Tag Archive for genre

It Has To Happen Fast

As much as I love the zombie apocalypse genre, it has one glaring major flaw: in a world where horror movies, and specifically zombie movies, exist a zombie apocalypse isn’t likely to happen.  If you were to ask ten random people on the street how to kill a zombie, nine and a half of them will probably know how – aim for the head, destroy the brain, etc.  This, in fact, is one of the things I tend to hate most about various zombie stories.  The movie Scream was fantastic because it subverted the genre of horror films by allowing its character to know about horror films when the norm is for people to wander around in the dark by themselves even after discovering that other people have been killed while wandering around in the dark by themselves.

Unwillingness to Kill

The primary crutch that most zombie stories rely on is the reluctance of people to kill other people, especially friends and family members.  I’m fairly certain most of my friends and family are aware that if they become infected, I might keep them around as long as they are useful but once they turn I’m going to put a spike through their brain.  And while I know there are people out there who would be all protective of their recently dead loved ones, I think the education provided by the cautionary tales of zombie films would be enough to make that rare.

Of course, the real obstacle is a well prepared military.  If the world were to suddenly have pockets of zombies crop up, squads of the National Guard (assuming they aren’t in the Middle East) would be dispatched to deal with the situation.  At the very least they would round-up and contain the undead while researchers worked on possible solutions.  In fact, the real threat here is political, as people in Washington jockey for position concerning the rights of Undead Americans and slow down the response and effectiveness of those trained to deal with situations of a violent nature.

Spread of Infection

Depending on the source, another hill for a zombie apocalypse to shamble over is the nature of the infection.  Traditionally, after the initial turning of corpses or people into flesh-eating monsters, the zombification spreads through bite.  In most stories, the initial cause is a localized accident, either a chemical spill or natural event.  From there and moving to a pass-through-bite scenario, suddenly it seems kind of silly that an apocalypse is even possible.  An event of that sort should take a couple of hours to clean up, maybe a day.

Other stories are more ambitious and use either a specific global event (pass through the tail of a comet) or just go with a generic “the dead started getting up everywhere, all at once, and we don’t know why” nebulous unknown source.  This, at least, has potential.  If you get dozens, hundreds or even thousands of locations with zombies simultaneously, you begin to plausibly stress the available response resources.  You also gain the ability to have pockets of infection go unnoticed and get out of control.

How Would I Do It*

I’ve thought about it a lot.  Obviously, I mean, the title of my blog is “Aim for the Head” and the logo is a zombie.  And as the title of this post says, it has to happen fast.  In my version, the infection that causes the zombies happens in stages.  The first is a virus, the most contagious ever seen.  It’s airborne, it’s in the water, passed by contact and blood.  It is literally everywhere, and it kills 10% of those infected.  Literally a decimation of the world population.  However, those who don’t die appear to be immune to further infection.  That fact, combined with the contagion level of the virus, leads to the decision to stop trying to stop it and instead simply to allow everyone to get infected, killing one out of ten people but leaving the remaining nine immune.

Years later, when people are finally beginning to forget the horror of the Decimation Virus, people start dropping dead.  It’s just like before, people panic that the Decimation is back, everything goes nuts, and in the confusion, people don’t notice right away that the people who died aren’t staying dead.  Within hours, approximately one tenth of the world’s population is one of the walking dead, and that percentage is rising.

The point is, it has to be everywhere, all at once, with relatively high-speed in order to outstrip the ability to respond, so that bolting the front door and staying inside is the smartest decision that too many people will not make.  It has to happen fast.

* If you decide to steal this idea, let me know, perhaps we can collaborate, or maybe we can settle on you just giving me some credit.

The Walking Dead: Season 1

A couple weeks ago, the season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead aired.

Overall, I am very pleased with it.  Who am I kidding?  This was just awesome!  It is the epitome of everything I love about the zombie genre.

