All posts by Michael Quintana

Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo

To the delight and great confusion, several theater goers across the nation were treated to a theatrical release of the newest Evangelion rebuild flick.  Randy and I went to our local Lakeline Alamo Drafthouse to catch it.  Before we dive into that, though, let’s catch up on what the rebuilds are. I’ll keep this spoiler free at first, though there will be a cut where spoilers will be touched on.

The rebuild movies aren’t exactly a retelling of the original anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion. They initially do share a lot of the same stories and trappings in the first of the planned four movies, but with each movie, things become very progressively different.  Characters are changed for the better, new characters are introduced, roles are changed… As they go on, things start differing. The changes start with minor things here or there, and then things get more and more crazy.  The premise of both the anime and the newer rebuilds are the same: Humanity is on it’s last legs, with NERV serving as protectors. Against it? A series of increasingly powerful beings called Angels who intend to breach NERV headquarters and wipe out the last defense of humanity. Between NERV and the Angels are Evangelions; massive bipedal beings that at first seem to be giant robots. But, as is the case with Evangelion, things aren’t what they appear to be at first glance. Or second. Or third.

The fact this is the third movie should automatically imply that you should see the first two before this one.  However, if you do want to enjoy the craziness that is Evangelion, I will stress that previous sentence. With 72 point bolded underlined font.  Even among my friends, who have seen the previous two movies, there were serious conversation points and confusion when we walked out of the theater. This brings to light one of the biggest weakness of this particular part of the rebuild — if you haven’t seen the anime, there are a lot of finer points that will be missed. It doesn’t make or break the story, but having seen the anime, I can see that there was a lot of things they touched on that were assumed to have been previously known.  This is possibly it’s biggest weak point–the rebuilds up until now have been fairly good at being standalone creations.  As it is, You Can (Not) Redo is intentionally confusing due to it’s plot set-up which I’ll dive into later (spoilers~).   It’s still enjoyable without the knowledge of the anime, it’ll just leave some more open points in the plot.

Graphically, the movie is a damned masterpiece.  The color palette is always a great fit to what’s going on in the movie. The action scenes are easy to follow and incredibly enjoyable to watch– if you’re a fan of giant mechs duking it out with supernatural and mythical influences changing the course of the battle, this movie is for you. It certainly nails the size and scope of the battles just fine.  Even outside of the action scenes,the movie is fun to watch.

By far, the biggest issue with this iteration is that the lack of concrete answers may through some people off.  Even those that have seen the past two rebuilds will find themselves confused at parts; while this is intentional as a device to help put you in Shinji Ikari’s shoes, it tends to obfuscate way more than it should.

If you do have any interest in Evangelion but are daunted by the anime, the rebuilds are a perfect place to jump in.  Beware though; not everything will be explained easily and it may take additional time and viewings to let everything sink in. There will be some thought and deliberation to decipher what the movie means to you.

And now, spoilers past this point. I won’t be detailing out major plot elements, but I may touch on some things that are plot relevant, at least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo

The Walking Dead – All That Remains

When people talk about a ‘hard-hitting, satisfying, choice-based story’, it’s always invariably about a AAA-Title; some game with a honking huge budget that features more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at.  But at the end of the day, it’s the story that sticks with you that should matter.  Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 was certainly not  a triple-A title, but it was a story that stuck with you.  It had multiple varied characters, all of whom felt like actual flawed people trying to get by in a world ravaged by the zombie apocalypse.  Now, with The Walking Dead Season 2 beginning it’s run of episodic content, I eagerly dug into the first episode, “All That Remains.” I’ll be avoiding spoilers in this particular post; partially due to the newness of the game, but also because I feel you should experience the game itself.  After the cut, I’ll be going into some general impressions on it, but nothing story-specific. That’ll be  a later post!

Continue reading The Walking Dead – All That Remains

Review – Pacific Rim

In the grim, dark future, there is only rocket punching

The Kaiju genre of movies hasn’t seen a whole lot of love; the most recent attempts have been relatively weak contributions to the field.  I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of the genre, to be sure, but the more recent entries haven’t been fantastic. 1998’s Godzilla doesn’t seem to have many fans at all, and even Cloverfield seems to split rooms of people into two very opposed camps.  At the same time, there’s something about massive creatures, sent by fantastic forces to destroy humanity, being beaten back by the very species they were sworn to destroy that has always been majorly appealing.  Between that, and the fact it involves gigantic mechs (another fan favorite), there’s been a lot of buzz about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. While his films are generally always gorgeous, they’re not the strongest films either critically or commercially—sometimes even both. At the same time, he went into this fully aware of the genre and included pitfalls, trying to craft something that was both enjoyable and respectful of its origins.  So, how well did it do?

