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Kara-Kara-Kara-Kara-Kara Chameleon! March 12, 2012

Posted by jaykayell in Videogames.
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SO! David Cage is at it again. Blurring the lines between film and games with a tech-demo cum short movie that provides another take on the ol’ “what is it to be alive?” question.

All very impressive visually and not just on a technical level. There’s some good, and more importantly coherent, design work on display here. The cold sterile manufacturing plant contrasting nicely with the warm flesh tones of Kara’s eerie disembodied face. It’s a world apart from the new Unreal engine demo shown last year, which was pretty much the culmination of every game that’s ever used the Unreal engine. But like that Unreal demo, we’ve seen Kara before haven’t we. As you can see, there’s some noticeable similarities in subject and tone with Chris Cunningham’s amazingly effective video for ‘All is Full of Love’.

Now, it’s not like videogames aren’t already littered with “tributes” to certain movies. Indeed, my all time favourite game series, Silent Hill, is itself full of references to various other forms of media. And there’s no crime in taking influences, as Oscar Wilde famously said “talent borrows, genius steals”. Popular culture is built on taking influences and rearranging them into something new, the excellent video series Everything is a Remix expands on this far better than I ever could so do be sure to watch that.

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An emotional scene featuring a robot, yesterday.

So not being terribly original isn’t Kara’s sin here. I’d much rather videogames took influence from Chris Cunningham’s work than… well, whatever that Unreal demo was based on. David Cage can’t be criticised for lack of ambition when it comes to experimenting with narrative in games. It’s just… he’s horrible, HORRIBLE, at it.

Take Fahrenheit, his first stab at bringing film and gameplay closer together. No really please, take it away. (Oh I’m hilarious me!) I’ve seen a fair few shit films in my time, you know the type. They have exposition heavy dialogue because the screenwriter has no faith in their own writing ability. The kind that would have a detective say “hmmmm looks like a homicide to me!” while they’re stood over a body that’s got a big knife sticking out of it, in case we the audience are too slow to pick up on it. Fahrenheit had the subtlety of a boot to the head, gaming’s equivalent to a straight to video film. Except this time it’s the directors cut, so the player was treated to long sequences of getting ready for bed! Whole events which had nothing to do with moving the narrative forward or even providing a decent gameplay experience. What you ended up with was a whole load of padding around a thin plot that would have had trouble stretching out 90 minutes, let alone several hours. It was hailed as being mature for daring to have a sex scene, one deemed so important that you could control the protagonist Lucas’s erm… ‘movements’ while Nickleback-alikes play in the background. Quite why Cage felt this was so important to do, I don’t know. But I will admit that I like the idea of Lucas committing suicide if he fails to bring Carla to orgasm. The plot of Fahrenheit was a horrible mishmash of conspiracies, voodoo and fuck knows what else. A bunch of disparate elements all brought together with no logical explanation.

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“Look Olivia! I can get this woman off with just my fingers!”

Cage’s next production, Heavy Rain, followed the template laid out by Fahrenheit but with a tighter plot. In that it had a plot that made some sense. Again, it further blurred the line between gaming and films but like Fahrenheit, playing it felt like you were reading over someone else’s shoulder. Not being able to take in the story at your own pace but forced to jump through hoops in order to move things on. Literally if you were playing the ‘Move enhanced’ version. It’s clear that Cage sees himself as an auteur of videogames. There’s a training section in Fahrenheit where he pontificates on how different an experience you’re having in comparison to those other, booooooring, games. Those other games where you run around of your own free will and work out solutions by yourself without the game holding your hand and offering you ‘hints’. Generally treating you like a fucking adult who’s capable of reading the manual.

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A woman in Heavy Rain IN heavy rain yesterday.

