Life Imitates Art

January 26, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States, taking the oath on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. while millions of his fellow Americans cheer him on.

Among the many photographs taken of this historic inauguration, perhaps none are quite as astonoshing as this one, taken by the Geo-Eye sattelite, the same one used by Google-Earth. During their post-inauguration coverage, I watched Wolf Blitzer and John King show this image off, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of perhaps the most pleasant gaming surprise of 2008:

The Last Guy, released last year as a downloadable game on the PlayStation 3, has quickly become one of the most unique and memorable games out on the market, and proof positive that PSN can offer just as many interesting titles as its more attractive cousins over at X-Box Live and Steam.  What stuck me about the game was its theme of real-world rescue, guiding huge crowds of survivors past arrays of deadly monsters in a Google-Earth friendly landscape. It’s not often that you get a chance to see huge mobs of humanity like that in real life, even in satellite imagery. So it’s heartening to witness the masses congregate out of hope and celebration in real life instead of the terror and panic of the game.

The Propagandist: Wiseguy

January 22, 2009

Alright, pleasant dreamers, here’s my first game on the blog– an old favorite theme of mine that may hopefully prove somewhat antiquated in the Obama administration. I’m not crossing any fingers here, but I do believe in change– the ability to change your own game over a long enough period of time, anyway.

Back in December, I had the chance to go catch Steven Soderbergh’s “Che”– a two-part movie consisting of “The Argentine” and “Guerilla”– at the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan, where it was playing in a one-week only, five hour-long Roadshow Version, complete with an overture, intermission and free program. As a longtime fan of cinema, it was great to see a historical epic presented in a truly epic fashion, worth comparing to the good old days of films like David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” or pretty much anything that Cecile B. DeMille ever did. As a longtime admirer of the noble, naive and ultimately tragic political doctrine of socialism, it was heartening to witness a film dedicated to the act of revolution, no matter how much said revolution turned its back on its own principles once the tummult and the shouting subsided. Hell, as a lifelong sufferer of asthma, it was cool to see a badass like Che fight off bouts of wheezing while leading guerilla forces and wage bloody warfare.

Still, the movie probably struck me most as a student of two eerily similar subjects– history and game design. Because after all, Soderbergh’s massive, two-part film is largely concerned with the rise and fall of one Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and painstakingly portrays that rise and fall by depicting two campaigns of revolutionary warfare– the overthrow of Batista’s military regime in Cuba, and the unsuccessful attempt to stage a similar coup in Bolivia, which ultimately ended in Guevara’s demise. In terms of history, it’s interesting to observe such a naturalistic depiction of this narrative in order to learn the lessons that only hindsight can allow us, under any political circumstances. As a designer, however, what strikes me is how the film stages the life and death of Che Guevara, on one level, in game-like fashion.

How? By sticking to their guns, and giving us nothing but war. In Cuba, Che wins. In Bolivia, Che loses. You don’t get much simpler and more straightforward than that.

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It’s that time of year again– time when the weather grows colder, people grow warmer and my personality turns chillier than usual. All my life I’ve been something of a loner, more comforted by the pleasure of my own company than the paranoia of social settings. It might explain my penchant for single-player gaming, and my nature as a writer, perhaps the most solitary of arts. In either case, you don’t need anybody else to get in the way– if something’s worth doing, you might as well do it yourself.

It might also explain my lifelong nature as a self-confessed bookworm, reading just about any novel my hands can pick up and attention-span won’t put down. Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine since my earliest ages, but as far back as I can remember, I’d never really been interested in fantasy literature. Oh sure, I read The Hobbit back during some summer vacation between grades in elementary school like everybody else, but I didn’t much care for it. When I tried to tackle The Lord of the Rings years later, I found it a monumental bore– it read like a mythological retelling of World War II oral history without any of the poetic grace. The closest I ever got to appreciating the genre was when I started reading C.S. Lewis, whose Narnia series I might actually finish one day if I ever work past my own personal issues as a lapsed Catholic.

Mostly it’s because fantasy never really had a chance to grab my attention from an early age– science-fiction beat it to me, partly because it didn’t expect me to be literate just yet. By the time I was a toddler I pretty much had all of the original Star Wars trilogy memorized, and understood the Star Trek motion pictures decently enough to not require an explain for what V’Ger was, much less a Vulcan. When I finally dove into science-fiction literature itself, my curiosity tended towards the modernist side of things, the cyberpunk playgrounds of William Gibson and the Kafkaesque parables of Phillip K. Dick.

Still, around this time, which coincidentally was around the time I found the siren-song of video-gaming beckoning me back unto the breach, once more, I was finally able to find a fantasy book that captured my attention, sparked my imagination and thoroughly engaged me to the point that it has not only become one of my scheduled visits on an annual reading list, but has also helped to enlighten me on one of the cornerstones of emotional underpinnings in video-game design today.

That book was The Golden Compass, and that gaming trope is the escort-mission.

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