Cinematography

It’s not often any more that an action flick will feel substantial and thrilling during it’s more exciting moments. That isn’t the case here; the fights feel very visceral and believable, considering the on-screen subject matter.  This is partially due to the fact there’s no shaky camera going on here!  Many flicks rely on the “There’s an earthquake going on in the camera” school of action scenes; Pacific Rim instead relies on smart positioning and angling of the camera, all while keeping it stable.  This means you can see the actual blows on camera, which really helps bring forward the effects forward. As well, it lends weight to the blows; you can see the monsters recoil from the blows in a way that imparts just how much force a massive kaiju received via an elbow drop given by a nuclear-powered robot.

The effects themselves are incredibly well done, both CGI and set design. The world feels very cohesive; there’s not a difference between the mech design and fights compared to when the pilots are running about outside of the robots. It feels like a very authentic experience; the world was crafted as a backdrop of superior quality to the story, and it lends itself to the movie very well.  Regardless of it’s a lab scene or a fight, the artistic design is amazing, and it’s definitely one of the strongest points of the movie.

Soundtrack

Created by Ramin Djawadi, composer of the Game of Thrones soundtrack, the music hits all the right tones.  It’s intense during the fight scenes, and infuses the scene with an additional sense of urgency.  In addition, it often samples the same core theme in different ways, which helps create a singular, cohesive whole. (Noticing a pattern there?)  There’s synthesizer mixed with orchestral mixed with guitars, creating a series of tracks that are very characteristic of the movie as a whole.  The kaiju’s have themes that are fully of heavy brass and sound foreboding, where the Jaeger’s have a more guitar-riff heavy, triumphant determined sound—and the scenes where they interact mix both beautifully.

Story and Acting

The story would probably be one of Pacific Rim’s weaker points; while serviceable, it’s neither subtle nor nuanced.  Many of the events are something you spot the foreshadowing for miles away with almost 100% certainty.  At the same time, it’s not something that’s ham-handed or eye roll inducing in it’s execution.  The weakest part was the love story that seems more stapled on than anything else; it evolves in a predictable way, and ends in a scene that feels very “focus group wanted a love arc”. Other than that, the characters were well-established; while many of them fit previously defined archetypes, they aren’t horribly portrayed.  The acting was mostly above board; the most common offender against this is the previously mentioned love arc. Other than this, the interactions are well done, even if they tread well-worn paths.

The overall world’s story is one of the stronger parts, with a considerable amount of evident thought and effort put into crafting the world and timeline of the movie as compared to the character interactions.  You get a real sense of the heavy sort of history that you can see the weigh on both the world and the characters.  While it falls apart when you break it down to the way the characters move about, this IS a kaiju movie; story hasn’t typically been their strong suit, although Pacific Rim contributes quite a bit when it comes to creating a believable world.

Summary

If you’re looking for a good, substantial action flick, Pacific Rim should hit all the right spots.  The excellent pacing, music, and action scenes lends itself to an incredible theater experience.  It’s a well-crafted piece of eye candy at the very least, and at the most it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, robot-clobbering-monster movie. The CGI effects in motion are beautiful to behold, and it’s really nice not having action scenes that really on shaky cam to impart an action packed effect.

PC Review — The Walking Dead: 400 Days

The Walking Dead: 400 days is DLC for Telltale Games’ Season 1.  However, it ends up being more of a prequel of Season 2.  Told in five short segments, it’s setting up for the second season, which is coming later this year. In each segment, you control one of five survivors through a defining moment in their life after the zombie apocalypse, ranging from “as it’s happening” to “over a year later.”  One of the strongest assets of the first season is the fact you spent so much time with all those characters that you were strongly attached to them.  How does this carry over to a much-shorter session?

There certainly isn’t anything quite as heart rending or moving as Season 1, but for being incredibly brief they still had quite the impact. There was more than one time during the segments that I flinched alongside the characters, or I was completely shocked by the turn of events.  Despite being short, the segments are masterfully well done—I blew through the hour and a half of content in a single sitting, but mostly because I wanted to experience more.  They are were well-paced and interesting. As well, they were also extremely varied; no two stories were alike, but they were all varied and interesting.  At the end of it, I got the sense it was not so much about the stories they were telling, but more about setting up established character prologues for the next game. Also very important—the decisions you make in this batch of DLC will carry over to Season 2! This means we’re having some choice into how the characters are going into the sequel.  Ramifications from decisions in 1 weren’t massive in terms of game play, but they changed up the way characters reacted in a way that was brilliant and organic; characters became more bitter or taken with you in a gradual way that felt very human.

