Movie Round-Up: July 17th, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

This actually opened Wednesday, and its going to be huge.  Millions of people will see it, and I’ve seen quite a few good reviews of it already.  I’ve seen the other ones in the theater, so it is quite likely I’ll make the trek to the local multi-plex in order to plunk down my hard earned dollars for this one as well.  However, now that I’ve seen how the books end, and knowing that they’ve decided to split the last book into two movies, I’m just not as excited as I once was for these movies.  Perhaps the movies will end better.

(500) Days of Summer:

Opening in very few theaters and opposite Harry Potter means that this movie will probably not be noticed by many people, and that’s a shame.  (500) Days of Summer is a brilliant comedy that is not a love story.  Its a film about a break up, all from the point of view of the guy.  I was lucky enough to catch a free screening of this film and I absolutely loved it.  I’d almost consider going and buying tickets for it even if I don’t see it again just to support the filmmakers.  If this one happens to be showing at a theater near you, I highly recommend it.

Niches and Peaks

A few days ago over at Kill Ten Rats, Suzina put up a post about Niche MMOs.  It sparked a bit of discussion, and I even threw in a comment, and I just felt it was an idea I wanted to put here and maybe expand on a little.

The fact is, everything starts as a niche.  The first MUD was a niche to the uses of the Internet that existed at the time (hell, MMOs today are still a niche of the overall gaming market, and games are a niche of the entertainment industry, I’m pretty sure books and movies outsell games – for now).  Every iteration of what we would come to call MMOs evolved, taking what came before and tried to improve it.  From MUDs to UO to EQ to WoW (and before anyone gets angry that I left out their favorite game in there, I’m being short on purpose, I realize there are tons of games that fit), each game wanted to be better than the last, and with a few exceptions the one thing most MMOs had in common was a fantasy setting.  There are lots of companies out there that have seen WoW, seen WoW’s numbers, and decided they’d like to be WoW.  But trying to out-WoW WoW is a losing proposition.  If you spend $100 million on a fantasy game and expect to get millions of subscribers, you are going to be disappointed (and probably broke).  In the post WoW fantasy genre, the best you can really hope for is a niche game that fills a need that WoW doesn’t and hold enough players to make a profit.  If you take a look at Lord of the Rings Online, they aren’t trying to beat WoW, but they did take a number of lessons from WoW and then said “What if we built a fantasy game on a well known intellectual property and kept the story content high?”  If you’d like to play a fantasy MMO with heavy story, LotRO is your game.  EQ2 is over in their corner nurturing their niche too.  Even EQ is holding on.  WAR is in the process of recovering, slapped with the realization they didn’t out-WoW WoW on launch.  AoC is in the same boat with WAR.  And since WoW is still climbing, still putting out expansions that expand the player base, its not yet time for someone to take over the crown yet.  WoW, being as successful as it is, needs to falter before that.  In the meantime, the fantasy genre is dead except in the niches.

But fantasy isn’t the only game in town.  EVE Online has been trucking along in the Science Fiction arena for a while, growing slowly and steadily.  If I had to define EVE I’d classify it as the “UO of the Ship-based Sci-Fi genre”.  Right now there are a few new Ship-based Sci-Fi games set to hit the market.  Black Prophecy and Jumpgate Evolution are the two big ones, with Star Trek Online taking a middle ground with both ships and ground game (hopefully they won’t fall into the same pit that Pirates of the Burning Sea did), and I suspect Star Wars: The Old Republic might have some space ships in it (but I also suspect the game will heavily favor the ground based side).  Assuming none of these games screw up too badly, one of them might be the EQ of the genre, breaking open the market.  If that happens, in about five years we’ll probably have a WoW-sized success in the Sci-Fi MMO market (maybe Stargate Worlds will recover enough to make a showing, but I think that might be just wishful thinking on my part), at which point Sci-Fi will be in the same boat that fantasy is currently: one clear “winner” with everyone else either failing or nurturing their niche of the genre.

