Why BioShock: Infinite Is Better for Developers Than Gamers

I’m happy to announce that I’ll now be contributing to Whatculture.com.

Before anyone begins to raise up their pitchforks and torches in protest, I need to make one thing very clear. Bioshock: Infinite is a very well written, stylized, voice-acted, and programmed video game. In a time where most first person shooters depend on a Michael Bay-type narrative in order to cause as much visual stimulus as possible, it’s nice to exercise a mental sweat while still blowing up as much stuff as possible.
Pictured: Mental Sweat

Pictured: Mental Sweat
This is a game that can be debated and hypothesized about for years, especially considering when you take the gameplay aspects of the story, and how the game incorporates what “death” means in different dimensions. But this article isn’t about how much fun it is to play. This article is about how the games is more valuable as a learning tool to other developers.

For example, Bioshock: Infinite took a huge gamble by integrating one of the most annoying aspects of all gaming into the main structure. For those of you whose video game experience consists of Angry Birds or whatever drek Facebook is suggesting you play with your friends, the aspect I speak of is the dreaded escort quest. Nothing was worse than having to leash yourself to a character whose main purpose was to get shot. Not only that, but the “VIP” would seemingly do anything and everything in their power to make themselves as useless and needy as possible. This was originally designed to provide a change-up in game tactics and fighting styles during repetitive action games. It worked, but it was also just awful.
Infinite differs from these because they made a character for you to escort that isn’t a walking bullet-magnet. Elizabeth is wanted back by Comstock and the other antagonists alive. You see, the programmers developed Elizabeth so that she didn’t take damage. This way you can focus on killing the people who are trying to stop you from escaping, as opposed to killing the one guy that wasn’t programmed to engage in an all out firefight and is shooting her in a corner without you knowing it. Nothing was more annoying than being mentally engrossed in a game, then to have the mission suddenly end because your escort wasn’t smart enough to duck in a gunfight.
Like this moron.

Like this moron.
It also shows that changing up gameplay doesn’t mean making the game less fun. Innovation can come in any form, be it previously annoying or not.
Elizabeth, however, stays out of danger, cannot take damage, and doesn’t path like an NPC so she can appear with you as a helper instead of a crutch. She finds ammo, money, and other useful items that actually make her valuable. Because of this value, you become more attached to the character. When she isn’t around you are left to find these things for yourself, and that creates a sense of loss that connects you closer to her. It’s smart game development, and it takes a once cumbersome game mechanic and turns it into an effective story-telling tool.
The levels are also extremely well designed. In games like Call of Duty or Bulletstorm (for the 8 people reading this who might have played that) the backgrounds merely serve as visual guides on where you can’t go. There isn’t really anything that makes you want to stop and observe your surroundings. Halo 4 had a few moments like this, but nothing in comparison to the engrossing and beautifully crafted world of Columbia. Although Infinite isn’t as graphically advanced as some of the others games that have been mentioned, it uses what it has well, and creatively. It shows that you don’t need the newest and best graphics system in order to provide atmosphere, as long as you have something as simple as creative-care.
The last thing I’ll point out is the story, and how it correlated with the game’s pacing. Pacing is an extremely underrated and under appreciated aspect of gaming. Games like Journey, as well as the previous installments of Bioshock have done a magnificent job of putting a well crafted story together with a good in-game pace. The last Black Ops game was hailed as having its story written by David S. Goyer (of Nolan’s Batman fame), but the game’s pacing was so off and random that it couldn’t get the right exposure.
"Treyarch is going to respect the hell out of this work." - Not Treyarch

“Treyarch is going to respect the hell out of this work.” – Not Treyarch
You might be wondering, if the game has all the wonderful qualities, why it serves better as an example of good game construction, and why it isn’t as good for the gamers? Simple. The rest of the game mechanics are lacking in some pretty heavy areas. I don’t want anyone to think I’m making these claims as a way of bashing on what some people are already calling a “Game of the Year” just to get attention. Despite all the things that are well done, there are some areas that are almost unforgivingly lackluster.
For example, the fighting system is wonky and a bit boring. The “Vigors” that you get don’t provide anything (on most difficulty settings) that a shotgun or pistol can’t accomplish. The added benefits are cosmetic at best, and don’t really do anything to provide a unique or creative method of combatting your enemies. Instead, they just make it easier to hit your attackers.
The ratio for how much salt is required to use each Vigor isn’t very user-friendly. More often than not you’ll find yourself out of salts and unable to use these amazing powers you obtain along the way. You become so worried about using them at the wrong time that you’ll often hold off on using them for a tougher enemy, only to be presented with a new Vigor or gun that negates the need to have kept it activated in your left hand in the first place.
bioshock vigor

