If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

Profile Picture
The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:

 

Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches

 

Time_Machine__in_Engine_by_natetheartist
Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
HyperSpace
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

(Movies vs Games)=Art

Movies and games have a lot in common: the genres are largely the same (action, horror, thriller, etc.), the quality varies enormously on a case-by-case basis, and typically the costs to produce the final products are enormous (the time, effort, and number of people involved). A major distinction, however, is that movies have long been considered to be an art form while video games remain controversial, which seems rather unfair. When movies first appeared as a media the films were just things you could see in person but recorded so they could be viewed by anyone: that is not art as we know it, just copying and pasting. It took a long time for directors to develop the tools to engage an audience. In the same way the video game industry up until now has been occupied with making games that perfect mechanics, not with engaging players and leveraging the unique aspects of video games as a media to create a truly enthralling experience. Only recently have games like that begun appearing, and they are still infrequent. Regardless, video games will soon be art just as movies are, and while there will certainly still be bad games designed to make money just as there are bad movies designed to make money, the number of video games that are art is sure to rise.

An important distinction to make is artistic and art: artistic is a style while art is a product. I will elaborate on this with an example. Fable 2 (or even Fable 3) is an artistic game: the designs are varied and just out-of-reality, the story is well crafted, and the whole universe is woven into a grand experience. However, the game is not, as I understand it, art. The experience is riddled with annoyances that take you out of the experience, like an inventory and health bar system. The character interactions are incredibly limited (compared to real life, anyways), and the combat is repetitive. The concept is great and amazing but the execution is only average, and thus it does not feel like art. It just feels artistically done.

Geometry Wars is, by contrast, an impossibly simple game with an incredibly simple idea: stay alive. You play as a shape and shoot at other shapes which chase you. There is no plot, no characters, just mechanics and graphics. However, the controls are fluid, the experience is intense, and the whole game is incredible clean: it just works. It might not be artistic (despite the pretty colors it is still just a bunch of shapes that follow your shape), but the game is art. It is refined, brings a concept to life incredibly well, and is a blast to play.

For a game to be art, like a movie, the experience must be great. Unlike a movie, however, the experience is composed of more factors, including mechanics, graphics, gameplay, etc., and not all of these and the movie factors have to be great for the experience to be incredible: games can be great with just mechanics and graphics, gameplay and plot, or any other combination of factors. This is my conclusion: games can be art, but the industry needs time to understand how to make games that are art. It is similar, but not the same, as movies. The experience is still what matters, but the formation of the experience is so much more complicated when making a game, but the possibilities are, appropriately, much greater.

~HungryRug

Nerd Cred and the Gateway MMO

One year, when I was still in elementary school, my mother found that she needed advice. Dad’s birthday was coming up, and she simply did not know what to get him. So, being the kind and thoughtful person she is, she phoned Uncle Pat, one of Dad’s best friends, for some help. “Try Everquest,” he said. “I’ve got it and it’s a lot of fun. I think he’d like it.”

After that, our lives were never the same.

Mom unknowingly went down to the store and picked up what I like to call the gateway drug of MMOs, and much to her dismay, both of her daughters and her husband have been hooked ever since. Though I never played Everquest myself, I enjoyed watching my dad play. To my eight-year-old mind it looked like a movie, but you were the main character! It was YOU who got to slay monsters and explore a new world and outfit yourself with armor befitting a great hero. When I got a little older, I stepped into the online worlds of Guild Wars, SWG, and others, and never looked back.

I think, because I grew up with games, I have learned how to not let them affect me too much. I have an ‘rl’ life much larger than the one I have online, and never let a game release get in the way of homework. I’m also pretty picky about which games I like, so I’ve never had to watch my spending either. It’s the way I present my gaming to the world at large that has always required delicacy. Mostly it’s a matter of who I’m talking to. When asked what writing seminar I was taking by a fellow first-year, I would say, “The one where we get to play video games for class.” Though this is somewhat inaccurate, it allowed me to not only avoid the social stigma of the ‘online gamer’ but to arouse jealousy in the questioner, who usually had a seminar in the wonderful and captivating field of British War Writing. With my friends, however, I could brag all I wanted about the fact that not only was my homework to watch The Fellowship of the Ring, I got to play LotRO for college credit. It’s all about the audience. Not everyone responds to the same things.

That’s not to say that I am not proud to be a nerd, a geek, or a sci-fi aficionado. I just know how to balance them so that those on the outside (you know, the normal people. There’s one! Did you see him?) can still be friends with me–whether or not they speak Klingon (just for the record, I HAVE NEVER STUDIED KLINGON–seriously). Though gaming is one of my favorite things to do, it’s not all I do, nor is it ever all anyone does. If anything, gaming this semester has merely given me extra nerd cred with my high school friends, and made some classmates green with envy. So why is there even a stigma associated with gaming? I could go on all day on that, but, it’s another post.

