Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Zombies and the Dead Island Trailer; or, Holy Shit Effective Marketing Batman!

I've made no secret of the fact that I like zombies. There's something about them that just appeals to me on a (ahem) visceral level. Maybe it's the confluence of post-apocalyptic social dynamics with the pure uncanny terror of seeing the dead come back to life (especially the reanimated corpses of your friends and family). Admittedly that sounds a little weird when I type it out like that, but when the zombie genre is done right it explores themes of desperation, loyalty, resilience, theology, and triumph and tragedy alike. It's just such fertile grounds for examining the human condition. Moreover the idea of great masses of people suddenly becoming mindless killers is a concept that seems to gain more figurative weight with each passing day.

All that said, the zombie genre is one that has also frustrated me in recent years. The market is, without a doubt, over-saturated with the undead (that's almost ironic), and as a result there's just so much cash-grab crap to sift through that the good stuff seems increasingly few and far between. The Walking Dead TV series, for example, was among the great disappointments in the fall. Despite the involvement of Frank Darabont and the potential displayed in the pilot, the show's narrative meandered about without really accomplishing anything until the finale. At that point it pulled a thematic 180 that left me cold, and frankly I don't much care if or when it comes back. A new series in one of my favourite genres made by a film maker who I hugely respect, and they managed to lose me within six episodes. Not a good sign.

Sidebar: I really should do a piece on how great The Mist is...

I don't want to sound completely negative, there have been some great zombie flicks in the last few years. As I wrote in 2009, Zombieland was great fun, and took a new spin on the satirical side of zombies. Also the British mini-series Dead Set, while not necessarily bringing anything new to the table, proved that the genre still has some legs in terms of social metaphor. The series depicted a zombie apocalypse from the perspective of the cast and crew on a season of Big Brother. Turning the lens on reality TV made for some great fun, but the true appeal of Dead Set was in its high production values and fearless approach to narrative. Seriously, for a good old scary time watch the entire series in one go, it's not much longer than a feature film and definitely worth the time.

But all of this is just to get to the reason for the post: the trailer released today for the upcoming game, Dead Island. It feels slightly, well, icky to dedicate an entire post to a marketing promotion, but this trailer is worth it. I found it over at Kotaku, and they called it "The Most Heartbreaking Zombie Vieo Game Trailer You'll Ever See." By no means an understatement, but I think Joystiq does it better when they say that with this trailer the game goes from "completely off our radar" to "has complete dominion over our minds." That does sum up the effect nicely. But don't take my word for it, give it a look yourself:

Now that's how you market something about zombies. Gore, pathos, tragedy, desperation, it's all there! They even go so far as to show the violent death of a child in a marketing tool! Twice, technically. Dead Island now has my full attention by virtue of its excellent trailer alone. This video is the best thing to happen to the zombie genre in years, and if the game can live up to even half the potential seen here then we'll all be in for a real treat this fall.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What if The Legend of Zelda was a John Hughes Movie?

I've had an astoudingly busy week, so I hope you'll forgive me for the lack of posts. I promise to make up for it over the weekend/rest of the month. In the meantime, please enjoy an amazing fake movie trailer that's been making the rounds in the blogosphere. It mixes numerous things I love:

1) Movies trailers
2) John Hughes movies
3) The Legend of Zelda
4) The classic New Order track, "Bizarre Love Triangle"
5) MIDI music

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Customizable Button Mapping for Disabled Gamers

Update: Added a title to the post. Whoops :S

A few weeks ago I posted about how Sony San Diego's upcoming MLB '11: The Show will include an "Association for Disabled Virtual Athletes" mode. Basically the game will be playable using only one button, making it accessible to disabled players. Anyway, this morning I read on Joystiq that developer Visceral Games plans to patch customizable controls into the PC version of their recent Dead Space 2.

The patch comes in response to an online petition and a forum post by Gareth Garratt, a player living with cerebral palsy. Garratt has been playing through Dead Space 2 on his PC using a mouse as his primary input device. Frustrated at the inability to program a "walk forward" command to one of the mouse buttons, Garratt posted on publisher EA Games' forums. There he complained about his difficulties with Dead Space 2 and asked the developers to acknowledge the needs of disabled gamers.

Garratt playing Fallout 3 by using his chin to manipulate the mouse

Garratt's post directed readers towards an already existing online petition that asks game developers and publishers to include custom button mapping in their games. At publishing the petition has received almost 25 thousand signatures, and evidently it took less than that to convince Visceral Games to support the cause. Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis has told Joystiq that the PC version of Dead Space 2 will be receiving a patch that will allow players to re-map the games controls to the mouse. For the full release head over to the original post over at Joystiq.

I don't know if it's just that I only recently started paying attention, but it seems like 2011 is proving to be a great year for disabled gamer accessibility. The original Dead Space was hugely enjoyable, and so I've really been looking forward to Dead Space 2. The sequel garnered excellent reviews, so I was already thinking about picking it up (eventually). This news gives me one more (altruistic-ish) reason to buy the game and support developer Visceral Games.