“But where did the lighter fluid come from?”
The guns, simply put, are boring. Pistol, rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, all serve to help you kill your enemies. But in a world that is so wonderfully steampunk and creative it seems as if the developers just got lazy when it came to the types of weapons that would be used in this environment. The Fink corporation, that is responsible for a wide variety of the advanced technology that keeps the city afloat, apparently decided not to put any money into armament design.
There is no multiplayer, which is odd considering the linear story line. Games like Skyrim don’t need a multiplayer because of the vastness of the campaign. With BioShock, we are given a game that literally rides on rails, yet offers no multiplayer, or any kind of coop. Even games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which also was entirely single player, provided a strong incentive to go back through and play the game by presenting the character with three different endings. Infinite, has one (albeit jaw-dropping) ending that seems to be completely independent of how you chose to play the game. The first BioShock at least offered up two different endings, depending on how you interacted with some of the villain types.
The story is the only thing that provides any real replay value. This is rare in today’s games that a narrative is so well written it supersedes the need to develop additional gameplay modes, but it isn’t an excuse for it.
Although the game is fun, it works better as an example to the other major companies. It shows  them that there is more to making a game fun than big guns and fast action. The combat aspect of the Infinite lacks, and takes away from the overall point of having a first-person-shooter. Because of this, the other areas of the game — that are so well done — should be modeled with other titles that DO have their shooting mechanics down. Even though Infinite is a great game, it’s not necessarily a game I’d recommend to a vast majority of players who aren’t already with the cerebral action the BioShock series are known for. It might be a comment on the state of the gaming industry and what sells, or on my own prejudices, but this game is about the construct and the story, and less about the “play” factor. For that reason, BioShock: Infinite is a wonderful example of how to integrate what has been missing from the genre back into the system, and not as much about creating a game that is extremely “playable.”

Read more at http://whatculture.com/gaming/why-bioshock-infinite-is-better-for-developers-than-gamers.php#MjC5dkQgBDyvbtgo.99 


Comic Book Movies: Comparing Strategies

Did you know Iron Man 3 is a movie and it will be coming out soon? You bet you do! Whether you want to or not, Iron Man 3’s multi-media attack has left many victims. Me, you, your mom, your sister, your sister’s dog. All victimized. How do you feel about that? I’m not particularly bothered by it but an intriguing development putting the “er” in multi-er-media attack (just go with it) is comics. In my view, this is undoubtedly a good thing.

The Disney/Marvel corporate monstrosity has their kid friendly ish together when it comes to making the success of their films and rising comic sales mutually reinforcing. On the other hand you have DC. When it comes to synergy between these mediums the best thing I can say is…they are making movies and they are also making comics.

Oh I guess I should do this thing: Commentary includes spoilers that have been all over the internet because that is where I found them.

Three reasons why Marvel’s strategy is good for the industry.

1. It turns more comic readers into authorities.

In the comics Iron Man puts the space armor on and meets
the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s probably just a coincidence.

Sure comic movies are fun but your muggle friends bombard you with questions like “Is that how it happened in the comics?” and “Who is that?” Well if the question happens to be up your alley then hot girl behind you will hear your brilliant whispers of brilliantepictude and will shout – in a crowded theater mind you – “I love it when you talk comics to me!” and then YOU say “I wasn’t talking to you!” That sleek new space armor in Iron Man 3? If you read Iron Man comics you know about it since it just so happens Marvel placed space armor in the comic too! It doesn’t stop there.