May the Force be with you!

Dacia

Back to Books

The fog rolled across the desolate fields, consuming everything in its path. It brought with it the smell of burnt flesh, gunpowder, and sweat. The screams could be heard through the mist, familiar screams of humans in pain, dying, mixed with the screams of the aliens, their bloodcurdling hoots ricocheting off the eardrums with a sharp pang. His heartbeat quickened, and the blood began to course through his veins as he approached the cacophony of misery that was the fog. He steeled his nerves, kissed the cross hanging from his neck, and sprinted in.

Am I the only one who wants to know what happens next and what was happening in the first place? The narrative is the ultimate captivating medium to transmit a story.  Reading is universally fascinating (specifically fiction) because it essentially introduces a whole new world to the reader. The reader is introduced to the story but not spoon-fed the details, enabling the reader to engage his/her imagination. This engagement of imagination translates into a captivation with the world that the mind inevitably creates when reading. This imaginary sanctuary takes the mind on new adventures allowing him/her to truly immerse his/her self in the hybrid book/imagination world that has been created.

Videogames and movies are much less effective in engaging and holding the observer. The observer is shown what the world looks like and who the characters are. This diluted version of a book disengages the imagination and helps cultivate a mind accustomed to reduced stimulation.  This is not the way to develop creators, thinker, writers, and other members of the creative community, yet the trend in society seems to be heading towards a lower level brain function at an alarming rate.

Reading cultivates the mind and I hope that it does not die out, to be replaced by the likes of movies and videogames as substitutes. Although they have their place, there is nothing that cultivates the mind better than a good book.

By Aneel Henry

The Lord of the Rings vs. who?

Tyler Gilcrest

When asked to compare the Lord of the Rings to another fantasy movie, the first thing I have to do is simply think of another fantasy movie.  The trouble is, that’s the trouble.  It’s hard to think of another movie in the fantasy genre the readily comes to mind other than the Lord of the Rings, let alone find one that is comparable.  After a bit of thought, I come up with a couple satisfactory choices, namely the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if those were the two that most people picked to write about.  But I think to myself, I want to be unique.  I search the archives for a little longer and Eragon (not a memorable movie experience by any means), the Golden Compass (which may not score high on the fantasy scale) and Reign of Fire (of which I can only remember that it contained dragons).  None that jump out at me for sure. 

Which makes me think, why is the Lord of the Rings such a prominent fantasy movie? Why did the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King win all 11 academy awards (including best picture, which no other fantasy movie has done) for which it was nominated?  And why does the Lord of the Rings have such sincere, what can best be called, “replayability”?  I think most of this comes from the world that the movie immerses you in.  And it truly is immersion.  Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and the world of Narnia are simply places in which you watch people interact.  In the Lord of the Rings, you  feel like Middle-Earth is a world that could actually exist.  Part of the reason for this could definitely be the amount of time that you spend in such cinematic experiences.   The Lord of the Rings extended edition reminds me of  Lawrence of Arabia and the era of movie intermissions.  The amount of time that the movie has to acclimate you to the world gives the director that much more time to immerse you in the story and the characters. 

Another advantage the Lord of the Rings has is its origin.  J.R.R. Tolkien did a wonderful job imagining Middle-Earth and then describing it in his books. Compared to his Tolkien’s works, the Harry Potter books are juvenile stories of teen angst written on a napkin in a coffee shop.  C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, was a very accomplished writer and his books do compare to those of Tolkien’s, considering they were friends who imagined fantasy worlds together and pledged to bring them to the mainstream public.  But I think the Lord of the Rings movie outdoes the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe through better characters, and better use of both development and interiority, and battles that can only be described as much more badass and epic.  So asking me to compare the Lord of the Rings to another fantasy movie is a tall order indeed, since in my opinion the Lord of the Rings stands alone on top.

Harry Potter 6 or The Lord of the Rings 1

by Theo Dentchev

Which movie is better?

Some might say that the answer is entirely subjective, and so you cannot conclusively say one is better or worse. That’s true enough, but I’m not asking, “which one do you like more.” Rather which one is objectively better? I suppose to make that kind of judgment we will need to define a set of criteria for determining which is indeed “better.” I propose we look at and compare the following four characteristics commonly used when evaluating film: coherence, intensity of effect, complexity, and originality.

Let us omit discussing complexity and simply assume that both films are sufficiently complex. That is, they both engage us on several different levels and have relatively intricate systems of relationships. Let us also omit intensity of effect, as that covers a range of subjects which are more subjective than I would like, such as how vivid or emotionally powerful the film is.