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Appreciation of Good Television

I was browsing the internet this morning when I came across a banner ad for... this:

Now, I admit I may have been tangentially aware of this show's existence, but until today I had never been confronted by the pure, unrelenting truth of the matter. There's really a show called fucking Cougar Town, and what's more it's not even on Fox! Somehow I find this more appalling than the existence of Dance Your Ass Off, although I recognize that the reality show is probably more indicative of the apparent cultural apocalypse. But come on, seriously. Seriously. Cougar Town? Wasn't that a joke on 30 Rock a few years back? How did this happen? Where did we go wrong?

Honestly, I'm playing it up a bit. I don't actually consider this a sign of the end of days (culturally or otherwise). If there were such a thing we'd have passed that road sign years ago, at breakneck speed and probably drinking at the wheel. However the bald fact of the existence of Cougar Town (shudder) made me realize that I'm long overdue in making a post about the amazing TV shows I've been watching recently.

Sidebar: how many people read the title to this post and saw the Cougar Town picture and stuck around just to see if I was blogging while drunk again?

This fall I was made aware of the wonderful show, Community (actually someone told me about in the summer but it generally takes me a few months to appreciate anything brilliant that people recommend to me. Thanks Sandy). It's a show about a study group at a community college (featuring Donald Glover and the incredible Chevy Chase). That's the premise to get a bunch of character archetypes together anyway, really the show is about television. It's too reverent to be a satire, but basically the narrative is little more than a set up for a lot of jokes in appreciation of TV. And not just good TV but all TV. M.A.S.H. and Friends are treated equally by Community's writers, who clearly just love culture in all its forms. The show spent an excellent first season (self-awarely) going through the motions of the typical romantic will-they-or-won't-they plot, but then ditched that in season two in favour of episodic genre spoofs. They've done the zombie apocalypse, they've done the mystery thriller, they've even done Apollo 13 (and yes that's a genre now).  The dialogue is so densely packed with TV and film references that it demands multiple viewings, and that's a heavy emphasis on multiple. Not since the glory days of Arrested Development (RIP) had I found myself laughing so hard at new things every time I rewatched old episodes. Truly, Community is one for the books, a rare contemporary classic in a sea of otherwise unexciting and horrible television (see above).

Or so I thought. Then last week I finally took another long overdue recommendation (thanks everyone, you know who you are) and started watching Archer.

Archer is a cartoon about a James Bond-esque super spy named Sterling Archer. Or at least that's his character type in the general sense, really he's a buffoonish womanizer who sometimes manages to get the job done in spite of himself. He works for his mother (voiced by Arrested Development alum Jessica Walter) at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and goes on international espionage missions. The whole thing is a great spoof of Bond and spy movies generally, and each episode holds new hilarious surprises (the Skytanic one is particularly great). The show features an outstanding voice cast, including the aforementioned Walter as well as H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, and regular appearances by Jeffrey Tambour (also of Arrested Development fame). As with Community, the writing on Archer is incredible and demands multiple viewings to catch all the nuanced and self-referential jokes. There aren't many episodes and so I managed to get completely caught up in no time, so I highly recommend you dive into Archer immediately. It just began its second season with a stellar opening that guarantees the show will only get better.

And you know what? I take that "sea of unexciting and horrible television" comment back. Despite shows like Cougar Town, television actually is pretty damn good right now. Community and Archer are among my favourites, but there's also shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, both of which I'm told are fantastic. I'm also partial to the more traditional but still quite good How I Met Your Mother, and while I can't speak for it now I will vouch for 30 Rock circa 2008. For all the reality schlock we have to sift through, there really is some good stuff going on out there. What's more, everything I've mentioned here is at least somewhat popular and successful! As you can probably tell I'm a diehard Arrested Development fan from way back, so I am acutely aware of how important it is for something to be not only intelligent and hilarious but also bankable. Good people are getting paid to write good shows, and we are reaping the rewards. That's not something anyone should take for granted.

It's a good time to be a fan of intelligent humour on TV. To that I say this: fuckin' bangarang.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Max's Epic, Long Overdue Review of Inception

This past summer I saw Christopher Nolan's Inception. Much like with Red Dead Redemption, I started writing a review but got bogged down by laziness, life, etc. Now I have finally returned to the subject to put in my two cents on one of the most popular films of 2010. Have faith in the title of this post: it is the very definition of epic. I don't use that word lightly. Consider this the authoritative take on Inception. Scroll down below the epic poster to see what I thought.

And the verdict is...

Inception = Total Recall meets Ocean's 11.

Seriously, that's it. That brief comparison pretty much covers Inception. No more, no less. Contrary to popular belief, the movie was just... mediocre. It wasn't the incredible, mind-bending, high-brow science fiction masterpiece I hoped it would be, but it also wasn't terrible. It was just sort of ok. If anything it was underwhelming, except for the awesome fight sequence featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (although even that doesn't really hold up with multiple viewings). It wasn't worth all the confusion, frustration, and exasperation so many people felt, but it also wasn't a "best picture" by any means. It wasn't even worth this long a post, it was just ok. Although it did give the internet an endless well of ammunition for hilarious memes, mostly due to its (meagre) soundtrack.

There, done. I wanted to finally put up my thoughts for the sake of posterity, now I can move on. If you want to read something epic about intelligent subject matter I suggest you go back and read my rant about Watchmen. Lets all just shut up about Inception, watch Primer again for our sci-fi glory fix, and hope The Dark Knight Rises ends up being awesome. All signs so far point to yes.