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Archive for February, 2011

This week, I spent much time exploring the north shore of Oahu. Although away from playing games, I kept thinking about what part in real life would make a creditable videogame. This is something I’m with which I’m plagued: I walk around and wonder, “Could this be a game? Could that be a game?”

Hence, river boarding at Waimea Bay. This small river with HUGE waves is created when the tidal-obsessed ocean sucks out the water from a kind of lagoon. In February, this compelling event occurs at midday. It’s completely dangerous; three injuries happened in the 10 minutes I watched. One hipster surfer was hurt so badly that an ambulance came for him.

Loopy from the injury, he kept asking his friend, “No one saw my bare ass, did they?”

And his friend kept saying, “No, dude. I had you covered.”

Note that even standing on the sidelines is dangerous: a kind of sand-a-lanche occurs, which almost sucked me down into the water.

Wouldn’t this make a fine Kinect game? Not a family, cutesy one, but something where more is at stake: your very life.

-Harold Goldberg

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Life is tough if you’re a dad of human kids – especially if you’re an octopus.

Octodad is the kind of indie game that’s just weird … and intriguing in the sense that it’ll be used on Kinect.

 

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When I talked recently with David Votypka, the general manager of Kaos studios, he began to speak about how screenwriter John Milius influenced the story scenarios in Homefront.

Milius is a fine writer, the screenwriter for Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now, one of the greatest movies of the 20th century.

So when THQ and Kaos brought him on to conceive of stories for their Korea-takes-over-the-U.S. plot, Milius didn’t look to other games for inspiration. He didn’t look to science fiction books and he didn’t look to comics.

He looked to American literature. He looked to Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck.

Votypka said, “John Milius wanted the story in Homefront to reflect the great burdens people endured in The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck’s memorable work about the Joads, an impoverished family struggling through The Great Depression.

Homefront isn’t about The Great Depression exactly. But the plot does unfold during a horrible invasion of the U.S., a depressing travesty in which the main character Robert Jacobs feels some of the same feelings of hopelessness that Tom Joad endured.

All this is so exciting. I love it when new media is influenced by American literature, especially when it’s a riff on John Steinbeck’s great novel. There’s a line in The Grapes of Wrath that may say it all about Jacobs: “You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.”

Homefront? Bring it on.

-Harold Goldberg

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There’s no doubt about it. Games can and do inspire other art forms. I write excitedly about it in my upcoming videogame book, All Your Base Are Belong to Us. And here’s more vivid proof: the dozen, little one-act Wii Plays currently showing at New York’s Ars Nova theater.

These young playwrights who have done good (through not always very good) work have riffed on games for inspiration. More, everything in the theater is drenched in games. Super Mirage, a Brooklyn band plays music as bouncy as Mario bounding from mushroom to mushroom. At intermission, a blurry, old Pac-Man cartoon loops on a huge screen. It’s a completely convivial atmosphere overall.

The first of the dozen plays shines. Here, actors Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Christopher Jackson are two young ex-lovers, meeting by chance at a coffee shop. They fire tight volleys of insults at each other – with Wii Tennis controllers in hand. But it’s not just about insults. By the time it’s over, you see the characters become introspective, even loving. Grays’ careful, nuanced reactions are particularly brilliant.

Buck Fever is inspired by hunting games, which have been a staple of arcades and consoles games for decades. In fact, Nintendo’s Duck Hunt was released way back in 1985. In Buck Fever, Zach Shaffer as Henry, kind of a lad-era Maxim guy, goes on various deer hunts with a friend. By the end of the play, Henry reveals some secrets, and hunting for him will never be the same again. Shaffer shows his thoughtful range throughout.

Some of the plays aren’t so good. Barbie As The Island Princess makes the iconic doll into a kind of feminist who’s not shy about cursing. Feminist Barbie isn’t a new idea, though. Most recently, for instance, you saw a thinking, feeling Barbie in Toy Story 3. So half the plays are worthy; half are so-so. Still, there are some fine lines in every play.

And for $15, you get to witness the work of some fine young actors and playwrights — in a completely rare event, plays inspired by videogames. The Wii Plays is at Manhattan’s Ars Nova Theater until February 12.

-Harold Goldberg

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Adam Moss, the editor in chief of New York magazine, is one of the greatest Manhattan editors – ever.

He hires the best and the brightest, and he was my first editor when I came to New York City. ┬áHe gets writers in the sense that he lets them shine while getting what he wants out of them. He’s brilliant.

But New York doesn’t get videogames.

Over and over, I’ve seen errors in the rare game pieces in the magazine.

This week, in the ‘must-read’ Approval Matrix, someone called Dead Space 2 something really weird.

Some lazy writer called it Space Demo 2.

Nooo! How could that happen? New York is one of the world’s best magazines. It has some of the best editors. How could no one catch the error before the magazine went to press?

It’s because no one there really cares about videogames.

Shouldn’t they get with the program and start to care?

Space Demo 2 is really an embarrassing, unconscionable mistake for an award-winning magazine to make. Especially when it’s run by one of the great magazine editors in New York City.

-Harold Goldberg

 

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