Friday, February 20, 2015
To really illustrate what I'm getting at here let me point to one of the biggest steampunk productions in media history, Steamboy. It's an animated film by the director of Akira that took ten years to make and at the time of its release had the largest budget of any feature length Japanese anime ever. While some of the music and visuals are nice, the story and characters are utterly forgettable. The technology on display is also unremarkable for the most part. It's a common mistake for fans of the genre to get hung up on the visual athletics (i.e. wanting to cover modernity in gears and boilers thinking it will impress). It doesn't really work because it just turns into the 1890s with today's conveniences. Conversely, stuff like the monowheel seems to exist solely to have a piece of flashy gonzo tech that's purpose would have otherwise just as well been served by a much more mundane conveyance such as a horse, bicycle or handcar. Actually the one and only truly clever piece off design in Steamboy, I would argue, is the steam ball. This story maguffin is actually intriguing in that it helps address issues with a key aspect of steam power in general. I believe the webpage on TV Tropes regarding steampunk sums it up nicely:
[A]ny Victorian-era society which actually tried to create steampunk technology would soon find itself in stark trouble. Barring magical intervention, the power requirements necessary to make real-world versions of steampunk devices (or at least Victorian-era versions of 20th century technology) would be enormous, and would soon exhaust all available supplies of coal and wood. A real steampunk society would have to either immediately transform into a fully modern society (with oil, gas, and nuclear power driving devices made of modern, lighter materials) or would quickly become, in all probability, a technological dead end. With this said, the recent development of a number of designs of rocket stoves beginning in the 1980s, have demonstrated that a highly fuel efficient steam boiler may in fact not be quite so impractical after all, at least on a small scale. On this point, it is also worth mentioning that the average contemporary power station still runs primarily on large coal-fired steam turbines, and that nuclear power still actually involves running a steam turbine as well, but simply uses the heat from (ideally) contained nuclear reactions to generate steam, rather than a wood or coal-fed fire.
Friday, February 13, 2015
There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part.
- Professor Van Helsing
Halloween has come and gone, but Bloodborne is still on the way. Unlike From Software's previous outings which were dark fantasy melting pots, game director Hidetaka Miyazaki has chosen to draw inspiration from the gothic horror genre this time around. I have no doubt he has versed himself in stories like the Werewolf of Paris, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, in addition to the Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. The book I read in preparation for the release of Bloodborne through was none other than Bram Stoker's most famous work, Dracula.
It's surprising just how much this classic novel reads like the literary equivalent of a found footage flick. The entire text is made up of correspondence letters, newspaper clippings, ship's logs, medical reports, memorandums, messages sent by telegraph, wax cylinder audio recordings made on phonographs, plus lots of journal and diary entries by no less than five different individuals. The result is a patchwork narrative that leaves the nature of vampires shrouded in mystery. Look no further than the TV Tropes page "Our Vampires are Different" for a comprehensive look at the incredible variety of sometimes contradictory abilities and vulnerabilities these undead posses. In part this lack of codification is what makes Dracula such an intriguing story; it all plays out kind of like a game of chess except the way pieces move and where they are located on the board isn't always clear. I've never come across a game that captures this aspect of the story very well. Then again, when the most faithful video game adaptation of the property is an Atari Lynx exclusive that only covers the first couple chapters of the book...
So, getting back to Bloodborne, I think it's a safe bet to assume the player is going to fight "nosferatu" of some form, and might be one him/herself (or possibly a "dhampyr," if you want to get really technical with the terminology). Regardless of that, I look forward to seeing what take the designer of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls has when it comes to vampires. Here's hoping we get to experience something special, and not in a they-sparkle-in-the-sunlight kind of way.
The tomb in the day-time, and when wreathed with fresh flowers, had looked grim and gruesome enough; but now some days afterwards, when the flowers hung lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns; when the spider and the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance; when time-discoloured stone, and dust-encrusted mortar, and rusty, dank iron and tarnished brass, and clouded silver-plating gave back the feeble glimmer of a candle, the effect was more miserable and sordid than could have been imagined.
- Dr. Steward
Friday, February 6, 2015
Back in the early days of comic books the amount of real estate one could use to tell a story in was about two dozen pages. This was because collecting hadn't really caught on yet so readers tended to throw out older monthly issues of whatever series they were subscribed to. The result was every story arch had to begin and conclude expeditiously. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is what if you want to create a work of fiction that doesn't fit within that framework? Well, some things get cut or padded and the overall tale suffers as a result. This especially applies to books and film. I can think of a lot of door stopper novels that would have been much more enjoyable had they been short stories. Conversely, movies can feel rushed when they try to cover to much ground. Video games, on the other hand, can be as long or short as needed.
Enter Ender's Game, a sci-fi version of Harry Potter wherein Hogwarts is replaced with Battle School and Quidditch with the Battle Room. Unlike Harry Potter's four houses though there are twenty-two "armies" that compete against one another. In the film we only ever see eight displayed on leader boards and watch a few fights. In a video game though this kind of thing could easily be the backbone of gameplay. Players could spend hours learning the tactics of various army commanders and competing for top spot. After all a huge theme of Ender's Game is the notion of being empathetic enough to understand your enemy yet sociopathic enough to exploit that understanding. Granted it's bit much to expect the player to be a tactical genius, but once the mechaincs have been introduced in this hypothetical version of Video Ender's Game (get it?) things could be simplified to this commander likes to X while that commander always does Y. Between battles time can be spent on fleshing out characters and exploring the setting in more detail. Again, the events in the Ender's Game novel take place over a five year period (age 6 to 11) while in the film it's only a small fraction of that time (with Ender starting off much older to boot).
Eros for simulator training. Again, begin with individual drones, then squadrons with support ships, and eventually all the way up to whole fleets. Both novel and movie skip over a lot of Ender's battles, but in a game players could command each and every engagement. There could even be the option for co-op multiplayer here in the form of detaching battle groups to sub-commanders, much like Ender did with his former schoolmates. Alternatively, managing your team of personality driven A.I. assistants could also be interesting. Sort of like fighting against different army commanders in Battle School except in reverse. Players would have to maximize the strengths of their subordinates in order to succeed.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Darkest Dungeon, Massive Chalice, and The Forest are just a few games on a long list of titles I want to play once they're complete. The thing is though, I have to ask myself from time to time, when is a video game really done? Feature complete is a term I've heard used often enough to signify when a title goes gold, but what does that really mean. An excellent example is Kerbal Space Program. It's rapidly approaching version 1.0 with improvements made to everything from aerodynamics to deep space refueling. Sadly, the solar system in which players explore is still in need of some major attention. The Earth analogous planet Kerban doesn't have clouds, the ice giant Eeloo doesn't have geysers, nor does the desert planet Duna have dust storms. Promised additions such as a ringed gas giant or proper internal views for all the cockpits have yet to be implemented. The game is supposedly a complete and while I don't think it is, I feel the same way about numerous other "full retain products" currently available ranging from big triple AAA titles like Assassin's Creed: Unity to other small scale projects such as SpinTires.