BACK TO KARA, here is where we see Cage’s failings as a writer come to the fore. In the first few moments, the camera pulls back from Kara’s face to show that “she’s” mechanical. An unseen tester commands Kara to tell the audience what she is and she handily lists out a few of her functions such as looking after the house, cooking, helping out with the kids, and being always up for a quickie. (Again, why Cage deems this important to state I don’t know) As the film goes on, Kara suddenly goes all Johnny-5 on us and declares that she’s alive. So instead of being amazed that he’s stumbled over potentially the greatest AI ever, the unseen tester orders Kara to be disassembled until… she says she’s fwightened then has a change of heart. Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

As per usual with Cage’s work, the writing is offensively unsubtle (©Voidburger), hammering the point home just so you could have your emotions manipulated by a rank amateur. What’s worse is it seems to have worked too with journos and commenters alike singing its praises. In a better world, David Cage wouldn’t even be trusted to write a manual. But in this one, his messy unfocused approach is constantly referred to as a benchmark. Both Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain were praised as important steps forward in game storytelling despite having nothing new to say.

One particularly problematic aspect of Cage’s work evident in Kara is how he makes sure to tell us, the audience, that she’s barely more than a cooking, cleaning and shagging machine. There’s an argument to be made here how Kara is meant to be a dehumanised object. But this doesn’t hold much water when you realise the unseen tester talks to her as if she was a person, creepily calling her baby and honey. Add to that the totally necessary and important sex scene in Fahrenheit where Carla magically falls in love with Lucas so Cage can show some polygonal nookie and call it ART! Or what about the scene in Heavy Rain when Madison does a striptease in order to lull a gangland boss into a false sense of security even though her gun is unguarded no more than a few steps away? Far be it from me to draw any conclusions about David Cage but when he’s having to defend the scenes he claims are so important then maybe he should start to rethink his priorities.

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TOTES MATURE!

Going back to both the Kara and Unreal2011 tech demos, they both stand as two very different but prime examples of all that’s wrong in modern gaming narratives. Cartoon stereotypes in place of full characters. Writing that’s pitched at an audience who’ve never read a book that isn’t full of spaceships or barbarians. Big, messy unfocused plots that demand a steady stream of explosive setpieces but neglect the spaces in between. Even the once glorious Silent Hill series is now in the hands of someone who uses the magical negro trope in 2012! Gamers are being continually fed a diet of shit-sandwiches and enjoying it because they don’t know better.

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The videogame violence debate summed up. April 18, 2011

Posted by jaykayell in Videogames.
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The Daily Post

The disturbing terror lurking in every Xbox that will horrify parents! Hattie Hatterson

Like many parents, I gave in and bought a gaming machine for my family. I’ve never been one for electronic games preferring far more worthwhile pursuits such as reading or spending time real people. But I started to take more of an interest when my eldest son started playing a game he downloaded and what I found chilled me to my core. The game was called Monday Night Combat and it was every bit as violent and terrifying as the title suggests.

In this game, human life itself is reduced to sport as you play a contestant sent out to kill as many others as you can. Bodies litter the playing field as bullets fly everywhere, for every kill you’re rewarded with $25. What message are we sending to our children by applying a price to death? What disturbs me most though is the cartoon-like nature of these sickening images, clearly meant to appeal to children who aren’t ready to understand the consequences of taking a life.

The shocking reality is that even though this game is astonishingly violent, it’s freely available to download by anyone with access to an xbox 360. Obviously this game is far too violent to be sold in shops so why is it even available at all? Microsoft have done absolutely nothing to prevent sales of this game preferring instead to profit from gruesome depictions of death. How typical of a company to stand by and do nothing when money is involved. I fear for every parent who was fooled into buying these machines as they do nothing but pump images of extreme violence into young minds! How long until we see a new wave of children re-enacting these grim fantasies before something is done?

SICKENING: A typical scene of depraved violence from Monday Night Combat

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The Faily Post gets it WRONG again! Andy Anderson

No doubt by now you’ve all seen what counts as “journalism” in this week’s latest scare mongering Daily Post!! Hattie Hatterson, the trout faced old wench, has been spewing her ignorant mouth off again. Usually her drivel would send even a lifelong insomniac to sleep but this time she’s been laying into videogames and we here at GAMETAKU won’t stand for it! Firstly she completely misses the point by thinking because it’s a download only title, it’s been banned from shops!?!? Maybe the Post could try and find someone who can be bothered to do their research next time? And while they’re at it, they can find Hatterson’s kids a new mother because their current one can’t be bothered to raise them properly!!!!

