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[Movie Review] The Thing prequel… remake… whatever this is October 16, 2011

Posted by Colin in Humor, Opinion, Review.
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Here it is: the thing we’ve all been waiting for. They’re finally getting the band back together. That’s right, it’s… The Thing we’ve all… The Prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing!

Coming next year: The Squeakuel

Now, I thought it was a little odd when they announced that not only would they be telling the story of the Norwegian outpost that dug up the alien specimen, but they would be hiring back the entire cast of the first movie.

You see, through the miracle of digital reverse aging (ala Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy) the original actors from John Carpenter’s The Thing have reprised their roles as grizzled Antarctic scientists engaged in a deadly ‘whodunit’ with an alien-murder-beast.

Suddenly, 'The Thing' isn't so cool anymore...

“But Colin,” you say, “they can’t bring back the WHOLE cast. Isn’t Wilford Brimley dead? And also, weren’t you supposed to do something with Sid Meier’s Civ World like two months ag-” “WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT,” I scream, eyes wild and mouth frothy, quickly changing the subject back to dead celebrities.

Pictured: crack cocaine for civilization fans

While no, Wilford Brimley may not be technically dead, but for the purposes of this review, let’s pretend he is (besides, when has Hollywood ever let a little thing like an actor’s death stop them from making a movie?) For this production, Brimley’s character has been re-imagined as a kind-of-cute twenty-something scientist modeled after Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

The designers on this project clearly cared for her the most: she has, by far, the most expressive face of the motley crew, showing a diverse range of emotion from ‘mild fright’ to ‘terror,’ and all the confusing feelings between.

However, her uncannily human features only serve as a reminder that this film’s special effects budget was slashed mid-production, forcing the designers and editors to frantically  cut anything they could. Their answer, as you can already guess, was to give each character increasingly grandiose beards. Yes, I know, eyebrows and eyes can be the most expressive parts of the human body, but covering for your lack of lip-syncing with man-fur is an animation trick students use to finish projects in a crunch. Most of the time these digitized Norwegians don’t even open their mouths when they speak.

Actually, keep your mouth closed. I'm sure it smells like pancakes and Zach Galifianakis.

The film opens as a Norwegian researcher goes to recruit the Wilford Brimley stand-in (honestly, I can’t remember her name so we’ll just call her Wilma Brimley) to come to an Antarctic research base and help get the alien specimen out of the ice. Thirty seconds later, Wilma and her awkward-yet-undeveloped-love-interest are on their way, escorted by a helicopter pilot and his black friend, who we’ll name Kurt Russell Jr. and Keith David II.

Wait, which movie came first?

Pretty soon all hell soon breaks loose. People die, The Thing replicates, and parts of the base catch fire. Wilma quickly discovers the alien can’t recreate inorganic material (fillings, etc.) which recreates the blood-test scene from Carpenter’s film, but minus the tension and dramatic payoff. But Five minutes later, this fact is neatly forgotten in favor of a pop-out-and-yell-BOO type scare. Yes, this movie uses the same scare-tactics as Scary Maze.

There is never any dramatic tension. It might be because I knew everyone on the base was just a computerized semi-human, or because the monster itself is also completely digital so it looks less like a creepy insect-puppet and more like the boss monsters in Resident Evil 4, but I just didn’t get a sense that these people were in danger.

Or rather, I knew they were in danger, but I didn’t care – that is the biggest flaw with this movie and it isn’t one that anyone could avoid. This movie is trapped in the series canon. It’s a prequel to a remakebased on a short story, and even though it’s four degrees away from the source material, it is stuck a circle of continuity that doesn’t let the filmmakers expand their universe in any significant way.  If you watched John Carpenter’s The Thing, you already know how this story ends: everyone dies. Everyone. There is no ambiguous ending; the monster wins this round. It’s just a matter of piecing together who died in what way.

And speaking of John Carpenter, a number of scenes from that movie are recreated shot-for-shot in this one. It’s a nice homage, but it fails to recreate the sense of isolation and danger that Carpenter’s film had. Couple this with the utter failure of the computerized actors to distinguish themselves with anything resembling personality, and you have a movie that’s literally forgettable. When it was over, I walked out of the theater and couldn’t remember a single character’s name, or even how many people died on the base. And what happened to Wilma Brimley? She just kind of disappears towards the end. Is that supposed to be ambiguous?

As far as I can tell, this movie is about a group of computerized Norwegian Troll-Hunters who dig up the parasites from Resident Evil and receive a visit from a digitally-remastered and gender-swapped Wilford Brimley and… actually, yes, I would see that movie, even if it sounds like obscene fan-fiction.