When the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was announced everyone was like “Who?” Marvel WANTS you to have the answer so they cranked out Guardians of the Galaxy #1 over a year before the movie is set to release. By adding elements related to the movies into recent comics Marvel insures recent readers will be super sexy. By comparison, DC’s Superman comics are in turmoil with middling sales leading up to the release of what – by all accounts – is an amazing film and what they hope is the first building block in DC’s new cinematic universe without any corresponding shifts in their comics strategy.

D’Superman Unchained only would’ve
confused Tarantino fans into picking this up.

2. It increases the likelihood of new readers. The success of movies like The Avengers has not resulted in any significant “bump” in sales. The attempted integration between movies and new comics could help with this issue. Say someone checks out The Wolverine movie dealing with his healing factor being altered somehow. Guess what? Marvel has “leaked” Wolverine’s healing factor will be impacted by an upcoming time travel incident in the comics too! In this instance (various studios own the movie rights to other characters including Wolverine) it appears as if the movie plot may have planted a seed into the minds over at Marvel Comics.

On the other hand, DC had a golden opportunity to do something similar with red-hot writer Scott Snyder teaming with legendary artist Jim Lee on a new Superman comic book coinciding with the release of Man of Steel. Everything was lined up so well people just took to calling the comic project Man of Steel as well…until DC announced it would be called Superman Unchained. DC believes an iconic image of Superman is him breaking through chains which is true if you read comics in the fifties (does ANYONE still try to chain Superman up? I mean, the secret on his strength is out, right? RIGHT?!) but even worse is this “reason”: they did not want people to be confused by the title. WHAT?! If someone sees a Man of Steel comic and then accidentally picks up a book by arguably your best writer and unarguably the most famous comic artist of his generation that is a GOOD THING. Seriously, if they are confused or hate anything created by your comic uber-team then you don’t deserve that customer.

3. It reduces the strain of “world building”. Most comic fans acknowledge Marvel has a more unified universe (there is nothing like Gotham in Marvel…or the rest of DC for that matter). If anything, it is too easy to put Wolverine or Spider-Man in every comic. Sure, Thor as an actual Norse God is awkward but over in DC-land you have an Amazon a psychotic orphan human and an alien orphan leading a team with some dude mastering the speed force and a human with a magic ring. I’m not making fun of the characters at all here. It is more a matter of how shoehorned world construction over decades is now hampering the construction of DC’s cinematic universe. The Justice League movie is not only suffering from trying to go top-down (vs. Marvel’s bottom up approach).

The biggest challenge is making all these characters seem like they exist in the same believable world. For instance, Nolan’s Batman seems exactly like a Batman grounded in the real world but how could this dude EVER be allowed to rule a city through terror if Superman exists? Does Superman just stop Joker and Bane before brunch? (Note: He does not stop Liam Neeson because he has seen Taken and that would be foolish)

So yeah, DC has some world building to do. Conversely, Marvel has been working on making mutants and super-powered humans seem like two sides of the same Marvel coin. It was probably during Civil War I first thought “Huh, this seems like a breathing world with logical tensions between these groups — that was SIX years ago and the foundation is so strong now you’re seeing Agent Coulson and the Chitauri making their way from the movies back into the comics. World building is easier when the two major mediums reinforce each other.

This post isn’t pro-Marvel or anti-DC it is more an observation about an industry in flux. While Marvel’ has been slowly increasing its market share, total dollars are up across ALL the major publishers. Rather, than seeing who has the bigger piece of the pie, the industry must adapt to recognize the pie can get much bigger. The future of comics depends on attracting new readers and Marvel’s strategy seems to understand this whole-heartedly. DC should not be embarrassed to follow the same playbook.

Content Marketing Lessons from Netflix’s House of Cards

Crosspost from here
Netflix has taken a strong step to become the premier streaming entertainment service with its exclusive thirteen-episode serial, House of Cards.
So far, the series is a critical hit, but the interesting thing for marketers is how Netflix has turned its fortunes around through the deployment of content.
For the unfamiliar, Netflix is a digital streaming and home delivery movie/TV service. In September of 2011, their announcement of an impending division into two different services caused a customer backlash. Their response has been to remodel their business plan towards what customers wanted and were asking for: more and better content.

