Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Telltale's The Walking Dead Matters

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead came out as a downloadable game about six months ago. Even so, I just finished it, and it's been in the news as of late; might as well put it up for discussion. As the great modern philosopher Egoraptor once said, "Everything is happens for reason." Not to mention, after the mess that was the previous post, I thought I'd give you something that wasn't complete garbage.

For those of you who don't know, The Walking Dead is an episodic, downloadable game developed by Telltale Games, and it plays very much like the point-and-click adventure games of old (think Secret of Monkey Island). It follows a dude named Lee Everett as he protects Clementine, a girl he...just kinda found, in a zombie-infested Georgia. If you've read the comics or seen the show, you get the picture. The first episode dropped last summer, and the other four arrived throughout the remainder of the year. Unfortunately, the game flew under the radar until it started nabbing Game of the Year awards, with the most notable being from the abysmal Spike TV VGAs. Naturally, some people were upset, wondering how this assumed cash-in on the success of the television series triumphed over titles like Journey, Dishonored, and Mass Effect 3. I left out Assassin's Creed 3 from that list, because I was more surprised that it was nominated than that it lost.

You're looking at the pinnacle of interactive storytelling.
What I can say is that The Walking Dead is much more than deserving of this accolade. Above all else, it's one of the most new and unusual games released last year. The first thing anyone who has played it will tell you is that the gameplay is not The Walking Dead's true focus. Much of your time involves slowly moving around an area, talking to people, finding items, and performing various tasks. The pace is very slow, but it isn't always a bad thing; it only leads to the tense segments feeling much more active. When you get to the action, you'll quickly find that it involves quick-time events or pointing the cursor as fast as your reflexes allow. Not convinced? Don't write it off just yet. These portions are still fueled with as much adrenaline and emotion as the rest of the experience. Still not convinced? Hold on a second.

The main attraction here, and the reason for this game's importance, is The Walking Dead's story. The idea is that the game tailors the plot to the conversations you have and the actions you take. And it means it. Back someone up in a conversation? The other guy's going to be real pissed. Take too much time to assess a crisis? Your friend who was in trouble is gone. If you want to make it in this wasteland, you'll have to be fast and smart. Otherwise, you'll be travelling with a really small group. Usually, the issue people have with choose-your-own-adventure-type games is that one path is obviously more enjoyable than the other. Here, you'll be satisfied no matter how you play. And gosh darn, are the twists great. Anyone who's played will tell you how great the entirety of Episode 2 is, and the twist at the end of Episode 4 that drives Episode 5 throws a brilliant wrench into the protector/protected dynamic of Lee and Clem.

Characters in The Walking Dead have received no shortage of development. Each has his or her backstory, and each has his or her own motivations. Lee is an enigma atoning for his past, Kenny is the headstrong family man who only wants safety, Clem represents the remaining innocence in the wasteland, the list goes on. My friends and I were constantly forming and dissolving alliances with people, and, most commonly, uttering the phrase, "As soon as you get the chance, you gotta kill them."

This guy.
So it's a great game. What's the deal? The deal is, The Walking Dead just might set the standard for storytelling in games. In the future, these tactics might be met with some better gameplay, but I'm not complaining right now. The Walking Dead will most likely be counted among the great interactive story experiences this generation, such as Red Dead Redemption and the Mass Effect series. If you haven't understood anything I've said today, you're in luck. The Walking Dead is available on everything from PC to Xbox to the iPhone. So buy it, play it, love it.

This post was brought to you by Telltale Games.

Friday, February 22, 2013

PS4: A Sign of the Future?

Yeah, this post has nothing to do with the recently announced PlayStation 4. I just thought pretending to have something tangible to say would draw in readers. Because I'm a slut. There's not really a reason for me not to talk about it, I just don't really have much to say. I didn't watch the press conference, and if you actually care about the specs, you sure aren't going here first to find them. It's another console, and that's about all there is to say. Well, now that you know I won't be discussing the PS4, I'll just put this picture here for the link preview. Okay? Okay.