Pictured: everything I know about Norway

Even taking into account the potential geek-sci-fi appeal, I can’t get over how indistinguishable the characters are in this movie. It’s like the writers put the traits of the original cast up on a wall and threw darts at it to develop their personalities, but all they could hit was the word “Beard.”

It just goes to show that a computer still can’t display true emotion the way humans can. Or maybe they weren’t computers. Maybe they were some creature trying to trick us into believing it’s human, studying its prey, waiting for the perfect moment to… wait a second.


The CivWorld Experiment: A Preface July 29, 2011

Posted by Colin in Humor, Opinion, Personal.
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Starting on Monday we’re going to engage in a little experiment here in the Pixelation Room. If you’re not aware, Kotaku’s Civilized Game Club will be looking at Sid Meier’s CivWorld – the persistent, free-to-play (yes, that again) Facebook iteration of Sid Meier’s Civilization. I’ll be participating in the discussion about this game and posting a review here on Pixelation Room. That being said, I want to lay out some points I’ll be exploring as this experiment goes on. First and foremost,  gamers can’t really ignore mobile and browser games anymore. Zynga, the company behind Farmville and other games your mom plays on Facebook, has the potential to make over a billion dollars in the next year: Face it, mobile games are a real thing. They’re addicting time sinks that expertly play on the psychological reward system built into the brains of human beings, and they’re one of the big reasons people use facebook. As late as last year, sixty percent of Facebook’s traffic came from people playing online games. Mark Zuckerberg should probably thank Zynga for all the traffic, but his future looks grim right now:

Read more at The Oatmeal

Lastly, I want to address this game not just as a social game but as part of the Civilization pantheon. I’ve been a huge geek for the Civ series ever since my house was gifted with a computer fast enough to run Civ III, and I can already see some similarities in mechanics between Civ V and this Facebook-based social game. It’s going to be an interesting experience, and I hope we learn something.

Fans Vs. Nintendo: Also, Hey PXR! June 30, 2011

Posted by eboku in News, Opinion.
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Being a Nintendo fan is like having a divorced Dad. He takes you out on weekends but never came to your Pinewood Derby race.


Operation RainFail


I get why people love Nintendo, I love Nintendo. For a lot of us they introduced us to gaming, defined gaming for most of the late 80’s and 90’s and always deliver quality software and interesting hardware. That kind of impact doesn’t just leave you, which is why it’s so frustrating when you see a company you love make so many backwards decisions. The 3DS is a quality machine but the initial launch window has been a complete joke – 3 1/2 months for Zelda? Incredible title but come on! Where was all the win that was announced for the system when it was announced at last year’s E3? Oh, coming later. Gotcha.

The Wii was definitely the underdog this generation. It is constantly spit on by ‘hard core’ gamers for not having HD graphics, online and basically every feature that the PS3/360 does not have. I supported the Wii, still do to an extent. It had some of my favorite games this generation. Super Paper Mario, Mario Galaxies 1/2, Twilight Princess, Sakura Wars.. I could go on all day. It had some real gems that most people gloss over. However its hard to deny the aging hardware compared to what we get on rival consoles and PC – and third parties have essentially given up on the platform. It’s hard for the system to compete where HD and online are key components and the “Wii Sports” fad has worn off – You would think its time for Nintendo to leave the Wii behind because we got everything it has to offer right?


[Debate] Is Wii U Next-Gen? June 8, 2011

Posted by Giovanni in Opinion.
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Wii U, or 360 2?

I had a very strange experience at this year’s New York Comic Con. One of Sega’s developers was talking about their new Thor game, and made an interesting distinction. He explained that one version of the game would be released for the “next-gens” and another for the “Wii and DS.” In my head, when I thought next-gen, I thought of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, AND Wii. Yet, here was a developer actually excluding Nintendo’s system from that category. Well, now that confusion is on collective gamers’ minds this E3 with the announcement of the Wii U. It seems elementary enough; the Wii U is a new console, thus it is the first in a next-generation. Yet, somehow, the logic isn’t enough for some, leading many to think that Wii U is simply catching up with Microsoft and Sony, not pushing consoles forward.

The crux of the argument is in the Wii U’s technological capabilities. The Wii was nowhere near on par with its competitors graphically speaking. While Sony and Microsoft were pushing hyper-realism, Nintendo didn’t put their focus into power. From the very little we’ve seen of the Wii U so far, it looks like they’ve stepped it up, putting its graphical capabilities up to the quality of the current generation. It’s by that logic that many feel the Wii U is merely the console Nintendo should have released in the first place.