Quality content that engages and rewards customers should always be the goal. In the digital age, where conversations about content can be read by thousands, it is an extremely efficient marketing practice.
Netflix addressed three key content marketing practices that all companies should look at when creating lasting and fruitful relationships with their consumer base:
  • Listening to your customers
  • Making your content easy to enjoy and consume
  • Go where your customers are
What does this mean for your marketing?
1. Don’t just look at your customers’ problems; listen to them.
What is the lowest common denominator that isn’t being addressed in your industry? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to find out, because this is what starts a dialogue with your customers. Journalists don’t sit an interviewee in front of a camera and tell them to talk; they use their personalities and conversational abilities to pull out important information that would have otherwise remained hidden. What frustrates you about your industry will often frustrate others. Use this as a starting point.
2. Your customers aren’t farm animals. Don’t dish out sloppy content.
For many people, it seems daunting to try and come up with something worthwhile to read on a daily basis. 10-20% of your content should be from in-house, and the rest you can pull from different sources (Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, other blogs), but it still has to be content that people will find interesting.
“House of Cards” is well written, superbly acted, and crafted with care. Netflix’s other content is an interesting mix of documentaries, movies, and other TV series from other sources that people can fill their time with. You should do the same.
3. Be adaptable:
As Bruce Lee famously said, “Be like water.” Be able to mold and form to what your client’s needs are. Don’t try to dictate needs to your clients. They are the users and consumers, and have a unique perspective on how your product works.
Netflix identified that people like to be able to watch an entire series on their own time, on a multitude of platforms, and acted on it. Get involved and prove that you care about who buys your services or product.
If you’re wondering if the approach really worked, take a look at this recent survey about customer retention based on “House of Cards” alone.
As the digital world continues to change how people get information, so will the methods of ascertaining and keeping new customers. Identify what people are really saying by talking to them, not at them.
Let social media be your focus group, and provide prospects with content that you would find interesting, even if you weren’t a part of your industry or company. Be honest in your outreach, and customers will respond in kind.

Leaked Zombie details from new DLC for Black Ops II

submitted 3 days ago by 3ArcCanSuckIt
Hey, ok so I’m new to this reddit thing but I heard that its a great place to talk about things (really don’t know how this is different from a forum but whatever) so here it goes: I’ve got a bunch of info to lay off my chest. So, I’m not going to get into too much detail here but I was affiliated with Treyarch and worked on the campaign as well as the recently announced zombie map Mob of the Dead. What 3Arc did as an internal move to get high-quality DLC out fast is actually have the campaign team design and script Mob of the Dead.

So, basically the zombie team has already a rough draft of all the DLC maps they’ll release (I don’t know much about future ones though) and are currently working on DLC 3 and 4. So what happened with mob of the dead (or “Mobzies” as was the working title [im not fucking joking here that was actually the working title]) was that Treyarch (or more accurately Activision) was imploring for DLCs to be ready faster (I’m not to sure about the details there, I wasn’t involved on the business end of things but that’s what we were told).

So, right after DLC 1 dropped the zombie team started working on DLC 3 and 4. The zombie team subsequently sent us a rough draft for what they had in mind for Mob of the Dead and asked us to develop it while they worked on the last 2 DLC drops (which by the looks of things seem very big). They really only seemed concerned on the storyline aspect of the map, other than that they were pretty lenient when it came to ideas. the zombie team really just gave us their input on MotD, they really did not develop it and most of the contributions came from the campaign front (and frankly it’s a radically different approach to zombies as I’ll explain later).

I will confess I haven’t played the map yet but know about most things it will incorporate as the final product rarely diverts too far from the original concept. The map, as you know, features a cast of Hollywood “gangsters” playing fictitious mobsters within Alcatraz island. The overall idea was similar to have these 4 actors trapped in some kind of time loop, with amnesia of who they were as actors, fighting zombies in Alcatraz. Originally we had the roles for the actors envisioned for Al Pacino (whom we imagined wouldn’t decline us as he starred in that god-awful Adam Sandler movie), Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Mike Madsen, but Al and Joe were working on movies. We eventually settled on having Joe Pantoliano and Chazz Palmentiri replace those characters. But before we decided on the whole Hollywood aspect, we settled on some ideas after what seemed like endless open discussions and brainstorming.

