Sunday, November 20, 2016

Gears of War: Ground Gained and Lost

 Gears of War: Judgment

The game that induced me to buy the arcade version (read cheap) of the Xbox 360 was Gears of War. Gears looked great and the play style was exceptional. I often have trouble with anything first-person and this was a third-person shooter. Its cover-fire system was unique and instantly copycatted by others in the industry. Your character felt heavy and each action required planning and skill. If you ran up to your Locust enemies, you’d be shot to bits. And to go along with that Gears of War effortlessly pulled its audience into a unique post-apocalyptic story about a planet called Serra. Characters had unique voices and characterizations.

Gears of War 2 could be argued as an improvement on an excellent first game. The game play was polished and levels required deep strategy if you played on higher difficulty settings. The story was enhanced with a huge war effort against the Locust threat that felt risky and important. Characters drove the story at nearly every important stage of the title.

At the same time Karen Traviss had been hired to right companion novels. And at first blush I figured this would be little more than a money grab. But Epic gave her free reign to enhance and expand the world. The first two books are really good. She was involved in the writing for Gears of War 3 and it shows. It has more story nuance than some RPGs. The game play in Gears of War 3 wasn’t quite as epic at 2, but it still felt good. And it tied up all the loose story ends.

And then somebody decided we don’t need a serious campaign or characters, and we got Gears of War: Judgment, released on March 19, 2013. This consisted of a main campaign and a smaller mini campaign. Our lead character is Baird, the usually douchey and always sarcastic guy who’s been in every title. He’s stripped of his rancor and it’s explained that this story is before he got embittered. Cole joins the team but he lacks any of his old energy. The other two I can’t even remember their names; stock Slavic guy who’s done evil and stock woman with a pony tail. And this is all framed around a trial being held by an obnoxious colonel whose main accusation against Baird seems to be how he chose to fight. How dare he use Locust weapons! Oh, I think they stole a hammer of dawn and used it without permission. Anyway the story felt small and petty just like the colonel.

Let’s talk game play. Remember how Epic revolutionized a cover-fire system that made each action feel vital? Well, gradually designers let that slide. This title rewards people who charge up and attack. The mini campaign had more traditional levels, actually.

And then to underline how truly unimportant those two whose names I can’t recall were to the designers, Beard bumps into them years later in the mini campaign. And this was the element that irked me. So apparently stock woman took up with stock Slavic guy, for reasons that are never explained or implied. And then she’s on patrol and gets abducted, Slavic guys thinks by COG members. The implications here are unpleasant. He’s unable recover her.

That conclusion felt pat and disappointing. Gears of War always presented an unusually egalitarian message. In the books it’s explained that woman are too valuable to fight, but as the situation grows desperate they can and do. It’s not a huge setback, but I didn’t understand why she couldn’t have fallen in a shootout or something.

From what I hear the new Gears of War game is much better. I didn’t preorder it though and I’m waiting for the price to drop. The series needs to rebuild my confidence.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Art Zombie Film; Why I Enjoyed It

I often wind up talking about movies I’ve seen. Movies are quick and a single scene can pack so much story and depth of concept. I can encourage someone to go see a movie and know that I’m not pressing a 300 page commitment on them.

That brings me to the film Maggie. Directed by Henry Hobson and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, this film struggled to find an audience. Imbd has an average rating for it of 5.6 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes is about the same. Only 32 % of viewers liked the film. So before I explain why I did like it, I’d like to discuss a few reasons I think it flopped with critics.

There’s no foreign language or highly complicated metaphors, but it is an art film parading as a zombie film. Oh, and if you’re expecting Arnold to kill zombies with headshots from his trusty shotgun, you will be disappointed. There are a few brief moments of action, but this film is not about fighting zombies. This film is dedicated to care and concern for his teenage daughter Maggie. So what I just told you is that this film violates genre norms. That’s always a risky gamble. In this case, I think most critics and viewers didn’t ‘get’ the story.

The other key flaw to this film is the pacing. It’s slow. There are neat story payoffs at points in the film, but some viewers may feel a little cheated. And if a viewer goes in expecting an Evil Dead or Walking Dead sort of thrill-ride, they will be disappointed.

So here’s why I liked Maggie. Arnold is just a father trying to help his daughter. He’s not an action hero and he’s not perfect. I realize that many stories have portrayed zombification as a virus. But I feel like this was more realistic. The virus has stages of progression. Zombies are called ‘Turned’. And zombies are not undead. A broken neck with kill one just as easily as a headshot. There are horror elements to the film. You have a sense that something awful is happening to people. But instead of wanting to shoot them, the viewer is invited to empathize with them. The climax of the film is why I decided the film is good. I won’t spoil that here.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I'm finally a published author! Yay!

Well, I've been gone for a few years. But I'm back in action. I recently published my first book. I'm very excited about it. Here's a link:

Here's the general plot line:

Belthus is the fabled land of dense jungles and exotic spices. Sharpenia is home to large predators, vast forests, and frozen landscapes. Laura Mendlin dreams of visiting strange, faraway lands from her room in Holsten on the coast of Welchstad.

But Laura is not supposed to attend the Yuletide Ball, let alone sail the ocean to Belthus. Her parents expect her to rescue the family from financial ruin by marrying her to her father's new business partner. Excuses are heaped on her for why this must be. But Laura rejects them all.

Laura flees her lawful marriage to hide out at Castle Redscale's Yuletide Ball. She needs to marry well--and fast. She has no time for love or doubts about her plan. And yet she's plagued by doubt. She meets an eligible man but finds herself drawn to another. Yet her father is sure to come after her. She can't legally refuse his demand either. Marriage is her problem and solution. Laura wants another choice. But with even her friends pushing her to marry, will Laura ever get to choose a life for herself?