However, there are a few flaws in that logic. This is saying that all it takes to reach the next-generation is more power. Yes, that’s certainly part of it. But the Wii is more powerful than the GameCube, and the Wii U certainly looks more powerful than the Wii. The technology was in fact updated each year, just not by the same degree Microsoft and Sony did. But what the Wii lacked in power, it made up for—or tried to make up for, at least—in innovation, and that’s the part that seems to be forgotten. Nintendo let power slide a bit so they could try to bring a new experience to gaming with the Wiimote. Sure, they may not have done a great job at it, reducing most of their line-up to shovelware, but they did try and do something different. They created a different way to play games, and reached out to the casual market as a result. Rather than compete in a graphical realm, they created a new one entirely. It was a frustrating move for Wii owners (myself included) but does that discredit their console entirely from a generation?


Nintendo Press Conference E3 2011 Roundup June 7, 2011

Posted by Giovanni in News, Opinion.
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Wii U; console or college for geeks?

Okay, let’s face it; while there was quite a bit to look forward to going into this year’s E3, but the big focus was Nintendo’s new console. Sure, the Kinect was something to keep an eye on, and Sony’s Playstation Vita certainly turned a lot of heads, but new consoles are what really pique audience interest. And with all of the rumors about Project Café circulating for weeks now, as well as Nintendo’s reputation for raising the bar—or more accurately, creating a new bar entirely—with new technologies, this was sure to be an E3 to remember.

But of course, you can’t start your conference with the big news, can you? Instead, Nintendo began ceremoniously tooting their own horns with a montage of Zelda games, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing classic songs from the series’ history. Miyamoto eventually took the stage to point out that it was Zelda’s 25th anniversary, and that Nintendo had big plans to celebrate. Of course, they talked about Skyward Sword, showing new footage, and even debuting the game’s new theme song with the orchestra’s help. Interestingly, they didn’t demo any of the game; a smart decision considering last year’s onstage fiasco. Miyamoto also announced that they’d release a Zelda game for each Nintendo system, with Link’s Awakening coming to the 3DS eShop that same day, and Four Swords coming as a free download for the DSi in September. If that wasn’t enough, Miyomoto showed off a gold wiimote, complete with a Hylian crest, as a bonus for those picking up Skyward Sword.


[Review] [Analysis] “One Chance”: Breaking the Game December 8, 2010

Posted by baconsamurai in News, Opinion, Review.
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A while ago I argued that choice in games lacks impact, that decisions more often than not boil down to the superficial. I came to the conclusion that most of these choices lack emotional weight because games, by their very nature, allow you to replay and reset, thus removing consequence and, most importantly, regret.

One Chance is a Flash game made by AwkwardSilenceGames. You play as John, a scientist who discovers the cure for cancer, a gas that only kills cancer cells. It’s not until this gas is released across the entire planet that we find that it kills all cells. Humanity is now facing annihilation in six days and it’s up to you to decide how you will spend your time.

The catch is, as the name implies, that you only have one chance. You can only play the game once and you have to live with whatever choices you’ve made. It’s an art game whose execution is questionable and pathos heavy-handed, but regardless it’s an interesting thought experiment and there are much worse ways to spend 15 minutes.


The Price of Family Fun June 18, 2010

Posted by Giovanni in Opinion.
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This E3 found Microsoft and Sony setting a new direction into previously unchartered territory for the console giants. While Nintendo has had a lockdown on the casual, family market, the other two set their sights on pleasing the ‘hardcore’ market. While the two will still continue to be the choice for serious gamers, now it appears that they’re interested by Nintendo’s niche, and looking to take on some of the action. As a result, they put a good amount of focus on accessibility with their new motion sensing devices. Sony vowed to bridge the hardcore/casual gap with the Move, and Microsoft showed off a friendlier side with the Kinect. After this E3, it’s clear that software-wise, all three companies will have plenty for the casual crowd to play on each console.

But at what price? No matter how effective one may think the respective companies presented their case, there’s a terrible flaw standing in the way of the Kinect and Move: The price tag. As I firmly believe, people are much more willing to put out money for a new console than to buy add-ons for an older one. People want something that they can play 100% fresh out of the box without worrying about running out to pick up a new addition. Thus, the two companies start at a disadvantage to the Wii. Those who already own the consoles face the question of whether or not they care enough to invest in add-ons. Those who don’t have it must decide if they’re willing to put forth a little extra money than usual for a new console entirely.

