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Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 15 2014 · 133 views

Essays, Not Rants! 139: Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

I saw Big Hero 6 last Saturday, a couple days after Interstellar. They’re very different movies, different beasts. I’m not sure yet which one I like more, but there’s one thing that makes Big Hero 6very special.

But first let’s talk about me.

I’m one of those weird people who can claim two races. No, not the mix of mayonnaise and sour cream that is the 1/4 Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 Polish, 1/3 English, 1/24 Swedish mixes, I’m Asian andAmerican: my dad’s from Singapore, my mom’s from the US. My heritage is Chinese and Norwegian and I put “Other: Sino-Nordic” on those surveys I fill out for money. I get called white in Singapore and Asian in the States. Go figure.

So growing up I was a bit of an ethnic oddity. I, as is probably evident from this blog, consumed a lot of media. I read mountains of books, watched as many movies as my parents took me to (which was no small amount, thanks Mom and Dad!), and played as many video games as I could on the weekends when I was allowed. But no characters were like me. Sure, Power Rangers had the token Asian and white people are ubiquitous, but half-and-halfs were unheard of. The closest character in my media was Balto (Mom would later compare me to Spock, but that was after I’d graduated high school).

Fast-forward to now and Big Hero 6 is topping the box office. And the main character, Hiro Tamada, is mixed like me. Now, I’m basing this off the fact that he’s clearly East Asian and his aunt is white, because not only is Hiro biracial, but he’s biracial like me: his mother is white, his father not. As someone who’s spent most of the life as a racial rarity, it’s wonderfully heck, it’s exciting to see someone like me the star of a Disney movie.

But it’s not just Hiro. The titular 6 are surprisingly diverse. Besides Baymax the fluffy robot, there’s only one white guy: Fred the definitely-not-a-stoner-but-certainly-not-a-scientist comic relief guy. The other three? GoGo is an Asian woman, Honey Lemon is also a woman who seems cut out to be the cheerleader type except she’s an incredible chemist, and Wasabi is a black man. They are all scientists and engineers, students of a field notoriously underrepresented by minorities. Here’s a movie saying “Hey, you can be a scientist even if you’re not a white dude!”

Now, I think it’s easy to get hung up on representation. The Avengers isn’t a lesser movie because the majority of the characters are white men and Big Hero 6 has a solid story with plenty of heart to complement its diverse cast. Praising a movie simply because it’s diverse, or feminist, or ‘Christian’ is patronizing and doesn’t help. I don’t just want more movies with minorities, I want more good stories about everyone. That’s part of the reasons I’m so excited for Black Panther and Captain Marvel (that and, y’know, the fact that Captain Marvel is getting a movie); Marvel has a reputation for telling strong character driven stories.

I’m glad Big Hero 6 is doing so well and receiving such warm reviews. Because that means people will notice and, hopefully, means we’ll get more films like that. But more than all that, even more than the implications for the industry and the hope for growingly diverse casts, I’m excited that a character like Hiro Tamada is the main character of a movie. Because somewhere there’s an eight year old kid like me who got to see someone like him as a superhero.


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Where No One Has Gone Before

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 08 2014 · 108 views

Essays, Not Rants! 138: Where No One Has Gone Before

Let’s talk about space, because of Interstellar. Now, it’s hard to discuss the film because so much of what makes it Interstellar is because its based so fundamentally on the curves and turns of the plot. So for the sake of avoiding spoilers and ruining everything, we’re not talking about Interstellar’s story.

Instead let’s talk about the set up; about the initial question asked by the film, the question of space travel. Many of the early parts of Interstellar can be read as a vindication of space programs. There’s a strong lament for the abandonment of space exploration.

Interstellar espouses the idea that we’re supposed to go beyond earth, what with the whole “humanity was never meant to die here” tagline and all. It’s a theme of science fiction that’s been preciously scarce as of late. Gone is 2001: A Space Odyssey and movies about going to Mars. Instead we’ve got films like District 9 and Godzilla which while great, are very terrestrial science fiction. Or Guardians of the Galaxy, which while fantastic, is a straight up space opera (and all the better for it). Think about Avatar, a fairly recent movie that had elements of exploration: The message was that humanity should stop screwing up ecosystems. Europa Report, Prometheus, and even Gravity were more horror inclined than about a desire for exploration.

