The History of A-J Games: Part Seven

To catch up on the story to date, you can view the archive here.

Did I say that things got better? Maybe eventually, but first we need to backtrack a bit. So far we’ve been looking at character games. Some of the characters are fictional; others are based on people I knew or who I didn’t know were fictional. Whatever the origin, these games are based more on objects than subjects. They didn’t start out as theories or experiments, or attempts to express a thought or feeling though the psychology of game design. Maybe in dropping these objects into the pond I drew some subjective ripples, but in principle my methods would have fit right in at THQ.

What we’re going to talk about now is another level of objective. You will have noticed my constant references to other people’s games — mostly professional, mostly derived from the Miyamoto-fed Japanese school.

It’s normal enough for one artist to look to another for inspiration; art is a form of communication, and nothing speaks to an artist like art. It’s also normal for a novice to model his or her work on something familiar. You can’t begin to speak your mind until you know the language, and you have some idea how to fit the pieces together to express ideas. An illustrator traces to get a sense of form; a musician may spend a lifetime interpreting other people’s music before he feels comfortable writing his own.

I guess what I’m doing is justifying creative laziness. I applaud the growth of new forms, and there will be a period of grasping before a form takes shape, but I always wonder why people will take an existing recording, loop it, and add a few riffs on top. If you drew inspiration from Abba or some Motown artist, great. Build on that. Then, erase your tracks.

There can only be so many Andy Warhols, making a statement about our perceptions and expectations of art. There is a place for collage and documentary, and cultural commentary. Generally, if someone is claiming a recognizable hunk of someone else’s work as his own, to me that speaks of a character flaw. It says that the derivative artist doesn’t give a shit about the original artist, about his or her own reputation, about the integrity of either the original or the derivative art, or about the intelligence of the intended audience.

Unless it is very well signaled I don’t really buy the tribute angle, and I have little patience for pastiche. I hate it when people quote from presumed authorities to make their own points in an argument. I cannot abide organized systems of belief or thought. If you can’t find your own thing to say, in your own words, I don’t want to hear from you.

So this chapter is about my own hypocrisy. I don’t know what parts to damn and what to excuse, so I’m laying out the whole problem now. I also have problems with absolute perspectives; as strict as I may sound, I know that nothing is ever that simple. There’s the principle, then there’s pragmatism. And sometimes to embrace the principle one has to spend a while fighting it.

Take piracy, in the modern lawyered-up creative sense. Is it wrong to copy someone’s work? Maybe; why are you copying it? And what’s the result? Did it do more harm, or more good? I think that copyright should expire after fifteen years, as you can’t control an idea once it gets into the DNA of public thought — but I also think that the original author should be able to enforce attribution. Organized chaos, if you will. Evolution with footnotes.

That doesn’t stop my own guilt when I indulge (as with the borrowed images in these posts), or temper my annoyance when someone builds on my work. I guess I should just get over it.

My least shameful tributes are those where I feel I built something original out of the borrowed material, however wholly I may have borrowed it. That isn’t to say that my divergence was deliberate. How much if art is really deliberate anyway? Anything that matters is usually an accident of technique or circumstance, and anything you try to do tends to end up obvious and meaningless. Why is that? Well, think about it. If you can’t even surprise yourself, how interesting do you think your ideas really are?

Nejillian Flux was supposed to be a carbon copy of Gradius, maybe with a bit of Life Force for variety. As it happens, RSD’s Game-Maker is a poor platform for scrolling shooters. They knew it, and improvements were on the radar, but they never quite happened. So I found some workarounds. Not good workarounds, but distinctive ones.

This was an early project. I can tell you how early because of an even earlier pastiche. When I was finishing up Linear Volume, I asked my client for a title. Linear Volume, he said; I went with it. I also mentioned my next project, a scrolling shooter based on Gradius. He told me to call it Nejillian Flux. It sounded good, so again I went with it.

To this point I had designed, I think, six games — three platformers, and three adventure-RPGs. Although I completed most of them, only one of those games — A-J’s Quest — had been very successful. I figured maybe it was time to try something new.