My thoughts on this aren’t completely pulled out of thin air… just look at other entertainment sectors.  In movies, the out of left field blockbuster doesn’t really happen often.  Usually a blockbluster is preceded by several failed attempts, minor and moderate successes before landing the perfect storm of funding, story, directing and acting to blow the lid off.  After a blockbuster explodes, movies and games experience the same effect: attraction.  Once the market showed that people would pay to see a well done movie about comic book superheroes, all the sudden you had all the big name directors, writers, actors and movie producers looking to cash in.  The difference is that movies leave the theater, they last anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours, and its easy to watch a bunch of movies, a different one every weekend.  In MMOs, every game is like an extended run film of 50 or 60 years ago.  Nowadays, new movies open at the multiplex every weekend, and there are 24 screens, but “back in the day” people went to see Gone With The Wind over and over, and the theaters (which often had only 1 screen, maybe 2) kept it because it made money.  A new movie had to prove it was worth getting rid of a money maker.  That’s what the MMO market is like.  You can’t just release a game and expect people to come running.  The majority of people will only subscribe to one game at a time over the long term, with two subscriptions overlapping as they decide which one to keep.  They might buy your box and use your first “free” month, but you have 30 days to convince them not to go back to their other game, the one they’ve already invested time into, the one they’ve already had fun playing.  In 30 days you have to prove to them that they need to subscribe to your game, and you need to prove to them that if it comes down to a choice they should cancel their other accounts and not your game.

The Free-to-Play model is working to change this.  With a F2P MMO, you only need to convince people to keep your game installed and come back from time to time, and maybe throw a few bucks your way every now and then.  Sure, you’d like for them to dump money in, but (hopefully) your budget and business model is actually designed around a minority of players doing that, with the majority spending nothing or spending rarely.  It remains to be seen if this model with be a success and if it will have a profound effect on the subscription based gaming sector, or just another niche outside of tween-based casual game social spaces.

Anyway, at this point I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Movie Round-Up: April 10th, 2009

Let me begin by saying, I have seen none of these movies.  The one I cared about I didn’t get passes to any screenings of, and the other two, well, I hope you understand why I had no desire to see them.

Observe and Report:

This movie looks… odd.  If you could take Paul Blart: Mall Cop and then completely turn it in reverse you might get Observe and Report.  At least that’s how the previews look.  Its one of those films where I laugh at some of the antics in the trailer, but overall I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy the movie as a whole.  But, it does have potential.  I want to see it, but maybe not for full price.

Dragonball Evolution:

I’ve never been a Dragonball fan, and I doubt I ever will be.  I think this movie has the potential to be fun, and it might even do well at the theaters considering there are lots of Dragonball fans out there, but I’ll be waiting for this to be available to watch streaming through Netflix.  There is no rush for me to see this at all.

Hannah Montana The Movie:


In a Darkened Theater

In a weird way, lately, I have been seeing more movies than ever.  I’ve found a number of ways (available to anyone) to obtain passes to free screenings of films.  If that were not the case, however, I would probably be seeing very few movies at all.  Sure, I would make exception for events like The Dark Knight (which I actually paid to see… twice) but with all the theaters going up to $10 or more for a non-matinee price, it makes going to see a movie with the wife in the theater more expensive that waiting and purchasing it on DVD.  At best, I’d go see a movie every now and then on a Saturday or Sunday morning, before noon, when they have $6 tickets.  At least then it is cheaper for us than buying the DVD, but only barely.

The main problem is simply that many movies aren’t worth the cost of the ticket.  If they lowered prices, I’d go more often.  If it was $6 for the night time price and $3.50 for the matinee, I’d see a movie every weekend, maybe two.  Yes, I would spend a ton more money, but I also wouldn’t feel like I am getting ripped off when I pay to see a movie that isn’t so great.  $20 to see a movie that is crap just makes me never want to risk it again, but at $12… I more apt to keep trying.

At this point, the only movies I do feel any real need to see in the theater fall into two categories.  One, event films, like the aforementioned The Dark Knight.  Two, movies in 3-D.

In the past few years we’ve seen Beowulf, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Fly Me to the Moon.  Of those, only Fly Me to the Moon was not worth seeing.  The other two I felt were good movies on their own, but shown in Digital 3-D those movies were fantastic.  And as of yet, 3-D hasn’t made its way to the DVD player yet, so to see an enhanced film in all its glory, you have to see it in the theater.  Something tells me that there are people in Hollywood who understand that.