The closest we’ve had in recent years is Into Darkness. Granted, it’s very space operatic (as was the old Star Trek TV show), but it (again, like the old TV show) has hints of the want of exploration. Of wanting to go where no one has gone before. If anything, Into Darkness, like Interstellar after it, is a defense of why space exploration is still relevant.

Into Darkness pits two ideas against each other. There’s the one argument that militarization is the route forward, that humanity’s presence in space is fundamentally a militaristic one. On the other hand there’s the argument that exploration is a reason and goal in and of itself. It’s not the tidiest of presentations of the themes, but the revived franchise has to prove that over half a century later the idea of exploring the final frontier is relevant and engaging. It shouldn’t have to.

I, like I’m sure many others, wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. Right up until I found out it would take over a dozen years of training which, to an eight-year-old, is a very long time. But fifteen years later there’s still that want to go to space, thanks to a steady diet of Star Wars, Firefly, and just about anything else involving spaceships. Even now a video of astronauts playing with water in zero-g is one of the coolest things. Because it’s space, it’s terrifying, it’s cool, and I want to go there.

Watching Interstellar conjures up images of today’s space program and how it’s almost become an afterthought. We’ve got a rover on Mars, probes exploring the far reaches of the solar system and beyond; but the classic image of a moon colony lies all but dormant. Where’s the luster gone? Where’s the want to go before.

Though there’s a massive amount of words to be said about Interstellar, one thing I liked was its commentary on it. Space travel is important and is arguably the next big step forward.

If only because I want a spaceship.


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THEY'RE MAKING A CAPTAIN MARVEL MOVIE

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 02 2014 · 119 views

Essays, Not Rants! 137: THEY’RE MAKING A CAPTAIN MARVEL MOVIE

Marvel announced their upcoming slate of movies this week and I am very excited for one very important reason: Captain. Marvel.

Now, of course I’m pumped for the other announcements. Captain America 3 is officially Civil War, which bodes very interesting the MCU at large. Black Panther’s also showing up in Civil War and getting his own solo film a year later. We’re getting a second Guardians and another Thor, which is cool (especially the art for Guardians 2). The Inhumans are getting a movie so they’re definitely part of other MCU (five bucks say they show up in Agents of SHIELD). And the Avengers film(s) following Age of Ultron Is, based on being named Infinity War, hopefully going to be based on the fantastic Infinity event from last year. So of course there’s all that.

But Captain Marvel. Those of you who’ve been reading this should know that I’ve been clamoring for a Black Widow film, which part of me still is. I’m assuaged partially because there are plans to weave Black Widow into other films. But mostly because not only will Carol Danvers probably be showing up in some of the other films, there’s going to be a freaking Captain Marvel movie.

I’m gonna come right out and say it: Captain Marvel is my favorite comic in print right now (up there with Avengers and New Avengers. Black Widow probably comes after).There are a bunch of reasons, like the epic adventure nature of the comics and the sheer fun they’re filled with, but it’s mostly because Carol Danvers is such a great character, especially as Captain Marvel.

There’s the obvious fact that she wears pants, which is a welcome respite. More so than that, she’s interesting. She does all the usual superhero stuff, time traveling, fighting bad guys, saving New York and so on. Best of all, the comic is never condescending. We have a woman fighting crime who’s not presented as a special case or just a sex-object. She’s fleshed out and great in her own right. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick has done a fantastic job creating a character who’s not just layered but likable and, most importantly, fun.

With that, Captain Marvel (like Black Panther) will bring something new to the Marvel ‘verse. Black Panther’s the first not-white guy headlining a Marvel film and also, as the king of Wakanda, has the potential to add additional political intrigue to the universe. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, will be the first female headliner and, based on comments by Kevin Feige and the most recent batch of comics, bridge the cosmic and earthbound sides of things. Besides getting her powers from the Kree (who showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy), Captain Marvel’s also been running with the Star Lord and crew as well as getting up to her own space adventures. It’s this variety that’ll help keep the superhero genre from getting stale.