I hit three technical problems: scrolling, map size, and power-ups. The most fundamental of those is the scrolling, or rather the lack thereof. Game-Maker only supports a strange shifting-focus scrolling, where the camera always tries to place the character sprite 1/3 of the way from the opposite edge of the direction of the character’s motion. If the character is running right, the game wants to put 1/3 of the screen to the left of the sprite and 2/3 to the right. The same principle goes for all four cardinal directions, which in a game with free movement can cause the camera to lose all reason.

There are ways to work with this trait, but for a scrolling shooter it is fatal. The two common workarounds are to point the background gravity sideways, or to adjust the character motion so that it must always move in one direction. Neither really works, but if done well the player gets the general idea.

A related problem is in the engine’s strict map dimensions: exactly 100 pixels, square. That’s 6-1/4 by 10 screens, which may be fine for an overworld map. If you’re scrolling exclusively to the right, that means in less than 7 screens you will loop back to the start. Think of Eugene Jarvis’ Defender.

My solution was to double-decker the levels, and to hide a tunnel between the two stories. The player would keep looping until he or she found the passage, from which point the level became linear until the end. An eccentric choice, but it was the best I could think of at that time.

I also ran into problems with the weapon upgrades. The engine does not allow for arbitrary character or control states, so you can’t simply pick up a weapon and use it. The only solution is to give any weapon pickups a hierarchy, and to limit their ammunition. So if you pick up a very powerful weapon, you may only have 20 shots. When you have expended those, you default to the next most powerful weapon for which you have ammo. If you want to use one of the lesser weapons, then first you have to blow through the greater ones.

Then there is the question as to what makes a tougher power-up, as Game-Maker is very black and white about power levels. If your weapon has a level of 150 and the monster is at level 100, then the weapon kills the monster. If the monster has a power of 151, then the weapon does nothing. So weak weapons are pointless, and powerful weapons are perfect. If you’re creative you can find some lateral solutions; in 1993, I was not that creative.

Game-Maker’s engine was always a point of contention and curiosity. With a little lateral thought, it was capable of many things. Its odd and often simplistic arrangement resulted in dozens of unlisted features, and encouraged creative problem solving. Its comfort zone, though, lay in top-down action adventure games. It had the inventory and the four-way scrolling of a Zelda or Crystalis, and it was much happier when one avoided things like gravity or nuanced control schemes.

There are three ways of approaching a set of limitations. You can fight them, you can work within and around them, or you can subvert them. If you fight them, generally you will lose and your work will suffer. If you subvert them, you can produce very clever tricks to wow your peers who know what you’re up against — but chances are the tricks will be glitchy, and will fail to impress anyone else. If you work within the limits, maybe the walls won’t be so obvious and your work will be able to stand on its own merits.

Link vs. Gannon was my first go at working with the engine. This was maybe two or three games before Nejillian Flux. It was clear to me that neither platformers nor RPGs worked to Game-Maker’s strengths, so I relented. If the engine was geared toward Zelda, as it appeared to be, I figured I might as well see how close it could get.

The NES Zelda games are amongst my favorite things ever; the first for the actual moment-to-moment design, and the second for its weird atmosphere and its bold deviation from the original. I loved the claustrophobic focus, but I also loved that sweeping adventure too large to record in every detail — so I combined the design and dungeons from the first game and the free-roaming world of the second. Points of interest were scattered around a huge area, broken up by fields, rivers, hills, and bridges.

I doubt I meant to finish the game, and indeed Link vs. Gannon is the first that I left incomplete. I just wanted to figure out what the engine would handle well. The frustration came early on, when I realized that I was fighting far more than I had planned.

I often think of Game-Maker, if it just had X feature then it would be complete enough and I could work with all of the other problems. When I was in high school, I really needed a better music format. At other times I needed text boxes, or more detailed control mapping, or more complex enemy logic. On reflection, I think the sorest omission is the ability to make pervasive changes to the gameworld.

Here’s what I mean by that. In Game-Maker’s engine, the character can interact with the background — change blocks, pick up objects, kill monsters, and increase abstract counters linked with things like keys and locks. If the player dies or leaves a level, all changes to that level are reset — yet all counters remain as they were. So if you have a level that contains a precious item, you can pick up the item, leave, return, and pick it up again. If you kill a boss then return, the boss is back. And so on.

For a game like Zelda, that is all about exploring, discovering precious tools, and making slow significant changes to the world, it is disconcerting when nothing the player does can stick.

