It has the idea of becoming a symbol rather than merely a man. There's some social commentary on Wall Street and the stock market. The class system is also touched on a bit as the rich get sentenced to either exile or death once Bane takes over.

        Still that doesn't mean the film is without flaws. At times, Nolan tries to do too much; there are too many characters arcs and plot lines being juggled at once. This causes moments of the film to come across as rushed, not every character arc and plot point has room to breathe. The rushed arcs make some character motivations appear muddled and twists feel like they came out of nowhere.

        Also, where is Batman in this movie?  There is a lot of Bruce Wayne and hardly any Batman. This wouldn't ordinarily be a complaint if it wasn't the conclusion to the trilogy. Additionally, this film more than its predecessor, feels like a comic book movie. Now I know that The Dark Knight Rises is a comic book movie but I personally loved the dark, realistic tone that Nolan established in The Dark Knight. What The Dark Knight did was transcending its comic book origin and becoming pure film. The Dark Knight Rises did this at times but there were moments that drug it back down.  Some lines felt a bit cheesy for this universe, the final kiss between Batman and Cat woman didn't fit, and the whole nuclear bomb plot was a little silly.

       Now we all know that a hero is only good as its villain and Bane wasn't quite as interesting as the Joker. What I loved about the Joker were the moral conundrums he gave Batman. He wasn't just simply a physical threat but really tested Batman's inner moral code. Bane is only a physical threat to Batman and that was less captivating. Also, we don't know a lot about the Joker, he had no origin in the film. That made him come across as the embodiment of pure evil for evil has no origin. Not to mention the Joker was very likable due to his humor, Bane lacked that severely. Now I'm not saying Bane wasn't a good villain, I loved Bane but the Joker was, well, ahead of the curve.

       Even with its problems, The Dark Knight Rises is still a great movie. It's wonderful to see intelligent filmmaking in a summer blockbuster. Nolan really trusts and believes in his audience, not feeling pressured into dumb, cliché and uninspired work where explosions take the front line over the story. Nolan treats his audience like they are intelligent human beings, giving us complex stories that spend a lot of time on character interaction and yet he proves that it can be successful. Nolan truly wraps up this trilogy well and really leaves the audience satisfied. Yet I don't think people will give Nolan as much recognition as he deserves. The film community certainly will but the average moviegoer probably doesn't even know who he is. The majority of moviegoers will never know who saved modern Hollywood but then I realize they do know “It was the Batman."
Posted on August 17, 2012 .