“But I have zombie fatigue!” you might (understandably) say. And that’s fair! Zombies have been done to undeath, but that’s not what I’m recommending this for. Its stories are amazing; characters are developed on par with some AAA blockbusters in any media.  In 20 minutes, I formed an attachment to several of these characters that I’m looking forward to seeing how Tell Tale is going to develop these in the future. The zombies just happen to be a hazard; there’s no thought to the ‘origin’ of them, or where they came from.

The Walking Dead is an adventure game, though there’s not a whole lot of adventuring seen in these short vignettes.  The controls remain the same; you point and click on things in the background to interact with them, and movement is done with WASD. It’s a responsive, if simple, control scheme. My only annoyance comes when there’s a camera and control angle disconnect. For example, when you’re walking down a road that veers off to the left a little, and you hold W to go forward, you’ll go straight forward, and not along the curvature of the road.  Considering it otherwise nails so many small atmospheric and story cues, when it happens, it’s fairly noticeable.  Technically, it’s fairly solid.  The graphics aren’t groundbreaking, but they’re stylistic and very efficient; I didn’t experience a hiccup on the PC version. They do their job well, without any sort of flash or fanfare.  The music and voice acting are top notch, though—nearly every reaction is believable, both graphically and voice-wise. The score highlights the scene in the game; while there are no catchy tracks, it serves its purpose as ambient or scene-setting sounds in a way that only helps accent the events going on.

So do yourself a favor, if you find yourself craving a well-crafted, moving narrative packaged as a game, pick up Season 1 and 400 Days. Or, if you’ve already worked through Season 1, pick up this DLC to whet your appetite until the second season is out.  Also, there’s nothing as heart-wrenching in this one, so you don’t have to worry about shedding tears openly while your manly friends are in the room.

I mean, I would never cry during a game. Open weeping? Definitely off the table.

Note: Details are pretty sparse in this post. As it’s a new release, I wanted to hold off on discussing too much of the characters and events until some time has passed. Same reason why there’s no pictures.

 

On Blank Slate Creativity

Or, why running a tabletop game intimidates me

I have a pretty awesome gaming group consisting of friends who get together after work. Drinks are shared, food is made, and dick jokes are had.  As is the nature with tabletop groups, running the game is something that comes up on occasion; as schedules shift, and obligations arise, new games constantly needed to be forged.  We have a couple different of systems at our disposal, but the most recent one we’ll be looking at is Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. (Shh, I know it’s not most people’s favored system, but that’s for another time!)

As the question arose, the combination of both enthusiasm and dread hit me. Running a game is fun, for sure. It’s a challenging, but very rewarding role. I don’t mind handling off-the-rails things, or solutions I never dreamed of.  It’s coming up with a story from scratch that is rough on me. Without a situation or concept, it’s hard dredging up an idea or story line I think will be fun. How about trying to prevent a demon apocalypse? No, wait, we just did that. We wake up cold and alone, strangers in a strange land? No, also something we just did.

For some reason, coming up with a hook, or even a general idea, is something that I have an incredibly hard time forcing. Most often, it strikes when my mind is wandering on something else entirely — in this case, while taking a post-workout shower while seriously regretting the extra plate of potluck goodies I had.   At the end of the day, I think I struggle with it because I have so many options; the immensity of what I have at my fingertips overwhelms me. It’s not that I don’t have ideas; it’s that I almost readily discard every possibility, waiting for the ‘big’ one. Adding to the difficulty of this task is that little nagging voice behind every creative process–the one that says “hey, you know, that kind of sucks. You’re bad at this.”

In this case, though, instead of a ‘story’ thread, I want to focus on things that can seem tiring in game. Specifically, since there will be a first session where adventurers awkwardly shuffle together, I wanted to target this weirdness. I want to give them a reason to fight together, a reason why they should care about each other’s fate, and a reason to undertake a journey.  I’m actually pretty thrilled to see how well it’ll go; and once my party suffers experiences what I have planned, I’ll throw up an article on how it went.  Until then, I may do a couple of world-building pieces.

How about you, fellow gamers and story crafters? When trying to concept out an idea or story into something tangible, what do you find helps you grasp an idea that sticks?

