Saturday, December 26, 2009

You'll love Avatar, even if you hated it.

This isn't a review. Really, it's not, I promise. These days you can't do much without getting someone's opinion on James Cameron's latest work. Whatever your opinion of Avatar is, you'll end up loving it in the coming years. The face of film is changing, and it's blue and furry.

Why do we like movies? Well, there are lots of reasons, but almost everybody likes a good story, good characters, and a chance to be so convinced by the action onscreen that we forget ourselves and get sucked in. Escapism! We know it and love it, but there a lot of barriers to keeping us there. Anytime a movie makes us stop and say, "What is that? That doesn't make any sense," we're done.

In other words, if people talk like people and the world doesn't act like Barbie's dreamhouse we'll probably be all right. But if your movie has aliens or monsters in it? That's a tall order. Puppets and CG have worked out alright, but they've always stood out and said, "This is a movie!" loud and clear from the silverscreen. We want to see movies to see a story that's different from our lives, something we've never seen or experienced before, and the stranger it is the better. But the stranger it is, the more work you have to do to keep us in the action. Why should you like Avatar even if you hated it? Avatar proves that not only can you create a convincing world totally unlike our own, but that there are new ways for us to experience it.

I've seen Avatar twice now (yeah, I love it, can't deny it) and each time I left thinking of my favorite worlds and characters that could finally be done on screen. We can make movies that aren't "just sci-fi" or "just a kid's movie". We can bring the fantastic to film and not worry about it looking cheesy or justifying how it works. Instead, we can make a movie around it. A good movie. Avatar has open doors for brand new films, with exciting technical features and a new attitude towards the unreal. So, in 5 years, when that movie you thought would never be made because "we just couldn't do it," say "Thank You" to Avatar.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I've caught the Viral Marketing Bug!

When the Dark Knight was gearing up for release, you may remember being solicited by the Joker or Harvey Dent to participate in various movie-themed events. It was nothing more than a marketing ploy, but boy it was fun. There's nothing like getting a call from Mr. Dent himself (albeit a pre-recorded one) asking for your help in Gotham. Well, with filming wrapped for Iron Man 2 and post-production underway, Marvel has thrown their hat into the viral marketing ring.

Stark Industries has set up a
website, and is looking for new recruits. There is a surprisingly extensive Job Application form which is fairly hilarious, as well as a well-drafted note from Tony Stark. The entire site does a great job at capturing the spirit of the Tony Stark we grew to live in the first film, and needless to say, I applied immediately.

I will say that the application asks for a lot of information, more than I am usually willing to give out online. The Terms and Applications does indicate that it is a fake application, so I assume you're pretty safe, but you never know. If it's anything like the Dark Knight campaign, you can expect phone calls, mailings, and who knows what else for signing up. I really enjoyed participating in Harvey Dent's campaign, and I'm even more excited to work for Tony Stark! I just received an e-mail from Kay Baker at Stark Industries that stated the following:

Hey there!

Thank you so much for being one of the first people to apply for a job at Stark Industries. So far, the response has been incredible. You are among the best and brightest and your interest in joining our ranks is truly appreciated.

Already we have an overwhelming number of applicants and we plan to take our time thoroughly investigating each one. It may be a long process, but it is the only way to ensure that we find the absolute best candidates to work at Stark Industries.

We will contact you soon as we narrow down our selection.

All the best,

Kay Baker

Looks like working in the Career Center this summer is paying off! I'll let you know the details as my application goes through. Hopefully they'll invite me out to Stark Industries for an interview soon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's Not a Game

With the 2009 Game Developer's Conference in full swing, I've been doing a little looking into, you guessed it, game development. The gaming industry is incredibly interesting, and for years I've loved pontificating about it, without any real knowledge of its inner-workings. I'd call myself an armchair general, but I don't know what the video game equivalent of that is, though I imagine both could have the word "armchair in them". In any case, an industry so reliant on technology is constantly evolving, and players like Nintendo have proved that hardware isn't necessarily the key to to success. But where, oh where, might a relative newcomer to the cold hard facts of the industry go to educate myself on how things really work? There are any number of places, but I am particularly fond of Gamasutra. As their tagline says, they are devoted to the "art & business of making games". Perfect! Even a cursory glance at the articles they feature is a great resource to breaking intelligently into the conversation of video games. And there are things to talk about. The upcoming OnLive service is sure to impact the gaming community. If you don't need to buy a console or even a fancy pc to play next gen games, I think you may potentially gain new players, but there may also be a negative effect on publishers and developers. How can they make money in a state of perpetual renting? Also, the idea of virtual ownership of a game without a physical copy is definitely an avenue that will be explored in the future, and OnLive is perhaps just the first major step towards it.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Gaming isn't all about video games! What about all the fun games we play that don't require an outlet or $400? Well, fear not! David Sirlin website, the aptly named, is full of awesome design articles on all types of gaming. Admittedly, he's worked alot on some video game projects, but he doesn't limit his insights to that style of gaming alone. All of it is insightful and an interesting read. At the very least, it gives you some food for thought. I'm particularly interested in his book "Playing to Win". Winning as a lifestyle for self-improvement? That's something I can get behind!