From what I could remember these were the ten “things” I know for a fact will be on the map:

  • a “purgatory mode” (the team was really hyped about this one)
  • varied kinds of zombies
  • a real cool side-quest
  • dynamic environment
  • zip-lines galore
  • horror/thriller theme
  • historically correct Alcatraz
  • not too hard for beginners
  • plenty of new perks and guns
  • musical aspect

The first thing I want to talk about is this purgatory mode. Basically, once your character is downed and is not revived and bleeds out he access this new area called purgatory. Purgatory is actually like its own separate map (its absolutely massive) with an entirely different objective. There are no zombies in purgatory and its like this weird inter-dimensional trance space, and it may or may not have been influenced by LSD. The idea is that there’s no time or space in this place. It’s like this weird Pandora’s box kind of place with weird ass things everywhere. It’s a huge part of the side quest. And the whilst you are walking through here you are meant to get scared. You have weird voices telling you things and out of place objects everywhere. While in purgatory there are no weapons, no zombies, and no points. It’s really more of a discovery kind of place. There are also buildable items located in purgatory that you can grab. Once the new round starts, though, you are pulled out of purgatory and put back into the normal map, along with any items you find there. There’s a lot in purgatory and even though this is a “leak” some of its is quite awesome and I really don’t want to ruin it for you guys (trust me once you play it you’ll agree with me).

The next point are the “varied zombie types” within the map. The team wanted to do better than just add a zombie boss. There are actually 4 zombie type bosses throughout the entire map. The map is huge, mind you, and is divided quite liberally into 3 diverse sections and each section has a roaming “boss” (each one has their own abilities that differentiate themselves. But the idea is to fuck up trains, basically). There’s also a fourth boss that comes every 4-6 rounds. Basically at the start of these rounds the entire team spawns at an inaccessible part of the map and stay there for the duration of the “mob” round. They are then swarmed by huge amounts of zombies going through everywhere (the zombies’ health stays the same after round 15 though). There is, I believe, a cap at 50 zombies for that round. But the zombies spawn above you and at your sides. After the round you get a Max Ammo, a perk-bottle, and you’re given about 45 seconds to Pack-a-Punch (this is the only way you can do so in the map though).

The next bullet point is the side-quest. When we were approached by the zombie team with the rough concept for the map, they were very specific about the fact that it had to be in Alcatraz and follow a very specific chain of events. We were actually given story-boards with everything that was to happen. From what I can remember from the meeting the narrative within the map starts off with these 4 actors trying to escape Alcatraz and while they’re trying to they start getting fractions of their memory back (remember I said they had amnesia). But there’s this voice talking to them (pretty sure it wasn’t Nolan North’s character). And then it’s gets really crazy. This voice (which the zombie team really never gave too much detail about during their visit) instructs the 4 mobsters to help these other characters escape from space. I might’ve missed some stuff since the only time I hadn’t explained to me was when the zombie team came over and showed us the storyboards. But that’s what I understood of it (was pretty confusing though). I don’t know any steps in this side-quest (wasn’t my job to do that) but I do know that purgatory and this buildable weapon has a lot to do with this side-quest. Again, I’m probably not 100% on target with this as it wasn’t my job to make the narrative and I was only “briefed” on it sometime about 2 weeks ago. But what I can say is that’s its EXTREMELY CONFUSING.

Another cool feature we wanted to incorporate into the map was a great dynamic environment. Different parts of the map have different “auras”. For example, there is plenty of fog on the outside areas of the map. And the environment changes. About every 10 minutes it starts raining in the map (with thunder). I know the environment triggers certain events but honestly I don’t know the specifics.

The main method of transportation within the map are zip-lines. Now we decided to put a very intricate “network” of zip lines. The player really has to know what zip line brings you where (since there’s really zip lines in almost every room). But the idea with the zip lines was that you could get from one end of the map to the other in about a minute, without really skipping “significant” areas in the middle where you would want to be able to get stuff.

