In multi-platform games, the XBox 360 usually gets the upper hand, with the game performing better in it than in the PS3 (Orange Box, for example). But some of the PS3 exclusive games have impressed me. "Heavenly Sword" is a short but worth-every-second game, the graphics are simply stunning and yet there isn't a single framerate problem. And "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" proves once again the power of Sony's console.
You are Nathan Drake, descendant of Sir Francis Drake. At open sea, you find deep in the ocean the coffin of Sir Francis, only to find it empty except for his diary, which was the actual objective. In the diary, you find the location of El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. You, your partner Sully and a reporter called Elena Fisher start your journey to the city.
Not original, not at all. But it's surprisingly well-written, with good dialogue and an excellent sense of humor. There's also several references to Indiana Jones, like the rival archaeologist who's after the same treasure you are. All that keeps the cutscenes fun and interesting, which is nice because I never skip a cutscene in any game unless it's dreadfully boring. Some games have a story too good for you to skip ("Mafia", for example).
The gameplay has more ups than lows. The controls are very, very good. Thanks to excellent motion-capture, controlling Nathan Drake is easy and intuitive. The platforming is not as amazing as Prince of Persia's or Assassin's Creed's, but it's definitely great (Nate's jump is amazingly well-animated). During (the excellent) shoot-outs, you can take cover behind anything with the press of a button, blind-fire, etc. The camera goes over your shoulder to allow you to fine-aim. You can also fire from the hip, which proves useful against several enemies (you can shoot backwards while running forward, a particularly nice touch that allows you to escape while not giving your enemies a chance to get out of cover and shoot you).
On the other hand, there's too many action scenes. You rarely can sneak behind your enemy and kill him silently. Usually, they just show out of nowhere in a scripted event. And in some occasions, in impossible places, like beyond a door only you gained access to. And near the ending, the game adds some survival horror elements that are ridiculously out of place, but fortunately, it's a short level and soon you're back in the normal action. The puzzles are simple, all you have to do is look at the diary and add two and two. But I prefer simple and far between puzzles than the countless and boring puzzles of God of War II.
Visually, Uncharted is one of the best-looking games right now. The attention to detail is overwhelming. When a character swims, he comes out actually wet, with his clothes darkened, wrinkled and sticking to the body (to the polygon perverts: Elena wears TWO shirts at the same time, so give it up). The visual expressions are top-notch and the scenarios are maybe the best rendering of a 3D forest ever seen. Just look at the rays of sunlight intercepted by the trees, creating a pattern of light and shadow in the ground, and you'll see how much work was put in this aspect of the game. The animations are perfect, with the characters' feet always leveled with the ground and excellent ragdoll physics.
The voice-overs are also efficient. Nate's sarcasm, Elena's persistence, Sullivan's cool, everyone fits their roles. The guns have powerful sounds, which enhances the action, and the background sound effects are very good. The music is fitting and nice, especially the main menu one.
Despite some flaws at the end (the already mentioned survival horror element), Uncharted: Drake's Fortune's 8-10 hours campaign (rough estimation) is guaranteed entertainment with good replay value. Shame the developer Naughty Dog didn't include multiplayer, which would maybe justify buying the game instead of renting it.
(There wasn't room for this in the last blog, so here's a quickie.)
We also scored our first pull quote! Check this out:
"Witch Doctor is brilliant! A prescription for what's ailing comics today -- a dose of good storytelling." -- Jimmie Robinson, creator of Bomb Queen
Isn't that cool? Jimmie got a sneak peak of the First Incision script and some of the art, and evidently liked what he saw. (And that's damn exciting for me, because I dig what he does in Bomb Queen.)
(For more information about island endemism, I recommend Douglas Adams' wonderful Last Chance to See, a book about going around and making very clever comments about some of the world's most endangered species -- a couple of which are no longer with us now.)
