Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nintendo Wii Online Improves

So I turned on my Wii for the first time in a long time recently and was pleasantly surprised.

One, they revamped the Nintendo Channel on September 14, 2009 and expanded the settings to include the option to view videos at high quality (yes please), not to mention started a weekly video review entitled "Nintendo Week" starring Gary and Allison. Nintendo Week's weekly installment's are too long, unfocused and juvenile, but overall a welcome addition.

Two, they've made the Internet Channel free for download again (previously it was 500 points, or $5).

Three, they have five WiiWare demos available on the Wii Shop Channel for download free of charge through the end of January. Of the five games, I highly recommend checking out Bit.Trip Void, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits and World Of Goo.

Now if they'd only break and begin offering demo's for Virtual Console games, and perhaps sell a hard drive add-on, I'd be turning on my Wii more often. I know that I would part with $50 for a hard drive peripheral.
There's a lot of games on the Virtual Console I'd love to try out without being forced to purchase. Konami for example has been reviving some of their IP's in classic 2D form under the ReBirth subtitle, starting with Gradius and Contra with Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth on it's way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Resident Evil

- Resident Evil -
Resident Evil Fan
For anyone who wants to review, it looks like an insane amount of work went into this thesis.

What's to say about the Resident Evil franchise that hasn't already been said? It's the game that brought 'survival-horror' to the masses. While Capcom may not have technically invented the style of gaming, nor was it the first game to feature zombies, it was the first to really make an action based survival-horror game playable and popularized zombies within the gaming world for years to come.

I've been with the series from the very beginning. I own and have played through RE 0-4 (+Code Veronica).

People forget about Code Veronica and that it was one of the Dreamcasts great exclusives (it wasn't ported to the PS2 for another year and half). Personally I think they should have given Code Veronica the official "3" numerical value and RE 3 something else, like "Resident Evil: Code Rebecca", as RE 3 was more of a side-story than Code Veronica was and took place during the events of RE 2 featuring some of the same environments.

I popped the Gamecube RE (remake), RE 0, and RE 4 into my Wii to clear out some memory blocks on my GC memory card and ended up revisiting those games longer than I had planned. I really liked the Gamecube RE remake, and wish that Capcom would've given RE2 and RE3 the same treatment.

If you've never played Resident Evil, or haven't played it since it's Playstation debut, I highly recommend picking up the Resident Evil and Resident Evil Zero remakes which have been re-released for the Wii under the 'Resident Evil Archives' moniker.

As for RE4, I don't know how anyone couldn't get into that game. It was terrific - and having 3 entirely seperate environments made it almost feel like 3 different games rolled into one lengthy adventure.

- Resident Evil 5 -
Release Date: March 13, 2009

The titular character Chris Redfield is back! Chris hasn't been the main playable character since the very first game, and as a secondary playable character 3/4's of the way through Code Veronica.

I do wonder how Resident Evil 5 stacks up in the creep factor. One thing about all the other RE games is that the environments alone were always traditionally & stereotypically creepy.

While I'm sure we're probably get our share of lab/factory/underground settings somewhere in RE5, it's the main village setting which raises doubts. I'm not saying a remote african village full of killer 'not zombies' can't be unsettling in it's own way, but it's out in the open and mostly from what I've seen takes place during sunlight hours. It seems more of a setting for a Tom Clancy game than your traditional Resident Evil fare. I guess you gotta give props to Capcom for not rehashing the same environs for the umpteenth time though.

As for downloadable content, an episode entitled "Lost In Nightmares" is due February 17th, stars Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, and takes place in a RE1 throwback-esque style mansion setting.
The second episode entitled "Desperate Escape" is due March 3 (no details have yet been made available about it's content).
Finally, Resident Evil 5 "Gold Edition" is going on sale March 9, and will contain the two episodes and some other extras. If you don't already own Resident Evil 5 (like myself), you might as well wait until the Gold Edition drops.

