A Ramble Across Worlds (*minor spoilers)

I have been thinking lately about the creation of worlds for video games and for films.  I don’t mean it in a literal sense, as in how to make props or sets, etc.  I mean it more like how does one create and convey the world of the story?  My musings came from three different sources which succeed varyingly at this creation, and I think you are going to like them 🙂

Portal 2, Bioshock, and Battlestar Galactica!!!


It comes down to the Tyler Welch Patented Three Easybake Steps to Creating a Story’s World! All you have to do is BUILD the world, SETUP the world, and then let me PLAY in the world.  All there is to it!

1. BUILD THE WORLD

This is the easiest and most obvious part of the job.  Everyone who goes into the industries of game and film strives to make this.  It means making the environment of the game or show…ie half of the story.
Kind of a big deal.

So how do the sources stand up?  Well obviously they all made worlds, otherwise it would be stupid. It wouldn’t make any sense. Portal 2 creates a great world under some wheat field, and goes deeper (pardon the pun) into the history of the facility and Aperture Laboratories. But (in true Valve fashion), it still leaves several big questions as to what happens now. For example, what is the Borealis doing underground (ie – not in the arctic)?

Bioshock sets up a really deep world, full of real-to-life references, it’s own theme and mood, and it does so in a very interesting and intriguing way.  To be honest, of the three I feel that Bioshock has the best potential for a great story. I must clarify that I just played the very beginning (up to finding telekinesis), but still I can clearly see a great potential for story. More on that later…

Finally, Battlestar Galactica obviously takes a some base from our world (ie – humans) but then creates it’s own universe…literally.  It works well and is pretty interesting.  I just wish they would stop explaining it.  WE GET IT! They’re robots that want to kill us!!! Enough!

Huh. Not bitter. No.  Now that that is over with, we can move on to step 2:

2. SETUP THE WORLD

This is where it gets tricky.  Whether we are talking the first few levels of a video game, the pilot and early episodes of a tv show, or the exposition of a film, there exists a crucial point of introducing the player/audience to your world.  Check out this diagram the internet offers up:

How a story works

As the diagram shows, while the story makes sense in the mind of the creator, it has to go a long way to get to me and usually it gets a bit muddled along the way.  Thus it is important for a creator to not only make the world, but to ensure that it connects with the audience.  We have to get it, or else we won’t buy it…literally.

So then, on to the examples.  Portal 2 nails this.  It is the Inception of video game stories – three quarters of it is spent explaining either the history of the world or the mechanics and physics of it.  It’s a puzzle game. You start off working basic puzzles and progress to more and more difficult ones. I highly recommend that once you beat it, go back and do the commentary version. They tell you that they did this step – listening to what their play-testers said. Good job Valve. 😉

Now Bioshock.  As I said before, it has great POTENTIAL for story world.  However it doesn’t give you the in to the universe of Rapture.  First of all, I need to note that Bioshock plays with something the other two don’t deal with: it mixes two different worlds.  While Rapture is it’s own world that has it’s own rules and mechanics, you start out in our world as a human like you and me.  So I ask these simple questions to you, a normal human individual of our world (assuming your trans-atlantic flight just went down in the middle of the ocean, and that you just happen to find yourself close enough to swim to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean), would you:

1. Get into an archaic submersible device that might or might not work anymore?

2. Get OUT of said submersible when you watch someone murdered upon your arriving at the end of the ride?

3. Would you, having murdered several psychotic mutant humans, willingly and without any hesitation inject yourself with some mysterious substance?

Yeah….about that….

They don’t make the introduction of the player to the world work, which makes me want to stop playing now.  Well that and the fact that it scares the bleep out of me.

Finally, Battlestar Galactica mixes the two prior sources success at creating a world, but I will dwell briefly on that. Basically, the miniseries is supposed to set up the world so that I both understand and want to further engage the series.  What I got was a rush job which leaves me wondering why I should care about the characters at all.  You don’t have to do the whole history of the Cylon War at the start, but you do need to set up the characters a little bit more before you nearly kill them.  I didn’t care who lived or died to be honest because I didn’t know who they were.  On the other hand, I now feel that concern for the characters after having seen the 2 parts of the miniseries and the first 7 episodes.  Just wish they didn’t take so long.

That said we now arrive at the third and final step to making a great world for a story:

3. LET THE AUDIENCE/GAMER PLAY IN THE WORLD

Basically this is were it gets fun. After you’ve build the world and set me up in it, you can let it just be fun! In a video game, this is the point where you stop explaining how it works and let the player work it out for themselves. For example, after the first few missions in Modern Warfare in which you basically observe, you suddenly have options. You make your own choices and begin flying solo.  That’s when a game gets fun – when the gamer gets to play free in the world.