Another “creative direction” we wanted to pursue was a strong horror/thriller aura to the overall map gameplay. We wanted the map to really scare you. A lot of the zombie spawns are in places you don’t expect. We also made it so the behavior of the zombies isn’t as scripted as in previous maps. One second the zombie can be walking and the next it can be full out sprinting at you. The map is also very scary in design. There are dead inmates everywhere and random loud scary noises.
The map is also as historically accurate to Alcatraz as we could accomplish without sacrificing gameplay factors. Lots of the places we exact replicas of the island (especially the warden’s quarters). Treyarch actually hired a historian to help guide the team.

Another thing we were told to do by the zombies team was to not make the map too hard. So, what we did is make good weapons readily accessible and have a really good Sci-Fi esque weapons in the game. This one gun instantly “vaporizes” the zombies and turns them into this weird purple gas. It’s almost instantly kills every single zombie within its range. We also made sure that not be too aggressive in early rounds.

We also wanted to incorporate lots of guns fitting of the prohibition-era timeframe. For example, we included the tommy gun (Thompson), the Uzi; as well as more modern guns (I don’t have the names ready off the top of my head). We also have the aforementioned gas gun (I remember the name was like a bunch of numbers). As for perks I’m not so sure about “old perks coming back” (although I do know that Flopper is being revived in a kind of nerfed form) but there are 2 new perks. The first I think is called bandolier. It gives your gun more bullets after killing zombies. You pick up these little packets off of dead zombies and it gives you more bullets (albeit at a slow pace). I know for a fact that we decided to balance the perk so that it only works on bullet-based weapons. The next perk in the map is called Two Times Tequila and what it does is that on certain weapons, If you buy them again or come across them on the mystery box, the gun is essentially doubled in all respects, granting x2 raw power, x2 ammo but the gun would cost x2 the original price and I’m pretty sure the perk is very expensive as well (not sure on the exact figure though). I do know that it stacks with all other existing perks (including the upgrade machine).

And finally I know that avenged sevenfold wrote a song for the map. I’m not really into heavy metal so I can’t judge whether its good or not (haven’t even heard the song) but I know they were called up to record the song for the map.

So, THAT’S ALL I KNOW. Again I won’t reveal what my exact job was on the development of the map (for obvious reasons) but I didn’t deal too much with gameplay aspects so the vast majority of the “interesting” stuff came from our original meeting with the zombie team and the subsequent team brainstorm sessions. But I’ve seen the map (haven’t played it though) and am pretty confident that these features will stay true once the map is released. If you guys have any questions ask me (I don’t know too much about reddit but I think you can reply to the post) and ill try to answer as many questions as I can.

4 Video Games and Their Live Action Transitions

The other day I was discussing the appeal of live-action trailers for video games and why people tend to remember them so well. The Halo: ODST trailer was a personal favorite of mine, and I’m fairly certain the quality of that trailer was enough to generate the majority of the sales that it received, as the game was fairly lack-luster.

There was also the famous Skyrim live-action trailer, with the Dragonborn character running against the crowd to fight an impressively detailed dragon. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Halo: Reach, and (recently) God of War have all used real actors in their advertising campaigns. I believe part of the appeal here is the wish that most gamers have, in that there must someday, sometime, be a good video game to film adaptation in the works. Ever since Mario Brothers in the 90’s the genre has been defecated upon by “Hollywood” and crafted by people without a proper understanding for the capacity of story-telling that these games already offer. With that in mind, here is a list of four video games, and how I think they would be best suited to an alternate entertainment medium.

Zelda: Ocarina of TimeGuillermo Del Toro — Film

For those of you who saw Pan’s Labyrinth you should already have a good visual idea of how Del Toro can create a rich and powerful story based in fantasy. Focused around the adventures of a small child, the world that he crafted (without using an overabundance of CGI either) was both believable and engaging. This is why Jackson and Universal originally tapped Del Toro to helm the Hobbit film, and for good reason.

Imagine a dark but respectful representation of the “boy without a fairy,” as he makes his way across a culturally varied and diverse kingdom. I feel his take on the Zora, Gorons, Gerudo, and Deku kids would be especially intriguing, as Del Toro has a flair for the monstrous and fantastic. His ability to weave an interesting story in an already developed series is evident in the Hellboy films, and his love for focusing on children as the protagonists is established in a handful of his horror films, not to mention the aforementioned Pan’s Labyrinth. 

