Adapting the Adapted: an Exercise in Insanity

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm
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Can a man consider what it is to turn a video game into a movie and not lose his mind?

If you were ever six years old (and most of you have been at one point), you've played the game Telephone. This is an important game that reveals to each participating child whether they are boring, deaf, or an asshole. Everyone sits in a circle, and a message is passed around the group by each kid whispering to their neighbor. The boring kids will pass the message on dutifully ("Mr. Reynolds looks like my grandpa."). The deaf kids will garble the message unintentionally ("Mr. Reynolds shook Mike's lamp. Ha!"). The asshole kids will pass on whatever they god damn feel like ("Mr. Reynolds kisses donkeys all day long!").

The same basic Telephone archetypes apply to people adapting a work of art from one medium to another. Sometimes the original vision will be preserved faithfully. Sometimes it will be somewhat distorted or marred in adapted form, despite good intentions on the part of the creative team. And sometimes the original vision will be so horribly disfigured by that process of adaptation, so mutilated beyond any bit of its former self, that you have to wonder if somebody somewhere is just having a laugh.

But I realize that a lot of times I don't appreciate how tough it is to take a story meant for a completely different form and make it work in a foreign medium. Maybe it's not that people don't get it or don't care; maybe it's just really, really hard. I feel like this is a point I don't instinctively grasp.

Which is why I came up with this exercise:

What better way to really distill what makes adapting video games difficult than forcing myself to adapt the same source material over and over? So, to better understand how challenging it is to switch a story from one medium to another, I've decided to theorize about what would happen if Super Mario Bros. was repeatedly adapted from game to movie and back again, on infinite loop.

Interested? Follow me! Frightened? Me too! Confused? You're about to be more confused!

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Five Hilarious Licensed Games and What Could Make Them Great

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm
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Licensed games -- source of occasional brilliance and common hilarity.

Last week I reviewed the new XBLA game South Park: Tenorman's Revenge, and it brought a lot of questions to mind. Some of them were personal questions, like, "When was the last time I watched the Chinpokomon episode of South Park?" Some of the questions were deeper questions, like, "Do I think the idea of door keys made out of poop is funny?" (The answer is yes.) But mainly it got me thinking of video games based on already-existing creative properties: how wonderful they are when they succeed and how miserably disappointing they are when they fail. Tenorman's Revenge, for me, is the rare licensed game that falls between these two poles -- not depressingly bad but not especially good, either.

Usually when a licensed game converts its source material to game form in an effective way, it's near-phenomenal. The best licensed games take characters that you know and love and put you directly in their shoes; they take the indescribable tone of a movie, TV show or book and somehow transplant it into an experience that you, as a gamer, control directly. When it works, it's quite a trick. Not to mention an almost guaranteed cash cow.

But for every really amazing licensed game, there are four hundred that are horrifying bastardizations of the source material, interesting ideas that have been brutally jammed down into something resembling a video game to make an easy buck.

I thought I knew about most of the licensed games out there. The great ones, like Arkham City and Goldeneye. The hellish ones, like E.T. and Superman. But after having my interest piqued and doing some research, there are a feast of crazy licensed games that I never had any god damned idea existed. I hand-picked the five licensed games that most frayed the portion of my brain that controls reason and logic and listed them below. I haven't played these games, but I've included the traits that I think could make each one superlatively good or abjectly terrible. I will now list them in ascending order of dumbness.

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Forging a Golden Age

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Television's in the middle of a golden age; what about video games?

I want to open this article by saying that over the past three nights, I've been in vastly different social situations with different groups of friends and acquaintances, and somehow I've managed to blatantly steer the conversation toward Game of Thrones each night. Apparently, as the upcoming season premiere approaches, the portion of my brain that gauges socially appropriate behaviors is slowly being invaded by brutal Dothraki armies.

I'm excited for good reason: Game of Thrones is objectively awesome, as are many TV shows now. People often cite this era of television as a "New Golden Age of TV." More than a few of the shows that have aired over the past ten years or so have advanced the theory that TV shows can be smarter, subtler, and more complex than previously thought possible (or at least than previously thought marketable). From The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to Arrested Development, there are signs that television producers are understanding in larger numbers that choosing substance over style can actually get you viewers.

I have a couple questions about this concept of a new golden age. First: does a golden age occur naturally when a medium reaches a certain level of maturity, or is it caused by innovators in the field boldly pushing the boundaries instead of remaining content with the status quo? And secondly: if the latter is true and golden ages are made instead of simply lived through, what are the ways developers can incite one in video games?

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Ten SNES Soundtracks That Continue to Blow My Mind

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm
Super Nintendo and its glorious, glorious music.
This entry's going to be shameless, shameless nostalgia-mongering, friends. Like the dude at the party who brings up his favorite episode of Doug without any kind of conversational prompt, or the girl next to you at work who turns to you one day and out of the blue asks if you remember what pogs you had, I will now trudge back unbidden through the mist of time and dwell upon things that once were.

And I invite you to follow!

Is there a reason for this sudden urge to trot out some of my favorite Super Nintendo soundtracks? Will it enlighten us in any way or shed some kind of light on the current state of video game music?

Kind of!

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Mass Effect 3 Potpourri

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Mass Effect 3 potpourri -- an epic and fragrant mix of emotions and tidbits.

I've written previously about the idea of quantifying exactly how excited one is about new game releases using the Nintendo 64 Kid as a sort of emotional measuring tape. The unit of measurement is "N64Ks," a single N64K indicating an amount of borderline insane excitement equal to that of Nintendo 64 Kid as he unwraps that magnificent present and feels every synapse in the pleasure center of his brain explode.