But there’s also the sheer nerdy joy. In four years not only am I finally getting a movie starring a female superhero, but she’s Captain frickin’ Marvel, one of my favorites. That’s exciting and that’s something that’s making me really eager for 2018 to come already.


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Let's Talk About My Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 25 2014 · 180 views

Essays, Not Rants! 136: Let’s Talk About My Movie

In case you haven’t heard, I’m making a movie. Not just that, but I need your help to make it happen. Here’s why.

Ghosts That We Knew” is a story about not being alright. Becca, the protagonist, isn’t where she thought she’d be in her life Things haven’t been going the way she’d hoped they would and she’s stuck. With all that comes the nagging doubts in the back of her head, voices that remind her of how life’s not working out.

I wanted to make a movie about that, about that insecurity and fear. With that, I wanted to keep it emotionally honest. There’s more to say about it, but I’d rather not give away plot points. Suffice to say, it’s not a story where life gets better overnight, but it’s also one about the beginning of a way out.

I can say more about production. My crew was amazing. I simply can’t stress this enough. Everyone did their jobs and did them very well. I owe the film to them. I could tell my Director of Photography, McKenzie Zuleger, what I wanted and she’d set it up and go. I’d worked with Richard Kim before on a few shoots and this time as my Assistant Director he took care of my crew and as Gaffer he got some incredible light setups. Meanwhile, my Producer, Natalia Rivas, was wonderfully helpful during preproduction and was indispensable on set, ensuring that everything behindbehind the scenes went smoothly. I could go on and on about them and everyone else too (wait till you see the costuming and dressings the art department did), but there’s more to write about and only so much essay space.

The cast made my script come to life. There’s this persistent fear I have as a writer that what I’m writing won’t quite work out. But hearing it said by these actors, wow, they nailed it. They dove right in and really took on the roles in a way I could only dream of. I owe an incredible wealth of gratitude to them, in no small part because four of them spent shooting in masks under hot lights and the other two had to carry some intensely emotional scenes. The results are stunning and I can’t wait to share it with you.

So why am I asking you for money? Like I said in the Kickstarter, movies cost money; I’ve got to pay for food, costumes, transport, and the like. Things as obvious as a meal for Becca to eat or as tiny as fashion tape all costs money. NYU gives me a small budget to start off with, but I needed more to cover it all.

An obvious point here is that I’ve already finished shooting; the movie’s in the can, why then do I still need money? I’ve put my own money to support the deficit, but I’m not in a financial position to pay for all of it myself. Furthermore, any additional funding will go to getting some professional post-production work, such as color correction and some visual effects touch ups. As a crew we’ve gone to lengths to keep the production’s budget as low as possible, making sure every dollar you give to us helps.

Ghosts That We Know is a project I believe in. Not only that, but I intend to shop the finished project around to short film festivals. Since some of these festivals rule that you can’t submit a movie that’s been screened online, the only way to see the finished film before (which could be almost a year down the line) is to give $5 to my campaign. There’s also some other cool things in there, like a credit and even a copy of the script signed by me (with or without notes, your choice) as well as a mini-poster a friend of mine’s working on. I’m $90 away from my goal and funding ends in a few days; if I don’t reach $222 by then I don’t get any of it.

Help me fund this project.


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Superhero Overdose

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 17 2014 · 188 views

Essays, Not Rants! 135: Superhero Overdose

If you haven’t heard, DC recently announced their cinematic plans for the next six years. We’ve got a Justice League movie, a Wonder Woman movie, one with the Flash, one with Aquaman, a Green Lantern movie, and so on. It’s DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers. They’re looking to emulate Marvel’s formula, releasing two a year. Not only that, it looks like most of the Justice League roster from the cartoon is getting their own movie (except Martian Manhunter which is its own infuriating can of worms). Between Marvel and DC, we’re looking at four superhero movies a year — and that’s not even counting other studios with rights to Marvel characters, like Fox with X-Men and the Fantastic Four. That’s a lot of superhero movies, a lot of men in proverbial tights (and one woman, so far) running around doing superhero stuff.