In my opinion, he would — without a doubt — be a good choice for this.

EDIT: That being said, I still don’t know how I feel about the upcoming Pacific Rim, as the amount of CGI in this might “jump the shark” for me.

Skyrim Various Directors — TV Mini-series

There is a reason this can’t go to film, and there is a reason it can’t be a part of a no-end-in-sight television series. The reason this can’t be a film is because it will try to fit too much into one movie, and also try to appeal to an audience that a production company doesn’t understand. A stand-alone film, or even a trilogy, would try to make as much money as possible by trying to fit too much into it. Need an example?

The recent Hobbit movies, which in my opinion should have been one film, are being dragged out to model the LOTR trilogy for monetary purposes. This hasn’t ever been explicitly stated, but I have my suspicions that Del Toro left the Hobbit movie because of creative differences stemming from this, despite what has been reported. The Hobbit was originally supposed to be a two-film run, but studios like money; especially when filmmaking is no longer the financial gold mine it once was. Skyrim would be no different.

The reason this can’t be a TV series is because the show would be making episodes beyond its narrative arch; despite whatever stories are in the world of Skryim. It could be said that a Skyrim TV series could perform in a similar model to Game of Thrones, which has a clear end from it’s book series (assuming the final book ever comes out), but I find this unlikely.

Instead, a mini-series would probably be the perfect choice, as it can tell a sweeping and engrossing tale, but still have a finite point to end it on. If it does well then it could delve into the world of the DLC packs, or perhaps even make a movie out of the Dragonborn expansion, but the market would have to be gauged via the mini-series. Shows that follow the standard formula are famous for making it up as they go along (see: Lost), and I feel this would diminish the already entertaining tale that Bethesda created for the game.

As far as the story goes, I think there would have to be a focus on two different characters, or possibly three. Each one would take a different path that would allow the show to explore the many different directions a character could take. It would be unknown which of the three would be the actual Dragonborn until the end.

So, for example, there could be one character who ends up going the route of the Mage’s college who also ends up fighting for the Imperials as a way to help ensure the longevity of the school. Another character might be the “warrior” type who goes the way of The Companions, but fights for the Stormcloaks. The third character could be a wanderer, and make his/her way through the Thieves’ Guild, and eventually into the Dark Brotherhood. At the end, their stories would lead them all to the same place, but with opposing goals.

Halo — Neil Blomkamp — Film

Do I really have to present a case for this? Blomkamp was already tapped to do the film with Peter Jackson producing. However, Universal wasn’t comfortable letting such a green director helm a movie with such monetary potential. Not to mention that video game to film movies haven’t had an empirically strong track record to pull data from. Blomkamp showed that he understood the genre and feel from his “Landfall” series, but was still deemed unworthy of such a project.

Jackson then helped Blomkamp raise the funds for District 9, a film that should have been a slap in the face to anyone who doubted his ability to tell a thoughtful and entertaining sci-fi film. Not to mention the film was done at about 1/10th of what the Halo budget was projected to be.

Frustrating to say the least. Just give the guy the movie back!

MineCraft — Sam Mendes — Film

I’m sure some people will stop reading at this point at the mere mention of something like a MineCraft film, but I actually think a minimalist story would serve this hugely successful title well. Allow me to elaborate.
The story would start off with a man waking up in a wilderness that he is clearly not accustomed to. From here it would be something similar to Castaway, but the aspect of surviving against the wilderness is only half the battle. The first night the protagonist will probably spend it in a hole avoiding the elements, so he’ll only get some sounds and maybe some hints that there is danger lurking outside. As he continues to build for himself he’ll discover that he might not be as alone as once thought. 
His first night out will be a catastrophe, and it will then shape his story from that point forward. Along the way he’ll discover old mine shafts, keeps, and perhaps the remains of a Nether Portal. The story telling here could be very in-depth and moving. Think of the Batman: Requiem comic (for those of you who are familiar) where it was all told using panels without words. It was, perhaps, one of the most powerful Batman issues in recent memory. You could also look at how Kubrick used a lot of silence in his films to tell a captivating tale through his camera work. 
The reason I’ve chosen Mendes as the director here (other than the fact that Kubrick is dead) is partially based on his work in the recent Bond film, Skyfall. Although not as good as Casino Royale in my opinion, it was one of the most visually pleasing 007 movies I’ve ever seen. Mendes is brilliant at setting up shots and using the surroundings to intertwine with his narratives, and (if it were ever to be optioned) I think he would do a fantastic job in telling a story about a man trying to survive against nature, the undead, and himself. 