The only games I don't own/haven't played in the series are Resident Evil Outbreak I & II on the PS2,

the gun games - which are Survivor on the PSOne and Dead Aim (also known as Survivor 2) on the PS2,

and The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles both for the Wii.

- The Resident Evil Movies -

Resident Evil (Live Action)
The first live-action Resident Evil film starring Milla Jovovich is really the only salvagable film of the trilogy. They just get worse from there on in.
A fourth in the series, Resident Evil: Afterlife, is set for 2011.
Resident Evil: Degeneration
I was impressed with Resident Evil: Degeneration. It features Leon (from RE2 and RE4) and Claire Redfield (from RE2 and Code: Veronica) and takes place after the events of Raccoon City. It has great graphics...errr uh CGI, and is much more in-line with the video game franchise than the increasingly bad live-action films starring Milla Jovovich.

It is also interesting to see what happened to the US after the events of Racoon City, as everything after RE2 and RE3 (Code: Veronica, RE4, RE5) has taken place in countries other than the good ole' US of A.

Resident Evil: Degeneration along with Final Fantasy: Advent Children (not Spirits Within, that movie was garbage) are great examples of how to do CGI movies based around video games right.

Halloween 2009: ZOMBIES!

Find Me A Zombie
Zombies Bite

I like the Zombie genre, but unlike zombie movie fanboys, I think a truly great, epic zombie film that's truly scary with serious tone has yet to be done. Infact, I'd go as far as to say that a good 99.5% of zombie films are crap, unfortunately.

How do I like my zombies? I like 'em gruesome and slow, I don't believe they should all be capable of running, and I prefer my zombie flicks as straight-ahead creature features sans any heavy-handed social commentary please, thank you.
The infamous Tarman

My favorite zombie films;
Some of the films listed below are not true-to-spec "zombie films", but in the vain that any living dead are zombies, regardless of whether it was from airborne toxins, a virus, being buried on cursed ground, a comet, or taken over by slimy slug like creatures from outer space. If you're the walking dead, you might be a zombie.

Ahhh George Romero, "father of the zombie".
I've never been that much of a fan of the original B&W Night Of The Living Dead or Day Of The Dead, and Diary Of The Dead was an utter piece of crap.
I fell asleep during the Dawn Of The Dead remake starring Ving Rhames (yes, it was that good. I guess I'm just not a fan of Zack Snyder, I feel his movies are somehow devoid of substance), which took place in a fictional suburb of my hometown of Milwaukee, and I haven't seen the direct-to-DVD remake of Day Of the Dead directed by Steve Miner (also with Ving Rhames).
I'll check out Romero's newest, Survival Of The Dead, when it secures an official DVD release.

Even though I may think that Romero's zombie films as a whole are overrated, I do like select films in the Romero series/Home Page Of The Dead
Dawn Of The Dead[1978], Night Of The Living Dead [the 1990 remake by Tom Savini], and Land Of The Dead[2005],

Return Of The Living Dead I[1985] & II[1988],

Night Of The Comet[1984] and Night Of The Creeps[1986],

Pet Sematary[1989] (not really a "zombie film", but does feature the undead),

Shaun Of The Dead[2004], Slither[2006], and Planet Terror[2007],

28 Days Later[2002] and 28 Weeks Later[2007],

and Quarantine[2008]

Other notables;
Resident Evil[2002] (the first film in the live-action adaptation of the video game was the least worst of the series), and the CG film Resident Evil: Degeneration[2008].

As for the pre-1980's so-called "classics", I've seen 1971's Amando de Ossorio's Tombs Of The Blind Dead and Return Of The Blind Dead for the first time a year or two ago.
Tombs Of The Blind Dead is sometimes recommended as a zombie film, but "Ossorio objected to the description of the living dead Templars as "zombies," insisting that they more resembled mummies and that, unlike zombies, the Templars were not mindless corpses.", and I agree with that assessment.
Holy mackeral, that was some seriously laughable shit. Not only did I not find it scary, but also rather exploitative as well with the whole lesbian thing, rape, and you get to see almost every girl in the movie topless at some point.
The sequel had a couple of the same actors (who died in the first one) playing different roles, but looking nearly the same! More topless shots, and one attempted rape.