Now, with so many superheroes flying around, it’s likely we’re looking to get a glut of that genre. Woohoo, there’s Age of Ultron, Ant Man, and Fantastic Four next year, but after that there’s gonna be Batman v Superman, a new Captain America, a new X-Men movie, and Suicide Squad. And then after that comes Wonder Woman, and Justice League (so far). Genres can become tired, look at how few Westerns there are as opposed to a few decades ago. With all these superhero films coming out, and with superhero movies usually following a specific pattern we could end up watching the same darn movie over and over again. If that happens, then people get tired, people stop watching these movies, and people stop making superhero movies.

Thing is, we’ve seen the superhero movie a hundred times. The hero gets powers, the hero figures out what to do with powers, the hero fights bad guys. Sequels have been playing with the follow up, but we’ve seen the super-powered-hero-fights-evil formula over and over again. Superhero movies as we know them has happened.

So how do we keep it interesting? So far the trick has been genre blending. The Dark Knight was a crime movie with Batman. It was different and it was big (though I’ve heard the argument that it wasn’t a Batman movie, but that’s another issue). More so now than ever, superhero movies have to stand out. The Avengers was a heroes-fighting-villains narrative, but did it better than anyone else and threw in some internal conflict and hints of a war movie for good measure. Unless a new movie surpasses it, doing the same thing will be repetitive.

Marvel Studios, and Joe Quesada, know this. Look at the most recent releases from Marvel. Iron Man 3 was as much Lethal Weapon-y as it was Iron Man, The Dark World was borderline pure fantasy, The Winter Soldier was a spy/espionage movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy was pure space opera. Looking ahead, Ant Man is planned to be a heist movie, which there are never enough of. Marvel’s keeping things varied. In fact, I think one of the reasons Winter Soldier and Guardians were so well received is that they were so unique. Both tapped genres relatively unheard of at the moment, and both executed them incredibly. If Marvel Studios can keep making movies that challenge the idea of a ‘superhero’ movie they’re in good shape.

So the onus is on DC to do the same thing. It’s hard to judge how they’ll do, especially given the kinda mostly alright Man of Steel, but if they can make Aquaman feel very different from The Flash and not just in subject material, then there’s hope. We don’t wanna keep watching the same movie with swapped out details.

But I cannot overstate how freaking excited I am about all of this. In the next two years I’m getting a second Avengers movie, a new Star Wars, a movie with Batman and Superman, and what’s reportedly a movie about Captain American and Iron Man. Heck, they just announced a movie featuring The Lego’s Movie glorious riff on Batman! All this is the twelve-year-old in me’s dream come true. I don’t like not liking things, it’s tiring and it’s not fun to hate everything you watch. I want these movies to happen, I want to like these movies. I just hope these movies are good.

Also, I'm making a movie! Help me get it funded!


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Financial Teamwork

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 11 2014 · 93 views

Essays, Not Rants! 134: Financial Teamwork

One of my favorite things about the internet is the democratization of media. Anyone can do anything and put it out there for a wide audience. Where once upon a time either no one would see it, now you can put it on YouTube and spread it around. There’s not just an audience, there’s a mean to one.

Recently, it’s also meant the ability to do bigger projects. This is crowdfunding, where a project is funding by a, er, crowd. Because hey, if there are a thousand people who want to see something happen and they all give $5, that’s $5,000 with which to do something awesome.

So bands have taken to sites like Kickstater and PledgeMusic to raise money for the recording and distribution of new music; forgoing labels and all that entirely. It also gives fans a personal stake, they want the project to happen so they get involved. Then there’s the fact that it allows the band to not only have greater creative control but are also to make more daring creative choices.

Similarly, moviemakers are able to make films outside of the studio system and all the hangups therein. Blue Like Jazz was finished despite initially not having enough money; Veronica Mars came back as a feature film years after the show ended. By rights, this shouldn’t be possible. There’s a way things are done. But that’s what makes crowdfunding cool; it puts the power in creators, be they for games, events, or movies. They become passion projects rather than carefully calculated business maneuvers.