Hatterson spouts the same ol’ garbage that violent videogames cause real violence when there’s ZERO evidence!!! There’s millions of gamers who’ve gone all the way through blood soaked adventures like God of War, Modern Warfare and Gears of War who’ve managed to not kill anyone. Does anyone who believes this tripe honestly think we’re all about to go on mass murder sprees because we play Call of Duty?!?! It’s badly written, lazy bullshit like the kind that Hatterson specialises in that gives gamers a bad name!!! Howabout rather than blaming Microsoft for your family problems Hatterson, you start doing your job properly???

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HARMLESS: The bright coloured fun The Daily Post claims is ruining our kids!

This post was inspired by this bag of nonsense.

(I should also add that I fucking love Monday Night Combat!)

Friday Night Dinner and Limmy’s Show March 6, 2011

Posted by jaykayell in Comedy, Television.
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Picture only, because Channel 4 don't like other people publicising their shows by embedding youtube videos.

In the past couple of months in the UK,  you’ve most likely seen a trailer for Robert Popper’s new sitcom Friday Night Dinner. Unless you’re one of those types who doesn’t believe in having a TV because it’s full of crap, in which case go back to your boxsets of The Wire and Futurama you gigantic hypocrite.

Even though Robert Popper is best known for his superb leftfield collaboration with Peter Serafinowicz Look Around You, he’s no stranger to sitcoms. Having script edited the excellent first series of Inbetweeners, IT Crowd and produced two series of Peep Show. With such a pedigree, the last thing you’d expect from him is something sedate and traditional. And yet, that’s precisely what Friday Night Dinner is.

Hard as it may seem to believe now, but there was a time when Channel 4 broadcast an incredibly wide range of comedy. From the mainstream success of Desmonds to the truly unique surrealism of Nightingales. Cult hits such as Father Ted and Spaced which needless to say are still held in high regard by their fanbase. And of course their range of US imports such as Golden Girls, The Cosby Show and mega-hit Friends. Listing all of their great shows would be a whole post in itself!

But this isn’t the Channel 4 which would once give space to a 11 minute sitcom starring puppets. Nowadays, every show is a brand to be exploited. Laser targeted at an 18-34 demographic with disposable income so they can tweet about it, create a buzz and buy the DVD. Recent C4 sitcom commissions such as Pete vs Life, Campus and Phoneshop all cater towards the younger end of the market and their idea of what they want is a stream of wanking gags.

So when handed a quiet piece such as Friday Night Dinner, something not targeted at their beloved young audience, they simply have no idea what to do with it. The humour is gentle, not forced. There’s no hee-hee-lariously awkward discussions of anal sex. And the setting is a parents home rather than a night club. In short, nothing that C4 believes is what the kidz they want to be down with, really want. (And before you name Peep Show as a counterpoint, there’s several beautifully constructed one liners per episode that are designed for big laughs.)

This just will not stand. A sitcom not written for short attention spans isn’t the kind of show that’s an easy sell. But instead of just putting it out on a Thursday night and letting the audience grow naturally, C4 heavily trailered it and billed it as their fresh new sitcom for 2011. Given a prime Friday night slot, a space where the biggest and brightest sitcoms have traditionally lived at C4 (think Father Ted, Black Books and Friends. All shows which exaggerate the norm and paint in broad strokes rather than revel in small details like Friday Night Dinner).

The most damaging concession to the new Channel 4 however, is the incredibly ill fitting opening title sequence. Say you’re going to score a show about the eccentricities of family life, I’d be willing to put money on you NOT going with a bass heavy club anthem. The sequence itself is all flashing lights and colour. Not to say it’s terrible, it’s just wrong. It puts you in the mood for a laugh out loud knockabout starring attractive 20-somethings.