There is a way around this issue, but it involves a bunch of busywork and a tangle of logical wires that are very easy to lose track of. I also didn’t hit on the solution for a very long time. If I did, then evidently I never felt it was worth the effort. And that was my ultimate decision with Link vs. Gannon; it wasn’t worth the energy to figure out how to make it work, or to draw custom background tiles, or to put real work into the level design. I filed the game away, and for a while I continued with my own projects.

Over the years, the counter-and-flag issue kept raising its head. If I tried to do something complex, it was the lack of flags. If I tried to do something simple, it was the counters that wouldn’t reset. One of my more successful games, curiously enough, was a very hard Pac-Man clone. I asked that anyone who enjoyed the game simply send me a postcard, saying “I like Pac!” I got maybe half a dozen cards over the years. Nejillian Flux also traveled a bit. For a while it seemed I couldn’t browse a shovelware CD or Russian shareware site without stumbling over the game.

The problems with Pac were twofold. First, there was no way to contrive it so that power pellets made the character immune to the enemies’ touch. I got around that by turning the pellets into projectiles that the character could spit out. More worrisome is that if the player died before eating all the dots, the counter would carry over but the background would not. In retrospect I’m sure I could have contrived a way to drain the counter at the start of a new life, but the solution I found was to give the player only a single life. One life, one hit point. To reach the end, you have to play a perfect game. Not the most elegant solution.

If it wasn’t the flags and counters, it was a lack of arbitrary character logic. Pac can’t eat ghosts, and Mario can’t stomp enemies. For kicks, one of my later projects involved transcribing the background tiles from Super Mario Bros. and the sprites from Super Mario 3, almost pixel for pixel out of a magazine, in attempt to find some way around the stomping issue.

Even more so than Link vs. Gannon, Jario! is barely a game. I didn’t bother to animate the sprites or design a real level; my whole concern was with trying to force an issue on which the engine wouldn’t bend. It was just as well; I never much liked Mario anyway.

So most of my tributes were a bust. That can be a problem when you have a fixed idea of what you want to do. When you follow the tides of intuition, things tend to just work. You take what comes and you look for something unusual to build on. When you’ve a specific goal and method in mind, anything can trip you up — and since that’s not where your head is you won’t be prepared to roll with the problems and compromise. As time went on I softened in my preconceptions as to what I wanted from a game, as to what a game was, and as to how to achieve that.

About thirteen years after my last Game-Maker project, I unearthed the software as part of a series for an indie game blog. I was surprised how good the design tools still were. If anything, they were more fun to use than most of the games they produced — clear, intuitive, instantly rewarding. I knew the engine’s limits, and I was curious how well it would serve to make a contemporary indie game. In my articles I had mentioned the engine’s strengths; as a test, I chose to replicate The Legend of Zelda as exactly as possible.

I ripped the original sprites and background tiles, then enlarged them by 25% in Photoshop to fit Game-Maker’s standard. It turned out that despite the difference in scale one Game-Maker screen had the same number of tiles as an NES screen — so I recreated the maps as closely as I could, block by block. I found tricks to allow Link to burn bushes and touch an Armos to bring it to life (and maybe find a secret passage). I gave the Octorocks complex behaviors and allowed the Leevers to burrow, immune to the player’s protests.

The only real problem remaining with Overworld was the counter/flag issue. I used a web of level nodes to ensure that Link would only find the wooden sword the first time into the cave, but I knew that after just a few choices the game would soon get much too complex to keep track of that way.

I stopped after filling the world map; I figured I made my point. The dimensions are different from the original Zelda overworld — taller, narrower, and a little smaller overall — so I made do, compressing some locations and expanding or moving others. I figured if I ever continued with the game I could split the overworld across two maps; maybe connect them with bridges across a river.

Although the game was never a serious effort, and indeed took no more than a few hours from me, my mind began to swim with the new techniques I found while bending and cajoling RSD’s engine — the screen-by-screen level design; the complex monster behaviors; the constrained color palette; multi-stage attacks; new monster birthing techniques; and in particular, using monster counter-buffers to alter the level geometry. Those techniques, and their very buggy repercussions, would become the basis for Builder, my first new Game-Maker game in half a lifetime.