I don't know about you, but I live my life at a level of about 0.03 N64Ks usually. As I've gotten  back into modern gaming over the past several months, there have been new releases that have kicked this number up. Foremost among these was Skyrim, which had me at a legitimate 0.85 N64Ks. I have the main theme, with the manly chorus bellowing shit about the Dovahkiin, on my mp3 player, and there have been times recently when I've actually had strangers catch me saying "Fuuuus... RO DAH" out loud and giggling to myself on the streets of Manhattan.

But nothing in recent memory has moved me on such a basic gamer level like the release of Mass Effect 3. A true 1.0 N64K moment.

I'm nowhere near done with ME3, so this isn't in any way a review; we'll have a proper write-up of the game in the coming days. But I kept starting articles on other stuff, or "Top Five" lists on unrelated subjects, and I couldn't do it. I want to live in this moment, I want to feel the rush of a full-on 1.0 N64K experience.

So, I've put together a little blend of initial reactions, meditations on the series and stupid jokes for the Mass Effect fans out there. It's not very cohesive, but I think it's an appropriate homage to the hype of release day.

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Five Underrepresented Character Types in Video Games

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm
This type of guy tends to turn up a lot in video games.
I want you to do something for me. Go to the nearest video game retailer you can find. Bring duct tape.

Don't worry, I'm not asking you to do anything illegal! I'm not asking you to kidnap a Gamestop employee or anything. No, I don't think this is illegal. Though it may get you banned from the store.

I want you to stand outside the store, wrap duct tape around your face until you are effectively blind, and then go inside. Fumble around until you find the game displays. Now select a game, entirely at random, and flail about wildly until you get a sales clerk's attention. (Don't worry, someone who has covered their face in duct tape and is waving a video game around in the air is probably only the third or fourth weirdest person this sales clerk has had to deal with today. Retail is a harsh, unforgiving world.) Now buy the game and exit the store. Apologize if you've accidentally body-slammed anyone during this process.

So now you have purchased an entirely random game. Drive home (please take off the duct tape first) and fire up your console or gaming computer. Pop the random game in and start playing. Now take a good, long look at your player character. What kind of person are they? If you had to describe their personality in one word, what would it be?

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The Draw of Role-Playing

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm
The allure of RPGs: why do I love to put on my robe and wizard hat so much?
Sometimes your own biases surprise you. The other night I was talking at length to a friend about games I was playing and the new releases I was most anticipating, and I thought I was covering pretty much everything imaginable. My buddy listened politely and then said, nonchalantly, "So, you're pretty much only into RPGs these days, huh?"

"No!" I wasn't that narrow in my gaming interests, I thought. "No, like, for instance..."

What? I cycled through all of my mainstays of the past month.  Skyrim. The RPG of all RPGs. All of the Mass Effect games. Nope, definitely role-playing. Fallout: New Vegas, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, both certainly RPGs. Even Borderlands, which has been the game I play when I need a breather from all that role-playing, is an RPG.

And then I realized that my friend had a point. I was borderline addicted to role-playing games.

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Tags: RPGs, Skyrim

Five Games for Singles on Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm
Valentine's Day is all about love, but it's also about other feelings.

To those with a sweetheart, a happy marriage, a lover or a crush, Valentine's Day is, at best, a time to affirm the mutual love and respect you feel for each other, and at worst it is a day when you exchange mediocre gifts for mediocre sexual favors. But for those who are committed or smitten, it is an undeniably exciting time.

Sure, it may be stressful to nail down the dinner reservations and try to come up with ideas to spice things up (hint: puns always make things sexier!), but unless you fuck up and get your partner a diet book or something, the aura of Valentine's Day is designed to make you feel validated. Everywhere you look, America is both paying homage to and milking money out of your relationship. Though it can be a little disheartening to sense the vigorous corporate hard-on that the greeting card industry achieves on this holiday each year, even that can't dampen the spirit if you're really, truly in love.

But what if you're single? Well, my unattached brethren, we can survive this most syrupy of days. Video games can help. I'm going to tell you how.

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Video Games and the Psychology of Divinity

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm
Video games: gateway into the mind... of GOD??
Where cheat codes and theology intersect, God Mode exists. God Mode is the king of all cheat codes. It is to Infinite Ammo or Big Head Mode cheats what Zeus is to dumb gods nobody knows about, like Aeolus or Nike. That's right, "Nike" was a god. A goddess, to be exact. Her dad was a titan and her mom was a river. Ringing a bell? No? That's because the shoe company named after her has completely eclipsed her in fame to the point that if you walk up to a classics professor and start talking about Nike, he will assume you want to talk about arch support. Case in point. Zeus reigns supreme. And God Mode, his cheat code equivalent, puts you, mortal, in his place.

But even without engaging any cheat codes, video games are largely about simulating godlike agency. One of the most appealing things about gaming is that, usually, one assumes the role of a character with amazing abilities or resources at his or her command, or at least a character in extraordinary circumstances. It gives one a sense of transcending the constraints of daily life. A sense, perhaps, of becoming a kind of god.

But being a supreme being isn't just being invulnerable to bullets and being able to slap bosses to death.  Divinity comes with a host of privileges, surprises and even responsibilities that those of us who are used to regular human life might not be able to handle gracefully.

And it's this part that I'm interested in. What happens to a human elevated to god status on an emotional level? What's it like to have more power than you ever imagined? What do we learn about godhood by reigning over even a small, fictional universe like a video game world?


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