All this to say, I’m using Kickstarter to fund my new movie, Ghosts That We Knew. I love making movies and Ghosts is going to be my biggest one yet. I’ve got a great crew with me who are all eager to make this movie happen. I’m really proud of my script and the cast is shaping up to be something incredible. The story is one I’m passionate about and I really want to get this made.

Help fund Ghosts That We Knew

Yes, it’s a super-short post. But that’s cause I’m doing a lot of preproduction work and hanging out with some BZPers.


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Metanarrative, Cervantes, and The Princess Bride

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 05 2014 · 86 views

Essays, Not Rants! 133: Metanarrative, Cervantes, and The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is (probably) my favorite movie. It also happens to be based on a book, which I first read in my mid-teens. Now, the book caught me off-guard. It was far more cynical than the film and there was this whole mess about William Goldman’s personal life. I read it again a few years later and finally understood it. See, the novel The Princess Bride is a postmodern exploration of metanarrative wrapped in with a deconstruction of adventure narratives. Like Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Wait, what?

Let’s break this down. Much of The Princess Bride is William Goldman telling us about his life, his psychiatrist wife, disappointing son, and his quest to find the book his grandfather read him as a kid. Sadly, the book (by S. Morgenstern) is long and filled with boring bits. So Goldman skips them, interrupting the narrative every now and then to tell us what he’s skipping and why.Really, who wants to read three chapters about economics anyway?).

Of course, this is all fabricated. There is no S. Morgenstern, Goldman’s wife isn’t a psychiatrist, and he has two daughters. But within the book it makes for a beautifully postmodern story; Goldman is fully aware of how stories work and merrily draws attention to it in the metanarrative. At times it’s a story about stories. Meanwhile, he pokes fun at the conventions of the adventure and fantasy genre, deconstructing a lot of what we take for granted in them.

A few hundred years earlier, Cervantes did the same thing in Don Quixote. Like Goldman, he presents the central story as one that he’s researched extensively and is relaying here for us. But the ‘research’ often interrupts the story. A memorable moment early on sees Quixote in a duel with a Basque, they’re poised to deliver fatal blows and then the narrative stops and the narrator informs us that that’s where his copy of the story ends. We’re then treated to a few pages of how he got a hold of the next chunk of the story.

Cervantes is playing with the very idea of fiction and stories. He’s messing with the narrative, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. It’s a lot of fun and lends Don Quixote’s story an almost mythic quality, which is further enhanced by the style of the narration.

Throughout it all, Cervantes is endlessly making fun of the chivalrous novels that were popular at the time. How? He takes someone who gets caught up with the notion of being a knight errant and, taking the books as gospel, sets out in an attempt to have a grand adventure and sees what would really happen.. It doesn’t go well, one because books don’t mention these knights bringing changes of clothes, money, or provisions; and secondly, someone who goes around meting out his own brand of justice while violently defending any insult of his honor actually looks a lot like a vigilante bandit. Naturally, hilarity ensues and Don Quixote and his squire wind up being attacked in response (all to our amusement).

Stories like The Princess Bride and Don Quixote are important. They take what we know and play with it; not just be deconstructing the tropes of the genre they’re using, but also by playing with the idea of stories themselves. It’s not just books that do this; the famous “Duck Amuck” cartoon not just demolishes the fourth wall (postmodernism) but uses the very metanarrative of animation as a plot. Actually, if you want a good representation of what I’m talking about, that’s a great place to start.
I love postmodernism and metanarratives in stories, mostly because I love stories in the first place and it’s wonderful when they play with it. It’s fantastic and often adds an additional layer to already great narratives.