Without a decrease in prices, frankly, 3-D films are about the only thing that will get me to pay for a film.  Well, that and if Marvel and others can keep up the quality level of their superhero films…

There and Back Again

No, this has nothing to do with The Hobbit.  If that’s what you were looking for when you found this page, I’m sorry.

Instead, this is my entry for this month’s Round Table discussion:

We’re heading out of the summer movie blockbuster season and into the autumnal video game blockbuster season. What better time to take a look at the transition of intellectual property from the big screen to the little screen? From traditional media to interactive media? Why do so many movie-based video games fail to capture the spirit of their big screen counterparts? Is it because video games can’t tell stories as well? Is it due to budget issues? Scheduling issues? Or something more sinister (Hollywood moles attempting to undermine the rising influence of video games on consumer spending habits, perhaps)? What movie based games have succeeded? Why? How could they be better? This month’s Round Table invites you to explore video games based on Hollywood IP. Focus on a specific game, or a specific franchise, or the idea as a whole. Take a look at the business realities, design constraints, or marketing pressures. As always, your approach is entirely up to you.

The problem that I always have with adaptations of film or books into video games is that a book is written for you to hold in your hand and turn the pages, one after the other, from the beginning to the end; and films are made to be watched from your seat, for the 90 minutes to three hours it takes to tell the tale.  Games are not, or at least in my opinion should not be, designed for you to sit in front of your PC while the story unfolds in front of you.  Games should involve the player, actually involve them, not just emotionally, but physically.  The game can’t progress from start to finish without the player, at least in part, deciding how to get there.

When most movies are made into games, if I enjoyed the movie, then there is a 99.9% chance I will not enjoy the game.  Because the game isn’t the movie.  Its close, the narrative might be there… but when I watched the movie, the hero didn’t have to stop and play Bejewelled to unlock doors.  And if my participation in a game is limited to playing mini-games in order for the cut scenes to play, then I’m not interested.  The game play needs to support the story, the story needs to unfold in the gameplay, not around the outsides of it.

In a similar fashion, games turned into films suffer the same fate.  They take a game where the player is involved in the story, assisting to help it unfold, and then throwing the gamer out of the equation.  Now, you don’t get to help, you just get to watch.  Its even worse when a game does allow the player to mold the story, because then the movie is just one aspect of the story and is going to match only some of the players’ experiences.  Or worse, since the game won’t directly translate to film, they just go make up a bunch of stuff so that its not really the game any more but just some (usually bland) story with a flavor of the game.

And just like how the book is most often better than the movie… when a game takes 20 hours of solid play to complete, compacting that down to under 2 tends to hurt the story.  If the game came first, most often it is going to be better than the movie.

Personally, I think that games and movies should stay away from each other, except as inspiration.  At best, they should tell completely different stories, often with different characters, but inspired by the existance of the other.

But I don’t make games or movies, what do I know?  Well, I know that I almost never buy games based on movies, and rarely enjoy movies based on games.  Yeah, I said I “rarely enjoy” the movies, because I’m a sucker for films and I’ll see just about anything.

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The Movies are Gone

You might have noticed that since Hamlet 2 back on August 29th, there have not been any movie reviews here.  That’s because I have moved them off on to their own website, and that website isn’t ready yet.  If you are a crafty individual, you might find it, but I’m not going to officially link to it until I have finished the graphics and layouts.

So, stay tuned…

Flight of the Living Dead

9 out of 13 nots
for Zombie Awesomeness and Silly Scream At The Screen Cheese

Being a zombie fanatic, when I saw the ad for Flight of the Living Dead I knew I had to see it. Snakes on a Plane had been kind of a let down. Sure, there had been snakes on the plane but the ending was just… crap. And frankly, being trapped at 30,000 feet with the undead has long been a scenario I’ve wanted to see play out on the screen.

The movie delivered. Living dead on a plane. It was even moderately believable. Moderately. Okay, I’m stretching it because I love zombie movies so much. Mildly? Look, there are reasons it only gets that 9 out of 13. But it was fun. Worth seeing.

More after the break.

Read more

30 Days of Night

I went to the movies this weekend to catch 30 Days of Night. Overall, I liked the film. Great story idea. I wasn’t even disappointed in the cast. I’d recommend it to horror movie fans.

