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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Event[0] Video Game Review & Analysis: Combining an Amazing Central Mechanic with a Neat Little Story

A while ago, I finished the video game Event[0], and I found it interesting enough that I want to write about it. I feel like I don’t write enough about video games*, despite playing them at least semi-frequently, and I’m interested enough in the medium that I’d like to change that. Apologies if this article winds up a little rough as a result, but I figure it’s better to try it and learn from the experience than never bother. But more over, I think there should be more in-depth analysis of video games, as there is in other mediums, and I’d like to chip in, so this seems like a good chance to try.

*I really, really wanted to write something last year about Undertale, but I could never get an angle to approach it from other than “this is just so good in every way, play it”. I still don’t have anything else to say other than this, but it’s still worth saying I think.

First, a general introduction to the game. Event[0] is a first-person/environmental narrative* science fiction game created by Parisian developers Ocelot Society**. Set in an alternate 2012 where commercial space travel has been going strong since the 1980s, you play as a space traveler who is forced to evacuate a doomed ship at the start, only to eventually drift to a mostly-abandoned decades-old ship.

*I’ve heard a bunch of names for this genre, and these two seemed the most common, so I split the difference.

**Also of note: the game was financed, in part, by the Indie Fund, a group that specializes in helping fund smaller video game projects. In under a decade, they’ve already built up a pretty good library of titles. And if you’ve seen the very-good Indie Game: The Movie, it’s worth noting that one of the founders is Jonathan Blow, one of that documentary’s focus, as well as notable creator in his own right of titles like Braid and The Witness.

The catch is, there’s one member of the crew left: the ship’s artificial intelligence, Kaizen-85. You have figure out how to work with Kaizen to repair the Nautilus to get it running again, all while determining what happened to the rest of the crew.

Having to butter up or coerce an in-game character into helping you isn’t anything radically new in a video game. What is new is the central system Ocelot Society has built the game around: Kaizen (and the rest of the ship as a whole, including things like doors) can only be interacted with through discussion. Specifically, by typing into various consoles scattered around the ship to “talk” with Kaizen. Not picking pre-set choices or anything like that that you might see in another game; you have free reign to converse with Kaizen in just about any way that you’d like. It’s really quite amazing.*

*For anyone curious how this works, the always-amazing Game Maker’s Toolkit has a fascinating video that digs into the nitty-gritty of this a little more.

With all that description out of the way, I want to discuss my thoughts on the game a bit more. There will be some spoilers eventually, so be warned, but if you find this interesting so far and want to discover things for yourself, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. It’s a little on the short side as a warning, so if you aren’t sure, maybe hold off until it’s on sale or something, but one way or another, it’s worth a look. Also, I’ll start on the game’s mechanics and design before moving on to story stuff, so if you’re more concerned about narrative spoilers, you can read a little further.

And with that…

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Colossal, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Empathy

(spoilers marked as they appear)
I’ve been experiencing a whole lot of great art lately, and I’d love to comment on a lot of it, so I might be doing a few short articles like this just to get my thoughts and recommendations and what I liked about them down. Thankfully, two recent movies that I’ve seen and loved are pretty thematically linked, so it made some sense to do them in tandem.

Part I
Let’s start with the more recent, wider release: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’ve seen some mixed reaction to this one, but I liked it a lot. I mean, I did really like the first one, but from what I can tell, that hasn’t been a one-to-one indicator of what people think of the new one. In any case, I’d go as far to say it’s the best movie since the first Guardians, and in the upper tier of Marvel movies.* I mentioned that I saw Doctor Strange, as a bit of a bounce back from a few weaker films, but this one finishes the rebound.

*If I actually had to put the Marvel movies into tiers, I think I’d put the Guardians movies, The Avengers, and Iron Man 3 in the top one.

It’s definitely feels like everything on the first one turned up to 11, including being sillier, more visually stunning, and more touching all in one. I can also see the point of some people about some of the jokes being weirdly placed, cutting into dramatic moments, but I actually appreciated that in some way. Maybe it won’t sit as well on re-watches, but I loved those rapid juxtapositions, and felt like they added to the humor and made some jokes better than they should have been.

And it’s more heartfelt than the original; basically each member of the team (now expanded to eight guardians, with Mantis, Yondu, and Nebula joining the original five) get emotional arcs to them, which makes the long run time worth it. It’s technically just as “grand” in scale as the first one, but the focus on the characters gives it, in spite the universe-level stakes, an intimate feel that I don’t think any of the other Marvel movies have been able to actually pull off (although the Avengers movies have tried, and come close). This work pays off, and the characters give the movie and meaningful emotional connection, both with the audience and with each other, which really helps to serve the movies’ focus on family and familial connections. In fact, I think this was only the second superhero movie I teared up at (after Logan; 2017 has been pretty great for superhero movies so far).

And even the villain gets a decent amount of focus, and as a result we get the second-best villain of the Marvel universe after Loki (I realize this isn’t saying a lot, but it’s still something). Sure, the tonal shifts make for a jerkier feel than the first one, and the soundtrack is weaker, and some of the novelty is loss, but writer/director James Gunn has turned in a funny and moving script with some very pretty and colorful visuals, and overall there’s a lot to dig into thematically as well (in true comic book fashion, in blatant, larger-than-life metaphors, and with some fighting involved, but that’s part of the fun). Overall, I wouldn’t hesitate now to call Vol. 2 the equal to the original Guardians of the Galaxy.