Same principle for tv and film, just different manifestation. We get to “play” when we no longer care about the mechanics and history of the world and focus entirely on the present situations and relationships of the characters.  When I begin worrying what happens to Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, I begin to have fun and really look forward to getting back into the world.

Portal 2:  Duh.  By the time you finish the first couple of test chambers, you get to really try to explore the possibilities of the portal gun and the environment.
Bioshock:  Haven’t got to that part yet, but part of that is because the world hasn’t been explained yet. While the unsuredness works to the fear element, I just don’t want to play because I don’t know what the bleep is going on.
Battlestar Galactica:  Again, just getting there but I like the characters and anticipated a growing care for them.

So that’s it!  The three simple steps to making a good world for your story. You have to make it, make it accessible, and then let us have fun in it!  Sorry this ramble was so long but this is basically what I love. This is what I am passionate about and would love to study for the rest of my life.  So there you go….little bit of me there for you. You know. Well…actually…a little bit of Wheatley…really…um. But that’s alright. Just a bit of Science…uh…I think.

Okay, that’s it. Me again.  Thanks for sticking with it and as always, please comment below and subscribe!

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“Blazing Saddles” – Not So Hot

Summer Film Challenge 2011
REPORT #2
Date: 25 May 2011
Film:  Blazing Saddles
My Rating: 7/10

Reasoning:
It comes down to this: it was good and a little bit fun, but it just wasn’t as amazing as Brooks other stuff.  The main jokes were good (ie – “the sheriff is a n___” and the self holdup) and the meta joke at the end is okay.  What I found wrong with it is that it just isn’t as funny as his other stuff.  Hedley Lamarr, Lili Von Shtupp, even Mel Brooks’ Governor character get pushed to the wayside for the mains (Little and Wilder).  While this is normally a great thing, they decided to cut the potential for great jokes amongst the minor characters and go with the 20 minute long break of the fourth wall. The end makes little to no sense – it is a cheap, throwaway joke that really wrecks the train of the film.

It may seem like I don’t like the film, but that is not true.  I thought the bit about the toll road was hilarious, as was the incredible quantity of racial jokes.  It was funny.  I enjoyed it and am sure you would as well.  It just wasn’t my favorite Brooks film.  He has done better work.

In short, watch it and enjoy!  It is a fantastic parody of the Western Genre and it is really funny.  Just realize it might not be the same as some of his other stuff and that the end will be weird.

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Returning with “The Departed”

Film: The Departed
*Non-Film Challenge*
My Rating: 7/10

Reasoning:
This film is brilliant and speaks volumes to the supposed fairness of this world. Scorsese poses questions of morality and integrity which challenge one’s faith in humanity. The Departed is fantastic, and I don’t really like it.

First, and I will justify afterwards, the vulgarity in the film was way over the top. I am one who understands that for some stories, you have to dip into the vat of cursing and sex and violence. To be honest, had anyone tried to make a movie about betrayal in both the Boston PD and the Mafia without making it violent and cussing galore, I would not watch it; that’s not reality.

However, there was too much. We get it – they’re gangsters. They kill people. Violence was fine. The sex wasn’t bad. What was over the top was the cursing. This could be the only time I complain about it but it was far too much.

Second, I know this was a great movie but I just don’t really get it.  I have this thing against what I call “defeatist” films.  Films that don’t go anywhere or seem to say “life sucks, move on” without any sort of growth or hope bug me (Cough *The Game* cough). Thus I again ask, what is the purpose of this film.  I know it says great things about life, but I just hate that the end leaves me (maybe not you) feeling so defeated and hopeless.

Ultimately, I like DiCaprio and Damon’s dance (oh alliteration) and Nicholson gives a fantastic performance.  The story is great (4), the production is good (4), and it clearly has an impact on me (4).  I love it, but it is going to take me a few more views for me to like it.

Tell me what you think! I would love to hear your thoughts on Scorsese’s recent mind-tackling film below in the comments!

And I’ll leave you with this advice: if you are trying to get into the mafia, don’t order cranberry juice at a bar. Seriously.

Seriously.

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LOST: The End and Review

And so, without further delay, We Present…

LOST: The Review

My Notes

Beautiful.
That was my feeling as the credits rolled.  I felt so content, so emotionally full and overflowing with joy.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

For me it is very important to note the extreme reverence I hold for series finales.  It is the end of something which is always incredible.  This is just like when you work in a play or musical or movie – you develop a close bond to the team involved.  You become a family.  In this manner, when a group of people I have come to know and love say goodbye, it is emotionally heart-wrenching. Thus, when I finish a show, I try to devote myself to that experience, without distraction. With Reverence.