I did have problems with the movie though… The pacing felt wrong, a little forced in places, and there were some logic flaws in how things went down. And once again I’m forced to ask why people who make movies have a hatred of “fade to black” cuts. Almost every cut in this movie is from a well lit scene to another well lit scene with no transition and sometimes they put text on the screen to let you know that time has passed. This kind of quick scene cut tends to heighten urgency, like you are supposed to be cutting from action to action, but when used between scenes that are supposed to be emphasizing loss and desperation, it just ruins the mood.

Example of quick cut:

Scene shows people locking themselves into a building. People settle down into corners, some near windows to keep watch. One person sets down a bag we previously saw get filled with supplies. Guy at the door says, “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.” Quick scene cut. Text on the bottom of the screen says “Day 27”. People now look a little more tired, someone is licking the inside of a twinkie wrapper and the guy at the door says, “We can’t wait anymore.” …

Example of fade to black:

Scene shows people locking themselves into a building. People settle down into corners, some near windows to keep watch. One person sets down a bag we previously saw get filled with supplies. Guy at the door says, “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.” Scene fades to black. Text on the bottom of the screen says “Day 27”. Scene fades in and people now look a little more tired, someone is licking the inside of a twinkie wrapper and the guy at the door says, “We can’t wait anymore.” …

This being a text medium and all, I’m not sure I’m getting my point across. Maybe I’ll need to drag out the video camera and shoot some short scenes, put them up on YouTube or something. I’ve just seen so many movies over the past couple of years that just didn’t communicate the passage of time.

30 Days of Night was a good movie. Semi-feral vampires are always better that Elizabethan top coat wearing gay vampires any day of the week. But at the end, it really only felt like 3 Days of Night at most. Worth seeing, but don’t pay full price.

Hollywood and Your Money

People often wonder why Hollywood keeps churning out crappy movies. The answer is simple… because you people keep paying to see them!

This past weekend approximately three and a half million people (3,500,000) went to see “Big Momma’s House 2” making it the number one film of the weekend with its $28 million box office draw. It also happens to be the second largest January opening in movie history.

Look people, we have to work together on this. You can not just go spending hard earned dollars on junk like this. You need to support quality films, and I don’t just mean Oscar winning crap, because lots of those films are garbage too. Sometimes you have to stop and think, and if there are no good movies playing, don’t go to a movie. Go home and watch a DVD or play a board game or go out drinking with some friends. Anything. Anything, that is, except settling for some movie that isn’t really worth your $8 but you don’t see anything better playing.

Support quality entertainment, not garbage. At least not at the theaters. Wait for DVD… or cable… or broadcast television… If you go to the movies and nothing good is playing, vote with your feet and walk away. If you stop paying Hollywood for making crappy movies, they’ll stop making crappy movies.

Taking the “Bad” with the good.

Recently, we (Jodi and I) came to the realization that we were paying our cable company a bunch of money to give us access to movie channels we never watched. I mean, we are avid DVD fanatics, and we buy any movie we love (read: watch more than 3 or 4 times), so these channels go unwatched. Mostly they go unwatched because they show the same crappy movies over and over again, and any original programming they have is either on at a time we are unable to watch it or we just assume at this point that its going to come out on DVD.

To that end, I called up the cable company and had them cancel all the premium movie channels. Saving me somewhere in the area of $30-$40 a month. I took some of that savings, and realizing that we still wanted to see movies, reinvested it into reactivating our subscription to NetFlix (there is a link over on the right side somewhere).

NetFlix rocks. For $20 a month, they mail us movies of our choosing, we watch them, mail them back, and they mail us more. We can have 3 out at a time, and with a distribution center really close to us, its a 2-3 day trip from when I drop a movie in the mail back to them to when we get the next movie.

That’s the good of the title of this article… Now on to the "Bad".

Its in quotes for a reason. We got "Bad Boys II" in the mail the other day. For the first time in a long time, you are going to see me say.. I was unimpressed.

Sure, it had some funny lines. Sure, it had chase scenes and cool explosions. But, to be honest, unlike the original Bad Boys, I didn’t care about any of the characters. They could have all died in this film and I would have shrugged it off. And when they go to Cuba… well, lets just say that believability isn’t just tossed out the window, its loaded onto a rocket and launched into space. Exactly.

Anyway, in the end, I felt like I wasted 2 hours of my time, and 5-6 days of my NetFlix life. Stuff blows up good, but the overall movie is bad.