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Archive for the ‘Transmedia’ Category

BY HAROLD GOLDBERG

Last week at the Essex Restaurant, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Neal Edelstein, the producer of  “The Ring” (along with David Lynch’s excellent “Mulholland Dr.” TV movie). Mistakenly, I thought Edelstein had a game to show me. Instead, he brought an iTunes app called “Haunting Melissa.” Shot in Canada, it’s a carefully filmed, episodic Blair Witch-like horror story that also features some elegant outdoor shots that remind me of a Terrence Malick film.

So why constuct an iTunes app for the movie rather than something for YouTube or Machinima. “I like them, but I don’t want to deal with banners and bullshit,” said Edelstein.

And why not add gaming elements? Edelstein sat forward in the booth and said, “I love games, but I think that the element of interactivity can take you out of the story. For this one, I wanted it to be more of a movie.”

That’s completely understandable. While I always believe a very good movie can be enhanced by a very good game, the Hollywood-meets-games path can be a rocky road indeed. I spent a fair amount of time in “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” on this topic, following the arc of hopes of gamemakers to create interactive filmic content since back in the 1970s. It rarely works well (although when it works as Telltale’s The Walking Dead game, it’s wondrous). The new “Star Trek” game proves that it’s still difficult for developers who love a branching experience to work in tandem with film people who know a linear experience.

Yet there are unexpected, game-like elements in “Haunting Melissa.” On the interface in one of the clickable chapter photos, you’ll sometimes see a ghost in the window. And sometimes, the ghost won’t be there. It’s just another thing that creeps me out about “Haunting Melissa” – in a good way. The first eerie chapter full of things that go bump in the night is free. Put those Beats on!

Harold Goldberg is the founder of The Circle. He has written for The New York Times, Vanity Fair and Wired.

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There’s an enormous amount of literature surrounding videogames. Much of it is what you’d call journalism, in the form of reviews, features and analyses, but there are also many excellent books that examine at length the capabilities and implications videogames as a medium or a few games in particular.

That’s why we’re so excited that that StoryBundle, an online pay-what-you-want ebook vendor similar to videogames’ Humble Bundle, is offering its first Video Game Bundle. Ten full length books and magazine spans are available for purchase in a variety DRM-free of digital formats here.

For a minimum of $3 you can get:

  • The Making of Karateka by Jordan Mechner
  • Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood by Jamie Russell
  • Kill Screen Magazine Issue 2: Back To School + Issue 6: Change by Kill Screen Editors
  • Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson
  • Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line by Brendan Keogh
  • Confessions of the Game Doctor by Bill Kunkel

If you pay more than $10, though, you’ll also get:

  • Videogames: In The Beginning by Ralph H. Baer
  • The Making Of Prince Of Persia by Jordan Mechner
  • 250 Indie Games You Must Play by Mike Rose

All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal for a lot of great material!

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by Jill Scharr

When most people think of arts in New York, theater will come to mind long before videogames do. But recently at the Cherry Lane Theater in the West Village, videogames were a close second.

Exile, by Nastaran Ahmadi, is a 2013 Mentor Project Play running from April 3-13. It centers around the development of a game, also called Exile, and the personal struggles of Exile’s developer as she balances relationships, identity, and work. The main character, Sameera, is a videogame tester and aspiring developer in a seemingly stable relationship with her girlfriend Tamrin. But Sameera struggles with conflicted feelings over her Iranian heritage and identity, feelings that Tamrin, a publisher working on a nonfiction book with a rather negative view of Iran, can’t quite understand. Game design is her way of working through her complex emotions: Exile is set in a post-apocalypic Iran, where the player character can use her radioactively acquired powers to rebuild the region. Sameera’s feelings about her own game’s premise are as conflicted as those for her home country: she frequently worries that the plot is too “nihilistic,” but also insists that “that whole region just needs a do-over.”

Sameera attends E3, hoping to meet her game idol, a woman described in the first scenes in a way that, perhaps unintentionally, likens her to Jane McGonigal. Her name is Elly, and she takes an immediate interest in Sameera’s idea–and Sameera herself. The fallout from Sameera and Elly’s affair is a central part of the play. Interwoven with the story of Sameera’s personal and professional lives are scenes of an Iranian boy, apparently a character in Sameera’s game, who appears onstage in what appears to be a war-torn Iran. In his earlier scenes he’s alone, with a multimedia projected background shifting between desert landscapes, high-tech maps, and a plain black-and-white grid pattern that looks like Star Trek‘s holodeck when it’s turned off. These scenes are probably supposed to illustrate the simultaneous creation and existence of Sameera’s game world.

Exile is interested in games as a medium for empowerment. But the play isn’t really about videogames–it’s an earnest, thoughtful, yet at times convoluted meditation on identity and creation. Game enthusiasts would probably find a lot to critique — the brief look we get at Exile‘s game mechanics, for example, are a SoulCalibur-like recitation of “up-down-A-B-A” combos that lacks any real discussion of how it integrates with the game’s narrative. Yet Exile took a chance with videogames, and that’s a sight to see in and of itself.