First off, it isn’t about the zombies.  Frankly, I hate movies or shows where people try to protect the zombies (or love them) or where the undead are just not living but go around talking and stuff.  Here, zombies are used the way I feel they are best used, as a setting.

The only real complaint that I have about the show is a similar complaint I seem to have with many movies and TV shows these days: poor communication of time passage.  When you sharply cut from one scene to the next, my brain assumes that either these events are happening at the same time, in succession or that one is shortly after the one preceding it.  If you have a character say, “I’ll go do this.” and then sharp cut to a scene taking place in the same setting as the previous one and the guy who said he was leaving is still there, my brain assumes he has not left yet.  The Walking Dead did this once only it was supposed to be that the guy had gone and come back and a couple of hours had passed.

That issue aside, The Walking Dead on AMC was just fantastic.  I look forward to owning this on DVD or Blu-Ray, and to seeing season two next fall.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

Role Playing requires a Death Penalty

For me, a “role playing” game, despite being short hand for a genre of games, has always meant a game where you, the player, get involved, care for the character and can influence the outcome.  One of the largest aspects of role playing is the danger of losing.  In MMOs this is often referred to as the “death penalty”.

Gordon wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, and Darren a few days ago.  I’ve written about it too.  And if you search around the Internet on the gaming blogs you’ll probably find hundreds of posts.

In my experience the best role playing games have at least a modest death penalty.  More than just a few coins spent on repairs, or being set back a few seconds, but real almost tangible loss that you want to avoid.

My first real role playing game was, of course, Dungeons & Dragons.  Because the game is so unstructured, being just a set of rules which your gaming is built upon, I’ve found that lots of people have lots of different experiences.  If your Dungeon Master never actually reduced your player’s constitution when he got resurrected, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  If you never had a character die (and I mean really die, as in you might as well tear up the character sheet because that guy is not coming back, ever), then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  If your character went from 1 to Demi-god without ever being in danger of being permanently hurt or sent to the circular file, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  That’s just me, but if you played without penalties, I don’t know if I would consider what you were doing to be role playing.  You were just gaming.  You were rolling dice while the DM told you a story.

Playing EverQuest, you put together a group (or joined someone else’s) and you went somewhere to complete a goal or just grind out some experience.  If you died, you had to watch the exp bar retreat, possibly hours worth of advancement vanishing along with the pixels.  You could recover the majority of that loss with a resurrection from a cleric (or later, other classes), but a bit of it was gone.  Just gone.  So, because of that reality, if you invited a player into your group who wouldn’t stop drawing aggro or sucked as a healer or in any number of ways exposed your group to death and loss, you kicked them out.  And because of that reality, combined with that fact that most classes benefited greatly from being in groups, people tended not to be aggro drawing crappy healing death magnets for very long.

Many people will tell you that EQ didn’t have any role playing because people talked out of character or min/maxed numbers or whatever, but to me it will always be a role playing game because your character mattered.  Your reputation, your wins and losses, it all effected how you were able to play the game.  Within the confines of the defined computer controlled rules of gaming, you had to play a role in order to play the game.  I remember a number of weeks I spent in Karnor’s Castle in EQ and there was this bard shouting for a group, and most of us who’d been around wouldn’t group with him.  Every time he’d get into a group, he’d go AFK a lot.  Sure, he’d leave on mana song or something, but he wasn’t doing crowd control, and his songs often pulled aggro off the tank on the pull, and when running was needed he wasn’t there, would have to be left behind, then he’d complain about the group getting him killed.  So he spent most of his time looking for a group instead of being a group.  Sure, his actions would eventually earn him the same level of ignoring in newer games that he got in EQ, but given the design of EQ, the fear of death, the shared spawns and grinding exp, he was very quickly rooted out, not because of how he played but because of how his play affected the play of others.  Meanwhile, players who worked well with others and had a healthy respect for the loss of experience grouped well.  Lasting friendships and guilds spawned from avoiding the penalties together.