Of course, there’s an easy fix to this problem that the companies have already thought of. Bundling the new technology with their consoles makes the decision for those looking to buy a new console much easier. You can get a new Xbox 360 and the Kinect camera together for less than they’d cost separate? No brainer. But it’s that divide between console and add-on that stands in the way of success. (more…)

E3 2010 Day 2: A Small Eternity With Sony June 17, 2010

Posted by Giovanni in News, Opinion.
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At this year’s E3, Sony held a 2 hour press conference, trumping Nintendo and Microsoft in length. Unfortunately 2 hours is a very long time, and unless you have enough compelling content to fill it, you’re going to have a lot of filler. I can see why Sony would think such a gap of time would be appropriate considering how crucial this E3 is for them. They had the task of proving not only that their new Move system isn’t the same as the Wii, but also that it’s superior to the controller-free Kinect. On top of that, there were some big games to look at, and 3D to plug. But in this case, time worked against Sony. While Nintendo stuck to a compressed 60 minutes filled to the brim with announcements (Leaving tons of room for news on the show floor), Sony overbooked themselves on time leading too an overlong, dull conference.

Don’t get me wrong; Sony didn’t have a bad conference. There was enough content in it to keep it interesting. But they really would have benefited from picking their bigger guns and sticking to them in a shorter time. Microsoft even managed their time well, though their showing ended up looking less impressive. Before discussing the good of the conference, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out things that should be avoided in all E3 conferences from here on out. Let’s begin: (more…)

E3 2010 Day 2: Nintendo Returns to Glory June 16, 2010

Posted by Giovanni in News, Opinion.
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I used to be a major Nintendo fan. But over the last few years, being a Nintendo fan has proved to be a test of faith. I’ve had to sit through E3’s where we see “games” like Wii Music and Wii Fit, rather than the creativity I’ve always loved the company for. Their focus on being a family gaming company has lead to too many conferences filled with casual games that feel more like demos put together to show off hardware. But this year, Nintendo came out of nowhere with what Microsoft and Sony both failed to deliver this year: New software. Starting their presentation with a short speech about how technology doesn’t push the market forward with good games, Nintendo went on to announce game after game.

I will say, the conference got off to a terrible start. I was extremely underwhelmed to the point where I nearly had to turn the live stream off. My embarrasment started with the demo for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Last year, Nintendo teased the game claiming that it’d be very different from previous Zeldas. But instead, we were treated no an extremely vague demo that showed off nothing more than a new art style (Which is quite pretty), and the new motion control system. Essentially, this is the game Twilight Princess should have been. But the demo merely showed us a nondescript field with classic, basic enemies. Miyamoto showed off some new items, and that was that. But of course, the blunder came in technology. Right after Miyomoto started talking about how his motions were 1:1, the game went haywire. The new robotic beetle gained a mind of its own, the bow and arrow could only fire at the ground, and the sword started spin attacking where vertical slashes were supposed to be. It appears there was simply some mistake on stage, as the game is said to work fine on the floor, but it flailed on stage. Suddenly, Nintendo’s opening remarks took on a new meaning…


E3 2010 Day 1: Microsoft Join the Casual Revolution! June 15, 2010

Posted by Giovanni in News, Opinion.
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Usually, Microsoft has a rather strong showing at E3. They’ve always shown big titles and exciting new hardware. This year, however, Microsoft’s presentation struck me as less than stellar for a few reasons. Since the presentation felt like it as split into two halves, let’s examine both individually.

First, we start with the ‘hardcore half.’ Yes, a plethora of big titles that are sure to make big cash. This year, Microsoft decided to skip any sort of surprises for the most part and stick to the big franchises we expected to see. Gears of War 3, Halo Reach, more Call of Duty, and so on. Sure, companies don’t need to surprise the audience in order to have a successful presentation. But it does add suspense, and let’s us know that we won’t be playing the same games forever. Nintendo is guilty of this too, but they still always manage to change the games enough. Metroid Other M is a perfect example. They took a successful, existing franchise and put an entirely different spin on it. Thus, despite seeing Metroid every year, it was an exciting announcement.

But as far as it seems, Microsoft’s third party games seem to be running by the idea of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Obviously, people will buy these titles no matter what. Just the franchise names are enough to sell these games. It appears like Microsoft is taking after Nintendo in this respect. The hardcore experience has become about the same few titles. They’re the reason a lot of people buy X-Box 360’s at this point. So as far as software goes, I don’t think we can expect any changes in the companies E3 line-up. We’ll get a new Call of Duty every year, and some sort of Halo announcement. Cool, sure. But it’s clear that their focus isn’t in trying to find and pump up new games.