Posts Tagged ‘ Media ’

Gaming: The Power of a Good Story

Games, games are changing.

Yes the graphics are always improving and the physics engines both imitate and subvert reality in many outstanding ways but now we have something more….

Story.

At the dawn of video games, there wasn’t much space in cartridges or floppy disks for stories.  Most developers didn’t bother, but as the first decade of gaming progressed (that’s the 80’s for you youngsters, yeah the ones wearing the John Hughes’ movie wardrobe), RPGs crossed over to home computers and PCs, which meant stretching the hardware to accommodate story beyond “here be aliens, shoot them!” explanation of the earlier frantic gaming mechanic.

Most of said story remained buried in the manuals with the game itself providing more shooting, spells swinging and sword bashing than complicated plot points.

Not anymore.

Somewhere around the turn of the century a combination of more powerful machines and graphic cards, game worlds could be rendered in glorious 3D (as opposed to the chunky polygons of the century before) and with plenty of space in both hard drives and disks (CDs, then DVDs and now Blu-Ray) they could inject great soundtracks, thousands of lines of spoken dialogue by dozens of highly skilled voice actors (and not a few celebrity cameos).

Which still leaves one thing….

Story!

The best games in the last few years, specially in the Console/PC RPG market, not only have stunning visuals and fast paced action but powerful story lines.  You don’t simply want to blast your enemies into pink (or green or blue, whatever) mist, but you want to known what your father was working on, who is behind the abduction of of human colonies and why your family was slaughtered while you were spared.

Story matters.

Story makes the difference.

The age of true interactive entertainment is here.

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And to show you what I mean, here is a bit of epic writing that turns the Mass Effect franchise into something more than alien fodder blasting or Space Opera Light:

Gaming Tools for D&D 4E

I’m a gamer, as you might have guessed by this blog content. One of my favorite tabletop RPG games (also known as pencil & paper) is Dungeons & Dragons (also known as D&D, or DnD).

I’ve played every version of the game from Basic to 4th edition in the last 18 years and so far I find the latest edition to be the best (your taste may vary).

One of the reasons why is the support provided by the parent company, Wizard of the Coast. In the past the product support from the parent company has been lackluster at best, with an emphasis on flooding the market with splatbooks that added very little to the game except headaches to the DM. Add to it the sheer volume of product generated under the d20 brand (plus the travesty that was 3.5) and the game turned into a nightmare even for the most experience DM.

Now things have changed, at least in the electronic department. The folks over at WotC have tightened the editorial rules (extremely lax during the 2nd Edition years specially with the Misbegotten Realms and downright diuretic during the 3.x years). With the new found disciple came a reinvigorated approach to online/electronic support.

Enter the D&D Insider and a new series of tools designed to make the life of players and GM that much easier. The Insider is subscription service that provides a series of benefits (for around $10 a month). Among these benefits you get:

  1. Character Builder- A program to create PC characters.
  2. Compendium- An online library of every rulebook and DragonDungeon magazine articles.
  3. Adventure Tools- A series of tools for GM to build adventures. Currently on it’s Beta phase.
  4. Dragon/Dungeon Magazine- In house mag for all things D&D. Includes races, items and adventures.

I’ll focus on two of these: the Character Builder and Adventure Tools.

The Character Builder has everything you need to build a character. Regular updates (once every month or so) means that you don’t need to run to buy new books just to get access to the latest powers or items. GM/Players can customize the creation process with homerules and choose which sourcebooks fit their campaign. An autobuild button button allows players to let the program build their characters for them, which then they can tweak to fit their gaming style. Finally, the character sheets created are concise, clean and clear. I especially like how the powers are color coded for ease of use.

As a Beta, the Adventure Tools only provide a monster creation/modification tool (so far) but even that is a godsend for a GM who wants to whip up a monster in minutes. It has a complete list of creatures from multiple source books including both Monster Manuals. Even if you don’t plan modifying or creating new creatures, having the entire list (updated regularly)  helps as each entry is in alphabetical order and the descriptions use the same standard setup for all monsters. The program suggest it’s best to modify an existing creature rather than to create one from scratch and I agree.  Once you’re done you can save the new monster in the existing list or copy/paste to another document so that you can have it on hand for game night.

The way I used these programs is as follows:

The Builder is great for keeping track of my characters both past changes and future possibilities. With the autobuild feature I can scale said character several levels and see possible builds and how the change it’s nature.

The monster creator gives me hundreds of creatures at my disposal and if I want to create a memorable NPC I just search using a key word such as Human and then look for the closest creature to use. If I think it needs tweaking I copy it, make some changes it and save it.

New tools are expected soon, including a virtual dungeon maker (in 3d no less). If WotC keeps this up, they won’t be any need for third party software to deal with the hassle of adventure creation.

And I know that D&D is not World of Warcraft, although the similarities are undeniable, especially with the revamping of the core mechanic in 4E, but I still think this video is pretty cool:

Stargate Universe

Last night I saw the premiere of Stargate Universe. You can find many a review anywhere on the net. I’m just going to point out a few things that stood out for me:

The show is trying for a darker and edgier than it’s franchise brethren. A PG sex scene here, a death there.

Glad to see a few of the old hands back. But General O’Neill should lay off the fast food and get a few hours under the sun.

Recruit the audience expy through a video game? I know that all things 80s are back in, but The Last Starfighter?

And is the head scientist a manipulative bastard or a jerk with a heart of gold?

Will see as the show progresses. It was worth watching.

Straight from the DVD: The Sky Crawlers

I picked this DVD up in my local video store. Had won multiple awards and came from the Mamoru Oshii stable of films so I gave it a try.

It was not what I was expecting. And that was not a good thing.

Coming from the man that brought Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor to the big screen. It certainly has his style but the story….

It’s not really there.

Gorgeous CGI, realistic air combat sequences (if some of the maneuvers where a bit much for the aircraft involved) and beautiful scenery, but the story….

In a nutshell the story centers around a young pilot who is a “Kildren” who is stuck in adolescence. All of the pilots of the “corporate” squadrons are stunted youths. That much is clear. Everything else, including the locations, and the relationship between the characters is left unclear.

Somehow the “Kildren” never really die, except in combat, although they appear again days later with no memory of who they where (and with a different name).

According some material I found on the net, the war is fought for “entertainment” which would explain why non of the combatants use modern weaponry, although their aircraft seem to be advance propeller driven aircraft.  Yet the reaction of the people around the pilots doesn’t seem to suggest that it is a form of entertainment as the news people take it very seriously, then again considering recent events and modern “infotaiment” is hard to tell what is deemed serious by media moguls.

To me, the real problem is that as a viewer don’t get enough information. Nothing is really explained about the Kildren who I guessed were clones of some kind, maybe. Nor do we see the real impact of this war. We see some blood, maybe a body covered in a tarp, but that is it. A sharper contrast between the attitudes of the people not directly involved with the “war” and the realities of the war itself might have helped.

Add an alternate Earth of sorts (it looks like the English countryside but the few maps point to it being in mainland Europe as do the snippets of news) where the characters speak Japanese on the ground (and read Japanese language newspapers), English in the air and sometimes English with the locals and you end up scratching your head from beginning to end.

The one thing I will say is that the English title is accurate. It crawled from one barely noticeable plot point to the next.

This movie was not for me or for anyone else expecting furious air combat and a gripping story.

This is an animated art house film.

It certainly has the awards to prove it.