Of course, not all MMOs need to be RPGs, but I believe what I have discovered over the past couple of years and what I am realizing now is that in the genre of MMOs I prefer the MMORPG.  Many of the most recent MMOs don’t have much RPG in them (remember, I’m using RPG to actually mean role playing and not as shorthand for a genre of gaming features).  Too many of them are too soloable, with too little penalty, with inevitable victories no matter how much I suck.  Many of these MMOs are more like sports leagues for kids that don’t keep score, where everyone gets a trophy because everyone wins simply by showing up.

As always, I’m rambling, and I’m not even sure where I was going with this other than to empty onto the Internet another reason why I think I’m not being drawn into many MMOs anymore…

Gods in Games

One element that seems to follow around many fantasy genre MMOs is the idea of putting the lore’s gods in the game as defeatable content.  Largely, when this happens, it leads to my arguments of why I feel raiding is stupid.  Its not that I think the act of raiding or the existence of raid content is stupid, I just feel that often times it is done poorly.  I always love beating up on EverQuest at times like these… so lets continue the trend.  In the Planes of Power expansion, they put in a long series of flags with a lore to back up the players storming the planes, the homes of the gods, and killing them.  You fight and kill pretty much all the gods on the EQ Pantheon, and at the end of the story ***Spoiler!*** one of the surviving gods makes time go backwards to before you went through the Plane of Time and killed off all the gods for good.  Actually, not too bad of a story, and if this were a fantasy novel, that’d be a fairly nifty end to a series.

The problem, of course, is that EverQuest didn’t end.  There have been more expansions and more mudflation, and now you can defeat the god of fire with a single group.  There are insignificant monsters in the new worlds that put the gods to shame.

Wait… what?

Exactly.  The biggest hurdle with putting gods into your game as defeatable content is that, unless it really is the end of your game, your gods will become trivial content in the future.

In my opinion, the gods, and the true homes of the gods, should never exist in the game world.  Your players should, at best, fight the creations of gods, avatars of the gods imbued with power, but distinct from the gods themselves.  If you feel that you must absolutely put the gods in your games, consider making them nigh unkillable.

Last Blood

When you think about zombies as a genre, movies and books and whatnot, the truth is that zombies are rarely the protagonist or antagonist. In truth, zombies are often a setting, a world that happens around and heightens the action, a dam that eventually breaks, but the story is usually about survival, the people surviving it, and what they do to each other. From instance to instance, the differences lay mostly in the people, though sometimes in the zombies (largely in how they came to be and how fast they can move and how well they can think).

So, when I come across something that is really unique, I just have to share it.

Last Blood is an online comic book being released a page at a time, usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The unique twist on this is that the world has fallen to the zombies, only a few collections of humans remain and it isn’t looking good for them, and that’s when the vampires show up. Vampires need blood to live, and the zombies are killing all the humans, so the vampires need to save the humans so that they themselves don’t run out of blood to live on.

The idea is excellent, and new to me (though it may have been done before somewhere). Sometimes I find the artwork to be a little messy or awkward, the dialog is occationally stilted, and once or twice I’ve felt that a particular twist was from way out in left field, but overall it is pretty good work. Its a fun read, and when they get to the end, if they collect all the comics into a printed work (you can buy them as issues right now), I would probably pick up a hard copy.

As I write this, they are up to 109 pages, which you can read in no time. I definitely recommend it.

Stardust

Last night I had the pleasure of going to see a screening of Stardust, the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name.

Really, I went into this not expecting much. I’d never read the book and only had a vague idea of the story as being in the fantasy genre. Something about stars being alive, one falling to earth, and a witch who wants to eat the star’s heart to stay young forever.

I would put this film on par with The Princess Bride. Adventure, romance, fighting, chases, and most of all… fun. From the get go Stardust is an enjoyably fun film full of action and unexpected laughs, love and villainy. It was just, simply put, a good movie.