Then let us begin with coherence, or unity, which refers to how well or clearly everything is presented in a film, and if all the loose elements are tied up by the end. Now, being installations in a series, both of our films don’t conclude their stories and naturally leave certain things unaddressed (left, we assume, for the sequel to pick up on). Though we have to keep that in mind, we can still compare the way the rest of both films are structured. In The Fellowship of the Ring all of the characters and events clearly and logically relate to each other and serve a purpose. Those that don’t are either being left for the next film, or are negligible and require careful viewing to catch. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it is more fragmented, as though not fully completed, and in a way unrelated to the fact that it is to have a sequel. There are scenes and places which, in the context of the movie, make little sense and are unclear. A striking example can be found at the end of the film, when Dumbledore is confronted by Draco Malfoy atop the astronomy tower and eventually killed by Snape. Harry is hiding in the vicinity the entire time yet does nothing until after Dumbledore is already dead. His inaction does not make any sense and is completely dissonant with his character as well as with the nature of his relationship with Dumbledore. In the book his action is explained by Dumbledore immobilizing with a spell which does not wear off until either he dies, but in the movie it is simply illogical.

That last example is a good place to bring originality into the discussion. Yes, both films are adaptations of books and as such one might be inclined to say that the films cannot be original, but even in films which have a frequently used subject, originality can be found in the way that subject is presented. Likewise both these films display originality in the way they relate the story which they are adapting. Both do depart from the text, sometimes changing minor details, sometimes going so far as to omit entire portions of the book. However, the changes and omissions that are made in The Fellowship of the Ring are done so that the viewer is able to more easily and quickly understand the plot, as superfluous characters and events which serve to unnecessarily complicate the plots are shorn off (such as Tom Bombadil, who never appears in the movie, and the corresponding scene in Rivendell where it is suggested that the ring be given to him). The end result is a more streamlined work that, while differing in some places from it’s source, still tells a complete story and gives the viewer all the information they need to understand and appreciate it within the length limitations of the film meidum. In contrast, Harry Potter omits vital scenes (such as several memories of a young Tom Riddle which offer insight into his character’s motivations and also give more information about the horcruxes), while adding completely irrelevant scenes which do do nothing for the story other than complicate it (such as the burning of the Burrow, which never happens in the book and which goes on to appear again in the seventh book). The end result is that those who are not familiar with the source text will find it difficult to understand everything. While undoubtedly both have elements of originality, just being original without a purpose has no worth. The Lord of the Rings is original in a way which has a clear purpose and achieves the desired effect, while the originality of Harry Potter is haphazard and only undermines the film.

From those two respects The Fellowship of the Ring emerges as the “better” of the two films. Having not covered half of the criteria I suggested in the first paragraph, I could certainly see someone making an argument that Harry Potter is more complex or has greater intensity of effect to the extent that it makes up for its deficiencies in the other areas. Such an argument would have to be very convincing, and I myself am rather skeptical as to the possibility of such an argument existing. But maybe that is just my personal bias, and regardless of what objective judgments we might render, in the end they likely won’t be the determining factor in which film you enjoy more.

-TD

The Ring and the Heart

At first glance, the Lord of the Rings series and Pirates of the Caribbean series appear to be very different. Pirates is set in the real world, while Lord of the Rings is set in a complete fantasy world. Magic and the supernatural are common and accepted in the Lord of the Rings, while at the beginning of the Pirates series, most of the characters did not even know magic existed. Overall, it seemed like Lord of the Rings is completely immersed in fantasy, while Pirates is mostly based on real life with bits of fantasy sprinkled in.

There is, however, one area where the two films are almost alike: the presence of an object of great importance that brings the holder power over others. In Lord of the Rings, that object is the One Ring. Made by Sauron, it controls all of the other rings of power. Throughout the course of the film, most people who come into contact with it desire it immensely, with the notable exception of Frodo. In the Pirates series (especially Dead Man’s Chest) the object is the heart of Davy Jones. Since Davy Jones rules the seas, whoever controls his heart controls the seas. Throughout the movies Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and others battle for control over it.

There are still some differences between how the two objects are treated. The One Ring is treated as if it were an object of divine power that no man can control, but every man desires. Meanwhile, Davy Jones’s heart is treated as an object that can be used to accomplish a specific goal or objective. For example, Will wants it so he can get his father back, Norrington wants it to get his honor back, Jack needs it to settle his debt with Davy Jones, and Cutler Beckett uses it to try to rid the world of pirates.

Although the two series are different in many ways, one of their most important ideas is an important object that gives the holder great power and control over others, a plot point that makes them unique when compared to other films.

– Kashyap Saxena