Back to my review – It worked. Very simply it provided everything I wanted.  I got my incredible heap of catharsis.  The best moment of the show was when Kim and Jin remembered 🙂  The big three questions were answered:
Who wins? Good guys
What’s up with Desmond? The Failsafe
What’s up with the alternate world? Complicated. (see below)

That last one is a bit tough. For me, the first viewing is the full-catharsis experience. When I was watching the end of “The End”, I was satisfied with the mysterious, life and death thing.  It worked for me on the emotional level. However the more I stop to think about it, the more I realize that it doesn’t make much sense. Two thoughts:

1.  Three words – Stained glass window.  As a piece of advice, if you ever go to a church and in that church you find a traditionally patterned and styled stained glass window that depicts all religions on the same plane like they don’t matter, please BURN IT DOWN.  Don’t think. Do it.  That was total bullbleep, both on the philosophical and the writing level.  Besides the obvious logical fallacy of putting such an object into a place of worship of ONE of those religions, the fallacy of implying that all religions can coexist in Truth though two of them claim that all the other ones are false, the REAL PROBLEM is the horrible laziness of the writers.
While it is obvious what they were going for, there are both better and more subtle ways to show what they are drawing from. For example, have a Quran, a small buddha, and/or a Shiva statue on the desk.  Much better and much less theologically wrong than making some god-aweful (pun intended) stained glass spectacle.  That was stupid.

2.  On the other hand, I really did like the idea that what matters in this life is the people we meet – the idea that the most important time in our lives is the time we spend with total strangers.  It seems radical to think that the destination of Oceanic 815 didn’t matter but the relationships of the people on board.  I am still unpacking exactly what that means but i recognize that something really profound was said here.

Ultimately I loved it.  I felt so happy with the way it went down and was totally content with it’s resolution, even if I do not fully understand it.  My plan right now is to wait a bit, oh say a month or so, and then watch it again sans the emotional need for closure. I will then post another review based more on the philosophical standpoint of the Finale.

I hope you have enjoyed my journey to the end of LOST as much as I have.  I know this show changed my perception of the possibilities of Television.  Thank you for sticking with me through out and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future.  And I’ll leave you with this (spoiler warning):

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Final LOST Thoughts

Here I am, FINALLY on the eve of finishing LOST.  I have been putting it off due to various distractions like traveling across the country, being a good host, catching up with friends, and simply finding a way to watch it somewhere other than my messed up laptop.  And finally the stars have aligned (or something like that) and I am about to watch “The End”.  I am both excited and very nervous.

I was sitting here, re-viewing the 119 episode of this incredible journey of a show and, as it finished, I sat down and wrote out the questions I want answered in the finale.  In total it was about 10 questions but I noted several things which I would like to note before I finish the show.  First, the questions distill down to three things which, to me, must be answered in the Finale:

  1. What is up with Desmond?
  2. How do the alternate universe/worlds/whatevers collide?
  3. Who wins and how?
Basically that’s what I want from the finale. That and a freaking huge mess of catharsis would be nice. Other notes:
  • I am really okay with the ambiguous “Light” that must be guarded from the “Darkness”.  If they made it specific, I don’t think I would like it as much.  If this was some long bleep story about the Fountain of Youth, you and I and audiences everywhere would have hated it.
  • The showdown was rushed in this Sixth Season but I think it, to coin a phrase, it is better late than never.  For the first time the show has a very definite direction and I think, while it could have used more fleshing out, it works and I am very excited about how it all goes down.
  • My greatest regret for the show is that they didn’t start the arc that Jack has to figure out his purpose on the island sooner (Like Season 3!!!).
  • On the other hand, I love that the writers did not linger much on the shift of responsibility from Jacob to Jack.  You may disagree with me on that point but you cannot say that you didn’t know going into the latter part of Season 6 that Jack was the new Jacob.  To be honest, I got that around Episode 5 (“Lighthouse”) when Jacob tells Hugo that Jack has to figure out why he is there. We knew it. Don’t dwell on it. Get to the point, Man!
  • I AM SO SICK OF THE MUSIC! What I look forward to more that most anything about ending this series is I don’t have to watch the same “reunion on the beach” scene with accompanying music!  Or the “Oh no! Here comes Smokey!” music!  Or the “Who the BLEEP knows what the BLEEP is going on!?!?” music!!!!!!!
Over all, I am very excited to see how this happens.  I want to thank the entirety of the world for not spoiling it for me, though I am watching it nearly a year after it debuted.  It could be great or terrible or both.
Dr. Parham, and Audience, tomorrow you shall know what I think of the finale of the greatest television phenomenon of the early 21st Century, and possibly, of all television history.
7 years of my life. Reward $$$