Builder was a web of secrets, accessible only to a player who surrendered to and explored the engine’s glitches. A big part of the design involved ensuring that the game’s secrets remained secret until the player hit the right triggers, which on the lowest level I controlled with level nodes and paths. Finally a Game-Maker game responded meaningfully to the player’s actions, and in the most profound sense it did it behind the scenes.

Between these new tricks and my success with Builder, I was ripe with enthusiasm. It had been ages since I had worked on any game, never mind this old engine. I had the notion that I would pull out all my old unfinished Game-Maker games (nine, including Overworld) and wrap them up with style. I would put a cap on that whole thread of my life. No one would ever play them or care, but I would feel a sense of closure.

After perusing then discarding the obvious candidates (The Return of A-J, Sign of the Hedgehog 2) I turned to the best of my tributes, one that had lain neglected since 1994. Rōdïp was the unripe fruit of a competition with another Game-Maker user, a fellow whom I had met through a long distance dial-up board. Both he and I set about designing Blaster Master tributes; his was nearly as literal as Overworld, and my game took on a life of its own.

The vehicle looked similar to the one in Blaster Master, and on paper it had similar abilities — and the background tiles in the first level were similar to the tiles in one room of Blaster Master‘s final level. My vehicle controlled very differently, though — indeed better than nearly any pre-Builder character. The moves and attacks all had their own interesting flavor. The monsters were original and memorable. The level design needed work, but it involved some big, brave ideas. The game had spirit. I wondered why I ever put the game aside; it wasn’t much, but it was good.

It was also fully planned. Maybe I’d just had an Alfred Hitchcock moment and grown bored the moment I knew how the game would pan out. I had blocked the whole thing out — all of the levels, all of the bosses, the environments, the upgrade sequence, and the web connecting it all. All the game lacked was content and polish. So, slowly I added content and I polished it. Maybe I’m still doing it. I haven’t touched the game in months. Right now it just needs a final level, a transition level, and five or six bosses. I also need to complete a water level. I’d say it’s 80% done. I think I’ve just had other things on my mind.

The real trick to Rōdïp is its structure. It’s a free-roaming action-adventure; you beat bosses, earn upgrades, and revisit old areas to climb that wall or destroy that barrier with your new powers. This means affecting your environment, which means setting flags, which Game-Maker won’t abide without a headache.

Well, I survived the headache. The game has only a few items to account and maybe 18 unique areas, but it needs 80 nodes to track the changes and who knows how many links to hold it all together. If I weren’t intent on copying someone else’s idea of a game structure, I wouldn’t have bothered — but I did, and it works.

I’m building up to a point here. Hang with me.

Continuity notes:

After Nejillian Flux, The next game I designed was Explorer Jacko — you remember, the insertion game with all of the Star Control and Trek references. The ship that Jacko steals, early on? Why, the Nejillian Flux of course.

Also, some of the elements in Link vs. Gannon would later be incorporated into Linear Volume and Explorer Jacko. This is why in effect you will see Tektites bouncing around the fields of Motavia.

The story continues in Part Eight

List #1: A Ranking of Videogame Movies

A while back I had a gig producing content for a social network that later took an unfortunate turn. Before all of this stuff disappears, I’m going to repost as much of that writing as I can.

We begin with a kind of stupid entry, dealing with videogames adapted into feature films. The idea is that people would vote these items up and down, producing a sort of ranked list. As it turns out, I drew up this list at about the same time as the list feature stopped to work and the site ceased to promote it — so not a single person voted. Oh well! Here it is in semi-alphabetical order.

Adapting a game to cinema is never an easy task. Videogames and film are different kinds of art, that serve to explore different things in different ways. Videogames are all about banging your head against the rules of the environment to get a sense of how a world works. Film is all about telling a story using a stream of imagery over time. In film, there is no way to actively explore rules and in videogames a story generally exists at best to lend context to what the player is doing.

So, most game-to-film adaptations stink. It is up to you, dear readers, to vote up the best of the bunch and to vote down the worst. Some of these are probably worth seeing! We’ll find out which, presently.