Monday, March 23, 2009

There's a Cat in the Couch

In fact, this post has almost nothing to do with a cat in the couch, though when I began writing, there was a cat in my couch, which led to this corresponding story. Take a look for yourself, just click on the picture.
Have you ever heard of M.U.L.E? Probably not. It was a game developed for the Atari 400/800, and ported to a variety of systems, including the NES. M.U.L.E. is heralded as one of the first great efforts at a multiplayer experience on a single console. Though it didn't make huge waves at the time, it has maintained a strong fan following, including noted game designer Will Wright, who dedicated The Sims to Dani Bunten, creator of M.U.L.E.
So, what makes M.U.L.E. so great? Basically, it's just a lot of fun! It plays alot like a boardgame, where up to four players attempt to harvest the most resources on a space colony. In order to collect your resources, you have to install M.U.L.E.s (Multiple Use Labor Elements) to gather your resources. From then, it's a mad dash to the finish as you deal with space pirates, storms, M.U.L.E.s running away, and everything else under the sun! It's a great time, and if you get the chance to play it on an emulator or through one of the other versions out there, I highly recommend it.
Curiously, despite its strong resemblance to traditional board games, I don't actually know if it could be replicated. There are a few game mechanics, such as the way land is claimed, that are problematic to replicate on a table top. Hopefully I can work out some of the issues, but in any case, there may be a new version of the game coming out this summer. Hooray! It just goes to show that a good game is a good game, despite time, or hardware limitations. Design is what's important, and too often these days that's what developers miss.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Have you met TED?

I met TED today, and I have to say, I am pleased to make his acquaintance. If you are unfamiliar with TED, so am I, but here's the run down. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and is a conference of some pretty fantastic speakers that happens annually and/or semi-annually, I'm not entirely sure. Either way, you have to apply if you even want to attend, so there you have it. It's a pretty fancy shindig. A podcaster I follow linked a talk by Adam Savage of Mythbusters on his website today, with the declaration that "EVERY creative person out there needs to watch this." That's a pretty strong endorsement, and seeing as I've watched hours of Mythbusters in the last few days (thank you Netflix), I decided to give it a try. At only 15 minutes long, it was pretty fantastic, and I recommend that others watch it as well, but then do as I did, and mosey on over to the TED website and watch a few more. Bruce McCall's piece on his art was amazing, as was Aimee Mullin's speech on her 12 different pairs of legs.
There are a few reasons I find these short videos valuable. First of all, the people featured are interesting, engaging, and aren't simply chosen at random for this conference. They have something to say that's worth listening to. Secondly, they're just plain inspiring. Like so many others, I am a creator who is more often than not afraid to create. For one reason or another, it is always easier to take things in than put them out. Let me tell you, putting out has never been my strong suit. Sorry, I had to say it, but really, I love to see the myriad ways that people find fulfillment and inspiration in their creative endeavors. It helps me to feel
a part of the creative community.
Quite honestly, as much as I loved these talks (and I do), I find a
similar amount of creative vindication coming from that lone podcaster who recommended the video, Scott Johnson, seen here with his Kim in beautiful Utah! That's right, he lives in Utah suckahs. Eat it! Why do I admire Scott? He has two actively running webcomics, My Extra Life and Experience Points. He also has his own creative art projects. He manages two popular podcasts, ExtraLife Radio and The Instance, both of which are of the highest quality, and a few other personal podcast and video podcasts as well. Why do I admire him? Because he creates! Not because he is famous or well paid. His creative works aren't how he makes his living...or is it? That's what inspires me. Scott, and the TED Conference speakers that I've listened to, are all people who are living "authentic lives" as Frankl might say, who have taken up the mantle of the "Citizen Artist" as Paula Vogel might say, and are contributing themselves through their work into the wider world. That's really all I want to do. Creation should never be about getting a job. It should be done because, well, frankly, that's what makes life interesting, and I feel enriched when I see others who have seen their labors come to fruition, even if only for themselves.