Ultimately, Exile’s most compelling question is the one it asks by its mere existence: What does it look like to try to talk about videogames in an analogue medium? Exile can’t provide an answer that question. But it does represent one of the first attempts.

exile

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By Harold Goldberg

Paris, France: Cold. Rainy. Windy. And utterly beautiful.

Far away from the Eieffel Tower at the Quantic Dream studios, a group of journalists is watching a 45-minute demo of live gaming from Beyond: Two Souls. The homeless Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page, wanders snowy streets in a blizzard – until she comes upon another homeless person, who sits on the ground with an acoustic guitar next to him.

She’s starving and she needs money. For food. And, as it turns out later, for self esteem, for she has none in this supernatural thriller made by David Cage and Quantic Dream.

Down next to the homeless musician she sits, and she sings. And man, her voice. Not only is it good (and it raised five dollars for food), it reminded me of the Lower East Side back in the day, and of Brenda Kahn, in particular. Brenda eventually got a sweet record deal with Columbia and opened for Bob Dylan.

But before that there were hard times. I remember walking with her and watching her play her acoustic guitar as she sang plaintive, powerful, story-filled songs in the Village and on Rivington Street. She, or someone, would pass the hat at the end of a set. And that money would help.

And as Ellen Page sang, that was the moment for me. I kind of got choked up because it all felt real to me – Ellen as Jodie as Brenda. The moment was subtler than what we saw at E3 regarding Beyond. Rather than being action-filled, it was dramatic, painful, touching.

I hope the rest of “Beyond: Two Souls” rings true as well.

More from Paris, and an announcement about Beyond soon. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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This is a week of and for women. On the cover of Time is Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. The cover line: Don’t hate her because she’s successful. Sandberg’s new book, already number 2 on Amazon, is called Lean In. It’s a new feminist manifesto by the company’s chief operating officer, one for the social media age. Her tome comes on the heels of The Atlantic’s very popular article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

So, in a time of feminist resurgence, we also were honored by a re-jiggered, re-imagined Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider game.  The Crystal Dynamics game was released by Square Enix on March 5th.

Last year when Tomb Raider was shown at E3, a lot of the online press went wild. They complained that the Lara Croft portrayed in a demo which took place on a vicious island wasn’t just a wimp. At every turn early in the game, she cried, moaned, screamed, whimpered. There were so many different kinds of sounds of distress, it stopped me from thinking about moving forward, about what was next, about her future on this mysterious island where the waters crash against the rocks like dynamite. Lara was made to groan and whine to such an extent, it was as if she weren’t scared so much as she was mugging for the gamers who would play the game. “Save me! Care about me!” she was imploring with each moan. It was too much.

Last year, writers said that this new Lara was perhaps the product of sexism on the part of game designers. The game designers simply said they wanted the player to want to protect Lara. And there was this thoughtful story from Circle member Jason Schreier.

When the game was reviewed this week and last, few complained about those opening sequences. How did they forget their harsh words? Why did they forget them? Was it perhaps all just a pre-release plot by marketing-oriented writers to get hits on websites?

Because the opening of the game plays the same. Early on, Lara doesn’t seem to be able to take pressure of any sort. She still cries, moans, screams, whimpers, shivers. And when she does finally make her way to find a kind of cell phone/walkie talkie that works, on the other end is some guy who has to guide her to give her directions.

My guess is that critics loved the game design, the long, action-filled hours of play,  and beautiful artwork so much, that they forgave the introduction. But the introductory hour or so is poorly written melodrama that’s without nuance. It’s all action and full of black and white, full of cliches, with no grays.

And it doesn’t have to be. It’s not like you couldn’t process a deeper story early on because of the incessantly wild gameplay with which you’re presented. There’s enough breathing room between action sequences for some tight dialog – story-telling with depth.

But there isn’t any such depth.

I’m the kind of person who needs a fairly believable story and/or compelling dialog fully enjoy a game. It could be like any of the chapters in L.A. Noire, or the overarching homages to Steven King and Ayn Rand in BioShock. Heck, it could be no words at all, like the emotional tale-telling in Journey. But I do need story, one that doesn’t screw up the plot points it sets up.

Others don’t care. A blogger at Forbes says that “the true evolution of Croft doesn’t involve her bust size. It’s about whether or not her games have been getting better or worse.” But he doesn’t say anything much about the story. Then another Forbes writer talks about how wonderful it is to see Lara Croft go from being weak to strong. I’d be happier if she didn’t need men to help her along during the weak moments at the game’s start. But after happily discovering a cell phone and having a man on the other end have to calm her down and have to give her directions on what to do really took me out of the story and the game. And while the game has some really compelling twists and turns even as you reach the 20 hour point, I still kept thinking about clichés that occur at the very beginning.

But again, writers didn’t seem to care.  After writing about how the new Lara is not so different from the old and that “few reviewers have mentioned that the new Lara’s tank top is cut lower than the combat vests she wore before,” The Guardian makes this weird leap to end a Tomb Raider feature by saying that Lara Croft is a feminist icon. What? How?