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Yet To Do It Again

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Sep 27 2014 · 88 views

Essays, Not Rants! 132: Yet To Do it Again

I’ve only played The Last of Us once. Well, only played it through all the way once. I started a New Game+ about a year ago, but still haven’t finished it. It’s odd, I know, considering how much I write about it (plus two final papers and counting). Oh, I play the multiplayer every now and then and I do look up cutscenes for reference, I just haven’t played it through again.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to; it’s just a big commitment. Not time-wise (though there is that), but emotionally. The Last of Us hit me to my core. It was a game that really affected me, one of those experiences that stick with you. Every time I went back to the story I knew what I was in for and, well, I guess I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

Not everything’s like this. I wanna give BioShock: Infinite and Spec Ops: The Line (both plenty dark and intense games) another playthrough if/when I have the time. Halo: Reach I’ve played the story a bunch of times, as with the Uncharted games and several others. So why not The Last of Us? I guess it’s similar to how I feel about Fruitvale Station. Again, loved the movie, not sure if I could watch it again for a good long time. It really stuck with me. Maybe I can’t easily go back to The Last of Us or Fruitvale because of the emotional commitment.

But what about something that’s not gut-wrenchingly sad? I’ve only watched Firefly all the way through three times. I’ve seen some episodes more, watching with friends and such, but only sat down to watch the whole series three times. Which I weird, because I love the show. Firefly, I think, is because it can be deeply personal. It’s the sort of thing that’s treasured and loved.

Which, again, doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ll watch The Avengers or The Princess Bride on a whim, both movies I love. So why is Firefly this exception? I think this makes Firefly like The Last of Us here. I love both, and I enjoy both (I wouldn’t say watching Fruitvale was enjoyable, but it was still great). The thing is, I’m incredibly attached to both, and very much invested. I guess it’s not something I can take lightly.

So is this good? As you may have noticed, The Last of Us has had incredibly staying power woth me, and I keep up with any news concerning it. Firefly remains one of my favorite shows and I will quote it incessantly in conversation. So yes. They’re incredibly important and special stories to me. In that sense then, they succeed. I don’t have to watch them a lot, but they’re still there.

Apologies for the short and rambley post this week. Been swamped with a lot of pre-production stuff this week. And I’m still trying to find time to play Destiny.


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In Defense of Destiny's Story

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Sep 20 2014 · 150 views

Essays, Not Rants! 131: In Defense of Destiny’s Story

I talk about video games a lot on this blog, because I love them and play a lot of them. I also write about storytelling because it’s kinda my thing. Now, there’s a lot to say about video game narrative, which, honestly, can apply to narrative in general. Games are special because narrative — or even story of any sort — isn’t necessary for a good game (See: Pacman, or better yet,Pong).

But, contrary to what game designers like Jonathan Blow think, games can tell excellent stories. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is an emotional story that rivals great film and has found its way into many of my papers for school. Bungie too has told great stories through the Halo games. No, they may not on the same level as The Last of Us, but the original trilogy did tell a solid story, ODSThad great characters, and Reach was genuinely sad at times. All of these games are very linear and have a very traditional narrative. Which is great.

Destiny, on the other hand, is very loosely linear. There are story missions for you to do, but there’s no urgency with which you have to do them, and thus you can spend plenty of time exploring the world at large and taking on side missions. Story information itself is dispersed through the occasional story-focused cutscene and through bits of dialogue with your companion, the AI Ghost. This all to say, there’s very little in the way of explicit storytelling.

The game’s gotten a lot of flak for this. Here’s this grand expansive world with hints of incredible backstory, but where’s the actual story? Where’s the character development? Where’re the big arcs and twists? The story, apparently, feels too nebulous to be worthwhile. Granted, the gameplay more than makes up for it, but the way its critics see it, a weak story is Destiny’s greatest flaw.

But Destiny’s story isn’t weak, it’s open. Modern Warfare 2 had a woefully weak story, with underdeveloped characters and a plot that made very little sense. Sure, it was spelled out for you, but there really wasn’t much there. See, a lot of Destiny is conveyed through spatial and environmental storytelling. The very world of Destiny: the ancient ruins on Venus, the decaying colony on the Moon, the colonyships in Old Russia’s Cosmodrome; they all harken to something older and greater than what we see now. Mentions of the fall, of the Hive taking over the Moon, all this hint at something big. This is what Destiny does: the incredible world building does much of the heavy narrative lifting. Those scraps of story which, combined with the Grimoire accessed online or through the companion app, paint a great world for the player to inhabit. In there you go on these missions and carry out the main story, with lots of empty spaces in between.