Most absolutely I would recommend seeing this film. It was good enough that I might even go see it again at the theater. Two big huge thumbs up.

Dawn of the Dead

I love zombie movies. Ever since I saw the original Night of the Living Dead, I’ve just always liked them. One main reason is that within the span of the movie, a good zombie movie remains internally consistant, and its not hard to be a good zombie movie. Do your zombies run or walk? Are they capable of any speed movements or are they always slow? Do the only attack humans or anything that lives? Is the whole body reanimated or is it just the brain keeping it going? Is anyone who dies capable of being a zombie or do they have to be bitten by one?

Answer those questions, stick to them, and you can have a good zombie flick.

When I went to go see Dawn of the Dead this weekend, I knew alot of what to expect. I had seen the original (though not recently), and knew it was about a bunch of people who wind up in a mall while the world outside spirals into zombie hell.

It was good in that it was scary. It was good in that is was consistant. It was good in that it had funny moments to break the tension, and calm you down as a viewer.

But I didn’t love the movie…

Now, before I continue, let me get something out of the way:

** SPOILER – DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE MOVIE, INCLUDING HOW IT ENDS – SPOILER **

Okay, now that everyone has been warned, let me talk about why I didn’t love the movie.

Night of the Living Dead is a cornerstone of the zombie genre. At the end, everyone from the house, the story you’ve been watching is dead… but, the human race is winning. Zombies are getting under control and the bodies are being burned. In a way, it has a very War of the Worlds feel to it. We are on the bring of destruction, but as dawn arrives, we start winning.

Return of the Living Dead (and its sequals) are the flip side of the genre. They are pure camp. The zombie say funny things, do funny things. People die in funny ways. There are two actors who are in every movie (they play different people and die in every one of them). And the movies end with total destruction. In fact, more than one I believe ends with us (the Army) nuking the infected town only to further spread the infection in the form of contaminated rain.

The original Dawn of the Dead ends when the people from the mall decide to make a break for the harbor, where they plan to get on a boat and sail off to an uninhabited island or somesuch. The movie literally ends with a shot of the boat sailing away, abandoning the main land. In this end, its similar to both Night and Return… We (the humans) have lost, and have turned over the main land to the undead, but there is also hope because we are sailing to a safe place.

The new Dawn of the Dead ends in the same way. I could feel in myself, and in the sigh of relief in Jodi, and the other members of the audience, a sence of relaxing, and sadness, but also of hope as the boat sails away. Like the original, we lost, but we survived. However, as the credits rolled, snippets of film continued in the form of seconds here and there on a video camera found on the boat. Food on the boat, which had been idle for weeks, is covered in maggots. They run out of gas. The engine catches fire. They find a row boat with a cooler, and in the cooler an undead head (funny, but… ). Snippets, until they pull up to shore at the island. The dog is barking, and runs off. They have guns out and start to move down the dock. Then dozens of undead rush the boat and camera, which drops to the ground and you keep seeing snippets of undead running by, screams, and death. The movie finally ends with total destruction… we lost, and we didn’t survive, and it wasn’t funny enough to laugh it off.

In the end, the new Dawn of the Dead leaves you without hope, and not enough to smile about.

Is it worth seeing? I would say yes, but just make sure you leave when the credits begin to roll.

15 October 1999

Well, I do have tons to write, but I never seem to have time to write it.
For now, let me just give a quick list of things I’m going to hit in the next week or so.
Women in Prison: The single greatest film genre ever.
It’s Not a Wonderful Life since “It’s a Wonderful Life” doesn’t come on 40,000 times at Christmas.
The Glass isn’t half empty or half full.
If you get angry and there is no one to yell at, did you really get angry at all.
The Freedoms of having your own place.
Swearing: the power of words.
That’s all I’ve got on my things to do list. But for now, I need to go to work.
“Can’t be king of the world if you’re slave to the grind.” -Sebastian Bach