If you don’t care about story, just game design, you’re not going to care about how the game makers treat their action hero.  Generally, it’s a very nicely balanced gaming experience. But I still care about story. I care about every moment in a game. If you’re going to make a good game, make all of the game good. Elegance. Simplicity. Nuance. Story. Lara Croft doesn’t have to be Emma Goldman. Heck, she doesn’t even have to be Joan Holloway. But if you’re creating a dramatic arc through back story, don’t fail from moment one. Because you can’t get that failure back. Again: if you’re going to make a good game, make all of the game good.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder and Editor in Chief

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The esteemed Circle member and writer for G4TV, Digital Trends and other websites looks deep into the face of Crytek and EA’s Crysis 3. Upon completion, he notes that he didn’t always like what he heard and saw.

by Adam Rosenberg

It’s really hard to fear the threat of total global annihilation when news of its coming is dipped in a big, ‘ol pool of melodrama and delivered with overtly dramatic pauses for effect between each word. It’s a small complaint in Crysis 3‘s larger tableau to zero in on, but it captures the Crytek shooter’s fundamental disconnect between narrative and play.

When you’ve got your bow out and your cloak up, Crysis 3 is serious business. The overgrown, domed-in remains of New York City turns out to be an excellent sandbox for hunting C.E.L.L. forces and Ceph survivors. Slight tweaks to your supercharged Nanosuit result in a faster pace, and a varied assortment of weapons and tools — your bow in particular — allows for a multitude of approaches to any challenge.

It’s just too bad that the story is delivered in such an utterly ridiculous manner. The A-to-B progression is a bit too steeped in series lore for newcomers to make much sense of it, but the biggest grievance by far is the actual presentation. Voice acting ranges from wooden to downright unconvincing, and the music layered behind each cutscene is so generically Blockbuster that it starts to take on the character of white noise.

Play is what’s important, sure, but narrative is an undeniable focus in Crysis 3. If a game is going to emphasize story, then said game should also be held accountable for its narrative sins. Melodramatic script. Laughable performances. Forgettable music. The sins here are legion.

Things get a lot better once Crysis 3 lets go of the leash. The sandbox environments are massive, providing a multitude of approaches to most of the challenges that the game puts in front of you. Your Nanosuit and field-procured arsenal offer similar flexibility; whether you go for stealth, action, or some mix of the two, the game allows it in nearly every scenario.

Choke points become a bit of an issue as you move from one sandbox to the next. Each open space is typically connected to the next one by a single, sometimes hard-to-find access point. They’re too obviously Video Game, creating the impression that you’re wandering through a series of interconnected play spaces, and not a seamless, living world.

Inconsistently intelligent enemies don’t help much either, at least in the console version of the game. You might one-shot an enemy out in the open and watch as none of his mates respond to the potential threat. Or you might uncloak behind an enemy who has his back to you, only to watch as he suddenly goes into alert mode with no discernible justification.

It’s frustrating. Great swaths of Crysis 3 offer lots and lots of fun, memorable moments, but that momentum comes to a crashing halt every time you hear some ridiculous line delivery or spend too much time looking for the one doorway that leads into the game’s next wide, open space. Crytek’s overgrown New York City looks beautiful, even on consoles, but the uneven presentation renders it a shallow beauty.

The multiplayer portion of Crysis 3 is serviceable. There’s a crowded market for online first-person shooters, which means there’s a need to bring something different to the mix if you’re not called Battlefield or Call of Duty. In the case of Crysis, it’s your Nanosuit abilities. A handful of modes switch the rules up, but most of the time you’ve got full access to the Nanosuit.

The flow of the online matches is pretty similar to the fast pacing of small-team, rapid respawn shooters like Call of Duty. Maps are fairly elaborate, but considerably more vertical in design than most games of this type. That’s because of the Nanosuit’s capabilities, of course, and it happens to work well in the context of adversarial multiplayer.

Crysis 3 slots in somewhere between the forward-thinking excellence of the first game and the deeply flawed reining in of the second. It’s not the definitive Crysis experience, and it stumbles consistently on the more frustrating aspects of its design and presentation, but it’s mostly fun to play while effectively evolving some of the more undercooked ideas of its predecessor.

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As we stood among the throngs of journalists on a sub-freezing 34th Street awaiting our admission into Sony’s event on Thursday, I said to Susan Arendt, ‘I don’t think I need a new PlayStation that features an incremental upgrade in graphics.’

But as I came out of the cold and into the heat of the Hammerstein Ballroom, I saw Sony’s giant stage and a wrap-around screen high above. After the festivities began and the game videos were shown, I warmed up to the idea of a new PlayStation which will be released around the holidays.

We gathered up some members of the Circle after the event – along with Ben Silverman from Yahoo Games who was in from the West Coast for the show.  Jill Scharr did the interviews and Victor Kalogiannis shot the video. (Reveal: We all wished they had shown the new box itself – and footage from the long-delayed The Last Guardian.) We’ll have the program up soon. So, stay tuned.

Until then, here’s a stream of the whole show from Sony which features many upcoming games and some functionality of the PS4.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

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