These empty spaces is where you come in. Destiny wants you to use your imagination. There’s so much empty space in the story it’s easy to fill it up with your own ideas as to what happened. It’s like playing with your toys again, where you’re given the character and a little bit of story and let lose to make up how it plays out. This is the strength of Destiny’s story: Your imagination. Yes, it’s drastically different from a lot of modern — or even adult — storytelling, but it’s this open-endedness that sets Destiny apart. Here the player is free to create their own story. The nature of fireteams, the backstory of your Guardian, even some of the relations between characters, it’s all up to you.

This is what I’m loving as I play through Destiny, the freedom to wander through the world. I’m still not yet done with the game (almost finished the last mission on Venus) due to not only real life commitments, but also plain getting distracted by every Patrol mission and Strike in Destiny. But unlike Assassin’s Creed 4 where spending hours sidetrack hurt the plot’s pacing and any emotional attachment; Destiny’s side-missions and even competitive multiplayer feel like an addition to the overall narrative arch. It’s as if Bungie’s opening up a big sandbox and inviting you to play.


For more on spatial and environmental storytelling, read Henry Jenkins’ Game Design as Narrative Architecture. If you have a PS3 and want to play Destiny with someone cool, let me know.


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Background Details

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Sep 13 2014 · 74 views

Essays, Not Rants! 130: Background Details

There’s a building I can see outside my window that’s under construction. I’m not sure what it’s going to be or where exactly it is, but it looks to be somewhere in TriBeCa. The basic structure of it is there, there’s a crane going up the side, and it looks like the skeleton of a monolith as there aren’t any external walls up yet. There are tiny lights on each floor that glint in the daylight.

To my sci-fi-addled mind it looks like something you’d see in the background of Destiny, or maybe a new spaceship being built in Star Trek. It looks cool, almost otherworldly.

In other words, it’s something that could help tell a story. Visual storytelling (comics, movies, television, video games; anything that requires you to look at images) depends heavily on details to give life to the scene. Filling the background of the scene with details lends credibility and reality to the world.

This can be done in very subtle ways. In early seasons of How I Met Your Mother there were a pair of swords hanging on the wall of Ted and Marshall’s apartment. They were referenced on occasion, used once, but for the most part were sort of just there. That said, these two friends who met in college having swords on their wall added a sense of history to them, more so, than, say, a wreath would have (needless to say, Chekhov was probably very happy when they finally used them in a duel).

For all its epic-ness and grandeur, The Lord of The Rings films are filled with smaller, tiny details. Carved on helmets are runes which, should you have the bother to translate them from Tolkien’s appendices, say stuff actually relevant to the world. One of the buildings in the background of Minas Tirith is a ratcatcher, for example. Another one of these details is found in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, where Sam rescues Frodo from the orcs. There’s a lamp in the uppermost room which, if you look closely, was made from the helmets of Soldiers of Gondor. It’s a tiny detail, one that most people won’t notice, but it adds to the overall feel of the film. As I’ve said before, it’s these little details make a world seem real.

Which brings me back to Destiny and the spaceship-under-construction building out my window. Much of the game’s storytelling is done through environmental details. You’re not necessarily shown the story or the game’s background lore, but it’s there. When you enter Old Russia’s Cosmodrome you can see ruined buildings all about and, rising over the horizon, a huge spaceship with what look like futuristic space shuttles attached around the side. You’ve heard details about a Golden Age, expansion, and colonyships, but seeing that massive spaceship decaying in the distance adds a reality to it.

[color=#000000]For a game so sparse on explicit storytelling, it does wonders with the little things. Item descriptions mention how the Titans raised the Wall or the exploits of some Saint-14. We’re not told more details than that, but, again, it adds to the feeling of depth and bigness of the world. Even things like seeing the crest of the Vanguards on a wall add further reality to it. The world feels like it’s breathing. These details make it seem alive./color]






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josh

twenty-three


grew up on a ship


studies Storytelling

at New York University


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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January 2015

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