I have yet to see Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 from 1979.

-Video Games Featuring Zombies -
It's almost hard to believe there was a time when those pesky undead weren't running amuck within the video gaming world.

One of the first post-golden age home console games to feature a zombie theme was Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Super Nintendo version pictured above), which was released back in 1993.
The SNES version was recently released (Oct 26, 2009) for the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console.

The Resident Evil series, debuting on the Sony Playstation in 1996, is the title best known for bringing Zombie's to the forefront of gaming for years to come. (See upcoming blog post)

The House Of The Dead series is a popular "on-rails" gun game which debuted in arcades in 1996, and has subsequently seen numerous home console ports starting with the first in the titular series for the Sega Saturn in 1998. Though it may be better known for the near arcade-perfect port of House Of The Dead 2 for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999.

House Of The Dead 2 & 3 [2008] and House Of The Dead Overkill [2009] were both released exclusively for the Wii (Overkill having the dubious honor of being the first video game to receive the Guinness World Record title of most swearing in a video game with 189 counts of the "F" word).
Here's to hoping Sega decides to release House Of The Dead 4 on the Wii as well.

Taking a page from George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead with a shopping mall setting, Dead Rising was released for the Xbox 360 in 2006, it's sequel planned for a Q1 2010 release date.

Left 4 Dead for the Xbox 360 was released in 2008, while it's sequel is set to be released November 17, 2009.
And lastly, another fun game is Zombie Apocalypse, which was released for download on their respective consoles through Xbox Live and Playstation Home in 2009.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween 2009: DOOM

DOOM Offical Site Of The Games
Doom Wikia
Doom World
Planet Doom
Wikipedia Entry on the Doom series
Doom has been a series of games that has both entertained and scared the pants off of me.
It took a pair of twisted minds, John Romero and John Carmack, to create the phenomena.

- Doom Playstation -
Moby Games entry, Doom Playstation Wiki
I was first introduced to Doom in late 1995 (roughly two years after it's initial release on the PC), when the Playstation port was released. Along with millions of others, I spent countless hours playing Doom. Years later, I picked up Final Doom for the Playstation used.

Unique to the Playstation port, a dark, sinister and more ambient soundtrack by Aubrey Hodges/Moby Games entry replaced the PC's Bobby Prince's corny-ass heavy metal-esque soundtrack. My Doom experience is inexplicably intertwined with Aubrey Hodges bone-chilling score, and playing/listening to the original PC game, I have difficulty understanding how the PC version even scared people.
You can download and listen to Aubrey's Playstation Doom soundtrack in it's entireity (2 CD's worth), HERE. It's creep factor stands on it's own even without the game.

A 2006 photo.
Even when compared to future installments, with it's outdated graphics and old-school gameplay, there's still something very unsettling about the original Doom to me. Perhaps it's the seemingly neverending non-sensical maze-style stage layouts, complete with a punishingly large assortment of switches and secret doors. Afterall, I can't think of anything more hellish than being placed in a infinite maze you can never seem to find your way out of, but are given just enough incentive to make you think you can. (By comparison, to raise the level of realism they tried to make the mars base of Doom3 a tad more sensical, and I was thankful for that!)

- Doom Novels -
I only read the first book in the series (out of 4), partially on account of the fact that my library system had 1, 3 and 4 in the series, but was missing #2. That and the plot takes the "alien race is growing the creatures" angle in the 3rd & 4th books, which I wasn't interested in exploring.

