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Even when compared to future installments, with it's outdated graphics and old-school gameplay, there's still something very unsettling about the original Doom to me.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.