Alone in the Dark

This series has had a bad time of it lately. The first three games were groundbreaking; Shinji Mikami substantially cloned the games in creating his Resident Evil series. Then the properties started to shift hands. Whenever a new up-and-coming studio wants to try a few cool techniques, they seem to buy into the Alone in the Dark license. The results are always interesting on an experimental level but somewhere between horrible and disappointing when it comes to actual game design. The concept has also strayed pretty far from the original games. Our friend Uwe Boll seized on the property for cheap, as people tend to, and spat this out. He managed to nab Christian Slater as Edward Carnby. This was before Boll’s reputation became public knowledge.

Bloodrayne

The second of many Uwe Boll films to clutter this list. Uwe Boll is a strange character; a charlatan who deliberately makes the quickest, worst movies possible so that he can cash in on Germany’s national film funding and various forms of insurance. It’s like he saw Mel Brooks’ The Producers as a set of step-by-step instructions.

The Bloodrayne games were exploitative trash following in the wake of Tomb Raider; they only really existed to cash in on the existing development climate. So, hey. Uwe Boll comes up to you with a small wad of cash, you take it. Result: another Uwe Boll movie.

DOA: Dead or Alive

The games started off as hacks of Virtua Fighter that added ridiculous breast physics and somewhat more visceral back-and-forth combat. They later developed into a consciously exploitative and yet still technically respectable series that can just about get away with its T&A action on the basis of its solid game design. Aside from the boobs there’s still little reason to play the games over any other first-tier 3D fighter, but whatever.

What I wonder is why so, so many game movies are based on games from such inappropriate genres. How many fighting games do we have on this list? Granted, the DOA characters do have convoluted backgrounds — but really, is there a story here?

Doom

Andrzej Bartkowiak was cinematographer on plenty of respectable films, from Falling Down to Speed to U.S. Marshals. As a director… hmm.

Well, it’s got Eomer from Lord of the Rings in it. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Later, the same dude would go on to direct Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Some career he’s building up, here.

Double Dragon

Man, remember when these games were big? Technos took the gaming world by storm, first by creating the first versus fighter (Karate Champ), then by creating the first side-scrolling brawler (Renegade), then by refining the latter model into a two-player masterpiece full of advanced moves, interactive and varied terrain, weapons that you can pick up and carry, distinctive enemies, and some of the rockingest theme music ever. The story was simple: Billy Lee’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by street punks, so he and his brother Jimmy set out to rescue her with their fists. The movie… it’s something about a magical medallion that gives a couple of middle-class kids the power to beat up mutants. Not sure where this came from.

Far Cry

I didn’t even know that this movie existed. The games are technically very advanced and ambitious first-person shooters that mostly take place in natural environments and have very stiff, stilted-feeling design. Uwe Boll apparently leapt in and grabbed the film rights before the game was even released. Joke’s on him; the series has actually become pretty successful. But conversely, Joke’s on Crytek and Ubisoft, because — well, Uwe Boll.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

This movie nearly bankrupted Square, and put founder and FF series director Hironobu Sakaguchi in the doghouse, leading the way to his departure from Square soon thereafter.

See, as great as Final Fantasy VII was in many other respects, the thing that everyone talked about at the time was its pre-rendered CG cutscenes. For the next game, Sakaguchi decided to play to the crowd and made the cutscenes practically the whole point. From there, the logical next step was to just remove the game part completely. Thus, we have this weirdly neutered film. In place of the wacky fantasy of the original games, we have a clumsy and frankly boring sci-fi story calculated to appeal to American mainstream audiences — a goal undermined by the uncanny valley of mostly-realistic CG actors.

Hitman

Basically these are action games with minor adventure and large third-person shooter components. You play as a hitman who largely has to find his weapons in the field, often through offing people along the way. So there’s a strategic element and a stealth element, and they have that free-form sandbox thing that was so popular in the early noughts. The movie… well, Roger Ebert liked it: “Hitman stands right on the threshold between video games and art. On the wrong side of the threshold, but still, give it credit.”

House of the Dead

House of the Dead is based on Sega WOW’s arcade shooting gallery series, and features a cameo from Sega of America’s then-president. By all accounts it is one of the more confusing things devoted to film, explained by the involvement of Uwe Boll. By the time the movie was released (to universal scorn), he had moved on.