There were theories presented in the first book (Knee Deep In The Dead) which did not interfere with the Doom games. Information which wasn't "fleshed out" in the games, but perhaps implied.
1) The facilities were built around "the gates" to take advantage of the artificial gravitational field they created (which was about 1/2 of earths, whereas phobos' was near zero). The teleport pads, gates and gravity generators were all there when humans first arrived on mars.

2) Deimos gets transported to hell, and eventually into earths orbit (in the book).

3) They were taking our nightmares, what we fear, and making them real. Our conception of hell.

4) It's all a test to see how humans react. Ultimately to effectively stage an earthly invasion. The invasion of the moons of Mars is a war game. Rats in a maze.

1) The "sour lemon" smell illicits rage in men. It raises testosterone and brings about an adrenal rush making one berserk.

2) One "brain" per set of demons (Imps in the book). Kill the head and the rest turn on eachother. The mind behind the invasion had the power to manifest itself through only one or two individuals in a group.

3) They genetically engineer, breed & raise, the demons and farm human flesh & organs in attempt to create "super-zombies".

4) The Spider Mastermind has telepathic powers. It controls the demons (who are all basically mindless & careless and fight amongst themselves without orders), and can even speak through lesser demons (it speaks through an Imp near the beginning and tells main character if he surrenders and helps they will let him live). The Spider Mastermind can also (telepathically) cause hallucinations evoking terror upon it's target. A wave of hypnogenic horror.
In the book the Spider Mastermind's telepathic abilities were powered by a central unit, however.

- Doom 3 -

Some critized Doom3 for being overly simplistic for a next-generation game, but that's Doom, and I enjoyed it just the way it was. So much so, that later I picked up the Doom: Resurrection Of Evil expansion used.

This was the first Doom game not to have continuously running music, and before I played Doom3, I was a little nervous about this fact considering how much I admired Aubrey Hodges work on the Playstation ports of Doom. But it turns out that the relative silence worked wonders in Doom3.

My main criticism of Doom3 would be that I didn't think a design overhaul of every DOOM baddie was necessary. A graphic upgrade yes, an entire redesign no. In most cases they made the creatures a bit less "demonic" and more other worldly. Also, I felt in many cases the creatures in Doom3 were overly detailed, and that the player gets few chances to really appreciate that detail. And since you're usually gunning them down at a distance, that detail is wasted.

I didn't appreciate a few of the creature redesigns and found them to be a downgrade, most particularly; The Imps...

I preferred the Imps grunts and more humanoid appearance in the original games.
The Cacodemons...

In the original games, the Cacodemons were large lumbering creatures, who let out a satisfying low-register moan when killed. The Cacodemons in Doom 3 were smaller, faster, and missing it's identifiable cyclops eye.

Note the removal of the iconic horns from the Barons and Lost Souls.

Although to their credit, in Doom: Resurrection Of Evil expansion, The Forgotten, a Lost Soul-variant was added. It more closely resembled the Lost Souls from the original games, being a blazing horned skull without any cybernetic parts.

They also revamped the Pinky Demon's. While the new creature design was awesome, where the Pinky Demon got upgraded to a large-class creature, I also kinda missed the old Doom Pinky Demons.

The most disappointing exclusion from Doom 3 was that of the Spider Mastermind. A promising sketch was made in preliminary development, but was not implemented.

Doom III Documentary

Mesh Does Doom 3 Compilation

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

- Doom Movie [2005] -
Wikipedia Entry

Not nearly as bad as the critics made it out to be. On the 'movies based on video-games' scale, I'd probably put in the upper-echelon (along with Max Payne, and the first Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat).

To me, the big failure lies within altering the biggest core element of the story (first on the novels based on the game and now the film). For some reason fighting off genuine 'creatures from hell' isn't satisfactory for many writers and they have to tinker with the formula which makes Doom, Doom. I mean, that's one of the things that differentiated Doom in the gaming world. There is a plethora of games where you fight alien invaders, but few where you battle with demons from hell. It made Doom stand out from the crowd.