Witch Doctor is a horror/medical drama comic grafting horror archetypes to really sick shit from real-world medicine and zoology. This is the book's workblog thoughtblog. For more information, read the first entry.
The 'demo' issue, Witch Doctor: First Incision, is coming April 2008 from writer Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner.
It's been a while since I checked in here. In the time since last I spoke here there have been computer problems, legal headaches, plane flights from Anchorage, Alaska to Portland, Oregon and finally to New Orleans -- and steady progress on the pages of First Incision.
I'm in New Orleans for a month right now, and it's really incredible -- and a terribly tempting distraction. As great as this place is for atmosphere and research (our planned first Witch Doctor mini after the First Incision one-shot revolves around zombies, after all), it's hard to sit down and write when I could be talking to voodoo priestesses and touring Historic Voodoo Museums (like I did yesterday). But still, this place is wonderful for the imagination. It's like an island, a pocket inside the U.S., this Lost World where Things Gone By live on or have evolved into strange new forms.
So it's very inspiring for the setting Lukas and I are building in Witch Doctor. In the world of Witch Doctor, our universe is a living creature. But it's also an island.
Islands are different from continents, as far as evolution goes. On a continent you've got this ridiculous number of species competing against each other to survive. On an island, you've only got so much space, and traditionally the only species there were the ones who managed to find their way from the mainland -- birds flying, mammals and reptiles swimming, seeds carried by storms, stuff like that. Before Western Civilization arrived, there was little in the way of animal life on New Zealand except birds. Because they were the only ones who could get there.
Neal Stephenson describes every creature alive today as a stupendous badass, descended from a long line of stupendous badasses. They have to be, for their genes to have survived down through millions and millions of years in the round-robin cage match of Natural Selection. But if you're on an island, you don't have to be quite so stupendous a badass, because there aren't really that many other badasses about. So on New Zealand, you had lots of birds and no predators, so flying away from danger became less and less important. And after millions of years, that meant a pair of islands filled with flightless birds. Sometimes the lack of predators and competitors means that pockets of species are preserved on islands long after evolution destroys their colleagues on the mainland -- on Madagascar you can still find lemurs, a primate line that was out-competed by their monkey cousins millions of years ago everywhere else on earth.
Species you only find in one place are called endemic. And invading creatures are called exotic species -- but it's a misleading name, because they're often species we think of as the most normal, the least exotic. The reason we take them for granted is that they're the most stupendous of badasses, vicious superadapted monsters that beat the hell out of endemic species when they show up in a sleepy little island ecosystem.
In Witch Doctor, the creatures of myth and folklore, the superfauna and superflora, those are the exotic species. The supernatural evolved somewhere else, a greater 'mainland' dimension, or an 'archipelago' of dimensions. And in that other realm or realms, the species that survived down through the eons had a specific adaption that gave them an edge -- the ability to access and edit the universe's source code with their minds, tweaking the laws of nature and physics for their own benefit. Out in the Archipelago, magic is a survival trait. And it meant that, when supernature came to earth, nature didn't stand a chance. At first.
Then along came humanity, and the tables turned. Humanity, the tool-users, Earth's first endemic species to wield magic. The world's antibodies. But the story of the tables turning, that's a tale for another time.
I haven't been doing things that I should be doing. And, of course, doing things that I shouldn't. Unnecessary distractions.
I'm not sure what's been a cause of, or a symptom of, the block I've been experiencing this last week. I think I might be blowing the cobwebs away on that score. These things are, of course, subject to change, and I might find myself back to square one tomorrow.
Oh yes, and I do need to sleep.
My longer than expected half-exile from the internet seems to have had some effects that I wasn't expecting. Other than getting some reading done.
This has happened twice in my life: the first time was with Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, which I didn't like in the first time. I loved the first half so much that the second half felt like an anticlimax and ruined the movie for me. Then I watched it again months later and I loved both halves and therefore loved the film. And now, PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood made this happen to me for the second time. In my first viewing of the film, I didn't like it. I watched it for a second time, and I didn't like it. Then I wrote a review and past the last weeks I've been pretty sure the movie sucks due to having watched it twice. But, still feeling like I was missing something, I watched it for a third time a month later.