Reaction to the series has been mostly negative so far. Which shouldn’t reflect on the quality of the show, as it’s a perfectly fine little piece. Watched out of the context of its Friday night slot, it holds up well. But the audience have been led to believe that it’s a totally different show. Expecting big broad gags rather than details such as the dad always being topless because he’s abnormally warm all the time. Friday Night Dinner just isn’t designed to be a big mainstream hit and by building it up to succeed, Channel 4 have possibly doomed it to fail.

In the other corner, we have Limmy’s Show which is the complete opposite of FND and on its second series. Brian Limond has been quietly producing his own offbeat comedy on the internet since 2006 with his podcast ‘Limmy’s World of Glasgow’. A series of monologues introducing his finely nuanced and detailed characters such as Dee Dee the stoner, ASBO teenager John Paul and bitter ex-junkie Jacqueline McCafferty. And his youtube videos which exhibited both his observation for the mundane and the unusual. After receiving more attention for his work, he landed himself with a fantastic pilot and 6 episode series, currently available on DVD.

What made Limmy’s Show unique at the time was it’s singular world view. This was reality filtered through Limmy’s minds eye. Rather than go for the broad audience like Mitchell & Webb Look and Come Fly With Me, this was a sketch show that didn’t care whether or not you kept up with it. All of the material, and feel of the show, was built from the ground up by one man with an off kilter vision. Limmy’s relatively normal appearance belied his dark comic heart as he set about exposing our own hidden fears. There were no simple punchlines, you had to pay attention and work to appreciate this series.

With this second series, Limmy has upped his game considerably. There’s still the same unusual atmosphere but now there’s some very big payoffs for his more whimsical flights of fancy. Repetition of set ups in sketch shows have come to mean repeating the same gag several times in case you missed it the first time, or if you loved it, then here it is again! But Limmy can take the situation to places you just don’t expect.

The range in Limmy’s Showis wonderfully wide as well. He’s happy to have melancholic reminiscing sit alongside thumbnail gags. And his own characters are some of the most finely detailed that you’ve ever seen. Compare Dee Dee, the eternally stoned layabout against The Morgana Show’s fucking hateful Gilbert. With Dee Dee, we’re invited into his world, to share what he sees. We see his paranoia writ large and his thought processes are brought to light. With Gilbert, it’s just pure “HA HA LOOK AT THE SPAZ!” with no room for subtlety or nuance. The official line is that Gilbert is just an innocent rather than disabled. Which contradicts the witless segments from the TNT Show, a disaster for all involved apart from Jack Whitehall who C4 are keen to push as the new Russell Brand (how very apt).

But I digress, Limmy’s Show is the kind of thing people will be talking about in years to come along with Absolutely and The Adam & Joe Show. Those mistily remembered by most programmes which can colour someone’s world view and inspire a loyal fanbase. The worst thing about Limmy’s Show is that it’s only readily available to such a small section of the country, playing only on BBC Scotland. Which, along with Gary: Tank Commander, Burnistoun and VideoGaiden, has been putting out some of the finest comedy of recent years that has been virtually ignored by critics and the mass media at large. The shameful non-showing of any series not coming from England at the so-called British Comedy Awards this year was very telling.

In an age where the non-improv improv show Fast and Loose is allowed to be on air, Limmy’s Show deserves far wider exposure than it’s been given. The nationwide release of the first series on DVD redresses the balance a bit, but what’s needed is the BBC taking a risk and putting out the kind of intelligent and sharp comedy that has been lacking on national TV. They’re sitting on what could be a landmark series. Thankfully, episodes are available on iPlayer so if you’re intrigued and in the UK, check it out. It’s not for everybody, but for those who get it, it could become vital.

My Mum couldn’t give a flying one about Dead Space 2. February 21, 2011

Posted by jaykayell in Trailers, Videogames.
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In my last post, I wrote* about the Dead Island trailer and how its made an impact outside of gaming circles. And it’s got me wondering why something as mundane as a trailer being released has exploded so far so quickly. A brand new IP is something that’s increasingly hard to establish in sexy-videogameland, just ask Enslaved, so for Dead Island to have seemingly come from nowhere is as they say in the industry, a big thing.