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“The Game” – It Fails and You Lose

Film: The Game
*Non-Film Challenge*
My Rating: 3/10

Addendum:
My ratings system needs some explanation.  I base my reviews off two different ratings systems – the first, the Film Challenge’s, and the second, my own.  Evaluation of movies for the Summer Film Challenge is based on the following chart:

Ratings:
0: Chose not to watch on moral grounds
1-3: Not recommendable to anyone
4-5: Bad/did not like but others might
6: Meh.
7-10: Good to AMAZING!! ;D

My ratings system is a little more complicated, so I intend to include it in the body of my reasoning.  There are three basis of criteria I review – Impact, Quality of Production, and Story.

       Impact involves the “change your life”-ness of the film and is ranked 1-4, four being earth-shattering. As my professor puts it, it the movie worthwhile or is it “junk food”?

       Quality of Production is pretty obvious I hope – is the movie well made technically – and is ranked 1-5.

        Story analyzes the uniqueness, the pull-you-in factor, the quality of the story itself outside of the portrayal of it.  Another way to put it is how much potential does this story have? I rank this 1-5.

So there you have it.  No for…

My Reasoning:
I really did not like this movie. Period.  The fact that it was a David Fincher movie enticed me into seeing it (plus we had to watch it for a class) and I was excited going into it.  However the movie fell totally flat.  The production was good and the acting was okay but the plot and story were totally ridiculous. I recommend you do NOT see this movie.

This is actually a great place to bring up my big beef with movies these days. The question I ask myself after every movie is “Why was this made?” While every movie doesn’t have to posess a blatant and obvious moral-of-the-story, they all do have a purpose for which they were made. Be it to pose a question or to divulge the true story or just to make money, every movie is made for a reason.

From this I ask, “Why was The Game made? What was its purpose? To what end is it in existence?”  David Fincher is a genius who churns out one great mind-bending movie after another.  However, this follow-up to Se7en really doesn’t go anywhere. Nothing is really gained or lost, no change really occurs.

Ultimately we spend two hours wondering what is real and what isn’t. I don’t want to spoil anything but I question the “reality” of the ending – in that it doesn’t work. Period.  I was sorely disappointed and felt cheated of my time.

This might be the most scathing review I have ever written. I recognize that a lot of people like this movie (particularly in my class) and I would love to hear some feedback and argument.  Let me know what you think!

P.S. – I am trying to get to posting once per day. Thanks for your patience as I figure this thing out!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119174/

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(b.t.dubs- you just lost…again)

Summer Film Challenge Report #1

Date: 6 May 2011

Film: The Room

My Rating: Film 1/10, Experience 9/10

Reasoning:

Morally deplorable, of the lowest quality I have ever seen, goes nowhere and ultimately is entirely a waste of time – and I have rarely had so much fun watching a movie.  The midnight showing of the horrendous atrocity of a film, The Room, was an absolutely side-splitting, spoon-throwing, rolling in the aisles experience that I would not trade for all the sleep in the world.  It was amazing to see a group of total strangers get together and just laugh with each other.  And, the fact that Tommy Wiseau actually came and introduced the film made it all the more worth it.

As for the film itself, it well exceeded my expectations as to how bad it was. The plot (wait was there one?) was about a man (whom we know nothing about) living and loving in San Francisco.  I say loving because there were at least 5 moderately graphic sex scenes in the movie, to which I was not aware of prior.  This is the reason I cannot give the film anything above a one on its own – I do not promote pornographic material.  However, when viewed in the context that everyone is making fun of how awful it is and with good friends to joke with during them, I still recommend you experience the Rocky Horror-esque showing at some point. If you can’t get yourself to the showing, just youtube the room and you will find the best bits (sans-commentary) there.

Back to the story (YOU JUST GOT HERE!), Johnny’s girl is cheating on him with his best friend and really using both.  The acting is deplorable and I question whether anyone actually read the script before arriving on set.  The cinematography is cool…the first time you see it.  Then the next eight times you see the same shot, you begin to realize how bad it really is.  The music, the acting, it’s all just bad.

Sum up: DO NOT WATCH THIS ALONE!!! This film is absolutely awful, so don’t waste your time watching it for plot. Watch it with friends, preferably with at least one person who knows the major jokes and commentary rules.  Just remember this – feel free to comment during the film, don’t expect much, and bring plenty of spoons. You’re going to need them.  Trust me.

http://www.theroommovie.com/