In the movie they wrote it that an extra strand of DNA gives people supernatural abilities and dependant upon whether they are genuinely good or evil it transforms them into either creatures/zombies or gives them supernatural powers without disfiguring their body.
The first-person sequence (5:28) was fun. Barons/Hell Knights do not wield chainsaws in the games, and why would they need to with their imposing stature?

What's next? Doom 4 is in development, but reportedly we'll have to wait until Quakecon 2010 in August to hear news on the project.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween 2009: The Thing

The Thing is one of my favorite creature features, second only to Alien/Aliens. From the cold and secluded atmosphere to the pulsing drone of the score by Ennio Morricone.

One of the great things about The Thing is that the film doesn't spell everything out for you, and the many unanswered questions which the viewer may raise during the course of the film. Even the actors who played MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David) cannot tell you (do not know) 'til this day who is who (or what) at the conclusion of the film.

The FAQ page of Outpost 31 (the ultimate Thing fansite) tries to answer many of these questions. Though I still have a few of my own which are not addressed there;

1) When/how was Palmer assimilated?
I tend to believe that it was Norris' shadow intended to be on the wall in the infamous "whose shadow was on the wall" debate (the actual physical shadow was cast by a crew member, and not one of the actors), when the infected dog enters the room.

2) What is 'The Thing's' TRUE form? (The "Blair Monster" is an amalgamation of everything it had assimilated, other than perhaps it's head which, hypothetically speaking, could have been from an other worldy creature it had assimilated prior to landing on earth). Does it have a "true form"? Or is it merely 'a disease' or biological warfare formulated at a cellular level?

3) Is 'The Thing' consciously malevolent, or is it simply on "auto-pilot" with an innate sense of survival driven towards the repopulation of it's species? If the former is the case, one could make the arguement that the human-race and 'The Thing' aren't so different.

What say you?

The Comics
Like Dark Horse has done for the AVP/Aliens/Predators franchise, one can only hope that they re-release their out-of-print and hard to find comics line for The Thing in their Omnibus format when the "companion piece" of The Thing nears release in movie theaters.
"John Carpenter himself has mentioned (both in print and at public appearances) that if he were to do a sequel he would base it on the Dark Horse comics."
I shot an email off to Dark Horse, and Spencer from Dark Horse Comics responds; "There are currently no plans for such an omnibus, but I will definitely hold onto this email as a tally for suggestions that go to our Editorial dept."
The Dark Horse comics are as follows;
The Thing From Another World and The Climate Of Fear which is a direct follow-up to the film,

(as it stands right now those on Amazon & Ebay tend to ask upwards of $200 for the out-of-print graphic novel!)
Eternal Vows 1-4,

and Questionable Research 1-4.

There also was a video game released for the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Windows platforms in 2002, and (like the Dark Horrse comics The Thing From Another World & Climate Of Fear) is set after The Things ending. It garnered solid reviews, and although I've never played it I'd love to pick it up from the bargain bin or Ebay someday.

In 2007 Universal Studios Orlando ran 'The Thing Assimilation' as part of it's annual Halloween Horror Nights/Official Site. I thought it looked pretty cool, wish I could've seen it!

Here is a music video from french duo Zombie Zombie, which utilized GI Joe action figures with stop motion animation to create an homage to The Thing.

An infected 'The Thing' fan even made his very own 30 minute fan film. I can't give it a thumbs up, but the work he put into fabricating the creatures is astounding!
The Thing fan film Part 1 (of 4)

Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The Thing Prequel

Release date: April 29, 2011
Wikipedia Entry/IMDB Entry

From Wikipedia; In early 2009, Variety and Bloody-Disgusting reported the launch of a project to film a prequel—possibly following MacReady's brother during the events leading up to the opening moments of the 1982 film— with Matthijs van Heijningen as director and Ronald D. Moore as writer (later replaced by Eric Heisserer). In March 2009, Moore described his script as a "companion piece" to Carpenter's film and "not a remake.""We're telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did," he said.