In the Name of the King

Have you ever played Dungeon Siege? It’s a generic hack-and-slash RPG based closely on the BioWare/Black Isle design popularized by games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Generic enough and unlikely enough to make perfect Uwe Boll fodder. Yes, this movie is somehow an adaptation of the game. By all accounts it comes off like a pathetic Lord of the Rings clone — which puts it on a level with most fantasy fiction of the last 50 years or so.

The King of Fighters

Of all the fighting games that you could turn into a movie, The King of Fighters perhaps makes the most sense. KOF is basically a serial martial arts drama that has been going on since 1994, with yearly updates up through KOF2003 and then occasional chapters in the years since. The series features dozens upon dozens of characters, each with complex backgrounds and intertwined stories. The games themselves trace all manner of alliance, betrayal, and epic goings-on. You could create a long-running Smallville-type TV series out of this material with little effort. And yet this movie borrows only loosely from the games, then makes little sense of its own. Who is this supposed to appeal to? Why bother?

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

The title says it all; by this point the game series had become a joke, and all that anyone remembered about it was its protagonist — who always looked uncannily like Angelina Jolie, so hey. There were two movies with Jolie, and as of early 2011 the series is now being “rebooted”. As with Silent Hill and Resident Evil, at least this movie more or less works cinematically, as a Mummy-level Indiana Jones knock-off.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Supposed to be a little better than the first movie. Roger Ebert actually got a kick out of this one.

Max Payne

Marky Mark stars as Remedy’s satirically gritty New York sourpuss. In the game, Max is an ex-cop seeking revenge while under tremendous physical and emotional pain — pain that leads him to hallucinations and that he tries to, well, remedy with medication. In the movie, he’s being chased by literal demons and monsters.

Okay.

The dude who directed the movie, John Moore, was also behind the 2006 remake of The Omen. The people who made the game, in a long tradition, have aired their grievances and distanced themselves from his work.

Mortal Kombat

The game is ridiculous trash, that cashed in on the success of Street Fighter by filling its sprite banks with bad photographs of bad actors posing badly. Its lasting impact on the industry is mostly the establishment of the ESRB rating board, the concept of finishing moves in fighting games and elsewhere, and an endless string of hidden characters such as Akuma/Gouki in the later Street Fighter games.

The movie realizes that the game is ridiculous, and builds on all the most memorably ridiculous parts to construct a joyously stupid yet technically proficient martial arts movie. In some ways, the movie gets across the spirit of the game better than the game ever did.

Postal

As with Ewe Boll’s other films, the Postal license must have come cheap. The movie came out in 2007; the original game — which also was exploitative trash masquerading as satire — was released a decade earlier. A sequel was released in 2003, that tried to cash in on the Grand Theft Auto/sandbox design mania, but by 2007 the games had pretty much faded from everyone’s thoughts. With good reason. All the better makings for a deliberate flop.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Donnie Darko plays an Arab in this adaptation of a remake of a remake of Jordan Mechner’s 1989 classic tale of bloody deaths, leaps of faith, and little brothers in pajamas. As with the Tomb Raider movies, it’s sort of trying to be the Brendan Fraser remake of The Mummy.

Resident Evil

Pure trash, plus Milla Jovovich. Still, it basically works as a movie — and worked well enough to span at least four sequels. It’s probably a good idea to focus on Jovovich’s original character rather than the game’s original protagonists.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

The second RE movie, which introduces Jill Valentine and is largely based on the third game. Worth mentioning that writer Paul W.S. Anderson, aside from writing and producing all the films in this series, also directed the first and fourth RE films plus the first Mortal Kombat film; and produced DOA: Dead or Alive. The dude’s almost like a higher-rent Uwe Boll. Oh, he’s also married to Milla Jovovich; they met on the set of the first movie. So this is also a family franchise.

The movie was received much less well than the first one — which itself received mixed reviews at best.

Resident Evil: Extinction

Third movie in the series. Milla Jovovich continues in the lead role. Here the story branches away from the game series completely. Although we meet several familiar characters from Capcom’s games, the plot and setting are all new. If game game is influenced by anything, it’s probably Code Veronica, what with the addition of Claire and Wesker, and a few setpieces from the game.

Although critically panned, this one earned the studio a hell of a lot of money.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Fourth movie in the series; now it’s in 3D and IMAX. Based loosely on RE5 — including the introduction, finally, of Chris Redfield. Again with the critical derision contrasted with box office success. Apparently it’s the “most successful production in Canadian feature film history.” It’s unclear if that’s in dollars or professional satisfaction.