This picture. Right here.
Instead, let's look at the Oscars, the award show where, after Sunday, we'll finally get to know which film was the most pretentious. Here's a bit of Oscar trivia for you: The Oscars are named after Oscar "The Grouch" de la Renta, acclaimed fashion designer who lives in the garbage. His nickname comes from the infinite sadness found throughout his depressing existence.

There's no happiness in that smile. None.
I thought I'd go through my predictions for two of the most sought-after and prestigious categories: Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. So here we go.

Best Original Screenplay: Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure

This one was a tough pick. With so many Holiday-themed children's specials out there, choosing one put me in quite the pickle (Eat a dick, Wonderpets! Save Kwanzaa). However, this film's superb screenplay puts it a cut above all the other entries. It all comes down to how the script portrays the protagonist. I believe that while making Dora into a cannibalistic bisexual was a difficult task, the finished product speaks for itself. I'm also going to toss this one into the category of "shoo in for Best Sound Mixing." The screams of Dora's victims pierce the mind, and makes the film all the more effective. However, in terms of screenwriting, Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure is truly Aaron Sorkin at his finest.

Best Picture: The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

You should have seen this one coming. I was a huge proponent of this film, even when it came out all the way back in Oogust. Oogieloves is possibly the defining work of our generation, in any medium. Between the grade A cinematography and stellar performances by powerhouses such as Cloris Leachman and Toni Braxton. Yet, what truly takes this film over the top is its themes. It poses the question that no one's had the guts to ask before: How pleasurable is sadomasochism? In addition, the concept of the big balloon representing the lost American Dream was heartbreaking; you chase and chase, but you can only get there with the help of Christopher Lloyd. Powerful stuff.

How the other categories play out remains to be seen. And after Sunday, we'll need to take a look at the future of cinema. Personally, I'm most excited for the planned Power Rangers / Reservoir Dogs crossover. It involves a botched assault on Rita Repulsa, and, if early spoilers are to be believed, Mr. Orange Ranger was the rat all along.

"Stop aiming that power sword at my dad!"
If you've read this far, that just proves that you'll read an entire page of nonsense just to learn how bad you are at time management. Comment. Or whatever. If you're real.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Kids Read X-Men?

Disclaimer: This post is by no means saying that the X-Men lines of comics are too offensive or mature for young readers. I just thought the title was eye-catching, and it's abrasive enough that I could use it to get a job at Fox News. I'm assuming there aren't many requirements for one of those positions. Instead, this is something a little bit different - an examination, if you will.

I had an idea while walking away from my local comic store, with All New and Uncanny X-Men in hand (Side note: Immonen's State Bird variant not only looks good, but the story behind it is funny enough to pick it up). A simple question popped into my head: Why the nuts am I reading X-Men?

As a kid, I never really got into The Children of the Atom. Yes, the movies were fun, and just about everyone knows who Wolverine is. Nevertheless, the idea of an entire comic book used as an allegory for racism seemed pretty boring to my young brain (Now, I realize that no kid knows what "allegory" means, but go with it).

Suffrage was more my jam.
However, I've been really into the X-books as of late. I picked up Schism, sampled Wolverine and the X-Men, spent way too much money on Avengers vs. X-Men, and fell in love with Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force. What happened there? Obviously, the quality of these titles has been incredible in the past couple of years. But after putting some thought into it, I've come to a different conclusion: Maybe I wasn't mature enough to read them as a kid.

Sure, the parallels of mutantkind and racism exist, but so do the connections to equality and persecution in general. As kids, we tend not to notice the hard-boiled hate that some groups have towards others. We stay in our own little worlds, and everything seems pretty hunky dory. Yet, as we grow and mature, the rose-colored glasses (or, for the sake of this post, ruby quartz visors) fall off. We notice, or even feel, the hatred toward people with different races, genders, sexualities, or economic backgrounds than others. This all happens as we approach our teenage years, not unlike Marvel's mutants.