And I fucking loved it. Worse, every time I think about the film, it gets better. A post ago, I said I still thought "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is better and Johnny Depp deserved the academy award more than Day-Lewis. Now, I consider "There Will Be Blood" just as good as "No Country for Old Men", "Sweeney Todd" and "The Assassination of Jesse James", and Johnny Depp might be my favorite actor, but this time Lewis indeed deserved to win.
This is the story of Daniel Plainview, an oilman who's been building his empire since 1898. In 1911, Paul Sunday sells him an information: the land around Sunday's family's ranch has oil seeping from the ground. Plainview takes his adopted son (who doesn't know he's adopted), whom he calls H.W., and goes to check out the place. There, he confirms the oil and then buys the land in order to start drilling. Several factors make this become the hardest drilling operation in Plainview's life.
Daniel Plainview is an incredibly interesting and iconic character, thanks in huge part to Lewis' work: notice Plainview's voice, pompous but determined, a voice that belongs to a man of vision and principles (which is how he wants to be seen). At the same time, his bowed posture reveals he's worked with a pickaxe for a long time to reach this position. And his eyes, one always wincing, the other wide open, make him look sharp and clever. And Lewis never loses track of all these mannerisms: he becomes Plainview. A man who'll do whatever's necessary to reach his goals, even use his son, H.W., as a way of gaining the sympathy of his customers (although he does love H.W.).
Eli Sunday, Paul's brother, becomes Plainview's main obstacle. Leader of his own church, the Church of the Third Revelation, Sunday's sermons are pure fire and brimstone, and 99% of the community goes to them and likes the young man very much. Except, of course, for Plainview, whose hate for Sunday gradually grows due to the boy's arrogance and insistance that Plainview pay what he owes to the church (a deal he made with Sunday when he bought the land). Thanks to Paul Dano's brilliant performance (confirming the talent seen in his work in Little Miss Sunshine), the priest is, like Plainview, ambiguous. He acts like a man of God, but his lust for money and power over people is obvious.
PT Anderson's script, based on Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!", develops these fascinating characters well and introduces new situations constantly, which is vital since the film happens mostly in the same scenario. It's enormously interesting to see the early days of the oil industry and how it worked ("I believe that's called seepage. Doesn't necessarily means there's anything underneath.").
But it's Anderson's direction that tells the story. Creating beautifully composed frames (with the help of director of photography Robert Elswit's excellent work, especially with shadows and blue lighting) and moving his camera with elegance, the director impresses with some long takes with no cuts (one of his trademarks) and his story-telling abilities. The first time Plainview speaks, it's a very close shot of his face, and only later we see his surroundings. And when Paul Sunday is walking up to meet Plainview (in the scene where Sunday ends up drenched in oil), Anderson focuses Plainview and his companions in a beautiful zoom. Anderson also creates some amazing scenes, like when the oil bursts from the ground unexpectedly, the baptism scene and, of course, the entire last thirty minutes of film (the ending is brilliant). Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack is perfect, well-composed but, more importantly, showing up when appropriate. The crescendo during the oil burst scene was a genius touch.
This is a movie about Plainview but, overall, about the selfish nature of humanity and about cheating. About cheating other people and using other people in order to get what you want. And about cheating me into not liking it, only to eventually love it. As Tedcroland put it in my previous post, this movie has drunk my milkshake. Drunk it up.
This is coming to you live from my new toy, a Sharp Zaurus CL1000. I am now possessed of mobile computing...although my thumb-fu is poor, and I only got the thing this afternoon, so it's inevitably a little slow going at first.
But I'm typing this from my living room, whilst my trusty but aging laptop snoozes in my bedroom. I think I'm going to like having this...