Armed with a budget of 38 million, the prequel is due to be filmed in Toronto, Canada on March 15, 2010 until June 17, 2010.
Relative unknowns, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3D) and Joel Edgerton (Star Wars: Episode II) will play the lead characters of Kate and Sam.
We can only cross our fingers and hope that after all these years, The Thing's legacy doesn't deteriorate into a 'teen slasher' flick.

And as far as remakes and the casting of young actors, from one of the featurettes on the 2005 remake of The Fog;
John Carpenter;
"I've heard several reasons why horror films are being remade. One is I think probably is, the simplest explanation is a lot of kids have heard of these movies but they've never really seen them. Maybe their older brothers or their parents talk about them so it's in their consciousness but they've never really paid attention.
But in general there is a cultural mindset right now that says anything over 15 years old is kind of dead and old fashioned. And so in order to make it viable again we need to take it out and kind of give it a fresh coat of paint and try to revise a corpse."

David Foster (producer of John Carpenter's The Thing, also a producer on the prequel);
"From a business point of view, horror films are young peoples films. So we specifically went out and said, Ok, lets get some popular attractive young actors & actresses in this film."
"It was really a specific plan to go after fresh young faces that are popular with the young people today."

I just hope that wasn't the mindset of whomever the producers are on The Thing prequel. But considering the casting choices, I wouldn't doubt it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From The Archives; Creative Workplaces In The Madison Area

I'm a big proponent of creative design in regards to the workplace. No, it's not everything. But I would appreciate it if I were fortunate enough to work for a company that had creativity in mind when commissioning the building/workspace. Anything to make a job seem less like a job and more like super happy fun-time is OK with me.

A few years back I commented on (the lobby in) Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc. in Middleton after reading an article in the WSJ.

I once saw a piece on the new EPIC Systems Architect site/Company site/Art Installations/Voyager Hall & Epicenter Construction building in Verona on channel 5. Now I knew it was an expensive and expansive project, but I didn't know they had taken liberties with the conventional workplace design, as sampled in the photos below.

Top four photos courtesy of Pointy Kitty Studios.

Top two photos courtesy of 90 Degree Studios.

Top two photos courtesy of Sarah Best's Flickr page

Hallway photo courtesy of Glenn Loos-Austin's Flickr page

Is it safe to say that the EPIC Systems campus in Verona is the most architecturally creative building in the greater Madison area?
Sidenote; They've spared no expense in creating a "cool" work space, but I've heard that EPIC Systems is notorious for hiring recent green college grads (a minimum of a bachelor's degree is required to work there) and turning them into corporate slaves with 60+hr work weeks. Not exactly super happy fun-time!

Are there others (on a smaller scale) that have taken risks in the aesthetics dept. which I am not aware of? Sonic Foundry? Raven Software?(I'd been in the lobby of Raven Software and while it had nice clean lines and game poster's on the walls, it was still 'just a lobby').
How about Full Compass' new headquarters?

Are there any buildings in the east side business park (or the east side in general) that are architecturally creative?
The corporate headquarters of Madison's largest privately-owned co., American Family Insurance, surely didn't seem so. I heard some employee's used to refer to it as a prison. Almost does look like a supermax from a distance. WPS also seemed fairly standard, although I hear the older buildings are the worst. The Virchow Krause (now Baker Tilly) headquarters certainly isn't anything special. The lunch room is different but nothing spectacular. And the window-seat stools are really uncomfortable.
One would not expect businesses like accounting and insurance to design their buildings with creativity in mind. But then again EPIC Systems designs software for the health care industry.
So what about IT and (educational) software? The EDS (now HP Enterprise Services) Bridge st. building (especially the lower level) is dismal. Douglas Stewart took some liberties with the new area for their marketing department, with a warehouse like feel and loud colors. That would be a good example of creative design not always being to everyone's liking.