A MineCraft film doesn’t need an extensive explanation as to how the character got there, or try to give a reason as to why a geographic area was seeding in a certain manner. Just like in the game, the terrain and the individual’s experience crafts a the story, and not the history behind it. Mystery is a powerful story-telling tool, and it shouldn’t be sacrificed to try and talk down to the audience.

GI Joe: Retaliation movie review

I think we should get something out of the way up front: GI Joe is not a good movie. It has a lot of things wrong with it. Too many jokes fall flat. Several scenes are too long. There is too much jumping back and forth for no reason early on. RZA gets several speaking lines. The list goes on. Fortunately for movie goers the movie is a lot of fun despite its many flaws. If you liked the GI Joe cartoon, comics or toys then you owe it to yourself to see a movie made by fans for fans. For all intents and purposes GI Joe the movie is a lot like GI Joe the cartoon that many of us grew up with. Rather than (only) being a giant advertisement for toys a la Star Wars, the only thing GI Joe is selling is a tasty mound of nostalgia…with a side toys.

If you ever played with these as a kid…

…then be prepared to squee with glee!

Hollywood needs to take note: if you are going to make a movie using a toy line then you need to embrace that fact. Sure the movie is light on plot or characterization but so were the cartoons. Director Jon Chu (of Step up 2 fame (yeah, I can’t believe I just typed that either)) handles this movie with the glee of a true fanboy. For example, Cobra Commander looks amazing and struts like a man that fully believes they will steal the world from under the Joes’ collective noses. Unfortunately, one drawback of the film is the massive cast which limits the Commander’s screen time. Jonathan Pryce as the dual roles of the President/Zartan is also busy stealing pretty much every scene he is in by embracing the high risk/high reward acting method most accurately described as “cheese”.

True to form, Cobra Commander knows to go when the going gets tough.

Speaking of the massive cast, the movie begins winnowing it down. I’ll avoid spoilers but its clear early on that the creative team behind the movie knows what they want the franchise to look like down the road. This is most definitely a good thing. As hammed up as several of Dwayne Johnson’s (Roadblock) lines are, he still has that electric smile and biceps bigger than his head. I’m not a doctor so I couldn’t tell you if his head is small for his age or if he just works out a lot. All things considered, “The Rock” is a great addition to this over the top franchise precisely because he is larger than life. In future entries into the franchise I’d love to see them take the training wheels off. Not every character and vehicle needs a brief introduction. Lady Jaye and Flint are particularly lame in this regard. Jaye gets nothing to do except serve as eye candy and be the sniper/tech person combination reserved for hot women and skinny and/or fat dudes. The amount of time devoted to setting up a back story ground the pace to a screeching halt and didn’t have nearly enough payoff to justify it.

This fight was twice as awesome as you imagine.

Perhaps more offensively, ninjas were not constantly being awesome. The back story/subplot of Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes almost felt like a separate movie and was – honestly – not necessary at all. There were SEVERAL subsequent scenes involving Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and girl ninja/sidekick Jinx that felt tacked on and confusing. Again, if all involved could trust that audiences love awesome things (ninjas are way up on the list of awesome things with Raptors and Ninjas riding Raptors) then all future action movies would be much better.

In general the good and bad of this movie should be an obvious lesson for Hollywood. Figure out the thing your movie does better than other movies and do that thing as often as possible. Don’t add unnecessary lines to scenes, too much back story or entire underutilized characters. Just give the audiences that thing you identified in step 1. This is all to say GI Joe: Retaliation gets a lot more of dumb action/nostalgia right than it gets wrong. Bottom line? The action and genuinely thrilling moments are most definitely worth a bit of groan worthy dialogue. Like a great first date amiright? Yes. Yes I am right.