Another connection between us and the X-Men is felt usually by those in high school - the notion that "Magneto (now Cyclops) Was Right." For those not familiar with this concept, it's the driving force behind Erik Lensherr's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. He proposes that mutants, the next evolution in sentient life (even dubbed "homo superior" by the comics), should rise above humans instead of fighting alongside them. Anyone who's been deemed "different" by the high school elite has probably supported this ideal in one sense or another. They see through the conformity and the bogus popularity contest that is public education, and they should be treated as superior, right? Whoops, my bitterness is showing.

Trust me, high school readers. This is all really important.
I would never say that we should keep kids from dabbling in the X-Men books; they should read what makes them happy, as long as it's appropriate. But I am saying that if they want to appreciate these books for what they have to say after the "snikts" stop and the smoke clears, maybe some growing up is in order.

What are your thoughts on all this? Your comments make me really happy, so I'd love to see some.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

You Tried, SNL. Gold Star.

Last night, as per usual on my Saturdays, I tuned in to the always-lovely Saturday Night Live, only to find that something had gone amiss: There was Bieber in my SNL. But OMG, like, why do I even need to tell u this? It's Justin FREAKING Bieber. U should always know what he's doing. Just, I mean, look at him. Totes presh.

Like I said. Amiss.
In my humble opinion, I would have been happier with almost anyone else hosting - a comedian, another pop star, Gary Busey, anyone. Yet, I was met with someone who looks like Miley Cyrus but with fewer Y chromosomes.

So, yeah; if you haven't gathered, I, along with a sizable percentage of others, aren't too fond of the guy. We enjoy making fun of him almost as much as making fun of anime.

Belieb it.
Instead of avoiding this maelstrom of rage, the fine people at SNL tried to meet it head-on and do something incredible: make Bieber seem human again. They've tried this a couple of times before with the likes of Hannah Montana and the dog from that teen paranormal soft-core porn film. There's just one problem: those attempts didn't work. Lautner is still a meathead who can't act and Miley went and did something...different.

On paper, SNL did everything right. Sketches were written well, and they should've gotten plenty of laughs, had the audience not been constantly entranced by the second-most obnoxious performer to come out of Canada, right between Nickelback and Avril Lavigne.

I don't hurt anyone as long as Bieber doesn't make song titles like "Sk8r Boi."
So why didn't this work? The sketches took enough shots at Bieber to humanize the teen heartthrob, and the cast managed to feign interest for the full ninety minutes. Despite their best efforts, SNL's writers couldn't surpass the biggest obstacle in their way: Bieber himself. The guy's just too far gone to be likable. He's too proud, too important, and too similar to whatever was in that first picture up there. In my short time talking with music video director Joseph Kahn, I heard a few stories that cemented my assumptions about him in the worst way. And lastly, he acted all too casually with the whole "Cut for Bieber" thing.

Yeah, so, another person enters and leaves Saturday Night Live with an unchanged image. So what? Well, what I'm saying, is that this late night sketch comedy show has some magic in it. It transformed Justin Timberlake from that ramen-haired dude in a boy band to a bona fide actor, and it morphed John McCain into someone you could vote for.

At the moment, last night's episode just seems like a waste of an evening. Yet, in the future, we'll look back and see it as a missed opportunity to make one of the most reviled musicians seem approachable. Oh, well. Woulda coulda shoulda.

What did you guys think of The Biebs on SNL? Leave some comments in those lonely white boxes. In the meantime, I'll mention that I finally found a store that carried Invincible #100; after reading it, I can say that I won't really miss reading the series - a shame, if you ask me. And as for that King of the Nerds rant I promised you so long ago? That probably won't happen. I've been putting it off so long that, by the time I actually get around to it, no one will give a crap. Sorry. Anyway, thanks for reading; I'll be back next time for more stuff. Wow, this is a long outro paragraph.