Silent Hill

A pretty decent adaptation of a less than totally obvious game, clearly produced by people who loved them some Konami. The film is more or less an adaptation of the first game, with elements of the second, and most of the context removed. If Pyramid Head is the projection of James Sunderland’s subconscious violence toward women, why is he in the movie? Although Silent Hill has always had a sort of feminine quality to it, there’s a reason why the first game is about a hapless, and obviously kind of broke, single father rather than a happily married upper middle-class mother. Regardless, the movie works on its own terms up until the last fifteen minutes or so. Not sure what they were trying to accomplish there.

Street Fighter

The movie that killed Raul Julia. Why does it focus on Guile, when the game is all about Ryu and Ken? Because Guile is an American, and the film was made for Universal. So if Guile is American, why is he played by Jean-Claude Van Damme? Well…

Super Mario Bros.

Less an adaptation; more an acid trip experienced against a backdrop of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films. There may be some kind of surreal brilliance in this tale of subterranean fungus and human-shaped dragons, if you take it strictly on its own logic and merits. As a representation of Miyamoto’s game, though, it’s more like that weird 1980s cover art that was often more disturbing than the actual game content.

Tekken

Another fighting game — albeit another one with deep, convoluted backstories for all its characters. Why adapt this instead of, say, Shenmue?

The guy behind the Tekken games, Katsuhiro Harada, wonders the same thing. “That Hollywood movie is terrible. We were not able to supervise that movie; it was a cruel contract. I’m not interested in that movie.”

Wing Commander

I’m not all that up on the Origin System games; from what I gather, they were huge because they were basically Star Wars games in all but name during that long period when Lucasarts avoided milking its film licenses and instead focused on games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. The movie is a genial if somewhat generic sci-fi flick with that guy from Hackers. It’s totally watchable, if somewhat unrelated to the source material.

Phantom Fingers: The Series — Part Five: Myths and Legends

It is 1981. Somewhere between testing and mass release, interest in Nintendo’s Space Invaders clone Radar Scope had cooled. It’s not that the game was poor. It’s just that six months earlier Pac-Man had changed the arcade landscape, and in the narrowing landscape for Invaders clones there was only room for excellence. Do we order Radar Scope, or do we order Galaga? Easy choice.

Enter the slacker art school kid who was only ever hired as a favor to his family. Shigeru Miyamoto was told to recoup losses by designing another game for the returned Radar Scope hardware, preferably aimed at US audiences. Inspired by Pac-Man, Miyamoto took pretty much all of Iwatani’s new ideas of scenario, character, empathy, and play narrative, and pretty much built a whole game on them without the traditional clutter.

( Continue reading at Game Set Watch )

FiNCK thrown into the Web

As of yesterday, Within a Deep Forest and Knytt designer Nifflas has unleashed his briefly-awaited user-supported toss-’em-up, FiNCK. As reported earlier, the game’s abrupt announcement and release are due to an impulsive yet inspired development cycle, brought on by affection for the odd man out of the NES Marios.

FiNCK (”Fire Nuclear Crocodile Killer”; yes, it’s nonsense) has the same grab-and-toss mechanics as Super Mario Bros. 2 and a few other gems like Rescue Rangers, and Pastel’s much longer-coming Life+. Perhaps understandably enough, considering the free level editor and Nifflas’ existing fanbase, the game only comes with five (in effect) demonstration levels.

( Continue reading at DIYGamer )

A Life Worth Living

by Eric-Jon Rössel Tairne

Some of the typical themes to indie games, and art games, and deconstructionist games in general, include violence, death, and loss. I find it interesting that the deeper problems of game design, toward which the more thoughtful game authors are drawn, so closely mirror a boilerplate list of human concerns. At least, metaphorically speaking.

Of the three, death and loss, and the association between the two, are the bigger concerns — perhaps because in the short term, with such a narrow communication bottleneck, it’s more worthwhile to hand out monosyllabic verbs for the player to sling around: shoot, run, jump, grab. Let players use the grammar they know, while you precisely sculpt a context to lend the discussion an illusion of eloquence.

( Continue reading at DIYGamer )