But really, if you take a slightly longer than usual look then you start to realise how a cgi trailer can stand out in this current glut of light and noise masquerading as entertainment. For a start, it’s something that has some genuine emotional weight. The reveal of the family’s identity being the gutpunch.

The positive reaction to Dead Island is less of a surprise when you consider the recent campagn ‘Your mom hates Dead Space 2’. For those that are unaware of the latest wheeze from those who turned Dante’s Inferno into a God of War clone, the following video should explain all. The punchline is it’s rated  ‘M for Mature’.

LOL the moms hate it so it must be COOL right? Right? It’s no wonder that gaming is still seen as the hobby of manchildren when one of the biggest releases of 2011 is so happy to cater to manchildren. Because, really, who is that campaign even aimed at? If you’re of age to buy the game legally then it’s about time you stopped trying to piss your mother off. And while you’re at it, throw out those Slipknot CDs too.

The voiceover sounds like phone sex with a psychopath. Getting you off by describing the content in the style of Babestation, ‘It’s revolting. It’s violent. It’s everything you love in a game’. Which as a tagline is snappier than ‘It’s juvenile. It’s shallow. It’s about time you grew out of this shit’.

The irony is that Dead Space 2 does actually tread on some mature ground. Isaac Clarke, the clunkiest protagonist name ever, is wracked with guilt over his beloved’s death. Along the way, he’s taunted psychologically by the demons his mind made physical, with a religious cult in the background driving things along and WAIT A MINUTE! We’ve been here before haven’t we? Is this not the basic premise of Silent Hill 2, a benchmark for storytelling in games and a horror masterpiece in itself? Why, I do think it is!

Where Dead Space 2 and Silent Hill 2 differ though is the way they handle the same concepts. Silent Hill takes influence from the more experimental directors such as Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and David Lynch, all the D’s in fact. Dead Space on the other hand is Michael Bay aiming for credibility but unable to stop himself from resorting to BIG BANGS! I’m actually quietly fascinated by the ways in which Dead Space is broken but that’s for another post.  Suffice to say that Dead Space’s many failings are typical in videogames. Had it been a movie, it would have come and gone with barely a whisper. Dead Space 2 has doubled sales of its predecessor and been called a victory for creativity. You have to laugh…

To tie this post up, I leave the final word to Robert Florence who complained about all of this back in 2006. That’s 5 years ago. Judge for yourself if things have improved.

*I will never, ever, use the term ‘blogged’ straightfaced.

Dead Island trailer – it’s alright I s’pose yeah. February 17, 2011

Posted by jaykayell in Trailers, Videogames.
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Hmm? What’s that you say? ANOTHER title with zombies in? Yeah, whatever. Zombies aren’t rare currency in videogames. Their resurgence as pop culture icons over the past decade has seen just about every hack idea and concept bolted on to the walking dead in just about every medium. The nadir happening when not only did someone have the bright idea to insert zombies into a literary classic, someone went and optioned the movie rights to that spark of genius as well! Lol random huh?

 

So then why is it that a trailer for upcoming game Dead Island manages to get just about everything right?

 

First and foremost, it tells a story in the least patronising way. There’s no voiceover to tell you what the trailer is showing you. No lurid titles promising gore filled action. It assumes you’re an adult who is perfectly capable of choosing your own emotional response to what you’re seeing.

 

The final moments of a family played out from back to front, a simple yet powerful idea. Suddenly we’re reminded of the tragedy behind zombies, that at one point they were just people.

When you consider the campaign for another recently released horror game, Dead Space 2, centred on how much your mother will hate it, Dead Islands sombre yet subtle trailer has gained attention from outside gaming’s bubble. But for the right reasons, and how often can you say that?

Of course, it could all turn out to be dogplops when the full game is released. But the trailer will still stand tall as a sign that gaming needs to grow up to be taken seriously.