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PC Review – Remember Me

Note: This is for the PC version of Remember Me

 Remember Me is the first game developed by DONTNOD entertainment. Originally, it had a hard time finding a publisher, as many of them were reluctant to pick up a game with a female protagonist that also didn’t fatally kill every enemy you come across. Capcom eventually picked it up, and published it to three platforms (PC, Xbox, and PS3).  I played it on the PC, with an Xbox controller, on the hardest difficulty.  I didn’t attempt it on the mouse and keyboard, but based on how it plays,  I can’t imagine it would be a fun experience.

One of it’s strongest attributes is it’s music.  The soundtrack, composed by Olivier Derivière, fits the world perfectly. It adapts itself to combat, changes it’s style based on what’s going on, and is tremendously unique in terms of what it offers.  I would strongly encourage at least giving the excerpts a brief listen, courtesy of the Soundcloud link below. The soundtrack itself is availible on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon MP3 if you end up wanting to check out more.

Gameplay-wise, it has a lot of things in common with Arkham Asylum, where the emphasis is more on watching the rhythm of battle and reacting accordingly over mashing out a 46 button combo that you’ve committed to muscle memory. You only ever unlock 4 ‘combos’, all of which are pretty easy to remember and make sense, reinforcing a more simple, but effective, method of combat.  Where Remember Me adds it’s own sense of flair is the ‘pressen’ system.  You can adjust each strike to have one of four effects: damage, health restoration, Sensen cooldowns (more on that later!), and ‘chain’. Damage and health restoration are pretty self explanatory; the ‘chain’ ones simply take on the effect of whatever precedes it.   Sensen Cooldowns lower the countdown timer on your specialized abilities, which could be considered the ‘special’ moves.  Each one has a different effect–one allows you to openly freeform moves in a series of devastating strikes, another brainwashes a robot enemy to your cause before it self-destructs.  There’s more in there, and they definitely add a flair to the combat–they are prevalent enough so that you can use them freely, but not so common that they’re all you do.  It’s a simple system that’s pretty fun, though over a multiple-hour play session it starts to feel a -little- robotic. (I’m still riding the MGS Revengeance high, though, so I get withdrawals if I’m not bisecting a Metal Gear Ray in half.)

These are the specialized Sense Abilities you get. The game does a nifty slowdown mechanic to give you time to choose--but the combat doesn't stop!
These are the specialized Sense Abilities you get. The game does a nifty slowdown mechanic to give you time to choose–but the combat doesn’t stop!

Outside of combat, you have the typical Tomb Raider-esque platforming. Nillin, the protagonist, can climb, vault, and jump with the best of them.  The game’s sense of style is amazing here, too–you never feel lost, thanks to helpful HUD elements that show you all the safe spots to jump.  If you’ve ever jumped for a ledge in a game and missed just due to the fact it seemed like it should’ve been a safe haven, rest assured that doesn’t happen here.  And while you do have a sweet moveset for traversing the terrain, the game is unfortunately rather linear–there’s  a few branches where you can hunt down collectibles, but otherwise, it’s fairly straightforward.  Personally, that’s not a huge deal to me, but there were times where I wanted to go and explore Neo Paris in all it’s beauty.

Guys, this menu is gorgeous. Like seriously. So damn stylish -- and this is only the intro menu!
Guys, this menu is gorgeous. Like seriously. So damn stylish — and this is only the intro menu!

There was a few bugs here and there. Most often, a scripted event didn’t go off, leaving me without a ledge to jump to or elevator to ride.  These didn’t provide a major hurdle, as the game’s checkpointing is damn brilliant.  The feelings of “Oh shit, where was my last check point?”, so common with quite the number of games, didn’t occur here.  Other than that, the game ran smooth as silk, and I had no problems with the initial install.

In game UIs are really slick, and aside from your health/Sensen abilities, everything is rendered as something Nillin actually sees, thanks to her Sensen implant.
In game UIs are really slick, and aside from your health/Sensen abilities, everything is rendered as something Nillin actually sees, thanks to her Sensen implant.

Overall, Remember Me is a solid game.  There’s nothing that stands out, but the combat system has enough nooks and crannies to not feel completely redundant with other games. Where it shines is it’s art style and sense of self; it’s one of the few games where the world feels fully believable and fleshed out. The animations are top notch, too–Nillin gives a great sense of being wounded or confused or angry even when idle.  Ultimately, it’s something I think people should experience for at least the sights and sounds, and the gameplay isn’t something you’ll need to suffer through for getting from point A to B.

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